Archive for August, 2011

Where I Work

I have one of the smallest, least cluttered desks of anyone I know, and as much as I don’t like the recent OS X Lion update, I still love my 27″ iMac. It feels extra pure now that I’ve killed my Bootcamp partition, now only running Windows in a virtual machine (pictured), and generally only then when I need to test something in Internet Explorer.

And yes I like low ambient light levels, although it does look particularly dark in this shot.

What shits me about the state of the Internet(s)

This blog has just turned 9 years old, and for the majority of those years it has, like virtually every other blog in the world, provided an RSS feed for people who wish to subscribe so they don’t have to manually check the site for updates.

A feed is a machine readable version of a blog (or any other kind of regularly updated site) which allows the content to be reproduced in other contexts; eg you can see my posts in Google Reader here. This would be fairly pointless if you only read my blog, but if you read 10, 100 or 1000 blogs, you can read new content as it appears, from all of them, all in one place.

Unfortunately, even though blogs have offered these feeds for more than a decade, hardly anyone uses them. A minority of my personal acquaintances have the faintest clue what an RSS or Atom feed even is, let alone how to use it.

And so for this reason, whenever I create a new post I go and post a link to it on Facebook, Twitter, and now Google+. Do you know the main reason why anyone over the age of 15 uses any of these services? I’m pretty sure it is simply so they can keep abreast of what their friends are thinking/doing. That’s why I use them anyway.

I’m not claiming that Facebook et al don’t offer functionality beyond that covered by blogs with RSS feeds, but it pains me that there are hundreds of millions of web sites out there with built in facility to subscribe directly, and yet so few people use this feature. Instead every entity that wants to be followed must create a stupid page on FB so people can friend or follow them there. And Facebook is a horribly overgrown privately owned walled garden which is designed to suck people in and then discourage them from going out again.

So what if I decide I hate Facebook (which I do) and don’t want to have an account with them? Can people on Facebook follow me anyway, seeing my updates on their wall just as they would those of their friends? Long answer: possibly, with the help of some jiggery pokery and maybe an app to facilitate it, but short answer: NO. Anyone who doesn’t know what RSS feeds are and what Google Reader does is not going to know how to achieve this. Same goes for Twitter and Google+; if either of these services has a means to subscribe to a third party feed, they sure hide it well.

Worse still of course is that even people on Facebook can’t easily follow people on Twitter or Google+, and the same goes for the other way around.

Is this not almost as stupid as email in the 90s when everyone’s mailbox was tied to their ISP, and they couldn’t easily move somewhere else when they realized that this was incredibly restrictive? When I see someone still using a @bigpond.com.au address, I just feel kind of sad for them. I had a few of those addresses, and of course they are long gone now, along with the messages I received.

My hope is that Google+ entering the Social space will put pressure on all players to allow for some level of interoperability (and transferability) for people who don’t want to be locked in to any particular provider or platform, nor to have to maintain accounts on several in order to remain visible to people they want to stay in touch with. In reality there is no sign yet that this will actually happen, and so far Google+ has simply caused Facebook to fart itself awake, steal a few ideas (tit for tat), then roll over and go back to sleep, secure in its obscene level of control over how people interact with each other online.

People I blame for the stagnation and lack of awareness about feeds:

  • Google. They own Blogger. Their online feed reader is the biggest and possibly only serious contender for online consumption. And yet when you download Chrome, Google’s own browser, it actually has no built in ability to detect or subscribe to feeds. Even if you click on a feed-link using Chrome, nothing useful happens.
  • Dave Winer and the rest of the grumpy old men (aka the “blogfathers”) who spent a lot of time pissing in the wind about whose contribution was the greatest and what the letters RSS actually stand for, and whether they should play nice with the competing Atom standard, without seeming to notice what an unbelievably terrible job they were doing at making people aware of it. Like classic old-school nerds, they ranted about it being the greatest thing since sliced bread while still revelling in the hard-core aspect of it being only for those in the know. If you really want everyone to use something, write a decent spec and then set it free (and don’t make it sound more complicated than it is, you stupid nerds).
  • Moveable Type. For being the most hideously bloated and brittle blogging platform imaginable and confusing the shit out of everything with trackbacks and pingbacks when they should have been focusing on really obvious problems like how does one easily subscribe to the replies that might be made to a comment you leave.
  • The human brain‘s inability to take on even the simplest of technical concepts without having it jammed in your face. I freely admit it probably would have taken me a long time to “get” RSS/Atom if I hadn’t decided to be a content provider, thus making it imperative that I work out what all this feed business was about.

Some really useful bookmarklets

A bookmarklet is a cute function you can add to your browser as easily as if you were bookmarking a page. It’s stored just like a bookmark, only instead of a web address it contains a snippet of code designed to perform a function. Each one of the links below can be simply dragged to your bookmark bar to add the described functionality to your browser for use whenever you need them (or you can try simply clicking on them here to see what they do).

  • CSS - Toggles stylesheets on and off for any page, letting you see the content without the style (it’s a real eye opener if you’re interested in how style is split from content with HTML and CSS)
  • Make Editable - This is a super fun one, making a page totally editable so you can delete bits, replace text, drag stuff around etc. Doesn’t do any harm, as a page reload will restore the original page, but might be useful for mockups where you want to just make some changes and do a screen grab.
  • Subscribe - attempts to subscribe to whatever page you’re on in Google reader (so should work on most blogs and news sites). I can’t believe Chrome hasn’t got this feature built in.
  • Save to Instapaper - saves the current URL to an online bookmark list at Instapaper, which can be accessed from anywhere (so it’s handy for work if you want to save an article to read later).

Marcel the Shell will cheer you up

Downsizing & Branding

My jujusoft hosting account expired yesterday, and instead of renewing for another year I decided to cancel it. That doesn’t mean I don’t own jujusoft.com anymore, just that I’m now mapping it to the same server I use for intepid, and for now not even bothering to rebuild the [tacky looking WordPress based] site, because I have other stuff I’m working on. I have retained a basic page for Jujuedit though, since people still need to download that.

I also had to do a bit of a mad dash to grab the database for my private scrabble app since it was also hosted on the server I was letting go (I remembered this after I ticked the “delete my account and don’t bother me again” option on the renewal form).

As you can see I have played an awful lot of games on this thing, and my win ratio is actually below 50% right now, although it has been slowly creeping up over the last few months.

I own the jujusoft.com domain name for another 6 months or so, although to be honest I am a bit sick of the name, because any name of the form “____soft” is starting to feel very dated and unnecessarily specific to the creation of software… a practice which I’ve been increasingly flakey with. I’d change it to something like Studio Juju if that wasn’t already taken.

Programmers have no taste

Ok, that’s a deliberately inflammatory title… but I really want to understand why the hell so many coders want to work with light-on-dark color schemes? If this style was easily readable then surely a large portion of the internet would use it, and yet the vast majority of websites, which many people spend all day reading, use a light background. Maybe there’s a good reason for that!

It took me ages to work out why the Eclipse IDE was using a black background despite me telling it not to (turned out it was the Aptana Studio plugin overriding with its own themes). Compare the dark default above to the dark-on-light Dawn theme:

Is it just some nostalgic throwback to the 80s when a blank screen meant a black screen? I know the dark color schemes can look “sexy” but I’d much prefer “readable” when it comes to editing source code for hours on end. I distinctly notice this trend with any kind of development that could be considered hard core or open source; like these guys hate the idea that it isn’t obvious from the color of their screens that they’re doing some serious coding, and not some wussy MS office crap.

Or maybe developers really are just wired differently, and really do have no taste… and maybe this is why Linux desktops always look like utter shit :P

Talent

Portal 2 is an awesome game, and Valve is an awesome company for making it. They also released the soundtrack for free, which is double awesome, and ran a competition to make a music video for the National’s song Exile, Vilify, which features in the end credits (apparently, although weirdly I don’t recall it at all).

Here’s the runner-up in the competition; personally my favorite entry, with a moodiness that matches the song, and some visual references to the game.

Making music videos for songs which have no official music video seems like a pretty neat way to learn video production… but isn’t it annoying sometimes when other people are really talented and creative? I guess it should be inspiring, but often it just tends to remind me how creative I’m not being in my own life.

Kinect™ + Clever Maths = Omazing

This is a really incredible demo, building a stable 3D scene in realtime using a Microsoft’s Kinect camera. More info here.

Oops, I accidentally retired…

And now I need to un-retire, and it’s really hard!

I like doing whatever I want, whenever I want, and I’ve basically done that for a year and a half. More specifically, it looks like what I really like to do, pretty much all the time, is relax, sleep in, have long baths, stroll on the beach, drink gin, watch heaps of great TV and the occasional movie, and read the entire internet. Although most of these things don’t cost very much, I do still have to pay my rent, and I really need to get some cash coming in very soon now. Also I need my girlfriend to not worry that I’ll end up sleeping on a bean bag in her garage.

So I am trying to brush the cobwebs from the part of my brain that deals with actual work and financial planning, and I can feel it grinding slowly and painfully into gear. There’s a couple of letters on my desk from the tax department which I’m planning to open any day now.

Please Stand By

Something weird is going on with my WordPress install, so I have just completely replaced it in the hope of resolving whatever is going wrong (the current theme keeps breaking within an hour, no matter which theme it is, even the default).

Update: I think it’s stable again, although I’ve left off the social bookmarks feature for now, as I have suspicions that it might be responsible since it was the last significant plugin I added last time.

Creepy Driving Clip

A video I shot on the drive to Sydney just an hour ago, which I just edited on Emma’s new Macbook Air and uploaded as a demo. I quite like it :)

Tranquility Base