Always Get Better

Never stop looking for ways to improve

April 13th, 2009
European Flag
Creative Commons License photo credit: rockcohen

The EU wants to stop Microsoft from bundling Internet Explorer with its operating system. In today’s day and age, how does this make sense? The charge is led by Opera, who claims that having Internet Explorer ship with Windows unfairly limits competitors from getting through to customers.

Any web designer will tell you that Internet Explorer is one of the most challenging browsers to target since it basically ignores web standards and renders web pages in its own proprietary way. So the design pattern we follow is:

1. Design web site using sane browsers
2. Mutilate our markup so it renders as desired on Internet Explorer

Apologies for the digression, but the point is there is a lot of work needed to make web sites work properly for one web browser. Why do it? Depending on the site, up to 65% of your visitors will be using some version of Internet Explorer – not because it is any “better” but simply because they don’t know about alternatives or haven’t taken the time to try them. Likewise for Safari among Apple users – most people don’t customize their computing experience and simply deal with their default settings.

In that regard, Opera’s proposal makes sense – force vendors to include 3rd party browsers along with Internet Explorer on new machines. But… which browsers should be included? Firefox, Opera, Safari, Netscape? What about the dozens (hundreds?) of others? Who chooses which ones are “mainstream” enough to be included?

The biggest problem I have with this is that Microsoft has done nothing to prevet users from switching web browsers. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, your first move upon booting a new PC is to download Firefox/Chrome and ditch Internet Explorer (that’s one of the main advantages I get from targeting a technical audience).

Suiong Microsoft is not the answer – we need to work on the unwashed masses and teach people to make their own/better choices when it comes to their web browsing experience. While we’re at it, perhaps we can all learn to keep our systems patched as well…

April 12th, 2009

Sony is interesting in a “I can’t turn my head… I must watch this grotesque traffic accident” kind of way. At one time the de facto standard for the Playstation 2 and other high quality electronics, it is now burdened with the Playstation 3 and its laughable sales performance. To be fair, the Playstation 3 is an engineering beauty and an elegantly powerful machine.

For the first time in 16 months, the Playstation 3 surpassed sales of Nintendo’s Wii console in Japan. While Sony is spinning the news as a sign that their console has finally become more popular than the Wii, the fact of the matter is gamers bought the PS3 in order to play popular new game titles available only on that platform.

Ironically it was Sega’s Yakuza 3 that drove the latest surge, hearkening back to the early console war days and highlighting the exact same issue: like the PS3, consumers didn’t really care that the Sega systems were more technically advanced than the Nintendo offerings. As it turned out, players bought one or the other because they wanted to play Super Mario Bros. or Sonic the Hedgehog.

The key takeaway? The platform is worthless unless there is great software to use with it.

Sony is in a bizarre spot: they have an excellent platform upon which developers can and want to develop mind-blowing content. Perhaps their platform is the most advanced and capable – so much so that learning to harness its full potential will take years. Rather than proactively encouraging development, however, Sony is coasting on the success it had with its PlayStation 2 offering and treating developers coldly rather than as partners. Rather than fight Sony for the “privilege” of developing for the PlayStation 3, many companies are simply focusing their efforts on other systems such as the Wii where larger install bases mean bigger returns on investment.

We’re very interested in the PlayStation 3 and sincerely hope that Sony doesn’t screw this one up with their arrogance. A sampling of their hallucinations include:

The PS3′s Blu-Ray Player Justifies the Machine’s Cost

Too bad the component costs Sony $100 per unit. Sony may be looking ahead to mega-games that require the storage capacity offered by Blu-Ray, but in the meantime they are marketing the PS3 as a top-of-the-line Blu-Ray player.

Problem: They don’t include a remote control, and they don’t have an Infrared receiver. If you want to watch movies you have to use your game controllers or an optional bluetooth remote control – forget about compatibility with your existing home entertainment system.

Sony is the Official Leader in Gaming

Sony believes that the Wii is in a different market and the XBox lifespan/failure rate is going to mean wider adoption in the future. Regardless of sales (it trails the XBox and Wii), Sony believes the PS3 makes it the “official” leader in gaming. We stress once again – hardware is worthless without software.

The Sony Doesn’t Compete with the Wii

According to Sony, the Wii is not a next-generation console because they don’t target hard-core gamers. Therefore by reducing prices on the PS2 (which Sony considers to be the actual competitor to the Wii), they will be diluting Nintendo’s ability to deprive them of PS3 sales. Because it makes sense to move the PS2 and leave the PS3 sitting on the shelf.

April 8th, 2009
little monkey
Creative Commons License photo credit: michelb

You have to shake your head every time someone goes off about “netbooks”, those wonderful, tiny, cute computers that don’t cost very much. When you look at them, what do you really see? How about a crappy laptop that can barely run Windows. The thing is cheap in more ways than one – but somehow marketers have been able to spin that as a good thing and make big profits off useless hardware without needing to develop anything new.

