Monthly Archives: July 2008

What Would Osama Do ?

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your captain speaking.

We are on final approach to election day, with just over three months before Americans step into the voting booth to elect the next President of the United States.

Both of the “presumptive” major party candidates, John McCain (R) and Barack Obama (D), have been focusing their rhetoric on Iraq and Afghanistan, and telling us that their opponent has it all wrong.

Without question, the course the United States takes not only in these two countries, but in the larger war on terrorism (which hasn’t been going all that swimmingly either), is the number one issue facing our country. We cannot afford to make the wrong decision on November 4th.

We wouldn’t think of telling you who to vote for.  Instead, we pose this question… What would Osama bin Laden do ?

Try to answer that question for yourself. If Osama bin Laden could vote for our next President, who would he vote for ? Once you have answered that question, regardless of your answer, we recommend you cast your vote for the OTHER candidate.

That is the best insurance policy against terrorism that we can think of.

Now, please fasten your seat belts.

– Routing By Rumor

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More Proof That The Gray Lady Is Hurting !

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Street level view of the new New York Times building (photo credit: pentagram.com)

Five months ago, we wrote about job cuts at the New York Times (a.k.a. “The Gray Lady“). This week, the New York Times announced their latest price increase. Once again, Times readers will pay more, but get less (that is, those readers who remain readers despite the price increase). And New York Times readers don’t even get their favorite comics. To our knowledge, the New York Times has never had a comics section.

The weekday editions will go from $1.25 to $1.50, a 20% increase. This increase comes just twelve months since the Times raised their cover price 25% for weekday editions, and about 15% for the Sunday edition. Prior to the last price increase, the Times was able to do without a price increase for eight years. Viewed another way, these two price increases in one year’s time equal a 50% increase in the cover price of the New York Times weekday editions. Our salary hasn’t increased 50% in the past year …has yours? Sadly, the New York Times print editions may just be a luxury we can no longer afford.

More frequent price increases for many consumer products is the norm these days, We believe it is further evidence of an economy in deep trouble. Newspapers are getting it from all sides… Advertising revenue is drying up, readership is down, and production costs are way up, particularly paper, electricity and fuel. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the Internet and “new media” have turned out to be the newspaper industry’s worst nightmare. Newspapers are trying to embrace the brave new digital world, but it looks like they may be waging a loosing battle.

The squeeze has been evident to readers of the Times for quite a while now. The paper is shrinking. Their flagship product, the Sunday New York Times, is a shadow of it’s former self. Help wanted display advertising in the Sunday business section, once perhaps 75 or 100 pages every Sunday, has completely disappeared. Complete Sunday sections have disappeared. What’s left is an anemic Sunday edition that sells for an incredible $4.00 !

The voracious technology hounds at Routing By Rumor like to read the New York Times on Tuesdays, for the Science section, which has been contracting as well. We used to enjoy the Circuits section on Thursdays, but that section has disappeared, replaced by one to two pages of articles buried towards the back of the Thursday Business section. We suspect the Science section will go A.W.O.L shortly, as well.

All this bad news at the New York Times just happens to come at a time when people seeking their 15 minutes of fame have been flocking to the new building the Times has built, one block from New York City’s Times Square (named for the site of a previous building the New York Times’ occupied at One Times Square,  during the early 1900’s). It seems people have an irresistible urge to climb up the outside of the their brand spanking new skyscraper, like so many spidermen.  The fact that their new building sports what amounts to ladders on it’s exterior walls is too much for some adventure or publicity seekers to ignore.

Hu Totya/Wikipedia)

The New York Times building under construction, 9/16/2006 (credit: Hu Totya/Wikipedia)

We propose a solution that could only happen in New York City, home to Coney Island’s famed Parachute Jump, the Empire State Building, Yankee Stadium, and the site of the deadliest attack in our nation’s history.

Why not sell permits to climbers who want to scale the New York Times building, sell tickets to the spectators, sell the television rights to one of the networks, and use all the money they earn to subsidize the print editions of the New York Times. They could even place corporate logos on each floor, similar to how ball parks plaster sponsor’s ads on every nook and cranny at the ball parks. This plan may be so successful, they will be able to give away the Times for free. Remember, you heard it hear first.

Of course, safety will be an important part of this plan. Climbers will need to have the proper climbing equipment, safety nets will need to be installed, and spotters will have to supervise the climbing. Perhaps some bleachers can be built along Eighth Avenue. A giant LCD screen in Times Square (like there aren’t enough of those already) could let people follow the climbers.

