Needed: Sysadmin for home server admin, some light dusting

The one-two punch of CES and MacWorld Expo is a real balm to my soul. Even an optimistic fellow like yours truly can't help but feel a letdown after the holiday season—stores take the displays out of their windows, the glittering lights are shut off, and discarded trees line the street. But this new year's orgy of media plays and gizmos keeps the embers of out-of-control consumerism burning just that much longer for me.

Of course, it's also fascinating to see how the technology + media battle for the living room has really broken into two parts: the Mac World, and Everybody Else (Nominally Led By Microsoft). As is customary, Bill gets to address his troops first in Las Vegas.

I noticed, as others did, that Bill's speech seemed to be more grounded in reality than it has in the past—he talked more about what Microsoft could do today (or at least within the next few months) than Microsoft's vision for a distant, connected future. Given that the company has a whole lot of Vista to sell in the next 12 months (not to mention an inventory of Zunes lying around), that makes sense. What's frightening is the form in which that Microsoft vision takes shape.

Let's start with the idea of Windows Home Server. Now, I don't debate for a second the need for some way to hub all of the devices and data that are going to power the digital living room, but who, in god's name, thought a discrete "home server" component was the best way to address that issue? It's consumer electronics only a sysadmin would love! I don't see a real groundswell of desire out there among the masses for a wholesale replication of the enterprise data center experience in the home, but that's exactly what this name implies.

What's worse, there's good thinking buried in this box: the reference designs showed by HP, AMD, and others are small, and the version of Vista running underneath the thing is low-touch. It can back up any computer connected to your home network (including boxes running Mac OS X and Linux), and it'll let you remotely connect to your Windows boxen at home over Microsoft's Live services. What's more, it can stream music, movies, and pictures directly to any Windows Media Connect-compatible device on the home network (such as an Xbox 360).

The only problem is you have to explain stuff like "servers," or "backup and restore disk image," or, "Remote Desktop," or "Windows Media Connect" to people before they can really take advantage of everything there.

Even so, that's not as scary as when Bill talks about who Microsoft "loves." I think the reason I've always been partial to Apple is that I feel they're making technology that's supposed to work for me; that's on my side in the fight with, well, everything else. Tell me if you get that same sense from the following quote Bill Gates gave a bunch of reporters after his CES keynote:

We were at the (Wall Street Journal's) "D" conference where (Apple CEO Steve Jobs) talked about (the fact that) he doesn't go into markets where he has to go through somebody else's orifice, which is how he described the broadband companies and the cable companies and the phone companies and the things like that. We love those guys.

I believe Gates was telling the 100%, unvarnished, irony-free truth there. Microsoft understands companies. They understand how corporate customers like to buy and use technology. No matter where you work, chances are that you're using a box running Windows, and that box is connected to a lot of other boxes running Windows. I'm quite sure, in fact, that Microsoft's best bet to get control of your living room is to help corporations like your phone company or your cable company by selling them technology that serves their interests. Now, are the interests of your phone company the same as yours? If they're anything like my (erstwhile) telco, Verizon, probably not. As for my cable company, their interests were served by providing me with a DVR that's quite a bit less capable than a TiVo. I'm sure there's a good reason for that, but it probably wasn't to provide me with the best home media experience possible.

Microsoft, in it's soul, is a company that sells product in bulk to corporate customers. I think a lot of it is very good stuff, but I'd like to keep it at the office, thanks.

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Wired's Top Ten Tech Cities, Toronto and Toronto Tech Week

I posted this to my personal blog, but thought it might fit in here at Global Nerdy. Enjoy!

Here's something of interest to those of you who are interested in helping promote Accordion City as a great place for techies to live, work and play: Wired's article, 10 Top Tech Towns, in which they list the top 10 cities across the U.S. “to get your geek on”. The cities, in alphabetical order, are:

  • Austin
  • Boston
  • Los Angeles
  • New York City
  • Orlando
  • Pittsburgh
  • Raleigh-Durham
  • San Francisco Bay Area
  • Seattle
  • Washington, DC

The factors that were measured in choosing these cities were:

Proximity to top-ranked engineering schools

Tech jobs, per capita, on Dice

Personal ads, per capita, on Geek 2 Geek.

Craigslist postings per capita

Number of attendees at local meetings of Dorkbot, a group for “people doing strange things with electricity”

Availability of free Wi-Fi

Comic book stores per capita

Circuit City stores per capita

With the inclusion of Canadian cities and some minor substitutions — for example, substitute “Future Shop” or “Best Buy” for “Circuit City”, and thing like “DemoCamp” and “Sumo Robot Challenge” for “Dorkbot” — I think that Toronto could easily find itself in this list.

Of course, it's one thing to have the virtues of a top 10 tech city and another to have them known. Luckily, we're working on that — Toronto Tech Week will take place at the end of May, and I'm hoping to play a key role in its success. I'll write more on it later, but for now, check out Mark Kuznicki's piece on Toronto Tech Week.


