Monday, April 30, 2007

Family and Geni

Well, over the weekend Francisca started eating "solids" for the first time. Yep, Steak and Chips with a side order of Garlic bread. Well, actually baby rice, but much the same. She really enjoyed it, unlike Xavier who i remember spitting it out when he first tried it.

Today was cool as we managed to get in touch with our cousins in Ireland to help build our family tree. I have only been to Cork once - where my Grandad is from - but loved it. I wish I could have kept more in touch with family over there, but i'm hoping through Geni we can make an effort at doing it. Ireland is pretty much my 2nd home but i've seen so little of it. I really want to return to Cork soon with my wife and kids (we were in Dublin last year, but i want to see Cork again) and hope i can meet some relatives through it.

Geni is quickly becomming my favourite site.

Friday, April 27, 2007

WCF by Craig McMurty

Few days since my last post - been super busy at home and at work. Hopefully things will get quieter now ...... so...

Just got an email from Craig to tell me my copy of Windows Communication Foundation Unleashed is on its way.

I read the original beta version about a year ago, but looking forward to reading through this one!

Almost finished Phantoms in the Brian - amazing stuff!!

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Messi scores a cracker

Best individual goal for a long time by Messi at Barca ....

Thursday, April 19, 2007


Moving house so we're painting - something i don't enjoy.

Web Site gone live so we're supporting 24x7 - very busy.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Google maps are sick!

An, erm, Google Maps mashup of who is sick ....

Monday, April 16, 2007

CS 2007

* Update* This is outstanding stuff. Started moving this over already - it's ridiculously configurable! Busy day today tho'.

The folks over at Telligent have just released CS 2007 and what a cracking product it is. In fact, for what they give away free you really have to try it out. I actually think most SME's need this right now - at $300 (or about £200 or less) it's a heck of a lot cheaper than trying to build anything like this yourself and it gives you all the things you need to interact with your customers. Very easy to install as well - i thnk it took me 5 minutes and the wizard did it all for me (without crashing and buring half way through).

I'm still trying to fire out how Twitter fits into it as i've been reading a lot of tweets about it, but can't see anything.

I see Rob Howard is CEO there too - wrote "Site Server 3.0 Personalization and Membership" many moons ago with him (was my first book in fact).

Anyway, see my community server instance running on my personal web site here. Oh, i am using a local sql express database, so connect to "(local)\SQLEXPRESS". Btw - it's cool they have sussed the progress bar technology - they musy patent that algorithm coz it said "under 1 minute" and it was!

Improving Web 2.0 Conferences

Here's a suggestion - let the rest of us in on the act! Like no doubt many, i checked the numerous UStream casts in the hope i could catch a bit of the Web 2.0 conference.

Well, i did. Someone congratulating a baby, an empty room, one where he couldn't get past security and another with people's voices. I didn't catch O'Reilly or Bezos. Is there a good reason? (that's a question)

Surely in a time where we talk about services, mashups, openness, open source, collaboration and so on, we can actually let those of us who aren't in the conference in on the act.

I really hope this is just the start of grassroots video blogging on conferences and events. A couple of years back i spoke briefly over email with Howard Rheingold about the idea of individuals covering events. It was maybe too soon.

But now! Now is the time. Maybe we need a site that is dedicated to this - an extension of Dave Winers events markup concept. All i really want is to be able to see this stuff - am i asking too much? (again, a question).

A thought on software tool development

I have a number of tools i use for software development. In many cases a few developers get together and develop a few tools that become hugely useful - they need to make money ... on the product, not projected support costs) and i see this as a bit of a downfall in Open Source (OS this is not the point on this post however!).

Now the way they will make money is buy developers buying it, or suggesting it to be bought, typically for a project you are working for in some company. In other words, on a per license basis, they likely to make more of their money on the big projects. So, the only way people will suggest these tools is if they are familar with them - and even more so if many of the team are familiar with the product (e.g. gZip, NUnit).

However, many of them offer short timed trials or limited features rather than just letting you use the tool and making it part of your toolset. The tool is unlikely to become viral because to purchase it, individuals need to spend upwards of $400 for a licence.... and most of us use many tools. So if i have 10 tools, can i afford $4k out of my own pocket - in short, no.

