Sunday, July 29, 2012

Valve calls Windows 8 "a catastrophe"

Valve's co-founder last week called Windows a "a catastrophe for everyone in the PC space" while speaking at a gamer's conference in Seattle, WA. Gabe Newell said that he thinks the market is going to lose some OEMs, and that "margins are going to be destroyed for a bunch of people." The full interview is located here at VentureBeat.

And Valve is not the only company worried about Windows becoming a closed platform. Shortly after Newell's statements, a Blizzard executive chimed in on Twitter to show his support. Both companies are rumored to to be hedging their PC bets with Linux development.

My own thoughts on this are mixed. I've been a Microsoft developer since the day the original IBM PC was released with the first version of DOS. I have been there for every major Microsoft milestone since, and if it's true that Windows is going to become a closed platform, then I might just jump ship to Linux myself.

Many folks don't realize that it was the openness of the Operating System as well as the hardware which helped spark the computer revolution. Since day one, Windows has been mostly documented and mostly open. As a developer I can build and deploy whatever the heck I want to, without asking permission from Redmond. People have built millions of Windows applications: some good, some bad, and virtually all of them free from interference by Microsoft.

Does Windows 8 signal the end of a corporate culture of openness by Microsoft? Is it going to be as hated as Vista?

Friday, July 27, 2012

Google Rolls Out 1 Gbps Fiber - 5 Mbps service for free!

Google announced yesterday their 1 Gbps fiber roll out to Kansas City, MO and Kansas City, KS. Residents are encouraged to pre-register for the service and rally their neighborhoods to action. Pre-registration costs $10 and at the end of the September 9th registration period, the neighborhoods with the highest participation will be rolled out first. Nice. I wished I lived there.

The most surprising bit of news to me was that the lowest tier of service, 5 Mbps is free! Now, the catch is that the free service comes with a $300 installation fee, which is waived for the other tiers. Either way, it's sure nice to see some innovation in the broadband space.

From the Google Fiber blog:
The rally lasts for six weeks and ends on September 9. When you participate, not only will you help bring Google Fiber to your home, you’ll also help bring it to your community—if your fiberhood reaches its pre-registration goal, we’ll also connect community buildings like schools, libraries and hospitals with free Gigabit Internet.

Maybe now there will finally be some competition instead of the few incumbents we have now in most markets. Any company with the slogan of "don't be evil" is a company that I would like to buy Internet service from.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Google Sites, Apps, Blogs and Docs: Drink the Kool-Aid

It's very empowering to run your own web servers and host your own web sites on your own Internet connection. There's something to be said about having complete control over what your company does with the Internet.

But this power and flexibility comes with a heavy price in both hardware and labor, not to mention the added risk of getting hacked and losing or leaking value customer data. Servers have to be maintained and protected from malicious individuals. Data has to be backed up and those backups have to be maintained and secured.

I've spent the last decade not only building software, but fretting over my Web servers. Making sure the operating system is patched. Dealing with hardware failures. Dealing with software failures. Dealing with security. It's something I gladly do, but for the average, static web site or blog, it's complete overkill. It's a waste, even if you can afford it. It's also no fun being called at 3:00 AM when a hard drive fails.

Google Services


There are all these great Google services available to companies and individuals who wish to have a presence on the web. The best part is that almost all of it is free. Create your company web site, start a blog, share documents with co-workers - all free. But that's not the best part. You get Google's world class infrastructure, which you couldn't buy at any price. Google doesn't crash. They don't lose your data. No amount of web traffic can take Google down. If you make that once in a lifetime viral post, Google laughs at your puny one million page hits.

Pros:
  • Better suited to static content
  • Free hosting of your site or blog
  • You get Google's robust architecture 
  • Point and click content creation
  • Built in email
  • Built in document sharing
  • Large development community
  • Lots of third party "gadgets" and other cool stuff

Cons:
  • Not well suited for dynamic, interactive sites
  • Not well suited for data-driven sites
  • The design tools are crude at best
  • You are bound by Google's strict terms of service
  • Any of their services could change at any time, for any reason
  • They could take your web site down at any time, for any reason

Blogger


Google came late to the party for blogging, but they've done it right in my opinion. In fact, they've probably given more love and attention to Blogs than they have to Sites. This blog is a Google blog, and so far it's been great to work with. 

What I like best about blogger is that it's designed let authors do what they do best, which is focus on content creation. The tools are a little clunky, but there's such a great community that it's almost always easy to find a work-around to whatever issues I run into.