David Scull/New York Times)

Alain Robert climbs the New York Times building on June 5, 2008 (photo credit: David Scull/New York Times)

Think this plan is crazy? Then you probably won’t think much of the latest attraction a few blocks away in New York’s Central Park. For the incredible price of $25, you can ride a helium balloon 300 feet above Central Park. Really! …And you thought the helium balloons in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade were cool.

Only in New York.

– Routing By Rumor

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Filed under 9/11, Journalism, Life, News, Routing by Rumor, Terrorism

Dear President Bush: Send More Money !

President George W. Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Bush,

Just wanted to let you know that we received the very generous “economic stimulus” check you sent us recently. It was greatly appreciated.

We thank you.

ExxonMobil thanks you.

The oil speculators thank you.

Saudi Arabia thanks you.

(just to name a few)

Oh, I almost forgot… There’s just one problem. It’s all gone. With each visit to the gas station costing $75.00, your check didn’t go as far as we expected. And now, our gas gauge is on empty again.

Please sir, may we have some more ?

Sincerely,

Routing By Rumor

P.S. – Please also send another check to all of the people who have posted comments below.

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Amazon Web Services… Not Quite “Five Nines” Uptime !

…Not five nines,

…or four nines,

…not even three nines (99.9% uptime) !

If you tried to visit some of the Web’s most popular sites for a good part of the day yesterday, July 20, 2008, you were likely disappointed. Sites like WordPress (where this blog is hosted), Twitter, SmugMug and others, were impacted for hours yesterday because they depend on Amazon’s S3 (Simple Storage Service), which went down. Apparently, even some Apple iPhone applications were impacted by the S3 outage. It was the second time in less than six months (the previous outage occured on February 15) that AWS (Amazon Web Services) has experienced a major failure.

Based on what we’ve learned so far about S3, our best guess is that yesterday’s outage was caused by a software bug, a human error of some sort, or as was the case in their February outage, some set of conditions that occured within their system that overwhelmed their ability to handle traffic (interestingly, the latest problem occured early on a Sunday morning… not exactly a time when you would expect a peak load on their system). We view a malicious attack on the service a less likely cause, and hardware or connectivity problems a very unlikely cause. S3 is a decentralized system designed to survive the loss of some of it’s components and still operate normally. In many widespread telecom or network failures suffered by providers and carriers in the past few years, the cause has often been determined to be software related or human error (like a construction crew cutting a fiber optic cable they didn’t know was buried there).

As an aside, here’s some articles about human error that has caused some major outages…

Optus cable culprit found

The Backhoe, The Internet’s Natural Enemy

Cut in Fiber Cable Disrupts Internet Traffic Nationwide

The Backhoe: A Real Cyberthreat

The S3 outages bring to mind another concern among people responsible for the operation of the Internet itself. One of the services that the Internet is built on is DNS (the Domain Name System). The DNS system is what allows your computer to find a website such as this one, from among the millions of computers and websites on the Internet. There is concern among some that even though DNS functionality is spread across many servers on the Internet, in a hierarchical system, that a widespread DNS failure could occur. This would cripple almost all Internet traffic. Worst of all, if there was a major DNS failure, you might not be able to get to this blog ! Heaven forbid.

S3 is a “cloud” storage service. Internet-based computing resources are collectively referred to as cloud computing (see this Businessweek article on cloud computing). In cloud computing, resources that were traditionally located, say, in a company’s data center (disk storage, application software, servers, etc.) are offered by service providers via the Internet. Cloud computing is a relatively new paradigm, and problems similar to what Amazon has experienced are sure to make CIOs and IT managers hesitant to rely on the cloud when they can provide computing resources locally and have greater control over them.

Almost by definition, services offered in the cloud must offer high availability. The uptime standard that is generally used in the telecommunications and computing industries for critical systems is “five nines“, or 99.999% availability. That translates (approximately) to less than five minutes downtime a year, and generally does not include scheduled service outages. In the United States, the public telephone network operated by the Bell System was consistently able to achieve five nines reliability (so Ma Bell wasn’t that bad to us after all, may she rest in peace). Clearly, Amazon’s S3 service has failed this benchmark. It doesn’t even appear that AWS has achieved two nines availability (less than about seven hours downtime per month) this month. That’s utterly dismal performance that is unacceptable for critical systems, and it does not bode well for Amazon’s future in the cloud, or for cloud computing in general.

