boutell: (shave)
Hey folks,

That new social network I was talking about has come to pass. It's still in beta, but it's come along a tremendous way, with oodles of help from [ profile] catbear.

If interested, just drop me a line at and I'll shoot you an invite.
boutell: (shave)
One Post Wonder status update: I can invite people. Those people can accept their invitations and become mutual friends and see each other's posts.

Booyeah! So what's left before I can bring in alpha testers?

● 24-hour rule (that's where this started...)
● A way to follow a nifty person you discover through public posts or comments
● Edit friends
● Public/private switch for posts (right now they are all private)
● Profile pictures
● Limit the # of invites you can send
● A way to change your password

That will bring me up to the minimum feature set for folks to enjoy the experience. Then I'll welcome those who are still reading when they get to this sentence. You know who you are.
boutell: (shave)
"How's the site comin'?" It's comin'. I've started writing code, which is great, and it took a little flailing about to get my priorities straight:

Get Tom logged in
Get Tom writing posts in rich text
Get Tom reading
Get alpha testers invited
Get people commenting
Get photos in there
Get YouTube in there
Let the alpha testers (and Tom) invite more beta testers
Get ??? in there
Sustainability: introduce the option of paying for it or seeing ads
Let it grow until a point where we...
Need a kickstarter to do more scalability engineering
Which brings more attention and more people
boutell: (shave)
Please note: decimals are only approximate as roman numeral fractions are base twelve.

















boutell: (shave)
"Social Enough" kinda appeals to me. And miraculously, is available!

Whatcha think?
boutell: (shave)
A bunch of you already know I'm designing a social network where you can only post once per day.

My latest mockup is here.

New today: comments. The first post in the mockup is displayed with comments expanded.

I think Facebook mostly gets commenting right. LJ's comments are overcomplicated for most people's needs.

I did however go with a "send" button, which frees up the enter key for actual line breaks, without having to be a cleverpants who hits shift-enter. I think it's more in keeping with the "longer deeper thoughts" nature of the site.

The deepest question I haven't resolved: do public posts even exist on this site? I like the idea that it's more focused on friends, but I don't want to chase away folks who enjoy having a mixed public/private presence. Like me.

Along with that: should people have public "usernames"?
boutell: (shave)

My daughter's black Macbook has died. Sort of.

Normally I don't get sentimental about computers, but it had a long life with three owners, all of whom were thrilled when they initially received it and for a long time thereafter.

This thing is most likely the 2006 model, purchased for Rick, the lead designer at P'unk Avenue at the time. It was a robust Photoshop machine then.

When I first came to work at P'unk Avenue I was still rocking the flaming, half-charred remains of a Dell Latitude D520, the model that always ran hot once they decided to push out a firmware "update" that overclocked it at all times. Basically as if Honda said, "every time somebody gets an oil change we chuck in a nitrous oxide injection system. No ifs ands or buts." I ran Linux on it, figuring if you've got to drive an alcohol-fueled funnycar you may as well drive stick.

After less than a year of this the team decided it was time for Rick to get a new Mac, because Photoshop (a very good reason), and for me to get a nearly-new one.

I was resistant to the idea, for about 30 seconds. And then I was a Mac person. Yes, you too can have things that aren't broken and feel good to use! And you'll only pay a $500 premium for the privilege. Sometimes it's worth it.

In 2010 I got a 15" Macbook Pro. I was resistant, again, because I had the best man-bag ever, and I didn't want to switch. Yes, this is the same bag that led me to resist upgrading from a crappy Nokia to an iPhone for a year and a half. Wouldn't fit in the phone compartment, y'know. I got over it.

I was kindly permitted to take the by-now-seemingly-ancient black macbook home for to my daughter, who until then was on a Dell cheapo desktop special of the year. The macbook was a major upgrade.

Come the end of 2012, performance was really getting to be a problem. The machine had "only" 2 gigabytes of RAM and a small, spinning hard drive and operating system and browser upgrades had brought us to a place where just browsing the tumblrwebs was a hassle.

