Barnes and Noble (@BNBuzz), can’t you at least try?

5 people in line waiting to pay at Barnes & Noble Bellevue vs 1 chatty cashier. 1 Nooklehead standing over at the Nook stand doing nothing while we are all trying to give the store money.

I finally called the store and asked whoever answered to come up front and help, they said they were busy with a customer. When it was finally my turn the clerk spent 1 minute on the script trying to get me to sign up for their loyalty card — not understanding that the last thing I want to do is buy more books here.

So many things wrong here. As a start, give the idle Nook dude a square reader and let him do check outs on the Nook. Giving him something to do, a chance for me to handle a Nook, and completing my transaction more speedily.

Hey I’m now a member of the (github) mile-high club!

cloudsDid my first git push while in-flight! Awesome. Doesn’t feel dirty at all!

Resisting temptation for lame cloud computing joke.

UPDATE: not surprisingly, I am also now a member of the mile-high “broke the build” club!! Along with the mile-high “you stupid jerk, now fix it” club.

Recent Books — Burning Paradise, Submergence, Reacher, This Town, S

sbook

  • Burning Paradise by Robert Charles Wilson. YA pre-apocalyptic alternative history. Fun premise: a somewhat-intelligent organism has pervasively and surreptitiously infected the earth’s biosphere for hidden purposes, but some humans have started to trip to the fact. So fun but characters weak.
  • Submergence by J. M. Ledgard. Moody tale about a spy and scientist submerged in their respective worlds, submerged in very different ways, trying to come out of their worlds and build a relationship. Not sure how I feel about, I think I’d have to be in just the right mood to like this book.
  • Never Go Back by Lee Child. Another great Reacher book, stronger than some, we see inside Reacher a little more as he grapples with the possibility that he is a father. We need more of this in the Reacher series.
  • This Town by Mark Leibovich. Inside look at Washington DC. The author knows it is a cesspool, and writes appropriately cynically, but it comes across even worse than he thinks. and he is pretty open about what a self-dealing cesspool it is. So, read this if you feel like stocking up on cynicism.
  • S. by J. J. Abrams and Doug Dorst. Well. This book is flawed, the story wavers, it is a pain in the ass to read, there is no way to buy a convenient electronic form because of the physical complexity of the book. And those are all the reasons why I like it as well — ambiguity, confusion, excellent use of physical media, etc. If you wonder how physical books can survive the onslaught of e-books, this is a great book to read and think about.

Microsoft needs to get out in front of the developer parade

David Sobeski has a great writeup on facebook covering Microsoft’s methodical destruction of developer trust over the last 15 years:

I am relearning how to be a software developer after many years away and it is notable that, not only am I not using any Microsoft technologies or tools, nothing from Microsoft even entered the consideration set as I selected targets, libs, tools, etc.

Rehashing all the missteps is entertaining, David does a great job of that, I never tracked all this stuff and many of the acronyms and decisions around them are lost in the fog of history. For whatever reason, Microsoft is at the nadir of its developer influence.

If I was the new CEO at Microsoft, fixing this would be job 1, and I wouldn’t be timid. I would have a 6 month plan to make Microsoft relevant to every developer. And there is no way to do that without buying a bunch of assets to get out in front of the existing parades. I’d buy Github or Atlassian. Stackoverflow. I’d buy or embrace a Linux dist — CentOS maybe, or screw it, just buy RedHat. I’d jump into the vagrant/docker world and buy a position in that space. I’d buy modern leading noSQL and Hadoop distributions. Xamarin as a tool. And 10 more things. At the end of this, Microsoft would be in the conversation with every developer on the planet. OK it would be a chocolate mess of technology assets, but read David’s write up — Microsoft has a chocolate mess of assets now, without any developer relevance.

I wouldn’t worry at all in the first 3 years about cleaning all this up and rationalizing it. I’d run the teams separately, I’d encourage them all to go go go, and I’d create organic opportunities for them to talk and discuss collaboration, without forcing it. Relevance as measured by developer use, and speed of evolution would be my top criteria. Every developer who is not using a Microsoft tool or runtime would be viewed as a failure. Internally I’d direct the Visual Studio team to become the tool for every developer, regardless of what platform they are targeting — iOS, Android, AWS, whatever. Rationalization could come later if at all.

