Where do we go when we die? (Internet Version)

The Pearly Gates of CyberspaceOver the last month I’ve been thinking about more implications of the rapid evolution of Internet adoption. The last decade of evolution has completely altered our lifestyles and behaviors, and is massively shifting the reality that younger generations live in. The “on-line” aspects of life have gone far beyond the “couch potato” aspects introduced by television. With television, you might have begun to sit in front of your tv at night, and actually begin to schedule your life around television programming, but with the Internet many of us are beginning to create an on-line identity by  craating … pushing large amounts of content into the net!

This migration is further accelerated by the adoption of all sorts of digital technologies – cameras, video, audio, web sites, blogging, social networks, virtual worlds – and the Internet facilitates us pouring more and more of who we are into bits! In the “old days” (a decade or so ago) people would create using atoms … learning the various skills to manipulate materials in the physical world, or using simple devices that would create physical world results. Cameras actually produced negatives which were printed to pictures on paper. Letters were written on paper, using pens and pencils … or typewriters. Invitations to events came in the mail, and were printed – sometimes in relief – on paper or cardboard. Movies were taken and developed, and stored on reels. Our lives and memories were tactile, and existed in physical space.  People would then accumulate all of this in their closets, drawers, and basements. When people died, these boxes would be dealt with by the families, descendants, or friends. Many times these boxes of atomic materials (memorabilia?) would be passed down for generations.

Last month, my friend James pointed out this post on LifeHacker titled Handle your online life after death. This really stimulated my thoughts about the series of events that would follow the death of the average Internet user. There are a lot of interesting scenarios, however it seems that very few people are thinking about the implications of living in a pure digital world … where you are no longer accumulating physical world memorabilia, and the “bits” disappear when the bills are no longer paid, and the accounts are deleted.  There are probably a number of valuable tactics that could be used to ensure that your identity outlives your biological self.  There are lots of issues if you don’t.  You might be found in some future time, by “digital archaeologists”, or “Internet archaeologists”.  Depending on what you do, there is a good chance that your descendants might never get that basement full of memories, or the boxes of memorabilia.  Some of my thoughts:

  • If you are posting all of your information to a site that is using your own domain name, then who is going to pay the bills when you die?  If they aren’t paid, then the domain expires and is up for grabs.  All of your Google-juice goes away … all of the links in search engines are broken.  Who has the account details to manage your domain if they wanted to?
  • Since non-geeks tend to use the “hosted” solutions, they might be in better shape!  Having a Blogspot /Blogger blog might just promise that you will live within Google for Google-eternity.  Likewise with Live.com, or many of the other Web 2.0 sites that are out there.  Of course, as the LikeHacker article mentions … who has your account details to be able to post obituaries, etc. on your sites?
  • Oh by the way … where are you hosting your domain and sites?  On your own machines?  At some hosting provider?  Well … who is going to pay the bills?  Who will continue to manage the machines?
  • When thinking of my own private domains, I’ve realized that I ought to look for ways to include other family members in activities on those domains.  If my son begins to use this domain, then it’ll be handed down to him when I die.  Wild to think about passing along the family name … evolving into passing along the family domain name!
  • Even if you have been saving all of your photos, documents, e-mails, etc. on your home PC or laptop, and even if doing backups … does anyone else in your family know the organization of your hard disk?  What folders have you saved things in?  Do you think they will dig through your hard disk when you die and locate all of the fun memories on your PC?
  • You might want to trust the WayBackMachine at Archive.org to preserve you, however you have to remember that few if any of your Google links, etc. will link to that site.

It seems to me that there is eventually going to be quite a large market that emerges in this space.  “Digital Insurance” might emerge to protect your domain names, and to provide long term services beyond just basci “backup”.  It will not just be the businesses that provide some sort of “digital insurance”, but also a large amount of education of the masses to understand the implications of living in a digital world.  There might be a lot of people who just don’t care.  I do believe that the younger generations – the “millennials” – that are already learning the importance of their on-line identities and profiles, will be the ones who begin to recognize the needs of preserving your digital assets.
The article Is the Internet the new heaven? on Salon.com also has some interesting thoughts about your “life after death” in relation to the Internet. They point out the book The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace … which touches on some very interesting points related to all of this. There are a lot of people that believe in a “spirit” that we leave behind when we die.  Or that lives beyond us.  While searching Google for others thoughts on spirit, machines, and the Internet I came across the The Spirit in the Machine … an interesting article with a unique perspective.

