Glue 2009 – Conference Wrapup

Glue 2009.  Where to start.   This is the conference entry — learnings and philosophical interpretation to follow separately :)

My impression of the group was that it consisted mostly of the “maker” community — developers, entrepreneurs, and funding bodies working to create solutions in the cloud.   Everyone was bound by a common philosophy driven from a common business model and delivery mechanism.  I loved the esprit de corps that I saw among this diverse group.

Most vendors were new to me, and walking the booths was anything but humdrum. Given that so many of the attendees also had services of their own, I would have loved it if Eric and Kimberly could have set up some kind of fun elevator pitch or Pecha Kucha session where each of the attendees could run up and explain what they were up to, in the constraints of a social, time-boxed, creativity-encouraged event.

Speaking of Kimberly and Eric (the organizers of Glue) — bravo.   This was not a case of catering to a community.  This seemed to me to be a case of creating bonds aneCreating new bondsw.  It is really easy for conference communities to become inbred – eventually it becomes the same set of people viewing the world all in the same way, and agreeing and disagreeing in unison as if the “truth” was universally obvious.  The great joy of this space is that there is no universally accepted “truth” yet — but the danger is in repeating historical mistakes.   I think that Eric’s agenda choices were calculated to do two things:  to introduce those on the front lines to the cautions of the past but also to introduce those who make their livings through cautionary tales to the infectious optimism of this new generation of solution providers.   The best part about it was seeing just how much fun Eric and Kim have working together to make it happen – it was smooth, but still personal.

I’m really excited about the new people I’ve met, please don’t be strangers, you are are sharp and you are pursuing some incredible opportunities.  I can’t wait to see where you go.

Adios, SGI

I have great memories of SGI MemoriessgiWith their purchase today by Rackable, the company may be gone, but my fondness will always remain.  I worked for Silicon Graphics while earning my computer science degree, slinging demo boxes and configuring memory & graphics boards for the Systems Engineers.  When I got there, I was as green as it gets;  I will never forget the time I put a non-functioning $50,000 graphics board in to a machine and everybody told me it was going to come out of my pay — they had me going, I was sweating bullets :) .

The environment at the time was electric – people were having a fantastic time selling and supporting a brilliant product.  Times were good, and although I was around to see things begin to slide, I’ll never forget what it was like to be part of that team of people at the height of success.

My only real physical memento from that time is a screwdriver or two from the SGI graphics board upgrade kits.   That silly little screwdriver makes me smile anytime I have the occasion to put it to use.

So Adios SGI.  You were a shining star at a time of my life when such things could make lifelong impressions.

The VM Life

I don’t boot into my Windows VMs as often as I used to — I now have Office 2008 natively installed on my Mac, and the two things that I need that I can’t get on the Mac are Visio and CardSpace.

It turns out that there is an interesting performance hit on Virtual Machines when you don’t use them very often — all of the security maintenance functionality that usually takes place in the background is forced to run at the same time, and all while you’re actually trying to use the computer to do actual work.

Defender starts to scan.  AVG starts to scan.  AVG attempts to download virus signatures.  Windows attempts to download updates.  Java checks for updates. Firefox checks for updates. And you wonder why things are slow?  The memory is at minimum requirements, which doesn’t help either. Half the time, I’m instructed to restart right away.

I suppose I need to institute a VM care-and-feeding regime…  for some reason I’m reminded of a tamagotchi, tamiguchi, eh you know what I mean.  I need a little reminder on Mac that pops up on behalf of the VM and screams FEED ME so that I can let all the security stuff work while I’m not using the machine, instead of right at that moment that something needs to be done.  Maybe I could link it to Google calendar such that I get my reminder while on con-calls, a perfect time to be doing routine tasks.

Of course, my ubuntu server VM requires no such care and feeding.  It’s been running beautifully ever since I turned off default password aging 2 years ago, prior to that I had a rather more serious issue – enough time would elapse between boots that my only account password would expire, and that recovery takes enough time to really be a PITA, especially if you can’t get on the internet to look up the details…

No Neck to Choke

It is intriguing what happens when your critical (but hosted) business service goes down.   What can you do?  In the old days, when the mail server went down, everyone could at least wander by the server room and see that the spare drive was being brought in and recovered, or in the worst case that nobody knew what happened yet, at least you could verify that somebody was sweating, laboring, working as hard as they could to rectify the problem, somebody you might have sat beside at the company picnic.

When a hosted service goes down, there is no sense that Fred in IT is having a bad day.  All you get to see is the error screen.  I’m sure that, in fact, there are any number of people having a very bad day right now on the Google campus – but I don’t know them, and I’m sure they couldn’t be bothered to know me.

There is literally nothing to be done.  Not by you, anyway.  You can’t “get to the bottom of it”.  Heads will not roll, at least not according to you.  Perhaps if you are a very, very big customer,  you might have an account manager to abuse, but really, what’s the point?  What are you really going to do, change services?

Nothing to do but go for ice cream, I reckon.  Patience is a virtue, but ice cream makes it go down easier.

Hooray for 2008

The first part of 2008 is looking to be a lot of work, but a lot of fun.

My plans until April are as follows:

  1. I get to build stuff.
  2. I get to (hopefully temporarily) break stuff.
  3. I get to write & talk about both.

Stay tuned for more information about what I get to build, what I hope to break, and how I get to blab all about it.

