Why Are Dead People Liking Stuff on Facebook?

I had a post published on readwriteweb.com today, “Why Are Dead People Liking Stuff on Facebook?” that took a look at people – some of them dead – shilling for brands they had never liked. The piece went viral – 187,000 page views the first 12 hours it was up, and was on the top of the home page of digg.com, spanning all 3 columns, for several hours later the same day. The article pretty clearly shows the “what” – people’s names showing in ads for brands which say they “liked” that brand, when they never did. The why ($$$) is pretty obvious. I hope to be able to figure out the “how” – how this is happening, and how people can stop it from happening.

An article for The Atlantic about writing and software

Here’s a link to an article I wrote for The Atlantic, “The Real Reason Silicon Valley Coders Write Bad Software“. The piece is about how a good foundation in creative writing will lead to better software, both via better documentation, and just plain better, more organized thinking.

NOTE: I didn’t choose that title – I think it’s more incendiary than I intended the article to be. I should also mention that the article was meant for lay people, not fellow engineers – thus the generalizations and hyperbole. Bottom line: students, educators and writers loved it; engineers hated it. Lulz.

Loving My MacBook AIR

I recently got myself a MacBook AIR – my 2008 MacBook Pro was getting a little stodgy, and the battery life wasn’t what it used to be. Plus I was really ready to try a netbook, or something that weighed less than the Pro – which, when you considered I had to bring the power source with me if I wanted to use it for more than a couple-three hours (real-life battery performance), weighed over 7 lbs.

I first (thanks to Apple’s new, generous, 14-day 100% money back return policy) tried out the 11″ AIR. It was great – weighed slightly more than an iPad, but was a full-fledged computer! After 10 days or so, I grew less enamored of it. The screen was just a little too small, it was a little underpowered, and there were some strange bugs in it – for example, I couldn’t see the entire calendar widget in Google Analytics. On the other hand, it was so much better than my iPad, I essentially quit using my iPad altogether. It was great to use the “real” web which, despite what anybody might say to the contrary, is still, for the time being at least, dependent upon Flash. I’m not talking about gaming, or cool microsites either – I mean on the iPad, without Flash, you can’t look at Google or Yahoo stock charts, you can’t use Google Analytics properly, even Facebook doesn’t function very well (and again, I’m not talking about Farmville – I mean you can’t scroll through lists of friends, for example).

At any rate, this is not meant to be an exhaustive review of either the 11″ or the 13″, but more like an anecdotal report of my hearty approval of both. For full reviews, you can try edgadget, PC Magazine, Business Insider or gizmodo.

The 11″ was great – it’s essentially a wide-screen iPad – same height, but another couple of inches on the side – and you get a “real” computer instead of the crippled iPad. Don’t get me wrong, I like my iPad too – but I stopped using it after I got the AIR. There was really no need for it, unless I wanted to play Angry Birds. You can get the 64 gig 11″ AIR for just $950 on Amazon, or a mere $100 more than the 64 gig iPad2. The sole advantage of the iPad is the 3G potential, but if that’s not crucial for you, you’d have to be nuts, IMHO, not to get the 11″ AIR instead.

So I ended up getting the tricked out 13″ AIR (256gig flash drive, 4 gigs ram, 2.13GHz core duo), 13″ AIR instead. Quite a bit more expensive, but a great laptop. The processor is slightly slower than my 2008 Pro, but it doesn’t matter – this baby whips!

I find it funny that at this late date, people are still hung on processor speeds. First of all, folks were raving about how fast this processor was three years ago. Are you really doing anything that requires much more processor speed today versus three years ago? More importantly, the biggest bottlenecks for pcs has always been i/o – that is, getting the info out of the hard drive and into RAM so the processor could then…process it. But the AIR’s hard drive is an SSD (solid state drive, aka flash drive), effectively the whole damn thing is in RAM already! So you also get the great feature of waking up from sleep in 2 seconds – or just taking 2 seconds to boot. Ultimately, what it comes down to is that even the 13″ is super light (3 lbs or so), and no need to bring the charger if you’re going to be using it less than 6-7 hours, so its speed is infinitely better than the laptop you left at home because it’s too heavy to carry around. As it stands, I’m using the 13″ AIR for about 50% of my work – I do the rest on my 27″ iMac, where I keep all my files, and just share the important ones on the AIR via DropBox, which is fantastic – but I’ll leave that for another post.

Bottom line: for word processing, emailing, web surfing – get yourself an 11″ AIR instead of an iPad.
For a second computer, get yourself a 13″ AIR instead of an overweight full size laptop.

A brief review and how-to for iOS 4.2 on iPad

As you probably have heard, iOS 4.2 was released last week. It promised a slew of great features, such as multi-tasking, airplay and airprint. Here’s a quick review and a how-to, in case you got stuck with any of this stuff.

