Saturday, December 20, 2008
The call for papers is now open, so mark your calendars and make your proposals. I'll be working with folks at the office to get ours in, for sure.
I went and saw the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still last night, didn't find it a big improvement on the original (although it does always make me vaguely happy to see Keanu Reeves getting a bullet put into him). In particular, the words "Klaatu barada nikto" never make an appearance, which was obviously a major disappointment. On the upside, the nanobot swarms were a pretty cool effect. It's still a B movie.
I still have Christmas shopping to take care of...
Monday, December 15, 2008
On that note, there's unrest in developer-land again. Two interesting blog posts have come up illustrating the problems for subsidizing application development against expected sales on the iPhone. Craig Hockenberry started it with an open letter to Steve on the subject of "Ringtone apps", and why it's very difficult to make a case for developing non-trivial software when you can't exert much control over the marketing and distribution of that software.
The App Cubby blog follows up with a very detailed and well-thought-out post on the experiences they've had (with annotated graphs) marketing a number of popular iPhone applications. The writer says that, in spite of being fairly successful in iTunes App Store terms--featured in the "Top 50", a "Staff Pick"--he's been pulling down about five bucks an hour in salary so far.
It's not enough to create a context for developing applications, clearly. There has to be a marketplace for them, and it has to be a free and open marketplace. For it to be interesting, there has to be enough of an underlying demand to make it worth a developer's while--at least if we're talking about applications for which people expect to get paid. Both conditions are necessary, neither alone is sufficient. It's clear that Apple has the numbers, but not the marketplace: beyond any technical limitations of the iPhone SDK, Apple's heavy-handed and opaque approval process, the similar lack of transparency over how things like "Staff Picks" get made and unmade, etc., it's difficult--as both the articles substantiate--to make a solid case for doing a serious applications development effort for the platform, as attractive as it is.
This is a potential opportunity for the free and open source software community, one which I expect we'll start to see becoming a lot more "real" in 2009. We've had the first "GNOME Mobile" release, and it's a good start. We're seeing serious progress with UX/UI technologies like clutter. We're going to see phones based on this kind of software becoming increasingly available in the next twelve months, and--the economics of things being what they are--more of them will likely be "open" devices, at least in the sense of being able to add new software post-purchase.
How can the community tap into that market? There are definitely challenges to deal with, many of them having to do with the wide variety of form-factors and capabilities of these kinds of devices, as well as the variety of UI approaches that we can expect to see. If it's too difficult to adapt a program to new devices, it becomes uneconomical to do so--Apple controls this issue by owning the hardware, but Java was never able to really come to terms with it. Google attempts to manage this issue by owning the platform, effectively, but it's a very tenuous sort of ownership, mostly reinforced by there being one (maybe two) devices available which are running Android intentionally. I doubt that's a situation that can last...
By the way, I've read that the most popular Android app is PacMan.
Thursday, December 4, 2008
I was a pretty serious Go player in my mid- to late-20s, a member of the New York Go Association and I played in several tournaments, ranked at the 1-3 kyu level when I last played. It's been a number of years since I've played seriously or consistently, and I'd definitely welcome the opportunity.
It's been said that while chess is a game of attack and defense, Go is a game of market share, and I think there's a lot of truth in that. Like Dave, I appreciate the level of philosophy and the detail of execution behind the game, as well as the mixture of incredible simplicity and incredible complexity the game offers. You can literally learn the rules of Go in ten minutes or less, and spend the rest of several lifetimes, I suspect, dealing with the consequences.
While the chess-mastery-via-software problem has been mostly licked for several years now, to the best of my knowledge, there's no computerized approach to Go that has yielded a ranking above double-digit kyu level.
Now, that's interesting.
(And yeah, a decent Go game on my N810 would rock.)
There is nothing related to open source software, mobile devices, or anything of the sort in this posting. Sorry For The Inconvenience.
久しぶりですね？I've been busy, busy, busy and off to Singapore, Hong Kong, Seoul, Tokyo (a couple of times), London, and other places.
In particular, I've been working on taking my bonji work up a notch or two, and to that end, I spent two entire weekends in Tokyo looking for a very specific sort of brush, a 朴筆 ("bokuhitsu"). Rather than hairs, these brushes have a square, wedge-cut felt pad of sorts and are used for the sort of formal-style of bonji I prefer.
Searching for these led to various adventures, starting with a visit to Ito-ya, the biggest stationery store in Ginza, where they spent twenty minutes trying to track down these brushes for me, with no success. The most interesting adventure, though, was my discovery of the Bonji Bar, a little izakaya in Asakusa run by a fellow named Kitahana-san, who works as a tattoo artist in Harajuku during the day and runs the izakaya in the evenings. As you might expect, the decor of the Bonji Bar is all about bonji, and it was fun for me to chat with Kitahana-san about our mutual interest, and fun for him, I think, to meet an American who knew something about the subject.
I'd gone there hoping to find these brushes for sale, but no dice. Kitahana-san dragged out his set, and did the usual Japanese thing of edging around the subject of giving one to me, but I immediately said that I couldn't possibly. I did get to play with them for a good while, using that magic grey paper that you paint on with water, and which turns black until it dries again. Very neat stuff. I ended up buying a t-shirt and Kitahana-san gave me a pair of bonji-decorated chopsticks as well. I'll definitely go back there.
I learned from Kitahana-san that he had no idea where to get the brushes in Tokyo, that his were made by a little outfit out by Mount Fuji. I figured worst case, I could take the train out there and get some myself some time, if it came to that.
I drank a whole lotta sake and met a few of the bar's regular customers, who started wandering in a few hours after I did. Definitely a good place, although a little hard to find: it's waaay back of Senso-ji, in the little warren-y alleys of Asakusa...
After I came back, a very good friend of mine in Tokyo did me a couple of favors, first by ordering a set of brushes on my behalf from the Fujisan gang, and then (somehow!) discovering that these brushes could be found at Kyukyodo, also in Ginza, just down the street from Ito-ya.
