Archive for the ‘Web Development’ category

GeoCities and musing on growing up digital

October 26, 2009

RIP GeoCities (1995-2009)

We will miss your animated GIFs, your annoying <MARQUEE> tags (or <BLINK> if you used that other browser). Seriously, I shouldn’t care – I hosted my site on Angelfire -but the memories of hand-coded sites (or un-user-friendly site wizards) from the teenage years are making me feel so nostalgic. It was a good run, GeoCities. Thanks for helping the Web through its adolescence.

And last night, I watched live as Bono, The Edge, and the other two guys rocked Pasadena and the world watched on YouTube.  IMO, the blog community, in addition to YouTube and MySpace (which are both arguably just blogs 2.0 anyhow) were direct descendants of the 1990s trend toward a personal presence on the Web for those who don’t want to toil over code.  The fact I grasp how to edit the URL of this post (which I just did) started with the 90s and personal Web sites.

GeoCities (and the other wannabe GeoCities sites) really did bring the Web a long way by making it possible for nontechnical people to easily post content to the Web.  And while the Web was perhaps a teenager at the time, for me (and lots of others who were teenagers in the 90s) it helped US through our adolescence.

I was a late bloomer, and I caught on around 1998.  I got a giant tome on HTML from the public library, and started reading and coding.  Before long, I was lost in the world of <BR> and <A HREF>, where I searched long and hard for websites with free horizontal-bar JPEGs and JavaScript snippets to add a scrolling status bar.  It was my first experience in speaking a language a machine could understand, and it significantly influenced my development as a technologist.

My site only contained some personal views and a very long list of music-related jokes (Why do violinists put rags on their shoulder?  So they don’t drool on themselves!!!  Yes, that one was on there).  It was not impressive, but it WAS to me because I had my own world where I was the WEBMASTER, and the WEB was still just a little bit mysterious. =)  These days, it’s a glut of information, smut, and third-rate instantiations of Godwin’s Law (and parodies of such instantiations, and parodies of the parodies).  Still mystery, but more like the Badlands are mysterious, rather than the first-girlfriend mystery I felt back then.  Or maybe the Web WAS actually lame back then, and it was really just adolescence being mysterious.

So we will miss thee, GeoCities of yore.  Thank you for the precedent you set of free personal web pages for everyone.  We hope you understand how deeply you affected a generation.

The future of IT is Big

October 13, 2009

The New York Times is running an interesting piece about the ever growing glut of data. The article details IBM and Google’s concern over the data glut and if new and upcoming students trained to handle the explosion of data. It is quite a fascinating piece.

At the heart of this criticism is data. Researchers and workers in fields as diverse as bio-technology, astronomy and computer science will soon find themselves overwhelmed with information. Better telescopes and genome sequencers are as much to blame for this data glut as are faster computers and bigger hard drives.

Please click through and read the whole article. It is very good and very true. This topic should be at the forefront of any person who works in the Computer/Technology field. First there is the problem of how to store this much data. Currently I work for a small publisher (O’Reilly media). It is easy to think that a small publisher probably doesn’t have huge storage needs. But so far since I’ve started working here (1 full year going on my second) we just ordered our second storage shelf, this time for almost 14TB. The new shelf has yet to be installed, but the other day my IT coworker was talking to management in a meeting. Our last shelf was around 1TB, but lasted less than a year. He said at almost 14TB this should last us a long time, but then added, “But we say this every time.” It is so true, especially with storage so cheap and drives so big. It reminds me of my first computer in the mid 90’s with 10GB of storage. I told my parents I’d never needed a bigger hard drive. Then I went away for my freshmen year of college and filled it right up with stupid pictures and movie files.

When I worked for the University of Illinois Engineering department the problems were worse. One research group that I worked for had 1 professor and maybe 5 students (including undergrad). They were relatively new so there was no infrastructure or file server and there really wasn’t much money for it anyway. One day I went to the Professor’s office. He must have had at least 30 hard drives each at least 500GB if not 1TB. Those were just the hard drives he had his students carried around a handful themselves. Another research group, with decades of history, started a scanning project. They would scan hundreds of slides at once each producing around 1MB of data. We installed a file array starting off at 4TB, but was expandable to 14. Unfortunately I left and am not sure what they have or need now. My point is that data storage is a huge problem. And is growing extremely fast. The article mentioned facebook’s 1Petabyte of photos, I’m guilty of quite a few of those, but that is just mentioning one company, many more could have been mentioned. Finally there is even personal space. Since I got my new camera I myself am looking at more storage for home. I am looking for personal NAS boxes. So I see the basic point. The future of IT is data and what to do with it.