IMHO, a better option would be to just give the tools away to individuals and make the money on the larger projects they introduce the tools into (more of us will be aware of them too!). If the tool becomes so viral that it is just part of the development toolset then all you need to deal with it how to get more money from the larger projects that have a real budget - not individuals hacking on a Saturday evening.

The argument is always going to be how can you stop individuals re-using the tools in multiple projects - well you can't really, but in my experience projects will pay for tools rather taking the risk (if fact, more to the point its a way of the developers - by proxy - giving back to those who made the tools in the first place).

Dodging Google

Dennis Crowley has left Google owned Dodgeball.

He says:
"The whole experience was incredibly frustrating for us - especially as we
couldn't convince them that dodgeball was worth engineering resources, leaving
us to watch as other startups got to innovate in the mobile + social space. "

On this point i couldn't agree more. I've started doing some work in the mobile space with some friends and the potential for innovation is huge. Add to the fact that a maginitide more people will be able to access mobile clients (such as phones) than even Google brings to its web site, makes the best ideas even more exciting.

It must be hard to leave one of the most innovative companies in the world and start again, but it does help me justify the work i do and the fact i haven't taken a safe job. Fitting in is hard to do i guess, especially when they don't think like you (i guess that's why the enrpreneurs are often the first to be offloaded in a buy out!).

Webware 100

Rafe Needleman tweeted that the Webware 100 awards were live, so i went across and after some throught (it was tough) i gave my vote to Geni.

It was just one of those sites that as a family we used immediately and we were able to bring together family from Scotland, Ireland, France, Chile, Canada and more.

I considered Plazes as well, but due to our level of activity on Geni they had to get our vote.

Sunday, April 15, 2007


I created a UStream broadcast earlier today to try it out. I'm still figuring out whether it can be archived (i don't think it can), but it's pretty neat. I've seen video feeds before but the idea of UStream is that it is a more informal video feed (actually, this wasn't their original intention, but the community have pushed them that way!).

The live stream is below - i'm not sure whether to reuse the stream or create a new one next time i am on - as there is no archiving there doesn't seem much point in creating multiple channels (unless there is security/chat archiving in place). I'll figure it out.

So, what's it useful for? Well, as a time-windowed channel, loads of things!, But as a less formal stream, i'm not so sure. It is broadcast only i believe, apart from the text chat below it (see the full channel here), so it may be useful for a discussion/overview with customers (a very easy way of doing so as well), a random broadcast for help on some topic (imagine how neat it would be to go from a phone call or text chat to a video broadcast) and some other ideas. Personally, it would be neat to allow my kids to be able to contact me and see me when i'm out of office :)

Starting a startup

Today has been about writing a powerpoint presentation for a mobile startup idea we have.

I've went well over the standard 10 slides, but it's just for our team of four and it's really to get some of my brainstorming across to them to get some feedback and see whether they have the same vision as me.

It's fair to say we have a grand vision. We have Apple and Google in our sights which admittedly isn't the easiest starting point. But then Google once had to contend with AltaVista and did okay there.

Our clear advantage is that we have nothing to lose (well, not strictly true, but if it goes wrong i will have lost a few bucks) - I will be better informed in some of the bleeding edge technologies of the day.

We're all pretty smart guys but i know that is fairly unimportant in when it comes down to the execution of the idea. In fact ideas like Twitter are so simple, but executed brilliantly. This is our model. We hope to be in alpha in 1 month (oh, does this mean i have to tell them that at the meeting tomorrow evening??)

Google no longer answers back

Wow - something Google did wrong.

"We're sorry, but Google Answers has been retired, and is no longer accepting new questions. Search or browse the existing Google Answers index by using the search box above or the category links below. "

Should be interesting who emerges in this area - it's a pretty important one, but need to be done right.

Car Crash 2007 style

This may be the first and last time i have ever made a cartoon, but earlier today i saw a small crash and the exchange of addresses must have taken all of 30 seconds. No-one looked in the least bothered (like you'd have a "Last Known Good" Option when the car starts up). Anyway, it got me thinking on something i needed to put into pictures ....

I clicked an advert!

Well, it had to happen. For probably the first time since i started using the "web" back in 1992 or so i clicked an advert - and it wasn't a mistake.

A link for Spiderman came up and as my son loves everything Spiderman, i had to click it. It was a DoubleClick Google advert, so with say 1 billion parents in the world and 10p a click, a few Spiderman clicks down the line and we've justified Google's spending.

