Trailfire is a digg killer

After my initial apprehension at possible vandalism issues in trailfire, I’m beginning to think that trailfire supplies exactly the features that digg has been missing. This became clear to me when I had a look at the user pages on digg, and noted that in spite of diggers providing, in essence, a public service, they are not granted personal userpages in the way Wikipedians are. All they get are some stats and a link to their home page. There is a lack of efficiency: why should I have to click again? Why not at least provide a preview of the userpage? (Incidentally, there is a WordPress plug-in that does this.)

In the same way, digg does not provide a way to digg a site while viewing it (although this can probably be done if the site itself has an appropriate plugin*). Trailfire does.

* If you need to know, you’d use the referral url to find the correct digg item, and redirect the user’s click there; how easy this would be depends on whether you need to supply the user’s ID, and how you can obtain it; digg of course could block any such attempt if they wished – but why would they?

Keywords: Trailfire, digg,,

I am not a lawyer, but…

This is a recurring phrase I keep seeing when discussing software licenses, but also other aspects of “the law”. And I have something to say about it.

Guys, we need to stop this nonsensical notion that law falls under some kind of non-Euclidian geometry. Judges have to follow the same rules of logic that every other science abides by. And I don’t know of any country where you aren’t allowed to represent yourself in court. So just be a bit more confident in discussing legal matters. If you’re not a member of the legal profession, I don’t see how you can be sued by anybody for “having said so”. So please.

This post may contain elements of sarcasm and light humour. Please don’t sue me. Yeah, right!

Origins of the iPhone

Daring Fireball has a heavy critique of a supposed industry insider’s allegation that the iPhone is based on a Philips concept from 1998. The “insider”, who back in his day did the trick of imitating IT consultancy industry leader Gartner (then Gartner Group) like everybody else at the time and founding a … Group company, compares the iPhone to the LG Prada (an insight earlier spotted elsewhere on the web), but he also misses – as does Mr. Fireball – the fact that the Philips concept could just as easily be seen to be broadly based on Apple’s Knowledge Navigator, a concept from 1987 (note the year) in its use of a fold-up screen and avatars. The link between the Knowledge Navigator and iPhone has been made elsewhere (see comments).

Bill Gates, please check your sources

A lot has been said about misinformation given by Bill Gates in his Newsweek Interview, but I’ll gladly join the ranks here, because it really is so disgraceful. I would advise Mr. Gates to investigate whatever internal staff feed him reports. Any IT consultancy would have firmly told him that his comment, “Nowadays, security guys break the Mac every single day. Every single day, they come out with a total exploit, your machine can be taken over totally.” is wide and far off the mark.

In fact, as every IT professional knows, Windows is unique in having excessive security problems, which stem from several sources, which I shall go into here, lest I become accused of similar crimes:

  1. The original Windows codebase was designed for a desktop operating system, not a networked one, and as a single-user OS. While little of this codebase may remain today,
  2. Microsoft doubtless picked up a large number of programmers – or even trained them – unaware of basic network security considerations.
  3. While it is possible that there are people at Microsoft who want to make the best software they can for consumers, it is clear that the security problems have not been inconvenient to Microsoft’s business model, as Microsoft relies on its relationship with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to propagate its license relationships with its “home” customers. OEMs want to sell new computers. Microsoft’s Windows is a CPU hog compared to OS X and Linux, and a memory hog relative to Linux. This drives OEM sales. Security software famously slows down systems even further, so in addition to the ecosystem that Microsoft gains to tout the benefits of its OS through third party makers of security software (because the third party companies depend on the Windows market), the memory and CPU requirements of such software help cement Microsoft’s relationship with its OEMs. Finally, promises of increased security can also drive OS sales per se, i.e. for upgrading existing hardware.

It is understandable that Microsoft is pining about the inconvenience consumers are experiencing with the new security measures (“deny”, “allow”) – these are the same problems that OS X had some four or five years ago. Necessary childhood pains that Apple has already resolved. A number of specific Windows security problems, such as not being able to install software under a non-administrative account (and hence having to run with nearly full privileges at all times to have a usable system; both Linux and OS X have always allowed unprivileged users to install software, unless specifically restricted), seem to have been resolved in Vista, but new breaches have been introduced.

Dishing out grievously incorrect information to customers is not a good basis for mutual respect. Mr. Gates commented, “I don’t think the over 90 percent of the [population] who use Windows PCs think of themselves as dullards, or the kind of klutzes that somebody is trying to say they are.” I wonder who Mr. Gates thinks that somebody is.

Trailfire – an invitation to vandals?


My first impression is that this is a great way of putting graffiti across anyone’s website. Who is going to do admin duties to prevent me from writing “Tom has only small Lego” across Tom’s website in a trail? In fact, it’s worse than graffiti because Tom, not being a trailfire user, will never know that there is a trail across his site. It’s completely invisible to him. Some people are more equal than others.

