08 November 2007

asheville codehaus gis north-carolina opensource technology

Did you know that November 14th is GIS Day?

I've experimented with PostGIS some, so I'm interested to see what's going on. Here in Asheville, we apparently observe GIS Day on the 9th, with some stuff going on at AB-Tech.

There's a talk on open-source GIS, so I'm curious to see if GeoTools or uDig are mentioned, being some of the open-source GIS projects at the Codehaus.

Google Maps has shown us how everything goes better with some visual representation. I think GIS will only grow in importance, and tooling like PostGIS makes it fairly easy.

Government Handouts

21 August 2007

community history north-carolina technology yard

usda.png If you Google around enough, with diligence and creativity in your search terms, plus a dash of willingness to check out page 12 of the results, you just might find some value provided by your government.

For example, I've been trying to spruce up the overgrown, dreary and downright treacherous shrubs, bushes and vines littering my yard. Using the pick-axe to uproot shrubbery is fun and easy, sure, but then there's a gaping hole, a void, a cavity of hope waiting to be filled. Plant guidebooks seem to either be jinormous compendiums of every plant, fungus or moss known in existence, or else they trot out the same few dozen marigolds, impatiens and dogwoods.

Designing a garden around the house requires a knowledge of the space, sunlight, water, drainage and soil. Without an eye towards color, blooming and size, the results may possibly be healthy, but boring and mundane.

I know my yard. This area is sunny. That area is shady. The dogs poop in that corner. And in that other one, too. This bed doesn't get much rain.

Knowing my constraints, now I must fill the emptiness. With color. That blooms at the appropriate time. Joy! Even more constraints.

Enter the USDA. Established in 1839 as the Agriculture Division, it's been collecting data ever since.

Their soldiers on the ground, in the fields and forests, steadfastly recording the plants they witness everywhere, have compiled a database of over 89,000 plants seen in the United States. While a nice online search form is available, results can be delivered not only in HTML, but also as slightly-ugly yet still useful comma-separated values.

The data includes what you'd expect, including the entire chain of Latin words to precisely describe the plant, along with its common name, of course. The data also includes, for some of the plants, information that is immediately useful to someone attempting to populate his yard. Commercial availability, US nativity and invasive status, the season and color of bloom. All categorized by the states in which the plants can be found.

Download the 17mb CSV results from a rather large query, slice, load into a database, swizzle and serve over ice.

Living in North Carolina and finding a purple flower that blooms in the spring for my partial-shade bed just got a whole lot simpler.

Microsoft DDoS'd Skype?

20 August 2007

broken disaster technology

Does causing a bajillion machines to reboot constitute a DDoS attack?

The reason behind Skype's downtime this week looks somewhat like this image of a malicious DDoS attack, no?

ddos_attack.gifAttacker: Microsoft

Handlers: Windows Upgrade Servers

Zombies: Windows users!

Victim: Skype

Just sayin'.

Old and New

18 July 2007

asheville history technology

My friends Trish and Pete have been thinking about home-ownership lately.

This made me ponder my own abode, and went surfing around. My little village here has nicely digitized quite a bit of their real-estate records, and made them easily searchable. I was able to come up with the original plat describing my street and lot, as envisioned in 1914.

Click images to enlarge.

Picture 10.png

I also came up with the deed, and description of the property. It almost reads like an obituary. Or a soap-opera. Picture 11.png

I think that's awesome. Alas, the "park" denoted on the original plat a few doors down seems to have been annexed by a neighbor.

iPhone Asheville: T-21 Hours

29 June 2007

asheville culture events iphone technology

Went out for a Venti(tm) dirty chai tea latte, and decided to scope out the Cingular/AT store that will be carrying iPhones tomorrow. Asheville is not a very large town, so we don't expect many phones to come in.

But these two guys will definitely get one.


The lucky First Guy In Line is Greg Mayer from Charlotte Street Computers here in town.


I'll take them some sausage, egg and cheese biscuits in the morning, unless the coyotes have already eaten these guys in the night.


24 June 2007

culture music social technology

To be honest, I'm not that much of a Smashing Pumpkins fan, but I think it's cool that they're breaking out of the normal box, and doing a rather odd tour this year. They've picked 2 cities to have a "residency" at. One of them is my town, Asheville, North Carolina.

9 shows between 23-June and 5-July at The Orange Peel.

They aren't just rolling into town, playing a show, and retreating to the next stop under the cover of darkness.

It's a freakin' 13 day event.

Of course, events mean people. And people mean social networks. I guess.

Nonetheless, once again Ning pops up as the implementation behind Go Ning go!

Identity and OpenID

30 May 2007

identity social technology web-20

Picture 15.pngIn a thread on TheServerSide, commentors are discussing how much trust you can put into an OpenID identity. Even the OpenID literature speaks of a server that returns true to all queries. The argument seems to be that since you don't control the OpenID server, you can't trust the identity returned, making it useless.

In the grand scheme of things, does your average app ever truly identify the user? About the best we do is identify an email address that can be used to reach the user today. There is virtually no positive identification going on. On the internet, your identity is simple who you claim to be.

Unless you're a bank or someone with an out-of-band real-world tie to your customer, really, what are your use-cases for "identity?"

For things I've worked with, they seem to be primarily the following

  1. Keeping "my" stuff separate from "your" stuff. Identity isn't overly important here. Knowing who "you" are isn't as important as knowing that "you" simply are different than "me" and "you" should keep the heck away from my things.
  2. Being able to contact users who don't necessarily visit the site or use the app often. This normally means a verified email address. Once again, identity isn't as important as simply being able to contact the owner of some bundle of stuff, whoever he may be.