But let's not miss the key milestone here - i deliberately clicked an Ad (ahh, but will you get me clicking for something *I* am interested in? I will hold onto my freedom!).

VC funding

Question at MIT startup discussion:

"To raise VC funding, do I need to have a complete management team assembled?"

- "Not necessarily. Many VCs do not mind considering startups that have an incomplete management team. Some will actually see gaps in the management team as a positive as that is an area that they can help with and bring value to the startup."

Hallelujah ! A sensible answer. If i were buying a home entertainment system, i wouldn't expect to buy all products together from the same brand. What I would do would choose the best individual item that accomplished what i REALLY wanted and then build around it.

There is nothing more frustrating for an entrepreneur than the "rules" - unfortunately in the UK (and particularly Scotland) the rules are extremely rigid, so it's nice to see some real world, sensible answers.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Excellent Apple Ad

Well worth a look .Also very good.

Tech Events Aggregator

*Update : Dave added a blog post about his idea*
Dave Winer made a suggestion on Twitter (do we need trackback for twitter???) that

"@jeffbar, we need an aggregator of events happening in the tech world, it should be possible to somewhere and see what's up & who's going"

Scoble said

"twitter: Scobleizer: @davewiner: how about ? That's where I usually learn about events."

Now, i also do the same - but following just the events on the various major events areas is just the start of the issue.

For example, i want to know what is available online to us across the water - and to what level.

I have tried to push for grassroots events blogging for a while but nothing much has emerged - certainly not to the level when almost everyone has videos of their events. I'd like to know who is going and what they plan to do - will they blog it? Text, Video - live video.

In other words, i have little time as it is and filtering all events for my exact criteris based on descriptions in the web page is a real pain. I'd like to see some aggregation "standards" pulled together to give me more than just a list.

Spock - a request

I'd like to have a look at and add something to my blog about it, so if anyone has some invitations, please send me one!

A thought on Google and DoubleClick

Is it possible that the reason that Google paid way over the odds for double click is down to the fact their Ad Words may be losing traction?

I have said for a while that advertisers are going to see that noone clicks on them - i clicked on one once to see what would happen. Funnily enough, in a discussion in a bar last week almost everyone i was with had done the same.

DoubeClick offer a far more invasive advertising process (check your cookies) and maybe this is what Google sees as the next requirement for the next step in their advertising campaign.

In other words, I think the purchase was a logical one for Google, but whether a re-evaluation of how advertising itself is done on the web would have been a better move is something i would question. And Google would have been a company that could have done that!

Friday, April 13, 2007

A story from Xavier

Xavi left a story for me on my web page - about a dinosaur, so natuarally i had to share it with you! Click to play.

Dinosaurs Story ( mp3 )

I warn you - it's cliffhanger... i was left asking "what happened next??????".


I've been playing with the Glide 2.0 beta and i'm pretty impressed. The user interface is almost very cool. On the surface it's pretty good (some usability issues) - but the uploading for example needs work.

It pops up a new window which looks like it was written by my mum and then doesn't refresh the original screen when this has been done. It also doesn't seem to show a thumbnail of the image you uplaoded which would be 5 minutes work.

Ah, also, when editing your account the same window pops up (my mum was clearly busy!). This needs fixed, but it is in beta (i'd say alpha based on the "completeness" of most beta products out there just now).

The UI in general needs to be more "action orientated". Creating a blog (or post) is kinda the main thing you want to do when you click "blog" (and there are two big buttons saying blog). But these just take yoou to an emty page - you then needs to click a small little plus image to do so. Not cool. I also can't see how you would import an external blog. I've already got google changing my email address to make sure i have more accounts - i don't want the same with my flamin' blogs.

Hmm, first impressions are that it's really cool, but after using it you can see it is still in fairly early stages and needs some usability testing - the calendars could be nicer for example. One to keep tabs on.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Giant Crystal & Giant Google Gaff

This is neat ...

Google, Google, Google - what are you trying to do to me??? Last week i logged using my normal Google account. I was then forced to change my email to - well not so much forced - it DID it automatically and didn't allow me to change it.

So then all my messages from my Google groups that i was getting alerted via my Windows Live IM. So I then went to my "new" google email and set all messages to be forwarded to my hotmail account. So that was last week an i went along posting as normal.

