Page load speed and civilisation
October 11th, 2012 by ravi

John Gruber infers the below from the selling points of Marco Arment’s new iOS Magazine:

Says a lot about the state of the magazine industry that things like loading quickly and allowing you to select text make the app stand out from the crowd.

He means it, I think, in the sense that page load speed is so obvious a need that it should be available from all vendors/producers. I however wonder what it says about civilisation that page load speed is a criteria at all. What is wrong with waiting a few extra milliseconds to read something valuable?


Google, Acer, Redhat and the future of Open
September 19th, 2012 by ravi

Much has been said about Google’s alleged attempt to strong-arm Acer into dropping its plan to release an [[Aliyun OS]] based smartphone because Aliyun is an “incompatible” fork of Android. The general criticism that this is a bit of hypocrisy on Google’s part given how much they have been pitching Android as “open”.  Hypocrisy or not, there is certainly a paradox in Google’s position.

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Facebook and Fundamentalism
September 3rd, 2012 by ravi

The Atlantic has a piece by Robinson Mayer which includes this quote from Eric Schmidt, back when he was the CEO of Google:

Fundamentally, what Facebook has done is built a way to figure out who people are. That system is missing in the internet as a whole. Google should have worked on this earlier.

I have a lot of trouble understanding these kinds of statements about the fundamental nature of things. Figuring out who people are is indeed quite fundamental to Google’s operations but how on earth is it fundamental to anyone else? The Internet is not missing such a system. The Internet, to my knowledge, was intentionally built without such a system. There is no fundamental need within the network to know who people are more than what they reveal about themselves in relevant contexts.

It seems to me that the problem with the pedestrian truth, that Facebook has built an online platform for people to share bits, is not that it is not the fundamental story, but that Facebook has not figured out a way to monetize it.

Apple vs Samsung: It’s Not Innovation or Choice
September 2nd, 2012 by ravi

The feud between Apple and Samsung reached a milestone this week with a jury delivering a verdict favouring Apple in one major lawsuit. The response from both parties was quick and predictable. Samsung called the verdict a “loss for the American consumer”, while Apple’s Tim Cook heralded it as “an important day … for innovators everywhere”. I am pretty sure they are both exactly wrong.

Here in short are the standard arguments:

On the side of patents and copyright is the claim that without such protections the creators of new technologies and designs will be denied the reward for their work. Knock-offs with zero “innovation” cost will swamp the market, ultimately killing off the innovators.

On the other side is the claim that what has been lost is consumer choice, the selection agent in product evolution. Without the crucible of competition customers lose out in the long run.

I do not think either of them applies. The real issue is that old question — cui bono? — but applied in the opposite sense. Stay with me and we’‘ll get to that, but first a look at the proffered justifications.

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A very basic Vim Cheat Sheet
July 8th, 2012 by ravi

I created one. Below is a screenshot. Download it here.

The Insecurities of Software Development
July 8th, 2012 by ravi

Warning: this post is not about the merits and demerits of programming languages. It’s a polemic about periodic outbreaks of hating on this or that programming language and what might motivate it.

If you frequent popular tech watering holes like Hacker News, sooner or later you are bound to witness a discussion of the differences between some subset of the terms coder, programmer, software developer and software engineer. There really is none. The discussion nevertheless is unsurprising considering that the urge to construct complex theories and artificial hierarchies has been a reliable constant in human history. Software development (like economics), a craft in search of a science, is particularly vulnerable to insecure navel-gazing. All that energy piled up from sophisticated coursework on compiler design, the lambda calculus and finite automata theory has to be expended somewhere, if not in the making of things. And like economics, that energy finds its outlet in punditry.

