The Anti-Halo Effect

Submitted by Jon on Mon, 11/19/2012 - 12:51

Jail App

Create pro-consumer mobile technology and open up a new market of multi-platform and platform-agnostic users who want the best devices.

The Washington Post ran a great article on the increasing problems of vendor lock-in with tablets and mobile devices. In simple language it boils down the problem around why buying an app for one device doesn't give you access to that app anywhere else; if you switch from an iPhone to an Android phone, you'll have to re-buy your apps, and your iTunes content. This partially is lock-in, but there's also a halo-effect - you can transfer an app from on iPhone to a new iPhone, or content from your desktop iTunes to your iWhatever - and the more devices from the same vendor, the better the system works.

But this is a horrible direction to take, and why I rarely buy apps or content from locked-down stores like iTunes. My desktop computer runs Ubuntu Linux, my tablet Android, and my phone is an iPhone. The media server for our house is a Mac Mini, and I finally retired my hold-out Windows computer last year. I refuse to buy music that I can only listen to on one of those myriad devices any more than I'd buy a CD that only plays in my car, but not in my home, or food that I could eat in the kitchen, but not in the dining room or on a picnic.

By and large, I'm a good target demographic - some discretionary income, a gadget afficionado, and generally plugged in to fun new technologies, but my market is rarely well served.

The robots are coming

Submitted by Jon on Fri, 09/23/2011 - 05:26

A colleague and I have the first of two articles posted on FastCompany - discussing the role of automation in job creation -- and destruction:

Look deeply into the beady little electronic eye of your vacuum-cleaning robot, and you’ll see a machine bent on world domination. For now, it focuses on finding and eradicating dirt, but every time it gets into a particularly extracted fight with a wall, your feet, or a house pet--you know it has larger ambitions. More concerning than the Roomba’s aggressive policy stance against furniture legs is what it as a product means for labor, job creation, and automation.

We’re used to a well-worn path in manufacturing, and business in general. An extra bright cave-dweller figures out how to use a round object to help move large things, early adopters begin to share the practice, and then pretty soon everyone is using wheels. Eventually, artisan wheel-makers find themselves out of a job when factories start pumping out robot-manufactured wheels, and we move on as a society--wheels are now a given commodity.

The thing is, those robots have taken over the factory floor, and are moving upstairs.

Read more: http://www.fastcompany.com/1781904/instead-of-just-eliminating-jobs-auto...

Apples that are neither green nor easy to digest.

Submitted by Jon on Fri, 04/22/2011 - 09:25

A few weeks back, I saw this show, "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs" at the Woolly Mammoth. It's by Mike Daisey, and is a work of non-fiction, describing his experiences infiltrating electronics factories in China (read a bit about that at ABC News, and watch the embedded TechCrunch interview. It's playing in Seattle soon, and might come back to DC eventually. It is absolutely worth watching. It perfectly captures the Apple fanboy, and technology enthusiasts in general, and will have you howling with laughter at you see yourself in his portrayals of these characters. By the end, however, you may not want to touch your iPhone. Or buy one. Or consider the conditions under which it was made.

To add on to that, Apple just got named as the least green tech company by GreenPeace, focusing primarily on their coal-powered data centers. Facebook came in second, while Yahoo, Google and Amazon were praised for their use of clean energy.

#Ubuntu Tips: Amazon MP3 Downloads

Submitted by Jon on Sat, 02/05/2011 - 11:18

So, Amazon now forces you to use their download tool. Which seems silly. But they offer a Linux version, which is nice. But it only is built for 32 bit architectures. Which is unfortunate. There's a way around that, however! Thanks to the efforts of these two, the handy getlibs tool, and the fact you can turn back time and get previous copies of libraries, it takes only a few minutes to get downloading. I've put their tools together into this script, after the jump:

Tech4Dev: What's in your backpack?

Submitted by Jon on Tue, 06/01/2010 - 13:04

Inveno's ICT_Works blog recently advertised their awesome addition to the ICT4D world - a solid toolkit to carry to the field.