It’s a darn good thing I’m going to have a busy spring, what with the Hollywood writer’s strike and the daft three-ring media circus that will be the 2008 American Presidential Race…  let’s just say it isn’t a good time to be a Canadian couch potato, thank heavens for the CBC’s new winter programming ;)

Horror Story gone Awry

I was given a new laptop a couple of weeks ago and decided to throw caution to the wind, live in the moment, and install Windows Vista on the thing. Amid general worry and doubt in the media and even in the Nulli Office, I took the leap. After all, I figured I could always just throw my hands up in the air and revert in high dudgeon, like Chris Pirillo did. Melodrama and Vista seem to go together no matter what the outcome.

Installation of the OS, Office 2007, and Virtual PC 2007 were a breeze. Everything just worked. Hmph.

I waited excitedly to see the wife throttle the paperboy. That was a non-event too. A frequent non-event, but a non-event just the same. The most annoying holdups are when I try to edit/rename/move files that I don’t own – but wait, that’s just MS finally catching up with everyone else. All the other OS’s have been annoying on that count forever.

Slowly it began to dawn on me that my big chance at histrionics was a total dud.

Once I found the Run icon (buried in the accessories folder), figured out I could right-click something and run it as Administrator where needed, and learned that you have to hit the ALT key to see the File menu in Windows Explorer, life was pretty good.

VPC2007 ran all of my VMs without complaint, including my Mandrake 10 & Ubuntu edgy eft (edit: ha had efty edge there, gotta love friday entries) machines. They all ran MUCH faster than on VPC2004, and at the time I had half the memory in the machine too.

And Office 2007 is BEAUTIFUL. Especially Excel. If you introduced me to the developer who set it up so that you could merge two cells on a row and then insert a column in between and have the merged cells just stretch to encompass that new column cell, you would have a hard time keeping me from kissing his feet. I almost cried the first time it happened.

Can you believe it, such a juicy subject and not one complaint to report. My new machine starts in a tiny fraction of the time the old one did, and it does everything my old machine could do, but much more fashionably. I feel seriously put out.

I’ll just have to go find a rant somewhere else, I guess. Mostly they seem to find me, so I don’t suppose I’ll be bereft for long :)

Dear CNET

Hey CNET:

Thanks so much for publishing your “essential guide” to the top 10 girl geeks. I’m really glad that you’ve thought to use your reach in the industry to further the public’s knowledge of the women who have changed the world in geeky ways. It’s great to know that you have the integrity to write such a thoughtful and well-researched piece, and that you have accorded girl geeks the respect that they deserve. Mark my words, you will reap what you’ve sown with this particular article.

I know you’re getting all sorts of flack for ranking Lisa Simpson higher on the list than Marie Curie, but really, isn’t it obvious how much more important Lisa Simpson’s contributions to the fields of science and technology are? Marie Curie’s Nobel prizes are no match for a fictional 8-year-old.

And then there are the inclusions of Daryl Hannah and Paris Hilton on the list. I think your reasons for including these women are completely misunderstood! Sure, they aren’t really geeks, but Darryl plays one on TV, and Paris does, after all, play video games. That’s pretty good for a GIRL.

It sure is a good thing that you pulled our attention away from the Ada Lovelaces and Grace Hoppers of the world. Those women were just plain SCARY smart and we don’t really want to glorify that kind of behaviour.

I am expectantly waiting for your “essential guide” to the top male geeks. I can’t wait to watch Einstein, Galileo, and Copernicus go head to head with Keanu “Neo” Reeves and Weird Al “White & Nerdy” Yankovic. Too bad people like Berners-Lee or Tesla won’t make the list, but hey, them’s the breaks.

Way to go CNET. Your journalistic skills have awed us all.

Perfect Poster Child, Kim

Bill Harris published this article on his blog two weeks ago, noting a few key sentences from the Electronic Arts Privacy Policy (italics & emphasis are Bill’s):

If you sign up to play EA games through Microsoft’s Xbox Live Service, Microsoft will provide your Xbox Live user account information to EA so that we can establish an EA Online account for you. You need an EA Online account to play EA’s Xbox Live titles. By signing up to play EA’s Xbox Live titles, you agree that Microsoft can transfer your user account information to EA.

Information collected will vary depending upon the activity and may include your name, e-mail address, phone number, mobile number, home address, birth date and credit card information. In addition, we may collect demographic information such as gender, zip code, information about your computer, hardware, software, platform, media, Internet IP address and connection, information about online activity such as feature usage, game play statistics and scores, user rankings and click paths and other data that you may provide in surveys or online profiles, for instance. We may combine demographic information with personal information.

Wow, I can’t think of a single thing that they are NOT transmitting. Quite the list, hey?  Seems to me you could do an awful lot with that information…

Bill then tried to look at various Microsoft privacy policies and couldn’t find any notice to users that Microsoft might transfer out what EA says is being transferred in.

Apparently there has been a wide distribution of his complaint — but EA hasn’t bothered to respond or even acknowledge the questions that are being raised. Neither has Microsoft.

Why is it ok for Microsoft to send all of that information to EA? User information is being piped apparently indiscriminately. Can the user even find out which information is sent when, and for what purpose? Do the users have the power to stand up and say NO, this is NOT a valid use of my personal data?

This kind of policy should be a major embarrassment to both of the companies involved. Questions & complaints should be plastered on public forums, and representatives of both Xbox and Electronic Arts should be made to answer for their actions whenever they speak to the press or to consumers.

We have the technology to empower users in cases exactly like this. The question is, what kind of pressure are these two companies under to examine their practices? Will they just brush those pesky complaining users off of their lapels, and continue to play fast and loose with identity data?

Let’s find out how much pressure we can bring to bear. If we aren’t horrified by this, who will be?