Scripting News archive for February 2013

Don't slog away at the end of the day permalink

A picture named mrNatural.gifHere's one of the fundamental rules of programming.

You're at the end of your day, you've gotten a lot of stuff done, and you have one more thing to get right before the feature is complete, and you're searching for the answer, trying all kinds of ideas, thoroughly confused, not wanting to get up until it's done, just slogging away and not getting it. Finally, you give up after a couple of hours of spinning your wheels, eat some dinner, watch a little basketball, have a glass of wine, read a little and crash for the night.

Get up the next morning, make some coffee, read the news, roll up your sleeves and start over with the problem.

Five minutes later it's done.

Happens every damned time.

The problem isn't intractable. It's just as difficult as all the other problems you solved the previous day. It just came after your mind shut down. So you might as well quit work a couple of hours earlier.

Programming isn't like digging trenches. The amount of work you get done is not directly proportional to the amount of time you work. Also believe it or not your mind is solving problems while you sleep. That's why the answer is apparent first thing in the morning. Even after 30 years of programming, I'm still learning this lesson.

Posted: 2/28/13; 9:38:25 AM.

Why you should learn to code permalink

I actually do think people should learn to code, at least a little -- just as you learn a little chemistry, biology and math in school. Learning how to program is imho easier than those things, but then I have a natural ability to program, so what do I know. :-)

But I don't like the way people at code.org are pitching it. And I don't like who is doing the pitching, and who isn't. Out of the 83 people they quote, I doubt if many of them have written code recently, and most of them have never done it, and have no idea what they're talking about.

If I were encouraging young people to learn to play basketball, at least I would have had the experience of playing a little myself when I was younger, and having watched a lot of it recently. I'm in awe of basketball players. How fast they charge at the basket with such reckless abandon for their own safety. They fall on hard wood at high speeed. That must hurt! But they get right up and play as if nothing happened. But there are plenty of basketball players to talk about basketball. So why aren't there very many programmers who can talk about coding? If I were a young person looking at this, I'd wonder what was up with that. They're telling me what a wonderful career it is. Where are the people who do it, and what do they have to say?

A picture named clyde.gifWhich brings me to the second problem I have with the way they pitch it.

Suppose I said you should learn to play basketball because you can make a lot of money doing it. I wonder how Chris Bosh would feel about that. Or if I said you should learn to create music for the same reason? I bet will.i.am would have a problem with that. You don't learn an art to make money -- you learn it because it's fun and satisfying. Because it's what you were meant to do. You do it because you like it so much that it's what you want to do every day of your life. Because you want to get really good at it. To perfect your art, and achieve a greater goal. Imagine telling young people they should learn to do something because "To compete in a global market, our students need high quality STEM education including computer science skills such as coding." Okay. I'd run away from that as fast as I can.

I like what Bill Gates said: "Learning to write programs stretches your mind, and helps you think better, creates a way of thinking about things that I think is helpful in all domains." It's very true, and a good argument for students in all disciplines learning at least a little programming.

These people don't themselves know how to do what they want you to do. So what they say makes no sense. It won't make you rich, but it will make them rich. And if you do it, they won't listen to you. And even worse, if you do what they want you to do, you'll be tossed out on the street without any way to earn a living when you turn 35 or 40. Even though you're still a perfectly good programmer.

It's a shitty system, and it needs to be fixed. And we have to get these spokespeople who don't know anytihng about what we do to stop speaking for us. To get out of the way. What we need to do, as programmers, is start helping young people become really good at what we do, so they can do it even if there are a lot of carpetbaggers trying to redefine it. (What's a carpetbagger? You should study a little history too!)

To be clear, you should learn to code if:

1. You love writing and debugging and refining and documenting and supporting code.

2. You love to see the working result of your labors.

3. It excites you to empower other people (your users and other developers).

4. You have modest financial needs.

5. Don't mind spending a lot of time working by yourself.

6. Don't mind being misunderstood.

Primarily you should do it because you love it, because it's fun -- because it's wonderful to create machines with your mind. Hugely empowering. Emotionally gratifying. Software is math-in-motion. It's a miracle of the mind. And if you can do it, really well, there's absolutely nothing like it.

I wrote a piece about programmers in 1997. "Successful programmers know how to ask questions, and they know how to ask the right question. You can't go forward until that happens. A programmer is a rigorous scientist determined to coax the truth out of the ones and zeros. There's the beauty."

BTW, I also think every student should learn to be a journalist and a lawyer and an accountant too. That way you'll be able to blog with authority. And will know when you're getting screwed. And keep your taxes down like rich people do. :-)

Posted: 2/27/13; 9:29:56 AM.

