8/26/08

Social Networks

I'm relatively new to FaceBook. I got a FaceBook account a few months ago in order to be able to download a song from a friend's band. (I had a Myspace account briefly for the same reason, but abandoned it after I started to get friend invitations from girls who only had first names.) Yeah, I felt that maybe I was too old for FaceBook.

I was, and am, surprised at what a time sync it can be. But, I generally check it out once or twice a day (early morning and then evening). And I am trying not to obsess with following every potential link to every comment or tag in a photo. On the other hand, it's an easy way to keep tabs on "friends" and I have found that some people prefer writing on "Walls" (which are pubic) to sending private email. I wonder if it is the feeling of community: we're all sitting around in the same coffee shop or family room and overhearing each other's conversations, etc.

I was thinking of these things when something from writer Kevin Kelly came up on my radar (news aggregator) screen. He talks about something he calls " Friendability." (I think there must be a better word. I'm trying to think of one that doesn't cause hurt feelings or insult.) He's asking the question, "Are all these 'friends' really friends?" Here's his breakdown:
  • Friend: Most of the people that Facebook calls "friends" I call Acquaintances.
  • Actual Friend: Someone whom I've had a meal with, or has visited my home.
  • Real Friend: Someone who would drive me to the airport at 6 am.
  • True Friend: Someone who would get me out of jail.

This all reminds me of a song or two from my formative years. The first, is a Simon and Garfunkel song, "Old Friends" (you can look up the lyrics in the Internet), about the old men they saw in NYC neighborhood parks. The song ends, "Old friends. Memory brushes the same years. Silently sharing the same fears."

It also reminds me of Harry Chapin's song, "Let Time Go Lightly," that has the bridge, "Old friends, they mean much more to me than the new friends, Cause they can see where you are, and they know where you've been." I have some old friends.

And, finally, I am reminded of the unattributed quote, "A good friend will help you move. A really good friend will help you move a body."

I actually have a few really good friends. And they know who they are.

A friend commented:
After reading your post, I first took the opportunity to invite you on Facebook. Then I wondered which type of "friends" we may be.

We never met, never had a phone talk, exchanged a few emails, chatted a few times, ... but we've been knowing each other for 15 years. We first became aware of each other back in the early 1990s, at the FWTK, Gauntlet and TIS days. Or let's say, that I learnt your name thanks to comments in the FWTK code and some of your security talks or presentations.

As of today,
  • are we "Friends"? yes for Facebook, but I agree that a better word is "Acquaintances"
  • are we "Actual Friends"? no, as we've neither had a meal together, nor has visited each other's home.
  • are we "Real Friends"? yes, according to the definition: I would be happy to drive you somewhere even at 6AM if you happen to come to visit Europe! I'd wake up even earlier, just for being able to meet you and chat.
  • are we "True Friends"? yes, according to the definition: I would be happy to do my best to get you out of jail (even though I hope you'll never be in such a situation)!
As I believe you expected me to say "no" to the 2 last questions, maybe a 5th category is missing. I am grateful for what you did, and your added value to the Internet and security communities.

So let's call that 5th category "fans" or "aficionados".

Best regards,
Well, Olivier, maybe "friends" is sufficient. :-)

8/24/08

Strom's Ten years of email

In a recent posting, David Strom, who might be trying to rejuvenate sales for his very excellent, but old, book he co-authored with Marshall Rose, Internet Messaging: From the Desktop to the Enterprise , discusses Ten years of email. I recommend reading it for the history, for a sense of how far we've come, and to be disappointed that we've not progressed further. Then check out my Secure E-mail Collection

I commented the following to David's post:
I've long ago switched from POP to IMAP, but cannot imagine having to rely on Internet access to read or manipulate e-mail. I'd love for you to talk about the changes that doing that requires. I just cannot imagine.
David replied:
About two years ago, I lost some saved emails using T-bird, and I decided to look carefully at what I was doing and what I could to ensure that didn't happen again. I saw that 99% of the time when I am composing messages, I am sitting online, usually in my office, or someplace else where I have a Net connection. I had heard about Gmail and took a look and was immediately hooked. There were four things that motivated to switch over (and these might not be as important to you as they were for me):

First, I don't have to worry about saving and storage of messages Google does it for me. And as their mailbox keeps getting bigger faster than I need, it is limitless as far as I am concerned. Now others may have run up against this limit, and now Yahoo email is truly infinite, but I hate their UI. I think I have about 2 of GB of mail, and as I mentioned in my post Gmail is above 7 GB and adding more every day. At the time, they didn't have IMAP, but now that they do it makes for some choices here.

Second, they did a great job with labels, making it very flexible to store messages in multiple buckets. The latest versions of Outlook also do this, and I haven't checked the Mac, Vista, and T-bird versions lately but at the time I switched they didn't do as good a job. If you do use IMAP and have lots of labelled messages, you will find this vexing however.

