Friday, January 29, 2010

Let Obama be Obama

Reading Marc Ambinder's recap of President Obama's "question time" at a GOP event today, it reminded me of one of my favorite West Wing scenes:

I've refrained from discussing politics on this blog for a long time, which surprises many who followed me through the 2004 and 2006 election, and to a lesser extent the 2008 election. I haven't felt I had much to add to the debate, candidly.

I want an honest debate. I realize that's somewhat naive, given the money at stake. But I want an engaged President, one who's intellectually honest but also not afraid of his own convictions. It sounds like that's what we got today, and I believe that the country needs more of it.

I have not seen the video of his 90 minutes sitting down with the GOP, but a commenter on Marc's post points out that C-Span has it here. I'll post a YouTube embed once it's up.

Update:The White House has the video of the event up:

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Google Sites - your online resume

Several years ago, I put my CV online as a wiki. It started as a way to just catalog the speeches I'd given, articles I'd written, etc., if for no other reason to have it all in one place. As I noted at the time, one of the most popular pages on my blog was the "About Me" page (still is) - not surprisingly, people wonder who the hell you are when they land on your blog from a Google search, and they like being able to get a better sense of your background before deciding if they want to read your posts.

But putting that info online has had another benefit: upcoming conferences want my bio, or a headshot, or a sense of where else you've spoken to convince the conference committee that you really are the guy they want to invite. Now I just have to give them a URL. In at least one case, I got cold-called by someone who was looking for a presenter on a topic I'd spoken about before, which ended up being a very fun presentation (well outside my usual focus) and one that they appreciated. Turns out that putting relevant content on the web can be useful for people looking for that kind of thing. Who knew?!

But last year I'd grown tired of the wiki app I was using (PmWiki) and wanted the CV in something more robust. I decided to give Google Sites a whirl - other than a few internal pages at Google, I hadn't used it much and it seemed a good opportunity to try it out. The CV was previously at; the version managed by Sites is now at (and the old URL just redirects to the new one).

Advantages of having this managed by Google Sites:

  • No software updating. I'm sure by last year was several versions behind. That's usually a bad idea - security vulnerabilities can lead to easy defacing of content, and your resume is the last place you want defaced content - but I just never made it a high enough priority to stay current. I was lucky - as near as I can tell, I never got hacked - but it was luck.
  • Better editing interface. The WYSIWYG interface on Sites makes it much easier to add content without having to remember whether this wiki uses three apostrophes for a larger font size or the plus sign, and whether URLs are [URL|title] or [[title|URL]] or some other variation.
  • CNAME support. Like Blogger, Sites supports hosting your content at a URL of your choosing. So I was able to set up and have the site immediately served from my domain.
  • One less password. I had a separate username and password (managed by PmWiki, not the most secure approach in the world) to prevent anyone other than me from modifying the content. That's fine, until I lose the password, and then get locked out of my own CV! Having Sites manage the content means it's managed by an account I use much more frequently (my Google account), and can rely on Sites' much more robust notion of permissions.
The only downside to this system is that it's too much information. Nobody really cares about that speech I gave in 1996, or the magazine article I wrote in 1999. On my todo list is an abbreviated version of this page that's just the highlights... I'll get around to that. With Sites, moving the data around is a snap.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Turning off Blogger FTP

Just finished posting on Blogger Buzz about a fairly significant product decision: we're shutting down FTP publishing at Blogger.

For the vast majority of Blogger users (99.5% of them, to be exact), this is a non-issue. But for the .5% who continue to use FTP, this is going to be a non-trivial issue. Once it became obvious that we were doing this, we wanted to announce as soon as we knew what our path forward would be. As someone who started blogging on Blogger in 2001 using FTP, I personally recognize the significance of turning off one of Blogger's first features.

We will have a migration tool that will convert existing FTP users who want to migrate to Blogger's Custom Domain option (I host my blog on Blogger's servers, at my own domain:, and expect that this will address the vast majority of cases users see. The tool's not ready yet, but we wanted to announce as soon as possible to give users the ability to start planning their migration or at least evaluate their options.

I know people will have questions, and we're hoping to address them as openly as possible - what this means for them, what their options are, etc. Hit me here, or leave a comment over on the dedicated blog we set up today.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Blogger Pages - finally!

