Archive for the 'trends' Category

Friday, March 1st, 2013

WFH

The valley is buzzing about Marissa’s edict putting the kibosh on Yahoos working from home. I don’t have any first-hand information, but apparently this applies somewhat even to one-day-a-week telecommuters. Some are saying Marissa’s making a mistake, but I don’t think so. She’s too smart for that. There’s no better way to get extra hours of work out of a motivated A-lister than letting them skip the commute, and I work regularly with several full-time telecommuters. It works out just fine.

This is a sign that Y is still infested with slackers. From what I’ve seen, a B-or-C-lister will ruthlessly take advantage of a WFH policy. If that dries up, they’ll move on.

If I’m right, the policy will indeed go into effect at Yahoo starting this summer, and after a respectable amount of time has passed (and the slackers leave) it will loosen up again. And Yahoo will be much stronger for it. Agree? -m

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012

Hedgehogs and Foxes

In Nate Sliver’s new book, he mentions a classification system for experts, originally from Berkeley professor Philip Tetlock, along a spectrum of Fox <—> Hedgehog. (The nomenclature comes from an essay about Tolstoy.)

Hedgehogs are type A personalities who believe in Big Ideas. The are ideologues and go “all-in” on whatever they’re espousing. A great many pundits fall into this category.

Foxes are scrappy creatures who believe in a plethora of little ideas and in taking different approaches toward a problem, and are more tolerant of nuance, uncertainty, complexity, and dissent.

There are a lot of social situations (broadly construed) where hedgehogs seem to have the upper hand. Talking heads on TV are a huge example, but so are many fixtures in the tech world, Malcolm Gladwell, say. Most of the places I’ve worked at have at least a subtle hedgehog-bias toward hiring, promotions, and career development.

To some degree, I think this stems from a lack of self-awareness. Brash pundits come across better on the big screen; they grab your attention and take a bold stand for sometihing–who wouldn’t like that? But if you take pause and think about what they’re saying or (horror) go back an measure their predictions after-the-fact, they don’t look nearly so good. Foxes are better at getting things right.

It seems like we’ve just been through a phase of more-obnoxious-than-usual punditry, and I found this spectrum a useful way to look at things. How about you? Are you paying more attention to hedgehogs when you probably should be listening to the foxes?

-m

Monday, June 4th, 2012

Relax NG vs XML Schema: ten year anniversary

Today is the 10-year anniversary of this epic message from James Clark on the relative merits of Relax NG vs. XML Schema, and whether the latter should receive preferential treatment. Still relevant today–the discussion is still going, although an increasing number of human-readable web specifications have adopted RelaxNG in some form. -m

Thursday, April 26th, 2012

MarkLogic World 2012

I’m getting ready to leave for MarkLogic World, May 1-3 in Washington, DC, and it’s shaping up to be one fabulous conference. I’ve always enjoyed the vibe at these events–it has a, well, cool-in-a-data-geeky-way thing going on (like the XML conference in the early 2000’s where I got to have lunch with James Clark, but that’s a different story). Lots of people with big data problems will be here, and I always enjoy talking to these kinds of people.

I’m speaking on Wednesday at 3:30 with Product Manager extraordinaire Justin Makeig about big data visualization. If you’ll be at the conference, come look me up. And if you won’t, well, forgive me if I need a few extra days to get back to any email you send this way.

Follow me on Twitter and look for the #MLW12 tag for live coverage.

-m

Sunday, January 15th, 2012

Five iOS keyboard tips you probably didn’t know

Check out these tips. The article talks about iPad, but they work on iPhone too, even an old 3G.

One one hand, it shows the intense amount of careful thought Apple puts into the user experience. But on the other hand, it highlights the discovery problem. I know people who have been using iOS since before it was called iOS, and still didn’t know about these. How do you put these kinds of finishing touches into a product and make sure the target audience can find out about them? -m

Thursday, December 8th, 2011

Resurgence of MVC in XQuery

There’s been an increasing amount of talk about MVC in XQuery, notably David Cassel’s great discussion and to an extent Kurt Cagle’s platform discussion that touched on forms interfaces. Lots of Smart People are thinking in this area, and that’s a good thing.

