27 Nov

life and times of sha.ddih – Why wireless mesh networks won’t save us from censorship

It’s exciting to see so much interest of late in the Darknet Plan hatched by redditors to build a second, people-owned, censorship-free Internet using a large-scale wireless mesh network. Freedom of speech on the Internet is an important issue and it’s important for all of us to take it seriously. Additionally, as someone who thinks wireless networks are the bee’s knees (and who does research on wireless networks in his day job), it’s exciting to see so much interest in using wireless to circumvent censorship.

That’s why it’s painful for me to say, “hey guys, this isn’t going to work”.

I got into this space about five years ago to build a community-owned Internet using solar power and wireless mesh networks — censorship circumvention wasn’t an explicit goal, but it was part of the broader vision. I actually wound up building a couple sizable networks using equipment like this (Orangemesh grew out of this work). After a couple years I developed a pretty good understanding that wireless mesh networks aren’t actually a good way to build a real network. These are a few of those reasons.

via life and times of sha.ddih – Why wireless mesh networks won’t save us from censorship. This is a really compelling argument as to why unplanned wireless mesh networks won’t work at scale.

26 Nov

FarukAt.eş – Micro-payments And The Web

In 2003, Apple’s iTunes Store proved an important point about online/digital economies: people are perfectly willing to pay for content they consume, as long as you maximize return value and minimize all required effort and friction in paying. Online publishing has, thus far, done a poor job at mimicking this concept.

The two types of content aren’t parallels, however; news content on the web is typically consumed for free (thanks to everyone offering content for free on the web for the first ten years), whereas iTunes content is typically paid for up front, and consumed only thereafter. The failure of paywalls shows that when it comes to news on the web, people are ill-inclined to pay up front before they can read an article. That same truth makes it hard to convince people to sign up for subscriptions unless you offer additional value, but with news it’s hard to come up with valuable offerings that don’t involve withholding some news from non-subscribers.

I’ve only very superficially described this problem so far, but already you can see the complexities and challenges publishers face. So what’s the solution?

via FarukAt.eş – Micro-payments And The Web. One of the great big problems on the web today is how to make money from publishing content (if your end goal is making money from content). I think the solution isn’t as simple as merely paying for every dip into the stream you get from a publisher as Faruk proposes but half the solution is making the payment process minimal.

25 Nov

Shifty Jelly’s blog of mystery – You Guys Are Millionaires Right?

It’s a problem, always has been in the software industry. As a kid I pirated all my software, because I felt like these were giant, faceless corporations that didn’t need my money, and I had no money to give them anyway. I pirated operating systems, I pirated apps, I pirated games. Then one day I got a job, and learnt just how hard it is to make good software, and a switch went off in my head. Now I pay for every piece of software I have, sometimes I buy apps I don’t even need, just because I appreciate the level of crafts(wo)manship and care that went into them. If it’s too expensive and I can’t afford it, I just don’t use it.

via Shifty Jelly’s blog of mystery – You Guys Are Millionaires Right? Pretty much exactly my answer when someone asks about pirating software. Formally pirated software when I didn’t really have money or a job, today I wouldn’t dream of it. The rest of the post is a good read into what the life of an independent software developer is like.

24 Nov

Ars Technica – Google drops the axe on its internal renewable energy work

So although RE < C wasn’t misguided, its cancellation isn’t going to have a discernible impact on the renewable energy field, since companies that specialize in this field were outperforming it. And, unlike many of the companies that are also suffering in this fast-moving and competitive market, Google at least has a profitable side-business to turn to.

via Ars Technica – Google drops the axe on its internal renewable energy work. Ars answers my earlier question.

24 Nov

BBC News – Google kills off seven more products including Wave

Google has announced that it is dropping seven more products in an effort to simplify its range of services.

The out-of-season "spring clean" brings an end to services including Google Wave, Knol and Google Gears.

It is the third time that the US firm has announced a cull of several of its products at the same time after they had failed to take off.

via BBC News – Google kills off seven more products including Wave. So most of the products make sense to kill off they either never generated much traction or were already supposed to be cut. However the big thing that got cut that I want to know more about is the “Renewable Energy Cheaper than Coal”. Why was it cut, the goal was unachievable, just pure business decisions or money better spent in other renewable energy projects?