I made a much lower-tech personal version many years ago, as an IT Peace Corps volunteer. Mine of course was (a) very low cost and (b) designed to travel stuck in side-pocket of a backpack on a crowded country-bound bus. OK, it was really just a few screwdrivers, a 3-2 prong electrical adapter, and a flashlight.

I also always carried around:

1 ~3' crossover cable or crossover adapter (no faster way to test networking!)

1 multi-head cable tool (the kind with a core USB retractable cable and a pouch of other cable-heads to turn it into a phone, network, mini/micro/device USB, firewire, etc. -- easy way to carry around "the right cable for the job" when you're not sure what today's job might be)

My favorite toolkit items were more around the software end of the spectrum, though:

1 bootable USB stick with DamnSmallLinux and a PortableApps Suite

1 bootable floppy with WinXP/NT admin password reset tool

1 BartPE bootable XP CD with anti-virus and diagnostic tools

1 Knoppix or other Linux LiveCD that will work on a wide range of hardware and let you extract files from the HDD

1 CD and USB stick of common free/shareware/OSS software tools - anti-virus, various anti-mal/spy-ware, registry cleaners, zip/archive software, OpenOffice, PDF creation tools, and so on.

Ubuntu 10: Worth the wait

Submitted by Jon on Thu, 05/06/2010 - 12:46

Just a quick note: Ubuntu 10 totally rocks. Better digital video and audio support (via HDMI and toslink) than Windows 7, slicker than Mac OSX with a great dock and productivity-enhancer with gnome-do/docky, tons of crazy user interface enhancements, a smooth 3D desktop... the list goes on. It's amazing, and it's open source.

Waiting for Ubuntu 10

Submitted by Jon on Wed, 04/28/2010 - 08:37

I finally broke down and bought a laptop, as my existing bevy of half-working laptops is now seriously impacting my ability to actually get things done, as opposed to yak shaving in order to fix the random problem of the day.

Here's a quick tour of my harem of laptops:

A "desktop replacement" system that was cutting edge ... seven years ago - which is surprisingly still my "prime" system.

The "get me through grad school" system that was grabbed off of DellAuction ... four years back, which now has a hard drive which smells of impending FAIL and a hinge which is held together with metal glue

My indefatigable Dell Latitude which I got at the liquidation auction of Agillion in 1999, which traveled with me from Austin to Venezuela to Jamaica to DC, and has had Win2k, 98SE and various flavors of Linux running on it.

Last but not least, my OLPC, which I have a soft spot for, but it's not exactly super-fast itself)

The laptop (a Lenovo Ideapad) has arrived, pre-installed with Windows7, but I am doing my best to not use it much. I'm waiting for Ubuntu 10 to come out tomorrow and see what craziness I can get into there.

My get-me-through-grad-school system is currently running Ubuntu, but isn't quite up to the task of my expectations (I love running all the eye-candy available with "Compiz", which you can see an old demo of at youtube.

Behind the Wire: How To build your own news portal

Submitted by Jon on Fri, 10/02/2009 - 13:07

ServiceWire Logo

ServiceWire.org is a refreshed version of a news system that's been part of YSA's servenet.org toolset for years. In fact, when servenet.org was launch in the mid-nineties (1996 in fact) its motto was "Our Content in Youth Info" - a few years ahead of its time in terms of "Web 2.0" concepts or peer-generated content.

In late 2008 I decided it was time to bring ServiceWire up to date with current technologies. It still got a smattering of news and press release submissions from the field, but it was no longer the source of news and knowledge about what was happening in the service movement.

At its heart, ServiceWire is very simple - it takes content from the service field and collects it all in one place, making it easy to follow, comment on, and explore trends.

Read on to learn all about how it works, how you can take greater advantage of it, and how you can make your own version of it!

