Introducing YippieMove '09. Easy email transfers. Now open for all destinations.
Comments Off
Category: Other

As you might have noticed, the flow of articles has decreased here at PWW. No, we didn’t give up on you guys, we’re still thinking about you.

The reason for the lower flow is because both Alex and I are out traveling to visit family for the Christmas. We want to write more, but people tend to get upset when you travel around the world to see them, and end up sitting in front of the computer when you get there.

Even though we don’t get as much work done as we want, we still get some work done. Right now I’m sitting at a coffee-house in Gothenburg, Sweden, waiting for Alex to arrive so we can work together for a couple of hours.

Author: Tags:
Introducing YippieMove '09. Easy email transfers. Now open for all destinations.

A couple of months ago we wrote that Google’s Searchmash was secretly experimenting with the real next thing in search. Today I noticed that a service similar to what I described in that article has already popped up: Yoople. Here’s what they write:

At Yoople! Project we believe that Web Searches are quite good, but not as smart as a human brain could do. As today we are forced to accept the order given by search engines and click the results as they are, unfortunately this does not mean the human searcher agrees with the returned results index. Moreover clicking a result does not mean the website contains the contents we were looking for.

This is essentially true. No matter how good a machine is at sorting search results and removing spam, it will always be just a machine. It cannot possibly know what people wish should be their top result without in some way actually asking the user. Google tries to work around this limitation by assuming that web pages linking to other web pages constitute ‘the people’s voice’ so to speak and that a link to a web page within a certain category is a vote for bringing that page up to the top of search results for that particular category. This is a sensible approach but it is not perfect. A limited amount of links is one problem. It is also not necessarily the case that the most relevant page has the most links to it: consider spam sites or sites that just get a lot of links in general and therefore rank better even for irrelevant searches.

The people voting ranking algorithm does have a couple of flaws though. Once again the most important one is spam. First of all it’s hard to verify that users are humans. If a user had to fill out a captcha thing every single time they want to rearrange some search results it would get old really quickly. And what’s worse: even if there was a good way to verify that the voter really was a human, how would you be able to verify his intentions? Maybe he’s just a guy paid to vote up search results by some company. Imagine Paypal asking their telemarketing section to take a day off their schedule just to go and vote away Paypal Sucks from the major search engines. It wouldn’t cost them much and it’d almost certainly succeed. A great investment of their money and time.

It is not unlikely that this is something we will see more and more off. Realizing the immense power of sites like Digg, marketing companies will start paying little groups of people to get articles on the front page. Imagine if you’re a technology company and you’d normally pay 15 cents per visitor through normal banner advertising or what have you. You could instead give 50 people $10 each and get 15,000 visitors from Digg. It’s cheaper and comes with all the attached buzz. As we move towards people controlled search engines this will definitely become a problem there too: 50 people voting a website up to the top will have a huge impact for most search terms since it is unlikely that most legitimate users will vote at all.

None the less, the way forward is to allow people to reorder their results and to delete spam results. It’s the only way to really teach search engines what us humans actually want. There are problems along the way but there will be solutions.

Author: Tags:
Introducing YippieMove '09. Easy email transfers. Now open for all destinations.

In a recent writeup, BBC News covers a study by Lancaster University’s Professor Tony McEnery. It was also covered by Ars Technica, who put some attention grabbing spin on it by titling their article “Are iPods shrinking the British vocabulary?”

What the quoted study claims is that an excessive focus on technology is turning teenagers into passive listeners without ability to express themselves in spoken language.

Playing With Wire are today publishing an even more shocking study: both BBC News and Ars Technica are going down the same path as these teenagers. A word analysis of the BBC News article cited above reveals that a full 16% of the words in the article are common words such as ‘of’ and ‘in’.

A pie chart showing 16% of the BBC News article as being 'the, of, and, to or in'.
Break-down of the words used in the BBC article. The most common words are used 68 times in an article of only 419 words.

The Ars Technica article also fails to impress in the vocabulary department. 54 of the 301 words in the article are extremely common and simple words. Just like in the BBC News article, the word ‘of’ is used to express a large part of the content.

