Wednesday Afternoon

Monday, April 24, 2006

Personal Best 10K

The Sun Run 2006 in Vancouver, British Columbia was a fantastic event. This year's run attracted 50,742 entrants when all was said and done -- this first time the race topped the 50,000 mark.

The race is started in waves. Wheelchair racers go first. About 20 minutes later the elite runners start, signifying the actual start of the 10 kilometer race. They are followed by seeded runners in yellow bids, then the green, white, purple and red.

Last year I started right at the back of the green pack and I was surprised at the number queue jumpers and the people walking. But my final time had more to do with me than them, since it was my first 10k and the inexperience showed in how I ran the race.

This year was my second Sun Run and fourth 10K race. It was my personal best 10K race time yet at 47:52. I was pretty stoked to see I was 12 minutes faster than some runner buddies from my distant past -- the ones who never got fat and stopped running in their 30s and 40s.

The only discomfort I had was that I had to go to the bathroom during the entire race. My biggest fear, though, was starting too fast. So I started at an easy pace and let everyone pass me going down Georgia Street in Vancouver. Some people were sprinting down Georgia. Just over 1K into the race, fewer people were passing me and I was starting to pass some of the sprinters. By 2K I was hardly being passed and I was passing people constantly. The run beside Stanley Park and near the watefront was awesome and I was able to maintain a nice steady pace.

The lack of hill training became a factor as soon I made the turn to head up the first hill to get onto the Burrard Street bridge. But, I train on rolling trails and the discipline of maintaining a steady pace on those gentle uphills -- one of which is almost 1K -- paid off as I was able to crest the bridge without feeling overly tired. I took advantage of gravity's help on the descent to rest a bit. The only tough bit was around 7K, where I got involved in that familiar mental battle over whether you could keep running or whether you should give in and walk a short bit. I kept running.

Between the 7k and 8K markers I had to wonder when a man told his single-digit aged child to look at the "all the crazy runners". A runner to my right quietly disagreed and I thought you had to be crazier to suggest to a kid that exercise is in any way crazy. Between the bands on fourth a very young girl was dancing for us. She brought a smile and an "ahhh" from several runners.

I tried to keep a good steady pace going up the Cambie Street bridge onramp and up the bridge. My breathing was heavy by this stage and when I was cresting I found myself gasping a bit for air. It was then I knew I was giving it all I had on that day.

After cresting, I took advantage of the gentle downhill slope to rest. But, around the mid point of the downslope, ehen the angle seems to get a little steeper, I tried to let gravity help with my speed. I passed some people who had just passed me. Hitting the flat, street I worked hard at maintaining and increasing my speed.

As soon as I could see the clock and the fact it was still under the 55 minute marker, I looked for every little bit of extra speed I had in me to make sure I crossed before the seconds rolled over the minute. I did it, I knew I was under 50 minutes! And pleasantly surprised to see it was a 47:52 race.

I am so glad I went. I will not be back and trying for a better time still. I keep dreaming of working my way into the yellow bibs. Maybe I will succeed at at this summer's SunRunner's 10K in White Rock or next fall's FILA classic at UBC.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

RTFM Jerks

The Fine Manual published an interesting article on the reception newbies get from the Linux crowd in some forums. The article, Eric Raymond and the RTFM Jerks really blasts the anti-windows community for the meanness many show toward one another and newbies.

I cannot remember how many times I have seen posters in Linux forums put people down and tell them to RTFM. An impolite way of saying people should read the documentation before bothering others with their troubles. What is most amazing is that I do not see such statements made as often at forums with a large number of Windows or Mac users, even developer forums.

I have been getting spoiled, though. I have been spending a lot of time at forums like Digital Point, ScubaBoard, and Yorkshire Divers among others. People patiently answer old questions again and almost never make newbies feel stupid for asking beginner questions or not searching the forums first. Consequently, they are very busy and there is little meanness. Efforts by RTFMers to infiltrate those forums are quickly met with stern reprimands and reminders that such responses are, at best, unhelpful. At worst, intimidating.

This is not the first time I have seen someone take a shot across the bows of the open source and Linux communities about their attitudes toward new comers. It will not be the last. After all, if anyone has tried reading some of the documents which pass for howtos in the open source or Linux community, you quickly understand why people ask dumb questions. And perhaps, why people give RTFM responses. They keep hoping someone nice will come along and explain what the howto said.

But, I am of the opinion that if the manual does not help people find answers to questions, then the manual might be the problem. Not the people. Of course, I am a writer by trade, and I always figured if the reader did not know what I was talking about, I did not do a good enough job.

The experience of newbies on forums, especially those for open source and Linux, plays a key role in adoption of these competing software systems. If the people using alternative systems have no patience for new entrants, it will slow down adoption -- no matter how compelling the economic and security arguments. It is probably too late for many people involved in those forums, but it is not too late for the leaders and forum maintainers to help everyone become more civilized and nicer in the way they talk to one another. Then you just might have a bona fide movement and serious competition for proprietary systems.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Don't Make Me Click

Some webmasters suffer from a compulsion to click all advertising links on their own sites, even though doing so is a violation of their service agreements with ad brokers, especially the Google AdSense program.

There is no question this is so. Forums where webmasters gather contain innumerable threads discussing what to do when they "accidentally" click ads on their sites; or how to make such things impossible. Some good programming solutions are available for php developers in the article Quit Clicking Your AdSense Ads With PHP

Many of the forum discussions are circular. It is suggested the best way is to add a line to the hosts file so that the computer the webmaster uses will not display their ads. But this blocks ads to all sites and people want to see ads on other sites to get design ideas.

