FryUp: Safety in low numbers

The death of RSS, Snow Leopard's feral security and, finally, a toll road payment fix

Chunning it in tight red trous No reason, apart from it being vintage Nu Zild. Citizen Band: Rust in My Car

Camp coders DNUG

The Ducks Nuts seem to have disappeared from the Dot Net lot, but that hasn’t stopped them from banding together and putting together a 14 hours in total event on September 13. Yes, that’s the Sunday before Tech Ed, and it’s at Crowne Plaza on Albert Street in Auckland. And, it’s free. Schedule here. Registration here.

Bunch of RSS

Are you finding it hard to keep up with what’s ahead and what’s dead? Don’t feel bad, it's like that for all of us. This week, Really Simple Syndication, the XML-based files that became the successors to Push, died. The culprit is of course Twitter. Not content with killing off blogging, commenting and reinventing news in 140 characters, Twitter took umbrage at RSS. Or not really. It was pretty obvious that anything more personal and snappier than RSS for real-time news would win. Not that there ever was a competition, because RSS was the solution to a problem not many people cared about, and which required much too much user intervention and futzing around. Learn from that, you lot. Rest in Peace, RSS

Safety in low numbers

Mac OS X 10.6 is upon us, and mostly, it’s good. The Snow Leopard prowls along nicely, with some important architectural changes that lay the groundwork for the UNIX-like operating system to evolve into something even more feline. In terms of look and feel, well… sorry Microsoft, but Apple has you beaten hands down still. Windows 7 is good, but OS X is better. Surprising though is that Apple seems to have dropped the guard on security. Given that the Mac platform is becoming more popular with users, that kind of move doesn’t seem entirely logical, but there you have it. Snow Leopard ships with basic memory address space layout randomisation that makes it harder for miscreants to guess where data is stored in a computer system’s RAM. OpenBSD has had this feature for years, and Vista shipped with it Hardware DEP, or Data Execution Protection, seems to be partially implemented as well and let’s not talk about the malware protection Snow Leopard that really doesn’t deserve to be called that. The firewall in Snow Leopard seems to default to being turned off, allowing any incoming connections, which isn’t what you’d expect in security-conscious 2009. Luckily for Apple, OS X isn’t quite yet the juicy, profitable target that Windows is. Relying on that remaining the same as your business grows looks like a bad strategy for Apple, potentially putting customers at risk. Snow Leopard downgrades security and misses opportunity to improve Apple adds basic anti-malware to Snow Leopard

Mac malware update: Unauthorised downloads of Snow Leopard infested with Trojans

Access denied

That’s great that NZTA is now thinking of allowing toll road payments by mobile phone. The Orewa bypass is excellent, and paying to zoom along it is fine, but why in this era of SuperEasyToUse Technology was it made so difficult? To pay your highway toll that is.

Credit card users can pay over the phone, which is OK, but the website uses an Australian payments processor, POLi, that only supports Windows and then, only certain variants of Windows. Mac users can hit the road, jack.

If you want to pay as you go, you can queue up at either end of the road and stick money into the machine. That is, if you’re able-bodied and can stand up. People in wheel chairs have to jump up over kerbs, and if they manage to do that, they still won’t be able to reach the payment machine.

For them, mobile phone payments will be very helpful indeed, so here’s hoping it’ll be done soon.

Northern toll road to get mobile payment option

Accessibility Net: Brush Off From NZ Minister of Transport

XKCD

Newton and Leibniz

Cartoon: www.xkcd.com

Robert X Cringely

Gmail Gfails, Internet survives again

Yet another Google email outage casts more doubt on the viability of cloud computing. But Cringely says there's always a trade-off

Maybe you didn't notice, but Gmail went down for about 100 minutes Tuesday, depriving millions of the Gfaithful of their beloved email service.

The gnashing of teeth and the renting of garments could be heard clear across Twitterville. Like these representative twits — err, tweets:

"Words and phrases like “apocalypse” and “digital terrorism” really did come to mind when I realised the #gfail."

"Gmail is down? im having an anxiety attack. i cant function without it."

"No Gmail, Facebook is twitchy and Twitter is slow. My life may end just now…"

Actually, as several Tweeters pointed out, Google's POP and IMAP servers were working just fine. It was the web interface that did a face plant. But to the Twitterati who couldn't quite grasp that concept, it seemed the world had ended, at least temporarily.

Turns out the problem was fairly prosaic, though at the scale Google operates, even a hangnail can look like a fatal condition. The Google team took a few Gmail web servers offline for routine maintenance, the servers that remained online got too slow and shut themselves down, and the resulting traffic overwhelmed the machines still left standing.

In a post to The Official Gmail Blog, "Site Reliability Czar" Ben Treynor writes:

"The Gmail engineering team was alerted to the failures within seconds (we take monitoring very seriously). After establishing that the core problem was insufficient available capacity, the team brought a LOT of additional request routers online (flexible capacity is one of the advantages of Google's architecture), distributed the traffic across the request routers, and the Gmail web interface came back online."

He makes it sound so simple. If it was really that easy, why did it take them nearly two hours to fix it? (And If he's truly a czar, does he walk around all day swilling vodka and wearing a big furry hat? That could explain a lot.) Treynor concludes: "Gmail remains more than 99.9 percent available to all users, and we're committed to keeping events like today's notable for their rarity." By my reckoning, this would mark the ninth notable Gmail outage in little more than a year, including incidents this year in May, March, and February, plus October, August (three separate events), and July 2008. All enterprises eventually have problems with their email systems (InfoWorld's had a few lately itself). But if any Fortune 500 firm had that many problems with its internal email system over that span, some poor geek would be looking for a new job. You can bet Microsoft is all grins this morning. Paid Content's Joe Tartakoff says a Redmond employee gleefully pointed him to all the Twitterati taking Google's "Gone Google" marketing campaign and flipping it to "Google Gone." The inevitable "is cloud computing ready for prime time?" posts have resurfaced yet again, like mushrooms after the rain. For example: PC World's Ian Paul asks, "How viable is this Utopian computing future when the accessibility of your files is dependent on forces beyond your control?" My take: When you get something you want, you generally have to give up something you also want. Want to call anyone from virtually anywhere on the planet? Get a cell phone. But don't expect that crystal-clear call quality and reliability that spoiled us in the era of the Ma Bell monopoly. I doubt that's ever coming back. Is that enough to make you give up your handset and go back to a landline? Not bloodly likely. The enormous cost savings and convenience of cloud computing? Plan to give up at least some of the stability and reliability of your enterprise iron — as well as the accountability for the geeks paid to maintain it. It's a trade-off. Whether the trade-off is worth it only you can decide. Most of the time it seems like it is. Yesterday, for about 100 minutes, not so much. Did Gmail's Gfail make you less confident in the cloud? Post your lofty thoughts here or e-mail me: cringe@infoworld.com (yes, I think it's working again, knock on wood).

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