Keeping afloat in a binary ocean


One of my pet peeves as a guy who likes to say his piece online is the number of really interesting and useful technologies / ideas completely ruined by lazy attempts at marketing by even lazier “salesmen” and marketers.

Look at email – DKIM/SPF/DNSBLs/greylisting just to keep the signal to a sane level. I don’t accept IM’s from contacts not already vetted and authed, I’d be flooded..

Social media is no different, alas. I have accounts on both Twitter and and the former attracts enough bot followers that I routinely clean them out (no for the nth time I don’t want to see Britney naked; we’ve all seen it and we’re still paying for the eyebleach. Cheers)

Getting it right takes only a little  effort. Lauren Cochrane, an old colleague of mine who now works for the RSPCA nails this on the head – you need to balance your “brand” with being human ; don’t fail the Turing test.

While it’s easy to write up a bot to spruik a message cheaply and efficiently (especially to services with a free, public API like Twitter or Laconica, although thankfully aren’t as badly affected) it’s a huge turnoff for a lot of people and ineffective – the sign of laziness / ignorance in my rarely humble opinion. If your product / “brand” has real worth then it should be very easy to talk about it earnestly and openly and give it a bit more depth – Lauren cites commenting and relaying information relating to your interests, even a few pics here and there just to assure your community you don’t end in .sh 🙂

Be interesting, discuss useful ideas, show you’re the real deal and they’ll come – something that F/OSS communities are also very good at. Are you reading me via Fedora Planet? See the posts above and below mine? These are great examples – a potpourri of diverse people, places and posts not essentially directly free software or Fedora related. The community works well and brings in more people simply because it has this depth, it’s not strictly dry technical talk.

If you can’t do that with your product / “brand”, then go buy a sandwich board / billboard we can choose to ignore if we want to while we go about our business. There’s enough noise in traditional advertising without adding to it here, there’s no need to force a broken old model on a medium built in an essentially polar-opposite fashion.

Other stuff:

I seem to have a spam dry run – for the first time since I started using email (1994, I’m a relative newbie) I have 0 spam in my junk folder. Either I have achieved some sort of email enlightenment, my setup is too hardcore for current spammer tricks or something is horribly wrong. The irony is that my secondary MX has no greylisting or spam filtering on it yet – just when you think you’ve seen it all something can still surprise you.

As heretical as it sounds I may have to lay off the caffeine, as my poor old brain doesn’t seem to cope well (beware the wired sysadmin!) plus for some reason instant coffee makes me sleepy (hey, that’s not meant to happen! Stimulants anyone?) Fortunately I dislike anything that I haven’t ground myself or at least been beans recently.

Any suggestions for good quality green tea are welcomed 🙂

Experiences in both success and failure

I did my bit:

I really do like where things are headed and I’m sure the good work will continue 🙂 There’s been some lively debates on the mailing lists of late, but it’s worked out smoothly and courteously in this humble hacker’s opinion.

All the tested LiveCDs and pre-releases of F11 I’ve tried have been painless which bodes well, as the certainty of me finding something broken / failing / misbehaving with a freshly distribution-upgraded system is often close to 1 🙂

Speaking of breakage on the other hand…

I tried to convert my home ejabberd server from the standard mnesia backend to MySQL. using “ejabberdctl convert2odbc” to output the data to flat SQL scripts which you can then import into almost any server (ah, simple, standard transactional SQL, how I love thee :-))

This went really well until I found that I had no MySQL driver for Ejabberd/Erlang installed, and there’s none packaged (ProcessOne has one in their ejabberd-modules Subversion repository, but finding out after the fact is of little comfort, *sigh* )

Oops. Might have to fix that little oversight before retrying. Mea Maxima Culpa

Fortunately I took a backup of the mnesia database before all this (when in doubt, take a backup; when you’re certain – still take a backup!) and I needed it as even after reverting my configuration changes and restarting ejabberd it still wanted to connect to the MySQL service (there were references still in the spool/ on-disk database to it). The restore fixed it in minutes though, fortunately.