Good software design is ageless permalink

A comment from Michael Markman: "I'm an older dog than Dave Winer -- by about a decade. And I've managed to learn this new trick: move one finger, the pointer moves. Use two fingers and the window scrolls."

Necessary recital: I'm 57 and have been developing software since I was 18.

He's wrong. I would have been just as upset about the feature-removal at 25 as I am today. It has nothing to do with age. And as a software designer, something that I've been doing for a long time and know quite well, I can tell you why it's bad to remove features. I learned it the hard way, by doing it.

I once shipped a product for the Apple II and IBM PC. When we made the Mac version we started a new codebase, largely because of the new way of doing UI. We wanted to ship before we had all the features ported and debugged, so we did. The users saw this as taking features out of the product, even though technically that isn't what we did. They were angry about the removal. I bet a lot of them were my age at the time (28), that is, younger than Michael and myself. And they were right to be upset. We called both products ThinkTank. They expected when they opened the box (software shipped in boxes back then) they would get the same thing, but translated to the Macintosh. They didn't. So they concluded that we had removed features.

Key lesson: Users don't see things from the same perspective as we do.

And users build up processes that designers know nothing about. They work around the limits of our software by using other features to emulate the ones they wish were there. When we play with the mix of features, we break them. Why would you want to do that to someone who was smart enough to buy your product, and might buy an upgrade someday. Don't you want your users to be successful? Isn't that why you're making software. All these are reasons why anyone, not just Apple, should strive for continutity for users. I suppose there are times when you have to break users. But to break them for aesthetic reasons, when it's totally optional, that's a sign of bad things to come. A company that has decided willfully not to value their users.

I'm reminded of this many times every day, as I work around the missing scroll-arrows feature. I remember it used to be there. A sin that's hard to forgive. And it's an important one to observe, because more and more the designers at big tech companies are, for some reason impossible for me to understand, sabotaging their own products by removing features that users depend on. It's becoming more commonplace. And it's a trend that will make users seek out stability as a desired feature.

People do switch for stability, btw. I switched from Windows to Mac, at considerable expense, because at the time Windows was infected with malware and the platform vendor wasn't fixing the product. I could switch again, if the Mac becomes too unstable and another platform appears to be rocking less.

Posted: 2/26/13; 10:49:00 AM.

The Sequester permalink

We're in constant Congress-induced crisis mode in the US.

It's gotten so routine, I don't even pay attention anymore. I suspect a lot of other people do the same.

I kind of hope the Republicans don't back down, and let the sequester happen, and then the voters may finally see the connection between what they do and what the Congress does. I think our Red State fellow citizens have been using their vote for entertainment purposes. To watch the assholes they elect stick it to the rich and sophisticated "elites" in the big east coast and west coast states. But when the cuts hit their communities just as hard as they hit ours, they may think again. I hope they do.

We need to run this country a little more like a business. We have to think these things through. We want Medicare and Social Security, and we don't mind paying for them, but somehow we want them cut at the same time? Hello. That's no way to run an economy.

Whatever. I'm beginning to think maybe the cynics are right and this is all just sleight-of-hand, to keep us distracted while the real action is somewhere else. Yeah, that's probably it.

Posted: 2/25/13; 12:10:41 PM.

Watching Marco's Magazine permalink

I've been watching Marco Arment's publishing venture, called The Magazine, with interest and a little puzzlement. It looks like a high wall around writing, the kind of wall that was natural before publishing got cheap, first with laser printing and page layout software, then with the web and blogging.

When I started blogging, with DaveNet, in 1994 -- people in the tech industry who read it thought for sure it was just a demo, and eventually I would charge a fee. Something like the $495 per year that Esther Dyson and Stewart Alsop charged for their tech industry newsletters. I told everyone that I would never do that, but they still seemed to believe I would eventually charge.

But I didn't and I never would for this simple reason. I was having so much influence with the free and openly published email/web essays that it made no sense to limit the flow. I also never thought of my writing as my bread and butter, so in fairness, I could afford to give it away because it was a by-product of my real work, not the work itself, which was writing software.

So maybe I wasn't so smart, just had my center in a different place. Whatever, I was sure I wouldn't charge, and in the 19 years since, I never have.

