Blogs as information spaces

December 31st, 2003 § 3 comments § permalink

Recently, one of the bloggers I read, Caffo over at Pattern Recognition, brought up one interesting issue in his blog, complaining about the monotony that pervades the blogosphere both in terms of layout and site structure. This is a really trick subject, with many ramifications, involving even the culture of the blogosphere itself.

In a comment on his blog, I said that the biggest problem was inertia: most of us are simply used to what already exists, which is also what almost everybody uses, and there’s a certain reluctance to change what, so it seems, works well. That comes hardly as a surprise since innovation, in all areas of human knowledge, usually proceeds from a considerably smaller subset of the group of people working on those areas. In the Web, a imitative medium where dissemination of customs and patterns of use is so easy, that becomes especially true, even if the opportunities to innovate are considerably larger on it as well.

To ascertain the situation, you just need to look at sites on the top of the curve of the power law distribution that describes the blogosphere. Even those sites, counting with a superior potential in terms of what is doable, tend to gravitate around the same tried-and-true structural patterns. I say that not as an offense since my own site, which doesn’t even figure on the power law’s curve, follows the same old and boring model of a blog, with content of the left and a sidebar on the right with dozens of links that conflict with each other losing most of their meaning and usefulness. The fact remains, however, that little work is being done on the subject. » Read the rest of this entry «

Linux 2.6

December 18th, 2003 § Comments Off on Linux 2.6 § permalink

Linux 2.6 has been released today. One of the most awaited versions of the kernel, it introduces a lot of new and reworked features that will benefit both server users and desktop users. Now we just need to wait for new distribution releases.

Mandrake Linux 9.2

December 18th, 2003 § 1 comment § permalink

About one year ago, MandrakeSoft, developer of the Linux distribution of the same name, announced that its financial position was critical. According the company, its financial needs were immediate, and unless something changed, the next planned version might not exist. The company had already filed for bankruptcy protection in the European courts.

Some days ago, however, the company announced a completely different panorama. Its financial troubles are, as far as can be seen, under control. After applying strong management policies to address its problems, its fiscal year was actually good, compared to the previous years. Although revenue decreased, gross margin increased and losses were reduced. New versions were released, with huge improvements over previous versions, and the company seems to be nicely positioned to take over Red Hat’s position in the Linux desktop market.

This development makes me happy about the status of the Linux market. Despite recent statements by Red Hat’s CEO, I think Linux is becoming more and more a good option for the common user’s desktop, as it has been for advanced users for a long time already. » Read the rest of this entry «

New "toy"

December 12th, 2003 § Comments Off on New "toy" § permalink

I bought a new machine for home, and it arrived today. The new “toy” is an Athlon 2.6GHz, with 1GB RAM, a 80GB HD, and a GeForce 128MB 8x videocard. Now I will have some fun. 😛

Amusingly enough, all main components in this new machine are 4 times more powerful than the ones in the old machine. My old machine served me well, but I was beginning to feel it lacking in some areas — gaming, especially. Anyway, who can resist the chance of buying a new machine?

Linkrot

December 9th, 2003 § 6 comments § permalink

A few days ago I was surfing in my own blog, reading some old entries. Following some of the links on those entries, I found that a good deal of the links in them didn’t exist anymore. Some of them returned 404 errors, others just redirected to the main page of the site under which they were previously hosted or returned server errors.

Curious to see what was the proportion of dead links linked from my blog, I cooked a small Python program to check the issue. The program was simple: it collected all URLs found on the files present in my blog (a local copy, of course), and sent requests to the servers, asking for the status of those pages through HEAD requests (it also tried to do a GET request if the HEAD request was not allowed).

After running the program, and printing some statistics, I found that I had linked roughly 1200 URLs in the two versions of my blog (Portuguese and English). A few URLs came from comments, but I included them in the statistics as well to save the trouble of separating them from my own links. Also, some URLs were incorrectly parsed given the relative difficult of properly identifying URLs in raw text.

The results were not much a surprise, considering the impression I had surfing around in the blog. From the 1200 requests, 45 returned a 404 error. That represents 3.75% of the links, which is just a small part of the links. Considering the Web’s mobility, that is not bad. However, 48 other requests, which add up to more 4% of the links, returned various other error codes. Together, they represent a good part of the links.

Checking the results, I also found out that some sites are serving customized 404 error pages that return incorrect HTTP status codes. Some even return a 200 status code when they are just a warning that the page doesn’t exist anymore. The main culprits are online newspapers and magazines.

The full (and completely unscientific) results were:

43 unreachable domains (3.58%)
Some of those errors are likely temporary conditions, although I checked some and they are really expired domains (sites of political candidates, for instance).
1064 successful requests (88.67%)
Pages that were correctly served, and some that had been moved to elsewhere. Some of those results, as mentioned before, are incorrect, which increases the number of errors.
93 unsuccessful requests (7.75%)
Those include pages not found in the servers anymore, server errors, and pages that are protected now.

