Requiem for a modem

Two days ago I’ve shut down the longest running electronics device I ever owned.

Alcatel SpeedTouch Home - Image from isphelp.info

The device was my an Alcatel Speedtouch Home ADSL modem which I got circa 2001 when I was lucky enough to get an ADSL line at home.

It was only turned off when there was a power failure or when I moved an apartment.

It survived 6 PC, 5 Laptops, 4 routers, 6 apartments spanning 4 cities and about 10 different cell phones.

It was hacked to use PPPoE instead of its default PPTP. Was hacked again to function as a router, and back to being just a modem.

When I started using it I had a 1.5Mbit ADSL line. It grew to 2.5Mbit and finally 5Mbps – its maximum supported speed (taking into account the infrastructure state, my distance from the switchboard, etc).

When the New Generation Network (NGN) of my landline provider Bezeq was deployed, the modem couldn’t  keep up with its 5Mbit speed because the uplink speed changed and it couldn’t sync. I downgraded to 2.5Mbps until I could get a replacement modem.

Once I got the newer modem, I shutdown the old one for good. It was now obsolete, old and unable to support faster speeds. No one would want it. No one would need it. No one would use it.

I will always remember it as the device that saved me from my happy dial-up days and brought me into the broadband age. It never failed, never stopped working and handled whatever bits were thrown at it.

It is now time for you to rest in modems heaven, where the line is always synced and the bits flow freely.

May all my current and future modems will serve me as well as you did.

Goodbye old friend. We had good times.

“Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.”

I know the title is a bit alarming, but that was my first thought after reading @bryce‘s latest post “The Rising Generation“.

Briefly, he mentioned a 25 y/o asking a question on Quora about how was life before everyone had a cell phone and no one talked a lot or texted in public areas. Bryce also say that the new entrepreneurs, like the ones in yesterday’s Y Combinator Demo Day have different expectation, understanding and perceived value of technology than any other that has come before them.

I’m 30. Not too far from the 25 y/o who asked the question (although I was about 15 when cell phone started to penetrate Israel quickly and spread like wild fire). In most companies I worked at I was usually the youngest (or second youngest) in the company for quite some time. Most of my co-workers used to be (or are) between 9-15 years older than me and are still surprised of my knowledge of things from the past.

I’m a bit of a history buff when it comes to computers, science and technology (but also to general history). That’s why I do know what a ZX Spectrum is (and I don’t know how it reached my house when I was about 7 but I had the chance to play with it). I know how VMS systems work (long story form the Army :-) ). When I was six I did play with an Apple IIc my brother got for his Bar Mitzvah and really liked Captain Goodnight and Karateka. I do know how a modem sounds (and can even detect by sound what is the connection speed. Tiiii Taaa TiiTaTa TiiiTa – Yay 28KBPS! ). Heck, I even ran a BBS and was a node on FidoNet when I was 14.

That might be a bit unusual for most people my age that are into computers (and maybe even for older ones) but that’s not too different from people that hear Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Bach and Mozart. While these composers and bands did not exist when I was born or when I was a child the music kept on going. I and a lot of other people both older and younger do know it, hear it and enjoy it. It even inspires some to go on and create new things.

Knowing a bit of the past and how it related to an idea or thought you have can give you a much better appreciation to the things others have done or to the things others advice you to do. After all, specifically in the computers and internet industry, we are all “standing on the shoulders of giants”. It can also give entrepreneurs some much needed perspective on how things were, how things are and how it should be.

So, in addition to Bryce’s hope that “they can rise high enough to meet the emerging opportunities generations before them have made possible”, my 2 cents are to also learn a bit from the past. Take a minute for some history and try to figure out how things were before you push on forward. If they won’t they are destined to repeat it.

Message in a bottle

Launching a startup is like sending a message in a bottle. If the message is not clear, no one will come to visit your lonely island or send you a postcard back.Message in a bottle

When you launch your startup, your online presence (i.e. website, twitter account, facebook page, etc) and the buzz you manage to create online via the online official and unofficial press are the message you are passing to your users. If the message is not clear you can lose a lot of attention.