Now Marco has changed his policy, and the articles appear on the web in addition to being in his iOS-based magazine app. It's a complex scheme that allows readers to point to articles to share them on the web. But you can only read one article for free per month. I don't see why this is a major difference from having an absolute and impenetrable paywall. One time, when I click on a link, I get to read the article. Every other time, I'll get an ad to buy a subscription, I guess. As a linker, I wouldn't like to send my readers to ads for a publication. I might read an article and think it essential for everyone to read, but wouldn't share it.

I am the kind of person who, when I read an article, if I make it all the way to the end, I'm pretty likely to forward it to all my followers. I have this systematized, with software that makes it super-easy. I also will forward a link to articles that I want to remember to read. I figure if it's important enough for me to want to read later, then it's important enough for the people who follow me to get that link so they can read it too. My linkflow is a sort of memory system. I use it the way some people use Marco's Instapaper, or Readability, or the way they used to use del.icio.us, or any of a dozen other tools that remember links to look at later.

But because sharing links is such a central part of my reading process, I almost never read articles that can't be shared. It means I've never read an article that's published in Marco's Magazine. It's not out of principle. Maybe he's right. If so, eventually I may have to give in. I don't subscribe to the WSJ or the NYT either, although I have at times been tempted to go for the NYT plan. If it were simpler and if I believed I could easily unsub I probably would.

Anyway, I'm still watching. I suspect he will find equilibrium with full sharing on the web. The pull is just too great. I bet that most good writers want to influence with their writing more than they want to be paid for it. Everyone likes a small paycheck, but if it interferes with the purpose of writing, that creates a conundrum. I think that long-term the desire to influence will win-out.

Posted: 2/25/13; 11:04:00 AM.

Young folk and greatness permalink

I was once a very young man with some talent, and luck and perhaps intuition that led me to a place where, at 25, I had arrived somewhere that few people did. Everywhere I went people reminded me what a miracle I was. But there were other people my own age who were even more miraculous, richer and more accomplished. This brewed a soup of emotions that were pretty intense -- pride, arrogance mixed with jealousy and anger.

We were all difficult to be around, maybe I was more difficult than most. But because I could make "magic" happen with the computer, this was somewhat tolerated. It wasn't until I was in my mid-40s that things began to settle down. I realized that while my life might have been different from most people, more elevated in some ways -- I was actually a pretty ordinary person. I learned that the more I could make my actual life normal, the closer to happy I would become.

I'm still able to work the stuff that people who don't know call magic, but I realize now as I did then, that it isn't magic at all. There's a process to creativity. All you have to go by when you're younger is intuition, and the feedback of others who say your talent is without precedent, unless you have coaches who help give you a sense of perspective, who give you a safe harbor to create within, and while giving you positive feedback when your work is excellent, keep reminding you to seek balance. Enjoy your youth, in a physical way. Enjoy the simple everyday pleasures of living. Do not believe the accolades. Strive to do better, and keep your eye on the long arc of life, not just the here-and-now.

We, as a society, make a big mistake when we pump the egos of our young talented people. Love everyone, not just the rich. Don't believe that people are prodigies, they aren't. When people create something you like, tell them! But don't think they're gods.

Posted: 2/25/13; 10:44:40 AM.

Era of the big man is over permalink

This is a basketball story, but not really.

There was a time when bigger was better. If you worked at the biggest company you were smarter, more powerful, better looking, knew what was happening.

You could see over our heads.

But that was then. Now it's about being fast of feet and mind. Thinking not just where the puck is going but how to replace the puck with something better.

That's why the Lakers are the past and the Rockets are the future.

Think small picture, not big.

Posted: 2/24/13; 2:57:58 PM.

Apple arguing with iTself on my iMac permalink

I just plugged my iPad into my iMac and launched iTunes.

A dialog appeared saying there's a new version of iOS for the iPad. Would I like to download and iNstall it. Yes.

A few seconds later a dialog appears saying there's a new version of iTunes. Same question. Yes.

I think you can see where this is headed. :-)

Some piece of software says that I can't install a new version of iTunes unless I quit iTunes. So I try to quit. Then I get a dialog wanting to confirm that I want to quit iTunes while my iPad is being updated with the new version of iOS. Either way, no or yes, gets me more dialogs. I can't get out of this loop any way other than to force quit all the software that's running that's orchestrating this Kafkaesque madness.

Somewhere Steve Jobs is rolling over in his grave. (Or at least rolling his eyes.)

Posted: 2/22/13; 11:35:23 AM.

Vanity Fair led me back to Pulp Fiction and to a great blog permalink

Warning: Spoilers ahead! :-)

I spent the day in Cambridge yesterday. One of my stops was the Shorenstein Center, where I was interviewed as part of a project to understand the transition of journalism to the Internet. At one point I was asked who were some of my favorite bloggers. I said I don't like that kind of question, because I think it misses the point of blogging. I gave an example.

