Monthly Archives: March 2010

Perspective: this guy has it

From the Digg file:

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In reference to a story about “7 people arrested in FBI raids linked to Christian militia group”:

iPad as construction equipment

Another excerpt from the “aforementioned O’Reilly article”:

bq. Cloud infrastructure services are indeed important, but to focus on them is to make the same mistake as Lotus did when it bet on DOS remaining the operating system standard rather than the new GUI-based interfaces. After all, Graphical User Interfaces weren’t part of the “real” operating system, but just another application-level construct. But even though for years, Windows was just a thin shell over DOS, Microsoft understood that moving developers to higher levels of abstraction was the key to making applications easier to use.

There’s a sub-text here that is relevant to the iPad release and all the negative sentiment. I (barely) remember the days of Windows 3.11; back when Windows was really just an application running atop MS-DOS. All the hardcore computer gurus I knew at the time poo-poo’d it as an unnecessary layer on top of a perfectly stable and usable CLI-based system. Meanwhile, normal users loved the simplicity of point-and-click. The GUI drastically reduced the (human) memory commitment required to use a computer.

Fast-forward to 2010, and the population of users familiar enough with a computer to care about it has exploded. The iPad strips away flexibility in favor of increased abstraction. The clear message is to worry less about what’s happening and more about what you’re reading or creating. The fact that users should simply accept this as the next rational step in computing is, for some, a foregone conclusion. “Of course further abstraction of complexity is a good thing!” But I think it’s worth some consideration.

Everyone loves a good car analogy. Apple says that the iPad fits between the laptop computer and your smartphone. In the cars-are-a-great-analogy line of thinking, you could look at the range of cars (loosely defined as having four wheels) and identify some counterparts. Your desktop/laptop is a tractor with interchangeable components like a backhoe, box-blade, and front-end loader. You may not own all of the attachments, but you can go out and buy them whenever you encounter the need. Your desktop/laptop is your do-all machine. Your mobile phone is like a bare-bones commuter car. It gets you from a-to-b, but is relatively static in configuration. Somewhere in between is the iPad; the “Bobcat”: of the computing world. There are “accessories”: available that increase its utility, but it will never rival the power and utility of a full blown tractor… I mean desktop or laptop.

New operating system released: The Internet

“Time O’Reilly on the internet as an operating system”:

bq. When you type a search query into Google, the resources on your local computer – the keyboard where you type your query, the screen that displays the results, the networking hardware and software that connects your computer to the network, the browser that formats and forwards your request to Google’s servers – play only a small role. What’s more, they don’t really matter much to the operation of the search – you can type your search terms into a browser on a Windows, Mac, or Linux machine, or into a smartphone running Symbian, or PalmOS, the Mac OS, Android, Windows Mobile, or some other phone operating system.

Abstraction is a powerful thing. Every day, we perform actions that require thousands of “moving parts”. They’re not really moving, because we live in the age of of solid state, but the complexity exists, none the less. Never has the concept of _Wu Wei_ ben more pervasive.

Viacom: Hoist with their own petard

File this one in your WTF file. First, some context:

Some time in 2007, Viacom “filed suit against YouTube”:, claiming that YouTube’s users were uploading Viacom content to their website, but did nothing to stop it. Furthermore, YouTube was benefiting from this violation by collecting ad revenues associated with the display of that content; an ultimate evil amongst copyright holders. YouTube claims they are protected by the DMCA (always use your powers for good!) because the content was uploaded by users, and YouTube makes a “reasonable” effort to police the uploads.

YouTube’s chief counsel in defense of the lawsuit posted a “lengthy repudiation”: of those claims on the YouTube blog today. This is where it gets really interesting. It appears that not only did Viacom upload their own content to YouTube, whom they are suing for having displayed said content, but they did so surreptitiously. Long quote from the article follows:

bq. For years, Viacom continuously and secretly uploaded its content to YouTube, even while publicly complaining about its presence there. It hired no fewer than 18 different marketing agencies to upload its content to the site. It deliberately “roughed up” the videos to make them look stolen or leaked. It opened YouTube accounts using phony email addresses. It even sent employees to Kinko’s to upload clips from computers that couldn’t be traced to Viacom. And in an effort to promote its own shows, as a matter of company policy Viacom routinely left up clips from shows that had been uploaded to YouTube by ordinary users. Executives as high up as the president of Comedy Central and the head of MTV Networks felt “very strongly” that clips from shows like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report should remain on YouTube.

bq. Viacom’s efforts to disguise its promotional use of YouTube worked so well that even its own employees could not keep track of everything it was posting or leaving up on the site. As a result, on countless occasions Viacom demanded the removal of clips that it had uploaded to YouTube, only to return later to sheepishly ask for their reinstatement. In fact, some of the very clips that Viacom is suing us over were actually uploaded by Viacom itself.

Backups and the real world

A hilarious excerpt from a recent article over at “Merlin Mann’s”:

bq. I realize I’m asking you to buy a _lot_ of hard drives here. Can’t change that, but I will say I’ve been very satisfied with “1TB Seagate Barracudas”: from “New Egg”: (Personally, I buy them five at a time and always have at least 3 spares).

What’s hilarious is that Mann thinks some mere mortal is going to go out and buy a collection of flash drives and enough hard drives to keep 3 spares. {record scratch} Yes, _three_ spares. There’s a good message in here though. You have to have a really, really good backup strategy if you expect to make use of the results of said strategy. Meanwhile, back in the real world…

I might as well jump on the “bandwagon”: and harp on the backup issue. I’m a pretty big nerd, but my view on backups is simple: something is better than nothing. It’s a pragmatist’s viewpoint, and I think that’s ok. Lots of decisions we make every day put pragmatism before perfection. A pragmatist says, “If I can get 80% of the benefit out of the first 10% of the effort, then why would I expend the additional effort for such a tiny return?” Even a pragmatic backup is better than most people’s strategy of, well, _nothing at all_.

My personal backup strategy is simple, I use the built-in “Time Machine backup”: provided by OS X. Time Machine is the simplest, most pain-free versioned backup system I’ve ever used.┬áLately, I’ve considered adding an additional layer of insurance to my backup strategy. I’ve only considered this because the solution satisfies two of the pragmatists most respected metrics: low-price, low-effort. Two companies (and “probably more”: that I know and trust offer unlimited, automated, online backup for the very reasonable price of $55/year. “Mozy”: and “Carbonite”: offer products that have near feature parity. Carbonite offers “Web Restore”, which lets you restore files without installing any local software, but this is a minor point in my mind. If you’re looking to move data around easily between disparate locations, use “DropBox”: instead. DropBox is awesome, but it gets expensive as a backup strategy if you’re working with large sets of data like your photo or MP3 library.

For $55 a year and 30 minutes of setup effort, why would I not add this additional layer of security to my backup strategy? Even better, why would _you_ not do the same? Even if you have no backup strategy whatsoever, you should do this. Today. Now. Yeah, do it now. It will satisfy the pragmatist and the nerd in you.