But.... oh the fun continues... this morning i try to post and suddenly i get this:

You do not have permission to post to group dotnetopenid.

You may need to join the group before being allowed to post, or this group may not be open to posting.

Visit to join
or learn more about who is allowed to post to the group. Help on using Google
Groups is also available at:

Huh? Well, I guess it is because i am not sending using my google email account. So then i log in via the browser using my account and sure enough it shows me that my account does have permission - in fact i can even post via the browser (i notice it shows my google email account as the sender now). My hotmail email is listed as a valid address but i just can't send any mail using it now.

Who knows what they will do next. Why bother - it worked really well as it was. I really don't need not want 800 email accounts!

Plazes Mobile

After having used Plazer wifi for a while now, i decided to see how it worked on my mobile phone.

So I installed Palzer mobile using Bluetooth and then ran the applet. I created a new test location and submitted and sure enough my blog was updated (top left).

It was pretty simple and very powerful. I'd like to be able to make certain locations private to friends and family but i'll need to play around to see if that is possible.

Nice work @

btw - you can also send SMS messages, but that may cost a few bucks as it's a german number.

Blogs as simple as ABC

I have redone my bloglines categorization about 300 times this year - or it feels like it. I cam to realize how i read them isn't actually based directly on content as half the time it's abstract thoughts. So grouping them by a category is pointless.

So i had moved them into categories 1,2,3,4,5 - but i find i read 1 and sometimes 2, but rarely 3,4,5 - even thought sometimes there is stuff in there i want to read.

Now i have moved to A, B, C.

A - i ALWAYS want to read this, i will check each blog. If you're here, Hollywood will come calling.

B - i will closely scan through this - most will be relevant, but i will only have time to read a few.

C - fast scan. I don't dislike you if you are here but your content may only be relatively useful for my timescale. If there is time i will fly through this to get what i want to read.

So, ABC - hopefully it will be that simple as so many of you folks have some amazing content (but too many friends who also have blogs!!!!!!!!)

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


Photographing strangers

Joi Ito talks about photographing strangers.

I added a comment (trackback breaks on most web sites i visit) about this. I'm not entirely comfortable with it when it's not requested and i may well chase you for more than a few minutes if i caught your lense pointing at me - or worse my family.

I like photographs that can portray a culture in almost one shot, but there seems to be a fine line when it is a close up of one or two people (why, i dunno). I would always ask - you can argue you are too shy to ask, but to take close up photos of you can't be too shy.

Imagine a paperazzi based on your best (or worst) photo ever. Does a still image really catch who you are - does it matter? If your image becomes a hit for good (or bad) reasons and it was a stranger that took it what is the repercussion? If you get your 15 minutes and it is a cool/uncool/nasty/funny etc all based on a single image would you take that chance?

jot - we're back

I love I joined it back in 2005 and unfortunately the folks i was collaborating with didn't quite get it... let's say a collaborative wiki is less useful by yourself.

Myself and three friends have now got together to work on an idea, so i fired up jot again, cleared out my old account and now we're back to using it.

Google bought it and it seems to be taking an awfully long time to move over but to be honest i like it the way it is!

How to get Bloggers to write about your company

How To Get Bloggers To Talk About You

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Great meeting

Four of us met tonight in Cafe Nero to brainstorm on creating something. I was really interested in whether we could some up with something that will be huge rather than nice. After an hour we had some nice ideas, but nothing *new*. Then it came to us .... something i have been thinking about for a few years, but recent innovations have now made it possible. It was the idea we were waiting for.

I can't say, but give us a few weeks - we may just have something.....

Athiest database

One of the guys in the office applied to for a software job, part of which asked for religion.

I asked the quite sensible question of whether it is stored as as NULL in the database.

Monday, April 9, 2007


If you haven't yet used Geni to start your family tree i suggest you have a quick look at it.

Twitter - another thought

The fact i have spent the last 15 minutes with emails going back and forth about a meeting with friends tomorrow makes me think a private twitter rooms would be useful (hmm, but does that go against the +ve's of my post below?).

Why Twitter is cool

Before i used Twitter, i had heard of it - but i figured i've got so many other things pinging me through the day that the thought of one giving me updates of people would just be a bit of a stack overflow. It was so simple so what more would it really add.