A while back I recorded my thoughts on what I called MET, or the Model Endpoint Template organizational pattern, as used in MarkLogic Application Builder. One difference between 2009 and now, though, is that browsers have distanced themselves even farther from XML, which tends to undercut the eliminate-the-impedance-mismatch argument. In particular, the forms model in HTML5 continues to prefer flat data, which to me indicates that models still play an important role in XQuery web apps.

So I envision the app lifecycle like this:

  1. The browser requests a particular page, say the one that lets you configure sorting options in the app you’re building
  2. An HTML page loads.
  3. Client-side script requests the project state from a designated endpoint, the server transforms the XML into a flat list, and delivers it as JSON (as an optimization, the server can package the initial data into the page delivered in the prior step)
  4. Standard form interaction and client-side scripting happens, including manipulation of repeating structures mediated by JavaScript
  5. A standard form submit happens (possibly via script), sending a flat list back to the client, which performs an update to the stored XML.
It’s pretty easy to envision data-mapping tools and libraries that help automate the construction of the transforms mentioned in steps 3 and 5.

Another thing that’s changed is the emergence of XQuery plugin technology in MarkLogic. There’s a rapidly-growing library of reusable components, initially centered around Information Studio but soon to cover more ground. This is going to have a major impact on XQuery app designs as components of the app (think visualization widgets) can be seamlessly added to apps.

Endpoints still make a ton of sense for XQuery apps, and provide the additional advantage that you now have a testable, concern-separated data layer for your app. Other apps have a clean way to interop, and even command-line operaton is possible with off-the-shelf-tools like wget.

Lastly, Templates. Even if you use plugins for the functional core of your app, there’s still a lot of boilerplate stuff you’d not want to repeat. Something like Mustache.xq is a good fit for this.

Which is all good–but is it MVC? This organizational pattern (let’s call it MET 2.0) is a lot closer to it. Does MET need a controller? Probably. (MarkLogic now ships a pretty good one called rest:rewrite) Like MVC, MET separates the important essences of your application. XQuery will never be Ruby or Java, and its frameworks will never be Rails or Spring, but rather something uniquely poised to capture the expressive power of the language to build apps on top of unstructured and big data. -m

Thursday, September 29th, 2011

facebook Challenge results

Andromeda took the facebook Challenge, and found 52 separate requests in 24 hours that would have gone to the facebook mothership. Watch her blog for more updates. How about you?

If you look through these logs, pay particular attention to the referer field. This tells you on which site you were browsing when the data set out on its voyage toward facebook.

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011

Why I am abandoning Yahoo! Mail (and why you should too)

This is a non-technical description of why Yahoo! Mail is unsafe to use in a public setting, and indeed at all. I will be pointing people at this page as I go through the long process of changing an address I’ve had for more than a decade.

What’s wrong with Yahoo Mail?

A lot of web addresses start with http://–that’s a signal that the “scheme” used to deliver the page to your browser is something called HTTP, which is a technical specification that turns out is a really good way to move around web pages. As the page flows to the browser, it’s susceptible to eavesdropping, particularly over a wi-fi connection, and much more so in public, including the usual hotspots like coffee shops, but also workplaces and many home environments. It’s the virtual equivalent of a postcard. When you’re reading the news or checking traffic, it’s not a big deal if someone can sneak a glance at your page.

Some addresses start with https://–notice the extra ‘s’ which stands for “secure”. This means two things 1) that the web page being sent over is encrypted, and thus unavailable to eavesdroppers, and 2) that the people running the site had to obtain a certificate, which is a form of proof of their identity as an organization (that they’re not, say, Ukrainian phishers). Many years ago, serving pages over https was considered quite expensive in that servers needed much beefier processors to run all that encryption. Today, while it still requires extra computation, it’s not as big of a deal. Most off-the-shelf servers have plenty of extra power. To be fair, for a truly ginormous application with millions of users like Yahoo Mail, it is not a trivial thing to roll out. But it’s critically important.

