Tag Archives: Robert Scoble

Hiding Behind Anonymity

If you read much of the IT related blogs, you may well have come across the storm over Kathy Sierra and her abrupt withdrawal from an O’Reilly Conference. Certainly it has registered on the radar of the major news organisation such as the BBC.

I have to say that Kathy’s blog is not one I read regularly, however it does indirectly affect me in that Robert Scoble is suspending Scobelizer for a week as sites that mentioned Kathy have also mentioned him and Maryam, and not surprisingly both of them are freaked out by it. If you take a look at what Kathy has faced, you can understand why. There is also a good summary of what has gone on here.

The bottom line is that the blogsphere runs pretty much as an anarchy – essentially it is a society that exists without any sort of central control, that coupled with the fact that people posting and commenting can have a good deal of anonymity, means that people say things that they would never say to somebody’s face. Certainly we’ve had a few offensive comments on here, and they are usually swiftly removed, but nothing of this sort of level. Having said that, it is worth remembering that even someone apparently anonymous is not really so – WordPress logs the IP address of anyone posting a comment. For example when a couple of young gentlemen at Beth’s school decided to post an offensive comment, believing themselves totally anonymous, we were within a couple of hours able to trace the comment right back to the terminal and user account in the school that they used to post. With what has happened to Kathy Sierra there are IP addresses logged, and it is probably possible to trace back at least some of the posts in much the same way. Since it is apparent that she has involved the Police, hopefully they will be able to investigate and find at least some of the perpetrators, and I would hope that the hosts of the various sites involved will be quick to come forward with the relevant logs.

However alongside this, the event has been a catalyst for a discussion on how women are treated in the IT industry. It is sad that for some the level of argument when you don’t agree with someone’s position posted on a blog is just to post a personal attack, it is much more than that when just because the person being attacked is a woman, people can degenerate to a whole new level. Whilst I am certain this current discussion is not going to stop all the personal attacks, I’m hopeful that at least the discussion will bring some more visibility of the problems, and the way people in the IT industry, and the blogsphere as a whole treat women. Hopefully it will also lead some of the supposed A-List bloggers involved in the sites at the centre of the story to reconsider the wisdom of their actions – some it seems have, others perhaps need to learn when it is best to just shut up and apologise – there are times when however you feel, trying to justify your position or argue your point further really does you no good at all.

Does Anybody Actually Pair Program?

I’ve just been watching the latest ScobleShow videos, which include a tour, demo and interview at Smilebox, a Seattle based startup producing a flash based platform for sharing photos, videos and music with friends and family. The service seemed quite interesting, although since the design aspect won’t work on either of my main machines here as one is a Mac (the service is PC only), and the other is running Vista-64 (the design software only works on Windows XP), it’s not really of much use to me.

However, what is interesting from a professional point of view is the point early in the video where we meet the programming team, who are developing using the Agile methodology, and more specifically, they are pair programming.

The basic idea behind pair programming follows the old adage that two heads are better than one. Essentially one half of the pair is the ‘driver’ who is the person actually using the keyboard, and the other is the ‘navigator’ who is thinking about the class that is to be written. The CEO of Smilebox makes a comment when he is introducing the team that he is sure that Robert Scoble has seen loads of people working like this during his visits, however Scoble doesn’t actually give an answer. Personally, I’ve not come across anybody working in a company that is actively pair programming, and I’d expect others will be the same. Even in organisations I’ve been involved with that have started to look at Agile Programming, pair programming is one of the most difficult ideas to sell to upper management, partly because to them programmers should be bashing away at their keyboards as much as possible, and in their eyes it will see a 50% drop in the amount of work produced. However actually seeing a team that is using the process, and hearing how quickly they can turn around new features, it certainly seems to be a good advertisement for the technique. Check the video out and see what you think:

Knights that say Ning

Ok, I know it’s a tenuous link – but I’m not the only one who instantly thought of Monty Python when I heard about Ning!

I have to say, that I hadn’t come across Ning until Scoble interviewed Marc Andreessen (of Netscape fame) and Gina Bianchini recently, and also filmed Gina giving a demo of the site.

Now I have to say, some of the time with these new web offerings I tend to have the “it’s cool but…” attitude – I can see that it is a nice idea, or a good concept, but often there isn’t enough to get me to switch from the way I am currently doing things, or whatever the site is doing doesn’t really appeal. However watching the video about version 2.0 of Ning was definitely one of those light bulb moments!