So now I not only have a full set of the brushes I wanted, but I also know where to buy them without having to take a long-ish train ride. I visited Kyukyodo on my subsequent visit to Tokyo, and found the brushes. As long as I was there, I bought some sumi, a suzuri, a couple of regular shōdō brushes, and some other small things.
There are monster spiders, called jorōgumo ("harlot spiders", from an old kaidan hanashi) in Shinjuku Central Park! The trees along the side of the path to the Shinto shrine in the back of the park are festooned with Raiders-of-the-Lost-Ark type webs, most of which house an extremely large (up to 20 cm., no kiddin'!) yellow, black and red Nephila clavata.
Thursday, October 30, 2008
That said, if I "have an axe to grind", it's largely because I spent a good deal of the last year listening to folks like Eric Chu from Google spouting idiocies like "open source projects can't be relied on to ship according to schedule" while standing in front of a whole bunch of GNOME folks (which, of course, ships every six months like clockwork) and "current open source projects are too desktop-oriented" (which is simply nonsense) as justification for reinventing more wheels than I care to count with Android. It gets tiresome.
I'll look forward to seeing both Robert and Leslie participating in the GNOME Foundation Advisory Board; they know I'm an opinionated bastard, and they won't hold it against me...
I know the folks at Google aren't stupid, and I'm unable to understand what it is about actually working with a community--one that isn't contained within the Googleplex, anyway--that they find so scary. They did it with Android (and then spent the better part of a year publicly running down mainstream mobile open source development as "not good enough", "too desktop oriented", etc.) and now they've gone and done it again with OpenID.
Let me try to explain this to you, guys: a standard only has value when everyone uses the same one. If you decide to have your own version of a standard, it's not a standard any more, it's just pointless fragmentation.
Google's pretty good at things that simply involve writing a check, like the Summer of Code, like sponsoring GUADEC (and then not showing up), like joining the GNOME Foundation Advisory Board (and I certainly hope someone's planning on showing up for that), like Android. They're consistently terrible at actually getting out into the community and simply working with people and projects that don't happen to be Google-driven.
I don't get it. Or if I'm feeling especially cynical, maybe I do. Like we used to say at Apple, if you think you're too cynical, you're not cynical enough.
Friday, October 24, 2008
The reason I use Vista is that I use Illustrator, Photoshop, Dreamweaver, and the rest of the CS3 Web Suite for a bunch of things and—after having used them on a Mac, with an external Wacom tablet for several years—I succumbed to the allure of the generally-despised Tablet PC, especially one which used the Wacom technology. There's nothing like "painting" directly on the screen with a stylus, and a pressure-sensitive stylus is even better.
So, for a couple of years, I had a Lenovo X41 Tablet on which I ran CS2, and with which I was quite happy. I decided I needed a new system earlier this year and ended up getting another Lenovo, an X61 Tablet this time. The Lenovo's are small, (relatively) light, travel well, and generally seem to work nicely for me; in addition to the X61, I've got an X60 (non-Tablet) on which I run Ubuntu 8.04 at the moment (and on which I've been spending way too much time looking at Android sources, but that's a story for another day...)
Anyway, the X61 came with Vista Business installed, and it worked just fine. Except for one thing: Vista Business doesn't let you do Japanese input, you need Vista Ultimate for that. There isn't a single other feature in Ultimate that I think I care about, and it's worth noting that Japanese support on XP was free, the upgrade kit for Ultimate cost me $220 at Circuit City.
Okay, fine. I can really use it, and while it used to be free (and is free on Linux), I'd put down two Benjamins for good Japanese support. So, I get my official Windows Vista Ultimate disk, and get to installing.
First off, this is a process which takes a whole large number of hours, I haven't managed to stay awake through it so far, but it's got to be nine or ten hours. Having done that, I discovered that the keyboard and "Trackpoint" joystick no longer functioned. Thankfully, the stylus did, and an external mouse and keyboard did, but I ended up spending an hour or two on the phone with Microsoft Tech Support, removing devices from the registry, re-scanning, searching for new drivers, etc., before everything was finally working again.
Then, some overnight automatic update or other killed the Trackpoint again. Luckily, I knew what to do, and I got that sorted out.
So, everything was fine until I went away to Singapore and Tokyo at the beginning of the month, and took the Linux laptop with me. When I got back, the first thing the X61 did was download a whole new bunch of updates, which somehow had the net effect of persuading the system that it was no longer a Tablet. No stylus response, no input panel, when tablet-specific software was started up, it denied that there was any tablet hardware in evidence.
So, I've spent pretty much all week on the phone, alternatively, with Lenovo support and with Microsoft support. Lenovo won't send me an Ultimate recovery disk, so they say, because their policy is to only send recovery disks for the OS with which the system originally shipped. Microsoft insisted the whole thing was so vendor-specific that getting help from Lenovo was really what was needed (a position with which I basically agree).
All in all, Microsoft tried harder to be helpful, calling me back multiple times and spending several hours on the phone looking at options. Where we finally wound up is that, late yesterday afternoon, I uninstalled Norton 360 (there seems to be no way to turn it off), turned off a whole pile of startup programs and services using msconfig, and did a fresh upgrade.
And got exactly the same results as the first time: tablet functionality was back, but no keyboard, no TrackPoint. Luckily, all of the previous experience gave me a notion of what to do. I let Vista install the 24 additional upgrades it wanted to, then I ran Lenovo's updater, and installed all the updates it found. Still no keyboard or TrackPoint, but the stylus, etc., still work.
I went to the Device Manager, and saw that neither the "Tablet PC Keyboard and Button" nor the "PS/2 TrackPoint" were running. So, I searched for an updated driver for the "Tablet PC Keyboard and found one. Next, I downloaded the latest TrackPoint driver installer from Lenovo and ran that. After a reboot, everything worked.
I took a system restore point called "Everything Works Here". At least I have a fallback now, but what a pain in the ass. Now, I've got about two dozen "optional updates" from Microsoft which I'll have to go through, one by one, ready to back them out individually if the cause new trouble.
And what a circus from, in particular, Lenovo support. They were never able to give me any explanation of what someone who wanted to upgrade to Ultimate was supposed to do, and they made moronic suggestions that I'd voided my warranty with them by doing so.
