Category Archives: Somebody Paid For It

Startup Tools: Easily Beats

Over the past decade or more, I’ve been developing various websites, so I’ve had some experience with a bunch of different services for registration, hosting, and promotion. And in that time, only two such services really stood out: and

I don’t know how to say this nicely, so I’ll just unload: is the biggest crapfest of online services that I’ve ever had the sorry pleasure of dealing with. By comparison, is a breath of fresh air.

Let me explain why, because there is a lesson in this for all of us who deliver services over the internet.

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Good and Evil in the Garden of Hackerdom

I was reading today about some technology reporter-editor who is mad at another technology reporter-editor and it occurred to me how many hours I’ve wasted spending time watching pointless drama on the internet.

No, I do not care if the latest iPad has a video camera. No, I do not want to know what sorts of personnel shakeups are occurring at Microsoft. And no, I am not at all concerned about how venture capitalists choose to waste their money and time.

I understand that some folks do care. Perhaps you have to pitch some of these VCs. Perhaps you are interviewing for a job at Microsoft. Perhaps your business model heavily depends on video being available in portable formats.

But I suspect not. I suspect that articles like this attract internet readers because it gives them something to sit around on their fat assess and pontificate about. Apple getting a new CTO? Well you know, this guy was heavily invested in company X, and company X is highly regarded among this community.

WTF? Come on, guys. If done anywhere else about any other topic this would be called out plain and simple for what it is: idle gossip. It’s the technology version of painting the bike shed: somebody can have some sort of drama anywhere in the world that involves technology, and suddenly we’re all speculating on motives, emotions, and impact. Bickering with each other over semantics and versions of history.

Don’t get me wrong. I think a lot of such communication is good — it helps us form and maintain a community. But it’s critically important to recognize what these topics are: social candy. A little bit is fine now and then, but it’s very easy to do too much.

I just got an email from a person who is also doing some fine work around hackers. He has a monthly newsletter with all sort of good advice. He’d asked to include an article of mine, and I was more than happy. In his follow-up, then he asked if I had a chance to read the latest issue.

Well gee, I do not like being so blunt, but no, I have not decided to consume yet more material of a randomly technically tangentially interesting nature. I’m sure its a great publication, and I’m sure with my technical bent I would love reading it, but I’m really trying to be a bit more useful in my life.

And I think that’s the insidious nature of the problem. It’s very enjoyable to read about some legal battle involving two big corporations which we have attachments to, or hear about some programmer somewhere who made a million dollars attaching lasers to flying turtles, but it’s probably not a good use of our time. When we consume these things, it’s like we’re stuck in neutral, just ambling around without direction. That’s a fine way to be every now and then, but — like I said — it’s very easy to do too much of it.

This gets back to my application of Kant’s Categorical Imperative to technology: don’t put a constraint on a user unless you are willing to put that same constraint on every user who seeks a similar goal. It’s very likely you don’t need a login service for your web-app (unless there are some monetary or privacy reasons, of course). You don’t need to email or text me when your service upgrades. You don’t need to pop up in the corner of my window just to tell me that you’re still running.

These are all things that as programmers we have done at various times, and I think they are all evil to a certain degree. They take millions away — if only for a few seconds — from whatever they were doing before. And for no good reason. Daniel’s rule of big numbers: anything times a big number? It’s also a big number.

I just wrote this blog article. It took you ten minutes to read it. If there are six thousand of you, and your time is worth 40 dollars an hour on average, I just “consumed” forty-thousand dollars of worth in the world. Now it’s up to me to make sure I provide this value back in my content. And that’s assuming that you can immediately switch back to whatever you were doing after you finish reading this, which studies have shown is highly unlikely.

More of us should be doing these calculations.

The same goes for Technology Drama — stories that provide emotional impact, that consume large portions of our energies, with little or no return for us directly (except for advertising revenues for those who provide the drama)

It’s evil. Perhaps not evil in the way we’ve grown up understanding, but evil nonetheless.

After 9-11 I was on a political board and we were talking about the nature of evil. “Well,” one commenter said, “what is evil, anyway? It’s all so vague. I don’t think it has a definition.”

To which I replied, “Evil is somebody who wants to come over to my country and kill me — to take away my life”

Of course that gets into whether or not there is a universal definition of evil, but lets not go there.

That definition of evil was true then, and it’s true now. Evil is people creating material that is purposely designed to take away my life — if only a very small part of it — for somebody else’s benefit. Killing one person is a horrible tragedy. Aside from your religious or moral feelings, the world lost the benefit that one life could have provided. Playing out your drama about some fanboy topic for fifty-thousand people that consumed several hours discussing it? From the world’s standpoint, same amount of harm done, perhaps more.

Searching was the killer app of the 1990s and 2000s. Filtering is going to be the killer app of the 2020s and 2030s. Either that or we’re all screwed.

We hackers and programmers are a lot more involved in the world or good and evil than we’d like to admit. Or that we’re comfortable discussing.

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Allison Stokke?

