The popular IM chat service ICQ just upgraded their protocol (German link).

Usually, no big deal. The change should have been announced so everybody could adapt to it.

But, no, of course they just silently changed the protocol and thereby locked out the users of alternative (e.g. open source) IM clients such as Miranda, Gaim or Adium.

While this step is of course intentional (as the ICQ people want their users to use the original client for ad revenue reasons), it is another sign of why even such "trivial" things as closed source messaging protocols are bad. There is no security at all that the "owner" of the protocol will pay attention to your needs at all. Imagine you worked for a company. Would you rely on ICQ for your employees' instant messaging? (Disregarding the privacy issues...,) it would mean that right now, the protocol owner would have seriously impacted your whole company's information flow, costing you gazillions of money. You wouldn't do that if you were a manager, would you? Similarly, why should we put our private conversations into their hands and allow them to mute us at any given second?

There are other possibilities. Meanwhile the free jabber protocol has become so mature that it is flawlessly usable. And more and more people are at least getting a jabber account additional to the other IM chat account(s) they are using.

So, until my messaging clients get an update, my ICQ communication will remain quiet. :( Go §$%$% [*] yourself, ICQ.

And please, people. Get a free messaging client (such as the ones I mentioned above) and get yourself a free jabber account on one of the jabber servers in your country. You can still use your old messaging protocols with them but it's a great step ahead to not relying on un-free communication protocols anymore. :)

(and yes, if you ask, I will probably give you my jabber account address, so that you can add me to your list)

[*] all kinds of swear words to be inserted here.

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The king is dead -- long live the king!

Spam; CC-licensed by phil-it; Source: of us Blog authors have kind of a spam problem. So do I, since my blog engine is quite popular not only among publishers but also among spammers. There are several anti-spam plugins out there. The easiest ones use a Captcha, what I never liked at all. It breaks any single aspect of usability. And it keeps annoying the legitimate users of the weblog. I want people to be able to comment on my blog entries with as little effort as possible. If I start bugging them with hardly readable and ambiguous characters, I simply deserve getting no comments. I should not waste people's time.

Others work with some sort of embedded Java Script stuff (assuming the spammers' user agents, unlike regular web browsers, do not interpret JS). That's better, but not good either. Lots of these plugins refuse to take a comment from a user if he or she disables Javascript of course or if the page is accessed through a proxy or whatnot. Just getting a "sorry, I don't like your comment you just spent 10 minutes on writing" will certainly scare away also the most curious visitor of your weblog.

The best approach currently available is similar to the one used by email spam filters: Accepting every comment, but doing a Bayes propability check on it to find out how likely it is spam and putting comments under a specific threshold either into moderation or the waste bin. When I still had Wordpress 1.5, I used to use the fantastic SpamKarma 2 that did a wonderful job on filtering my blog spam. After learning a few legitimate comments, it did not make any mistakes for the last year-or-so.

However, its major drawback was that it kept filling up my database (which is restricted to 50 Megs by my ISP) with spam comments until they were wiped after a week. At times where I got a real flood of spam comments, I even once experienced a broken blog since the database literally did not allow to write any single new record.

When updating to Wordpress 2.0, I therefore decided to give Akismet a shot, a new anti-spam web service whose plugin is now shipped with WP. You have to obtain an API key (which, AFAIK, you currently only get by registering a free weblog on, activate the plugin, hack in the key you just got and off you go.

Since tons of users are contributing good and bad comments, the web service does an impressively good job on putting spam where it belongs: in the virtual waste bin!

While I am still checking it out, I can already say that it does not seem to have a high false positive rate at all. Some legitimate comments went into moderation (therefore asking me to mark them as ham) but none of them was flagged as spam in the first place.

Akismet++ -- and kiss your captchas goodbye!

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Just as expected before, I was called by the local Mac store the next day to pick up my Mac Mini.

Apparently, the graphics adapter was broken, so they just replaced the mainboard and put the rest of the components back in. So I could finally upgrade to 1 GB of RAM and the system works like a charm again.

It was clearly a warranty case, so I did not have to pay anything. -- Lucky me, as the replacement mainboard is worth $361,- as stated on the repair report!

Fortunately, also all my data is still there, so they did not tamper with the harddrive. At least not much: The technician was obviously intimidated by the Linux bootloader I used for dual-booting my system, so as sensitively as a goat to an endangered mountain flower, he nailed the original OS X bootloader back on the system. -- If he mentions that in his resume, Microsoft will immediately hire him.

