Travelling light with file tokens

File attachments can really bog down a corporate network. It just takes one user to send a 5MB MPEG of a dancing hamster to his team to see how wasteful they can be. You end up with giant Outlook folders and gobbled-up bandwidth. It appears a company called Creo has an interesting idea – everytime you send attachments, the Creo Token software compresses and encrypts everything into a “bundle”, but then sends a “token” instead of the actual file. With the Creo Redeemer software, your recipient can cash in the token, which points to the sender’s file bundle still residing on the sender’s hard drive.

Personally, I think they could do even better – how about having the sender’s bundle uploaded to centrally accessible, fast file servers, say an internal one for internal communications, and an external one on the Internet for extra-office email? I think there could even be a business opportunity for someone to offer Internet “public storage” for tokened files. The server can be configured to automatically destroy all files which have had their tokens redeemed, or after a preset amount of time.

Then, there will be none of this hard drive snooping business going on.

Monkey see monkey do


There was a leak of Windows Longhorn Build 4051, Microsoft’s next Windows OS, and Neowin and WinBETA have the scoop in it. And while the MSN Explorer-ish user interface (codenamed Aero) will most likely be reviewed and revised before Longhorn ships in 2005 (2006?), the features are very real.

The next Internet Explorer seems to have a lot of interesting features, such as a download manager (above), a pop-up blocker, and the ability to install “Add-ons”. Wow, they wouldn’t have been influenced by Mozilla’s Download Manager, popup-blocker or Extensions, would they?

Call the office

I was a beta tester for the recently-released Microsoft Office 2003 System. I was impressed with its stability, even in beta stage, although I have to raise doubts on the value-add between Office 2003 and its predecessors such as Office XP or even Office 2000. And then there is the open-source office suite, OpenOffice. There is no one single user feature that makes it a must-buy, although Outlook (Go Chris!) and a lot of the underpinnings have been overhauled, making it more enticing in corporate enterprise situations.

Shell remarked that MS is spending $150 milllion on an ad campaign. “I just saw a parade roll by with people in orange Office T-shirts (a band apparently), a motorcade and then 3 powerboats painted with Office 2003 logos…The band was kinda straggly and it was drizzling. They had all these Orange and Yello balloons in the soccer field (remember that) plus 50 ft high balloon men saying ‘Office 2003’ waving around in the rain. Kinda weird.”

The debutante of the Office package was undoubtedly Microsoft OneNote 2003, a cool virtual scrapbook designed to make Tablet PC users take down notes. It has often been called “Notepad of steroids”, although the ability for users to stick text blocks, images and audio clips haphazardly on a page makes it much more similar to PowerPoint in technique.

I wonder if it will actually be USEFUL in day to day life, though. After all, it’s just lets you create really sloppy notes, which you will sooner or later re-edit into Word, PowerPoint or email. It may be over-engineered. I know most people just use a blank Word document to “scribble” notes in, or use a Palm note taking program, like MEMOPlus. I use QuickNote for Mozilla, personally. While none of these things lack the versatility of OneNote’s search and organization features, they do take notes just fine.

Bizarrely, while OneNote goes under the Office 2003 banner, it is sold separately. Even stranger, the marketing geniuses decided to sell it for $199 US MSRP. It’s great note-taking software, but it’s still just note-taking software.

Perhaps I’m a bit jaded because I don’t have a Tablet PC. Only a Tablet PC can understand your handwriting as text, thanks to its “digital ink” support; a regular PC will only see JPEGs. Of course, Tablet PCs haven’t exactly been flying off the shelves. The number one issue is cost – you can get a notebook with twice the horsepower for half the price. A tablet manufacturer claims that the ridiculous prices are due to Microsoft charging way too much for Windows Tablet PC Edition. Second reason is speed, or lack thereof, thanks to their low voltage mobile Pentium IIIs running at 800MHz – 1GHz and sluggish integrated video.

But now

Kids today review games of yesterday, including such cutting edge rad stuff like Pong, Super Mario Bros., and even ET. What will our kids think of our UT2003s and Half-Lifes?

In the D drive currently: Homeworld2 and Max Payne 2.

On the bookshelf: Just finished the fantastic Foundation trilogy by Isaac Asimov. He has a way of making a novel suspenseful, even if you already know the outcome; in this case, that the Foundation will persevere through every Seldon Crisis. No, the fun is reading the logical arguments and discovering how it’s done, sans cheap potboiler gimmicks. In this way, Asimov’s books are timeless, even though they are anachronistic with their male-dominated societies, “atomic” power, and cigar smoking.

Bell chooses Lucent for Sympatico

Bell has announced that their residential ADSL service, Sympatico High Speed, will be powered by Lucent DSLAMs and RSLAMs from now on.

It’s a bit surprising, as the current ADSL platform is currently run on Alcatel equipment, and some of stuff is brand new. Bell has just finished purging the last dregs of their old Nortel DBIC equipment.

The Stinger FS+ will replace the Alcatel DSLAMs in the COs, and the Stinger remotes will replace the existing RSLAMs. NaviAccess is management software for the machinery. At the very least, the Stingers are denser boxes (the FS+ has 13,000 subscriber ports), so Bell can increase their user capacity without wasting more space.

It appears this change is in line with the Next Generation Network Bell is currently building. It’s still a few years away, but DSLAMs are not the only things Bell is buying from the Big Red Circle – the AnyPath messaging system closely follows Bell’s intent to have a rugged VoIP infrastructure. With AnyPath, you can play back your voicemail, faxes, SMS messages and email from a phone, computer or wireless PDA. (Bell is also interested in video-on-demand – Microsoft’s IPTV digital television technology is currently on trial.)

So change is good, and embrace the new hotness.