From my point of view, OpenID satisfies the first case easily enough, assuming the OpenID server is implemented honestly. And if it isn't, then that's ultimately the user's problem for selecting a crappy identity provider.

OpenID does have a conduit for delivering a user's email address, using the Simple Registration extension. I would not trust that address, so OpenID does not solve my 2nd use-case. But then again, neither does simply collecting an email address at sign-up on my own site. People change jobs, ISPs, universities and spouses. An email address isn't a permanent definite thing. Even if I collect email addresses, I need to periodically verify they are still valid, and have a strategy for dealing with those that aren't. If out-of-band communication is even honestly necessary.

Taking this view of email addresses, it would appear they make poor identities for users, since they could so easily be stripped of it. I like the LinkedIn method of managing user accounts and email addresses, though. I can associate multiple email addresses for my account. And I can login with any of them. I can remove them. My account does not have to be tied to a single non-changing email address.

Given all of this, I think OpenID helps with use-case #1, and no centralized standard will help with use-case #2.

Silent Paint Remover

05 April 2007

technology tools

Picture 28.pngToday, the Man In Brown showed up, and dropped off some boxes.

They were for my wife. Damn!

Then he came back! And brought a box for me. Inside the box there was some flavorless edible packing peanuts (they dissolved amazingly quickly in your mouth) protecting a Silent Paint Remover.

This thing rocks!

I live in an 82-year-old house, which means it's seen 82-years worth of styles come and go. That's a lot of paint. Our shoe molding is all rounded over due to the many layers of lead, latex and who knows what else.

Point it at the shoe molding for 60 seconds and then give a good scrape. Truly amazing.

While the heating device itself is silent, the squeals coming from the scraper as 82 years of sea-foam green, buttermilk, white and teal come peeling off the wall are reminiscent of dragging a pair of cats across a chalkboard.

From reading online, the amazingness of the product made me suspect there was a high probability it could be a RonCo-esque product and a waste of money. Though, it probably can be used to cook a turkey nicely.

But then I found this guy, who explained the science and even provided a how-to about making one for yourself. I promptly set out to find the required space-heater of the appropriate type.

I quickly learned that asking the Helpful Friendly People at Lowe's and Home Depot for space-heaters while you are wearing shorts and a t-shirt is a fantastic way to survey how different people express "what kind of nut are you?" with only their eyebrows.

Apparently space-heaters are a seasonal item, and April isn't the season for them.

Due to the lack of parts to build my own, I punted and just bought the pre-made version. Tonight, with minimal effort, I stripped 8' of base boards in about a half hour. Without any chemical burns or heavy metal poisoning.

I'd consider that a success.

The Dad Threshold

09 March 2007

economics marketing technology web-20

dad_threshold.pngToday Ning crossed the dad threshold. This is the point in time when someone like your dad might actually cross paths with the work you (or your friends) do.

Without you having to say "hey dad, look at this".

I've personally never crossed this point with my own father. He has a rough idea of what I do, in general terms, maybe, kinda, sorta. But my work has never directly impacted his life in the least.

Anyhow, I'm a listener of Neal Boortz, a syndicated libertarian radio talk-show host. I also read his daily news page. Today he announced BoortzSpace, his online community type of thing. Hosted at This is the sort of thing my own father probably noticed and might actually participate in.

I offer congratulations to Brian "Ning" McCallister and the other guys over there at Ning for hitting the beginnings of a possible mass adoption. They've taken this Web 2.0 thing and seem to have created something broadly useful with it.

Promiscuous Networking

03 March 2007

network technology traveling

addhealth.gifThis has been an interesting week in terms of networking. Actual TCP/IP networking, that is. First, there's the normal jumping between the hotel and office networks. The hotel, nicely enough, was completely free. The office was also free, after entering what seemed to be an 480-character security key and avoiding the other 9 visible secure WAPs in the vicinity of my desk. One was at least amusingly named "Magical Monkeys".

I've spent the cost of a nice meal across 4 airport encounters for probably a sum total of 45 minutes online. Austin's WayPort network is at least cheaper than a day-pass on T-Mobile's in Dallas. Though, a single T-Mobile day-pass should in theory work in multiple airports over a single day, assuming they all have T-Mobile.

Once I finally got home, I discovered my wifi wasn't connecting. "Oh yeah," says the wife, "the internet's down."

Of course it is!

After a few reboots of the router, I notice that way too many lights are blinking. Not a good sign.

I think my house was built upon an ancient router burial ground. The router gods are angry at us for desecrating the 7 layers of buried networking equipment. I've somehow burned through no less than 5 routers in the past 18 months. The most recent D-Link has definitely been heartier than the previous four steaming piles bearing the Cisco name. But even it met its demise in a little less than 6 months.

A little creative re-cabling later, the MacBook is jacked straight into the DSL thing-a-ma-bob flinging PPPoE. And boy does it feel naked to not have a firewall between me and the interwebs. Thank jebus I'm on a Mac.

Firing up the Cisco VPN software exposes a fancy OSX/Intel/PPP bug with this specific version of the client. And Cisco, in its infinite wisdom, puts updates of the client software behind a password-protected site.

Cisco is not my favorite company today.

I finally have to head upstairs to basically climb the radio tower and see if a neighbor's WAP is visible. Alas, I'm now blazing along with 1 bar (27% signal), but at least the VPN works. If you're on a Mac, I can highly recommend iStumbler for locating connection opportunities.

Tomorrow, I'll be off to the store to buy another router to sacrifice to the networking gods. This one, perhaps I'll plug into the UPS.