A picture named julia.jpg1. On Tuesday I read an article in Vanity Fair about the making of Pulp Fiction.

2. That caused me to watch the movie again. I hadn't seen it in a long time. I wasn't sure if I had even seen it more than once.

3. Great movie.

4. Near the end of the movie there's a scene with Wolf, Vincent and Jules at the junkyard. Wolf is going to breakfast with a delicious young babe who owns the junkyard where they had disposed of a car that was used in a crime. I wondered who the babe was.

5. When the credits rolled I noted her name. Googled her. Found she has a blog.

6. Spent the next hour reading it. She's a great writer. It's 20 years later. She's done a lot of living. And blogged about a lot of it. She reads books and watches movies and keeps a log of them.

That story illustrates perfectly for me why blogs are so valuable. It's not that any single person has a blog, or is famous for it. It's that blogging is available to anyone who wants to blog. Not everyone does. But with Julia Sweeney I hit blogging paydirt. An attractive person who turns out to have something to say. Nice.

PS: Kathy Griffin was in PF too.

Posted: 2/21/13; 8:57:45 AM.

Do you use your own product? permalink

A picture named imac.gifThe "Lion" version of the Macintosh operating system removed what was, to me, a very important feature -- the arrows at either end of scrollbars. I found this out when I bought a new laptop, which I'm using now to write this piece, and discovered the omission. I wrote a blog post about it at the time, and was told by Mac advocates not to worry that I would discover better ways to do the same thing. That didn't happen, but since I don't use the laptop that often, I muddled along without the arrows.

Then, late last year, I updated my Mac desktop to the latest model. It has a nicer screen, is a little slimmer, has a faster CPU, faster disk, etc. This time I couldn't side-step the missing scroll arrows. And since this is my main work machine, muddling along meant less productivity. More lost trains-of-thought as I have to locate the scroll thumb and delicately move it up or down small amounts to get the text to scroll by two or three lines. The scroll arrows are always in the same place, and you click once to move by one line. No care required.

Finally, last week, I decided it was time to actually find the "better way" the people spoke of earlier. Only to discover it didn't exist. After hearing from lots of users in the comments, the best approach people have come up with is to use the arrow keys on the keyboard. But that's no answer. If I have to lift my hand of the mouse, find the keyboard, and find the arrow keys (does it even have arrow keys, I never use them).

All this makes me wonder if the people at Apple actually use Macs, and if they do, do they hate themselves? Certainly someone there must have depended on the arrows as a way of fine-tuning the vertical position of text on the screen? As I do.

So a few times every day I lose my train of thought because I use a new Mac instead of an old one. I can't figure out for the life of me why they would take features out of their products. I would say it might be to get us to leave their platform and use Windows, but they're playing even worse tricks on their users.

Posted: 2/20/13; 10:14:35 AM.

Dinner in Cambridge on Wednesday? permalink

I'll be in Cambridge, MA on Wednesday, staying overnight and am free for dinner, so let's have a meetup!

I posted an item on the Berkman-Thursday list (awkward because this is a Wednesday night event, but it's the people that matter, imho, not the day).

Some possible items for discussion.

Hey what do you guys think of Jeremy Lin? I love that he came from Harvard.

I've been programming in JavaScript in the browser for the last few months. Would be happy to share observations.

I'm coming to meet with some folks at Shorenstein and at MIT, and am working on a super-secret project which I might leak about if properly incentivized.

Hey I don't want to make a big deal of this, but I remember fondly the discussions we used to have way-back-when in the Old Country with the Sad Beatles and all that.

A picture named sadBeatles.jpg

I hear they tore down our building. How can something like that happen.

One more thing. I heard that Bombay Club is closed. That, and climate change, is enough to cause one to lose hope, I think. But the Red Sox have won the championship, so that's something. I can't imagine what their fans will do now without the curse to lament.

Anyway, if there's enough interest we'll pick a restaurant, and post the details here before Wednesday night.

Posted: 2/18/13; 11:29:32 AM.

Dear NYC Journo Brain Trust permalink

I sent this email to some friends yesterday and realized it should probably be a blog post.

This idea came in a roundabout way...

1. Google Reader has been sputtering lately.

2. Causing some users to be nervous.

3. They reach out to developers they know who care, including me. Asking if I can offer any help.

4. The only help I can offer is my mind. My programming resources are going elsewhere, and this is not the kind of job a person or a small team can approach. Because while news looks easy and simple, there are millions of feeds, and all must be read every so often or else the system doesn't work. It means you need fairly real capital to make this happen.

