“Useful” Russian Words With No English Equivalent

I am not so sure how ‘useful’ these examples are. Is the fact that most of them have negative connotations a reflection of the person who curated them or of the Russian language?

This was one of my favorites:

переподвыподверт (‘per-e-pod-‘voy-pod-‘vert)
Reddit user deffun on /r/doesnottranslate defined this noun as “to do something in a complex, incomprehensible way.”

The word kind of embodies itself, as it has four prefixes including one that repeats itself twice.

Happy New Year

It seems like only yesterday it was 2013.

2013 ended in a bittersweet way for my family. Here is hoping for more positive events in the coming year.

And maybe an element of #reboot.

Thoughts on APIStrat Panel on The Future of the Internet

About a month ago, I attended the API Strategy and Practice conference in San Francisco. Overall, a pretty good conference and, as always, much of the value was in connecting with people between and after sessions.

One panel discussion was concluded with the question ‘what is the future of the internet?’. The responses seemed to fall into two categories 1) code/APIs everywhere and/or 2) intelligent consumption and composition of the available APIs.

I wanted to point out that the first category of thought reflected the view of a (now defunct) little technology outfit just down the highway who voiced the credo of ‘the network is the computer’. They had a great spec/implementation for a technology called JINI that very much reflected the philosophy of ‘be a node and not a hub’ – inherently scalable and cluster-able running practically anywhere.

The second group reminded me of the great AI gold rush in the mid-90s, when ‘intelligent agents‘ were going to manage all our personal data and book travel and plan meetings based on all of the metadata that we surround ourselves with. Companies were funded and failed trying to deliver on this vision (General Magic anyone?). Perhaps it was an idea before it’s time and enough has changed and opened up that it might work this time. We shall see.

Women And Tech Events

Not even sure where to start with this psycho-babble rant I just read.

To me, the whole thing reads like an insecure individual trying to justify their warped world view by blaming it on everyone else. Sure, I know that there are bad things that happen to women at tech conferences (and elsewhere) and that is stupid and inexcusable. But, to use that as justification for the view that *all* men are rapist/gropers/whatever is also stupid and inexcusable. The simple fact is that if you are looking to be offended, you will find offense in everything and everybody around you. Especially, if you play both sides of a situation: if someone engages with you, it is for strictly sexual purposes and if they don’t then they are *obviously* denigrating you because you are a female. There is no good way out of that spiral other than recognizing that the premise is setup for self fulfilling distrust.

Being guilty of whatever darkness is in another person’s head is just raw prejudice with a unhealthy dose of over-generalization/labeling. Sure, lets play the game (fill in the blanks): All ______ are lazy. All _____ are cheap. All _____ are bad drivers. And all men at tech events are misogynistic predators. Right.

I have some recent evidence on this front. I was at a tech conference in San Francisco last month and had some fantastic conversations with some of the female attendees there (and the male ones as well). Topics ranged from privacy, genetic testing, pregnancy(!), hypermedia, security concerns for services, agile practices, gardening, coding standards and whisky. No one was groped or molested or talked down to. Oddly enough, at the drinks reception on the last night, I did have a woman approach me several times and try to invite herself back to my room (which I gently but firmly declined). Do I think all women at tech events are horn-dogs because of that? No, not for one minute.

For an excellent exploration of learning to be offended, see this article at NPR. The referenced article is coming at this topic from race rather than gender, but I think it resonates with many of the points I made.

Internet of Things

I am a little wary of the vague but hype-intensive discussions around the Internet of Things (IoT). I am particularly leery when I ask a pundit in the area ‘what *specifically* is IoT going to have the biggest impact on?’ The answer tends to meander along the path of ‘it will change everything’ and ‘there isn’t anything you can’t do with it’. Right. Sort of reminds me of the 90s-era hyperbolic proclamations about Object Oriented databases and how they were going to change everything. As one wag rightly summarized that hype: ‘Object oriented databases are a billion dollar market with no customers’.