Fortunately 2012 was also the year SSDs (Solid State Drives) came down to a reasonable price. The upgrade to a solid state drive is a night-and-day difference for old laptops; they actually run faster than new laptops that don't have one. We upgraded all of our machines at work, then I popped a 256GB Crucial SSD in the black Macbook, along with 3GB of RAM, the absolute theoretical maximum.

My daughter got another solid year out of the machine, apart from some issues with lazy-ass game vendors who can't be bothered to support more than one Mac. The keyboard's wearing out, the trackpad's wearing out, but it works y'know.

But then the serious complaint arrived: dad, the screen goes black at random when I power it up.

OK, OK, it's time.

So I bought her a Dell Inspiron 15z, reckoning it'll keep her at least until freshman year of college and maybe beyond. (The Ultrabook spec has made it a lot easier to buy a non-Mac laptop that isn't garbage.) And then I sat down to try to repair the Black Macbook.

As it turns out, a number of people have experienced this "flash at power up, then black screen" thing. And I went through all of their suggestions. None of them work. There is no faint picture. Resetting the PRAM does no good. Resetting the SMC does no good. Removing the battery does no good. Counting to ten with my underwear on backwards does no good.

But the machine seems to be working, there in the dark. And I bet you, when I hook it up to an external monitor, I'm gonna see a picture.

And that means I can wipe the hard drive, reinstall MacOS, and put this sucker up on eBay for the highest bidder as the cheapest media server ever.

Here we are in year eight, paging happy owner number four!
boutell: (shave)
I posted a lovely technical rant today. I'm pleased with it. Folks are appearing to explain how very wrong I am.

I don't actually think there's only one right answer, but since I intentionally invited strong reactions by invoking the phrase considered harmful, I must take these responses in stride and respond with cheerful bonhomie and rocket grenade fire.

It takes me back to my beginnings, not as a programmer but as a writer. I was meant to be on the Internet, but there wasn't one yet for normal mortals. So I built a BBS out of chewing gum and baling wire, set up political forums and learned the arts of consensus and rhetoric, Peter Wiggin style.
boutell: (shave)
OK, so, the Brendan Eich thing. You could be forgiven for thinking it's a slippery slope to ask an employee to leave because of their personal beliefs about a social issue. Because it is.

But a CEO is not a regular employee. A CEO is a very public cheerleader for your company. It's a PR position as much as anything. The phrase "appearance of impropriety" is relevant here. You can't claim your CEO's views are not those of the company. If not theirs, then whose?

OK, so maybe you wouldn't buy that either if we were talking about Domino's Pizza, or even Microsoft, because they are for-profit companies and it's their job to maximize the stock price, not change the world. But Mozilla is not a for-profit company. It's a nonprofit organization dedicated to "openness." And that "public cheerleader" thing goes double for the CEO of a nonprofit organization.

But let's go back to the for-profits for a moment, because there's another relevant factor: companies need to retain employees. Developers are social libertarians. People who want to get married will always care more about the issue than people who want to stop them from getting married. And all of Mozilla's major competitors are rock solid on same-sex marriage, even though, as for-profit companies, they could choose to ignore it.

So at the end of the day, making him CEO was bad business. It should never have happened. He should have stayed in the CIO role, which acknowledged his considerable professional worth, and not moved into the vastly more political role of CEO.
boutell: (shave)
I am hanging out in a college student union building. I can't play starcraft on the shitty wifi. Why would I want to bother? Good question, but I'm kinda pleased by the reason. It turns out that the wifi in this building blocks BitTorrent, and starcraft uses BitTorrent to distribute files.

That, of course, means that outside of a student union building, there's a lot more pressure to ensure that BitTorrent works, which makes it less likely it'll be heavy-handedly blocked by ISPs, etc.

For those who have always been a little fuzzy on it: BitTorrent is a way of downloading files in which your computer also participates in streaming those files out to other users. It's all done with cryptographic hashes that ensure you're getting the real thing. As soon as you get the first piece, you're sharing it out to other people who don't have that particular piece yet. And the pieces are delivered in a random order, so that you don't have a problem with nobody hanging around to serve the "last" piece. Very much peer-to-peer.

