Monday, July 27, 2009

how to sound stupid to tech people

Let's review it using a couple choice sentences.

"At Jolicloud we believe a movement has started. A movement that will change the computer industry forever"

Well, dang, i'm sure glad you're here to tell us about it! Here I was just sitting around Twatting wondering when the next big thing in the computer industry will come along. Thank god you told us on your "/idea" page.

"Jolicloud is an Internet operating system."

The Internet is a general term used for millions upon millions of interconnected networks and the infrastructure that allows it to seamlessly function. An Operating System is software that is designed to allow people to use programs easier. How the fuck do these things have anything in common?

"It combines the two driving forces of the modern computing industry: the open source and the open web."

Nothing purifies the fact that you're bullshitting like using simple buzz words in a nonsensical way.

"Jolicloud transforms your netbook into a sophisticated web device that taps into the cloud"

There. RIGHT THERE. See that last word? That's where you killed it. A web device I can deal with. Technically something like a Nokia 770 Internet Tablet is a 'web device', but a netbook *can* be a 'web device' so i'll drop that. But assuming I was stupid enough to buy the idea that your provision of a backend of scaling virtual allocations of disk, bandwidth or cpu power is going to be so amazing that my netbook's traditional OS will be obsolete...

"We feel privileged to witness this rebirth of the computer culture"

WOW! Finally people are using computers for more than just Twitter! It's a dream that those of us actively engaged in computer culture have had for a million years.

"We come from the web"

I come from a land down under.

"With our API, developers will have the ability to let their website communicate with the computer directly with no need to code specific native applications."

Kickass! Now we can just own machines directly through your shitty API's 0-days instead of writing shellcode or exploiting some setuid binary on the local system! Thanks Web Operating System!

"Netbooks are very new. They are still bulky"

They come in sizes as little as 7 inches up to 12 inches and weigh about 2 pounds. With a hard drive. What the fuck do you want? Any lighter and they'll fly away in a brisk wind. I do not want to buy a fucking paper weight for my laptop.

"No one has yet entirely switched his or her life online"

This isn't fucking Ghost In The Shell. Even in Surrogates or The Matrix they don't completely "switch online". Protip: don't talk in terms of actions that are either impossible or nonsensical.

So my first question is: why do I need this bullshit to replace my operating system? If it's really all run off the internet why can't I just download your client and run it inside my normal operating system? Assuming I turned off most of the useless bells and whistles of a common desktop environment like KDE or Gnome it's really not using many resources at all.

Are you telling me you've discovered a magical way to get Flash apps to stop sucking up 99% of my CPU, or to get misbehaving JScript to stop locking up the browser, or to get Firefox to stop eating half my RAM due to multiple tabs? If so BY ALL MEANS gimme. But if this is just some accumulation of wireless drivers, 3d acceleration and a pretty GUI wrapped around a user interface to web pages: keep your operating system. Mine works fin^H^H^Hacceptably. And I can do more with it than your 'cloud' will allow.

Friday, July 24, 2009

hackers: a class by themselves

I've heard interviews and stories from the "old hackers," the originals. Richard Stallman and Eric S. Raymond and all the other MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab people. They always seemed a bit self-important and talked about their experiences in such grandiose ways as if any of it mattered. I always thought it seemed like they didn't really do anything productive. The whole "hacker" mythos seems to come from the punkish prankish nature of the MIT students combined with knowledge nobody else could know. Now I think I realize why hackers have always been unique.

If you've ever met a young modern-day self-described hacker, they're usually of a certain type. Big egos, big labels, big brains. Dark clothing. Not very handsome. Not very friendly. Lots of them have grown up and become more adult and less cyber-industrial-goth. A lot of them that get married will probably start getting those "married friends" or friends with kids. But there is a pervasive "look" that seems to permeate the underground hacker scene (or did in the past anyway). The original hackers might have been a lot less "dark" but certainly they must have had a propensity to keep to themselves. But there's something I see that the original hackers may have in common with many modern ones: wealth.

To get into MIT you have to be very smart, but also have a little money. I don't think there's a lot of people who go to such a prestigious college that are broke or very impoverished. A lot of modern-day hackers seem to have a similar situation. Of course there's plenty that have very little and you'll see them all over the place. Wouldn't it make sense that well-educated, intelligent, knowledgeable people would need to have gotten some kind of decent education or at least a little money to afford the books and technology to teach themselves their skills?

