26 May, 2009

Domain steps

Some people have accused me of "confusing" domain registration with hosting. It's one of the less valid responses to my latest article for Computerworld, a review of three budget domain registrars, tucked away on Computerworld's site at

I certainly cover more domain hosting issues than domain registration issues, mainly because there's more to write about. You register a domain, it's registered. What you do with it after that...well...there's the rub.

I registered my first domains back in 1996, shortly after Network Solutions started charging some exorbitant amount for what had previously been free. Back then, Network Solutions billed you for $100 for two years' registration. The price later dropped to $70 for a two year period. Then in 1999, more registrars came on board--first Register.com, then a flood of them--and the whole business changed.

The first change was the standard billing period: It became annual instead of biannual. Another result of the competition was that pricing dropped to a "standard discount" rate of fifteen dollars per year per domain, and registrars started to lard on features to attract customers. It's those features that have changed and lowered the barrier of entry to becoming your own d0t-com entity.

The thing that prompted me to pitch this review to Computerworld is that you can now get a domain for around ten bucks a year--with POP email and some kind of site hosting thrown into the bargain.

I'm still amazed by this economy of scale. And if it leads to some confusion between registration and hosting, well, so be it. I'm no McDonald's corporation. I don't need heavy duty hosting. And I don't have a big budget for my online projects either. If I can get satisfaction for the price of a Happy Meal...I'll do it.

12 May, 2009

Space age technology

Like most people who have seen the latest Star Trek movie, I naturally think of space age hardware as the pinnacle of modern technology. To blast ahead at warp speeds, the systems in space must surely be at the cutting edge. A random conversation I had on Friday has totally changed my view of the world--or at least of what's orbiting the world.

Oh, how wrong I was before Friday.

I was chatting with one of the scientists who has been working on the Hubble telescope for his entire career, since long before it went up. In the course of a ten minute conversation, I found out a few things that would make earthbound IT pros shudder:

First, the space shuttle mission that blasted off on Monday, May 11th, 2009 was delayed by seven months because of a data router failure. Up in space, a NASA-style Ethernet box went into remission--the kind of thing that IT folk like me could fix a quick trip over to Office Depot and five minutes on site. That pushed back a schedule from October 2008 to mid-May, 2009.

Secondly, the computer systems on Hubble are, to put it mildly, a little behind the times. It went up with a system based around the 386 Intel processor, for one thing. Of course, this was in 1990, when the 386 wasn't quite so prehistoric as it seems to be now. And they did upgrade it later...to a 486, which is what's in there now.

Why the pre-Cambrian technology and glacial repair speeds? It's all about location. To see if they'll survive in orbit, CPUs and routers destined for space need to be tested in harsh conditions--real vacuums, space cold, and cosmic radiation. This takes time. And what takes more time is a tendency to be conservative: The huge distances and cost involved with repair missions in space means that you don't do anything unless you're sure it won't fail quickly. That's why the fastest CPUs in permanent space objects are typically 10 years behind what we earthlings have on our desks.

The third and most significant thing: When anything at all goes wrong on Hubble, it shuts down. At first blush, this sounds pretty inefficient, but it makes sense when you look at the big picture. You've got a massively powerful lens system. You've got a sun nearby with no cloud cover. You've got an expensive space station. And you've got a planet below. Typical childhood experiments with lenses, sunlight, and ants or dried leaves or paper lead to one inevitable conclusion: You don't want that kind of focused energy beaming into the space station--or worse, down to the planet's surface.

That's one kind of cutting-edge technology that you really don't want in orbit around the earth.

07 May, 2009

Mac says "Where's the Active Directory?"

Here's the scenario: You're working in an Active Directory network and somebody starts to bring Macs into the workplace. Slowly but surely, you have a cluster of them, and you need to get them onto the network. You set up a Mac server with Open Directory gluing it together. Congratulations: You now have a golden triangle. 

But...your PC users expect to find network folders on the Mac they've always seen on the PC. Your networking experts don't know the Mac and your desktop Mac enthusiasts don't know about domain-based networking. Here's the missing piece of information for both those groups. 

1. In Finder, press command+K. 
2.  In the server address box, enter smb:// followed by the fully-qualified domain name of the drive (eg smb://walnut.yourdomain.org/ or smb://oak.yourdomain.org).
3. Click on Connect and select the specific volumes you want to mount. 
4, They'll appear in the desktop as mounted volumes. 

Congratulations. Like the triangle, you're golden.