Transitioning to the 21st Century

Alright, so I've had this awful Sprint PCS Blackberry for about six
months, and today I finally lost my patience with the thing. For some
reason the thing won't hold charge longer than three hours, and on top
of that I keep on missing calls. Add to all of this the fact that the
blackberry I own has this awful flaw of running out of power and
getting stuck in this endless dialog loop which can only be fixed by
ripping off the cover (there is no way to remove the battery without
breaking the damn thing)…

I forked over the cancellation fee and switched to an iphone. Now I
don't have to suffer through awful blackberry applications and I can
post directly to blogger. Much better.

Meet our Future Masters, the Machines.

Today I awoke to these awesome, but also somewhat creepy flying machines by way of Reddit. So between these lazy, peaceful floating air jelly fish, and the fantastically creepy Big Dog robot which can’t be knocked down even with a rather swift kick. How soon until we cede our freedoms to a swarm of lazily floating killbots and a legion of grunting Big Dogs?

Air Jelly: Transparent, Lighter-than-air….

Stealthy, swarming, capable of surveillance and targetting support…

The Big Dog: Walking, Balancing…

Able to coordinate with other Big Dogs, out-run, and pacify even the most non-compliant of enemies.

Hey, I’m just say, meet your new electronic masters.

Irrational Maven Hatred Sighting

I’m declaring war on irrational Maven hatred. If you have real and valid criticism and feedback for Maven, I’m all for people taking out as much frustration as they want. What I’m done with is the whole “I hate Maven, I can do it better myself” lobby. Here’s an example….. always look at the URL of a post, it can be instructive, this one is “why_i_hate_mave.html” which I can only guess is short for the original title “Why I Hate Maven”, here it is (click on it to read it):

In it, she throws around some passive-aggressive self-congratulation on “finishing the build/release product”: “We have a new configuration manager here, somebody who used to work here, and has now come back. Luckily, I finished the build/release product before he got here, and he seems to like it – at least he isn’t complaining to me.” Now, isn’t that fun? Here’s someone openly blogging about office politics – how would you like to be the “configuration manager” reading this co-worker’s blog.

Maven is clearly not sufficient to produce “segments”: “Our build/release system is very complicated, as it has to build something that the government calls ‘segments’.” She then fails to provide any details.

The author then proceeds to fantasize about getting the opportunity to write an issue management system from scratch “either in Java, php, or Ruby on Rails”.

What’s so fun about this post is that it illustrates three problems with the anti-Maven lobby:

  1. They fail to provide details of any kind. Why not Maven? Well why not just write the thing in Maven? The problem with the anti-Maven crowd is that when they start providing reasons to not use Maven, people start saying difficult things like, “well sure, you do know that Maven can handle that, don’t you?”
  2. They are often political – professional IT turf-defenders. I saw the UK-based build tools team at (massive international bank) reject Maven on purely political grounds. It wasn’t that Maven couldn’t handle the workload, it was that the people “in-charge” of the tools group didn’t want to yield any ground. Often, the rejection of Maven has more to do with developers defending turf or developers feeling challenged. This is especially true of organizations which have full-time employees devoted to build process and developer tools – often these are the people with the incentive to keep the build obscure.
  3. They are convinced of their own genius – they will write everything from scratch. Someone who fails to see the utility of a tool like Maven will often fail to see the utility of other tools. In this particular post we see someone so oblivious to progress that they are really thinking of implementing an issue tracker (do we not have a sufficient number of issue trackers available? Trac, Jira, Bugzilla, BugZero, and about a hundred other options.) What’s most troubling about this particular post is that the she works for some government office somewhere. Hopefully she isn’t busily perfecting another issue tracker.

Not using Maven has more to do with ignorance, territory, and laziness than anything else.

Hank Williams Resonates on "Hypocrisy"

I’m beginning to read Hank William’s blog Why Does Everything Suck?. I stumbled upon Hank’s writing today because I’m thinking about the effects of piracy on the content creator. In this entry about a business idea to ask for free, voluntary design work, Hank raises an interesting question. How many people who have a problem with asking people to volunteer design work for free are themselves taking part in piracy? He writes:

In one case, the creator of the work has decided that it is totally fine that you may view their work for free in the hope that you will chose them. In the other case, the creator of the work explicitly expects to get paid, but instead you steal it.

I cannot say that the specific people making these particular comments have ever pirated even one MP3. But since the majority of people steal music, statistically it is likely most of the people who would argue that 99 designs is unethical, see nothing unethical about actually *stealing* someone else’s work.

