Scripting News


Dreaming about a patio

Last night I had very vivid dreams.

In one of them I was sitting in a friend's house, in a new addition, hanging out for a long time, when my friend tells me that this used to be the patio in back of his house that he enclosed. I was genuinely shocked. Astonished. Surprised. I had not seen this coming (I know it makes no sense to be so emotionally attached to the integrity of a patio, but it is a dream.)

This is not the first time this has happened in a dream of mine, where a truth is revealed that is surprising, that I did not see coming.

Here's the question -- since I am not only the person viewing the dream, but I am also the author of the story -- how is it that I am so surprised? How does one part of myself keep the other part in the dark?

 11/30/2013; 12:48:18 PM.

A question maybe no one has ever asked you

Here's a question: At what point in your life did what you think become important?

Why I ask: Many people seem to think that what a kid thinks isn't important. After all, you're just a kid. Do what you're told. Be seen and not heard. It's totally understandable that adults react this way to kids, because they can be irritating with all their questions, ideas, enthusiasm, energy and emotions. Kids are a handful. Adults like a little peace and quiet. Shut up!

We have to give the adults some understanding and love. But eventually the kids grow up, and did we ever stop and say, okay now that you're not a kid anymore, what you think is important? No one ever said that to me. And I think that's a bug, because the truth is this -- what you think matters as much as what anyone else thinks. If they matter, then so do you. If you don't matter, neither do they.

Once you get this, really feel it -- the reason to argue melts away. I don't need to convince you of anything, I just need to believe it myself. Or not. In other words, I'll make up my own mind, thank you very much.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 11/27/2013; 3:01:34 PM.

A podcast about Ada Louise Huxtable

A link on Facebook got me nostalgic for the days when the local papers took an interest in future of the city and stood in the way of its business and political leaders. I was thinking about the old Penn Station, and Ada Louise Huxtable who was an architecture critic for the NYT. She raised a crucial question as the city rushed to tear it down. How unusual for a news person to become part of the story! And, how appropriate.

It's an idea that's still alive. Nick Bilton used his pulpit at the Times to ask the FAA whether there was a real reason we had to turn off portable devices during takeoff and landing, or if it was just a matter of inertia and/or superstition. That resulted in the removal of the ban, and our airplanes aren't crashing because of it, as far as anyone knows. (Knock wood.)

We still do great things here in NY. For example bike lanes and CitiBikes. And we hold on to traditions and develop them. No one talks about putting freeways through the middle of Manhattan, as they did in the past.

It's important that we not to see all change as good. The urban renewal advocates thought creating a sports arena on top of a train station that moves 650,000 people in and out of the city every day was the right thing to do. Why couldn't we have both a fantastic sports arena and a world class train station?

Huxtable stood up for the station. She didn't prevail, but she helped start a movement that resulted in our city becoming a much more liveable place.

Here's the podcast.

 11/25/2013; 1:14:53 PM.

CBS coverage of JFK assassination

 11/24/2013; 12:18:58 PM.

My iPad stopped working with Twitter and Facebook

1. Last night, on my fully updated iPad Air, Facebook said my login had expired and said I needed to re-enter my password. It took me to the Settings app, to the place where you enter your Facebook password. I entered it. It said it couldn't communicate with the server. I tried again. Same answer. No matter how I try, I can't access Facebook on the iPad. I use the Facebook app.

2. Same thing happened with Twitter this morning, except there I use the website, not the app. It asked for the password, I entered it. It said it couldn't communicate with the server, I tried again, same result.

I'm guessing since it's now happening with both Facebook and Twitter, that it's likely a problem with the iPad. Wondering if anyone else has seen this, and has a clue how to cure it. Thanks in advance.

 11/24/2013; 8:23:23 AM.

Idea: CBS assassination serial on Netflix

I've been watching the JFK Assassination coverage on the CBS website. It's incredible television. I haven't been able to watch all 24 hours, but I wish I could. And this led me to an obvious idea. This programming should be made episodic and offered through Netflix. It would be as popular as Breaking Bad. And what a lesson in civics and history, and what an inspiring example for today's journalists to live up to.