Seems a classic example of someone’s tech enthusiasm running away with them…

Keywords:, trailfire, vandalism, online vandalism

What about consolidation?

What I see in the technology space at the moment is a lot of marginal technologies coming to the fore – has bluetooth substantially improved our lives? WiFi? What I mostly see is that new technologies introduce greater liabilities than problem solving. I’ll be forgiven for thinking that my previous laptop had a better build quality than my current one, and ditto for digital cameras. I hear people talking about the megapixel myth. And I see companies filing patent after patent for new technologies, whose main purpose seems to be to cripple competitors. I see a similar stagnation is science, as people are putting out more and more research papers, but lack the ingenuity to try and put it all together in a comprehensive way. Science was somewhat sexier in the Victorian age, and stuff was getting done. In my research environment, I feel that there are too many people who are looking into superficially interesting details of their study systems, and trying to make a case for spending tax and charity money on their research.

Meanwhile, a lot of publications are fading into the background. Basically, anything that isn’t available as pdf is going to fall behind, including a number of turn-of-the-century (19th/20th) works that were full of data. Darwin’s Descent of Man is one such example, page for page full of data, anecdotal evidence &c. Instead of spending resources in adding yet more reams of data, the sensible thing to do is look really thoughtfully at what we already have. For the most part, the reviews I read cover small subject areas rather than the bigger picture. Perhaps we are lacking in talented individuals who can do this kind of work, getting ever more mired down by the demands of our tools. I recently noticed that whereas ten years ago, I could walk out of my house and shut the door behind me, I now have to check whether I have my mobile phone and laptop power cord with me. And when it rains, I still get wet. How is that for progress?

So how can we improve consolidation of existing technologies into more mature products that are less driven by feature count, and instead more by seamless integration, moderate but compelling functionality, and quite simply, technology getting out of our way? I first thought that patents were getting in our way, and that it would be an idea to declare a patent free year, or patent free two years – essentially, a time gap in which companies could freely prey on each other’s technologies in order to create devices with an unprecedented combination of features, without devices getting clunky by companies having to work around each other’s patents.  Then I thought that the problem really was with governments not providing enough basic services. Shouldn’t it  be the government’s job to provide a basic, completely interoperable computing platform for its citizens that commercial companies can then build applications for? Universities already produce significant output to this effect, but it is unclear to me whether the promise of publicly funded research is ever realised, or similar encumbered by patents or royalties.

I once noticed that sites rarely copy web design from each other. No doubt that it is frowned upon, and besides, immediately obvious, because a website’s graphical design is part of the first impression you and I would form. There is some element of human pride that deters most of us from copying each other’s work. I have no doubt that this also applies to computing hardware – be they desktop computers or mobile phones. Few people are prepared to engage in serious plagiarism. It would be wasting their opportunity to express themselves, to create something unique and lasting, something that carries their memory. Thinking along in this line, I am not convinced that if patents were eliminated, we would see clone after clone of perfectly technology-integrated device. On the contrary, I think we would see just as many crappy devices as we see today. Microsoft was unhappy with its hardware partners on several occasions, most recently spawning the Zune in response to a lack of promising mp3 players running a Windows derivative and plugging into their content distribution network.

This lesson to some extent comes out of Asian copycat devices that mimic, say, the iPod. Of those devices that actually work, few are really identical in functionality. Often, companies add on an FM receiver, voice recorder, or different manual controls. So differentiation is at the heart of the human spirit, and resists the forces of consumer demand. After all, we’ve learnt that people don’t know what they want until you show it to them. So let’s find a way to ditch the patent paranoia, and build an interoperable platform for 21st century services. (On a separate note, it would be interesting to find out why some government-funded technology projects fail, as seems to be the case with “Quaero”.)


Right, I was going to tell you the other thing that Linux developers don’t get about OS X. The problem starts with the fact that most Linux developers haven’t read Jef Raskin’s equivalent of  Mein Kampf (in the sense that Hitler laid out what he was going to do in Mein Kampf, but most liberals in Germany did not read the book and so came up against an avoidable surprise). Microsoft would have only needed to read Jef Raskin’s book thoroughly and develop quicker than Apple – which they were well poised to do – in order to edge ahead on usability (avoiding certain patents such as having the application menu on the screen edge).

Here’s a quick hint:

  • Expose: Zoom
  • Spaces: Zoom
  • Time machine: Zoom

Okay, I think we’re getting the idea here. And did you know that the green button on the title bar was called a “zoom” button? It’s not for maximising, it’s for zooming. And then there are the zoom sliders on apps such as iPhoto and Yep. What chronology is to storytelling, zooming is to work environment visualisation. Google Earth? PhotoSynth? Bingo. And zooming is extensible indefinitely. As an aside, this is also how the iPod works: you zoom into the artist, then the album, then the song. Hierarchical layers. And the column view in Finder is the same idea broad side on. I would really, really like to see this clarity of paradigm in Linux.