In Defense of the Laptop

Submitted by Jon on Wed, 09/09/2009 - 15:32

Reading Alanna Shaikh's writeup on the OLPC Program as a failure in the UNDispatch and clicking through to Timothy Ogden's harsh commentary, I began to feel a bit defensive for OLPC. I know, it's a bit out of character, but not really.

SJ Preaching to the Open Source Choir

Perhaps this is because SJ reminded me of some of the core good things that remain part of OLPC during his talk at the OLPC Learning Club / HacDC.org seminar Tuesday night. SJ went off on tangents on the value of open hardware in society, and the simple concept for learners when they realize that they have complete ownership and ability to open up and modify not only the tools inside the apps on the OLPC laptop, but the code that creates the tools, the code that is the operating system underneath those tools, and the hardware itself that the OS is running on top of. This is empowering and fundamentally and importantly different from a Microsoft environment, where everything is closed and locked down once you try to step outside the walled gardens.

Drupal Mapping IV: Filtering and Customization of the Map

Submitted by Jon on Fri, 12/26/2008 - 05:30

This is the continuation of my journal on getting mapping to work for Global Youth Service Day in Drupal, which starts with an overview of maps and drupal, and continues with a discussion of modules, then talks about getting content into the map.

Remember back in Part II where I mentioned the Views and Panels module?

Views gives you very precise control over what shows up on new maps you can show up. Even better, use can create "arguments" that can be passed through the URL to further define what shows up. For example, I created a view whose base URL was /gysd/map/ -- if you go there, you get a listing of years to choose from (do you want to see events from GYSD 2008? GYSD 2009?) If you click on 2008, the url is now /gysd/map/2008 - and you see all the events for that year. I then created some other map options to list by country, state, and so on, so there's another path that goes like this: /gysd/map-by-location/2008/us/FL . If I cut that one off at 2008/, I'd see a listing of all the countries I had data for. If I cut it at us/ , I'd see all the regions (states) with data. You could also set a map up with zip codes, taxonomies, and so on. Drupal 6's Views2 is an order of magnitude more powerful that Views1, and alone it's a reason to upgrade to D6.

To create a map view, you have to first (after installing the views modules above, and creating a new view) select GMap View from the Page view set of options (under View Type). This enables the map functionality. I put information into the Header section to guide users in the navigation process.

Holiday Computer Shopping

Submitted by Jon on Tue, 12/09/2008 - 12:14

People always come to me for advice on computers and technology options over the giftmas season. To head this off somewhat at the pass, let me remind everyone that my advice from the end of last year's season still stands: get a Mac. Really.

Linux Audio Server amusement

Submitted by Jon on Mon, 10/20/2008 - 10:28

I'm currently using the laptop as the interim solution / testbed for the LAS idea. It's struggling to run amarok, but works nicely with qiv running a slideshow on top of it, usually.

A Linux Audio Server

Submitted by Jon on Tue, 10/14/2008 - 16:19

I admit it. I have a Windows laptop at home. For a very long time, it was my primary system.

For the past year or so, I've been using a Linux laptop as my daily system, reverting to the Windows system for reliable video and HD audio -- basically, it was my media system, which just happened to also have all my email, files, and whatnot.

eBay Market Data

Submitted by Jon on Tue, 07/08/2008 - 05:05

In thinking about eBay in my post on tricky ways to "Give Many" OLPC XO laptops, I was reminded about something that has bugged me for a very long time about eBay.


Submitted by Jon on Fri, 06/06/2008 - 16:32

Some kids had train sets. Actually, I did but it bored me to death. One xmas I got a SpaceWarp. Sure, I started out building the basic design they gave elaborate instructions for, but I got bored with that pretty fast. By the time it finally got dismantled (when my parents moved, natch), I'd rebuilt it at three times the designed height, had created elaborate track-jumping, triple and quadruple loops, and more.