I’m planning to release an updated PyICQ transport once Leonidas is out and things have settled (and I have time to test a local scratch build). I also had a look at the python-based Yahoo! Transport, which isn’t very good in my opinion and I already have the MSN Transport packaged here; it’s good and works with the current MSN servers with a little patch. It’s upstream development is slow/”undead”, however which makes me a little hesitant to push it to Fedora proper.

Twitter Fail: Even mentioning Yahoo! tongue in cheek / in passing gets you retweeted by the Yahoo! News bot. Really, if you’re going to let loose any form of artificial intelligence (I use the term loosely) the “intelligence” part is important, yknow. 🙂

(On a slight tangent I’m fairly certain a Markov/MegaHAL style bot, if set loose on Twitter, will post more interesting content than most “celebrities” using it to pimp themselves, Stephen Fry being an exception)

I’d advise folks interested in signal to try an open, based solution (like instead 🙂

PS. Yes, I thought about PostgreSQL as the driver is there. Alas WordPress is tied to MySQL only

PPS. Laconica seems very fail-whale free 🙂

Result may be fit, social with an open messaging standard on top.

Techie Happenings:

I’ve been tinkering with more XMPP (Jabber to you oldies) messaging in general, as it happens. I’ve had a look at the python Yahoo transport and found it a little lacking – it’s config is a little too different to the python MSN / ICQ / AIM transports than I’d personally like, which I’m already packaging and running plus it tends to die/misbehave at unusual times. It has been worth a look though and if enough people would want it, I’ll make the RPM available – but be warned it’s not really to my usual standard.

Speaking of which, there’s a persistent room for chatting around the packages generally – just as an experiment and because I can – at

I’m still tinkering / debugging my publish-subscribe nodes for (Ejabberd for those interested). I’m sure I’ve configured it right with PEP (Personal Eventing) but I wonder how strong support is client side? Gajim does some PEP (Mood/Activity/Tune for instance) but it updates sporadically if at all.

(Which leads me to wonder how widespread support for that and Service Discovery protocol are client-side, as aside Gajim/PSI it seems sparse and many XMPP goodies are unseen without it. I’d be keen to know more from those in the know)

I’ve signed up on (as “thatfleminggent“) and liking it – there’s less noise and spambot followers than Twitter and some very nice XMPP/OpenID integration too.

Better support from the Windows clients would be nice (twhirl does but it’s in the minority, and I’ve preferred TweetDeck or TwitterFox when on a Win desktop) but the Linux clients have been fabulous, especially the current Gwibber version in Fedora.

While there’s been a few “oh no, a slip!” comments being bandied around the tubes regarding the Leonidas release, it’s being done for good reasons. Your august poster here has seen his share of *ahem* “Gold” releases from commercial vendors (no, not just Microsoft but I’ve seen lots of theirs over the years) that many FOSS devs would regard as paper-bag. There’s nothing worse than that corner case bug that inevitably bites us (because Murphy loves a systems tech) so it’s good to delay and get it right than get it out quick and brace for a mess.

Oh, and a protip for those converting local shell accounts to LDAP (or similar) – be prepared to get some uid/gid mismatches unless you’ve been REALLY careful :-). I just did and thought I had consistent ID’s before, but no such luck. It’s trivial to reorganize though.

Life In General:

My girlfriend, bless her heart is a fitness buff and that means that of course yours truly will be convinced to give her current “hey here’s an idea to improve our health” ideas a go.

Thursday’s “let’s go for a good walk” turned out to be a marathon, possibly literally. I’m not sure if I covered a complete 25miles (~42km for those of us on the metric system) on Thursday but it felt like it. This was followed by Friday’s “just a bit of a jog up some stairs” – a 30 degree incline and a 200m stretch! (colloquially known as “The Hill” at Teneriffe in Brisbane) a half dozen times with minimal rest..