5. Either Google is or isn't going to continue to subsidize the news reading activity. Either way it's not good to be so dependent on them.

6. So I approach some famous tech companies, get a hearing, and am told there might be money available for this, but no interest in doing it as a service. Makes sense. I don't want to do it either.

7. It is suggested that perhaps a university or library might want to do this. To which I say -- not likely, for many reasons.

8. Then, after sleeping on it -- I have one of those AHA moments.

9. Why isn't this something a news org jumps on. It's their business. And for crying out loud -- do it with a revenue model. No paywall. Just charge the users for the service. Make this a market. Let's start building in a non-fragile way.

I don't know what to do with this other than give the idea to people who might have some influence at the news orgs. Forward it where ever you like.

Posted: 2/16/13; 10:03:18 AM.

Posterous archive received permalink

I was able to download my Posterous archive.


I'm busy with other projects, but wanted to be sure I could find this if I find time to move it to another location.

I took a brief look inside, and it looks fine. The posts are stored as RSS 2.0 items. Shouldn't be hard for any experienced blogging software developer to work with this.

Posted: 2/16/13; 9:46:08 AM.

Tesla v NY Times permalink

A fascinating conflict is brewing between Elon Musk the founder of Tesla Motors and John Broder, a reporter for the NY Times who reviewed the Tesla Model S.

Margaret Sullivan, the NY Times public editor has a good summary of the dispute, so far.

Some obvious observations.

1. The whole thing is good for Tesla. I hadn't seen the original review, but after seeing Musk's initial review-of-the-review, I became interested. Someday I might buy a Tesla as a result of the increased interest. It'll take a number of events like this to get me to buy, but a car is a big purchase, so it seems it should take a lot of work to close the deal.

2. Before this, the most memorable thing I had heard about the Tesla was from Evan Williams who said it was the iPhone of cars. That made sense to me, and Williams saying it made a difference. I believe he understands what makes an iPhone nice. And cars are not designed like iPhones, but it might be nice if they were. :-)

3. Had it been any publication other than the Times, they wouldn't have had Margaret Sullivan to rep the news side of it. This is possibly a big deal. I have been impressed with Ms Sullvivan's work so far, after being very irritated by her predecessors. They didn't seem to rep the public. Mostly they explained why the Times insiders were right all along and the public was wrong.

4. Even though I'm a fan, I think public editors should be from the public, not journalism. And a publication of the stature of the Times should have many of them. The rule is they could put something on the Times website, adjacent to the articles they're commenting on, and they could say whatever they need to say to create balance. They wouldn't have indefinite terms, and it would be possible to fire them, but only if they breached ethical standards themselves.

Some stories need lots of public editors, and maybe the public editors should be given anonymity. An example is the run-up to the war in Iraq when all the publications carried the same wrong story. Another, more recent example is the telling of the life story of Aaron Swartz. I knew Aaron, and I read many of the stories, shaking my head at the awful reporting. You can forgive Aaron's friends for distorting the truth, perhaps -- they were grieving. But what were the reporters' excuses? If they were emotionally tied to the story they should have been excused. The purpose of a news publication is to tell the truth, especially if it's unpopular. The Times has a public editor because it wasn't living up to this ideal, and they knew it, and presumably wanted to do something to fix it. But it's too big a job for just one person.

5. All pubs should have someone like Ms Sullivan. Over the years, I've had a number of disputes that cut to the integrity of reporters at major publications, like the one Mr Musk has with the Times. None of them have had public editors, and none of them ever resolved the issue one way or the other. One even threatened to sue me for libel if I didn't stop saying they were doing something wrong (a British publication). Imagine if a software company threatened every user who reported a bug. I told them to go ahead. At least it would have raised the issue in a way they would have had to respond to.

6. Just like all software has bugs, all publications have breaches of integrity. The question isn't whether or not you have them, you do. The question is what you do when someone raises an issue.

7. I've long felt that each blogger who values his or her reputiation should have a panel of "rabbis" who will respond to public integrity challenges. If my rabbis say I have to address a certain issue, then I will. If they say it's not an issue, I can go about my business without responding. This would do a lot to increase confidence, and also protect us from troll-like accusations. I think it's possible the same system could work for publications too. Sort of a shared public editor function, for organizations that don't have the resources to hire one of their own.

