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March 22, 2002

Doc Searls and Brent Simmons have penned an article discussing Mac OS X from a Linux perspective. Combining the Macintosh and Unix ways of doing things is a complex endeavor, to be sure, and the results irritate both sides in small ways, but overall, OS X is an amazing achievement. It’s harder to configure than a Mac, and the Finder isn’t as polished, but it’s stabler and more responsive. (Unix people have their own complaints, I’m sure, but they can just buy one of those dirt-cheap Wintel boxes and put Linux on it. Unless the great styling and industrial design of Macintoshes really is a draw.) #

Scientology manipulates Google

I’ll admit that I don’t pay much attention to the battle between the Church of Scientology and the people who claim that it’s a cult and a scam. I’ve read enough of the material on the subject to be highly skeptical of Scientology’s claims (it’s remarkably similar to Dogbert’s theory that all of life’s problems are caused by invisible people named Juan and Cindy), but I generally avoid participating in the conflict itself.

However, it seems that Google has become a battleground. Recently, Google removed anti-Scientology site Operation Clambake from its index. There’s been much discussion about why that happened, but according to Google, there was a claim made under the DMCA. Apparently, someone in the Scientology camp claimed that Operation Clambake was violating their copyright and that Google’s cache of those pages (for searching purposes) made Google also liable.

That’s a pretty weak argument, but it’s not too hard to understand Google’s reluctance to face court time (even given Scientology’s apparently-poor record with these things).

It’s also not censorship, as several people are shouting. Google is a private service and is free to index or not index any site it chooses. It stays impartial because it makes its service more useful, not because it’s required by law. Google has enormous power on the web at present, because it’s such an effective search engine, but it’s not the first search engine to dominate the field and it may not be the last, either.

Operation Clambake doesn’t provide permanent addresses for its news posts, but Operating Thetan, which pointed out Scientology’s attempts to boost its Google rankings, is collecting news and links. (via Wesley Felter) #

How RESTful is the web

What is the essential architecture of the World Wide Web? Roy Fielding examines the issue in his doctoral dissertation, and declares it to be “Representational State Transfer” (REST). Fortunately, he then goes on to explain what that is (or, perhaps you already know what that means at that point; I read the dissertation somewhat out of order).

Describing how the web is different from other distributed systems is difficult without assuming some knowledge of networked software, but I’ll give it a shot. There’s plenty of articles and the dissertation itself for those who want more detail.

REST sees the web as a vast collection of “resources”, identified by URIs. Each resource accepts a limited number of commands, such as GET, PUT, and POST. The exact meaning of each command depends on the resource, but GET always returns a representation of the resource. For example, to read ZedneWeb your browser performs GET on “http://www.eyrie.org/~zednenem/” and receives an HTML file representing ZedneWeb’s table of contents and most recent weblog entries. PUT is used to set the state of the resource, but isn’t widely supported by browsers. POST sends the data to the resource, which can use it for just about anything.

That probably doesn’t sound very impressive, so here’s a very simple example of how the REST model can be used. There are a number of proposals floating around for web-based applications which are accessed through Remote Procedure Calls. Let’s say a company wants to use such an application to store employee phone numbers. In the RPC model, there might be a resource called “http://example.com/employeeDatabase”. To get someone’s phone number, you would send a POST to that resource with data meaning “get the phone number of employee X”. The response would contain the requested phone number.

The REST model looks at things differently. We’re interested in dealing with employee phone numbers, so we would assign an address to each one, such as “http://example.com/employee/X/phoneNumber”. Then, to get the phone number, we simply do a GET. If we want to change it, we do a PUT. (We would want to take steps to ensure that only the right people can access or change the data, but it turns out that HTTP already has that, too.)

The REST example isn’t necessarily any simpler than the RPC one—you still need to know where to get the information and how to interpret the result—but it does have advantages. By working with HTTP’s methods, it can take advantage of its security and caching architectures rather than having to recreate them. By using the same protocols as the rest of the web, software which has to use multiple services only needs to know one protocol instead of several.

This is fairly abstract stuff, so don’t feel bad if the advantages or even the differences aren’t clear. None of this is user-level, so unless you’re writing software that deals with web services, it probably doesn’t matter how things are implemented.

(Backtrace: the dissertation was cited by an article comparing REST- and RPC-style web services which was mentioned in an examination of SOAP security referenced in the March Crypto-Gram. This list of REST resources is a good place to start for further reading.) #

The Jaguar of laptops

Good news and bad news relating to my PowerBook problems. Last week, I called in again, spoke to another customer support rep, and learned that the logic board was on back order and wouldn’t arrive until March 20. Since that would be over a month in repair before the repair even started, I complained and was put in contact with customer relations. They felt that I had waited too long already, and were able to get the logic board replaced and the machine sent back to me by that Friday, March 15.

If things have been quiet on ZedneWeb since then, it’s because I’ve been playing with the new machine and Mac OS X.

But all is not well in TiBook-land. The AC adaptor which comes with the laptop has a light which is supposed to glow green or amber when it’s plugged in, depending on whether the battery is charging. Since getting it back from repair, mine does not light up at all.

Merely annoying, really, but I called in and they sent me a replacement adaptor which arrived on March 21. Guess what? Its light doesn’t work either.

Meanwhile, the laptop can’t seem to recharge its battery. That is, the battery indicator in Mac OS X claims that the battery is completely charged, while the battery’s built-in tester claims that it’s empty.

So I called up tech support again. The guy I spoke to suspects, as I do, that the two problems are related, and they indicate either a problem with the battery or… the logic board. The new logic board that they put in to replace the old one, which had some sort of problem with the video control. So they’re sending me a new battery, in case that’s the problem. But if that doesn’t solve things, it’s time to send it off again.

Of course, this repair happens after I discovered how easy it is to set up local file-sharing and start transferring stuff over. Not only is the TiBook my primary-use computer, it also holds the only copies of certain files. And since Apple explicitly warns that data may be lost during repair, that means I need to start making backups. (Yeah, I know. I need to be doing that anyway.)

On the positive side, the people I’ve spoken with at Apple have been intelligent and helpful. I just wish I didn’t need to interact with them so often. #