Where do we go when we die?  Without a little preparation, a lot of what we have created in our lives might just vanish … far faster that many of the old atomic ways of preserving our contributions to society.  At the same time that technology is increasing our reach, it is making us more vulnerable to disappearing and being forgotten.

Key Bank Building Implosion – Done!

Key Bank Building - 50 South Main, Salt Lake City, UTWell … that really was pretty cool. Now you see it, now you don’t. At ~6:40am the Key Bank Building went down. With the news helicopters circling overhead, the crowd atop the American Towers building woke up as a line of charges began to fire up the left side of the building. There was almost a strange pause, and then the charges continued to fire … now seeming to go in inside the building. By that time, the left side of the building had already began to drop and as charges continued the entire building slowly collapsed sideways, with the left side leading the way.

Immediately, a large dust cloud began to rise, and as the crowd let out a cheer the entire area became enveloped in a huge ball of dust. It was amazing to see the dust cloud rise and completely obscure the Marriott Hotel, and then move over the Salt Palace and continue to blow west, and north west. It took a good 10+ minutes for the dust to clear, and what was left was a pile of rubble. Within 30 minutes, the rooftop was pretty much cleared and everyone was on their way.

Key Bank Building - 50 South Main, Salt Lake City, UTIt was interesting to see the large amounts of dust that were left spread across the buildings and streets in the area.  In front of the Salt Palace on the street you could see a line that almost looked like snow … near white/tan dust and then the black asphalt another block down.  I’m sure the clean-up will take a while.

There was a pretty good group of us up there, Dave Biesinger of DNA Films joined us and filmed the implosion in high-speed/slow motion, Phil Burns and his wife joined us, and several other friends. So we have a variety of pictures and video to sort through and post. I’ll do one last follow-up post when I get my videos up on YouTube.

And so the re-construction of downtown Salt Lake City continues …

Nice … 3D ‘in air’ image projector!

Every now and then I find one of these very cool articles that details a breakthrough in technology that really impresses me. Imagine if you had a way to project 3D models or images out in space that appeared to just hang there? They might rotate, or people could walk around them to examine them from all directions?

R2D2 Projecting a 3D ImageIf you think about the images of Star Wars, R2D2 is projecting the 3D image of Princess Leia into space for the rest of the characters to look and listen. But how do you get the image to “hang in space”?

Well, a group of researchers at Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) have developed a projector that is showing signs of being capable of all of this … and maybe more!
Check out this post titled AIST develops 3D image projector … it shows some of the early images, and talks about how the device works.

The newly developed device, however, creates “real” 3D images by using laser light, which is focused through a lens at points in space above the device, to create plasma emissions from the nitrogen and oxygen in the air at the point of focus. Because plasma emission continues for a short period of time, the device is able to create 3D images by moving the point of focus.

At the demonstration, bursts of laser light were emitted 100 times per second to form shapes in the air up to 50 cm above the device. Heat from the laser caused the air to expand, producing a crackling sound that resembled a series of tiny explosions.

Now this is just amazing to me. They are able to focus a laser at some point in space, and excite the molecules enough to create plasma emissions. Imagine when they are able to improve upon this technology, and create nice compact projectors. The issues that I can see right now are colors, and the sound. Will they be able to create different color of the dots? And what can they do about the sounds? Maybe timing the lasers in a way that causes the sounds to cancel each other out? As for colors … who knows.

Star Wars ChessWith something like this, the Star Wars chess game becomes possible … I’m curious how many years until we see something like this hit the market for the average consumer? I have to admit that I wouldn’t have even thought about something like this being created. It makes sense how it works … but some amazing minds are at work. We are living in interesting times … and the Singularity is coming.

What going down? The coming implosion …

As an update to my previous post, the Key Bank Building at 50 South Main in Salt Lake City will be coming down tomorrow morning.  The announced time of implosion will be 6:30am, and the city is closing off a 9 square block area around the building when it occurs.

