The Aral Sea was once the world's fourth-largest lake. Now much of it is a vast toxic desert straddling the borders of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, two former Soviet states in central Asia. Yikes!
This isn't a climate change story, it's a screwing up rivers story. With a not-so-happy ending...
News story: Microsoft skips 'too good' Windows 9, jumps to Windows 10. "Deeming Windows 9 'too good to release,' Microsoft execs shelve follow-up to Windows 8 and proceed to Windows 10." Oh wait, that wasn't a news story, it was an April Fools' story from a year ago. Oh wait ... um ...
They are taking Windows 8, re-adding all the stuff we miss from Windows 7 (it will have a Start menu again!), and naming it Windows 10. Pretty clever, they switched to base 9.
Or maybe it will be pronounced Windows two?
So eBay is splitting out PayPal after having owned it for twelve years.
Many of you have asked me what I think: I think it's great! PayPal always had a huge vision - an early slogan was "the new world currency" - and although there was definitely a fit within eBay, it always felt that restricting PayPal to "just" auction settlement was closing down on that vision. It might be too late to unlock all of the potential; the world of online payments has changed a lot in the intervening time, and it's possible PayPal could have been an even bigger player if left on its own.
Anyway it's a good thing - for both companies - and will be exciting to watch!
Peter Thiel's new book Zero to One is excellent, highly recommended. You may know, I worked for Peter for a while, back in the early days of PayPal, and he's as interesting and insightful as ever. You might enjoy this talk and Q&A he recently gave about the subjects in his book.
Some takeaway quotes:
- All happy companies are different. Most unhappy companies are the same.
- Favorite question: "Tell me something that’s true that very few people agree with".
- Or something that most people think is true that isn't.
- Courage is in far shorter supply than genius.
- If there's no competition you get a monopoly, leads to success.
Google hasn't had competition since 2002
- People who have monopolies pretend not to have them.
- Companies with monopolies talk about bigger markets.
- Companies without monopolies talk about smaller markets
- Globalization is distinct from technological progress
- Entrepreneur isn't a line item on your resume
- Start a company because it's the best way to solve a problem
- Bitcoin is flip side of PayPal
- PayPal built a payment system, wanted to create a new currency
- Bitcoin has created a new currency, wants to build a payment system
- Build friendships as you build a company
- Prehistory of a company is important: friends not just colleagues
- Business ideas: “Find someone I trust, give me a recommendation”
- Politics is broken and important
- Start a new country – make it very differentiated to others
- Business failure is like airport luggage – probability goes up until it goes to zero
- Consensus and being right doesn't get you very far
- Skeptical that there's a lot to be learned from failure
- Failure is often over determined, too many reasons to parse
- Social Network movie backfired
- Universities are just as corrupt as the Catholic church
Peter is most definitely one of a kind :)
Almost all the sci-fi spaceships you know are on this massive chart.
By all means, click to enbiggen
How many do you recognize? :)
Another busy week of coding and doing little else ... whew. Work/life balance has definitely suffered... as has blogging. Fortunately eyesFinder have hired a couple of top new engineers - more dilithium crystals, Scottie! And meanwhile:
So ... Larry Ellison has retired... from being Oracle's CEO. He's going to continue on as their CTO, so it's a sort of gradual retirement. I have to say he's most definitely a hero of mine ... an engineer who came from the bottom, founded a technical company, ran it all the way from a tiny startup to a tremendously successful tech icon, stayed involved in the technology, and made time for serious sailing along the way.
Excellent: New Skype for IOS 8 uses extensions for answering calls from the lock screen. With Skype's ability to use a data connection for voice (WiFi calling, VoLTE, etc) this could be the most important benefit of IOS 8 yet. Shows why "extensions" are so valuable - much like the entire third-party app ecosystem.
Justin Timberlake has a cold. The end of the rock star era. How interesting... the pendulum has definitely swung away from mass entertainment. (Everywhere except sports, that is, where the concentration is heavier than ever.)
Elle does an interview with Ruth Bader Ginsberg. "It makes no sense as a national policy to promote birth only among poor people." Yes! It does not.
Three reasons why New Zealand has the best designed government in the world. An interesting survey of the differences between democracies.
Congratulations to India: The Mars Orbiter Mission, called Mangalyaan, entered orbit last night.
Baidu is trying to speed up image search using FPGAs. Cool.
Brad Feld: The Rapidly Growing Chicago and LA Startup Communities. It always seems to come back to a tight relationship with local universities, and then you add a little local capital, and ... magic.
