There is an indescribable rush

There is an indescribable rush when you successfully complete something difficult or daring. As a kid, I felt it every time I rode a skateboard or bicycle. When you clear a three foot high wall or land a kickflip on a skateboard, you’re hit with an instant and intense jolt of happiness and exhilaration. Pulling tricks on a bike gives the same rush and after a while you kind of get an addiction for that feeling. You continue to risk injury while pushing yourself to do new things and get that good feeling. Maybe it’s adrenaline, maybe it’s just euphoria from the sudden sense of satisfaction.

As funny as it sounds, I get the same rush when I do things that aren’t very life threatening, but are merely difficult. In college, conquering differential equations, figuring out physics, and acing grad school tests gave the same rush.

In 1995, I wanted to teach myself how to author web pages so I picked up a book, and I stayed up all night reading it, from cover to cover. When I was done, I walked over to my computer, opened up a text editor and wrote out all sorts of previously unintelligible markup. When I pushed “save” and viewed it in a browser, that same sense of euphoria and satisfaction that comes from solving a difficult problem washed over me. I fell into the same sort of routine that I did with skateboarding, bike riding, and school. I continued to push myself to learn new things to get that quick rush again every so often.

Nearly seven years have passed since that first web page, and I noticed a few months ago I don’t get that feeling much anymore. I can’t tell if I’m not pushing myself, if there isn’t anything interesting left to do, or if I’m just getting jaded by the whole thing.

Today, I spent a few hours setting up a collaborative intranet that I’ve been struggling with for the past few weeks. Due to the difficulty of trying to find the right set of tools for the job, I’ve been evaluating a set of packages and had a rough go with a restrictive web host. Eventually, I settled upon a combination of tools including PHP, MySQL, phpwiki, and phpMyAdmin. I downloaded a lot of packages and took some time installing and configuring things. Once it was time to finally test out all these foreign (to me) applications, everything worked perfectly the first time, and that same feeling came rushing back. For a few minutes, it was 1995 all over again, and a string of cryptic characters I barely understood actually produced things I could see and manipulate any way I pleased. A new world of possibilities suddenly opened up, and there’s a lot of new things still left to learn and do.

It was an amazing feeling and a nice reminder of why I started doing this in the first place.

This guy is my hero.

This guy is my hero.

This week, a spammer chose to fake his “from:” address on some penis enlargement spam with one of my domains. I’ve been receiving a steady stream of bounced messages, but thankfully no irate emails from those spammed. I’ve reported each and every spam to spamcop, contacted the hosts and network providers for the spamvertised websites, but haven’t heard anything back.

The only way to stop spamming is to make it economically unfeasible to continue doing it. If that requires suits against spammers, so be it.

“We need commonsense judges

“We need commonsense judges who understand that our rights were derived from God,” the president said.

Constitution? What Constitution? Oh right, that can be quickly changed to suit our current whims.

“That’s why the ruling is out of step with the traditions and history of America,” Bush said.

According to history, the 1892 pledge did not include “under god.” It was added in 1954 in response to the red scare. Is that the history of America we want to preserve?

The thing that shocks me the most from all this hoopla is there isn’t a single intelligent politician that has the guts to stand up for the laws the nation was built on. In a land of the free, formed to help people gain freedom from religion, we have people from both sides of the fence grabbing headlines stating their wish to force children to pledge their undying allegiance to a flag and god.

When I was a child in 4th grade, I distinctly remember the day we learned about communism, and how stifling that regime was. It was a horrible system because personal freedoms were compromised for the good of the nation, and everyone had to mindlessly follow lock-and-step with the nation’s wants. This is what I was taught in 1982, and after that day, I never understood why in our freest of nations, we started each morning with a forced recital of our pledge. To god no less.

The progression of technology is

The progression of technology is quickly becoming ridiculous. The other day I finally replaced my 4 year old, badly broken and dead CD burner with a new model. I found a 32x (!!!) burner for less than $80 at Fry’s, installed it, and tested it. I just copied a few hundred megs of backup data, and it was complete in under two minutes. I was also running about ten other apps at the same time, and it went off without a hitch. Oh, and blank CDs have also progressed nicely with Moore’s Law: I’ve seen spindles of 50 blanks for $5-$10.


I’ve got an old home

I’ve got an old home computer I’m working on setting up as a MAME cabinet, and I’m taking the easy route on controls (don’t feel like wiring up my own, want new buttons, new arcade feel). Ideally, I’d like two joysticks with at least two buttons each, and it’d be nice if there was a trackball as well, but I can’t quite find the perfect setup for sale.

So far I’ve found the Hotrod, X-arcade, and Stick-it are three similar units in the $200 range, and there’s a more custom setup called the Devastator but it’s $450. If anyone out there has used any pre-built MAME setups like this and has any experience or advice, could you let me know? Thanks.

After seeing Jason successfully get

After seeing Jason successfully get “mp3 now playing” functionality to work on his site, I decided to finally get it working for myself. I’ve had a “currently listening to” section on this page for a couple months (just down on the right, below the second photograph), but I’ve always wanted to automate it. Over the past year, one attempt after another failed with various bits of software, but I finally got the do something plugin to work (worst interface and interaction design ever). I’ll setup my laptop with the iTunes version as well, and see how much easier that is. I added a google search on the song title, in case you’re looking for information about it (Google doesn’t index mp3s, so you probably won’t be able to download them).

