August 31, 1999:
Commercial software is appearing for Linux now on a regular basis, giving the lie to the people screaming "open sores!" about free software preventing a commercial market from developing. The latest announcement I've gotten is for Xess (perhaps pronounced Excess, though that would be unfortunate in my view), a spreadsheet written specifically for X11 and Motif. It's only $69, and now that Sun has purchased Star Office (the kiss of death as I see it) we need independent vendors to make Linux the peer of Windows in the application space. For more info, contact the Business Logic Corporation. 519-763-2097.
August 30, 1999:
The Scottsdale area code changes from 602 to 480 this Wednesday, and people are mighty unhappy. (Update your databases for Coriolis and Visual Developer!) I've heard several explanations for the sudden explosion in area codes, none of them convincing, but none of them verifiable. Phone companies say they are running out of numbers, but that's because they're assigning huge blocks of numbers to regional carriers, many of which are not used. Conspiracy nuts say the phone companies want us to simply dial ten digits for every single phone call, so that they can consider all phone calls "long distance" and charge accordingly. I'm less sure of that, but interestingly, pagers and cell phones have remained in area code 602. This seems entirely backwards. I would suggest exiling everything but fixed phones to new area codes, and requiring ten digits for all pager and mobile calls. This is becoming a political football in some areas, and I expect calls for regulation in the near future.
August 25, 1999:
Heading to Chicago on family business. Back on the 30th.
August 24, 1999:
Something funny's going on here. I use Netscape Navigator 4.6 as my usual Web browser. I have IE5 installed here as well, but I only use it when I come across some knucklehead's Web site that doesn't load right in Netscape. I have discovered that if I run IE5, then exit IE and run Navigator, Navigator won't recognize clicks on hyperlinks. You can load sites from the bookmarks menu, but you can't click on a link in a site and go somewhere else. This continues until I reboot the machine, at which point Netscape works fine again. Anybody else have this happen to them? That IE causes the problem is plain; I've duplicated the effect several times and it happens consistently.
August 20, 1999:
It occurs to me that with the profusion of 24 X 7 high-bandwidth Net connections, that Internet phone technology starts to make sense. I have a Riparius handset (which is basically a phone handset with an interface to an amplified sound card) and keep meaning to try it, now that I'm 24 X 7 both at work and at home. With the proper software, a computer on a 24 X 7 Net connection becomes a phone, and can "ring" when someone wants to talk. What puzzles me is that after being all the rage a couple of years ago, Internet Telephony seems to have dropped completely off the map. I need to pull out the Riparius (which itself is a couple of years old) and see if there's some still water running deeply here. Anybody else have any experience with it? If so, drop me a note.
August 19, 1999:
I just bought a thing called NetObjects TopPage, sold by IBM. This is reasonably good software for Web site creation, but the box rattles most hollowly with only a jewelcased CD and a license certificate. Surely, guys, for $69.95 you could give me at least a thin little book… The installer commits the time-honored sin of not putting an icon for the application on the desktop. This forced me to go find the app and then create a shortcut. Yes, it inserted itself into my system menu, but so have a thousand other things, and I don't use the system menu except to execute things I execute only rarely. Shortcuts are cheap and easy—why not give me one on install? Nuking it is easier than creating it…especially when the application itself is called nothing like "TopPage." The application proper is called he40.exe. What I think we have here is a private labeling by IBM of a NetObjects product not originally called TopPage. I'd be curious to know what it was, and why IBM might be hawking it rather than NetObjects. Any clues?
August 18, 1999:
An interesting legal complication in the rise of "volunteer" contributions to directory-type Web sites and Open Source projects occurs when you consider that, typically, profit-making organizations do not make use of volunteer labor. Some lawyers are planning class action lawsuits that could lay waste to such projects, based on violations of minimum wage laws. It's far from clear that such challenges will succeed, but we have the sort of legal system that allows lawyers to test the law and wreck havoc wherever they choose with no risk to themselves. It may come about that only big companies who have embraced Open Source methodologies will be at risk (HP is doing this with some of their device drivers) but there's always that "chilling effect" that tort lawyers bring to everything they touch. Watch this one—it's the most dangerous thing I've heard of in quite awhile; far more dangerous than anything connected with Y2K.
August 17, 1999:
I haven't been able to raise the Megido Web site for a couple of weeks, and I've come to wonder if the project is in trouble. (Megido is-or was-a promising effort to create a Delphi workalike for Linux/GNOME.) Something similar is underway with the Lazarus project. ( Again, it's based on FreePascal 32, but it doesn't have the source code to an IDE (as Megido does) so they're starting from scratch. As with Megido, it seems to be the work mostly of Europeans. Delphi has less and less support in the States, which to me is profoundly depressing.
August 16, 1999:

What will I be doing for Y2K? Staying at home, sitting by my solar-powered ham radio station, and listening to the world as the new millennium sweeps across it from east to west. (We in the west of America get it almost last, so there will be ample time to hear whether the world is indeed caving in, as irresponsible squawkers like Ed Yourdon are warning.) Come midnight we may have some friends over, we will certainly drink some champagne, not to chaos but to the triumph of the human spirit over a great many things.