BTW, at this point in the story, as of 12 noon on Saturday, I would have thought the US was under attack by the Soviet Union or Cuba. All the news about Oswald made it sound that way. Come to think of it, nothing has come to light since then that contradicts that theory. Of course I was just 8 years old when this was happening so I had no idea what any of it meant.

Reporters asked much tougher questions. The Dallas police chief didn't seem to mind. And they gave straight answers to the questions.

No women reporters. African-Americans are referred to as Negroes.

This all happened before the Summer of Love, Woodstock, moon landings, the oil crisis, Reagan as president, etc etc. The Mets were an expansion team, Ed Kranepool still played on the Mets.

Lee Harvey Oswald was still alive (but not for long).

 11/23/2013; 12:25:24 PM.

What if Dropbox had app-based permissions?

Dropbox already has a very powerful ability to share files and folders among users.

Wouldn't it be great if Dropbox extended that ability to apps?

For example, I'd like to give access to one of my folders to a file-serving app, one of the many that we learned about when I posted a query about it yesterday.

Having app-based permissions opens up a whole new kind of utility for Dropbox, a component designed to enhance applications.

 11/23/2013; 12:21:25 PM.

An experiment with BitTorrent Sync

I've been finding more applications for BitTorrent Sync, which is a peer-to-peer file sharing utility that works much like Dropbox, without storing the files on a central server.

I've been looking for a reliable way to back up the S3 bucket that serves the content for I want to maintain a copy on one of my servers and desktop computer. I'm also working with a university library to create a permanent archive of the site. That's an interesting project because the site is changing all the time, as I add new blog posts, so we need a sync protocol, not to just save off a snapshot.

Chuck Shotton suggested using BitTorrent Sync, and I set it up and it's really nice. As an experiment, I want to share this content with anyone who reads this site.

For new BT Sync users

Download and install BitTorrent Sync.

Launch the app.

This dialog should appear.

Click on the I Have a Secret radio button, and enter this string below it.


In the next dialog, choose a folder where the contents of will be stored.

As soon as you click Next, BTS will start downloading the archive.

If you already have BT Sync

Click on the Folders tab in the BitTorrent Sync app.

Click the + icon in the lower left corner of the window.

A dialog opens.

A picture named addFolderDialog.gif

Where it calls for you to enter a "secret key" enter this string:


Choose a location for the folder to receive the content of

Click OK.

What will happen

There may be a delay of a minute or two before it starts downloading the content.

You can see the progress in the History panel.

It takes about 50 minutes to download the full contents of the folder, which is 2.2GB with 71,819 files.

Update #1

It's pretty cool, 10 people have hooked into the BitTorrent Sync archive for this site.

When I post this update, they will all get updates to this file, and to its parents.

Let's see if it works!

 11/22/2013; 3:22:57 PM.

Idea: A simple Dropbox-based web service

The scenario

A sub-folder of my Dropbox folder is named My Website.

It contains two files: index.html and hippieVan.gif.

The HTML file just displays the GIF.

But of course it could be a richer, complex website.

The hypothetical web service

I go to a website which I access with my Dropbox credentials.

A list of my folders shows up. I click on the checkbox next to the My Website folder.

At the bottom of the page, I click on the Make Public button.

A dialog appears, confirming that I want to give this folder a public URL.

Once confirmed, a dialog appears giving me the URL.

How it works

I'm not sure. It could be a server itself that does real-time caching of the contents of this folder. When a request comes in for an item in the folder, it does a HEAD request on the file, if it hasn't changed, it serves out of its cache.

Or it could keep the contents of the folder in synch with a folder in an Amazon S3 bucket, or some equivalent service that runs the server that accesses the content.

It could be a for-pay service. I would happily pay a few bucks for a year's worth of set-and-forget web access.

And for a few more bucks, a custom domain.

Positioning statement

Super-lightweight post-Web 2.0 web hosting.

The CMS lives elsewhere.

It just serves up the content.

Why I want it

I want to build on this feature in my software.