Currently I’m seeing “Disney’s Magic Kingdom – Tomorrowland Music” and yeah, I was actually hearing that. The plus of having gigs and gigs of my CD collection stored means you’ll see lots of novelity stuff.

I like everything Google does,

I like everything Google does, I really do, but there’s something a little odd about Google Answers. The first incarnation of it was a research service staffed by Google themselves, and I think they quickly realized it would never scale due to the limitation of having a human component. A few months ago they released the user-to-user Google Answers area, which farmed out the work to anyone that wanted to answer, and Google benefits on each transaction by taking a cut of the fees. I’ve used it a couple times now, one to answer a question I couldn’t dig up info on after a long search, and the other to settle a bet.

I realized something shortly after getting the second question answered: Google has basically enabled a paid version of USENET. I’m sure I’m not the first to make this revelation, in fact I came up with a suggestion similar to this early last year, before Deja News was sold to Google. There’s nothing really wrong with a paid USENET on the surface, I could have asked either question of mine on the current newsgroup system, weathering the spam and noise that would have followed, and I probably would have found my answers. The Google Answers service means that there is no spam to wade through, not even a highly structured categorization system to navigate (half the battle of posting in newsgroups is finding the correct group), and no chance of me being spammed for participating. I guess my problem lies with Google’s philosophy and the new service, which I think are at odds.

While I’ve always revered Google as an impartial resource and a business that seems to do everything right, I didn’t know they had strong feelings about the freedom of information until I met up with them last week. While discussing some projects that would benefit from a Google integration, we heard from Google engineers that locating and storing information was very important to the company as a core value, and that they never wanted to put barriers to information. They cache pages and images from other websites without prior permission, and that’s fine, but creating a pay-for version of a resource they already index seems to be at odds with that. I guess I don’t fully fathom how a company can be on one hand for dropping all barriers to information, and on the other creating a place where you have to pay to play.

Last month, I bought a

Last month, I bought a Directivo system, and once installed, was astonished at the quality of the whole experience. With hundreds of new channels to glean content from, our tivo quickly filled to capacity, and for the life of me I couldn’t locate the option to reduce the image recording quality (it appears that Directivo units don’t let you choose the quality, instead selecting it for you based on the amount of free space). The first few programs came out looking like DVDs, and eventually programs were only being held for a couple days before automatically being deleted.

I found a bustling tivo hacker community online, especially focused specifically on the directv-enabled tivo units (my guess is there is more of an economic incentive to hack a satellite system that offers hundreds of dollars in content a month). Looking through the various how-to articles, this one appeared to cover all the units and all the bases well. I went down to my local Fry’s and searched for an older 5400 rpm drive. I couldn’t locate one for under $100, and I noticed on the instructions that using a win2k or xp machine might be a problem. I don’t have a cd-burner handy, and my knowledge of linux is limited to installing and configuring web applications, so I knew a tivo upgrade would be at least a full day of work trying to get things to work, with the possibility of messing up my tivo and wasting a weekend on it.

Then I noticed the guy offered prepared hard drives for sale, ready to drop into any tivo unit. It sounded too good to be true, so I weighed my options: risk a $100 hard drive a full day tinkering that might not work against $195 for a drop-in option. With the world cup games coming (2 hrs per game would take up lots of space), and a vacation planned (we’d be gone while tivo erased games), I knew the upgrade would need to happen soon, so I plunked down the cash and sent away for the ready-to-use hard drive.

The package soon showed up as promised. A hard drive that had been “blessed” in a tivo system, ready to go, a backup version of the OS in case I needed to restore my tivo, and a single sheet of photos and instructions. I popped off the top of my tivo, unplugged the wires as instructed and mounted the second drive. I swapped a master/slave switch on the original drive and it was ready to roll. After powering up, everything came back perfectly normal; all my previous settings were intact, with the new capacity properly showing up. In all, it was maybe ten minutes from unpacking to powering up my tivo, and it’s worked flawlessly since. We have a disgusting amount of programming ready to watch at all times now, and everything looks super sharp.

The whole experience reminded me of the old software marketing book “Crossing the Chasm.” In it, the authors talk about taking products that sell well for the early adopter, uber-geeks and positioning them for the mainstream, less technical audience. Few companies do this well, with the AOL service being one of the best examples of geeky product sold successfully to the masses.

Among the geekiest of things out there (linux/BSD/OSX, guerilla wireless systems, tivo hacking), even somewhat advanced geeks are left out sometimes. I know a lot of geeky friends that code web applications, configure web servers, and build home networks, but don’t have the knowledge or time to take part in these bleeding edge technologies, and many of the people behind them aren’t interested in making them accessible to even technical users. Most open source software has poor documentation. OS X tries to take all the pain out of unix, but falls short at times, requiring users to go to the command line fairly regularly with memorized commands. The nocat guys I spoke to at the O’Reilly conference had their own tiny home-brewed base stations for wireless, with linux running on a compact flash card and robust web-based adminstration of the network, but they don’t sell these base units, and ask that you attend their meetings and build your own.

My guess is that there’s a large enough market of highly technical, but not uber-geeks out there worth selling to, and things like plug-and-play tivo hard drives are an example of the perfect product for them. As the mainstream grows, so to does the numbers of advanced users that “graduate” from the mainstream. Anyone beyond your basic AOL user could install the tivo upgrade drives, and my prediction is the guy sells a ton of them.