Tue, 22 Feb 2005

Why Tritton NAS sucks

— SjG @ 5:15 pm

Gonna buy a Network Storage Device?

Here’s my recommendation: avoid Tritton’s NAS at pretty much all costs.

The device is flaky at best, even with the latest firmware. Samba-mounted connections don’t always get properly updated when there are filesystem changes. User permission settings seem to work based on the values you enter … but only when the moons of Jupiter are aligned.

Some people claim that they’ve been able to get the NFS implementation to work; I have failed from both Mac OS and from Linux. I don’t claim to be an NFS wizard, but I’ve been able to get it to work with many an operating system in the past. No dice here.

Tritton’s tech support is useless (but does contain priceless FAQs like “You may notice that folders begin to reproduce, disappear, or rename themselves on the storage device. This may also result in data loss that is unrecoverable,” with the solution to upgrade the firmware).

The device is only configurable through a web interface, which would be OK if they didn’t use a lot of un-necessary proprietary crap that prevents it from working with anything other than IE 5 or 6 on a Windows PC. Got a network with only Macs and Unix machines? Sorry, you’re just out of luck.

To make matters worse, they’re violating the GPL, and not releasing the source to their kernel modifications. So even if you want to fix the problems yourself, you can’t.

Getting a Snap appliance is certainly more expensive than a Tritton. But at least it’ll support RAID (and you should use raid. Really. Trust the sad voice of experience.). And Snap appliances actually work as advertised.

Sun, 20 Feb 2005

The Song of Roland

— SjG @ 2:27 pm

anonymous, circa. 1100, translated by John O’Hagan around 1885, read as an e-book from

There are three kinds of war reporting: the first, by journalists who are independent of any side in the conflict, who wander around in harm’s way to report what’s going on; the second, by so-called “embedded” reporters, who are essentially information officers of one of the sides in the conflict; and the third, by the historians and tale-tellers who were not present and who recast any events according to their own studies, prejudices, and opinions. The Song of Roland falls beyond this last sort, and forces us to concede a fourth type of war reporter, viz, the mythologist.

The Song of Roland is a medieval propaganda piece designed to show the nobility of dying for your monarch, especially if it involves taking a few hundred thousand infidels along with you. As is to be expected from a mythic retelling, the noble are absolutely noble, and the base are absolutely base. Interestingly, though, there is a certain nobility amongst the royalty of the infidel enemy (an “Emir of Balaguet” is honored with the statement “were he Christian, nobler baron none,” shortly before meeting his demise).

But the noble Frankish chavaliers are a pretty bad-ass bunch. When slaying this or that infidel knight, they were not content to merely hew them with swords or pierce them with lances, oh no, we are given almost pornographic gleeful descriptions of swords passing through helmets and heads, down through armor and chest, down through the saddle, and splitting the spines of the unfortunate steeds. In case we don’t pick up on the fact that the noble Frankish chevaliers are tough, we get this scene repeated with minor variations nearly a dozen times.

Reading this made me realize that popular narrative hasn’t changed a great deal in the last thousand years. Sure, there have been some localized shifts in values here and there, but The Song of Roland was not unlike the Rambo of its day. The good guys win because they’re Good (and God is on their side), and the bad guys, for the most part, are lance fodder. The spoils of victory have changed somewhat; while Rambo emerges unscathed from the conflict, anxious for his sequel, Roland’s victory is a noble death, the praise of his monarch, and guaranteed entrance to heaven.

It also pointed out how much religion has changed. Christianity seems far less concerned with the glory of martyrdom today, and shies away from the forced conversions for which The Song lauds Charlemagne. The ignorance of the beliefs of the “infidels” certainly remains (witness statements by various Evangelical leaders in the U.S.).

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Sat, 19 Feb 2005

Content Management

— SjG @ 6:56 pm

Content Management. Seems like that’s what everyone wants for their web sites these days, and it’s no wonder. You can keep your site up to date. You can change things in response to your users, your boss, or that fellow with all the crazy ideas over in marketing. You can change things according to the season, or according to your mood. And lastly, at least in theory, you don’t get “locked in” to a specific vendor for maintenance.

So Content Management’s a good thing. But people mean different things when they use these words.

  • If you’re a gamer and want a portal site for your gaming group, you mean one thing: a place where you can post news and images, list members, hook in a discussion board, and maybe post game rankings; this is also probably what you want if you have a web site for your cooking club, your neighborhood, or perhaps your local political organization.
  • In the other extreme, you’ll mean something else entirely. If you’re, say, the marketing director for a publicly-traded company, you want each department head to be able to edit the section of the company web site that pertains to their work, but you want work-flow management so that the marketing and legal departments can have final say on what goes live. You’d probably like revision control, fine-grained access control (who gets to upload or edit what, and who can reject or approve it), and other similar features. You may well want the site to be able to get content from other back-end business systems.
  • Then there’s the middle ground, which includes some of the features from each of the former. If you run a small agency, you’ll want to be able to post comps and scripts to your clients, you want to update your awards page each time you win something, and you probably want to put those award-winning ads online for people to view. You might want some access control, but you don’t need revision control or interfacing with back-end systems.

