Google does it again!

Google Image Search

Google is famous for just introducing new tools/effects or whatever without every really trumpeting same.

If you go back to Google Maps, for example, after not having been there for some time, you’ll just about always run across new widgets/functionality.

Today, I was at Google’s Image Search for the first time in a while. And it mentioned (in small type) a new feature: Upload an image to start your search.


I tried a picture of a zinnia (didn’t do so well, just matched the colors); uploaded a picture of a sunflower and got a lot of hits of sunflowers (and other flowers with yellow blossoms).

So I picked a very distinctive image – the statue of the sitting Lincoln in DC’s Lincoln Memorial.

Google’s result is displayed here. They nailed it.

And they are only going to get better – yet it’s impressive right now. To me, this functionality is a kind of reverse search. Normally, you go to Google Images to pull up – and download/view – an image. (What does Florence’s Duomo look like?)

The reverse search enables you to take a image from your desktop and upload to Google Images and find out just what the image is of. As this gets better, this is going to be a vacation saver.

What town in Ireland was this pub in? Upload to Google, and you might get the answer (with link to Google Maps and so on. The mind reels…)

And this is a drag-and-drop upload: HTML5 goodness. Just drag a picture from Windows Explorer/the Finder to the search bar, and a big box comes up saying drop pic here. Uploaded!

Pretty amazing, if you ask me.

Steve Jobs continues to fade away

Apple logoAs everyone in the world knows, Steve Jobs stepped down as CEO of Apple Wed., August 24.

Yet he was already on medical leave, and this was his third such leave in the last half-dozen or so years. I have to believe that the toll of the job was getting to him, so he wisely stepped aside and had Tim Cook – who’s been running the show for the past year – named CEO.

Yet Jobs asked – and his request was granted – that he stay on Apple’s board.

So while he’ll be spared the day-to-day hassles, the hand that steers Apple isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Just a bit of a lower profile.

Here are my thoughts on the end of Jobs’ full-time engagement with Apple:

  • I do believe Jobs’ health is at risk; I wish him the best.
  • Jobs will still be running things for as long as he’s able.
  • Were Jobs to completely sever ties with Apple today; there would still be 2-3 years worth of products with his imprimatur on them in the pipeline. That’s how big companies work – and Apple’s now a freaking huge company.
  • There are worries for Apple fanboys, simply because there has not been a CEO and company so completely one and the same as Jobs and Apple in modern history. Really – can you name anyone who has exercised such control over a huge company? Not even Bill Gates at his strongest (pre-Netscape). Jobs would have to step down at some point, but I don’t think anyone wanted it to be this week. Well, maybe his competitors…

Of all the articles discussing the changing of the guard at Apple, I think uber-Mac fanboy John Gruber had the best line:

Jobs’s greatest creation isn’t any Apple product. It is Apple itself.


It is true – Jobs oversaw the creation of new markets, fabulous software and elegant hardware, and who knows what’s coming.

Yet the company – as a whole – does seem to be the greatest creation of all.

Network blues

Blue Valentine
Starring: Michelle Williams, Ryan Gosling

This is a very difficult to watch movie about a couple falling in and – ultimately – out of love.

Williams is a smart, driven woman who wants to be a doctor. Gosling is just drifting along. They meet, marry and after a six or so years things just fall apart.

Williams’ character (Cindy) is – after marriage and child – still driven; Gosling’s character (Dean) is just happy being a husband and a dad. Ebert has a great line about this dynamic in his review of the movie: “Dean thinks marriage is the station. Cindy thought it was the train.”

Brilliant synopsis.

Told with a series of flashbacks, some of which require one to read between the lines – it’s a tough watch. Well made, well acted – especially by Williams. But you just don’t want to watch what happens. It’s too painful; too real.

The one thing I didn’t get from the film was how Cindy always thought – up to the end – that Dean had such potential, that he could do anything. I didn’t see anything to suggest that.

All movies

Well, after about 12 years, my main router sorta died. As in, didn’t work as advertised.

Fortunately, I had a backup router – a wireless G, instead of B – on hand.

Swapped them out tonight.


The main issue was connecting the new router to a switch. Mix of OSs – Mac, Windows (XP & 7), Linux. OK, but the uplink/switch protocol differs from the router I put in 10 or so years ago and today (understandable…).

But the change is not documented! I had to fart around with ethernet cables, host files and so on to get it to work. Frustrating – because I’m not good at same – but fun because I always learn something from this.

I think I currently have both Windows boxes, both Linux boxes and the Mac all connected via ethernet; the wireless (to another Windoze box) was a challenge, but with the new router (supporting 802.11 G, not just B), it’s fricking faster.

Another decade before I do the same again? Doubtful – I’ll have to (gladly) update to faster faster.