We've been hinting at these for a while, and we were this close to getting Pages out before the holidays... but at long last they're here. To say that most Blogger users wanted stand-alone pages on their blogs would be an understatement.

I created a couple pages tonight - in addition to the obvious About Me (a good idea for anyone stumbling on your blog from a search, helps them know a bit about you) and Contact Me (more on that in a minute), I created an "Ask me anything" page.

Inspired by my friend Annie, who just created a page at Tumblr which lets visitors submit a question that Annie or her husband Josh can answer. I went ahead and hacked together a variation of that idea, using Blogger's Pages and Google Docs forms. Docs Forms are one of my favorite Google features that nobody uses - here's what I did:

Step 1: Go to Google Docs, click "Create | Form":

Step 2: Create a simple form:

Step 3: Grab the form's embed code:

Step 4: Paste that into your blog post (make sure to click "Edit HTML" first):

End result? A simple version of Annie's "ask me anything" which is now part of my blog's navigation (thanks to the Pages gadget):

Special bonus tip: turn on Docs notification rules so you're notified whenever people fill out the form:

About that Contact Me page: in addition to listing my e-mail address, I threw a Google Voice call widget on the page, something I've been meaning to add to the blog forever. I love that I can not only record a custom greeting for calls from the widget ("Thanks for calling from my blog...") but that I can direct the calls to voicemail. While I genuinely look forward to hearing from my readers, I don't want to wear out my Nexus One too quickly. :)

Speaking of Voice, I've got a few invites left. Leave me a comment if you'd like one.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Thoughts on my Nexus One

A number of people have asked about my Nexus One - did I like it, should they get one, any tips... figured it was a good time to jot down some thoughts. Big, honkin' disclosure: I received this phone for free, and I work for Google.

Bit of background: as is now well known, Google gave all employees a Nexus One ahead of the holidays. The phone's existence was confidential at the time, so we were asked to not blog or tweet about it. Officially, the phone was announced on January 5, and has been available for sale through the Google website from that day forward.

The phone runs Android 2.1, the latest version of the Android OS (there may be a few of you who don't know - Android is Google's mobile operating system). This is an update to the Android OS which other phones will get soon, but is currently running only on the Nexus One. The phone I'd been using for the past six months was an iPhone 3GS, and my first reaction to the Nexus One was: holy crap this thing is fast. I took my SIM out of my iPhone the day I got the Nexus One, and haven't taken it out since. (That means I only get to use AT&T's EDGE network, not the speedier 3G network... to get 3G data speeds, I will need to switch to T-Mobile, which I will be doing soon.)

I use two Gmail accounts: one for corporate mail, one for personal mail. The Gmail app on the Nexus One supports multiple Gmail accounts out of the box, so I get a superior mail experience right away: on the iPhone, I used the browser interface for both accounts: the iPhone mail app doesn't support Gmail's "conversation card" view (grouping threads together), Gmail's archive feature, or Gmail's search across the entire account - all things I rely on in Gmail. From an e-mail perspective, the Nexus One fits my use far better.

Next up: Google Voice. Conveniently enough, around the same time Google acquired FeedBurner, we also acquired Google Voice. As a result, the only phone number I've given out - in e-mail signatures, on business cards - is my Google Voice number. There is no Google Voice app for the iPhone, so my GV experience on the iPhone was never very good: calls to my Google Voice number worked just fine, but calls from the iPhone always showed my AT&T phone number. On the Nexus One, all it took was logging into Google Voice - a couple steps later, my phone new to route all incoming and outgoing calls through Google Voice, so that the only number anyone ever sees from my phone is my GV number.

The phone's four dedicated buttons took a bit of getting used to, but after a month of use I'm squarely in the camp who find them to be an excellent step up for phone navigation. Hold down the Home button and you get a menu of the most recently used apps - making navigation between apps a breeze. Think of it like alt+tab for your mobile phone, something that exists on the Blackberry but not on the iPhone (which doesn't allow multiple apps to run at once. Even better, with Android supporting apps running in the background, you're taken to where you left off in the app when you select it. The universal "back" button - which goes back to whatever you were doing previously, whether that was a prior webpage, or a different app - is awesome (once you get used to it).

