Saturday, December 20, 2008

OSCON 2009 Goes Mobile (and to San Jose)!

Matthew Johnson from O'Reilly has pointed out to me that next year's OSCON (taking place July 20th through 24th in San Jose, California rather than in Portland this time) is going to have, not just a Mobile Day, but a whole Mobile track dealing with "ahead-of-the-curve open telephony and mobile technologies, people, projects, and activities pushing the boundaries of what’s possible"!

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

"I'd buy that for a dollar!"--How Not to Make Money Selling Mobile Applications

As a friend from my Apple days used to say, "A funny thing happened to me today: I got paid."

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

On the Subject of Go

Since Dave started it, I thought I'd post a few thoughts on the game of Go as well.

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.)

It's Been a While!

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.