Archive for the ‘tofacebook’ Category

Flash has jumped the shark.

Friday, April 30th, 2010

So there’s been a lot of controversy lately about why Flash is not allowed on the iPhone and iPad.  Steve Jobs just published a rant about why Apple’s not going to allow it, which to me is most interesting not for the barbs he directs at Adobe, but for the vision for the future it contains.  I read it here, though I’m sure there are tons of places to see the text.

I agree with much of it.  Flash is a technology that’s been perverted by lots of bad uses of it.  There are things that it does very well, but I agree with him: HTML5 is going to kill Flash.  It will take a while, but it will definitely happen.

I hate the fact that it’s proprietary, as Jobs says.  I learned some Flash, Flex and Actionscript while I was at Burton, and it’s too bad that knowledge and time is going to languish because I’m not getting paid to be a Flash developer for my job now, and so I’ve left the platform.  There’s no fucking way I’m paying $400 for Flex Builder.  There’s also no fucking way I would do anything with Actionscript in Flash, even if it was free.  Flash is not developer friendly by any stretch.  I guess technically they have a command-line compiler and I could write Actionscript with a plain text editor, so there’s a rudimentary free path, but the productivity slowdown that would incur makes that a no go for me.

If there isn’t a free or cheap version to develop on for your platform, you will fail, and rightfully so.  As a dev, when you take on learning a new platform and API, the barrier to entry has to be low to attract people, because the default level for programming is Free Tools.  Anything more than that, and you’ve already lost all the hobbyists and small dev shops.  And Adobe’s not really sold the platform as an “Enterprise” toolset, so you don’t have the deep pockets dev market either.  Even Microsoft has a free version of Visual Studio!  I’m admittedly developer-centric, but hey, if you don’t have people building stuff for your platform, then you won’t have any good uses for it.  If there are no good uses for your platform, it will lose mindshare with users.

Designing for touch is a good point – we web developers will have to work hard on having good mobile web UIs for our sites that looks good on small displays and that work well for touch.  It’ll be a good exercise in simplicity, and in keeping Model and Controller out of the View, to use the classic paradigm.  Most iPhone apps suck anyway – they’re just websites that have native UI controls on them, which is fucking stupid to me.  Honestly, I hope good mobile websites kill the App Store.

He’s full of shit with the openness argument, though.  Sure, Safari uses WebKit, but if they could have a stranglehold on the web without outraging web developers, I have no doubt they would.  To create those games he talks about?  You have to buy a Mac, which you can only get from Apple.  You have to use Apple’s proprietary language Objective-C that NO ONE else in the world uses for anything else but Mac stuff, to make them, and you have to build them using Apple’s XCode IDE, which again, you can only get from Apple (at least it’s free once you sign up for their developer program).  And once you build your app, you can only sell it through the Apple store, IF they approve it.

The only reason Apple’s able to maintain this stranglehold is they have the hot device right now.  Developers are willing to jump through these crazy hoops because we’ve all read those stories of people who put in a few months of late nights to make an app and then quit their jobs a month after it was released because the app was quadrupling their salary.  But gold rushes never last.  Maybe Apple’s going to be able to keep putting out the next hot device for another year or two, but I doubt it.  People are fickle.

If web developers do a good job, the web will win.  As it should.  As much as I fear Google taking over the world, I agree that the web is the platform of the future.  And I plan to keep working towards building sites that point that direction, as much as possible.  I have a long way to go, as do we all…

After 9 years, I’m leaving Burton.

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

In 2000, I moved with my new wife across the country from San Francisco to Burlington, Vermont, to work at my dream job: web developer for Burton Snowboards. I couldn’t believe my luck! I would actually be getting paid to do websites for the best snowboarding company in the world. Apparently they were getting a team together to take some of the web stuff in-house, after years of outsourcing it. I was getting in on the ground floor of something new.

I had no idea what to expect. I’d worked in a bunch of different kinds of places, from a little five person startup to a huge multinational corporation, but I figured Burton would be a different kind of gig. All I knew was that I was going to be able to combine my loves for tech and snowboarding – my only hesitation was moving across the country after having lived on the West Coast my whole life. I had been to Vermont before, but I couldn’t say what Burlington was like or if it would suit me at all. Still, I was 28, and my wife said it would be great, so that was good enough for me.

She was right.  Working for Burton for the past nine and a half years has been a dream come true (and once in a while a nightmare, as well).  I have learned more stuff, met more cool people, done more stellar projects, and enjoyed myself there more than I would have ever thought possible.

But it’s time for my run to come to an end.  I’m taking another job with Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, starting on Monday, Sept 28.

