Archive for the 'nerd' Category

Time Warner password requirements

Must be 8-16 characters long
Must contain letters and numbers only
Must contain at least one number
Cannot match your username
Cannot repeat a value 3 times in a row
Cannot contain objectionable or prohibited words

Thank god, finally, someone’s doing something about the racist dictionary attacks.

96.8% of Google’s revenue comes from advertising1 and their motto is “Don’t Be Evil”?  Guess how this story ends…

  1. Google Q1 2012 Results []

Sc2

You know it is time to give up playing Starcraft 2, when after a long day of work, you log on, proceed to lose 7 brutal games in a row, and at the end one of your opponents heckles you and calls you a “faggity fag.” Cheers.

Apple’s brand of unrelenting progress

So Apple has this thing about not releasing a product or product feature until it’s awesome. For example, iPhone didn’t have 3G connectivity until it was ready (it was a battery killer); there wasn’t a half ass cut and paste solution put in the original iPhone, until they figured it out and now cut and paste and selecting text is unchanged since it was released. And so every iPhone from original to 4S was just like the previous iPhone, except unarguably better. As a a result, 1) nothing is ever half-ass, or 2) every product feels unrelentingly improved and refined with each new version.

It feels like the company is actually trying to figure out THE solution, rather than just tweaking things for the sake of change (moving button placements, inflating screen sizes, yes I’m talking to you Samsung galaxy note). This might seems like an obvious thing for a tech company to do, but apparently not. Look at every point and shoot camera ever made. Every company has a million diffusion lines, e.g., canon sd110, s100, sd1100x, but can we say with any certainty that the new version hasn’t fucked up something from the previous version? Camera companies will constantly up the mega pixel count but that does nothing to image quality. Or in another example, a car model may vary wildly between years, e.g.,The 2009 Honda Civic was amazing, but then they decided to redesign in 2011 and now nothing is the same or even better. Call me crazy, but tech products should not feel like wine vintages, e.g., “ah yes, 2005 was a great year for Bordeaux and LG cell phones.”

Back to Apple. Whats interesting is what this feeling of constant refinement does to Apple’s branding and to customer’s expectations. I can’t tell you how many times someone turned me last winter and said “I can’t wait to get the iPad 3”, then an unreleased product. People just assume its going to be there and it’s going to be better than the iPad 2, which they already like, and somehow they have done the math, and the iPad 3 projects to cross some purchasing threshold for them.

There’s a weird side to these kind of expectations, as evidenced by the iPhone released in fall 2011. according to many accounts, this was the month that Apple “did not release the iPhone 5.” What does that even mean?? A product called the iPhone 5 does not exist, yet people have an idea in their mind already of what that product is, and were disappointed when Apple released a product called “4S” instead.

If you look at the new iPad ads and info, you’ll notice they don’t call it the iPad 3. Apple just refers to it as the “the new iPad”, perhaps to move away from version numbers and the discrete expectations they inspire in people. I wouldn’t be surprised if the future “iPhone 5”, if it exists, follows suit.

Steve Jobs Remembrance

A list of my favorite links from the weeklong dirge for Steven P. Jobs.

Bill Gates and Steve Jobs’ joint interview at the All Things Digital conference.   Fascinating dynamics, and good history lessons from two landmark figures in personal computing. (2007).  An excerpt here, full video on official site:

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Steve Jobs narrates Apple’s “The Crazy Ones” commercial, though a version narrated by Richard Dreyfuss was the one that aired.  (1997)

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Going In-House at Apple with Steve Jobs’ Former GC (2011)-  retrospective from the point of view of Apple’s general counsel.  Of course I’m going to have a lawyer/IP angle on here.

“He had the ability to shut things out of his mind and just focus very narrowly on one specific issue. I often said that his greatest strength was his ability to say no. Because you can imagine that over the years, so many people came at him with ideas about one product or another,” Cooperman says. “He focused very, very sharply on making excellent products that people would love, and not doing lots of other things that would distract from that mission.”

An extended conversation with Woz – by Dan Lyons (2011):

What was Steve’s biggest strength?

Everyone else will say vision, and gosh darn that’s important but that doesn’t go anywhere without operational discipline. Steve once told me that Apple only lost money when they built junk. It was his focus on good products that I believe was the biggest thing. All we have to do is make great products. If you have a big market. Apple had millions of fans, such a huge user base. Another strength was that he came back and put together a new board of directors. He organized the company to have good tight controls. Watching everything he could — that is operational excellence. Lots of CEOs just look at little points of data and make a decision. Steve was so much more than that. It’s rare.

