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 🙂

Random musings for an autumn evening.

  • Is it some extension of Sod’s Law that the day after I build a brand new package, upstream will put out a new version that fixes some serious bug? libmemcached is a good example. I’ve just pushed 0.28 the ThatFlemingGent repo less than a day after 0.27. Are the folks watching me? 🙂
  • Collary: Software useful to me / my work will have an overly generic name, leading to packaging naming / namespace fun. Would anyone like to hazard a guess at what “statsproxy” does? (Tip: It’s not for webserver logs). *grumble*
  • Two reverse proxies, two webservers running both Apache *and* lighttpd and two PostgreSQL boxes to run one site: A sign of a systems architect trying to be too fscking clever?
  • Said setup is active-passive. Trying to be too clever and failing? 😛 (ps. it’s not mine)
  • I seem to have a real menagerie of Twitter followers; After following Neil “The Game” Strauss I got a gaggle of pickup artists, I have the requisite band of “social media” professionals (hey, beats working 😛 – except @lozz ‘cos she’s working for a good cause) I even picked up a couple of boozers after mentioning vodka in a tweet. I often wonder “what on earth are you following little ol’ me for?”. The real-life friends I understand.. The motivations behind others would be interesting..
  • I am a systems admin by trade (audience: “You don’t say!”) but I’ve really gone off coffee, which might have something to do with most of the local blends tasting like wet road base. Yeah, I know I’m probably going to get drummed out of the Secret Society of Systems Admins (TINSocietyOfSystemsAdmins) but I’m a tea man – chai mainly, but for those times when you need to be alert at some insane hour ie. most days it doesn’t seem to cut it. Suggestions for a sane caffeine hit for those of us who absolutely positively have to be up most of the night? 🙂

Oh, and if you’re reading this via Planet Fedora – hi there (*waves from his home in Brisbane, .au*). I’m the GeoIP / ModSecurity package guy, among other things.

I’m more BOFH than hacker/coder (not that it’s stopped me patching / rewriting things before in an emergency). I’ll post something with more signal in the future – I give you my word as a gentleman 🙂

Crackberries, Earth Hour and Web 2.0 boredom

After having a good laugh at “crackberry” users and their addiction for what seemed like forever, I gave in and traded in my not-trusty-at-all Nokia Slide for a Blackberry Storm.

After playing with it for a while, I must say it’s not bad. Getting used to typing with it was a pain in the arse (protip: turn off smart type and flip it horizontally – you get QWERTY keyboard goodness) but it’s growing on me. The browser is decent too (using the BB one not Vodafone’s to avoid data usage) and I’ve added Alex King’s WordPress Mobile plugin, so mobile users will see something readable (I love the theme I have but it’s not good on tablets / smartphones)

Having my home email pushed to the handset is nice – I’m not a fan of webmail and it’s not always convenient to ssh in and fire up alpine in some places. The twitter app isn’t bad, nor is the MSN messenger one. I’ll need the SSH client though.

Oh, and Lazyweb: Any Cisco VPN or compatible clients out there? Inquiring minds want to know.

I’m doing the decent thing and participating in Earth Hour and so is my site – the little bar at the top of my site? Check it out, especially if you’re a WordPress user.

We’ve all heard about the new Facebook layout: yeah, it sucks, looks like Twitter feeds etc. – these days I just can’t get into it at all, I guess being in technology I’m becoming less enthused with the idea of socialising online – I’d much prefer to be in a real pub or backyard / apartment balcony with friends than write on Walls and SuperPoke people.

I also wonder how I’m picking up a diverse range of Twitter followers – PUAs (Pick Up Artists for those not in the know), social media wonks (not you @lozz you’re a good friend whom I miss :-)) and fellow techies – but even BigPond and ABC Radio are following me. Am I more interesting than I credit myself with or are you just picking me out at random? 🙂

The one about yoga, marketing and DNS.

I’ve been fairly flat out this week. No blog entries, even my Twitter updates are sparse in comparison to the norm for me.

Speaking of Twitter – dear Marketing people: I know you won’t listen because you don’t really care unless you can make a buck out of it, but we would like at least one popular use of the Internet that has a decent signal-to-noise ratio. It’s not there as a cheap way for you to flog products, it can be a useful and simple communications tool for the savvy masses.

I point blank refuse to buy anything spammed in such a manner and I’d rather eat my own testicles than shill for you in any way shape or form. I’d rather follow someone with something compelling to read – Stephen Fry is an excellent example.

Even while my dearest is out of town I’m continuing with the “hot yoga” classes. It’s getting a little easier although doing so in loose shirts is probably not a great idea. Late in the lesson when you’ve sweat about a litre they tend to hang off me like a heavy towel, which is not fun. A singlet would be more sensible.

