Monday, July 16, 2012

2 things likely to shake up established industries that need a good shaking


I'm not a gamer, but this idea could really shake up the game industry.  The basic idea is that it's a very accessible console for independent developers.

Interested to see how this goes.  Getting into just about any real console as a developer is difficult (and costly); that low (and cheap) barrier is a big reason why the iPhone and Android platforms have attracted so many developers.  Offering a $100 console built on open source / available technology that anybody can develop games for is an obvious idea, but as far as I know, nobody's done it to date.

AMC and Breaking Bad

AMC and Dish Network are currently in a few big fights; there are a lot of details but you can find them pretty easily.  The interesting thing that's coming out of this is the fact that while AMC is no longer available on Dish Network (as a Dish Network customer, it's a move I'm less than thrilled about), AMC decided to broadcast the premiere of Breaking Bad at the same time as the TV show:

Pretty much everybody is fed up with cable companies as far as I can tell (outside of the cable companies themselves) and I don't know too many TV watchers that would not be VERY excited to be able to get networks a la carte via the Internet.  Game of Thrones (reportedly the most pirated TV show this year) has already run into problems with this; basically, if I don't have cable and HBO - a pair that is hard to find under $60 per month - I can't watch the show, because it's not available on iTunes or Amazon or DVD until about a year later.

If the AMC approach was successful, it could set a precedent, or at least show the networks that streaming live TV over the Internet (with commercials and everything) can be successful; if they can create a model to get paid for this, I think the whole TV / cable industry is going to see some big changes.

In related news, Arrested Development is supposed to be coming back, delivered via Netflix: 

Friday, July 6, 2012

The perils of internal spam

Let me tell you a little story.  The names have been changed to protect the not-so-innocent and it's vague because I'm not really so great with specifics.

Let's call the subject of this story Steve.  Steve sent out a message asking how he could set up his corporate email on his iPad.  Unfortunately, instead of sending that message out to the proper person or mailing list in his company, he figured "bigger is better" and sent it out to as many people as he could - 4000 users seemed to be the limit, so Steve was sure to use up all the resources he could.

In 1989, it would have been a lot of paper.

This little action seems to be pretty innocuous at first, but it has huge ripple effects that still affected message delivery hours later.

The problem starts out simple.  Let's do a thought experiment so we can see the repercusions of this one message.

Let's assume that the mail server can do only one thing at a time, and that copying this first message to each user's mailbox and transmitting the message to the mail client takes about 500ms on average (it's got a lot of addresses, so there's a lot of text and transmitting it takes some time).  So for this first message, we're looking at roughly 30 minutes of the server's time to process and fully deliver the message.  Even if the server is provisioned to just handle normal traffic, this small spike will normalize reasonably quickly.

It's more like an "Oh, darn!" sort of problem at this point.

Unfortunately, this is not where the story ends.  Somebody had to reply-all to the message and repeat the same question.  Again, this isn't so bad - except that when you reply to a message, the header (the from / to / subject fields) is copied into the message.  This relatively small message is now about 250KB, due to all of the addresses that were in the original.  So assuming about double the time to deliver a message twice the first message's size, this second message should take about an hour to transmit fully.

Of course nobody is content to be spammed like this and let it go, so somebody has to reply-all and ask to be removed from the conversation.  Now the message is about 750KB.  We're looking at 90 minutes at this point - to deliver one single message.  Keep in mind that each one of these is going to have a cumulative impact, so we're REALLY slowing down the server at this point.

Now we have to have the series of people complaining about people replying to all (quite ironically) by replying to all.

This picture is irony.

What makes it even worse is that a decent number of those addresses are group mailing lists - so there's a very good chance that we are looking at closer to 10,000 recipients instead of 4000.

All in all, at least a dozen separate messages were sent, the biggest of which was about 7 replies deep.  It's about 1.7MB in total size.  Sent to 4000 addresses.  Probably 10,000 recipients.  Even if every one of those recipients is on a 1Mbps connection, it's going to take about 15 total seconds per recipient just to transfer it - not to mention copying it to each mailbox.  This will ultimately end up costing about 17GB of space on the server - and that's just the ONE message.  It's not crazy to think that the rapidly filling disk on this server is only going to exacerbate the problem.