However, currently I am working on OS X again and I can say, the difference in speed is enormous. How can an Operating System swallow more than 500 megabytes of RAM at any given moment? It's just unbelievable. That being said, after the RAM upgrade, Mac OS X actually became usable and it starts being fun: I don't stumble on the totally unlogical keyboard shortcuts so often anymore :)

You see, everything's alright in Mac Mini land again!

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Okay. My Mac Mini's graphics interface died after 6 weeks of usage. Just like that. The system ran well, (meaning I could play around with it via SSH) but it was kind of "headless" without displaying anything. Who needs a monitor anyway??

Mac Mini; CC-licensed; Source:, this is not a very rare problem, as there is already a support page by Apple addressing the problem. Anyhow, resetting everything doesn't really help a hardware error, so I brought the box downtown to the local Mac store.

From Germany, I am quite used to sometimes getting the worst customer service ever (though it has become better since the last European customer protection laws), so I was (and still am) sceptical how/if they will repair it and how much they want to get for it.

But, Apple is quite famous for its good customer service, so I am quite confident that they will do a good job to my Mini, too. For now, I am at least impressed that I can check the status of my repair online and get quite a few interesting pieces of information:

  • Your "mac mini 1.42 combo" was received at our Corvallis location on Friday, January 27
  • Your system arrived at our service center on Friday, January 27
  • Diagnosis was performed by our technician
  • We ordered parts for your system from the manufacturer on Monday, January 30
  • We received parts for your system on Tuesday, January 31
  • Work was completed on your system on Tuesday, January 31
  • Your system is being transported

Not bad! There are not many companies that have such a transparent repair process. Now they only have to call me tomorrow for picking the box up and not make me pay anything for their hardware problem and I am truly happy.

The real test if a Mac is worth its money, to be continued ;)

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We need a tagging extension for Thunderbird. Urgently. It's just a pain (and soooo "web 1.0"!) not being able to combine emails in an IMAP folder by other means than making yet another folder. I currently have a class whose mailinglist covers many different topics, and sometimes more than one in the same email. And even though there are only 30 emails so far, yet it has become near to impossible to find what I am searching for efficiently.

Wait - there is already a tagging extension available, right? Well, somehow. It's called "Tag the Bird" and provides some sort of automated tagging approach for your email.

Tagging; CC-licensed, by GliderKing; Source:, I don't feel good about sending all my emails in full text to some sort of web service. No matter if I trust them or not. That's maybe nice for one or two newsletters a week you want to condense to a handful of keywords on the fly (just to find out that the current issue focuses on dancing hamsters so that you can delete the boring thing before even looking at it any closer).

But apart from any automatic tagging approach, I suggest to write a Thunderbird Mail Tagging Extension that allows the users to manually tag their emails (and of course includes searching for the tags). The on-the-fly search field in Thunderbird would not only have to handle sender and subject then but also tags.

Considering large amounts of email in some people's postboxes, it would be neat to store the tags in some sort of field that's searchable by the IMAP server (for not having to download all of the emails in order to execute a search). Additionally, the server itself is the only logical place to store the tags as everything else would require an additional storage facility (file? WebDAV?) that would totally kill every aspect of portability -- a step back to the times where POP3 was state of the art.

I could think of a custom email header called something like X-Tag or so. Still, I don't know if this is a) "legal" with respect to the E-Mail RFCs (it should be, though, considering the vast amount of "X-" tags already used by all sorts of MUAs) and b) if these fields are efficiently searchable by an IMAP server.

Any comments to my raw, unformed "web 2.0" ;) thoughts?

Update: I just found out that somebody seemed to have some sort of similar idea already and announced to be writing a proposal on it soon.

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The Mac user's last words: "More RAM!" ;)

Mac Mini; CC-licensed; Source: using the Mac Mini for quite a while, I switched my primary Operating System to Linux/PPC (more exactly, Ubuntu Linux, but this might change over time).

Meanwhile, I found out that Java is a pain on Linux, especially on the PowerPC architecture. The Sun Java packages are not available, so the only ones you can use are the GNU Java Compiler or a commercial Java variant from IBM. As the GNU version is very unfortunately quite slow (and some applications do not even run on it, for numerous reasons), I managed to install the latter. For that, I followed a Java PPC Howto in a Ubuntu forum. Quite frankly, the fact that the howto is in Chinese didn't make the process any easier, but I managed to read the important information out of the few code snippets on that site.

