Opinionated software

It is opinionated vision-driven software

37signals say Agnostic software is bull

Some people argue software should be agnostic. They say it’s arrogant for developers to limit features or ignore feature requests. They say software should always be as flexible as possible.

We think that’s bullshit. The best software has a vision. The best software takes sides. When someone uses software, they’re not just looking for features, they’re looking for an approach. They’re looking for a vision. Decide what your vision is and run with it.

To be honest I’d never really heard the term till David Eastman said it on Techgrumps recently

We were using it in the context of Ubuntu 11.04 but it equally applies to iOS and many other operating systems and software.

Is it a good thing or bad thing? Hard to say, but to be honest I’ve not really seen much advantages to opinionated software right now…

Welcome to Steve Jobs distortation field, where open is closed


Steve jobs is a tricky figure, theres no doubt about that. When he talks, you can feel the distortion field emerging from everything chosen word he uses. As I’ve always said Steve Jobs and Apple are against choice and therefore freedom. Evidence? Well theres tons this week

Steve jobs slagged off Android saying Android is too difficult to build for due to many different types of handsets. He then said "Twitterdeck" (yeah I know – think he meant Tweetdeck, has he got any clue about social media? This wouldn’t be a problem if he didn’t use it as a example) was having a nightmare developing for Android.

Steve Jobs’ amateur sleuthing last night brought up that gorgeous TweetDeck chart showing the vast variety of Android handsets out there, which the Apple CEO used to illustrate the "daunting challenge" he perceives developers have to face when creating apps that work across all devices and OS builds for the platform. Only problem with his assertion (aside from Steve calling the company TwitterDeck)? His opposite number on the TweetDeck team thinks nothing could be further from the truth: "we only have 2 guys developing on Android TweetDeck so that shows how small an issue fragmentation is."

Next evidence.

"Let’s talk about the avalanche of tablets. First, there are only a few credible competitors. And they all have seven-inch screen. This size isn’t sufficient to create great tablet apps."

"And this size is useless unless you include sandpaper so users can sand their fingers down to a quarter of their size. We’ve done extensive testing and 10 inches is the minimum tablet size."

"Given that tablet users will have a smartphone in their pocket, there’s no point in giving up screen size. Seven inch tablets are tweeners — too big to be a phone, and too small to compete with the iPad."

What a load of crap, if people want something smaller then the Android tablets are ideal to serve them. In Steve Jobs head, a 12inch tablet might be ideal but for the rest of us, its too big and too heavy to be really useful. Once again choice is the key word here. If you like the idea of smaller tablets, then Apple isn’t offering you the choice. Most iPad users I speak to wonder when the camera version is coming.

Even more crap…

We think this open versus closed argument is a smokescreen that hides the real question: What’s better for users, fragmented versus integrated?

"We believed integrated will trump fragmented every time."

"We are very committed to the integrated approach, no matter how many times Google characterizes it as closed, and we believe that it will triumph over the fragmented approach, no matter how any times Google characterizes it as open."

Android is fragmented, we all knew it would happen but thats not a excuse to give up your choice. I have friends who would like a physical keyboard why penalize them for this? For some people the touch screen isn’t friendly, but steve jobs doesn’t care about them. In actual fact its "Its my way or the highway!"

iOS is closed and google are right to call it so.

Finally in Q&A

One of these days we’ll eventually learn the Android numbers, and I imagine we’ll compete with them for a very long time. But we have very different approaches — ours is to make devices that just work.

Oh yeah of course just work? I’m very sure Android developers are thinking the same. Your not alone in that steve. No in actual fact your only interested in telling people through hardware and software how to live there lives.

Welcome to the steve jobs distortion field…

dozo yoroshiku: welcome to the open web

hajimemashite watashin wa. Ian desu. dozo yoroshiku

My friends keep asking why I don’t use facebook? And I always respond with some quite crushing comments about the walled garden of facebook and the mentality of facebook users. Anyway once we get past that they usually ask me whats so great about Twitter? I usually respond by saying its open and public which means there isn’t this closed walled garden to hide behind. Some of my friends who have been paying attention usually say, “well I don’t want everyone reading what I write.” Then I throw in an example where having the public discourse is actually a good thing.