To my mind (and probably to most people’s), what makes Apple “special” is how easy to use their stuff is. There’s nothing great about their hardware – for the most part, they use the same guts – or even lower quality – than everybody else. It’s just that you don’t waste your time figuring out basic stuff. That being said, I wasted some time figuring out the iOS 4.2 update – more difficult for me than many as I don’t own an iPhone – most reviews say “just do this the same was as you do it on  your iPhone” – so I thought I’d pass along some tips and my thoughts.

Multitasking: Not my biggest complaint about the iPad, as it already did multi-task in some important ways – eg, you could use the iPod functionality and web surf if that’s what floats your boat (I might have done this once or twice – FWIW, I almost never listen to music through my iPad). Now you can listen to music on Pandora and do the same thing.

TIP: to engage multitasking, press the “home” button (the only button) twice and then choose another app.

REVIEW: Unfortunately, you can’t do the kind of multi-tasking I’d actually like to do! That is, have actual working tabs in the browser, so I can listen to a video or audio in one tab and read content from another tab This is something I do all the time on my regular computer. Hope they fix this. Grade: B

AirPrint: At last! You can print from an iPad! This should open up a huge potential audience of folks who don’t need a “real” computer, but do need to print a boarding pass, a photo, a recipe, a letter, etc from time to time.

TIP: In case you haven’t heard yet, AirPrint does not work unless you have a brand-new HP printer with airprint built in. You won’t figure this out though – when you go to print something by clicking the square with an arrow icon in Safari, you’ll see a “Print” option. Then you’ll get a chance to “Select Printer.” Then you’ll get a “no printers found” message. Then you’ll waste 15-30 minutes of your life checking out your printers, your Mac sharing settings, and looking this up on Google till you find the awful truth. There are supposedly some apps that can work around this and allow you to print from an iPad, but they cost $10 apiece and I don’t really care that much so I haven’t investigated. I wasted about 15 minutes of my life before I sussed this out.

REVIEW: Are you freakin’ kiddin’ me? A colossal blunder and a huge wasted opportunity to sell millions of iPads to grandparents everywhere (or for their kids to buy them for them). Sure, force everybody to buy new printers. This rates high on my “Bad Apples” list. Grade: F

AirPlay: Gives you the ability to watch videos on your iPad on your Apple TV-connected TV.

TIP: when you open a movie in the Videos app, you’ll see a little icon to the right of the normal stop and play buttons. You can choose Airplay from there.

REVIEW: nice for the coolness factor, but the only real way I’d use this is to have the option of buying a video for $1.99 instead of renting one on Apple TV for $0.99, if I meant to watch it multiple times. Grade: A-

Find on Page: Almost an Easter egg, it’s hidden so well. In Safari, if you start a Google search, at the bottom of the dropdown list of “Google Suggestions” you’ll see “On this page”.

REVIEW: nice to have. Grade: A

Folders: You can now create folders to organize your apps.

TIP: to create a folder, you press your finger on an icon till it starts shaking, then drag and drop it onto another one. This was not apparent to me and I had to look it up…

REVIEW: Again, well hidden Apple! Had to Google this to figure it out. I found folders most useful for lumping together all the Apps I don’t use that much so they take up less desktop space. The apps and bookmarks I use all the time can now be seen on the first page and are still one click away. Unfortunately,  if you really organized all your apps this way, you’d have to not only use an extra click to get anywhere, but you’d have to remember, “now where did I put Remote? In “Productivity” or “Entertainment”? Grade: B

Bottom Line: They really blew it with AirPrint, which is the one single feature that could have been a game changer. And it would have been nice if the features were a little more obvious to figure out. On the other hand, it’s free, so now that you know how to use it, go get it!

I Love My iPad…but…but…no Flash is terrrible!

Been meaning to post this for awhile. I’ve had my iPad for about 1 month, and it’s great! It does 2 things, really, really well:

1. watching TV. The screen looks great watching iTunes downloads, streaming NetFlix and ABC shows. Bright and sharp. MUCH better than the dedicated portable DVD players I was using just a few years ago – not to mention much more comfortable than watching them on a desktop computer while you’re in a chair, or even using a laptop. The iPad fits great on your chest, on an airplane tray, etc.

2. web surfing. I’m surprised how great this experience is. Though the iPad’s (relative to other mobile devices, such as the iPhone 4) resolution is not as high as I wish it was, 132 pixels per inch makes for GREAT readability of web sites. I’m finding myself doing almost all of my web “reading” (blogs, newspapers, etc) on the iPad instead of my computer.

I’m going to keep this short and sweet – you’ve probably heard about it’s many problems (forced to use iTunes, no printing, no USB port, too heavy, etc, etc) but I’ve found ONE OUTSTANDING SHORTCOMING that I wish Apple would fix. Much to my surprise, I really, really, really miss Flash in my web surfing.