SCADA, RFID, SNMP, RPC, etc – didn’t all of these come with the same set of snares and delusions that seems to surround the IoT piper? I fear the only thing that is different this time around is that IoT is paired with the equally rabid running mate ‘Big Data’ that is desperately trying to find a problem to solve and in so doing might encourage the accumulation of whatever data from IoT that it can take on.

Reliable Bias

You can count on the Guardian Tech Weekly podcast to reliably slag off anything Google and shower sycophantic praise on anything Apple. This week’s podcast is no exception:

Numbers show that Android is the most popular tablet format in the world. Guardian Tech’s take ‘well most of those sales are in Asia so they don’t really matter’. Yeah, right, a market that represents roughly 2/3rds of the worlds population doesn’t mean anything. Got it.

Next up, the Google Chromecast gets written off (sight unseen) because, well, it isn’t Apple TV. Heaven forbid that someone actually innovate rather than follow (which seems to be the Apple mode of late). Apple will likely come out with something in this form factor and it will be proclaimed by GTW as the most innovative thing ever.

And recently, Apple’s attempted injunction against Samsung selling the Galaxy line of smartphones is a righteous protection of their (sic) innovations. However, Samsung’s injunction against Apple for patent violation is a gross overstep/abuse of patten laws.

Do you guys get better swag from Apple than Google? Certainly objectivity is lacking.

Apple’s Forced Obsolescence Policy

Had yet another bad experience with Apple last week that has got me shaking my head in disbelief.

My wife re-booted her iMac after installing some updates. I should say she tried to re-boot because it wouldn’t restart fully, just went to a blue screen then eventually just restarts itself. She schedules an appointment with one of the ‘geniuses’ at the Apple store in Kenwood and shows up at the appointed time.

The kid behind the counter looks up the model number of the Mac and proclaims “I can’t help you, this system is too old!” My wife, after recovering from stunned disbelief asks “what are you talking about, the system isn’t that old”. No, he insists, if the system is older than 5 years, they won’t touch it. That is right, Apple refuses to service their own products. Won’t even run a diagnostic on it to determine what the problem is. Nothing. His advice is to buy a new Mac (naturally) or take it to MicroCenter to see if they will work on it. Tremendous customer service.

“Besides”, he goes on to tell her, “that disk drive is so old it probably won’t format – formatting is really stressful to the disk drives”. Wow, now there is some epic ignorance straight from an Apple ‘Genius’.

This weekend, I booted the Mac off an installation CD, attempted to run Disk Utility on it but DU barfed because of ‘invalid node structure’. Fortunately, the system gets backed up with Crashplan so all of the critical files were safe. Reformatted the drive (twice, because it is so stressful to the drives). Clean bill of health and Snow Leopard is installing as I type this.

Makes me think back to when I had PC hardware that ran without issue for over a decade and was always able to get parts and service for them. And now this load of BS from Apple.

So the next time you are thinking about buying one of those overpriced Apple products because they have such wonderful customer service and fantastic build quality, think again. If you hang on to the device for more than 5 years Apple has nothing more for you than an extended middle finger.

Amazon AutoRip Is A Joke

I finally had a chance this weekend to take a look at what Amazon’s much touted ‘AutoRip’ offering is all about. Turns out, not a lot. Of the several thousand CDs I have bought from them in the last 7-8 years, a little over four hundred of them are available via AutoRip – sort of. When I drill into the details some of the ‘CD’s that are available are really just one or two tracks from the CD, not the entire CD. How they managed this, I don’t know. And these aren’t compilation CDs where there might be understandable variations in licensing based on artist, label etc. Nope, these are single artist CDs.

So when Amazon claims that they are offering you CDs that you have purchased online – what they mean is some of the tracks from some of your CDs sometimes. Not all of them, not most of them, some of them. Is renaming it Amazon AutoGip too real?