What is amazing is that we as people are so often fundamentally unable to see such simple logical fallacies. What is wrong for you is right for me. Doing “X” is wrong because it hurts me, but if I do the same thing, or worse to you, that’s OK.

Hank returns to the theme today in another post on “The Theft Economy”. I wonder what triggered today’s post.

A Wi-fi Dilemna

It is a gloomy and awful day outside (snowing on April 28th!), I go a little stir crazy when I’m stuck my office toiling away at the various solitary pursuits which bring in currency.

I work right next to a coffee bar in Evanston – The Italian Coffee Bar. I like the coffee….well actually, it’s the only coffee I’m not allergic to. for some reason I’m very allergic to Metropolis coffee, but not allergic to Alterra coffee (or Starbucks coffee). Anyway, my Wireless G router is within range of this particular coffee bar that doesn’t offer wireless ethernet. I never asked if I could, but I’ve started working from this particular coffee bar.

No big deal, right?

No problem.

Until someone asks, “Hey, I didn’t know they had Wifi here?”

Me, “Well, they don’t, but I do.”

(Freeze Frame)

Now the part I didn’t tell you is that I share an office with the owner of the aforementioned coffee bar. I haven’t really probed the topic too much, but it is a safe assumption that the lack of Wi-fi is a purposeful business decision. So, what to do? What to do? While I don’t mind a sea of random wi-fi users, I also don’t want to go against the wishes of my office-mate.

(Resume normal playback speed)

Me, “I broke into the guy’s wifi next door, but you might not be able to do the same, I’ve got some software that breaks the WEP algorithm.”

And, that seems to solve the problem for good.

Should I Stop Authoring and Start Pirating?

Andrew Savikas of O’Reilly writes about Piracy on O’Reilly Radar When Authors Ask Us About the Consequences of “Piracy”. He quotes Nat Torkington:

Fantastic! There’s absolutely nothing you can do about it, and unless you see sales dipping off then I don’t think there’s anything you *should* do about it. The HF books work really well as books, so at best the torrents act as advertisements for the superior print product (not often you can say that with a straight face). At worst most of your downloads are going to people who wouldn’t have bought the book at cover price and who will, if they enjoy it, rave about it to others. [emphasis added]

So long as the royalty checks are strong, take BitTorrent as a sign of success rather than a problem. A wise dog doesn’t let his fleas bother him.

Everyone should go out and pirate my books. BitTorrent is a sign of success. Success for whom? For the author? Not this one. Piracy brings up some foundational issues that make me question the entire idea of ever signing another publishing contract which yields any rights for future electronic distribution.

Publishing is an Exchange: Freedom for Distribution

When I sign a contract, I’m agreeing to let the publisher distribute the book. I agree not to go out and print the book myself or distribute the thing online. Even though, if I published the work online, I’d get ten times the audience, the ability to get real-time feedback on what content works and what content doesn’t, and I’d be able to build a real community around the effort possibly recruiting others to contribute and edit. My books are available on Safari, but it isn’t like I get access to a Google Analytics account that’ll tell me what content works and what doesn’t. O’Reilly has a community site called O’Reilly Network, but it isn’t particularly vibrant, nor does it do a great job of book promotion. (Update: I’m trying as much as I can to change this.) You publish with a publisher more for credibility and distribution than anything else. You give up quite a bit of freedom to distribute the content yourself.

Stopping Piracy is a Fools Errand, but…

When one of my books is pirated, I no longer have any say in the content or format of the book. When the book is pirated, my gut instinct is to send a note to the lawyers and ask them to send a cease and desist order. Nat and Andrew are right, there really is nothing you can do about piracy, you can’t stop Torrents, and unless you work for the RIAA and you are evil, you shouldn’t try. I’m very much aware that piracy increases the distribution of the title, and because I’m not motivated by royalty money, I, like Nat, have a similar view. Piracy ain’t that bad, but if someone out there is free to pirate, and if my publisher isn’t going to go after them aggressively, then, well…. why should I bother continuing to sacrifice my own freedom to distribute the content myself?

Don’t get me wrong, I have no “beef” with Nat or Andrew. I think Andrew is great. He’s is one of the primary reasons why O’Reilly has a reputation for great content. But, Nat’s response is frustrating for this author, because, it is essentially saying…

…Only Authors Have to Respect Publishing Contracts…

As a content creator, it makes me wonder why I don’t just distrbute (pirate) the content myself. It also makes me wonder why O’Reilly doesn’t just give away the content for free in a slightly less produced form. If the presence of a pirated version of the book doesn’t affect sales, then I’d like get in on this and start having some more control over the pirated content. I would love to start distributing some of content I’ve produced online myself. If they can pirate, why not I?