For the first case, the community site, there are dozens of PHP-based Open Source solutions. There’s PHP-Nuke, Post-Nuke, Drupal, Mambo, Xoops, Typo3, Xaraya, and countless others. All of them are well adapted for this specific niche, and most of them are pretty horrible if you want to extend them or use in a way that’s not part of the original design. Call me an elitist, but the bar to entry here is very low; there are a lot of programmers who don’t know what they’re doing, and they’re doing it very publicly. There’s a strong emphasis on cool and futuristic visuals, and something of a shortage of solid architecture. Few of them create HTML that will validate, and even fewer make proper use of cascading style sheets (CSS). Fortunately, you can road test them all at, and see if any work for you.

For the second case, the corporate solution, there are a multitude of commercial packages which vary in price from the low 5-figures on up to as far as you want to go. We use Enonic VerticalSite for this kind of corporate site. It’s Java/EJB based, and uses widely-accepted standards like LDAP, XML, and XSLT, so it can integrate into a vast array of other back-end systems. XSLT allows the developer total freedom in the templating so, page sizes can be reduced through the use of CSS. It’s a solid solution, and affordable for its class.

I’m pleased to say that there is finally a reasonable contender for the last case, the middle option. In the past, we’d tried to adapt projects from the PHP Portal group to serve in this capacity, and, frankly it was not a very good experience. Now, however, there is CMS Made Simple. It’s a straightforward framework, that provides a developer with a lot of basic functionality: group-based permission system, hierarchical content management, and support for XHTML templates and CSS. But what’s best about CMSMS is that it’s a lightweight framework that doesn’t come with a lot of unnecessary extras, yet it supports an object-oriented API for adding modules, so you can add in any functions you find lacking.

I’ve been madly developing menuing systems and a flexible Feedback Form submission system for CMSMS (you can find ’em on the Project Wiki). The new API seems pretty solid, and it’s certainly easy to develop for. I’ve found the developers to be personable, helpful, and very positive when I’ve communicated with them on IRC.

My next project, which I plan to implement using CMSMS, is a portfolio tool for artists. The tool should enable artists to create web sites to showcase their work.

Sun, 13 Feb 2005

The History of the Thirty Years War

— SjG @ 2:13 pm

Johann Cristoph Friedrich von Schiller (Translated by Rev. A. J. W. Morrison), c. 1793, as published in an e-book at

The Holy Roman Empire in the early 1600s comprised the Austro-Hungarian hegemony, and, to a varying extents, the numerous small princely holdings that make up what is now Germany and parts of Eastern Europe. The Reformation had been stirring things up for a little over a hundred years, and the religious makeup of the Empire was also quite heterogeneous (although individual states were not). This is the tinder which was consumed by the Thirty Years War, which, by some accounts, resulted in the reduction of Germany’s population by nearly 70%.

I am the first to admit ignorance of history. I was, for example, completely unaware of the Swedish conquest of Europe. I knew that the Thirty Years war had been a bad thing, but was ignorant of the extent to which it devastated the German states. Schiller tells how armies were raised by princes and generals who could not afford to pay the troops, expressly so the armies would plunder and terrorize the population in enemy lands. Yet any land occupied by an enemy army became enemy land, so peasants would bear the brunt of “friend” and foe alike. In many cases, friendly armies had to defend against the citizenry for whom they ostensibly fought. Furthermore, warfare was getting “modern,” with artillery and firearms. A battle between two armies could result in 15,000 deaths in a single day. Coupled with conscription of peasants, sieges against cities, and intentionaly laying waste to fields in order to starve an area and make it impassible to armies for want of supplies, it is a wonder that such brutal warfare could be sustained for as long as it was.

Schiller biases are reasonably clear, he he attempts to give an even-handed presentation. He’ll tell of an individual like Wallenstein or Frederick, and fill the retelling with harsh judgements and criticism, but will always have a short summary of their characters, where he will be full of mitigated praise (e.g., “The virtues of the ruler and of the hero, prudence, justice, firmness, and courage are strikingly prominent features in his character; but he wanted the gentler virtues of the man, which adorn the hero and make the ruler beloved.”) Schiller shows that religion and state were the excuses for the war, but greed, arrogance, ambition, and strategy were its true motivators.

Reading this book left me even more thankful to be living when and where I am, while being keenly aware that this is a very small and privileged bubble in time and region. World-wide, not enough has changed since the Thirty Years War.

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Wed, 2 Feb 2005

Today’s Vision of the Future

— SjG @ 3:44 pm

Today’s installment:

  • everything will have a camera on it.
  • everything will be connected to the internet.
  • everything will have gigs of memory or more.
  • everything will have a GPS receiver in it.
  • everything will serve up targeted advertising based on location, personal history, and other gathered demographic data.
  • everything will play your music and movies to you.
  • everything will spontaneously reboot at least once a week.
  • the job title “Systems/Gadget Immunologist” will be more prestigious than “Doctor.”
  • nobody will brush their teeth or floss; instead they’ll squeeze another tube of plaque-scrubbing nanobots into their mouths once a month.
  • people will network their home theaters, so they can recreate the experience of seeing a movie with other people.
  • houses will be equipped with special systems to play your personal theme music for various activities. Only old folks will use the same theme song for activity_01.01 (getting up in the morning) and activity_07.47 (returning to the house).