Irrational Consumerism

Yes, it is that time of year, when people go shopping, because, well, they are supposed to shop. New York magazine has a great article that explores just how crazy this is Why Black Friday Is A Behavioral Economist’s Nightmare:

The big problem with Black Friday, from a behavioral economist’s perspective, is that every incentive a consumer could possibly have to participate — the promise of “doorbuster” deals on big-ticket items like TVs and computers, the opportunity to get all your holiday shopping done at once — is either largely illusory or outweighed by a disincentive on the other side. It’s a nationwide experiment in consumer irrationality, dressed up as a cheerful holiday add-on.

It then goes on to explore the retailing ‘tricks’ that are employed:

The doorbuster: The doorbuster is a big-ticket item (typically, a TV or other consumer electronics item) that retailers advertise at an extremely low cost. (At Best Buy this year, it’s this $179.99 Toshiba TV.) We call these things “loss-leaders,” but rarely are the items actually sold at a loss. More often, they’re sold at or slightly above cost in order to get you in the store, where you’ll buy more stuff that is priced at normal, high-margin levels.
That’s the retailer’s Black Friday secret: You never just buy the TV. You buy the gold-plated HDMI cables, the fancy wall-mount kit (with the installation fee), the expensive power strip, and the Xbox game that catches your eye across the aisle. And by the time you’re checking out, any gains you might have made on the TV itself have vanished.

Implied scarcity: This is when a store attempts to drum up interest in an item by claiming “limited quantity” or “maximum two per customer,” which makes us think we’re getting something valuable when we may not be. It’s a staple of deceptive marketing, and at no time in the calendar year is it in wider use than on Black Friday. (There is also actual scarcity on Black Friday — when stores carry only a 50 or 100 of an advertised doorbuster item — which also introduces a risk that you’ll be 51st or 101th in line and waste your time entirety. Both are bad.)

I spent Black Friday at home, with my family, working through my to-do list. Aside from lunch, we didn’t venture out to buy a thing.

What If We Reviewed Movies The Same Way We Review Tablets?

What if we reviewed movies that same way that we review tablets? That is, don’t rate them based on their own merits but always relative to some other popular movie, allow lots of subjective, unsupported assertions and conclude that popularity equals quality. So if we assume that Spiderman was the benchmark du jour, it might go something like this:

Avengers had quite a few popular characters in it, but the fatal flaw was that there was no Spiderman. However, everyone noted that many of the characters closely copied Spiderman in having an alternate identity, special powers and a snazzy costume, it was clear that these were to make the characters more like Spiderman, who is the leader in the super hero space. While the movie was entertaining, it just didn’t have the same flow and ‘ease of watching’ that Spiderman did. And while we paid less to see the Avengers at a matinee, the quality of Spiderman clearly made it worth the extra ticket expense because everyone knows that Spiderman is just a higher quality product. We are sure that the Avengers might appeal to some people; we still believe that Spiderman is the best movie there is.

The Location-based Context Aware Data Privacy Black Hole

I’ve written before about mobile application privacy over-reach. Now there seems to be a whole genre of mobile applications that want *all* of your personal data in order to ‘help’ you through your day. You know, you are right, I think the number one thing that people want is someone (or something) to tell them what they should be doing all day and all night long. No, not really.

One of these apps that has been around a while is reqall’s Rover. As is typical of the genre, it wants to suck in your contact info, keep fine grained GPS trails of your movements, harvest your info from social media sites like Facebook and twitter, etc. About the only useful feature I found that it provided was traffic conditions for commuting (but you can easily get that from any number of sites). One of the most annoying ‘helpful’ features it provided was trolling through the phone call logs an send alerts that I should call personX because I haven’t talked to them in a while. More often than not it was a number for AAA roadside assistance or some such thing that I wouldn’t have a need to call often.

Friday is another app that a co-worker pointed out to me. A quick visit to their web site had me scratching my head as to why I would ever want to run this app. This app sucks *all* of the information off of your phone into ‘the cloud’ and does so on a continuous basis throughout the day. It does this so it can ‘help you remember’ what you were doing at a particular moment. Right, or use all of that information to sell to marketing types or know when to rob you.