Let me know

If you know of a service that does this, please let me know.

If it doesn't exist, we have to create it.

I'd much rather use yours. And maybe invest in it.

A picture of a slice of cheese cake.

 11/22/2013; 10:11:02 AM.

I was alive when JFK died

I was eight years old, I think I was in third grade?

I remember my teacher crying in front of the class and saying we were all going home early. My mom came, and as we walked home she explained what had happened. I didn't understand. Kennedy had been the only president I was aware of. I had been too young when Eisenhower was president to even understand what a president was.

I asked who would be president now. She said "Johnson." He wasn't even a person to me. Who? I couldn't comprehend this. In my mind Kennedy was the president. It hadn't occurred to me that wasn't a permanent thing.

It's so weird, but I remember exactly where this conversation took place.

We spent days watching TV. I remember tiny little bits of it but mostly I remember not understanding.

 11/22/2013; 8:56:42 AM.

Beta WordPress with JSON

I got an email from Matt Mullenweg with a pointer to a JSONification of his RSS feed.

He says: "Now included in the beta 1 of WP 3.8 we just released."

I wrote a little JavaScript app to read the file, and it works. Look ma, no server!

View Source to see how it works.

Now you can write a nice WordPress blog browser without a proxy server.

Next step is obviously an equivalent writing interface.

A picture of a slice of cheese cake.

 11/21/2013; 11:54:40 AM.

Design: Outline indentation and Markdown?

The puzzle

The user enters a Markdown document in an outline.

How to interpret indentation?

Necessary background

1st approach -- flatten everything

In the first approach we ignore indentation.

As we generate Markdown text from the outline, we go into sub-heads, but we don't indent with tabs, add any Markdown syntax, or HTML syntax.

Consider this example:

To-do list

Walk the dogs.

Get coffee.

Two shot-in-the-dark coffees.

One tall latte.

Go to a movie.

What we would generate, in Markdown, is this:

To-do list

Walk the dogs.

Get coffee.

Two shot-in-the-dark coffees.

One tall latte.

Go to a movie.

This is the approach I take in the software I'm working on, but have not released. It's the most conservative approach. It says outline indentation is a writing aid, but has no effect on the rendering. It may be possible to add interpretation for structure in the future, but if we do it we would break existing users.

2nd approach -- ignore Markdown

Note: This approach is pure fiction. I don't think it's possible in Markdown.

Having used an outline-based CMS for many years, the approach I like best is the one that you're reading right now. The structure is reflected in an HTML outline with wedges that can be used to collapse or re-expand the text.

This way I can organize my writing and have that organization reflected in the readers' experience.

So in the example we're using the to-do list would look like this:

To-do list

Walk the dogs.

Get coffee.

Two shot-in-the-dark coffees.

One tall latte.

Go to a movie.

3rd approach -- a compromise between the two

Use Markdown syntax to indicate list structure.

We might render the list as follows:

To-do list

* Walk the dogs.

* Get coffee.

- Two shot-in-the-dark coffees.

- One tall latte.

* Go to a movie.

However, unless I'm missing something, Markdown sees one flat list, not a list with a second item containing its own sub-list with two items. In other words, there's no concept of nested lists in Markdown?

I see that at least one Markdown processor has innovated here.

Or we might render it thus, to give emphasis to the main head:

### To-do list

* Walk the dogs.

* Get coffee.

- Two shot-in-the-dark coffees.

- One tall latte.

* Go to a movie.

This approach is needed to help the eye pick up the structure when looking at a long list, each with a lot of subs.

Other approaches?

I wanted to put this out for comment, because I want to make the best use of outlining and Markdown, and my experience with Markdown is very limited.

 11/21/2013; 9:11:37 AM.

The showrunners of tech

Earlier today I wrote a piece that explained why the methods of the US government don't work to create usable software. There's more to the story. Because the methods of corporations don't work either, yet conventional wisdom says that they create the products we love. Conventional wisdom, in this case, is wildly wrong.

