5 Things about me

OK, I usually use this site for technical articles, but I have been tagged by Evo so I'll post it here. I'll have to separate the 'blog from the articles, thank G_d for Drupal. In the mean time 5 things about me:

1) I've lived in the Greater New York City area for all but 6 months of my life. I did spend 6 month in Chicago, and decided that it was too small for me.

2) I have attempted to do 3 podcasts. The problem is I don't like the sound of my own voice (it's a little too NYC for my taste) so I hate putting them up. I have actually podfaded one show without producing a single episode.

3) My tech choices have come full circle. I started off playing with the Apple ][ and am now a Mac addict, with stops along the way using DOS, Windows, OS/2, BSD and Linux. The Mac, to me, seems to be the perfect balance, of Unixish, business acceptance and support.

4) I often wonder if the choices I've made professionally to be interested in less popular technologies has helped or hurt me. Sure there's plenty of xBase, Pascal, C, etc work out there but it doesn't mean that I don't know about other stuff. Heck I use twitter ;).

5) I own a business entirely by accident. I never intended to be a contractor, just a guy who writes code. One firm was only interested in me on a contract basis so I set up the S-Corp and have never looked back. It's been an interesting ride.

OK, need to tag some folks. How about NMissi, TrueJerseyGirl, and Ashley

    Posted: Jun 26, 2007

Some thoughts on Using Email

As I'm coming up on my 20th anniversary using email sometime this month, I have decided to write a series of articles about how I use email, some of the successes I've had and some of my failures hoping others don't repeat my mistakes. This first article contains some basic email rules. In the next couple days I will also publish articles on how I manage the messages I get and what you can do to keep yourself secure using email.

Rule 1- Get Setup Right
Get a provider that supplies you with a IMAP account. This allows you to have folders set up on the server and sync them with any machine you use. This allows you to administer your mail using your cellphone or a web client. Also make sure your provider uses solid spam and virus filtering.

Rule 2- Have As Few Accounts As Possible

I spent from 1997-2001 consolidating the email accounts I had accumulated over the years. I had email accounts at friend’s domains, yahoo, excite, HoTMaiL (pre MSN), crayola (I mean who wouldn’t want to be burntsienna at crayola.com), as well as on a number of vanity domains I owned. I spent hours checking mail everyday, which was far too much time. Mail got lost, I forgot to check certain accounts and missed events because I wasn't looking at the account that a friend was using. It was frustrating, and quite frankly a waste of time. Now, I have 2 email accounts. One account I own all my business and personal mail. There are a number of aliases, if you send me mail to sean@seanreiser.com, sean@cloisterbell.org, sean@repairsense.com, spr@columbia.edu or nibbler@dwny.org it routes its way to this account. This way I can have business/v cards that have an appropriate domain. I do use filters to help get what's important to the top of the heap, something I'll discuss in a future article. The other account is provided by my current client. Often, when I am doing work for a client their security policy won't allow all messages sent to me to be sent to my server, so I maintain an account on their box. But that's it.

Many people maintain accounts multiple in order to maintain a degree of anonymity. "What if that cute girl from the club turns out to be a psycho and stalks me?". This is why the Good Lord has invented the Kill File, a list of addresses that your mail client knows to automagiclly delete any messages.

Rule 3- Folders are free! Keep Your Inbox as Empty as Possible

I can't stress the importance of not having an Inbox that's a general mish-mosh of business requests, love letters, expired e-vites, match.com rejections, bad jokes and letters from your mom. My Inbox is what I consider the mail I haven't looked at. I get itchey if there are more then 10 messages in my inbox. On the surface this might contradict rule 1, but it doesn't I promise.

Every email I get, once read falls into one of a few categories:

Requires a Response - If at all possible respond right there and then. If not place it in a ToDo folder.

Need to Save - If you need or want to save an email, again use folders. Break them out based on category like Jokes, Letters from Mom, Attaboys, Love Letter, and work. Remember you can have subfolders so "Family->Mom" and "Work->OmegaProject" are legal and .

Everything Else - Delete, Delete Delete. There's no use to keep them, throw them out.

    Posted: Apr 14, 2007

Mac Software I Use Every Day

Every time someone gets a mac I get a phone call or an email asking what software they should install. As a resource to those folks I'm putting together a list of software I use every day. This is not necessarily a list of the best pieces of software just the software I use and like. It's not all free, but it all makes me happy. I hope to update this as time goes on. I'll also post a list of software I use less frequently soon.

