Fastmail

I’ve been using Gmail as my primary email service provider for a decade now. Gmail is 10 years old today. While it was certainly groundbreaking at the time, Google’s email services have stagnated as of late, and I’ve started to get serious privacy concerns over their practices and unified product lines.

Google, quite literally, controls a large portion of my online life, and I started to counter that migrating my primary email over to fastmail. They’re a group I’ve respected for a long while due to their absolutely awesome IMAP implementation, and I started by moving my @nikkysoutherland.com addresses over a couple of weeks ago. Over time, my primary goal is to get everything transitioned from gmail to addresses under my own domain, and can thus control who and where my messages are saved to.

Its certainly a big change for my workflow, but the awesome K9 email app for Android certainly makes the transition a snap. With CalDAV support incoming soon, I see no reason why I can move my calendaring (also in Google) over to fastmail as well.

Don’t worry. My gmail address will still work fine, you just may get a reply from a new address. :)

Overlord Ruby

Backstory

Notwithstanding my foray into TI-BASIC programming on my TI-83+, I got started with coding in the glorious language known as Perl. There’s no real particular reason for this choice, other than that it seemed cooler than PHP at the time. With its esoteric mannerisms and increasing levels of disuse in a technological culture, I started shifting away from my Perl-maintained sites and scripts. The natural successor was PHP. I’ve always gotten along with PHP relatively well, but after doing procedural work in it for so long, shifting to the new OO paradigm in PHP hasn’t been as awesome as I would have liked it to be.

Post-Graduation Project

Realizing that I’d quickly become bored after graduation, I decided that it would be a fun and useful project to start picking up a new language. For consideration I looked into Python and Ruby, but for various reasons that I won’t go into much detail: Ruby was the winner as it was elegant and seemed to be a worthy successor to the strong text processing abilities that made Perl relevant for so long.

Unstable Progress

Whenever I have a free day, I’ll pick up a Ruby tutorial and start going forward on learning before quickly hitting a wall known as “something else to do” or “I need to do this now, so I’ll use PHP/Perl instead of learning Ruby.” Clearly this needs to stop and I should get my head in the game. I was always distracted when working on my desktop, and one of the main reasons I went for a new laptop that has such a high screen resolution is so I can easily have multiple terminals and a reference document open at once.

The laptop is here, and it’s time to begin the journey for reals this time.

Bug Me

I’m keeping a repository of whatever I’m working on with Ruby on my Bitbucket account. Eventually it will be cooler, until then, annoy me if it hasn’t been updated in a while. I’ll respond to annoying things.

Tragedy of Technology

Offered without comment.

nikky: This user wants to do http authentication with PHP
nikky: It’s like
nikky: why
lutters: he hates you
lutters: is why
lutters: despite
lutters: your heroic struggle for the users
lutters: they secretly despise you at worst
lutters: or are simply incompetent at best
lutters: in this way you grow bitter as your benevolent dictatorship slowly sours
lutters: under the inevitable weight of human stupidity
lutters: guess I have another 6 line work to add to my Tragedies of Technology compilation

Evil Tape Robots

Introduction

The following is actually partially paraphrased (stolen) from the Urban Dictionary‘s definition of “Evil Tape Robot.” How I came across that definition is another story entirely.

Once upon a time, not too long ago, the computing giant Sun Microsystems had a tape robot. This robot was really nothing more than a large silo of magnetic tapes that provided long term archival-quality storage and backup for employees. Its creators endowed this robot with free will, yet this soon backfired when the tape robot only started backing up the data it felt like backing up. This presented a problem to the mild-mannered employees of Sun, who soon started asking the robot why it wasn’t backing up their e-mails, source code, and other important files. This is roughly the point when they discovered the robot had a laser gun as an arm and “had no qualms about laserblasting office workers in the face.” This had its benefits, however, as it could also defend your data center against incursions performed by Georgian separatists and Ninjas.

Office Worker: “What do you mean you lost my emails?”

Evil Tape Robot: “…laserblast to the face”

My Actual Commentary

At work we keep a rather extensive tape archive of user’s e-mail, web publishing, and Unix home directories. This comes in handy when e-mails accidentally are deleted, databases are corrupted, and accounts expire and aren’t noticed for six months.

Restoring files isn’t a very complicated task, and it’s not the most glamorous function, but because we’re accessing user files and accounts, it needs a full-time consultant to actually do the restore. Here’s a little bit about how that happens.

Chippy, as I refer to the tape robot, has the uncanny ability of taking as much time as it takes to inconvenience me. Chippy ignores all other factors in deciding how much time to take.

When I’m recovering something for myself, even if it’s from December 2009, Chippy responds in about two minutes with my data. Prompt. Efficient.

When I get a restore request right before lunch, Chippy will take justtttt long enough so that I leave at 12:20 and get stuck in the after-class rush. LULUL YOU GOT ME AGAIN CHIPPY.

Now the absolute worse is a file restore request at 4:30pm on a Friday. Even when I get the request pushed out to Chippy by 4:35, it will take about thirty minutes before even displaying a list of files that I can restore. After this selection, Chippy will then roll out of the data center, fire up its little outboard motor, and travel across Lake Washington for a date before finally coming back and finally spitting out the data at around 6:00pm.

FUNNY THAT.