I think that a good number of hackers today aren't as "elite" as they make themselves out to be. Perhaps they know a thing or two about technology. But i'm willing to bet you a good number of them wouldn't know their ass from assembler. That isn't to say a well-off hacker couldn't be equally dumb and still be in the community - but I think the economic class of the individual may play a significant role in how much knowledge they could apply in a variety of circumstances. Hackers are sort of a weird breed because they don't have a specific job title, so they have to know everything about everything or they aren't a "good hacker" (whatever that means). There are certainly lots of specific security titles but a lot of being a hacker has nothing to do with security.

I know I would be working at McDonalds or something if my parents hadn't bought our family a computer with internet access. If I hadn't gotten my parents to force my brother to show me how to create web pages (even geocities can be a mysterious technical entity to a newb) it may have taken me years longer to start to develop a curiosity in technology. Though I was curious about hardware I was clearly a "software person". However, if I had just a little direction and example at that early age I could have done almost anything. But any of this requires money, and especially back then it wasn't a small amount of money. The typical desktop cost around $2,000 and I have no idea how much the internet was. The internet was also smaller so finding documentation and other resources for learning was difficult.

Except for some gracious metropolitan areas and retail outlets who front the bill, you do still have to pay to use the internet. The only free computer can be found in the bowels of the endangered species known as a public library. But things are definitely much different now. It's probably an order of magnitude easier to learn something on the internet than how we used to. You no longer have to pay expensive professors' salaries or purchase rare books. So the classes seem to be evening up. Maybe in 20 years we'll have free access of information for even the most impoverished americans. For now, it still seems like poor people are stupid and rich people are slightly less stupid. And hackers who have the free time and resources to become well educated will be more of a hacker than the unemployed struggling artist who just wants to get rich doing something they love.

Monday, July 20, 2009

mobile development: the ugly truth

So you want to build an application for a mobile device (read: cellphone). Great! There's lots of powerful platforms out there you can start with, and port them to any other device you want with a minimum of work. Most everyone gives their SDK away for free and provide lots of forums, documentation and other sources of information to help you write your app. So you pick a platform, develop your code, test it in an emulator and everything's ready to go. Now just open up your wallet, bend over and let the fun begin...

Yes, it seems the sad truth is that for many modern devices you are *forced* to either go through a bunch of hoops to "sign" your application for one specific device (meaning 1 cell phone that you own) or pay a large sum in developer fees for the right to a certificate to sign your applications with. Otherwise either you'll never be able to install your application, or it will install and not run, or it will run with very limited "credentials" - it won't do everything you tell it to do.

For Symbian devices, the two methods developers had to get their apps signed have been Symbian Signed and Java Verified. These two services allow you to submit your application for review, upon which time you'll be shipped back your binary signed with their magic certificates for the IMEI of your device. Lovely. If I want to give my application to others I need to either self-sign it and use the few paltry credentials they let me use (internet access, possibly file access) or pay hundreds of dollars for a 1-year signed cert.

This has culminated with the creation of Symbian Horizon, a new middle-man created by Symbian in order to basically distribute your application to lots of other "app stores" automatically to "reduce developer cost". As far as I can see, i'm still paying about the same as I was before to develop the damn thing. Publishing it is a completely separate issue. I'm more than happy to provide a download URL on my own site and let people install an app themselves - it's really not difficult *if your application is signed*. I don't want to make money off people. I don't create applications for pay. I do it for myself, for fun, for freedom, and to share my work with the general public. I don't need to pay costly fees to develop for a desktop application, or a web application. Why am I forced to pay to develop for this device which i've already paid for, and am paying even more for the luxurious benefit of being able to most-of-the-time use the internet with it?

I can't believe the wool had been pulled over my eyes for so long with respect to these development practices. This is just another result of organizations like the RIAA and MPAA in their long-time battle to keep you from using the things you purchase in the way you choose. It makes me very sad to see this kind of oppression so well hidden within a system that encourages the breakdown of community and the closing-in and restricting of creative content for the sheer purpose of capitalizing on the ignorant masses.