Monthly Archives: July 2006

Jumpstart your business with Ether

Jumpstart your business with Ether.

Sell your expertise with Ether, a web site that connects businesses with clients:

We all have something valuable to say. Whether you're an accountant, a computer expert, a blogger, or a good gossiper, you can earn money selling what you say to others over the phone or through email.

Ether is extremely easy to set up. All you need to do is sign up for your free Ether number, fix your going rate, set the time you're going to take calls, and market yourself. This looks like a great service for anyone with something to sell.

A nice little work-at-home business

A nice little work-at-home business.

Linda spent an hour yesterday, trying to get Photoshop to export a jpeg.

This represents a great business opportunity. Lots of smart people run up against small, simple technical hurdles. It happens all the time. You need to use some application that's not in your daily repertoire but that everyone uses occasionally. You want to do something simple.

For some reason, it's not.

So here's the plan: you hang out a shingle on AIM that says, “Photoshop” or “Excel” or “graphic design”. Customers buzz you with questions. You respond right away with an offer.

Customer: I need to export a jpeg from Photoshop.

You: OK. I think I can help. $25 if things work out, $10 if they don't.

Customer: here's my credit card….

To make this work, I think you need two features:

  • Availability: you've got to be there on AIM when the customer gets bogged down. There's a significant group of people, though, who can be available online intermittently for hours and hours. They're taking care of kids or invalids at home. There are lots of shady schemes to exploit these people; I think this one would be fairly satisfying.
  • Kill fees. It's dangerous to do fixed-fee consulting, but nobody wants to give a stranger a blank check — least of all when they're stuck in software hell. So we set two fees. The “kill fee” tells the consultant, “any time this gets to be a pain — the client asks for too much, or the client is unreasonable, or the client didn't really understand their own problem, or Billy's school called and needs me to run over and get him — I can bail out. I get paid something. If I stick around until the client is happy, I get paid more.

Kill fees are used in magazines. The editor assigns a story to a freelance writer; they agree on a price for the article, and a kill fee. If the magazine takes the piece, they get the rights and the author gets the price. If the magazine doesn't take the article — the article is lousy or the editor was replaced or the subject of the article is suddenly radioactive — the writer gets the kill fee and keeps the rights. It's a good way to draw a line around a small project that might blow up; get the kill fee right, and everyone can stay friends and work together next time.  [Mark Bernstein]

US House: Schools must block MySpace, many other sites

US House: Schools must block MySpace, many other sites.

US House Resolution 5319, the Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA), was passed by a 410 to 15 vote tonight. If the Resolution becomes law social networking sites and chat rooms must be blocked by schools and libraries or those institutions will lose their federal internet subsidies. According to the resolution’s top line summary it will “amend the Communications Act of 1934 to require recipients of universal service support for schools and libraries to protect minors from commercial social networking websites and chat rooms.”

Adults will be able to ask for the library’s permission to use such sites. The Resolution will now go to the US Senate for a vote before being offered to the President for signature into law.

The rhetoric from advocates was all about MySpace. For example, Texas Republican Ted Poe says, “social networking sites such as MySpace and chat rooms have allowed sexual predators to sneak into homes and solicit kids.”

An incredibly vague law, DOPA will require schools and libraries to block access to a potentially huge range of sites on the internet. The goal is to protect children from adult predators. Sites that must be blocked include those that allow people to post profiles, include personal information and allow “communication among users.”

410-15 was a shocking vote. I write about it here because it has the potential to impact a huge portion of our readership and the companies we profile on this site. Though the viability of enforcing such a law is open to question, web services offering collaboration in education are looking seriously endangered. Secondary collaborative consequences of commercial web sites used in schools aren’t looking good either. Or perhaps it’s just symbolic of the divide in the US between on one hand those of us who are excited about the incredible potential of web services to enable personal creativity and on-demand global communication and on the other hand those who believe that the internet is just a series of tubes.

I’m not the best person to analyze this though. Here’s who I recommend:

  • Declan McCullagh at ZDNet has posted a very thorough background article on DOPA.
  • Andy Carvin writes Learning Now, a blog about education and technology for PBS, and has set up a page called DOPAWatch to aggregate blog posts on the topic.
  • danah boyd is probably the web’s leading expert in analyzing the politics of MySpace and youth social networking.
  • Will Richardson’s Weblogg-Ed is a great source for all things Learning 2.0
  • Vicki A. Davis is a Christian school teacher in Georgia who uses blogs, wikis, podcasting and more in her classrooms. Vicki has written a number of powerful posts on DOPA and I would expect she’ll have something to say in the morning.

