December 19, 2008

Redux: Touch UI and the Art of Intent

Some very interesting research into touch UI from Microsoft Research, University of Toronto, and the good folks at Mitsubishi (MERL's been doing some great work) illustrates how to improve the precision and efficacy of touch screen computing. This isn't strictly a technology problem (touch screens are pretty accurate) - its a human factors problem (an affordance issue).

I wrote on this a while ago - the mouse is pretty accurate, but one of the significant reasons I think it succeeded as an "intuitive" input device was that it created an interface paradigm that allowed "intent".

Touch screens allow us to create programmable input devices (the hardwares becomes "soft" - the rest is just wiring) - I don't think its tactility that's makes it intriguing.

While the article posits that they solve the "fat fingering" problem by allowing the interactive to happen "above" your fingers - that is, you can touch the front *and* back of the screen, I'll posit that its actually the recapturing of *intent* in the interaction flow that makes the difference here.

Judge for yourself:

In any case, pretty cool.

December 10, 2008

I've seen the future!

Not so much.

Microsoft Plans VR Simulation of Everything? (from slashdot)

"Microsoft's research chief has been
promoting the idea of commerce applications and other tools built on top of what he calls the 'Spatial Web', a blend of 3D, video, and location-aware technologies. He gave an example of a shopkeeper creating 3D models of his store's interior and goods with Photosynth and then uploading the results into a large 3D model of local shopping district. Customers could 'visit' the area, browse products, and order them for real-world delivery"

As a colleague of mine once said, quite some time ago:
"Sounds like Doom, without the fun"

(Or... was that me? Can't remember....)

December 9, 2008

Review: Best Javascript book EVER.

Douglas Crockford's "Javascript: the Good Parts" - go get it. Its concise, and takes you through the semantics of Javascript from first principles. Unlike most such books, which try to make learning JS easier by over-analogizing to other languages, Doug's book also highlights the differences from the very beginning - building a much better foundation for understanding the language, pros and cons.

Heartilty recommended regardless of your level of sophistication or intimacy with Javascript. At a minimum, you'll come away with a better framework for approaching your web applications. And if you're language geek, you'll just like it.

Plus, its concise.

Probably my favorite programming book since
the red book (level 1, natch).

November 10, 2008

Practical Joke?

I read this headline on Slashdot:
Halliburton Applies For Patent-Trolling Patent

It's GOT to be joke... see the original article:

Is it April 1 somewhere in the world? *Somebody's* got to be kidding... please?

November 5, 2008

Election '08 (that's a wrap)

"There's no question about it - In the next 40 years a Negro can achieve the same position that my brother had."  - Robert F. Kennedy, 1968.  

September 19, 2008

Google Chrome Review in 25 words

Pros: Great UI (not break-through, but very nice), Fast
Cons: Memory hog, Crashes a lot, not quite as compatible
Summary: Its my default browser - go figure!

September 2, 2008

Google Chrome: Quick Browser Benchmark

Update: IE 7 was not included because it took too damn long to finish and I got bored.

Using Dromaeo.

Firefox 3_____2042 ms
Safari 3.1.2__2561 ms
Chrome 0.2:____540 ms

Actual product thoughts forthcoming after a few days of usage... but my "first 10 minutes" review is: nice, but nothing that would make me switch (from Firefox).

September 1, 2008

New Browser: Google Chrome -
Launching Tomorrow! (maybe?)

Update: Official statement.

Lots of information available at blogoscoped. Of particular interest is how it looks like its going to be introduced: using an online graphic novel by Scout McCloud.

The new JavaScript VM should be interesting - I've certainly felt you could achieve 5-10X current JavaScript without resorting to a JIT for dynamic languages. Too much is made of the process isolation (IMHO) - though there is something nice in the idea that each tab is a "reboot" of your browser.

They also outline some UI design choices which I think are appropriate - we did them quite intentionally on AOL Explorer, and (forgive the sense of vindication but) two items I feel particularly that I pushed (larger back button and tabs above the address bar) look like they're mainstreaming... pity we blinked so often back then.