Computer scientists and, for that matter, any scientists need to pay special attention. Not only do we need a way to store a lot of this data, but probably more importantly we need to do something with it. A lot of this will rest on programmers, but it isn’t limited to them. When I worked at the U of I the students worked on a cluster I built for them. They would code in C tweaking their algorithm to save every last processor cycle. These students weren’t in Computer Science. This summer I took a course at Boston University. One of my classmates was clearly not a computer person. I asked her why she took the course. She was a statistician and was heading to Grad School for statistics. The school asked her to take programming courses so she could analyze data sets. And of course then there are the Computer Scientists, and our future depends upon analyzing such data.

The future is big data; lots of it. And it is no longer just Google and IBM analyzing and storing it. Now even the smallest of research groups or a little publisher can generating mounds of information. Time to start paying very close attention.

“Flash cookies” are the new privacy offenders

September 8, 2009

Ever heard of an LSO?  A Local Shared Object is similar in many ways to a typical HTTP cookie, but it’s used with Flash instead of HTTP.

In case you’re not up on the subject, a cookie is a 4KB text file that is stored on your computer.  When used by ethical developers, it’s a fairly innocuous way to make your browsing experience more convenient.  They’re responsible for remembering your Gmail password, your address that auto-fills on the electric company’s website, etc.  They’re a useful way to keep information around in a relatively secure manner.

There are some significant privacy concerns with cookies, though, as marketers quickly found a way to abuse them.  Enter third-party cookies.  But even with those concerns, you can set your browser to reject third-party cookies.  Or all cookies, for that matter.

However, with LSOs, many users don’t even know they exist.  And unlike your vanilla 4KB cookie, LSO’s can store 100K of information.  Doesn’t sound much, but in plain text, that’s a whole lot of information about your browsing habits.  Like HTTP cookies, LSOs are domain-specific (that is, an LSO can only be read by machines on the domain that created the LSO).

So the big concern with LSOs is this: many users think their privacy is secure when they turn off cookies.  It’s not, because LSOs are cookies but are not controlled by your browser – they’re controlled by Adobe software.

LSOs are turned on by default.  You can find information on managing (read: turning off) LSOs on Adobe’s website here.

Are LSOs a concern to you?  Why or why not?

Python to get a speed boost by Google

March 27, 2009

If this is true this is awesome news by Google. Python is a scripting language, and as such usually has poorer performance on intensive programming projects. For me, though, I like Python because of its ease of use and flexibility. Google obviously uses Python extensively and effectively. If this new interpreter can really bring about a 5x speed boost than I say it is a win win. It also looks like this new interpreter will help utilize multi-processor and thread hardware.

From the article:

The goal of the Unladen Swallow project is to use LLVM, the Low Level Virtual Machine compiler infrastructure, to build a just-in-time (JIT) compilation engine that can replace Python’s own specialized virtual machine. This approach offers a number of significant advantages. As the developers describe in the project plan, the project will make it possible to transition Python to a register-based virtual machine and will pave the way for future optimizations.

Good luck Google. May you bring it to pass.

O’Reilly’s state of the book market programming languages

February 25, 2009

O’Reilly is releasing their numbers on the book market via programming languages. It is pretty interesting to see where growth was and what languages are more popular than others. For instance they saw the most growth in Python, and saw a pretty significant drop in Ruby and C++, while C# is the most purchased programming language book.

Of course O’Reilly isn’t the end all be all of computer book sales (as in there are other players who may have totally different results) and this is totally just by number units sold, but it is interesting to see what the numbers casually tell you.

Marshmallow Fluff website – a good entry point

December 11, 2008

So, in my quest to pass my beastly 6-credit Web design course, I have developed another analytical superpower – the ability to critique websites upon first visit.  No really, the ability to analyze what I’m looking at on a page and identify strong points. 

Don’t ask how or why I ended up at this site, but today I had my first ever visit to the home of all fluffy white goodness – http://www.marshmallowfluff.com

In the course, there is considerable discussion of what constitutes good site navigation.  When I came across the Fluff site, it was a creative example of one of the major components of good navigation – “the user should always know where he/she should click.”  See below.

fluff

 

Good stuff.  Actually, the site seems to have pretty well-made navigation.  It is very branded, and of course I wouldn’t make mine just like it, but for the product it advertises, it is well done.