OpenDNS and paid wireless services.

Why would anyone ever want to use OpenDNS? I just don’t get it? But, there must be a good reason that I’m totally missing.

I stumbled on this post, not sure how.

http://thegongshow.tumblr.com/post/176629519/virgin-america-inflight-wireless

I didn’t know about OpenDNS but it seems like a strange idea; after all, why would someone not use the DNS server that came with their DHCP lease? Seems like a fairly simple idea, over-ride the DNS servers and force the choice to be to use the DNS servers that OpenDNS provides, but why would anyone care to do this on a PC by PC basis? That seems just totally illogical!

And the problem that the author of the blog (above) mentioned is fairly straightforward. PC comes on the Virgin Wireless network, attempts to go to a web page, sends out a connection request for a page (assume that it is from a cache of IP addresses) and receives a HTML redirect to a named page (asking one to cough up money). The HTML redirect mentions the page by name and that name is not cached and results in a DNS lookup which goes to OpenDNS. Those servers (hardcoded into the network configuration) are not accessible because the user has not yet coughed up said money. Conversely, If the initial lookup was not from a cached IP address then the DNS lookup (which would have been sent to OpenDNS) would have not made it very far (OpenDNS’s server is not reachable till you cough up money). One way or the other, the page asking the user to cough up cache would not have showed up.

So, could one really do this OpenDNS thing behind a pay-for-internet-service? Not unless you can add preferred DNS servers to network configuration without a reboot. (the reboot will get the cycle of DHCP request going again, and on the high volume WiFi access services, DHCP request will automatically expire the previous lease).

But, to the more basic issue, why ever would someone enable this on a PC-by-PC basis? I can totally understand a system administrator using this at an enterprise level; potentially using the OpenDNS server instead of the ones that the ISP provided. Sure beats me! And there sure can’t be enough money in showing advertisements on the redirect page for missing URL’s (or there must be a lot of people who fat-finger URL’s a lot more than I do).

And, the functionality of being able to watch my OpenDNS traffic on a dashboard, I just don’t get it. Definitely something to think more about … They sure seem to be a successful operation so there must clearly be some value to the service they offer, to someone.

When “free” isn’t quite “free”. Or, remember to read the fine print on online photo sharing sites.

A quick comparison of some online photo sharing sites.

I have been a happy user of Flickr (I use the “frugal” account) till yesterday when I got a big pop-up box about a 200 image limit. Apparently flickr does offer unlimited free image storage but the fine print says that only the most recent 200 can be shared. Not the worst thing in the world but I began to think of all the other things I did not like about Flickr and so I started to look around and see whether I had some other alternatives.

There are any number of online image sharing sites. Many of them are also linked with photo printing services, and arguably that is where the money is. It appears that the devil is most certainly hiding in the fine print. Here is a short summary of what I found. I’m planning to move to Shutterfly; do you have some experience with them which makes this a bad idea?

Free Account

Paid Accounts

Flickr

http://www.flickr.com/help/limits/

Free account has unlimited (modest resolution) image
storage. No more than 200 can be shared at a time. There are upload limits on the number and size of pictures that you can upload.

Unlimited upload, storage and high resolution storage.

$24.95 per year

Photobucket

http://photobucket.com/faq?catID=29&catSelected=f&topicID=320

http://photobucket.com/faq?catID=41&catSelected=f&topicID=323

http://photobucket.com/faq?catID=39&catSelected=f&topicID=520

Free account has limited (modest resolution) images.

Periodic logins are required; failure to do so will deactivate
media

Unlimited capacity, FTP uploads (what a concept), no
advertising, personal URL’s

$24.95 per year

Shutterfly

http://www.shutterfly.com

Free unlimited storage of pictures. Images stored at high resolution. But you cannot download at high resolution. Personalized web portal.

I don’t think they even offer a paid account option. My
kind of place!

Snapfish (HP)

References

http://getsatisfaction.com/snapfish/topics/downloading_snapfish_photos

http://www1.snapfish.com/helppricing#hires

Snapfish offers unlimited photo sharing and storage. Customers must be “active”. The bar for an active customer is that you just need to
make one purchase a year.

But read this
link
. You can store high resolution images but downloading high
resolution images is not free.

OUCH!

No paid account.

Picasa (Google)

1GB limit (seems odd for the company that claims that
storage is unlimited).

Other limits also apply.

No paid offering that I could find.

Smugmug

No ads! Now, isn’t this a great graphic to illustrate the  success in targeted advertising and reinforce their point?