Not my idea of a fun evening, but always fun to futz and learn.

Update: I had noticed my connection speeds deteriorating over the last few months, but I blamed Comcast for that. We have had a lot of storms lately, and so nodes were getting overloaded and so on. I expected things to gradually get back to normal. However, at least part of the slowdown now appears to be the router. The new router is – like the old – hardwired to my main computer, so it should pretty much run as fast as the cable modem.

Yet my speeds seem to have jumped since putting in the new router. Coincidence? Doubtful – I guess the old one was circling the drain before it just died. Interesting.


Well, the smartphones wars just up amped up a notch: Google has agreed to fork over $12.5 billion for Motorola Mobility, the phone-making arm of electronics giant Motorola. This is Google’s biggest acquisition to date.

Now, a lot of folks are saying this is a move to secure patents in the increasingly litigious smartphone space, and they are right, but I see another target: Apple.

By acquiring Motorola Mobility – and at a premium (63% more than its closing price Friday) – Google now controls the software (Android) and the hardware for a smartphone. This gives Google a really good shot at making as pure an Android phone as they can, like Apple does with iOS.

Yes, Google tried this before with its original Android phone, the Nexus, which wasn’t the greatest (I’ve read), but the Nexus was more of a proof-of-concept phone than a real iPhone killer. Now that Android is more mature operating system, Google can build phones – and hopefully convince the carriers to not put a bunch of crapware on (I blame Dell and the PC desktop for this innovation) on the phones.

This helps and hurts the Samsungs and other Android phone makers. Yes, they will get the same patent protection that Google gets for the Android software, but now Google can compete with them in the hardware arena. And Motorola knows how to make phones.

Will Google fork Android here and there to tie it to a specific – Motorola – phone to have tighter integration with the hardware (and Google properties)? Why not?

Is this bad news for Apple? Not really. Sure, Android is now a little less vulnerable to patent lawsuits, but that doesn’t mean game over on this (stupid) front, by any means.

Apple still has a huge lead in smartphones, and is still the phone all others are compared to (and the iPhone 5 is due to arrive shortly, raising the bar again). It knows how to design and integrate hardware/software. Google just has a bunch of smart people – but with the Motorola Mobility purchase, they just got a bunch more smart people, but this bunch is smartphone smart.

Big winner?

The consumer. Patent protection will help keep the cost of phones down; Google entering the hardware market will encourage all sides to innovate. Phones will keep getting slicker and more affordable (I’m ignoring the telecom piece).

Things are getting more and more interesting in the smartphone space…

Update: Over at TechCrunch, it looks like Erick Schonfeld agrees with my take on the purchase. Patents nice, but having the whole package is the end game.

The Web turns 20

Netscape NavAccording to this Techcrunch article, the Web turns 20 years old today.

Next year, it’ll be able to legally drink in all 50 states.

From the article:

That’s right – the world’s first website, a placeholder page written by Sir Berners-Lee way back on August 6, 1991 in the then-nascent Hypertext Mark-Up Language, is celebrating its 20th birthday today. And, on this important anniversary, we ask what hath the web wrought?

In the past two decades we’ve been given ecommerce and spam, we’ve torn down the music, news, and publishing industries, and we’ve LOLed at more CATS than we can count. We’ve seen empires rise and fall, the dissolution of the line between public and private, and the end of enforceable copyright. We’ve seen new modes of communication drive out unwanted regimes at home and abroad and we’ve heard the endless howl of a million voices calling out at once, most of them in comments on this site.

The Web Is 20 Years Old Today

What a short, strange trip it’s been.

From an interesting academic exercise to useful tool (hyperlinks!) through the first (hopefully only) internet bubble, where selling bags of dogfood online seemed like a billion-dollar idea, to the complete integration of the web into almost every facet of our lives.

Though it has “only” been 20 years, it seems, in many ways, like much longer.

For me, I guess that’s because I began working – for a living – on the web in 1996, just five years after its birth. I’ve worked at start-ups (one folded, one – a more corporate effort – still going strong), put together company websites, done ecommerce, put up sites for friends – and myself.

The picture in the upper right is the second browser I ever worked on – the first was, of course, Mosaic. On a store-brand 386 with I can’t recall how little memory. Windows 3.1 (ouch!) But I still remember installing it, swearing “What the hell is a winsock??”

Really, for all the time and effort that has been put into the web, it’s in some ways surprising how little web sites have changed since the mid-1990s. Slicker, obviously, but that’s to a large part due to fatter pipes and speedier computers/browsers. Some elements have changed very little.

  • The same menu hierarchy – now DHTML usually, but the same. About Us. Contact Us. Home.
  • Copyright in footer; link to top of page in same.
  • Depending on the site type, things have pretty much settled into a three-column design, narrow left and right rails (usually navigation of some sorts in one; “similar [stories/products]” in the other), wider middle column for what the page is actually hawking.