First, to dispel a point of confusion, these days nearly every site, including Yahoo Mail, uses https for the login screen. This is the most critical time when encryption is needed, because otherwise you’d be sending your password on a postcard for anyone with even modest technical skills to peek at. So that’s good, but it’s no longer enough. Because sites are written so that you don’t have to reenter your password on every single new page, they use a tiny bit of information called a “cookie” in your browser to stay logged in. Cookies themselves are neither good nor bad, but if an eavesdropper gets a hold of one, they can control most of your account–everything that doesn’t require re-entering a password. In Yahoo Mail this includes reading any of your messages, sending mail on your behalf, or even deleting messages. Are you comfortable allowing strangers to do this?

As I mentioned earlier, new, more powerful tools have been out for months that automate the process of taking over accounts this way. Zero technical prowess is needed, only the ability to install a browser plug-in. If there are any web companies dealing in personal information for which this wasn’t a all-hands-on-deck security wake-up, they are grossly negligent. Indeed, other sites like Gmail work with https all-the-time. But still, in 2011, Yahoo Mail doesn’t. I have a soft spot for Yahoo as a former employer, and I want to keep liking them. Too bad they make it so difficult.

The deeper issue at stake is that if this serious of an issue goes unfixed for months, how many lesser issues lurk in the site and have been around for months or years? The issue is trust, my friend, and Yahoo just overdrew their account. I’m leaving.

FAQ

Q: So what do you want Yahoo to do about this?  A: Well, they should fix their site for their millions of remaining users.

Q: What if they fix it tomorrow? Will you delete this message?  A: No. Since I no longer trust the site, I am leaving, even though it takes time to notify all the people who still send me mail, and no matter what other developments unfold in the meantime. This page will explain my actions.

Q: Do you really want everyone else to leave Yahoo Mail?  A: No, only those who care about their privacy.

Q: What’s your new email address?  A: I have a couple, but <my first name> @ <this domain> is a good general-purpose one.

I will continue to update this page as more information becomes available. -m

Sunday, October 24th, 2010

Geek Thoughts: statistical argument against link shortener sustainability

I’ve seen lots of discussion for and against link shorteners, but not specifically this line of argument:

Let me grab a random shortened link from Twitter. Don’t go away, I’ll be right back.

http://bit.ly/b1fYi1

OK, that’s six characters in the domain, a slash, and six more characters. 50 years from now, if bit.ly is still in operation, the URLspace will be rather more crowded, and the part after the slash might be eight or nine characters. This is a significant cliff, since most people have trouble remembering more than 6 or 7 things in their head at a time. Thus, one could conclude that 50 years from now, newly minted bit.ly URLs will be less fashionable than those from newer link-shortening services, particularly if more short TLDs come online, which seems likely. In that scenario, fewer and fewer people will use bit.ly, and it will become a resource-pit as costs go up (for more database storage, among other things) while usage drops, an economic trend that has only one eventual outcome, leading to the breaking all the external links relying on this service.

I’ve been picking on bit.ly here, but the same principle applies to any shortener service. In fact, the more popular, the more quickly the URLspace will fill.

The moral: don’t use link shorteners for anything that needs to be more durable than something you’d scribble on a scrap of paper at your desk.

More collected Geek Thoughts at http://geekthoughts.info.

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

Geek Thoughts: accomplishment

Whenever I undertake something big and challenging enough to be worthwhile, whether editing a W3C specification, running a more demanding distance, a new software project, or something else, I notice a similar trajectory of progress:

Ready to start: Full of adrenaline and excitement. Audacious goals seem readily reachable.

5-10% through: Whoa, this is difficult! And I’m only 1/10 or 1/20 of the way through? What was I thinking? It is important to ignore these thoughts.

One third point: Things seem to even out by this point. The hard slog presses on.

Halfway point: Wow, that’s halfway? Feels more like 90%!

Two-thirds point: Things are getting difficult. Should have treated this more like a marathon, less like a sprint.

90% point: There are two distinct kinds of endeavors from here. In what I call ‘type 1’ projects, the goalposts are strictly fixed, in which case a fresh burst of energy propels me through the glorious finish. But in a more sinister ‘type 2’ project, the finish line keeps receding away, as fast as or faster than I can approach. Depending on my level of stubbornness and anger, I will often finish anyway, just to spite the universe and the project masters, but at significant personal cost.