Of course I can’t feel anything but lactic acid from the knees down now (I’m not in possession of a runner’s build – I was a weightlifter / shotputter in my youth)

My better half is of course as good as gold 😀

Went to see Angels and Demons (the inner UNIX geek keeps wanting to write it as “Daemons”) on Wednesday night. Not as good as The DaVinci Code, but still better than a lot of the fluff in my local cinemas at the moment. It also helps my local cinema is licensed; a bottle of wine helps get through some poorly chosen movies..

I’m headed back to the office on Monday – feeling better after a break, knowing nothing’s gone amiss in my absence, with a few ideas on how to improve things (equals “make my job easier”) in the back of my mind 🙂

The Sir Humphrey Appleby Award goes to…

ObFedoraContent: I have now permanently retired the Fedora 7 and Fedora 8 sections of my repository. As I mentioned a few nights ago, those with older releases should really consider upgrading to a supported release or move to RHEL/CentOS. Cheers.

Skip the rest if you’re only wanting things Linux/Fedora related. I don’t mind 🙂

Telstra lays down the law on Twitter


Most of this is the standard “if you do this in an official capacity identify yourself appropriately and don’t disparage the company” wording you’d expect to see from business and that is fair enough.

However, the verbal flotsam around unofficial personal usage is both hilarious and worrying all at once:

They are required to complete an accreditation process and undergo training to update their “knowledge on emerging social trends and evolving best practice in social media”.

This coming from Telstra, whom Australians know understand very little aside taking their subscriber’s money and providing poor to no service? It’s like getting lessons in etiquette from a hillbilly. It will keep the many Brazil-like layers of middle mismanagement there busy for maybe a week, most of it time to discuss forming a committee to investigate the feasibility of research into the impact of such social media.

And this:

A difficult aspect of the guidelines to enforce is the section governing the use of the sites in a personal capacity. If the employee refers to Telstra, they are expected to identify themselves as an employee of the company and ensure they do not imply they are authorised to speak on Telstra’s behalf. “Use a permanent disclaimer if you are referring regularly to Telstra or Telstra-related issues,” the guidelines specify.

Again I think Captain Obvious comes to the rescue here. In this country almost no one has a good word to say about Telstra. If it’s critical it’s sure as hell not officially sanctioned making disclaimers redundant. If it’s positive (and not a press release or prank) then I’d be checking out my window for four shifty characters on horseback.

Asking the poor sods slaving for Telstra to have to publicly out themselves as such seems a bit cruel and unusual 🙂

And frankly a) what right does a company have to influence the personal views of their employees in such a manner anyway and b) are their management  / PR / media people such sensitive flowers that any sort of criticism needs to be suppressed in such a manner? (Overtly or otherwise – noone’s going to mention them if some lame disclaimer is mandated!) My $DEITY people! The rod up your arses must have rods up their arses! A good corporate culture needs constructive criticism and open debate if it’s going to go anywhere…

Fortunately I am not a Telstra employee, nor have I played one on TV (I am however tempted to play one on Twitter for the ironic value)

I have however had the misfortune of working for a company whom Telstra outsourced to (sort of; we took over one of their online divisions, my team effectively making several disgruntled DBAs effectively redundant) so I can say this just as I want to:

Telstra: You couldn’t get a clue if you were in a room full of in-heat clues covered in clue musk. The Peter Principle really wasn’t meant to be used as a management KPI but you’ve managed to do just that and the poor serfs underneath them are treated like expendable worker drones. Trying to counsel them on media relations is insulting to their intelligence as your PR/Marketing has treated the public like morons for years. Don’t pee on my foot and tell me it’s raining. Thanks.

Oh, we know why you’re doing it, don’t tell us it’s not about Fake Stephen Conroy. 🙂 If Leslie Nasser hadn’t done it someone would have – we’ve all been completely Stephen Conroy after about a dozen schooners and a couple of shots. Don’t look so surprised.

Don’t deny the public some potentially comic genius from employees and – more importantly – what really happens within the effective monopoly telco in my great land.