It was a hard decision.  Over the years I’ve been lucky enough for opportunities to come my way, and many of them were pretty good jobs that lots of people would be glad to get a crack at.  But I’d compare them to Burton, and I was always more stoked to stay where I was than jump ship.  That’s part of what kept me there that long – I loved working there, and I didn’t want to go anywhere else.

But all good things must come to an end, they say, and this breakup is more about me than it is about Burton.  There’s no sordid tale behind my decision or anything, it’s simply time to do something else, and I have an exciting opportunity with a quickly growing company to look forward to.  I’m excited and scared shitless in equal measure.

The craziest thing about making this transition is how much my life has changed between now and then. While I’ve been working there I’ve gone from a newlywed to being 10 years in love with my wife, and we’ve had two kids that are now starting school. We own a house that we’ve lived in for five years, and I’ve now lived here longer than anywhere else I’ve ever lived, except for the town I grew up in.  When I started we were still doing sites in classic ASP with VBScript on machines running Windows NT.  The web crew was called the “E-team,” of all things, and there were only a few of us.  It evolved into the Burton Media Syndicate (or Syndicate) a while after that, and I can still take credit for that name – my idea won the vote we all took.  I think in retrospect we can all agree that it’s better that “Spork” didn’t win.  We moved the office three times, from the HQ to the Lake Champlain waterfront and back again.  And in the end, I worked there longer than anyone in the media Syndicate, except Greg (props to you, Syndicate Survivor!).

Lucky for me my lovely wife Kacey just started there so I still get to stay connected to all my friends.  I think that I will never really lose touch with them, since we are still local and Burton is such a big part of the Burlington scene, but it’s nice to know that for now I can still reap some of those snowboard-specific benefits and drop by sometimes to harass my former teammates.

To everyone I ever worked with at Burton, past and present: it was a pleasure and a privilege, and I salute you all.  Keep killing it and may all your days on the hill be bluebird pow with all your friends.  I will see you up there – and I’ll bring the coffee!

In defense of Burlington Telecom

Monday, March 30th, 2009

Recently on my Front Porch Forum list some people have been complaining about Burlington Telecom’s recent rate increases.  I do agree that double-digit increases are pretty questionable, and I’m not so happy about them, either, but I will be sticking with Burlington Telecom, for several reasons.

First of all, Comcast’s customer service is terrible by comparison.  I’ve always gotten really good help from Burlington Telecom, and even if they can’t do everything, they are always super willing to take the time to talk about whatever the problem is.  With Comcast, I always got the impression that they were just trying to get rid of me so they could move on to the next caller in their queue, almost as if they got paid by the number of people they could push through.

Comcast pretty much define the term “evil empire” in the telecom world.  I’m not one of those who thinks that all large corporations are by definition evil.  Vermont needs IBM and GE, for one thing, and I use my Burlington Telecom services with products from Sony, Microsoft, Dell, Apple, Cisco and many other huge corporations happily.  But Comcast has shown an aggressive disdain for one of the foundations of the Internet, something called net neutrality, something that I think is fundamental to how the Internet should work.  Because they own such a large percentage of the network infrastructure of the nation, they think they can control how people use the Internet.  And that’s not right.

Those reasons alone are good enough for me to stay with Burlington Telecom, but the best reason, in my opinion, is that the services Comcast offers are vastly inferior to Burlington Telecom’s.  I am not a user of the telephone service, so I will leave that out of this discussion for now.  But the television and internet services are better, mainly because they have a much higher bandwidth network than Comcast does.

The main advantage with the TV is picture quality.  Because Comcast services so many people over a network of copper wires, they have to “compress” the HD signal they send to you.  This will usually show up as visible blockiness in the picture.  Because Burlington Telecom has a MUCH higher capacity network, they don’t have to compress the TV signal at all, so it looks better.

Here’s a forum posting that has some screenshots as an example (as well as a looooong technical argument about the original poster’s results, if you are into that kind of thing).  There’s also a question about it on the BTV FAQ page.

The huge capacity of the Burlington Telecom network also means better Internet service.  Comcast is pretty cagey about what speeds they offer.  Their marketing frequently says “speeds up to” xxx Mbps, and yes, those speeds are faster than most Burlington Telecom plans.  But the fine print says that they are only good for the first 5 or 10 MB of a file, which may or may not be enough for you.  And their main disadvantage is that they offer “asynchronous” service, where the download speed is fast and the upload speed is slow.  For surfing the web that isn’t such a big deal because the only uploading you do is making requests to the web server for pages, and they are small.  But if you send large emails, or you work from home sometimes and need to upload large files, it makes a big difference.  And I personally find that the network is just more snappy than it ever was with Comcast (I’m on Burlington Telecom’s 5M/5M service level).

