Sunday, July 24, 2005

Computers: A Life in Silicon

This great article got me thinking about my life vis a vis computing.
Year Event
1972 The Patridge Famiy loses their lights. The culprit: a billing computer went awry. I was exposed to computers for the first time.
1973 I started watching Star Trek. They have computers all over the place. They talk to you. You talk to them. That's what they're all about.
1975 In Grade 2, I read this SF story about a guy who works from home. He communicates with people around the world via computer. Just Crazy
1978 UVic has an open house. In the bowels of one of the buildings, they have a computer playing tic-tac-toe. It beat me. Grrr...
1979 On a trip to Seattle, we go to Science World. They have a PET computer on display. You can type on it. I can type on it!
1981 This should be called the First Year of Computers:
  • Our high school has computers! Three Apple ][s in a little room used only by the elites.
  • I befriend a classmate, Galan Akin. His dad is a Computer Science teacher at UVic. Wow. He even has a computer at home!
1982 The Second Year of Computers:
  • I got into a computer science class! A room of Apple ][s. The ratio was three students to one computer, so we had to do lots of theory and a little coding. I spent so much time helping others code, I rarely handed stuff in.
  • Galan's dad gives us access to the UVic computer lab. We spent endless hours playing Galactic Empires, writing "Terra-3": an SF RPG, and programming.
1983
  • The UVic lab upgrades from Apple to IBM. We kick into overdrive with the RPG and work on a game of Galan's design: Stompin' Jo. He was doing the graphics. I did the programming. Think Mario's World but a super cool version.
  • My buddy Tim, gets an Apple ][//c (the computer case is still under my couch as I write this). Later in the year, I cajole my family into getting me a computer: an Apco. I take off programming.
1984-1988
I took high School by correspondence so that I can stay at home, write and program.
1992
  • I move from the Apco to a 386.
  • For Christmas I got a modem. 2400 baud. Woo! I got online. Wild. Crazy. $60/mo. for a super crappy connection into CompuServe.
  • I got a C++ compiler. I started programming. I did a very simple game with joystick controls and moving graphics. A friend of mine from a CompSci program, scoffed and said I couldn't do that.
1993
  • My friends and I started to work on a magazine called "Legends." One idea was to distribute an electronic copy. We couldn't find a workable format. Options: via newsgroup, via email or post it on a bulletin board for download. I guess there was a way to reach the wide world, but hadn't figured that out yet.
1995 Victoria Freenet started to offer access to the Internet. You could surf for an hour at a time, go anywhere via Lynx and it's where my Internet usage really took off.
1996
  • I started to tinker with HTML. I had heard so much about it, it seemed easy enough to pick up.
  • The previous CompSci twerp was in a crunch to get some projects done. He gives me the work in a fit of desperation. I started working as a web designer who quickly morphed into a web programmer. From then until now, I earned a living from home. I communicate with people around the world via computer.

Beginning PHP 5 and MySQL: From Novice to Professional

I have a review posted at Codewalkers for Beginning PHP 5 and MySQL: From Novice to Professional

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

CSS Meets Web Forms (Pt. 1)

This article has some cool information about how to style radio and checkbox form controls so that have a lot of design behind them and they are durable in the face of the randomness of web clients.

Stay tuned for my take on this: how to make form boxes fit into your designs with CSS.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Steal This Video

This Cringely article got me thinking.

A friend forwarded me an article on using P2P to distribute a failed TV pilot - http://www.wired.com/news/digiwood/0,1412,67986,00.html
It's brought up an interesting idea to me:
The FCC has rules apply to television, but not to digital broadcasts or videos shared via P2P. Everyone likes widescreen (well everyone except my aunt who thinks that the top and bottom are now missing). That's a lot of deadspace (like 20+% of the screen). If you dropped static ads into the deadspace above and below a widescreen broadcast, you could run them throughout the whole broadcast. No ad breaks, but ad banners, like the bugs that UPN and others run all the time. That would raise the hackles of the FCC but its a non-issue on the Wild West Web.
If you host a video download, you have to pay through the nose for bandwidth. Even if you post a crappy quality 200MB 1hr. show, every five downloads is a gig of bandwidth. At $1/GB, that's 20 cents per viewer. If PBS had to pay 20 cent per viewer per hour to broadcast (forget about production), they couldn't do it.
If you released a show via P2P with ad banners in the deadspace, you could get money from the advertisers but not the users (like commercial TV). You would have to pay something for bandwidth to seed it, but only a fraction of full fledged video serving.
Late in the season of the show, you start running new banners: "Season 1 on DVD July 5th-- no banners, no downloads!" Firefly and Family Guy are two examples of how a show can find new life via DVD.
There are downsides that could doom this concept: people might not like the banners. Will they like them more or less than the ad interuptions? Hard to say. We're used to the interuptions. How do you measure the success of the banners? There is no way to get metrics on those banners and right now there is only a limited capability to hook content on a video into a hyperlink, so that's impractical.
Another friend has an idea to start an adult video company (best of luck). If he were to follow this model, he could take a popular but fringe genre and sell ads from people who aren't used to the light of day (like other businesses in the adult industries). The reaction would be like that of Joey and Chandler in that Friends episode: Free porn!