8. It's possible that Musk is a troll. It's also possible that Broder made it up. I don't expect Sullivan to say either of these things unless it's so obvious as to be indisputable. And it won't be. She will tell us what both sides say and will look at the data herself. She'll look at what others say, and will suggest that while Musk has a fine product he has probably engaged in a little self-promotion here. And that the Times can and should have some new policy for testing cars. We will get a decent list of sources to examine ourselves, and we will, as always, make up our own minds.

Posted: 2/15/13; 10:08:08 AM.

Mac scrollbar woes permalink

A picture named magicMouse.gifIt's been a few months since I got my new iMac and with it was forced to switch to Mountain Lion. I've more or less made my peace with everything except this -- the arrows on the scroll bars are gone. This means what was once an automatic operation that required almost no thought now requires me to swtich gears, locate the thumb and move it different amounts depending on how long the document is. When I first observed this, people said not to worry -- you'll get used to the new way of doing things. But the New Way so far has not revealed itself. So please, do tell, what's the recommended fast way to get the current window to scroll just a little in one direction or another, using the mouse? I have a Magic Mouse, of course. I've tried all combinations of gestures, and nothing seems to do it. Is there a howto somewhere?

Posted: 2/15/13; 9:56:40 AM.

Why Rubio looked silly permalink

A picture named polandSpring.gifLast night Marco Rubio gave the rebuttal to the State of the Union in a studio. He looked silly and uncomfortable before the awkward moment when he reached for the bottle of Poland Spring. That just sealed it.

A picture named rubio.gif

He should have been at a podium, with a charged-up Republican-loving crowd ready to cheer every one of his cheap and misleading characterizations of the President. They should have a big APPLAUSE sign to give people a cue. Or pictures of hated Democrats offscreen behind his head to get the crowd going at the right moments.

Certainly they can find an auditorium or airplane hangar somewhere in Washington and enough out-of-power partisans or out-of-work actors to fill the room. You gotta wonder who's planning these things.

Posted: 2/13/13; 1:31:59 PM.

Central Park after the snow permalink

A picture named snowyParkLake.jpg

If you like, there are more pictures of the park after the storm on Flickr.

Posted: 2/9/13; 12:57:04 PM.

Understanding the Dropbox API permalink

A picture named newAccordionGuyBig.gifFor the sake of argument suppose the developer of a document-based app written in JavaScript running in the browser wanted to open and save files from and to the user's Dropbox folder. What's the best way to do that, given the new APIs that Dropbox has been releasing?

I see they have a Chooser. It looks like this can only be used to open files, not save them. Is that true?

It seems where Google wants you to use Google Docs to access their Drive space, Dropbox could build around an independent developer community that's potentially larger and more diverse than Google's. Is this their intent? Or will they create apps to compete with Google's?

What are developers doing? What's the best way of following new announcements in this area? If you are working on browser-based apps that integrate with Dropbox, please feel free to post a comment. I'd love to learn more.

Posted: 2/8/13; 12:02:13 AM.

Page preview in a Bootstrap modal permalink

I'm trying to do a modal dialog that does a preview of a web page in a modal dialog in Bootstrap 2.0.

And having the damndest time figuring out how to even get started! :-(

Is it an iFrame? If so, how do I specifiy the size of the iFrame and the size of the modal.

It's a complete mess.

I'm going to narrate my work here.

Looking for guidance...

Here's an example..


I'm trying to present the contents of render.scripting.com inside a modal dialog.

How do I set the height and width properties for each of the things to get get a reasonable display.

This is obviously a very simplistic example. Ultimately I want to preview presentations in this format.

Posted: 2/7/13; 12:35:49 PM.

The guy at the gas station permalink

There's a gas station at the corner of Sand Hill Road and Sharon Park Drive in Menlo Park. I used to live on Sharon Park, so I'd drive by the gas station pretty much every day. I was also a smoker then, Marlboro Lights, at least two packs a day, sometimes more. I had a thing where I'd never buy a carton, figuring that kept me conscious of how much I was smoking. It didn't really work. The gas station that sold the cigarettes was only a few blocks away. A two-minute drive, at most. "Two packs of Marlboro Lights, please" that was something I said at least once a day. Sometimes more than once.

A picture named nemo.gifOne day I went into the gas station to buy some smokes, and the guy behind the counter couldn't seem to find them or hear me, or whatever. I must have said three different times "Two packs of Marlboro Lights, please." He was sweating. Really confused. At first I took it as a sign of disrespect, anger rose, but I tried to hide it. After what seemed an eternity of not getting what I wanted, something clicked for me. "This guy is having a hard time." That's very different from "He's giving me a hard time." I realized he wasn't my problem, and I wasn't his. He had problems, but they had nothing to do with me. So I stopped, took a big breath, smiled, and waited. He brought me what I asked for, I gave him the money. I smiled and said "Have a great day."