Go back to the idea that you, the author, sign a contract granting O’Reilly exclusive distribution rights. You have to respect that contract, if you didn’t you would be sued by your publisher. You would be in breach of contract. So what happens when your book is past the prime in terms of sales, and you want to update the content…. sorry, you can’t. The book is still under contract.

A Concrete Example: A Dying Book

Let’s take a title like “Jakarta Commons Cookbook”, it was a successful title by my standards, I can’t tell you how many books we sold, but it was enough to generate a flurry of great feedback and some continuing interest in Jakarta Commons. (I think it sold maybe a 6-7 thousand copies, maybe more, I didn’t really keep track.) I wrote this book as a resource for the community, I hoped that it would be the first edition in a line of many editions which would be easy to produce and relatively cheap to edit. I had a picture of a book which would have a multi-year lifetime – an update every two years.

I’ve asked them for permission to update the title, I even have authors lined up who would help with the effort, but it isn’t on O’Reilly’s list for a second edition. Hell, I’d even be interested in coding a Web 2.0 collaborative recipe creation site around the thing. People like Henri have stepped up and volunteered to help/take the thing over. But, every time I’ve asked for permission, I’ve been met with silence. No one has said, “No, we’re not going to update Jakarta Commons Cookbook”, no one has said, “Sure, we’ll update that in a few years”. Meanwhile, technical content becomes less and less relevant every single year, and the effort to update the title increases over time. I understand why they don’t, the sales figures don’t rise to the level of a second edition. Or, at least, that’s my guess.

The problem here is that the book has been pirated already, there is a copy circulating online. If I started getting involved in the piracy of the book myself, I wouldn’t be affecting sales (at least not print sales), but I would be in violation of my contract.

So…

…if O’Reilly Media looks the other way when a book is pirated, then why should I bother honoring the contracts I sign with them for every book they publish? I understand the sentiment, but I’m not particularly excited when I see someone take a liberty which I sacrificed to my publisher. While I’ll admit that piracy can help sales, I’d be happier if I hadn’t yielded online distribution rights to “the pirates”.

I’m not writing this to be difficult, I’m writing this to illustrate the sort of Faustian bargain that writers get into when they cede online distribution rights in an age of piracy.

Seriously APT Can Go Jump in a Lake

So, I’m forcing myself to write this chapter on APT, and I’m taking a look at the official document. It appears to have been written by someone intent on making APT very painful to understand, here’s the lead-in:

In the following section, boxes containing text in typewriter-like font are examples of APT source.

Document structure

A short APT document is contained in a single text file. A longer document may be contained in a ordered list of text files. For instance, first text file contains section 1, second text file contains section 2, and so on.

Note: Splitting the APT document in several text files on a section boundary is not mandatory. The split may occur anywhere. However doing so is recommended because a text file containing a section is by itself a valid APT document.

A file contains a sequence of paragraphs and “displays” (non paragraphs such as tables) separated by open lines.

A paragraph is simply a sequence of consecutive text lines.

Seriously, who wrote this? This is awful bordering on offensive. It feels like it was written by a computer, and whoever screwed up the Maven CSS last week decided to do fun things like center the APT markup examples for text. Here’s an example of the suckage:

A title block is indented (centering it is nicer)

The following example is used for a document with an title and a date but with no declared author.

——
Title
——
——
Date
——

The last line is ignored. It is just there to make the block nicer.

That’s my favorite quote of the entire document “It is just there to make the block nicer”. Yeah, thanks, those six hyphens really make that date block look much nicer. “centering it is nicer”. Someone needs to be publicly ridiculed for this.

I (really) have it in for Doxia

I guess, I’m really just gunning for Doxia.

  1. I believe Maven is a great idea, I wouldn’t be writing about it if I didn’t think so.
  2. I believe that Maven is strongest when it delegates to the established tool (think, Maven didn’t go out and try to replace JUnit).
  3. Maven-generated sites are stuck in 2001. I think partly because of a synergy of suckage (Doxia, APT, FML, XDoc)
  4. Developers function best when the step away from the HTML. They might *think* they know what they are doing, but trust me, they always fuck it up (see previous post)

Now, I know it goes against common wisdom, but I’d be happy to see Mavenland abandon Doxia entirely. Maybe I can be convinced otherwise.

…anyone who doesn’t know about Maven is going to read this and think (WTF is Doxia). Sorry