Nov 092011
 
Super Jew

The history of the Jews in England is mixed at best. Jewish settlements date at least to the Norman Conquest, but by 1218 papal England required Jews to wear a stupid hat. A deteriorating situation reached its nadir when King Edward I issued the Edict of Expulsion in 1290.

On the other hand, a beleaguered but tolerant England sheltered Jews fleeing the Nazi grip on the continent. Today with over 300,000 Jews, England hosts the second largest Jewish population in Europe. The roots run deep and love is a two-way street: Jewish immigrants gave the English their iconic fish and chips.

The artifacts of this complicated relationship spanning a thousand years are at times poignant or hilarious, and always interesting. Even the street names are shadows of a storied past: Old Jewry, Jerusalem Passage, Jews Row, and today’s special guests, Jewry Street and Jews Walk.

I plan to visit the remainder and photograph them as well. In the meantime, if you know of another Jewey street, do share.

Jewry Street, City of London

Jewry Street, City of London


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Jews Walk, Lewisham

Jews Walk, Lewisham


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Patently Absurd

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Aug 152011
 
Android

Google buys “Android Partner” Motorola for $12.5 billion.

Wild. What do you have to say for yourself, Google CEO Larry Page? “[The acquisition will] enable us to better protect Android from anti-competitive threats from Microsoft, Apple and other companies.”

To paraphrase: “Screw you, Steve Jobs.”

I hope this swings the pendulum away from corporate patent trolling and towards innovation and competition. Apple is expert at both; Jobs only knows why they have concentrated on the former.

El Che

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Jul 262011
 
Che Guevara in 1950, photo by Alberto Korda

NYU, my alma mater, had more than her fair share of sham-intellectual douchenozzles whose wildly naïve political views rivaled only their incredibly poor hygiene in offending common decency. These guys walked around with Che Guevara t-shirts — there is a special, sad irony in the pop culture commercialization of an anti-capitalist murderer — and spouted nonsense about anarchy and communism. My buddy Eric poked a bit of fun at the archetype in his 2008 film Lowenstein’s a Terrorist, in which the writer/director himself cameos wearing a Che shirt. (Side note: one scene was filmed in my old apartment on John Street.)

My point is that today’s Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal fills me with the warm and fuzzy nectar of nostalgia.


Summers of No Love

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Jul 212011
 
Facebook logo

Without question, the Winklevoss twins, of The Social Network fame, are assholes: two silver spoons, two senses of entitlement, two grown men whingeing over a nine-figure settlement. So with that in mind, it is not surprising to read the Brainstorm Tech interview of Larry Summers, former Harvard president and renowned arrogant bastard. From Fortune, 20 July 2011:

One of the things you learn as a college president is that if an undergraduate is wearing a tie and jacket on Thursday afternoon at three o’clock, there are two possibilities. One is that they’re looking for a job and have an interview; the other is that they are an a**hole. This was the latter case.

Amazing.

By the way, am I alone in seeing Mark Zuckerberg as the Shia LaBeouf of tech CEOs? Incomprehensible success meets tremendous lack of likability.

[Update 22-July-2011] Gawker shares the interview video. Cameron and Tyler respond. #WhiteWhine

Jul 172011
 
American quarter

From The Clash of Generations by Thomas L. Friedman, New York Times, 16 July 2011:

Indeed, if there is one sentiment that unites the crises in Europe and America it is a powerful sense of “baby boomers behaving badly” — a powerful sense that the generation that came of age in the last 50 years, my generation, will be remembered most for the incredible bounty and freedom it received from its parents and the incredible debt burden and constraints it left on its kids.

Could hardly say it better myself, Mr Friedman.

May 172010
 
Apple logo

The hearts of trendy technology fanboys the world ’round have been aflutter over the Apple versus Adobe showdown. All this agitation on the intellectual sea has produced some foam, as agitation will, but I worry when emotions run high and hyperbole runs rampant. A private technology mailing list to which I am privy began dissecting Kevin Lynch’s interview with Brady Forrest at Web 2.0 Expo SF. One gentleman, targeting Mr Lynch’s dark depiction of “walled gardens” (read: the iPad), went so far as to call Mr Lynch an “evil, evil man” for his demands that Apple open its precious platform to Adobe’s products.

Kevin Lynch a twice-evil man, is that not a tick harsh? An unabashed puller of the corporate line, certainly…though as the CTO, he helps write the corporate line. A egotistical geek, sure…again, CTO. Evil? The legal-but-immoral thoughts Steve Jobs wakes up with on a given Tuesday would make Mr Lynch curl up in a ball and beg for his mother, yet still I would hesitate to call Mr Jobs evil. (What is Steve, then? It rhymes with brass soul.)

To consumers, Apple sells delicious little bundles of hardware and software: iPhones, iPods, iPads. Apple also sells, to developers, access to that army of captive consumers, taking its famous 30% cut on App Store purchases. Apple created a platform and is her gatekeeper, censoring content and now dictating development methods. Do we as a society want Apple, or any corporation, to be the lone censor for a widespread and important consumer platform? I submit that society does not. The printing press manufacturer may not censor the daily newspaper. The descendants of Johannes Gutenberg may not challenge J. K. Rowling, no matter how derivative her imagination or childish her writing.

Our entire body of work here at Lab49 depends on tools and platforms built by others, and specifically, much of my own craft involves running Adobe tools on Apple platforms (excepting when bank clients force me onto Secure Build Windows, itself an oxymoron if ever there were one). On one hand I want Apple and Adobe to kiss, make up, and get the band back together for an overpriced reunion tour. On the other hand I enjoy watching two promoters of closed systems accuse each other of promoting closed systems. Hypocrisy may be a scoundrel’s refuge, but it is my entertainment.