That example is now famously called “the Japanese babe” example. Unfortunately with twitter making changes to the way things are archived it may get lost, so I thought I’d highlight it on my blog so others can also use it as a example of the open web vs the closed web and or even why twitter is very powerful compare to facebook.

So I was on a train heading back from London going to Manchester. The train was busy but not crammed. I think I was sitting next to a old lady most of the journey till we got to stoke on trent. At stoke on trent things cleared up and the lady left, leaving me a whole table with plug for my laptop to myself. Anyway, the next stop a woman came aboard and I couldn’t help but notice her, she was Japanese and very attractive.

She sat down at the seat opposite me and smiled briefly, asking if the seat was free then put her laptop down and put on some headphones. She shifted around a bit and her legs touched mine under the table. She said sorry then shifted her’s while in the meantime I shifted mine too. We collided again and again saying sorry each time. In the end she settled on a position between my feet, not quite touching but close enough.

We both laughed about the footsie situation we had landed ourselves in and she put her headphones back on. She was listening to something in Japanese. How did I know? She had plugged the headphones into the wrong port on her laptop or she had dual audio ports like mine. Anyway I ended up taking off my headphones and telling her that her audio was playing out loud so everyone could hear it.

Once again she smiled and shifted her feet, so we went through the footsie thing again.

Some of you are thinking what the hell has this got to do with twitter, well hold on I’m getting there.

So we traveling to Manchester, cute lady sitting opposite me and we’ve played footsie a little bit but not much else has happened. So I decide to twitter the situation I’m in.

Unfortunately Twitter.com no longer gives you access to old tweets you may have written so I can not link to any of them. Bad form twitter!

Anyway that tweet when out and lots of people saw it, much more that I expected. Because I received lots of replies with helpful information on how I should get the ladies attention without sounding like a cock.

End of the day a guy (wish I could remember his twitter name) suggested I write on the back of a business card…

hajimemashite watashinwa. Ian desu. dozo yoroshiku

which translates to,

How do you do? My name is Ian Nice to meet you (or please be good to me).

…and slide it across the table to her.

Obviously I had no idea what it translated to and was very skeptical of doing it in case it said hi i’m ian and I’m a cock or I want to shag the pants off you or something like that. Anyway after much going back and forth with people on twitter, there was a consensuses that the mystery reply was ok enough to do. Although some people were saying don’t do it, it reads something unsightly.

So I took out a business card and wrote on the back of it the phase. With one more twitter message and lots of people saying do it! I slid the card across the table and she took off her headphones and read it. We had already hit stockport which is just outside of Manchester so we getting ready to depart the train. But she giggled nervously when she read the card, and turned to me and said…

“This is very sweet of you but I got a boyfriend already and he’s coming to pick me up from Manchester station, sorry…”

By this point the train had pretty much arrived in Manchester Piccadilly, so I had to close down my laptop and cut off twitter which meant everyone who had been wait to hear what had happened, had to wait even longer (twitter on the mobile phone in the uk was rare, plus my data plan was weekend and evenings only). She smiled sweetly at my attempt but got up and left just before I did. Later on the platform, I saw her with a guy and another girl. I just did a little slow nod to say “take care” and she smiled back. That was the last I ever saw of her.

When I finally got back online, twitter was reaching fever pitch with people wanting to know what had happened. I explained what had happened over multiple tweets and there was a lot of people saying good on for me doing it.

I have to say that a lot of them came from people who either heard about it on the public timeline (a few), checked out the strange trending topics (a few more) or saw the re-tweets from others (many). For the rest of the day I was saying thanks to people for there comments and encouragement.

The open web almost helped with my love life. Now thats something a lot of people can’t say. Imagine if it was Facebook, I would have got all my friends advice but none of them can speak or at least write Japanese. So the opportunity would have gone up in smoke, plus having loads of strangers willing you to do it really gets you going. This is something which can only really happen on the open web.