Look through the list of inductees to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame for an idea of who the creative people are in music. Or look at the people who have won Oscars and Emmys for ideas of who drives the process of developing significant movies and television shows. You won't find many corporate executives on either list. Sure they fit into the corporate environment of music, movies and television, but they aren't CEOs, CFOs, CTOs or CMOs. They might have titles that say they're executives but the ones who create the art that we love aren't suits.

It's no different in software.

I've had that controversial point of view since I began in software, in the mid-70s. There was no experience to back up that belief then, but over the coming years, software-as-art did develop, as I was sure it would. But we're not all the way there. Many people still believe that executives are the creative forces in tech, despite all the evidence to the contrary.

It's true that some companies do develop new products that advance the art, consistently, over many years. The prime example is Apple. But they were adrift in the years Steve Jobs was gone. It remains to be seen if they can keep flowing new exciting products to market now that he is gone. My bet is they can't. Jobs was Apple's showrunner, the same way Vince Gilligan was Breaking Bad's. The products were the expression of one person's art, for better or worse.

Disclaimer: I am a long-term Apple shareholder. Given what I wrote above, it's probably time for me to sell. Not sure what I would buy to replace it.

Twitter, in its early days, had showrunners. People who could assimilate the ideas all around them into something that worked well enough to gain traction. Part of the art of Twitter was its open development platform. But it was a mess, and the showrunners couldn't stay in charge. If you want to get an idea of how that worked, read Nick Bilton's new book about the drama of Twitter.

If the guy at the top isn't a showrunner, it's very hard for someone underneath him or her to do it. You can't protect egos, the product always comes first. If the top guy isn't the showrunner, his or her ego is going to kill the spirit of the product, eventually. (They always think they are the showrunner, btw.)

There might be counterexamples, companies who managed to create shells that stayed out of the way of creative people. That's the challenge. Someday that will happen, when people realize that tech products are developed by creative processes that are offensive to corporations, contrary to the way they think things should happen. There have been countless examples of the corporations spoiling the process. Not many attempts to not-spoil it.

My guess is that to make this happen an association of creative people is going to have to form a new kind of entity that's protective of the creative process.

PS: This is what Twitter's timeline looks like now. How long before those nice pictures are replaced with spam? I'm sure someone at Twitter foresaw that. Did the top guy? And if so, where will they navigate to next?

Followup #1

Warning: Breaking Bad spoiler contained within.

If Twitter is like Breaking Bad, fans are watching closely to find out how the cliffhanger is resolved. In this analogy, Twitter killing the API is analogous (this is kind of a joke) to Mr. White standing by while Jesse's girlfriend OD's. It's a plot twist. One with ramifications all the way to the end.

Twitter had the option to become host to lots of showrunners, but they gave that up when they killed the API. Now Dick Costolo's vision, for better or worse, is the soul of Twitter.

Followup #2

It's not really true that the showrunner in tech was invisible in the 70s.

Unix had showrunners, the guys at Bell Labs. They decided what features went into the operating system. It had a clarity to it that was formed by the vision of their leaders. And they really did have a great idea, and even more important, an intuition of how to make it happen.

If there ever is an Oscar for software, Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie should get the first one. Unix was, more than anything, the software product that launched the tech industry as we know it today. We honor the earlier conceptual pioneers, like Turing, Hopper, Engelbart, but in my world, Thompson/Ritchie were the proto-showrunners, the ones I most try to emulate.

Followup #3

As a basketball fan who lives in NYC -- I gotta say the Knicks and Nets have shit showrunners. They go for flash and press releases, and the teams they've built have nothing holding them together.

How could the Knicks let Jeremy Lin go? And why didn't the Nets see the opportunity. Basketball is a game that draws energy from the fans. The ownership of NY teams doesn't get that, has no connection.

And what kind of sense does it make to buy the dregs of the Celtics for the Nets? Is that any way to build a NY basketball culture? Fuck the Celtics. New York and Boston don't see eye to eye on basketball. Sorry, try again.

Even Lost had a better plot!

 11/19/2013; 5:54:34 PM.