And people say Linux is hard to install!
Monday, September 29, 2008
A geotagging update:
After a number of false starts, fruitless efforts, software installation, software removal, uploading, re-uploading, etc., I finally worked out the geotagging magic.
I've got two galleries of shots from my Berlin trip, pretty much all geotagged and mapped, on Flickr and on Picasa. I used a GisTeq PhotoTrackr, with the (horrible, confusing, designed by aliens) GisTeq software used to (finally) associate the correct time/location with the correct photo. That took several tries.
Next, it turns out that there's not one, but two checkboxes you have to click on to get location data uploaded to Flickr. First, you have to share EXIF information. Then, you have to save any location data provided. Flickr is another example (at least in configuration) of non-intuitive design...
In between the inability to get Flickr working, I pulled down IrfanView (to verify that the location data was getting correctly stuffed into the EXIF), and the latest version of Picasa (which allowed me to verify that, if I had location data, it was possible to upload it someplace and take a look at it...)
Anyway, it works. I'm going to have to look for alternatives to the GisTeq software, at least for anything other than pulling the tracking data off the device (which is likewise horrific); anyone know of any projects working on this, e.g. associating NMEA datalogs with photographs, especially graphically...?
Writing software is work. Sure, people do it for fun, but people split logs for fun, too. In any case, people do this sort of thing expecting a return on their investment of time and effort. The problem that Apple has created is that developers are in the position of having to make the entirety of their investment up front--thinking up and developing an application--and only then can they submit it to the iTunes Apps Store and find out whether they're going to be allowed to sell it or not.
The problem here is the complete lack of anything like a free marketplace. Apple not only owns the grocery store here, they own your pots, pans, sink, refrigerator and kitchen stove, and you can only use the recipes they've pre-approved. If you can't sell your application on the Apps Store, you simply can't sell your application. You could try to market it to the owners of "jailbroken" phones, but those are getting fewer and farther between; Apple keeps making efforts, with every software update, to close those opportunities as well.
(One of the coders whose app was rejected by Apple "for duplication iTunes functionality" found a backdoor through a mechanism used to distribute beta versions; Apple quickly slammed that door shut, too.)
That's a lot to ask of a developer: "make your investment up front, and we'll let you know after you're done whether the last six months were a complete waste of your time." That's a very bad proposition. When you add the limitations of the SDK in terms of what you're not allowed to do, and then you add the truly draconian terms of the NDA associated with the SDK, it starts to look like something which won't really incent the development world to put in major effort.
What organization is going to commit to a 10,000-man-hour project for the iPhone when they'll have no idea whether they'll actually be able to sell the fruits of their labors? Dan is right in this: Apple is certainly entitled to run their business as they please, but I hope they're not counting too much on the notion that their position is unassailable (although, based on my experience working there, I'm pretty certain they are counting on exactly that notion). The same thing will happen to the iPhone as happened to the Macintosh in the mid-90s.
Early adopters are fickle people. As soon as there's something else they can adopt earlier that seems shinier than what they have now, they're off like a shot. That--and hubris--is what took Apple's market share from 22% down to 2% ten or fourteen years ago.
Apple's setting themselves up to see exactly the same thing happen again.
Monday, September 22, 2008
I managed to snag a seat in business class, and discovered that United has been playing around with the Archos 7xx line: they're handing them out, preloaded with a couple of dozen movies, to folks sitting in business for the duration of the flight. Aside from some minor screen calibration problems (it was difficult to fast-forward reliably using the movie's timeline), I thought it was an excellent experience.
The Archos 7xx are pretty big units, though. Happily, Archos is just releasing the new Archos 5 line, which comes in at about the size of a 3x5 card and only half an inch thick. I ordered one from Amazon, with a 250 GB hard disk yesterday, I expect to receive it within the next month.
I also started playing around with solutions for converting DVDs to MP4, and was pleased to discover that AnyDVD from Slysoft will not only allow me to get past the flavor-of-the-week copy protection they slap on DVDs (and it's worked in every single case except one), but it also gets around the regionality of the DVD drive so I can now use non-region-1 DVDs without the driver complaining.
I'm using Nero 8 recode to do the conversion. Movies take a little less than real-time to convert, but the size (for cinema quality) is excellent: they seem to come in at around 3/4 of a gig, or less.
With the 250 GB on the Archos, that means I get get my entire CD and podcast collection, as well as a selection of as many as a hundred or so movies at any given time, onto the Archos (once I've managed to convert that many, of course.) Frequent-flying-horror-movie-enthusiast heaven!
While a 3x5 screen sounds small, holding an actual 3x5 card (well, a Moleskine notebook, which happens to have almost exactly the same form factor as the Archos) up at arms length completely covers the 32-inch monitor in my living room, and then some, so that winds up being effectively a larger screen than the one I watch at home.
And, oh yeah: the Archos runs Linux (Qtopia, to be specific). Not that it does me much good--you can hack the older Archos devices (at a cost of some loss of functionality, something Archos should help the community to correct, if they're wise), but not this one so far.
So, adios, Apple. My last G4 Cube blew up a while back (necessitating a significant amount of inconvenience in reconstructing my MP3 collection, which I had to back-synch from the iPod), and now it looks as though the iPod's days are numbered, too...
Friday, September 12, 2008
One of the reasons is that I've been busy, busy, busy. On currently in New York City for the weekend, on my way to one of the things I've been busy with, the Open Source in Mobile conference, which is taking place in Berlin next week.
I've been particularly busy coming up with fiendish questions for the ACCESS-sponsored Open Source in Mobile Pub Quiz, which is shaping up to be quite an event! We going to be having ten (!) teams, beer, and questions galore, hosted by yours truly.
I think it's going to be a lot of fun.
On a not-really-related note, I'm taking along my GiSTEQ GPS data logger to Berlin, so I should be able to do some experimenting with geotagging photos. On another, my friend John Kreuzer has a video posted of me demoing some Netfront widget stuff at Linuxworld...