Smug Mug No Ads!
Smug Mug "No Ads!"

Reference

http://www.smugmug.com/photos/photo-sharing-sites-compared/

No free offering. There is a 14 day free trial.

Standard: $39.95/year

Power: $59.95/year

Pro: $149.95/year

Winkflash

http://www.winkflash.com/

http://www.winkflash.com/content/storage.asp

Free image hosting.

Free unlimited storage.

Free high resolution image downloads.

100% FREE

Too good to be true?

MPIX

http://mpix.com/

Free site for 60 days. After that, need an order to keep
content online.

MPIX is a professional print outfit; online sharing is not
their primary business.

WHCC (White House Custom Color)

http://www.whcc.com/

WHCC is a professional print outfit. They don’t do photo
galleries and sharing stuff. Go here if you want serious prints.

Not offered.

Not offered.

I think I’m heading to shutterfly. On Sept 5th I found this Shutterfly article (answer id 181)

“Currently, we do not have full resolution downloading available. However, we do have an Archive DVD service that you can order which contains full resolution copies of your pictures. The images on an Archive DVD will not include any of the Shutterfly enhancements or rotations that have been applied to an image loaded to Shutterfly.”

What BS is this? I guess I’m going to stick with Flickr for a while longer.

Also read http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/read.asp?forum=1023&message=32634142

Making life interesting

I generally don’t like chain letters and SPAM but once in a while I get a real masterpiece. Below is one that I received yesterday …

Working people frequently ask retired people what they do to make their days interesting. Well, for example, the other day the wife and I went into town and went into a shop. We were only in there for about 5 minutes.

When we came out, there was a cop writing out a parking ticket. We went up to him and I said, “Come on man, how about giving a senior citizen a break?”

He ignored us and continued writing the ticket. I called him a Dumb ass. He glared at me and started writing another ticket for having worn tires. So Mary called him a shit head. He finished the second ticket and put it on the windshield with the first.

Then he started writing a third ticket. This went on for about 20 minutes.

The more we abused him, the more tickets he wrote.

Just then our bus arrived and we got on it and went home.

We try to have a little fun each day now that we`re retired.

It`s important at our age.

Priceless!

I’ve lost my cookies!

Some days ago I read an article (a link is on the Breadcrumbs tab on the right of my blog about Super Cookies). I didn’t think to check my machine for these super cookies and did not pay close attention to the lines that said:

GNU-Linux: ~/.macromedia

Sure enough …

amrith@amrith-laptop:~$ find . -name *.sol 2>/dev/null | wc -l
141
amrith@amrith-laptop:~$

Hmmm …

amrith@amrith-laptop:~$ rm `find . -name *.sol 2>/dev/null `
amrith@amrith-laptop:~$ find . -name *.sol 2>/dev/null | wc -l
0
amrith@amrith-laptop:~$

Much better. And my flash player still works. Let’s go look at some video …

amrith@amrith-laptop:~$ find . -name *.sol 2>/dev/null
./.macromedia/Flash_Player/macromedia.com/support/flashplayer/sys/settings.sol
./.macromedia/Flash_Player/macromedia.com/support/flashplayer/sys/#s.ytimg.com/settings.sol
./.macromedia/Flash_Player/#SharedObjects/CZRS8QS7/s.ytimg.com/soundData.sol
./.macromedia/Flash_Player/#SharedObjects/CZRS8QS7/s.ytimg.com/videostats.sol
amrith@amrith-laptop:~$

Time to fix this sucker …

amrith@amrith-laptop:~$ tail -n 1 .bashrc
rm -f `find ./.macromedia -name *.sol 2>/dev/null`
amrith@amrith-laptop:~$

Boston Cloud Services meetup yesterday

summary of boston cloud services meetup yesterday.

Tsahy Shapsa of aprigo organized the second Boston Cloud Services meetup yesterday. There were two very informative presentations, the first by Riki Fine of EMC on the EMC Atmos project and the second by Craig Halliwell from TwinStrata.

What I learnt was that Atmos was EMC’s entry into the cloud arena. The initial product was a cloud storage offering with some additional functionality over other offerings like Amazon’s. Key product attributes appear to be scalability into the petabytes, policy and object metadata based management, multiple access methods (CIFS/NFS/REST/SOAP), and a common “unified namespace” for the entire managed storage. While the initial offering was for a cloud storage offering, there was a mention of a compute offering in the not too distant future.