This strategy will create confusion, overlaps, duplications, conflicts, and chaos — but dammit, Microsoft will be relevant again. Relevance will make up for a lot of sins.

Best board games of the holiday season

We always go on a bit of a board game binge over the holidays. We played some holdovers from past years — Settlers of Catan, Seven Wonders. I got an awesome bamboo catanboard for Catan, that was a great gift. And we got the Cities and Leaders expansions which added additional layers to this game. 7 wonders is a typical resource accumulate, barter, and build game, with a ton of strategic options.

triassicAnd then we tried a bunch of new games, the ones that passed the bar:

  • Triassic Terror. The great thing about this game is that we all finished within a couple points of each other, and the outcome was in doubt throughout the game. I have a lot of admiration for a game design that keeps everyone engaged and excited, the designer clearly thought hard about scoring mechanisms. Makes me think a lot about how to design games — if I were designing a game, I’d ignore the genre and backstory and visuals to start, and just get the mechanics and scoring system down, with a goal towards keeping everyone in the game. Only after I had nailed that would I start to overlay the story and visuals. I’ve bought a lot of games that had a great look or great theme, but fell apart completely as a game.
  • The Phantom Society. A very different game of ghosts and ghost hunters. Super simple game setup and game play so you can bring in people who don’t love the complexity of games like Seven Wonders, but you can seriously overbrain this game.
  • Renaissance Man. This game was good but not great. A lot of richness at the beginning of the game, but towards the end the paths all kind of peter out and the game gets a little constrained. But we played it several times and didn’t give up on.

We had some failures too but I won’t dwell on those…hope your holidays were good!

Our package is visiting all of central Washington

UPS facilities must be absolute zoos at this time of year. The status for one of our packages below. Here’s hoping it doesn’t loop again at Redmond.

  • December 18, 2013, 5:44 am, Redmond WA US Out for delivery
  • December 18, 2013, 5:29 am, Redmond WA US Package arrived at a carrier facility
  • December 18, 2013, 3:55 am, Pacific WA US Package has left the carrier facility
  • December 18, 2013, 3:29 am, Pacific WA US Package arrived at a carrier facility
  • December 18, 2013, 12:23 am, Moses Lake WA US Package has left the carrier facility
  • December 17, 2013, 11:30 pm, Moses Lake WA US Package arrived at a carrier facility
  • December 17, 2013, 9:46 pm, Kennewick WA US Package has left the carrier facility
  • December 17, 2013, 9:06 pm, Kennewick WA US Package arrived at a carrier facility
  • December 17, 2013, 8:01 pm, Walla Walla WA US Package has left the carrier facility
  • December 17, 2013, 7:15 pm, Walla Walla WA US Package arrived at a carrier facility
  • December 17, 2013, 11:06 am, Walla Walla WA US Possible delay in delivery due to arrival at incorrect carrier facility
  • December 17, 2013, 11:06 am, Walla Walla WA US Possible delay in delivery due to arrival at incorrect carrier facility
  • December 16, 2013, 8:45 pm, Redmond WA US Package arrived at a carrier facility
  • December 16, 2013, 8:15 pm, Seattle WA US Package has left the carrier facility
  • December 16, 2013, 5:55 pm, Seattle WA US Package arrived at a carrier facility
  • December 16, 2013, 3:55 pm, Louisville KY US Package has left the carrier facility
  • December 16, 2013, 1:33 pm, Louisville KY US Package received by carrier
  • December 15, 2013, 6:18 pm, US Package has left seller facility and is in transit to carrier

Recent Books — Vanished Kingdoms, Testament of Mary, Prince of Risk

  • The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin. Very moving tale of the last days of Jesus, written from the viewpoint of his mother. Great capturing of the anguish of a mother losing a son in terrible fashion.
  • Vanished Kingdoms by Norman Davies. Thorough discussion of 17 kingdoms/empires/states that have disappeared from the world. Not Rome or Sparta, but lesser known examples, that probably all thought they would last forever. Humbling but a bit of a slog.
  • The Prince of Risk by Christopher Reich. After the prior book needed some mental floss. Reich writes a solid suspense tail. A fine distraction.