If youth are the most likely adopters of new social software then I think it would be in the interests of all who are interested in social software to watch the US government’s attempts to keep children from it. [TechCrunch]

Open Communities vs. Open Source

Open Communities vs. Open Source. By tim

At an OSCON panel yesterday, there was a really interesting conversation between Danese Cooper and Dain Sundstrom. We were talking about what happens when money arrives at an open source project (either in the form of corporate sponsors or commercialization of the project itself.)

Mitchell Baker pointed out how hard it was for AOL to understand that she was still the project leader when they laid her off from Netscape. It took a concerted effort by the remaining Netscape developers to help them realize that she was still their leader, despite AOL's new organizational plans. I had been making a similar point to Laurie Tolson, the new head of Java at Sun, in discussing how Sun would have to change their thinking if they were to open source Java. Open source projects are typically headed by individuals, and in cluetrain style, depend on having a human face.

Dain made a really interesting distinction. We need to recognize, he pointed out, that open source doesn't guarantee open community. Some projects (JBoss was what he had in mind) are open source, but have a closed community, controlled by a corporate sponsor.  [O'Reilly Radar]

Thumper & Friends

Thumper & Friends

We
announced a bunch of
new boxes this morning (of, course, the damn
Register has had the
poop for weeks, I find our leakiness irritating). There’s a
Real Big Opteron
server
(personally, I’m more of a scale-out than scale-up kinda guy, but big
iron is a big part of our business). There’s a
blade box.
I know nothing about blades, never been near one. Then there’s the
Thumper oops X4500, it’s
interesting. I even have a grainy amateurish photo of the inside of a
pre-production model.

At a recent internal meeting, we got an up-close-and-intimate walk-through
from Andy Bechtolsheim on How It Works; if we could figure out how to clone
him and give the whole world that kind of pitch, we’d sell these things by the
freighter-load.
Suffice it to say that the maintainability and I/O bandwidth of these boxes
are remarkable.

Now, the Thumper; it’s a 4U box with two fast dual-core Opterons and some
silly, idiotic, enormous number of 250G or 500G disks.
And really big, fat pipes throughout. Here are a few of the disks.

Ask the Bloggers ·
When I was getting ready to write this, I had a detail question about the
Thumper, and since all the people I know in the Systems org are out on the
marketing road-show today, I asked the internal bloggers’ list, and that turned
out to be a smart move, I learned some interesting things:

  • If one of the disks fails, the little LED beside it lights up. The
    software handles it (see below) and things go on running; the intent is that
    you service it about once a year, swapping out the failed drives, which are
    easy to find. Bringing down maintenance costs is a big deal with a lot of our
    customers.

  • The LEDs are actually three-state: activity (Green), OK-to-remove
    (Blue), and Fault (amber).

  • It ain’t light. I suppose we’ll do a try-and-buy, and if you try one,
    please don’t try to hoist into place yourself. I gather that internally, we
    use a
    Genie
    Lift
    .

SATA What?!?! ·
Now, here’s the really interesting part. These are all SATA disks; i.e.,
pretty fast, really cheap, typically regarded as not suitable for use in big
back-room servers. The thing that makes it all work is ZFS, which goes fast
not by using the fastest disks, but by using lots of paths to the data, and
which assumes that disks are going to fail sometimes and is built to just deal
with it.

Remember, RAID used to stand for Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks?
That’s the idea here.
This sucker was originally designed as a streaming-video server. But
everywhere I look I see the data getting bigger and bigger and the transaction
rate getting higher and higher. So I bet there are lots of places where this
will come in handy. [Tim Bray Ongoing]

A Revolution that Fits in a Trunk [10]

A Revolution that Fits in a Trunk [10].

That’s a 24 terabyte (!) “Thumper” (Sun X4500)
in my trunk under the golf clubs. Jason, Matt and I wandered around Sun
yesterday with Jeff Bonwick and Bill Moore of the Sun ZFS team hunting
for “Thumpers”. We really, really wanted to use this new server/storage
product from Sun as the foundation for some new products Joyent is
rolling out to customers. Unfortunately, while the product was
announced on July 14th, Bastille Day, we’ve been told it won’t be
available until September, and then in limited quantity.