Third, I use multiple machines, both PC and Mac, and having all my email and contacts in the Gmail cloud is a real plus for me. I don't miss having local email on my desktop at all.

Finally, they did a great job with groups of contacts, and making it easy to organize my contacts is really at the heart of what I do with my email. I can have one contact as a member of multiple groups, to make it easier to find and communicate with people. Again, the newer versions of many email programs all support this, but at the time I was switching this wasn't the case. I usually have two windows open in my browser at all times the Mail and Contacts windows.

There are some issues with Gmail, however, not enough to make me switch at this point. First, the numerous outages over the past few weeks that is troubling. Second, the latest UI doesn't work with the large volume of contacts and the many groups of them that I have I still have to run the older UI, luckily they have a switch to "older version" that I use. And exporting your contacts doesn't export the groupings, so once again I am captive to Gmail until I can figure this out.

Since I switched Gmail supports now both POP and IMAP access to their mail store, and there are programs like Cemaphore.com's MailShadow for Google Apps that can synchronize an Outlook/Exchange account with a Gmail one. That makes the line between online/cloud email and local email more blurred. It all comes down to what UI you like, and where you want to keep your contacts, and how much offline composition and contact lookup you do: in my case, very little, and these days just about everywhere I go I can find a connection.

The other thing going for Google is that Google Apps is free to host your email for your domain, so you have the best of both worlds -- you have the large online storage, the Gmail UI, and your own domain dot com -- plus I think up to 100 mailboxes -- all for free. It used to take a few days to get this going, but last week it took about an hour to setup, switch my MX records, and I was good to go. I don't see why anyone would want to host their emails anywhere else.

Of course, this gives me a single point of failure with Google now, so I might keep that Yahoo email box around a bit longer :-).

8/1/08

iPod Problems

It has been a bad week for removable storage for me. I had problems with back-ups on my FireWire drive, I talked about in Time Machine is Working Again (which turns out okay, as you can tell by the title. :-)).

Podcast trouble.
The other day I noticed that some of the podcasts on my iPod weren't working. That is to say, they would play for up to 20 seconds and then stop. I tried fast forwarding past that point. No joy. So, I did what Apple always says to do. I did a soft reset. Still no good. Music played fine, but podcasts would not. Now I know that they are handled differently, so I wasn't surprised. Just annoyed. So, I went to the next step. And this was an error—my first mistake. (We'll come back to what I should have done later.) The step I took was to click "Restore" in iTunes. This restores the iPod to its factory settings. No worries. I have all the songs backed up in multiple places. So I did it. And I connected it again to iTunes to have it restore all my settings and music. I plugged in the iPod.

Problem with the iPod?
I saw this:

Not good.

Arrg. Not good at all. I looked and looked on the Internet. I listened to my iPod as it spun up and failed. "Oh, no!" I thought. "Another failed iPod!" (I had replaced the disk in this 20G iPod last year with a 30G disk.) I have a 1G iPod Nano. So, I figured I would have to use it and swear off iPods. So, I plugged in the Nano. And... (you are head of me here, aren't you?). Same error. Whoa. Hmmm. My iPod has a USB cable and a FireWire cable. Try the FireWire.

Bad cable.
Success! It was restoring! The iPod's USB cable was bad! (I knew the USB port itself worked, as I use it for other things, such as synching my Palm handheld.) So, another early mistake. I should have tried the FireWire cable or another iPod USB cable. While it was restoring, I checked something I should have checked way earler: what do the podcasts sound like played in iTunes?

They had the same problem. (Again, not all, just some.) I'd start a podcast that said it was 45:34 in length and it stopped after 34 seconds or so. Again, I had not moved through the correct, diagnostic sequence.

So, why the bad podcasts? I think I now knew. Recall, as I mentioned above, I previously reported on probems with backups to my FireWire drive. Recall, Dave Nanian of Shirt Pocket had pointed to problems from other devices plugged into the FireWire drive, especially an iSight camera. I asked Dave, "Any background as to why having another device plugged into the FW port of my FW drive would cause this?" He replied, "It's mostly the iSight. It's bus-powered, and gets into weird states where it starts causing the voltage on FW to go completely nuts, which causes other devices to generate errors."

I think that this was the cause of some flakiness in some of the podcasts. With the exernal iSight unplugged (where it will stay until needed), I re-downloaded the podcasts. No problems. Lessons learned.
  1. See if the problem is the same in iTunes as on the iPod. The iPod's data is only as good as what iTunes gives it. I would have switched from looking at the iPod to looking at the data in the iTunes library.
  2. Try a different cable if you have a connection problem. It might not be that but cables are easy to check. And if the cable is bad it is cheaper to replace than an iPod.
  3. Don't plug other things into the FireWire port of you external disk besides another daisy-chained disk of the same type. Especially don't plug in an external iSight Camera.