Tracking Packages With RSS

What will it take for USPS, FedEx, DHL, and the USPS to offer RSS feeds to track packages. It seems like such a natural idea. Yet none have implemented the feature themselves. It appears the USPS is trying to modernize their image, but still no RSS tracking of packages.

There are several third party sites out there that do this, but to me that’s just asking for trouble since:

  1. What are they doing with my info? Is this really secure to use a stranger as a middle man?
  2. Screen scraping can be unreliable and break. I like reliability.

It’s not that complicated to build, it’s essentially a different template on an existing system. I’d bet they even have it since many large retailers show tracking info within their order status pages. They just don’t make it available to consumers.

Am I really the only one who wants this?

Mythbusters on RFID

I’ve mentioned several times on this blog that RFID isn’t a good idea for sensitive things like credit card information. Pretty much anything you wouldn’t openly make available to strangers.

The latest piece of evidence is Adam Savage, of Discovery’s Mythbusters discussing how they were effectively outgunned by lawyers for credit card companies (with video goodness) when wanting to do a show about RFID.

My personal experience is that they will swap out your RFID card with a non-RFID upon request. Until this stuff is much more proven, I don’t want it. Some make the argument that you’re not liable for more than $50, but it’s your job to convince credit agencies to update your credit history and dealing with creditors re-evaluating your changed credit history for a really long time. Considering the current credit crunch and the knee-jerk reactions that are so common right now, that’s just a recipe for disaster. Who wants to go through that for the novelty of not needing to physically swipe the card? No thanks.

A Look At Simple Update Protocol (SUP)

The increasingly popular FriendFeed is proposing a new protocol known as Simple Update Protocol (SUP). The problem FriendFeed is encountering is noting new. They monitor a RSS feeds over a variety of services for each user. This can really add up. To keep things timely they poll them frequently. Generally speaking this is a very wasteful process since the majority of those feeds likely didn’t change. That’s wasted resources. SUP in a nutshell is a changelog for feeds so that a service like FriendFeed can check only the ones that changed. This allows for quicker updates with less polling. Here’s my analysis of the proposal.

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Google Gears For Safari And Other Browser Addons

Google today released a beta of Google Gears for Safari. Still no iPhone support, but that’s not likely due to Apple’s rather restrictive licensing rather than technical reasons. It’s good to see them keeping true to their original efforts to support all platforms equally. That’s been a gripe of mine recently.

With Google creating Gears for all browsers, Apple creating QuickTime on all browsers, Mozilla creating <canvas /> support for IE, Microsoft creating Silverlight and Windows Media Player for all browsers (though Mac users are through Flip4Mac) it creates an interesting web of technologies. Everyone is starting to fill holes on other platforms. The downside to this is that users need to download multiple components for a good web experience. That is still a major concern for the future of the web. It’s not all about licensing.

Making Products Easy To Repair

Lately consumer protection and financial laws seem to be a favorite of politicians who want to help the American people “keep their hard earned money”, er whatever slogan it is they go with these days. For a long time I’ve been of the feeling that they are overlooking the obvious. Making things easier to fix, hence longer lasting. Sames money, and helps the environment. How’s that for killer legislation?

Most household items are surprisingly simple to repair. Thanks to automation at the factory, everything has been pretty much broken down to LEGOs in complexity. Simple modules that are interconnected to form products. This technique also allows them to use the parts in multiple models hence lower cost of production. But every so often one part breaks rendering the product to be a giant paperweight. From home appliances to your computer, it really doesn’t matter what the product does.

What’s really needed is easier access to parts. Every manufacturer’s policies vary, but in many cases it’s extremely difficult to find parts. When you do your often paying hundreds of times what that tiny piece of plastic is really worth. Of course it’s still sometimes cheaper than replacing the product, but not by a huge margin.

