A technology blog for The Economist Group IT team

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Google's China Problem (and China's Google Problem) - New York Times 

The NY Times magazine had an interesting article over the weekend about Google's recent move into China and about the censorship and bandwidth issues involved with accessing the internet in China.
Google's China Problem (and China's Google Problem)
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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

PayPal by mobile 

Has anyone seen this? PayPal allows you to send money to people on your mobile:

So one of the suggested uses is that friends can cover one another at the restaurant or bar, and instead of you paying them back later, you can pay them back right then by sending a text message or calling the automated phone menu.

> It's free, by looks of the signup and demo (already had a PayPal account, just had to activate this feature), looks pretty easy.
> It's a pretty cool idea.

> I'm not altogether clear yet on what kind of hassle it is for the recipient to claim the money. Presumably once they have a PayPal account set up with their phone number associated it's all automated into their account(assuming that is a requirement, which now that I think about it could actually be part of an *insidious* plan to bring them closer to world domination while no one is watching).
> Security - you have a pin number, and there is a confirmation process, but I'm sure there is a way to hack this thing.
> I guess the "I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today" line is not going to cut it anymore...
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Friday, April 21, 2006

Microsoft's Mac test lab 

Graham found a great blog entry about Microsoft's Mac lab
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Thursday, April 13, 2006

Splunk > CSI for IT 

Splunk looks interesting. It gobbles up all your log file data, groups entries together and allows you to search that combined data easily.

Here's a scenario. Economist.com customers have reported that they couldn't use some bits of the site yesterday between 19:00 and 19:40 EST. Using splunk we could search for events across all the platforms that make up Economist.com - ColdFusion on six web servers, IIS on six webservers, the firewall, the load balancer and the web servers themselves. Splunk groups events together, so that if log entries signify that an event is ongoing you only see the one entry when searching.

This is a bit like a product I used on DEC kit ages ago that tracked levels of memeory, CPU usage and other counters over time. The neat thing about that system was that it did what it called "auto-correlation". It looked at how the behaviour each of the items being monitored was correlated so that you could see cause and effects (i.e. high extended batch processing time could be caused by high CPU usage which in turn could actually have been caused by increased disk wait times when swapping and on and on...).

Anyway, Splunk adds a bit of typically Web 2.0 goodness in the way that system administrators can tag events and benefit from the knowledge of all other system administrators by being able to see the resolution to similar collections of events online.

So why aren't we using it? Other priorities right now, but one to watch certainly.
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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

TalkTalk need some servers servers 

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TalkTalk gives free click clicks 

Charles Dunstone's Carphone Warehouse subsidiary, TalkTalk has thrown down the gaunlet to broadband suppliers by offering an 8Mb/s service with a monthly 40GB limit for free with it's Talk3 International plan. Line rental is payable to Talk Talk at the same price (£11 per month) as BT and the call plan costs £9.99 per month. Fo that you get "free" calls to UK numbers (except to non-geographic numbers or for call durations of more than 70 minutes) as well as to the US, Australia, Canada and Europe. Calls between TalkTalk mobiles and landlines are also "free".

So what's the catch? Well, your exchange has to be one of the 1,000 in the UK that TalkTalk reckons will cover 70% of the population. You also need to be close enough to the exchange to get DSL, as always.

Initially, at least, it seems that TalkTalk will not be completely "unbundling" all these exchanges, which would mean putting their own equipment in, but will instead be taking over the local loop (the bit of wire from the exchange to your house) and using BT's Wholesale IPstream service for internet access. Customers will then be migrated to the unbundled service as TalkTalk install their own equipment.

The other catch is the one that Bulldog customers have seen - when demand outstrips the service capabilities of a provider it leads to a really poor experience. Added to this, swithcing back to your previous provider is less smooth than the switch away with likely interruption to broadband service. There's also some ominous small print that says that you may have to pay a cancellation charge if you decide to cancel because the connection of broadband takes a "long time" after the date that you're originally given.

The wholesale cost of a fully unbundled line is £7.83 per month; the cost of installing and running DSL equipment and supporting and selling the service needs to come out of the remaining £13.16. That seems like a pretty small margin when you consider that the charge for moving to an unbundled service is subsidised by TalkTalk to the tune of £70 (hence the 18 month contract). TalkTalk will also have to pay BT the wholesale cost of the DSL service until they unbundle the line completely.