I'm also reading quite a good book now, which offers some interesting explanations of why "feature checklists" are wrong and how companies fail to grapple with what their customers actual needs and experiences are: Subject to Change by Peter Merholz, Brandon Schauer, David Verba and Todd Wilkens (O'Reilly)...
Monday, August 4, 2008
Matthew Paul Thomas has expanded his six-year-old piece on the usability problems in free software, why they're there, and what we might do about them. This is a really important discussion for the community to be taking up as we move forward toward more free and open source software in mobile applications. As the iPhone has demonstrated, usability can trump features; features that are usable are, of course, even better...
Speaking of the iPhone, the blog-o-sphere is filled with stories about a supposed "iPhone Nano" that Apple's ostensibly going to be bringing out by Christmas. It's idiotic, but I hope they do it. In that form factor, battery life will be about forty minutes. The only thing I'd enjoy more would be an "iPhone Shuffle": no screen, one button, and when you press it, it dials a random contact in your address book...
If you're going to be at Linuxworld, please stop by the ACCESS booth (not hard to spot) and say "Hi!" And don't forget to come for the Golden Penguin Bowl, at 4:30 tomorrow in the Keynote room!
Thursday, July 24, 2008
My OSCON talk got a couple of good write-ups, at Information Week and on the "Wireless Blog". Evidently my "this is your cellphone and this is your desktop" slides were quite popular. It was really good to hang out with Neary and Pippin and Pia and Stormy and Dirk and the rest of the gang, just not long enough.
Things to do in Ottawa: get some poutine; have dinner at Sweetgrass; maybe do the Centennial Walk again... I'm also looking forward to the Whisky BoF here at the Linux Symposium; we're evidently breaking with tradition this year and having it off-site at some former government nuclear war shelter. Should be strange and interesting.
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Had a nice dinner at the Rockbottom Brewery on Morrison, with Dave Neary, Paul Cooper and several other folks last night, followed by several games of pool upstairs. If you're in Portland, and hungry, the food at Rockbottom is really good, as is the brewed-on-the-premises beer. The portions are enormous, so be hungry.
I'm off, later this evening, to Ottawa for the Linux Symposium. My colleague, Bob Murphy, is going to be presenting his paper on "Coding Eye Candy for Mobile Devices" Thursday at 3:00 pm in Rockhopper. This is the same paper I presented at GUADEC, but hopefully Bob's dragging along a Zylonite or something for a live demo. So, if you missed it in Istanbul, you can catch it in Ottawa...
Once Bob's presented, I'll post the PDF of the paper itself for folks to download if they like...
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
I've posted a PDF of the slides as well as the (11.4MB, be forewarned) video I presented on my web server, so feel free to pull them down if you want copies. I'll post a PDF of Bob's paper as soon as the Linux Symposium opens later next week: I think they have the right of first publication here...
On that note, now that I'm back from Istanbul, I'm heading right out again this coming Sunday on a two continent, three city two-week tour. I'll be at OSCON from Sunday morning through Tuesday, then up in Ottawa for the Linux Symposium (Bob will be presenting there) from the 23rd through the 26th, at which point I'm off to Amsterdam for a week for LiMo Foundation meetings. If you're going to be in any of those places any of those times, let me know. I've already made a reservation for dinner at my favorite restaurant in Ottawa, Sweetgrass...
Also, it seems that editing postings, at least on Blogger, moves them up again in the syndication on Planet; sorry for the inconvenience, I'll try to get it right the first time in the future...
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
I'm David "Lefty" Schlesinger, and my day job is Director of Open Source Technologies for ACCESS Co., Ltd. ACCESS is a Japan-based mobile software company, probably the largest, and one of our key product offerings is the ACCESS Linux Platform, an operating system stack for cell phones and other mobile devices which is based on open source and free software, including many GNOME technologies such as GTK+, Gstreamer, BlueZ, D-Bus, SQLite and others.
I've been a member of the GNOME Foundation's Advisory Board for the past three years, and am a founding member of the GNOME Mobile Initiative (about which I expect you'll be hearing much more in the coming months). ACCESS has also been a Silver sponsor of GUADEC the past two years.
I'm additionally active in the LiMo Foundation, as ACCESS' represesentative to the Architectural Council and as the chair of the Open Source Committee, which will be working in a variety of areas, internally on open source "best practices" and license compliance, and externally on community engagement and relations. I expect you'll be hearing a good deal more about this in coming months as well.
Before coming to Palm in 2001, getting spun off with Palmsource in 2003, and getting acquired by ACCESS in 2005, I was at Apple for ten years (both pre- and post-Steve), and served as the manager of the Networking Technologies team there. One of the engineers I hired while I was there was Stuart Cheshire, the architect of the Bonjour zero-configuration networking scheme, a very useful open source component (licensed under Apache v2) that's seeing increasingly wide use.
I'm a big fan of horror movies, Talking Heads, photography, and attempting to learn Japanese. I travel a lot (close to 70,000 miles so far this year), and am attempting to become the guy who knows his way around the subway system of almost any major city that has a subway system.
PS: I can has hackergotchi:
Monday, July 14, 2008
I'm just back from Istanbul, where I participated in GUADEC 2008. Terrific conference, as always, and it's so nice to see so many of my farflung friends in one place. Some interesting points:
- Istanbul is a neat city, but has a bit of a tendency to take advantage of out-of-towners. Always haggle on price for anything that isn't fast food and which doesn't have a price tag on it. If it has a price tag on it, consider haggling anyway.
- Traffic in Istanbul is insane. Things like traffic lights, crosswalks, lane markers, medians, speed limits, etc., are considered to be completely advisory. Istanbul has replaced Amsterdam on my list as "the European city you're most likely to get run over in".
- Our Turkish hosts, and Turks in general, are beautiful people. They're helpful and generous and very proud of their history and culture. They very much appreciate it when you appreciate it. I got asked to say a few words about this at the closing of the conference by Behdad.
This conference really brought home for me just how much our community--beyond fostering the development of the technologies which we all use and love--actually bridges cultures and brings people together. As I said, we're a lot like the UN, except that we're more effective and we get along better.