Name game

Carnegie Mellon is using a different kind of engineering to improve image searches on the web – social engineering. Instead of writing fancy algorithms to catalog them JPEGs and GIFs, they are getting Internet users to label each image for them. How?? By making image labelling a game.

Brute force, inelegant, and quite brilliant. We’ve all heard of grid computing with PCs with idle CPU cycles – why not harness the minds of capable but bored Internet surfers?

Vegas baby

Spent the last week in Las Vegas at the Circus Circus. The first interesting thing that struck me is that the Vegas we all know and fear is really just a four mile stretch of the Las Vegas Boulevard, nicknamed the Strip. It isn’t even in the city of Las Vegas – to save on taxes, those rambling supercasinos technically reside in Clark County, just west of the city limits.

Las Vegas is like a microcosmic parody of North America with its ubiquituous asphalt and manmade sanctuaries, lots of money changing hands, and big everything – big buildings, big people, and big stakes. I looked around the casinos – invariably they have low, blackened ceilings, and hundreds of people at hundreds of slot machines making terrific amounts of noise – and I see people with droopy eyelids and grim faces, sullen casino staff, cheap vinyl and cheap trinkets, and an endless array of blinking lights and electronic sounds at such a high magnitude that I could still hear the slots in my sleep.

Everyone sells. We had pizza delivery flyers crammed into our door. Taxis have three billboards on the roof and one attached to the trunk. Inside, there are two more mini-ads flanking a flatscreen playing commercials plus racks of coupon books. Everywhere you walk along the Strip, people are standing around, either trying to push a flyer for an “escort service” or a timeshare (this pitch unwaveringly begins with a “Are you free tonight?”).

Are these people really having fun, just interacting with a slot machine for hours on end? Do slots really just encourage sociopathy? It was kinda depressing.

Critical thinking: fallacies

The Nizkor Project has a special feature on their site: the complete text of Labossiere’s Fallacy Tutorial, which outlines 42 forms of errors in logical judgement. A good read, if only to improve your critical thinking. What I found particularily interesting is how politicians and public relations folk use many of these fallacies to boister their agendas.

Unfortunately, the Nizkor Project has probably seen quite a few fallacies in its day. Its site has been up since the birth of the web. Nizkor’s handlers are grizzled veterans in Internet flamewars, as the Nizkor Project is dedicated to refute Holocaust deniers and their claims with logical arguments and insurmountable truths.

When it rains binary it pours

On Tuesday, I downloaded a 700MB file off a P2P application in less than four hours. There were no lineups, and no interruptions.

I was using a program called BitTorrent, which offers many advantages over standard file distribution systems.

The Internet has always been plagued by a disproportional ratio of content downloaders and content distributors. In a way, it comes down to human laziness; it takes effort to create content and upload it, but it often takes only one mouse click to grab content and download it.

Before the Internet became popular, incessant downloaders who never offered their own content were known as leeches. To prevent leeching, many BBSs and FTP sites used login authentication and enforced download/upload ratios; for example, you had to upload 100KB for every 400KB you took from the community.

Today, the static and anonymous nature of web surfing has encouraged leeching. Hence, if you want a file, you often have to enter long wait queues ala FilePlanet, scrounge around for a link to a mirror copy which a good Samaritan decided to put up, and often tolerate extremely slow transfer rates. It has become so endemic that game developers often shy away from offering game demos on their own websites, for fear of server crashes and high bandwidth costs. There are too many hungry people, and not enough cooks.

BitTorrent combats this leech problem by attempting to enforce pareto efficiency. When one person provides content for download, people can link up by clicking on its Torrent announcement file. As these people download each byte, they also become content providers by sharing the partial file to others. The more downloaders that join this group or “swarm”, the more uploaders there are to download from. Users can download from multiple sources at once. A person with a generous upload rate is generally guaranteed a handsome download rate. Because supply increases with demand, you get a really scalable file transferring system.

While traditional P2P networks act like flea markets (some vendors, many consumers), BitTorrent acts like a swap meet. Downloaders cease to be leeches; they become peers.

Unlike KaZaa, BitTorrent does not have its own special interface or network to join. Torrents are HTTP-based. You click on a file with a TORRENT extension on a website, and the BitTorrent client does the rest. I recommend TheSHAD0W’s Experimental BitTorrent Client, because it provides more statistics. As you can see, the UI still is pretty fugly, but more functional than the one from the original client.


It resembles your browser’s download dialog box, but with some more information. Your “share rating” is the ratio of downloaded to uploaded bytes. According to this dialog, the swarm consisted of 36 peers or downloaders like myself. When a peer has completed their download 100%, they become a “seed” or a new downloadable source of the complete file. The user remains a seed, uploading the file to peers, until he/she closes their download box. According to the dialog, there were 2 complete seeds and at least 6 entire copies of the file spread amongst the peers. Therefore, even if these two seeds should disappear, the remaining peers should be able to complete their file transfers by swapping file fragments among themselves.

It is good form to keep the download window open until a ratio of 1 or higher is reached, even after you have finished your own download, to give back to the community what you have taken.

There are a few flaws, most which stem from the asymmetrical throughput of most broadband solutions. For DSL and cable users, their download speed is often many times larger than their upload. Therefore, one’s share ratio is often less than 1, and (due to laziness again) most people will close their download windows as quickly as possible to recover their lost upload throughput. Swarms often last a few days before dissipating, but if you arrived late to the party, there will be less seeds and you may not even be able to finish your own download. Since it is on a static webpage, the existence of a Torrent link does not guarantee there is a healthy swarm present, or any swarm at all.

However, it still beats waiting 2 hours in a queue of a traditional P2P app and spending another 15 hours downloading off a DSL user at 2KB/s, only to have the user log off halfway through.