Considering the period in which the links were posted (one year and two months), something like 10% of the pages I linked to in my blog are now returning errors, or inaccessible. Of every ten links in my blog, one is going to results in an error. I think that’s too much. Obviously, it’s not reasonable to expect that everybody will preserve the URL spaces they created. Sometimes that’s not possible — or even desirable. On the other hand, sites that could be taking a lot more of care with their data are simply allowing their links to get broken. Quotes are made with the expectation that they will point to permanent resources, and the resources will simply disappear after some time.

Anyway, it was an interesting experiment. As there is no way to prevent the problem, there are no measure to be taken. The only thing that remains is the feeling that all the links in this site are slowly being absorbed by a great black hole in the center of the Web.

How to Design (Declarative) Programming Languages

December 4th, 2003 § Comments Off on How to Design (Declarative) Programming Languages § permalink

A thread in the ll1 mailing list has a list of questions to ask yourself when you are designing a declarative programming language. A good read for people interested in the subject.

Monopolies

December 3rd, 2003 § 1 comment § permalink

I hate monopolies — any kind of monopolies. I’d rather have a less than optimal service while still being able to choose the service provider than to be forced to buy a service from a single provider, or, worse, not even be able to buy the service I want.

For one year already I’ve been trying to get broadband Internet access installed at home. I don’t want cable. I want ADSL. I don’t own a TV, by choice, and I don’t want to buy something I don’t need just to have what I need. Here, in Brazil, you have to buy a cable TV package to be able to buy the Internet cable package. Also, I don’t want to share it with other people; if I’m paying for it, it’s fair that I get to use all the available bandwidth.

The problem is, Telemar, the only provider of ADSL services in the state I live won’t install the service in my home. Although I’ve been calling them regularly for one year, the service is still not available where I live, and there’s no estimate of when it will be available.

I always get the same answer when I call them: we don’t want you as a customer, and we don’t care about you. That’s how I feel. People living in smaller cities around my own city can buy the service. My mother’s house, three block down from where I live, can be adapted to ADSL if she wanted. My house, located in a better place in the neighborhood, can’t — in a neighborhood with the right profile for such services.

Monopolies are despicable. As Telemar is the only ADSL provider in my city, it doesn’t care about losing a few customers here and there as long as demand is still high. There is not interest in providing more access points as there’s still much profit to be made in the areas of the city that already support the service.

Everywhere I go I see billboards, ads, and commercials extolling the benefits of broadband connections — all telling me how my life would be easier if I had it. But, if Telemar doesn’t want me to have it, all I can do is to bow my head in submission to their monopoly.

Windows — US$ 12 a year?

December 2nd, 2003 § 4 comments § permalink

Via Scoble, comes the news of an incredible statement by Steve Ballmer, the second in command at Microsoft, saying that Windows costs about US$ 12 a year, considering the average life cycle of a computer. As James Robertson commented, it’s simply too amazing a allegation even to begin to make fun of. I feel like crying instead.

Even considering that you get a discount when you buy Windows bundled with the computer — something that, here in Brazil, it’s not true in most cases — Ballmer’s claim is a far cry from the truth. And it’s easy to show why.

Less than two weeks ago, I was in a computer store in a shopping mall near my workplace. My coworkers and I were checking the price of anti-virus software, and, just for curiosity, we asked about the prices of Microsoft software. Windows XP Professional was priced at R$ 1900 (US$ 664), and Office 2003 was even more expensive, being priced at R$ 2500 (US$ 874). Together, they cost R$ 4400 (US$ 1538).

I will admit the prices aforementioned are a little bit above the market’s average. Nonetheless, that’s the price you will find in many computer stores. Even considering the four years of use Ballmer mentions in the article, that’s a long way from US$ 12 a year.

Now, let’s take a look at the economic situation in Brazil. The minimum age is R$ 240 (US$ 84), which means Windows itself costs almost 8 times what a average works gets monthly here. Did I hear somebody say luxury item? Heck, you can buy an excellent computer here for the price of Office 2003 alone. It’s easy to see how absurd Microsoft prices are for the Brazilian reality, and how ridiculous Ballmer’s claims are.

To go further, taking the combined price of Windows and Office you can buy a good used car here. In fact, together they cost about one third of a brand new car. Worse yet, in Belo Horizonte, the city in which I live, that price would buy you one tenth of a nice, albeit small, house.

And I’m not even going into the details of how much the problems Windows gives you cost yearly (virii, trojan horses, etc.)

I don’t know what Ballmer was smoking when he was interviewed, but it was strong. And the most amazing thing about Windows and Office is that for that price you get only the OS and a bloated office package — nothing else. On the other hand, a normal Linux distro ships with more than 2000 different application, including various office packages, games, utilities, connection and sharing tools, Web servers, database servers, and scores of programming packages for a minimal price — in many cases, just the price of the media.

Do I need to say anything else?

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