15 October 2007

ACD Go Down the Hole

As you probably have not noticed but will now recognize since I'm pointing it out, I haven't really posted here since June or so. Why? I have been far to preoccupied with other things to post anything, and far too bitter to be bothered when I'm not. Considering that, as well as the fact that people don't ask me things I'd share for free anymore, and GnuJersey.org's imminent shutdown, I see no reason to pretend like I'm ever going to post again.

I have other interesting things in mind for the future, but we'll see what happens.

*Poof*, suckas!

12 August 2007

I Realy Don't Care


I really don’t care.

I don’t care that your computer is infested with spyware, causing pictures to open up by themselves. I don’t care how much money you spent just to have a giant, 2.8GHz paperweight. I don’t care that your network is home to names, home addresses, and social security numbers of 10,000 individuals, and protected by security which my cat could break through. One more time: I don’t care.

At the end of the day, there is one thing I do care about. You annoying wanna-be power users. I hate you. I despise you. I hope you get crippling arthritis in your fingers and can never type again.

Why on earth do you think that being able to change passwords and set a few profile restrictions on your domain controller makes you qualified to be your company’s domain administrator? Half the professional techs I know aren’t qualified to be administrators for a Windows domain, and you think a few help documents you found on the Internet are better than their years of experience and training?

“No, I didn’t graduate from medical school, but I found some tutorials on the web that will get me through your appendectomy.”

Sure, you go ahead and believe that, but when you make the 11 o’clock news because the 10,000 records of names, addresses, and social security numbers you maintain wound up on the Internet, don’t call me. I’m not going to touch it. I warned you about passwords that can be cracked faster than you can enter them.

As you are not qualified to do the job, you certainly aren’t qualified to dish out advice about it. Thanks you you, I have to waste my time telling others like you and novice users alike how they aren’t as impenetrable as they think just because they installed a desktop firewall or are behind a NAT router. Since you are the long-time trusted source for information (that guy in accounting who is really good with computers, or your nephew who plays computer games a lot) there is no way I convince victims of your ignorance to trust my advice.

False authority syndrome sucks. Look it up.

On the rare occasion I do feel sorry enough for you to get involved if your tragic technical situations, shut the hell up and let me do my job. I don’t need you second guessing my every decision, and demanding I explain everything I do. When the bill gets run up because you won’t leave me alone, or because your network looks like it was designed by retarded lemming, just shut up and pay the bill.

I could have redeployed all of your repaired workstations in a fraction of the time, but considering that I had to manually set up every printer on your network by hand instead of pointing to a share on the server, well, your lucky it didn’t take even longer. Sure, I’ll recover old, tainted profiles off of your dying machines and manually move them to a new workstation, but its going to cost you. Your employees were too dumb and hardheaded to save documents to the server share? Sorry, they are gone. I told you about folder redirection, and the ability to, for the most part, keep users from saving documents to their local machines, but you didn’t listen.

But, in the end, I don’t care. You’ve dug your own grave, and its yours to lie in. If you pay me enough, I’ll pretend to care, at least for a little while. If you’ve got the money, I’ll be over here playing with my Mac and Linux boxes. No, don’t ask me to explain those to you.

11 June 2007

Managing E-mail Lists

[I need to set up an e-mail distribution list that doesn't reveal list members.] Now I'm having a problem with my list being too large. When I send out a message most of the recipients don't get it. I get a system administrator message saying my e mail was "truncated" or didn't even go through... - Virginia

There are four common ways mass e-mails are distributed.

  1. Mailing list managers

  2. Group E-mail Alias

  3. Unassisted in a regular e-mail client

  4. Desktop mass-mailing software

Mailing List Managers

Mailing list managers are the best choice for fluid memberships, or member lists over two dozen or so people. Mailing list managers typically reside on or near an e-mail server, taking incoming messages and redistributing them to everyone on the mailing list. Other features available in more popular packages are automatic bounce detection (to remove invalid e-mail addresses from the list automatically), subscription management, and moderation.

Mailing list managers allow you to take a hand-off approach to mass e-mail distribution. All you have to do is send a single e-mail to the manager, and it will figure out the rest. Users who want to be removed from the list can often do so without any interaction from another human. Better still, many mailing list managers will maintain an archive of list activity. Past newsletters and announcements can be preserved with no additional effort on the part of the sender.