So all in all, with Comcast, you basically pay about the same, but you get much less.

why facebook won’t last

Friday, February 27th, 2009

I avoided Facebook for a long time.  Like many people, I think I thought of it as a slicker MySpace.  When I first saw it they even had a weird logo with a silhouette of a dubious-faced young man, and for some reason it creeped me out a little bit.

Once my lovely wife got going with it, however, it was really only a matter of time before she pulled me in.  Once I relented I realized why it’s so popular, and it’s probably safe to say that you probably have an account and don’t need me to explain what’s useful and fun about it.  Now, my wife and I are way more net-centric than many: I’m a web developer and she’s (among many other things) a web project manager.  But it’s not just people like us any more.

In the last six months or year it seems like it’s really taken off, not only in terms of the numbers of new users, but also in terms of how much use it’s gotten from people who don’t spend hours every day on the Net like I do.  For a lot of people, the Internet means Google, email, and Facebook.  And the web-centric community has gone absolutely gaga over it.  Dave Gibson from Propeller Media Works just said on the local radio show The Browser the other day that social networking sites like Facebook were going to be as big as email.  And Slate says “there is no longer any good reason to avoid Facebook”.  They even go so far as to compare it to anti-perspirant!

It’s extremely useful, it’s really fun, it’s got millions and millions of users, natch.  But I also think that it’s still entirely possible it’s a fad, and it will almost certainly face the same sort of rise and fall as MySpace, Friendster, and every other social network so far has experienced.

In Dave’s defense he elaborates a lot of the things that separate Facebook from MySpace, and he’s right.  Facebook is much better than MySpace ever was, and it fixes a lot of the things that were wrong about MySpace.  My intial feeling that Facebook was just a slicker MySpace was wrong.   Facebook is better, but it’s still probably going to fall harder. The history of the web is littered with glittering ascents followed by staggering falls.  Don’t forget that News Corp. paid $580 million for MySpace just a few short years ago, to much fanfare.  Despite the current hysteria (and my own time investment in it!) I see no reason why the same won’t happen again.  The web is built upon the flamed-out ashes of last year’s hot new thing, and that’s really been the only constant for the last fifteen years.

Why?

There are two reasons: Facebook apps and the fact that it’s a closed system.

The apps are a masterstroke and an Achilles heel at the same time.  They’re a masterstroke because they create a platform that encourages people to make cool stuff.  And if people make cool stuff, Facebook becomes more attractive, and more people join.  But it’s an Achilles heel at the same time because they create a platform that allows people to create useless crap.  And if people create useless crap and spam their friends with it, Facebook becomes less attractive, and more people leave.  Unfortunately the history of the web shows that so far spammers end up taking over sooner or later.

The fact that it’s a closed system is why it’ll never approach the usefulness of email or the cell phone.

The SMTP standard was first published in 1982, and through the collaborative work on many people, has evolved and matured so that it’s used by nearly every Internet user in the world on a daily basis.  No one owns the standard, and anyone who wants to implement the standard can write an email server or client, leading to a competitive ecosystem that’s led to a whole galaxy of ways to slice and dice email on nearly any internet-capable device.

I know less about the technical side of cell phones, but I know that there are communication standards that handset makers and service providers agree on in order to keep the lines open, and to be able to sell more products and services.  By working on open (or at least agreed-upon) standards, a competitive cellular ecosystem exists that means you can buy a used handset from someone on Ebay and have it activated with the network of your choice.

Now Facebook is cool, but when you really get down to it, it doesn’t really do anything that you can’t do other ways.  The only real utility that it has going for it is that everyone seems to be on it.

Within a couple of years someone will come up with a way of putting text and photos together in a way that’s just a little bit slicker, and then what will Facebook have?

enzo’s story

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009

Enzo dictated a story to me this morning where he had a magic drill that would turn you into a skeleton (I had a choice between zombie, skeleton, and ghost, and I chose skeleton).

I was washing dishes, and told him I had to finish them.

“OK, so when you’re done with that dish, then turn to me like this,” and he turns quickly and freezes, “and I’ll turn you into a skeleton.  But you’ll still have a face.”

So I did.  And he put his magic drill, made from a paper towel tube that’d been unpeeled along the seam, against my breast and wound it very solemnly and made a sound at the end like “pshow”.

“There, you’re a skeleton,” he said.

“Aaah! My hands are bone hands!  My head is all smooth!” I said.

“No, you still have a face, remember?”

“Oh, does that mean I still have hair?”

“Yes, and you still have lips and stuff.”

“This is the whole Goblinsmerg family, we’re all skeletons, for the next 80 eons.  I was turned into one too, by my great grandfather Goblinsmerg.  When you are done being a skeleton, I can give you organ lessons.”