What's weird is that it's probably the most effective tool i have write now. I follow most of my blog and IM contacts through it - despite me always having them within a click or two. In fact with some of my personal IM contacts this is the main way we communicate. It's simple and passive - it's the kind of thing you always wanted to do with IM but felt a little intrusive doing so. It's kinda like IRC but you don't have to join a specific conversation as such. It's conversation(well, "conversationlets") and then conversations about them - some on topic, some off.

I look forward to seeing where this goes. How have you folks found it? Should i really have sent this through Twitter?!


This morning i created my dandelife profile. Of the latest widgets i have subscribed to I actually find this one the most useful! The only thing i have right now that does this is Outlook so it may be useful to allow you to publish your calander to that - but then there is likely a bunch of irrelevant stuff in there - still tho' it IS part of your history ....

Anyway - i have been updating with some major points in my life - i hope i can add to it as it would be neat for the kids to see when they are older (if google haven't bought them - the site, my kids aren't for sale...).

Sunday, April 8, 2007

SocialText and Ubuntu

I installed the virtual install of SocialText and Ubuntu this evening - it has literally just installed and i have no idea what to do next (always a different world when you move from the cosy Windows installs!).

I am really interested in seeing it in action though, so tomorrow i will go through the readme and figure out how to get it up and running.

Ross Mayfield who owns SocialText has been one of my favoutite bloggers for a few years now so i am looking forward to finally getting the time to try this out and see what i could do with it.

A revolutionary quote to remember

In reading Phantoms in the Brain, Dr. Vilayanur S. Ramachandran MD, PhD one of the worlds leading authorities in Neurology (on discussing how Faraday's simple experiments):

"These experiences left me with a permanent distaste for fancy equipment and the realization that you don't necessarily need complicated machines to generate scientific revolutions; all you need are some good hunches".

IMHO this is the way Microsoft, Google and so on can and will be beaten. Emerging starups have hunches and don't have the equipment or cash of these large companies, but in reality all of the great ideas in the last few years have been emerging new and disruptive ideas. There are too many following the status quo and so getting eaten by these larger companies rather than disrupting them all together. It would be hard to imagine that You Tube is anything more than evolutionary for example (it was one of a bunch of sites doing the same kind of thing and happened to be the one that took off). Numenta on the other hand is revolutionary. In the future, a YouTube powered by Numenta would be able to discover and relate objects in the video.

Was Google revolutionary? Or did it basically evolve from what AltaVista was? It's a hard call, but in my own head, when i hear a company doing something that flips what i thought i could do on its head, i see that as a revolutionary step - that means not only suggesting that something can be done differently... if means actually executing it and AltaVista was a revolutionary search engine for me (it wasn't the first, but compared to what i had been using before it actually allowed me to do powerful seacrhes) - Google on the other hand was just a more effective search tool.

The first revolutionary web moment (for me) was using Gopher on the university networks some years back. I can't remember that last (before Numenta) ... perhaps Napster and i'd have to say P2P television is really exciting - the fact we can see programs live from Chile on our PC is pretty exciting.

I may and try and compile a list of companies truly thinking differently. Ping me if you have any thoughts on who could be in that list.

Here's a neat idea (i think) - a graph from say 1990 or so that charts the revolutionary companies and the spin off companies that came from there. So Google would feature, but the revolutionary company that start search on the web? Archie, Gopher, Wandex, Aliweb or someone else. It's unfortunate that many of the disrupters disappear but you may argue that the evolution of the technology that results from the disrutption is propertional to the user base - and so as the user base rises, the technolgy in that field evolves a little more and so a new company emerges... WebCrawler -> Lycos -> AltaVista (i used this constantly) ->Google -> Baidu ?

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Is Microsoft dead?

Paul Graham is an excellent but eternally controversial author. I read his book Hackers and Painters when on holiday in Spain some years back and my poor wife got repeated fragments of arguements against what he had written throughout the holiday. It's not that i don't agree with everything he says - and i don't - but it's that he is so purposeful in his writing that is causes a reaction in me. Which is cool as I love arguing about this stuff (with a wife and two kids it's the only kindof arguments i have a hope of winning!).

So he wrote an article entitled "Microsoft is dead". I tried to comment and reply using both IE and FireFox (I only changed through my own suspicions...), but the software just falls over when i try to post. Luckily i kept a copy of the data locally in notepad and so it didn't get lost when i posted (erm, is that already an advantage of desktop versus browser based software??). So here it is below - i will try and repost at some point.


