Redesign In Progress

No, no Web site is ever finished in any true sense. Stabilized, perhaps, but always undergoing tweaking and enhancements, visible or behind the scenes.

This blog is a Web site.

Ergo, it ain’t done.

Actually, I’m in the process of a major redesign of the site, which I hope to launch in the next week or so.

Why change?

  • With this redesign, I’m divorcing my blog from my site. While my blog is hosted there, it has little to do with the rest of the site. It stands alone content wise; the same should be true of the content.
  • I wanted to experiment with the use of themes/alternative style sheets. The blog redesign was an excellent excuse to do so. (Pretty cool, actually).
  • I keep thinking that – at some point – I will jettison Blogger and either move to Moveable Type or (very likely) roll my own solution. The first two bullet points are additional steps in this direction.

Bulletins as events warrant…

The Charlie Brown Connection…

I watched Robert Altman’s Gosford Park this past weekend.

As Queen Victoria would have said, I was not amused.

There were some good points and some bad points to the movie, but by far the worst was the dialog. Altman is famous for his layered dialog – where everyone, just like in real (not reel) life, talks at once.

That’s hard to follow sometimes, but it has an effect that is compelling at times.

However, with Gosford Park, it make things almost unbearable because of the content of the dialog. Example follows:

Lady No. 1: “Muffle whicca stuuf posip? Today?”

Lady No. 2: “Oh, no. Jespea mummer slamca.”

Servant Girl: “Yes, my Lady. Shall I wruther posip?”

Who the hell was the dialog coach? The same one used for the adult characters in the Charlie Brown cartoons?

I didn’t know what was going on half the time just because of this – and there are a lot of characters to keep track of: Tough to figure out the motives of this or that person if the person’s name appears to be “Shoefulllop” or “Droplegrmmgh.”

Ah well, what do I know? Nominated for movie of the year (2002). So much for my career as movie critic…

Why SVG is Doomed

I write this more as a prognostication/plea than as a fact.

I hope SVG is not doomed.

But I think it is. (Here’s a nice historical overview of SVG [note: PDF] ).

Here’s why:

  • SVG has been around since 1998 as a working draft (to get around the limitations of PostScript for Web use). That’s over five years. Half the Web’s life.
  • 99% of average users – including I would guess ~75+% of Web developers/designers – have never heard of SVG (ouch!)
  • 75+% of average users – including I would guess ~99% of Web developers/designers – have heard of Flash (another vector-graphic tool)
  • Flash comes with most browsers; installation for those without is straightforward
  • Few users – a statistically insignificant percentage – have the SVG plug-in
  • You can buy (Macromedia) Flash-building tools. Robust, well-accepted and integrated tools
  • SVG requires hand-coding in many cases; few programs output native SVG code (With the sole exception of Adobe Illustrator, no major programs)
  • SVG’s acceptance and market penetration is following the same trajectory as VRML – yes, the forgotten VRML…
  • MS’s Longhorn (as currently planned) is going to come with its own proprietary vector-graphic tools. Why invest in making/building tools/app for SVG when MS is poised to crush them/it?

Hey, I’m not happy about this, but let’s be real about it. It does not look good.

Where DO You Want to Go Today/Tomorrow?

I read an interesting article the other day/week, and for the life of me I can’t find the source, but that’s not really that important: The article was musing about software bloat an all that.

Basically, the author said he/she installed a year’s old version of VisiCalc on a new machine and…guess what? Pretty much the same as today’s MS Excel.

I’ve been thinking about that, especially in relation to the revolution some are trying to put into place on the desktop: Apple’s OS X, Linux on the Desktop, MS’s Longhorn strategy.

How much power/many features do we need?

For what uses do we need them?

Caveat: I’m not a gamer, so all the comments will be for non-gaming uses. I know gaming requires a different set of requirements and so on from normal/power use, so … you have been warned.

Basically, I’ve always maintained that processor speed is not that big a deal – yes, faster is better, but I always help people buy computers by keeping processor speed lower than the latest and greatest and forwarding the funds saved to RAM upgrades.

That’s where you’re going to see some performance bumps.

For example, the computer I type this on – a Windoze box – is almost three years old. It has a now decidedly mid- to low-end processor: 1Ghz. At the time, I think it was the fastest I could get (when I buy computers for myself, I splurge…).

However, I did put a lot of RAM into it – 512M. While that’s not a bunch today for power users (1G would be the norm), it’s still – three years later – more than the average user gets (that’s around 256M, I think).

I’m not an average user, but the 512 is doing well for me.

Moral: Get RAM, not GHz.

As far as applications go, there is room for a lot of users – not most, but a lot – to make use of a lot of the so-called bloat features of applications go. Most users are pretty much content with using the basic Office products (usually just Word and Excel) without macros, maybe an occasional embedded picture (Word), or macro or chart (Excel).

Business users, of course, run both programs a little harder…but with them we’ve covered about 95% of users out there.

At least 95%.