I suggest that you balance the potential savings with possible disruption to your service and wait a few months to see how the roll out goes. I may not be able to resist, though!
I'd love to at least ponder switching to Talk Talk for the free broadband. However I don't like the download limits and The Register has mentioned many times on how fair usage policies are often abused by large companies who slow heavy bandwidth people down without telling then.
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Thursday, April 06, 2006

Subway / Tube Maps on your iPod ! 

I find the NY subway more complicated to navigate on than the London Tube, although I am getting used to it, so this is perfect for me - iSubwayMaps
Works on any 4G & 5G ipod!

They have an impressive list of maps (if you're ever lost on the Salt Lake City subway you will thank me for recommending this site !!)
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Grid computing online now 

Is it just me or when viewing SunGrid's demo are you reminded of sending punched cards off to some univeristy and then getting your results back later?

I guess I'm showing my age here.
If you go through to the registration process, the terms&conditions include the following restrictions which I suppose are very valid concerns if you're going to make massive CPU power available over the internet for $1/hr. The detail they go into to describe what exactly they're trying to prevent is quite surprising.

"1. We will not sell, otherwise transfer or re-export the Service contrary to U.S. law.
2. We will not use the Service for any of the following activities, nor will we perform research using it for any of the following activities:

Nuclear Explosive Activities
Developing, designing, manufacturing, constructing, testing or maintaining any nuclear explosive device, or components or subsystems of such a device.

Unsafeguarded Nuclear Activities
Developing, designing, manufacturing, constructing, operating or maintaining any nuclear reactor, critical facility for the fabrication of nuclear fuel, facility for the conversion of nuclear material from one chemical form to another, or separate storage installation, where there is no obligation to accept International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards at the relevant facility or installation when it contains any source or special fissionable material (regardless of whether or not it contains such material at the time of export) or where any such obligation is not met.

Safeguarded and Unsafeguarded Nuclear Activities
Safeguarded and unsafeguarded nuclear fuel cycle activities, including research on or development, design, manufacture, construction, operation or maintenance of any of the following facilities, or components for such facilities:

1. Facilities for the chemical processing of irradiated special nuclear or source material;
2. Facilities for the production of heavy water;
3. Facilities for the separation of isotopes of source and special nuclear material; or
4. Facilities for the fabrication of nuclear reactor fuel containing plutonium.

Foreign Maritime Nuclear Propulsion Projects
Maritime nuclear propulsion plants, their land prototypes, and special facilities for their construction, support, or maintenance, including any machinery, devices, components, or equipment specifically developed or designed for use in such plants or facilities.

3. We will not use the Service for activities related to chemical or biological weapon research, design, development, production, testing, stockpiling, sale, installation, operation, maintenance or use.
4. We will not use the Service for activities or research related to missile research, design, development, production, testing, stockpiling, sale, installation, maintenance, operation or use. (The term 'missiles' includes but is not limited to rockets and unmanned air vehicle systems.)
Also, we will not use the Service for activities relating to ballistic missile systems, space launch vehicles, sounding rockets and unmanned air vehicle systems (including cruise missile systems, target drones and reconnaissance drones) capable of delivering at least 500 Kg payload to a range of at least 300Km.
5. We will not knowingly resell, re-export or transfer the Service to entities involved in any of the above mentioned activities."

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Blue screen of Macdeath 

I guess this was inevitable.
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Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Apple's Leopard will include Boot Camp 

Boot Camp productises the concept that was demonstrated as being possible through a competetion that was won by "narf" and "blanka" back in March. At the time it was reported that Apple experts were saying that it was inlikely that there would be a winner to the competition to find a way to boot an Intel Mac into XP using a single CD (in addition to XP).
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The recent updates to Group brand guidelines prompted me to brush away some of the cobwebs from the look of EcoblogIT (but not to make it compliant).

What do you think?
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Small world? 

From an article in yesterday's Guardian on speed friending:

"I've been coming since the third or fourth meal," said Dave Grossman, a marketing consultant. "We did get a few crazy people the first time," he added. "There was a woman who tried to leave, like, a quarter [about 14p] as a tip."

"What are you saying?" Mr Nissim called across from several seats away.

"I was telling him about that crazy lady," Mr Grossman said.

"Great," Mr Nissim replied. "People are going to think we're all crazy."

Check out The Lunch Club if you think eating alone is boring; judging from the above, the merits of a good book shouldn't be underestimated.
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Monday, April 03, 2006

Bullshit banned! 

Hooray, I thought. Unfortunately, it's just the FCC being daft. Jeff Jarvis outlines his issue with the FCC in the Guardian.
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