They're are easy target and i had this discussion over drinks with some friend last night. I actually think their software in the last few years and what is coming through is getting great respect from hackers.

Also, a few things to remember.

1. Search in only 10% done.
2. Pervasive devices are taking over as the key interface to systems.
3. Collaboration is the big wave on the web.
4. Privacy/Trust - things like google apps work for some data (and are a great addition) but add in trust and privacy in business and they're screwed. Open ID is thinking about identity, but there's a long way to go.

For these reasons there is a long way to go before anyone can be considered alive or dead. I for one think Google will be overtaken by someone in the not too distant future as well. It may be a resurgent Microsoft - remember Netscape.

Oh, the have an ace in their cards. Ray Ozzie is Chief Software Architect (a position Gates himself used to hold) and created probably the more powerful collaboration software in its time at Groove. He's been very quiet recently and his emergence may be their resurgence.

Not everyone is going to want to create 5 minute web 2.0 software to get bought by Google - a big change will emerge as happened with Netscape and AltaVista. Stay tuned.

Arthur van Hoff

It's Saturday evening and the kids are relaxed so i figured i'd go online and look around a bit. I immediately ordered Founders at Work as it was something I wanted to write some time ago - so i was even happier when the surname of the author is actually "Livingston" :)

One of the intereresting interviews is with Arthur van Hoff who is now a principal engineer at Tivo, but previously was one of the creators of Java along with James Gosling, Bill Joy, and Guy Steele and he wrote the first Java compiler i believe.

What is neat is that he went to Strathclyde University, the same one i attended (quite a few years after him i should note). I now vaguely remember being told this in a C++ class back in 1997 and having been one of the first people to write a Java application (i downloaded and wrote it the day it was released as i was in a Computational Physics class) i made a mental note.

It's pretty cool to have someone as good a programmer to relate to when you think back to university and they should probably make more of it. Our country is pretty small so we should use all the cred we can get!

See what he's going now.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Freakonomics and picture

Just finished reading Freakonomics and as always i emailed the authors with some thoughts - hard to do at this time on a Friday when everyone has left for the day! I recommend you read the book - the perfect parenting chapters are good and my son has a challenge on his hands with the name Xavier :) IMHO the gun/swimming pool argument misses the environmental contexts of a gun and a swimming pool, but what do i know!?
A computer scientist dabbling in economics (or whatever the heck i should call it) is like a project manager with Visio. Peligoroso!
Now out to join everyone for a late friday beer at the bunker.

I also meant to post up a latest picture of Xavier and Francisca - we managed to get them to stay still for 100 milliseconds.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Tartan Day

It's National Tartan Day in New York! Events here.

FWIW - we only really wear kilts for special occassions (i did for my wedding) - we tend not to go for our milk in the morning dressed in the full tartan (i have been asked).

Progress in open id... just

Today was a post go live day for a project i am working on for Conscia - it means fixing some thing and the usual disparity between "we asked for" and "we got". All seems to have settled down but it meant i had little time for Open ID.

The walk for tomorrow is cancelled as my friend is working and got offered a job with OpenText in Munich... and i've got to work anyway. When consulting it's always good to get cash in the bank IMO.

However, i did manage to improve an identity with my open id server installation.

Now rather than , you can log in as

Neat. Try it, with the password "test". Need to revese engineer it into the project now i have permissions.

Jason has now added me to the group and his IM so things are moving along nicely.

Open ID 2.0 GPPL?!

I know nothing about the legal side of licencing, but this post from Lukas Ros was enought to get me conerned.

I'm sure there is a good reason why they choose the GPPL licence - i'm just not sure what it is yet. Anyone know?

Does this apply to just using software that implements the Open ID 2.0 protocol (which would surely harm its adoption) or is it prevent writing software that implements it?

It would be greatly appreciated if anyone with knowledge in this area would clarify all of this!

Encrypt and Sign Data Online

A friend today mentioned a site that allows you to encode your data to look like a spammer email and it reminded me of a utility i wrote some years back to encrypt and sign data online.