Government develops software differently

When I first came to Silicon Valley in 1979, I hooked up with a company called Personal Software. I was under contract to create a product, called VisiText, and was paid an advance and promised royalties. It was a small company when I started, but before I delivered the product, it had grown several times its initial size, had raised venture capital, had new management and a new name, VisiCorp.

The new engineering guys came from the US government, where they did things differently from the seat-of-the-pants method we were using to create our Apple II and IBM PC software. They believed their methods would yield a better result.

They'd fully specify the software, the user interface, its internal workings, file formats, even write the user documentation, before a single line of code was written. Then they'd hand the parts off to development teams who would independently of each other create the components. Another team would do the integration. The end result would show up in the users' hands without anyone from the company using it. (This is the way I understood it, it was a long time ago, and they were foreign ideas, so take this with a grain of salt.)

They got to try their way of doing things with a couple of big products, VisiWord (the replacement for my product, which never shipped) and VisiOn. Both products were disasters. VisiOn was an early front-runner in the race for personal computer GUIs, a race that was eventually won by Microsoft Windows. It was unusable. The company, which had bet its existence on these products, died.

The same team went on to another tech company, Ashton-Tate, where they did the same thing, and killed that company too with a disastrous release of a product called dBASE IV, which was then the leading database software for personal computers.

I suspect their approach works for projects like flying astronauts to the moon, or shooting ICBMs at the Soviet Union, where there's no chance to try things out before you go "live." They have to work the first time. And in some cases security is a huge issue, and you don't want too many people to understand the whole project.

The point of this story is this. Where people in commercial software iterate and refine based on actual use of the product, something we did then instinctively, which has now been formalized in various disciplines, the government method doesn't work well. A startup could have done a better job at I don't care how sophisticated the backend is, the problems the site has look like the ones the VisiCorp products had. Not enough human involvement in the process. No communication. Too much reliance on initial vision. No refinement, no pivots. It's pretty clear that this website wasn't loved. I know that sounds dorky, but the products you love were loved by the people who created them. They were created by smelly imperfect humans, the same kind of people who use them.

Perhaps the only way this is going to get fixed is by developing a parallel system alongside the broken one, to fill in for it as soon as possible. A Google or Yahoo or a startup formed with experienced developers could do an excellent job here, imho. And here speed is of the essence, if we want to save the health care system of the United States, a very worthwhile goal, imho.

 11/19/2013; 9:07:03 AM.

Weird Google search result

If you enter Scripting News into Google, one of the top links is a temporary home page I put up on July 29, 2003. I've archived it in my public Dropbox folder, so you call can see it, and am redirecting from it back to the Scripting News home page. It's pretty weird that Google would give it so much prominence. There are quite a few other archived home pages at the top level of the site.

Anyway that little detour is gone now.

A picture named alfredENeuman.gif

 11/18/2013; 4:01:59 PM.

Why JavaScript I/O is so awkward

I remember well, the first moment I found out that you couldn't just make an HTTP request from a bit of JavaScript code in the browser.

The ideal

It's something I had become accustomed to as being a simple procedure call:

xmltext = tcp.httpReadUrl ("")

process (xmltext);

hello ();

That line of code returns the XML contents of my feed, in UserTalk, the language built into Frontier.

The interpreter makes the procedure call, and when it returns, the variable xmltext contains the contents of the feed. When hello is called, it can depend on xmltext having been set and processed.

It never occurred to me that any language could work any other way.

How it works in JavaScript

The equivalent code in JavaScript looks something like this:

Looks pretty similar, until you realize that the hello call will execute before xmltext is processed. How do you wait for the text to be read? Good question! There isn't really a good answer.

This means that some things are impossibly difficult to do in the browser that could be done in another language that imho worked more reasonably.

Why this is surprising

When you think about it, the whole mission of the browser is to read data over HTTP in multiple simultaneous threads! That this isn't trivially simple in the scripting language for the web, JavaScript, is costing us an enormous amount of time and money.

Unless I'm missing something obvious, which is why I'm writing this post (but I don't think I am).

 11/18/2013; 11:01:40 AM.