Sites


Google Sites lets you create a web site hosted for free by Google. Just like for Blogger, it all runs on their infrastructure, and they don't charge you a dime for it. But the design tools and templates are limited, and there are other limitations, such what kind of content you are allowed to post. 

Using Sites for your web site is ideal if you have a simple, static, work-friendly web site. For most individuals and some small companies, Sites is more than sufficient, and it's where I run my consulting site, NorthWeb Technologies. It's ideal for me because even though I run my own web servers and have access to cheap hosting, this is still less of a hassle. 

Drive (formerly known as Docs)


Google Drive lets you store your data in the cloud, and share that data with friends and co-workers.  In my mind, it's one of those "glue" services that ties some of the other services together. Honestly, I'm not a big fan of storing mission-critical data in the cloud, but if I trust another company to keep my data safe, that company is probably Google. 

One really neat feature of this service is the ability to take form data and plug it into a spreadsheet. For example, I have a contact form on my web site that lets you put in a name, email and message. Each user that makes an entry creates a new row in the spreadsheet. Then I can look at the spreadsheet at my leisure, and see the feedback people are sending me to the site. But it will work with any form data.

Apps


Google Apps is ideal if you've already been drinking the Google Kool-Aid. For a small monthly fee, you got to use their infrastructure for business collaboration as well. Most of the services you with Apps are already free, but you get more of those services. More capacity for Drive, more emails, files - they basically take the limitations off the already-free services.




Other

Most of Google's flagship services are already used by most people. It's hard to make it through the day without running into services like their search engine or YouTube. Google Maps, Earth and Translate and Gmail are already part of our culture. It still amazes me when I end up at a foreign website and when I press Translate, the screen turns from Chinese into something that looks like it was designed and built in English.

I have recently started using the Reader to keep track of all the news and blogs I read. Some of their services like Wallet and their Toolbar don't interest me in the slightest. But for the most part, I've been drinking Google flavored Kool-Aid for a while now. 

Conclusions


Certainly these services will never put me out of business as a web developer. Different people and organizations have different needs. Most people want a web based solution closely tailored to those needs, and because of that, there's never going to be a cookie cutter solution that fits everything.

But for those with basic needs from a web site or blog, and who are willing to give up functionality for letting Google do the heavy lifting, these services are first rate. But the tools are a little clumsy, and Google isn't the only game in town, so I hope they step up their game and make these services more flexible and easier to use and integrate. 

For now, these Google services are a tool in my development toolbox.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Join The Internet Defense League!

A funny thing happened when they tried to slide in SOPA under the radar. The Internet caught wind of it and the nerds rose up! To this day, the government and especially the entertainment industry doesn't understand what happened. They actually believed that a couple tech companies like Google and Wikipedia hoodwinked every nerd on earth. They think we were misinformed.

The real truth is that overnight, we nerds became a force to be reckoned with. So it is therefore vital that we hold onto this new found power, or we will lose it just as fast as we won it.

The same corporate interests which tried to slide SOPA past us haven't given up. In fact, they are even more determined. They took SOPA personally, and now the gloves are off. For now, the battle is won, but we must stay vigilant. The same people behind SOPA think they can wait until this ruckus dies down, then they'll try the same thing again with another bad piece of legislation or treaty.

To that end, a smart group of folks have come up with the Internet Defense League. When it's time for the nerds to rise up and fight, they will send out a "cat signal" that every member site can broadcast to its members. Personally, I think it's brilliant, and I have signed up as a member. When the "signal goes up", this site will broadcast a message specific to the Internet campaign.

Nerd Jargon is proud to be a member.


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Why Everyone Should Have Amazon Prime

Nerds like to shop online. Whatever mundane, eclectic or freaky stuff your into, it's for sale online. The whole world is at your shopping fingertips, conveniently sorted by price, review score, or "best match", whatever the heck that is. And for those whose shopping kung fu is strong, the best price on any item is usually online, though not always. Usually, though.

One of the ways we get the best price is by shopping Amazon.com. They use computer algorithms to decide what to price their items at, and usually their algorithm undercuts pretty much everyone. I wouldn't want to compete against them as a company, but as a consumer, they are awesome to deal with. If they are not the best price on something, I can be assured that they are at least close.

Amazon Prime

http://www.amazon.com/gp/prime

When my wife first told me about this last year, it seemed like a horrible deal. 80 bucks a year just to save on shipping? It didn't seem like a good use of that money. And a clever nerd can often score free shipping just by hitting the right sales at the right sites. But she talked me into it, and we bought a Prime account.