I'm wagering that what problems there are will be minor and temporary, and that come January 2, 2000, we will all go back to work, feeling like something wonderful has happened. The apocalyptics are already looking for the next sign of teleological disruption—the Singularity, the end of the Mayan Calendar in 2012, or the Rapture. (Only the Father knows the day and the hour, boys—so shut yer yaps already!) Dare I smile? We have much work to do, and (in my view) millions of years to do it. Love and knowledge. That's what matters. Let us strive to make both infinite, and take forever to do it. The Millennium is only the beginning.
August 12, 1999:
Sun Microsystems sent me a news release announcing that their Free Solaris program had surpassed 100,000 copies. I've never seen Solaris work and figured I'd load it on a spare machine here and give it a fair shake. So I replied to the news release and asked for a review copy. In response, I got the third degree about whether it was for review or for my own personal use. Excuse me? Have you guys taken PR 101? (And doesn't the "free" in "Free Solaris" mean what it usually means?) If you want the press to review your damned software, send it to the press, and don't flatter yourselves by assuming that editors are lusting after a third-shelf OS "for your own personal use." Sigh. These people are fools, and (more to the point) doomed.
August 11, 1999:
Red Hat went public this morning, going on the market at 12 and—by noon—reaching 53. It's a good omen for them, and for Linux. It's not that people think they'll be another Microsoft—do we really need another Microsoft?—but that people think they can take Microsoft down a notch or two, which on the balance wouldn't be a bad thing. Competition helps everybody. I have never seen an OS evolve as quickly as Linux, whereas Windows 9x froze solid in 1995 and hasn't improved in any useful way since.
August 10, 1999:
Now that more and more people are getting 24 X 7 Internet connections through cable modems, xDSL, wireless, and so on, I expect that we'll see more and more "IP trolling" by hackers: Basically Net robots iterating through an IP block known to belong to a 24 X 7 ISP, noting which IPs are live and which are not, and perhaps doing some non-destructive sniffing. Very few consumers have firewalls. Why should they? This is why I shut my machines down when I'm done with them—the one machine you can't break into is the one that doesn't have power.
August 9, 1999:

Looks like UCITA passed and was handed to the states, which are accustomed to adopting such things without a great deal of debate. UCITA, if you haven't been following it (and you should) is a mod to the UCC that basically gives software companies the right to take your money and give you nothing in return. Reverse-engineering in any form is now legally actionable. Oh—and they now have the legal right to embed a back door in your software so that they can "turn it off" by sending commands to it over the Internet. Which they can do anytime they want, for any reason or no reason at all. What I think UCITA's supporters fail to realize—and most large software companies backed it—is that their pet law gives consumers precious little reason to pay for software, and big companies a great many reasons to go with open source solutions.

In fact, the last thing you'll want to do now is let software vendors know you have their product—leaving you the options of either stealing it, or going with an open source alternative not covered under UCITA. Finally, I don't think UCITA supporters realize the huge red flag they're waving in front of hackers: Companies fought hard for the right to put back-doors in their products, and I'll bet a lot of hackers would love to do it for them, so that the hackers can pop up a window saying, "As of 1/1/2000, SurlySoft Office has moved to an annual subscription model. Please call 1-800-BE-SURLY with credit card information to remit $500 for the next year's use. By the legal provisions of UCITA 1999, we are disabling your copy until we receive payment." It's too late to be careful what you ask for, Ucitans. You just got it.
August 6, 1999:

I learned something interesting about spamdexers (Webmasters who pull sleazy tricks to get their sites to come up on Web searches when they shouldn't) the other day while researching obscure liturgical artifacts. I was looking for pictures of things with peculiar names: croziers, miters, chasubles, dalmatics, and so on—all ceremonial garments and trappings worn by Catholic clergy and bishops during Catholic religious ceremonies. When I did a search on for "+miter +crozier +dalmatic" the first two search hits were superslimy hard-core porn sites.

This got me pretty upset, but what made it worse was that I just couldn't figure it. I have a lot of confidence in; it's now my main search engine. I looked at the HTML source code for the porn pages in the hit list and found none of the three search terms. However, as part of a ratsnest of JavaScript code that spawns new porn catalog windows every time you try to close Netscape or press the Back button, I found a reference to an HTML document that contained—I kid you not—133,000 words, including all the words in a substantial dictionary plus every conceivable spelling and misspelling of "dirty words" of various sorts. The scam is this: They use the dictionary page to get their porn sites indexed to every word in the dictionary. Ordinarily you don't see the search hits—but when you search for two or three obscure words that don't appear together very often, the pointer to the porn site floats right to the top. Interestingly, Alta Vista doesn't have the same problem, and I've written to to alert them to the scam.