Steve Jobs Presents to Cupertino City Council (June 17, 2011).  In one of his last public appearances, Jobs presents plans to Apple’s new campus to the city council. I’m shocked at how old and tired he looks. (via Kottke)

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And, finally, by far, my favorite thing I have watched all week, Steve Jobs’ closing keynote at the 1997 WWDC. Context: Steve Jobs had just returned via Apple’s acquisition of NeXT Computer and he conducts an hourlong Q&A session with Apple developers.  They pick his brain and through his answers, you can see every bit of Apple circa 2011 coming out of Jobs’ mouth in 1997.  Honest, elegant, well-considered answers from off-the-cuff questions.  Focusing is about saying no.  We have a unique opportunity because we control the whole stack.   Being overly proprietary is not necessary.

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Apple thoughts

-I never understood the notion that Apple products are overpriced toys for the gullible and the fashionable. This seems naive to me. A computing product is not merely the sum of its parts, but how well they work together (ask anyone that’s tried to enable wireless on a laptop running Linux). You cannot disassemble an iPhone, add up the cost of each chip, motherboard, sensor, etc, subtract from the wholesale price, and call that the profit margin. Engineering and software are not free, people.

-It’s still impressive to me that Apple is a company that makes billions of dollars by designing and selling physical objects, and not just ads (Google), software (Microsoft), or assorted paper bullshit (Goldman Sachs), but honest to god real tangible goods.

– To a lot of people, well designed software is just about making it pretty. Apple shows us good design is actually about how it works.

– Is steve jobs really that great of a salesman? I have watched many of his keynote speeches; he’s not that great of a speaker. I always thought 99% of his job as salesman is done before he even walks onto the stage. That is, he always makes sure he is selling killer products. And he lets the products basically sell themselves. When you go to an Apple store, did the pimpled-face “Genius” convince you to buy a MacBook or did you just turn the laptop over in your hands 2-3 times, play with it for 5 minutes, and say “I want this”?

-The hallmark of a well-designed product is that they are the products of saying “no”. Apple goods are full of No. Someone in some Apple office raised a question, someone made a suggestion, someone disagrees, someone stays up all night to argue with someone else, hopefully ending in shouting cursing and tears, and someone makes a goddamn decision. And that’s why I like them. I want my products borne of contentious, passionate, decision making.

Apple products generally do not punt issues and say Aw let’s just make it a setting in the preferences panel and go home. That’s chicken shit stuff. And that’s why most open source software can be absolute dreck, because some amorphous group of developers continuously compromise until you have the lowest common denominator software with an ass interface. No one fights for the best design idea and wins.

To me, that’s what you pay for: For someone to figure out a best way to put something together, the best way it should operate. I am not buying something so I can be a fucking middleware developer just to be able to play music on my computer and watch videos of puppies.

I mean, it takes a great deal of conviction to say “fuck you mobile Flash sucks, no way we are allowing it”. It takes courage to say No. The coward’s way is to throw in every feature, no matter if it is terrible, just so you can get some checkbox in some feature list in some comparison chart.

And that’s why I have bought Apple products.

Crab: Internet and Society

Inspiration: The Twitter Trap by Bill Keller, (now former, as of last week) executive editor of NY Times
See also, every Virginia Heffernan piece over 2000 words of the last 15 years

Remember the two fundamental changes in society that the Internet has wrought:

1) Information and data is now universally and near-instantaneously accessible and can be perfectly and cheaply copied.

2) The now main information path, i.e. the Internet, fundamentally is a request-based medium. I.e. You must request before you receive; aka not broadcast. (See, the underlying http protocol.)

Criticisms of websites like twitter and Facebook or foursquare must be filtered thru the above principles to figure out whether an effect of a new technology/website is 1) really just a consequence of the Internet, 2) really just a consequence of humans being humans, 3) or something actually new as a result of the website/tech.

The central claim of Keller’s piece, shared by more than one fuddy duddy: Twitter is harming public discourse because it dumbs down discourse, reduces conversation to sound bites, and facilitates gossip and rumor. At its best, it encourages navel gazing e.g. “ate a sandwich today lolz.”

Except it doesn’t. Twitter is just a message service, connected to SMS messaging, where users are connected by request as followers. All messages are public by default and are limited to an arbitrary character limit. What about this inherently does violence to human communication?