This should really be law:

  • Standard Screws – Products should be assembled using standard screws. No more proprietary heads. In situations where a screwless design is used (iPod for example) explanation of how to open should be available.
  • Parts breakdown – Every product should either include on paper, or upon request from manufacturer a list of all parts in the product with part number.
  • Easy Access To Parts – Replacement parts should be available at cost + 10-15% + shipping & handling. Keep them affordable and easy to order. It should be either through the manufacturer directly or via an authorized agent, via phone or online. Parts should be available for a minimum 3 years after the last warranty expires for home electronics. Home appliances should be longer, I’d say 10 years. If the manufacturer provides repairs themselves or service parts to authorized technicians the parts should be available for as long as they are to service centers, whatever is longer.
  • Warranty Disclaimer – Should state what are “user serviceable parts” and can be replaced within warranty, and that anything else will void the warranty (it’s your problem not theirs).
  • Hazards Warning – Should warn of any obvious and non-obvious hazards within the device, such as capacitors that can contain high voltage even when unplugged (yes, newbie, it common, and I’m sure it hurts if you make that mistake), chemicals, or sharp objects. Ideally devices would color code such hazardous parts, and perhaps things that need to be disposed of specially such as batteries.

By making things easier to repair, this would ensure that people can conserve money by not replacing products because of one small problem. This would also be a major environmental win because people can conserve and avoid filling landfills with mostly working products. This is especially true for electronics.

LCD AssemblySo far the only one who seems to come close to meeting my guidelines is IBM/Lenovo. They make it very easy to order replacement parts (though it’s hard to find the page). They also have excellent diagrams of the whole product exploded so you know exactly how it goes together. This makes owning a IBM/Lenovo product a lot cheaper since you can just order the replacement part as needed. If your under warranty they seem to have no problem shipping replacement parts if your comfortable installing and don’t want to ship your laptop out for repairs (which sucks, trust me).

A close second is LG. I’ve ordered replacement cell phone parts a few times. No diagrams or assistance from them, but their parts # is very helpful in identifying the actual part every single time. Just give the model number and explain the part. Required overnight shipping which added significantly to the cost, but overall not a bad deal.

NordicTrack isn’t bad either. I was able to order a replacement controller and turn a seemingly dead-as-a-doornail treadmill into a perfectly working treadmill in a matter of minutes. Nice diagrams on paper, and online ordering process was pretty painless. That simple replacement saved significant cash and kept a heavy treadmill out of a landfill. Price of parts weren’t too bad either.

For those who suggest eBay, that’s really a last resort. Your essentially buying salvaged parts of unknown quality or origin. If you treat your stuff well, why put in some part that’s likely been tortured by a previous owner to the point where the product was sent to salvage? Low cost replacement parts are the way to go. Also prevents bogus counterfeits, buying damaged goods.

That would go a long way to helping people save some cash, give companies a new revenue model (10-15% above cost is a pretty nice margin), and help the environment all in one sweep. Some companies are already much closer to fully complying with this list than others. That just proves to me that this is a reasonable proposal. It’s insane to replace something because of one small piece.

Image From Lenovo

Getting Faster With TraceMonkey

Mike Shaver has an awesome blog post on work to speed up JavaScript. Granted Firefox 3.0 is pretty fast already, 4.0 is shaping up to put 3.0 to shame. For those who don’t want to read it all, here’s what you really should know:

The goal of the TraceMonkey project — which is still in its early stages — is to take JavaScript performance to another level, where instead of competing against other interpreters, we start to compete against native code. Even with this very, very early version we’re already seeing some promising results: a simple “for loop? is getting close to unoptimized gcc[.]

That is a very impressive feat, and even more impressive is that it’s so early on. Schrep has a demo for anyone who still doesn’t see what this really means for future web applications.

Brendan has a great blog post with some more details on what has been done so far, as well as some more graphs.

The first thing that comes to mind is that it makes <canvas /> much more useful. While it already is handy, one of the big problems is that it doesn’t take to much to make it feel slow.

I think the real benchmark for most people these days is Gmail and Yahoo Mail, which are likely the two most JavaScript intensive applications most people use on a daily basis. Most people saw a nice gain when moving to Firefox 3.