True: When a distinguished scientist says something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he says it something is impossible, he is very probably wrong - A.C.Clarke
Stephen Hawking: There is no God. "Science offers more convincing explanations for existence." Of course, this only means there need not be a God, but it seems the simplest explanations of the universe are the most valid.
JWZ: Mixtape #144. "Please enjoy" Okay, thanks, I did! (And may I say, I enjoyed the creative video editing almost as much as the music.)
John Gruber: Now batting for the Yankees, Number 2. A great story about a great end to a great career. Who knew that Derek Jeter's last game would be the only one which was meaningless?
Here we have the most spectacular buildings of 2014. I feel like some of them are just weird for weird's sake, but others are amazing.
The Burned Out Bloggers Guide to PR. Good stuff.
Finally, here's 150 adorable baby sea turtles being born. You're welcome! :)
This is 2014, and so it's possible to watch just about anything online, right? Right. It just takes a little patience ... sit down and pull up a chair, and I'll tell you a story that will curl your hair.
So I'm a cycling fan, and today the UCI World Championship road race took place in Ponferrada, Spain. Naturally, I wanted to watch it, and naturally, this important sports event is not broadcast on US network television. Eastern Carolina State vs. Northwestern Ohio, yes, Cycling World Championships, no. But I digress. (I will be doing a fair amount of digressing here, please hang in there.)
Okay, so I find the LIVE feed of this event on YouTube. Phil Liggett is commentating, this is the real deal. Yay!
Of course, if that was the end of it this wouldn't be a blog post named "advanced yak shaving", so you already know, this was not the end of it. It was just the very start. Onward.
I click play. "The uploader has not made this video available in this country." Crappo. I love this sort of bogus restriction. What does "this country" even mean in this context? It means I am using an IP address which YouTube has identified as being in the United States, and the uploader ("UCI Channel") has decided they want to sell this content in the United States, so I can't play it on YouTube. So be it.
Now just to be clear, I now face two problems. First, I want to download the YouTube video, so I can store it on my server, so I can watch it on my big TV via my Apple TV. And Second, I want to do this from an IP address which is not identified by YouTube as being in the US. Either of these problems by itself can be solved. I can download YouTube videos via Savefrom.net. And I can watch YouTube videos from Europe via Proxfree.com. Yay. (Both of these services only exist to route around YouTube. Bless them.)
But neither of these solutions work for me, because I need both of them. I can't download this video via Savefrom.net because it is also located in the US, and also faces the "not available in this country" restriction. And Proxfree.com merely enables watching, not downloading. And I can't somehow "pipeline" these together. So... what to do.
I set up a server in Ireland.
Yes of course, the obvious solution! I use Amazon web services all the time, and it is downright trivial to configure a new server. Amazon has a datacenter in Ireland, so if I setup a new server there, I can use it to download the video. Easy as pie.
So I set up a new Windows 2008 Server in Ireland (details omitted) and log in. All cool. By the way it is absolutely amazing how fast it is to RDP into a server halfway around the world. Those little electrons are pretty speedy.
Now remember I have two problems. Setting up a server in Ireland overcomes the "video not available in this country" problem, but it doesn't solve the download problem. For that I will need a browser extension.
Time to setup Chrome. Why Chrome? Well because Chrome supports HTML5 video, so this way I won't need to install Flash. And I do not want to install Flash. So I have to launch Internet Explorer to download Chrome. Now out of the box Internet Explorer is a real steaming pile, especially on a Windows Server. The default security precautions will literally keep you from doing anything useful, and disabling them is not easy. It took me about twenty five clicks and dialog boxes and warnings just to download Chrome. But yay, it was done.
Next step, I needed to install a YouTube download extension for Chrome. There are a bunch of these, just pick one, install it, and poof I'm off the races. Um, no. You see, in their infinite wisdom, Google have recently decided to make it impossible to install Chrome extensions which don't come from the Google Chrome download store. I tried a bunch of stuff like putting Chrome in Developer Mode, all to no avail. Why are they such assholes about this? Well Google own YouTube, so they want to prevent extensions which route around YouTube's restrictions such as allowing downloads. Okayyy.
Time to setup Firefox. This will mean installing Flash, because Firefox doesn't support HTML5 video, but at least Firefox won't keep me from installing a download extension. So I use Chrome to download Firefox, and then find a suitable Firefox extension to download YouTube videos, and then install Flash to access the video from Firefox so I can download it. In the process, I tell Adobe nicely that no I do not want to buy Photoshop and Lightroom together. Nice puppy though.
