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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Facebook schadenfreude is okay, but some honesty please!
May 22nd, 2012 by ravi

Facebook might only provide a Like button on its site, but that hasn’t stopped people from hating on the company in the last few days. There is much glee over the dismal performance of the stock which is now about $10 below its IPO price from a week ago. People mock or dismiss Facebook for a variety of reasons: They don’t like it when the user interface is changed without their consent. Some find the whole social networking business beneath their intellect. So on. Fine, you are pissed and you are happy the stock is tanking. I sympathise.

But, really, enough with the pointers to the stock performance as some sort of rational consequence or symptom of your diagnosis of Facebook’s failings. This is the same market that currently values Apple at a P/E of 13.58 while Amazon and LinkedIn hold such potential that they trade at a P/E of 176.85 and 626.77 respectively.

Really convincing, that market. You are sure you want to hitch your logic wagon to it?

A summary of recent tech news
May 1st, 2012 by ravi

It’s going to be a great week in techlandia:

  • Microsoft and Barnes & Noble team up to defeat Apple and Amazon. Once they figure out what to call their collaboration.
  • Not content to wait on the sidelines, RIM releases developer alpha BlackBerry 10. Which doesn’t make phone calls.
  • And the “rogue” “hacker” who spied on people’s wireless networks for Google turns out to have spelled out his plans in his project proposal. Which his managers claim they never read. The silver lining: finally, some proof that nobody reads project planning documents.
Unix FTW
April 22nd, 2012 by ravi

Imagine an operating system that was conceived and developed as a secondary project, decades before operating systems became a household word. One that its owner (AT&T) had neither the skill nor the legal sanction to sell. One that once out into the wild, forked into a hundred avatars. One that ran natively on (and was sold shrink wrapped for) few or no consumer hardware platforms. A system that was eclipsed in the 90s by the user friendliness of Mac OS and the business savvy of Microsoft Windows. A system that offered (and advocated) a minimalist approach to usage (user interface, programming, etc).

It is now 2012. That operating system is Unix. And everywhere but the corporate IT controlled desktop market, it rules the computing world in the form of GNU/Linux, *BSD, Mac OS X, iOS and Android.

There are I think some very valuable lessons to be learnt from this phenomenal and highly improbable success. Lessons to do with complexity, methodology, motivation… lessons that are in my opinion very much relevant to the obsessions and fashions of today’s technical world, ranging from exotic programming languages to frameworks and platforms like .NET, Eclipse, ClearCase, etc. Any muddled thoughts I might have on these lessons will have to wait. For now, I want to merely enjoy the moment.


The title should really read: Unix + GNU FTW.

The value of Instagram
April 16th, 2012 by ravi

Imagine if you had entered college in 1999 and left grad school in 2005. You wouldn’t know much of the dot-com boom and the bizarre billion dollar acquisitions of companies that had not made a single dollar and had no clear chance or plan of ever doing so. The tech boom of 2010 would seem a new and momentous event. The automobile revolution of the early 21st century, not the tulip craze. Should you meet a naysaying curmudgeon from the last decade, and need a voice to counter his pessimism, Don Dodge would be your man. Here he is, talking about the mind-boggling billion dollar acquisition of photo-mutilation service Instagram by Facebook – he will have none of the incredulity over a billion dollar price on a product that can be built out in a week:

 Success looks easy from a distance. Technology seems simple if the design is great. Attracting great founders and early employees just means rounding up some of your friends. Raising money is always easy, right? Getting great press stories just takes a few emails. Attracting influential users just sort of happens. Viral growth is a simple formula. Solving a problem that millions of people care about is just luck.

He’s being sarcastic, of course. His point is that it’s not the ability to code up Instagram in a week that matters:

From a technical point of view there isn’t much difference between Instagram, Path, Oink, Hipster, or a bunch of other companies that all do essentially the same things. Mobile, social, photo apps that include comments and some type of friend/follow model. Why is one worth $1B and another shut down with no value? It isn’t about the technology or how long it took to build.

Taken together, these two quoted sections, and the refinements that he offers later in the piece (“first mover advantage”, “design”, “timing and luck”), form Dodge’s defence of Instagram:

Technology can be replicated, timing and luck can’t.

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Open vs Free, the Android vs iPhone edition
April 2nd, 2012 by ravi

Over on GigaOm, Tom Krazit spins an old argument as a new one by characterising as silly the many recent blog posts on how little money Google makes on Android, in fact much lesser than what it makes on iOS (I have made such posts myself). Look beyond the dollars, he says, as if that’s a fresh and non-obvious point:

Not all investments are made with the expectation that a big payoff is around the corner. Google’s decision to bankroll the development of Android was just such an investment, which makes the past week’s back and forth over just how much money Google has garnered from that investment quite silly.

[…]

The mistake is assuming that Google views this as a big problem, as if Android has been a waste of money because Google makes more money from its competitor. Would Google like to make more revenue from Android? Sure. Money is nice. But Android was a defensive move on Google’s part, and one that wasn’t primarily motivated by desire for revenue or profit.

The mistake in Krazit’s own thesis is that he sees discussion of Google’s revenue as an independent and sole criticism of what Google is doing with Android. That is not the case. The fact that Google does not derive profit from Android but gives it away for free to handset makers and telcos (not users, less than 2% of whom can upgrade to the latest version of Android released many months ago) is part of a larger argument or analysis of the nature of Android vs iOS. Since Krazit wants to rehash these points as if new, I will repeat my criticism which is a bit different from that of famous iOS defenders like John Gruber.
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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 WordPress.com, 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.

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