Contact sync is phenomenal: you can sync as many contact sources as you want (I'm syncing three contact sources: corporate Gmail, personal Gmail, and Facebook); the phone then does an on-device "merge" to display a de-duped view of the contact. (It's not a true merge - Facebook data is read-only, so Android can't modify that info.) And anywhere on the phone you see a contact's name, you get the ability to pull up a short-cut menu that lets you dial, IM, SMS, or e-mail them - pretty slick. Changes you make to your Gmail contacts are immediately synced back to the cloud, no need to plug the phone into your computer.

Much has been made of the menu button (and, to a somewhat lesser extent, Android's use of the long press). I love the menu button - I've seen others refer to it as the "right click" of the mobile OS, and that strikes me as a pretty apt analogy. I like getting under the hood - and Android makes both the OS as well as its apps incredibly useful to people who like to tinker. The downside for some - not me but I understand the complaint - is that it hides sometimes critical app settings/options, making it harder to discover and potentially a barrier to use. The long press is trickier: there's really no way to know what's going to react to a long press, but it's often an invaluable extension of the app. Once you know that a long press is possible, it often simplifies actions (adding bookmarks, quick-dialing numbers, editing info, etc.) that might otherwise take a few clicks.

Google Maps, especially the turn-by-turn navigation that first launched on the Droid is a dramatic upgrade. More layers (terrain, streetview, Latitude are just a few I use daily) make the maps much more interactive on the Nexus One, and the navigation - the phone speaks each turn to you, and as you near arrival, you see the streetview image of your destination - is just perfectly executed.

One last comment before talking about the third party apps: speech recognition. I had the phone for weeks before I realized how compelling this feature was: anywhere you can enter text, you can speak to the phone. The voice recognition takes your words, uploads them to the cloud where Google servers translate that to text, then send it back down to the device. It's not perfect, but the other day in the car I was able to dictate messages in an IM conversation and the person on the other end had no idea I wasn't actually typing. It's incredible the first time you use it - and it's available in any app (I've also spoken to the Seesmic app, which then posted the tweet as text to Twitter, and to the Gmail app in responding to e-mails). And the voice quality? Thanks to the phone's processor and a second, noise cancelling mic on the back of the phone, the voice quality on phone calls is superb.

Now to the apps: while there's a big gap in numbers between the iPhone App Store (well over 100,000 apps) and the Android Market (somewhere around 20,000 apps), there's a substantially smaller gap in terms of popular apps. Almost all of the apps I most loved on my iPhone - Fandango, OpenTable, TripIt, FourSquare, Facebook - have counterparts on Android. Only two that I used daily on the iPhone - the Kindle and Sonos apps - remain unavailable on Android. (I never played many games on my iPhone, but it should be noted that one category where the iPhone retains a significant lead is in games.)