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Is Digital Theft Stealing?

I saw this article from Slashdot. Bandwidth is a finite thing. Congrats for bagging the bastard. What about the other theft we hear a lot more about. The type of theft that doesn't cost the possessor but original manufacturer who wants more money. Money they might not get otherwise.

Theft has two components: one person gains something; another person loses something. Let's dumb it down... a lot. Somebody rides off with your bike and you have to walk. It wasn't wrong for someone to own a bike. It wasn't wrong for you to own a bike. If you had sold it to the thief for one penny, it wouldn't be illegal for that guy to ride off. The theft comes from your loss of utility.

Satellite TV providers and software providers are claiming that pirating signals or copying software is theft. The problem is: they still have their posessions.

Satellites bombard our planet, our homes-- our skulls-- daily. The only guy who isn't getting some satellite TV action is that crazy guy in the tin foil hat. Put up a satellite dish and point it at the right spot in the sky, connect it to your TV and you're legal. If you put in a decoder, you're a criminal. It's like getting caught in a pie throwing contest. If you get pelted with cream pies galore, it's free. If you open your mouth, you have to pay a bill. What I have to say to satellite providers: if you don't want someone to take it, don't dish it out. The delivery model is faulty and insecure. The jury is out as to whether the volume of satellite transmissions are harmful to people and the environment.

How have you taken something if the owner still has it? That's a good question. The answer: subscriptions. When you get satellite TV, you don't own what has come into your home. You've subscribed to the permission to get it for the time you pay for it. It roughly the same deal with software. You license it. You get to use it in exchange for money if don't violate the terms and conditions. You may pay thousands of dollars for a subscription or license but you don't own either. The illegality (that producers called "theft") is that you don't pay the real owners.

I say, do two things: 1) Don't steal. It's not yours. 2) Don't subscribe. If someone wants to keep you on a tether tell them to screw themselves. In the coming years, the subscription and the licensing models are going to merge. Software subscriptions are increasingly common. They are built to foster legitimate use of the software. They also exist to allow software producers to turn out crappy code. Code they can fix with with service packs: service packs that only go to legitimate users who used to license the software. In the future, service packs will only go to subscribers. Given the density of the terms and conditions, it's possible that they will allow themselves to scoop your personal data (keystrokes, frequency of use, the content you produce). They may write themselves the capacity to send kill codes along with service packs so that unwelcome users cease to use their software.

Advertisers Eye RSS

The light may be going on: RSS is a new venue for advertisers
They've figured out that they can control their own news feeds and ditch middle men like PRWire and traditional media. They can blast out ads and push their own message. If only they had access to something like RBlog

Monday, July 04, 2005

Just Query The System

Waaay back, a company I worked for was tasked to build this system where the site owners could go in daily and update financial numbers. We did it. Built a little CMS and everything.

We handed it to them and they said, "No way! We want this to go and get the financial information for us!" As the exchange got more heated, one guy (I think we was a cokehead-- he was also a video store owner and eventually the head of the local office of a computer college) started jumping up and down, saying, "Just Query The System! Just Query The System!" At the time (1997), it was actually hard to just get financial data. It cost money to subscribe to the data, it had to be converted into a usable format, etc.

Well, how times have changed. This article talks about how you can query financial data from a number of sources and turn that into usable data:

http://www.builderau.com.au/.../0,39024692,39129843-1,00.htm

Just Query The System!