I did say I’d move the “technical” blogging to DotProfile, but I’ll make a break here – my network is BIND-free; I’m the maintainer of the MaraDNS package in Fedora (having inherited it from the previous maintainer who has moved on to other things) but haven’t used it as much as I should have.

As there’s a newer version (and a buglet in the current package’s init script) I rolled a new one and tried it on my internal servers – it’s running very nicely now, a touch quicker than BIND and while the zone format is rather odd, it’s still simpler to configure than BIND. So now I’ve got one PowerDNS box (qbert) and one MaraDNS (pong). I’m starting to run out of nameservers to try (having run djbdns, nsd, unbound, dnsmasq and posadis in the past here, and MS-DNS at previous workplaces.)

Oh, expect a new maradns release for Fedora very soon. It’s already in Rawhide.

Thursday’s Thoughts.

  1. People need to chill the fuck out. I’ve had two people I love dearly lose the plot today; is there really a need? Really? Life is short and things are impermanent. If someone else has fucked you over, it’s their problem, not necessarily you – let them deal with their own issues, you get on with positive living.
  2. The Guinness Book Of Records need a category for SQL statement abuse – I saw SELECT DISTINCT query with two INNER JOINS, two OUTER JOINS (with SELECT * subselects) a SORT affecting 250K rows, an ORDER BY clause – on PostgreSQL. If SQL97 had a “PARTRIDGE IN A PEAR TREE” they would have used it. The PostgreSQL query plan it generated almost made my eyes bleed.
  3. Found, which follows swear words used in twitter updates. Apparently I swear less than a childrens TV presenter. They’ve obviously not seen the Agro/Anne-Marie Biggar out-takes on YouTube.
  4. EDIT: Almost forgot about the NANOG poster who thought that because he couldn’t contact the WHOIS server for, that Brisbane (where APNIC’s offices are based) was affected by the fires and/or floods[1] Given that I work upstairs from APNIC, I hope not. 😀 Those wacky Yanks and their geography FAILs

[1] We are about 1000km from either, but both in our thoughts.

I’m getting fitter!

As most folks who know me personally know, I’m not exactly a little guy. Not huge (175cm / 95kg or 5’9″ and 205lb in the old money) but not a lightweight either. I used to be even bigger in times past – 110kg at one stage a few years ago. There’s some gallery photos to prove it too, alas.

The ironic thing is that I was a weightlifter as a youngster so should know better. But things are on the up – my darling better half has been feeding me – literally and figuratively – some good advice and ideas for better health. I’ve been mainly-vegetarian for around a year now and have been recently cutting out/down the coffee, junk and even wheat / gluten products.

Of course exercise is also essential – so I’ve been walking to and from work each day for around 3 weeks now and intend to keep going. Not only am I losing the excess weight but it’s cheaper and believe it or not quicker than driving / taking public transport (which is well patronised but slow due to the number of transfers needed to get to work). I start yoga next week and will be going back to the weights soon, even just for nostalgia.

I don’t often plug product either, but I’ve been introduced by my girlfriend to some top notch gluten-free and organic bread from Zehnder out at Maleny. A good mix of various seeds, pumpkin, fennel, cardamon seeds, a touch of cumin among other things – all natural. If you happen to run across it give it a go, it’s a nice change from the overly processed crap from your local supermarket.

Some things have amused me this week. There’s some discussion as to whether then @ohhdl account on Twitter is indeed the official Dalai Lama; I did actually follow him for a very short time but found the update frequency a little overwhelming. As it turns out, the account was suspended at least temporarily for “impersonation” (a no-no for Twitter) but was operational when I last looked

Does it strike anyone as seemingly appropriate that it may/may not be real? How zen. Speaking of which, if you’re Zen and a twitterer, have a look at some of the Zen-related twitterers like @zenhabits or @dailyzen. Other suggestions for people worth following welcomed of course.

Oh, what to say

It seems quite odd – I’ve been twittering like mad lately, but don’t seem to have much to say here. Perhaps I’ve been too busy to put a coherent post together.

Not that there’s anything wrong with Twittering, as long as the marketing wonks don’t push their “brand” onto me. I seem to have picked up a few followers too – no idea why given my recent tweets. 🙂

On the upside I am getting fitter. I started walking to and from work about a week and a half ago and it’s already had a noticeable effect on my fitness. I’ve not felt this good for quite a while. The gluten-free muesli my girlfriend has given me has run out but it’s certainly given me a boost in the mornings! I must get some more 😛

She’s also passed on some culinary tips that have worked a treat – a flatbread, some cheese, cucumber and tuna, grilled on a sandwich press makes for a great all-around snack.

I’m starting yoga as of next week (a touch too broke to go now). Valentine’s Day is tentatively planned but why is it always the day before payday? I’d love to do something extravagant but I always seem to fall short 🙁

I’ll have to make up for it later hey?