Grown up hosting providers

I feel a sign of a mature company comes when they have to react to something going wrong. A couple days ago I received an email from my hosting company, Media Temple, about someone illegally hacking some old client records that had not been encrypted and made off with account details. Of course this is not a good thing, but they have corrected the problem and implemented additional security in order to track down accounts that have been compromised.

Oh happy joy, I receive an email walking home yesterday to say that mine was one of the hacked ones. The email notification was very good and even provided links to articles about finding and correcting the hack, as it had occurred in only specific files and changing the various passwords attached to my account. This was very well done and only took me a total of about ten minutes to do.

I am not saying it is a good thing when a hosting provider is allows something like this to happen, but it is a very good sign that they dealt with it quickly, efficiently and most importantly transparently.

Adieu Facebook, you weren’t that much better the second time

There are a lot of people who now believe that the world exists within Facebook, sadly I am not one of them. I have had my account for probably four or five years, but included in that time was a two year period where it was deactivated because I couldn’t see a reason to use it. About twelve or so months ago it was reactivated and has remained so until this morning, but really the fact that I couldn’t see much point behind it three years still remains.

I know that there are many excellent uses for it and I am totally behind social networking, but just in this case there is little in it for me. I am already contactable nearly constantly regardless of where I am in the world and don’t gain out of having yet another way to do it. Between six or seven different email accounts, mobile phone and SMS, Skype, four different Instant Messaging accounts, this under utilised web log, regular mail and various types of birds that can be trained to carry messages it shouldn’t be too hard to find me. Hell, if you know your way around Google you can probably still find my previous home address in Adelaide if you know where to look.

“But with all that why not just keep your Facebook account active, what is one more?” I hear people asking and I guess they are right. But I make nearly zero use of Facebook. I don’t want to post status messages. If I want to put up photos they will go on something like Flickr. I can’t see the point in commenting on the majority of things people post and really who out there gives a toss if I “Like” their drunken photos from last weekend or their latest witty observation.

Even with all that my biggest annoyances with Facebook is that people are Friends. I have an old fashioned and probably quite weird view (well weird at the moment) of what a friend is. When I first used Facebook I was very limiting and only added people as Friends if they really were, this time it was a little different, but I still couldn’t help but feel wrong about it every time I added someone I didn’t really know or a person from the past who found me to inflate their Friend count. A number of my best and closest friends choose not to use Facebook so really me posting stuff on there really was excluding the people I love most.

At first it occurred to me to just leave the account and not bother using it if I didn’t want too, but that seemed silly. This way people actually know I do not see or check it so there will be less chance of things getting mailed to me in Facebook and me not seeing them.

Is this the end of Ryan and the Facebooks??? Probably not, I rarely say never and so there may come a time in the future, it could be next week, where I can see the value behind it for me again.

The love is still there…

Wow, it has been a while since I posted. Don’t worry the monkeys and I have not forgotten the three of you who read this drivel. This is a quick little post to keep the faithful happy until I post in the next day. Why the long gap, I hear at least two of you ask? Really the only answer is a mix of laziness and totally lack of motivation because of everything else that has been going on.

Please come back when I post next, there is little money in this as there is and it is good to have the three of you listening.

Note: the monkeys have totally forgotten all of you, some day’s they think there are many millions of people listening to them, but that is another story. But this is mainly because I forgot to send food and all they have had for the last few months is a steady supply of booze.

Direction when working in computing

Computing (or IT, depending on how you wish to class it) as a whole is a vast area to work in. When compared to many other areas of study there are a huge number of choices, which is both a good and bad thing. There are many languages, applications, platforms and systems etc in which you can choose to work. This unfortunately, in my case, has the ability to breed confusion and a lack of direction.

Only now am I starting to realise how the many choices are affecting my ability to focus. I use to have things planned out and a real idea of where I was hoping to end up, unfortunately things are not that simple. My initial idea prior to uni was that I wanted to be a programmer, but this is a very broad area to work in. I learnt once entering uni that a programmer can actually lead down many different paths, based on interest and the degree to which you chose to specialise.

After changing jobs last year and starting work, for the first time, at a software company this confusion has increased, even as my experience in the area has grown. I have learnt much what it means to work at a software company, including getting a better idea of where I do not want to be. Sadly it is where I am stuck at the moment, and so breeds the uncertainty around what I want to do.