Google has always been evil

Don't be evil is a marketing slogan, like Hertz puts you in the Driver's Seat.

When somebody says don't be evil, they're being evil. (With thanks to HL Mencken.)

All companies have to err on the side of profit at all time.

Idealism is for sissies!

 11/17/2013; 11:32:17 PM.

Options for Frontier/Mac users

I posted this earlier today on the Frontier-user list.

Choices aplenty, for now

Here are the choices that exist today for people using Frontier or the OPML Editor, as I see it.

1. Don't update your Mac to Mavericks. That's what I'm doing. I depend on the OPML Editor for my daily work. I'm concerned that one of Apple's automatic updates will update me to Mavericks since it's a free release. So I'm avoiding those as well.

2. Run the Windows version of the OPML Editor in VMWare or Parallels.

3. Run the Windows version of the OPML Editor on Linux using Wine.

4. The Windows version seems to be in decent shape for the foreseeable future.

Funding development work

About doing the work to get the codebase to run under Mavericks, one of the original guys tried to do this, but gave up. Too much had changed. The GDI on the Mac has changed, as has the networking model. We had been using deprecated APIs for a long time. They finally pulled the plug on them.

However -- if you want to pursue that approach, it's best to use the tools available like Kickstarter or Indiegogo and let's pool the money and then try to attract the developers.

I would say a bounty of $25K would probably get some interest. More would probably be even better.

But we'd have to be careful to employ someone who has the programming ability to deliver. There are a lot of people floating around who say they're gutsy programmers, who would probably not be able to do this port.

Frontier is a pretty complex piece of software internally. But it is organized in layers, so the work probably is fairly compartmentalized.

Update: Brent's comments

I didn't want to say that the guy from the original team that worked on Frontier code recently, trying to get it ready for Mavericks was Brent Simmons, but he said it on his blog, so I can.

And he wrote a great post detailing the issues. Anyone considering this project should read this post.

I think we should be able to find a machine someone could use for the "short path."

Re the database being converted to 64-bit, I think that would be pretty easy actually. The places that depend on the address size being 32-bit are pretty well factored. And it would a huge deal to be liberated from the 2GB limit on the database size.

 11/17/2013; 2:01:58 PM.

NJFF 2013

The occasion of my trip to Salt Lake City this week was to do the 2013 version of the NakedJen Film Festival. We've done this for many years now, usually on Christmas Day, a day when the movies that Hollywood thinks will do best in the awards season come out, and a day that few people go to movies (at least at the beginning of the day). But this year it couldn't be scheduled, so instead I traveled to flyover country and sampled the November fare with my movie buddy, NakedJen. We saw six movies, three of which I would recommend. Of course my partner in movie-going, Ms Jen, may write her own blog post to offer her opinions. I speak only for myself.

Update: Here's NakedJen's report on this year's NJFF.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2

The first day of the NJFF we had a child with us, and we all had seen the first Cloudy movie and loved it, so we thought what the heck, let's go see the sequel. It was disappointing, but it taught me a lot about how movies work.

It was basically a continuation of the plot from the first movie. It had the same silly premise, a machine that turns weather into food, but where the first movie was mostly hilarious, this movie seemed pandering and formulaic. Same subject, different effect.

My theory is that the first movie presented new funny ideas almost every minute of the movie. There was no time for it to get tiring. But the second movie was just puns, some good ones, that deserved a chortle or two, or a groan, but not much more than that.

The kid loved it though. I assume this is because of the gorgeous graphics and colors, and dancing fruits and vegetables, tacos and hamburgers. If I were 8 years old I probably would have liked it too!

The first one had enough to entertain all of us. This one was just for the kids.

Ender's Game

I loved the books, the movie really sucked!

So much so that I forgot to include it in the initial version of this post.

But it's a very difficult story to tell in such a short time.

If you're an Ender's fan, I don't know whether to tell you to see it or not.

I felt I had to. I don't regret it. But I wish it had been 1/100th as compelling as the book.

The Counselor

I would recommend this movie to any friend who likes serious violence and people who get what they deserve. But you have to enjoy pure evil because it's a study of that.