I’ve discussed before the concerns about the rise of Social Networking sites such as MySpace and Bebo, particularly with regards to the Child Protection issues. For example with the Church website we have strict rules over getting permission to use pictures of anyone under 18, and even then we can’t directly identify them, but then for many of the young people, all it takes is a few minutes on MySpace and Bebo and you can get really quite detailed information about them that they have quite happily posted for the whole internet to see. However, trying to control access to the sites, whether this be through an age limit (which doesn’t even need a fake ID to get around), or through site blocking, as both schools and parents have tried to do, really doesn’t address the issue – young people want to socialise, and doing so online is just a natural extension of what they do face to face. Unfortunately many of them will regard the age limits, or site blocks as an unnecessary restriction, without really realising the serious consequences and dangers implicit on what they post to the sites.

That leaves you with trying to find a way to facilitate this socialising online, so I know of people who have tried closed blog sites, discussion forums and so on, however all of that requires some degree of technical know how, so many have just signed up to MySpace and Bebo to keep an eye on their young people. However, Ning seems to address this issue straight on. Marc Andreessen mentions Churches several times in the video, however in terms of our congregation, where for many the level of technical literacy is relatively low, I’d suggest it would probably end up being an exclusive tool rather than an inclusive tool. However in addressing the issues with MySpace, Bebo and Child Protection it does seem an excellent solution. It makes it really easy to set up a Social Networking site for a Youth Group, whilst giving you the tools to control both access, and what is posted. In this way you can allow your group to share pictures and videos – the kind of things that would never get past the Child Protection policy for a fully public site, and to control access to the members of the group. It’s all fully customisable, but for the basic sites it is drag-and-drop simplicity, so you don’t need to be technical to get a basic site up and running. It will also allow members of the group to personalise their own pages too.

The main issues would be though, that it probably doesn’t have the street-cred of MySpace and Bebo, and also that by limiting access it wouldn’t be as straightforward to include the wider networks that some of the young people have on the major sites, however as an online place to extend the social aspects of a Youth Group it does seem ideal. Certainly, it does seem well worth checking out.

This first video is the interview, which is quite long and in places technical, but also includes some good comments about the rise of Social Networking, and the Internet as a whole – there is also an interesting discussion about which sites attract which age groups:

The second video is a lot shorter, and is basically an introduction to the features of Ning:

Alongside this, both TechCrunch and GigaOM have loads more detail in their reviews of the new version of the site.

CERN Tour – Big Science with some Internet History

As usual I’m a little behind with watching some of the videos I’m subscribed to. However, this afternoon I got round to watching the ScobleShow video tour of CERN near Geneva.

CERN is very much science on a big scale, with the new accelerator the Large Hadron Collider running for 27km under the mountains. Not surprisingly, to support all of this research, they’ve needed a similar level of computing resources. The two people doing most of the talking on the video are Ben Segal and Jean-François Groff, who were both involved in key parts of the story of the birth of the World Wide Web along with Tim Berners-Lee. Ben Segal was key in introducing TCP/IP into the organisation, and at one point in the video talks about the significant internal arguments that took place over using the North American protocol over European alternatives. Jean-François Groff worked with Tim Berners-Lee on the first browser and the underlying protocol.

Alongside the history, you also get a bit of background as to the main work at CERN looking around the on site museum. The video then finishes with a look at the data centre, with a discussion of quite how much the contents of the data centre have changed. Definitely an interesting video.

Hi-Tech Contracting with ODesk

The ScobleShow this week highlighted an interesting way for both freelance programmers to find work, and for companies to hire them through a site called ODesk. Alongside the matching services, the site also handles paying the contractors, and even allowing the software companies to check up what work their contractors are doing thanks to it’s built in remote desktop viewing functions.

Essentially it is doing what some developers I know have done for a while. For example one former colleague did software development work remotely for a company in the USA whilst house sitting for his parents in Australia, all ODesk does is take the complication out of the arrangements allowing a wider range of companies and software developers to be involved.