Interestingly, Amazon’s S3 SLA (Service Level Agreement) states that users are not entitled to a service credit unless their uptime drops below three nines (99.9%) in any month, and even if they fail to achieve two nines (99% uptime) in a month, they will only give users a 25% credit. They must not have a lot of confidence in their ability to provide four nines availability (less than one hour a year of downtime), which Amazon states is one of the design requirements that S3 was built to provide. And if they don’t meet their service levels, will they give their customers a refund? No. It appears all they will offer is a credit to be applied to future service. Not good.

But don’t expect disgruntled S3 customers who have been impacted by Amazon’s Simple Storage System outages to issue press releases critical of Amazon. Paragraph 4.2.4 of their customer agreement specifically prohibits that unless you get their permission first. Incredible.

With an SLA like Amazon’s, and especially because of their outages in the past few months, we might be inclined to use a service such as S3 only to store backup files. We don’t feel that the service is reliable enough to be used to support a live website or other mission critical systems. And even if Amazon had a 100% uptime record, there’s always this to worry about when deciding if you want to depend on services in the cloud (and to think that you were worried about the Y2K problem!).

Perhaps cloud computing is an idea whose time has not yet come.

– Routing By Rumor

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Of Blogs And Bugs

This is one bug we can’t blame on Microsoft.

While writing our last post to this blog, the cute little fellow pictured above came scurrying across the floor, and stopped right in front of us. I’d swear he was looking at our computer screen. Maybe he was thinking of starting his own bug blog.

He sat there long enough for us to scoop him up and sequester him in an empty jar, so we could get our camera and take his mug shot. He’s about an inch and a half or two inches long, and best we can determine, he once had 28 legs, but apparently lost several of them. Think buying shoes for your kids is expensive? Count your blessings that they only have two feet each. It looks like he has antennae fore and aft, although his head is to the right in the above photo.

Given the human need to endear every creature with a name, we have named him “WordPress”. We’ll admit that we are only guessing that he’s a he. If it’s actually Ms. WordPress, our apologies for the gender error. Actually, we’re not even sure if all insects have a gender… Aren’t some both sexes?

Since we don’t have any entomologists on staff here at Routing By Rumor, we are going to enlist the help of our readers. If you know what this cute fellow is, please leave a comment.

All those insect rights people out there will be happy to know that no bugs were harmed in the creation of this article. WordPress was released into the great outdoors after his photo shoot. You should have seen how quickly he moved once we put him on the ground. He was gone in a flash. We suspect, however, that he is going to try and get back into the Routing By Rumor network operations center, so if we spot him again, we’ll post a followup to this story.

– Routing By Rumor

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Filed under Blogging, Home, Life, Personal Tidbits, Routing by Rumor, Wordpress

When We Speak, Wall Street Listens.

One of the great things about hosting a blog at WordPress.com is the various tools and statistics they provide (thanks, Matt). You can see how much traffic your posts attract, how your visitors are finding your blog, what search terms people are using to find you (but sadly, not which search engine they used), and what hyperlinks in your posts they click on.

We were quite surprised this morning, when we noticed that nasdaq.com was sending traffic our way because of this article we posted yesterday about the U.S. economy. We had mentioned that New York and New Jersey utilities, including Consolidated Edison, had recently gotten steep rate increases approved by regulators, some as much as 25% and 50%.

Within a few hours, visitors to Nasdaq who looked up Consolidated Edison (NYSE: ED), were seeing a link to our blog in the “Comments From The Blogs” section on nasdaq.com. This is yet another example of how blogging has really gained legitimacy, and how mainstream media and even Wall Street have taken notice of what is being discussed by bloggers. To be sure, it is a bit of a trip, realizing that almost anyone with a computer and Internet access can have their voice heard by the world. To us, that’s perhaps the greatest thing about this experiment they call the Internet. It transcends borders (although some regimes try to surpress it), it makes the world a very small place, and it gives you access to views and opinions you would otherwise never hear. How great is that?

Now that Routing By Rumor is (almost) a household name, we want to let the New York Stock Exchange know that we are available, should Dick Grasso’s old job still be open. However, in light of the firestorm that his $140 million retirement package caused, we want to go on record as saying that we will not accept a deferred compensation package of more than $75 million. We think that even Eliot Spitzer, the former New York State Attorney General turned New York Governor (and no friend of Dick Grasso’s), who’s career crashed and burned in a sex scandal, would approve of that.

– Routing By Rumor

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Need More Proof That The U.S. Economy Is In Trouble? How About Talk Of General Motors Seeking Bankruptcy Protection!

