Dave Winer, 56, is a software developer and editor of the Scripting News weblog. He pioneered the development of weblogs, syndication (RSS), podcasting, outlining, and web content management software; former contributing editor at Wired Magazine, research fellow at Harvard Law School and NYU, entrepreneur, and investor in web media companies. A native New Yorker, he received a Master's in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin, a Bachelor's in Mathematics from Tulane University and currently lives in New York City.
"The protoblogger." - NY Times.
"The father of modern-day content distribution." - PC World.
"Dave was in a hurry. He had big ideas." -- Harvard.
"Dave Winer is one of the most important figures in the evolution of online media." -- Nieman Journalism Lab.
10 inventors of Internet technologies you may not have heard of. -- Royal Pingdom.
One of BusinessWeek's 25 Most Influential People on the Web.
"Helped popularize blogging, podcasting and RSS." - Time.
"The father of blogging and RSS." - BBC.
"RSS was born in 1997 out of the confluence of Dave Winer's 'Really Simple Syndication' technology, used to push out blog updates, and Netscape's 'Rich Site Summary', which allowed users to create custom Netscape home pages with regularly updated data flows." - Tim O'Reilly.
8/2/11: Who I Am.
scriptingnews2mail at gmail dot com.
My 40 most-recent links, ranked by number of clicks.
FYI: You're soaking in it. :-)
Following up on Ideas for Movie Moguls, 1/25/12.
Robert Goldman writes about a nearby cinema that has reserved seats. And has eliminated the non-preview commercials. This is the big idea. Treat your customers like you care about them, and they'll be happier to pay money. The idea of paying $15 to see a movie and then having to sit thru commercials for soft drinks and real estate is really humiliating. Whoever had that idea should be sent off to the glue factory.
Another one. I discovered that somehow I'm not subscribed to HBO at home. That's news to me, since I get HBO on my cable box. So I went to the Time-Warner site to check it out, and if I wasn't paying for it, to pay for it. They want me to call them. Well, I'm not going to do that. You can have my money, but not my time and pride. When they get you on the phone get ready for the hard upsell. Someone calculated that if you don't mind wasting the customer's time, you can get an extra 10 percent revenue from them, as some will pay you to shut up. I don't happen to be one of those people. In any case I'm paying $119 a month, so I'm pretty sure that's covering HBO in addition to the standard cable package. You know that seems like an awful lot of money just to watch Boardwalk Empire and Homeland. Hmmm.
One more idea, one that I was bouncing around with my friend Chris Dixon last year. If one of us had the time to implement it we would. Maybe you'd like to? Here's the idea. Set up a trust for the movie industry. A bank account that we can deposit money into but only movie-makers can withdraw from. When you download a movie via BitTorrent that you watch all the way to the end, deposit $5 into the account for the movie. When the owners decide to accept BitTorrent as a legitimate distribution system, which someday they are sure to, they can have the money. The amount of money in the account is always public info. So it becomes an important statistic, part of the "box office" for a movie. Then you'd probably find a funny thing happening -- independent movie producers who can't get distribution any other way will start promoting this site as a legitimate way to pay for movies. It wouldn't take long before the MPAA realized that there are a huge number of people who want the convenience of watching movies at home on their own timetable, instead of having to deal with the inhumane system the movie industry created for them.
Maybe then they will apologize for being such dicks. (But I wouldn't hold out for that.)
This is too funny not to say something.
A few days ago I installed a widget that makes it easy to follow me on Twitter. When I looked at it in Firebug I was surprised at how they did it. They basically framed the whole page, just to get a tiny little thing in there. What are they doing? I have no clue. I don't like it. It looks nefarious. I like technology that, when I lift the hood, looks simple and understandable.
But what the fuck. Everyone else is doing it. I'll let it be for a while.
Then this morning I saw this where it's supposed to show the number of Twitter followers.
I clicked, and sure enough I could type some text.
Hello. How did that happen?
And how is that even possible?
As I said, I'm laughing about this because it's funny. We've been to this place so many times. Conflicting plug-ins. It's a sign of an architecture that people are pushing farther than it was capable of going.
Maybe it's because they don't like my browser? I have no idea.
But maybe it's time to get rid of all the hitchers, and just stick plain old HTML.
I don't often use this space to condemn a person or company. I try to be understanding, see an issue from all sides. Or accept that it's just in the nature of big tech companies to be monopolistic and arrogant and closed-minded, and know that things will run their course, and eventually whatever they try to control will end up obsoleting them.
But this bit about Google being sued for age discrimination, with some horrific quotes from Google people, goes too far.
"Some observers say much of this language is just code for age discrimination. They point to the case of Brian Reid, a 52-year-old manager who was fired by Google in 2004 -- nine days before the company announced plans to go public -- after his supervisors, including the company's vice president for engineering operations, allegedly called him a poor 'cultural fit,' an 'old guy' and a 'fuddy-duddy' with ideas 'too old to matter."
Google doesn't deny or retract these statements. If you were to change those words from age to race, or gender, they would be ashamed. And they would apologize. But because it's age, the one ism that's socially OK, they don't even admit that they were wrong.
Even an open-minded person has to say this is over the top. Not only is there something wrong with the people who say these things, but there's something deeply wrong with a corporate culture that tolerates it.
If one were to try to understand it, the story might go something like this. Big companies hire people who occupy seats, and their job is, as they see it, to keep the company from doing anything that might endanger their seat. They will use any irrelevant excuse to disqualify an idea they find threatening. Instead of finding the future exciting, these people, whatever age they may be (and they often are very young) try to hold back the future.
The people who should be fired are not the people they are talking about, but the people who did the talking.
PS: One thing's for sure, when I meet a person from Google now, I'm going to have a fairly good idea what they're thinking about me as I speak.
You hear this a lot -- I don't seek out the news, I assume that if something is important it will find its way to me.
The other day I heard a famous VC say he gets most of his tech news from TechMeme. Add in a smattering of news from Twitter, and that's it.
The problem with this approach, as I'm sure you know, is that you've given gatekeeper-like power to others. And they have their biases, conflicts, goals and business interests that keep some stories from getting to you.
And you've allowed them to define what "tech" means. Like most conferences these days there isn't a lot of actual technology on TechMeme. Again, not their fault. If you want a real tech river, we can create one. But TechMeme is what it is, and it's not technology-heavy.
I don't blame anyone for being a gatekeeper, just as I don't blame Twitter for bending to the will of governments that want to censor ideas that reach their people. So who or what is to blame? No one really. It's just that if you want to be informed, it involves more work than just accepting what the most powerful gatekeepers are willing to give you.
Another example to consider is Facebook. No one outside Facebook understands how their algorithm works. How do they decide which stories you'll see and which aren't important enough for you? I suspect it has something to do with what will make them money, both short-term and long-term. How they decide is completely opaque.
Here I practice what I preach. Of course, like everyone else, I delegate my reading to gatekeepers. But I have over 400 of them! When any of them pushes a story it shows up in my river. I'm sure you've seen this, because I point to it all the time, as a way of enticing you to create your own river, and share it with others.
If you want to get one set up, you can do it for free for a year on Amazon EC2. Just follow the EC2 For Poets tutorial, and then install River2 on the server it creates. The whole thing takes about twenty minutes. And it's a unique experience, not like anything you've likely done before.
I'd love to see tech pubs create rivers that include not only their stories but the stories of their competitors and individual bloggers. Remember the old adage, People come back to places that send them away. It's still true, and it works!
100,000 years from now historians will debate the purpose of this street sign, discovered on the south corner of Central Park South and Columbus Circle.
Was Earth occupied by a race of poets?
There was a time when you went to a tech conference and many if not most of the speakers knew how computers work. Some of them even knew how to program, and some of them were actually programming on a daily basis. I know it sounds outlandish, but think about it this way. How many medical conferences have no doctors on stage? How many architecture conferences have no architects? Yet it's considered normal to for tech conferences to have no technology.
I was lucky to be invited to speak at a flash conference about Wikileaks in December 2010 in NY. I asked for a show of hands, how many people in the room are programmers? A lot of hands went up. So we're getting at least some techies in the audience. Why are there none on stage?
I believe this is responsible for a very dangerous situation we find ourselves in now. We're quite vulnerable to a few very large companies who control most of the flow for most people on the Internet. Most of the messages flow through their servers. It's possible to argue that this isn't the Internet at all. Because one of the best features of the Internet was its decentralized nature, its resistance to censorship. When everything flows through a few company's servers, Google, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, Amazon, and a few others -- it's much easier to shut things down. And it's also possible to shut things down without anyone knowing. And it's possible to shut things down with no possible recourse. This is an unacceptably dangerous situation.
So I propose three changes for tech conferences, akin to the changes brought about by women noticing that almost none of the speakers at tech conferences were women.