Before launching your startup you might want to test your messaging. I propose two very simple tests that can serve as rather good markers to determine if your message is clear.

Tests Rules:

  • Each of the tests should be given to 2 different people
  • These people should have no prior knowledge of your startup and what it does
  • One person should be a Non-Techie – someone not from the tech industry who is known to have little to no technical background. The other should be a Techie – someone from the tech industry that can eventually ask a question along the lines of “How are you going to implement this?” and understand the answer.
  • Each test should have a different set of people, you cannot reuse people from one test in the other test.

Test #1 – One sentence or less (or the 140 character pitch)

Tell each of the 2 people in one sentence or less what your startup does. If they don’t ask for additional clarification then you can consider that your message is rather clear. If they don’t ask for additional clarification, but are rather intrigued by your startup and message you can safely assume your message is clear enough and your startup does interest them.

Test #2 – The blind website test

Show your website to the 2 people without saying a word. Ask them to read what is written and explain to you what they think your startup is about. If they can explain it and understand completely what you are doing you can be certain enough that your web site message is clear even to new users who has no prior knowledge of what your startup does.

If you did not pass one of the test, try it again on a different set of people (just to make sure these 4 are not a statistical anomaly). If the result is still the same try to revise your messaging and, as always, remember to rinse and repeat.

New programming languages forces you to re-think a problem in a fresh way (or why do we need new programming languages. always.)

Whenever a new programming language appears some claim its the best thing since sliced bread (tm – not mine ;-) ), other claim its the worst thing that can happen and you can implement everything that the language provides in programming language X (assign X to your favorite low level programming language and append a suitable library).

After seeing Google’s new Go programming language I must say I’m excited. Not because its from Google and it got a huge buzz around the net. I am excited about the fact that people decided to think differently before they went on and created Go.

I’m reading Masterminds of Programming: Conversations with the Creators of Major Programming Languages (a good read for any programming language fanaticos) which is a set of interviews with various programming languages creators and its very interesting to see the thoughts and processes behind a couple of the most widely used programming languages (and even some non-so-widely-used programming languages).

In a recent interview Brad Fitzpatrick (of LiveJournal fame and now a Google employee) was asked:

You’ve done a lot of work in Perl, which is a pretty high-level language. How low do you think programmers need to go – do programmers still need to know assembly and how chips work?

To which he replied:

… I see people that are really smart – I would say they’re good programmers – but say they only know Java. The way they think about solving things is always within the space they know. They don’t think ends-to-ends as much. I think it’s really important to know the whole stack even if you don’t operate within the whole stack.

I subscribe to Brad’s point of view because   a) you need to know your stack from end to end – from the metals in your servers (i.e. server configuration), the operating system internals to the data structures used in your code and   b) you need to know more than one programming language to open up your mind to different ways of implementing a solution to a problem.

Perl has regular expressions baked into the language making every Perl developer to think in pattern matching when performing string operations instead of writing tedious code of finding and replacing strings. Of course you can always use various find and replace methods, but the power and way of thinking of compiled pattern matching makes it much more accessible, powerful and useful.

Python has lists and dictionaries (using a VERY efficient hashtable implementation, at least in CPython) backed into the language because lists and dictionaries are very powerful data structures that can be used in a lot solutions to problems.

One of Go’s baked in features is concurrency support in the form of goroutines. Goroutines makes the use of multi-core systems very easy without the complexities that exists in multi-processing or multi-threading programming such as synchronization. This feature actually shares some ancestry with Erlang (which by itself has a very unique syntax and vocabulary for scalable functional programming).

Every programming language brings something new to the table and a new way of looking at things and solving problems. That’s why its so special :-)

OpenID 2.0 Directed Identity and Emails

A couple of days ago I’ve talked with Eran Hammer-Lahav about an idea I had regarding his post about using Emails as OpenID identifiers.

