At long last, I retired my old T-Mobile G2. It was the last in a long line of phones I have owned for the past decade with a physical keyboard. (I think I owned every Sidekick up to the 3 before going Android with the G1 and the G2.) I like the ability to thumb type into my phone, but the G2’s old keyboard had long ago gone creaky, and it had lacked a dedicated number row besides.
Obligatory picture recently taken with my new computer telephone. Featuring a cat.
They don’t make nice smart phones with keyboards any more. Market research seems to indicate that the only remaining markets for keyboard phones are horny teenagers who need a cheap, hip Android-based Sidekick, and those legions of high powered business people who will never abandon their ancient Blackberries.
Anyway, the new Nexus 5 is here. The on-screen keyboard is okay slow and inaccurate. Like moving from a really fantastic sports car to a hovercraft piloted by a drunken monkey. I mean,the monkey-piloted hovercraft is undeniably cool technology, and I can eventually get where I need to go, but . . . its not the same, you see?
So, lets explore Voice dictation! It works . . . well, about as well as the monkey hovercraft, but with the added benefit that you don’t have to keep jiggling your thumb across the screen. But how do you do new lines and paragraphs? Where’s the command reference?
The other thing that excited me about the Nexus 5 was that on the home screen you can drag apps right up to “Uninstall” . . . unless they’re Google apps! “Way to not be evil,” I cried. Until a Google colleague pointed out that it was just a bit of UI funkiness on Google’s part, owing to the applications coming bolted into the UI, there is at least a method to disable them.
Anyway, this is useful knowledge that helped me to vanquish the Picasa sync thing that has been hiding images from the gallery for the past few years. I have another project where I’m testing out BitTorrent Sync to pull images off our phones and then sync a copy of the family photo archive back down to the phones. If that works out, I’ll write it up. I may pursue that further to see if I can’t replace Dropbox, which, unfortunately, does not (yet) offer any sort of a family plan. Also, if I can host my own data I needn’t share as much of it with the NSA.
Two weeks ago, I attended Atlassian Summit 2013 in San Francisco. This is an opportunity to train, network, and absorb propaganda about Atlassian products (JIRA, Greenhopper, Confluence, &c.) and ecosystem partners. I thought I would share a summary of some of the notes I took along the way, for anyone who might find interest:
At the Keynote, Atlassian launched some interesting products:
As time passes, the ticket gets crankier at you in real time about the SLA.
Jira Service Desk
Jira Service Desk is an extension to JIRA 6 oriented around IT needs. The interesting features include:
Customer Portal with integrated KB search
Real-time visibility of ticket SLA status
The first thing helps people get their work done, and the second is manager catnip.
Another feature for tight integration is Webhooks: you can configure JIRA so that certain issue actions trigger a hit to a remote URL. This is generally intended for building apps around JIRA. We might use this to implement Nagios ACKs.
I haven’t looked too deeply as this is a JIRA 6 feature, but Atlassian Connect promises to be a new method of building JIRA extensions that is lighter-weight than their traditional plugin method. (Plugins want you to set up Eclipse and build a Java Dev environment in your workstation… Connect sounds like just build something in your own technology stack around REST and Webhooks)
Cultivating Content: Designing Wiki Solutions that Scale
Rebecca Glassman, a tech writer at Opower, gave a really engaging talk that addresses a problem that seems commonplace: how to tame the wiki jungle! Her methodology went something like this:
Manage the wiki like it is a product: interview stakeholders, get some metrics, do UX testing
Metrics: Google Analytics, View Tracker Macro, Usage Macro
UX results at Opower revealed more reliance on Table of Contents vs Search (55%) and that users skip past top-level pages, so you don’t want to put content just on there
In search, users only look at the first 2-3 results before giving up
They engaged some users to track the questions they had and their success at getting answers from the wiki
The Docs people (2) built an “answer desk” situation where they took in Questions from across the company, and tracked their progress writing answers on a Kanban board
As they better learned user needs and what sort of knowledge there was, they built “The BOOK” (Body of Opower Knowledge) based on a National Parks model:
Most of the wiki is a vast wilderness, which you are free to explore
The BOOK is the nice, clean visitors center to help take care of most of your needs and help you prepare for your trek into the wilderness
The BOOK is a handbook, in its own space, with its own look-and-feel, and edits are welcome, but they are vetted by the Docs team via Ad Hoc Workflows
By having tracked Metrics from the get-go, they can quantify the utility of The BOOK …
(I have some more notes on how they built, launched, and promoted The BOOK. The problem they tackled sounds all to familiar and her approach is what I have always imagined as the sort of way to go.)