1. There ought to be at least one active programmer speaking at every tech conference.
2. If there are tutorials at the tech conference, there ought to be a tutorial that shows people how to operate their own server with a few apps running on it. Blogging software perhaps. Or their own news aggregator. Or their own Facebook or Twitter clone (those might come later with an installed base of users who know how to run servers).
3. If a conference is promoting APIs, it should in addition to promoting proprietary APIs, give equal time to open APIs that are not owned by any single corporation.
Anticipating the objection that programmers are not suitable speakers because they are not good communicators, that's simply not true. It reflects people's fear more than reality. There are plenty of programmers who are great storytellers, and who are passionate about their work and able to tell you about other people's work, and what it means to people. There are far more programmers that I would like to listen to than venture capitalists or corporate CEOs. Programmers can get you excited about networks. CEOs tell you how great they are and how they're going to kill their competition. VCs tell you how much they love their CEOs. All this leaving users feeling like they're forgotten, which they truly are.
About tutorials, we achieved great results at the Bloggercon conferences teaching people how to edit their own websites, at a time when it was considered just as weird to want to do that as it is today to want to run your own server. I promise you it's no more difficult to run a server, and it's just as satisfying, and opens your mind to a lot of new possibilities. And it weakens the grip of the big companies on their users if people aren't mystified about what it takes to run a server. The mystique is the problem. The fact that you think you can't run a server is the problem.
All the money that's been made on the Internet owes a tremendous amount to the open APIs that made it all possible. It's also fair to ask the big companies to give back to replace the open-ness that they're taking out of the Internet. I like to ask VCs and company execs if they tip waiters at restaurants. Of course they all do -- but they don't have to. We do it because -- well -- why do we do it? Probably because we appreciate good service. So we should all be giving back to the Internet. And one good way to do that is to demystify and promote the technology that made it all possible. In the hope that perhaps we'll get more.
Looking at it another way, the Internet was one of the most successful development projects of all time. Why don't we continue the project instead of assuming that everything good will come from corporate developers.
I was also able to build off Andre Radke's excellent work for Manila macros that run code. So we start off with very powerful and safe macros that can call each other and even have logic and certain kinds of arithmetic. As usual for Andre's work it's done with precision and completeness and it's stood up over time.
Here's a page with links to all the worknotes for this little project.
And here's the leading edge, being able to include expandable outlines within any kind of object. The cool thing about macros, if they're designed with care, it's like swinging a huge ball at the end of a long chain, just by flicking your finger. I'll see if I can find an image that conveys the feeling.
The cool thing about this project is that it was not hard work, it was not a stretch. Part of that is because this the seventh time I've done a macro system that renders in a web page. AutoWeb, Clay Basket, NewsPage Suite, WSF, Manila, Radio8 all came before. You think I'm in a loop? Obviously... Hopefully this is the last one.
On Twitter, with its 140-character limit, there's little focus to the discussion about the new filitering they just announced. Here are some of my comments, in bullet form, hopefully to add some more substance to the discussion..
1. We don't know very much about what they're doing, and it's not clear that we ever will.
2. The examples they cite, laws in France and Germany that prohibit pro-Nazi speech, are somewhat reasonable. But I suspect this will be used in the future to prevent leaks of information they don't want leaked. If Twitter-like tech is the new world stage, and I think it is, they want to control who has what access to it.
By "they" I mean the unspecified governments and companies that can tell Twitter to make something inaccessible somewhere.
3. The Internet is not a law-free zone.
4. I am not passing judgment on Twitter. I will gladly concede they have no choice.
5. What we're deciding, by our actions, is whether the Internet will be like TV, a medium where individuals can perhaps comment on what's being broadcast (that would be the innovation, the interactivity) but without the ability to organize ourselves outside of the control of huge corporations and governments.
6. Yes, the governments can shut down anything they want.
7. But, as I've pleaded previously, if we force them to shut down the Internet to control the flow of information, everyone will know. If there is an ability to shut off communities selectively, that would be hard to detect.
8. Clarity on whether the Internet is up or down is something we should value and protect.
9. It's possible today to be on a decentralized network and still participate in Twitter. If large numbers of us do it, Twitter won't be able to quietly turn this feature off, or limit it, without lots of real users feeling it.
10. We should have tutorial sessions at every Internet policy conference that show people how easy it is to operate your own infrastructure. It's really there now, ready to teach users how to do it. But you have to make a commitment to standing up for the Internet. It will never be as easy as Twitter. However, if Twitter shuts you off, it won't effect your presence. That's worth a little more complexity. (And the complexity is all in setup, not in posting. Once set up, it's faster than in Twitter itself.)
11. If you work or study at a university in compsci or journalism, learn how to run a server, and then teach others how to do it. If you want to make a real contribution to the Internet, that's how to do it. Signing petitions or forcing minor movement in Washington really isn't that effective.
12. Ask not what the Internet can do for you, ask what you can do for the Internet.
Anyway, that's it for now.
Three years ago, I wrote a tutorial called EC2 for Poets that made it relatively easy for a technically proficient user to set up a Windows server in Amazon EC2. A few hundred people tried it, and were able to get servers running. They could install apps, and run web apps that they then could access from home or on the road. Having your own server "up there" can be pretty cool, makes a lot of things possible that otherwise would be hard.
For example you can run a personal river of news. That's what I do on one of my EC2 instances. Not only for myself but for a few friends at universities and publications. I'm now working on one for a friend who teaches at Harvard. And there's a biologist at Columbia who's using Radio2 to keep a linkblog running. This stuff really works, and is not so hard to set up. And once it's set up, it pretty much runs itself.
Running a server may sound hard. But in practice it's as easy as running a laptop. In some ways it's even easier.
And Amazon and Microsoft just made it possible to run an EC2 server for a year for free!
That's a pretty big deal if you were thinking it might be too expensive just to play around.
So in summary:
1. EC2 for Poets.
Just to be sure everything is working, I set up a River2 installation on a micro EC2 instance, and it really went smoothly.
I know the Repubs like to demonize Nancy Pelosi, but I really like her.
Check out this exchange with John King at CNN.
Fascinating. What does she know?
1. Newt is secretly a Democrat.
2. Newt is secretly a woman.
3. Newt secretly slept with Nancy P.
4. Newt is secretly Osama bin Laden's long lost brother.
5. New paid no taxes until he was 45 years old.
6. Instead of fighting in Vietnam, he signed up for the Khmer Rouge. He's Prince Sihanouk's long lost brother.
7. He was part of the Bay of Pigs invasion. In fact the bay was named after him. He's Fidel Castro's long lost brother. (Hence his hatred of Fidel.)
President Obama asks that we suggest ways for the movie industry to control the Internet that we might not find so objectionable.
Nat Torkington tells an old joke in a new context. It's a good one. God already gave the movie industry the Internet and it's been shown you can make many billions of dollars selling things there. So why not sell movies too?
I think the President asks the wrong question.
What can the movie industry do to freshen up their product in the age of technology to make it more fun and interesting for their customers. Rather than try to destroy the new playground, how about coming out to play!
So here are some ideas.
1. The best suggestion I've heard is to make it impossible to use a cell phone or send or receive text messages in movie theaters. Just block the incoming signal. True, some people might stay home because they always want to be online, but I bet a lot more people would come back.
2. Work with Apple and others to emit a special "no alarms allowed" signal to be broadcast in the movie theater. That way the user doesn't have to do anything to turn off the alarms. The owner of the venue could do it.
3. I find it's hard to hear dialog sometimes in movies. Maybe it's because my hearing isn't so good. I like the sound systems they have. But I could use my mobile device and headphones to tune into an audio track that's broadcast locally to those in the theater. Sure hackers could use this to get a great recording of the sound of the movie. So what. It would make the experience better for the people who pay. Those people are your customers.
4. Open the theaters to amateurs. Have contests for local creative movie people in your neighborhood. Have Saturday showing for the kids in your area. Get involved with your community. They could be a source of ideas. And we could find out where the great movies are coming from, geographically.
5. Why aren't there cafes in the lobby of at least some theaters. Aren't we always looking for a place for a snack or coffee after the movie? A place to talk about what we just saw with people we came with? Or a place to talk about the movies with people we saw it with. Instead they just move people in and out. Missed opportunity, imho.
6. Make the theaters more attractive and comfortable! Upgrade the experience. You're competing against my home theater which isn't really that great compared to the theater. But it is much more convenient.
7. Stretch the genres. So many of the movies are stupid rehashes of stories that weren't that great in the first place. Movies like The Artist show that there are still a lot of ideas that are not fullly explored. Challenge the movie-makers to be more creative. I think that's a big part of the problem.
8. Start a dating site based on people's like and dislike of movies.
Anyway, just some ideas. Feel free to share your ideas in the comments.
