I have solved the wind power problem.

Bear with me here, this is going to depend on widespread infrastructure and future technology.

Wind power isn’t a viable always-on solution because wind isn’t always on. Step outside your house right now: It might be windy, or it might not be windy. Even places like parts of Texas which have almost constant prevailing winds, the wind sometimes dies down. When it does, we burn coal to keep the lights on.

So in order to use wind power as an always-on power generation system, we’d need a remarkably large array of batteries to store power for when the wind dies down.

Of course, batteries are expensive. No-one wants to buy as many batteries as it would take to store the amount of power needed for, say, an entire day without wind.

What if there were an existing infrastructure solution to this problem, though? What if there were literally millions of batteries out there just waiting to get plugged into the grid?

Maybe there will be someday soon: Electric cars. They’re basically filled with batteries. Think about it: You drive your car for 15 minutes to and from work at times with low power usage (because people are driving to work instead of using power) and the rest of the time it sits in a parking lot or a driveway.

Instead of just sitting there, it could be plugged into the power grid all night powering up when demand is lowest. Then when demand is highest during daylight hours, it could feed back into the grid if the grid needed it.

We’d still need other generation facilities, yes, because wind might die down for two days and we’d be cursed with having no power and no cars to drive, but for most of the “wind is dying down for two hours”, the blips that are the real concern, electric cars would solve the problem admirably.

A SMB-friendly stack: Why doesn’t Linux have one?

On its own, Mozilla Thunderbird is a handsome, capable mail app. It does everything you would expect a mail application to do and a bit more. I would compare its capabilities — unfairly — to Outlook Express rather than Outlook proper, as it lacks calendaring and tasking capabilities. Outlook, though traditionally one of the major security holes in and attack vectors for Windows, is otherwise quite a functional application, though nothing particularly special.

What Outlook does, though, is easily plug into Exchange. Which just happens to easily plug into things like Sharepoint and Office. All of which rests on a foundation of MSSQL and Active Directory. Which only exist on Windows Servers. This is what we call an ecosystem. It’s one of the few things that Microsoft does right. Outlook is simply the thin end of the wedge, that little bit of lubrication that enables you to more easily give money to Microsoft.

And right now, there’s really no good alternative. Outlook + Office + Sharepoint + Exchange + MSSQL + Windows Server is damned expensive, (often) hard to maintain and administer, and hooked into a system of constant and unnecessary upgrades that ensure it will be expensive now and in the future, but it’s so easy.

Thunderbird doesn’t have that ecosystem. Evolution doesn’t have that ecosystem. Thunderbird is getting close with the Lightning calendaring application, a fine, even essential addition to the program. I can’t imagine installing Thunderbird without Lightning. But this is all frontend stuff. If you want to set up a proper backend for Thunderbird using, say, Linux + MySQL + Postfix + whatever, you’re in for quite a steep learning curve. Unless you have a lot of spare time, that learning curve will be almost insurmountable.

What the Linux business community needs, to penetrate the SMB market especially, is something along the lines of Exchange. Something like Zimbra, for instance. We need to cast aside this idea that a competent UNIX admin must be in charge of the Linux server. Most small and medium sized businesses simply do not have the resources for that. We need to be able to say, here, have this server. It will do what you need it to do.

Can you imagine a Linux-based server with a bunch of pre-built virtual machines designed to work with each other to provide a smooth computing experience for those of us who can’t afford to hire an admin full time?

You buy some iron, lay it down in the spare room, and say, okay, I need the “Storage” virtual machine and the “Mail Server” virtual machine and the “Web Server” virtual machine, and the “Collaboration” virtual machine. You install them, you click through a bunch of helpful wizards and boom, you’re done. Maybe it points you in the direction of a backup server for good measure.

You go to your Windows or OS X or Ubuntu machine and start it up. You install a couple programs on it that just work right out of the box. Could be Firefox, Thunderbird, OpenOffice.org, or whatever. You get to work and everything is exactly the way you want it.

Then one day when your company has enough money for an full-time admin, you separate that functionality into separate servers or whatever.

I guarantee that business owners will pay for that. Bundle all these free software ideas together and make a usable package out of them. I don’t care of you GPL your front end or not. I’m a pragmatist when it comes to things like that. But there is serious money to be made in the marketplace for a company brave enough to do just that. You can sell your product and the support of that product for far less than all that Microsoft software. You can undercut them and create a better, more secure product in the meantime.

A guy can dream, right?

Way to go, Planet Ubuntu.

I get a hundred posts to read, thinking, “Wonderful! A hundred insightful posts about Ubuntu!”

Instead, I get to see how many times y’all typed “sudo” in terminal. Huzzah! My revenge? I’m going to post mine.

$ history | awk ‘{a[$2]++ } END{for(i in a){print a[i] ” ” i}}’|sort -rn|head
144 cd
140 ls
105 sudo
20 rdiff-backup
16 rm
10 uname
8 man
8 cp
5 exit
5 crontab

Bullet points for a Wednesday afternoon.