For anyone out there that has influence over large, ambitious projects, one of the most pivotal things you can do is make sure it is a type 1, not a type 2 project, as seen from the 90% line.

Finish.

More collected Geek Thoughts at http://geekthoughts.info.

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

Heard, overheard, and misheard at Balisage

The opening day of the conference was not Balisage proper, but a separate symosium on “XML for the long haul”.

Some interesting tidbits overheard, in no particular order…

“it is not necessarily clear that this approach would capture the difference between the ridiculous and the merely implausible.”

Complexity — what is the relationship betwen complexity and long-term data storage?

“Narratives with fancy words in them”

How do you store, say, a video in a format that will be readable in 100 years?

Order of magnitude scale changes produce discontinuities

“The Da Vinci Schema”

Dandelion DNA (Free license)

“Indispensible” — “I don’t think that means what you think it does”

“Keeping electrons alive is really difficult”

“I wondered…with my Topic Map brain damage…”

-m

Monday, March 1st, 2010

Newsweek should never have been free

Andrew Zolli argues in Newsweek that online content should never have been free. I’m probably not the first one to make this profound observation–but if it were not for the free online edition of Newsweek (and link aggregator sites like Digg) I wouldn’t have read a single word of Newsweek in years, nor would I be linking to it as my previous sentence does… Maybe Newsweek is OK with that. -m

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

500th Post

Celebrating 500 posts since I went to WordPress in May 2006. Prior to that, an additional 730 posts as I floated through a typical evolution of blogging platforms:

  • Easy start: blogger (299 posts in 24 months)
  • Succumbing to the desire to roll your own (259 posts in 12 months)
  • Realizing that rolling your own is too difficult: Pyblosxom (172 posts in 12 months)
  • Moving to a mature platform you don’t need to worry about much: WordPress (500 posts in 42+ months)

-m

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

And then there were one…

On May 8 I wrote:

it’s time for the W3C to show some tough love and force the two (X)HTML Working Groups together.

On July 2, the W3C wrote:

Today the Director announces that when the XHTML 2 Working Group charter expires as scheduled at the end of 2009, the charter will not be renewed. By doing so, and by increasing resources in the Working Group, W3C hopes to accelerate the progress of HTML 5 and clarify W3C’s position regarding the future of HTML.

The real test is whether the single HTML Working Group can be held to the standard of other Working Groups, and be able to recruit some much-needed editorial help from some of the displaced XHTML 2 gang.  -m

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

GPL’s Cloudy Future

I enjoyed this post, from Jeremy Allison as it turns out. It talks about how GPL software is “the new BSD” when it comes to cloud computing, since redistribuion of the software doesn’t happen, and thus doesn’t trigger the relevant clauses of the GPL. Any old company can use, re-use, and modify the software without sharing the code in the original spirit of the license. The community’s response–something I need to keep a closer eye on–is the AGPL, or Affero license. It works similarly to the GPL, but is triggered by remote use of the software, not just distribution, preserving the work’s copylefedness even in cloud computing situations. -m

Saturday, April 4th, 2009

On YouTube’s bandwidth and Technologizer’s problem with basic estimation

This article states:

The analysts determined YouTube’s bandwidth costs by assuming that 375 million unique visitors would visit the site in 2009, with 20 percent of those users consuming 400 kilobits per second of video at any given time. That works out to 30 million megabits being served up per second. That’s a heck of a lot of bandwidth to devote to videos of sneezing pandas.

Do you honestly believe that YouTube is sending out 30 petabits per second (to put it another way, fully saturating over 200,000 OC3 connections)? That on average, every single user who counts as a unique visitor in 2009 spends 20% of 24hrs = 4.8 hours actually downloading video, every day of every week?

Gesundheit. -m

Update: the quoted article indeed gets it wrong, though it appears the original Credit Suisse analyst report was estimating peak usage, not a running average. Still doesn’t smell right. Updating the article and title to point the finger at the right people.