But things have not been all bad, I have learnt one very important thing. Developers are specialised but not necessarily in things such as languages, it is a special way of thinking. The ability to break down a problem and see a solution is what I respect the most about a couple of the developers I work with.

Where I am right now is that I am eager to learn more to improve my chance of sometime moving into development, whether with the current company or not. But I do have a problem with motivation and attention span. I am a bit stuck finding something I am interested in in order to learn more. If I can find something I am truly into I will work myself into a stupor to achieve whatever goal because I just enjoy the challenge. Is this a common mindset within computing?

I need to make some sort of decision soon as this needless drifting is not helping me, especially as I am seeing it is a huge waste of the finite time I have.

Because we say you need a religion!

A friend wrote a piece about discussions he has had around religion and I was interested to see how he dealt with a situation I have found myself in a few times.

I have been gifted with my friends in that, although many of them do have various beliefs, none of them seem to be militant about them. I have had friends in the past, and known other people, who saw religion as black and white. You either have the same beliefs or are someone to be converted or lectured.

I experienced this first hand when I visited some people, while reading one of the Harry Potter books, and was silly enough to mention what I was reading. This left me caught between a stern lecture about the how the books were evil and corrupting children by promoting witchcraft, and being polite to my host. Luckily years of training from my mother meant that my manners won out and I bit my tongue. Which is sad because if the positions were reversed I would still be expected to do the same. Still in civilised society criticising someone’s religious views is seen as hugely rude but telling me that I am a heathen who will be condemned in another life is perfectly fine.

This is the time that you realise that it is a no win situation is many cases. Religious belief is not something that can be argued as it may not be something that is rational to begin with. The idea that being atheist is the same as being an immoral nut who will go around raping and killing is laughable. There are many examples in history where disgusting crimes are done, both in the name of, and somehow excused by, by a set of religious beliefs.

Now excuse me while me and some other atheists head off to do some unspeakable evil like working on the Sabbath and eating meat on Good Friday.

Queue the evil music… and may we all be touched by his noodly appendage. And no, not touched in that way.

Skype and the iPhone

I was honestly happy when a friend pointed out that Skype was now available on the iPhone. I was under no delusions that it would not be heavily controlled so as not to offend the service providers, but the fact that it had made it was good. Really at the moment the application not allowing Skype calls over the 3G network was not a huge deal as the cap’s in Australia are quite tight and VoIP would definitely blow mine.

When I first saw Netgear’s wifi Skype mobile I thought, that is a really cool idea especially at home or when traveling. I was looking at one before moving but instead got an iPhone and what was my first thought. This would be really cool with something like Skype on it, even if it was only available over wifi.

But in the real world it is no where near as good. The Netgear one has a huge advantage, it is always connected to Skype, unlike an iPhone. Skype loses a lot of the value if you have to keep the application open and can not have your mobile sleep to save power or use it for anything else without disconnecting from the Skype network. The single app model for the iPhone is a major stumbling block for applications such as Skype. Having the application close when answering an SMS or checking email makes it all but useless for receiving calls, that are not pre-planned. But that is something for another post.

I have used Skype on my iPhone and will continue to both have it installed and use it, but it is a long way from replacing a device that can maintain the connection to the Skype network in the background. My use will be when making calls or if I discuss and plan to receive a call from someone.

I am eager to see what the Skype client looks like when the Blackberry or Android version is released in the coming months as background applications are very common on them and hopefully we might see a mobile device that can do Skype well.

Movies and the net

In my opinion accessing movies is probably the best example of the power of the internet. Unlike music, video is much much larger and often has a more finite life. Many people will listen to albums many times but there are a number of people who will rarely watch a movie more than once or twice.

In some other countries there are some amazing options for accessing movies online. The best example I can see is Netflix within the US. What started as a DVD rental service has expanded into on demand streaming of near DVD quality movies and TV shows. I have seen similar in Australia, sites like Bigpond Movies and Quickflix are offering a similar model to the original Netflix with DVD’s available for rental. The biggest problem with both is the cost. The pricing when compared to Netflix (even factoring in currency exchange rates is very high).