- Most of the parties rocked. We had some good music from the Screaming Macaques at the roof party, and some incredible Turkish music from Serdar and Volkan. Volkan is one of the best drummers I've ever had the pleasure to hear.
- Best of all was the boat ride on the Bosphorus sponsored by our good friends at Collabora. It was a beautiful evening, the views were remarkable, and anything is better when you do it out on the water. We had the brilliant inspiration of making the boat ride the venue for our annual Single Malt Appreciation Society for Hackers, Engineers and Developers meeting, and a brilliant time was had by all, see below. Some fell over, but none fell over the side, yay!
- On the other hand, the closing party, sponsored by Google, was very lame. The music was too loud to think, much less converse, and we were limited to three free "beers" (there was considerable discussion at the conference as to whether Efes Pilsen actually consititutes "beer"; general opinion says, "no"). Lamer still was the apparent fact that not only was the no one from Google at the party, there seemed to be no one from Google at the entire conference. The place really is a black hole. Lots of stuff goes in and nothing (other than an occasional check) seems to come out again.
- Lots of useful developments, chief among them being the hiring of Stormy Peters as Executive Director of the Foundation. Stony did a great job running the Advisory Board meeting, and spent most of the week chatting up people to hear their ideas on what was going well and what needed to be improved. She's off to an excellent start and is going to bring a lot to our efforts.
Also, the Board has set a goal (thank heavens!) of getting the GNOME Mobile effort back on track. Most of us have been valiantly trying to make this happen anyway, in the face of some internal obstacles, but is seems as though those are going to be bulldozed out of the way, and hurray for that.
- As mentioned, we had our regular meeting of SMASHED (the Single Malt Appreciation Society for Hackers, Engineers and Developers), and had an excellent selection of bottles again this year. Most people voted for Rob Taylor's Ardbeg as the bottle of the year, but I personally preferred the Glengoyne cask-strength which was contributed by Dave Neary. I brought a 12yo Burnfoot (also a Glengoyne), which was very good, too.
- I'd list all the folks whom I was very happy to see, or equally happy to meet, but I fear I'd offend someone by leaving them out.
Saturday, April 5, 2008
"Google wants fragmentation in the industry," according to Jha.
Why? Not too hard to figure out.
Google's Robert Love presented at GUADEC in Birmingham last year on the notion of a web-based desktop, where all your data lived on servers out "in the cloud" and was accessed pretty strictly via web browsers and web-based applications. This idea raised lots of criticisms, notably on the grounds of security and privacy (an area where Google's record is less than sterling), as well as accessibility. Love had no real response to the former criticisms other than "Trust us", and suggested that Google Gears could be used to address the latter, which kind of begs the question of why one should base everything on the web in the first place.
Google's shown that an area where they can succeed is in providing cross-platform tools for their properties such as Google Maps and the like, via precisely the sorts of web-based mechanisms that Love was proposing at GUADEC.
Why does Google want fragmentation in the industry? If the easiest way to make mobile applications is by falling back to the web, then that's a win for Google: they can cover a broad swath of devices while keeping platform-based competitors isolated to their own individual islands. This approach has the cynical side effect of marginalizing the work of the real open source community (y' know, the one whose source is actually open...?) with spurious claims that it "wasn't good enough" for Google's needs.
Google's approach to the mobile space has been deeply cynical from the outset: it's an open source project whose source isn't open, it's based on standards (live the Java language) while simultaneously ignoring the communities around those standards (like JCP), and it seems as though it's explicitly intended to hamper the development of a core mainstream Linux-based mobile stack by distracting the attention of potential developers.
I dunno, seems reasonably evil to me.
Sunday, March 30, 2008
The MacBook Air went down first in a surprisingly (disturbingly, really) three minutes, thanks to an exploit in the latest version of Safari, v3.1. Disturbing, since Safari 3.1 is the version on the beta 2.0 iPhones as well. Given the lack of a real security model on the iPhone, and the fact that most things run as root, this raises some concerns about the safety of putting third-party software onto that device. No doubt this exploit will be fixed, but this and the similar speed with which the iPhone 2.0 update was jailbroken underscore the fragility of the iPhone.
The Vista device went next, taking a more impressive 55 hours, before it finally fell to a Flash exploit.
The VAIO running Ubuntu was the only device standing at the end of the third day.
Want real security on your mobile device? You want Linux.
Monday, March 3, 2008
I see an awful lot of stuff I'd like to have, or at least play with. Check it out.
Following up on the possible disintegration of the iTunes Music Store's business model over the next year or so, Trent Reznor/Nine Inch Nails just released the new album, Ghosts I-IV, 36 instrumental tracks in all, and is offering free downloads of the first nine tracks. Well, trying to offer:
Unfortunately, the Ghosts I-IV site is down for the next few hours for maintenance. We quietly released this album last night without any warning, and without any press. Because we know how devoted our fans are, we planned for an overwhelming response, and expected heavy traffic. To our surprise, the traffic was more than three times what we anticipated, and has only been getting heavier throughout the day. The response has been absolutely phenomenal, and we couldn't be happier, but our servers have taken a beating, causing numerous problems with the download site. Our developers, who have been working non-stop to combat the surge of traffic, feel that taking the site down for a few hours to fix some crucial issues is the best way to get things running smoothly again. We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience.However, they helpfully point out:
While the site is down, you can still purchase the complete Ghosts I-IV here from Amazon's MP3 store for only $5. The MP3s are high quality and DRM-free.Five bucks, thirty-six tracks, no DRM. That's under fourteen cents a track. You can't get it from the iTunes Store, NIN fans. I expect Amazon to sell a bunch of these (one to me, certainly), and I expect to see more of this sort of thing, and more of the business in general going to Amazon, eMusic, and the like.
If you want to scope out the first quarter of the album before you buy, it's on the torrents...
Friday, February 29, 2008
Those days came to an end a good while ago, and they're apparently receding further if the report from iLounge on the imminent "iPhone SDK road map" is accurate. For my part, it seems not only believable, but in character, to me.
First, the only mechanism available for the distribution of applications is going to be the iTunes music store, and the only mechanism for installation of applications is going to be the iTunes desktop. (Is this sounding at all familiar...?)
