Barack Obama: the open-source candidate?

Now we’re speaking close to my heart. Granted, I’m a freeloader in the open source world. I have yet to contribute a single line of code to an open source project. (OK, I guess that’s not entirely true: I did write a WordPress plugin. Sweet. I’m in the club! Sort of.) But I have wholly embraced open source software in my work. PHP FTW, baby! (Uh yeah… whatever.)

These days the only thing I’m a more enthusiastic and outspoken proponent of than open source software is Barack Obama. So I’m surprised it took me so long to research what he’s running his website on.

Linux PWS/1.3.28

*Whew* Glad to see it’s Linux. But what the heck is PWS? I was at a loss. Then I found this blog talking about the very same issue. And suddenly it made sense why I didn’t recognize the acronym. I never would have considered Microsoft’s Personal Web Server to be the web server of choice running on a Linux server. I am still scratching my head at it. The whole VM thing seems the only logical explanation, except that there’s no logic to explain it. At least it’s not so transparently ass-backwards as John McCain’s configuration:

Linux Microsoft-IIS/6.0

And the inexplicable:

Linux ECAcc (lhr)

Interestingly, though, a Google search for “ECAcc (lhr)” reveals a link to a Digg post entitled John McCain Owns Stay classy, San Diego.

Let’s be clear: I think the idea of running a web site under Windows in a virtual machine on a Linux box is the most incomprehensible, mind-bogglingly stupid arrangement you’d ever bother with. I’d have to guess that the sites were developed to run in a Windows environment, but when it came time to deal with practical server and network capacity issues, load balancing and whatnot, some sysadmin made the (probably prudent) decision to load balance on Linux boxes instead of Windows, but since the site was tied to some feeble Windows technology, they couldn’t just move it over to Linux wholesale.

But let’s take this a step further. Back in late spring I received an email from Barack Obama’s IT director soliciting applicants for web developer positions with the campaign. Even though the job was in Boston, I figured it would be insane not to apply, so I submitted my resume. (I never heard back, for what it’s worth.) And it’s from this that I happen to know that the campaign was specifically seeking PHP developers. Rock on.

With that in mind, the whole Windows-on-Linux-through-VM arrangement made even less sense. Why would they develop the site in PHP, run it on a Windows server (definitely not the optimal arrangement for a PHP-based app, though it certainly will work), and then VM that Windows environment on a Linux box, instead of just gearing the PHP app for a Linux server in the first place? And that’s when I remembered that just earlier in the day I had been looking at Of course! Separate third-level domains are all over Obama’s site. Let’s check the configuration on that domain. Now that’s much better:

Linux Apache/1.3.34 (Debian) mod_gzip/ AuthMySQL/4.3.9-2 PHP/5.2.0-8+etch10

And I think it explains a lot. Campaigns start off small. Obama had to register and put something up there ages ago, long before he was the Democratic nominee and the hugely successful fundraiser he became along the way. So that original site,, was probably developed on a Windows box in someone’s proverbial basement, probably when was running for the U.S. Senate or maybe even the Illinois Senate. But as the campaign has grown, its websites (plural) have grown as well, and in a decidedly open-source direction. There’s some good stuff in there. Debian (which could mean Ubuntu, too… I haven’t checked the signature on Ubuntu’s Apache package to see if it’s split from its Debian roots), PHP (and a reasonably up-to-date version at that), MySQL, etc.

It’s kind of fun to do this kind of research, as long as you don’t mind being distracted along the way, because there are plenty of weird sources of distraction.

Aside from the aforementioned MILF site (classy), and the somewhat interesting fact that searching on “PWS/1.3.28” brings back as its first result a reference to Obama’s hosting, I discovered that for some reason the page title on John McCain’s official store is “Independent Online Stores.” OK. No one looks at title bars. And even fewer web developers look at <title> tags. I know that from experience. But of course that’s just a transitional landing page, announcing that McCain wares are not actually sold by the campaign, but by independent, for-profit companies, and buying these items doesn’t translate into money going back into the campaign. Huh. I can’t quite wrap my brain around that, but I’m a lifelong, union-loving Democrat, so I guess I wasn’t meant to. The only thing that comes to mind is that maybe it has to be that way, legally, now that he’s accepted public campaign financing. Anyway, the first McCain store link I found, which as they state is apparently an independent operation not affiliated with the campaign, is, not surprisingly, running:

Windows Server 2008 Microsoft-IIS/7.0

I also found that the company that hosts some of Obama’s pages also hosts a site for the American Model Yachting Association. Really? Model yachting? That exists?