What exactly are people searching for when they search for “Bud Light”?

From Twitter, apparently Bud Light is the 2nd most popular search on Google for a beer brand:


I’m scratching my head, what exactly do people need to find out about Bud Light? I have nothing against Bud Light. It is ubiquitously available and ubiquitously advertised. Certainly people aren’t having problems finding the product at Retail. Certainly there is no mystery about what it is. I just can’t figure out what people are thinking when they decide to turn to Google to learn more about Bud Light.

Diving into webgl — man is this stuff fun!

webglPlaying with shadertoy, threejs, kineticjs, chrome experiments. I can feel my macbook heat up and i can watch the battery drain! Pretty stunning what you can do with webgl.

I am trying to figure out the best practice for integrating webgl with a webpage, in particular text. Overlay of CSS/HTML on a webgl element? Stuffing the text right into the webgl? Does the next version of webgl change anything? What lib to use on top of wegbl to make this easier?

Historical aside — what a huge missed opportunity for Microsoft, read for instance Alex St John’s story of the early days of really expressive content on the web. Microsoft had a browser code-named Chrome in the 90s that had the idea of webgl built into it. Sadly internal machinations killed it — political infighting about ownership of graphics leadership within the company, and a lack of vision in senior management — not enough people were excited about the idea of a browser and web content that brought a PC to its knees, failing to understand that thanks to Moore’s Law, this problem would go away within a short time.

NBC, don’t screw this up by making better TV musicals

Apparently the live Sound of Music was hugely popular:

NBC’s gamble of filling an entire night with live musical theater paid off handsomely on Thursday as “The Sound of Music,” with Carrie Underwood in the Julie Andrews role of Maria, posted the network’s best entertainment ratings for a Thursday night since 2009.

And so we are going to get a lot more of these apparently:

…this gamble — live theater on network television, a throwback to earlier eras of the medium and events like “Peter Pan” and “Cinderella” — paid off so well it is almost a certainty that the network will be looking for other musicals to mount live around holidays.

We turned it on and left it on for a while and were stunned at just how bad the show was. We found ourselves asking “How did this get on the air?”, “They must have known it was awful, didn’t they?”. And apparently we weren’t alone, as twitter was alive with hate-watchers, and the critics dumped on the show.

So, NBC, don’t screw this up by doing more of these with bigger budgets, more rehearsals, better actors. That is not why we watched. We watched for the same reason we read about Lindsay Lohan, the reason we watch Jerry Springer and New Jersey Housewives. We love watching carnage unfold before our eyes in slow motion.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/seattlemunicipalarchives/My advice — rehearse less. Have Taylor Swift sing live, maybe in some more duets with Stevie Nicks. Hire unstable people — Amanda Bynes and Alec Baldwin seem perfect for the next one. Intentionally antagonize your stars. Inject some randomness into the live performance — have part of the set collapse mid-scene. Liberally stock the backstage area with alcohol. Surprise one of the stars with a cameo from a recent ex.

I’ll watch the next one if I know there is a chance someone will walk offstage in a huff, or go in a rampage live and light part of the set on fire.

Giving up for now on Google Two Factor Auth

I love the idea of two factor auth, and I think Google has generally done a good job on it, they have certainly tried to make it easy to use .

But the collision of iOS/OSX and Google TFA is just killing me. The problem probably lies in the Apple products — when you configure a machine to do imap email PLUS smtp send PLUS calendar sync PLUS address book sync, it is just broken. The application specific password provided by google has to get squirreled away by all these apps and it doesn’t appear to work, I consistently have problems keeping SMTP send working. I’ve tried recreating the application specific password multiple times and I always end up broken somehow.