He smiled back and said he was sorry. I said no worries man. (Or something like that.) I smiled again and turned to leave.

I always think of that day when I get into a tight spot with someone, a friend sometimes, a person in a store or on the subway, in an airport. This is a person who is trying to do his or her best, given the circumstances, and for whatever reason, having nothing to do with me, is having trouble. I'm going to try to make it easier for them.

The point of this story is -- nothing. I just thought it was time to write it. :-)

Have a great day!

Posted: 2/7/13; 11:27:17 AM.

Thanks to Jeff Atwood permalink

I tried to fit this into a tweet and I came close but couldn't quite squeeze it in.

A picture named discourseStaff.gifI was glad to see Discourse, released today. It's open source discussion software. Jeff Atwood, the developer, is one of the best programmers around, and he really knows discussion software. Too often people stop moving the ball forward when they achieve success. I don't know why. Do great directors hang it up after their first hit? Basketball players? Rock stars? Why should creative people in tech be any different.

I think we're about to see a wave of technically excellent software in a lot of different categories. Feels that way to me. More software like Discourse that can be hooked into everything else, and we'll be looking at a lot of new opportunity for everyone.

I think we're on the cusp of some exciting times.

Thanks Jeff. :-)

Posted: 2/6/13; 10:06:01 PM.

Kids are scientists permalink

A great episode of This American Life about children as scientists.

A little girl on her first airplane ride, after takeoff asks an adult when will they get small? She had seen planes take off at the airport, and after they took off they all got small.

Children are scientists. Even things you'd think were obvious, like gravity -- are mysteries to children. But they are born investigors and practitioners of the Scientific Method. That's something we all understand at birth, it seems.

There's a wonderful story in there about a child discovering Jesus and Martin Luther King.

When I was a kid I used to watch a daily kids show. The kids would have lunch, and before they ate they would say together "God is great, god is good and we thank him for this food." I came from a family where we didn't talk about god, so it was a strange concept. I figured God was one of the people who worked at the TV station and brought the food in.

I tried to remember when I learned that God wasn't a stagehand, but I couldn't remember that part.

Update: Just remembered another one, also about TV. I didn't get laugh-tracks. I kind of figured out that there are millions of people watching, and so many are laughing, that a very small portion of the laughs leak back through the TV network and come out on everyone's sets. It never occurred to me that there was either a studio audience laughing or (more likely) a tape that was played when the producers thought there should be laughter.

I also thought everyone who was on TV immediately became a millionaire. People seemed so excited about being on TV, I figured they must be making a lot of money. :-)

Posted: 2/6/13; 7:26:03 PM.

House of News permalink

A picture named houseOfCards.gifI just got through watching the series House of Cards and believe it or not, it leads me to a set of observations about news, and where it should be now, and the changes called-for are long overdue.

1. I'm a fan of modern TV series, as many people are. I love The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, The Wire, Deadwood, The West Wing, Battlestar Galactica, Breaking Bad, Homeland, Mad Men. There are so many, and they're great.

2. I love watching them as I would read a book, at my own pace.

3. This is a theme of modern media. It's why Napster was such a breakthrough. All of a sudden instead of being programmed, I could do the programming myself. Same thing with the travel industry, vacation rentals, retail, love -- everything. By now the pattern should be obvious to everyone. The users do the programming now. It creates new interest in, and demand for, creativity. THe fear of the entertainment industry was a fear of change. There was never a reason to be scared of irrelevance. Creativity is more in demand now that it ever was.

4. It's as if the Netflix management had a come-to-jesus type off-site and the chairman said to his people -- what do our customers really want and let's see if we can give it to them. The result was House of Cards. Exactly on the terms that the users have been demanding since Napster. Entertain us, but we want to do the programming ourselves. We will do the programming ourselves, whether you like it or not. It's our time, our lives, our way of appreciating each other.

5. Did it work? Yes. Was it as great as the others? It showed promise at the beginning of being as epic as The Wire or West Wing, but it trailed off into ridiculousness. That's okay. Homeland did that too. Will I pay for Season 2, if there is one? Yes I will, without a doubt.

6. And get this, I didn't just pay for it, I signed up for $8 a month. I had been a longtime Netflix customer, but late last year, I unsubbed. But they got me back. And the deeper I got into House of Cards, the more they got me back. I'll give them another year, let's see what they come up with.

