Michael Arrington: I Quit The iPhone

This can’t be good news for Apple. Michael Arrington, one of the most powerful men on the web according to Forbes, is giving up his iPhone. He was an avid fan of the iPhone when it first came out, but apparently, the debacle over Google Voice was the last straw.

In the article, Arrington declares that he’ll be moving to an Android-based phone for the time being, and when Google offers Google Voice on the Palm Pre, he’ll move to that.

I’ll bet a certain CEO in Cupertino is about to blow a gasket.

Twitter Attack

In case you haven’t been following the news lately, microblogging company Twitter was hacked last week. As a follow up article, Tech Crunch has a great article on “The Anatomy Of The Twitter Attack“.

I think it’s really interesting how the Twitter attack wasn’t so much the hack of one system, but of the entire technology ecosystem. The article calls out

The list of services affected either directly, or indirectly, are some of the most popular web applications and services in use today – Gmail, Google Apps, GoDaddy, MobileMe, AT&T, Amazon, Hotmail, Paypal and iTunes. Taken individually, most of these services have reasonable security precautions against intrusion. But there are huge weaknesses when they are looked at together, as an ecosystem.

So what do we take away from this? I think the article sums it up nicely:

So for a start, reset those passwords and don’t use the same passwords for different services. Don’t use password recovery questions that can easily be answered with a simple web search (an easy solution is to answer those questions falsely). And just in general be paranoid about data security. You may be happy you were.

This is a really good reason to keep those passwords secure and distinct. Use a random password generator, and don’t reuse the password across services. I wonder what, if any, implications this has for password managers like RoboForm or Keepass, which make one’s passwords all centrally located.

These conclusions also seem to advocate a stronger system of two-factor authentication in online services. E*Trade is the only company I know of that makes use of RSA keys as an additional layer of security. Bank of America offers a service called SafePass that sends a text message to your cell phone to add a layer of security similar to using an RSA key.

I’ve never used either of these services so I don’t know exactly how they work. My concern is that if these security features are “optional” it makes them easy to bypass, and provides only a false sense of security for the end user. And that’s definitely not a good thing.

Broadband Comparison

I’m currently a subscriber of AT&T DSL. But because they made me an offer I couldn’t refuse, I’ve now subscribed to Comcast High Speed Internet (HSI). Since I have both pipes currently coming into my house, I figured I’d give them a whirl and see who’s faster, and whether or not cable is really 10 times faster as they claim. I’ll give you the results and let you be the judge.
Here’s the results from my AT&T DSL speed test at speedtest.net:
AT&T DSL

And here’s the results from Comcast:
Comcast

I got similar outcomes from Speakeasy (no fancy graphics here):

AT&T DSL:
Download: 5170 kbps
Upload: 657 kbps

Comcast:
Download: 15875 kbps
Upload: 4451 kbps

That looks pretty fast to me. It’s hard to tell to what extent Comcast’s results are affected by their supposedly “secret sauce” Powerboost technology rather than simply better overall speeds, but it’s hard to argue the results. Say goodbye, DSL.

Online Backup

I’m in the market for an online backup solution. Historically, I’ve backed up my stuff to CD and DVD. But since I now have over 100GB of photos, it’s getting a bit unwieldy. The 1TB hard drive likely won’t help the situation either.

I’m looking at a few solutions, namely:

Backblaze is probably the newcomer to the group. I first heard about them on my favorite tech news site: Arstechnica. I think the thing I like about them is tye keep it stupid simple, and have a pretty nifty restore function no one else has: if your computer dies, (for a fee) they’ll mail you a DVD or USB hard drive full of your data. The one concern I have about Backblaze is the very fact that they are young. They seem to have an all-star team of leaders, but they’re such a young company, it’s hard to tell what their future is. I did find at least one user who switched from Mozy to Backblaze. Backblaze costs $5/month or $50/year

Carbonite seems pretty similar on the backup side, but doesn’t seem to offer a similar restore process. I think the one thing that concerns me about them is that they lost a bunch of their customers’ data earlier this year. Carbonite costs $54.95/year.