Not Just Free Shipping


It's not only free shipping, it's free 2 day air shipping. And for $3.99 you can upgrade any order to next day air.

Before we got Prime, I thought that the only real benefit to us was going to be free shipping. Over the holidays, I had bought a bunch of stuff with all my Amazon gift cards. Most of my orders were over $25, so I got free shipping, which I just automatically figured was the same thing my wife had bought. Seemed like it was just a matter of keeping all my orders above $25, right?

Nope, most of my orders were taking up to 2 weeks to arrive, where my wife was getting hers in a few days. The quality of the shipping was clearly better. She was placing an order over the weekend and in some cases getting it delivered on a Monday. I was placing my order over the weekend and wondering if I was going to die of old age waiting for it.

No Minimum Order


This took a while to completely sink in. I'm a decently paid nerd. Coming up with $25 worth of stuff to buy so I could get the free shipping wasn't a big deal. But I found myself ordering fluff items to put me over. I have no proof, but I suspect part of their pricing algorithm is to maximize the fluff you have to buy to get the free shipping.

But then it hit me. It's almost the same as going to a local store. I can buy something for 99 cents and have it be here in a couple days. Was it something I liked? Yep, I buy a couple more for $1.98 and they are here in a couple days as well.

Share With Family


Amazon allows you to share your Prime account with up to 4 close family members. I always knew that they let you share Kindle books, but this is seriously awesome. If you have a flock of nerds (gaggle?) all shopping online, then they can sniff out your Prime account at 100 paces. But there's no need to put all their orders through you - now you can share!

Other Perks


There's other perks, some of which we use. They have a streaming service that presumably competes with Netflix. They also offer deals on Kindle books. The wife loves her Kindle Fire, and I know that she gets the full benefits. I am currently using a Netbook as a reader, but I appreciate that Amazon is stacking up value when they could have just stopped at the shipping benefits. Prime is 80 bucks well spent.

Conclusions


Prime has changed the way we buy almost everything. Items we wouldn't have considered buying online we now get through Amazon. Plus, it's really cool to know I'm getting next day air delivery on a pair of socks.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

How The Internet Is Changing The Way We Cook

Introduction


We made this no-knead bread from scratch on our first attempt!
The Internet is changing the way that nerds cook. From engineered bagels to no-knead bread, to massive recipe databases and cooking web sites, technology is shaking up the culinary world. It was inevitable, really. Technology is great at capturing, storing and manipulating data points. And what exactly is a recipe? Yep, it's a collection of data points, usually arrived at with lots of testing and experimentation. Sounds nerdy to me!

A day in the life


We have a decently large household. Cooking is a big deal in our house. A good portion of our time and family budget are devoted to it. And besides, we enjoy cooking. So, our skill in the kitchen is something that we are always looking to improve upon. With a little effort, we can buy better, fresher ingredients for less money. We can cut down the meal prep time, and find ways to make the same great food in less time. We can make better use of leftovers. The Internet helps us with all of this, and more.

Recipe Sites


This is the first area of our cooking that had a major change with the Internet. We still have family recipes and boat loads of cookbooks, but honestly, most of the time when I need a recipe which I can't make from memory, the first place I look is a huge cooking site like Allrecipes. And not just for the recipes. A recipe is only as good as the actual food people have used it to make. And how does a nerd know what is good and what is not good? Yep, Internet reviews. Lately the dishes I have decided to make from this site all get great reviews. It's a complete no-brainer.

For example, if I want to make an Alfredo sauce from scratch, I type in "alfredo sauce" into the search engine, and up pops a few pages of recipes for Alfredo sauce. I find the one I like, carefully study the reviews, then make the sauce. If there's a tricky part of the dish not covered in the recipe itself, there's usually a comment in one of the reviews telling me how to solve the issue. And of course, variations on the recipe. I don't think I've made a single recipe without some changes found in the comment sections.

Recipe SiteDescription
Allrecipes.comThis is the one I use the most. It has good recipes, and good features (like saving recipes you like to your own list), but the reason I use it the most is because of the reviews. I also like seeing pictures from users who have made the dish.
Recipe SourceThe new nome of SOAR, the searchable, online recipe database. SOAR is one of the original online databases, and it's nice to see that it lives on.
EpicuriousAnother good one which has been around a long time. It has evolved with the times, and it's now very comparable to AllRecipes and has a good community.
Cookbooks.comI haven't used a recipe from this one, but it looks interesting.

