Christian Mingle, Random Numbers, and Prayer

I typed the above title into my bloggotool a few days ago, thinking I’d get back to it when I had time. I vaguely remember the point I was going to make. Let’s see how this goes.

Christian Mingle is an online matchmaking service for Christian folks. It makes sense; there are a lot of people for whom a partner must be of the same religion, and it wouldn’t surprise me if same-faith relationships tend to last longer (though there is likely precious little in the way of unbiased data on the subject — it’s one of those simple-sounding propositions that turns out to be a bitch to measure. But I digress…).

Anyway, my memory of the site’s tagline is fuzzy, but it’s something like, “find God’s match for you.” So you see, they are presenting themselves as an agent of God, a conduit that allows the Big Guy to work his subtle magic. I’ve heard crazier things. But then I thought some more (perhaps too much), and I realized that most likely they apply mathematical comparison algorithms to find the best matches, as do the rest of the matchmaking sites. In fact, they are probably a branded front end on one of the other major services. It’s all math, and it’s deterministic. The same data in will produce the same result. If God wants Sally to be with Jorge, but the numbers say she should be with Marcel, what’s He gonna do?

Although random numbers in computers aren’t truly random, they’re unpredictable enough that a deity could jigger them now and then and no one would be the wiser. If Christian Mingle threw a lot of entropy at the problem, they could create the wiggle room God needs to work His will. Clients would fill out a detailed questionnaire, send it in, and Christian Mingle could match them up randomly and bickety-bam, God’s will is done. Sally’s with Jorge.

(Note that God’s will does not necessarily translate to what’s best for the individuals involved.)

Generating the random number is much like prayer, except that now we have a machine to perform that tedious task for us. We are appealing to a higher power for guidance, trusting ourselves to His plan. For marketing, I would suggest to Christian Mingle that they substitute the phrase “Divine Guidance” for “Random Number” in their brochures.

Meanwhile, I’m going to go home and whip up a quick “pray for my soul” script. I have a feeling I’m going to need it.


I was reading up on the big-ass comet (who’s name is not actually ISON) heading our direction, and the article mentioned that the discovery had been confirmed by iTelescope (among others). (REAL QUICK digression: I really like the word “precovery” — Once the discoverers said, “hey, there’s a comet there!” other astronomers were able to use data gathered before the official “discovery” to confirm the finding. Precovery.) So anyway, Since I work at the company that invented put-an-i-on-it product naming, I had no choice but to look into this iTelescope thing. I had this idea that maybe there were a million webcams all pointed at the sky, and with the combined computing power of the participants a useful image could be inferred.

Of course, I was wrong. It was early in the morning and the caffeine hadn’t reached the critical parts of my brain — the parts that would have considered the logistical nightmare my “global fly-eye” idea would entail. Maybe in a few more years…

But what I did find is entirely cool, and has the benefit of actually working. iTelescope is a cooperative that has some 20 pretty-dang-good telescopes, and for a fee you (yes, you) can use them to take pictures of the sky. (The difference between ‘telescope’ and ‘camera’ is all in the lens.) iTelescope has three facilities around the globe (New Mexico, Spain, and Australia), so it’s always night somewhere. You control the telescope over the Internet and download your results. Oh, these times we live in. (In these times, it must also be said: you retain all rights to the photos.)

How much does it cost? That depends on the telescope you choose and the phase of the moon. Prices start in the neighborhood of seventeen bucks an hour and go up from there. That seems like a lot of money, until you consider what it would cost to get these images on your own. Eleven (at least) have even been honored as APOD.

It feels odd to think of it as ‘photography’ when you’re so disconnected from the camera – heck, you’ll probably never even see the telescope you’re using. Many of the other decisions one makes in terrestrial photography are moot as well — there’s no depth of focus to deal with, for instance. Someone else has set up the camera; all you have to do is point it. Except, when you look at the gallery, you see that there are many images that combine dozens of exposures, some with different filters, sometimes with different data coming from different telescopes. Dang. Seriously, how many photographers have access to such a vast array of gear? (Answer: now, we all do.)

