Sunday, October 17, 2010

Where are the feeds? (And why there is a lot of potential in RSS)

As you know, I'm using feeds a lot. And it's not new. In fact, my base sources of information are feeds. I like it because you can couples different sources in a single interface and presentation flavor. It may be linear like Google Reader or widget based like Netvibes, but you can also produce read-only pages like Dave Winer's River of News.

Many folks write RSS is dead. I don't believe it. Why then?

- RSS is an open protocol. At some point in time, people will see closed data (think Facebook) is as evil as DRM. With DRM, you could understand as soon as you had a new computer and couldn't transfer the music on it. When the first big social network will close down or have a big data loss, the masses will get it. And it'll be painful for many.

- Not enough Web pages are feed enabled. There are two use cases that have a huge potential for me. The first one is a feed of artists events. Maybe some event companies have them, but that would be great if I could just go on Beyoncé Web page and subscribe a feed of her concerts across the world. Justin Timberlake has such a feed, but it's far from standard. So Ping and MySpace are covering that use case partly, but damn I want to use my own feed reader for that! The second use case is companies intranets. If any internal resource had a feed, one could monitor much more stuff happening, and thus would be able to connect different news across the company, and so generate more ideas. Or find out what stuff is duplicate, understand what techs are growing etc. A separate post would be needed for that topic.

- Mashups are still in the early adopter stage, wait till they come to wide adoption. The mashups interfaces are not completely clear, still need a bunch of coding. Wide repository are still missing in the enterprise use-case. Netvibes and Google Homepage are the best examples I know of mashups applications, still they miss a lot of features, like connecting widgets with each other.

What can we do to fix that? Maybe kill the word "RSS" and just replace it with "feed", which is much more user friendly - in case we want the RSS tech to appeal to the masses. And implement new solution basing on the integration power of feeds, providing value for user that goes across just publishing titles from news sites.

This post is still a kind of a draft, "think aloud" article. Correct me if I'm wrong on some points. But give me your thoughts ;)

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Gastartikel über Stuttgart 21

Von Dr. Nikolai Weber:

Seit über 60 Jahren haben wir in Deutschland eine parlamentarische Demokratie. Und wir haben damit sehr gut gelebt; nicht zuletzt, weil Entscheidungen verlässlich waren und nicht von der momentanen Stimungslage "auf der Straße" abhingen.

Entscheidung für eine parlamentarische Demokratie war auch kein Zufall, sondern sie wurde ganz bewusst getroffen, da gerade wir Deutschen wissen, wie kurzlebig und anfällig für Manipulationen die Meinung "der Straße" ist. Letzteres, also gezielte Manipulationen der Meinung "der Straße", erleben wir gerade durch die Gegner von S21.

Wenn nun aus purer Angst vor dem Ergebnis einer bevorstehenden Landtagswahl bewährte Grundsätze unserer Demokratie und damit die Verlässlichkeit politischen Handelns von einigen Politikern in Frage gestellt werden, gibt dies Anlass zu größter Sorge!

Bedenken sollten alle, die jetzt nach einem Volksentscheid rufen, daher vor allem, dass eine Öffnung unserer Demokratie für Volksentscheide auch noch ganz andere Entscheidungen ermöglichen könnte als die Frage, ob ein Bahnhof gebaut wird oder nicht. Insbesondere die Reaktion der Grünen wäre interessant, wenn es in Deutschland durch Volksentscheid - wie jüngst in der Schweiz - zu einem Minarettverbot käme.

Man mag zu S21 stehe wie man will. Aber es wäre mehr als töricht, wegen eines Bahnhofsprojekts bewährte Verfassungsgrundsätze einfach über Bord zu werfen! Mögliche wirtschaftliche Folgen werden in dem Artikel beschrieben. Mögliche politische Folgen mag man sich besser im Detail erst gar nicht ausdenken!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

What I think Sony did wrong with the PSP and the PS3

I've been owning a PSP two years long, and I have a PS3 since last year (which I also use as low-maintenance, no-burden, not-expensive media center). These are both marvelous of technology, proving that Apple is not the only company doing good hardware. Actually, back in 2005, the PSP was a fantastic innovation that had so much potential. But unlike Apple with the iPhone, Sony did almost nothing with that. So this is here my opinion on what they did miss.