Cooking Blogs


As a blogger just starting out, this is one area where I am working on improving my knowledge of cooking. I've stumbled into a few decent ones, but it's pretty much a case of information overload for me. So, I am going to focus mainly on blog lists/guides.

Blog ListDescription
Cookingblogs.orgThis looks like a great list. It's well laid out and has a nice flow to it. I've already visted some of the blogs on the list, and so far I'm impressed.
SimplyRecipesA great cooking blog that's as polished as the big corporate sites.
CellarerThis one lists the top 500 cooking blogs just based on page rank.
Cookbooks.comI haven't used a recipe from this one, but it looks interesting.
CookingforsevenWe make this no-knead bread from scratch almost every day. We've even stopped buying most bread from the store.

Other Sites


We use the Internet for a lot more than just recipes and community. A good deal of the specialty tools and utensils in our kitchen were purchased over the Internet. Electronic thermometers, kitchen gadgets, cookware, small appliances- you name it.

Conclusions


For the wife and I, there's no denying that the Internet has made us better cooks. The combined culinary knowledge of mankind is instantly at our disposal. Maybe for a chef who makes a living on proprietary knowledge and secret recipes, the Internet has to be pretty scary. But for those that embrace technology, well, we're eating better.

We are to the point where we almost never even use printed recipes. Most everything we like to make is bookmarked. A small, 10 inch netbook in the kitchen has almost become just another utensil!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

New Blog Name!

My tech blog has a new name to match its new domain!

I wrote down a huge list of potential tech blog names, and Cameron had a strong feeling that this one was the most catchy. I want something that will stick in people's heads and let me focus on providing great tech content. Thanks, Cameron!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Viacom vs. DirecTV: Heads they win, tails you lose

This morning saw all of Viacom's channels going dark on DirecTV, as the two companies failed to reach a licensing agreement. Viewers wanting to see Sponge Bob, Snookie, or Walter White are out of luck today, as they become human shields in a high stakes game of chicken.

Viacom is portraying DirecTV (and now DISH) as the jerks trying to screw you out of your favorite TV shows. They are the heroes trying to give you Snookie. What they fail to mention is that they jacked up their rates by over 30 percent.

DirecTV is portraying Viacom as the greedy jerks trying to jack up your bill. They are the heroes looking out for the little guy. What they fail to mention is that they'll keep your bill high no matter what deal they make with the big content providers.

As a consumer, I don't get the feeling that either company is really looking out for consumers. Trying to use their customers as pawns in my opinion only shows their true colors. It's hard for me to have sympathy for either company. Either way the consumer loses.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Why We Finally Secured Our Wi-Fi

Recently, I secured our new router's Wi-Fi access. It got to the point where there was just too much liability that someone could use it to do something illegal, and have it blamed on us. The last straw for me was reading the recent story about a family who got their door kicked down by a SWAT team. Apparently a neighbor used their unsecured Wi-Fi to make threats against the police. But it didn't stop this poor family from having flash-bang grenades thrown in their window. That, and with everyone so sue-happy these days, there was just too much exposure to us by leaving it open. 

Also, I'm starting a consulting company, and my political statement could have been perceived by some as as technical incompetence. A computer / software / networking expert with open Wi-Fi? Most people wouldn't understand that it was a purposeful choice.

Running open Wi-Fi is something I have always done. The true Geek philosophy embodies sharing and openness in my opinion. The Internet is supposed to be an inclusive sharing of ideas and information, not an archipelago of little islands of content (each with a toll booth.) A true Geek in my opinion will always favor more access to information, not less. And knowledge is power, right?

So ... for these reasons I have password protected our Wi-Fi. Though there is a growing movement of people suggesting that passwords be set to "free", I didn't do that. It finally got to the point where it was all risk with little reward. Besides, most people these days have Internet access. The connectivity landscape is very different from the 1998, when a guy used to park in front of our house every morning and check his email. Every morning de'd bring his newspaper, he'd drink his coffee, and he'd surf the net for a few minutes, presumably on his way to work. Back then we had bandwidth to spare, and not everyone had Internet access.




Monday, July 2, 2012

Declaration of Internet Freedom

As reported in Techdirt today, a whole bunch of individuals and organizations are forming a grass-roots campaign to create something resembling freedom on the Internet.

I hope it succeeds, but I'm trying to have realistic expectations. The special interests are powerful and have pretty much unlimited resources. But Internet showed that it was a political force to be reckoned with during SOPA. We'll see.

Here's the official link:

Declaration of Internet Freedom