Best line: "They don't really believe in coincidences. They've heard of them, they've just never seen one."

The movie plays like a Cormac McCarthy book with lots of dialog, because that's basically what it is.

12 Years a Slave

I know this movie is getting great reviews, but for me -- it starts off with a promising premise -- a free black man, kidnapped from his home in upstate NY, and sold into slavery -- but never does anything with its potential. As the title tells you, eventually he gets out of it. But the story isn't about that, it's about slavery from the point of view of a free man who has to endure it.

But nothing really happens in the movie. I don't want to spoil anything, just to say that a lot of things almost happen. There's lots of fine acting. Unspeakable violence. Deranged white people. Hopeless black people. Lots of small plots develop and look like they might turn into a decent story, but never do.

And Brad Pitt plays an unbelievable principled Good Guy. A pivotal character in the plot. I like him better as a flawed Good Guy, as the character in The Counselor or the underappreciated Killing Them Softly from last year.

Like The Butler, it tells an incomplete and non-engaging story about the experience of slavery in the US.

Dallas Buyers Club

This year's NJFF was looking pretty bleak until the last day when it turned fantastic!

Dallas Buyers Club is a wonderful movie, a great story with compelling actors, and it twists you up in such interesting ways that when you come out of it, it's hard to come to any conclusions. You really come to love the two main characters, and the primary supporting character, a woman doctor. The evil arch-villain from the FDA, is unspeakably evil, easy to despise. It's a simple movie, but for such a complex subject, that's good.

I'll be thinking about this movie for a long time to come.

All is Lost

The plot is outlined in the first minute. From there, it's all acting with, amazingly, no dialog. A masterpiece of acting and direction, filming, music, special effects. It all melds into a single experience. You feel what it's like to be lost. Not a good feeling. But any movie that takes you out of your reality is imho, worth experiencing. The only bad movie is one where you're not in it. This story grabs you from the beginning, involves your mind and heart, and takes you somewhere. What's not to like about that!

 11/17/2013; 11:56:06 AM.

NakedJen's bliss bag

I just spent a few days in Salt Lake City hanging out with NakedJen, going to the movies, and a Jazz-Spurs basketball game. We also did a little video podcast demo of her "bliss bag" -- full of the props she needs to play the role of NakedJen in the universe.

The cover picture

A picture named njBlissBag.gif

And the video!

 11/16/2013; 9:55:15 PM.

Health insurance is just insurance

There's a new discovery by the press that ObamaCare causes the young and healthy to pay more than they would if they were the only ones in the insurance pool. I'm sure it's true, and it was also true in the old system. And get this, that's how it has to work, and it's fair.

If you were smart and understood the system, you would sign up for health insurance when you're young, healthy and attractive to the insurance industry. You'd keep making payments through your youth and middle age, even if you weren't using the health care system, because then, when you get old and/or sick, they would have to keep you insured. The pre-existing condition thing only kicked in, theoretically, if you were buying new insurance. So if you had insurance when you were young, you get to keep it when you're old.

I wasn't that smart, and let my personal policy lapse when I got a job that included health insurance. I got seriously sick after that policy was over (the company couldn't afford the health insurance) but I had wisely chosen to use the COBRA option. So I was covered when I needed the insurance. Eventually, when that was over, I had a lot of trouble getting insured, because then I had the dreaded pre-existing condition.

The new system is better, because everyone can get insurance, even if you hadn't been smart as a young person. The cost, and there always is a cost in insurance systems, is that now health insurance is a requirement, not an option. A young person is forced to do the smart thing, where in the past we were not.

The fallacy of the idea that the young are subsidizing the old is that they leave out the part that young people become old. If you would be young forever, then the system would be unfair. But eventually you will need health insurance, it could happen tomorrow or twenty years from now, and if the system stayed as it was, a lot of people would continue to slip through the cracks, and would go bankrupt or not get the treatment they need, because of a badly designed health system.

ObamaCare is not the best answer possible, but it is the best answer we have, and much better than the system it replaces.