There is still an art to getting that spectacular deep-space image, and just as a fashion photographer has assistants to handle the details, iTelescope users have the iTelescope staff and a helpful Web robot. Good times, my friends. Good times.


Safety Features that Frighten Me

Honda has a new safety package on some of their cars. The ads go something like, “Sooner or later you’ll be driving when you’re on the verge of falling asleep. Sooner or later you’ll make a sudden swerve across several lanes of traffic. Sooner or later you’ll be driving and not watching where you’re going. Our car has technology to make it safer to do those things! Yay Honda!”

Wait… what?

Already there are people out there, who, when the moment comes to make a life-and-death decision, will, because of this technology, be more inclined to choose death. Death for themselves and for those around them. Death for me, perhaps. Some of those people will choose death anyway, but now, with the assurance that their car is looking out for her, a teenage girl will veer across four lanes of traffic and be represented at her prom by a table with her photo on it, with candles and little mementos. Elsewhere, some guy is going to decide to cover an extra hundred miles while his wife sleeps in the passenger seat, confident that his car will wake him up, and he will leave his children orphaned.

This technology is part of a larger, encouraging trend towards cars that drive themselves, that plan ahead long before the desired exit, pull over when the human monitor is asleep, and talk to each other to warn of obstacles and negotiate safe passage. Steps like the ones Honda has introduced are valuable in reaching that goal.

But these intermediate steps? I don’t want them on the road with me.

Data Centers and the Environment

Greenpeace has been outspoken recently, denouncing Apple for having inefficient, carbon-spewing data centers. There are worse offenders than Apple, but let’s face it, when the protest is at Apple, more TV cameras show up, and there’s a better chance of making a national story. Also, Apple has certainly had room for improvement in this area. On top of that, as Apple goes, so goes the industry. Directing protests at Apple makes perfect sense if you’re Greenpeace.

For a while now, Yahoo! has been at the top of Greenpeace’s eco-friendly data center list. The guy that built those data centers now works at Apple, and I heard a talk from him yesterday. It was really interesting, and I got the feeling that the environment was important to him personally; that he saw better, cleaner data centers as his legacy.

Mostly I’m going to talk in the abstract here, and when I do mention Apple I’m going to be careful to only say things that I can find in public sources.

I’ve always thought of data centers (warehouses filled with humming computers) as being pretty clean, except for all that dang electricity they suck up. It turns out there are other issues as well, and Greenpeace would do well to broaden the scope of their scrutiny. For instance, modern data centers use a crap-ton of water (that then has to be treated), and they have (literally) tons of lead and sulphuric acid onsite. There’s a bunch of ways besides just consuming electricity that the huge server farms popping up everywhere can hurt the environment.

But let’s start with electricity. There’s no getting around it, computers need the stuff. Data centers are not rated by how much computing power they contain, but by power consumption. Keeping the computers cool is another massive power drain, but it’s WAY better than it used to be. One simple shift made a big difference: cool the computers directly, rather than the room (or even the cabinet) they’re in. Physical changes to allow heat to escape through convection also save a lot of energy. So that’s good news.

Also good news is the efforts of some companies (well, I assume more than one) to provide their own power, onsite, to remove the need for batteries and backup diesel generators. Apple has built a huge fuel-cell plant and a large solar generating farm at its new data center in North Carolina (I’m pretty sure this is where Siri lives). Fuel cells still put out CO2, but Apple is getting their fuel from “biomass” — methane coming out of local garbage dumps. The logic is that putting that gas to use is better than letting it loose in the atmosphere. CO2 bad, CH4 worse.

Now, don’t get all misty-eyed at Apple’s greenness. They do this stuff to make money. If you had a big pile of cash at your disposal, wouldn’t you spend it now to gain immunity from energy price fluctuations in the future? You bet your sweet ass you would. If you can do it in an environmentally responsible way, all the better. (Fuel cells are definitely not the cheapest solution short-term.) But as Apple’s new data centers come on line at a ridiculous rate, Greenpeace is finding less to complain about. And that’s a good thing for everyone. Greenpeace can say, “See? We influenced this giant company and now they’re doing the right thing.” Apple can reply, “We would have done it anyway. It’s good fiscal sense.”