Mozy seems like a decent company. I think the one thing they have going for them is that they’re a part of storage and infrastucture giant EMC. That means they’ve got some serious backing, and likely won’t disappear anytime soon. I also like the fact that between Mozy and Carbonite, Walt Mossberg prefers Mozy.  The downside is that someone else found that it was a pain to restore from them. The fact that they give 2GB of free space is nice, but I’ve got almost 200GB I’ll need to backup, so that’s really immaterial to me. Mozy costs $4.95/month or $54.45/year.

There are a few downsides to doing online backup, and they certainly deserve special consideration:

  1. Uploading takes forever. I’ve got a 6mbps DSL line, and Speakeasy says my upload is only 650kbps, meaning I could upload about 6GB per day. (Speedtest.net generally confirms this.) If I have to upload 200GB of data, that’s 33 days straight.
  2. These services are subject to failure. I don’t worry about security as all of these solutions do proper encryption. But as noted above, Carbonite lost the data of 7,500 customers. I don’t think Backblaze was even in existence yet, but their data center of choice had a power outage in 2007. I’ve yet to hear of any problems at Mozy. Fortunately, neither of these issues is ultimately catastrophic to the data (the issue of credibility is entirely different). Since these are backup services, Carbonite customers should have been able to do a re-upload or “re-backup” and have their information be safe once again. Assuming they were in existence, Backblaze customers merely would have needed to wait for the servers to come back up in order to continue a backup or restore–no data was lost.
  3. What happens if the companies disappear? Upline was a backup service provided by tech giant Hewlett-Packard. It shut its doors earlier this year, proving that even Mozy–as a part of EMC–might not be immune to being shutdown by it’s corporate backers.  Backblaze might not have to worry about the corporate bueracracy, yet. But what if they aren’t profitable, or run out of funding before hitting the black? They could very well shut their doors as well. And if they get bought by another company, their policies might change to the detriment of consumers, or their new overlords might shut them down for whatever reason.

All in all, I think an online backup service will serve as a secondary or tertiary backup solution around here. I’ll likely keep backing up to DVDs (or Blu Ray when I can get my hands on a burner) and to Charlene’s computer, and have an online, continuous backup solution in the cloud.

I’ll keep you posted as I find more, and when I make my decision.

Can we say iMac?

Every once in a while I get an e-mail from Dell with their latest products and specials. I had to do a double take when I saw the new Studio One 19. Can anyone say 19″ iMac clone? C’mon Dell!  Get with the program. When will you learn to start leading again, rather than following everyone else?

Let’s see an original, well-executed product coming out of Round Rock! Dell, I’ve long been a fan, and I’m a voracious consumer of your products. But something’s gotta give because the recent track-record is pretty horrible.

Google LatLong for Street View

This feature was probably introduced over a month ago, but I’m loving the new functionality in Google Street View. Google Street view now shows little rectangles that you can double click to automatically be transported to that location. It’s so much better than repeatedly clicking those white arrows, or trying to drag your little blue friend around.

I have no idea what I’d do without Google Maps, and now Street View is an even more compelling feature.  Love it!

gethuman.com

Yesterday, I posted about my fantastic experience with Comcast.

In the event that your experience isn’t as carefree, there’s gethuman.com. Here’s the gist of it: gethuman.com is a database of companies and their customer service numbers. But it goes beyond that to include the method needed to actually get a human on the line.

So for example, suppose I didn’t have a good experience with Comcast and I needed someone on the line ASAP, according to the site I would call: 800-266-2278 and then

Press *# at each prompt, ignoring messages. Or – don’t press any button nor say anything. It will ask but then after 3 ‘no response’s will put you through.

and then I’d get a human on the line. They have a directory of nearly 1000 companies from AAA to Zellers.

So if you’re like me and get frustrated at waiting on the line for a long time trying to navigate the telephone tree, give them a try. It might share minutes or hours off your wait.