During the talk another sub-idea came into light in regards to OpenID 2.0 Directed Identity and Emails. While I’m not sure if this has been discussed before (I didn’t have much time to go through old posts on the OpenID mailinglist yet) I thought about bringing it up here.

Directed Identity is a feature that allows a user to enter the domain in which his/her identity resides. This means that if I want to use my OpenID login at some site instead of entering the whole URL to my exact identity, I can simply put the domain name of my OpenID provider.

My provider will figure out all the rest including how to direct me back to the right site after I correctly login.

Yahoo’s implementation of OpenID 2.0 supports directed identities. At their OpenID site, they are educating users to write just “yahoo.com” instead of a full blown long URL to their profiles.

With a small change, a user can use his/her Email address to use directed identity, after all, users already knows how to enter an Email address in most sites to sign-in/up.

In the case of Yahoo, instead of entering “yahoo.com” to use directed identity, why not put your whole Email “myemail@yahoo.com”. The consumer OpenID implementation can simply cut off the domain name from the Email and use directed identity for the rest of the process.

I’m sure a lot of Yahoo users will find that entering their Email more natural and easier to comprehend than to figure out they should put the domain name.

The benefits for this idea is in its implementation. Providers that support OpenID 2.0 doesn’t need to do anything. The real change here is in the OpenID consumer libraries that supports OpenID 2.0. The consumer libraries only needs to use a simple regex to extract the domain name from the Email.

Do you know if this idea was previously suggested?

Do you think its applicable?

I certainly think it can make it easier for everyone and I’m thinking here in mother terms. I know my mother knows her Email and knows how to sign in to sites with it. I’m quite sure she has little understand as to what a URL is, what’s its syntax and why she would need to use it.

Jerusalem ROCKS! Tickets are on sale

Jeff posted a couple of days ago that the tickets for the Jerusalem ROCKS! event are on sale at Hadran.co.il.

Go here to read more about Jerusalem ROCKS! I also wrote a little bit about Jerusalem ROCKS! here.

Jeff is looking for bloggers from both Israel and around the world who would like to cover and/or promote the show. If you are interested Email to jeffp@pulver.com and introduce yourself.

I’ve corresponded a little bit with Jeff about why he was doing this Event and he told me that he wanted to do something that no one did for almost 20 years. Also he wanted that Israeli people will just have fun.

At first I thought there should be something more to this than just fun, but then it hit me. Fun is something that is generally underestimated and undervalued specifically in our region of the world.

Such a show with performers in such caliber all in one place and in Jerusalem on top of all is something that is really awesome.

So… just go there and have fun. Have fun without worrying about the mundane things in life that are usually in your head. Clear your mind and just absorb the fun (there is going to be lots of it!)

iPhoneDevCamp, iPhone, Safari and Microformats

I wish I could attend iPhoneDevCamp but unfortunately I won’t be in the area (or in the right country for that matter ;-) ).

I just read Chris’ post about iPhoneDevCamp and I think these are the right reasons to make the iPhoneDevCamp.

There are a few facts that support Chris’ view:

  • In the first week Apple sold 700,000 units
  • The iPhone is closed for outside application, but not for web applications
  • Having a couple of million units out (after it is also sold in Europe and Asia) means there are a couple of million users using Safari on their iPhone and want to get the right experience in all/most sites.

The day I heard that the iPhone will be closed to 3rd party apps but will use web applications as its main extension approach I thought one thing. Apple should make Safari (or at least just Safari on the iPhone) Microformats aware.

Since the main interaction of users with 3rd party application on the iPhone is through web sites, extracting as much meaning as possible from such a web site will give iPhone users the best experience. For example, if I had an hCalendar someone in a site, or an hCard, if Safari on the iPhone (or Safari in general) would have Microformats support I could quickly add the meeting or contact information to my iPhone with one click (arrr, is it click or touch?)