- They could have killed iTunes. Sony have content - they are music publishers and they own Columbia Pictures, not less. They have the hardware, the providers and, what Apple not even has, the content publishers. Also the PS3 is much better than the iPod Touch or the iPhone when it comes to viewing movies. So since some time, there is finally a small media store, which is not bad at all, but it all came too late when iTunes was already dominating the whole market. Too late, folks, and also too small.

- Where is the App Store? The PSP and PS3 firmwares are so capable, how hard could it be to add functionalities for third-party apps? Would there be a need for an iPod touch if one could install apps on a PS3? The interface of the PS3 has some advantages on the one of the iPod Touch, mostly for playing games.

- They aren't trying to "eat" the other hardware channels. For example, why is Remote Play only working with the PSP? I would like to access it from my iPhone. Instead I buy my content on iTunes then - which I can better expose back to my PS3, at least for the audio content. Now there is also the possibility to view movies on YouTube - but that isn't a competitive advantage because almost every other device also can.

Which is interesting here is to see that Sony have the perfect technology and content to change the game, but they didn't. Why? It seems like it is big corp culture at work: never question your business model, never do actions that could impact other departments. It seems like they are missing executives with a vision and an understanding of the culture of the 2000's. Somehow they seem still stuck in the 90's business model, but it has long disappeared.

All in all, it seems like Sony is pretty resistant to user advices and market pressure. They're already suffering, but they should rather change to survive at all. At least they're not lacking good engineers.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Are programmers problem solvers or just builders?

Again, it all began with a tweet. Well, almost.

A few days ago, I read some forum where someone described programmers as "problem solvers", and how you have to really like solving problems all the time to love programming. Some responses were a bit intimidated by that perspective. "Problems" all day long - bah!

To me, this sounds quite like a normal reaction. People want to do something positive in their life, particularly when this is about work - the most time consuming occupation one generally has. So I began thinking about that - Are programmers "problem solvers"? In my opinion, not really.

Of course I'm taking the "problem solving" in a very mathematical sense. Not everyone may agree with that definition, but that is how I understand it.

When I think about programming something, I'm not often doing that to solve a problem in the mathematician sense. I'm not searching for a solution. Instead, I'm rather working like an architect, putting together pieces to form a home. An architect is not "solving a problem" when he provides a house for a family but rather "fullfilling a need". I rather see programming as lego building. If you ask someone to build a lego house, some will do something very basic and ugly with a few bricks on non-matching colors and scales, and other will do a fantastic medieval castle. Same for programming. This is quite different of maths were the proof and result is, mainly, right or not. That doesn't mean that programming is more simplistic, rather that it is a producing task rather than it is a solving one. The solving part is actually more part of the computer science, and less of the programming, or software engineering.

There is another reason why I think that programmers, while they tend to like qualify themselves as problem solvers, are not so much such. If they were, wouldn't they enjoy fixing programming defects and debugging all day long? Of course most of us prefer writing code - that is, building something new, assembling, creating.

I also got a good comment on Twitter where someone asserted that programmers are also partly artists, and I think this is also true. Hackers program sometimes for political reasons. Some to produce new graphic effects. The creativity component should be integrated here.

So if you're beginning programming, and find this is some hard task - don't get discouraged, because this is actually an interesting and funny task that is rarely as frustrating as a hard math assignement!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

JavaScript and cloud computing - the cost factor.

In these times of on-demand computing, with services like Amazon Web Services or Google App Engine, one could wonder why JavaScript gets a sudden regain in popularity. There are lots of reason to use JavaScript on cloud related projects. Besides the use of JSON, which is more readable and consumes less bandwidth than XML, and the fact that JavaScript toolkits are pretty nice to use as a developer, I'd like to pinpoint the cost advantage JavaScript can bring in the game.

With PHP or Java, you let your business logic runs on the server, letting the client download most of the HTML already prepared. The user browser then just has to download and render that data. It also means that your server has to produce all that stuff, including pretty CPU- and memory-expensive HTML and XML.

Now what can you do with JavaScript? JavaScript (JS) will allow you to serve a very simple, naked HTML page, which will also reference the JS code (you can separate it in small modules that will get loaded dynamically to save bandwidth). The client JS code will then ask for the raw data almost directly to the backend database - with a small security and data transformation layer in the front. This data should be produced in JSON to reduce the CPU usage on both server and client sides. With that data, the JS code will then be able to build the user interface dynamically, either by building markup dynamically or basing on HTML templates.