Second, Apple is going to be guarding the Pearly Gates. You'll have to submit your application to Apple for its "Officially Steve-worthy" seal of approval in order to get it onto the iTunes store. Anyone who's ever tried to get their podcast into the iTunes directory can see the flaws in this notion.
Third, no access to "accessories", which if I understand it, means pretty much no actual access to the hardware. This makes an awful lot of interesting applications pretty much impossible.
Clearly, Apple is strongly motivated to tightly control what people can get on their iPhone, to the point of (in effect) voiding your warranty for installing "unapproved" stuff on the device. The main reason for that would likely be the apparent total lack of anything like a security model on the iPhone. Pretty much everything has, so far, run as root (!), so any sort of mayhem is potentially possible. It's kind of amazing that some level of meaningful security (other than gluing the case shut) wouldn't have been designed in from the beginning on this sort of device.
This will unquestionably hamper development for the iPhone. Good news for the partisans of more open systems, bad news for the early-adopting line-standers. Good news for developers, ultimately, I think they'll be looking around for greener pastures for their efforts. Happily, greener pastures should be coming onto the market shortly.
As for you iPhone owners, it shouldn't come as a surprise. Did you think that was your phone? Not at all: it's Steve's phone, he just lets you use it. And pay for the privilege.
Steve is good. Steve is wise. Drink your Kool-Aid.
Saturday, February 23, 2008
I do a lot of presentations, so I deal with a lot of stock photos, graphs, templates and so forth. Managing these, especially across a globally-distributed organization is no small feat, and things have gotten to the point where we clear need a real digital asset management package. We'd been looking at Canto's Cumulus--proprietary, and in my opinion, the web interface is quite unattractive and inconvenient to use--and then I stumbled across ResourceSpace.
ResourceSpace is written in PHP and requires a single MySQL database. It was originally developed by OXFAM International to manage their own digital assets, and it's available under a BSD license for free use.
It allows users to upload resources of any number of custom-defined types individually via direct http or batched using ftp; image assets are automatically resized to a variety of form factors, and can be distributed either by direct download or via email. There's also a decent facility for defining collections of assets, public, private or shared, as well as "themes" (groups of public collections).
Types of resources, with both global and specific attributes, can be defined, and access can be controlled with high granularity. Users can be freely classified and the access controls are similarly pretty fine-grained.
Tagging and keywords are supported, and the standard keywords and fields can be easily customized, without knowledge of PHP, from the administrative interface. Search capabilities are very good, and, while I haven't loaded my test installation down with pictures, it seems as though it's capable--thanks to reliance on MySQL--with managing extremely large libraries of assets efficiently.
The user interface is clean, easy to use and modern-looking, quite a bit nicer than some of the competing proprietary products. It's also--since the full source code is, of course, provided--completely customizable. Strings can be customized and localized from the administrative interface (which is cleanly integrated into the rest of the site), and the overall look can be modified from the css files.
The biggest missing feature I'd like to see in here is version control, but that's a bit of a side issue to the one I wanted to solve: ensuring that we didn't buy the same stock photos over and over because we didn't know we'd already licensed them and making it possible for our users to access those stock images through a web-based interface, without having to deal with the vagaries of multiple VPNs, etc. For the security-minded, the site requires log-in by default to access resources, has a full supporting facility and can be easily configured to run over https on sites with a usable certificate. Documentation is a little on the sketchy side, but bring-up was dead easy and required a minimum of PHP and MySQL savvy.
If you're looking for a DAM package, I'd definitely check out ResourceSpace before you went out and spent money on anything.
Friday, February 22, 2008
I'm bereft, if that's any consolation. Looks like I'll be in Rome next month, though. Photos to follow, no doubt.
Thursday, February 21, 2008
Registration for LugRadio Live USA 2008 is now open at http://lugradio.org/live/USA2008/register, and tickets for the two-day spectacular cost only $10 for the full weekend, including full access to all talks, the exhibition, evening events, and a free bag o' swag for visitors. Pre-registrations also enjoy additional benefits at the show and the first 50 registrations will receive a free copy of Postal 2: Share The Pain (subject to age verification), thanks to Running With Scissors. All pre-registrations will also be entered into a raffle to win prizes by a variety of vendors.
LugRadio Live USA 2008, the 'rock-conference' from the team behind the popular LugRadio podcast, brings the successful and unique formula of the UK LugRadio Live events to The Metreon in San Francisco on the 12th and 13th April 2008. The event is supported extensively by Google and also supported by Dice.
LugRadio Live USA 2008 brings together over 30 speakers across three stages, 30+ exhibitors, a range of BOF sessions, debate panels, lightbulb talk sessions, demos and much more, all wrapped up in the unique event that the UK incarnation has become known for, combining an incredibly loose, social, inclusive, and amusing atmosphere - if you are new to LugRadio Live, it is nothing you will have seen before.
Confirmed speakers for the event include:
- Miguel de Icaza (Mono / Novell / Co-Founder Of GNOME)
- Ian Murdoch (OpenSolaris / Founder Of Debian)
- Robert Love (GNOME / Google)
- Aza Raskin (Mozilla / Humanized)
- Benjamin Mako Hill (Ubuntu / Debian / FSF)
- John Buckman (Magnatune)
- Val Henson (Kernel / VAH consulting)
- Christopher Blizzard (Mozilla / GNOME)
- Mike Linksvayer (Creative Commons)
- David Schleef (GStreamer)
- Matthew Garrett (Power Management / Kernel)
- Danese Cooper (Intel / OSI)
- Aaron Bockover (Banshee / Novell)
- Liana Holmberg (Second Life / Linden Lab)
- Emma Jane Hogbin (Hick Tech)
- Joe "Zonker" Brockmeier (OpenSuSE / Novell)
- Kristen Accardi (Kernel)
- David "Lefty" Schlesinger (ACCESS / GNOME Mobile)
- Joe Born (Neuros)
- Selena Deckelmann (PostgreSQL)
- Stewart Smith (MySQL)
- Dan Kegal (Wine)
- Ben Collins (Ubuntu / Kernel)
- Jason Kridner (Texas Instruments)
- Jeremy Allison (Samba / Google)
- Christian Hammond (VMWare)
- Ian McKeller (Songbird)
- Alison Randall (Parrot / Perl / OSCON)
- David Huffman (LVM)
- Brian Will (Pigeon)
- Belinda Lopez (Ubuntu)
- Ilan Rabanovich (SoCal Linux Expo)
- Eddy Mulyono (Packaging)
- Matthew Walster (Demo Scene)
Monday, February 18, 2008
So, I checked on the iTunes store, to see if this album was available as a DRM-free "iTunes Plus" download, and indeed it was, for $9.99 (Apple had this and one other Pook album available); I then went and checked the Amazon mp3 Downloads to see if they had it there: they did, at $8.99, and three other Pook albums as well.