It was at exactly this point that I decide I had moved into the realm of advanced yak shaving, and started this blog post. Slacker cues up "Pearl Necklace" by ZZTop, and off we go.
So I restart Firefox, reload the YouTube video URL, and ... the video doesn't play! Um, what? Well ... it turns out that by default, when RDP connects to a server, it uses 16-bit color instead of 24-bit. Which is not supported by Flash. Okay Mr. Google, how do I change Terminal Server to use 24-bit? (A lot of crappy Windows config detail goes here.) Okay, fixed that.
Now I'm ready! I can play the video in Firefox, and I have a Download button. I click download and poof! The entire 2.2GB MP4 video file downloads in less than two minutes, at 30MB/s. Wow. Amazon certainly has beautiful bandwidth. So that's done, I have the video downloaded...
But it is now on a server in Ireland. How best to get a 2.2GB file from Ireland to my house? Well, the transfer needs to be fast and it needs to be recoverable. So next step is setting up FTP on the server. That's easy, right?
Yep, setting up FTP is a piece of cake. You just have to remember that under Windows, FTP is part of Web serving. Which means Internet Information Server. And to setup IIS on a server, you must add a role. (Of course, that makes sense.) A few thousand clicks later, I have an FTP server up and running. Now to connect a client and start the transfer...
Um, no. About that "connect" part. It turns out Windows Firewall is blocking everything! Aha I've been here before, and I know that configuring Windows Firewall to enable FTP serving is basically impossible, because nobody who knows all the steps is young enough actually to perform all the steps. So instead I disable Windows Firewall entirely > netsh advfirewall set allprofiles state off. Take that!
But I'm not done yet. I also have to enable FTP in the Amazon Security Group. No problem at all, I don't want to screw around here, so I enable every single TCP/IP port in both directions. Whew.
Now I can connect, but I can't yet start the transfer, because I can't yet see the file. Oh crap, Windows file permissions. Have you ever - ever - found file permissions to be useful? Me neither. And unfortunately unlike Windows Firewall, you can't disable Windows file permissions with a single command. So I screw around with this for a while, and after a few thousand clicks I have made it possible to "see" the file remotely, and I can start the transfer. Yay!
And so two hours later ... I have the file. And I can play it on my big TV via Apple TV. And I settle down to watch the UCI World Cycling Championships...
[Update: Michel Kwiatkowski wins! ... in a great race. Sure glad I had a chance to watch!]
One of the joys of blogging is rereading old posts to see where your head was at. This morning I came across this post from March 2009, the first bird:
The first bird is a cheery site for the crew of a boat because it means land is nearing, but it isn't great for the bird; likely, it has strayed too far from land and cannot make it back. There is a chance the bird cannot make it back to the land it has left, but is nearing new land ahead. I sometimes feel exactly like such a bird. I cannot turn back, it would be too far, so I must press on hoping to find new land. Onward!
I reread this while listening to and enjoying Lynyrd Skynrd's classic "Simple Man". Same as it ever was :)
Checking in after another long weekend ... (coding away over here :) ...
I had a good time today taking a few hours out to redesign this awesome iPhone 5 gear case... Made it thinner and lighter, and eliminated a seam. I really like Tinkercad, what a great tool. And how cool that it's free ... could see such a powerful tool costing $500, easily.
This looks cool: the Apple Watch box, reimagined as a charging station. I love the creativity people display in these situations... there was a lot of work that went into these awesome Photoshops.
Remember I was wondering what happened to the desktop apps? Well here's an example of the strong trend in the other direction: Wolfram Mathematica now works in your browser. Will the UI be as good as Mathematica on the desktop? I doubt it. Will it be as fast, or as responsible? Almost seems like it can't be. And yet this the trend, everything has to be cloud-hosted and available in a browser. Pretty soon we'll all be running Chrome OS because that's all we need.
Showdown at the Four Seasons. "It all started with the decision to remove a Picasso curtain." As so many showdowns do :)
Seth Godin: What everyone reads. "Everyone used to read the morning paper because everyone did. Everyone used to read the selection of the book of the month club, because everyone did. And everyone used to watch the same TV shows too. It was part of being not only informed, but in sync... Today, of course, that's awfully unlikely." Well... everyone does read my blog :)
The evolution of flying ships. Hydrofoiling is awesome!