Allison Stokke

Allison Stokke, athlete, college student,
technology consulting maven

I’ve been blogging over four years. In that time I’ve written hundreds of articles about technology, technology management, humor, agile, aviation, hiking — whatever struck my fancy. So of course, when I review my server logs for the past month, one of the main reasons people come to my blog is Allison Stokke.

“Who is Allison Stokke?” you might ask. It’s the same question I had last night as I poured over my server logs. You see, I am learning a bit more about web analytics and Search Engine Optimization and I’m using this blog as sort of a guinea pig.

Allison Stokke is a very attractive young lady who does track and field sports. So what the heck does track and field, or attractive young ladies, have to do with technology, agile, management, startups, or any of that?

A while back I blogged on what I thought people wanted to see. In what seemed like an idiotic use of money, studies had shown that monkeys, when given the choice, would gladly pay some of their food to look at — monkey butts.

I found this to be interesting, so I blogged on it and put in some pictures — funny pictures, pictures of attractive women. I even made the point that hey, this page will generate views for a long time. I used Allison as an example of this phenomenon as it applied to the internet. Poor Allison — she became this one-hit wonder simply for having her picture snapped at a track meet.

Boy was I right! The stats tell the story.

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Turning Stopwatches into Tricorders

Classic Star Trek Tricorder
how close are we to developing something like this?

I read a fascinating article last week on the state of atomic clocks. There’s nothing more fun than rank scientific speculation, so let’s have a go.

First we start with a little text from the article over on wired. It’s about how small and precise atomic clocks are becoming

Cesium, though, is a grandfather clock compared to the 456 trillion cycles per second of calcium, or the 518 trillion provided by an atom of ytterbium. Hollberg’s group is dedicated to tuning into these particles, which hold the key to a scary level of precision. Microwaves are too slow for this job — imagine trying to merge onto the Autobahn in a Model T — so Hollberg’s clocks use colored lasers instead.

“Each atom has its own spectral signature,” says Hollberg. Calcium resonates to red, ytterbium to purple. At their most ambitious, NIST scientists hope to wring 10-18 out of a single trapped mercury ion with a chartreuse light — slicing a second of time into a quadrillion pieces.

At that level, clocks will be precise enough that they’ll have to correct for the relativistic effects of the shape of the earth, which changes every day in reaction to environmental factors. (Some of the research clocks already need to account for changes in the NIST building’s size on a hot day.) That’s where the work at the Time and Frequency Division begins to overlap with cosmology, astrophysics and space-time.

By looking at the things that upset clocks, it’s possible to map factors like magnetic fields and gravity variation. “Environmental conditions can make the ticking rate vary slightly,” says O’Brian.

That means passing a precise clock over different landscapes yields different gravity offsets, which could be used to map the presence of oil, liquid magma or water underground. NIST, in short, is building the first dowsing rod that works.

On a moving ship, such a clock would change rate with the shape of the ocean floor, and even the density of the earth beneath. On a volcano, it would change with the moving and vibrating of magma within. Scientists using maps of these variations could differentiate salt and freshwater, and perhaps eventually predict eruptions, earthquakes or other natural events from the variations in gravity under the surface of the planet.

Reading the environment from the relativistic effects that mass has? I might be wrong, but that sounds a lot like a “Star Trek” moment to me.

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Remembering Molecules?

Most all the stuff you learn in school is false.

If that sounds like an extreme generalization — it is. And it’s exactly why what you learn is false: it’s incomplete, it’s generalized, it’s dumbed-down for the masses.

It’s easy to see this when you’re talking about the difference between say, 2nd grade and post graduate work. Little second graders can’t possibly understand relativity, so we show them apples falling from trees and tell them about gravity. Only later do we get into all the exceptions and interesting cases and questions.

What we have a hard time accepting, however, is that no matter how much we know, we’re probably the equivalent of second graders compared to the knowledge we’ll have in a couple hundred years. Sure — we don’t believe in lies, after all, real science is built of experiment and observation. So what happens when we reach one of those moments, like the second grader, when we realize that there’s something bigger going on?

That’s where the story gets interesting.

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Sharing the Point about MOSS

Logo for Microsoft's Office Sharepoint Server

For the past few days I’ve been putting together a presentation about Microsoft’s new portal product, Microsoft Office Sharepoint Server 2007, or MOSS. There’s a local Sharepoint User’s Group starting up, and I got selected to make the first presentation.


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Where’s the Line?

The plant Kratom
Got Kratom? If you do, does that make you bad?

Got into an interesting discussion over on news.yc this morning regarding the question: “Just what is okay to sell on a website?”

A user named “rms” has a site called something like And it appears that every so often he’s pumping this Kratom stuff on the board to whomever will listen. For those of you who don’t know, and I’m one of them, Kratom is, according to Wikipedia:

Kratom (Mitragyna speciosa) is a medicinal leaf harvested from a large tree native to Southeast Asia in the Rubiaceae, first documented by Dutch colonial botanist Korthals. It is botanically related to the Corynanthe, Cinchona and Uncaria genera and shares some similar biochemistry. It is in the same family as coffee, and the psychoactive plant Psychotria viridis. Other species in the Mitragyna genus are used medicinally in Africa, and also used for their wood.