Now, the Java programs I want to run work quite flawlessly most of the time. Unfortunately, one of the components seems to have a memory leak. And I am not quite sure if it's the Java JRE or the (always very memory-greedy) Java-coded software I am using. Recently, it even filled up my whole system memory, including Swap, preventing me from accessing the system for almost five minutes, until the Java program crashed and I was able to work again. The system load had reached the truly magical number of 49 at this point. At least, the whole system did not crash: Respect to the stability of the PowerPC Port of the Linux OS.

In any case, even though I really like Linux on my Mac, I wanted to use OS X at some time again. But since "it is just no fun to run OS X with less than 1 Gig of RAM" (German quote), I ordered some this week. This means, I will address the challenge of opening the Mac Mini soon.

Especially as the hard drives shipped with the Mini are not pretty fast either (and therefore the Swap space is even slower than it "usually" is), I expect the upgrade to be a true relief -- because currently, the constant swapping of memory content to the hard drive and vice-versa is the most annoying thing about the little barebone sitting on my shelf.

I'll keep you posted.

P.S.: The "last words" up there I just made up myself, but they are an intentional reference to the last words attributed to the German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: ("Mehr Licht" = "more light"), just in case you didn't notice ;)...

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Google has made some sort of Meta Updater package ("Google Pack") that bundles quite a few useful applications.

Among these: Firefox :), Adobe Reader, AdAware SE and of course some Google Applications.

Even if this seems to be totally useless for the experienced user, it could greatly facilitate staying up-to-date with these essential tools without regularly having to look for updates in every single application.

Probably targeting the unexperienced user, it could make them install a couple of useful tools they probably would not have thought about otherwise. And it could give Firefox another boost by making it even less complicated to install. A real contribution to a more secure internet experience for the average user. Well done, Google.

Additionally, administrators might appreciate the package in order to install a few tools all at once, reducing overall installation time. Eventually, they might even include it in an unattended Windows install CD, letting them roll out new boxes with only a couple of minutes of work. (Looks good for me, as I really only want to waste as little time as possible on installing Windows ;) )

Try it out :)

(via digg)

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A Mac Mini does not only look cool, it is also very, very quiet and therefore, recently I got one :) So far it works pretty well and I like it.

However, my opinion of OS X changes over time: When I don't use it or see somebody else working with it, I like thinking of the "eye candy" user interface and the easiness of usage. Most of the stuff in there "just works". And, thanks to fink and other extensions, the underlying UNIX (named Darwin) is quite mighty, too. No clicking around in the GUI if you want to grep for something in a couple of code files somewhere. And it does not only work, it also looks good at doing that. In other words: OS X is fun.

Most of the time. <!--more--> When it comes to details, it can become pretty annoying. Everytime I use it, I almost break my fingers using the totally unintuitive keyboard shortcuts that usually involve pressing shift, apple and some character that has nothing to do at all with the name of the function that is actually executed. What also drives me nuts is that weird spinning beach ball that appears when I do some sort of operation like accessing a network device that is currently unavailable in the OS X finder. It stops every single finder window (and some of the other applications, too) until the network device responds?!

Not to mention the response speed: I consider 1.5 GHz and half a gigabyte of RAM at least enough to have three applications open at a time. When I open another Firefox tab, though, everything apparently starts to be swapped to the hard drive. Hello? Where has all my memory gone?

To cut a long story short, just as much as the Mac Mini (the hardware) itself is what I was looking for: small, quiet, yet enough hard drive space and wireless as well as wired connections... as much the operating system keeps annoying me.

I have no problem with a GUI that "just works" (as opposed to Linus Torvalds ;) ), but I want it to be at least quick enough for me not to fall asleep when doing something "usual".

Therefore I decided to give Linux on PPC a shot (the "Ubuntu for PPC" CD I picked up two weeks ago in Portland seems to be predestinated for that). It will be a dual-boot installation (just as with Windows on any of my other machines back home). The biggest problem that used to be there was that the Airport Extreme WiFi card was not supported at all on Linux. Big problem, as I use WiFi exclusively in my apartment. But this problem got solved just two weeks ago, too.

Another option would be to give Gentoo Linux a try, especially because a few of my colleagues would probably help if I asked them about it. On the other hand, the Mac is still not the fastest machine and I am not quite sure if I want to compile all of my stuff myself... you know: ("Ubuntu is an ancient African word and it means I'm sick of compiling Gentoo" - Jeff Waugh ;) )

I will let you know about how much progress I've made.

