Monday, March 30, 2009

The silent state of the explosion

When I was 15 or so, I started a BBS using my family's Macintosh LCIII, mailing several months worth of my allowance money to a guy named Terry Teague who promptly mailed me back a 3.5" floppy of WWIV BBS.

My BBS was pretty low-frills as far as they go, focusing on shareware distribution and other nerdtastic things - but I did a decent job advertising it through other local BBS systems (you twitter kids have it easy, let me tell you). Within a week or so, my userbase was up to something like 10 people (!), and it became apparent that I'd need a dedicated phone line. I can't recall exactly how I convinced my parents (something dripping with guilt about not wanting me to be "unprepared for the future" I hope), but that lasted for another few months, until it was clear that I really needed a second modem because it was always in use.

Back then, it was devastatingly obvious when things were "taking off". I'd go to use my computer, and the modem would be in use. And handling an explosion of growth was a chore, like ordering equipment and calling the phone company.

When I set up my first web site, I used an old PC and our DSL line. It could handle like 2 people visiting the site at once before its disk would whirr and the fan would enter "jet mode". A digg back then (had it existed of course, you kids) would have been devastatingly obvious - my computer would have probably just exploded.

When Brian Hawthorne and I launched, we got digged, and hard. Our little Rails site got over 25 million hits that first weekend. Needless to say, with Rails 0.83 or whatever we were using back then, this wasn't even remotely an easy thing to wrangle. One moment of elation ("we made the front page!!"), to "um, the servers aren't looking so good". This time, calls to our data center and some refactoring, and we were back in action.

Today, an explosion of users is handled silently with scaling platforms like S3 and Mosso. You don't really even need to monitor your server status if you don't want to. Scaling up to handle the explosion, is effortless. Not having to do work is awesome, absolutely, and by saying this I feel a little like that old man in the grocery store mumbling something about walking uphill in the snow, but this lack of involvement has negative consequences as well.

Over this past weekend, I launched my first iPhone application to the App Store. I half expected to sell a single unit (to myself) and let it be a fun learning experience. This morning, I looked at my sales reports and was shocked at what I saw - I'd sold lots more than 1. Still modest numbers, definitely, and it was thrilling, absolutely, but it made me feel strange. Call me a glutton for punishment, but I sort of miss the good old days of the whirring fan and that blinking busy light.

I'd liken it to the difference between jogging along Crissy Field looking out at the Golden Gate Bridge, and jogging on the squeaky treadmill at 24 Fitness. Yeah, you're still running, and you feel the endorphons all the same, but you don't have that connection with the pavement, the air, the world, that you do when you're outdoors in a beautiful place. That whirring fan or real-time 14.0 load average are the indicators I once used to determine if something was successful.

I want to see those sales numbers climb in real-time, see that hockey-stick graph, and know "I made this, I made something people want!". Without that, or some indication of growth or the "challenge" of scaling, it just all feels too easy. I'm a technology worker Apple, I grew up in the days before eWorld, let's at least pretend this is hard, why don't you?


Sunday, August 17, 2008

Join me at DIYdays SF today

2:15 to 3:15pm
PANEL: The art and science of crowdsourcing
There is power in the crowd. When they rise up they can fund, create, distribute and promote. But how do you turn an audience into an active community where members become collaborators? Panelists: Slava Rubin (indieGoGo), Skot Leach (Lost Zombie), Jason Harris (Mekanism), Bryan Kennedy (, Blair Erickson (Millions of Us) Discussion Leader: Lance Weiler

I hope you come, it should be an interesting discussion!

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Battling the beast within - malware attacks my computer

I don't know how I managed to get infected with malware, let alone this little beast (details about Antivirus 2008).

Some crazy things it managed to do to Windows XP:

1) Open itself up with a window that looked like a cross between a Microsoft product and Spybot Search and Destroy (a program I use to manage malware infections). It appeared to "scan" the hard drive for "infections" and proceeded to find 800+ infections (yeah right).

2) Remain open/active despite repeated efforts to close

3) Add gross desktop shortcut icons to porn-themed "applications" and then warn me about the "legal" implications of having them on my hard drive. God, I'd hate to be a n00b right about now.