In yesterday's piece about wanting an exit from Google, I mentioned that I might use DuckDuckGo, but had reservations because it's "another Fred Wilson company." Fred, who is a very cheerful dude (no sarcasm) responded with evangelism, which is what I like about Fred. Of course he can handle criticism, even when it's as vaguely defined as the bit in my blog post. Come right back with a great product pitch. I wouldn't expect any less.
Even though I know Fred personally, he has a bigger presence in the tech world. Like it or not he now is the leading tech VC. He occupies a slot that John Doerr used to. Who came before? Not sure -- Don Valentine? Arthur Rock? Eugene Kleiner? I've heard about them. But they're not of my generation. I'm a little younger than Doerr, and a little older than Wilson. And I know JD as well. He bought a company of mine, I served on a board with him, and he lived on the same street in the 90s (not bragging, I lived a little beyond my means, and Doerr is more modest than his).
Both Doerr and Wilson are genial, charming, politically active, and I think for the most part share the same values I do. However, where we part is on the role of users in tech. I have chosen to identify with them. And while Fred does as good a job as he can, given what he does, of understanding the user's perspective (I'd say this is the reason he rose to be #1 in his field) he really is sitting on the other side of the table, business-wise, from the users. I doubt if he views it this way, but I do.
The way to align our interests is to own a common stock. Back in 1998, it turns out, it would have been a good idea to not switch to Google unless we as users could buy it. I think the Google guys sort of intuited this, because when they finally went public in 2004, they cut out the investment bankers, and went with a very web-like approach to stock called the Dutch Auction IPO, invented by Bill Hambrecht. What a pioneering idea, it paved the way for Kickstarter, which is growing like a weed, and changing the way we think about funding startups (Kickstarter is Fred Wilson company, btw, and Google is a John Doerr company).
So Google started out on the right path, but eventually they went wild and desperate, and did all the things with their product that users probably thought they would never do. So now I'm shopping for a search engine to invest in. DuckDuckGo could be that, except for this one problem. Imho, it's inexorably on the same path that Google was on. That means they're going to spend years of our time pretending that they are still on our side, until one day it'll be blatantly obvious that we just wasted years waiting for them to give take us somewhere we'd want to go . They are using us as pawns, as big techco's always do.
In other words, I want to use a search engine that I, along with you, and everyone else on the web, own.
In the same sense that we own the web. Can we operate our own search engine? Can the developers who lead us there get unreasonably rich even if they don't control our future? These are all questions that I believe we can address. I think we can all win. And I think that until we do this, and do it right, we'll be stuck in the same infinite loop we've circling as long as I've been in tech.
This isn't intended to generate an action item on anyone's todo list (to use tech management terminology) rather to raise the question, once again, how we can build a future with technology that is allied with the interests of users. That's where I want to invest my most precious resource -- time.
Google's feature-creep is creeping me out.
I did an image search the other day and it made me stand up and pace. They were showing me posts on Google Plus with pictures from people they know I know because I email with them in Gmail. I don't want to go there. I want search to be search and just that. I want the same search everyone else gets unless I specifically ask it to search images from people I know who are using Google-Plus. There are times I don't want to be marketed to. Like when I'm using image search. That's almost always part of creative work. I will do the driving Google. Thanks.
Maybe it's time to use DuckDuckGo, but honestly that's another Fred Wilson company, and even though he returns my calls and answers my emails, I don't want to be so dependent on him. I already us Twitter, Tumblr and Disqus. That's enough.
One thing is for sure, the Internet experience which has been pretty steady for the last five years or so is about to upheave. I'm planning on doing some of the heaving myself.
I've got three main projects and lots of little utilities that tie them together.
They are River2, Radio2 and World Outline.
River2 and Radio2 are at 1.0 level. Totally functional, polished UIs, but they're still being worked on. There will be new major versions.
World Outline is rock and roll. But it's coming out soooo nice. I love this product like I loved outliners in the 80s and blogging tools in the 90s and 00s.
So here's an example of what a code object looks like now. As you might imagine, to expand something click the blue wedge.
Text in italics are comments. One of the cool things about programming in an outliner is that the comments collapse up to a single line. So there's no penalty for explaining what's going on. As a result, some of the scripts in our world are really blogs! Here's an example, tcp.httpClient. It started out in 1998 as a utility to replace code that was being replicated all over the place. Over time we realized that this was a pretty central piece of code, and invested in it. And from time to time it needed a new feature or a new optional parameter. Naturally we documented the changes in comments at the top of the script.
And because we love CSS you can control the look of code objects by editing the template. Here's the default template for code objects in the world outline. But I imagine that these templates will be traded like themes in Manila or templates in Tumblr. I love investing in template languages because it's where geeks and designers meet. Power meets power. (The template is an outline, so you should open it in an outliner that understands OPML.)
And all this has Bootstrap baked in, and it surfaces at the top level. When this is done, I think it'll be the easiest and most powerful Bootstrap prototyping and design environment in addition to all the other stuff it does.
Just wanted to mark this milestone here....
Good evening everybody. It's time to watch football. And inbetween plays a place to write some notes. Not necessarily about the game.
I had a thought about Apple's hype that their products "just work" and how it causes pain for the support system for their products. The users hear how easy everything is, but when they go to their spouse or child or parent or S.O. to get help they make it sound so complicated. Hand-waving and exasperation. This disconnect causes infinite angst in family relationships. I guess it's part of life. But it would help if Apple told users that their friends who try hard to help really are trying to help. (Assuming they are.) Or they could do more to realize the "just works" promise.
Last night Newt Gingrich gave a disgusting victory speech, which is why we tune into Newt. To see how low he can go! And he can go pretty damn low. He helped me see how Republicans use ideas that no one understands and make them sound evil the way they use the terms. The Republican fans tune in. Oh Sharia Law. That's great I mean awful! Can you just imagine the Supreme Court taken over by Sharia lawyers. What will the liberal elites think of next! Answer: Saul Alinsky. A Jewish communist who worked against "racism." What could be better for a Southern racist than getting to hate a Jew who loves blacks. Oh Newt! You know just what to say to get us excited. The silver lining? Republicans outside the South aren't quite as low as Newt. And some of them are even Jewish, African-American or Muslim.
Yes, I hate the Republicans. Delete the party and start over. That business with driving the country to the brink of default after running up the deficit for so many years, that was a line they shouldn't have crossed. That kind of arrogant anti-Americanism deserves the death penalty. As Newt says it's as close to despicable as anything I can imagine!
Truth is this -- users are caught between tech and media. Neither of them is looking out for our interest. Each of them own politicians each owns tech. The tech industry is better at tech (no surprise) and the media industry is better at a lot of other things, including getting Congress to do their bidding.
I've been warning the news publishers to be careful about viewing Twitter and Facebook as if they were equivalent to the web. This would be like Kodak trusting Apple to handle its digital photography strategy. We know now how that turned out.
Twitter and Facebook are rich and getting richer. Either of them could easily buy a struggling but independent news organization. Then where would you be if you were dependent on them to distribute news? It would be like the Times depending on Murdoch to print their daily paper. Instead the Times invested in their own printing plant, presumably so they could have better control of the product, both from a creative and tactical standpoint. If Murdoch owned the presses and the trucks, who do you think would deliver the most timely news? They have to think about Twitter that way. At some point they will come to see themselves as a media company, if they don't already.
Caught in the middle is the original idea of the Internet and the web, that people could be media instead of just consuming it. For that to continue, enough people have to see their future as publishing independently, and enough people have to read indpenedently of corporate media, neither originating from Silicon Valley or Hollywood, to keep the flame alive.
I still hope that there's a remnant of the idealism of tech. That there was value in the personal-ness of PCs. The net is the same way. We need to make it always-easier for people to own and run their own infrastructure. People think it's hard, but it doesn't have to be! Each of us can have the equiv of a printing plant, that's the magic of tech. No harder to keep running than a laptop. To those people in tech who still hold to the ideal of free communication unrestricted by government or corporations, please use some of your profits to help guarantee the future of an independent Internet.
Otherwise, I think we can all see this clearly now, the net will be a single amorphous disneyfied mess, not too far down the road.
I remember reading an article in the NYT magazine that had a picture of a young woman who had been horribly disfigured in a fire when she was a kid. They showed her the picture. She didn't know she looked like that. They asked what she saw when she looked in the mirror. She said there was a way of tilting her head and looking only at certain features that made her appear attractive. That's how she hid the truth from herself. This made an impression, obviously, since I read that piece many years ago, but the story stays with me.
Yesterday, I tried to configure an iPad with my mother, for my mother, and we failed. And in the process I saw clearly how awful the process still is, even though you no longer need to tether the iPad to a computer to set it up.