Ad Hoc Canvas
The Ad Hoc Canvas plugin for Confluence caught my eye. At first glance, it is like Trello, or Kanban, where you fill out little cards and drag them around to track things. But it has options to organize the information in different ways depending on the task at hand: wherever you are using a spreadsheet to track knowledge or work, Ad Hoc Canvas might be a much better solution. Just look at the videos and you get an idea . . .
The Dark Art of Performance Tuning
Adaptavist gave a presentation on performance analysis of JIRA and Confluence. It was fairly high-level but the gist of this is that you want to monitor and trend the state of the JVM: memory, heap, garbage collection, filehandles, database connections, &c. He had some cool graphs of stuff like garbage collection events versus latency that had helped them to analyze issues for clients. One consideration is that each plugin and each code revision to a plugin brings a bunch of new code into the pool with its own potential for issues. Ideally, you can set up a load testing environment for your staging system. Short of that, the more system metrics that you can track, you can upgrade plugins one at a time and watch for any effects. As an example, one plugin upgrade went from reserving 30 database connections to reserving 150 database connections, and that messed up performance because the rest of the system would become starved of available database connections. (So, they figured that out and increased that resource..)
tl;dr: JIRA Performance Tuning is a variation of managing other JVM Applications
Collaboration For Executives
I popped in on this session near the end, but the takeaway for anyone who wants to deliver effective presentations to upper management are:
Four score and seven years ago, our fathers set forth upon this continent a new nation. One conceived in Liberty and dedicated to the proposition that All Men are Created Equal.
My regular handwriting is pretty awful. But this font is somewhat more readable. The process is you pick out the characters you’ll want in your alphabet, download and print some templates, write in the squares on the templates, scan and upload and boom, you’ve got your font. Kind of fun.
Of course, nothing’s ever quite simple. I wrestled at first with the limitations of MyScriptFont.com and a ball-point pen. That first site doesn’t do “double-quotes”. To get the font as far as I have, I also needed to use a felt pen, which is weird for me, and then review the scanned pages in a paint program to eliminate stray marks and cut the bottom tail off my capital I.
I’m pretty pleased with the results thus far. I have to use a larger size for legibility. One nice feature about the PaintFont site is that you can later add characters to your existing font file. If I ever have occasion to employ this font for a “serious” endeavor, I may try to re-render some of the characters for better legibility.
In testing a handwritten font, I find that writing out a few addresses seems to be a good test. Not only do they have a good mixture of letter casing and numbers, but that’s pretty much all I have occasion to handwrite any more anyway:
Jake & Elwood Blues
1060 W Addison St.
Chicago, IL 60613
1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC 20500
The Honorable Mike Honda
2001 Gateway Place
San Jose, CA 95110
I’m not sure when this will be useful, but it is nice to have your very own font around, and the process is kind of fun. :)
Honestly, that just feels slimy. They are my data. My data are not a premium feature. This restriction puts a bad taste in my mouth and that is a strong deterrent to purchasing further products from you folks. Which is too bad, since I otherwise like the hardware and I am ready to be upsold to an NFC device. But since my data are not my data … well, I’d rather just spend my money elsewhere.
If anyone has an activity tracker they particularly like, I am keen to hear about it.
A reaction I posted to a friend’s Facebook with regard to the present BART Strike:
I’m a pro-Union Liberal who thinks it is wrong to beat up on public-sector employees. I have heard that BART staff get 40 PTO days per year and there’s a scheme where you can take PTO, then take a shift, and get overtime for that. That’s something we can fix.
The train operators literally sit on their ass and watch the train drive itself. I talked to a guy who said that he did an important job of every once in a while mashing the buttons to fix something, and if he and his comrades weren’t there, BART would have to evacuate the passengers, shut the doors, and run the train empty to its terminal. Horrors!
In NYC, they’ve been laying off station agents where possible and using video cameras to aggregate agent services remotely.
I keep hoping that one of these days a labor action will be an excuse for BART to just fire the train operators and let the system run on automatic as it was designed to do. Spend the money on more frequent service so when a train occasionally has to be taken down, its replacement appears that much more quickly. Spread some of that money to the best station agents and start installing remote presence equipment to make the most of their labor.
. . . and if those train operators are even half as as good at mashing buttons in an emergency as they think they are, they can make the same salary as an entry-level SysAdmin.