Is this a joke?

Yesterday, contrary to all expectations, I fell in love with the new iPod nano.

I had never even considered a nano before, because I just felt I needed more capacity. But the other day I was looking at my 30 GB iPod and I discovered that I had over 3600 songs on it that I had never played and that was when I realized I didn’t really need to carry my entire music collection (or, to be honest, 1/3 of my entire collection, because that’s all 30 GB could hold) around with me. That opened the window of opportunity for the nano to win me over, but I still wasn’t really considering it. I was too in love with the idea of the giant screen and Internet access available on the iPhone or the iPod touch.

But yesterday, all of the pieces seemed to fit into place. My wife and I had planned a little weekend trip to Stillwater, MN and we were going to stay at the “historic” Lowell Inn. That logo should have told me everything I needed to know (mainly, that the place has been on a steady decline since the 1970s), but I overlooked it. We arrived in Stillwater and had a fine afternoon checking out the antique shops and vintage bookstores, and having lunch at the Freight House. But then at 3 we headed over to the Lowell to check in. I immediately sensed that the place wasn’t quite as luxurious as it appeared in the tiny photos on their website. Oh, sure, with your glasses off or squinting, everything looked really nice, but there were little details that said otherwise: paint chipping in places, the Post-It note by the front door indicating the location of the door bell, the bent vent grates, the loose stairway railings. But it was when we got to our room that our hearts really sank. We were expecting a suite, or at least a reasonably large room, or, well, let’s be honest, a bathroom that actually had walls and a door and not just a big curtain draped across it, that was too narrow to afford the user of the bathroom total privacy. (It was impossible for the curtain to be closed in such a way that a person sitting on the couch couldn’t see a person sitting on the toilet, either directly or in the mirror.) I also noticed more loose grates, and the headboard of the bed was barely attached, and other weirdness about the room, and was left in a bit of a funk. I probably wouldn’t have cared if the room hadn’t cost $168, but I just kept thinking of all of the other things I could’ve spent that money on.

So, after mulling it over for about 20 minutes, I mustered up the courage to do something I rarely ever do: we decided to go down and ask for our money back, and leave. The proprietor was a bit flustered at this, but he offered to cancel out the room and, if he was able to sell it to someone else, to refund our money. About a half hour later as we were leaving the Stillwater area to head back to Minneapolis, he called and let us know he had been successful. In the end I have to say I was extremely appreciative of the service we got, and I suppose the room’s antique charms might win over some guests, but in the end there is no way I will ever consider staying at the Lowell Inn again.

As we headed back we made our revised plans for the night. We were now flush with cash that we had intended to spend on the hotel and a nice (and commensurately expensive) meal at the Bayport Cookery. So we decided to go to Southdale instead so we could do some shopping and then head over to the Galleria for dinner at Big Bowl.

And so it was that I came to know and love the iPod nano. While SLP was visiting various clothing stores, I headed down to the Apple Store to play with the iPod touch. I had already seen a friend’s iPhone, but since I have less than zero interest in switching to AT&T, I know that particular gadget will remain elusively out-of-reach for me. So, the iPod touch. I was really enjoying looking at it, but then I happened to go over and check out the new nano. It was just a curiosity, nothing else, but I fell in love instantly. The screen, though small, is unbelievably sharp; I love the new user interface; and it is so small! It’s the first iPod I’ve seen (aside from the useless iPod shuffle) that I could actually imagine carrying around in my pocket most or all of the time.

I didn’t buy it immediately, although I wanted to. But the rock solid logic of this basically being the amount of money we saved by not being stuck in the Lowell Inn for a night convinced SLP as well, and on our way back home from Southdale we stopped at the new Super Target that just opened in Richfield, and that’s where I got it.

Now, on to the actual topic of this post. This morning I was checking out Apple’s website for carrying case options for the new iPod nano. I was a little disappointed that the new models don’t come with the little faux-leather slip sleeve that my previous, 5th generation iPod came with. And as I perused the options I discovered the iPod nano swimbelt. Yes, it’s real. Apple doesn’t joke when there’s money to be had. But do people actually swim with their iPods? Apparently at least one person does, because there is one (and only one) superlative review of this product there on the site.