March 31, 2005

This touched me on so many levels...

Four Mexican immigrant kids who lived in shanty houses and went to a little known school beat a team from MIT in an underwater robot championship. The MIT team had three times as many members and almost 15 times the budget.
... in a second-floor windowless room, four students huddle around an odd, 3-foot-tall frame constructed of PVC pipe. They have equipped it with propellers, cameras, lights, a laser, depth detectors, pumps, an underwater microphone, and an articulated pincer. [...] It's a cheap but astoundingly functional underwater robot capable of recording sonar pings and retrieving objects 50 feet below the surface. The four teenagers who built it are all undocumented Mexican immigrants who came to this country through tunnels or hidden in the backseats of cars. They live in sheds and rooms without electricity. But over three days last summer, these kids from the desert proved they are among the smartest young underwater engineers in the country.

La Vida Robot

March 18, 2005

Ajax is receiving increasing attention in the mainstream media after it took the blogosphere by storm recently. All this has understandably put Macromedia on defensive as Ajax poses direct threat to its Flash and Flex platforms. They've now begun to play Microsoft (as in Windows Vs Linux) spreading misinformation about Ajax. Here's a what a senior executive told a Cnet journalist about the technology:
"It is really, really, really hard to build something like Gmail and Google Maps. Google hired rocket scientists -- they hired Adam Bosworth [...] Most companies can't go and repeat what Google has done."

That's David Mendels, Executive VP and General Manager at Macromedia. Someone should inform Mr. Mendel that Adam Bosworth, the "rocket scientist" he credits for Gmail and Google Maps was hired July last year -- over three months after Gmail's public release and over two years after it was released internally at Google.

Also, that someone single-handedly built an Ajax tool for dictionary lookup on the lines of, and within 14 days of release of Google Suggest beta. I wish Cnet staff writer Paul Festa had gotten reactions to Mendel's statement from technical experts in the industry. Perhaps he should have contacted the people behind the term, who call it "practical for real-world applications".

UPDATE 25-Mar-2005: Macromedia Responds

David Mendels wrote in to clarify that he also said many more things to the Cnet journalist and by quoting just one sentence, the journalist perhaps misrepresented his intent. Complete quote:

"Paul Festa quoted one sentence from me out of an hour conversation, so it may be a bit unfair to accuse me of spreading misinformation. Adam Bosworth is just one person and I wasn't suggesting he built gmail but rather that Google has the resources to do things that are *relatively* less practical for many folks."

Fair enough. A good journalist would have quoted the essence of the long interview in that one sentence, but knowing how clueless journalists can be when it comes to technology, I can believe that David was perhaps misquoted.

(Note to any journalist reading this: you don't go to an analyst to corroborate a technology story, you go to a geek.)

David Mendels added that Macromedia has been promoting Asynchronous Javascript and HTML for years. He wrote: "for many uses Flash (or for large complex applications, Flex) is a better way to do AJAX." While this is arguable (see links below), I completely agree when he says, "to each their own--these are all tools for the developer community to choose among. [...] It doesn't have to be one vs the other. Each has strengths and weaknesses and you should look at these choices based on your specific application. And they can be used together as well."

I also heard from John Dowdell of Macromedia support.

JD: "Google has indeed made a lot of top-flight hires in JavaScript/DOM work, and I don't think the emphasis was actually "Adam Bosworth wrote that app"."

That may be true but Ajax certainly came across in the article as "rocket science" that Google can afford to work on and others cannot. David's quote was prominently highlighted on the second page of the article.

JD: "What we really could use in this discussion is some analysis of the actual costs (in development, testing, and maintenance) of writing across multiple engines. This would be useful, agreed...?"

Absolutely, if such an objective analysis is indeed possible. But the time to write code also depends(perhaps more so) on the skill of people writing it than the platform it is written on. How do you get two teams that have the same level of competence in each technology (and how'd you measure that)? Even if you do achieve that seemingly insurmountable hurdle, you'd need to decide on a project that doesn't favor a particular platform and is representative of actual work that's being done.

If such a study is indeed carried out, I hope it is not commissioned by Macromedia. I won't expect any study to be credible that's conducted by a company, which might stand to gain from publishing its results. The Flash player statistics page on Macromedia website, for example, proudly proclaims "Macromedia Flash content reaches 98.2% of Internet viewers." It's only when you look at the version penetration breakdown on another page do you realise that the quoted figure is for Flash version 2 while the latest version 7 player reaches only 83% of internet viewers in US. The same study inexplicably puts the number of internet users with Windows Media Player at a mere 42% when we know that about 90% of internet users are on a Windows OS.

End of update.

What is Ajax
Cnet Ajax story in question
Ajax in Wall Street Journal
Ajax in blogosphere
Blog on Ajax related technologies
Flash Vs Ajax 1
Flash Vs. Ajax 2
Flash Vs Ajax 3

March 15, 2005

The Doors of Perception conference begins in Delhi in three days (and I got to hear about it for the first time today, which I think is because I blocked their email address after they spammed me big time last year).

Star speakers include Joi Ito and Wikipedia creator Jimmy Wales.

Doors of Perception 8, conference FAQ
Doors 8 speakers
Last week, I received a review copy of "Beyond Bullet Points" from author Cliff Atkinson [thanks Cliff!]. I've been a long time admirer of Cliff's Beyond Bullets blog for his insightful writings on the art and science of presentation. One of the things I admire about the blog is the myriad places Cliff looks for insights. The list of people he has interviewed include so many of my favorite people...look: Seth Godin, Edward Tufte, Robert Mckee, Guy Kawasaki, Don Norman, Scott McCloud, John Seely Brown, Steve Denning, Jason Fried. Wow.

Now he has put all his wisdom in Beyond Bullet Points. I've just started reading it and it looks very promising. I'll do a complete review in next few weeks.

Cliff Atkinson's blog on PowerPoint
His book on PowePoint
Interviews by Cliff
An academic at McGill University has a simple plan to stop the plague of unauthorized music downloads on the Internet. But it entails changing the entire music industry as we know it, and Apple Computers, which may have the power to make the change, is listening.

from Would you pay 5 cents for a song?

This makes perfect sense to me. I find the lack of success of micropayment on the web a bit odd, really. The web is cut out for micropayment. The fact that it has never worked in the past has less to do with the basic concept and more because noone ever really pushed micropayment on large scale*, because the security problem remains unsolved and perhaps also because it's extremely difficult to 'microprice' a product. "Why charge 5 cents when you can charge 10 cents and double the revenue," asks someone. In reality of course, you don't double the revenue because by overpricing you reduce the number of people that purchase.

But how do you determine what is overpricing when you microprice? How do you settle on that magic figure that maximizes profit? How do you convince the bean counters in your company of that impossibly low price that you hope will attract hordes of users? Then, how you keep them from raising the price when they do?

* BitPass is a great idea but I don't recognize more than one name from their list of clients. I'm yet to hear about a big micropayment success story.