So why now am I telling this tale? Well I’m moving flat and I found the business card with the writing on the back. It is a shame I can’t link to all the tweets made during that period of time on the train, but you can imagine what it was like. It certainly made me think a lot more about social media. In actual fact it was one of the drivers for my twitter dating service – tweet foxxy or tweethookup (as it was first called), which I later sold the concept of after my talk at ignite Leeds in 2009. I’m actually surprised this is the first time I wrote this down?

Why I Turned In My iPhone and Went Android

Louis Grey, A large fan of Apple just turned his back on Apple, why? Well thats best explained by him. But there’s some real good points which I also made in a recent episode of TechGrumps.

For me, more than the over-used phrase of "open", the promise of true multitasking, and the platform’s integration with Google Apps, was one word – "Choice". Choice of handsets. Choice of carriers. Choice of manufacturers. Second behind the word choice has to be "Momentum". I can see that Android has momentum in terms of improved quality, in terms of the number of devices sold and users, and yes, applications, which are growing in quantity, soon to be followed by quality. I really do believe that if Android does not already have a market share lead over Apple yet in this discussion, they soon will. It is inevitable. The growth in the number of handsets, carriers and users will drive more developers to the platform, and the holdouts who are not there will eventually make the move. And yes, third is "Cloud" – the idea that I don’t need to be tied to my desktop computer to manage data on the phone, but instead, the phone is built to tap into data stored on the Web. Fourth is "Capability". The Android platform, as the Droid commercials offer, simply does more. The power of the mobile hotspot cannot be understated, and the iPhone is a zero there.


Pleo Autopsy video from Makerfaire

Pleo is one of those super hightech toys which people seem to love or hate. It draws a lot of attention because its beautifully life like. But how would you feel if you saw Pleo taken a part by a maker? There’s a manifesto which makers always quote,

If you can’t open it, you don’t own it

That might be the case, but its a little freaky watching the poor Pleo stripped of its skin. Now to be fair the Pleo was half working anyway but to see it lying there with its eyes looking out across the camera, is almost too much to bear.

I remember a long time ago when I was at an event in London and some jurk comes on stage and flying kicks a Aibo off the stage. He shouted, its not real as the crowd all held there mouths gasping. It was certainly one way to start a debate about humans putting there feelings onto objects. A very interesting debate which I can’t help remember after seeing this video. Thanks Elin Roberts for posting it.

The Playstation 3 finally and completely hacked

Playstation 3 in dark city

Geohot has outdone himself again, not only the first person who unlocked the iPhone, but now also the Playstation3. In his own words…

I have read/write access to the entire system memory, and HV level access to the processor. In other words, I have hacked the PS3. The rest is just software. And reversing. I have a lot of reversing ahead of me, as I now have dumps of LV0 and LV1. I’ve also dumped the NAND without removing it or a modchip.

3 years, 2 months, 11 days…thats a pretty secure system

Took 5 weeks, 3 in Boston, 2 here, very simple hardware cleverly applied, and some not so simple software.

Now we really get to see how powerful the playstation 3 really is when its not being crippled in a virtual machine. I’m much more likely to buy one if I can see a whole homebrew community of stuff on it in the near future. The source code for the hack isn’t available quite yet but its just a matter of time. I wonder how long the Xbox 360 can stay closed?

iPhone hype is getting tiresome


Apple heads! give me a break…

Since Apple and Cingular announced the date of the apple iphone (29th June) and the rumour there will only be 4 million made this year. All I hear about now is the iphone. At the girl geekdinner the women from google who presented made a joke about the iphone which clarified in my mind that the hype is getting stupid.

Slashdot lead today with some good news that the iphone will allow 3rd party developers to build on it.

In an exciting shift from previous statements, Apple CEO Steve Jobs revealed at the D Conference that 3rd-party development will be supported on the iPhone. Questions remain as to whether the opening of the platform, slated for later this year, will be through Dashboard-like widgets or a separate SDK.”



But what gets me is the silly comments afterwards. People were suggesting Skype on a phone would be good, another person a wifi detector and then finally wrote this.

Cellular networks are fragile. Much more fragile than the larger internet. They tend toward monoculture and proprietary systems, and haven’t had the shakedown that standard internet network hardware and protocols have had. So Jobs’ quote about him ‘not wanting third-party apps bringing Cingular’s network down’ actually makes some sense (some mobile phone applications have more-or-less done this in the past). And

Bullshit. Utter crap. Why is there this paranoia about the iPhone, when Symbian, Windows CE/Mobile have allowed this for years? There is no way an application on a device should or could bring down a base station, let alone a cell network.