Hopefully there will be more in "Google Chrome" - a rethought browser is looooong over due. Definitely read Scott's comic commentary as to why.

Probably unfair to juedge without a test drive, but what I see in screenshots is still pretty incremental (as was AOL Explorer) - it would be a continued sign of corporate hubris to imagine success by tweaking a successful formula and sticking their brand on it.

(Note that I'm not saying it won't work.... :P)

I'll post some thoughts when I try it out.

August 19, 2008

Open Source Legal Ruling Sets Precedent

The ruling is from last week, but still worth mentioning as there seems to be some confusion and swirl about the scope and impact of the ruling. As always, I'm happy to provide my opinion on the subject :)

The short version is this: someone incorporated some very liberally licensed source code into a commercial product, and did not abide by the terms under which the original source code was released - namely that if you use the code, you must provide attribution and a link/pointer back to the original. So the owner of the original source code sued.

The questions that got answered by the courts were:
- Is an extremely liberal license the equivalent of depositing your work in the public domain? (no)
- Is an open source license a valid copyright, or does it fall into the jurisdiction of contract law? (copyright)

Basically, it means that the copyright holder has the right to impose restrictions on the use of licensed products.

Although some folks have noted that this could fuel further RIAA/content license nonsense, it should be noted that this ruling did NOT touch on fair use (the right of the individual to manage his/her "copy"), but on the rights of re-use and re-distribution.

And although it was a "win" for open source advocates - especially because copyright law provides the opporunity injunctive relief ("the right to withold") - it didn't address the so-called viral nature of GPL-like licenses, either.

Still, all-in-all, seems like a win for rationality - read it for yourself (its not long).

July 17, 2008

True Story

Until Facebook, I never realized how annoying something as mundane as my birthday could be. Thank you social networking overlords.

June 15, 2008

R.I.P: Finder/Explorer AKA "the Desktop", 1984-2007

I'm calling it - time of death: June 2007. Its been a long time coming, but it seems clear that the Blackberry, the iPhone, Outlook, Picasa, and iTunes all herald the end of document-centric computing.

The iPhone really didn't create this trend, but I'll say that its certainly a very visible final nail, just as the
Macintosh Finder was the "visible" start back in 1984. Today, you don't keep piles of stuff on your "desktop" and activate applications (or applets) against relevant document parts: the vast majority your content is organized against your applications, not the other way around - the iPhone is a computer that doesn't even have a desktop, in any traditional sense.

There was a brief resurgence of the idea that the document was the gateway to your applications in the early 90's with
OpenDoc and OLE (Object Linking and Embedding).


We're at the starting tip of an orgasmic diarrhea of content creation in the form of e-mail, blog posts, music, photos and videos. And every single one of those is organized against single media form computing - barely a compound document in sight... you go to custom applications to create, edit, organize, and consume all the vast amount of gigabytes and terabytes of data we all share.

Vista Search and Spotlight in OS X only demonstrate even further how increasingly irrelevant the Finder and Windows Explorer are for everyday users.

In a slightly related tangent: What's most shocking to me today is how right Unix got it in the 1970's. URL's and hierarchical file paths seemed like dinosaur concepts in the early 90's before roaring back.

Either that, or we just haven't had the imagination to organize our way out of a paper bag since 1977... there's a parallel here.

Another way of saying "
cool idea - wrong problem".

May 28, 2008

1 year at Comcast

I just completed my first year at Comcast. Its been a gratifying experience thus far, both personally and professionally. I've been having a blast living in downtown Philly - the lifestyle has been wonderful, and the 10 minute walk to work everyday has completely spoiled me for commuting in the future. And Comcast has been a great place to work: an interesting and challenging set of problems, and a good group of people to work with (and for). I'd be lying if I said it was moving as quickly as I'd like - although I think I've made some meaningful contributions throughout my time thus far, the bigger consumer impacting things I've been working on (tru2way and Project Infinity and the like) will only begin showing up in the back half of '08 and only really at significant scale and volume (from a consumption perspective) well into 2009.

That's a long time.