On that front, these days, par for the hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing course, perhaps its 18th hole, is ado over programming languages. There has been recently a rash of new programming languages and interest in old ones. Don’t like Java or JavaScript. There’s CoffeeScript. And Clojure. Not arcane enough? How about Haskell, Scala, Erlang. Not low level enough? Try Go. Need more cruft? Possibly Java or Microsoft’s C#. Coolness? Definitely Ruby. And then you have Python which, visually, seems to be the COBOL of modern scripting languages. There’s also Lua, Rhino, Limbo… the list goes on. Makes you yearn for the days when all “scripting” languages were dismissed as beneath serious use. Each language has its adherents and deep theory to encourage wider adoption. The cries abound from each corner: mine’s expressive, but mine’s functional, it’s reflective, I got some fine functions as first-class objects right here, check out my concurrency and lazy evaluation, let’s go prototypal… someone more talented could mix an impressive rap song out of this jargon soup.

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iPad Creationism
June 26th, 2012 by ravi

Every now and then someone makes a claim that the iPad is great and all but really not intended for “creation”. Within the hour a host of Apple aficionados respond with incredulity, pointing to various acts of creativity achieved on the iPad. Here is an example from John Gruber in response to Nick Bilton of the New York Times (edited for relevance):

Nick Bilton:

The iPad, for all its glory, suffers from one very distinct flaw: It’s very difficult to use for creation. The keyboard on the screen, although pretty to look at, is abysmal for typing anything over 140 characters. There isn’t a built-in pen for note-taking, either. Of course all of this is intentional by Apple. Although there are hundreds of third party products available, Apple doesn’t seem to want the iPad to be a creator, but more of a consumer.

Bilton is smarter than this. I really thought we’d retired the whole “iPad is only for consumption” thing.

The idea that a dedicated hardware keyboard or a stylus is necessary for creation is ludicrous. […] I’ve seen people who type faster on an iPad than I type on a hardware keyboard. Watch a teenager type on an iPad.

Arguing that the iPad is only for consumption today is like arguing that the Macintosh was a toy back in the ’80s.

In the above, Gruber links to a post by Dan Frommer titled “10 Ways People Are Using The iPad to Create Content, Not Just Consume it”. He then follows up with a post pointing to Patrick Rhone who has written an “entire draft manuscript” of a book using software on the iPad.

So, who is right?

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The ethics and lessons of Readability
June 16th, 2012 by ravi

Good chunks of the web today are an unreadable mess. A fair bit of blame for that lies with poor design (print publishing was a well honed craft in lieu of which today we have been given Comic Sans and CSS gimmicks). The other major culprit of course is advertising. Smearing a web page with garish and intrusive graphics pitching products, happens to be the only way to make money writing for an audience brought up on the “free as in beer” model bequeathed by the dot-com bubble. And cash is much needed. While blog posts like this one can be churned out by the dozen and transmitted worldwide at little expense, real reportage and analysis requires feet on the ground, fact-checking, and these days, a robust legal department.

To repeat, two issues lie at the heart of the problem: publishers of content need to make money, and readers need to be able to read the content without losing their sanity.

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Google bouncing Google
June 14th, 2012 by ravi

Below is a bounce message that Google sent itself! The context: the original mail was a notification from Google Plus sent to a Gmail account, which triggered a vacation message back to Google Plus, from Gmail, which Google Plus then bounced.
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Kid, you can eat your muscle memory
June 4th, 2012 by ravi

Horton Hears A Who

You must know of Dr. Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel). Perhaps you read him as a child. Or you now read his books to your children. And no doubt you find him fascinating. If I were to ask you what endears him to you, I suspect you will speak of the mesmerising wordplay and the improbably delightful storyline and illustration. I would agree wholeheartedly.

But there is another reason my wife and I love his books, and that is the message in each – an introduction to some ethical or psychological question in a way that is simultaneously thoughtful and light-hearted. For that reason, high on our list of favourites from the Seuss collection are Horton Hears a Who and The Places You'll Go.

No suprise then that my first emotion as I started to read Dalton Caldwell's blog post was a sense of affinity with what he writes:

As a parent, I spend a great deal of time reading my son various books, but during this dark time, there was one specific book that came to hold more and more meaning to me as I read it. That book was Dr. Seuss' “Oh, the Places You'll Go”.

As I regularly read the book to my pre-lingual son, I began to take notice that it captured Truth about life. To be completely honest, during this difficult period, I got to the point where I had trouble reading the whole book to him without choking up. Sure, laugh if you want.

I understand that feeling.

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