That leaves numb-nuts like myself and other blogger/geeks. The extra horsepower is appreciated. Hell, I’m running a half-dozens servers (Web, database, FTP..) on this one box, and all is fine.

If – magically – the processor started clocking at 3GHz tomorrow, I’d certainly notice the difference, but I don’t really see many hangs here.

Moral: The power that’s been around for several years is good enough for at least 95% of today’s users.

OK, but I do see occasional hangs on my machines, and this is where the extra features/new apps and horsepower on new machines can come in handy: For the most part, this is is due to graphics.

For example, I’ve given my machine’s specs (1GHz, 512RAM) and note that it runs Win2000 – a WinNT lineage.

I have another machine in the house currently running Windows ME, and it’s only a 500MHz, 128RAM machine.

Yet Adobe’s Photoshop (v5.5 – a now older version) runs way faster – and opens wayyyy quicker on the lower-end machine. (Both are Dell Dimension/Intel boxes).

NT is just not optimized for graphics; it does better with data – running SQL Server or Apache/PHP or what have you. Not graphics.

Windows XP, from the little I’ve worked with it, is as sluggish with graphics as the other NTs I’ve run, as expected. The Win9x line appears to be optimized better for graphics, at least it seems that way to me.

Apple is the same way – it handles graphical data better than thread-based data. Again, to me. And I really can’t speak for DBs and so forth on OS X. I just don’t have the experience.

Here is where the new boxes are a big help – yesterday’s boxes just can’t handle some of the movie, music/sound, and graphic apps that are out today. Or, they could…but you would not want to be the one to be using them on such.

Run a million-year-old version of VisiCalc on an old box? No problemo.

Run a movie-editing program on an old box? No thanks….

Moral: Some new applications require new hardware; suck it up and take the padlock off your wallet.

On the other hand, there are the applications/OSes that do require new hardware that really shouldn’t. Take the VisiCalc vs. Excel comparison. Excel does do much more than VisiCalc, but – beyond graphs and macros – a lot of it is either barely used or just so much fluff.

I guess the best example of fluff is using Word as a desktop publishing tool. While some people love this (for whatever reason; mainly because they’ve never heard of QuarkXpress or simply because they have Word and not Quark), this is extending the tool a bit too far, for my taste.

When I need to do layout (print), I use Quark or PDF, not Word.

On the other hand (there’s always another hand), Word as desktop-publishing tool is probably the easiest way to share such data for both businesses and personal use. Everyone has Word. Power in standards.

Moral: Like it or not, bloat will continue, and sometimes there is a good reason for it. However, the average user doesn’t understand the ramifications of being able to, for example, embed a picture in Word (bloat; need for new hardware). App makers do ($$$$). And Intel/Dell (Delltel?) don’t mind, either…

So what’s the bottom line here??

I guess the bottom-line – the Uber-moral – is threefold:

  • There is really little need for the bloat in current apps
  • People will embrace the bloat, anyway, requiring more robust hardware
  • Some apps require more robust hardware; get over it

That’s damn depressing…

Religious Wars

Was just watching CNN, and there is more unrest in the Middle East and elsewhere that, to a large degree, comes down to religious wars of sorts.

In the GeekSphere, we have our own religious wars, with its own casualties.

Let’s take a look at how those wars are going:

  • Windows vs. Apple: Surprisingly muted, but I think that’s due to the whole Windows vs. Linux war that is also ongoing. And Apple users (especially since [BSD-based] OS X surfaced) are firmly the anti-MS camp, if not in the Linux camp.
  • Windows vs. Linux: A little less rhetoric than usual, probably for the following reasons:
    • With MS on the prowl with new OS news, the rhetoric is split between the old and new OSes (split in three if you count the Win9x line and Win NT as another, with the upcoming – 2006 – Longhorn the third).
    • No current security issues – OK, while there are patches galore, there is not the LUV virus or SoBig and so on currently (*crosses fingers*). And that’s a big issue with MS users/haters
    • The ongoing SCO vs. Linux war (below) is stealing the interest of MS bashers. They’d rather hate SCO for the moment

  • SCO vs. Linux: Or should we say SCO vs. …crap…everyone that hasn’t ever paid them for anything *nix. SCO is currently involved in lawsuits with IBM and RedHat; it’s hinting/saying explicitly that it will go after Linux users, possibly Novell, maybe the GPL… They are obviously hoping to hit pay dirt with at least one of these lawsuits (the RedHad one was filed against SCO, however), because it’s sure not gaining them any customers. Hell, IBM or MS can support multiple lawsuits, but SCO? What do they have, three employees and a gardener? Obviously, they are not focusing on their products, but on their (alleged) property (IP): So why buy from them?
  • Browser wars (IE vs. Netscape, primarily): For those who have been in an HTML-induced coma the last few years, MS won. Netscape basically doesn’t exist. The whole push towards standards – and MS’s reluctance to update IE before (an embedded version of IE in) Longhorn – is making things, uh, interesting (translation: still sucks to be a Web developer). Standard is actually the new battleground, but it’s sorta hard to see…because it’s not A vs. B: It’s A is better at standards than B! Which isn’t as compelling from a rhetoric standpoint.
  • .Net vs. LibertyAlliance: This is the Web services battle, which has never really been that much of a fight: MS came out strong with an “all your bases are us” type campaign to win the world over to .Net but managed to completely screw things up by labeling everything down to their executives .Net (“Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome CEO Steve Ballmer.Net!”). And the LibertyAlliance – Sun’s J2EE “answer” to .Net has been, at best, a bust. Frankly, there has not been much to talk/code/fight about. This will change, especially as Longhorn gets closer.
  • vi vs. emacs: Grow up; only battles on /.
  • mySQL vs. Postgres: Still a little bitter (see my last entry), especially since Postgres has come out with a new version (7.4) and mySQL continues to add features, and has teamed with SAP. As far as I’m concerned, this is a good battle: Helps both advance.