Seriously, it is sad when your job is obsoleted by technology. It is even sadder when your job was obsoleted by technology before it even existed. Saddest when your skills are in extremely high demand at higher pay, but we keep paying you to do an obsolete job of extremely marginal public benefit.
I am hearing the following:
– you want the option to see Flickr in a “classic” view
– textual information around your photos (and sets in particular) is too hidden in the new design
– user’s organizational choices are limited and not surfaced enough, particularly with the Collections, Set, Photo hierarchy
– you want more customizability of content and layout in your photostream and home page
[ . . . ]
To put an end to speculation, and to hopefully give some people closure, the old site is not coming back. However, we will continue to improve upon the new pages . . .
[ . . . ]
We are focusing on making Justified view better and more performant, instead of supporting multiple different views.
So, basically, the full-screen view of photos without explanatory text is here to stay, and anyone who wants to view their photos in a different format should find an alternative photo sharing service.
You would think that turning a computer off would be a simple ask. But on my corporate laptop, Windows 7 is ever concerned that I am an idiot.
Me: Okay, we’re done. Shut down. Windows 7: Okay. Hey, wait, some programs are still running. Me: Kill them. Force shut down. Windows 7: Bu-bu-bu-bu-buuuut you could lose your work!! Are you sure you want to shut down? Me: Yes . . . I’m always sure . . . but thank you for your heartfelt concern.
So it goes.
(I do 98% of my work from Linux, which thinks shutting down is a grand idea.)
Earlier this week, Yahoo! unveiled a new and improved Flickr! !! A radical new redesign, which, while kind of slick to look at, totally steamrolls all the narrative features that many Flickr users like me love. Time will tell if Yahoo will backpedal enough to let us old-timers see our photos in the ways we like. Given that the new business model appears to be ditching the user subscription model for ads ads ads I am not optimistic.
Tommy smiles at his father photographer.
Enter Iperntity, a 7-person outfit in Cannes, FR which appears to have cloned the Flickr interface back in 2007 and have since moved in the direction of building it into a site where you not only manage and share your photos, but you can also write stories, and keep track of the friends you have on the site. Basically, a little outfit building something like Flickr into what Flickr might have become had Yahoo! not spent the past decade neglecting it. In a way, it is even giving us the core sharing features that people like about Facebook, without all the skeeviness. (Or … critical mass.)
I miss the nice drag-and-drop web uploader that flickr recently launched
The site feels a bit short of snappy … not dog slow, just not snappy … to be sure, they’re seeing a spike in load
The first thing that really makes me smile is that by default the photo lists the date taken, rather than date uploaded … that always frustrated me about Flickr
I of course opted for their 3-month paid service. Once the Collections feature comes online then I reckon there is a very good chance I’ll migrate my data from Flickr and sign up for their two year plan.
It is just nice to discover that there is new technology waiting in the wings when the big megacorp decides to shoot its product in the foot.
A test view of a plugin I wrote to view Flickr photos on a WordPress site.
Wow. It is hard even to add a post here.
I loved the old interface. I also loved that when you added new layout options to the old interface, they were OPTIONS that users could turn on or off.
I like that you could browse photos with annotations, click on a photo for a larger view, look over the metadata, &c . . . then click through the photostream or set.
Back when I joined in 2005 I was wary that Yahoo! might eventually do something stupid to what was really a very nice, well-designed interface for managing photos. My main assurance is that there would still be an API . . . I guess I will have to brush off the old API . . .
Really, you should give users the option to use the interface they like. This feels like instead of sitting down with users, seeing how they use the site, figuring out how to make it work better, you brought in some jackass designer who sighed that the site looks oh-so-2005, and decided to replace it with a mashup of Google Image Search (which is a terrible UI, by the way) and the Facebook header image (which wastes space at the top of screens which are getting shorter and wider but at least looks kind of neat.)
Please respect your existing users, many of us who have been paying you real, cash money for years now, and give us at least the option to enjoy the user interface we loved about your site.
How can I contemplate moving everything to the cloud, especially Google’s cloud, if services are going to flicker in and out of existence at the whim of Google’s management? That’s a non-starter. Google has scrapped services in the past, and though I’ve been sympathetic with the people who complained about the cancellation, they’ve been services that haven’t reached critical mass. You can’t say that about Google Reader. And if they’re willing to scrap Google Reader, why not Google Docs?
An excellent point.