Certainly if you’ve got reasons why you can’t work a regular software development job, or live in a location where there just isn’t the software development work available with your relevant skills, it certainly seems like something that is worth checking out. It’s probably also worth a look if you’re a software company struggling to find suitably qualified staff. However, if you are a developer I would suggest that it would definitely be wise to take some professional advice over the legal and financial intricacies of working remotely in this way, particularly with regards to tax for example.

Anyway, Robert Scoble interviews the people behind the company here:

and this is a demo of the system:

Playing Trains

I’ve just finished watching the latest of Robert Scoble’s Photowalking videos with Thomas Hawk. This time Scoble reveals himself as a bit of a train buff, as they go around the California State Railroad Museum. Thomas has some great close up shots up on his own blog. Maybe someone should take Scoble up to our own National Railway Museum next time he is in the UK.

Anyway, it was strangely appropriate, as whilst watching that, I was going through the rather tedious process of rebuilding my Microsoft Train Simulator install following my switch to Vista. Unfortunately the package is one of the many that have hiccups with the new security model under Vista, although setting the application to run as an administrator has thus far seemed to solve most problems.

What takes the time though, is replacing all the add-on’s I had installed. In total, my previous install had almost 4gb of various trainsets from around the world, including quite a few British add-ons from Making Tracks, and a couple of US outline add-ons too.

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It has to be said, that the electronic train-set has come a long way since the first one appeared on the market back in 1985. Southern Belle simulated the London to Brighton line, thanks to wire-frame graphics of key landmarks on the route. Although there were various activities, essentially you were limited to that one route.

Microsoft Train Simulator gives you a potentially infinite world in which to play, thanks to the pretty open architecture. So whilst the original release included routes from the USA, Japan, Austria and the UK, a pretty impressive add-on industry has grown up.

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The game engine is not surprisingly much more powerful, allowing you to produce quite atmospheric views, a far cry from the old wireframe graphics back in 1985.

However, the game wasn’t quite the success that was hoped for in 2001, so it looked like that would be it. However, Kuju, the company behind the original release has been working on a successor, Rail Simulator, and now it seems that Microsoft themselves are going to do a sequel using the graphics engine from Flight Simulator X.

Anyway, back to the current choice, Microsoft Train Simulator. The real annoyance with the reinstall, is how tedious it is having to install all the individual extensions, especially those that don’t query the OS about the install folder (on Vista 64 the game ends up in ‘Program Files (x86)’…) – worse still are those which don’t have an installer at all, and you’re left copying and replacing game files all over the place. Hopefully the sequels will handle the expansion market a bit better and give some foolproof way for third-parties to extend the game… It will also be interesting to see whether the spiritual successor (Rail Simulator), or the official Microsoft offering grab the market.

I Got Through the Scoble Vista Debate!

Since he started with the Scoble Show, Robert Scoble has taken quite a lot of flak over the length of some of his videos. Now whilst I certainly think that some of the ones I have watched could do with some editing, I’m not massively concerned if the videos are of different lengths – if the people on the video have something interesting to say then I’m happy to watch.

Perhaps the ultimate example of the long video, is the Vista v MacOS X debate that he posted to coincide with the launch of Windows Vista which is in two parts, as it lasts just over two hours.

The video is long because in essence Robert just brought a group of friends together, pointed the camera at them, and got everybody to start talking. As such they quite often go off at interesting, but unrelated tangents. However there is a lot of interesting discussion. Participants alongside Robert and Maryam include Fred Davis, who co-founded Wired Magazine, Harry McCracken, editor in chief of PC World Magazine, Sam Levin, who founded the Stanford Mac User group, and Jeremy Toeman, who used to work for Sling Media.

This is the first hour:

Interesting stuff in this hour includes a discussion of TV technologies, including quite a heated debate between Jeremy Toeman and Fred Davis over whether broadcast TV, or TV over IP is the better medium. Toeman argues that because of bandwidth issues, broadcast is still the best way to offer large scale distribution. Davis argues that IPTV is the only way to make multi-view sporting broadcasts for example viable. Now whilst it may be true that in the US people aren’t seeing that, anybody with UK digital TV will know that both the BBC and Sky are doing what Davis says needs IPTV right now…

The second hour is here:

This is where more of the Vista related stuff can be found. Interesting points is that nobody seems to recommend that the average consumer should be rushing out to upgrade, and also an interesting discussion about which platform is right for which sort of user.

Certainly well worth a watch if you’ve got a spare two hours!