Think beyond the server farm, CI-CIO!
March 30th, 2012 by ravi

Everyone quotes Steve Jobs but nobody wants to follow him. I suspect there are two implicit or even explicitly profered conceits behind that: maturity and safety. Maturity is the grown-up pragmatism that a business leader (for this post, a CIO) needs to juggle conflicting criteria: cost, variable preferences over individuals and time, interoperability and compatibility, security, so on. One cannot willy nilly pursue perfection, but instead one must seek the golden middle. Safety on the other hand is the fear expressed in that old saw “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM equipment“. Once a narrative, a legacy value or even mere habit gains hold, it assumes the power of a hard science, and can often be displaced only by a revolution from below (the positive case) or an en masse migration of the field to a newer set of buzzwords (the negative case).
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Google and Apple
March 29th, 2012 by ravi

There was a time when Google and Apple were sitting on the forbidden tree… or something like that. Google CEO Eric Schmidt appeared on stage at Apple events and sat behind the scene on Apple’s board. Together they drove Microsoft out of our lives. Then Google decided to enter the mobile OS market out of fear of losing access to mobile phone users. And what better way to challenge Apple’s iPhone and its alliance with AT&T than to offer up the Google mobile OS Android for free to Verizon (and other telcos including AT&T)? This Google defined as “open”. Predictably Android provoked the ire of Steve Jobs who took to the company town hall to decry the terrible evil that had been done. The relationship turned sour and today the two giants are slinging lawyers at each other through intermediaries and proxies (heck, Google went out and bought an entire company, Motorola — a small step for Google but a giant leap for the science of lawyering up — while Apple coupled up with friends like Microsoft to buy patents from the defunct Nortel and others).

Building the Google-telco-user relationship around the free Android OS has led to a high level of fragmentation, lack of access to new features/updates for users (less than 2% of Android devices run the latest version of Android) and strangest of all: Microsoft makes more money than Google on Android (thanks to patents) and Google makes more money on iOS than it does on Android (thanks to Apple’s use of Google services).

There was another way this could have played out. As John Gruber writes today, “Google made a mistake by deciding to oppose rather than ally with Apple on mobile”. This is all the more the case given their complementary strengths and weaknesses. Google’s good at big data and infrastructure and poor at user experience. Apple’s infrastructure capabilities are only now being tested (iCloud) but they continue to write the book on user experience. Google it appears is unwilling to yield the user to others, lest it be cut out of the loop at a later date. It is not an illegitimate concern from a business perspective. From a user perspective, however, the rivalry is a net loss. Oh well.

PHPFog for WordPress blogging
March 28th, 2012 by ravi

PHPFog is an excellent PaaS (platform as a service) that offers a free version with a limit of three apps. One of the apps they provide is WordPress. What is nice about this is that unlike the free version of, an installation of WordPress on PHPFog has no restriction on the themes, plugins, or other similar customisations you can perform. Backed up by their seemingly solid software stack/infrastructure, they offer an attractive option to host your WordPress blog for free. You can still get advanced reporting for free by using Google Analytics or WordPress’s JetPack which includes WP Stats.

I am strongly considering moving one of my blogs (perhaps this one?) to PHPFog.

V is for Viral
March 25th, 2012 by ravi


This week’s Internet bruhaha finds designer Dustin Curtis at its center. Just yesterday, sensing that the field suffers from a supply deficit, Curtis announced a new blogging platform called Svbtle that addresses the “uninspiring” nature of today’s blogging platforms. Forget the plugins, the markup, all those distractions, cries Curtis. What you need is a minimal interface that helps you get on with the main task at hand: writing something interesting and edifying.


… or is it Vanity?

Curtis tells us that the idea soon progressed from a personal solution for his own blogging needs to a “network” of independent bloggers. Turns out you are not one of them. You see, this network is for “creative, intelligent, and witty people”. And before you get affronted, if you are really honest, you will admit that you and I don’t posses even one of those virtues, let alone all three.


Why the announcement? I am guessing Curtis, unlike Jonathan Franzen, is a lot less selective when it comes to the readership. Understandably so. The Svbtle network might “vet” its contributors, but unless these contributors happen to be named Deepak Chopra or Ayn Rand (masters of the art of squeezing cash money from respective ends of the social spectrum), it’s still all about the eyeballs.

All good, so far.


Then, within hours of Curtis’s post announcing Svbtle, an enterprising gent by name Nate Wienert had implemented an Open Source equivalent of Svbtle which he has wittily named Obtvse. Hacker News erupted with indignation and defence. Some took umbrage to Curtis’s choice of words (“arrogant” as he described it) while others found fault with the appropriation of his idea by Wienert.


Curtis doesn’t see the problem with Wienert’s reimplementation. Quoting Picasso, he writes: “Great artists steal”. All works borrow from previous works and what matters is putting something out there that “will defy authorship and turn into a shared experience for everyone” (Curtis quoting Frank Chimero). It’s all about “value” to put it in used cars salesman pitch.


A good time has been had by all and this time the affair closes with all parties in good humour. I do wonder though what Curtis might mean when he writes about bringing the strengths of newspapers to blogging. A blog network of self-similar and successful individuals (in the case of Svbtle this seems to be a group of male designers and developers) might reliably produce interesting technical content but does not necessarily satisfy general interest nor guarantee accuracy. This may not be what Curtis means in drawing an analogy to newspapers, but nevertheless, what would be timely is the emergence of a blog or blog network that brings technology analysis by talented writers (among them sociologists and legal scholars) to the general public.

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