Oh, and as for this gem:

bringing Cingular’s network down’ actually makes some sense (some mobile phone applications have more-or-less done this in the past)

Cite. Go on. I would so so love to see a citation of any evidence of this. Any, whatsoever.



Thankfully someone with some sense.

What kills me is there are some great phones on the market including the Nokia N95 and of course my phone the SPV M700. Both have GPS, 3G, Wireless b/g, Bluetooth 2.0 and mass storage via flash memory. They both play music and video very well and this is the best part don't cost a bomb to get on contract. We know for a fact this isn't true of the iphone, which looks like the price of a ipod plus a expensive 24month contract.

I could rant on about the iphone all day but I just want to point out that if you avoid the plain old phones and look into the smartphone market you will find phones which can do everything the iphone does. Symbian and now Windows Mobile developers are very good at creating and hacking around with these phones now. Theres huge catalogues of software which have been developed which also makes these phones rich too. I think Apples SDK will be messy and full of holes. I'm not saying the others are any better but there SDKs have been out for a long time and there quite public.

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Free your phone a few words from OpenMoko

Open Moko phone

Dave forwarded a very clever email from the guys behind the OpenMoko project. I have quoted a lot from the email but left out the part in the middle about the specs of the hardware and software.

“The most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it.”

Mark Weiser wrote those words almost 15 years ago in a Scientific American article titled, “The Computer for the 21st Century.” In it, he coined the term “ubiquitous computing”, and proposed a set of ground rules for devices of the 21st century. Temporally, we're here. Technologically, we're close. But everyone still seems to be talking about ubiquitous computing like a mirage on desert road: it's always the same distance away. Sometimes looking at common every day objects with a fresh perspective yields interesting
new ideas. Today we're going to propose that the foundation for ubiquitous computing is already here. All that is stopping us from going forward is change of context.

Almost everyone we know has a mobile phone. Mobile phones have become part of the fabric of everyday life. Does this mean that the mobile phone is the ubiquitous computing device we've all waited for? Currently, no. But with a subtle change we would argue, yes.

Mobile phones are closed environments created with a mobile context in mind. But this concept is limiting; a mobile phone has the potential to be a platform that can do anything that a small computer with broadband access can do. If mobile phones were based on open platforms, they would have the potential to bring computing to people in a ways traditional computers cannot. Mobile phones can become ubiquitous computers.

Ubiquitous computing, however, does not simply mean computers that can be carried to work, to the home, to the beach, and to the movies. Ubiquitous computers must know where they are, and then must be able to merge into the environment.

We put GPS functionality into the Neo1973, because when your phone simply knows its location, it can adapt its behavior in significant ways without even a hint of artificial intelligence. How can devices disappear into the background? To be honest, we have far more questions than answers here. But do we know what is needed for exploring this idea. Developers must have unrestricted access to hardware at all times. Being able to control the microphone, for example, will allow phones to sense ambient noise. A simple
program could prevent your phone from ringing while you're in a conversation.

We will always try our absolute best to give you devices that are as open as possible. Our goal is freeing end-users and businesses alike from proprietary constraints. We're about encouraging people to modify and personalize their software to support their individual needs. Building products as we do, we strive to enable people to connect and communicate in new and relevant ways, using their own languages and their own symbols.

We want your involvement in OpenMoko. Now is a great time for us to work together. You'll have our full support. We're dedicated to helping you “Free Your Phone.” And we're always looking, listening, and hungry for new things. It is our goal to be totally market driven.

To be market-driven requires a willingness to experiment. OpenMoko will provide discounted phones to people in “improbable” markets. We're interested in what people in these markets can do with our products, whether they can use them at all, or what it would have to be like for them to become customers.

We will start out with the assumption that our product may find customers in previously ignored markets; that uses no one imagined when the product was designed will be found; and that Neo1973 will be bought by customers outside our field of vision and even unknown to our sales force.