So, of course, I bought it from Amazon.
Here's where the business model that got the iPod 70% of the MP3-player market starts to come off the tracks.
What made the iPod such a success? Availability of easily-obtainable music for it. I've run my entire (large) CD collection through my Mac, a disk at a time, correcting tags, consolidating genres (do I really need "Rhythm and Blues", "Rhythm & Blues", "R & B", "R&B", etc...?), correcting artist names (I like the group Mediæval Bæbes, too, which, everytime I add another album seems to spawn a hundred mutations: "Mediaeval Baebes", "Mediaeval Bæbes", "Medieval Bæbes", and so on), but most folks don't have the patience for that, they get them the easiest way: they pulled them down from where they were available, and the only place they were available was iTunes.
Once you'd gotten your music, what were you going to play it on? Again, you had a single choice, at least if you wanted pocketability: an iPod. Those AAC-encoded, DRM-protect tracks couldn't be played on anything else. So, the sales of iPods isn't a mystery: it was, for all practical purposes, the only game in town for the vast majority of consumers of such devices.
You could buy a Creative Zen (and I did) and you'd get better sound quality than you would with an iPod, but getting that music on there was a lot more inconvenient. Creative, and other makers of music players, suffered as a result.
But things have changed: Steve came out against DRM, having seen the writing on that wall, and started offering the "iTunes Plus" DRM-free versions (of some stuff, at a roughly 10% premium). But then, having let the cat out of the bag, the music producers, beginning with EMI and culminating with Sony BMG, declared that they didn't think much of this DRM stuff, either.
Turns out they didn't think much of the exclusive deal that Apple (and at the time it was the iPod driving the music suppliers to the iTunes Store, the mirror image of the iTunes Store driving consumers to the iPod) had given them for access to all those iPod owners, either. So, they've started offering their tracks through Amazon and other places, as well as selling them directly themselves in some instances.
Now, none of those tracks are locking you into either iTunes or the iPod any more: it was Apple's "FairPlay" DRM that did that, and that's increasingly a historical footnote. If you can play your tunes on something other than an iPod with equivalent ease (and downloading music from Amazon, at least, is trivially easy), all of a sudden the iPod is going to have to actually compete with other MP3 players. I'm sure the folks at Creative, not to mention Microsoft's Zune gang, are not entirely unaware of this.
Apple is increasingly going to have to compete on its technical merits (and the iPod has some issues here: the Creative folks asked me once to find the iPod's total harmonic distortion on Apple's web site--you can't) and on cost. Given Apple's deep love of 50% margins, competing on cost is going to be problematical for them. Here's the disadvantage of doing all your own hardware and software: you've got to get really good margins (like 50%) on the hardware to pay for all those software folks.
Apple succeeded in the music business because of the "iPod Tripod": the three legs were the iPod itself (which was the only thing which could play music from the iTunes Music Store), the iTunes Music Store (which was the only place you could get the music to play on your iPod), and the iTunes desktop (which was the only thing that could connect the two). It looks as though every leg has become a lot shakier in recent months.
And this is happening at a time when--coincidence or conspiracy?--iPod sales seem to be slowing, or perhaps dropping. Apple's reportedly cut its parts orders for iPods and iPhones or all sorts pretty dramatically, first by 50%, then by 60%. The iPhone is reportedly sitting on the shelves at AT&T and not doing so well in Europe, either. It seems to be popular in China, though, which can't make AT&T any happier...
Saturday, February 16, 2008
Nokia sells crap.
I wasn't entirely certain how to respond (or "retort" as Samuel L. Jackson might say) to this incisive and in-depth analysis. Fact is, Nokia's got 40% of the worldwide market and has for a good while, whatever they're selling, and Apple's not even a blip on the radar in terms of sales impact: for every iPhone sold, Nokia sells a hundred phones. He went on to advise me, with slightly better sense,
And the iPhone woke them up to the fact they sell crap.
The iPhone certainly raised a certain sort of user experience in Nokia's priorities, as it did for all handset vendors—they've been talking about work on haptics, and they demonstrated a prototype touch-based Series 60 implementation at MWC. So, they're certainly not standing still.
This is one of the reasons that the iPhone is going to have problems, long term. Apple's always been based on the notion that they could (and many times did) come out with a product that could command the kinds of margins they needed: 30 to 60%. Companies like Nokia, and—even more so—companies like Samsung and LG are quite comfortable living on much thinner margins, margins Apple can't possibly survive on.
Apple was once the largest manufacturer of personal computers in the world, between one out of every four and one out of every five computers sold had an Apple logo on it. What happened? Windows 3.1 came out, and there was now something that was 80% as good for 60% of the price. And the Mac's share dwindled down to the single digits it's historically enjoyed since. (And don't tell me about their recently improved share, because it supports my point: you can run Windows on your Mac now.)
Apple's set themselves up to make exactly the same mistakes with the iPod and the iPhone: they can't make 'em cheap enough to compete well with something that's going to be almost as good, in its own way, and quite possibly better in some, given the shortcomings of the iPhone's hardware and software.
Now that DRM's gone down the drain, Amazon and others are starting to eat the iTunes Music Store's lunch. If you're not locked by Apple's DRM into your iTunes desktop/iTunes Music Store/iPod tripod any longer, Apple's business model is starting to look a little shakier overall. It's going to be an interesting couple of years, but Apple has as many challenges as anyone else, and they're the kind of challenges that they haven't handled especially well in the past.