Dave Winer: the lost art of software testing. Not entirely lost, but certainly under-emphasized. Interestingly this trend we've been talking about with desktop applications moving to the web exacerbates the under emphasis; with cloud-hosted applications it's easier to fix bugs on the fly.
SpaceX launches cargo ship to International Space Station, including its first 3D printer. Hehe, excellent. Now they can make their own iPhone 5 gear cases! :)
Grandmaster clash. "One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed." A great story about a great cast of characters. Chess is interesting if only for the personalities of the world's best players.
MG Siegler outlines The Plan to Save Radio Shack. "My plan to revive RadioShack would be to harken back to the old days with a twist of the way things currently are. I'd create an 'Apple Store for everything.'" Definitely worth a try... but curating "everything" to find great stuff is not easy.
To 6 or not to 6, that is the question. Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of new iPhone 6 fans, or to take arms against a sea of media, and by opposing stay with the more reasonably sized and perfectly capable iPhone 5S.
You are alive, so you have seen: millions of people are standing in long lines to buy a spiffy new iPhone 6. But as a contented iPhone 5S owner - who has safely upgraded to IOS 8 - what's in it for me to join them?
I have seen an iPhone 6 in person - one of our interns Carissa Kaufman spent nearly all day Friday in line, and emerged victorious with one, which I subsequently saw, held, and used - and I must tell you the size is not compelling. I've had an Amazon Fire phone for a couple of months now and it is exactly the same size, and while the larger screen is nice for reading, and the larger keyboard is nice for typing, the larger size overall is not nice for putting in my pocket and carrying around. Overall I'm happy with the 5S size. So what are the compelling features of the 6?
Well, the camera is better, everyone says so. And I believe them. And I use my phone's camera a lot. But the 5S has a great little camera, so I'm not sure the difference makes upgrading to the 6 worth it.
The 6 supports Apple Pay. That might do it for me, we'll see. It will depend a lot on which merchants adopt NFC readers; if they become ubiquitos, maybe using Apple Pay will be compelling. I am quite willing to abandon a pocket full of easily spoofed or stolen plastic cards.
The 6 has this little M8 motion processor, which means it can more accurately be used as a motion sensor than the 5S, which has an M7 processor. I use the Argus app all the time, which measures my motion, and it uses the M7 on the 5S. And it works pretty well. The possibility that it could work better is ... not that interesting.
The 6 supports WiFi calling. Well, that's nice. There are most definitely times when I'm in a building where I have WiFi but no cell signal. But I can always use Skype (it makes voice calls over WiFi), and frequently do. So I'm not sure that's compelling.
And the 6 supports VoLTE. This means, you can make a call and continue to use data over the same cell connection. AT&T customers have had this for years, but I'm a Verizon person, and its always difficult to balance making calls with using data. How often have I been on the phone in my car and wanted to use Google Maps? Still, I can always use Skype to get around this (it makes voice calls over the data connection). So I'm not sure that's compelling either.
Finally, there's the allure of having a 6. Can a techno-savvy leading-edge software engineer resist the urge to have the latest and greatest? So far, yes. Stay tuned.
This ... is awesome.
Space Shuttle Endeavor docked at the International Space Station.
Like a scene from a movie. A good one.
(click to enbiggen)
So, last night I took the plunge. I had to do it, we all will. I installed IOS 8. I didn't like IOS 7, and IOS 8 is ... slightly better. There are little bug fixes and tweaks all over the place. Best of all, most things haven't changed. So be it.
Here are the most important new features of IOS 8. The camera and the keyboard are the two things you'll notice first. Much of the other stuff is hidden. If you want to know everything, here you go. Oh, and after you install IOS 8, here are three new keyboards to try. The ability of third parties to extend IOS with various extensions might end up being the biggest feature of IOS 8, but it will take time to find that out.
So far I rate this a non-event. Whew and yay. Now I can only hope that IOS 9 will restore some of IOS 6; I miss buttons that look like buttons and sliders that look like sliders. In the meantime I'm happy that nothing seems badly broken, a low bar.
Cheers and happy IOS 8-ing!
This is a post about cycling, and an amazing athlete named Jens Voigt. Even if you don't like cycling, you'd like Jens. He's not the best cyclist ever, but he might be the most popular. He is the everyman of cycling, the hard worker who over achieves, the grown man who acts like a little boy and makes everything fun. He's best known for his trademark phrase, "shut up legs" :) He's also had an amazingly long career, which is now, finally coming to a close, at the age of 43. Think of him as the Cal Ripken of cycling.