Used an awful lot to distribute TV shows and movies without payin', which I don't hold with, although I am tempted when a show is perversely unavailable by any legitimate means. TAKE MY MONEY!


Feb. 20th, 2014 11:38 pm
boutell: (shave)
I have won my last several games of 3x3 multiplayer Starcraft. Instead of losing three out of four.

This is happening because I switched from complicated, careful tactics to a dead-simple "hey guys I am kicking their asses, how about you follow me" strategy.

This is a good approach to leading a group of random people you don't know: keep it simple, take the biggest slice of risk and let them follow you to victory.

This means something.

For those who actually care about such things, I've become a big fan of proxy gateway rushes. Most players I'm encountering are much better than me at the long game but completely fold when faced with this silliness.
boutell: (shave)
Yes, yes, I know: you're embarrassed to ask me if you should buy a new TV because I'm into lifestyle fitness and "don't watch TV." Buddy, I would never give you crap about your new TV purchase. When I bought my current TV in 2007 or so I made an epic saga out of it, even though I personally only watch like a movie a week.

You're in luck: I did my homework on this again recently because I was considering a new TV for the house for xmas. I decided not to jump yet, but you get to be the beneficiary.

OK first, stop thinking "it has to be in a local store," assuming that decision is financial. is offering free shipping on most HDTVs. Check this puppy out.

It's a Samsung, it's 40 inches, it's $500, the amazon ratings are very good, it's a smart TV with built-in netflix etc., you can buy a 5-year warranty (but make sure the deductible doesn't make it pointless).

But maybe you didn't have something that big or that expensive in mind, so how about a 32 inch HDTV for $220!

(This one is only 720p, but at that size you can't see a difference when watching video.)

Again... free shipping.

If you bought your first HDTV back in 2007 or so when the prices first came down to a sane level, like I did, then you are due for a replacement anyway. Your TV is about due to fail. And the newer LED TVs use drastically less power, are much much cheaper, and have better contrast.

By "better contrast," I mean that you can see Batman clearly in a room with some light leaking in from the street. Which is IMPORTANT.

Less power? How much less? Instead of three 80 watt bulbs being turned on all the time while you watch TV, it's like one 80 watt bulb being turned on all the time. (It's time to replace your 80 watt bulbs with LEDs too, but that's another conversation.)

If your new TV isn't a "smart TV" with built-in netflix etc., get yourself a chromecast for $35. Do I really have to explain why for $35? Oh, all right:

Plug it into one of your new TV's HDMI ports and bang, you can stream anything from youtube or netflix to your TV, using your Android, iPhone or laptop as a remote. It's pretty awesome and it's easy to use once you get it set up. As long as you have wifi in your house already it's easy to get it going.

(It can't stream iTunes video, so if you have bought a lot of movies from Apple you probably would be happier with Apple TV. Apple TV is like a high-end, hammacher-schlemmer in-flight-catalog version of the Chromecast. Naturally it costs too much. You could also get a displayport to HDMI adapter for your Macbook, along with an audio cable. Or if you have one of the newest Mac laptops, just use an HDMI cable. Although you might find you prefer staring at your luscious retina display anyway. Mmmmm, invisible pixels.)

If you buy an HDTV and then hook it up to your DVD player with composite cables, i.e. these pieces of crap:

The red one is left speaker. The white one is right speaker. The yellow one is 1987-grade TV reception.

... Then you will get the same shitty flicker you had on your old RCA in 1987. Plus I will make fun of you.

Your DVD player may already have an HDMI jack. This is a single jack that carries both picture and audio, digitally, so nothing is lost. If your DVD player doesn't have one, buy a DVD player that does for, like, $30.

Or, at least use component video cables (a bundle with separate red, green and blue jacks) which, for plain old DVD, are acceptable. If your DVD player only has a single composite video output though, junk it.

Please note: there is a special level of "Tom making fun of people hell" reserved for people who hook up Blu-Ray players with composite cables. Unless they are over 70. In which case I just break into their house wearing a Zorro mask and replace them with HDMI cables.