Notice one interesting item re: the preceding list: With the exception of the pure OSS battles (mySQL vs Postgres, vi vs. emacs), Microsoft is one of the combatants. (MS has funnelled $ to SCO, so they are in the SCO vs. *nix battle)

As the largest software firm in the world, MS probably might be expected to be in the forefront of many battles in the software industry.

But this many?

New Postgres

A new version of Postgres has been released – 7.4.

Of course, there was the usual banter on /. about the relative merits of Postgres vs. mySQL, but that’s to me expected. The banter was, for the most part, just that – less of the Holy RDBMS Wars rhetoric that these two tools usually spark.

Not certain why, exactly: Especially since mySQL has made such strides recently (finally getting some serious functionality, such as subselects and so on). Or maybe that’s quieted the mySQL crowd: The additional features being piled on make them more aware that these features were not only missing in the past, but that they are reeeealllly needed.

My stance? Same as ever: I run both. I prefer Postgres by a vast margin, even though I run both DBs at a much less than enterprise level – I really don’t need the higher-end (or even SQL standard) featues that are present in Postgres but not in mySQL. I could work around the shortfalls. But why not run the more complete one?

And I still think mySQL is the “Access” of OSS databases, but I’m not one who is shy about saying that Access has some extremely compelling features (large installed base, no-brainer to use, hides complexity [good for newbies] but provides SQL for queries etc.).

Both are tools. If mySQL was as unpopular – relatively – as Postgres, I would never touch it. I think it’s a vastly inferior database. But it does have the installed base, and it is powerful enough to do much of what is needed on Web sites (my specialty), so it behooves me to learn it.

And – as one /. comment put it – mySQL is to Postgres what Windows is to Linux: One is much more popular despite its (in some ways) perceived inferiority, but that gooses the underachiever to make better products and try harder.

The old competition is good argument.

What a Mickey Mouse Anniversary…

So, today is Mickey Mouse’s 75th anniversary – his first apprearance in the movies (Steamboat Willie) was 75 years ago this day.

Ironically, for all the bluster bloggers have made about the seemingly endless extension of copyrights – of which Mickey Mouse is the poster child – I haven’t seen any comments on this.

Even Lessig is silent on this. Update: This is a mention of the event, sans any rant, posted a few days ago by Prof. Lessing

Strange. Critics of the copyright extension act (pushed through with the help of then-senator Sonny Bono) often refer to the legislation as the “Mickey Mouse Extension Act.”

Maybe because Comdex is on, but strangely silent on the blogs regarding this (I think Mickey is still safe until ~2038, or something like that).


Of Music and Micropayments

So, Microsoft is going to open a music store – what a surprise (not) there.

And now we’ll hear the caterwalling of Apple fan(atic)s, saying how the beast of Redmond is once again playing follow the (innovation) leader.


To me, what is interesting about this development – and all the music sites springing up now by heavy hitters – is that this is going to either force or ease the way for micropayments to really happen.

I just read an article today on micropayements on the MIT Technology Review. Followed by Gates’ admission today – at Comdex, but I don’t think it was part of his keynote – that MSN is going musical, where, there’s another big push to go micropayments.

On the other hand, there is the Microsoft tradition of doing it all themselves – it might leave micropayment companies – such as the start-up featured in the Technology Review article, Peppercoin – out in the cold.

Either way, it’s another sign that the time may finally be ripe for some – SOME – companies to take advantage of micropayments. It’s going to take a lot to get people pay for some things, simply because of the vast tapestry of the Web: Oh, you’re charging? I’ll go to one of 1,000 similar sites to get/read/browse this or that.

Web = free is currently hard-wired into us, and until there is more of a micropayment infrastructure in place and a demonstrated benefit of such, well, it might just be a tough sell.

Now What Do I Do?

This morning I work up without Internet access – my cable connection was dead (looking at my cron jobs, it looks like it died late last night).

It came up only a few hours after I noticed it (had non-techie stuff to do this AM), but for a second there, there was the big “Now what do I do, without a connection??”.

I felt lost.

That’s probably not a good thing.