20 Nov

Review of the Kindle Touch

TL;DR Review

The Kindle Touch is the Kindle that I’ve been waiting to purchase ever since the first Kindle was announced. The Kindle Touch feels good in the hand and is easy to read off of for hours on end. The touchscreen is surprisingly effective. Overall my opinion of the Touch is extremely positive, with some minor reservations. If you’ve been holding off on getting a Kindle because you didn’t like the keyboard or wanted something that was easier to navigate than the old Kindle, I would recommend getting this Kindle.

Shipping/Packaging

Amazon has been making a push towards packaging that they call Frustration Free, a nice step away from the ridiculous clamshell packaging that businesses seem to love. The Touch follows in this ethos, the shipping box is completely recyclable and easy to open with a single pull.

Once you get inside the Kindle Touch has some quick instructions for both using the Kindle and to charge it before use. The Kindle includes a USB charger that when connected to your computer enables you to transfer files to the Kindle. The Kindle used to come with an AC adapter to plug the cable into the wall to act as a charger, Amazon apparently cut that to keep the price down. You can still purchase one for $10 and I would recommend it if you wanted to have less cables around your computer.

Navigation

There are only two buttons on the Touch, a power button on the bottom, and a home button that looks somewhat like a speaker grille on the center of front bottom of the device. The power button is in a weird position being on the bottom as most hardware devices I’m used to typically put the power button on the top. However, the button in actual practice works fine and once you get used to reaching to the bottom to turn off the device works well enough. I have yet to have accidentally hit the button while reading which was my largest concern with the button placement. The home button does one thing and only one thing, regardless of where you are it takes you to the top of your home screen. On page 9 of 20 pages of your list of books, it goes to page 1, in the middle of a book, takes you to page 1 of the home screen, and so on.

The touch screen works much as you expect in terms of navigating around. Open a book by pressing the book’s title, hold when selecting a book and you are presented with actions to perform on the book. The largest complaints with the Kindle Touch reside here. The screen on occasion is slow or even fails to respond to touches. The screen will on occasion fail to load what you want and you have to back out and re-perform the action. Sometimes even the screen will over respond and think you made multiple touches, especially while reading I’ve had the Touch jump forward several pages as opposed to just one. Considering this is the first touch screen Kindle Amazon has shipped, I’m not sure how much is based upon the hardware or how much is fixable in the software itself. All that being said the screen performs quite well most of the time and the few times it messes up haven’t detracted much from my pleasure in using the device.

Typing

Typing works somewhat shockingly well on the Touch. E-Ink screens typically don’t fit the mold of what would make sense for typing on the screen but the Touch performs really well here. I’ve been able to type fairly quickly and the Touch keeps up. While it’s far away from what I could do on a real keyboard, I feel very comfortable using the Touch to search for books, enter in passwords and notes, etc.

Typing on the Kindle Touch

Reading

The whole point of owning a Kindle is to read on it. Here is where the Touch really shows off it’s stuff. The new Pearl e-ink screen is a joy to look at. The Kindle Touch also includes a new ability to only flash the screen every 6 pages and instead does a half flash between each page being read. This makes it much faster to go back and forth between pages. One reason I held off on a Kindle for so long was the full page refresh did throw me off while reading. The half flash is a very nice comprise that makes the majority of page flips faster and less distracting. The side effect of not performing a full page refresh is that the Kindle will develop artifacts on the screen as you read. While, I’ve seen these artifacts they have yet to be a distraction especially in comparison to the full page refresh.

While reading there is minimal chrome to deal with just you and the book. To flip forward, tap the right hand to center side of the screen or drag your finger from the right side of the screen to the left. To go back a page, touch the left hand side of the screen or drag your finger from the left to the right. Bringing up the menu to search, sync, change the typeface and size of the font and other options you tap the upper 1/4 of the screen. Overall this works extremely well and the touch screen feels easier to use than the former Kindle’s buttons especially because you don’t naturally rest your fingers on those buttons making accidental taps a much rarer occurrence.