Business Software

Quantrix (http://www.quantrix.com/) - Had to start with something that wasn't on anyone else's list.I was turned on to this recently by a co-worker and it has replaced excel. It's not just a spreadsheet, it's a modeling package. The professional version has the ability to work with databases through ODBC/JDBC. It's not just a 2D design but far more data centric. Very much an easier to use Mathematica.

Parallels (http://www.parallels.com) - Need to run Windows software on the same box? This is the way to go. For the last 10 months I've been doing Windows development on my Mac running .NET's development environment under parallels and it's been smoother than running under just windows. It seems that among other things OS X makes a good poor man's firewall.

MS-Office (http://www.microsoft.com) - Currently the best office product for OS X. To put that into perspective, I loathe Office for Windows and really like working with the OS X version. It feels natural and like it's part of the OS.

TextMate (http://www.macromates.com/) - A solid programming editor for OS X. I like a good solid programs editor and this one is my favorite.

Intharweb Software

Firefox (http://www.mozilla.com) - Yes, I know Safari is there, but I prefer Firefox, probably the unwashed hippy linux user deep down inside.

Adium (http://www.adiumx.com/) - An IM client which is a port of GAIM to OS X. Provides access to AIM, MSN, Jabber, Yahoo, G-Talk, Bonjour, Lotus Sametime, Novel Groupwise, Gadu-Gadu, Live Journal, among others. I'm hoping that next there'll be a direct twitter interface (hmmm, maybe I should write that).

Twitterific (http://iconfactory.com/software/twitterrific) - A brilliant, simply brilliant Twitter client.

Transmit (http://www.panic.com/transmit/) - A nice FTP product that exposes all necessary functionality to automator, which is nice when building workflows. Can't recommend it enough.

    Posted: Apr 7, 2007

Open Letter to Steve Jobs on DRM

This is a letter I am sending to Steve Jobs about DRM. Feel free to grab a copy, edit it and send one of your own.

Apple, Inc.
1 Infinite Loop
Cupertino, CA 95014
ATTN: Steve Jobs, CEO

Dear Mr Jobs:

First off, on behalf of all sane individuals I'd like to thank you for your efforts in the battle again DRM. Your recent agreement with EMI gives me hope that someday I'll be able to legally buy any music I choose over the internet and play it on any device that I own from my iPod, to a car stereo to a linux machine to an Xbox 360. The openness of DRM free music will change the way music is sold, and listened. Although I am an iPod user I have held off on buying any music from the iTunes Music Store, since I couldn't play said music legally on other devices in my home, office and car. I'm sure when the industry sees the success of this relationship, they will fall in line.

Unfortunately, the work isn't done yet. Video content from iTMS is still only available with DRM. I'm sure with your recently published stance on DRM, that this is a result of what the Content Providers want and not a way to lock content to the appleTV. If this is so, I ask you to publish an article aimed at the studios similar to the one you wrote about the music industry explaining why DRM is not an effective gatekeeper for content, and explaining how their business model would be well served by opening things up. You already know the facts, your article about the music industry proved that, you just need to express them.

When it's available, I will be purchasing my first songs off of iTunes, music that I am free to do with what I choose. Thank you for this opportunity. I hope to soon be buying episodes of Battlestar Galactic.

Thank you for your time

Sean P Reiser

    Posted: Apr 3, 2007

Twitter: A week with a new toy.

About a week ago I started checking out twitter. It's been on my radar for several months but I held off on taking the jump until now fearing it could become a major time sink. Is it? Let's see.

What is Twitter? This is the good question. Wikipedia says this:

"Twitter is a social networking and micro-blogging service that allows users to send "updates" (text-based posts, up to 140 characters long) via SMS, instant messaging, the Twitter website or an application such as Twitterrific. These updates are displayed on the user's profile page and also instantly delivered to other users who have signed up to receive them. The sender can restrict delivery to members of his circle of friends, or allow delivery to everybody (which is the default). Users can receive updates via the Twitter website, instant messaging, SMS, RSS, or through an application. For SMS, currently two gateway numbers are available: one for the USA and a UK number for international use." ... (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twitter)

To me, it feels like the bastard child of Dodgeball, ICR, Blogs, IM, RSS and SMS mixed with CB radios from the 1970's. It has the appeal blogging did before it became commercial. Far more personal and less commercial. More messages about where a person is, how they feel or what they are doing and less messages about the war, politics and religion. There is some commercial content, for example http://twitter.com/ads, a bot that I assume has a mission to annoy me when I watch the public timeline (http://twitter.com/public_timeline) or twittervision (http://www.twittervision.com).