This Brave New World Seems Just Like the Old

Anything sounds better with a little bit of spin – Web 1.0 is clunky, slow, ugly. Web 2.0 is a designer’s dream, sexy, with new technology. Well, no. The technology isn’t new at all – the web is the same. The only difference is enough marketers held onto the “Web 2.0″ buzz phrase and shouted it repeatedly long enough that it became accepted as fact.

What’s So Social About Media?

There was never anything truly “new” about New Media. There’s nothing earth shattering about Social Media either. Call it a new paradigm all you want, there is nothing different between it and “old” media: the goal is to communicate our message to as many people as possible. How others perceive your brand and how you react to that feedback is not something new and alien – it’s just a lot faster now than it used to be. Your audience is your focus group. Traditional roles haven’t changed one bit – their owners have.

April 6th, 2009

I started writing this entry before Facebook switched to its new look. At the time there were a lot of people praising Twitter and predicting that it would soon replace Facebook as the network of choice for connecting the Internet’s middle class together; that coveted position on the totem pole between the MySpace Ghetto and LinkedIn (the professional’s pick).

Facebook's New Look

Facebook's New Look

Why Facebook Rocked

I’ve been a Facebook user for about three years so I’ve now lived through two major design changes. The first changed the layout from a bumbling mishmash of functionality into a surgical-sterile work-flow that made the side understandable and useful (to me). Facebook’s strength was the separation between users – everyone had their own “space” but fit together uniformly and professionally. It was a nice, grown-up place to be online.

What Happened?

Now Facebook looks rather generic. The focus is fully on users’ tweets status updates and I can’t tell where my profile ends and my friends’ begin. The layout still looks soothing and professional, but the service isn’t as useful to me anymore. The “Facebook” distinction is gone – I’d rather mashup my own Flickr and Twitter feeds instead of have Facebook duplicate the same functionality and sell my data to every bidder.

Will Twitter Conquer?

If you told me two months ago that Twitter would overtake Facebook, I would have laughed at you. Now Facebook has lowered its ambitions to the one-trick pony of social media / friend feed updates.

The two services weren’t in the same leauge before – Facebook was a massive profile site that I could use to connect to my real-world contacts while Twitter was and is essentially a public IM service. Now the two are basically identical in my circle.

I don’t mean to be a Facebook-hater. I still log in and give it a good effort; I just don’t connect to it anymore. Maybe the next update will bring the site more in-line with my usage and I can enjoy the service again.

April 4th, 2009

One of the most common requirements for web developers is the ability to switch code from development servers to live production environments. This can be tricky if you’re working with WordPress; moving the files is dead simple, but since WordPress uses canonical URLs you have to be careful if you are trying to transfer any of your database content.

Canonical URLs force your site to use the same base path (www.yourdomain.com rather than yourdomain.com). But if you are working in a development environment – e.g. the development site’s address isn’t the same as your web site, but is rather something like 127.0.0.1 – you need to be able to make the switch to WordPress without bringing your site down.

Since I end up having to look for this information so often, here are the steps I use to accomplish this amazing feat:

Download The Database

From the shell prompt of your server, dump WordPress’ MySQL database into a backup file:

mysqldump –-add-drop-table -uusername -ppassword databasename > mysqlbackup.DATE.sql

Move it over to the new server and run this command to overwrite your target:

mysql -udb##### -p -hinternal-db.s#####.gridserver.com db#####_dbname < mysqlbackup.DATE.sql

Update the Database Paths

Log into your MySQL database and issue this update command to ensure WordPress redirects to the new server:

UPDATE wp_options SET option_value = replace(option_value, ‘http://www.old-domain.com’, ‘http://www.new-domain.com’) WHERE option_name = ‘home’ OR option_name = ‘siteurl’;

Next update the post URLs:

UPDATE wp_posts SET guid = replace(guid, ‘http://www.old-domain.com’,'http://www.new-domain.com’);

Finally, update your posts’ content to fix any internal links:

UPDATE wp_posts SET post_content = replace(post_content, ‘http://www.old-domain.com’, ‘http://www.new-domain.com’);

That’s all! Repeat these steps when moving from production to development and vise-versa.

As I said I typically search for this information whenever I need to move WordPress sites. I find the SQL queries at: http://www.mydigitallife.info/2007/10/01/how-to-move-wordpress-blog-to-new-domain-or-location/

April 1st, 2009

jtrackThanks to @PragueBob for pointing this out: track satellites using NASA’s JTrack application.

With the ever-increasing amount of junk and debris in orbit, it’s amazing there aren’t more space collisions like the one in February that knocked out service for Iridium phone subscribers.