(I replace the composite cables, not the senior citizens.)

This post had nice pictures but LJ's editor progressively munged the markup with each edit. LJ, why do you hate America?
boutell: (shave)
I usually play four-against-four pickup games.

I have reached the point where, nine games out of ten, my teammates do not actually yell "dude you SUCK!"

Hey, that's progress!

Generally one of two things happen:

Either (a) the other team decides to target me, in which case I'm supposed to be an easy kill but I'm not and it soaks up a lot of their resources although I don't get to accomplish much else, or (b) they don't, and I go long and build a decent army and have some impact while somebody better than me leads the big crusade.

I just finished an exceptionally good game in which I saw more things trying to blow each other up at once than I had thought my computer was capable of depicting. And then it went on for another 20 minutes. Wow.
boutell: (shave)
I am terrible at doin' nothin', hangin' out, not seeking any self-improvement for an hour or two. Unless you count bouncing distractedly between Facebook and Twitter and email, ugh; I'm trying to cut back on that. It's not real relaxation, not if you're doing too much of it.

There are lots of activities I can do in alternation with my day job that are somewhat relaxing and shift me into a different place, but I need some true downtime as well, not just sneaky self-improvement.

PG-rated activities that do function as relaxation for me and are not sneaky self-improvement (For the most part):

• Salsa dancing (*)
• Reading science fiction
• Truly silly programming projects like the snowcam
• Playing Starcraft 2.

I still remember discovering the original Starcraft: I was visiting my sister and brother-in-law. Jason had a dedicated office-slash-gaming-room. He didn't have a PC, he had a rig, you know what I'm saying? It was a good cave in which to discover a game.

Speaking of caves, though, I love how you can fall into Starcraft and then come out again. Each match is self-limiting in duration. Nobody's trying to force you to "farm" all fricking day to get anywhere in the game.

Because it's a GAME. It's not a REPLACEMENT FOR YOUR LIFE. I like that.

After a concerted attempt to get good at playing the Terrans, I have rediscovered the joy of playing the Protoss... the one species in all of known space that can set up a decent static defense and build a slow, inexorable, overwhelming offense.

All of those things are good if you have never had the fastest reflexes in the world.

Plus, they have voidrays, which are terribly satisfying and strike more terror in one's opponents than their actual stats deserve.

And a decent build seems to come naturally to me, while I find the Terrans much fussier to play. I'm still not, y'know, GOOD. But I'm hardly ever that guy all the thirteen-year-olds are making fun of at the end of the game anymore. So... I win?

(*) OK, salsa can be sneaky self-improvement, especially in the early days of the learning curve. But at my level of experience going out to the club and spinning the ladies for a couple hours is strictly recreation.
boutell: (shave)
The problem's plain to see (snowcam snowcam, we've got a snowcam)
Too much technology (snowcam snowcam, we've got a snowcam)
Machines to measure snow (snowcam snowcam, we've got a snowcam)
By Android tablet glow [GUITAR SHRED]

Every year, weather permitting, Jill Knapp and I perpetrate pseudometeorology with the aid of way too much technology. Join us this evening as we answer the question: how much snow is on Jill's bucket?


Jan. 1st, 2014 12:09 pm
boutell: (shave)
Backups are hilarious. Everybody talks about them and nobody does them. Everybody loses ALL THEIR SHIT and screams and cries and screams again. Humans are funny.

For personal use the answer is pretty easy:

1. Buy a Mac
2. Buy an external USB drive - a simple teeny one that has more capacity than your hard drive and does NOT require a separate power cord
4. Set up Time Machine, which comes with your Mac
5. Keep hooking that drive up for a while every day
6. That's it. Time Machine backs up automatically, you don't have to think about it. As a bonus you can get back to versions of any file as of particular dates. But the main win is that you can restore your entire machine if you must replace your drive or your entire computer.

Sure, the external drive could fail, but your main drive and your external drive aren't going to fail on the same day. It's more than good enough. And it is BETTER than your fancy backup solution that is complicated that you never use.