I understand it can be a hard problem, but I also see evidence of different teams working on different parts of the setup and not talking to each other. What else could explain why you have to enter your email address twice in the process?
And why exactly do they need to know her email address? And why does it need to be verified? We paid good money for this device. It's ours, isn't it? How does Apple justify getting in the way of our using it whatever way we'd like to? (Yes, I know that shows how naive I am and what a throwback I am to the days when computers were really ours, when they were personal computers.)
They didn't like the password she chose. It was a good password given that she just wants to play a game with it. But it required 8 characters, at least one had to be uppercase and one had to be a number. The chance of her remembering the password we created? Pretty slim. (And what good is a password that the user can't remember?)
They use so much techinical jargon in the setup process that a normal person couldn't possibly be expected to understand. I didn't write it all down. I knew what to do because I have almost 40 years experience using computers and a couple of degrees in computer science. But if they commissioned a study at Apple to evaluate the setup process, by someone who didn't have a stake in "it just works" as applied to Apple, they would have their eyes opened. This thing is not easy to set up or use. (It is easy to buy, however. That process they have invested in streamlining.)
All I wanted to do was give my mom a way to play Words With Friends with her friends. She's a lifelong Scrabble player, and I think she would enjoy it. But we didn't have a way to access her email from the Starbucks where we did this work, so she left without the iPad. And she's not good at following instructions over the phone. I had reservations about giving her something that would further complicate her computer life. Now I can see what a bad idea this was.
But what if Apple lived up to their claims? What if the iPad really were easy to set up and use? What if they streamlined it so that all unnecessary steps were taken out of the way of a user who just wants to have fun?
I read a quote from Steve Jobs where he said he didn't want to compete with Dell and have the computers delivered by UPS or Fedex because he wanted to experience the joy of an impulse purchase. He wanted to get the credit with his family for bringing home something fun, powerful and easy. I agree. But today's Apple doesn't deliver on that.
My mom says that all her friends who have iPads had to go to the Apple store to get them set up. I'm not surprised. I can't imagine how it could be otherwise.
I've known this was coming, Matt told me about their RSS aggregator when he told me they were supporting rssCloud.
So theoretically, I should see this update over there immediately because I'm subscribed, and of course scripting.com supports rssCloud.
A couple of problems off the bat.
2. I don't see any way to import or export an OPML subscription list. Not saying they don't have it, I just didn't find it.
And of course it's good news that Wordpress is embracing RSS fully, as a way to connect reading and writing. It's what I wish Twitter and Facebook had done from the beginning. They said it wasn't possible. It's good to see that Matt & Co didn't fall for that.
Also interesting to see that they subscribed me to some stuff before I had ever been there. They are blogs I'm interested in. How did they know?
Update: Apparently you can only subscribe to a blog, not to a feed. I have quite a few feeds that don't have blogs. No reason to. Here are a couple of examples: NYT firehose, Hacker News firehose. Thee are two of my most-used feeds.
Update: I tricked it into subscribing to Hacker News by creating a pseudo-blog "wrapper" for it and asking Wordpress to subscribe to it. However, it did not like the wrapper for my linkblog. Weird and frustrating.
Matt Waite, a professor at University of Nebraska, has written a very timely post about the dearth of student developers to work in newsrooms and j-schools. I wrote a comment, but my browser crashed as it was submitting it. Then I posted another comment, but I put it under the wrong post. Serves me right. I should have made my rather longish comment a blog post, as I so often recommend to others. So here goes.
First read Mr. Waite's post. If you're a regular here, you will find it on-topic, in many ways.
Now, my observations.
Lots to say on this subject, but most to the point -- I have lots of working code that's relevant to journalism, and lots more ideas. Also have a track record at getting ideas adopted. Not only am I available to work with academics who want to get stuff done, I have experience at it. Just finished a two-year fellowship at NYU J-school, and also worked as a fellow at Harvard Law School to get blogging adopted across the campus.
However -- it's been over 30 years since I was a student.
There are plenty of 50-somethings like me, with lots of relevant experience who are looking for ways to contribute.
Based on my experience at NYU, I think what the young folk are mostly distracted by are the VCs, who believe the way to riches in software is through people in their early 20s. It's hard to keep them interested in school, or anyhting other than being "the next Zuck."
One more thing I wrote a piece last year about educating the journo-programmer. To summarize, I think the one skill we should be teaching all journalists is how to manage their own infrastructure. And we should help compsci students learn how to make that easier and more powerful for the journos. And the ones who have talent at the intersection will be fairly obvious.
Now that the big blackout is behind us, does it make sense for us to be buying the products of corporate media here in the US? No, in fact it doesn't. That's where the pain really makes sense. Let Hollywood have their share.
Don't just write or call your Congressperson. They're the employees, hired help. And the people who pull the strings aren't just the entertainment execs either. They're hired to play the bad guys. The ones who want to somehow stay above the rape of the net are the stars. If they get an idea that their reps are suffering because of SOPA, they're going to act fast. That's how they make their money. It's their images that belong on this campaign, not the ones no one has heard of. Congressmen come and go. But Matt Damon wants to be making movies for decades. Same with George Clooney, Kate Winslet, Ryan Gosling, Meryl Streep.
Now that the big blackout is behind us, does it make sense for us to be buying the products of corporate media here in the US?
No, in fact it doesn't. That's where the pain will really make sense. Let Hollywood have their share.
And by the way, don't just write to your Congressperson. They're just the employees. The people who pull the strings aren't just the entertainment execs either. They're hired to play the bad guys. The ones who want to somehow stay above the rape of the net are the stars. If they get an idea that their reps are suffering because of SOPA, they're going to act fast. That's how they make their money. It's their images that belong on this campaign, not the ones no one has heard of. Congressmen come and go. But Matt Damon wants to be making movies for decades to come.
Go through the list of actors nominated for Oscars this year. Go to actors featured at Sundance right now. That's who we ought to be contacting. And if they don't respond, let's make them famous for that.
I had this site blacked out for the day, but went back to full-color at approx 10PM.
I did the blackout by changing the DNS mapping for scripting.com from the Apache server we usually use, to a Frontier server running a custom script that returns HTML with no content. It did have a web bug in it so I could count hits.
I thought it was wrong to do anything other than return an empty black page. If you tried to sell an idea or retain your rep with the search engines, then you really didn't black yourself out. I doubt if our friends at the MPAA would be so kind.
So much stuff broke on so many of my sites and people who use my software. Many of my images and scripts are hosted on scripting.com so that stuff broke even if it was being referenced from another domain. The problems rippled all through my little world. It was a learning opportunity.
Not sure why in the end I decided to go black. I don't think anyone really cared for any reason that mattered. A much more powerful way to go would have been to help people get their flow out of centralized corporate-owned media. But of course the people who own the media, some of whom were leading the blackout, would lose money if that happened.
The US government speaks and people listen.
What we hear: Danger!
And our first reaction: Protest!
Protest is good, esp if people hear you, and understand what you're saying, and repeat it accurately. However, given that most people still depend on corporate media for their news, and since they are the sponsors of SOPA, we'll probably find that one side of the story is told better than t'other.
But there are other reactions that make equal sense.
1. Backup. A commenter points out that someone could post infringing content that would result in Flickr being taken down. And you might have all your non-infringing family pictures on Flickr. Should that day come, it probably makes sense to have a copy of all your Flickr pictures somewhere else, just in case.
2. Decentralize. Maybe you shouldn't be on Flickr in the first place. Make the net less vulnerable by learning how to set up and run your own server. No this isn't for everyone. But surely some people could do it who aren't feeling the motivation. Maybe the threat of government attack and your love of the Internet might be enough to get you going? I figure that eventually it will. Better too soon than too late.
The list of sites blacking out on Wednesday is growing. I might do it with my sites, if I understood why.
The most offensive parts of SOPA have been removed. They aren't talking about giving the RIAA and MPAA power to hack DNS in the US.
So what's the message that's meant to be conveyed by a web strike on Wednesday?
Amazon apparently has announced that they will provide free use of a Windows server on Amazon EC2 for a year.
This is a big deal for us because the EC2 for Poets server package runs on Windows on Amazon's system. Now the ability to run a server for a year costs nothing, so there's no barrier for its use in education.
We had asked Amazon to allow students to create servers at no charge so they could learn how to operate their own publishing and editorial infrastructure. I didn't imagine getting this much free server time for students. And of course the offer is open to everyone, not just in education.
This is a huge deal. For example it will be possible for one user to host rivers for a whole company (even a very large one) for one year for nothing. Or publish linkblog feeds for a few hundred users -- all for nothing.
Thanks to Amazon and Microsoft for putting this together.
BTW, there is a good and consistent fix to the alarm-interrupting-the-Mahler-symphony problem. When the user chooses to mute the iPhone and there's an alarm that's going to ring in the next three hours (a reasonable upperbound on the length of a performance, a concert, play or movie) warn the user that the alarm is going to ring even though the phone is silenced.
