Friday, January 30, 2009

pete on the daily show

This clip speaks for itself! Money quote from Jon Stewart: "This book blew my fucking mind..."

Go get Wired. Currently #15 on Amazon's hot new releases list!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

244 to 188

Not one House Republican voted for the stimulus package. Not one. Seriously, this is how you want to welcome a new era for America as we slide towards a second great depression? In further news, most Republicans also voted against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.

Monday, January 26, 2009

robots, atari, and airports

Two friends have released books worth taking a look at.

First, Peter Singer, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, has written "Wired for War."  I was lucky enough to read an early copy and found it an insightful and occasionally disturbing read. Robots intersect with virtual worlds in many different ways, so Pete's book raises a host of issues that also will eventually apply to virtual worlds. You can hear Pete talk about his book with Terry Gross on "Fresh Air."

Second, Ian Bogost, author, game developer, and professor at Georgia Tech has written a new book, "Racing the Beam: The Atari Video Computer System (Platform Studies)." Racing looks at how the VCS hardware, and the ecosystem around VCS development, shaped the games that were created for it and, ultimately, game development as a whole.

One more thing. Ian has just released an iPhone version of Jetset: a Game for Airports. Boing Boing already picked it up, so you probably already heard about it. In case you haven't, Jetset is a delightful parody of airport security and a pretty solid casual iPhone game. I've been beta testing it while Jetset managed to pass the tortuous meta-game of Apple iPhone App approval, so it's great that it is out. It's a cheap thrill, check it out!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

fence post and other inauguration errors

Just as on election day, I was on an airplane over Greenland as the world changed, so I had the inauguration on a DVR. Absolutely amazing to see and I am as thrilled as everyone by what the future holds. A few nits did pop out while watching:

First, apparently, on top of his other challenges, Rick Warren would also be a lousy programmer:

Now today we rejoice not only in America's peaceful transfer of power for the 44th time.

Obama is the 44th President, so we had 44 transfers, right?
Well, no. We've had 43 transfers between Presidents. This kind of "off-by-one" error is called a "fence post" error in computer science and is sadly common in software projects. Of course, maybe Rick was including the transfer of power from the British to George Washington in his list of "peaceful transfers."

Second, alas, President Obama decided to make a similar mistake:
Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath

Unless SkyNet sent a rotund T-1000 back in time and replaced Grover Cleveland between 1889 and 1893, Forty-three Americans have taken the Oath. Cleveland was both our 22nd and 24th President, but he was the same person. There have been 44 Presidencies but only 43 Presidents.

Third, it really instills me with a sense of confidence that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court couldn't bother to learn the Presidential Oath of Office:
I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

Not too long, is it. Note the absence of "So help me God" in the Constitutional instructions.
Well, they probably called Chief Justice Roberts Tuesday morning and said "Hey, John, if you aren't, you know, busy today, would you mind attending Barack's inauguration? It would be so cool if you could give him the Oath of Office."
Maybe he's irked that Obama voted against his confirmation?

may be time to say bye to blogger

Blogger seems uninterested in dealing with comment spam or offering tools to make it easier to fight -- would it be so bloody difficult to give me a page of recent comments with multi-select and delete? Oh, wait, it would be since the Blogger team and GMail team probably don't talk to each other or share underlying technology.

Right now I'm leaning toward either going uber geek and using Jekyll on GitHub pages or installing Wordpress over on Dreamhost, but suggestions are welcome.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

rapunzel's revenge

At the geek formal of the year, we made several visits to Cory's favorite Toronto sci-fi bookstore, Bakkaphoenix. On our second trip, we discovered an amazing graphic novel: Rapunzel's Revenge

We grabbed it, read it when we got home, and decided to give it our 5 1/2 year-old daughter Meridian for Christmas.

Christmas morning, Meridian came down and had a moment of inspired honesty.
"Mom, I'm kind of disappointed."
"Why, honey?"
"There are a lot of really flat presents, so I think a lot of them are books."

The second present she unwrapped was Rapunzel. She opened it up and started paging through it. And kept paging. And kept paging. 45 minutes of obliviousness-to-the-world later -- we were talking to her, getting coffee, and wondering aloud when she'd want to return to her pile of still unopened presents and she just kept reading -- she closed the book and looked up.

"I didn't like that."

Trying hard not to burst out laughing we asked why not.

"More of the faces seemed angry or scared than happy."
"Would you like us to read it you so you can see what happens? It has a happy ending."

Several sessions later -- it's a long story -- Meridian decided that she liked it after all. It has since become a regular fixture of her reading schedule, both reading it alone or with other kids and having adults read it to her. It's a great retelling of the fairy tale and lots of fun. Good to know there will be a sequel!