If Apple will do that at some point in the future, it means that the Microformats community will gain a couple of million users which might in turn convince web site designers to support Microformats.

Microformats are exactly the small and right amount of standardization that can make the web a better place for both users and developers.

It seems that Microformats becomes more important in smaller devices where the ability to extend their applications and the devices itself is usually limited and input is measured as the smallest and shortest action one should take to make something happen.

Google Apps for your Domain, DNS, CNAME and Security

I’ve recently started to use Google Apps for Your domain to host my private emails on the sandler.co.il domain.

Google Apps for your domain is quite cool and was very easy to configure. I mainly moved to it due to the unbelievable amounts of SPAM and I didn’t have the power or time to configure SpamAssassin in a reasonable way that would actually work.

When I moved, one of the things I did was to change the “default” URL in which me and other members of my family use to access the web mail of the domain. Google Apps for your Domain allows you to do just that by configuring it in its configuration screen and settings a CNAME record that points to ghs.google.com.

After configuring everything I tested it out and noticed something disturbing.

It seems that CNAME (by design/default/whatever) does not support HTTPS, only HTTP. This means that the CNAME alias I configured will be resolved to mail.google.com/a/YourDomain.XXX (replace YourDomain.XXX with your domain ;-) ). If you are not authenticated you’ll be redirected to authenticate on an SSL protected address (https) and upon successful authentication you will be directed to http://mail.google.com/a/YourDomain.XXX (not https – not SSL).

This means that now, when you read or write Emails they are not protected. If you are sitting in an open WIFI network (passwordless network) people can easily sniff out your Emails and correspondence (I know that not using WPA will make you prune to man in the middle attacks, but that’s not the issue here). This is just one of the scenarios that you will be vulnerable (there are a few more).

It’s not that accessing https://mail.google.com/a/YourDOMAIN.XXX will not work. On the contrary, it will work fine and all the communication will be secured using SSL (https).

It seems Google is encouraging recklessness with their current configuration, instead of redirecting authenticated users to the secured version (https/SSL) of their web mail specifically because of the DNS CNAME limitations.

It is a simple fix on Google’s behalf which will increase the security dramatically.

My Google Development Community Piece was referenced at ZDNet

2 days ago I wrote a post about the lack of Google Israel’s involvement in the development community.

It seems that in most of the places (I’m sure in the US, I’m not sure if the rest of the development centers in South American and Europe have the same involvement) where Google has development centers they are a little more involved with the development community in the form of lecture, places to meet and chat, sponsoring events, etc.

I got referenced on ZDNet by Donna Bogatin (Thanks Donna! :-) ) in a post Donna wrote about a victory that Microsoft had over Google in Israel for an enterprise search engine.

There are a couple of things I wanted to comment about Donna’s post.

People need to realize that Microsoft had a presence in Israel for quite some time starting from the 1990 or so (if I’m not mistaken) and the first development center outside of the USA that Microsoft had was the one in Haifa, Israel.

There is a big and fat contract for the Israeli government as well as the Israeli education system with Microsoft, so there is no real wonder why Microsoft one this contract. Of course I might be off on this one since I lack all of the details, but its reasonable to assume that one less contractor and some other promises from Microsoft and the contact was sealed.

One anecdote is that the Israeli government helped to finance the Hebrew translation and major Hebrew support in OpenOffice (just go to openoffice.org.il – Hebrew Link – and see that the effort was sponsored by the Israeli ministry of finance). One of the reasons for this project was to enable every citizen and school to have an advanced word processor, spreadsheet editor, and other solutions in Hebrew and for free as part of the government of Israel’s online government project (which is quite advance in global terms as well).

This means that every school in Israel, the Israeli education system and all of the government offices could have migrated to a pure Hebrew OpenOffice and save a lot of money (and there are better uses for this money in Israel. Trust me) instead of getting a contract from Microsoft to supply it’s Office suite.