Key Bank Building - 50 South Main, Salt Lake City, UTI’m committed to being there to see it, and have arranged for some rooftop access to witness the implosion.  This first picture is the view that I’ll have.  You can see the Key Bank Building is the large white building in the center of the photo.  As a side note, I’m floored that folks are booked in rooms in the Marriott Hotel … that thing is so close to the implosion … that would be a wild view!

We have a small group that we’ll be able to get in, and of course we’re having a small breakfast party.  I’m not able to have anyone else join us … we’ve got a full group.  I’m contacting the last few people to verify they are coming … if you want to be on a waiting list, feel free to post a comment.  I already know that there are going to be some decent crowds downtown.

Key Bank Building - 50 South Main, Salt Lake City, UTI’m going to take my camera, and video camera with me.  I’ll make sure to crank out a quick YouTube video to post after the event.  I’m curious exactly what it will look like.  With my 3x zoom on my camera, the building will look something like this photo.  I’ve got a few friends joining us with other HD video cameras, and even one high-speed digital camera to record it for slow motion!

One warning to people coming down … although they anticipate the dust cloud to be low to the ground and localized to the implosion, you have to imagine that there will be considerable nasty stuff in the dust cloud!  Today when I looked at the building I noticed that ALL of the windows are still in there, and I heard that there is still remaining insulation.  I’m thinking that breathing pulverized glass and insulation is not going to be good for anyone!

I’m thinking that one way or another it’ll be a fun experience … something new to watch!  I’ll be snapping pictures and maybe blog using my broadband card!

Cool hacker ideas … the CatCam

Mr. Lee and his CatCamThis might be old news to other people, but last week my girlfriend showed me the Mr. Lee CatCam. This is just too cool. The creator of this cool hack, Juergen Perthold, has a well written intro on why he built this, and how it works. The basics idea is that he took a super small digital camera, added a bigger battery, and a small circuit that causes the camera to take a picture every minute. He then mounted this in a small housing that is fairly durable and water-tight, and then hung it on his cat’s neck!

When his cat leaves the house, this camera is keeping a photo log of where the cat goes, what it sees, and where it’s hanging out. When the cat comes home, Juergen simply removes the SD Memory card from the camera, and retrieves all of the photos. Juergen has some great photo tours that he has posted on the website that show examples of where his cat went, and what it saw. It’s too cool.

What is fascinating about this is the evolution of technology. Juergen was able to buy these parts off the shelf, hack them together for a small price, and have a really innovative technology. It’s amazing that he is getting great battery life out of this set-up, and the camera is surviving the trips out into the wild. It got me thinking about the miniaturization of technology, and the ability to get this functionality down in size at an affordable price. It also goes to show what could be done with animals in spying for the military … just add a GPS. 🙂

On top of all of this, Juergen has turned this into a commercial venture … you can buy a CatCam here! Gosh … this almost has me want to go out and buy a cat!

Setting up Subversion on Fedora Core 6

Tonight I completed my first installation/set-up of Subversion source control on Fedora Core 6. I’ve been a long time CVS user, and although I have used Subversion (SVN) I have never actually set-up a repository. Tonight, using the resources of the net, I was able to get one going.

The first document that I found that was a great start was this piece titled: Setting Up A Subversion Repository Using Apache. I had already installed SVN on my server using Yum, and so the second page of this really covered all of the steps to get things going. I actually created a Virtual Server in Apache to be my SVN server … and so I added the various httpd.conf settings within that virtual server. I created my own file within the Apache /etc/httpd/conf.d directory, following the instructions in the article above.

Of course when I then restarted Apache it immediately died with the error “unknown DAV provider: svn”. When I searched Google for the answer, I found this post which explained that I needed the “mod_dav_svn” to be loaded. I did a quick search of my hard drive and found that it wasn’t even installed on my server. Back to yum … a quick “yum install mod_dav_svn” got that in place … and also added a “subversion.conf” into /etc/httpd/conf.d … and so I moved my conf file contents into the subversion.conf file to keep things neat.When I restarted Apache, it was happy as could be … and I was off and running. I did a quick connect test from Eclipse, and it worked. Now I have been told that DAV access to SVN is slower than using the svnserve proprietary protocol, and so I did some quick looking around on how to get that up and running.