So, kudos, congratulations, and thank yous to Shannon and Dean Hale, and Nathan Hale (no relation). You can read all about how the book came to be on their website.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

mission accomplished

Some very astute thoughts on the current war in Gaza by Reza Aslan over at the Daily Beast:
"Mission Accomplished: He was Right"
"Which One's the Terrorist?"

You've probably heard of Reza through his book "No god but God" -- which you should read! -- or his always brilliant appearances on the Daily Show. I met Reza in 2007 at the US-Islamic Forum in Doha, Qatar, where we proceeded to get into a 3 day debate about faith and belief. While that debate continues, I think Reza has remarkably insight on the geopolitics and history of the Middle East and these articles are well worth the read.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

a whole new fcc

The Washington Post is reporting that Julius Genachowski is going to run the FCC. I think this is fantastic news. When one considers the future of American infrastructure and competitiveness, the FCC is going to be at the center. National broadband policy, network neutrality, spectrum allocation, smart radio. The list goes on and on.

I met Julius in April of 2007, early in the campaign process. What struck me after we had lunch was a) how incredibly smart he was, b) how quickly he synthesized new information, and c) that if this was the kind of person Obama was attracting, then he would get my vote! The Obama team continued to pull in amazing people and the rest is, as they say, history. It is all the more amazing given the many voices and directions percolating within the campaign at that time. Julius was a clearly a huge part of the process of pulling things together. I am certain he will be up to the challenges at FCC.

Maybe a FCC with Julius as chairman will even report complaints correctly!

Monday, January 12, 2009

remember, we elected him

Wow, this was fascinating listening in the car this morning. Pretty transparent look into how he thinks. 7 days left.

changing views

At Linden Lab, we took a brief look at Ruby in 2006. Some Rails code had snuck into deployment and as we were digging into refactoring back end communications, Ruby and Rails came up as an option. At the time, I remember thinking that Ruby had a comfortable syntax and was as easy as Perl for whipping out quick-and-dirty tasks. Early performance testing was not encouraging and that first production piece of Rails code had issues, however, so Ruby and Rails got lumped together in the collective Linden hive mind as Bad Technology(tm).

Thus, when Peter decided we were going to build on Ruby and Rails, it gave me pause. Of course, since Peter was going to run engineering, it was his call. Plus, James Currier and his team at Ooga Labs were happy building on it.

So, Ruby it was.

The last six months at EMI have been a blur of learning the music business, adapting to working within a large company, and building a technology team. In making initial hires, I realized that my lack of Ruby expertise was hurting my ability to interview candidates. I had been through the pickaxe book, and various bits of data analysis code had moved from Perl to Ruby, but I hadn't built anything of substance. So, over the holidays I took on a chunkier side project. Details to come in a later post, but in building it a bunch of useful Ruby lessons emerged.

First, if you know other programming languages and want to bump your brain into Ruby context, read "Design Patterns in Ruby." Best Ruby book I've yet read and its intro to Ruby chapter is a superb intro to the language.

Second, embrace behavior driven development, rspec, and rcov. BDD takes things a step up from unit testing. If you're an old time C coder, you probably are used to whipping your design out in broad comments and then coding the elements in. BDD changes this from writing comments to writing user stories and then your unit tests as you go. Hard to describe how addictive this style of coding is until you've done it, but it explains the evangelical nature of its adopters because it's fun! At a mental impasse? Write a few more stories. Haven't had your first cup of coffee yet? Sketch in the class structure to pass early tests and add a few more stories. A few minutes before the end of the day? Bump your code coverage to 100% on a file that currently is at 70%. Note that none of this applies universally to Ruby, nor did Ruby invent any of this. What Ruby does give you is a fairly easy to install and use framework of tools.

Third, if you're on a Mac, use Growl and ZenTest and then configure reporting. What this does is to automatically rerun your tests every time you change a file and then report the results via growl. You can even have the Doom marine tell you how you're doing! It's all about reducing the development process to small, bite-sized chunks, with the added hook of continuous feedback.

Fourth, I've already talked about git and github for source code control. Having lived in the CVS/Subversion world for so long, git continues to impress. Super fast, flexible, and integrates well with TextMate.

Finally, we've started having movie time at lunch and watching the Pragmatic Programmers series on Metaprogramming. Very useful, without the "look how clever my code is" aspect that seems to permeate a lot of the online discussions.

Friday, January 09, 2009


I've been using Agile Web Solution's 1Password for over a month now and really, really like it. 1Password is a Mac application that manages all of your passwords, automatically fills in web forms, and generates ridiculously strong passwords on demand. Like, well, everyone, I had been using a few tiers of password. My ludicrously long pass phrase for rsa private keys, strong password for work machines, weaker passwords for silly websites, etc. 1Password lets you choose passwords like


for every site.