Technology is a value-neutral force of change. Generally, the hobgoblins and boogie men that commentators imagine– whether in the illusory socialization on Facebook, or the maligned idiocy of Twitter, is directly attributable to the underlying user of technology: human people. Those foul smelling oily smears. To paraphrase that aphorism about guns: if something on the Internet sucks, it’s because people suck.

In this case, I think Twitter seems stupid because  real people are actually just dumb and have dumb conversations. Real people have short, simple conversations laced with swear words and slander. And often talk about idiotic shit like what they did over the weekend, or drapes, or gosh darn it that wacky weather.  I’m sorry, but that’s just people.  Twitter only enables these people to talk quickly and publicly (See Change Effect #1 above).  The much-quoted 140 characters of twitter messages is not a limit; that’s a relief of a burden to say more. Many personal blogs die and fade away because their authors quickly realize how little of what they have to say requires long prose. But 140 characters? Yeah that is about the right expectation for civilians and barely literate celebrities and sports stars.

Looking at the specific Keller piece itself, his first mistake is to compare the printing press, one of the four greatest inventions in history to a fucking 5 year old website.  He goes on to short-change the effect of the western printing press. Those great feats of memorization that Keller bemoans the loss of were only lost by an elite educated few. The printing press gave written works– previously handmade, expensive, and accessible only to nobility and the religious elite– to everybody.  Enabled the spread of ideas and thoughts worldwide.   Such a benefit gained makes it seem almost petty to rue the loss of memorization of a few bald clerics.

Keller’s second mistake is to think great conversation happens on a regular basis. My suspicion is that Keller’s idea of conversation involves a dinner party in a Central Park West penthouse, where participants take turns speaking in whole paragraphs about Kant and the categorical imperative. Twitter exposes Keller to real people, and it shocks him. How else do you explain a grown man that is shocked SHOCKED that people have conversations that are, as Keller artfully described it, “reductive” and “redundant”.

Lastly, Keller seems to assume the rise of Twitter means this is the exclusive means of communication to replace all others. Is it not obvious that Twitter is just one form of communication, with its own appropriate time and place?Just as people negotiate when a face to face meeting is appropriate over a phone call (e.g. break-ups, condolences, job interviews), people too will learn to fit new means of messaging and communication into societal fabric and etiquette. To paraphrase a line from Jurassic Park, human socialization finds a way.

Honestly, I think old people take this “social media” shit way too seriously.  I guarantee you that no one under 30 actually believes they have 1,428 friends as according to Facebook.  No, people understand they are merely connected to 1,428 “friends” because that’s what Facebook calls them.  The metaphors provided by websites like Facebook, Twitter, Google use imperfect jargon to help relate new technology to existing social protocol/mores, but no one actually thinks the metaphors replace the social mores themselves.  See also, Jonathan Franzen’s head-in-ass rumination on the facebook “like”s.

To end, I just want to say that whenever someone gripes about change, whether wrought by technology or otherwise, I like to think hard about whatever is being lost or changed is really that holy or sacred, or whether someone is merely complaining about change on its face. Change is a constancy in life, especially in a modern life. And efforts are well spent documenting and understanding; but wasted, lamenting.

This could be organized better, but you get the idea.

I still think GroupOn sounds like a web-based swingers club. “Want to get your group on?” Oh yeah….

And LivingSocial sounds like a vegan commune. Not sure why i am viewing all web startups through the shades of a 1970s counter-culturalist.

camera gone

I sold my camera the other day.   I decided that since I was not traveling anymore, and since I spent most of my free time avoiding happiness (ha ha, that is a lawyer joke) , that there was no point to owning a device hurtling towards obsolescence.  So I sold it on Craigslist.  I took that camera through India, China, Bali, Argentina, Cambodia, and lugged its 1.15 lb ass all the way through the Swiss Alps, and now it’s gone.  Whatever.   I am trying to learn to be less sentimental about my material possessions.  Saving my emotional energy for that which truly matters, like the warm, asphyxiating embrace of inter-human relationships.

When you do a web search for “python“, you realize, by god, the nerds have won.

present

This morning, my father woke me up and told me the downstairs computer has a spyware/trojan on it.  And that’s how I spent my wintry wonderland of a weekend.

Merry Christmas, all.

Do you feel like a midware vendor today?