It's like advising the user that saving something will overwrite an existing file. It's just good manners to let the user know about possible negative consequences of their actions.
When the Republicans eventually choose a candidate I assume the debates will stop, and that will be a sad day for me.
Maybe, if the Republicans lose the election and wither as a political party, they can form a TV network for political debates. Or at least do a Sunday night HBO or Showtime series.
I bet the Comedy Channel would pick it up!
A bunch of white male guys in suits, with a token female (short and spunky!) and a token black guy (9-9-9) get up on stage and tell jokes for an hour while political moderators from the networks take turns at trying to catch them saying something that can be understood and therefore fact-checked. The judges rate the candidates by the color and humor of their gaffes.
It would (already does) make great TV!
I went to a Broadway play yesterday, Relatively Speaking.
It was actually three one-act plays written by Ethan Coen, Elaine May and Woody Allen.
The middle one, which starred Marlo Thomas, was the best. All were comedies, with lots of laughs, but the middle piece was also poignant, human and sad. The suspension of disbelief was complete. As you sit in the dark theater, with a few hundred others, you forget you're there. Instead, you're drawn to a small apartment, where the actors enter and exit. Your emotions go up and down, left and right. The designer in this case is a team. The playwrite, the actors, and the director, John Turturro, who you never see, but if you know him as an actor, later you realize the gestures were very much his.
You could say the play "Just Works" -- as Apple technology is supposed to. But they don't make the claim. Each of us decides for ourselves how well the story-telling works.
The NY Times has a two-part story about design run amok. It takes place in Linclon Center, where a few hundred people were watching a Mahler symphony, performed by the NY Philharmonic. Toward the end of the performance, from somewhere in the first row, a phone starts ringing. And it keeps ringing. So the conductor does something unusual. He stops the performance.
You could think of the conductor, Mahler, the orchestra, and even the ushers as the designers of this user experience. The iPhone was not supposed to be part of the design, but it was. The user had silenced the phone, but it has a rule that under some circumstance being silent meant playing the Marimba ringtone. Over and over.
Now there are reasons why the iPhone rang even when it was told explicitly not to by its user. That's not the point of this piece. Not whether they were right or wrong to design it this way. The point is there are other designers at work in the world the iPhone lives in. And their choices matter too. Not just to other designers, but to the users. Who, coming to a symphony, and at least some of them not being Apple customers, expect to have it "just work" too.
I did a two-day project to rewrite our web-based prefs system to run in Bootstrap tabs.
It works great. Then I went one step further, and created a new worldoutline nodetype called tabs. So you can create a tab-based interface without knowing any HTML.
It's pretty amazingly easy.
And a screen shot of the editing environment that created that document.
Have to keep working on connecting up all the bits so this software can be used by lots more people.
A few days ago I got an ominous message from the NYT website when I went to read a story about political page-turners for this election season. That's one of the things I like about the Times. Their cultural articles tend to be pretty interesting and insightful. That the message popped up on this article, saying I had used all but 5 of my 20 free reads for the month of January, was pretty good salesmanship. Would I rather not read this article and ones like it? What about all the books and movies I'd miss out on? Hmmm.
I looked into the price. Too high! I'll worry about it later.
And later never came.
Looking at my linkblog stats page for 2012, I can see that I've already passed on 14 links to NYT articles in January. That must mean I've read lots more than my allotted 20. A bug in their paywall, perhaps?
And I don't see myself using one of the circumventions. Either I pay, or go without.
But it seems we could come to some kind of arrangement. Or a discount. After all I am a developer. I did help them get their RSS support going. And they have called on me for free advice, thought that was a long time ago. And I do help get them flow. All of this obviously is part of the grieving process. If I decide to go without I will surely miss the Times. Much more than I miss Facebook, which I quit back in September. I don't miss Facebook one bit. I'm sure if I knew what my friends were doing there I would miss it. But I don't. One of those times that ignorance is bliss.
I've been playing WWF for about a year now, and it's still holding my interest.
I keep getting better. And each game is different. And each opponent is different too.
My friend Yvonne once suggested we play a different game, one where the goal was to maximize the sum of both our scores. I like that idea, but I've never actually played anyone with that goal.
Sometimes when playing against children or people who are obviously unschooled in the competitive aspects of WWF, I just put down moves that I find interesting, without worrying about how many points I score. But the thrill of a 100-plus point move is still the best feeling. I love watching the points rack up. And I dream of a word where a Q and a J both land on triple-letter and some other letter lands on triple-word. Let's see. That would be 30 plus 30 times 3. Pretty good move!
In a recent game with a friend who I won't name or characterize (oh the politics of WWF!) I did a fanciful move that connected three parts of the board in what I thought was a clever way, but it didn't amount to a lot of points. I made a comment to that effect. He pointed out that I had a huge lead at the time, so my esprit de corps (or is it joie de vivre) was in question. So I made a point in the next game, when I was behind, to do something similar! Hah. That'll show him. (And he surely will read this blog post.)
The odd thing is that I come from a family of Scrabble players, but I never liked Scrabble. I don't like having to be creative while other people are watching. And I'm very visual, apparently -- I need to be able to move the letters around on the board to see the move. In real-world Scrabble you'd never get away with that. Also I like that I can go away for a few hours and come back and look at the board again. That's how I find my best moves. In real-world Scrabble I'd often get stumped, and what do you do then? That's why I always declined an invite to play Scrabble. But I absolutely love WWF.
I'm sure someone is already doing this but just in case...
How about a browser plug-in that subscribed to a public list of sites of people and companies that support SOPA and black them out.
Obviously it would be a voluntary thing to install such a plug-in. I would run it. I'd like to know.
Add to the list all Congress people who vote in favor of SOPA. Esp the pages where you donate money to them or volunteer to work for their campaigns.
While you're at it block pages on commerce sites where their products are for sale. No Internet revenue for companies who back SOPA.
If the Times were a drug or car company the lies the Times ran in selling the war in Iraq were a serious quality control issue. If their product is accurate information, which theoretically is, they had a huge breach. It's why I have little faith in the NYT, even though I still read it regularly.
The Times did a pretty good coverup, considering how exposed they were, but I think a lot of people noticed anyway. Esp since the war was so incredibly expensive in so many ways.
Who did they use to sell the war? Colin Powell and the NY Times. What was left of each of their credibility in the aftermath? And how much effort did they put into getting it back?
I think that's why there was such a strong reaction to the question asked by the Times ombudsman today. His question was itself a serious error in proportion. The untruths carried in the Times, such crucial ones, were the things they should have been watching for. We elected a defense contractor as a VP. They used the Times to lie our way into a war that made the defense industry huge amounts of money.
Continuing in the football thread. It's as if your opponent bought a fantastic quarterback. You think they might be planning on doing some passing?
King Kaufman is a sports writer who says he reads Scripting News to learn about football. That's one of the highest compliments someone can pay me, cause I often think in terms of football analogies when it comes to tech.
So here's a football analogy! ...
Google and Microsoft are playing a game of football in a stadium called Search. My guess is that Google doesn't think they're actually playing a game, or if they do, they aren't worried about Microsoft gaining any significant yardage. Kind of like the way Alabama beat LSU earlier this week.
They might be right, but Google is letting one of Microsoft's wide receivers go uncovered. You'd think if Microsoft was smart they'd throw the ball to him and see if perhaps it might turn into a touchdown.
Here's the deal. Google's search is getting cluttered with pointless crap. I think they forgot that when Google launched all the existing search engines were similarly cluttered, and they offered two things. 1. Something really nice called Page Rank and 2. No clutter.
Now I'm pretty sure that Google thinks their magic, whatever that might be, will keep people using Google no matter how much crap they shovel onto the search page. Maybe that was true up to a point, but Google is now over the line. A search engine that did two things would get me to at least seriously try it (and nothing has been able to do that for me since Google rolled out in 1998). Here are the two things.
1. A super-clean bare-bones interface.
2. A bonded promise that it will stay that way forever.
The bonded part is important. I don't think anyone should switch or even think of switching unless the move was irreversible. It has to be that way forever. We could agree to some small amount of advertising on the search results, in the right margin, and clearly labeled. But beyond that, nothing but search results and whitespace.
The bond would have to be something that hurt if they gave it up. A lot of cash put in escrow to be paid to the ACLU or NASA or split among 15 universities. Something like that. A very large amount of money. Otherwise we'd be crazy to give them a chance, they would just bait and switch us.
I wonder if Microsoft has ever done a study to see how many people switched from Windows to Mac because of all the shovelware and malware that was inundating Windows? I bet it was a lot of people. I promise you that's why I switched. I don't think the Mac is any easier to use. Except there are no viruses. My Windows machine was impossible to use because of all the crap.