Inside the Mind of a Genius

I don’t have the exact quotation but in the movie The PatriotBenjamin Martin,  gets a hold of the personal journal/diary of General Cornwallis. After reading it he states something to the effect of, “I’ve just been in the mind of a genius.”

Well earlier this week , I finished reading the blog  of founder, CEO, and Chief Geek at SmugMug, Don MacAskill, and I feel like I’ve been inside the mind of a genius.

Yes I read the entire blog.  I read it in reverse chronological order from his latest post April 27, 2009 to his first in June 21, 2005. It took me nearly a month to read the entire thing (I started on April 30), but it was well worth it. I learned so much.

I’ve never meet Don–I have seen him and other SmugMuggers at the Mountain View Farmers Market, with their Canon dSLRS*, but if the man behind the blog isn’t merely a persona, I’m inclined to believe he’s a pretty cool dude.

Over the next few weeks, I’m sure I’ll be posting additional thoughts from my trek “inside the mind of a genius,” but here’s a few initial musings:

  • Don is extremely passionate about what he does.
  • As the title “Chief Geek” implies, he’s quite technologically savvy: ZFS, memcache, RAID, Solaris, PSD, OAuth, H.264, API. You name it, he’s heard of it (and he’s blogged about it). From what I gather, he was a data center guy in a prior life, and it shows.
  • He takes a strong stance on security. And firmly believes that my photos are my photos, not his (last paragraph), unlike some other companies in the valley that tried to pull a massive “media/content grab” to their users malcontent.
  • He hates bad customer service about as much as I do, and he pushes his team to excellence in customer service.
  • Of course, the converse is true: He loves great customer service.
  • Along those lines, he isn’t satisfied with half-baked solution or answer. He demands the best from his team and the technology.
  • People really are his strongest asset, and he takes care of them like he believes it–he puts his money (and benefits) where his mouth is.
  • He has a “premium” philosophy, both on the supply and demand side. He considers his product a “premium” product that should be paid top dollar for. At the same time, he’s willing to spend top dollar for premium support, premium features, etc. Amazingly, he even bemoans companies like Apple or Red Hat that won’t let him pay more for additional features.
  • He’s a self-proclaimed Apple fanboy, but doesn’t pull any punches when he thinks they missed the mark.
  • He’s a family man, and as mentioned above, he takes care of his employees and their families as well.
  • Suits are definitely not his thing.

Genius…sheer genius.

I’m sure I’ll be pulling more tid-bits and philosophies from his blog in the coming weeks. Again, I’ve never met him, but I love what he has written because it’s so rich with deep management, business, technology, and personal philosophy.

Oh, and Don, if you’re reading this, I’m not a stalking you, I’m just a huge fan 🙂 . Your story and philosophies are really quite inspirational.

*I couldn’t see the model number, but based on his blog, I’m guessing they were Canon 5D Mark II’s

AWS Import/Export Part II

Note: This is Part II of my post/article on a new service from Amazon Web Services. If you didn’t read it, you should go back to yesterday’s post and read the introduction.

The first time I heard of something like this (transferring data via courier/mail rather than over the Internet because it was faster) was back when I lived in SLO. A guy I knew at church worked for a visual effects company that happened to be working on King Kong. As you may recall, most of the effects were done by Weta in New Zealand. Well, Weta needed to offload some of the digital footage to my friend’s company in Santa Maria. They originally intended to send it over the Internet, but that would have been too slow. So instead they made him drive to LA. Huh?

It seemed crazy to me at the time that they’d make him drive the ~6 hours round trip to LA just to pick up the footage. But in the end it really was quicker for them to send the footage to LA via some high speed optical method, and then have my friend drive down to LA to pick up the hard drive. Once in possession of the fully loaded hard drive (or drives), he hopped back in his car to Santa Maria, and then unloaded the hard drives when he got to the office. It proved much more expedient than waiting days for the files to download.