Here's a list of apps currently on my Nexus One with a quick explanation of what each does:
  • Aldiko: outstanding e-book reader (better than Kindle on the iPhone in terms of feature set; obviously the book store is not quite as good, but the integration with free eBook download sites is a plus). Currently reading Makers by Cory Doctorow.
  • Amazon: search the full Amazon catalog (can use barcodes or photos in addition to typing or speaking your query), track orders in my account.
  • APNDroid: useful if you want to disable your phone's cellular data connection (useful if you're often on WiFi and want to turn off your EDGE or 3G data connection)
  • AppReferer: builds a QR code (a 2D barcode) that makes recommending an app to another Android user in person a one-click affair.
  • Battery Graph: shows a nice chart (exportable, even) of battery usage, which is helpful if you're trying to isolate when the battery started to drain.
  • Coin Flip: silly app that lets me flip a coin. Use it mostly to settle disputes between the kids. :)
  • Congress: built by Sunlight Labs, a phenomenal "pocket Congressional directory" that includes contact info, committee memberships, news, and YouTube vids of every Senator and Representative.
  • DroidLive Lite: Streaming radio (via Shoutcast) from 1300 radio stations around the world.
  • Facebook: news feed, photos and profile info for friends
  • Fandango: Order movie tickets from movie theaters so I can bypass lines at the ticket counter.
  • Finance: Google Finance app
  • Flashlight: turns screen bright white to use in dark rooms
  • Foursquare: app for playing Foursquare, also has a nice widget for my home screen
  • Gmote: turns my Nexus One into a touchpad remote (when paired with a computer running the Gmote server software). Handy for giving presentations, or just doing something nerdy and cool.
  • Google Goggles: search Google by taking pictures.
  • Google Sky Map: the one app that consistently blows people away. Load it up, turn your camera toward the night sky and you'll get a real-time view of which stars, constellations and planets are above you. An awesome accompaniment to a telescope.
  • Jewels: Bejeweled-like game.
  • Layar: Augmented reality app that displays info on screen in realtime through your phone's camera.
  • Locale: very sophisticated app for scripting events to happen based on certain triggers. (When I'm at home, disable the data connection and connect to my home wifi access point. At 11pm, turn off the sound and put the phone to sleep; at 6am turn the sound back up; when I'm at work, put the phone in vibrate  mode; etc.)
  • Metal detector: actually works.
  • Movies (aka Flixster): Lots of info/trailers/reviews about new and upcoming movies, also integrates with Netflix for DVDs
  • My Tracks: built by some Googlers, great app for keeping track of runs/bikes/ski runs you've done; captures altitude, distance, etc., then uploads to Google Maps My Maps.
  • OpenTable: make restaurant reservations from the phone.
  • Owner: adds my contact info to the unlock screen ("If found, please contact Rick Klau...")
  • Pandora: streaming music channels.
  • PapiJump: great little game using the phone's accelerometer.
  • Pintail: monitors your phone's SMS messages for a message that says "locate" (plus a PIN); once received, activates the GPS and replies with the phone's location. Helpful if you've got a lost phone.
  • Robo Defense: addicitve game.
  • Scoreboard: Tracks scores of your favorite teams, with realtime updates and notifications as score changes.
  • Seesmic: Great Twitter app.
  • Shop Savvy: grab a barcode, find out who sells it and for how much.
  • TiVo Remote: works with any TiVo HD unit over WiFi.
  • TripIt: phenomenal itinerary manager for all travel info.
  • Voice Recorder: does exactly what it says it does.
  • Yelp: Local reviews.

  • The battery life lasts the day, but barely. I had a few problems with the battery not lasting the full day, and through a combination of Battery Graph (mentioned above), Android's built-in Battery Use (under Settings | About this phone | Battery use - it shows which services used the battery, along with more data about the specific power consumption) and input from fellow Googlers, I was able to pretty dramatically improve things. Keys were ensuring that sync was working properly (a Facebook sync error was causing perpetual sync attempts, which was wasting battery life) and keeping the WiFi radio on (which prevents the phone from constantly defaulting to the more resource-intensive cellular radio for data).
  • The UI: while I generally love the UI, there are cases where apps are designed inconsistently. What one developer puts under menu | settings, another puts on a button on the app's home screen. (And another makes available only via a long press on a different screen.)
  • Screen: the screen is gorgeous (really: it's kind of amazing), so long as you're not in direct sunlight. I'm not outdoors all day long, so this doesn't significantly impact me... but it's an issue for some, I'm sure.

Bottom line: love this phone. What am I leaving out? What else do you want to know about it?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Home networking - advice sought

It occurred to me over the winter break that I have cobbled together a rather ridiculous mess. I have a total of 14 devices connected (mostly via ethernet, some via wifi) to our home network, and I'm betting that the use of hand-me-down equipment is creating packet bottlenecks that I could easily eliminate. I just don't know how to diagnose the bottlenecks (if they exist) and how to benchmark whether the current setup is sub-par.