  • I am unbelievably sick of people who always say things like, “Well, what are you doing about it?” It’s one of those cop-out phrases. Like how you can say “lighten up!” as a way of being a jerk. Or how you can say “deal with it!” as a way of avoiding having to deal with it. Either you agree or you don’t. If you say “put up or shut up!” then you follow your own advice.
  • How do you know when you’ve drunk too much coffee? Where’s that point where you say enough?
  • I’m having one of those days where everything is terribly busy and nothing seems to get done. Yeah, I’m blogging for a minute, but the rest of the day seems to be filled with doing things and more doing things, only when I look back I don’t see the results of having done any of those things.
  • Laura and I had tacos for dinner last night. A simple, cheap, and delicious meal. I think we might do that more often.
  • There’s a writer’s strike going on in TV land right now, in case you didn’t know. That means that all our favourite shows are over and done with, maybe or probably for the season. No more How I Met Your Mother, no more Big Bang Theory, no more House, no more Scrubs, no more Pushing Daisies. Sad times. But we can go back and watch things we missed, like 30 Rock, and… that’s about it. It’s one of my favourite new shows now.
  • I would like my desktop to be able to follow me anywhere I go. Why is that not possible? Why can’t I call my desktop up securely on a public terminal? I know, the staggering technical hurdles and the nightmare of implementing this idea. But… super cool, right?
  • I’m away from the Rumour Forum for a while, guys. Except for the boards I have access to, and they’re not much. But when I come roaring back to the fold, my pockets stuffed to overflowing with cash money dollars, it’ll be a day to celebrate.

  • Attribution / License

The countdown begins!

Only three more days until Ubuntu Gutsy! That means integrated desktop effects with Compiz (spinning cube yay!), a graphical configuration tool for X (desperately needed), integrated desktop search (for that little search box in my SLED), and fast user switching (not useful for me).

I’m excited!

Why do we have so many different kids of cables and plugs?

I have a question. Consider serial cables and data cables for a moment. We have SATA, Ethernet, FireWire, USB 1.0, USB 2.0, PS2, Serial ports of all kinds of stripes, etc. Each of these has its own plug design, its own specification, and in many cases its own internal bus. In some cases, there are variations on the plug design: see USB. In some cases (I’m looking at you, hard drives), there’s a data cable and a power cable; in other cases they’re both in the same cord (USB, power over ethernet).

Why can’t we have just one cord with two or three plugs? Certainly the thing that would send information and power to a hard drive could do the same thing for your digital camera, your screen, your video camera, and your network. We could have on kind of plug for removable devices, another kind for semi-permanent devices, and a small version of both for compact devices.

Am I missing something here? Why can’t this be done?

Early morning frustrations.

After not getting much sleep last night — and not for any good reason, I just couldn’t sleep for the longest time — I got in to work this morning to find our webserver completely out of space.

Eventually I worked out that the transaction log was, well, gargantuan. Enormous. And even though we have 2TB of storage just sitting around, we can’t use any of that because it’s a perfectly good Debian RAID server that came along after the initial investment in… Windows 2000, MSSQL 2000, a commercial mail server, ISS, Visual Studio and who knows what else.

This is why you don’t let your bosses make technology decisions for you. We’re not doing rocket science here. This isn’t a high-load database context, or some complex thing that needs a heavy-duty solution. What we need is a hang-glider. What we have is the Deathstar.

What really bothers me is we could have, with a tiny bit more investment in personnel, and a lot less invested in buying software, have done this all for, essentially, free. Apache is used around the world, as is Postfix, as is MySql or Postgre, as is PHP (or any of the other up-and-comers). We could have done it for an up-front cost of zero dollars in software and used the money saved to hire a competent person to administer the servers and do some simple web programming.

But no, we went the comfortable, half-assed route, and instead of creating a site that just works, we have a site that half-works, sometimes, and is tied in to proprietary programs that will chain us to an upgrade cycle that we either submit to and pay the price over the long term, or escape and pay the price in the short term.

At least you can say, if you’re chained to Linux or BSD or Solaris, that your upgrade cycle is essentially free, barring hardware costs. You can, at least, say that.

This morning, to get back to the original thing, I had to wade through a tide of screens, logins, and all that sort of thing, and figure out a horrible GUI just to manage a database. And then figure out the command syntax, which makes no sense whatsoever. And then finally, after two hours of research, the entire task took five minutes to execute.


And, to top it off, the beyond-ridiculous antipathy of some of my former compatriots to body modification has reared its head again, if only on my periphery. Still, I won’t say anything about that, lest I say something stupid.

Bullet points for a Friday morning.

  • In exactly one week from today, I will be married. Well, okay, one week and a few hours. WOOHOO!
  • I checked the uptime on my Linux file/wiki/backup/RAID/CMS server, and lo and behold, it has been running for 483 days straight. That’s awesome! Our Windows 2000 fileserver has an uptime of… one day.
  • I have coffee in front of me, and it’s good coffee.
  • Last night I watched the film “Paprika”. A bit of a mind-trip. But also okay. Not great, but okay.
  • If you hear these words in the same sentence as the word Microsoft, you may consider yourself given a cue to laugh: Standards, Honesty, Ethics, Style, Taste, or Good ROI.
  • Okay, I’m back to work.