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Apple's Eden

Apple passed Microsoft last week in market capitalization. This is big news, something that would be absolutely unthinkable even a few years ago pre-iPhone.

Apple was a niche product. It was for designers and the Starbucks crowd and that was it. Now, if I go to a Ruby meeting - everyone is running on a Macbook. It's ubiquitous. Everyone has an iPhone.

The question is, do we welcome our new sleek, futuristic-dancing-silhouetted overlords with open arms or do we need to be a little careful lest we lose something as Apple becomes the market leader?

We are being tempted to take a bite of their succulent technology, but the danger is not that we are going to be thrown out of paradise, rather that we'll be let back in.

Well, I think the name Apple is incredibly fitting if we reverse the myth of the Garden of Eden (Heck, the Apple Logo even has a bite out of it) We are being tempted to take a bite of their succulent technology, but the danger is not that we are going to be thrown out of paradise, rather that we'll be let back in. Back in to a walled garden where we no longer have the free will to use bad technology (Flash) but also will have a gatekeeper that controls what gets let in and what doesn't.

I believe Linux users and users of free software should be afraid (Yes, I'm liberally sowing FUD right now, but I think a little caution is in order) I never liked liked Microsoft, but I was never scared they would be dominant to a point where they would be able to affect my personal freedom. Why? Because people used Microsoft products, but they were never really happy about it. Even the MS Fanboys were pretty tame, sort of like they accepted their position as evangelizers of the platform, but secretly plugged black headphones into their iPods so no one would know.

Apple users are different. They believe.

To use a Firefly reference, who scares you more:

On the left you have a sociopathic killer who will electrocute and flay you upside down if a job goes wrong
(in this example, that would be Microsoft)


On the right you have the idealistic operative who wholly believes they are guiding you to a better world


I'd take the sociopath every time over the idealist who is willing to destroy every right you have along the way just to get you to a better world. [ This is a just a metaphor, I don't really think either company has killed anyone - Chen's still alive, isn't he? ]

Steve Jobs thinks he's building a better world. They are refusing political satire Apps into the app store to protect the children. They are wiping years of developer hours off the face of the earth because they don't want apps that create "Desktops" in the app store (See MyFrame story). But he wholly believes: "We always saw ourselves as building the best computers we could build for people"

A future of the Web that has a gatekeeper scares the hell out of me.

Do you think Steve would think twice about enabling objective-c scripting in the iPad browser because of Web standards if he thought it would be better for iPad users or Apple? I don't think so. A future of the Web that has a gatekeeper scares the hell out of me (I'm a web-developer, so clearly I have a selfish vested interest). Update: See this great example of how Apple treats the "open" web.

Now don't get me wrong, I love apple products. In fact after I poured wine over my Macbook and got angry that they wouldn't fix it for me at any price (once a unit is water damaged they won't touch it - even though everything works on the machine except the backlight), I'm going back with my tail between my legs today to get another Macbook. It's the best laptop out there.

But I'm holding off on the iPad as long as I possibly can because I don't want to fade away into the walled paradise just yet.

Posted Thursday, Jun 03 2010 11:01 AM by Pascal Rettig | FUD, Rant, Troll

You're a dork

At least I hope you are. If you aren't you're going to be at an undeniable disadvantage to those who are.

My wife and I recently went to see Josh Ritter at the Orpheum. When he came out on the stage it was odd because he was smiling. I mean really smiling. I had assumed that he was of the angsty alt-country mold I was used to (along the lines of Ryan Adams pre-marital bliss) so it was unexpected that the guy on the stage belting out soulful, intricately-worded Midwestern gems was grinning ear-to-ear.

"Oh wow," I thought "Josh Ritter is a real dork."

After being startled by this fact for a few songs, it sank in that this wasn't an act and he was genuinely excited to be there on stage singing. His excitement and enthusiasm overwhelmed the audience and we quickly became dorks right along with him. When the lights turned off and he sang a song, minus microphone or any amplification, just him with an acoustic guitar strumming and belting out to the hushed crowd, we ate it up. When mid-concert one of his bandmates mothers came out and recited the poem 'Annabelle Lee' on stage, none of us jaded Boston yuppies in the crowd batted an eye.

Passion is intoxicating. Watching someone do something well that they are passionate about is an enthralling experience.

And passion is Dorkiness. It's the kid back in high school who was a little too excited about model trains and took a lot of abuse for that fact. But no matter how many times he got made fun of for responding seriously to a question asked in jest he continued to answer in earnest when someone asked him about his newest locomotive.

While that passion might get you a wedgie in high school, it's a recipe for success in real life.

Jesse Schell has a section in his "The Art of Game Design" called "The Secret of the Gifted" that speaks to this:

Well, here is a little secret about gifts. There are two kinds. First, there is the innate gift of a given skill. This the minor gift. If you have this gift, a skill such as game design, mathematics, or playing the piano comes naturally to you. You can do it easily, almost without thinking. But you don't necessarily enjoy doing it. There are millions of people with minor gifts of all kinds, who, though skilled, never do anything great with their gifted skill, and this is because they lack the major gift.

The major gift is love of the work.[ Pg.6 ]

Love will keep you working at that skill, keep you growing at it. As Schell writes: "And your love for the work will shine though, infusing your work with an indescribable glow that only comes from the love of doing it."

Being across the table actually interviewing people, I finally understand why interviewers always say they look for candidates with passion.