Apr 292010
 
Flash Builder icon

Flash Builder is, speaking the King’s for a tick, pure rubbish. Adobe took its sweet time releasing this purportedly major upgrade, and I held a fool’s hope that Flex developers the world over might no longer gaze longingly at the highly functional and pleasantly integrated Silverlight tools across the aisle. Indeed, Adobe incremented the version (to 4 from 3) and switched the label (to Flash Builder from Flex Builder), but still the product is rubbish. I know it was you, Adobe. You broke my heart.

I am not alone in my sentiments. My associate Scott Selikoff focuses on Flex 4′s code verbosity and duplicate component libraries, but his verdict is the same. Rubbish. Unfortunately, Flash Builder is my primary development environment.

My present Flex frustration (Flexstration!) is resource modules, by which a developer may externalize resources into SWFs that may be loaded at run time. It sounds wonderful, but sadly the process is quite manual, requiring a human to take a number of heavy steps:

  1. Determine the resource bundles required, by running the compiler with the -resource-bundle-list option
  2. Gather the contents of the output file generated in step 1
  3. Run mxmlc from the command line — Flash Builder offers zero support here — specifying no MXML file but supplying the -locale, -source-path and -include-resource-bundles options

The poor developer must repeat this process for each resource module in each locale. As an example, let us assume the application has four resource modules and must support merely four locales: American English (en_US), British English (en_GB), Mexican Spanish (es_MX), and Spanish Spanish (es_ES). Even for these decidedly unambitious numbers, the now-heartbroken developer — or his helper monkey — must repeat the manual operations listed above 4 x 4 = 16 times. Pray for Mojo.

Of course, a clever developer could easily write a build script, perhaps leveraging Ant and Adobe’s Ant tasks for Flex. Most Flex developers, myself included, have done just that. My point is that this sort of automation of common tasks is exactly what a £400 enterprise development tool should do. Epic fail, Adobe.

[Update 21-July-2011] Corrected a typo in the “heavy steps” list.

Apr 282010
 
PowerPoint icon

In a New York Times article We Have Met the Enemy and He Is PowerPoint, published earlier this week, Elisabeth Bumiller assaults PowerPoint and its stranglehold on the daily lives of American soldiers. As presented by Ms. Bumiller, the situation is so bleak that one Army lieutenant, asked how he spends most of his time deployed in Iraq, responded, “Making PowerPoint slides.” Pressed, it turned out he was quite serious.

PowerPoint at its best is a mediocre tool to create mediocre presentations. PowerPoint in general magnifies the worst inefficiencies of big organizations and encourages the weaker tendencies of small minds within. I will not describe further my utter disdain for PowerPoint: I haven’t the language. Odds are the reader hasn’t the time.

For the poor souls conditioned to create deck after PowerPoint deck (dreck?) for the torture of their peers, mine are fighting words. Strangely the loudest dissent may well come from one known to me. Though he and I have not been in touch for a while, Adam Cooper grew up with a close friend of mine, and back when the three of us lived in NYC, we gathered occasionally on my roof deck for poker nights. Indeed, you would never suspect Adam to be a purveyor of evil, yet he is the proud author of PowerPoint Presentations That Sell. The reader might imagine my internal struggle to at once condemn dubious claims of “effective” PowerPoint and blindly promote a buddy’s book (see Figure 1). In the end, the only shared ground on which we might build a compromise may be David Byrne’s PowerPoint art (see Figure 2).

PowerPoint Presentations That Sell | by Adam Cooper

Figure 1: PowerPoint Presentations That Sell | by Adam Cooper


Sea of Possibilities | by David Byrne

Figure 2: Sea of Possibilities | by David Byrne

Apr 232010
 
Otis Redding - The Dock of the Bay

Most of us do not have a proper seat here at the Lab’s home office. Sure, our back office staff have assigned desks with chairs and cubbyholes to call their own, and sure, we consultants spend the vast majority of our time on site with clients. However, consultants on the bench (i.e., not on site with a client) must jockey for position each morning. Seating arrangements change dynamically according to the day’s work and, above all, arrival time. Smaller commodities such as Magic Mouses and Apple power adapters tend to be in short supply and on occasion are accidentally swapped or, ahem, borrowed altogether.

As such, one day a few of us discussed how the Lab might build pluggable workstations for our wandering herd of benched consultants. In an ideal setup, a 49er may set down at any workstation with his laptop and expect to find power, ethernet, a keyboard and a widescreen monitor at their disposal. Unfortunately this involves a hot mess of cables, all of which may be subject to the aforementioned borrowing. We had thought of docking stations, but most consultants have MacBooks, and one cannot dock a MacBook.

Or so we assumed. By chance, the other day my brother came across Henge Docks. They claim to have “created the first truly comprehensive docking station solution for Apple’s line of notebook computers”. Quality and usability are unknown, but the potential is there for a wonderful product.

Henge Dock with monitor

Figure 1: MacBook in a Henge Dock

Apr 162010
 
Boots advert, Christmas 1913

Boots the Chemist is an English icon. Spend a day in London and you cannot miss the ubiquitous sign of white cursive in a blue oval. As it happens, Londoners tell me, Boots also has an excellent customer loyalty program (programme?) in the Advantage Card. I journeyed online to sign up — four points per £1! — and discovered in the Title field the most incredible menu (see Figure 1).

Note that after Lady and Lord comes the mysterious acronym, RH. This Yank suspects it stands for Royal Highness.

Boots Advantage Card Registration Form

Figure 1: Lord Cohen gets a Boots Advantage Card

[Update 17-April-2010] Miss Anky, my host and frequent London guide, suggested Right Honourable, an honorific title reserved for prime ministers and barons, as an alternative meaning for RH. However she did not discount my earlier Royal Highness theory, so the true meaning remains a mystery.