Back in the early 90s, when, after ten years of messing around with home computers, i took a course in programming, Brian W. Kernighan & Dennis M. Ritchie’s book ‘The C Programming Language‘ was one of my text books. At that point it was probably about the same age as my involvement with computers.

Much of the next decade was spent in the world of C, it became the first computer language in which i could adequately express myself, and the first that earned me a living.

C is quirky, flawed, and an enormous success.

Today, some twenty years later, it has been announced that Dennis Ritchie has died.

I’ll be honest, and tell you that my earlier post about Steve Jobs now feels a little empty.

Steve Yegge’s Platform Rant

Do love it when Steve Yegge posts something to the world (even when he really <cough> doesn’t mean to):

Google+ is a knee-jerk reaction, a study in short-term thinking, predicated on the incorrect notion that Facebook is successful because they built a great product. But that’s not why they are successful. Facebook is successful because they built an entire constellation of products by allowing other people to do the work. So Facebook is different for everyone. Some people spend all their time on Mafia Wars. Some spend all their time on Farmville. There are hundreds or maybe thousands of different high-quality time sinks available, so there’s something there for everyone.

Our Google+ team took a look at the aftermarket and said: “Gosh, it looks like we need some games. Let’s go contract someone to, um, write some games for us.” Do you begin to see how incredibly wrong that thinking is now? The problem is that we are trying to predict what people want and deliver it for them.

He generally has a tone that really rubs the wrong way. Which is especially annoying because he also does a good job of making me think about something that i’d previously not considered, or hadn’t seen as important.

The whole product / platform distinction is, i think, pretty obvious. However, it’s not a view that i’d previously had of the all mighty G-sha. Perhaps having a platform at the level that Yegge is talking about means giving up too much control for Google. It’s funny to me that he rags on Bezos for being a control freak over having a platform, when the only solution that i can think of that is more control-freakish is having a product with a super minimal API!

My own take on why G+ will end up being another social failure for Google is related to that last paragraph. The idea that it is enough to be reactive, but implement it incrementally better, to be a success. Facebook, by way of  example, wasn’t a success because they had better html than Myspace, it was a success because it had a simple hook: reconnect with old school / college friends! Having a better implementation, a more flexible infrastructure, smarter engineers, is just not enough. Without that hook, if you just offer more of the same, only better, the network effects alone will be enough to kick you to the curb.

Rather rashly, back in july / august, i might have said that G+ will be dead / irrelevant in six months. In reality it’s likely to take longer than that, but i stand by the basic idea that it’ll be an also ran. Something will come along and unseat Facebook eventually, but it’s going to take more than a functional clone.

Meanwhile, over at G+, the innovation never ends – today they’ve rolled out hashtags…


Please realize, though, that even now, after six years, I know astoundingly little about Google. It’s a huge company and they do tons of stuff, and I work off in a little corner of the company (both technically and geographically) that gives me very little insight into anything else going on there. So my opinions, even though they may seem well-formed and accurate, really are just a bunch of opinions from someone who’s nowhere near the center of the action — so I wouldn’t read too much into anything I said.

Which is rather amusing. Maybe he just needs to find a new job.

A Non-states Based Cloud?

The Jacob Appelbaum / Wikileaks story makes for some pretty disturbing reading:

The secrecy makes it difficult to determine how often such court orders are used. Anecdotal data suggest that digital searches are becoming common.

In 2009, Google began disclosing the volume of requests for user data it received from the U.S. government. In the six months ending Dec. 31, Google said it received 4,601 requests and complied with 94% of them. The data include all types of requests, including search warrants, subpoenas and requests under the 1986 law.

Secret Orders Target Email, WSJ

Having a cloud infrastructure run by US companies, on US soil, under US jurisdiction, seem positively dangerous. There is probably little that the companies involved can do in the legal system to rebuff these kinds of requests (although it is interesting that the likes of Twitter and Sonic, are at least making a point of fighting back).

Given that it’s unlikely that an operation like Google would forego the ability to mine it’s users data, it is hard to imagine that they would switch to a model where all data is stored encrypted, only accessible to the user holding the key. That, along with guarantees of only maintaining activity logs for a limited duration, would make a big dent in the likelihood of abuse.

Update: It looks like Sonic actually did the right thing: Help us, protect your privacy online. It would obviously be interesting to know if this co-incides with request for records relating to Appelbaum.

That said, it’s probable that government agencies would apply a lot of pressure to an operator of Google’s scale to be ‘co-operative’. In the states there seems to be very little public appetite for privacy protections written into law. Whether that is down to genuine belief that abuse is unlikely or just plain ignorance of the situation, is hard to say.

Appelbaum’s case appears to be a nightmare example of authorities fishing for information to build a case where there is no evidence that laws have been broken. They are determined to take revenge for Wikileaks release of the diplomatic cables, and will do almost anything to get it…

As an aside, i’m quite surprised that Appelbaum would use GMail as a provider. One would hope that he took precautions after getting involved with Wikileaks, and that the government agency working this case is wasting it’s time.

Anyway, it does raise the question as to whether there is an opportunity for someone to setup cloud based services, in a location less inclined to be silently co-operative with US requests, and focused on maintaining the privacy of the user. The lack of such an operation of any scale rather indicates that moment has not yet arrived…

Is It Happening Again?

The longer the attempts to avoid Greece defaulting on its debt, the worse the situation gets for everyone. As the fear ramps up, and pushes the borrowing rates higher and higher, the more likely it becomes that Governments will be cowed into handing over large chunks of money (that they don’t have). All to save a banking / financial system that has very few national ties (multinationals), pays very little tax, and is working as hard as it canto profit from the instability that it has created.

It seems critical to me that the EU (with or without the UK) forces through legislation to separate investment and retail banking. Without that separation the banks can continue to hold the threat of bank runs over the heads of states, and continue to shake them down.

Greece, and maybe some of the remains PIIS (see what i did there?), must be allowed to default. Investors must take loses on bad loans, not a fraction, but lose their shirts. Unfortunately that would bankrupt the banks casino divisions, and because of the way that the banks are now structured, lose the average citizen their savings.

Maybe the Governments should save their money, let the banks fail, and revive them under new legislation that separates the businesses? State capital would only be put into retail banking, making good on the guarantees to citizens that their money is safe.

Obviously there is a lot of robbing Peter to pay Paul involved in this scheme (the states are playing with money saved (ha!) / borrowed against future taxation, but the cost of not ending the shakedown is likely to be higher in the long run.

We are in a situation where loans are bad, and pretending that they can ever be paid off is a fantasy. The Japanese solution to this problem was to turn the banks into zombies, that wrote off a portion of the debt every year. That doesn’t seem possible in the EU (the markets are too open to allow it?) and therefore the debt must be cancelled / defaulted on. It’s going to hurt. A lot. But it still might be worth it just to break the banking systems chokehold.

Reality Rejected

“Unrealistic optimism is a pervasive human trait that influences domains ranging from personal relationships to politics and finance,” wrote authors of a study published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

Optimistic people: another reason we’re doomed. Make up 80% of the population. And, they live longer. Great.

Steve Jobs R.I.P.

There is something deeply telling about americans flocking to Apple Stores to pay respects. And that’s me talking as a long talking as a long time Apple customer.

Now probably isn’t the time to discuss this, but technology really is the defining cult of our age. Be it Microsoft, Apple, Google, the affiliation that consumers (no point in calling them anything else) have with these brands is quite disturbing.

My personal opinion is that Jobs was probably a decent, driven, and well intentioned person, who died before his time. However, there is no denying that we know almost nothing about him, and he was a intensely private person.