I’ve read two short books on the Kindle and it’s great. The Kindle is easy enough to comfortably hold in one hand (for me my left using my right hand to hit the screen to flip pages), for long periods of time without feeling heavy or even more importantly unlike a real book having to adjust as you get further along in a book. The Kindle is a little bit smaller than a standard paperback book but not by much, this also makes the screen hold close to the same amount of text depending upon your settings.

Summation

The Kindle Touch is a great purchase for anybody who has bought into ebooks and reads more than a few books a year. The few issues I’ve had with the Touch didn’t detract from the main use, just sitting down and reading on the device. To be fair there is a cheaper Kindle that does not have a touch screen that is also lighter that I did not review or have been able to play with. Some reviewers have recommended that one over the Touch for people who will not do a lot of typing on their Kindle. There is a $20 price difference between these two Kindles with Special Offers (on-screen advertising that is on the standard off screen and at the bottom of the home screen), or a $30 price difference between the two without Special Offers.

My initial impression of the Kindle has stayed much the same throughout using the device, overall it’s great and well worth purchasing.

16 Nov

The ALA 2011 Web Design Survey

The profession that dares not speak its name needs you. Digital design is the wonder of the world. But the world still hasn’t bothered to stop and wonder about web workers—the designers, developers, project managers, information architects slash UX folk, content strategists, writers, editors, marketers, educators, and other professionals who make the web what it is.

via The ALA 2011 Web Design Survey. It’s that time of year for the A List Apart Web Design Survey or The Survey for People Who Make Websites. Take it and tell the world (or really A List Apart and people who read it) a little bit about yourself and everyone else who makes websites.

16 Nov

Amazon’s cloud is the world’s 42nd fastest supercomputer

The list of the world’s 500 fastest supercomputers came out yesterday with a top 10 that was unchanged from the previous ranking issued in June. But further down the list, a familiar name is making a charge: Amazon, with its Elastic Compute Cloud service, built a 17,024-core, 240-teraflop cluster that now ranks as the 42nd fastest supercomputer in the world.

Amazon previously built a 7,040-core, 41.8-teraflop cloud cluster that hit number 233 on the list, then fell to 451st. But Amazon submitted an updated Linpack benchmark test with the addition of a new type of high-performance computing instance known as "Cluster Compute Eight Extra Large," which each have two Intel Xeon processors, 16 cores, 60GB of RAM and 3.37TB of storage. The full cluster on the Top 500 list is Linux-based, with 17,024 cores, 66,000GB of memory, and a 10 Gigabit Ethernet interconnect.

via Amazon’s cloud is the world’s 42nd fastest supercomputer. I posted about this on Twitter, but it’s still a little astonding. Amazon built EC2 primarly to serve as their internal infrastructure, today a piece of it made it on the list of the fastest supercomputers in the world.

16 Nov

Adobe donates Flex to foundation in community-friendly exit strategy

Adobe and the Open Spoon Foundation are preparing to open up development of the Flex SDK. They plan to donate the technology to “an established open source foundation” so that the Flex community and other stakeholders can participate in developing future versions of the SDK.

Flex is a development framework for building conventional applications with Flash. It’s especially targeted at the enterprise space and has some specialized capabilities for creating data-driven software. The core components of Flex were released as open source under the Mozilla Public License in 2007.

Flex development, however, has always been directed solely by Adobe. The move to an open governance model will make the process more inclusive. Going forward, Adobe says that the Flex roadmap will be defined in the open by the project’s governing board. The group will include Adobe engineers, third-party Flex application developers, and representatives of companies that use and contribute to Flex.

via Adobe donates Flex to foundation in community-friendly exit strategy. First Adobe kills Mobile Flash and now Flex looks like it’s about to wither away.

14 Nov

Analyzing Network Characteristics Using JavaScript And The DOM, Part 1

In this article, we’ll look at some methods of manipulating JavaScript to determine various network characteristics from within the browser — characteristics that were previously available only to applications that directly interface with the operating system. Much of this was discovered while building the Boomerang project to measure real user performance.

via Analyzing Network Characteristics Using JavaScript And The DOM, Part 1. Pretty sure I would never have thought of attempting measuring the speed of the TCP packest with JavaScript. I’ve done it a few times with C for a class, Atwood’s Law in effect, I guess.