Even better, 1Password synchronizes between your Macs, so you have all your passwords everywhere. It uses browser plugins to detect when you enter a password and stores the form so you can easily get back into sites later. Great stuff.

A few minor quirks. First, many people -- including me -- find that Mac keychain syncing is flakey for 1Password and corrupts the saved passwords -- bad with such random sequences -- so I use their Dropbox option. Second, there is a failure mode where you update a password in 1Password but somehow the website doesn't accept it -- say your drop your web connection mid update. Suddenly 1Password has your new, random password but the site still knows your old one. Fortunately, 1Password keeps a log that you can recover the old password from. Finally, entering random 20 character passwords on iPhone for Gmail is a pain. (There is an iPhone app that allows you visit websites, but no way to easily move the password to, say, the Facebook app.)

For me those problems are offset by the convenience and additional security. Cool product, superbly executed.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

anybots telepresence robot

Congrats to Trevor Blackwell and the rest of the Anybots team on the launch of QA at CES. QA is a telepresence robot that gives you a way to have human like interactions at a distance. Sort of the inverse of Second Life. Rather than meeting in a virtual space, QA gives you a robot to control in the real world. Wonderful stuff. Philip had suggested doing a robot like this several years ago, although I don't know if he's continued thinking about it. I got to see QA at the Y Combinator demo day last spring and am thrilled to see it released.

For those who haven't thought about telepresence, consider for a moment what it gives a remote employee compared to tele- or video conferencing. The remote employee suddenly signals attention and presence -- who are you talking to, what are you working on -- and gains the ability to physically participate with those who are onsite. You start knowing what conversations the distance participant is a part of, what they are focused on, and have a natural way to gain their attention -- you just walk up to them. In much the same way that Second Life avatars in meetings rapidly map onto real people, I am sure that after a few minutes of interaction with QA you forget that you're talking to someone at a distance. Huge implications for collaboration, education, medicine, and communication. Much like Second Life, I expect that we haven't begun to scratch the surface of interesting uses for telepresence.

Even more fun, think about what happens when telepresence and virtual worlds meet. When you have a continuous mix of real-world and virtual participation, linked by the kind of work MIT is doing with mixed reality buildings.

predictions for 2009

Or at least the remaining 97.5% of it.  Meant to get these posted a few days ago, but better late than never.  So after last year's 0.600, onward to the 6th round of fearless predictions for the year ahead:

1) Second Life will return to steady growth and have a shockingly good 2009
By shockingly good, let's say 50% growth in concurrency and James' measure of active users.  Why do I expect SL to rock 2009?  A few reasons.  First, world-wide recession makes SL more valuable as a source of income, cost effective collaboration tool, substitute for expensive travel, and educational resource.  Second, the same recession -- combined with Lively's demise -- means competition will remain non-existent.  Third, Linden has had time to adapt to the many organizational changes 2008 brought.

2) Another Republican Senator leaves his party to become an independent, largely caucusing with Senate Democrats.
As the Republic party tries to differentiate and reinvent itself in 2009, I see some moderate Republicans facing very interesting decisions about their political futures.

3) Microsoft gets its shit together
Let's make a few things clear.  I am an exclusively a Mac household, EMI Digital purchased Macs, I helped make Second Life cross platform, and the only Microsoft product I use with any regularity is MS Office for OS X.  However, I have never visited a large corporation with such a high percentage of brilliant, motivated, and thoughtful employees as Microsoft, Microsoft Research, and Microsoft Games.  The current downturn is a perfect chance for Microsoft to make some hard decisions about its future, to refine its engineering team, and to finally shake up it's traditional internal divisions.  Moreover, with MS stock at a 35% discount, MS could make interesting acquisitions leveraging the fact that the deal will ultimate be worth quite a bit more as the stock market recovers.  Obviously, Google, IBM, Intel, et al could also do this, but I think MS is going to be the first of the tech giants to figure this out.

4) Across the industry, 2009 global recorded music sales contract by low single digit percentages, pulled down by double digit physical sales drops but buoyed by large digital gains.
Pretty self explanatory.

5) Linden Lab gets acquired
For the earliest employees, this is year 10 at Linden Lab.  For most of the investors, this is year 8.  With capital markets in the toilet, even with the great performance I expect out of Second Life this year, an IPO is impossible.  Thus, the pressure of no liquidity -- from investors, from employees trapped by AMT, and from the increasing need to be able to diversify the Second Life product offering to begin [edit: s/being/begin/] truly rebuilding the code base -- is going to mount, with an acquisition the logical way out.  Per the MS discussion, an acquisition this year may be for fewer absolute dollars, but in the long run the deal would be more valuable as markets recover.

6) Fiber-to-the-home becomes part of the economic stimulus/economic recovery package
If the United States is really going to focus on national competitiveness, innovation, education, and infrastructure, nothing would provide as cost effective a change as a national FTTH project, bringing truly high speed network connections to at least 90% of US households.