It is used for its psychoactive effects in its native region, with some use elsewhere in the world. In Southeast Asia the fresh leaves are usually chewed, often continuously, by workers or manual laborers seeking a numbing, stimulating effect. Elsewhere, the leaves are often made into a tea or extracted into water and then evaporated into a tar that can be swallowed. Kratom is not often smoked, although this method does provide some effect.

Kratom is legal in the United States, although the DEA lists it as a “substance of concern”.

So RMS asked the question (which I prompted) to the group: Is it wrong to have a business where you sell legal, psychoactive plants? RMS claims Kratom is sort of just like a souped-up coffee. Some in the group accused him of being a drug peddler.

Gosh did THAT kick off a firestorm!

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Lookin’ for Love in all the Wrong Places

scene from a science fiction movie from the 1950s with a woman next to a clunky robot
It may be love, but you won’t believe
how many batteries this guy takes

“My forecast is that around 2050, the state of Massachusetts will be the first jurisdiction to legalize marriages with robots,” artificial intelligence researcher David Levy at the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands told LiveScience. Levy recently completed his Ph.D. work on the subject of human-robot relationships, covering many of the privileges and practices that generally come with marriage as well as outside of it.

At first, sex with robots might be considered geeky, “but once you have a story like ‘I had sex with a robot, and it was great!’ appear someplace like Cosmo magazine, I’d expect many people to jump on the bandwagon,” Levy said.

I, for one, welcome our new robot sex overlords. I know Saturday nights won’t be complete unless we’re watching Robot Baywatch, and teenagers everywhere will be waiting for the Popular Mechanics Swimsuit issue each year. I’m just hoping for something more like Tricia Helfer and not the Tin Man.

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Structured Procrastination

I’m writing this blog post today. Sure — it’s been a while since I’ve blogged, and I really wanted to blog earlier, but I finally found something more important not to do.

I confess — I am a world-famous procrastinator. But that might not be a bad thing. John Perry tells us that structured procrastination can lead to a happier, more productive life. Take a look. It makes for a light, fun read.

There’s also a procrastinator’s club. It was announced in an Omni Magazine in 1982 (no kidding). I’ve been meaning to join. Sounds like a great group. Going to get around to it pretty soon now.

I should probably renew my subscription to Omni as well. I’ve been missing those cool hi-tech articles. It’s a great rag.

So procrastinators everywhere — unite! Just not today. Maybe next week.

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What Does it Mean to be a Journalist, Anyway?

Model Lauren Jones
When old ugly fat people get popular,
Lauren Jones is going to be out of luck.
I promise to be a gracious winner.

What’s it mean to be a journalist? Lately a lot of people are asking.

Take blogging, for instance. I blog all the time. I like it. It is writing about things I care about — reporting it to others. I believe that makes me a journalist. Some folks don’t think so. They feel that you need a expensive degree and some sort of accreditation. These are usually the people who have already paid for an expensive degree and some sort of accreditation, however, so their views are somewhat suspect.

Looks like Model Lauren Jones is on my side in this. The model is going to be a local newscast anchor in Tyler, Texas. She arrived last week in Tyler for a 30-day stint at KYTX-TV, a CBS affiliate. The job will include co-anchoring the 5 p.m. newscast each day Jones will be followed around by a 40-person Fox reality crew, who plan on making the whole thing into a TV show.

Does anybody else think it’s kind of strange for one TV show to be following the stars around from a second TV show? How many levels can this thing nest? Perhaps next year Fox will bring us a reality show about how reality shows are put together. Yikes! Recursion alert!

Some folks seem to have gotten bent out of shape over it. From the article:

TV newsrooms have been a staple of TV shows for years, perhaps most successfully with “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” Upcoming Fox sitcom “Back to You,” starring Kelsey Grammer and Patricia Heaton, will keep the genre alive. But this is the first time that a reality series will feature someone with no journalism experience who will be thrust into a job surrounded by real journalists. It has raised concerns inside and outside KYTX.

“One of the last sacred grounds of integrity in local television is the local newsroom, so I guess I would say I’m disappointed to see a station, much less one in our own community, that has evidently sold its integrity,” said Brad Streit, vp and GM for KLTV-TV, the ABC affiliate in Tyler.

Adds KETK-TV GM Mike DeLier of the NBC affiliate: “I see this as a stunt, and it’s a self-admitted stunt and not a journalistic endeavor.”

Al Tompkins, broadcast group leader for the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Fla., is more blunt: “It devalues the work of real journalists who are trying to do real work. It doesn’t do anything to help the reputation of journalists there and around the world.”

I have family in local TV news, and I’ve written for weekly and daily newspapers. I’ve written on a deadline, and I’ve covered a beat. I’ve always thought of journalism in general as a form of entertainment. I understand there is a higher ethical standard practiced by some, but heck, there are different ways of painting landscapes. People “buy” certain concepts of journalism, so the concepts work. If part of the branding for some people includes going on and on about what “real” journalists are, I see that as a form of marketing. But I’m not about to confuse marketing hype with reality.

Model Lauren Jones seems to have had a great career so far. I wish her the best of luck in her new show. The complainers should get a life.

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