Considering a substantial part of the browser chrome is implemented in JavaScript, this work has significant impact in the future performance of the browser as well as the web applications that run within it.

This all comes just a matter of hours after querySelectorAll landed, which will also give a boost in performance as John Resig explains.

A few months ago I mentioned SquirrelFish, the WebKit teams attempt to improve JavaScript performance. It’s great to see performance being such a focus.

It’s important to note that this isn’t just about making things feel faster, it opens up the web to handle things that previously couldn’t be done before. It also paves the way for a better mobile experience. Two fantastic things. Things that previously a browser just couldn’t do as well as a desktop application will become possible in the not to distant future.

Seinfeld “Windows, Not Walls” Microsoft Deal

Jerry Seinfeld HeadshotThe big news today is that Jerry Seinfeld, whose show I’ve seen once or twice obsessively for over a decade signed a deal with Microsoft to do a “Windows, Not Walls” campaign according to WSJ.

Amusingly, Seinfeld for it’s entire run had a Mac in his TV apartment. Early on it looked like an SE/30 but later on it was a 20th Anniversary Mac. I’ve yet to find a full list of the Mac’s he owned, but I don’t think it’s a very long list. 3 or 4. Maybe I’ll compile it myself.

He was also in a special Think Different ad that was shown during the series finale (you can find it here).

Computerworld has a pretty funny blog post about it.

I wonder if Drew Carey will be next? He had a series of Mac’s up to the iMac G4 at work. Sarah Jessica Parker’s character Carrie Bradshaw on Sex and the City also was a big Mac user featuring a PowerBook on the show.

Photo: Alan Light

Nobody Is Using IPv6

Arbor Networks found that almost nobody is using IPv6 (a peak of 0.012% to be exact). Not exactly shocking.

This is due to a chicken or the egg problem:

  • ISP’s don’t give out IPv6 addresses because the majority of their customers can’t handle it. Modern operating systems support IPv6, but these days most people use broadband routers, which only support IPv4. As a result most can’t use IPv6.
  • Hardware vendors that make routers and switches often don’t support IPv6 to keep costs low, and performance high. It’s not needed since most ISP’s don’t support it anyway, and that doesn’t look like it’s about to change anytime soon.

There are however a few ISP’s that have experimented with IPv6.

Of course another issue is that most websites don’t use IPv6, but I think that’s the easiest to fix. Since most servers are hosted in data centers with expensive routers that could be upgraded. Nobody bothers because it’s not much more than a novelty. Servers themselves use modern operating systems that can easily support IPv6.

So what will change this? A massive government push. Something along the lines of Digital TV transition. It would need to do the following:

  • Specify a date after which all hardware and software sold must be IPv6 compatible.
  • Specify a date after which all ISP’s with more than X customers, or a certain bandwidth level must support IPv6.

Unlike the Digital TV transition, there’s no real push to kill IPv4, so it wouldn’t be so bad if it died a natural death like Gopher and just became antiquated and disappeared. DTV is different since the space freed up can be auctioned for large sums of money, which is the real incentive for the switch anyway.

Will it happen? I doubt it.

The Olympics is available via IPv6 (more info here). China has a better IPv6 plan since their growing population means they see the need for more IP space. Not to mention the US has a much higher allocation than China.

The DoD as well as the US Government in general has been moving to IPv6, but they have yet to make any real push for the private sector.

Until the US Government realizes a push is necessary it’s not going to happen. To bad. I’d love to point a domain name at a toaster. I’d love even more to get rid of NATs, since they are a nightmare for software to work with.

DNS Strangeness Followup

A few days ago I mentioned I was having some DNS issues. I’m pretty sure they are resolved as the last few days I haven’t seen anything odd.

It seems the primary nameserver did not bump the SOA when it updated. As a result one of the other DNS servers was out of sync. Why only one? I doubt I’ll ever discover why.

Anyway, it seems to be fixed. If anyone notices an issue, let me know.