Tag Archives: Internet


I have been meaning to experiment with VoIP service for a while now. So when the Vonage sales droids called me the other day offering a free month of service I thought I would give it a go.

It only took a couple of days for the Motorola box to arrive. This box is basically a VoIP to POTS converter. Ethernet in and two POTS RJ-11 jacks out. Setup is simple, hookup the Ethernet port and plug-in a phone.

So far I am pretty impressed with the service. No one I have spoken to in the last week has said anything that would indicate the quality was different from my old POTS line. I have been able to make the quality bad by starting a large upload while talking on the phone but this is party due to my network topology. Instead of putting my home network behind the Vonage Motorola box so that it can do some QoS magic I have simply plugged it into my LAN. My home network configuration has some routing requirements that make it impossible for me to put their box out front. I’m pretty sure I can deal with this quality problem with the Linux QoS features on my router anyway.

What I like most about the service is that everything can be controlled from the Vonage website. Setting up call forwarding is as simple as typing in the phone number. No more *91, wait five seconds etc. What I like even more is that voice mail messages are accessible online. You can listen, save and delete your messages from the website.

Another nice feature is being able to take your VoIP to POTS box to any location with high speed Internet. This means your home number can now travel with you. Vonage also sells a soft phone service so that you can use a SIP client on a PC or laptop while traveling. This avoids carrying the converter around.

I haven’t decided yet if this is just an experiment or if I will be canceling my Bell POTS line but it is definitely looking good.

Google Talk

I’m sure everyone who is interested has already heard about and probably even tried Google Talk. I really like the simple interface they have chosen; it is somewhat similar to my Jabber client of choice, Gossip.

What is most interesting about Google Talk is the use of XMPP/Jabber.

There has been much discussion on why Google Talk cannot speak to the rest of the Jabber world. A couple of common answers to this question are: Google just hasn’t gotten around to implementing the server to server features of Jabber yet and Google is worried about IM spam (spim).

I hadn’t really thought about the spim aspect of the problem until I stumbled on a thread on the jadmin mailing list.

Google Talk federation policy proposal

Automatic registration is a feature of many Jabber servers which allows a user to create a Jabber account on the server. Relating this to the email system, automatic registration would be like email servers all over the Internet allowing you to create an account on the server without any other type of authentication. This would be a spammers heaven.

On first glance, the fact that a lot of Jabber servers allow automatic registration appears to be a real problem for a large scale Jabber/XMPP network. However, I’m not so sure the same spam problems that plague email will necessarily effect the Jabber IM network.

A major problem in the war against email spam is that users expect to be able to receive email from people they have never been in contact with before. Since we expect to receive email from random people who have legitimate reasons to contact us it is very hard to block email from people who do not have legitimate reasons.

IM is used in a very different way from email, it is much more personal. Most people using IM clients do not expect, or want, messages from people they do not already have some relationship with. Part of this is the informal nature of IM and part is privacy based. IM clients give out information such as whether or not you are currently using the computer. Most IM users don’t want this to be general knowledge.

In the Jabber world the list of people you communicate with form your roster. By adding someone to your Jabber roster you are essentially saying “I trust you”. If you trust a particular person with your current status and the ability to interrupt your work at their own discretion you also trust them to not send you spim. If that trust is violated the offending contact can simply be removed from your roster.

Fortunately, the authors of the XMPP IM RFC have already thought about this. XMPP has server side privacy lists. This makes it possible to order your Jabber server to not send any Jabber data to your client if the sender is not on your roster. Of course this excludes requests to be added to your roster.

If blocking all communication with people who are not already on your roster is the default for all Jabber clients, what opportunity does this leave spimmers?

A common archive format for web forums and email lists?

Here’s a little wish list idea for someone with more time than I to work on.

Since the idea came from the use of Usenet it is probably best to start with a short description of what exactly Usenet is. Usenet is a method for large groups of people to communicate about particular subjects. These discussion groups are divided into hierarchies, similar to how domains are divided. For example, the comp hierarchy contains comp.os.linux.advocracy, comp.os.solaris etc. Whatis.com has a definition of Usenet that may be useful. Anything you can possibly imagine, and more, is discussed on Usenet. In the earlier days of the Internet Usenet was the primary place for technical discussions. Unfortunately, this has changed as more and more people use email lists and web forums.

Google maintains a huge archive of Usenet posts going back many years. They claim to have over 1 billion messages in their archive. Using groups.google.com you can search this archive. Anytime I have a technical question, particularly for programming and networking problems, I always start by searching Usenet. The main reason for this is the fact that all discussions are archived in such a way that you can always see the entire thread and easily move between messages. This is particularly useful when searching for a question. Finding a post that asks the same question is useless if the associated replies that may contain a solution cannot be found. Try a search for “aes vs twofish” at groups.google.com. Clicking on any one of the results will allow you to view the entire discussion thread.

Fast forward to 2005. As the technical abilities of the average Internet user has dropped discussions have moved from Usenet to mailing lists and web forums. This change is happening because users already understand their email client and web browser and have little desire to find a Usenet client or discover the Usenet features of their email client. The problem with this trend is that finding information is now much harder. Try the “aes vs twofish” search with the Google web search. The first result I get is a message called “AES256 vs Twofish performance (Was: twofish keysize)”. This is a email that was sent to the GnuPG users mailing list. Once you follow the link Google can no longer help you. You are limited to whatever features the mailing list archive offers. Some mailing list software provides decent search features but most do not. Web based forums are usually even more difficult to use. Many are ugly, slow and certainly do not present a consistent interface across archives that would make finding information easier.

In order to bring these discussions back into a form where search engines can do what they do best we need a mailing list and web forum archive format. Search engines could pull the archives for each list or forum and present a consistent interface like groups.google.com does.

So that is the task I set out. Define a discussion archive standard and convince all web based forums and email list software providers to support it. The search engines will follow soon after.

Site search engines

Has anyone else noticed how bad the search features of most websites are? When trying to find the two RCU links in my last blog entry I first attempted to find them using the search features on the Linux Journal website. None of the returned results were what I wanted. So after trying a few queries I turned to Google. I did a search with “site:linuxjournal.com” appended to the same search terms I had tried with the Linux Journal search engine. Right there on the first page were links to both articles I was looking for.

Why do sites even bother having their own search?