I had forgotten all about it as the links to it got lost, but after a search, sure enough, it is still there. You can find it here.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Update on open id server

So i have now updated the open id server with the

password is "test". Some work and hacks were required to get it working off the root (fun with regular expressions!) but now it seems to be working fine. I can log into each of the major OpenID consumers which is cool and i have a sample consumer at

Hopefully i will get some time to allow registration in the next few days. I maybe intend to add an option for group id's - see how that goes.

Open ID Server success

So I managed to get a working consumer and provider running with the C# Open ID implementation. I was even able to go through some of the popular consumers such as LiveJournal and Zooomr to test - and it worked. Very, very cool. Updated some bugs (by proxy) and things are looking good.


My wife called this morning to let me know my son has Chickenpox - he doesn't know it yet but i'll tell him shortly when i get home.

It's the first time he has had anything like that so who knows how it is going to go. Fransisca is only 4 months and she is guaranteed to get it but i suspect it will be Xavier who notices it the most.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

A worrying trend in squash

Did i miss the latest Brad Pitt, Samuel L. Jackson movie on Squash? Has Paris Hilton suddently replaced her pet poodle with a squash racket?

There must be some reason for the uptake in squash in the last year. Myself and a friend played once or twice a week and had no problem finding a court, but in the last 3 months we have successfully got a court.... once !! We had paid more in phoning to ASK about courts than the actual court costs...

Anyone else play and notice this bizarre trend? Did i start it? Perhaps the Wisdom of Crowds is coming into play here.

Anyway, this Friday we have a walk up one of the mountains here in Scotland is planned - i hope the weather keeps up. And at least people can't book out the mountain.

Open ID client sample code

The code can be found here - i only included the projects i made any changes to, but those were minimal. The main point was to get a client sample working.

It is very rudimentary and a work in progress, but as i really need Open ID for a smart client, it's a start for me :)

Any comments welcome and i know there are ongoing updates to the google source code anyway.

The problem with Open ID - it's the data

This may be old news, but having read OpenID: Too many providers, not enough consumers I figured i would add my own thoughts.

Nik touches on my views when he says the following:
"It seems that most of the justification for the big companies and other apps not
wanting to be providers is so that they can protect their customer base and
maintain a hold".
What is the reason behind this? What exactly is this "hold" and why does Open ID have problems with this? Well, if we consider the core data available as part data, profile information in Yadis and additional data you add in an application that uses an Open ID, you can probably rate that important 1, 2 and 3 respectively. Why is that?

Well, as an open id provider you typically have an aggregate of really important data such as your real name, your various email addresses, your home address and so on. That is data that is very, very valuable and more importantly - it is data you want to keep private unless you explicitly choose to share it. You are unlikely to create many instances of this core data as it is pretty hard to follow it, so an Open ID provider getting this data for users puts itself in a pretty good position. You'll maybe change your open id provider as often as you change your email address - not that often!! The same kind of rules can be applied to any other data associated with your open id and stored at your provider - relatively speaking of course.

However, in the world of consumers it's completely different. They start off by knowing almost nothing about you, expect perhaps an Open ID log in. In other words, they may not even get the email, first name and so on that you are often asked for when you log into various sites. No more 3 page forms perhaps? More specifically, the fact that Open ID helps you protect your data and only share what you want to means that you are less inclinded to just enter data the consumer application doesn't really need.

This presents a problem. Open ID providers arguably hold all the aces here. If an open id provider decided to black list some site it may seriously limit the number of users bothering to sign up. Also, a user will be much happier to move around services if they know their data trail isn't left behind - something less likely to happen with providers.

In short it comes down to data and marketing. Everyone wants the data and so we have a disproportionate number of providers. The only real solution is for wholly independent bodies to manage your Open ID - whatever "wholly independent" means. This is quite ironic as the whole reason behind Open ID is to be open, but the rules of busines dictate that although the protocols can be as open as we wish, the data itself won't be. It's just too valuable. What is it... $90 to get a new customer, $10 to keep one (or something like that).

Here's an additional question. Is it right that an Open ID provider should provide both identity AND profile information? Put it another way, as a service that values my users data highly, i'd be much more likely to "outsource" the authentication process and confirmation of identity rather than persistence of the data itself. So site A does a very simple job - it authenticates user A and that's it. That identifier can then be used locally and even against other sites to gather information desired. The issue at the moment seems to be the providers want to do both (of course they do, it's around $70 profit a person).