Either way, it’s still a good thing. Although, there’s no getting around the fact that these server farms still use an enormous amount of energy. Even “green” energy puts a burden on the environment — something people seem to forget. So, let’s not get complacent here.

Oh, yeah, and the water thing. Apple’s newest data centers don’t use any. The only burden on the sewer system is the toilet in the office. Take that, Yahoo!

Another Product for Parents

If I had teen-aged children, I’d pay to have a phone-jamming device installed in my cars.

Filed under Get-Poor-Quick because most parents would not want to be prevented from using the phone and texting while driving, either.

Seriously, NASA?

You may have heard about the impending arrival of our latest robotic explorer on Mars. The goal of this mission is to finally find those elusive six-armed ten-foot-tall green men and the super-hot (though delicate) princesses that current theory says have to be up there somewhere.

First, Curiosity has to land safely on the red planet. I have to confess that I’m a wee bit skeptical about this plan. I’ve linked to a video below, but before you go there, allow me to enumerate the stages of the landing.

  1. The mother ship releases the landing system. This is pretty routine at this point, and assuming no miles/kilometers snafus, should be all right.
  2. The craft hides behind its heat shield as it streaks through the atmosphere – this also fairly routine, except this time the payload can shift around behind the shield to get a little bit of steering. But it can’t see anything because it’s behind a heat sheild.
  3. Mars’ atmosphere is not thick enough to provide all that much braking, so now it’s time to deploy a parachute! I imagine the (estimated) shock of opening the chute has been tested many times, but needless to say, not in an atmosphere as thin as Mars’. So it’s all been simulations on the individual parts.
  4. As soon as the ‘chute is open, the heat shield has to go, so the lander can see the ground with its radar. This is the kind of thing that seems simple but so often turns out to be the killer. One explosive bolt doesn’t fire, and all is lost.
  5. But hold on, there, sparky! The parachute is still dropping too fast, and there’s not enough control over the landing spot. Now it’s time for… rockets! Controlled by computers! 500,000 lines of code! Holy crap. Several things have to happen at almost the same instant: all four rockets fire and the parachute is released.
  6. First maneuver: dodge the parachute. The lander will have to juke to the side. Remember, this machine has not been tested in conditions anything like Mars.
  7. Safe and stable, the lander will pick a sweet spot to set down the rover. It will not have help from humans.
  8. Oh, if only it were that simple. There’s a problem with dust, you see, if the rocket-powered hoverboard gets too close to the surface. (How close is too close? Well, now, how fine is the dust right there? How windy is it? Guess we’ll find out.) Rather than land on rocket power, our little miracle will hover and lower the rover on ropes. (How windy is it again? Are there any conditions the software wasn’t tested for?)
  9. After that, all that can go wrong is that the ropes fail to disconnect or the hover-thingie explodes and crashes onto the rover.

Right here I was going to say, “What? no ______s?” but I couldn’t come up with anything to put in the blank. (I’m sure lasers, ultrasonic beams, and explosives are all used in there somewhere.)

Here’s the promised link: Curiosity Before Mars: Seven Minutes of Terror

The entire sequence lasts seven minutes and we’re fourteen light-minutes away from Mars. We won’t hear anything back until the rover is either free and ready to roam or a twisted pile of junk. NASA is calling the seven minutes of descent “Seven minutes of terror.”

Now, there are a lot of smart people at NASA, and I’m sure I’m not going to come up with an alternative they haven’t considered. But really, I have to wonder if this is the result of solving a bunch of little problems instead of stepping back and reassessing the fundamental goal. Soft landing in a chosen spot without messing everything up with dust. Seriously, there has to be an easier way. It might involve a big-ass zip-lock bag.

Still, all this crazy complexity and systems that could not be tested in the actual environment has a pretty good chance of success. We’re actually getting pretty good at virtual testing, and engineering to amazing tolerances. I’ll be checking in on Sunday to see how the whole things plays out, and hopefully we can finally find that valley with the jewel-encrusted cliffs of solid gold.