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

Geek Thoughts: the downside of free energy

Steorn is making noise again about the free energy device they claim to have invented. The proper scientific attitude to have toward such claims is skepticism, though most responses (always from individual who have never seen it) goes well beyond that.

But think of the downside if every phone, iPod, refrigerator, car, air conditioning unit, factory, etc. comes to contain a perpetual energy source. Total energy use would skyrocket, and all that energy still has to go somewhere, so it ends up as waste heat. Global warming on an unprecedented scale ensues.

There’s more. If overabundance of energy is the problem, it’s a mere engineering challenge to build planetary-scale air coolers, beaming waste heat out into space. Imagine an advanced civilization that’s already doing it. From a distance their planet might look nothing like what current exoplanet researchers are looking for.

There’s enough here for several novels. If you had unlimited energy resources, what would you like to see built?

More collected Geek Thoughts at http://geekthoughts.info.

Monday, December 1st, 2008

Where have all the acorns gone?

First the bee colonies start to disappear. Next, acorns. Does anyone have a map of the acorn-devoid areas? -m

Friday, November 7th, 2008

Sign of the times

I got a call today from a pushy recruiter. That’s nothing new. What’s different is that she was not looking for the usual resume, but rather desperately trying to place candidates. (Or maybe it was just social engineering…)

Is anyone else seeing a reversal in recruiter cold-call strategies? How flooded is the tech job market at this point? -m

Thursday, October 23rd, 2008

RDFa is a Recommendation

Haven’t mentioned here that RDFa is a W3C Recommendation. I’m thrilled that something that I’ve been thinking about for a while is ready for prime time.

Also, as of this writing the first page of results at Google still prominently links to a terribly outdated draft of the spec. The first page of results at Yahoo! nails it. Just sayin’.

-m

Sunday, September 21st, 2008

My economic plan

Levy a $24,000, one-time tax, payable in installments over 10 years, against anyone who took out an interest-only mortgage (or various other high-risk instruments) during the previous 10 years, using the full nasty power of the IRS to collect (garnishing wages, etc.)

Take the proceeds and give it to homeowners who did NOT engage in high-risk activities as a tax refund.

Since taxpayers will be bailing out wall street anyway, why not move the blame closer to where it belongs? -m

Wednesday, August 6th, 2008

Happy 0x40 Anniversary, Mark I

It’s been 0x40 years since the dedication of the Mark I. Wired has some great photos and background information. Less than a year later, Vannevar Bush would advance the state of the art with his article As We May Think. A year-and-a-half later, ENIAC unveiled, and with it Turing-completeness. And things have been speeding up ever since. -m

Tuesday, August 5th, 2008

Two miles barefoot

Without the bike commute, I’m back to barefoot running for exercise. I can now do a stretch of 2 miles on asphalt with no problems (other than sore calves). Why barefoot? Because it feels better, and it’s ultimately easier on the joints. The human biomechanical system does excellent work if you let it, and is easily capable of soft landings via shock-absorption in the knees, ankles, and musculature. In contrast, when one wears shoes, it’s too easy to slam the feet down and let the padding (attempt to) take care of impact management.

If you want to get started, go slowly. For a month I only walked, starting out with very short distances. I’m at the point now when I see a new texture of carpet, hardwood, or other floors, I’m tempted to kick my shoes off and sample.

Alas, I don’t think I’ll be ready for the Nike+ Human Race 10k coming up on August 31. (And I wonder how many runners in a shoe-company-sponosred race will be barefoot) :-) -m

Thursday, July 31st, 2008

The rare benefit of easily-mockable names

From the observing-the-human-condition department.

Seems I have a hard to pronounce name. For the record my first name has a long I; it’s MY-ka, not MEE-ka. When someone gets it wrong, I don’t hold anything against them. Afterall, how to pronounce any given name is pretty arbitrary.

But there are a few names that are easily mockable. Either a letter of two off from a word with a less favorable meaning, or a shared name with an infamous person–a few notable examples being a popular figure in the XML world and one of the current U.S. presidential candidates. I find that in these infrequent cases, an easily-mockable name can be a useful thing, since it allows me to immediately flip the bozo bit on any commentator/blogger/reporter who chooses to engage with the mockery. Without such low-hanging invective, sometimes it’s harder to tell when somebody is an idiot.