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Making the EU angry can become a costly affair:

German news magazine tagesschau reports (for English, see Bloomberg, for example):

Today, the European Commission (the Brussel-based market regulator of the European Union) threatened world's largest software maker Microsoft with a fine of no less than 2m Euro (~ 2.4 million $) a day if they do not comply with their 2004 court order.

In an antitrust order last year, Microsoft was condemned to pay a fine of 497 million Euro for misusing their market dominating position in the operating system market. They sued, however they still had to fulfill the disclosure requirements of the order:

Microsoft has to disconnect Windows Media Player far enough from the core operating system so that competitors' products have a realistic chance to be used. Furthermore, they have to reveal exact and complete descriptions of Windows' interfaces in order for other products to communicate with the OS.

So far, they obviously have not made too much effort to do so (even though Microsoft's General Counsel claims so).

Maybe MS finally find out that it's not so much of a good idea to bug the EU rather than cooperate with it. As they might have guessed before, market dominating positions and cartels are much more regulated in the EU than for example in the US. Having a monopoly is considered to imply a great responsibility rather than just "being fun"; MS does not seem to acknowledge this yet. But, if they don't change their habits... they will be forced.

Sometimes, market regulations have a little weird effects. In this case, however, it could turn out to be beneficial for millions of people, not only in the EU but all over the world.

The case keeps being interesting...

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NSLU2; source: nslu2-linux yahoo groupRecently, I bought a Linksys NSLU2 network attached storage device and installed Linux on it. I have it boot over a 64 MB USB flash stick that I had to spare and I connected a ext3-formatted USB harddrive to it. It works flawlessly with Samba, serving the USB drive to all of my client OSes.

However, as I only need the USB harddrive maybe twice a day, I did not want it to run all 24/7. The main reason is, of course, that it wastes electricity, and additionally running all the time might have an unnecessary impact on the longevity of my drive. Especially because it is used only now and then.

Almost all the pages I found about this on the net mentioned that currently (and maybe forever) it is impossible to have a spindown time for USB harddrives, due to the SCSI driver emulation in the Linux kernel.

Today, however, I found an interesting thread in the nslu2-linux mailinglist. Robert Demski has provided a kernel patch as well as a binary package for the OpenEmbedded system (which is the base for the OpenSlug distro).

I managed to patch my openslug image accordingly and now USB spindown with scsi-idle works flawlessly for me with a Kernel 2.6.15-2. Once it is patched in the main images, you are good to go; If you want to build your own flash image right now, instead, here we go: <!--more-->

  • To add scsi-idle spindown functionality to the OpenSlug, we have to set up a cross-compile environment for the NSLU2 as shown on the NSLU2 Development Homepage as well as the Master Makefile documentation.
  • Unfortunately, the whole process is very, very poorly documented so that it is pretty hard to find out how to patch the kernel and simply have the flash image rebuilt. But once you get it, it's not that complicated anymore.
  • So after we got all required packages, we run make setup followed by make build-openslug-image.
  • Then we have to apply kernel-patch-scsi-idle.patch provided in the file section of the nslu2-linux yahoo group (member access only...). We find the kernel files in openembedded/packages/linux/nslu2-kernel/$version. The patch must be copied in here.
  • Now add the patch file name to the BitBake file for your kernel version: nslu2-kernel$, located in the packages/linux directory.
  • In order to have the kernel rebuilt, we have to remove some files from the stamps directory. This dir contains dummy files that indicate if a specific step was already taken by the make process. We remove the files nslu2-kernel-$*, so that the whole kernel package will be patched and rebuilt.
  • Then run a make build-openslug-image again out of the cross-compile environment's base directory. It should tell you that it compiled the kernel package again and it built a new flash image.
  • You will find the flash image(s) in openslug/tmp/deploy/. Please make sure you fetch the right (newest) one as there are most likely at least two images in there.
  • With that image you can reflash your NSLU2.

Afterwards, you want to install the scsi-idle package also provided in the executables section of the nslu2-linux group. Afterwards, you can configure the idle timeouts in /etc/default/scsi-idle and start the corresponding daemon. It should spin down (and up) your hard drive as intended!

P.S.: The kernel patch will be included in the main OpenSlug images soon. Update: I also sent in a patch for the OpenEmbedded source tree in order to have the scsi-idle package available in the main tree shortly.

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