Tim
O’Reilly called the “Thumper” ”…the Web 2.0 server”. I think the
basis for that assertion is along the lines of my idea (I’m not
claiming attribution) that companies want to be like Google (from an
infrastructure standpoint). In Sun’s announcement, Tim makes the argument:

O’Reilly
calls Google the prototypical Web 2.0 service, but notes that the
company “did it the hard way – they have kind of rolled their own.”
Many companies now emulate the Google model, yet they “don’t want to
roll their own, or grow [their infrastructure] from the ground up.”

I agree with that assessment. It’s the subject of my earlier post Sunshine.

Which
brings me back to our peregrinations around Building 12 at Sun with
Jeff and Bill. If Bastille Day was about storming a prison, our Thumper
Day yesterday was about storming for product. Jeff and Matt knew we
wanted to use “Thumper” and they broke through the typical barriers to
entry for Joyent so that we could use “Thumper”. Jeff has bottles of
open Advil on his desk a result of all the phone calls he’s been making
over the last few days looking for a system Joyent could use. It was
fun to listen to Bill barter boxes of AMD Opteron chips for a system.
(Sidenote: I think there’s enough equipment sitting in the halls of Sun
to standup Joyent’s own data-center down by the river. Think
battlefield hospital with all the wounded in the hall waiting for
triage.) There was even an encounter with a Scotsman in charge of one
of the many inventory pools claiming “dars nothing ay con dew”. We
wandered looking for “Thumpers” but were coming up empty handed. As we
began to walk down the stairs, I looked up the stairwell to the top
floor.

“There’s some more boxes up there,” I said. The
expedition paused, not wanting to believe. However, Bill still
believed. “That looks like Thumper boxes,” said Bill. Now all eyes
looked up as the evening sun began to set in the western sky. “Those
are, those ARE Thumper boxes,” said Jeff. We leap up the stairs like we
weren’t geeks.

I don’t want to forget to mention the “owner”
of the “Thumpers”. Just before we looked up to see the boxes above, we
ran into a guy on the stairs. He asked if we were looking for
“Thumpers”…just from the look on our faces. “Dear Friends, are you
looking for Thumpers?” or “I don’t know why you seek Thumpers amongst
the dead.” I don’t exactly remember what he said, but the next thing I
knew, we were all looking up and there were “Thumpers”. And when we’d
picked the “Thumper” we wanted to take home, from the man’s own
shipment of “Thumpers” for his own work, this guardian angel brought us
a hand-truck, and helped us out of the building, while the guards
slept, as they say.

Only to be met by the Scotsman. Who chuckled to himself. Poor entrepreneurs!  [Joyeur]

The Rise of Open Infrastructure

The Rise of Open Infrastructure. By tim

Jon Udell just wrote a thought-provoking editorial on Infoworld that takes off from my conversation with Debra Chrapaty, which I blogged earlier this month. I had called out Debra's comment that “In the future, being a developer on someone's platform will mean being hosted on their infrastructure.”

Meanwhile, I was citing Jon myself just this morning, pointing out in my keynote at OScon that Jon's blog entry Hosting AJAX Applications on [Amazon's] S3 with Openfount seemed to me to be an early confirmation of Debra's provocative assertion.

Jon's latest editorial, The Rise of Open Infrastructure, suggests a challenge for future open source developers: create open source, perhaps P2P, infrastructure so that developers don't become hostage to a future in which the big web platform players (Google, Microsoft, Yahoo! and Amazon) use their economies of scale to limit what independent developers can do. Jon writes:

We’ve already seen how open source software projects harness collective effort to produce quality results. We’re now seeing how open content projects such as Wikipedia do the same. Can open infrastructure be far behind?

Arguably it’s already here. Yochai Benkler, author of The Wealth of Networks, notes that if we regard the P2P file-sharing networks from a technical rather than a political/legal perspective, we observe the evolution of robust decentralized storage systems…. Operating on a smaller scale but at a higher level in the stack, open content delivery networks such as CoralCDN, which I mentioned a year ago, will challenge proprietary CDNs (content delivery networks) such as Akamai… Beyond CDNs lie service delivery networks… If I were the next Linus Torvalds, itching to create the Linux of open infrastructure, this is where I’d scratch. Innovation in open source was about process more than technology. Innovation in open infrastructure will require both.

  [O'Reilly Radar]