The New Magic

I don’t actually have any use for this device, but I can still marvel at the amazingness of it:


This little puppy acts just like an ordinary storage chip for your camera, except it’s also a WiFi transmitter that automatically copies your pictures to your home computer or phone and clears the space for more pictures. With the WiFi you can also have the chip guess roughly where it is in the world, and tag your photos with the location. You can even have it upload to Picasa or whatever automatically. (Though anyone who posts every picture they take to Flikr without first editing is someone who’s photos I will never view.)

Remember when we had WiFi cards that we could stick in the side of a computer with the antenna poking out? That was pretty cool. Now this tiny chip does the same thing, only it integrates with your photo software. Holey Moley.

Technical quibbles: it only works with JPEGs (even sharing on your own network, which strikes me as odd), and the SD form factor doesn’t work in all cameras. There are adapters, however.

Back when they thought we’d have atom-powered flying cars, they didn’t think of this stuff.

I Want to SEE Moore’s Law

When I first pulled my iPad out of its box and held it, I said, “This little thing has more computing power than most spacecraft.” Pretty sure that’s true; most spacecraft are pretty old and it takes a long, long time to get a chip certified for space. Still, It’d be fun to have some facts. There’s no single metric to compare computers, but I’d still be interested in a chart of computer power through the ages. How does my iPad compare to an IBM 360, a classic mainframe (it’s no contest, really, but how many times faster is the iPad)? How far to go yet before my phone threatens Cray’s numbers?

Somewhere out there, some geek/historian must be compiling this kind of info. I searched a little bit but it was all about fastest on the planet. Consumer devices (other than game boxes which are only compared to other game boxes) need not apply. But those guys are missing the true revolution: that our phones and cars and DVD players are wicked-fast computers. Supercomputers are being measured in petaflops these days. Big Whoop. I’ve got a phone that can understand my words.


Got me an iPad!

It was only a matter of time, I suppose, considering where I work. I get a discount on the gadgets, and I sold it to myself as a way to be more productive. “I can read while I work out,” I said. Of course, I could have paid a fraction of the cost of an iPad for a Kindle and done the same thing.

But there’s something about this device. I’m not one to get tech envy; I don’t have to have the latest phone or the slickest TV or anything like that. But when I saw my coworkers with their iPads, I have to admit I turned a little green.

When it first came out I couldn’t decide whether it was too big or too small. Both, I decided. Too big for your pocket, too small for serious work. Then I started seeing the things in meetings where laptops used to rule. The executives who use my work are all-iPad. At least at Apple, it’s proven to be a serious business tool. Not too big. Not too small. A portable conduit to the Infoverse, with a screen big enough to interact with all that stuff out there.

So now I own one. I’ll still be taking the laptop to meetings. Most meetings, anyway. And I did work out today, and read while doing it.


Class A, Baby!

Usually I blame the Chinese for every shortage or surfeit, and while they are definitely participating in this particular drought, it would be difficult to pin the blame wholly on them. Much of the problem lies closer to home.

You see, the world is running out of IP addresses. An IP address is like a computer’s phone number on the Internet. When you type, you start a complicated series of interactions (“I don’t know where that is, but I know who to ask…”) out there in the Interwebs and eventually it is resolved that what you’re looking for is computer You get the same answer for and (That’s actually an IP owned by CloudFlare, who sends things on to the actual IP of But that’s not what matters here…)

At the time of this writing, resolves to, the IP of my home router. The actual number may change, but there will always be an ip address used up by the router. (Don’t bother going there; there’s nothing to see unless you use ssh and already have a key installed on your computer. (The key file itself is locked with a password I may have forgotten.))

Anyway, the IP address is a finite number, and so there is a limit to the total number of computers connected directly to the Internet. This is a very, very big number, but when they came up with the number they didn’t think people’s toasters (and telephones, and cars) would be connected to the Internet. (In your house, most likely your computers and other gadgets go through a router or a modem. That router has to have a unique ID, but the rest of your network uses a special range of IP’s reserved for internal networks. So, your household only eats up one of the limited supply.)