Still, its a complicated technology environment - its a heady mix of legacy technology infrastructures, permutations of configurations and network designs, and a significant scale of problem set and quality-of-service requirements - and just to help, we enjoy a... challenging regulatory environment. (Boy, Those sound like excuses, even as I type them)

In celebration of my year (sort of) I spent last week at NCTA's (National Cable and Telecommunications Association) "The Cable Show". I spoke on a number of panels at the show, which is always fun. The Q&A's are always a bit frustrating, as people come to the shows to get answers, which I have .... but usually can't give. We have enough problems internally distinguishing between *goals* ("we're committed to getting there") and *plans* ("we actually have a path to get there") - no good way to make that distinction clear externally - especially for a public company.

The only real drag has been my travel calendar - would like to slow that down a bit. All in all, though, feels like I'm just getting warmed up here, which is both exciting and depressing, on many levels :)

March 6, 2008

Apple: "Who needs Flash?"

Ouch - from the grand poobah, Steve Jobs: "version of Flash formatted to personal computers is too slow on the iPhone"

Adobe's response notes the difference between "Flash lite" (for mobile) and "Flash" (the desktop version Jobs alluded to in his comments).

From a technology perspective, this hilights a subtlety Jobs implies that most (including Adobe's Ryan Stewart) either missed or mis-directed in their responses: Jobs doesn't want the half-assed version of the Web that most users experience on their handsets - he wants the real thing.

And that means, for the iPhone, Flash, not Flash Lite. The point being, the iPhone is a general purose computing device, and, though it may require interaction paradigm adjustments (form factor, input schema, etc.), it shouldn't have to compromise richness and robustness.

The current Flash Player really is optimized for the desktop (especially the Intel platform)- but, to be fair, that's an engineering deficiency, not a phyics problem; it is possible for the Flash platform to address...

February 25, 2008

Adobe: Engage and AIR

I'm at the Adobe Engage event is SF today, for the launch of Adobe AIR. Its been a while coming (beginning with Adobe Apollo), with much written about it.

Interesting elements: desktop integration (peristent storage, UI touchpoints, etc.), full HTML(via WebKit) support, integrated PDF display, and an application packaging model for easy install and update (distribution).

The two most important pieces (IMHO) are the persistent storage model and application packaging model - these start to bring the
benefits of "content" to executable applications... that its "Flash" underneath is interesting but not necessarily the important part. These technologies do provide a differentiated but overlapping feature set that I don't mean to downplay, but HTML, Flash, PDF, etc. are, I think, going to end up being more about onboarding developers.

Hard to appreciate how important distribution is as a part of application lifecycle management.

The natural comparison points are
Silverlight and Prism, and as with those two, distribution will be less the issue than finding the compelling applications will be (although you should note that Silverlight, in particular, is more an answer to Flash than AIR).

Adobe is significantly advantaged in this regard because (a) they're cross-platform (by that I mean crossing OS, browser and Web/Desktop boundaries), and (b) they're committed to the platform - the biggest knock with Microsoft and the Mozilla Foundation is that its hard to tell how serious they really are. Remember when all of Vista was going to *require* .NET? Or remember ChromeEffects? Or Blackbird?

That said, I think one chink in the AIR platform (IMHO) is that it provides no way for third parties to natively extend the platform - Adobe still thinks about applications as B2C propositions. A second knock is that they still haven't gotten the "just in time" element of application and platform install quite right (I've written on this before) - it will limit (again IMHO) where users prefer websites to applications.

Still - there's a lot to like.

More shortly - Kevin Lynch is talking now...

January 16, 2008

MacWorld 2008: Software Industry R.I.P.

It's only fair, and certainly poetic, but the circle is now complete. As Apple, with the Apple II (and a little nudge from VisiCalc), heralded the beginning, so too did Steve Jobs (and Apple) herald the end (or at least, the end of the beginning) of the software industry.

No longer is a "what" (as in, "What do you?"), its now officially a "how". I'm calling it: Time of Death - January 15th, 2008, 9:48am PST (or thereabouts :))

What's am I going on and on about?