4) Use the balloon window to inform me about "viruses found" (ala above screenshot)

5) Literally take over IE, in that any time I'd open it, I was confronted with several pop-ups prompting me to purchase "Antivirus 2008" to save my computer (blackmail anyone?)

6) Changed the desktop background to a warning message that says "Virus Detected!". I liked my desktop background. This is pissing me off.

7) DISABLED THE TASK MANAGER! Why in god's name would windows permit such an action, but somehow CTL-ALT-DEL resulted in a window with a disabled Task Manager button.

8) Unlink Explorer action: Somehow they managed to prevent Explorer from handling the directories - a double-click on the C drive resulted in a "How would you like to open this file?" dialog. For a freakin directory. And of course you can't assign "always open this with explorer". So each time I wanted to open a new window I'd have to call Explorer directly and type in the location. Sigh. This is not looking good.

9) Disable the Tools->Folder Options->View preferences screen in that "Show Hidden Files and Folders" was permanently disabled and unchangable. Presumably to hide its internals.

10) It changed the freakin "AM/PM" somewhere in the Windows language files to read "VIRUS DETECTED!!!", so the taskbar time read "3:30 VIRUS DETECTED!!!", and all the timestamps on my files as well. WTF? Why on earth can an application in XP possibly do this?

11) Bonus Round! It was horrible, but I had tools dammit! I managed to open Spybot, did a scan, and removed some items it found. Some couldn't be removed, so it restarted to run on startup. The startup scan was interrupted by a Blue Screen of Death. Holy shit! We're losing the battle, men! I'm beginning to think this sucker will force me to reinstall. So I forced the machine to hard-restart.

On next boot, good ol Spybot started scanning again, and sent me to a BSOD again. Crap! However, this time I waited a few minutes (to pout a little I guess) and the BSOD disappeared. WTF?? The freakin malware/virus actually EMULATED A BLUE SCREEN OF DEATH in an attempt to force me to restart in the middle of the scan (presumably by some background process that invokes the faux BSOD to get me to hard-reset the computer and therefore stop any scan that was delaying boot-up!!)


I wish I could say that I was successful in killing off this monster. I was eventually able to cut off its head by removing its main DLLs (thanks to Spybot and a tool called Unlocker), but I couldn't seem to undo some of the underlying damage it did (like the annoying AM/PM change). So I just did what we've all become too accustomed to doing: reinstall XP.

To this day I can't figure out how I got infected. I'm usually very careful about these things, don't open attachments, and keep up to date on my Spybot checks. The only oddity was that I had JUST uninstalled "Avast! Antivirus", a free antivirus program. Though the timing was suspicious, I hesitate to implicate them, as no one else has mentioned this and they come highly recommended, but I don't plan on using that product again, just in case! A more likely case was that it was on my memory card when I returned from Peru, because I'd used it in an internet cafe there.

But I ask again: How did this little program possibly obtain enough permissions to make such fundamental and extreme changes to the OS and settings? Yeah, I'm planning on moving on to OS X someday soon to avoid this chaos in the future. But aren't we all?


An interesting old snap I found while browsing my parent's slides: Is this the great Clint Eastwood? He still looks old in this picture... He must be 120 by now.
Posted by Picasa

Friday, August 10, 2007

Synergy: An alternative to KVM switches for multiple computers

I have three monitors and two computers: one laptop, one desktop. The desktop is powering one of the monitors, and the laptop is powering the other two.

I used to use a simple USB KVM switch to move keyboard and mouse control between the computers, but then, almost randomly, I came across Synergy. It seamlessly connects two computers such that you can share a keyboard and mouse without a KVM switch.

The experience is fantastic. My two computers behave like they were one - as I move the mouse to the left of my middle monitor, the mouse and keyboard hop to the other computer as if they were the same machine. Better still, I'm using two different operating systems (windows on the laptop and fedora core 7 on the desktop).

It's a little tricky to set up but there are tutorials on the web to lead you through it. I highly recommend this method of sharing a keyboard and monitor with two computers.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Trying out the new Likebetter embeddable

This won't work out very well yet:

Friday, November 17, 2006

Funny iTunes error message

I know Apple thinks of me as just another fish in the sea when they send me this error message when I try to log into iTunes:

Thursday, August 31, 2006

View my photo channel

A photo channel is a votable stream of images - they can have themes, and report back results. View my Likebetter photo channel now