We are starting to reach the limits of the IP system, just as in the US there was a shortage of telephone numbers. (Some of the reasons we ran out of phone numbers are similar as well, as I’ll mention in a bit.)

With phone numbers they split areas into smaller chunks, and created new area codes. While there was the inconvenience of people’s area codes changing, everything still worked.

The Techno-Wizards who run the Internet saw the IP problem coming some time ago, and set out to solve it. What they came up with was IPv6 (currently we are using IPv4). The only problem: the two systems are not compatible. So now a new network based on IPv6 is being deployed, and the people on it can’t look at Web sites that have IPv4 addresses without some sort of middleman. Sucks to be one of those guys. (Muddled Ramblings is now visible on the IPv6 network thanks to CloudFlare.)

Meanwhile, at work, my team needed an IP address for one of our servers. We were advised by a coworker to just go ahead and grab a block of 256 addresses, so we’d have them if we needed them. Really? When IP addresses are running out?

Yep. It turns out that long ago, organizations who were on the ball could buy up huge blocks of IP addresses on the cheap. MIT bought a Class A* block, as did Stanford (who has given it back, I believe), the Army National Guard, IBM, HP (they have DEC’s block now, too, I think), and Apple. Each Class A block has almost 17 million IP addresses, and represents a significant chunk of all the IP addresses available.

The US military has several blocks, and the British military has some as well.

Oh, and Amateur Radio Digital Communications has a Class A, along with Prudential Securities. Ford and Daimler. Three or four pharmaceutical companies. (I imagine Merck or whoever bought one, and their competitors followed suit out of habit.)

I think you might now be getting a glimpse of a core problem. The huge blocks of IP addresses were allotted to whoever asked for them, with no requirement that the organization actually show that they needed them or would not hoard them. Does Ely Lilly have a side business as a data center?

A possibly-apocryphal story I was told the other day: Back when IPs were up for grabs, someone at Apple proposed that they snag a Class A. The powers that be decided against the move, so he got the purchase of the block wedged into the budget for something completely unrelated. It turns out to have been a pretty savvy move. Now every IP address that starts 17. belongs to Apple.

Of the companies on that list, I’d certainly say Apple has more business owning a Class A block than many of the others. Whether the US Military really needs all those huge blocks I’m not qualified to argue. But the fact remains that while we would be running out of IP addresses eventually anyway, the careless and haphazard way they were originally handed out exacerbated the problem mightily.

I mean, does the Department of Social Security in the UK really need 16.7 million IP addresses? Really?

* The term ‘Class A’ is a little out of date, but reads better than ‘/8 block’

Note 1: I got my information here and there on the Internet, then found it all here.

Note 2: This episode contains a lot of parenthetical comments, part of my crusade to address the global overabundance of parentheses. I encourage you to use a few extras as well, until supply is back in balance with demand. (As usual, I blame the Chinese for the surfeit.)

The Smart Phone that’s (Almost) Smart Enough

I’m told a lot of people were disappointed by the announcement of the iPhone 4S, and I guess I can see why. The hardware sports a much faster processor, but it’s not 4G! My current 3G phone is plenty fast enough for what I do, and that has included tethering it to my computer for Web access where there’s no WiFi. So, 4G doesn’t really seem that important to me.

Tethering the phone to my computer, now that’s a big deal, and something that iPhones can’t (or at least couldn’t) do without cracking them first. So I don’t currently have an iPhone.

The 4S is the one that finally has me tempted, however. To understand why, let me tell you what I wish my current smart phone could do.

1) I wish I could pick it up without looking, push a button, say ‘navigate home’, set it back down, and have the GPS system take me to my current address. Naturally I want this function when I’ve taken a wrong turn and I don’t want to mess with a damn phone, I just want to get out of there. I don’t have any spare attention to work through menus or wait while the phone processes ‘navigate’ and I can then tell it my address (which includes a street name that the voice recognition never gets right).