Monday, April 2, 2007

Smart Client authentication with Open ID

One of the things that has become an issue with me is the limited support for non-browser authentication with Open ID. I like the technology, but in my case i needed to use it in a smart client and it isn't easily extended to that scenario. I think this is a current limitation in Open ID and not sure whether it will ever be considered. However, i decided to do some work to demonstrate how this could be useful and how it could even be implemented currently. This isn't necessarily a demonstration of a finished and well architected concept, but more an illustration of what can be done.

To demonstrate, consider a simple application that shows you an article. Note it shows summary data and there is a log in button.

When the log in button is clicked, a window pops up with a browser embedded and takes you to a log in page, where you enter your open id and click the log in button. This actually passed a GUID which is associated with the Session of the user on IIS.

Now, you are taken to the log in page of your identity provider - in my case Verisign, where you authenticate as usual.

You choose what you want to allow and how long for and click "allow".

When this is done, you are redirected to a log in page, which gets the data you have been provided with and adds it to the Application cache associated with the GUID you passed in earlier and the window is closed. It it given a time window of 60 seconds before the data is removed from the cache.

When the login Window closes, the article reader is refreshed to indicate you are logged in and displays some data according to your profile settings. This uses the client GUID and makes a web service call which pulls out the profile information associated with that GUID and returns it. The data on the server is immediately destroyed.

The code is by no means finished and a full solution, so i will tidy it up and release it at some point today - perhaps over at the dotnetopenid group at google whose excellent work was the basis of this sample.

Hopefully it can get some thoughts ticking as "it can't be done" isn't really an option for me and now that i have shown it can in fact be done it's maybe worth considering how it can be improved.


I'm reading freakonomics just now. Interesting book, but one point he gets wrong.

He says that parents often badly judge the risk their children are at and cites the fact that more children are killed in swimming pools than are killed by guns each year - but quite a margin. he suggests that when given the option of sending your kid to play with someone who has a gun in the house is actually safer than sending them to a house where a swimming pool can be found.

Fine - directly compared to each other this is clearly the case. However, he misses the context. Let's aggregate the typical possibilities for harm to come to a child in a house with a large swimming pool and compare this to the aggregate of possibilities of a child coming to harm in a house with a gun in the drawer. So, in general it is more likely a kid whose parents have a gun lying around have a bunch of other things going on too - drugs, abuse, dangerous things lying around etc.... I don't have any hard stats, only common sense (and do i even have that!?), but i know where i would feel less comfortable leaving my child.

Conventional Wisdom

In trying to create a new product a barrier i have often ran into is that of conventional wisdom. People listen to your idea and perhaps don't quite get it - they have questions that they view as a stumbling block.

Sometimes it is that some work is required to get your idea working - other times you want to hide something from them until you are ready to show them.

Your past experience of gut feel should be an indicator of how much to trust your own view that this must be right. If you have a past record of seeing things differently and eventually being right (or close to right) then you have good reason to trust yourself. This is where i am. If however you are typically one of those who is surprised when some unusual approach actually does work, then you probably want to heed the advice of others.

That is not to say person A is right and person B is wrong. However, gut feel has been right for me in the past and i haven't listened as closely to myself as i should have and i have come to regret it. This time i'm on a roll and whether i'm right or wrong, i'm sure enjoying the idea that what i am doing could be a brand new way to search on the web!

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Google's April fool

It's 7.31 AM on Monday April 2 - is Google trying to April fool me? (see date of post - which i never touched).

You'll never get me ! [well, ok, you made me check my calander!! ]

... for future reference it was set to April 1.

open id thoughts

I joined the dot net open id group over at Google code.

I am interested in a C# open id implementation, but more specifically trying to figure out whether there would be an easier way of making it part of a smart client application.

As i posted there. ...

One thing that i'd like to hear more thoughts on is Open ID in a smart
client enviroment - fundamentally because of the trust mechanism it
uses we have to be redirected to the provider and then redirected back
to the consumer.

However, surely an extensible mechanism should be considered
here to allow trusted Open ID providers to provide authentication? A trusted
open id client could call the web services of an open id provider
directly (or proxied via the owner of the application).

I'd love to be able to add open id to my client app and the general
thoughts around it at the moment are "that's not what it's for/how it
is supposed to work" - which is kinda odd for something the is so
fundamental as an identity solution.