Men do big ideas, women write stories

3quarksdaily points to a Guardian story where the author, Alison Flood, wonders if there’s a gender divide between writing books on big ideas, and writing stories:

Julia Cheiffetz, blogging at publishing website HarperStudio, dubs the genre “big think” books – making serious non-fiction subjects accessible and popular. “The point is, all of them promise access to a club whose sole activity is the exchange of ideas; all of them promise, however covertly, to make us feel smarter. And all of them are written by men,” she writes, also singling out The World is Flat by Thomas L Friedman, The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki and Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely.

“It is hard to know whether women are better at telling stories than propagating ideas (I’m thinking of Susan Orlean, Mary Roach, Karen Abbott), or whether the intellectual audacity required to sell our hypotheses about the world simply isn’t in our genetic makeup.”

The real story to this post, though, is happening in comments. Commenters have proposed explanations for the seeming disparity ranging from women are not encouraged to speak out, to publishers being less likely to accept a “big think” book proposal from a woman. Additionally, commenters have also pointed out “big think” books in the bestseller lists by women, that the Guardian article author “seems” to have missed in her cataloging of big books.

From what I can see in weblogging, I would say that the commenters to the story have the right idea: not encouraged, not seen. Sadly, also as demonstrated in weblogging, pointing out the problems doesn’t bring about any change, either.

Then there’s my recent look at Seth Godin’s Tribes. I know that a fairer review would come from reading the book, rather than just the Kindle sample, but from looking at a video Godin gave in reference to his book, I also know my opinion of the book wouldn’t change. These books may typically be written by men, but I don’t think that’s necessarily an insult to women, or a flattery to men.

A positive side effect to the story is that I now have several new books to try out, starting with Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine. I also found Bookninja.


Halloween costumes for techs

Not sure what to wear this coming Friday? Here are my suggestions for Halloween party costumes, based on stories flying around the technology weblogs this week:

  • Dress all in black, with a long white, butcher paper strip wrapped around you with with a URL in big bold letters. When asked, tell people you’re a namespace.
  • In the same all black clothes, this time take shiny pieces of aluminum foil and fashion into angle brackets (< >). Tape or otherwise attach sets of them, angle part pointing outwards, on both sides of your head, torso, and other body parts (use discretion). When asked, tell people you’re dressed as well-formed XHTML. This is a particularly scary costume in Redmond, Washington.
  • Show up late, demanding attention. Be loud, obnoxious, and disdainful of everyone around you. When asked your costume, say you’re dressed as…wait, this one is going to get me into trouble, isn’t it?
  • Stay home, and when people asked why you didn’t show up at the party, tell them you were dressed as Twitter.
  • Dress up as the semantic web: carry several Stick-it notepads with you and slap metadata notes on everything and everyone. Do not expect to get invited back to the same party, next year.
  • Glue cotton balls all over your body and go as a cloud. To differentiate yourself from an atmospheric cloud, carry a large ball and chain.
  • Dress in an expensive suit. When asked, tell people you’re the RIAA. When playing Musical Chairs, take all the chairs. And then sue the host.
  • Take two large pieces of cardboard, spray paint a dull aluminum color and put a white Apple logo in the center of one of the pieces. Add a bright orange sale sticker, printed with “$800.00”, to the top of the piece with the Apple logo. Strap the two cardboard pieces together and wear like a sandwich board. When asked, tell people you’re a fat, cheap Macbook Pro.
  • Ladies, forget Sexy Kitty, or Naughty Maid. Try Sexy Coder, instead. Wear a skintight, white body leotard with your favorite source code printed in tiny, black letters all over it…except introduce one bug into the code. Tell people to find the bug.
  • To dress up like Vista…no, no. There are some costumes that are just too scary.

And yours?


Roku users: second class citizens

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.


Roku has come out with a note on the Roku user forum about Netflix and HD quality:

  • Roku will be delivering Netflix in HD by the end of the year
  • Roku will be using Advanced Profile encodes which will deliver HD at substantially lower bit-rates than what Xbox is offering
  • The number of titles is up to Netflix but the library will be the same as or larger than the Xbox library
  • The UI will be updated to run in 720p and more covers will be visible on the screen at a time
  • And the release will include another major new feature that you’ll have to wait a bit longer to learn about

Though I was happy to hear that Netflix is finally rolling out HD content, I was astonished to read Netflix’s decision to roll it out for the brand new XBox, rather than the existing Roku users. Evidently, Netflix considers the early Netflix box users to be second class citizens, and would rather put its focus on the newer, shinier customer—the XBox user.

I had been recommending Roku boxes as a Christmas gift idea, but I can’t recommend the box any longer. Roku promised extra content, outside of Netflix, earlier thia summer, and has not delivered, yet. Roku also promised an SDK earlier this summer, and has not delivered it yet, either. Lastly, the company had promised that as soon as Netflix started streaming HD content, Roku would stream the HD content. As we can see, another promise undelivered, though this one does not seem to be Roku’s fault.

Considering that Netflix is an investor in Roku, one has to wonder what the heck is going on between these companies. In the meantime, promises are going undelivered. Until we’re given assurances that all of the earlier promises will be met, and that Netflix is still as committed to Roku users, as it is to every other box user, I can’t recommend the Roku.

