My Year in Review

by brian d foy

I looked back at 2004 to see what was new and cool. I have to remind myself that 2003 mostly didn't exist for me, so a lot of people found out about these things much earlier than I did. It's almost the middle of January, so it's time to stop thinking about this, too. Some things should have made the list, but they have wormed their way so far into my head that I don't even think about them anymore.


Syndicated web sites were nice, but not all that useful to me until I started using a news aggregator. I really don't like using a web browser or clicking through links, and NetNewsWire doesn't make me. Aside from the annoying feeds that don't include the whole article, that's worked out pretty well for me. Netflix tells me when they've shipped movies, I can catch up on my LiveJournal friends, I can scan the Reuters headlines, and keep up with random people who rarely have new content. Lately my favorite feed has been Brand Autopsy.


What do I like more? DVDs by mail, or giving Blockbuster the finger (which I can do from my home office window since it's two block straight down the street)? Why choose? I get DVDs in the mail and give Blockbuster the finger.

I did try's service though. I had the same experience as rollick of Livejournal: In three weeks I got six DVDs from In the same time I got roughly 20 DVDs from Netflix. Who cares if Blockbuster is cheaper by the month when they take a week to get a movie to you? Netflix has one day turnaround in Chicago.


CVS is a annoyance I tolerate, but Subversion cures all of that. Too bad more places aren't using it, and too bad it's not available for Sourceforge projects. This time, O'Reilly is ahead of the curve and already has a Subversion book.


I download databases and share them because they're just a file. A file. One (as in uno, ein, un, ichi) file! The files can get big, but everything is still in one (as in uno, ein, un, ichi) place.


Persistent multilevel data structures in Perl, without the pain and thought. I don't have to know which DBM implementation is installed or which module to use. Very cool.

Camera phone / PDA

I got a Nokia 3650 early in the year. It was supposed to be the phone all the cool kids were getting, and as usual I came in at the tail end of that craze. I like it, I guess.

iSync is great, even if the software on the phone kinda sucks. The phone calendar application doesn't handle multiple calendars from iCal and flattens it to one calendar. If I try to sync a change on the phone back to iCal, everything gets screwed up. I use the iCal event location field for a lot of different things (especially ticket confirmation numbers) since I know that field shows up on the phone. Kinda sad, actually

Even though the Nokia calendar and contacts applications are pretty crappy, I've simply lowered my expectations and learned to live with it. I gave my fancy Handspring Edge to my wife. I only ever really used it for the address book anyway.

The email application and file browser that came with the phone suck too, but ProfiMail is much better, although I got replace the built-in email application with it (i.e. for the Send>via email option). I think it's really just the Nokia interface that I don't like. I have to push too many buttons to do things I commonly do.

It has a crappy little camera, but I still take a lot of pictures with it. I do maintain a moblog, but more interestingly, I've started taking pictures of things I want to remember, like book covers and advertisements. Normally I'd have to write these things down.


Google's free email service is so cool that people are literally begging to use it. I still have people emailing me to beg for a Gmail invitation. This post is going to get me a few more of those, but they shouldn't feel bad: it's not that I don't like them, I'm just pretending they don't exist. Still even after saying that, people will send me flowering prose about why they should get one of my invitations.

The service does rock, though. I forward all of my mail there for easy searching.

Apple Airport Express

Everyone likes the Apple Airport Express mini-mes because they can stream iTunes all over the house. I like it because printer sharing just works. I had our home printer hooked up to my FreeBSD machine (running CUPS) for a while, but my wife's iBook never liked that. I had the printer hooked up to my Pismo Powerbook for a while, but the printer would drop off the network for no reason or the Pismo would hang on something. With the Apple Airport Express, it just works, for everybody, all the time. That's the most important feature of my home network: zero tech support calls from my wife or cats.

War driving

War driving was cool three years ago, and even though I knew about it, I didn't do it because I don't need to find a wireless connection and I don't have a car. However, one day in Pasadena I was riding in the back seat of my brother-in-law's car and trying to get some work done. I hadn't turned off my Airport card, and as we passed a Starbucks I get a dialog asking me if I want to join the network. Um, no, but thanks anyway. I pulled up iStumbler and just watched it. It pinged every time it found a network, which was about once a minute. As we drove past Cal Tech, if went nuts. That's cool.