Steve Jobs made some cool announcements at the annual Apple-o-phile incest/love-fest: iPhone/iTouch upgrades, AppleTV stuff, MacBook Air, Time Capsule/Airport, and no mention of OS X...

(Tiger? Leopard? What's next? I dunno!! - some damn cat??)

Its not THAT wierd he didn't mention it - after all, Leopard just shipped, and I expect the OS enhancements will probably debut at the Apple Worldwide Developer's conference in June.

What was wierd was that nobody noticed... or cared.

It's a trend that's been developing for some time, but, these days, saying you do "software" is now as meaningful as saying you're in the "customer business" (
or as insightful as having an "Audience business"? :P)...... just not that descriptive, dipsh!t.

And 2008 just made it official.

If you'll forgive the math mangling: It's only a hyperbole, if you can't see the asymptopes.

January 6, 2008

The Iowa Caucus

Updated: Saw this after posting... Our Voting System is a Loser

Wow... already commented to death, but the Iowa results were very surprising, especially on the democratic side. Few had predictated such a margin of victory for Obama, and certainly not with a third place finish for Clinton. Huckabee's victory over Romney was certainly not a foregone conclusion, but if it was an upset, it also certainly was not a surprise upset (if that's not too oxymoronically hair splitting of me to say).

Interestingly (and I use the term loosely :)), that Dem/Rep difference in expectation also plays out as you look back at the Iowa Caucuses. Excluding incumbent candidate years, since 1972, only once (1980) was winner in Iowa not the Republican nominee, yet on the Democratic side, only three times was the winner the eventual Democrat nominee (vs. 4 times not).

Why is that?

Certainly there's the much publicized Democratic caucus process itself. In a particular bit of difference, voters get the opportunity to "re-cast" their votes if their candidate is deemed to be not viable. This is kind of cool - it means that you don't have to feel like your vote gets "wasted" if your picking a "risky" candidate who best aligns with more of your views.

This is a brilliant innovation in Democracy that I think better captures the "will of the majority", as opposed to the usual "will of solidarity" embodied by special interest groups. I get the idea - people stick together even if they don't agree on everything just to make sure their voice and vote matters. But I think its this blind allegiance to collective relevance over individual desire that's removed the shades of grey from our hyper-partisan brand of modern politics.

That said, the core problem with the Iowa Democratic process, I believe, is that the viability adjustment (the vote re-cast) requires that your vote is not by secret ballot - that you sacrifice anonymity (think about it). And that means that peer pressure and public perception play a much larger role in the process. The secret ballot provides protective anonymity, and is a vital and important cornerstone of modern democracy. It means people can vote their mind withou fear of reprisal in defeat (as part of the possible minority).

And this delta - that of anonymity - is why I think the Iowa Democratic Caususes are not a very strong predictor of future performance. I'm not saying Obama won't win his party's nomination, but I am saying that he's a candidate that its publically easy to align with him.

I think the real solve for this is to let people pick alternatives (perhaps multiple) up front, in some rank order - a complete overhaul of the existing system.

There's an opportunity for the overhaul as we introduce digital election process - which can provide much greater turnout, as well as enable a whole new class of election "services". The security problem will get solved, though not necessarily in our parents lifetimes (sorry, old folks).

And when it does, (not to sound hokey, but) I think it creates an opportunity to better serve the spirit of the Constitution, and of Democracy, than our current process does.

We'll see what tomorrow brings.... as always :)

January 4, 2008

You can't make this stuff up...

My blog is blocked by our corporate firewall... (and I quote):

Access to this page has been denied by web filtering.

If the site you are trying to access is critical to your job function, please open a support center ticket and provide the full address of the site that you were trying to access and the following message in its entirety:

Access to for user OU=Users - CHQ,OU=1500 Market,OU=Corporate,DC=cable,DC=comcast,DC=com\Rouleau-Hellhake\, Shari has been denied for the following reason:
The Websense category "Social Networking and Personal Sites" is filtered.

I guess my blog isn't work related... not really sure WHAT it's related to, come to think of it...