Don’t get me wrong. I sure as heck don’t miss Flash banner ads, and I don’t care (too much) about not being able to use any of the casual gaming sites (AddictingGames, ClubPenguin, etc). But the web feels vaguely…like it’s missing something without Flash:

1. No Hulu. No Xfinity. No Daily Show (or anything on Comedy Central). Though you can watch lots of YouTube videos on the iPad, you’ll still get the “not playable on this device” message all to frequently. Since watching TV and movies on the iPad is so great, it’s really a shame none of these services work. Not to mention all the other web sites still using the .flv format instead of HTML 5 (my guess, at least 50% of the web’s videos are still .flv).

2. Poor Facebook implementation. Forget not only social games, but watching your friends’ linked videos (one of my favorite parts of Facebook.). Even worse, many of the dialog boxes and other interface elements don’t work at all! You can’t scroll them!

3. WordPress is crippled. No way to edit Posts, etc. Ouch. There’s a WordPress app, but it doesn’t work too well…

4. No charting. One of the ways (the only way?) Flex has been a success is it’s use in charting. Most of the web uses this – so no stock charts on Yahoo or Google, for example.

Maybe it’s just me, but those are 4 of my most common web uses. All crippled without Flash.

I agree with Steve Jobs, Flash is too much of a CPU hog for smartphones (for now at least). But I’m sure the iPad could handle it. All you’d need is an iPad version of Ad Blocker and there you go.

I tried Flash on my Droid. It was slow. Really slow. Long story short, I removed it less than a day after I installed it. Incredibly disappointed after a long, long wait.

But it will be very interesting to see how the Android tablets do, as they’ll include Flash. My feeling is they’ll have a much better web experience than the iPad – unless of course the iPad finally allows the Flash plug-in.

Kindle 3 – even more awesome!

We’re now a 2-Kindle family. How awesome is the Kindle 3 (the gray one)? Let’s see:

  • cheaper (as low as $139 for Wifi only)
  • smaller
  • lighter
  • battery lasts twice as long
  • contrast 50% better
  • faster

As much as I loved the Kindle 2 I got several months ago, this one is way better. I see lots of my friends on Facebook asking, “Gee, should I get a Kindle or not?” Answer: if you 1.) like to read and 2.) travel frequently, you should get one immediately…

And yes, I understand if you like paper books better. But this thing weighs less than a paperback book, and you can bring your entire library – and add to it – wherever you go. And your dictionary and thesaurus too.

So don’t think about it as “should I read books on paper or the Kindle” – if you’re an avid reader, you should have BOTH. Kindle for travel and convenience, paper books for home. Here’s another analogy, if you’re old enough to remember vinyl – LPs were clearly superior to cassette tapes – they sounded better, the packaging was better. But you could bring a handful of tapes with you when you traveled, or listen to them in your car. So maybe you preferred vinyl – but if you liked music, you had both.

My one gripe with the Kindle – it doesn’t read RSS feeds! Not unless you pay for them, that is – Amazon is trying to get you to “subscribe” to “blogs” for $1.99 or more per month. And what you get is the RSS feed. It seems crazy to pay for something on a Kindle you get for free everywhere else. It’s a killer feature that Amazon should add immediately – the Kindle is almost a perfect text consumption device – the lack of ability to read RSS is a major drag…

NOTE: interestingly enough, the Kindle DOES have a browser built in. You can find it if you go “Home” then press “Menu” then scroll down to “Experimental”. So you can see a sort of half-assed version of web pages, read your mail on gmail or whatever, but apparently you can’t go to Feeburner or Google reader…hmmm…

I Love My Kindle

I’ve been using “Kindle technology” for some time now – first on my iPhone, then on my Mac laptop. Kindle is a great service – books are cheaper, and it’s convenient. So why own a Kindle? (Note: Kindle for Droid came out a couple of days ago).

It’s meant for reading. Reading books, blogs and newspapers. I *almost* bought an iPad a week ago, but (luckily) they were sold out so I got a Kindle instead. I was about to go on a trip and really wanted some kind of media device.

I have a laptop, which I take with me everywhere more or less, which I can watch Netflix and DVDs on, and a Droid, so I can always get a connection to read my email or surf news sites or whatever. So I really don’t need an iPad. Dut I do need a dedicated reading device. Why? Because I’m a voracious reader. So’s my wife, and my eldest daughter. (Daughter #2 will probably catch up soon).

The Kindle is great. It’s one of those devices that does one thing, and does it really, really well. (As opposed to the iPad, which is a lousy device for reading as it has terribly low resolution, which will hopefully be fixed for version 2.0.) I had my doubts about the e-ink technology, but it’s great. Very easy on the eyes – I’ve read it for about 6 hours the other day (ah, vacation!) while laying around the pool and the beach. Yeah, it’s great in daylight (unlike backlit devices). So it’s only grayscale – you still read books with pictures? And with the new price decrease, I don’t get nervous about it getting wrecked.

