Insert what into where?

Insert disk graphic displayed on IBM server at boot

Kids these days may not recognize two of three things in this graphic.

I was greeted by this delightfully retro high-ASCII graphic last week when first booting up a new(-ish) IBM server to install an operating system. The only thing that would make it better would be displaying a 5.25″ floppy instead of a 3.5″ disk. It can only be a matter of time before hipsters start carrying floppies around because they’re more authentic than USB keys.

This server certainly didn’t have a floppy drive but I should count myself lucky: the operating system I was installing would have required shuffling more than 1,250 1.44 MB disks.

Rob Oliphant: MP, tech trailblazer?

QR code on Rob Oliphant election sign

This is the first time I’ve spotted a QR code on an election sign, right down there in the bottom right corner. Rob Oliphant, Liberal candidate for Don Valley West, has them on all of his signs, though I haven’t seen them on the signs for other Liberal candidates. Are any other candidates around the city using QR codes? I was hoping that this one would be a direct link to Oliphant’s views on UBB, mobile competition, digital law, or something else that might be of particular interest to the kind of person who would use a QR code, but it just links to the main page of his web site. Still, kudos to him (or someone on his campaign team) for thinking to put the code on his signs.

Doublespeak deluxe

“ISPs are the underlying telecommunications facility that customers use to access the Internet and that content providers, including broadcasters, use to transmit their content. ISPs do not buy, package or sell programming or any other Internet content.” [Emphasis mine.]

Rogers VP for Regulatory Affairs Ken Engelhart giving a presentation to the CRTC, quoted in the Star.

Oh, really? Selective memory is just so convenient, isn’t it?

I think what Rogers really wants to say to the CRTC is, “How dare you fleece our customers! That’s our job!”

"Warranty void if removed"

Warranty void if removed

I picked up this shiny new hard drive (1 terabyte!)  yesterday and was a little perplexed to see Seagate’s new warranty terms on the static bag. It seems that if I remove the drive from the packaging to, you know, use it or something, I’ll void my warranty. Quite the conundrum.

Wasteful packaging #2

Lots of boxes

Shortly after I posted last month about wasteful packaging, we received another shipment of technology. Inside a single fairly large box were six smaller and very sturdy boxes. I could easily have stood on each one, much like I did with the power cord boxes from the previous shipment. Except these ones probably would have been strong enough to use as step stools in the kitchen. Inside each of these smaller boxes were two large, dense pieces of foam. Sandwiched between each pair of foam pieces was a single hard drive. Approximate ratio of the total volume of the hard drives compared to the total volume of the large box they were shipped in: 1:50. Approximate ratio of the weight of the product to the weight of the packaging: 1:5.

Can Sun really find no efficiencies here? The company claims that “packaging engineers determine how rugged each product is, and tailor the optimum amount of packaging for the product without compromising protection during tough simulated transit testing.” I think the packaging engineers are building in a bit too much of a huge margin of safety, especially considering that comparable equipment from other manufacturers is not packaged quite so heavily.

I had been planning to salvage the foam for other purposes, but the office cleaning crew beat me to it. At least I got to make a nice foam tower before it was carted away.

World’s tallest freestanding foam tower

Wasteful packaging

That’s a lot of boxes for a little bit of computer

One of the things I love about my day job is getting to play with a lot of technology. One of the things I dislike is that a lot of the technology is packaged very wastefully. The picture above provides a good illustration. Yesterday’s shipment included a very large box that opened to reveal the 10 boxes shown here.

Power cord in a boxEach of those boxes then opened to reveal a very loosely packed component: five power cords (three of them individually boxed!), a keyboard & mouse, two sticks of RAM, two small internal expansion cards, and three slimline DVD-ROM drives. Everything removed from these boxes is in the little pile on the left in the top picture.

Now I understand why you’d want to put delicate optical drives in a nice sturdy box with foam padding, and why a company with a lot of inventory would value having a few standard-sized boxes instead of a bunch of loose components. I also understand why a company selling servers would want to ship each server and non-standard component separately and have me assemble them.

Man vs. BoxBut I’m at a loss to understand why each power cord required its own crush-proof box rated to hold 65 lb and with a burst strength of 200 PSI. When I repacked all this stuff after checking it against the packing slips, it all fit into just one of the pictured boxes with the exception of the keyboard. The rest of the boxes went straight out into the blue bin, having served basically no purpose but to consume space.

Why ship in ten sturdy boxes (plus yet another box to hold all of the boxes) when just two will do? Why does each individual power cord need to be shipped in a separate box that a fully-ballasted man can stand on without crushing it? I’m sure the answer is “efficiency,” but I’m not seeing it.


Just the latest spam from the Star

One of the benefits of owning a domain (like is that you can easily create individual email addresses for every company you do business with, contest you enter, or form you fill out. In the seven or so years since I started doing this, I’ve amassed over 660 unique email addresses for companies and organizations I deal with. It may sound unwieldy, but it’s quite transparent in use; all mail comes into a single mailbox and can be easily filtered. Best of all, when I receive a “special offer” from someone I don’t know, it’s easy to tell how they got my address. It’s also quite easy to simply delete an address (and thus any spam that may go with it) when it’s no longer needed.

One of the things that chaps my ass the most is companies I deal with on a regular basis that suddenly start sending me spam or “monthly newsletters” after years of being well-behaved. Into that category now falls the Toronto Star. I’m not singling the Star out for sending me spam, but for outright lying about their “opt-in” list. I started receiving contest entries and “marketing mail” from the Star about six weeks ago, and have since received five messages. That’s definitely not a lot, but it’s five more than I’ve received in all of the previous years that the Star has had my (unique to them) email address. This kind of thing usually indicates that an overzealous marketing department has decided that although I checked the “don’t email me” box a few months/years ago, surely I didn’t realize what I was doing and don’t still want to miss out on all of the fun and adventure of receiving their spam. After all, their marking crap is so much cooler and more desirable than the marketing crap I usually get.