Steve Jobs made a rare appearance on the last Apple earnings call, and unleashed a torrent of opinions on his competitors.  My favorite line remains to be his thoughts on the value his company brings to customers:

In reality, we think the open versus closed argument is just a smokescreen to try and hide the real issue, which is, “What’s best for the customer – fragmented versus integrated?” We think Android is very, very fragmented, and becoming more fragmented by the day. And as you know, Apple strives for the integrated model so that the user isn’t forced to be the systems integrator. We see tremendous value at having Apple, rather than our users, be the systems integrator. We think this a huge strength of our approach compared to Google’s: when selling the users who want their devices to just work, we believe that integrated will trump fragmented every time. (emphasis added)

In case you missed it, Adobe Flash is finally available for mobile devices, four months after the release of the iPad.  For all that talk about Apple “blocking” Flash from the iPad (and Apple being a freedom-hating arrogant bully),  how do you “block” something that’s not available anywhere?

iPad thoughts

Because my opinion is more considered than yours:

  • Let’s first set aside the name jokes. Yes, it’s bad. Part of me wonders how the name is greeted internationally; Americans have a tendency to narrowly use words in specific contexts. Maybe “pad” plays differently elsewhere.
  • The underwhelmed reaction to the iPad is a testament to two things: 1) the stilting nature of hype (more on that later); and 2) the degree to which the iPhone is a device at least three years ahead of its time. People are dismissing the iPad as “merely” a giant iPhone. What kind of insult is that? “Why, this new product is just like that other product that overnight transformed expectations of mobile devices and mobile computing, except this one has a much nicer screen, runs much faster, and has more software. Meh.” Imagine for a second if the iPhone was never released. How amazing is the iPad as a brand new PC? Multitouch gestures. Incredibly slick software, app ecosystem, and engineering. Does anything on the market come close? The fact that the iPhone came FIRST seems almost backwards. It’s like the iPad, the best tablet computer ever made to this date, but fits in your pocket and it makes phone calls!
  • Feel free to calculate the size of the entire netbook market, and add it to the Apple’s next quarterly revenue. Who the fuck would now buy a shitty laptop with this product priced so aggressively? The $499 starter price is transcendental.
  • God, I hate “hype”. Yes, Let me build up a product with incessant chatter fueled by nothing more than my own speculation and curiousity, and then cynically dismiss the product as “overhyped” when it finally is released, and decry and blame the product itself for failing to meet expectations generated without encouragment from the product maker. The same fate befell the Segway, which people still dismiss as an overhyped bust. Dean Kamen never said a single word to generate the anticipation it had; and when it was finally released: thud. (even tho it remains a brilliant invention for individuals of limited mobility).

This product release destroyed my afternoon productivity so excuse me if I am feeling a bit loquacious. I probably have more to say. Anyone want to chime in with other conventional thoughts that I can rebut?

Update (2010 Jan 28) more thoughts:

  • One of the more common questions I hear is, “What the hell is this for?” or “What does this do that I can’t do with my laptop or my iPhone?”1   Okay, at least about once a month, before I became an asshole, I used to receive an e-mail from some friend asking for a laptop recommendation.  My first question, besides budget, would be: “What are your needs?  What are you going to do with it?”  The answer was almost always:  “Oh, you know.  Nothing crazy.  Just need something with which to check my e-mail, surf the web, and listen to music.”  In many ways, there’s your iPad market.  I’m fairly convinced there’s no more pleasant way to surf the web than holding a tablet in your hands, but I won’t know for sure until March.
  • Corollary to above:  do you know who recently told me,  “just need something with which to check my e-mail, surf the web”?  My parents.  I would buy my parents an iPad in a second.  I know you are all myopic millennials who don’t pay attention to other people, but have you ever seen a person older than 50 use a computer?  It’s painful.  When they want to scroll, they gently move the mouse down to the scroll bar– almost… almost… too far… where is it… oh yes. ah.  Click.  They maximize the window they’re using, even when it looks absurd on a 22″ widescreen flat panel.   When they log into websites, they squint to make sure the cursor is in the box, then they stare down at the keyboard to type their login/password, not realizing it when they are accidentally type in the wrong box. They sure as hell as are not firing up Adobe Photoshop.  The simplicity and size and handling of the iPad fits them.  It inherits the renowned accessibility features of the iPhone. (Also, I sure as hell won’t have to obliterate the OS every 6 months because of some malware they’ve picked up.)  I’m telling you, the baby-boomer birthdays/anniversaries/Xmas will be GANGBUSTER for the iPad.2
  • As disappointed as some are in the iPad, I am disappointed in their disappointment.  The general geek criticism sounds like this (feel free to read in a droll, gum-smacking voice): “no multitasking, no flash, no video camera OMG not even a regular camera, big ugly bezel [???], no HDMI out, PASS.”  I would have thought after the infamous “No wireless. Less space than a nomad. Lame.“, people would stop criticizing new products this way.  Guess not.  My own criticism is that the device isn’t radical enough.  I could care less about feature checklists.  I want more crazy multi-touch gestures, more connectivity.  I want a special on-screen keyboard that I can use to type one-handed while I hold the iPad with the other hand (no really).  I just want something from the future.  Does Jobs really think this device is more magical than the iPhone?  Maybe only in the way in that this product a new category of products that Apple is dedicated to making and supporting for the long haul.  It indicates how computers may operate in the future: filesystem completely abstracted away from users; computer linked to a spending account, wireless connectivity from anywhere.
  1. The lack of immediately clear market indicates to me that Apple may bust open a completely untapped market. (If you said, “Oh, right, this product is an X,” chances are there is already a competitor sitting there.) []
  2. Just as, according to my pet theory, the iPod was massively successful because it was the PERFECT graduation gift for parents and relatives to give to high school seniors.  Cool enough, expensive enough, and you knew they would love it. []