I recall the first time I adopted a “cloud” service for my technology. It was Flickr. I had managed my photos with my own scripts for years. Others had installed Gallery, which always struck me as limited and ugly. Flickr was new at the time, and I really liked the aesthetic. But, upload all my photos there? They had just been bought by Yahoo. How long is Yahoo going to support the service? I still keep local archives of my photos, but I have thousands of photos shared on Flickr, and how do I know that all those captions, comments, geotags, annotations, sets and collections, that all that data might not one day go down with the slowly sinking-ship that is Yahoo?
What reassured me was the Flickr API. Worst case, I should be able to write a script to pull all that data to a local place somewhere and later reconstruct my online photo archive. If Flickr were going down, someone else would probably write that script better than I could. It is a grim thought, but at least when Flickr dies, there is an exit strategy.
It would be nice, though, if, when software was retired, especially cloud software, that it could be open sourced and available for the die-hard users to keep it running on their own servers somewhere. Admittedly, cloud services especially are vulnerable to further external dependencies . . .
You would think, though, that it shouldn’t take much effort on Google’s part to announce that a service has been retired, but they’ll keep it running indefinitely, at least until some point where the vast majority of the users had wandered on to more compelling alternatives. They still keep the Usenet archive around.
And, yes, I rely on Docs. This killing Reader fiasco sounds like an advertising ploy for Microsoft. I rely on Docs, but maybe Excel is a more trustworthy option for the long term . . . ?
If you are naming files on a computer, please use this format. The beauty is that if you list files in “alphabetical order” then these dates get listed in chronological order, because as far as a computer is concerned, the “0” comes before “1” and so forth. (And a year is more significant than a month is more significant than a day of the month . . .)
It is important to have that leading zero! Why? Because we have more than 10 months! Allow me to demonstrate:
If you are interacting with strftime() then what you want to remember is %F!
0-11:38 djh@noneedto ~$ date +%Y-%m-%d
0-11:38 djh@noneedto ~$ date +%F
0-11:38 djh@noneedto ~$ date +%Y%m%d%H%M # I sometimes use this for file timestamps but dont tell Randall Monroe
For my photographs, I have a directory hierarchy of %Y/%m-%B:
I have been excited to see what might come of Yahoo! with Marissa Meyers at the helm. I am really glad to see that, after years of stagnation, Flickr has been improving. Free food and smartphones for employees? Sounds swell. But the buzz now is that there shall be no more remote work. The only way to be productive is to come to the office and feel the buzz and bounce ideas off coworkers.
I am happy to point out that, while we don’t get free smartphones or free food, my employer does issue remote employees with a hardware VPN device that provides corporate wifi, and a videophone. And we are hiring.
In my experience as a non-management technical professional, there is some virtue both to working from home, and to working at the office. The office presents great opportunities for collaboration: working through ideas and solving problems. Working from home, for some people, provides an excellent space to focus on getting some work done without interruption. You can get more hours of productive work when your commute is shortened to a walk across the dining room, and when there’s no pressure to quit at a certain time to appease the demands of the train schedule or traffic.
For some people, there’s no place like the office . . . some people can do better work from home, some people do not. Managers and executives, the bulk of whose work is meeting with others to make collaborative decisions . . . it seems that they may take several meetings from home and when they get to the office they feel uncomfortable that the busy hum of productive creative energy isn’t located there. I believe that managers who can structure the working and communication practices of their teams to effectively collaborate and track work progress without requiring a physical presence have an advantage over those who can not.
I live near the office and frequently collaborate with my manager, so most days I make the trip in. Sometimes when I need to focus on a project, or work with a remote time zone, I’ll commute to the home office. I have been with Cisco for over five years, now. I spent one of those years in New York, and my tenure here would have been much shorter without the flexibility to telecommute.
In an age where innovation and creative thinking move ever faster, it is sick and demented that we have extended copyright periods to over a century. It is shame for the current generation and those of the twentieth century that the intellectual commons ended in 1923.
The gradual seizure of the intellectual commons. CC: Wikipedia
The United States hereby withdraws from International Copyright Treaties, especially the Berne Convention. The substance and spirit of the Copyright Law of 1790 shall be restored. All intellectual property rights must be recorded by the government. Software copyright protection requires a copy of source code for software to be stored in escrow with the government. Exclusive rights are conferred to the author for 14 years, plus an option to extend rights for 14 years if the author is alive at that time.
A Copyright Will Protect You From Pirates! CC: Wikipedia
All other works are Public Domain. Upon expiration of software copyright protections, the government will publish the source code.