Google is now in the same place. Enough is enough. Is anyone going to step up and take advantage of their mistake?
This was an end-of-year piece written on December 30 that got tabled because it was submitted to run in another pub. But they decided not to run it, so here it is.
One of the things I've learned this year is that at least some people feel that acknowledgement from me is worth something. This is a very foreign concept.
Inside my own mind, I am the person seeking acknowledgment.
At some point, somehow I got the idea that the opposite might also be true. So I tried some experiments. Random compliments on Twitter to people who I look up to, who I was looking to for approval. Just to see what would happen.
Hey, they liked it! Amazing. Who would have thought. (But I should have figured this out long ago.)
You might try it too to see if it works. I bet it does.
Almost everyone likes recognition. Hey you did a good job there! Keep it up. It's easy to type and say, and the results will warm your heart.
I once wrote a piece where I said we're all barking farting chihuahua's and our opinions don't matter one bit. It's still true, but it's also true that somewhere, someone will appreciate a kind word, even if you don't believe it. Might be worth a try.
I also wrote a piece once where I suggested that instead of greeting people with Hi How Are You? we said Hello I Forgive You.
Similar idea. Only it's likely to get you a punch in the nose.
Derek Slater, who works on policy at Google in California, has been emailing with me about SOPA. He's been encouraging me to do more, and we've been trying to figure out what that might be.
I know Derek from the time I spent at Harvard, at Berkman Center. Derek was one of our bright-eyed and young student fellows. That was one of the best things about being there in the early part of the last decade. Their idealism was a reminder that the future might not be so cynical. A lot of them went on to careers in tech or academia. Now that we've gone our separate ways, we all have a certain collegiality and understanding and shared goals that the Internet be kept free. Berkman was then a fairly radical place, in a good way, thanks to the inspiration of its founders, Jon Zittrain, Charlie Nesson and John Palfrey.
Derek and I went back and forth, and agreed that the thing that's needed is a tighter connection between the tech and political blogospheres. As I have written here, there shouldn't even be two blogospheres. It should all be one. And we should leverage each others' knowledge and power. But we don't do that. There's a Chinese wall between the two. If a tech blogger writes something political, it's considered off-topic. And the political bloggers never talk about technological issues, even though technology plays a huge role in what they do. It actually enables what they do. Without continued innovation they won't exist. And the problem is that innovation is being channeled entirely through companies, like Derek's employer, and that helps limit the independence of bloggers, imho. And the government, with innovations like SOPA and the recent NDAA, are getting into technology. In other words, it's no longer possible for poliitcal bloggers to be innocent about tech, and it's also true that tech bloggers are inherently political.
I've been saying this since I started blogging in 1994. When people would say I shouldn't write about politics, I knew they were wrong. Everything is political when it comes to exercising ones First Amendment rights. I've believed that tech is about speech, for my entire almost forty year career. If I didn't believe that I never would have gotten involved in tech in the first place. (An aside, NYU is celebrating the East Village Other in an exhibit at the J-school and a conference. What a loop back to the beginning. The EVO was my inspiration for becoming a writer for and publisher of underground news when I was a high school student in the early 70s. That was my first blogging experience, though the equivalent of a website in 1972 was a mimeograph machine.)
Anyway, I said to Derek in a recent email that I've already written the blog post, and like all of my blog posts -- or most of them -- it had zero impact.
I think there are people who are better suited for bringing us together. But unfortunately we live in a time when most people just work for themselves. It's probably why we're so vulnerable to SOPA.
What would be stunning is if the political bloggers could create an issue on their own, without a press release to respond to. Then you'd know we were in revolutionary times.
The tech bloggers are doing much better here, imho. At least some of them. They're studying SOPA, trying to figure out what it implies. Now if the system were working, people like Arianna Huffington, Paul Krugman, Andrew Sullivan, Josh Marshall, Markos Moulitsas -- people who probably feel that tech is not their bailiwick -- would take the data that the tech blogosphere is generating, and used it in the political context. Stop accepting the stories as fed to you by the parties. Publish news that actually is news. (Someone said if it's news there's someone who doesn't want it published. If you find yourself only writing stuff people want you to say you're not in news anymore.)
I think of all the people I listed, Arianna is probably in the best position because she has feet in both the tech and political worlds. And she's widely respected as an intelligent and creative if not unconventional observer. What if TechCrunch became a leader in the effort to prevent SOPA from ruining the net? What if that directly influenced the editorial in Huffpost?
I think we're wrong to pressure on the politicos first. First, we need to drag our brothers and sisters in the political blogosphere into the fight, in an effective way.
The Bootstrap Toolkit from Twitter made a huge difference in my development work. It gave me a set of examples and includes that implement a fairly standard best-practice 2012 style web user interface. I've incorporated the whole thing into my development platform, with excellent results.
I've been meaning to dig into modal dialogs, and early this week I finally had a chance to do it. It was a fairly difficult process, because unlike all the static components of Bootstrap, this dynamic one didn't have an examples I could crib. Just some docs, which are fairly cryptic, like most of the Boostrap docs. Which usually is okay because you treat them as clues and use the source from the examples to give you working code to crib and adapt for your own purposes.
So, after getting it working in my app yesterday, I took a few hours this morning to put together a demo of a Bootstrap modal dialog, to help give developers something to crib from in this very vital area. It's my way of putting back some knowhow, after having benefitted from other people's generosity.
As with all Bootstrap stuff, just do a View Source to see how it works. And feel free to use it as a starting point for your own projects.
It's not news, and certainly not surprising. And it's not surprising either that Twitter is upset, but what is surprising is the sheer chutzpah of Twitter complaining about Google shutting them out after Twitter unilaterally reversed course and put most of their developer community out of business when they announced they wanted to completely own the Twitter client business.
You gotta wonder if they ever talk amongst themselves down there at Twitter, and if someone said "You know we'd look a lot better if we hadn't totally fucked our own developers."
I've been watching a lot of Simpsons lately, so I tend to think of everything in terms of Simpsons characters. It's at this point that I invoke Nelson Muntz and have him utter, on my behalf, his famous tagline.
I have rules about blog comments. They're only rules for this blog. That's central to what having a blog means. You get to craft your own medium. No one else can tell you what to do. And there's no force in it because your rules only apply to your domain. If someone doesn't like it, they don't have to read the blog. Or they can read it, and say whatever they like about it -- in their own space.
That's the big idea of blogging. Imho.
I get to craft my own medium.
So now what are my rules and why do I have them.
1. Comments are short responses to the post.
2. If you have more to say then it's not a comment.
3. In verbal speech a comment is something like "Nice weather we're having" or "How about those Mets." They aren't long rants where you have to stand there listening to all this person's stuff. It's as if someone thinks my house is a place to give a speech. Well it isn't.
4. That's why I tell people if they have something long to say, write it in their own space.
5. My comment space isn't a place to gather all opinions about some topic I'm writing about. I know what that means. Every permathread in the world shows up under my post. All of a sudden people are exercising their rights in my space. There are lots of public spaces for that. There is only one place where I get to speak about whatever I want. And if you have some information to add, or a point of view that's unique, and can say it in a sentence or two, then I want your comment.
6. If someone doesn't actually ask a question in a blog post, I'm reluctant to post a comment in response. I ask people to think that way about my comments. Maybe I don't want your opinion. Maybe the point of my post is simply to express my opinion. Maybe it has nothing to do with you. Consider the possibility.
7. The last thing I want to see in a comment is regurgitation of Fox News talking points. Or Ron Paul or Rachel Madow talking points. Or Rush Limbaugh. If I wanted to hear bullshit like that I can watch their shows or go to a Ron Paul rally. I get enough of that on TV. (And I watch very little TV.)
8. I think a lot of what people post as comments would qualify as spam. If it came to me in an email message I would delete it. I consider every comment here something someone is saying to me. If it has nothing to do with what I've written about, I just delete it. That's pure spam. And you'd be surprised how many comments that are posted here have absolutely nothing to do with what I wrote. Or even worse, assume the post says one thing, when it says something else entirely. I suspect those people didn't even read the post.
9. Speaking of people who don't read posts, I think a lot of the comments are from people who skim the first paragrah, and maybe the last, and then enter their canned spiel on whatever they think you're writing about.
10. Bottom line is most of what gets posted as comments is garbage. Fine. I'll read it. Got your message. Now I get to decide if I want to let you use my space to push garbage on people I respect, the people who read this site. I don't want to make readers sort though a lot of crap to find the interesting stuff. So I do that for them. Again if you don't like it, that's okay -- cause this is my space. You can make different rules in your space.
I really don't like the way Google search is going.
It's becoming more and more laden with strategy taxes.
It's being designed more and more for their competitors, rather than for their users (us) or their customers (the advertisers).