In terms of delivery, EMC has setup its own data centers to host some of the Atmos clients. But, they have also partnered with other vendors (AT&T was mentioned) who would provide an cloud storage offerings that exposed the Atmos API. AT&T’s web page reads

AT&T Synaptic Cloud Storage uses the EMC Atmos™ backend to deliver an enterprise-grade global distribution system. The EMC Atmos™ Web Services API is a Web service that allows developers to enable a customized commodity storage system over the Internet, VPNs, or private MPLS connectivity.

I read this as a departure from the approach being taken by the other vendors. I don’t believe that other offerings (Amazon, Azure, …) provide a standardized API and allow others to offer cloud services compliant to that interface. In effect, I see this as an opportunity to create a marketplace for “plug compatible” cloud storage. Assume that a half dozen more vendors begin to offer Atmos based cloud storage, each offering a different location, SLA’s and price point, an end user has the option to pick and choose from that set. To the best of my knowledge, today the best one can do is pick a vendor and then decide where in that vendor’s infrastructure the data would reside.

Atmos also seems to offer some cool resiliency and replication functionality. An application can leverage a collection of Atmos storage providers. Based on policy, an object could be replicated (synchronously or asynchronously) to multiple locations on an Atmos cloud with the options of having some objects only within the firewall and others being replicated outside the firewall.

Enter TwinStrata who are an Atmos partner. They have a cool iSCSI interface to the Atmos cloud storage. With a couple of clicks of a mouse, they demonstrated the creation of a small Atmos based iSCSI block device. Going over to a windows server machine and rescanning disks they found the newly created volume. A couple of clicks later there was a newly minted “T:” that the application could use, just as it would a piece of local storage. TwinStrata provides some additional caching and ease of use features. We saw the “ease of use” part yesterday. The demo lasted a couple of minutes and no more than about a dozen mouse clicks. The version that was demo’ed was the iSCSI interface, there was talk of a file system based interface in the near future.

Right now, all of these offerings are expected to be for Tier-3 storage. Over time, there is a belief that T2 and T1 will also use this kind of infrastructure.

Very cool stuff! If you are in the Boston area and are interested in the Cloud paradigm, definitely check out the next event on Sept 23rd.

Pizza and refreshments were provided by Intuit. If you haven’t noticed, the folks from Intuit are doing a magnificent job fostering these kinds of events all over the Boston Area. I have attended several excellent events that they have sponsored. A great big “Thank You” to them!

Finally, a big “Thank You” to Tsahy and Aprigo for arranging this meetup and offering their premises for the meetings.

Are you getting the whole picture?

Human field of vision, the shortcomings of simple camera, and how to take breathtaking pictures with a simple point-and-shoot camera.

While taking pictures, the field of vision is something that is often overlooked. A normal point and click camera has a field of vision of about 40°x35°. But, the human eye(s) provide you with a field of vision that is almost 200°x130°. Very often, you come upon a sight that is breathtaking and you whip out your camera and shoot some pictures. When you get back home and look at the pictures on a PC monitor, they don’t look quite the same.

To get some idea of what a short focus length lens (wide field of vision) can do for you, take a look at this picture on Ken Rockwell’s web page. The image that I would like you to look at is  here. This awesome image is copyrighted by KenRockwell.com. If you are a photo buff, you should bookmark kenrockwell.com and subscribe to the RSS feed. I find it absolutely invaluable.

I don’t have this kind of amazing 13mm lens but a panoramic image using stitching can produce a similar field of view.

Panoramic image of a rainbow
Panoramic image of a rainbow

Panoramic images are a very cost effective way to get pictures with a very wide field of vision. If you are interested in all the science and technology behind the process of converting multiple segments of an image into a single panoramic image, you can refer to the FAQ at AutoStitch. There is an interesting paper on how all this works that you can read here and there is an informative presentation that goes with that paper.

Panoramic images are also better than short focal length lenses because there is less distortion towards the edges. Notice that the houses at the right and left edge of the first image above appear to be leaning. With panoramic stitching these effects can be eliminated.

Some quick tips if you plan to take a panoramic picture.

  1. Set the camera to manual exposure mode to reduce the corrections that need to be done in software.
  2. Use a tripod and make sure that you get a complete coverage of the area that you want to stitch.
  3. Make sure that you overlap images by about a third. I usually turn on the visible grid in the view finder to help with this.
  4. Take lots of pictures, there is nothing to beat practice.

In my previous post some panoramic sunsets were shown. I took several sets of pictures, such as the five below. These were then stitched together using a software called Autostitch. You can get a copy of autostitch at http://www.autostitch.net/

image-1 image-2 image-3 image-4 image-5

Enjoy!