Google is not without fault tho. I have two google-hosted accounts I use regularly — a gmail.com account and my theludwigs.com account. When I try to configure the security settings, the Google web pages get super confused about which account I am in. I’ll try to set the security settings for the theludwigs.com account and I get the page for the gmail account.

So for now I am giving up.

It’s Michigan Week! F%^k Michigan!

http://www.flickr.com/photos/kevindean/

“Great college football rivalries engage the healthy, activate the disturbed, fascinate the thoughtful, amaze the detached, mystify the rational, horrify the scholarly, encourage the immature, enrich the greedy, and terrify the faint of heart,”

– Bill Curry, via Mark Schlabach on ESPN.

Personally I am happy to let my immature and disturbed sides out this week! Michigan football has been sad this year and here is hoping that the sadness continues!

My two earliest vivid memories of the rivalry:

  • Going to the game in Ann Arbor with the family in the early 70s. We had seats in the student section. Some drunk Michigan student next to me kept pushing into my seat and spilling wine on me. We brought a large helium balloon to the game with OSU signage on it, and someone shot it.
  • Driving home from the ’73 tie game, and hearing the announcement that OSU was going to the Rose Bowl, experiencing the double joy of knowing that OSU was going bowling, and Michigan was not. All the cars with Ohio plates on the highway started honking horns and waving, it was a mobile celebration.

My Android experiment is over, back to the iPhone

3 months in and I am done in by hardware failure — I dropped the LG G2, not very much of a drop, and got a nice transverse screen crack that completely disabled touch detection. The device is basically useless. Faced with a need to upgrade, I reverted back to iOS-land and got an iphone 5s.

my net impressions on my return:

  • Again, if an Android phone is your first smartphone, you will be happy. Nice big screen, good battery life, lots of apps.
  • The iphone screen seems positively puny now and I really wish the iphone was a little bigger. and the battery is correspondingly smaller, pretty sure I will struggle with battery life again. I would be a fan of a bigger iphone.
  • however I have dropped iphones a kajillion times, and they have come away with a lot of corner dings but nothing worse. one drop of my lg and it is trash. :(
  • the wideopen nature of android is appealing and I really liked getting widgetized content right on the screen. however the android community is not using this wideopen nature to best effect — the oems and carriers jam all kinds of redundant garbage on the phone, and the launchers and customizing apps can leave your phone a mess, as can app installs.
  • the iphone homescreen and shell seems old and static by comparison.
  • software fit and finish on the iphone is just SO much better. better touch detection. higher typing accuracy. nicer looking dialogs. fewer clicks to do almost everything.
  • and of course the iphone retail experience at an apple store is 10000x better than buying android at retail. I was in and out of apple store in 5 minutes despite a huge crowd. I did go to the att store first to look at possibly an android replacement and despite a much smaller crowd, had to wait 20 minutes. the att staff (or customers) insist on walking through activation there, and of course the att reps also insist on explaining the fractal set of voice/data plans that att offers. the rep tried to convince me that my best option was to add a second line to my account for $30 more a month, so for just a minimum $720 2 year total commitment they would give me some device for free! That sounds great! Give me the undercoating too!

basically my advice is — if you can afford an iphone, you will probably be happier in the long run. tho the android experience is still a good experience.

My last goofy hardware purchase of the week — StickNFind

So I bought a 4-pack of StickNFind BLE stickers. I’m not quite sure why. My hope was I guess that you could use these things for very fine-grained local resolution. Like maybe you could stick them onto game tokens and be able to track game tokens around a board.

Well, not happening. The spatial resolution of these things is pretty gross. At best you can say “hey something is within 5 feet of me”. And there is great variation across stickers. For instance if you line them up at distances of 1, 2, 3, and 4 feet from your phone, you will detect them all, but the apparent ordering of them per the phone will not correlate to their physical distance at all. Not sure why — differences in battery strength, in sticker orientation, in phone orientation, or in manufacturing? Whatever, not happening.