 11/14/2013; 8:32:46 PM.

Oy when will they learn?

Oy when will people on Twitter (and elsewhere) figure out that (trying to get) someone fired for expressing what you think are wrong ideas not only doesn't get you anywhere but it actually works against your cause by making everyone scared to say anything. So you don't get to engage with people and possibly change their minds, and their ideas calcify, and your hatred of them makes them even more rigid in their beliefs. There's nothing like open discourse for changing minds, and remember -- someone thinks every idea is wrong, even ones you hold dear.

 11/12/2013; 1:22:09 PM.

Yes Virginia, we still need servers

Over on Facebook, Mike Rodriquez asks an important question.

"I think you've spotted and are working on something pretty big here, but I keep stumbling over the concept of not needing servers. The reason is that the software has to get to the browser somehow, and that's via a server. Now I get the difference between a server to deliver the JavaScript to the browser and a server doing the traditional workload, but I stumble as my first thought is, you do need a server, to get things started."

So, do we need servers, or are they obsolete?

1. Yes! We do need servers. They are not obsolete.

2. The question is how much of the functionality can you move off the server and onto the user's workstation.

3. In the past this meant adding Internet functionality to applications, which we did, but even in 2002, people didn't want to install software on their machines.

4. In the meantime, the runtime environment of the browser has developed, but more than that, developers have learned how to develop fully functional software in this place (or maybe more accurately, I have learned how to do that).

5. So the answer is you can move almost all of it to the user's machine, leaving the server to be very simple, and therefore virtually free.

6. And scaling there is a totally solved problem, by the great engineers at Amazon and Dropbox. That used to be a big problem for me, because I'd get to the point where I have all the functionality I want, but there's no easy way to deploy it. It costs a lot of money to do that, and for whatever reason, the investors didn't believe in me.

7. Now I can do it without their help.

8. This makes me very happy! Because it turns out there's nothing you can't do in there that you can do on a server in PHP or node.js, thanks to the people at Amazon and Dropbox.

9. And finally because they've done it, now I figure everyone else will too. The ones I want most are Evernote, WordPress, Twitter, Facebook. I already have the storage I need with Amazon and Dropbox.

 11/11/2013; 9:41:04 AM.

Why the Web 2.0 model is obsolete

I've been trying to come up with a concise way of saying this, the Web 2.0 model served its purpose, it got content management into every nook and cranny of Internet life. But at a cost.

We gave up control over the experience to companies whose incentives and interests conflict with ours. A necessary bargain when running a server is so complex and expensive.

But all that has changed with the ability to access cloud storage from apps written in JavaScript that run in the browser. Software that used to require a central server, and was easy to attack, and had to scale for all sizes of use-cases, now can run in the browser, with little if any loss of power.

New models for communication can develop, independent of the limits and needs of companies that run the Web 2.0 servers. I don't think Web 2.0 will go away, but a new net can take its place beside it. And that's all that's needed to boot up a new layer.

 11/9/2013; 3:02:44 PM.

Access journalism taken to its limit

Access journalism is why you hear flattering personal stories about rich people, and more realistic stories about people with less money or influence. Reporters need access to them, and if they don't like what you write, they won't talk with you, or no access. It sometimes applies to whole countries. If China doesn't like what you write about them, they'll kick your reporters out of the country.

Journalists don't generally write about access journalism. It's the environment, the context. You don't talk about it because it's everything and everywhere.

So it's unusual for the NY Times to run a piece about it.

The story is about Bloomberg reporters working on government corruption in China. "Mr. Winkler defended his decision, comparing it to the self-censorship by foreign news bureaus trying to preserve their ability to report inside Nazi-era Germany, according to Bloomberg employees familiar with the discussion."

Winkler is the Bloomberg editor who killed the China corruption story.

It's only natural as our economies integrate, so do our political systems. This evening-out is probably the larger force behind the move of the US to become a surveillance state. If our trading partners do it, the incentive is there for us to.

Remarkable story, totally worth reading.

 11/9/2013; 12:14:24 PM.

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