Guy Kawasaki on Getting the Most out of LinkedIn

LinkedIn logo.

My role model, Guy Kawasaki, has written up an excellent article on how to maximize your LinkedIn account (you have one, don't you?). He says that you can use it to…

  • Increase your visibility
  • Improve your connectability
  • Improve your Google PageRank
  • Enhance your search engine results
  • Perform blind, “reverse,” and company reference checks
  • Increase the relevancy of your job search
  • Make your interview go smoother
  • Gauge the health of a company
  • Gauge the health of an industry
  • Track startups
  • Ask for advice
  • Integrate into a new job
  • Scope out the competition, customers, partners, etc

It certainly makes me want to update my profile this weekend.



"Super Columbine Massacre RPG" Game Pulled from Slamdance Festival's Indie Videogame Competition

Screenshot from 'Super Columbine Massacre RPG'.

That “gnashing of teeth, rending of clothing” sound that you're bound to hear on many sites and blogs concerned with videogames, freedom of expression or both is the outcry over the removal of the controversial Super Columbine Massacre RPG from the Slamdance film festival's videogame competition. Although the organizers of the festival asked SCMRPG's developer Danny LeDonne to enter his game, they revoked his entry in the competition after sponsors threatened to withdraw unless that game was removed from the competition.

If you're curious about the game but have better things to do than play it (personally, I'm not even going to bother downloading this one), there's a review and writeup at Arthouse Games.

Screenshot from 'Super Columbine Massacre RPG'.



Bubbleshare Acquired by Kaboose; Congrats, Albert!

Bubbleshare logo.

I met Bubbleshare CEO Albert Lai in Toronto in 1995, back when he was still a high school kid. I was at my first job fresh out of Crazy Go Nuts University (that's where I met George) and Albert was there doing an internship, seeing what it was like working a new media company that was in the newfangled business of developing interactive media applications. We got along, probably because we were the two guys at the company who came from a technical, let's-make-some-cool-tech-and-money mindset rather than the prevailing arts-degree “my art above all else” vibe. There seemed to be general unease about doing projects for “big business”. Hippies.

I remember later reading about's acquisition of the MyDesktop network of sites; he was one of the three teens who made the sale.

A few years later, I ran into him again, this time in a location thousands of miles away: in San Jose, at a gathering of P2P software developers, just prior to the first O'Reilly P2P conference (which would later morph to become the Emerging Tech conference). It turns out that we ended up living in the same condo complex in San Francisco.

A few years after that, I bumped into him again as he was promoting Bubbleshare, an online photo-sharing web application. Bubbleshare is pretty simple to use and could teach Flickr a thing or two. I kept running into him at various TorCamp/BarCamp/DemoCamp-related events, and then…nothing.

Albert usually makes his presence known, so any silence coming from him usually means that he's hard at work on his latest project. That turned out to be the case: the news that Bubbleshare has been acquired has been reported by local tech writers Mathew Ingram and Mark Evans. The acquisition has been made by Toronto-based Kaboose, which runs a network of family-oriented sites.

Mark Evans aptly points out that Bubbleshare always seemed more like a feature than a business; their fit with Kaboose seems like a natural one — family-oriented site and very user friendly online photo album.

My congratulations to Albert and the rest of the Bubbleshare crew. You'll have to tell me all about it at the next DemoCamp!



Why JSON is a Better Fit for Web Apps than XML

XML vs JSON, featuring the poster from the movie 'Freddy vs. Jason'.

If you've been following the blog shooting war between the boosters of XML and JSON and have been scratching your head as to which one to use, Dare “Carnage4Life” Obasanjo has written a great article with an excellent executive summary:

If you're too busy to read them, here's the executive summary. JSON is a better fit for Web services that power Web mashups and AJAX widgets due to the fact…that it is essentially serialized Javascript objects which makes it fit better client side scripting which is primarily done in Javascript. That's it. XML will never fit the bill as well for these scenarios without changes to the existing browser ecosystem which I doubt are forthcoming anytime soon.



Kathy Sierra on the Dumbness of Crowds

Dr. Hibbert from 'The Simpsons'.

Does anyone remember the Simpsons episode in which Doctor Hibbert says ruefully “We've given the word 'mob' a bad name”?

There's a reason that the phrase “design by committee” is an insult, and Kathy Sierra does a good job covering why in her latest posting to Creating Passionate Users titled The Dumbness of Crowds.

'Wisdom of Crowds' design results in safe, well-balanced non-offensive products, while designs by individuals produce risky, unbalanced, astonishing ideas.

Kathy's prowess at explaining concepts and then making them stick in your head is second to none. She's in fine form with this article, which she closes with a memorable catchphrase that's sure to end up on a Successories poster someday:

No matter what, I believe that in our quest to exploit the “We” in Web, we must not sacrifice the “I” in Internet.