NYT on SimpleDB

The New York Times Open blog takes a look at Amazon’s SimpleDB. I have to agree with him, web-scale computing architecture is a fascinating topic. I’ve been meaning to set aside time to look at SimpleDB; it feels like the big gap in web-scale is standard/open APIs for structured data storage. EC2 gives you compute (and the API is fairly obvious), and S3 is your big key-value bucket, but until Amazon announced SimpleDB there were really only hacks for clustering MySQL. And that only gets you so far.

Another interesting project in this area is CouchDB.

How fast technology moves – BAN

Saw this short article about a new IEEE working group on a networking standard for devices in or on the human body. One cited use case is controlling a pacemaker from a wristwatch, which makes a lot of sense – it’d be pretty nice to be able to make small tweaks to devices like that without requiring open heart surgery.

What is kind of scary though is the security implications. The security disaster that was WEP shows us how important this stuff is to get right. Presumably a pacemaker or other critical device wouldn’t have a “turn off” function, but still…the implications sound like science fiction. Your wristwatch is pulling data from the web, gets cracked, and the next time you shake someone’s hand it tries to pass a digital virus to the devices in or on them…

Realistically though, pretty much everyone is far more likely to die in a car accident than have a digital virus for the forseeable future. So buckle up! But when it comes around, also be sure to apply security updates for your body =)

Stuff that has just gotten a lot better


It was fairly recently, when I installed OCaml on my Fedora 8 system with a quick yum install that it really struck me just how far the Fedora project has come in the last few years. Long ago when I was active in Debian, one of the things I really loved about Debian was how comprehensive the package set was – if you were a fan of semi-obscure languages like OCaml, Debian was the place to be. I even gave a talk about that in 2002.

Back then in Fedora (maybe it was even RHL timeframe), the default OS was very well put together, but if you wanted to stray a bit outside of what was shipped on the single CD – you had to do stuff like manually download the RPMs from the OCaml website. No provision for automatic updates, etc. It kinda sucked.

Fast forward to today – Fedora is not just a well put together default desktop, but also a pretty growing comprehensive set of over 8000 binary packages, active subteams concentrating on areas like awesome Java support, virtualization, and plenty more.

It really does kick ass. For sure there’s a few things we need to do still like sudo by default, but the balance of things has certainly shifted.


It’s hard to describe how much better the Firefox 3 CVS is compared to Firefox 2. The beta 1 release notes just don’t do it justice, you have to check out reviews from Ars Technica or elsewhere. The awesomebar is something that really is hard to live without after you’ve tried it.

But what I wanted to talk about in particular in this blog entry is some of the really nice Linux-specific integration work that’s landed recently. A screenshot gives you an idea:

Firefox 3 CVS as of 2007-11-30

Note in particular the native tab look and use of GTK+ stock icons; this is part of the gnomestripe theme. Not pictured is the native look for form field widgets, along with a lot of other under-the-hood work like Cairo.

The increased focus on good platform integration is driven by talented people like Alex Faaborg and others who realize that being a crossplatform application doesn’t mean you have to look and feel exactly the same everywhere – what you have to do is be a blend of the good parts of your application and the platform. So Firefox 3 on Linux has the same kickass addons and other aspects that make it Firefox, while at the same time feeling much more like a part of your desktop.