I wouldn’t trust you with a barge poll

March 31, 2008

Much like common sense is not all that common, plain English is rarely plain. And this is even more true when you’re speaking a domain specific language (or to the man on the street, jargon). In the world of software development we speak a very dense DSL packed with nouns that have very specific meanings. I use the word dense because there are also loose DSLs,

As example of the difference consider an address and a phone number. The address may have redundant information in, like street name and post code, or country for an non-international letter. A phone number on the other hand has no redundant information and hence is susceptible to having its meaning completely destroyed by a typo. With an address we have a little more leeway but enough typos and your letter won’t get to where you were hoping.

So when we speak in a dense DSL we need to be careful to say exactly what we mean; for example in interviews I often ask what does static mean in the context of C#. The answer I usually get is:

It means you only have one copy.

Which isn’t wrong but it’s vague, and vague is pretty close wrong in my book. A better answer would be:

Static can be used as modifier keyword to declare a member variable on a class

Far better; it shows a precise knowledge not only of the C# language but of the DSL that surrounds it. Also It’s not overly precise, it gets to the point and stops.

Now this is a simple example but the concept of terseness is widely applicable. Often I’ve found people who pride themselves on the terseness of their code don’t extend that same pride to the duration of their sentences. So given that I don’t have the time to make this any shorter, I’ll leave it there.


Web 2.0 is Identity 1.0

November 29, 2007

Identity has been something that, as a society, we’ve been trying to get right for a long time. And it’s a difficult problem to crack, as the rise of identity theft goes to show. I’m not interested in a nitty gritty discussion of authorization models, although in light of the government’s recent blunder, one would certainly be prescient. Nor am I interested in the layers of ‘user’ that exist in modern computer system. I’m interested in my identity on-line.


Until recently, your email was most likely the proxy for your on-line identity but; with the sigmoidal growth of Facebook; for many people that is changing. Facebook is now the defacto standard identity for students. Google & pals are hot on their heels, but why?

The huge amount of demographic information in Facebook is like crack to advertisers and since Google is the world’s largest advertising company their interest is guaranteed. But the real reason is: Facebook have a better data model. Google’s complimentary services have ‘Chinese walls’ that block interaction. EBay have 21 different logins across their empire. These partitions are artificial but were once necessary to instill trust.

But now people trust the web with their personal information. In fact they don’t even care if their information is shared with gusto. This trust, in some cases, may be misplaced; but as more people do it, more mainstream companies move in; making the web a safer place (Dell won’t steal you identity, for example).

Unified identity is critical to the future of the web. And it’s interesting that something that was previously provided by governments is now a commercial entity.

Congrats, you’re a Level 2 Mindless Drone

August 20, 2007

I saw the latest entry to the Web 2.0 Ad-Driven distraction market today: MyProgress.com™. Note the trademark, classy! And I paused…

I usually skip past these usless time wasters with a sedate roll of my mouse wheel while chewing through my cheap and cheerful kruger sandwich. But something made me stop half-way through my crayfish and cardboard, some deeply entrenched line had been crossed and I found myself actually shocked and appalled at the crass nature of this product.

MyProgress tracks what you have done in your life and gives you the equivalent of a charater sheet for yourself. Finance, Skills, Weath and Health are the (overlapping) categories in which you can record your progress. I’ve not used the site but even the thought of filling in this type of information bores me. However;  there is a deeper and far more troubling aspect to this conccept. MyProgress’s creators seem to have forgotten that life is not a MMORPG.

The idea that someones life can be linearized into some paltry progression of goals and acheivements turns a human being into a yeild curve. This kind of characterization of people is used by the insurance industry to make it’s predictions and in doing so converting people into rows in a spreadsheet. MyProgress helps you fill in your row…

This site captures perfectly the worst aspects of capitalism on over-drive. MyProgress proports to give you a score for your life so far… I suggest a simpler scoring model:

Fun Had / Memberships of Pointless Websites =  YOUR LIFE SCORE    (use approx figures)