Even a chimp can write code

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Enough with the assaults and the killings

This is not a social outcry. I just came across yet another article on some technology killing/launching an assault on another. This one from CNET News said something along the lines of "Microsoft will step up its assault on Adobe Systems' customer base with the release early next year of its Expression line of design and development software." You've heard this refrain before. Sparkle was rumored to be the Flash-killer. Origami was rumored to be the iPod killer.

C'mon guys. Can we stop all this talk about assaults and killings, and rely on fact, logic and reason to present objective thought over sensational insinuation? Isn't that what differentiates a blogger from a journalist?

I'm not entirely sure, but I think John Gossman made this analogy: The 1939 Packard was the first car to introduce air-conditioning. And that was a big deal! Later, in 1941 when Cadillac introduced it's model with air-conditioning, there weren't any press reports of "Cadillac is the Packard-killer". I wonder why?

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Saturday, March 18, 2006

How we prioritize bugs

Here's Nick Kramer's post on how we prioritize bugs on the WPF team.

I work on the Application Model team. In addition to the core WPF application model, we also own resource loading, deployment/hosting (think browser-hosted WPF apps and loose XAML) and Avalon's build system (our MSBuild scenarios, IDE integration with VS/Cider/Sparkle and debugging). My team also owns the Avalon component of WinFX setup. Nevertheless, Nick's post describes the guiding principles we in the Application Model team use in triaging bugs.

As we get close to locking down and shipping the product, if there is a simple mantra to how we make the difficult cuts, it is probably this: Don't let perfection be the enemy of the good.


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Sunday, March 12, 2006

Wikipedia: open, but not open source

The New York Times has an interesting article about Wikipedia which debates the epistemological question: Can an article be judged as credible without knowing its author?

I'm something of a Wikipedia junkie: sometimes more so than others. But I'll be the first to admit I wouldn't bet all my money on the facts in a Wikipedia article. Finding articles with completely neutral points of view (NPOV) can be as difficult as grabbing eels with oily hands.

Too often, comparisons are made with open source software. I think this is highly misplaced. Although Wikipedia lives by the same community model, it lacks the closed coterie of committers that govern open source projects. This may be why your average Wikipedia article isn't as credible and accountable as a typical open source project. Because of this, sometimes people paint Wikipedia - very unfaily - as having dubious sources and methods. Without centralized editing or enforceable policies, one has seen the proliferation of opinion in places where facts are required. Wikipedia does have some saving graces though. It has fair, open policies, some effective safeguards against vandals. And it has done well to keep the influence of ads (and the ethical issues arising from them) away from its content. It hasn't done so hot in eliminating bias though. And in that area, it relies on the alertness and diligence of its contributors.

However, even with its few failings, I wouldn't want Wikipedia to adopt the two tiered open source model: liberal in encouraging contributions, but restrictive in adopting contributed content. I would go so far as argue that the biggest failing of Wikipedia, its openness, is also its biggest asset. You won't see Wikipedia content upheld as expert documentary evidence in a court of law, but you can sure rely on it as one among a wide range of sources available to you. In the end, it is upto you to sift through the mounds of data and make sense of it all. You decide what parts are trustworthy and what aren't. Just as you do with your news outlets. You do that, don't you?

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Friday, March 10, 2006

The most important contribution to Internet security since cryptography

Lawrence Lessig, founder of Creative Commons and leading proponent of "free culture" recognizes the importance of InfoCard, a WinFX technology that is hardened against tampering and spoofing to protect the end user's digital identities and maintain end-user control. In a post in Wired, Lessig says it may be the "the most important contribution to Internet security since cryptography".

InfoCard builds off of the widely respected Laws Of Identity proposed by Kim Cameron.

For more information, look at the InfoCard page on the Windows Vista Developer Center.


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Sunday, March 05, 2006

The Hundredth Monkey Gets the "Video on Cell Phones" Idea

This post isn't an attempt at taking the simian tradition of this blog to the next level. So, bear with me as I explain my point.

The Hundredth Monkey Phenomenon is attributed to Lyall Watson, who wrote about a sudden spontaneous and mysterious leap of consciousness achieved when an allegedly "critical mass" point is reached. Although the arguments presented seem rather dubious to me, Watson talks about observing this phenomenon in the Japanese macaques of Koshima. In his words,
In the autumn of that year an unspecified number of monkeys on Koshima were washing sweet potatoes in the sea. . . Let us say, for argument's sake, that the number was ninety-nine and that at eleven o'clock on a Tuesday morning, one further convert was added to the fold in the usual way. But the addition of the hundredth monkey apparently carried the number across some sort of threshold, pushing it through a kind of critical mass, because by that evening almost everyone was doing it. Not only that, but the habit seems to have jumped natural barriers and to have appeared spontaneously, like glycerine crystals in sealed laboratory jars, in colonies on other islands and on the mainland in a troop at Takasakiyama.

In short, when a certain critical mass was reached, suddenly the idea seemed obvious and gained currency.

Last week, the Hundredth Monkey in the American business world got a hang of this whole "video on cell phones" idea. Suddenly, it seems like the obvious playground for media titans and upstarts alike. Rupert Murdoch's News Corp announced it was getting into the business of custom ringtones, games and assorted doodads for your phone. And as if to reinforce the public lack of respect for the fourth estate, CBS announced a subscription service for mobile phones where you can get CBS News for 99 cents a month and "Entertainment Tonight" for $3.99 a month. And for those of us that prefer to see Death Cab For Cutie and Jon Stewart on our 4" cell phone screens than on our 29" idiot boxes, Viacom has announced that clips of MTV, VH1, CMT and Comedy Central shows will be available on our phones.

Amid all the beatitude, last week also saw the calming influence of statistics revealed by a survey of a thousand people between 21 and 65 by RBC Capital Markets. 71% of those surveyed said they weren't eager to buy the new fangled wireless services. And 76% said they were not interested in watching TV shows on their cell phones.

Still, even 24% of 200 million cellphone subscribers is a pretty large audience. I for one am with the majority on this one. I use my cell phone for 3 purposes: making calls, receiving calls and storing numbers so I don't have to remember them. But I'm keeping an open mind on this one. When that killer app is here, who knows, maybe I'll be the Hundredth Monkey among the consumers.


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