So, who's using it? At this moment it seems to be mostly the new media blogging / *casting community. David Winer (http://twitter.com/davewiner), Adam Curry (http://twitter.com/adamcurry), Robert Scoble (http://twitter.com/Scobleizer), Jason Calacanic (http://twitter.com/JasonCalacanis), Mad Man Evo Terra (http://twitter.com/evo_terra) and Leo Laporte (http://twitter.com/leolaporte) are a number of examples. Independent musician Jonathan Coulton (http://twitter.com/jonathancoulton) has an account. Surprisingly, John Edwards (or at least his campaign) has been tweeting away at http://twitter.com/johnedwards. Will more politicians show up in the future? Probably.

It's rather addictive, to be honest and I'm enjoying playing with it. You have to turn it off so you don't look like this at work or in life. It appeals to the voyeur in me and I have enjoyed giving an insight into the little things going on in my life and having a platform for short thought that are too short to blog.

My real question is ... can it be a tool, or is it just a toy? I can see it going both ways. I have seen traffic with job offerings, technical questions, advertising blog / *casting postings, etc that have been mostly useful. On a couple of occasions I've been able to track down colleagues because they tweeted their location. On the other hand, I have seen lots of silliness. I have spent lots of time reading about people's relationship problems, hearing stories about their children, problems with their website provider, etc. I seem to have made new vFriends which is always nice.

The last question people have asked has been is it stable? To quote Jason Calacanis "if twitter down time is any indication they are going to be 2x as big as EBAY" (http://twitter.com/JasonCalacanis/statuses/16654291).

I think it's going to be a fun ride. Check it out. Check out twittervision (http://www.twittervision.com), a googlemap with tweets from the public timeline showing the location of the tweeter.

    Posted: Mar 31, 2007

My Night at J&R

Stopped by J & R this evening to pick up a new camera lens for my Digital Rebel and while wandering through the computer department I ran into a near encounter of what Rob Rosenberger calls "False Authority Syndrome".

A sales man was selling a young lady a new hard drive. She told him that she currently had 100 Gigs of data. That was all the information she gave him. His response was, "Good we have an internal 200 Gig drive on sale. Backups are important, because hard drives fail. You can partition this into 2 100 Gig partitions and backup the data onto the other partition so if the drive fails you have another copy. Installation is simple..". Are you as flabbergasted as I am? OK, lets break this down and count the things that are wrong with that statement:

1) You have just sold someone who couldn't pick out her own hard drive an internal, which requires that she has to crack her case, do the install. Additionally you never verified whether she had SATA or EIDE. A desktop or a laptop? Once she's done with the installing the hardware you're expecting to figure out how to partition a drive, an option that's well hidden in the depths of the WIndows XP computer management..

2) If she follows his advice and partitions the drive, considering the over head for partitions tabels, the filesystem, and "hard drive math", best case scenario she would have filled the partition. As the 100 Gigs of data was a guess (really, who has such 100 Gigs of data, and not 99 Gigs or 101 Gigs), odds are she will not have enough disk space for her files.

3) He gave her no instructions on how to do the backup.

4) The backup is on the same machine. If something goes wrong with the computer she'll need to go ahead and pull that drive out and mount in another machine if she wants to get here data back.

5) The backup is in the same location so when the place burns down she losses both her original and her backup.

and my favorite (you knew it was coming)

6) THE BACKUP IS ON THE SAME GORAM HARD DRIVE SO WHEN THE "DRIVE FAILS" YOU'LL LOOSE BOTH THE ORIGINAL AND THE BACKUP. Yes this may protect against accidental erasure and corruption, if you realize it quick enough before the next backup is done (let's face it, with that partition scheme, there's no room for any sort of archive). But almost every drive problem I've had has been hardware based (drive controlers, Head crash, etc).

So, being the helpful human I am, I try to insert myself into the conversation. "Excuse me, I don't think that's the best thing I've heard.. You'll probably run out of room really fast if you make 2 100 Gig partitions. Having the original and backup in the same place isn't the wisest thing I've heard. Oh, BTW, how handy are you with a screwdriver?".