Here's the current state of affairs:
  • Room 1: I have a Netgear 4 port switch (I believe it's model FS105), into which my Sonos 90, PS3 and TiVo Series 3 are all plugged in. The Netgear is plugged into the CAT5 jack in the wall, using the existing home wiring to connect to my D-Link (DIR-625) router in the upstairs bedroom closet.
  • Room 2: A Sonos 120 is wirelessly connected to the D-Link upstairs.
  • Room 3: an Epson printer and two Windows desktop PCs are plugged into an older Linksys wireless router (where I've disabled the wireless antenna and am using it solely for the ethernet hub capability). A TiVo (series 2) is connected via 802.11g to the D-Link in the bedroom. The Wii is also connected via wifi to the D-Link in the bedroom.
  • Room 4: TiVo HD is connected via ethernet into the wall jack, which is connected to the D-Link router in the bedroom closet. In the closet, the other Sonos 120 is connected via Ethernet to the D-Link router. The D-Link is connected to the Comcast cable modem.
  • Both my wife's laptop and mine connect primarily via wifi to the network (she's on WinXP, I'm on a MacBook Pro).
I'm using WPA to secure the wireless. One of the wired connections actually terminates in the Sonos in the bedroom closet, don't recall which. (The Sonos has an additional ethernet ports to serve as a hub, specs on their site say "2-port switch (10/100Mbps, auto MDI/MDIX) allows Ethernet devices to connect through SonosNet".)

So... how badly am I slowing things down? What's the best resource for doing this right?

FreedomTM - last chance to pre-order!

I'm long overdue in getting a review of FreedomTM online. Dan sent me a review copy last month, and I read it cover-to-cover. To answer the most critical question: yes, it was worth the wait. If you liked Daemon (and who didn't?!) then you'll absolutely enjoy FreedomTM.

I'll spare you the spoilers - there are some good twists, including a big one I didn't see coming - and will leave a discussion of the primary plot developments for another post. I'm more interested in talking about some of the themes Dan Suarez presents in FreedomTM that have stuck with me since reading it.

Dan looks at the growing homogeneity of the world we live in - our government, our network, our culture - and sees opportunities for a single point of failure that renders those very systems vulnerable to attack and exploitation.

In FreedomTM, a "darknet" develops - which facilitates locally-organized, resilient groups that are able to leverage the Daemon's layers of information in addition to their sustainably built communities (farms, businesses, even small militias to defend themselves). These groups lessen their dependence on the government for protection, for food, for commerce... to the extent that the "darknet" becomes more important for the day-to-day commercial interactions (through "network credits", reputation monitoring of individual participants) and even social interactions (whuffie-like reputations, landmarks which are only visible to darknet members, etc.).

John Robb has written extensively about resilient communities (most recently here, and also about darknets here), and anyone who's read any of John's writings will find his thoughts incorporated in a number of places in FreedomTM. On a semi-related front, just yesterday, I read Brad Feld's review of another book, The Lights in the Tunnel, and it's about the potentially radical impact that automation will have on society (50% unemployment?). While The Lights in the Tunnel is non-fiction, it sounds like it's interpreting many of the same themes that informed Suarez's thinking in FreedomTM and Robb's writings on resilient communities - and the conclusions one comes to are unsettling (to say the least). This is what sets FreedomTM apart from many other technothrillers: Dan's got a point to make, and he uses his fiction to show us a possible outcome of the path we're on. You'll find yourself thinking about these issues long after you finish FreedomTM, which I consider the height of praise for the work.

None of this is to suggest that FreedomTM is a dry or academic read. It's most certainly not. The action is fast and furious, the tech is pitch-perfect (as it was in Daemon), and not nearly as futuristic as you might hope. (See, esp. the "technology feed" on the right, for more evidence of fantastic-seeming tech from Daemon and FreedomTM that are actually being used today.) As Publishers Weekly noted, "The two books combined form the cyberthriller against which all others will be measured." I particularly liked where FreedomTM ended, with more optimism for our future than you might have suspected Dan had after reading Daemon. :)

If you haven't read Daemon, the paperback was just released last week, and FreedomTM is out in hardback on Thursday.

If I have any quibbles, it's that there's more to the story than what's in the book. I don't doubt that this is the book Dan wanted to write (he said so, and I believe him!) but there are details that I'd love to know more about. Ultimately, the main character of this story is the Daemon: it occupies almost every page. The people - Ross, Sebeck, Phillips, Loki - are supporting characters, and often drop from the narrative as we pick up where others left off. I wouldn't have minded more of their individual narratives, but that's a minor nit.

A few other reviews of FreedomTM that should help you make your mind up:

Full disclosure: I got to know Dan Suarez in 2007, and am fortunate to consider Dan a good friend. (More on our background here.) He's sent me several copies of both Daemon and FreedomTM, which I've shared with friends and colleagues.