In any case, we’ll see what this does to AWS and S3. It might revolutionize storage; it might change the way companies like SmugMug do business. It’ll be a heck of a lot faster for companies to perform initial backups of data to S3 with their terabytes of data. After that, they can do their incremental backups over the Internet like everyone else. And heck if they have large incrementals, companies could still send update hard drives in the mail.

I wonder if Amazon will eventually accept a sort of “drop shipped” arrangement so that providers built on AWS like Jungle Disk or SmugMug can have their customers mail drives into Amazon, and have their data loaded into the service of choice.

On the enterprise side, can you imagine a corporation sending a shipment of these or these with multi-terabytes worth of data? If you sent over two of those Sun storage boxes, that could be 96 TB of data. Based on the calculations above, that could be 13.1 days via the mail, or 3 years via the Internet. Crazy! What an invaluable savings!

I doubt this is going to be an economic, or business game-changer. (Though I could be wrong, and it wouldn’t be the first time.) But I definitely think it will have an effect–not only on AWS and their ability to cater to customers with massive amounts of data, but also on the entire cloud-computing ecosystem.

AWS Import/Export Part I

Note: I originally intended this to be one post, but it grew to be a monstrosity of a post, bordering on article-length, so I decided to divide it into two parts and post this part tonight. The other part will go up tomorrow. Today’s post focuses on the new technology and the math behind why it’s so incredible. Tomorrow will focus on more commentary and what this could do to the industry.

I’m no soothsayer, and I’m not prescient enough to know exactly what this is going to do, but Amazon Web Services just announced a new “feature” linked to S3 called AWS Import/Export.

Instead of taking hours or days to upload your data over the Internet to Amazon’s data centers, you mail them a hard drive, server, or rack of servers (up to 8U and 50 lbs.) they hook it up to their servers, load the data for you, and your data ends up on S3 automatically.

I’ve gotta note that the name of the service is currently a bit misleading. This is really only AWS Import; it’s  a service where your data is loaded into AWS. There’s currently no way to get the data back out the same way, though that feature is pending. So at this time, a more appropriate name would be AWS Import. We’ll have to wait and see how long it takes them to get the Export functionality up and running. But in either case, it’s going to be fast.

How fast?  Well, let’s consider this in terms of MB/sec?  Here’s the math* :

Suppose you’re the average Joe (or Brian) like me and you’d like to upload 1 TB to S3. You’ve got a speedy cable (upload) connection at 1 MB/sec (8 Mbits/sec).

You’re uploading a million megabytes.
1,000,000 megabytes ÷ 1 megabytes/sec. = 1,000,000 seconds
1,000,000 seconds = 16,666.67 minutes = 277 hours = 11.6 days.

So in order to upload that one terabyte of data, you’ve gotta leave your computer on for 11.6 days of continuous uploading. That doesn’t mention the potential headaches of needing to restart failed downloads, or the sapping of your speed by your neighbors, or the kids downloading HD movies on iTunes.

Now let’s compare that with the deceptively fast method of sending data via “snail mail.”

On the fast end, we could send the 1TB hard drive via overnight mail. Then let’s conservatively estimate that Amazon doesn’t get around to transferring your data until the following evening. That gives you 48 hours of “wasted” travel time. But once they begin transferring, it goes at the speedy, but somewhat conservative clip of 100MB/sec.

1,000,000 megabytes ÷ 100 megabytes/sec. = 10,000 seconds
10,000 seconds = 166 minutes = 2.7 hours
2.7 hours + 48 hours (travel time)= 50.7 hours

So by mailing our hard drive across the country and “wasting” time in transit, we’ve actually saved 226.3 hours or 9.4 days. What a time savings!  Even if you didn’t send your drive overnight, and it took a few days to get there, you’d still be ahead of trying to upload it yourself. Kinda crazy to think that, in a sense, sometimes the fastest transfer method is really one of the oldest.

*For ease of math, let’s assume all numbers are base10, meaning 1MB=1million bytes. I know…I know on most operating systems, 1 MB = 1048576 bytes, but this is for ease of math.