This article on Running a Subversion Server was a good reference that linked me to an awesome book called Version Control with Subversion, which was freely available, and downloadable as a PDF. This book had some great information on getting the various files set-up and configured for access. Once I had svnserve all configured, I did a quick test run and it worked perfectly.

The last part of the installation was to have svnserve automatically start when I booted my server. I found a contribution on the SVNForum.org website where a user posted a SVN init.d script for Fedora that works great. Make sure to read the comments below his post to fix a few things that he got wrong … but with those tweaks it works great.

I’m looking forward to getting all of my projects moved over to SVN now, to take advantage of the various benefits of SVN on my own servers. As usual … it went pretty smoothly …

BlockPosters – On-Line Poster, Banner Application

Once again I found a valuable on-line tool that I have bookmarked forever.  I wanted to create a banner for a building that I own in Heber City.  I’m putting the downstairs offices up for rent, and wanted to post information about the rental in the front window … in large letters as a banner.    BlockPosters is an amazing, yet simple, application that allows you to take any image that you have, enlarge it, and split it up into “printer-sized” pages.

BlockPostersMy friend James pointed me to this when I asked him about cheap software that would allow me to create some banners on my laser printer.  He remembered seeing the application, and it is simple and works.  It will work with any type of image … text, photos, etc.  You visit the website, upload your image file (up to 1MB in size) and then get to choose the parameters of your output – portrait or landscape, how many pages horizontally, the overall resulting size – and then after accepting the preview it produces a .PDF file that contains the pages that make up your picture.  You can take that, and print it on any printer that you choose, trim the pages, and tile them together.

It is applications like this one that convince me of the value of hosted services.  This is such a simple and clean solution.  And it’s free!  I’ve now got my banner for my office, and I’m thinking of trying this with some photos next … just to see how well it will work on my color inkjet printer.

Key Bank Building Implosion – Salt Lake City, UT

Key Bank Building - 50 South Main, Salt Lake City, UTI’m always into new experiences.  Participating or witnessing something new.  On August 18th, 2007 – here in Salt Lake City – we are going to have quite an event.  The old Key Bank Building in downtown is going to be imploded.  Now I have seen all sorts of videos of various buildings being dropped, but I have never seen one in person.  This time I will!

The schedule is for early Saturday morning …  ~6:00am-6:30am … to avoid the people and crowds.  From what I understand, they are going to close off 9 square blocks of the city – from North Temple to 200 South, and from 200 West to State Street.  They will clear everyone from the area, and not allow anyone to get any closer than those limits.  I’ve been thinking about the best place to watch the drop … I’ve got friends with access to numerous buildings in the surrounding area.  I’ve been thinking about exactly which windows or rooftops would give the best view of the event.  I’m wanting to get as close as possible, and will probably video tape the event.  It’s not like you get to see a building imploded every day … this ought to be a fun event to attend.

If anyone is going to plan a Implosion Party, comment here … I’d love to find out where people will be hanging out!

Anti-Spam Update … DNSBL, SORBS, SpamHaus, etc.

Spam is a pain in the Inbox. I seem to see it in waves … as I continue to evolve my anti-spam weapons. I really don’t want to change my e-mail address, so I have to keep looking for ways to block spam from the source.

Years ago, I migrated my mail server to qmail and have been very happy with the results. One of the features of the qmail installer script that I used, was that it automatically set-up a number of nice features, including the support for DNSBL. Domain Name Service Block List (DNSBL) is a system that has evolved over the years to be a very robust way for mail servers to check if mail is being sent by a host on the Internet that either should not be sending e-mail, or that is a known source of spam. Your mail server is simply configured to “ping” a DNSBL provider every time a system connects to deliver mail. The “ping” uses the DNS protocol to look-up the IP address of the connecting host, and it will get a response that indicates if the system is “black listed”. If the system is black listed, your mail server will hang the connection for up to 60 seconds (just to hold up the spammer for a bit) and then drop the connection. There are now several entities that will provide this service for pay and for free … and many have come and gone over the years.
Drop in spam on my qmail server, due to Spamhaus!Over the last several years I have moved from provider to provide between the various “free” providers. Recently, one of the providers I had relied on – SORBS – had started to really degrade in their ability to block spam. I figured it was time to see what was going on, and I came across this great article about the accuracy of SORBS by Al Iverson. Al has some incredible anti-spam statistics about the various DNSBL providers … and I was stunned at the statistics about Spamhaus. I very quickly updated my mail server configuration, and at ~1:45am last Tuesday morning I flipped to using Spamhaus. The chart above shows what the results were … fabulous!