The built-in 3g for free is awesome. Turn it on and get updates to your newspaper and blog subscriptions. While the monthly price for the Times is high ($20), it costs a buck to buy it when you want it. And it’s a much better experience than using the web site. Considering the 3g option, the Kindle is about 1/5 the price of an iPad. ($629 for the 3g model, figure another $300 for the minimum 3g service plan for a couple of years). While waiting for our flight to take off the other day, my daughter realized she didn’t have a book. 90 seconds later, I had the book she wanted on the Kindle, for $9.99 (instead of $16.99 for the hard copy). Kindle to the rescue!

So I’m carrying around a dozen books, 4 newspapers and a couple of blogs in a device the size of a trade paperback. Oh yeah, it weighs half of what the iPad does so it’s much more comfortable for long reading bouts.

Bottom line: the iPad is a cool device, but it’s expensive and badly needs an upgrade (to the same screen resolution as the new iPhone). It can do everything, but if you have a laptop and a smartphone, you really have no need for one. But if you love to read, you gotta get a Kindle. Do your kids love to read? Do you own an XBox, a Wii, Nintendo DS’s, etc? How can you justify not getting them a Kindle?

PS: the Kindle has an “experimental” section where you can listen to Mp3s and read web pages! It’s all pretty, “experimental”, as they say, but it’s very cool that you can use the Kindle as a web browser.

MAMP failure to launch Apache solved!

There’s a ton of posts out on Google about this, yet few that actually have the answer. If you don’t know about MAMP, it’s a great all-in-one MySQL-PHP-Apache manager for the Mac. Great for local development and testing of sites and WordPress blogs.

The other day, all of a sudden, the “red light” was on next to Apache – it just wouldn’t start up. I tried switching ports, etc., nothing worked. Looking through the logs found this line “caught SIGTERM, shutting down.” Many people have had this problem and have resorted to reinstalls, messing with Apache settings, etc.

Easy solution that worked for me: System Preferences/Sharing – uncheck the “Web Sharing” checkbox.

Response to Steve Jobs anti-Flash diatribe

First of all, he forgot to say “Namaste.”

Never mind that it is unseemly at best for a CEO to publicly attack the flagship product of a company that’s actually more of a quasi-partner than a competitor – imagine if the CEO of GM launched a public attack on Firestone tires after a recall? - Jobs’ diatribe was incredibly hypocritical.

I’m a Flash developer by trade and believe me, I am all too familiar with Flash’s down sides – the bugs, the CPU hogging – Jobs has a point. I wish Adobe would take care of this stuff.

That being said, Flash IS an open platform – you can create Flash movies without using any Adobe products at all. There’s a comprehensive list at osflash.org.

On the other hand, Apple is creating a VERTICAL closed platform – their hardware, their software. Imagine if you had to buy an Adobe computer to use PhotoShop?

But it gets worse, and I think many non-developers are missing the point. Flash has been banned from the iPhone environment for years now. What Apple just did is ban the ability to port software from the Flash IDE to the Apple Objective C format. In other words, not only do you have to use Apple’s hardware and Apple’s software, you now have to use Apple’s tools to build the software! Not even MicroSoft at its worst dared to do this…

And here’s the kicker – Adobe announced they were going to release a new version of the Flash IDE that would enable porting to the iPhone platform about 8 months ago. Lots of people thought it was really cool, that it would open the development of iPhone apps to a lot of folks who can’t be bothered to learn Apple’s arcane language of choice, Objective C. Adobe put a lot of time and money into developing this tool. So Jobs waits till 3 weeks before Adobe’s planned release of the new version of the Flash IDE to change its TOS to not allow iPhone apps created with anything other than Apple tools. This was tantamount to a declaration of war.

And before anybody can say, “Well those apps created on Flash will run poorly on the iPhone” I’ll respond that poorly written software will run poorly, no matter how and where it was created. There’s plenty of shoddy apps on the iTunes store right now. If Apple was truly concerned about the quality of the apps they’re selling, they would test for performance, effect battery life, etc – rather than unilaterally banning apps built a certain way.

iPad – Epic Fail? (As a reading device anyway)

Everything about the iPad looks great! But when you look under the hood, you see the screen resolution is a mere 1024 x 768, or 132 pixels/inch. Man, that is not good for a reading device. In comparison, the iPhone is 163 pixels/inch, the Droid is 267 pixels/inch. What a disappointment!

Hopefully the 2nd generation will be HD resolution – which would be nice for movies too. At 132 ppi, I doubt you’d be comfortable reading too long. Gives Amazon some time to update the Kindle…