It's called "hubris". And they've got a real bad case again.
Sunday, February 10, 2008
Google and Microsoft are in the news right now, Redmond having dropped $40B in market cap in response to their bid to buy up the Yahooligans for another $45B in order to produce a "credible number two" to Google's far-and-away number one in the online advertising space.
They're all fighting to be the best buggywhip manufacturer in town, particularly when it comes to the mobile space.
Horizontal search, which Google unquestionably excels at, has its uses, but those uses become more and more limited as information (much of it useless) becomes increasingly "available" (i.e. findable). Simply finding a chunk of information that matches your inevitably incomplete attempts at what you think it might look like isn't usually enough, not when the matching process is driven by how many randomly-chosen others point at this chunk, without regard to who's looking for it.
A couple of concrete examples: if you just know me by first and last name, you'll have one hell of a time finding anything that's actually about me with Google−there's a guy who's worked for Reuters for years with exactly the same name, who gets pointed at a lot more than I do (I'm working on this, I assure you). Most of what you'll turn up is about him, unless you know more about me than that.
I live in Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz, California. When I try to find out something about Santa Cruz,I frequently find myself wading through a stuff about Santa Cruz County, Arizona, Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, Santa Cruz de Tenerife in the Canary Islands, Santa Cruz Island (aka Indefatigable Island) in the Galapagos archipelago, and so on. These are all places, which−while I'm sure they're quite interesting, kinda−are not locales that I'm likely to be looking for information about. Because I'm me, but Google doesn't really know that (although they have enough information to know it better than they do).
I travel a lot. Type "plane flight to Brussels" into Google, and you'll certainly turn up pointers to places that could get you one. Quite a few of them, in fact, both of the "sponsored" (i.e. AdWords ads) as well as of the "organic" (i.e. directly generated by the search) variety. Now, your work really starts. Out of the, oh, three-quarters of a million responses there, which one gets you the cheapest ticket on the nicest airline leaving (or arriving) at the time you want, and so on...?
Thus, the limitations of the horizontal approach to both search and advertising. Luckily, in this particular instance, there are vertical search engines, like Kayak and SideStep, effectively meta-search engines, which go out and troll every travel and airline site they're aware of (and they're aware of quite a few more than I am) and collect the results, allowing me to sort and filter them in a pile of ways. Then, there's a whole other site which can tell me where the best and worst seats are on a given model of aircraft, and ones that can give me suggestions (and reviews) of hotels in Brussels (and let me book reservations), and ones that can provide some ideas of things to do, or places to eat while I'm in Brussels...
But we're back to horizontal again. Tons of stuff to wade through. Because it's not about me.
What if, my putting an entry into my calendar that indicated I was going to be in Brussels for a week made certain information about me available: when I'm going, my history (and ratings) of my past hotel stays in other places, my various travel affiliations (frequent flier clubs, etc.), the kinds of food I like or the kinds of things I like to do (based on an "interests" list, or restaurant reviews), and so on...? What if that information enabled the right kind of vendors to come looking for me? I'd need to have some way of matching potential responses against the information I'd provided−but if a response came in from, say, a restaurant that had overall poor (or no) ratings, or one that didn't match well with my history, it'd be "ranked" lower than responses which were a good match, or which had many positive ratings.
Since responses would come in after my "expression" of a concrete need, there'd be a good incentive for prospective vendors to "cut me a deal". Knowing (from my history) that I like Japanese food, if there were a good sushi bar in Brussels, they'd probably be interested in offering me a free bottle of sake to come in, and−if their reviews were good−the odds are that I'd take them up on the offer. Moreover, there'd be an incentive for them to offer me something in exchange for reviewing them on an independent site, information which could feed into other people's future "findability".
Because the new model isn't going to be about searching: it's going to be about allowing yourself (or aspects of yourself, more properly) to be "found" by prospective vendors and to allow them the chance of being "found" by you. Advertising is going to be a lot more targeted, much more so than even AdWords can manage, since its responses suffer from all the limitations of horizontal search in general, and then some.
Simple search-generated ads are like billboards: they appear in front of your eye by relative happenstance, and if they happen to actually be of interest to you, it's pretty much by chance. While there's a certain probability that I'll be driving past a billboard for a McDonald's at a moment when I'd both be interested in a Big Mac and have the time to stop for one, it's not all that large. And when I get a thousand ads for plane tickets to Brussels, the odds of any given one being the one I pick are looking like the blllboard's chances of getting my market share.
This won't apply only to travel, eating out, and so on: it can be extended to things like music, movies, and almost anything that can be sold, whether a good or service. By looking at my buying history (what I'm willing to share of it, via reviews or otherwise), my interests (again, what I make available, and there's already a lot on FaceBook, Plaxo, etc.), and by comparing that information to similar information from others, you can identify potential "outliers" in my constellation of interests. Amazon already does this with their "Recommendations", and not too horribly−they're frequently recommending CDs or horror movies to me that I actually already own−but it can be a lot better. They could know (from the information I share about my music collection) what I already own. You see some interesting progress in the direction of music from sites like last.fm, the Music Genome Project, iLike, and others.
As I said at the outset, this approach (some aspects of which Doc Searls has referred to as "vendor relationship management") will be increasingly important as our access to information becomes increasingly mobile. Because of factors like small screen size, there's not going to be a lot of room on mobile and converged devices for ads. Nor, because of the I-need-to-get-it-done-now, task-oriented nature of the use model of such devices, is there going to be a lot of patience for advertising that isn't very specifically targeted at what I'm likely to be interested in right now. What would be nice would be something akin to an email or SMS notification on my phone, at lunchtime on a day when I had some free time, for places (in a specific radius of where I am right now, as provided from my GPS information, say) which wanted to show me just how good their miso ramen is, with a tag on each showing the number and distribution of reviews the places had gotten.
So, good luck to Microsoft and Google. While they're duking it out over the billboard rights on the Information Highway, I suspect someone else is going to be sneaking in with a better idea.