So, it is then suggested that if your website uses php that you make it so that anyone at your IP address will not see the ads. But, the webmaster says they want to see the ad block so they have an idea of what their pages look like.

So, someone suggests using PHP to change the account information so that public service ads are displayed. Someone counters that means altering the javascript supplied by Google, which is a violation of the TOS and could get the account closed.

So, someone suggests replacing the AdSense block with an image file of the same size based on the IP address of your working computer. "But, what if I am travelling or using a laptop at a WIFI hotspot?" someone asks. "Or my IP address changes", chimes in another.

There is only one solution, stop clicking on ads on your own website. If you cannot, close the account before Google bans you from the program.

Monday, March 13, 2006

SpaNomics

The spam economy is interesting. It ostensible generates revenue for the spammers and has spawned a good revenue source for the companies which advertently support it: domain name registrars, ISPs, bulk mail program writers, bulk mail template creators, etc.

I hear they expect returns as little one per million messages sent -- which is still better than winning the lottery. Others, say the returns are better, but I suspect they are talking about messages which get past spam filters, not messages which are initially sent. They probably does take millions of original email messages to get any kind of response.

Unless they are using networks of compromized computers, they are paying ISPs for the use of their networks. I wonder how many ISPs wait until they receive a multitude of complaints before closing the account, instead of responding to the unusual outbound email activity. ISP accounts come in many flavors, but the ones with decent band width cost around $100 per month -- $119 without set up charges.

Then you have the domain names, which need to be bought. I received a spam today. I did a lookup on the domain and discovered that it was registered at GoDaddy. So, I took advantage of GoDaddy's willingness to consider complaints about spamming and sent them an email about the domain, including a copy of the email message. If GoDaddy closes the domain, which was created exactly one month ago, they will keep the $9.95 registration fee.

So, we are looking at perhaps U.S. $120 up front cost to per spam mailing. I say this is an upfront cost because even if GoDaddy does not kill the domain, it will be useless because it is now in virtually all anti-spam databases.

Friday, March 03, 2006

DMOZ Child Porn Debate Muzzled?

I have been dropping into the ongoing discussion about child porn sites being list on the DMOZ. This debate rages on at DigitalPoint's forums and has clearly split participants -- those who believe listing pedophile sites is a question of free speach and those who believe doing so promotes such activity.

I have tried to attract attention to the debate and the issue. None of those efforts have succeeded. I am beginning to think people are afraid to take on something which involves such massive media corporations as Google and Time-Warner-AOL. Those are the companies which own DMOZ.

Media outlets owned by Time-Warner-AOL are not going to be excited about covering a controversial story about their boss. Numerous websites and webnews organizations are not going to probe deeply into something which involves Google. There is real fear about the army of lawyers which can be mustered to quelch stories. And there is the issue of selling your and/or your services company to Google. How does it look on your resume to be the person who wrote anti-Google stories?

Worse, I get the impression reporters at those locations are not willing to read the debate and/or see whether or not they believe the some listings might cross the line.

Website owner fear running stories on the issue. They fear DMOZ editors will delist any sites they have in DMOZ. How do you fight abuse of editorial power in a self-regulating, monolithic organization without clear channels of reponsibility.

Are these fears are muzzling wider investigation of this issue?

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

I Prefer TaxWiz

Don't you hate it when people offer rebates on other people's products instead of lower their own prices? I just got an offer from Canada's QuickTax. It wants me to pay full price for the 2005 tax year edition. If I act now I will save up to $50 on Norton AntiVirus or up to $80 on Norton Internet Security! But, in order to get the savbings on those other Norton products, I need to buy them.

All I want to do is file my taxes! Why not make QuickTax cheaper instead! There is nothing more irritating than saving money by spending more. It reminds of the cartoon where the husband told his wife that if she bought another fur coat, they could pay for the first one with the savings on the second.

Our solution was to walk past QuickTax and buy Intuit's TaxWiz. It does exactly the same job as QuickTax for half the cost. Now, we don't need to buy more software from Norton to save enough money to be able to afford tax software. Intuit TaxWiz is avaiulable for purchase online at CDN $19.95. That edition is good enough to do our two returns plus our son's both of whom made less than $25,000 last year.

Around our house, my wife does the taxes and she rates Intuit's TaxWiz 10 out of 10.

Buy TaxWiz Deluxe at Amazon.ca

Thursday, February 16, 2006

And now for something completely different . . .

Teacher Arrested

At New York's Kennedy airport recently, an individual later discovered to be a public school teacher was arrested trying to board a flight while in possession of a ruler, a protractor, a setsquare, a slide rule, and a calculator. At a morning press conference, US Attorney General John Ashcroft said he believes the man is a member of the notorious Al-gebra movement. He is being charged by the FBI with carrying weapons of maths instruction.

"Al-gebra is a fearsome cult," Ashcroft said. "They desire average solutions by means and extremes, and sometimes go off tangents in a search of absolute value. They use secret code names like 'x' and 'y' and refer to themselves as 'unknowns', but we have determined they belong to a common denominator of the axis of medieval with coordinates in every country. As the Greek philanderer Isosceles used to say, 'there are 3 sides to every triangle'."

When asked to comment on the arrest, President Bush said, "If God had wanted us to have better weapons of maths instruction, He would have given us more fingers and toes".