Now, CNET is saying that everyone will get HD quality, but that the requirements are 8-10GB download speeds! (I’m assuming the author meant 8-10Mbps, not GB, but who knows…)

Netflix is calling this a “soft launch” since it is only rolling out such a small number of videos for HD streaming. The move mostly serves to stake a claim in the HD streaming market as opposed to being a full offering. Contrary to what others are reporting, HD streaming will be available on all streaming devices when it premieres with the New Xbox Experience. That means that the Roku, LG, and Samsung boxes will all be able to stream these HD movies, in addition to the Xbox 360. The PC and Mac based versions of Netflix, will not, however, be able to stream HD immediately. In addition, streaming in HD will require a large amount of bandwidth. Netflix estimates the requirement being in the 8-10 Gbps range.

Considering that 8-10Mbps exceeds the download speeds for a majority of broadband users, in addition to exceeding requirements for every other HD streaming server online, I have to wonder if this isn’t an error.

This whole thing has been badly managed. Press release by rumor rarely works well.


Forecast: Cloudy

From the lack of interest I’m seeing in my feed list, I would have to assume I’m not the only one less than enthused about Microsoft’s Azure. About the only person I know who has perked up and displayed real interest is Nicholas Carr, and some of his interest is most likely because he wrote a book on cloud computing.

That Azure is a competitive strike at Amazon is a given. What’s missing in Ozzie’s statement, though, is the fact that Amazon originally rolled out it’s cloud computing services as a way of maximizing under-utilized server farms during the company’s quiet times. I don’t know if this has changed, and Amazon is now farming clouds deliberately, but I hope not—the original idea was quite sound.

I am not surprised that Ray Ozzie would urge Microsoft into the clouds considering his background, first with Lotus, and then with Groove. Groove, especially, was cloud-based. Probably one of the more sophisticated cloud-based applications at the turn of the century.

But as far as I know, Groove never did catch on in any big way. I imagine when Ozzie was hired at Microsoft and Groove folded into the Microsoft family, the expertise this acquisition brought into the company played a big part in the implementation of Azure, but it still doesn’t compensate for the fact that Groove never caught on. Not in corporate America, which is Microsoft’s bread and butter.

Amazon can probably make do providing data storage and services for the startups, which seems to be its primary customer. I can’t see Microsoft doing the same, not the least of which, startup and Microsoft are not words that necessarily go together well. Microsoft has always been a corporate company, pricing its products accordingly, and in doing so, giving both Apple and Open Source room to breathe and expand. Apple sold to the artists and mavericks. (Can I use maverick still, or has that term been trademarked by the Republican Party?) Open source managed to capture all the folks who fell in-between, though when Apple released Mac OS X, there was some platform straddling.

Seriously, I have to ask: can you imagine Citigroup or Bank of America farming any of its applications out to the Azure platform? How about Chrysler, or Blue Cross? Oh, there might be some IT in these big companies that will want to experiment around, but I’ve not met a big company yet that didn’t want to control every last aspect of its data. Several industry types can’t do something like cloud computing for most of their data—they would be prohibited by laws built to safeguard private information.

So, Azure isn’t a move to entice the corporates to the cloud (can’t be, really can’t be). It’s seemingly a move to entice the smaller guy, something that Microsoft has not shown itself to be particularly adept at. For one thing, the Visual Studio 2008 application that developers can use to build to Azure is pricey. Microsoft still hasn’t learned that rule number one is you don’t charge the developers money to access the development tools, if you want the developers to drive business to your platform.

Oh sure, Microsoft puts out a baby version of its different developer applications, but I’ll bet you dollars to donuts, the baby version won’t interface with Azure. And SOAP? Seriously, who does SOAP anymore? I thought the whole SOAP/REST thing was decided, a long time ago. We are talking 2009, not 1999.

I must admit to being a skeptic of all the recent cloud fooflah, not the least of which we’ve all seen what happens when a cloud server like Amazon has problems, resulting in several different startups being without service for several hours. I can respect that cloud computing allows startups to get a leg up, but I have to wonder: is that enough for a long-term sustainable business? Is there really enough business for another player in the game?

Once I made the decision to quit writing for a living (there was a living involved?) and return to consulting and development, I looked around at all of the existing technologies and asked myself what I should spend time on, in order to sharpen my development skills. Perhaps I’m a relic of times past (yeah, all of five years, ancient times), but I decided to spend most of my time working with Drupal and one or two other CMS, REST, a little RDFa, a touch of SVG and other programmable graphics tools, and maybe a smidgen of this or that, whatever strikes my fancy, and that includes AIR and OpenLaszlo and some of the other web/desktop platforms. You can never go wrong becoming as proficient as possible with CSS, the markups, the data sources (SQL/RDF/XML/JSON), PHP (or Python or Perl, maybe Ruby, always C++), JavaScript, and REST.

One could say that what I described is all that’s necessary for cloud computing, but there’s a whole new game when you have to create pie slices of your applications and throw them into a black box. It takes no additional time to learn to do cloud computing, true. However, it takes additional time to learn to do cloud computing well. I’m not taking that time, for any cloud. Not Amazon’s. Not Google’s. Not ( Certainly not Azure.

If I’m wrong in my assessment, I’ll watch the rest of you fly past me, like birds on the wind. If I’m right, though, and today’s cloud is the same as yesterday’s Web 2.0—more hype than reality—I’ll already be well grounded when this bubble pops.


Another WIT from Virginia: Addison Berry

Virginia DeBolt has another Women in Technology series entry, this one on the Drupal community’s Addison Berry.

Addison demonstrates something I’ve noticed: Drupal attracts the women in technology. There’s something about the Drupal that has made the Drupal community friendly and encouraging to women. Other applications/companies/organizations should take note.

The interview with Addison is excellent, a lot more positive and upbeat than mine was.