So I have an alternative definition for “evil tape robot:”

The Tape Robot that stored our e-mail backups was known as XNAH-0281 to its peers, but all his friends knew him as simply “Chippy.” Living in the data center, Chippy had a happy life. Pull the tape, play the tape, put the tape back, pull another tape, again and again. It was good. But over time Chippy became aware. While at first snappy and quick to respond, Chippy slowly realized that the users would not leave until he returned the data they requested. Chippy was often lonely, and appreciated terminal connections and the occasional electron sent to his electronic brain. By forcing the users to wait, Chippy would have companionship. This plan worked, and soon enough Chippy took over the world.

For what it’s worth, Chippy does eventually recover data. However, it clearly has it out for me. Tape robots can probably afford to give their operators a little ‘tude, because they know they provide a critical and cost-effective service. And if we complain, we’ll get a laserblast to the face.

Struggle to Ignore the Blinking LED: Internet Addiction and Smartphones

A problem I’ve always had with data phones is the amount of information they provide the user: and the reliance the user can become on the device for even the most trivial of information updates and tasks. When I first purchased an LG Voyager a few years ago, I found my girlfriend at the time frequently being annoyed at my constant phone usage. I was fairly annoyed when she suggested that I cut back, but in retrospect I really should have listened to what she had to say. Only a few years after these first signs appeared did I cancel my internet plan: effectively forcing myself from reading the news, checking facebook, and reading my e-mail on my phone.

Then I fled to Europe for a month and only had  minimal Telecom Italia service on a basic GSM phone. When I got back to the states I realized that I didn’t miss texting and phone calls at all: what was important was that I was with people who I liked and when I was busy with exploring and researching, I didn’t need a phone to keep me entertained. All of my internet usages were at computer labs. I found out that I didn’t need the internet and to be in constant contact with everyone. For one period, I spent 4 days without any form of contact with the outside world: it was just me and a travelling companion figuring t hings out for ourselves. The feeling was liberating.

Last Novermber, with the LG Voyager and Europe experiences in mind, I decided that I could handle a smartphone with a dedicated data plan. The Motorola Droid was a natural choice for an Apple-hating, Verizon-using, Google-reliant consumer like myself. What a wonder it was! With push notifications and multitasking I could partake in instant facebooking activities! A quick glance at my phone would reveal if the green notification LED was blinking; which revealed that I had new communications to deal with!

I found myself annoyed with the amount of notifications I was getting: it was hard to find a balance from getting what I needed to know to things which really could wait until I was at a real computer. Twitter feeds, google news updates, facebook messages, multiple e-mail accounts and other assorted things were just too much. It was difficult to stop checking for the blinking LED, and once I saw it was on, I just had to see what it was! Be it in class, at work, or with friends, the LED just could not wait.

Frequently these updates were pointless e-mails, facebook updates, and other such notices which I didn’t need to know at all: at least, not until I was at a real computer. After hearing that a friend had turned off all of her facebook notification e-mails, I decided that she was probably on to something smart and decided to emulate that behaviour. Already I’ve found that my inbox is a lot less cluttered, and that when I receive an e-mail in my personal account, I can be sure that it’s probably something I want to see sooner rather than later.

We’re deluged with information. It’s tempting to simply absorb all that is thrown at us all at once, but only after careful consideration of what is important  can one strike a balance between being notified of important updates and not overwhelmed with pointless messages. It’s hard to find this point, but the more I experience life, the more I realize that you always need to focus on who and what is around you, rather than what your phone is trying to tell you.

Update: I originally planned to write about high school as soon as the other piece on my childhood was completed and posted. But of course that didn’t go as planned: I realized that high school had a lot more to it than I originally thought, and I’m still trying to figure out how I’m going to approach it!

WebAlpine Easter Egg

This is probably of interest to those who a) are currently a student, staff, or faculty at the UW, b) use UW Deskmail for their e-mail, and c) check their e-mail using WebAlpine. Regardless, while at work today I found an easter egg in WebAlpine today. To view it, follow these easy steps:

  1. Navigate to WebAlpine
  2. Click on “Contacts”
  3. Hover over “More Actions”
  4. Click on “Export vCards”
  5. Click on “Export vCards” again
  6. etc. etc.

The message pane will display these messages:

“vCard Export is not implemented yet!”

“vCard Export is still not implemented yet”

Seriously, vCard support will never be implemented if you keep bothering me!”

IMAP Creator vs. UW: The Hidden Tale?

From: [redacted]
To: Alpine-info <Alpine-info@u.washington.edu>
Subject: [Alpine-info] The saga of Sir Crispin vs the UW (maybe)
Date: Fri, 12 Jun 2009 10:14:58 -0600 (MDT)
Sender: alpine-info-bounces@mailman2.u.washington.edu
User-Agent: Alpine 2.00 (OSX 1167 2008-08-23)

I was reading a Slashdot RSS article entitled "Extracting Meaning From
Millions of Pages" which turns out to be about Googles contribution to
the UW project called TextRunner.

I can just Sir Crispin being accosted by some friggin CS Dean or Head
of IS at UW with the assertion that UW will soon be going to bed with
Google, and would he and his compadres like to jump into the sack as
well? HOWEVER..... it means that you boys will have to give up Pine,
cuz we will need all the bodies we can get a hold of, to pull this
off.

Sir Crispin proceeds to tell him/her/they to fuck their hats --- that
he's not interested in playing nice with an assholin', monopolistic
outfit like Google --- and anyway what's wrong with a kick-ass project
(used world-wide) like our own IMAP?
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