What does that mean for the billing costs? Basically, you can save CPU usage on the host - thus having less billed, and also you can save bandwidth either with code lighter than the generated HTML, or code that makes your page application-like and not website-like. Let's picture that this way: with JS you can make your site load the code only once, and after that it will only exchange light JSON data with the server. With a Java or PHP implementation, you'll have many pages downloads. So the gain with JS is higher when you intend your user to stay longer on the site.

It may not be the silver bullet though - feel free to comment that and show cases where server- generated markup is better. I miss detailed numbers to present as case analysis. What I was just trying to show is that JavaScript should play a role when you do a cost or performance optimization of your website, especially if it's hosted on dynamic billing environment.

Fantastic colour pictures

This site really deserves a post. This morning I've stumbled upon fantastic colour pictures from the beginning of the 20th century. Not only the pictures are beautiful to view, but some of them are a real interesting clue on big changes across the last century.

On a first look, the architectural changes: The picture showing the building which is now the famous Plaza Hotel in New York, with the south-east Central Park corner, presents such a completely different neighborhood than today, that I couldn't recognize it first. Everythings has gotten bigger in New York. Also look at this fantastic picture of the Eiffel Tower with the Trocadero being huge compared to the current one. It's gotten smaller in this part of Paris. Also look at these pictures from England with a falling roof, the same place that would live an housing bubble hundred years later.

You can spot some pretty big cultural changes also. Europeans were clothing very differently, most of that has been lost in between. But the most impressing pictures were the ones from the Iran and Iraq, where you can see how women are clothed in a modern way - if you compare the way women are clothed on these photos in Holland and Iraq, it almost gets incredible. It should remind us that cultural changes are not always getting forward.

Finally, some other photos are not quite so happy. War, destruction and death, that was just the beginning of the 20th century which was quite violent. It's important to have memories of that though, and colour pictures are the best way to remind us that all that was real and not so far away.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

New layout, comments working again

Today I finally repaired the blog comment links by putting a new layout template. It was about time, after all. The new template is slicker, the fonts a bit bigger, and think in overall the whole gives more accent on the content than before. Have fun reading & commenting!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Comments not working

I'm sorry, I was told newly that comments are not working anymore. This will be corrected, but for now comments are not working. If you want to discuss with me about stuff published here, please feel free to contact me on Twitter.

Sentence-long paragraph: a new trend?

This morning I was again struck by that article from the CNN website. No, it wasn't about the topic. Rather the format. Look at this, there is a new paragraph for every sentence. I am somewhat use to read, a person you'll call a moderate reader. From what I learned in school, I use to make a break between two paragraph. A paragraph marks the end of a topic or an argumentation, and the break is here to mark that, and also let you a short time to digest the overall content. The second reason of a paragraph is to mark visually the different parts of a writing to allow a quicker navigation and overview of the content.

So look all these links. It's not an inadvertence, or a single editor messing with the editing rules. It's a trend. And quite worrying actually. The problem with these articles is you can't understand them. Why? Because if you're asked how many points the article made, or if it does have a these and anti-these, you won't know without rereading the whole article. This type of writing messes with your head, hiding the important information and flooding you with clusters of words without much structure. It probably won't make you wiser, because you'll find hard just to parse it.

So where does that comes from? I suppose it has some roots in micro-blogging. Of course that derives from the original sense of micro-blogging. I came to that idea because that comes at around the same time medias begin to integrate widely Twitter and Facebook in their publication model. But that may also be from texting. Maybe even some expert found out it was better to get the young crowd reading. Thoughts?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Facebook, privacy and information value

Now & then I see friends putting a false family name on their Facebook profile. While I respect that decision, I don't think it's really a productive idea. Maybe you can give me some hints I am missing.

My point in short:
Your family name isn't what's valuable to FB. What's valuable to them is what you write and who you connect with. If you don't want FB to spy you you shouldn't be here in the first place, because your data usage is what matters. By having all your communication, they know where you live, where you friends live, probably how old they are, what all of you are studying, who are you best friends,...

Place yourself as a car dealer. Does it really matters if your customer is named Smith or Johnson? Doesn't it matters more to know that he's a lawyer or that he's going to the Golf club? Now that may be some clue on how much he can invest on a car.

Well, you may fear that strangers try to sneak information about you that should stay in your friend circle, and you're probably right about that possibility. To protect yourself against such thinks, review carefully your privacy settings.

So if you fear Facebook spying on you or using your data, maybe you shouldn't go there at all - or at least reduce your usage to the minimum. And review your privacy settings, it can't hurt.