The only backup that matters is a backup that you actually use.

For professional use it's a little trickier. At work we've come to favor using Amazon S3 for backup of client projects.

For a while we had a Drobo. It was shiny, but too shiny. It is shininess tempted folks to try to set it up as a network Time Machine time capsule... thing... which never worked. Eventually we just bought people individual external drives: simpler is better.

Then we hooked it up in the basement to back up certain projects nigthly. That was better, and it was sweet that it could handle a failed drive so gracefully... until it started to get really really slow and we realized it was old and unsupported and scary to rely on.

We also tried a bargain-basement RAID setup, with two external drives. This was not good. Linux kept changing its mind about what to call the array and the individual drives, no matter how much I worked to lock those things down. It shouldn't be hard to figure out which drive is the dead one.

So we moved to Amazon S3. It's awesome: it's not in your basement, it's geographically redundant (data centers in widely separated states), it's highly redundant on the local level too, and you don't worry about ANY of that shit. You just pay the bill.

Amazon S3 is shiny and you can do fancy things with it, but we try to keep it as stupid as possible: we use a simple command line tool called s3cmd to move things to and from S3. We make an archive file of an entire project and upload that to S3; we keep three weeks of those archives. It's too simple to screw up.

OK, we did do one fancy thing with S3: I wrote a nice nodejs-powered tool to manage the backups.

You can pick up the code here on github. It's nifty, but it has one flaw: it downloads each project locally, archives it, and uploads the archive, then proceeds to the next project. And this takes a long time. So since we have a lot of clients with big projects, we can only do weekly backups, not daily.

So the next generation of this tool will probably do all the work for each project on the server that hosts that project, allowing them all to back up to S3 in parallel. Which means setting up a separate S3 "bucket" for each project, for security reasons. And... other stuff. So for now, we stick with the simple version.
boutell: (shave)
At this point I'm no longer sure that Bitcoins are beanie babies. But the emerging alternatives to Bitcoin, like Litecoin, are definitely shitty knockoff beanie babies at the corner store. The whole point of Bitcoin is proven, permanent scarcity that means they could theoretically hold value. That only works once.

As for actual Bitcoins, they are now trading near the $1K mark, which is pretty jawdropping, and the price graph over the last couple years is remarkable. People are now selling dedicated mining rigs with custom chips ("ASICs") engineered solely for the purpose; it is no longer considered profitable to mine with an off the shelf PC, not even with software that takes advantage of the smarts in your graphics card.

There are now around 12 million bitcoins in circulation. At a valuation near $1k a pop, they are currently worth $12 billion. Of course, if everyone were to try to sell them tomorrow, they would be worth nothing tomorrow.

Am I going to start mining them? No. I do kinda wish I'd mined them three years ago, socked away 1K of them, and sold them off this summer. But only in the most cynical way, because I remain very skeptical that they will hold value. Sure, they are scarce, but only because people consent to view this particular algorithm as the magical one that "counts." It's not like gold, which has intrinsic value, or the dollar, which has... heh heh heh heh heh heh heh.
boutell: (shave)
Hey, I bought a Chromecast. Here's my review:

I got my Chromecast. It's a $35 gadget that claims to be able to do two things:

1. "Cast" any tab you have open in Chrome to your TV.
2. "Cast" YouTube, Netflix and a number of other services, but definitely not iTunes, to your TV. Not just from a Mac or PC, but also from any iPhone, Android phone, iPad, Android tablet, etc. etc. etc.

Physically you couldn't ask for a less obtrusive device. It's a teeny dongle that hangs off one of your TV's HDMI ports. (If you have a flatscreen, it almost certainly has HDMI ports.) You do have to hook it up to power as well, but that's not outrageous.

So how well does it work? Pretty well overall. Amazing for the price.

Its worst feature by far, though, is the one it's named for: casting a Chrome tab.

There is a noticeable lag when casting a tab. And you need a really powerful laptop to cast a tab without a lot of chop and stuttering audio. My brand new Macbook Pro can do it without stuttering, Roberta's perfectly respectable but very affordable PC laptop cannot.