7. Now what does this have to do with news?

8. Everything. News needs to do the same recalc. Come-to-jesus and let's figure out what it is that the customers want, exactly, and give it to them, no compromises -- and see what happens. It's what you're doing anyway, as you pretend the pre-Internet news distribution system still exists.

9. When you do that, you'll see very clearly that what the news industry needs is a cooperative venture that's external to all the news orgs, as Hulu was to the entertainment divisions of the networks, and boot up a new distribution system. Twitter and Facebook have shown you how to do it, although it wasn't necessary to wait this long -- you've now waited long enough. The new system will look like Twitter. You have to be present everywhere your news is in demand. The news industry should have a system tailored to the realities of news, the way Netflix has moved to become the HBO of the Internet age. We need news like that too.

10. News orgs should also bring bloggers in-house, not to write for their pubs, but to co-locate intellectually. I wrote about this in an earlier piece, where I suggested the NYT do this. I did not mean to say that they should publish the bloggers in the paper or on its website. Just house them on premises. I'm thinking about serendipity. Overhearing elevator conversations. Eating lunch in the same cafeteria, waiting in the same line for the coffee cart. Inevitably the two cultures will influence each other and this would be good for both.

11. Same thing with users and the flow of news. Use the same follower model that Twitter uses. Have USA Today compete with a random group of bloggers located nowhere in particular. We will develop new tools that let people combine news in a multitude of ways. The same way we want to program our entertainment, we must be able to program our news flows.

12. Twitter is being very cooperative by closing off channels of innovation to developers. You can harness that energy immediately by zigging to their zag. Unlike movies, which are best viewed serially, news allows for much more varied types of flows. Some people believe this can happen to video too, but much more has been possible with news for the last decade.

This thread will continue.

Posted: 2/5/13; 1:59:48 PM.

House of Cards permalink

A picture named houseOfCards.gifBack in November I signed off Netflix. I wasn't using the service, had probably watched two or three movies in all of 2012, and it bothered me that I was paying $8 a month for something I wasn't using. I put off resigning because I figured it would be a pain. I had to call them to do it, but it wasn't as difficult as it had been years ago to get off AOL or MSN.

But then I started hearing about House of Cards. It was getting a huge rollout. On the web and in podcasts. It's exactly the kind of show I like, political drama, a series, and it all came out at once. I am definitely one of those people who likes to watch shows quickly, in a serial fashion. I watched the first few seasons of The Wire that way, and have worked my way through a bunch of other series since then, watching episodes the way I'd read a novel.

They got me. I turned my Netflix account back on. They didn't toss any of my data. I'm not surprised, but I'm also not necessarily happy about that. I just watched Episode 7. Took a break to watch a David Fincher movie I hadn't seen in a long time -- The Game. Loved it even more this time than I did the first time. The story is very moving. If House of Cards is as emotionally grabbing as The Game it will be a huge winner.

One thing that's missing from House of Cards, that you get from other serial dramas like Breaking Bad or Homeland, is the ability to discuss it with people online. It's tough because people are either a few episodes ahead or behind. I don't want spoilers, and I don't want to be a spoiler. We need to invent new communication systems, where only people who have made it through Episode X can discuss with others who have made it exactly that far.

Update: Conclusions after watching all 13 episodes. No spoilers. :-)

Posted: 2/3/13; 1:38:02 PM.

How am I doing? permalink

A picture named koch.gifThe death of Mayor Koch is not a surprise. At 88 he had become frail. Now come the memorials. Let's hope they don't lose their perspective. Ed Koch was no saint. He had a sharp tongue, and over his many years in public life he made many enemies. But he was also much loved in NY. Before Koch, the city was drifting in a post-Robert Moses funk. It was dirty and unsafe and in many ways just didn't work. Koch did much to turn the city around. And he didn't apologize for being a New Yorker. When he asked "How am I doing?" don't think it wasn't with much irony. What could possibly stop a New Yorker from telling you how you're doing. And it's not usually going to come with a hug or a pat on the back, although Koch was the exception, on the boardwalk in Coney Island or in the subway under Manhattan, people told him to keep up the good work. We appreciated what he was doing for the city. NY is and was and always will be a tough place, on a personal level. But it's a place of symbols. Koch was us, and the reflection wasn't so bad. We have a sense of humor, a sense of what-the-fuck. Somehow we'll get through this, and a feeling that it can be better if we work together, dammit. Koch embodied that for his generation.

Posted: 2/1/13; 8:46:38 AM.


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