Columbia on Twitter

Behold, SEAS has a Twitter account (@CUSEAS), with all of 28 followers. Those 28 must be very, very loyal soldiers. Also, I thought, as per the edicts from Marketing, the short name would be “Columbia Engineering” or “CU Engineering”.

Can we make a list of all known Columbia University twitter accounts?

  • CU School of Engineering and Applied Science: @CUSEAS
  • CU School of Journalism: @j_school

Maybe someone should start a fake Columbia account and tweet as if they were a large ivy-league university, encumbered by a polarized student base and claims of anti-semitism and racism, with a small endowment in the most expensive city in the U.S. “Small endowment, Big City” is an INSPIRED banner title. Run with it, people.

how to: integrate your Flickr photostream with Facebook

Let’s face it, photos on Facebook are a rather low-fidelity affair.  Photos are re-compressed into a grainy, blobby mess.   (“Let’s face it”…  somebody stop me).  If you want your newest upload of Flickr photos to appear in your Facebook news feed, here’s how1:

  1. If applicable, uncheck and de-activate the “Hide me from searches?” setting.2
  2. Link your account to Facebook, using the link provided under “Extending Flickr“.3
  3. At the resulting Facebook page, under user name, enter your screen/vanity name and NOT your URL/user name.   For example, my URL name is “engineer” as taken from http://flickr.com/photos/engineer/, but my vanity/screen name is “selfish crab”.   “selfish crab” is my user name.  4
  4. Hit “Update”
  5. ???
  6. Send me gratuities and your adulation.

NOTE: your mileage may vary because there have been intermittent reports that Facebook is choking on these shared item feeds.

  1. It took me two days to figure this out. []
  2. Why?  Because otherwise “it won’t find you” []
  3. See also, Flickr Help: “Can I automatically update my Facebook when I update my photostream?” []
  4. Source: http://www.flickr.com/help/forum/en-us/87552/#reply578005 []

Google Chrome OS

From the announcement of Windows Endgame Day Zero:

Google Chrome OS will run on both x86 as well as ARM chips and we are working with multiple OEMs to bring a number of netbooks to market next year. The software architecture is simple — Google Chrome running within a new windowing system on top of a Linux kernel. (emphasis added)

Poor Gnome and KDE dev teams.

It also does not surprise me that, on the same day, Gmail and the other Google Apps have dropped their “beta” status. You can’t sell Windows without Office.

dream: sysadmin

I just woke up, sweaty and terrified.  I just dreamt– and I am not kidding here– I was a system adminstrator back at AITGOC, and I had wildly mis-configured the servers such that the network is jammed, TPS packets were overflowing, the database is incorrectly formatted in MyISAM instead of InnoDB, and four months of tape backups are lost, due to a typo in an ini file. We were in the machine room,  JLG and Gecko working furiously to undo the damage, alternating turning around to wipe their brow and to scream profanity at me.

Two gentle observations.

  1. That “TPS packets”  do not in fact exist  evinces the fiction of my dream.   More so, it reveals I do not even know enough as a system adminsitrator to conjure a proper nightmare.
  2. System adminstration brands the souls of men with a curious well-formed mark.