Meanwhile Twitter is becoming filled with stuff I didn't ask for. Like the frog in the slowly boiling water, you hardly notice it, until one day you're looking for your own tweets, and find they're even more clicks away than they were before.
Hey I don't think they should change anything, but we should all be aware that if we want to use the Internet for more effective communication, these guys are giivng us an Internet that's less effective.
Because you and I aren't what they are about.
I've spent the last 2.5 days digging into modal dialogs in Bootstrap.
My notes are here.
Demo app is here. (Although my product app has advanced far beyond what it can do.)
And a simple jQuery demo app.
Final problem is related to sychronizing the call that sets the value the dialog is meant to edit and reloading the page to reflect the change.
I know I should probably just update the part that changed, but this is just the first dialog I'm doing. Just enough to learn the issues before I consider how I want to hook it into the worldoutline macro language.
Maybe I should do a river for the Upper West Side like the one I did for the East Village (it's still running even though I moved).
If you know of a West Side (of NYC) blog that you like, send me a link via email or as a comment here.
I remember shortly after we sold our company to Symantec in the 80s, one of the board members wanted a feature in our product, and the team didn't understand what he was asking for. I didn't either, but by then I had already been sidelined. Everyone on the board thought they did what I did. I didn't fight them because I was tired. And it was a constant struggle for me to get the features I wanted in the product from a devteam I built. And a codebase I wrote, but no longer managed.
The lead developer, who happened to be my brother, asked me what he should do about the constant requests that came from the board. Ones that I agreed were far too vague to even begin to think about implementing. I said he should continue to respond to the board member honestly and truthfully. Tell him you didn't have enough information to do what he asked. Offer to help him explain it. Play twenty questions with him.
He did this, with predictable results. The board member didn't like it. He thought the developer was being difficult. He thought he was being manipulated. Maybe he was, I wasn't there for the meeting.
The board member, who had taken some Comp Sci classes as a college student, asked for the source code so he could implement the feature himself. He had a little spare time next weekend. My brother was offended, as he had every right to be. This is the point of this vignette. To the board member my brother and his team, who had shipped award-winning market-winning software, was just hired help. In his own mind he could do it better if he had the time and were given a chance. I suppose this is understandable too. If the result of one's work is something easy to use, therefore the work itself must be easy. But anyone who's ever done anything hard knows it's just the opposite. The easier something is to use the harder it is to implement.
So the developer asked me, again, what he should do.
I said give him the code.
The way I figured it, either he pulled it off or he didn't. If he did, at least we'd know what he was asking for. Because when he sat down to implement it he'd have to answer the questions he didn't want to answer verbally. If he failed, maybe we could have the conversation we needed to have. Or maybe he would appreciate how hard the work was. Or whatever.
There was a third possibility. We would never hear from him again. And that's what happened. I can only imagine what he concluded. When he looked at the code he must have been shocked to find something complex and intricate. Why isn't the source code as simple as the software? Hah. When you figure that out let me know.
Now, I have to say that sometimes it's a good thing to give users source code, because very rarely you find a user who is so motivated to get a feature that he'll hack it in there, in an egregious fashion, but well enough so you get the idea. When no other method works, it's worth a try.
But developing commercial quality code is not for sissies. It's hard. And the bosses, who think we're just hired help, are wrong.
1. Definitely think of the worldoutline as an application environment.
The things we make there will be apps. This is my third templating system. They get progressively better and more powerful. I can see how this one is developing.
2. Going to watch the debate in NYC tonight. Maybe head north tomorrow. We're having great weather in NYC, and I'm having fun tinkering.
3. Instant Outliner fits in here somewhere.
4. The glossary is also going to be important.
If the political blogosphere and the tech blogosphere were one, and by tech blogosphere, I don't mean bloggers who work for big tech companies, we could make SOPA a front-burner issue in the 2012 election. Instead the big issues are fictions created by the two parties, with the complicity of the networks. We give the power to determine what stories get coverage to corporate media. It doesn't have to be that way. Bloggers have a lot of power, but we don't use it effectively.
Somehow intuitively it seems that OWS is the perfect organization, such as it is, for building civil disobedience re SOPA.
The problem became clear to me reading David Carr's analysis of SOPA. It was all about corporations. On the one side is Hollywood and on the other is Silicon Valley. That's how news people think. They look for big rich entities that are facing off and make it an epic battle. Unfortunately, you and I aren't factored in. But in this case, as in many others, we will be the ones who are controlled by SOPA. And in a democracy, assuming we still have one, we are have a responsibility to participate in the process. Even if the big companies don't think about us.
SOPA and OWS were made for each other because OWS was born of a mostly free Internet. And SOPA will be used, for sure, to stop similar outbreaks in the future. Think about how NYPD manages these things now, and don't imagine they aren't thinking about managing them via the networks people like to use for this stuff.
A thought for the day!
PS: SOPA is great because it gets people thinking about Internet architecture. But it's also great because it will politically activate people who until now had largely been politically offline.
PPS: We need to merge the political blogosphere and tech blogosphere. As long as there's a division we're weak. That means we have to be reading each other, pointing to each other, and bouncing ideas off each other. These never have been separate, and we, collectively, have been making a mistake by viewing them as separate.
There's a new thing going on in the web world that really sucks.
Two of my primary communication tools, Twitter and Gmail, recently forced all their users to upgrade to new user interfaces. As far as I can tell neither of them gave me anything in return in the form of new features, or streamlined functionality (fewer steps).
I have no idea why we were forced to do these things. Neither company had anything to say to me, as a user, about it. Twitter held a press event where they explained somewhat why they wanted the changes. But nothing in the form of an explanation of why a user would want them.
The Gmail upgrade happened today, so I'm dealing with the burnt braincells right now.
I had developed neural pathways that allow me to scan my inbox without even having to think. My lower brain functions were able to spot new things I needed to pay attention to, things that were out of the ordinary humdrum of mail list updates, spam that made it through Google's filters, etc.
Now I'm getting constant interrupts as I scan, as my higher brain functions have to get involved to figure out whether an item requires my immediate attention or not. To have to think about things I didn't have to before, slows me down and takes my focus off things I need to stay focused on. My problems fade into the background as the problems of managing the mechanics of Twitter and Gmail take over.
And the Twitter changes are well-trod now, I know how the new version works, and I can see clearly the new overhead they introduced. The things you can't tuck away that you have to repeat over and over. I'd love to have at it myself and reduce Twitter down to the things I need it to do. But they made that so hard, I gave up on that idea long time ago.
Can't wait for the next thing to come along. I'm tired of these bigco machinations. I'm sure these changes are tied to strategies of the companies to grow even larger, or to punish their competitors.
It's at moments like these that I feel like the pawn that I am.
For years I've been trying to figure this one idea out, and early in 2011 I had the breakthrough I was looking for. Unfortunately, when you get those ideas, you don't actually know yet how to implement it. So you flounder around for a while in a fog of war, trying to find your way out of the place you worked so hard to get into in the first place!
I've been here quite a few times. With outlining first, then with the idea of making PC software, and onward. Presentations, system-level scripting, interapplication communication, web content management, blogging, syndication, podcasting. When you're done it seems obvious how you should have done it in the first place, but it doesn't seem that way when you make the initial leap.
The problem was this. I want to edit all my websites in one document. I don't care if there's a boundary that readers see, even a very big one. As the author of the documents, I don't want any boundary at all. I want to get an idea, navigate through an outline to the place where it lives, make the change and quickly return to what I was working on.
I had that working, as I said, early last year. And then I kept writing, and slowly something happened -- the document got very big.
And then I moved from an apartment with FIOS to one with lame-o Time-Warner cable. My upstream bandwidth went from 20-plus MBS to less than 1. Often quite less than 1. All of a sudden my saves, that were starting to get too slow, were unacceptably, ridiculously slow.
I didn't see this as a problem, because the conceptual overload of having my worknotes co-resident with my photos and howtos and the archive of my blog going back to 1997 proved too much for my mind.
Fog of war!
I needed some way out of this corner. And I knew what it is, but I dreaded doing the actual work. Because it meant pulling out the engine of my new CMS and replacing it with a new kind of engine, one I knew nothing about.
That's what the period between December 15 and January 4 was made for.
The world gets pretty quiet except for the days right around Christmas, which were wonderfully chaotic thanks to friends who were visiting from out of town. New York is great that way. Lots of people come here over the winter holidays.
Anyway, I'm now emerging out of the fog. And I have an incentive to hurry up. I want to scoot up to New Hampshire for a couple of days to witness the hooplah around the primary. I did it in 2004, and it was fantastic. I have a car, and am looking forward to a road trip to decompress.
But first I have to finish this little war of mine.
PS: Here's what a blogpost looks like in the new regime. Nothing fancy, but that's how I like my blogposts. The user can tart it up any way you want.