7) New models for innovation, entrepreneurship, and education emerge during the downturn
As I wrote earlier this year, there is a sweet spot at the intersection of  traditional venture funding, Y Combinator-style micro funding, and education.  Especially in 2009, with a national focus on competitiveness, there is an opportunity to try this.  More in another post.

8) Israel learns that there must be a balance between legitimate national security concerns and its moral responsibilities to those it governs
Why is the Daily Show the only balanced coverage of this?

9) Something completely new in the web, social space will successfully launch in 2009
By success, I mean more than 100,000 customers and a real business model.  By new, I mean not just virtual worlds in a browser, but something that mixes the web, social, media, and fun together in new ways.

10) I will travel less in 2009 than I did in 2008.
In 2008, I flew 180,000 miles and 102 segments on United.  Admittedly, nothing in the Joi or Larry's worlds, but too much for me.

So there you.  Share your predictions!

Thursday, January 01, 2009

time to grade predictions

Happy 2009, everyone!  Sorry for the lack of posts lately, but moving into our new SF offices, actually writing code again -- more on that in a later post -- and the holidays have pushed blogging down the stack a bit.  However, for the fifth year in a row it's time to grade my predictions from the previous year.  Without further ado:

1. The teams I built at Linden Lab will do amazing things this year (duh!)
A bit of a gimme, but credit to Linden folks for coming through a tumultuous year and delivering on some long-promised features.
1 out of 1 (1.000)

2. Social search engines -- such as Foxmarks, Wikia Search, and others -- will generate initial results that are strong enough for Google to release a Google Social Search Beta to great fanfare and limited use
I so want to give myself half a point here, since Google talked about social search a lot this year, all the social networks introduced search, and Google started paying more attention to social networks in general, but they didn't do it.
1 out of 2 (0.500)

3. The breakthrough feature on the '08 iPhone will be video capture, editing, and video blogging more than 3G
Ug.  When some of the 3G design rumors emerged with a front facing camera I was pretty stoked.  Alas, they were just rumors.  I wonder if I was just early on this one?
1 out of 3 (0.333)

4. In Europe, virtual world content will increasingly fall under country of origin rules, greatly simplifying the European Union regulatory requirements
Looking back over past predictions, I have a pattern of being early on predictions involving large organizations and bureaucracies.  Time will tell on this one.  Some academic discussions and white papers supporting this idea, but no real action.
1 out of 4 (0.250)

5. Games and virtual worlds will once again be vilified in the name of "family values" during the 2008 Presidential election
Not nearly as much as I feared -- mostly thanks to the remarkable campaign of Barack Obama and the economic collapse -- but still plenty of uninformed rhetoric about games, violence, and addiction.
2 out of 5 (0.400)

6. Despite number 5, games and virtual worlds will be the cornerstone of at least one nation's effort to reform their education system
I can't claim this one, as no national effort exists, but if any country was going to stand out it would be the United States.  2008 demonstrated that there is no shortage of new and interesting ways to leverage virtual worlds and education.  It also shows no sign of slowing down.
2 out of 6 (0.333)

7. Despite additional packet tampering and shaping by broadband providers, no effective network neutrality legislation will be passed
This continues to be an incredibly complex issue.  I'm not convinced that true network neutrality regulation is even possible, but I feel that continued debate on the issue is important if we are to find compromises -- network transparency, perhaps, where you are always able to tracert your routes? -- that deliver the guarantees the Internet requires.
3 out of 7 (0.429)

8. Between AIR, Gears, GWT, Silverlight, and Weave, some technology will nail a user experience that smoothly supports both Web and offline usage via a browser
Google just opened this up for docs, although it isn't perfect yet.  Fortunately, a proof point does exist in Balsamiq Mockups.  Check it out if you haven't for a great example of what AIR can do.  Ditto the brilliant work by the folks at Aviary.
4 out of 8 (0.500)

9. As the actors join the writers, more AAA content will be developed for machinima, virtual worlds, and the web as a way to give audiences fresh material without crossing picket lines
4 words.  Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-long Blog.  Not to mention a steady stream of machinima hitting the mainstream as never before.
5 out of 9 (0.555)

10. By the end of 2008 I will be building or working on something as challenging and interesting as Second Life
In hindsight this feels like a gimme, but writing just after Philip forced me out of Linden it was a stretch.  Fortunately, the challenges and opportunities at EMI are fascinating, far reaching, and plentiful, so I am thrilled to be able to claim this one!
6 out of 10 (0.600)

0.600 again.  Predictions for 2009 soon.  Thank you to all the friends, co-workers, students, and family who made 2008 such a strange, tumultuous, and ultimately wonderful year.