It's like crashing a train by screaming out questions about your seat belt.

At 4:30 PM people were still getting their other messages (you know, the important ones that don't have anything to do with how to set up an iPad) from 10:30 AM.

I really hope Steve didn't figure out how to get his email set up on his iPad - with two ways to send messages he might black out the entire continent.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

One laptop per child: seven years later

When the OLPC initiative first hit the news back in 2005, I remember having a lot of admiration for the program.  The goal of building a laptop in 2005 - back when even low-end notebook computers were well over $800 - for $100 was ambitious, but respectable.  Distributing computers to low-income countries in the hopes of improving education seemed like a great idea at the time.

In 2006, the first machine (the XO-1) was delivered, and while it was impressive, it fell short of a few goals.  It cost close to $200, and while rugged and innovative, its hardware was pretty limited; still, for the time it was rather inexpensive.  Unfortunately, looking back - it seems now that in 2005 this was a "right now" solution to a problem that would have to be solved in the future.

The ASUS Eee PC came out in 2007 and very quickly, low-cost / moderately powered laptops became mainstream.  They weren't nearly as rugged as the XO-1, but the hardware and price were comparable.

In 2010, low-cost Android tablets started appearing.  In 2011, many low-end (but capable) Android tablets could be purchased for about $100.  It's possible that Android is a better platform for something like this, with its wide adoption and large developer community.  There are plenty of applications available, and more coming all the time - many of them free and educational.

The OLPC project designed the XO-3, which should attempt to mitigate this situation.  It's meant to be released this year and is expected to cost under $100.

This newest product could be the educational tool originally intended; tablet computers can be so straightforward that anybody with a basic exposure to technology can pick them up and use them.  And herein lies the latest problem.

My grandmother had a hell of a time trying to use her first computer (way back in 1999).  Granted, computers were a lot harder to use then, but she just didn't have the basic exposure to technology necessary to figure it out.  Within a few years, she managed to figure out enough to get through her normal usage patterns, but I still got lots of support calls about "the Internet being broken" and the monitor not turning on.  It took time, practice, and study for her, as well as support from her family.

Now if you give a computer to a child in Peru who hasn't even seen a cell phone before, and hasn't had the basic exposure to technology as those of us in the US, how can they be expected to use it?

If you can't teach kids how to use it, if the thing isn't simple to use, if it's not universally easy to understand, it doesn't matter how inexpensive it's going to be.  

Will the XO-3 change this?

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Awesome things from the Internet: Krispy Kreme

A few weeks ago I came across this on the Know Your Meme website:

It's really great stuff, it sounds pretty good, but the videos are just absolutely ridiculous in a really juvenile way; still, they're reasonably well put together.

Right away, I think most people were thinking this was one of 3 things:

  1. Somebody with some video and production talent was putting some random kid up to this and was trolling
  2. Krispy Kreme himself was trolling
  3. Krispy Kreme was earnest about all of this and somehow managed to produce these songs and videos
I really wanted it to be #3.  In the last few days, though, it seems that it's looking more and more like #2.  This other guy on YouTube ) is claiming that Krispy Kreme's real name is Tyler Cassidy and that Krispy Kreme is really some kind of genius.  He links to a PDF ( ) that lists a bit of information about Tyler.  There are a few other videos on YouTube with songs that are claimed to be by Tyler Cassidy ( and are a few ) - to be honest, it's not bad.  If Krispy Kreme really is putting all of this together in an effort to be noticed, then yeah - I think he is a genius.  Mission Accomplished. 

The big question on my mind now is: Is this really what it takes to get noticed now?  Music acts used to have to play out in any club they could, give their music away to anybody who would listen, build a fan base, and hope to be signed one day.  I'm not saying that the effort behind creating this character and keeping it going this long is any less than all of that, but it's certainly a lot different than sitting on a corner playing a guitar.

One way or the other, I really can't wait for this: