Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Review: jPod

jPod is the latest Douglas Coupland novel about programmers since Microserfs. It centers around a group of mildly autistic programmers in a video game company in Vancouver who all sit in the same area of the company because their last names begin with the letter "J" and in particular the lead character's life, Ethan Jarlewski.

While there are some interesting and thoughtful moments in the book, it unfortunately comes nowhere near the calibre of Microserfs due to the following reasons.

1) Wildly outrageous plot lines: I won't go into too much detail about these, but suffice to say where Microserfs was at least plausible (if slightly unrealistic), Coupland relies on ridiculous events to keep the story going in this case. Not only that, the characters are able to navigate these plot points virtually unscathed and unscarred (where as in real life these kind of things would require months of therapy).

2) Too many non-story devices: There is one part of the book where the number pi is printed to 100,000 places which uses up about 10 pages which is not story which no one will bother reading. These kinds of techniques are employed liberally throughout the book.

3) Too many pop culture references: It's as if Coupland has decided that the pop culture references are more important than the characters. In Microserfs they were cute, in jPod they are overwheming.

4) Inserting himself into the novel: Ok, Hitchcock liked to make cameos in his movies, but Coupland not only makes his characters reference him, he also turns up in his own novel and ends up being the deus ex machina (god in the machine). This makes you hyper aware you are reading a novel and you completely lose the ability to lose yourself in the storyline.

So, Mr. Coupland, if you ever get around to reading this and then writing another novel about the programming community please heed these issues. On the one hand I think there are enough interesting quirks about programmers to fill lots of books and so I am glad you continue to write about them (us), but please focus on the characters.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Master of my domain

Hi All,
I just got myself a new domain (http://www.skuunk.com). The reason is that Blogspot.com is offering cheap domain via GoDaddy.com and I thought after having this nickname for nigh on 10 years it was time to buy the domain before someone else did (also I read somewhere that using blogspot.com in your domain is the equivalent of an aol.com or hotmail.com email address...shudder...).

Of course I forgot that I would have to re-register my blog everywhere (which is taking ages) not to mention set up all my stats stuff again. *sigh*. It's a blogger's life...

In any case, don't forget to bookmark the new address and to vote me up on Technorati!

Monday, March 03, 2008

IE8 will render in standards mode by default

http://blogs.msdn.com/ie/archive/2008/03/03/microsoft-s-interoperability-principles-and-ie8.aspx

Yay, the "geniuses" (genii?) at Microsoft are finally doing something right! IE8 will now render in standards mode by default (and if you want to make it run on IE7 mode you have to put in some meta tag thingy).

If by standards mode they mean it will render pages like Firefox then I am happy.

Now all they have to do is put some Windows update code out there which will permanently destroy all copies of IE6 so no one will even think of using it anymore.

In all reality and sadness, I know we should be encouraging everyone to use Firefox, but unfortunately most people just use their system's default browser...

I am not even really happy about Safari for that matter...

Sunday, March 02, 2008

How Digg and Reddit brought browsing back.

Are you old enough to remember when the Internet when it seemed to have a finite amount of information? Do remember the Darwin Awards? Can you remember the last time you actually saw an original joke online or in your inbox?

If so, then maybe you sometimes have a hankering for old days when rather than searching for things on the Net, you would just browse around just click on random things and occasionally come across sites like "The End of the Internet". These were the days when you had directories, not search engines, and you just had to take what you could get.

In any case, recently a couple of new(ish) sites like StumbleUpon, Digg and Reddit have brought the browsing back to the browser. These are sites on which other people post stories of interest and rather than searching for interesting content, the user simply browses through. Stories are ranked by other users and secret sauce algorithms are in place to try and keep out spammers and general exhibitionists so that the stories you see are guaranteed interesting.

When you click through these sites you end up in a fugue or a daze where the best of the Net is brought to you with minimal thought. One of the nicest features though is that while you can go down into subcategories, if you just go through the default flow you end up seeing truly new things that you never would have thought of. Sometimes getting exactly what you want can be the problem rather than the solution as it takes too much work to think about what it is you really want.

Hence the beauty of browsing. Browsing is actually a natural activity practiced by early homonids (during our Hunter/Gatherer phases) where rather than selecting exactly what we want to buy at the supermarket, we would forage and eat whatever came our way. Sometimes it was good, sometimes not so good, but it was always interesting. This is the reason brick and mortar shops still exist even though you can order everything you want online just by searching for it.

Browsing is also important in helping bring new options to the table that you wouldn't have otherwise thought of.

While blog sites such as BoingBoing also fulfill this function, they don't actually update fast enough. It's easier to click than to post and who has time to list every interesting link themselves. This is where the multi poster model works so well.

So if you need to waste time online like the old days (before you could be productive on the Net) then browse away.



IE8 Sneak preview

http://leakedtech.blogspot.com/2008/03/internet-explorer-8-beta-1-sneak-peak.html

So it looks like IE 8 Beta 1 is out. Even using VM with Parallels I am not prepared to try it out for myself.

It doesn't look like there are an JS changes but mainly CSS ones.

Now if they could just hurry up and kill IE6 then that would make my life much easier...