If you want to constructively criticize someone, go for it. But make sure to use founded, fact-based arguments that can stand on their own without resorting to childish attacks. Go forth and na-na-na-boo-boo no more. -m

Monday, July 28th, 2008

eRDF 1.1 Proposal Discussion

The W3C RDFa specification is now in Candidate Recommendation phase, with an explicit call for implementations (of which there are several). Momentum for RDFa is steadily building. What about eRDF, which favors the existing HTML syntax over new attributes?

There’s still a place for a simpler syntactic approach to embedding RDF in HTML, as evidenced by projects like Yahoo! SearchMonkey. And eRDF is still the only game in town when it comes to annotating RDF within HTML-without-the-X.

One thing the RDFa folks did was define src as a subject-bearing node, rather than an object. At first I didn’t like this inversion, but the more I worked with it, the more it made sense. When you have an image, which can’t have children in (X)HTML, it’s very often useful to use the src URL as the subject, with a predicate of perhaps cc:license.

So I propose one single change to eRDF 1.1. Well, actually several changes, since one thing leads to another. The first is to specify that you are using a different version of eRDF. A new profile string of:

"http://purl.org/NET/erdf11/profile"

The next is changing the meaning of a src value to be a subject, not an object. Perhaps swapping the subject and object. Many existing uses of eRDF involving src already involve properties with readily available inverses. For example:

<!-- eRDF 1.0 -->
<img class="foaf.depiction" src="http://example.org/picture" />

<!-- eRDF 1.1 -->
<img src="http://example.org/picture" class="foaf.depicts" />

With the inherent limitations of existing syntax, the use case of having a full image URL and a license URL won’t happen. But XHTML2 as well as a HTML5 proposal suggest that adding href to many attributes might come to pass. In which case this possibility opens:

<img src="http://example.org/picture" class="cc.license"
href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/" />

Comments? -m

Tuesday, July 8th, 2008

Save up to 65% on Capacitors and Resistors

Nope, not spam. You can now order electronic components from Amazon, advertised right on the front page for me. What can’t you get on Amazon? -m

Saturday, July 5th, 2008

My Horrible Realization…

The old rule: only even-numbered Star Trek movies are any good.

The new rule: only odd-numbered Indiana Jones movies are any good.

-m

Thursday, July 3rd, 2008

Yahoo! now indexes RDFa

I haven’t seen an announcement about this, but try the following query on Yahoo Search: [searchmonkeyid:com.yahoo.rdf.rdfa] (link). It shows documents containing RDFa, with Digg at the top. Since this is a Searchmonkey ID, it’s also usable in Searchmonkey to actually extract the metadata and use it to customize search results.

Does your site use RDFa yet? -m

Tuesday, June 17th, 2008

Yahoo! Mobile: outgunned and outflanked

According to Ars Technica, Google captured 61% of mobile search market share in the first four months of 2008. Yahoo! came in at a distant 18%, so pretty much reflecting desktop search market share. This is due, of course, to Google being the default provider on the iPhone, and the iPhone being the biggest bulk of mobile internet usage.

So Jerry (or whoever is on deck as CEO), you should probably look into this mobile thing and see what’s up with leadership there and whether anything is salvageable… -m

Monday, June 16th, 2008

Netflix giveth, Netflix taketh away

Here’s something I’ll bet you didn’t know. Netflix has gone on record as saying that although their Instant View library, viewable online or via the hardware Roku player, is much smaller than their DVD library, they’re working hard on closing the gap. For instance, one quote says “adding titles at light speed”. But some titles are disappearing over time.

Just today, the Leslie Neilsen flick Wrongfully Accused (the tale of the one-eyed, one-legged, one-armed man) went offline as of today. Yesterday I watched it for free online. I’d really hate to see the kinds of negotiations that must be going on in back rooms between the studios and distributors these days…

If you have an Instant View queue, check it out. Under the “Availability” column, check for dates when your selections go offline. Blank means it’s safe for the time being. -m