Thing is, if what you want is to watch YouTube, Netflix or a similar service, you're totally golden. Because your phone or computer just tells the chromecast to go get them on its own. And that works great. My phone is now an awesome YouTube remote.

There is a Chromecast dev kit, and they are pushing updates all the time. But the dev kit seems to be pretty high level stuff and probably can't be used to work around fundamental limitations of tab casting. Improving that experience is up to Google. My first impression is that, when you cast a tab, it's directly sending the display and audio of your PC to the Chromecast, which would account for the lousy performance on less powerful PCs and the lag issues with all PCs. After reading a lot about it, this is also my second and third impression, with an eensy bit of doubt: since the SDK for "receiver apps" that run on the device is JavaScript-based, it does sound like it's really running Chrome... just not in a really useful way, as in actually loading the tab you're on directly rather than making your PC send pictures of it.

Update: aha! I was right: even though the Chromecast is built on web technologies and apps are written in JavaScript, it does not load casted tabs directly. Instead they are rendered on your PC and beamed to the Chromecast using a bandwidth-piggy protocol called WebRTC. nick671 has the details on reddit.

So tab casting could one day improve... if Google or someone else comes up with a way of cleverly restricting what websites include while still leaving them interesting to use, despite the 512MB RAM limit of the Chromecast. (Yes, we live in an age of miracles and wonders.) That would probably exhibit some confusing differences from what the same tab does on your desktop, though– another reason they don't do it out of the box.

But again, none of these limitations matter for things like youtube and netflix that the chromecast supports natively. Those are awesome. And the dev kit means the door is certainly open to other third party services creating their own "receiver apps" for a better Chromecast experience.
boutell: (Default)
Holy crap, we are hiring up a storm at work:

Customer Service / Office Manager --> Front line support for our client projects. Da Boss needs more mental CPU cycles to devote to new business development.

Front End Developer --> Lots of jquery and modern CSS and templates and light frontend PHP, with ample growth opportunities in backend stuff.

Designer / Front End Developer --> Less code, more concept, but still some hands-on ability with CSS and HTML5 expected.

Back End Developer --> PHP MVC framework stuff (Symfony 1, Symfony 2); MVC frameworks in general; node.js; MySQL, MongoDB; Linux sysadmin skills a nice plus.

Basically we are hiring in just about every role, except for project management and new business development.

There's more information about some of these gigs on our blog, but they all exist, so don't let it slow you down at all if you don't see a listing for one of them (yet).

Get in touch if you are one of these people. Must be stoked about working face to face with a cool bunch of designers and developers and designopers in South Philly.
boutell: (Default)
Reaction #1: "it's a price to earnings ratio of 100 to 1. That's completely batshit insane."

Reaction #2: "assuming Facebook's earnings are anywhere near their height is like saying 'OK, so you conquered the entire world and every army is prostrate at your feet, but you haven't looted any treasuries YET, so the whole thing was clearly a bust.'"

Reaction #3: "CBS is valued at 30 billion dollars. It was probably worth a lot more in 1985 although I can't seem to find a figure. Facebook is saying they are worth 100 billion dollars. They have one billion users, and they know WAY WAY WAY more about those users than CBS does, and they can market to them individually. 100 billion is about right for Facebook."

Reaction #4: "the usefulness of a social network is a function of the percentage of your peeps who are on it, becoming asymptotic as it approaches 100%. Everybody is on Facebook, therefore nobody will ever join a Facebook competitor, even if they would like to. They are only going to get bigger."

Reaction #5: "I encouraged friends to try an alternative social network. They replied that they did not know the email addresses of their friends and so could not invite them. Facebook is worth at least $100 billion."

Reaction #6: "Google is valued at $200 billion. Their business is also based on contextual advertising, and they know less about their users in some ways than Facebook does. They have tried and failed to unseat Facebook in social networking. Facebook is probably worth at least half a Google."

September 2014

2122232425 2627


RSS Atom

Most Popular Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Sep. 20th, 2017 11:01 am
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios