Archive for the ‘Observations’ Category

We’re All Venezuelans Now

October 15, 2008

Statists may want to tiptoe around the N-word, but when the federal government buys equity stakes in private firms and dictates how they should be run, that’s nationalization.

The Gradual Made Visible

September 19, 2008

I’m a sucker for time-lapse sequences. Maybe it’s my inner historian, but I love seeing the effects of time without taking a lot of it. I can still remember the day when I first encountered Noah Kalina’s pioneering 6-year daily photo montage: I contemplated starting down that road myself but I quickly realized that I didn’t particularly care to put forth the effort. I forgot about the genre until about an hour ago.

It was then that I caught Andy Baio link to Dan Hanna’s Photo Aging Project wherein he took two photos a day for 17 years:

HOLY CRAP! That’s some forethought and work. I was impressed. And so I started looking for similar, though less-formidable, videos. Boy did I find them!

[Programming note: I’m really torn between just providing links to the videos and actually embedding them inline. If I put them inline, then this is going to be one slow loading and long-ass entry. But if I just link to the video, then you’re going to be a-clicking all day. I wonder which one I’ll choose.]

I left off the countless parodies, which were often funny. I think they’re strangely compelling because the subjects are real people—not a seedling, for example—and they have the nostalgic appeal of a yearbook with the intervening, gradual tweening that’s normally missing.

‘Cargo Cult’ is Really Useful

September 2, 2008

This article on cargo cult management really struck me. I can’t say that I’ve seen much of that sort of thing at Go Daddy—that’s the part where Go Daddy is more startup than big business—but I’ve definitely seen that theme running throughout the business and management literature. Mike Speiser also nailed the identification of Jim Collins’ bilge, which I had always considered spurious but couldn’t name what bothered me so much about his approach. Now I’ve got a formulation to use when I see this sort of activity.

[The views expressed on this website/weblog are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Go Daddy Software, Inc.]

The Jerk Store Called…

August 4, 2008

I was at QuikTrip tonight when some teenaged girls bought some Red Bulls. This apparently offended the gentleman behind them (and in front of me) because he made some comment to the cashier, who was still muttering to himself and incidentally me when it was my turn. The cashier told me that they’re (Red Bull) probably going to be on a restricted list soon because of the twenty-year-olds having heart attacks. Then he said that until then they were perfectly legal and snorted, “Capitalism! Harrumph.”

Never mind the irony of the gentleman who originally was outraged by the teenagers’ purchase of legal stimulants while simultaneously buying a carton of cigarettes and a six pack of beer. Never mind the cashier spouting off political views to a customer he doesn’t even know. Never mind the inanity of seeking a ban on a 12 ounce energy drink that contains half the caffeine of an 8 ounce cup of coffee.

For me the supreme irony was that this cashier disparaged capitalism in its very temple. It is hard for me to imagine a convenience store of such variety and value as QuikTrip existing anywhere besides a capitalist economy. (Side note: I’m not at all suggesting that we live in a capitalist economy—but we certainly are among the freest economies in the world.) Sadly, none of these responses occurred to me at the time.

Pay to Play

July 28, 2008

Facebook released a bit more detail about its Application Verification Program today. While it did not offer specifics, there is one big piece of news that wasn’t divulged at F8: there will be an application fee and it will be non-refundable.

The application fee may as well be an application fee because it won’t be long before the “Verified by Facebook” logo will be the deciding factor in a user’s mind about whether to authorize an application. Facebook applications have a certain taint at this stage because of the hokeyness of a large number of them. Those lacking the badge will bear a stigma, especially if Facebook includes the badge on the authorization popup.

At some point, you will pay to be verified because otherwise your app won’t be used. I hesitate to call this a shakedown because we don’t know the price of the application fee. They could not have instituted the fee at the inception of the developer platform because it would have limited the number of applications. Adding it at the tail end of a rich ecosystem really strikes me as mining. So again I have to wonder why Benjamin Ling didn’t mention it at the keynote.

I suspect that it was because the fee would have undercut the user-centric theme at this year’s F8. The new profile design, the statement of core values, and the changes to the application developer program all were justified as being necessary to re-establish trust and value for the end user. But this fee plus some of the punitive measures points towards a more “business of Facebook” rationale. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it’d be nice if it was stated frankly.

F8 Wrapup

July 27, 2008

Prior to attending F8, I believed that the new Facebook profile redesign was motivated by de-emphasizing third-party applications, making more room for ad space, and enabling more integrated ad placement. It was such a radical change and I was aware of the pathetic CPM of the Facebook ad inventory, so I concluded that this move was about Facebook the business.

Having been through three sessions and two keynotes, I now think that the changes are truly user-centric. The justifications presented today by very earnest and sincere Facebook developers and designers ring true to me. In case you didn’t want to wade through my copious (and possibly inscrutable) notes from the sessions, the basic rationale behind the radical revamp is to emphasize the feed as a social stream and build user trust by limiting and segregating third-party applications.

They made the excellent point that the current profile easily becomes unwieldy and forbidding after adding just a couple of applications. The tabular nature of the new profile gives the user control over what to emphasize and what to display. The more time I spend with the new profile, the more I like it.

At the same time, I’ve been working on the open-source framework Facebook.NET in anticipation of the concomitant API changes. At the API level, Facebook has frequently dropped the ball. There are breaking changes, insufficient documentation of other changes, and frequent revisions that aren’t discussed unless you happen to notice slight alterations to the documentation. It’s truly frustrating due to the flux even though it’s supposedly stable and released. I’m hoping that this is the last significant API change for awhile, or, better still, the Facebook platform team realizes the cardinal rule of API design: maintain backwards-compatibility at all costs.

[UPDATE (7/27/2008): I had written this on the plane coming back from F8 but I forgot to publish it when I got connected back on to the Internet.]

Guess I’ll Google

July 15, 2008

The 404 page for Apple’s search forums helpfully offers a link to search their forums. If you click it, you get this less helpful screen:

Search Denied!

I thought I had noticed something missing recently in the discussion forums, but I figured that the search capability was a figment of my imagination. Now I know that it was there at some point and then taken away at some later point. Very bad form!

[UPDATE (7/16/2008): Oh. They could have at least put a link to that announcement on every page so I would’ve seen it. Oh. They did. Sorry, Apple Discussions Administrators!]

A Glimmer of Hope

June 16, 2008

My ambivalence towards John McCain as president is well-documented. But a thought just hit me that makes me think his presidency might be a net good (but barely): he’s opposed by the religious right. As many have noted, the religious right’s rise in importance within the Republican Party is worrying and could have positively dreadful effects in the long-term. Anything that serves to limit their influence is promising, no matter how otherwise unpalatable it might be. If he would host Giuliani as his vice-president, then I’ll be more optimistic about the return of the GOP to its Goldwater days than I’ve ever been in my life.

Reclaiming My Surplus

May 13, 2008

I was reading Clay Shirky’s “Gin, Television, and the Social Surplus” today and came across this paragraph that really spoke to me:

Did you ever see that episode of Gilligan’s Island where they almost get off the island and then Gilligan messes up and then they don’t? I saw that one. I saw that one a lot when I was growing up. And every half-hour that I watched that was a half an hour I wasn’t posting at my blog or editing Wikipedia or contributing to a mailing list. Now I had an ironclad excuse for not doing those things, which is none of those things existed then. I was forced into the channel of media the way it was because it was the only option. Now it’s not, and that’s the big surprise. However lousy it is to sit in your basement and pretend to be an elf, I can tell you from personal experience it’s worse to sit in your basement and try to figure if Ginger or Mary Ann is cuter.

The larger point of his essay is that we, collectively, waste a lot of time watching television. If even a small portion of that were put to better (maybe different is more a propos) use, we could accomplish a lot. Shirky quantifies it with the entirely-made-up number that a 1% reduction in television viewing is the equivalent of 100 Wikipedia projects. I think that’s bogus, but the general point rings true to me.

I think about these things often because a) I grew up watching a lot of TV, b) I am interested in the cultural shifts that the Internet has fostered and forced, and c) I watch too much television as it is. In January of this year, we ditched satellite TV and have limited ourselves to what comes over the antenna. That has severely curtailed the random, idle TV watching but it has largely been replaced with movie watching via Netflix.

Is that really any better? Perhaps, since movies are typically of higher quality and more worthwhile than television sitcoms. But isn’t it, in the end, exactly the same? I shudder at all the great books I’ve neglected, all the music I’ve never heard, and all the blogs I haven’t read—just kidding on that last one—as I fritter away the hours watching Antiques Roadshow or Lost. (Just kidding about Lost: the only way I’ll stop watching that is when the series ends.)

I guess it’s high time that I got a life.

Lock-In

April 9, 2008

Google recently announced its AppEngine initiative and I can’t say I get who would want it. It strikes me as too inextricable from Google.

Amazon Web Services operates in a similar fashion but it is clearly serving as an infrastructure provider rather than a platform. While it’d be hard to migrate off of AWS if you ever chose to do that, it’s not as if you’re promoting Amazon by virtue of creating and running your application. At every turn, the AppEngine application uses Google products like Google Checkout and Google Accounts. Building a business so closely associated with the largest Internet company in the world strikes me as perilous.

AppEngine aspires to be a platform like Facebook has become. But it lacks the social aspects that make Facebook so attractive as an application platform. So, ultimately, I think AppEngine’s main competitor is not Amazon, Facebook, or even Microsoft (which has its own cloud initiative in development) but Ning. Who’s Ning? Exactly. I just don’t see this market as compelling so I don’t understand why Google’s entered it.