Saga is the latest of these apps I have seen. Whoo, I can see a list of places I have been during the week (like I couldn’t do that with Google Latitude). Same tired ‘check in’ gambit – pooh and I get to earn ‘experience points’ for doing it. And restaurant recommendations based on what I always do! (as if I couldn’t figure that out on my own. Same claims, same huge privacy issues. Do I really want some third party tracking my every move at all, let alone for the claimed ‘benefits’ to me?

Will Google Now be the one that gets this right? Privacy issues remain, but in many cases they probably have this information already so the issue of providing it to yet another third party is somewhat minimized. Also, some of the touted features don’t make a lot of practical sense, like translation and currency. Works great if you have an unlocked phone AND can get roaming data at a less than rapacious rate; otherwise ‘benefits’ that won’t see a lot of use. And then there is the fact that Google Now is only available on the very newest version of the Android OS that is on very, very few devices in the wild.

Amazon’s Brain Dead Content Fumblings

I recently came across a self-published book that I was interested in on Amazon. I noticed that it claimed that if I was an Amazon Prime member (I am) that I could get it ‘for free’. I thought, great, a no risk way to satisfy my curiosity about the book. So I sign in so that Amazon can confirm that I am a Prime member. But, now it is telling me that I can get the book for ‘free’ if I buy a Kindle device – WTF? Sounds like good ole bait and switch to me.

So I started looking into magazines that I might be able to download and take on an upcoming trip. My Galaxy Tab 10.1 came pre-loaded with the Kindle viewer, so why not? Besides, I have been looking for a replacement for the brain-dead Zinio application. Many of the magazines that I wanted to buy were only available for the Kindle devices, not for the viewers on the other platforms. Again, WTF? Poking around on the site, I came across a lame excuse that ‘not all of the content is licensed or optimized for all platforms’ – great, so you are admitting that your reader software is a joke and you are really just trying to get people to buy your sub-par reader devices. Outstanding.

Apparently, Barnes & Noble’s Nook doesn’t have this ignorant limitation. If I buy a magazine for the Nook, I can view it on my wife’s Nook, my Samsung S2 phone, my Galaxy Tab 10.1 or on the iPad and have pretty much the same user experience on all of them. So what is your excuse, Amazon? It doesn’t appear to be a technical limitation if you competition can make it work. Just sounds like some ham-handed strong arming to try to push devices. Fix your content model, Amazon. The reality is, you have no motivation to do that at all, do you?

Tablet Market Swirl

Hmm, iPad traffic dropping, Nook surpasses Kindle Fire. Kind of sorting itself out as expected – the Fire hasn’t turned out to be the big game changer that all the pundits made it out to be. I had my doubts from the very beginning.

The new version of the iPad has been a bit of a dud; the much touted retina display just make the unit run really hot without providing a huge enhancement to the end user experience. The rest of the new feature were just to try to stay at parity with the competition and to continue to copy features from Android. It is no wonder that Apple have an army of lawyers running around the world trying to prevent Samsung’s Galaxy Tab from being released – can’t have people having real choice in the marketplace as they would likely not buy Apple’s product.

And now that the Google Nexus 7 will soon be on the scene, I anticipate the Kindle Fire sinking even further. I’m not really surprised that most of the ground is being gained in the smaller form factor (7-8 inch screens) that all of the Apple fans crapped on so hard because, well, it wasn’t the same as the iPad. Guess what, it looks like Apple is planning on ‘innovating’ a tablet in that space as well. Once again, innovated by Samsung and Google, copied in Cupertino.

As for the Microsoft Surface – I think it will do about as well as the Zune did.

Springpad App – Deleted

The Springpad mobile app is the latest to get deleted due to application security overreach. You are (or were) a list making application – you do not, for any legitimate reason, need to be able to read (and remotely store, no doubt) my contact information. Deleted.

I hope you are working to make your web site accessible to mobile devices because that is what I will use from now on (if at all). Learn from your mistakes.