His response was "Don't listen to this guy, if he was really knew this stuff he'd be working here. I'm a J&R senior sales person, what's his qualifications?".

All I said was "a Masters Degree in Computer Science from Columbia University". I was proud that I didn't ask him how that made him more qualified then a Petco Pet Food Stacker.

She put down the drive and said she needed to think about it.

In my past life, I did some home technical support and often wondered where people got some of their hair brained ideas about technology and how things work. As I've gotten older I've found plenty of stories like this and now know. I wonder how many people are using the J&R senior sales man backup method and if there are enough smart geeks out there to save them for J&R dweebs.

    Posted: Mar 31, 2007

Microsoft gets it ... why doesn't anyone else or Why I stopped giving out pirated copies of MS-Office and learned to embrace openoffice.org

Well, beat them up enough and they begin to get it. Today on salon.com I read this article on MS's backing down on the piracy battle in China. It points out the MS has finally realized what I have known for a while pirating MS software increases MS market share. Yes, if you want to help MS take over the world and dumb down the population go out there are spread around their stuff. If you are trying to undermind MS well there's another way to go. Create better alternatives. MS losing a license fee hurts them in the short term. Eventually that user will upgrade to an MS solution because they've been enabled by the process. MS losing a customer to a better solution, well, that's another story. A user who jumps from office to openoffice.org becomes educated and empowers the user. They learn about open source and standards. They learn that the computer revolution does not involve talking paperclips.

Of course the RIAA proved that not everyone gets it. They are releasing anti-piracy ads featuring such icons as Brittney Spears. I can hear it now "Piracy is wrong.... if you don't buy my songs I won't be able to afford bigger breasts" (she turned 18 now I'm allowed to notice them now). In the ad she is supposed to be comparing downloading a song to stealing a CD. A closer analogy, IMHO would be to compare it to taping copying it to tape or better yet taping it off the radio (which is how those of us who had pre-MP3/OGG adolesence distributed songs around).

What the RIAA has failes to understand is that sharing music is the best way for folks to try music in other genres. For example although I grew a child of the 80's. Hair metal and 70's rock were my favorite genres of music. A friend once handed me a tape with some New Age music from Manheim Steamroller, which was as far from what I was listening to as could be. You know what. I liked the music. Guess what else... I bought some CDs of theirs. And I've also bought some CDs of other artists in the genre that I never would've bought. Guess what there are at least 50 CDs in my collection that can be attributed to my being give a tape to check out. So I'll yell if for all the RIAAers out there sharing music increases sales it does not decrease them. 

    Posted: Sep 26, 2002

New uses for a palm pilot  or  I wonder if a site hosted on this will hold up to slashdotting

Came across this gem of a piece of software the other day. I've asked several folks it they can come up with a use for it. No solid answers yet (if you can figure it out email me). My main question is "Why in the name of all that is holy would someone invest the time to do this?" I don't except "because it's there" or "because you can"... no human being could ever find this useful. This may be my shit but why write software that no one is going to use? Doesn't make sense to me.

Maybe it's me but there's little wow factor in something this is nether sexy nor productive. "I have a web server that runs on a Palm Pilot... sure it can only his 1 user hitting it at a time. Sure I the server can only handle less than 8 Meg of web page.... But it's on a Palm Pilot, man". Now I am a huge Palm fan. I worship at the shrine of Hawkins. I've owned more Palm OS devices than I care to admit and have written several pieces of software for the beast. But it is a fact that the purpose of the device is to give you a window to your PC. I say this to make you understand that I appreciate the platform for it's strengths and weaknesses. As has been said by Hawkins the Palm (Pilot) was designed as a "window to your PC". A way to take your data with you. A way to create simple and not so simple documents. Sure there are now extensions for word processing, spreadsheets, presentation documents. But running a server is insane in my humble opinion.

Davep an old acquaintance from the Clipper (the language, not the chip) community once said in a usenet post:

One final point. More than once I've seen someone ask the question "why bother?" or "where is the need?" in regard to the reason for THE PROJECT. We can only answer those questions with another question:

When did programming cease to be fun?

I now have the answer to that question. When what I code will never be used beaches it's flawed from the initial design

    Posted: Sep 24, 2002