December 31, 2002


Phil Windley just mentioned his warflying experience again. That got me thinking. I wonder what I'd find flying a glider over the southern parts of Silicon Valley.

Maybe I'll give it a shot this summer after I get my license. I have all the necessary equipment. I'd just need to convince one of my geek friends to ride in the back seat with the right toys. And I have one in mind.

Hm, I wonder how much of a difference (if at all) it'd make if we flew a metal glider vs. fiberglass.

The other real obstacle would be altitude. In a glider, you don't want to be 1,000 feet over the local population. You want to be several thousand feet above and know that there's either good lift or an airport well within glide distance. So you'd have to hope for the most powerful access points, I guess.

Now if I could convince a towplane pilot to try it, that'd be a different story. I could run the toys while he flew. Or maybe I just need to convince my friend John to get his power license already. I'm pretty sure he's almost there.

Wow, if we caught a thermal over a strong access point, we could blog it from the air! And if we had a sub-notebook with a built-in webcam....

Hmm... What's that saying about idle minds and the devil?

Oh, I almost titled this Warsoaring, but Wargliding has a better ring to it, don't ya think. :-)

Posted by jzawodn at 07:48 PM

Apache logging directly to MySQL

Someone just asked how I log my web traffic into MySQL. The timing couldn't be better, because the article I wrote for Linux Magazine is now on-line so I don't need to explain it again: Getting a Handle on Traffic

For the impatient, go get mod_log_sql and have fun.:-)

Update: Cool. It seems that RootPrompt picked it up too.

Posted by jzawodn at 02:43 PM

Open Source for my Mom

I wish I could convert the Linux box that sits in my old bedroom in Ohio into a "workstation" for my parents. Right now they share my Dad's Gateway notebook from work. It runs Windows 98. It came with Windows 2000 but my Dad installed Windows 98 over it. And he hates Windows.

So when I read this story of jwz's Mom always misplacing her documents, I thought of my Mom. She doesn't know how computers work and doesn't care. Like most of the computer using world, she does e-mail (Eudora) and occasionally uses a browser or an Office application. That's it.

I'm sure that jwz's mother has more computer smarts than mine. And the funny thing is that most mothers aren't terribly adept at using computers. Why? Not because computers need to be difficult, but nobody designs software for them. Why is the way we save documents different than the way we locate them later? It makes little sense.

This got me thinking about that old Linux box again. Why can't I at least get my Dad off Windows and make him happy? He'd be lost. Most of the Open Source software is no better than, say Windows, and worse yet it's never been subjected to a usability study.

Usability studies are rare in the Open Source world. But they needn't be. Instead of simply cloning the difficult interfaces that commercial organizations have been producing, Open Source developers have a chance to create something that's actually easy to use and powerful.

If you're involved with an Open Source project that produces a GUI app that's supposed to be used by "normal people," try putting some normal people in front of it. Get your Mom to try it out. Don't explain how it works (that's cheating). Just ask her to perform basic tasks with it--just like normal people in the real world do.

It's that easy. Don't stop until you parents and their friends can use it effortlessly. You'll have a killer application on your hands. Don't believe me? Try reading any of Jakob Nielsen's books or articles. He's proved time and again the the vast majority of user interface problems are uncovered with just a few brief tests. You don't need to pay thousands of dollars to usability consultants to get almost all the way there.

Some people think that usability is very costly and complex and that user tests should be reserved for the rare web design project with a huge budget and a lavish time schedule. Not true. Elaborate usability tests are a waste of resources. The best results come from testing no more than 5 users and running as many small tests as you can afford.

I wish I knew why so few people in the Open Source world seem to care.

Of course, the most common response to suggestions like this is that by making it easy for Mom to use, you're somehow dumbing down the software. People need to get smarter in order to use these complex machines. I really don't understand where anyone got the idea that easy to use things are for dumb people. My Mom isn't dumb. She just doesn't care about the difference between the "desktop" and the "explorer." Why should she. All she wants to do is send me e-mail to let me know that Dad has finally started to clean the basement.

My biggest fear is that the Open Source Ego Problem will suck up more time and effort than trying to build good, stable, fast, usable software that's better than what we have today--not simply a free clone (for whatever version of "free" you happen to like most).

Posted by jzawodn at 02:21 PM

How many unique user agents?

It seems that Scott is surprised by the number of unique user agents his server sees. So I decided to check mine:

mysql> select count(distinct(agent)) from access_jeremy_zawodny_com;
| count(distinct(agent)) |
|                  15366 |
1 row in set (30.01 sec)

Impressive. Roughly three times as many. I wonder which are most popular? Maybe the top 20?

mysql> select agent, count(*) as cnt from access_jeremy_zawodny_com
    -> group by agent order by cnt desc limit 20;
Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 6.0; Windows NT 5.1)
Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 6.0; Windows NT 5.0
Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 6.0; Windows NT 5.1; .NET CLR 1.0.3705)
Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 5.5; Windows NT 5.0)
Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 6.0; Windows 98)
Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 5.01; Windows NT 5.0)
Googlebot/2.1 (+
Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 6.0; Windows NT 5.0; .NET CLR 1.0.3705)
Radio UserLand/8.0.8 (WinNT)
Mozilla/5.0 (Slurp/cat;;
Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 6.0; Windows NT 5.0; Q312461)
Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 6.0; Windows NT 5.1; Q312461)
Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 5.0; Windows 98; DigExt)
Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 5.5; Windows 98)
NetNewsWire Lite/1.0.2 (Mac OS X)
Mozilla/3.0 (compatible)
Mozilla/3.01 (compatible;)
Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 5.5; Windows 98; Win 9x 4.90)
Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 5.5; Windows NT 5.0; T312461)

Image if I ran that on the logs at Yahoo. Hmm. Maybe I should, just for a day. (No, not all the logs. Just a few servers.)

BTW, I love logging apache traffic directly into MySQL. It means I can do all sorts of cool stuff.

Posted by jzawodn at 11:49 AM

E-Mail Newsletters and RSS

If you ask me (you didn't), both Scott and John are letting them off the hook too easily. I want my e-mail newsletters to be available as RSS feeds. I already have too many daily and weekly newsletters cluttering my inbox. And since I don't use a GUI mail client, I have to paste the URLs to things I want to visit.

I've slowly been migrating to RSS feeds when they're available. Geek sites like Slashdot, Freshmeat, and use Perl have them. But many others do not yet.

Posted by jzawodn at 11:33 AM

Linux Bootable Business Card (BBC) Testing

The fine folks at need your help in tested version 2.0 of the Linux Bootable Business Card.

The LNX-BBC is a mini Linux-distribution, small enough to fit on a CD-ROM that has been cut, pressed, or molded to the size and shape of a business card. LNX-BBCs can be used to rescue ailing machines, perform intrusion post-mortems, act as a temporary workstation, install Debian, and perform many other tasks that we haven't yet imagined.

If you've never used one, give it a try. The BBC is incredibly useful to have around--a real life-saver at times.

Posted by jzawodn at 09:35 AM

Aaron on Wireless "Security"

Aaron Schwartz explains why I run an open access point in my apartment. All my systems are secure, so if someone wants to leach a bit of cable bandwidth off me, I'm fine with that.

Sadly, people keep talking about how wireless networks are "insecure" and "open to attack" and how we should secure them, to keep people out. In fact, we should do just the opposite: we should secure them to let people in.


Posted by jzawodn at 09:31 AM

Test Post from NNW Pro Beta

This is a test post from the NetNewsWire Pro Beta. Let's see if it works right.

Posted by jzawodn at 09:26 AM