This question came to mind the other day. “DSL modem” sounds dumb, because as any geek over the age of 30 knows, a “modem” is a device with MODulates and DEmodulates a digital signal over an analog network. Thus a “Digital Subscriber Line” has no need for modulating and demodulating.
“The term DSL modem is technically used to describe a modem which connects to a single computer, through a USB port or is installed in a computer PCI slot. The more common DSL router which combines the function of a DSL modem and a home router, is a standalone device which can be connected to multiple computers …”
The usage “DSL Modem” is not erroneous. A DSL modem does indeed perform modulation and demodulation. It uses either Quadrature Amplitude Modulation (QAM) or Phase Shift Keying (PSK) modulation. Multiple modulated subcarriers are then combined into an OFDM stream. The distinction between this type of modem and a traditional one is that the traditional one modulates audio frequency signals whereas the DSL modem is upconverted to an RF band. But they both perform modulation and demodulation. The digital signals are not sent as baseband digital signals.
I do not know what all those words mean, but I read that as “a DSL modem is still a modem. It modulates and demodulates a digital signal into the RF band of a telephone line.”
I made my own contribution to Wikipedia’s Talk page:
The distinction between whether your “DSL modem” connects via USB, ethernet, wireless, or provides NAT, sounds like a spurious distinction to me. I interpret and interchange “DSL modem” and “DSL router” as “the network device that bridges your local computing resources to your network service provider.”
But if I have learned anything about nomenclature disputes on Wikipedia, it is that they are not worth the effort.
The current Google Car can operate on city streets autonomously, but it needs someone doing the backend work of getting all the streets mapped out perfectly, figuring out exactly where the lanes are. Then in order to do a truly autonomous taxi service, you’ll want a two-way video linkup for the dispatcher to pilot the car if it gets stuck in some situation like the fire department blocking the street, or to monitor security.
For that reason, the current livery model works really well: a small, local company will service its fleet and its IT needs. The biggest expense, the driver, will be eliminated. This will serve an evolutionary role of a taxi service within a limited service area. This will be mostly shopping trips for car-less people, and “last mile” services to transit connection points, like Taxis serve now. The evolution comes with lower cost: short-haul, off-peak commuter needs, more “last mile” transit service where an autotaxi will be faster and more convenient than the local bus service, but also cheap.
What happens next? “Roaming” agreements among carriers sharing a common technology platform. The service areas of the autotaxi companies grow larger: your local autotaxi can drop you off on a shopping trip to a regional big-box store two towns over and the local autotaxi there can bring you back cheap. Expanded mobility, less reliance on transit.
This doesn’t mean the end of transit. Individual automobiles still require more energy and infrastructure to operate. The autotaxi will dominate short trips, but especially at peak demand, we will need to rely on higher-capacity transit backbones.
The biggest driver of the need for peak-period transit handoff is the capacity limitations of the autotaxi carriers. You simply can not carry everyone, but you want to be a part of the picture. So, yeah, the service gets you from your house to the transit hub, maybe work out relationships with local transit agencies so thaty “last mile” can be served by auto-taxi as a part of the transit fare itself.
The other limitation is for longer-range travel, even a fully autonomous rubber-on-pavement highway system will not be able to match the speed of rail-based or air travel. The autotaxi might drive you fifty miles to the high-speed train station, but then you’ll board the bullet train for LA which will be faster and charge a lower fare.
Anyway, the roaming evolution will mean that we go from local taxi service to regional airport shuttle service, and this will be great for those who live some distance from a long-haul transportation hub who want to make it to/from the airport, &c.
I think autonomous cars are a very reasonable evolution on human-piloted cars, which were a very reasonable evolution on horse-drawn carriages. In the twentieth century we evolved from horses to humans, and in the twenty-first we will evolve even more seamlessly from human to computer.
Our streets didn’t change much from the carriage to the automobile era. They’re wider and too dangerous for people to walk in. I doubt the streets will change much in the autonomous era, except they’ll narrow again and it will be safe to walk, bike, and play in them again.
My other prediction is that the autotaxi will make getting around so convenient, that car ownership will continue to decline. You will see a winners-and-losers scenario in the auto industry: the losers will realize too late just how badly they are in trouble. They will try to spread Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt as to the safety and wisdom of reliance on autonomous vehicles, just as they try to sell some. The winners will have identified the coming trend and geared their business to serving the needs of autonomous fleet operators, and to those niche consumers for whom autonomous vehicles are not appropriate, or who just love driving their own car. Other winners will include pedestrians, cyclists, the young, the elderly, people with disabilities, suburbanites, night life, and very likely the environment.