A pie chart showing 18% of the Ars Technica article as being 'the, of, and, to, a or is'.
Break-down of the words used in the Ars Technica article. Very common words are used 54 times in this short 301 word article.

Our analysis here at Playing With Wire indicates that since both the Ars Technica and the BBC News articles are published online, there is an excessive reliance on technology. An almost machine like approach to creating articles results in this bleak lack of imaginative word usage.

We absolutely do not think unification of the English language occurs online to reach the widest possible audience. In fact this ubiquitous unsophisticated locution employment has us flabbergasted. It’s stupefying.

Author: Tags:
Introducing YippieMove '09. Easy email transfers. Now open for all destinations.

(Warning. This is a quite complex article that requires fairly sophisticated sysadmin/unix-skills. If you don’t have this, this article will probably make you really confused.)

Often when working for small companies, the IT-budget is very limited. Therefore you can probably forget about those awesome gadgets you drawl over in the sysadmin-magazines. Well, I’ve been working like this for years. Running Linux or a similar open source operating system on the servers is a good start in cutting costs, but there’s more you can do.

One of the companies I work for is located on the other side of the world (literally), which makes it hard to access the servers physically. SSH works fine most of the time, but what happens when you have a network error? Maybe the server fails to boot up properly after a power-failure, or maybe you messed up the network-settings and locked yourself out.

If you’re on an unlimited budget this is not a big problem. Then you just order one of these fancy $7,000 IP-KVM switches and this problem is long gone. But what do you do if you don’t have that money to spend on such equipment?

Here’s two different solutions that will work (almost) as good as an IP-KVM, but it takes a bit more work for you as a sysadmin. Remember, all these solution are based on the assumption that you only have Unix/Linux servers in your farm.

Option 1 – If you can afford spending $250-$350 per server.

There is a really nifty product available that is called PC Weasel. This product looks like a graphic card (PCI or ISA), but with a keyboard connector on the outside, and instead of a VGA-connector you’ll find an RS-232 (serial) port. So what this product does it that it emulates a graphic card, but spits out all the graphics to an RS-232.

What this enables you to do is to hook up a null-modem to either a computer or an RS-232-server (such as the ones available here (note that some of the RS-232-servers have SSH-support, making it almost identical to a real IP-KVM-system)). With this all hooked up, you can simply just connect to the serial-port on a different computer and you would see the same as you would see on a regular monitor. You can even access the BIOS – which is the biggest advantage with this solution.

Option 1 or 2 with a RS232-switch.

Option 2 – If you’re really on a tight budget.

This is what I ended up doing. I didn’t feel like paying the $350 or so per server, so I went for the budget solution – plain null-modems.

This solution will take you some more time to get running (if you’re not a hardcore unix/linux expert), but will cost you close to nothing. Once again, this will only work in a unix/linux environment.

The trick here is that we will be using the Linux-kernel’s (or BSD-kernel) serial-console feature to output to a null-modem. It’s not that complicated, but I’m not going to go into details in this post. You simply compile the serial-console module into your kernel, add some settings to your bootloader and your inittab and you’re set.

You can either do this between two servers (and take a chance that they won’t break at the same time), or you can dedicate an old box to be your RS-232-server. You can then just SSH into the box that is receiving the signal and use minicom to control the other box. Note that the big disadvantage with this solution is that you cannot control the servers on BIOS-level. However, it costs you close to nothing, and it will give you more control over the server than with regular SSH.

Option 1 or 2 without a RS-232 switch.

If you have more than two servers, you can build a chain-like system where server one is connected to server two, server two to server three etc., until you close the circle.

For further research I’d recommend the following sources:

Linux Serial Consoles for Servers and Clusters
Remote Serial Console HOWTO

Happy Hacking!

Author: Tags: ,
Introducing YippieMove '09. Easy email transfers. Now open for all destinations.

Yesterday our first non-government paper was received.
It was from Capital One.
They offered us a credit card.
We rejected their offer.
We do not need to purchase anything on credit at this point.
In particular not on those terms.

Author: Tags: ,

© 2006-2009 WireLoad, LLC.
Logo photo by William Picard. Theme based on BlueMod © 2005 - 2009, based on blueblog_DE by Oliver Wunder.