We need you to talk to us. Tell us what you want. We promise we will listen. Your feedback will help evolve our roadmap. The real power of an open phone comes not from any one of these devices; it emerges from the interaction of all the users of “freed phones.” We can create true ubiquitous computing in Weiser's terms. This will be the computer of the 21st century.

At this point, we should tell you why we chose the name “Neo1973.” “Neo” means new. Dr. Marty Cooper (the inventor of the mobile phone) made the first call ever in 1973.

We believe that an open source mobile phone can revolutionize, once again, the world of communication. This will be the New 1973.

Join us. “Free Your Phone.”


The OpenMoko Team

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Openness in data formats

Me and Tantek

Tantek wrote this thought provoking entry about data formats and openness. Which I can't help but kind of agree on and disagree on. So first his entry.

  1. ASCII is dependable. Project Gutenberg insists on publishing their e-books as plain ASCII text as Mark Pilgrim noted, and their reasons are solid.
  2. Compatible XHTML is now also dependable. In the 15+ years since its public introduction, I believe that HTML has established itself sufficiently prominently worldwide that I feel quite comfortable declaring that HTML will be accepted to be as reliable as ASCII in coming years. In particular, authoring what I like to call Compatible XHTML, that is, valid XHTML 1.0 strict that conforms to Appendix C, is IMHO the way to author HTML that will have longevity as good as ASCII. Note that files in most file systems have no sense of “MIME-type”, thus the winged-mythological-creatures-on-the-head-of-a-pin style arguments about text/html vs. application/xhtml+xml that are often used to discredit either HTML or XHTML (or both) are irrelevant for the most common case of keeping archives of files in file systems.
  3. Plain old XML (POX) formats in the long run are no better than proprietary binary formats. XML, both in technology and as a “technical culture” is too biased towards Tower of Babel outcomes. I've spoken on this many times, but in short, the culture surrounding XML, especially the unquestioned faith in namespaces and misplaced assumed requirement thereof, leads to (has already lead to) Tower of Babel style interoperability failures. As this is a cultural bias (whether intentional or not) built into the very foundations of XML, I don't think it can be saved. There may be a few XML formats that survive and converge sufficiently to be dependable (maybe RSS, maybe Atom), but for now XHTML is IMHO the only longerm reliable XML format, and that has more to do with it being based on HTML than it being XML.
  4. Formats that are smaller (e.g. define fewer terms) tend to be more reliable.
  5. Formats that are simpler (e.g. define fewer restrictions/rules for publishers) tend to be more reliable.
  6. Formats that are more compatible with existing reliable formats tend to be more reliable, e.g. HTML worked well with existing systems that supported “plain text” (AKA ASCII)
  7. Formats that are easier to use, i.e. publish, and more immediately useful, rapidly become widely adopted, and thus become reliable as a breadth of software and services catches up with a breadth of published data in those formats.

The microformats principles were based on these observations. Now this doesn't mean I think microformats will replace existing reliable formats. Not at all. For example, I feel quite confident storing files in the following formats:

  • ASCII / “plain text” / .txt / (UTF8 only if necessary)
  • mbox
  • X)HTML
  • JPEG
  • PNG
  • WAV
  • MP3
  • MPEG

So my take on Tantek's thoughts.

Plain old XML (POX) formats in the long run are no better than proprietary binary formats. See I take issue with this, I understand what Tantek is getting at but I would say plain xml without a schema isn't leaning towards the Tower of Babel. And like Tantek already mentioned RSS and ATOM are pretty close to the non-tower of babel direction. I would also add FOAF and OPML to the list. I would love for SVG to also be included in this but alas its not. Formats that are smaller (e.g. define fewer terms) tend to be more reliable. Good point, hence why things should be broken down like how XHTML and SVG got Modularization.

My list of formats are slightly different too.