2) Again I’m driving. I want to pick up the phone, say, “I’m in traffic” and have the phone notify my boss that I’m running late, and send a message to anyone I might have an appointment with in the next 30 minutes. This would lower my stress immeasurably and remove a temptation (which I never succumb to) to make a phone call while driving.

Enter Siri, your humble personal assistant, and the real thing that’s exciting about the 4S.

Here’s a story an Apple board member told today at Steve’s memorial service. He related that on the day Steve came before the board to resign as CEO, he stuck around for the rest of the meeting. It was the day Siri was demonstrated to the board, and after a few minutes Steve said “let me see that thing.” The presenter hesitated, saying the phone had been calibrated to his voice, but really he knew that Steve was going to throw something unexpected at the device to see how it handled it. You never said no to Steve at a time like that. Steve started by asking the phone a couple of typical questions, then said, “Are you a man or a woman?”

Siri responded, “I have not been assigned a gender.” Steve, I believe, was pleased.

Al Gore, also a board member, told another Siri story. Al’s theme was that people genuinely love Apple’s products (there is, apparently, neurological evidence supporting this). He pointed out, however, that technology really doesn’t love you back. To illustrate the point he told of a friend (daughter, maybe? I’m a bit sketchy on the specifics) who asked Siri, “do you love me?”

Siri said, “I respect you.”

Oh, yeah, you can also say “Siri, text Katherine and say I’ll be late,” and it will. “Katherine says no problem,” Siri might say a few minutes later. Not as fun, but a lot more useful. I’m confident that with a little fiddling Siri can actually do my two use-cases above.

If Siri is as good as it seems, it will be remembered long after people stop putting ‘i’ at the front of everything. Our robot overlords will remember Siri as a turning point. It is the next user interface, the hands-free, eyes-free, give-me-what-I-need-without-interrupting-my-current-task interface. The one from Star Trek and Galaxy Quest, only, unlike in the latter, anyone can talk to it.

Siri says, “I am your humble personal assistant.”

The Rise and Fall of Adobe Flash

A long, long time ago, I wanted to make lava lamp buttons for my Web site. I wanted the shape of the lava blobs to be random and mathematically controlled, and it had to be done with vector graphics – animated gifs would have been huge to provide something that even remotely felt random, and back in those days most people connected with dialup modems.

I searched high and low for a vector animation tool and couldn’t find one. There was Macromedia Director, which I used extensively back then, which put out files for Web play in a format called Shockwave, but it wasn’t a true vector-based program. Not the right tool for lava lamp buttons, that was for sure. I’d started playing with a java applet to draw my buttons, but it seemed like vector animation was something the Web really needed. I mentioned this to a friend of mine, and he said, “Oh I know some guys with the tool you’re looking for.” At the time it was called FutureSplash.

I mentioned FutureSplash to my boss. It was going to be huge, I predicted. His response: “Maybe we should buy them.” (Ah, those dot-com boom days, how I miss them.) Three days later Macromedia announced that they had bought FutureSplash (for a lot more than we could have paid) and contracted the name to Flash.

The rest is history — until the present.

There was even a time when I imagined that a lot of the Web would end up as Flash. Or at least it should. Flash had a lot of things right that HTML had managed to screw up. You could do a lot more, and with Flash the Web experience began to approach the quality of experience people had in other parts of their computing lives.

Macromedia and later Adobe seemed to go out of their way to prevent Flash from taking over the Web. Creating Flash became ever more complex and ever more expensive. Nowhere was the simple “baby Flash” that Joe Amateur could use to build a nice site without first getting extensive training and shelling out a few hundred bucks for tools.

Meanwhile, Flash designers didn’t help in those early years, either. So much Flash became “look what I can do” rather than “look how I can make your visit to my Web site better” that Jane Surfer started resenting Flash. “I waited 60 seconds to download this?” A good example of that sort of waste is at the top of this page, in fact. There are a couple of fun things in the banner, but they don’t enhance the Muddled Experience very much.

Now, the world is shifting again. If you’re reading this site from your iPad, you don’t see the banner at all. No Flash in iOS. This is something the other tablet manufacturers have made a big deal of—but maybe not for very much longer. Microsoft’s next tablet OS won’t support Flash, either.