GNU Mailman is a very popular choice in mailing list managers. It provides all of the features one typically needs and more. The biggest drawback of Mailman is the invasiveness of its install. It is not practical or even possible to install Mailman on most low-end web hosting accounts. If this isn't a problem, Mailman is an easy choice.

Another option is phplist. phplist requires no more than your average PHP-based web application to run. Most web hosting accounts, even cheap ones, have what is required to support phplist. Unlike Mailman, phplist is not a group mailing list manager. Its intended for one way communication only. For people only interested in sending newsletters and announcements, phplist can get the job done without the complication of Mailman.

Group E-mail Aliases

Group e-mail aliases allow a single e-mail to a single address to be sent to multiple recipients. This is where the similarity with mailing list managers ends. Group aliases must be managed manually by an e-mail server administrator or user-accessible control panel. Aliases don't work well for large numbers of users, and typically have no access control available. Anyone can send any e-mail to an alias group, and each member e-mail address will receive a copy.

As far as user-generated e-mails are concerned, there is really no need to use a group alias. An unassisted desktop e-mail client can get the job done just as well.

Desktop E-mail Clients

Doing things the hard (easy?) way by dumping large numbers of e-mail addresses into a standard desktop e-mail client is likely the most popular way of dealing with mass mailing list. This solution is cheap, easy, and effective... until you break a few dozen recipients, that is. Large amounts of e-mail being forced through your mail server without the intelligent batching and throttling of a good list manager can be a disaster. If SMTP server recipient limits don't trip things up, an angry mail administrator with a choking server or spam detection and prevention mechanisms might.

If a desktop e-mail client is to be used unassisted for mass mailings, be sure to respect recipients privacy. Listing several recipients in the To or CC fields is only acceptable in small group settings, when each recipient is already aware of the e-mail addresses and participation of the others. The easiest way around this is to address mass mails to yourself, and BCC all other recipients.

Desktop Mass Mailing Software

Desktop mass mailing software is often the tool of choice for spammers. This shouldn't deter you should you have legitimate needs. That said, if you are running a legitimate e-mail list, you'll probably be better off with one of the two previous solutions. Mass mailing software will yield better results than an e-mail client alone, but is still a stop-gap measure with most of the disadvantages that come with using anything but a server-based mailing list manager.

All things considered, just get a decent mailing list manager. Everyone stands a very good chance of getting either Mailman or phplist up and running. There is little excuse for not using a decent mailing list manager. If you have to run with something else until you've got a real mailing list manager set up, so be it. But make sure your temporary solution doesn't become a permanent one.

01 June 2007

Open Source Public Relations

Marketing says “Buy me.” PR says, “Its OK, go ahead.”

To be blunt, open source public relations sucks. Linux public relations sucks. (While the open source and Linux communities are very close, there are members of one who are not members of the other. Despite this, I will henceforth refer to both groups simply as the open source community.) If the open source community expects any significant adoption of their ideals and products, decent public relations is a necessity. This is due to the nature of the community and the market.

With the exception of Apache, user bases of various open source software products are far below that of commercial rivals. The results are a smaller talent pool, fewer businesses or business-like points of contact for help, and most importantly, greater effect of a single individual on the image of the user and support community as a whole. As members of the community, we must recognize this and attempt to keep our perception positive, and remain active in public relations to that end.

Would you send your child into someone's household storm?

We tend to be a very passionate bunch. While people rage on and fight wars over issues of religion and politics, we do the same over software licenses and patents, feature sets, and implementation details. Its human nature to get defensive, and often offensive, when it comes to beliefs. Being passionate about something is a good thing, but perhaps we need to keep our passions behind closed doors. When outsiders look in, without context and understanding, how are they likely to perceive conflict? Will they see colleagues battling things out for the greater good of the product and community? Will they see unprofessional people who are still emotionally children crying over bruised egos? Regardless of what the truth is, its the perception that matters

Consider for a moment a household in turmoil. Most of us know at least one. It could be parents who are constantly fighting, or perhaps its a single parent with questionable friends or a poor choice for a love interest. Maybe its just the family that is falling apart because nothing seems to be going right. Regardless, would you send your child into such a household to stay even a night? Nobody is perfect, but when you see significant, obvious problems which could affect your child, could you really send them into the fire? The situation may not seem relevant, but the reality is its more significant than most would believe.

Technology is becoming a greater and more significant part of our lives every day. It could be your business and the hopes, dreams, and mortgage it carries that is effected by your technology choices. Maybe its the memories of a lost loved one immortalized in digital photos and video clips. It could also be your finances, your recreation time, your educational tool, or your connections to distant friends. Software, operating systems, media formats – they can all be key parts of our lives. Who are you going to trust that to?