There’s really nothing wrong with this – in fact, consistent navigation/UI helped the web gain traction. Flash splash pages? Now a thing of the past. Can you always get home by clicking the upper left-hand text/icon? Pretty consistently. And that’s a good thing. Whenever I had discussions with other designers/developers about how to present some user element, I’d always ask, “How does Amazon do it?” Because – right or wrong – if Amazon does it way A, people will know how to use that element, even if way B makes more sense. It’s like the QWERTY keyboard – not efficient, but here to stay. It’s familiar.

Mobile/touch screens are changing all that, as are a slew of web 2.0+ tools (jQuery, for example) and building out on open-source products (Drupal, WordPress, Joomla – why start from scratch?).

The latter points (tools/open-source products) just help speed development, but the former – mobile/touch screens – are changing the way we interact with the web.

In some cases – smartphone apps – they change the way we don’t interact with the web.

It’s been an interesting 20 years.

Let’s see what the next 5/10/20 years bring!

Here is, in no particular order and just off the top of my head, an incredibly incomplete list of web highlights of the last 20 years (for me):

  • Mosaic
  • Netscape 2.0 – Frames/Javascript. Huge.
  • Pointcast (ran over port 80, I believe). Remember push?
  • Browser wars, Netscape surges, Netscape purchased by AOL for billions
  • Microsoft attempts to co-opt the web; to a degree, it succeeds.
  • Netscape dies a slow, painful death under AOL’s watch; IE use skyrockets. The damage to the web (ActiveX anyone?) cannot be underestimated
  • Burn rates – pre-bubble, how companies used to brag about how much money they were burning through. More was better. Bragging rights. Yeah, insane.
  • Amazon – ’nuff said.
  • Google – any questions?
  • Superbowl commercials by dot-com companies. Really??
  • Javascript – client-side programming. Awesome (getting more important every day; today, it is front and center of many web efforts).
  • All the Apple events live-blogged that killed so many sites.
  • Linux, Apache, mySql, Perl/PHP – free. Dominating the web.
  • IBM gets internet religion
  • Sites that changed how we use the web: YouTube, Facebook, Wikipedia, Flickr, Twitter (Google +? Probably too soon to tell)
  • Mozilla/Firefox. Not so much Thunderbird – Mozilla’s Outlook-like browser-based email client. Solid, but Gmail just killed all browser-based email clients, from Yahoo Mail to Thunderbird.
  • Gmail – Gigs of storage? Free? Flexible interface, highly searchable? Killer app. Changed all the rules. (I think this launched in 2004. Today it’s amazing; back then…[disclosure: I was a Gmail beta tester] )
  • Sites/products that have fallen on bad times/died: Netscape, IE, Yahoo!, Novell (remember NetWare? No one else does, either), GeoCities, MySpace
  • APIs – yes, data wants to be free
  • CSS – the spec is always ahead of full browser support, so frustrating for (forward-thinking) developers, but now a cornerstone of web development. And getting better every day. Just an awesome concept.
  • Animated GIFs (I pronounce with soft “g”; you?)
  • VRML – I played with this a couple of weekends off a book I got at a book sale by Mark Pesce, it’s developer/inventor. I think it required a Cosmos plug-in from Sun.
  • SVG – How cool, how unsupported by browsers. Yet, with HTML 5, it’s back. Yay!
  • Windows 95 launch – yes, an OS, but it moved MS from 16-bit to 32-bit processing, and paved the way for a much better web experience. Start it up!
  • Google Chrome (the browser, not the OS – Google sucks at naming stuff). I develop on Firefox (thanks Firebug!), but moving to Chrome for browsing in a big way. (Test in IEs, Safari obviously)
  • Google Wave – it always sounded cool, but I could never get a clear answer from articles/Google documentation about just what it was/did. Google Wave is now dead.
  • How difficult – even today – to design a web page vs. doing a print page in QuarkXPress or InDesign. Web pages are still ugly, even the best of breed. The web still has growing pains (like the aforementioned CSS support).

I’m sure I’m missing a lot that’ll be obvious to me at some later date; I will update without any update notices. Hey, just a list. Not like I’m predicting elections.

Happy Birthday WWW!

Ah, the Onion nails it again

After months of heated negotiations and failed attempts to achieve any kind of consensus, President Obama turned 50 years old Thursday, drawing strong criticism from Republicans in Congress…. According to White House officials, Obama attempted to work with Republicans right up until the Aug. 4 deadline, but was ultimately left with no choice except to turn a year older.
Obama Turns 50 Despite Republican Opposition

Skirting close to the truth…

(h/t Steve Benen)