What happens when ordb.org domain goes away ...Of course, with each success there seems to be a curve ball. Yesterday, not even a week after my change, my mail server began to experience problems. Of course I immediately began to suspect my Spamhaus changes … and I was worried that I was about to give up all of the wins of the last several days! But what I found was a relief. Another one of the providers that I have been using – ordb.org – had announced they were going under last December … and I forgot to remove their servers from my configuration. Looking at the chart above, you can see the impact … for almost 24 hours my spam when down to zero! Well … that’s because ALL received mail went to ZERO! I was able to remove them from my configuration and get things back in order … and the backlog of e-mails began to roll in.

All in all, I have to say that I am really pleased with Spamhaus … it is an amazing organization that deserves a lot of attention … and donations! They are out there doing everything they can to provide a great anti-spam solution. I know for sure … I’m down to ~15 spam a day now … I was getting ~200 a day before making this change!

July … a month of vacation and unexpected work!

This last month flew by. It went just too fast. I started the month busy on projects and work, and looking forward to my long planned vacation to visit my hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I left on July 10th for Pittsburgh with my son Sam, and my girlfriend Andrea, and it was too much fun. It was great to see the old stomping grounds, visit my old home, and hang with friends.

We ended up taking a rafting trip on the Middle Youghiogheny out of Ohiopyle, visited Laurel Caverns, driving around Brownsville, PA where my father grew up, ran around downtown Pittsburgh, rode the inclines (part of the mass transit system since the 1870’s!!), visited Westminster Presbyterian Church (where I went to church and was also a custodian), went hiking in Boyce-Mayview Park in some nice forests, went out catching fire-flies (lightning bugs), got some incredible Italian hoagies and pizza at Ardolino’s, ate at Primanti’s, and went to a Pittsburgh Pirate’s game. The week we were there was just not long enough … I’ll have to go back … maybe in the fall.

Of course while out of town, all sorts of crap started to fall apart back home in Utah! On the Friday night before returning (we were heading back on Tuesday the 17th!) two of my servers went down.  One … an old NetWare server … the other was a Linux box.  I had a friend go to my building in Heber City to see if he could recover the boxes … but both were out of commission.  Ouch!  The Linux box was a systems management box, and so it wasn’t too critical, but the NetWare server still had 20+ web sites hosted on it.  And the calls began to come in.  It sucked … there was nothing that I could do.

Upon returning to Utah on that Tuesday night, I hit the building and grabbed the two machines … recover attempts began that night.  The NetWare server?  Dead motherboard or RAM, so I chucked the hard disks into an old chassis I had laying around … moved the LAN cards over … booted and up it came!  I ran some tests, allowed the hard disks to re-mirror (I was using RAID 1) and then it was ready to go.  My Linux box?  Ugh … dead as could be.  The hard disk failed … it would spin up, but the controller card was dead.  The mirror drive?  Mis configured and useless. Time to start from scratch.  I used the opportunity to upgrade the motherboard, memory, hard disks, and version of Linux … it took an extra day or so, but I have a much better machine now.

Of course I head into work on Wednesday, and while there … more failures.  What the heck!?!?!  I then spent that night at my building rebuilding another Linux box that had a failing SCSI drive.  It was educational to say the least as I learned about how to juggle drive partitions to consolidate three SCSI disks worth of partitions onto my two remaining good drives.  I actually did pull it off, and was able to get the server back up and running.

That next weekend, I took the time to do a *LOT* of preventative maintenance.  I completely rearranged my server room, brought in the spare rack that I had, recabled, installed the new KVM switch that I bought 6+ months ago, and put in several new UPS units.  In total … I spent another two full days over the weekend working on things over there.

And today?  Well it’s now August 1st … and with all of that work and effort the rest of the month of July slipped right by me.  I have a short list of things to do, but hopefully this month I can get back to coding and projects … I’ve got a lot of ideas that I want to turn into code this month!