Who's legs to stand on?

Most people don't have the passion about technology that we do, so choices are made in a much more practical way. Would you trust your digital life to a successful business with strong leaders, excellent market position, and the ability to command and define the landscape? Would you trust it to a bunch of people in the game as a hobby who's allegiance is fleeting, and needs defined by ideals instead of practicality? To us, the decision is clear. The problem is, its also clear to the people we seek to bring on board.

We have to understand the needs of others, and what is important to them. We can't even begin to speak to them on the right level until we know where they are coming from. We can't possibly devalue the importance of going with the crowed when we don't even know why other's have made that choice in the first place.

Do you care?

You can't help someone who doesn't want to be helped, but there is more to the situation than saving users from themselves. Today, the open source community doesn't have the power it needs to drive the world in the direction it wants. We dig and we claw, we make some headway, but in the end we are still being kept down. If we are to reform or eliminate software patents, promote and standardize open formats, eliminate DRM, or accomplish any of our other far-reaching goals, we need all of the help we can get. Let's present the best of ourselves to others, and seek to understand their wants and needs. Maybe if we work on our PR, we can rally more troops to the cause.

31 May 2007

Why Use RCS for Backups?

Indrect response to Subversion for backup critics

A little while ago I wrote a series on using Subversion along with some shell scripts and other fun things to provide versioned backups of files. Subversion and other Revision Control Systems have some key features that make it very well suited for this task. After all, that's at the core of what RCS do.

RCS aren't always the best choice for this type of thing. Dedicated, versioned backup systems are much better at this core task. They are more specialized, have less cruft, and less chance of breaking. All that said, sometimes doing things the unnecessarily hard way has huge benefits. What are they?


A common feature RCS offers that one wont find in backup offerings is tagging. Tagging allows you to mark a copy of your data, or subset there-of, in some meaningful way. This is a bit different than just marking a copy of your backup from some specific point in time. Tagging allows you to be selective about what gets marked, and marked items can span different time periods.

As an example, you can mark a selection of family photos in your backups as “Pictures for Grandma”. Exporting images with that tag will allow you to quickly put together a set, and store that set with very little overhead. When your aunt sees grandma's new photo-filled DVD and requests a copy, its a simple matter to re-export that set and send it off. Photo album software can do this, but what if you want to include video clips as well? How about the poetry your kid wrote in school? Tagging the files lets you mix and match data of any type.


Branching allows you to maintain multiple, parallel data sets. This feature will let you back up originals of files and work on them separately from your originals while maintaining backups of both. This is less useful in a backup scenario than tagging because you can always roll back files to specific versions with a regular backup setup. The real advantage comes into play when you want to have easy access to both the original and modified data sets at the same time.

One of the more obvious applications is photo editing. Photo sets may be thumbed through, with a limited number of shots making it through to the next stage, be it another elimination, basic manipulation, cataloging, or other actions. Utilizing branching, backups can be made of both the raw, original set as well as intermediate steps without wasting storage space on-disk and in backups. If you have 5 rounds of eliminations or selections, and want to preserve each round, you don't have to store your final selections 5 times.

Multiple Working Copies

One of the biggest benefits of using a RCS for backups is the ability to have multiple working copies. You can mirror your data on multiple systems, editing what you want, where you want. Changes at all locations are merged back into your backup data, and can be propagated back out to all working copies. Simply, you can have the same data anywhere, with changes at all locations backed up an an efficient manner.

In the very common case of having a work and a home computer, or having one desktop machine and one laptop, the convenience of multiple working copies becomes apparent immediately. So long as you keep up with minor housekeeping, the work you do on one computer is available on another. Should one machine be unavailable for any reason, you can pick up where you left off elsewhere.

Portable Backup Data

Many snapshot-preserving backup methods use file system-specific tricks or features, making it difficult if not impossible to move backup data to a new system or volume without loosing key information. RCS like Subversion can be quite happily picked up and moved to different locations, regardless of disk format or operating system. The ability to store this data easily on portable, rewrite able media like a USB drive is a very convenient feature as well, since you can have all of your versions readily accessible wherever you go.

Hopefully I have shed some light on the craze regarding using revision control systems for backing up data. In most situations, its more trouble than its worth. But for those of us with special needs, nothing else will do.