Computer Choices FAQ

Submitted by Jon on Tue, 01/08/2008 - 12:54

People often ask me, as a technology geek, what kind of computer they should get, so I'm putting this post together as a FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) to address the most common things people ask about when they're considering a new system:

Good thoughts on code bloat

Submitted by Jon on Thu, 12/20/2007 - 10:47

Steve Yegge writes on code bloat:

I recently had the opportunity to watch a self-professed Java programmer give a presentation in which one slide listed Problems (with his current Java system) and the next slide listed Requirements (for the wonderful new vaporware system). The #1 problem he listed was code size: his system has millions of lines of code. [...]

So I was really glad to see that this guy had listed code size as his #1 problem.

iPod shuffle, gtkpod, and winamp

Submitted by Jon on Wed, 12/19/2007 - 13:52

I just don't like doing things the right way, OK? The right way is boring. You don't learn anything. It's... it's just too easy. So I refuse to use iTunes with my new iPod shuffle (a Chronicka gift) (Chronicka is my new Christmas-Hanukkah Portmanteau). I also dislike iTunes' harsh treatment of my carefully named and organized files (I have a huge "electronica" directory -- in a perfect world, my music would all have quality idv3 tags and I wouldn't need that, but seriously).

So I'm using gtkpod on Linux and winamp on Windows. gtkpod works perfectly, but doesn't seem to automatically transcode my ogg files (not that winamp is doing that well, but I think once I get the LAME mp3 encoder working it should be better), and while it manages the Shuffle's playlist correctly, the interface is a bit kludgy for moving whole groups of songs around on the playlist. Even with multi-select, it only moves one song at a time.

So back to Winamp, both for my larger media collection (though that's transferable, at least temporarily, using my external HDD), as well as for a slightly less grumpy interface.

Winamp's built-in portable media plugin, however, is limited in what it can do. I mean, it's powerful, has an autofill based on playcounts/ratings, syncing, and so on .... but it can't create a customized playlist order -- everything goes in in alphabetical order by file name. Uh.... Not ideal at all.

Replacing the built-in iPod support with ml_ipod, an open source, higher-functionality version, basically just fixes this.

Firefox Addons

Submitted by Jon on Sat, 09/29/2007 - 09:48

You could probably guess that I love the Firefox web browser, right? I'm also naturally a big fan of the addons you can get to extend its power. I'm always hunting for my favorites each time I upgrade someone's computer, so I finally made one master list linking to the addons website for easier downloading: Firefox Addons


Submitted by Jon on Sat, 08/05/2006 - 15:43

Steven Johnson has a nice quick list of topics we can move beyond when discussing blogs:

1. Mainstream, top-down, professional journalism will continue to play a vital role in covering news events, and in shaping our interpretation of those events, as it should.
5. Blogs -- like all modes of contemporary media -- are not historically unique; they draw upon and resemble a number of past traditions and forms, depending on their focus.

I guess this helps me narrow down my paper topics :)

Death by synonym

Submitted by Jon on Sun, 04/16/2006 - 11:33

Sterling (who's iron is in this fire, preferring his own neologism, "spime"), has linked to a compiled list of all the synonyms for "blogjects" -- objects which collect data and spew it out into the Internet that this guy put together (I'm betting his vote is for "Designed Objects" myself).

Spimes and blogjects?

Submitted by Jon on Fri, 03/17/2006 - 07:39

Well, here it is, post SXSW and I've been nowhere near Austin.

Not that, as a native Austinite, I really get hyped up about SXSW. All these people invade the city and make me wait Really Long Times to go to my favorite restaurants, and all the bars charge exorbitant amounts of cover for live music, which'd be different if they didn't normally have live music year-round.

ICT on the homefront

Submitted by Jon on Sat, 03/04/2006 - 21:09

DC seeks city-wide wifi, and actually focuses on free access for the poor.

Web 2.0 + 10

Submitted by Jon on Mon, 01/30/2006 - 21:18

So, I have a problem with the hype surrounding "Web 2.0" [1], which is mainly that it's not as new as everyone claims. Definitely, it's a new ballpark from the first round of websites, which were (for the most part) static, clunky, and non-interactive.