HTML, the platform I get paid to dislike, is becoming HTML, the platform I get paid to deal with. HTML5, CSS3, full SVG support, and robust JavaScript libraries make possible just about everything Flash can do, without Flash. That’s a lot of things to learn and manage to get a job done, however. Before, a designer could just master Flash and be confident that their work would look right wherever the Flash plugin was installed.

What’s needed is a tool like Flash that, after you’re done designing, outputs your masterpiece in Web-standard format, with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. When something like that comes out, the handwriting will be on the wall for Flash.

And here it is. Adobe, makers of Flash, have announced Edge, the animation tool that will eventually replace Flash. It looks pretty good. It doesn’t do anything remotely close to what Flash does (no mention of audio that I’ve found, for instance, so my banner would have to forego the theme song, and interactivity will have to be handled outside the tool as well, as far as my first glance tells me), but it does a great deal, and when you’re done the product will work in all modern browsers, including mobile ones. Adobe has applied their long, long experience making animation tools to make the user interface slick and clean (though you will want a really big monitor).

Flash will be around a long, long time yet; it still lets a developer build Web-based user interfaces that would be a pain in the butt to create from HTML and the rest of the alphabet soup. That gap is narrowing, however, and as Edge gains in features (and, alas, complexity), the marginalization of Flash will accelerate. I’m impressed that Adobe said, “If Flash dies, we’ll be the ones to kill it.” They really are the right people for the job. Now all we need is “baby Edge.”

Seven? Really?

A few days ago the Firefox team let forth a new major release. 7.0.1. Seven. That’s a lot of progress since earlier this year when they floated Firefox 4.

Most software companies would have labeled this release 4.3. The Firefox team has eschewed the first dot and has decided to make any release with a feature change a new major release. There is no n.1; the first decimal digit is entirely vestigial. There was no 4.1. There was no 5.1 or 6.1 There will be no 7.1, just 7.0.1. This might sound stupid, unless you have Inside Information. Which I have, thanks to Wikipedia.

The Internet Explorer team at Microsoft, sworn rivals of Firefox, are nonetheless ok guys who want to make this whole Web thing work. Back in the day when the Firefox team kicked the ass of the web world and released a browser that not only defined standards but provided the tools to help Web developers code to those standards, team FF were the guys to beat. On the release of FF3, the boys at Microsoft sent the team a cake. Firefox 4 was similarly honored. And FF5. And so on.

And now we see the real reason behind the accelerated numbering. Each major release gets a cake. If I was in charge, there’d be a new major version every Thursday.

* The firefox team joked about sending a cake to Microsoft to honor IE 8 (or 7 or 9 and you shouldn’t ask me to remember shit like that), but they would send the cake along with the recipe. Open-source cake. But (as far as history records) they didn’t. Would’a been funny. There’s talk and there’s action, and seriously you don’t want to be on the losing side of that with Microsoft.


Wore My Black Turtleneck Today

It was my quiet way of marking the passing of a great man.

Ask yourself this: at the company where you work, would they offer grief counseling if your former CEO died? You’ve probably read plenty about Steve Jobs’ accomplishments in the last 24. I hesitate to add to that, but I think a lot of pundits and journalists are missing the mark on what made Steve great.

Steve didn’t invent personal computers. He didn’t invent the Graphical User Interface. He didn’t invent smart phones or tablet computers or mp3 players. His genius was making all those things useful. He’s been called a visionary, and I’m not going to argue that, but his vision was “If this stuff was intuitive to use, it would be a hell of a lot better. And I can fix that.” Macintosh was “the computer for the rest of us.” It was the first personal computer with a GUI, with point-and-click and drag-and-drop, the first computer that made an effort to make tasks you accomplish with technology more similar to things you do in the physical world.

He stole that idea (with permission) from Xerox. Xerox had, to paraphrase some pundit whose name I can’t recall, spent huge amounts of money to see the future. Then they gave Steve a tour of their facility, and he went and made their ideas useful. Steve himself has regrets about that fateful day; he was so blown away by the GUI that he didn’t appreciate the network and the new approach to programming Xerox had developed.