Overall packaging was good, easy to get these started, the app is fine tho they need to take some of the anti-skeumorphic vaccine that is going around. No complaints about quality or ease of use, but these are just very limited devices. I’m honestly not sure what I will do with them. The examples on the box don’t compel me:

  • find your keys, phone, remote. OK the phone one is stupid since i need the phone app to find the phone. The remote, maybe, but this just isn’t that exciting. My keys are always in my pocket.
  • find your wallet, purse, briefcase. The few times I have misplaced my wallet at a store, I have wished that I had some magic solution, but this wouldn’t help, since my problem is not “my wallet is someplace 30 feet around me” but is “my wallet is at one of N distant stores I visited”.
  • find your pets? We are dog people and our dog is overly needy, no problem finding the dog.
  • find your tablets and tools and toys and cameras. Again not a huge problem
  • find your kids. We’ve aged out of that problem. Well we may still have the problem but again it is “where in some distant city is my child”, not “is my child within 100 ft of here”

It would be nice maybe if I could put these on some super valuable things in the house and automatically be alerted if they move. I’m not sure what those things are tho.

Maybe I will put them in my cars and quit worrying about remembering where I park.

I got me some Noontang!

Today is the day for offbeat hardware tinkering.

NTR_Android_02OK I had to order this for the name alone. I mean, who doesn’t want noontang?

The experience is psychotic. The packaging is super nice actually, very simple, clean looking box, looks like it belongs in an Apple store. Then you read the manual which is a classic mistranslation to English from Korean. I can’t really complain, because if you asked me to translate English to any other language, I would fail horribly, but still.

The hardware is sleek — nice brushed aluminum, seems super solid, nice strap, really very high quality.

You have to download the Noontang app to your phone — more noontang, hurray! And then download the noontang remote pc server for your mac or pc — even more noontang! Actually finding this was tricky since the company’s website is at www.mediacanvas.net and is 100% Korean. And then download was super slow — I thought Korea had great broadband? Oh of course the Mac app isn’t signed as a known developer so you have to go through the normal hoops to install it.

So next you plug your noontang into your phone audio jack. And fire up the noontang app.

The Noontang phone app is pretty clean. The opening screen lets you connect to the pc. I have no idea if this worked, there is no obvious feedback. In theory then you can advance PPT slides on your PC by a gesture on the phone app but this never seemed to work. And I couldn’t seem to enter a password on either the Mac or the phone, or maybe I did and there is no feedback. No idea.

The other feature then is you can hit the phone app button and the noontang laser lights up so it is a laser pointer. Without a battery as it derives power from the phone. Apparently this works by just getting audio over the phone jack, there are some warnings about not trying to use headphones when the app is running, because it will send laser-generating frequencies and intensities into your ears and melt your brain. Or something.

So anyway, the Noontang. I’ll rent out my Noontang if you want to try my Noontang.

The Sony QX-10 is intriguing

The reviews of this thing have been pretty tepid. And if you review this thing as a competitor to a point and shoot, the reviews are right — this is a pretty funky/bad point and shoot. Clumsy to handle, poor UI, hooking this onto your phone feels downright clumsy and bizarre.

But the concept is super intriguing, though not as a point and shoot replacement. But the ability to mount the lens in one location and control from another is very cool. There are scenarios where I would love this. GoPro scenarios. Events. I have to noodle on.

One thing they have to fix is the horrible custom SSID thing. That is just terrible. Because it means my iPad or iPhone can’t simultaneously connect over wifi to the internet. It should either connect over bluetooth or use an available wifi network.

Recent books — Patti Smith, Evans/Agee

patti smith just kids cover

  • Just Kids by Patti Smith. I’m a rationalist, and I have the faulty assumption that most people think like me. This is a very well written memoir by someone who has a very different worldview, the view of an artist. Not only does the author have different opinions than I do, but she processes the world completely differently, and even perceives the world differently. Really makes me appreciate the breadth of humanity, there are very different ways of experiencing life.
  • Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by Walker Evans and James Agee. A lyrical dive into the lives of poor sharecroppers in the early part of the 20th century. It is hard to imagine how this ever got published the first time around, since the book is very antagonistic to the industry and sponsors who brought it to life. This book is unlike most things you’ve read, a good thing.