  • XHTML (Unicode)
  • XML (Unicode)
  • JPEG
  • PNG
  • MPEG3 audio
  • MPEG4 video
  • WAVE
  • SVG

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Digital Assassins and the BBC changes

So once again under one of those should I be talking about BBC (work) on my personal blog type questions. I can't help but talk about the things which happened yesterday (Tuesday 25th April) at the BBC. The Guardian calls it a radical revamp of the site, but internally it was known as the Creative future or how the BBC is going to address the challenges of the on demand world? It seemed to be pushed as a launch but actually it was more like just a event to publise audience research and the thinking which has gone into how we should be moving forward. I have no problem with this, but I can see how people got confused or even frustrated with the lack of a solid plan. Not that I'm saying there is no plan.

In my mind, it seemed to be saying, we know were going in this direction but we honestly do not know what the future holds, so we need to be very flexable to changes. I'm sure the Cluetrain something like this too.To me itts the BBC way of saying change is the only constant. There also seems to be a true commitment to onlline as our future and the push to open up the BBC is being taken very seriously now. Metadata was also mention highly and I'm really happy this has been communicated from high. Now this makes metadata authoring a even more valuable piece of time in our journalistic practice. I picked up on this quote from Mark Thompson and wrote it down.

The BBC should no longer think of itself as a public broadcaster of TV and radio and some newmedia on the side. We should aim to deliver public service content to our audiences in what ever media and on whatever device makes sense for them

On a different but actually realted topic, the we media conference rolls into London for the first time in May. The conference attracts people from all the leading online publishing houses including the new york times, washington post, bbc, retuers, etc. Its a high cost ticket affair which someone like myself couldn't even imagine affording on my current BBC salary. But I do have the chance to spend the afternoon with some of these publishing heads in a session called meet the digital assassins.

As part of this session I have been asked to document a week worth of media consumption. So far this is what I've drafted

The first thing I do when getting up in the mornings, is play the daily 15min podcast Slashdot review. This usually lasts the time i'm in the shower and gives me a great overview of what's going on. I'm using a simple FM transmitter on my workstation which means I simply have a cheap shower radio tuned in on the right frequency.
In the hour it takes to get ready and eat breakfast, etc. I tend to leave iTunes playing in most recently added order. Like the cheap shower radio, the radio downstairs in the kitchen also plays whatever iTunes is playing. I've never known a time when I've switched over to a Traditional radio station in the morning or evening.

My home workstation automaticly downloads, podcasts, video, everything. It then syncs the latest content with my laptop and I manually copy stuff to my mobile phone's flash card.

Every work day on the train for my 30min journey from Woolwich to Charing Cross, I have my laptop out reading through my general news and blogs category in my RSS reader (GreatNews). I mark anything which needs more of my attention “to be read later” or “to be read sometime in the future.” Recently I've been blogging on the train more than reading.
At the same time, during the in total hour journey, I have my mobile phone playing podcasts or once in a while video content if I have to take the tube to White City.

During lunch times I turn to my laptop and either blog, read more news from all the other categories or watch one of the main videocasts which are freely available. These include Rocketboom, MobuzzTV, DLTV, Diggnation, etc.

I find my offline social network usually fills me in on anything I've missed, and I can usually catch up by downloading it the day after. The only newspaper type thing I pick up and flick through is the Ariel (internal BBC paper) while making Tea.

The train ride home gives me equal time to read through feeds and I usually try and go a little later so I can get a seat and sit with my laptop on my lap and read. If not I have a RSS reader on my pocketpc and mobile phone. But I miss being able to tag content/entries with these devices.
When at home, me and my wife usually settle down and watch something via our modified xbox while eating dinner. The content viewed is a real mixture of publicly available video, downloads of states programmes and globally available content from the web. It all comes to me over my broadband connection, and is the reason why I don't own a PVR or DVR.
UK nova is well known about and I guess highly watched by UK broadcasters but the service they provide is simply fantastic and fits with the way I and my wife consume and engage with video content.

The video content is a real mix of mainstream content like Lost, Daily Show, Simpsons, etc, and content from the net (such as Hak.5, CommandN, etc) mixed in. We tend to just pick and choose depending on our moods.

On the weekends, if were in and doing things around the house. We tend to stick on a playlist of podcasts. My Subscriptions includes the simply amazing IT Conversations, Engadget, Security now, This week in Tech, Digital Planet, etc.

And I guess, thats my usual week.

Pretty weird to some I guess, but thats pretty much my week.

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