Things are tough in Detroit. For the first time since 1922, General Motors will not pay it’s shareholders a dividend. Even more omnious is speculation that GM may have to seek bankruptcy protection (see NY Times / Associated Press article). There are even calls for dropping GM from the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

While much of what ails GM is related to the sad state of the U.S. economy, not all automobile manufacturers are suffering the way GM currently is. There are many reasons for this, including GM’s reliance on large, gas-guzzling vehicles which have become white elephants, thanks to fuel that is selling between $4 and $5 a gallon.

For us however, GM lost it’s appeal long ago. Not because of the quality of their products, which by and large we’ve been quite satisfied with, but rather because of what we believe is their total lack of respect for their customers. As we have written previously, we are a strong believer in buying products made in the USA, and indeed we’ve owned only US-assembled GM vehicles for the past thirty years.

We’ve never had a good experience with repairs covered under GM’s new vehicle warranties. We have always experienced dealer service that was inept, shoddy, defective, or incomplete, and which in many cases took days or weeks longer than it should have, while our vehicle languished in some dealer’s lot. Almost all warranty repairs we’ve ever taken our vehicles to GM dealerships for have required one or more return visits to the dealer, either because repairs were done incorrectly or not at all. We believe that GM dealerships prefer to not do warranty repairs, and will try to avoid doing them whenever possible. There never seemed to be any incentive to do things correctly. The experiences we’ve had over the years at GM dealerships convinced us to never ever allow them to do non-warranty repairs on our vehicles where we would be paying for the work out-of-pocket.

We’ve dealt with dealership personnel from salespeople to service managers to owners, who have been rude, indifferent and downright obnoxious. In our opinion, it’s not so much a lack of caring or pervasive incompetence (although there’s plenty of that), as it is a culture of contempt for the customer. We feel that GM and it’s dealerships view customers as little more than an annoyance. As if they were saying “we don’t value you as a customer, and we couldn’t care less about your future business”. GM’s “customer care” has proven to be a worthless farce every time we’ve ever turned to them in an attempt to resolve problems with our vehicles. We decided years ago that our current GM vehicle will be our last one. It’s a bit ironic then, that GM may not be around much longer to sell us, or anyone else, their next vehicle. We think that in large measure, they can blame their current plight on the way they’ve treated their customers. Forget about Harry Gordon Selfridge’s old adage “the customer is always right”. At GM, it has always seemed to us to be more like “the customer is never right”.

This fellow doesn’t think The General has much better regard for it’s current workers or retirees.

We won’t shed a single tear if GM goes belly up tomorrow.

Where was I ? …Oh yeah, the dismal state of the U.S. economy. See what happens when someone mentions GM to me ?

So, GM is hurting big time, banking institutions are in trouble, home foreclosures are at record levels, soup kitchens and food pantries are reporting big increases in families seeking assistance (while at the same time finding it harder to get food donations), and the cost of living is skyrocketing, despite what government inflation figures claim.

IndyMac Bank customers in Burbank, California

Associated Press photo / Kevork Djansezian

The FDIC has compiled a list of 90 banks it says are in danger of failing, victims of the U.S. mortgage crisis.

Consumers are seeing utility bills increase 20, 30, even 50 percent. In New York City, the local electric utility, Consolidated Edison, recently hiked electric rates between 22% and 25%. Because of steep increases in fuel prices, there’s sure to be more double-digit increases in store. In New Jersey, Verizon, a regional U.S. phone company, has gotten permission to raise basic telephone charges 50% over the next three years, and cut the number of free directory assistance calls a subscriber gets in half, while tripling the price. This will no doubt accelerate the trend of consumers dropping traditional phone lines and making their cellphone their only phone. This is not only because of the cost, but also because traditional phone companies like Verizon still don’t know how to be competitive in today’s telecom market where Cable TV, Internet and cellular telecom providers offer highly competitive or all-you-can-eat calling plans that include a smorgasbord of features at no extra charge, and companies like Google are providing FREE directory assistance services. Isn’t Verizon still charging extra every month if you have a Touch-Tone phone? They are clueless.

Healthcare costs are increasing so rapidly that many employers can’t afford to continue providing coverage for their employees, and an increasing number of individuals and families have no health insurance.

Trips to the supermarket induce shock, while a trip to the gas station produces gas pains.

We’re starting to see panicked Americans creating a run on the bank, such as these customers of IndyMac Bank this week.

And, of course, we are still at war.

America is the land of plenty, where we are enjoying a bumper crop of bad news on the economic, political and employment fronts. There seems to be very little good news these days.

– Routing By Rumor

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