Being across the table actually interviewing people, I finally understand why interviewers always say they look for candidates with passion. When I first heard this, I called shenanigans. Passion above IQ, Resume and Schooling?  But now speaking from personal experience, passion is really is what you look for as a prospective employer. Most important is whether the candidate would be overall be a good fit in the office. The next most important thing by far is what gets them fired up, what makes their pre-interview nerves melt away as they go-off on slightly too long of a tangent regarding something work-related they love. Someone with a limited skillset but a passion to learn your business beats a learned automaton every time.

Me, I'm a Web dork. If you want to get into an uncomfortably animated discussion, ask me about anything related to current web technologies (I'll get extra excited if you mention the word "Rails") and you'll be in for at least a 1/2 hour discussion for how HTML5 is going to cure cancer and bring about world peace. Make the mistake of asking our designer (and my wife) Martha about typography, you'll learn far more than you ever wanted to about Kerning and Serifs.

So like "Nerd" and "Geek" have morphed themselves from insults to badges of pride, we're reclaiming "Dork" too. In fact I wouldn't ever imagine hiring someone who didn't give me a "Wow, they are a dork" moment.

Oh, and go buy Josh Ritter's Albums. We need more dorks like him in the music business.

Posted Tuesday, Jun 01 2010 02:11 PM by Pascal Rettig | Rant, Troll

What happens if you lose?

Not on the little things - like failing in your current project, or having your home town team lose the world series. But in the big things that you have no control over - like whether your entire career and everything you've fought for over the past 10 years will be able to continue unhindered or whether you'll be ground underfoot by an IP troll or a member of the competition via some legal machinations.

I hate software patents. I hate them with a passion normally reserved for big screen villains. I hate them because they have absolutely nothing to do with what we do, but could nonetheless completely derail years of work and make it impossible to continue doing what we do.

Software patents keep me up at night.

The primary crime they commit is that they add no value whatsoever - I've never read a software patent and directly gained any value from a single one - yet they sit around like ticking time bombs waiting explode - but only against  most vulnerable small business, large business have a lock-box of their own patents cross-license each other into submission.

They subvert the primary reason for the existence of patents in the first place - to promote innovation through disclosure of an invention. As they are written in a legal speak that is a completely separate language designed only to be read by judges and lawyers, how could any engineer possibly gain value from them? As they are written to be as broad as humanly possible how could anyone gain any insight into building anything concrete?

Would anyone trying to figure out how to multiply two numbers in limited hardware ever go searching through the US Patent database and decipher the legal-doublespeak therein? No. Never.When I was an intern back in college, my boss showed me a patent he had for a innovative embedded implementation of how to multiply two numbers together (or some number manipulation, the details elude me.) His manager had noticed it in his work and someone from Legal had thought it worth filing a patent. Would anyone trying to figure out how to multiply two numbers in limited hardware ever go searching through the US Patent database and decipher the legal-doublespeak therein? No. Never. The Patent only exists so that company can grind competition into the ground or prevent itself from being ground. It's value is only as an offensive as defensive weapon and it adds no value or innovation to the world.

But it gets worse, because at least he had an implementation. Many times patents either start or end up in the hands of companies that have no intention of ever implementing any of the ideas obtusely described in their IP portfolios.

The closest analogy I can think of is that filling a software patent without implementing it yourself is like betting on a horse race, except the horse doesn't know it's involved in the race. It's just moving forward at full speed trying to get the finish. As the winner arrives exhausted to the finish line, the IP Troll looks down at their stack of patents and says, "Hey look at that! I bet on the winner." They didn't actually do any of the work, they weren't riding a horse in the race, they just had a few generic ideas and bought themselves a couple of patents counting on one to come in. But the IP Troll doesn't walk over to the ticket window to cash their winnings. They walk up to the winner and extract their winnings from the horse itself (in whatever gruesome manner you want to imagine)

Anyway, enough of the hyperbole. Just wanted to put down some of the thoughts going through my head as the Supreme Court heard Oral Arguments in the Bilski case yesterday. Early returns look promising - like maybe the scope of what can be patented might be reduced, but who knows? It's now in the hands of 9 black-robed individuals to decide their fate.

Posted Tuesday, Nov 10 2009 03:53 AM by Pascal Rettig | Rant

Why I hate CSS

As a developer in any non-web language (Read: anything but HTML and CSS) there's pretty much only 1 hard and fast rule: it's not the compiler/interpreters fault. It's yours. One of the differences between a good programmer and a bad programmer is knowing that you can't blame to the tools for something that you did.

When I was just starting out in C, I remember being convinced on numerous occasions that the Turbo C compiler had a bug because my code **had** to be right - I'd double checked it a number of times - and there **had** to be a bug in the compiler. But there never was - it's pretty close to 100% of the time not compiler/interpreter/debugger's fault.

Except with CSS and IE/Opera/Safari/Firefox/Epiphany/Konquerer (insert your least-favorite browser here - I'm guessing IE, but that's just me.)

Browsers wouldn't just randomly double margins or change list items whitespace or not position objects correctly? Would they? Things are getting better as IE6 finally phases out, but that's also part of the problem - my memory of all the necessary IE6 hacks is starting to fade.

But it's still not perfect (is your browser 100/100 on the Acid3 - Firefox 3.5.5pre Ubuntu is still 93/100?)  Since browsers still render things differently and react to the same code differently (and often all incorrectly according to the standard) - you have a situation where fairly often it's the language's fault. And since us programmer's are generally egotistical types, give me an inch of believing that it's not my fault and that will be my first conclusion half the time. Even if it turns out that it's just a darn missing semicolon; again.

Posted Tuesday, Oct 20 2009 06:00 AM by Pascal Rettig | Rant