Of course, even though the government paid for the translation and migration of OpenOffice to Hebrew, Microsoft still won the contract (probably because the government didn’t want to move to another operating system and retrain the staff) and Israel got a “real deal” so that it paid quite a few bucks for that.

There are rumors Steve Ballmer’s visit a few years back was the one that made the deal very lucrative for the Israeli government and closed the deal.

Now I know it sounds like I’m yet another Microsoft basher and it might be partially true. I am, however, proficient and trained enough in Microsoft technologies. I even have an Advanced .NET Debugging blog and I have worked (and still working) with Microsoft technologies for a good part of my professional life.

I do, however, feel comfortable in Linux and non MS technologies (both Web and non web).

On the other hand I’m not an MS zealot as well as not an open source zealot. I believe that the right tools should be used for the right cause and circumstances and I do believe in open and good competition which is a bit lacking in Israel at the moment, at least from the development community side.

As I’ve said in the previous post, the open source community in Israel is quite alive and kicking and they do have conferences and group meetings, but its mainly based on the good will of good people to organize and make sure things like a Linux Installfest and the Israeli Open Source developers conference still happens, usually with a very small participation and/or funding of the “big companies”.

I just hope that one of the Googlers here or in the US read about it and decide to act upon it :-)

Google Israel – Where Art Thou in the Development Community?

I know that Google‘s original Googleplex at Mountain View is very active for non googlers. There are frequent open lectures there and they host a bunch of other things like Summer of Code (well, not always host, but sponsor and make sure people know about it) and Google Developer Day (which is happening at 10 different locations worldwide, but NOT in Israel).

I know there are suppose to be two development centers in Israel, one in Haifa (which I know is located in MATAM cause you can see it from road #2 leading from Tel Aviv to Haifa near Intel and Microsoft Haifa) but I have no idea where the other development center in Israel is located, other than the fact that its suppose to be in the Tel Aviv area.

I don’t know how active Google is in the development community in other countries besides the US but I think that Google Israel (and the rest of Google) as well as the rest of the development community in Israel will benefit if they’ll open up a bit and become a major player in the development community.

Microsoft Israel figured this out a long time ago and there are quite a few communities (warning: Hebrew link) that meet once a month. There is also at least one full time Microsoft employee (at least that I know of) that is logistically leading this effort and making sure everyone stay happy and use MS products. I don’t even talk about the big events Microsoft Israel holds at least once a year to show off new things and to educate people about the new technology.

I guess this effort paid off since most of the companies developing in Israel today (and quite a few startups, even in the web 2.0 arena) are using Microsoft technologies and not Open Source products and technologies.

If Google Israel (hopefully the R&D part) will open up a bit and start hosting lectures and events in Israel, the same way the original Googleplex (and possibly other Google centers around the world, I don’t really know) does, the Israeli development community may gain a valuable player that can educate people about the usage of Open Source development environment, products and solutions.

It can become a driving force that can change how the Israeli development community looks and acts.

I’m not saying there is no open source community and activity in Israel. There is quite a few. Heck, even PHP (from v3 I think) is in part Israeli and Zend (the company behind PHP which supports its development) is in Israel. There are more than a few Linux kernel hackers that I know of that contribute on a daily basis to the Linux kernel and other sub systems and more than a few companies that base their products on open source products and give back to the community in the form of patches, fixes and features.

What I am saying is that having a major player that can concentrate the efforts and help cultivate and educate the development community in Israel on things other than Microsoft and Microsoft Technologies can have a major effect on the Israeli development community and there is no better time than now.

If one of you Israeli Googlers are reading this, you are more than welcome to comment or even comment privately directly to me.

Of course, I might be imaging all of this but some quick Google searches didn’t put anything up in an obvious way.

Speaking of development and the development community, since MS already has a development center in Israel (and is creating additional ones besides the one in Haifa) and Google has 2 development centers in Israel, where is Yahoo? I guess that’s something for another post :-)