Marriage ProposalAn enterprising young man took advantage of an Apple media campaign today to deliver a somewhat unorthodox marriage proposal.

The anonymous man stood outside Apple’s Fifth Avenue retail store this morning between 5:30 AM and 6:00 AM Eastern Time with three paper signs reading “Uschi Lang, I love you, will you marry me?” A time-lapse camera captured the proposal. It was only 10 seconds on Apple’s web site, but if the 30-second movie shows pictures at a constant rate, the man was standing there for 20 minutes. That’s dedication. The complete movie is available at the URL above, for millions of people to see.

No word yet on the identity of this hopeless romantic, or whether Ms. Lang had the good humor to say yes. Best wishes to the couple, regardless of the outcome.

The World Live Web

The web is vast, but not all of it is current. Many pages (like this blog during 2005) languish into disuse. There’s even a page that links to a web site, now long gone, that I created ten years ago. It’s unlikely that any web user today has never experienced the dreaded 404 error message that marks the place where a piece of history has since disappeared.

What fascinates me about the World Wide Web is how it has evolved from its roots as a place to publish papers, to the fastest way to spread information across the world.

Keep in mind that the Common Gateway Interface, the technology that enables dynamic web sites, has only been around since 1993 – three years later than the formation of the web itself. Since then, a variety of very cool ideas have contributed to making it easier to find information online.

RSS has been the foundation of much of the technology behind the live web. Originally developed by Netscape, RSS is a simple file that contains a list of links in a format that computers can understand. Today, all weblog systems and many other sites provide RSS (or a competing format, called Atom). Programs called aggregators read RSS feeds from multiple sites, and combine them into a single screen. planet 432 is an example of an aggregator – in this case, an aggregator focused on combining the posts of college students studying telecommunications technology.

One excellent resource for exploring the live web is Technorati, a search engine developed specifically for that purpose. Tecnorati combines RSS processing with some other so-called Web 2.0 technologies to provide a real-time glimpse of the conversation of the web. It’s a fascinating way to get a cross-section of opinions from people around the world about a significant world event. Often, thousands of blogs will weigh in within seconds of a story breaking.

The pulse of political discourse has shifted. It is no longer found on street corners or in a government building, but is instead carried out across multiple web sites 24 hours a day.

Power Outage Takes Wikipedia Down

Wikipedia, a well-known service that provides an online encyclopedia anybody can edit, is down due to a power failure in their network facility. Wikimedia Foundation, which runs Wikipedia as well as a number of similar services, is in the process of backing up the 170 gigabytes of data they host, and getting the servers up and running.

The power failure bears a striking resemblance to a similar outage at LiveJournal, a well-known blogging service recently acquired by Six Apart. Both interruptions have a lot in common: both are in state-of-the-art colocation facilities that provide redundant power with on-site emergency generators, and 24/7 on-site security and monitoring staff. LiveJournal is in the process of preventing future outages by purchasing smaller UPSs for their servers, in addition to the building-sized one provided by their host, Internap.

The Wikimedia failure is right in the middle of their most recent fundraising drive; you can help by donating here. All proceeds go to beefing up the servers that run the service.

Aside: Despite me shutting off my comments and trackbacks, I really do want to hear feedback from people on my posts. Please use the “feedback” link on the right side of the page. I’ll even post non-spam comments manually! :)

My Yahoo! Gets a Facelift

One of the first portals on the Internet got a face lift today.

My Yahoo! began offering its users the chance to upgrade to their new version. Once you click the link, all of your current pages and modules carry over to the new version. The conversion process seems very robust – it handled all of my modules seamlessly.

The most significant new feature, in my opinion, is the tight integration of RSS and Atom feeds. Rather than being a single module, each feed gets its own module – an idea I mentioned back in March:

I’m a little disappointed that they didn’t adopt Netscape’s old model of one module = one site, but this is really a step ahead of the competition.

There are a few lasting problems with My Yahoo!, mainly interface-related. For example, I haven’t been able to figure out if it’s possible to move modules between pages or to re-order pages. I also wish you could put the same module with different settings on more than one page; this doesn’t work for things like the Yahoo! Photos module. Finally, now that there’s millions of new My Yahoo! channels, it’s hard to find the ones Yahoo! provides – things like comics and weather, which you can’t generate using RSS.

All in all, it’s a nice upgrade, but they still have more work to do.

Jeremy Zawodny, a Yahoo! employee, has more at his blog.

Security is a Full-Time Job

Ignorance must have been bliss in 1969. Around this time, the continental network that became the Internet was just forming. (RFC 1 was published by Steve Crocker on April 7th.) Life for a system administrator back then was a lot simpler – there was implicit trust between a computer owner and the people that could access it via the network. There were no hackers, because the people building the network were the only ones that could use the network.

Fast forward to 2004. The same architecture that simplified the deployment of the Internet now hinders it. A script kiddie can bring down any web site by forging packets – including big sites you may have heard of: Yahoo!, Amazon.com, CNN, eBay, and others. (All of these are among the 15 largest English-speaking sites, according to Alexa.)

Recently, software companies seem to have been selling the idea that keeping up-to-date on security patches will keep you safe. While it certainly helps, this isn’t going to make your system foolproof. Security problems can be caused by all sorts of other problems, including human error.

Ultimately, security is a full-time job. You can write scripts to install patches, run programs to check your traffic for unwanted activity, and scan for viruses and worms. However, if you’re not spending at least 40 hours a week reading security bulletins, testing software, and educating others, you will miss something.

Running a personal web server looks like an attractive option for many people, but when you’re figuring the cost of piggybacking on a DSL or cable connection, don’t forget to figure in who’s going to be handling your security.

If that someone is you, you might want to start reading.