Service Movies per month Movies at once Cost per month $AU
Netflix Unlimited 2 $19.57
Bigpond Movies 8 3 $19.95
Quickflix 8 2 $19.95

Notice anything special with this comparison. I deliberately didn’t pick the most basic option with Netflix as it makes the comparison even more laughable. But my issue is where are our the online retailers. Netflix approach this by allowing unlimited access to a subset of their library on demand through the internet. For the example above if you are entitled to two movies at once it will allow you to have two movies being streamed to your house at once. People will immediately be thinking, but Netflix only allows streaming access to a subset, but they are still offering 12,000 titles this way, which isn’t too bad when the Australian sites only have libraries of about 35,000 DVDs. And with the Netflix plan you can use both the DVD’s and the online streams.

I see this streaming model really is the future, why have a large library of movies in your house when you can pay a low monthly fee to access a much larger library. I’m sure if you do the money over many years it might be worth it but it may not be a fair comparison. In my case I have about 200 DVD’s acquired over the last 4 to 5 years which at an average price of $20 each totals $4,000. If I even had the plan listed above I would have only spent about $1200. And an unexpected benefit, especially as someone who lives in a smaller inner city apartment, is that I would not need boxes or shelves full of DVD’s just to have my own library. All I need is my internet connection.

Sure this does have some downsides when compared to having a local copy of a movie, the main one being ability to access movies when offline, but for me and I would imagine a lot of people this is not much of an issue, a bigger issue is the internet connection. This is different to listening to music which is done offline probably more often than online due to MP3 players and mobiles with the same ability.

The state of internet connections in Australia really isn’t too good. Often it is written in the tech press about the problems with internet in the US and how hard done by US users are. Most of them would feel truly shocked if they suddenly inherited our internet options. The speed of connections in Australia can be okay, it is quite possible to get a connection of 2-20 Mbps within quite a few areas within the capital cities. Notice I did not say just in metro areas as coverage varies from exchange to exchange. But these speeds mean very little for a lot of services when you have a download cap of 20-40 GB per month and pay a reasonably high amount for the privilege. And all of that is not too bad if you live in an inner metro area but live in an outer suburb or a short distance out of the city and the options are a lot worse.

Okay, so in a wonderful magical world where Netflix is available in Australia, you are still hit by the internet connection problem. Netflix list that a 4 Mbps connection is required for HD content. So looking at a single 90 minute movie at 4 Mbps it will require about 2.7 GB to download it. So even if you can get the Netflix plans you can still only watch a small number of movies per month unless you pay a huge amount for your internet connection.

However I have seen what could be a light on the horizon. One ISP announced an arrangement with the Australian distributor of Tivo to unmetered content from the service. For those of you who don’t have download caps, unmetered content is data that the ISP does not count towards your monthly quota. Really deals like this are not only good for the users they are also nice for the ISP, it means they have the data enter their network once, then can retransmit to their users.

But why would you use this when you are able to get movies free through various BitTorrent sites anyway. That is a reasonable statement, but I use BitTorrent quite a bit, but really just because there is no better alternative. I would be happy to pay $20 a month for access to a large library of movies, especially as a paid service will hopefully have more investment into infrastructure so it would be quicker. Finally I don’t care greatly about the argument that I am paying for something I could get for free, I’m paying for convenience and availability.

It starts again

Previously this site hosted a blog where I was posting my thoughts, mostly about my concerns with time errors within the Back To The Future movies, and other things I deemed somewhat interesting. But as with a lot of things I started to get bored with the whole thing, especially continually having to cover for those slack monkeys, so the site went away.

So a year or so has passed and many things have changed, at least a few of those lazy monkeys must have died by now, and my recent use of Twitter has left me with the need to write some things that are longer than 140 characters. And it is much easier to write bigger things here rather than post 6 tweets in a row like some Twittery (wow, according to my spell checker that is actually a word) people I know.

What am I planning to write about, I hear the masses (or the two people that know about this blog) asking? Love, life and our place in the universe are all ridiculously complicated topics so I will probably restrict is to things I know about including internet and computer things as well as things that either get up my nose or interest me. However this may change as I am quite a strange one and nothing really keeps my attention for too long, which really does explain the demise of the first blog, well that and the lazy monkeys (how they try my patience with the demands for better wine and a few days a year on Earth to relax).

That is enough for now, and I have no doubt you are already scared and worried. Check back sometime and see if I have kept it up this time.