Let's put tech and political bloggers together and try to talk to each other, and more important, actually listen to each other. That's the punchline, now the background...
I did a lot of writing over the holidays, and of course I think it's all worth reading. But the one item I keep coming back to is the Chinese Wall that separates what we think of as tech blogging and political blogging. It never was a good idea, and now, with new laws to control the Internet in the United States, it's keeps us, on the other side of government and tech (the users, voters, taxpayers) very weak. If we don't know how to talk with each other, if we're afraid to listen, we can't help the Internet, at a time when the Internet really needs our help.
Blogging is powerful, because it creates a level playing field where everyone can say what they see, whether or not their opinion is validated by corporate media. But that doesn't mean we get heard. Not unless there's s deliberate and systematic attempt to go through our fears and listen to people we're not accustomed to listening to.
To tech, this means finding out who our users are. To understand that they are not undifferentiated frankfurter meat (as I like to put it). They have skills and ideas, ambitions and experience. They are educated. They have something to say.
And to political bloggers, this means finding out what the Internet actually is. It's too easy to criticize our representatives for not understanding, when we don't understand. The Internet can be viewed from a lot of different points of view.
BTW, I thought it was funny the way people ridiculed the late Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) for calling the Internet "a series of tubes." He's actually right about that. It's a good way to visualize the Internet.
PS: What can you do? If you think we need more connections between the political and tech blogging worlds, send a link to this piece to a friend who a is a political or tech blogger. Listening starts now.
Here's proof that while the Internet might not be SOPA-proof, it might have some resistance legal hacks by the US Govt.
Here's a list of IP addresses for various popular sites.
BTW, write this down -- scripting.com is at 220.127.116.11.
Now all we have to do is have a distributed database that's not owned by the US Govt that lies offshore. I can't imagine what that might look like.
PS: For more motivation, from a political standpoint, check out today's earlier piece.
PPS: SOPA has the fantastic side-effect that it gets people thinking about the architecture of the Internet.
People say I'm an optimist for thinking the Internet will always exist, even though there's an Unternet. But I think I'm a realist. Here's why.
1. They will Disnify the protocols we now think of as The Internet. I don't think it's a matter of probability, it's a certainty.
2. What that means is that using the net will become more like going to the movies or watching TV. A programmed experience. Your choice is which channel to watch, but all the channels will have the same stuff, so it's not actually a choice.
But then Dave, you say, isn't that the Unternet snuffing out the Internet?
To which I would say is that there will have to be a new protocol. That's all.
There was the equivalent of the Internet in Soviet Russia and there is one in China today. People find a way not only to have seditious thoughts, but to share them. No matter what the barriers are.
The people of the United States are spoiled. They think if it's hard to be free then we won't be free. But they don't know.
When we need to communicate directly, person to person, instead of through corporate media, we will find a way to do it.
That doesn't mean the ride is going to be easy. But if you think it hasn't taken a lot of hard work and hail mary's to get to where we are with the net today, as it is, you don't understand how we got here.
That will certainly continue.
An observation I haven't seen anywhere else.
As you develop complex software you identify pieces of code that appear in lots of places, and you factor it. You create one piece of code that can be called from lots of places so you don't have to keep writing it over and over, and so you can maintain the code more easily. It's how you make progress in software.
An example. A bit of code that displays the contents of a log database. I have lots of software that throw messages onto a log so that someone wanting to see what the software is doing can do so quickly. There's a routine called log2.view that takes the address of a log and returns an HTML table that can be inserted into a web page. Screen shot.
Of course the table has styles, and those styles must have default values, and this is where we run into trouble.
If you include the default values with the table text they can't be overridden. That means these must be the styles for every log table.
But what if you've included the log in an app that has a blue theme but the log is designed to display in a red theme. Of course the app developer should be able to do that.
So now the guy who's working on the log displayer code has a tough problem. He can no longer include the styles with the table he generates, because those would be the last ones the browser sees and any efforts the app developer took to override them would be ineffective.
I don't think there's anything to be done about it. It's a fallout of the design of CSS.
I've found two ways to work with this limit -- here's the first:
1. While the core code is in development, include the styles with the code you generate. This makes it easy to tweak the defaults and get it so that it will work in most cases without any overriding at all.
2. Later, when the core code has been deployed and is being used in a few apps, the pattern of use should be established and the things that must be specified are known, and these cannot be overridden.
3. The others are not specified, you accept the browser defaults, or the defaults of the toolkits the app is using (jQuery, Bootstrap, etc).
4. Find a way to publish sample styles that give developers who might use your toolkit an idea of some values that create an attractive interface. But they have to include those styles in the overall stylesheet for their work.
The second way of dealing with it is at the code level. Let the code that invokes the log viewer include parameters to the call that specify values for the crucial styles. And you can bake those into the HTML. So you're not using the cascading-ness of CSS, but you are still providing a way to override the defaults. Now the very highest level code is controlling the styles that are inserted along with the HTML code that's being generated. Of course the parameters will have defaults. But it isn't always practical because often there is no code that's calling a library routine, or it is fairly far away from the place where styles for the app are stored.
BTW, see section 2.3 of this critique of Pascal written by Brian Kernighan in 1981. Seems to be the same problem. "Related program components must be kept separate."
If our democracy were working, public discourse about the 2012 election (this year!) would be centered on things like:
1. What's next after the NDAA? How long before we decide it's more efficient to round up all people who meet a certain profile and relocate them to a central location. What with the debt and everything. We need to streamline things. (Think it can't happen here, what about all the people we're incarcerating for violating prohibition.)
2. We love the Internet, but what is the Internet? This is where the people letting us down are the political pundits, who don't appear to read tech bloggers (if they do where are the links). We read them, of course. But their view of the world must be that somehow the "technical" issues of the Internet don't concern them. They're just as bad as the members of Congress who put the blinders on when it comes to tech, and they're just as easily manipulated.
I'm thinking of writers who I admire, who seem to have a huge blind spot. Krugman and Greenwald for example. We can make it so that Internet issues are not very technical, and in the meantime if you write using blogging software, you are yourself actually becoming more technical than you give yourself credit for.
2a. There's something about the mainstream press that feels immune to criticism. This is the bigger bug.
3. Climate change. It's early January and the only snowfall we've had in NYC so far was a freak storm in late October. It's been springlike weather so far all season. We're about to get some bitter cold, thankfully (what a relief) but it's not forecast to last very long.
4. Look at the idiots the Republicans are seriously considering nominating. How could our political process be more wrong. That's a theme that should be echoing on all the news reports. It's the actual story. As opposed to the BS they actually report.
5. There's a war starting in Iran and we're the ones starting it. Discuss.
It's hard for me to believe that anyone takes the coverage of the election seriously. I admit I love to watch the Republican debates, but I don't mistake it for political discourse. It's appealing to a very low intellect and morality. It's relaxing to think the world could be that simple.
Here's the new American doctrine: "We're right and that's it." That's why Ron Paul resonates, even though his idea of returning to the gold standard shows that he too is out of his mind. Unless he's not serious, in which case he's as dishonest as the rest of them.
I went out for a walk earlier this evening, in the Times Square/Central Park area to get an idea of the scale of the famous NYE celebration. It was huge, of course, and well-organized, and very densely packed with people. To someone who has spent most of his adult life outside of NYC, this is what's most overwhelming about New York. Where ever you go you is overflowing with people. Walking on a midtown sidewalk most of the time is a contact sport. Best to be in good walking shape and view it as skiing. That's kind of why I like the colder weather. It tends to thin out the crowds and keep people moving.
Anyway, I eventually turned north on 6th Ave, crossed Central Park South, and walked along the southern edge of the park. In every alcove, on every sidewalk, on all the major streets entering the park, were thousands of New York police in blue uniforms, mulling around. It was like an army of reserves, I imagined. I never had seen so many police in one place.
Gives you a new perspective on why crime might be down in the city. I guess it's because somewhere along the line someone built an army.
At the same time the OWS folk tried to re-occupy Zuccotti Park this evening. I can see why that wouldn't work. Before September the police didn't have occupations on the menu of things the NYPD could manage. That's why it worked at first. Then politics and media that kept them untouchable for a while. But now the NYPD will not let the protestors back into any public space. They are ready to respond, the same way they are ready for a parade, bank robbery, car accident, subway shutdown, terrorism. New York has lots of events, some planned, some not, all the time, with people packed into tight spaces, and it gets through it without people freaking out and without too many people getting killed or killing each other.
The NYPD really is something unto itself. I don't think they care who is mayor. Or who you are. If what you're doing is something their book says you can't, you're not going to be doing it. It's fairly black and white.
I don't think that's anything new. I never got the idea that NYPD people were friends, in any way. It's still true today.