SO Jens just recently "retired", but on his way out the door he decided maybe he'd try to break a forty-year old record, the furthest distance one man can ride in one hour. This record has a lot of history, it has been broken many times since Eddy Merckx set the "current" record in 1972, but by cyclists who were not using road-race-legal equipment. Recently the UCI have reset the record so that only attempts using road-race-legal equipment on the date of the attempt will be valid. Jens is going to attempt to break the record using a legal bike, and if he does - which is quite likely - he'll leave the sport on top, having broken its oldest record. For a lot more about Jens and the Hour record, see this article.
Jens is going to make his attempt tomorrow ... GOOD LUCK JENS! They're calling this the "shut up hour", and he's going to have to make a long sustained effort. But because he'll be using "current" road-race-legal equipment, he'll have a significant aerodynamic advantage over Eddy Merckx, and he could well do it. Just having solid disk wheels is a huge advantage. On the eve of his attempt Velonews have published everything you want to know about it, even including his planned playlist. Glad to see Metallica and AC/DC in there! And Europe's "Final Countdown" is perfect for ... the final countdown. Jens is going to be targeting an incredible 370 watts average, and if he can do it he'll most likely break the record. I for one will certainly be rooting for him... Trek have setup a special page where you can watch the attempt (11:00PT).
So, where are the desktop apps? I'm confused.
We all know, mobile app ecosystems are all the rage now. Everything has to have an Apple app and an Android app. In mobile there's a definite trend in favor of native user interfaces for speed and usability. Every website has to have mobile apps also, and any site with *only* a web interface is considered behind. Yet ... nobody feels this way about the desktop. Nothing has to have an OS X app and a Windows app. There's no trend on desktops in favor of native user interfaces, despite the fact that they have an even bigger advantage in speed and usability over web apps. No website is considered behind if they don't have a desktop interface. Weird.
Consider Facebook. On mobile platforms everyone uses their apps, not their website. But on the desktop everyone uses the web interface, they don't even have desktop apps. Same thing for Twitter. And Instagram. And LinkedIn. And Google search. And eBay. Amazon don't have a desktop app. Nor do Macy's, or Overstock, or Buy.com. Where are the mapping apps for the desktop? I challenge you to name one website which has a desktop app.
It isn't any harder to create desktop apps than mobile apps. They use the same technology, and have the same advantages in speed and usability. Late-model operating systems like OS X Snow Leopard and Win 8 have app stores for the desktop, just like iTunes and Google Play for mobile apps. But they're ghost towns. I don't get it.
I grant you that there are more mobile devices than desktops, and the mobile market is growing faster. But the Windows and Mac desktop user communities are by no means negligible. Furthermore people are more willing to invest in apps on desktops than they are on mobile. Compare the prices of Microsoft Office or Adobe Creative Suite on the desktop against their mobile brethren. So in addition to user experience, websites are leaving money on the table.
When I look at the mobile apps I use most often, for each there is a corresponding website which I use on my desktop. And in each case a native app would improve the user experience. Facebook. LinkedIn. Yelp. Twitter. Strava. OpenTable. Etc etc etc. Yet none of these companies have or are working on desktop apps.
What's even stranger? Most of these websites have APIs, so third-party developers could jump in to fill the void by creating third-party desktop apps. But these are rare. TweetDeck is the only one that even comes to mind. Not only has the opportunity of creating desktop apps eluded websites, it has escaped independent developers also.
It's confusing. Where are the desktop apps?
Fairly recent posts:
For older posts please visit the archive.
Correlation vs. Causality
The Tyranny of Email
Aperio's Mission = Automating Pathology
Try, or Try Not
Books and Wine
God and Beauty
Moving Mount Fuji
Rock 'n Roll
IQ and Populations
Are You a Bright?
The Joy of Craftsmanship
The Emperor's New Code
The Return of the King
Religion vs IQ
In the Wet
the big day
solving bongard problems
the nuclear option
On the Persistence of Bad Design...
Texas chili cookoff
the inflection point
almost famous design and stochastic debugging
may I take your order?
New Yorker covers
Death Rider! (da da dum)
how did I get here (Mt.Whitney)?
the Law of Significance
Daniel Jacoby's photographs
in praise of paddle shifting
the first bird
Gödel Escher Bach: Birthday Cantatatata
shining a light
Father's Day (in pictures)
your cat for my car
discovering the third quadrant
Jobsnotes of note
world population map
no joy in Baker