Xerox gave Steve Jobs a peek at the future of computing, and he was just the guy to take that glimpse and revolutionize the way humans and machines interacted, and just the guy to bend a successful company to his vision.

Almost immediately after the Mac was introduced, Steve was wedged out of Apple. The two events were probably related; to say that Steve was brutal on the development team would be an understatement (“Insanely Great” was his mantra; his unwillingness to compromise on the little details his curse), and he was neglecting the very successful Apple II. But the Apple II was the past. Computing the way it used to be done. Mac was a world-changer. Steve knew that. The board of directors wasn’t so sure.

After his departure Apple continued to refine and improve on his vision, and try with increasing futility to protect those inventions from imitators. To this day, Apple is ready to throw down a lawsuit at a moment’s notice, but the biggie, the one that got away, was the one against Microsoft for copying the windowed operating system. Losing that one almost killed Apple.

Then Steve came back. FiRST step: quit refining the OS and overhaul it. The competition was improving quickly. Next step: follow the power. The computing power, I mean, which was moving into smaller and smaller packages. I was pretty excited about Mac OS X, but I was dead stoked when I heard the phrase “A thousand songs in your pocket.” I bought one of those first iPods, and on airplanes and in bars people would ask me about it. The thing was, in a word, awesome. (“Insanely Great” has long been retired. The phrase is kind of like the Great Wall in China, I think – much more fun for people who don’t remember the cost.)

I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the first digital music player, but when it came out, something fundamental changed. This was the first player that was useful, that carried enough music, that you could fill up almost thoughtlessly, that was simple to use, often without looking. All the details were right, the little things that others compromised on. That was Steve’s genius. Do it right. He had the unwavering belief that he knew what right was, even if no one else did. Do it right, and people will agree with you in retrospect. I cringed when Apple got into the phone business. Don’t they know what a cutthroat, small-margin business that is? They did it right, and I stand corrected (provisionally).

I think this is why I enjoy working at Apple so much. Most of you out there will never see the fruits of my labors (except perhaps as a microscopic price reduction in Apple products), but always I strive to put that little bit of extra rightness into everything I make. It’s noticed here. The spirit of Steve, his uncompromising attitude, is still alive.

God: Welcome, Steve. Did you enjoy the heavenly choir?
Steve: They were awesome! Really stirring. But…
God: But what?
Steve: What if everyone could hear their own music? I mean, not music they wrote, but music that was perfect for them, right at that moment.
God: That’s kind of what we do…
Steve: Let me handle this.


Mmm… Honey

I just installed a honey pot on this site. The idea of a honey pot (or honey trap) is to create a tempting target that attracts wrongdoers, but once they put their hand in the honey pot they leave sticky fingerprints everywhere they go.

In Internet terms, the honey is a seemingly-innocent email address placed on a Web site, invisible to humans but easy for robots to find. When the spam harvesters scrape the email address off the site and use it, both the harvester and the spammer are caught and blacklisted, which reduces their ability to run robots and get their mail through.

The more people who participate, the more trouble spammers have spotting the honey pots. How can you help? Even if you don’t have control of your site or run a blog through one of the major services, you can pitch in. Go to Project Honey Pot and sign up. You can provide invisible-to-humans links to honey pots on other sites, if nothing else, and it doesn’t cost you diddley-doo.

If you click on the “swag” link in the header, you will see that they could also use a graphic designer. I imagine a spam-bear with his head stuck in a honey pot. How you communicate that it’s a spam-bear and not an ordinary bear I leave as an exercise for the visually talented.

Once Project Honey Pot compiles its list of villains and ne’er-do-wells, what happens next? Many major services use the list, and I also use a program called Bad Behavior which blocks blacklisted bots and spammers from reaching my site. Recently I added another layer called CloudFlare which is awesome enough for me to devote a separate episode to it. So, you have that to look forward to.

In the meantime, I encourage you to join the crusade to make life more difficult for those who want to use the Internet for evil.