Lovely schadenfreude, Michigan makes today’s OSU win even better!

Hey, it was a great day already watching OSU walk all over Purdue and avoid a stumble. The defense was great, the offense was great, that little ad-hoc flip pass that Braxton threw for a td was glorious.

And then Michigan just put the cherry on the top. You can glory in all the hair-pulling and teeth-gnashing over at mgoblog, but the highlight has to be Michigan’s all time rushing yardage low of -48 yards. That kind of futility doesn’t come easy, you have to really work at it.

Healthcare.gov should be open source now

@bfeld posted an interesting article suggesting that Healthcare.gov should have used WordPress as some state sites did. I don’t have a strong opinion on whether WordPress would have been appropriate, but I do love the call in the article to opensource the entire healthcare.gov project, advanced by a number of people including Fred Wilson.

The Healthcare.gov developers site claims that the source will be available but the link to the github project is dead.

The source should go public now. A), it would attract an incredible number of eyes that would be able to highlight the problems both known and unknown. B) it would attract the best and brightest eyes, better than the government can apply in a “tech surge”. C) there are undoubtedly a number of terrible security and privacy bugs in the code, as there are in any large software project, and they would get highlighted and fixed.

And D), the citizens own this code and it should be available to all of us, because we paid for it.

I’d like to see the states go public with their code as well, especially states like Washington where the exchange is working, everyone could benefit from seeing what works.

There is no reason whatsoever to not do this immediately.

UPDATE: there is already a whitehouse.gov petition at http://wh.gov/lD8bf, go sign it!

I’m not sure free productivity software is such a great thing

msworks2006So now Apple has made OS upgrades free, and more importantly, has made productivity software free. A grab bag of thoughts, none of this is fully formed into a thesis.

  • Of course none of this is really free, it is buried in the price of your device. Just as Windows prices are generally paid by OEMs. I’m not sure the “free OS upgrade” is remarkable or transformational.
  • Free productivity apps are more interesting, maybe. Lots of discussion about how this is a “shot across the bow” at Microsoft, despite the fact that Microsoft already made this move with the Surface. But it isn’t much of a shot across the bow. One, the iWork apps aren’t that great. I’ve never used Pages for more than a second because I don’t write memos or papers so I am not sure what it is for. Numbers feels clumsy on iOS and is incomprehensibly different from XL on OSX. Keynote is the best but has horrible interop with Powerpoint. If you are a Keynote-only user and never have to deal with an inbound PPT presentation, it is OK, but that is a pretty small corner of the market. So I’m not convinced any of this is going to affect Microsoft in the slightest.
  • It will be interesting to see how Apple organizationally deals with free software. Already one gets the sense that working on OSX and iWork are not the cool things to be doing inside of Apple. Now OSX and iWork are just cost centers. That is a tough position inside an organization. When teams start to squabble about resources and priorities, a non-revenue cost center doesn’t have a lot of pull, it tends to become a backwater in an organization. Money and talent flows elsewhere.
  • We used the phrase “market discipline” inside of Microsoft, I think Paul Maritz was the genesis of this phrase. Setting a price on your product, and having to actually close sales with customers, creates great market feedback and market discipline. It is relatively easy to know if you are making customers happy. You get tons of feedback from customers when something they paid for is not working to their expectations. With iWork in particular, where will the market discipline come from? Already these apps are not best of breed, how are they going to get there?
  • For years, Microsoft had a cheap productivity suite available, Works. It was generally sold to PC OEMs and was free to users. It was a fine product. It was positioned as being good enough for home and student users, whereas business professionals would want to pay for Office. Guess how many people want to think of themselves as “not professional, I don’t need Office”?

UPDATE: I’ve had some great conversations with people about this post. David Sobeski raises some great points, in particular the importance of making updates free and automatic, anything less is a disservice to customers and a nightmare to manage. Mike Conte and @Natbro both raise the point that sometimes a cost center can be correctly managed and feel empowered, Mike raises the example of the Audi transmission team who feel like they are part of a winning team. All great points and food for thought.