Since then I've tried it in a couple cities I've had to travel to. I've even tried it on the Chicago El a couple times, but I stopped lest I get my ass kicked by a couple of homeless guys who want to sell my Powerbook for crack.

I did get a keychain WiFi detector, and it worked very nicely for a week. I left it behind in a rental car because I didn't have a keychain to attach it to.

Spam Assassin

I tried Spam Assassin for a while, and I'm not using it anymore. It's cool if you're a techie and want to fiddle with a bunch of things and write code to do things, but I don't want to do that. I don't want to have to re-train my mail filter to recognize spam. I don't want to think about it at all. My mail provider doesn't allow user_prefs anyway. SpamBouncer does the right thing without me doing anything, but Spam Assassin demands quality time. This would probably be different if I were the sysadmin responsible for mail or didn't know procmail, but I'm not and I do, so it isn't.

The Perl Review

Oh, I'm publishing this magazine. I ditched LaTeX in favor of InDesign. Sometime open source just doesn't cut it. I finally decided I wanted to publish a magazine, not write software to publish a magazine.


One of the best things is also one of the worst things. Bluetooth lets my phone talk to my computer and my headset, but only one at a time. I don't have the wires, but I do have to disconnect and re-connect a couple times just to do something different. This isn't the way that Bluetooth is supposed to work, but it's the way the implementors use it. I'm only allowed to do one thing at a time.

IT Conversations

Ever wondered what gets said at all the conferences you can't afford to go to? IT Conversations gives me MP3 recordings of them all. Now I know that Tim O'Reilly has a stump speech and that a lot of conferences are really, really dull. There are some gems though: Wil Wheaton, whom I dismissed as a washed-up has been of a TV show I didn't like is actually a very entertaining speaker, and IT Conversations has two hours of him. The interviews with the internet old-timers, like Leonard Kleinrock are also cool not only for the content, but the moderated passion that comes with experience and perspective.


TiVo actually makes TV interesting. I'm not a big TV watcher (we muddle through with an old 29-inch CRT), but now I can watch every episode of the Simpsons that comes on in a day. Well, I used to do that and now I just delete them because that got really old really fast. We do record The Daily Show and watch it when we want instead of sticking around the house around midnight to see it, and I'm ticking movies off my Netflix queue by finding them on the air at odd times of the morning. I've got 90 hours of space on my Series 2 TiVo just waiting for data.

The coolest thing, however, if the pause and rewind features. Sure, fast forwarding through commercials is okay, but stopping the action completely so I can talk on the phone, or rewinding to catch some missed dialog ("Eh? Whadda say? Speak up boy!") are much better features for me.

We got the lifetime subscription, and we're about to earn out of that.

Atomic clocks

I got some of these wireless clocks that supposedly sync with the national atomic clock radio signal to synchronize the time. A couple are really fancy and have temperature displays. I haven't seen any of them sync properly yet, but they do run on batteries and stay on when the power goes out, so that's something.


2005-01-11 10:20:26
Scribus instead...
Just wondering if you had tried Scribus instead of LaTeX? I was wondering if you could talk about any of its pros and cons from experience.

2005-01-11 15:32:11
Atomic Clocks
I got the $20 atomic clock from Target - unfortunately it doesn't seem to be on their website. It looks like a clock from a 1960's elementary school - very basic, black numbers, white background.

But it just works. Put in two AA batteries, push one of four buttons to select your timezone, hang it on the wall, and in less than 5 minutes it sets itself. Daylight savings? No problem.

EVERY clock should do this.

2005-01-15 23:17:12
Scribus instead...
Haha. I recommended Lout to him. Seems everyone has their pet “use a typesetting system!” recommendation.
2005-01-15 23:22:56
Newsfeeds are great. No need to screenscrape any more — finally. I was aggregating sites before doing so had a name, but I finally no longer need to.

Re SpamAssassin: wow, first time I hear it's maintenance intensive. I simply defined a keybind in mutt that sends a mail to sa-lern as spam and deletes it. Other than that I tweaked a couple settings to make it play better with procmail. And I changed the scores on two or three rules. All in all in the 2.5 years I've been using it, I spent about two hours on it including upgrades (can you say CPAN?) and all.

I'm surprised anyone would have to spend more time with it, but then I don't know what your mail is like, so…