Stories by Jon Udell

Optical illusions

In 1832, the Swiss crystallographer Louis Albert Necker discovered his famously ambiguous cube, which seems to jump back and forth between two orientations. Given the same raw data — a particular arrangement of a dozen line segments — our brains find different ways to interpret it.

The artful logger

I confess to a deep fascination with the seemingly mundane topic of logging. Software crashes, shopping cart abandonment and security breaches are among the many situations in which you’ll find yourself poring over logs trying to figure out what went wrong.

Push me, pull you

I first wrote the title of this column for another column published in 1996. "Using email, I can push data to your computer," I wrote. "Using the web, you can pull data from mine."

Google’s supercomputer

In exchange for your free gigabyte of searchable email, Google’s newly announced web mail service, Gmail, will scan your messages and match them to relevant ads. Some people are worried about invasion of privacy. Others, like writer Phil Windley, think that issue is a red herring.

XBRL: A case study in complexity

Accounting isn't my strong suit. So I read Following the Money to learn what a team of financial academicians think really happened with Enron and WorldCom, and what should be done about it.

Email's many hats

Email is the jack of all trades, but the master of none. There are better ways to transfer files, hold discussions, deliver notifications, broadcast newsletters, schedule meetings, work collaboratively and manage personal information.

Proxy power

My email client pulls messages through a local proxy that checks RBLs (real-time blackhole lists) and tags offending messages with a special header. In web services lingo we'd call that proxy a policy-driven intermediary. The protocol that's intermediated, in this case, is POP3. The policy, set by me, is to check one or more RBLs. Because the proxy lives in the protocol layer, it works with any POP3 client and any POP3 server.

Filling in the margins

I’m writing this column in my local university library, which -- thanks to its comfy chairs and excellent Wi-Fi coverage -- has become a pleasant alternative to my home office. As I watch the students typing at the Dell PCs in the hallway, I realise that none of these kids has ever seen or used a card catalogue.

Software cinema verite

In recent months I’ve been experimenting with narrated screen videos. I have in the past looked at Windows Media Encoder 9, one of Microsoft’s best-kept secrets. Using this free tool, you can capture a demo of any Windows application.

Standards v conventions

Try the following experiment. Send yourself an email message using “Test” as the subject line. Then send another. Then reply to the first message, using the universal default for email conversations: “Re: Test”. Then reply to the second message using a different subject line, for example, “I disagree”. Now turn on the threaded view in your email program and observe the results.

Firefox fills the IE void

In January 2004, 94.8 percent of Web surfers used Microsoft Internet Explorer 5.0 or higher, according to the Web analytics research company Not me, though. For many months I've been using a Mozilla-based browser that can't seem to settle on a name: Phoenix, Firebird, now Firefox. Identity crisis notwithstanding, it rocks.

Making email identity work

I’ve watched with bemusement as Bill Gates has been making the rounds lately — the World Economic Forum, the RSA Conference — to announce that Microsoft is “innovating on many different fronts” to eradicate spam. Really?

Offshoring and US competitiveness

When I was in kindergarten, my family lived in New Delhi. It was a magical year in which I made permanent memories of the sights, sounds and smells of India. A decade ago I returned to India for a tour of its software industrial parks. That visit changed me in another way.

Structured change detection

Andy Hunt and Dave Thomas are apostles of common sense. Their bestselling book, The Pragmatic Programmer, is a thoughtful guide to the craft of programming.

Web services alphabet soup

Here's one popular definition of insanity: "Do the same thing, expecting a different result."