The Star’s account manager, showing my current ‘opt-in’ statusSo I logged into the account manager to see if maybe I’d “forgotten” to opt out of receiving crap from the Star. And guess what? Not only had I not “forgotten,” but they even declare right on the account manager page that I’m “not receiving” spam from them. Well, that’s news to me.

So congratulations, Toronto Star, on joining the ever-growing ranks of companies that lie to their customers for the sake of padding an eyeball count. Do you really think that pissing off your customers is a good thing? Apparently you do.


Mini-me & minier-me

My newest toy tool arrived last week, a tiny Fujitsu Lifebook U810 ultra-portable computer. This is a full-fledged PC running Windows XP (and Linux by next week) that weighs only 1.5 lb and fits into an oversized pocket. It’s pictured above with my formerly tiny, and now suddenly enormous, 12″ laptop and below flipped over into tablet mode on a standard 8.5″ x 11″ sheet of paper. Fujitsu is not calling this an Ultra-Mobile PC (probably because the term conjures some negative memories among mobility-loving geeks) but that’s effectively what it is.

Jib on a sheet of paperIts real purpose is to replace my aging HP Jornada 720 as my go-everywhere computer. The J720 set a virtually unbeatable standard for portable computers seven years ago. With a touch-typeable keyboard, built-in modem, dual expansion slots, a powerful (for the time) processor and almost too much (for the time) memory in a pocketable, one pound package, the Jornada 700 series heralded a bright future for portable computing. I took the 720 as my only computer on both business and camping trips as recently as 2003, which is saying a lot for a geek whose livelihood depends on having access to a computer most of the time.

In fact, the Jornada 720 was so unbeatable that both Microsoft and HP abandoned the handheld computer market shortly after it was introduced, focusing instead on the flashier (but ultimately less practical) Pocket PC. The J720’s successor, the Jornada 728, was unsupported virtually from the moment it hit the shelves.

I’ve been hunting for a worthy J720 replacement for at least three years now. Enter the Fujitsu U810. I’ve been playing working with it for almost a week now and couldn’t be happier. It fixes most of the problems I eventually had with the Jornada—including a relatively dim screen, unsupported software, and incompatibility with modern devices and software—and even takes care of a few issues I have with my regular laptop. Best of all, it fits easily into my man-purse and doesn’t appreciably increase the load of technology that I already carry around every day.

It’ll never be a desktop replacement, but it’s one fabulous travelling computer. My favourite feature so far? That would be the control-alt-delete button.

The uselessness of email

Background: For ten years, I’ve run a mailing list of about 110 people, most of whom have been casual offline acquaintances  for a dozen years or more. Occasionally, someone’s email starts bouncing and I have to remove that person from the list.

Today, I received an email from one of the people who has been removed in the last few months, asking how to resubscribe. I sent a message to him with the requested information and received this auto-reply a few seconds later. All personally-identifying text has been changed to “YYYY”, but the message is otherwise reproduced here in its entirety:

Subject: Undelivered Mail to Mr. YYYY.

Your message was not delivered to Mr. YYYY because
the e-mail address that you have sent the message
from is not recognized as being associated with
a known correspondant of his.


If your message is important, please telephone him as
messages from legitimate corespondents are important.

Alternately, resend it to and follow
the instructions you recieve from the mailer.

Due to the amount of spam recieved by these accounts,
e-mail will only be accepted from addresses that have
explicitly been added to Mr. YYYY’s list of established

If you are an existing correspondant and have just changed
your e-mail address, please send Mr. YYYY a message from your
old account, or contact him by phone to be added to the list.

If you have been referred to Mr. YYYY by someone else, please
contact him by telephone, as thanks to spam, e-mail is not a
reliable communications method.

Thank you.

Well. So he sends me a message asking for information, but then can’t even be bothered to receive my reply? I can assure Mr. YYYY that my message wasn’t all that important to me, so I won’t be jumping through any additional hoops to deliver it. Especially since I have exchanged email with Mr. YYYY at least as far back as July 1995 and as recently as December 2006.

But the auto-response poses a larger question: is this is what the Internet has really come to? Has spam made life so miserable that it’s ruined email, the very tool that spawned it?

By rough count of my mail logs, I’ve received about 17,250 email messages in the first eight weeks this year. Of those, slightly more than half, 8750, were automatically filtered out as spam. Another 1500 were trapped in secondary spam folders, and 3500 were from various mailing lists that I’m on. That leaves about 3500 messages that made it all the way into one of my inboxes, of which only about 200 have been from legitimate personal correspondents outside of mailing lists.

So that’s a total spam volume of 8750 + 1500 + 3300 = 13,550, or 78% of all of my email, or about 240 spams every day. Yikes. But looking at it another way, automated and semi-automated filtering has handled 10,250 spams, or 75% of all of my spam, leaving me with a spam volume of 3300 messages over eight weeks. That’s fewer than 60 a day and, while still high, is a little lower than the number of daily messages on the mailing lists that I read. And I haven’t even implemented such spam-killers as greylisting.

It’s hard for me to imagine that Mr. YYYY receives much more spam than me. And it’s equally hard for me to imagine that Mr. YYYY, at least as accomplished a UNIX geek as me (and probably moreso), is unable to configure a simple scoring system like SpamAssassin to automatically filter the vast bulk of his spam. So why use the the sledgehammer of an absolute whitelist when the more delicate rubber mallet of a greylist or scoring system will do the work? Beats me. But in the end, it doesn’t hurt anyone other than Mr. YYYY.