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It's hard to say these days

Building My Blogroll: The ScottGu Team

clock December 31, 2007 01:32 by author Tom

To a certain extent Scott Guthrie has been robbed.

This post was originally going to be about Scott Guthrie and how I really appreciate not only his blog but how (given his position at Microsoft) he embraces the community built around his products.  I mean, any man who writes even one 30+ page tutorial as a blog post deserves a lot of praise regardless of who he is.  But then I got to thinking. 

Though all of the above is true the biggest part of what makes me admire the man is not what he writes but what he has done for the .Net Community.  Anyone who has watched Microsoft for even a short period of time knows that they've left a trail of disastrous online marketing initiatives in their wake.  For every Channel 9 there have been a hundred bizarre little sites that have been forgotten and which didn't really make sense when they came out. 

What Mr. Guthrie did that put all those efforts to shame was simple but ingenious.  He embraced the community himself, with a personal blog, and he surrounded himself with people who were smart in their own right but who had embraced the community in the same sort of way. 

Given that I decided to, rather than dedicate this post just to Scott Guthrie, dedicate it to him and his team which (to me) consists of Rob Conery, Scott Hanselman and Phil Haack.

(I realize there are a lot more people on his team some of which even have blogs but this is what I consider to be the core group that I read and appreciate the most)

It is hard to explain without actually reading their blogs but they really do form the four corners of their own little community.  A coding A-List if you will.  By being there and putting the effort into having two way communication they've formed a sub-community of blogs who react to what they say in the same way the tech blogosphere reacts to whatever is on Techmeme at any given time.   More importantly as an ASP.Net Developer myself it helps to have that community of people out there who discuss issues relevant to the specific technology I use. 

Beyond that they actually PUBLISH CODE which is HUGE.  One of my main goals in starting this blog was to start to publish some of the code I've written for myself but that I think could benefit others.  Keeping that in mind I have to ask you: have you seen any code on this blog?  Do you know why not? 

Because its hard, unbelievably hard.  The kind of hard that you recount to your grandchildren when you're trying to explain to them what kind of soft wimps they are in comparison to you when you were their age.  THAT kind of hard.   The writing, formatting, commenting and explaining of even a small code sample can take as much as 10 times what a straight blog post would.  

Yet not only do they do it but they manage to do it on an amazingly consistent basis (and I'd like to dedicate the last part of the sentence to Rob Conery specifically).  That in and of itself is an amazing gift to the development community and one that I don't think I could say enough about it. 

So for that, as well as for just producing awesome products, I put Scott Guthrie, Rob Conery, Scott Hanselman and Phil Haack as #5 on my blogroll.

(and they'll be added just as soon as I'm back from vacation)  There's wifi in the room so I was checking to see that this auto posted and decided to just add them now.



Heading out...

clock December 30, 2007 06:39 by author Tom

This is it for "live Tom" as we're just about to leave for Vegas and won't be back until Jan. 2nd.  I think I've got it set up so that some pre-written posts should start showing up over the next few days but don't hold it against me if that goes awry again. 

So Happy New Year to everyone.  Don't do anything I wouldn't do (and honestly you probably shouldn't do half the stuff I would do) 

I'll see you on the 2nd.



Hatemail...

clock December 30, 2007 06:35 by author Tom

If you'll recall I said that I'd be taking a post to address a hatemail I got recently.  As it turns out I won't be doing that. 

One of the biggest drawbacks to being human is that we have an amazing capacity to deceive ourselves in order to suit our own selfish needs.  So given a few days you can trick yourself into thinking something like "responding to this hate mail in a joking manner is ok because I won't be mean about it and it will give me a chance to defend myself against his claims".  Sadly, if you put things in perspective you'll find that mocking someone's criticism, even if you think its unfounded criticism, is just another way of attacking them. 

I think you have the right to defend your reputation if someone attacks you in public.  In fact, not only do you have the right to reply you're obligated to do so because you never know when that person might attack someone else and that attacked person may need your previous encounter as corroboration.  

But hate mail is not public and responding to it, even in a tongue in cheek way, just continues the altercation.

So you won't be hearing me bring up hatemail now or ever.  I think my ego can take a few slaps and I have neither the need nor the desire to fight with anyone...even those who don't like me.

P.S.  On a more positive note it appears Google is actually indexing this blog now.  Hate mail, my own vanity search...I'm really moving up in the world :) 



Why Record Labels aren't going anywhere

clock December 30, 2007 06:35 by author Tom

There was one last point that I didn't get to address yesterday and that was this lingering theory on the part of the blogosphere that the Record Labels are close to extinction.  That isn't likely to happen and I'm going to tell you why.

In reading this keep in mind that from High School on I grew up in Southern California and I grew up with a parent who acted in live theatre which eventually got me into the tech part of live theatre.  I grew up doing productions and have more than 75 different musical productions to my credit so I know more than my fair share of actors and musicians.

Also, the characterizations below are generalizations and I know they don't apply to every single person in each category.  That doesn't change the fact that they apply to the great majority of each group and because of that fact they are helpful in addressing the issue at hand. 

All that said, lets start by looking at bloggers.

Bloggers like to think the world is filled with people just like them but the fact is that its not.  In this particular topic that is relevant because bloggers by definition are at least mildly entrepreneurial.  Even if they don't run a company themselves the sheer act of putting  up a web site suggests the presence of the entrepreneurial spirit. 

The polar opposite of bloggers are artists who aren't at all entrepreneurial.  They want to focus on their art and they don't want to worry about marketing their art or packaging their art or any of the trappings of selling their art.  Their ideal world is one where they can spend all their time on the art and just have a pay check show up at the end of the day. 

This is why bloggers don't understand the role of Record Labels.

Record Labels rose up to fill the artist's need by doing all the stuff the artists didn't want to do.  Someone had to step up and get the artist's music into the hands of the consumer and the artists themselves had no interest in being that person.  That is why Record Labels exist and that is why they will continue to exist.

Don't get me wrong, it isn't out of the realm of possibility that the current crop of labels will die.  I doubt it will actually happen but it isn't an impossibility.  But the thing to remember is that the only way they'll die is if someone else shows up to take their place.  Because someone has to continue to fill that void. 

If that new group of business people show up they'll still need to protect the artist's interests so they'll still have to hire lawyers and those lawyers are going to advise them to do the same thing the current labels are doing now.  In fact, the odds are good that a new group would make it worse because they will be up for a fight where as the current crop has, to an extent, been beaten down by public criticism.

But one way or the other Record Labels are still going to have to protect their product from being stolen.  That is an inalienable fact.  There is certainly room for new business models but someone is going to have to make the case for those models to a Record Label.  Whether that's the current crop or a new crop really doesn't matter because each will be facing the same issues and each will be advised by the same lawyers. 

You want to make a difference in the industry my advice would be to build a better mouse trap.  Don't bother hoping for, wishing for or predicting the death of Record Labels because it isn't going to happen.  Instead figure out how the Record Labels can still make their money without having to resort to the RIAA's tactics.  Because answering that question is the only way this situation will ever be resolved. 



An actually quick follow up....

clock December 29, 2007 17:10 by author Tom

I thought my last post had gotten too long so I didn't post this in it but the more I've thought about it the more I thought it was a necessary point.  This is taken from a reaction to Scott Karp's post written by Mark Hamilton.  In response to the RIAA's stance he says...

I’m paranoid enough to believe that this isn’t mere legal wrangling on the part of the RIAA. I’ve suspected for a while this is where the music industry wants to take the argument. My reasoning is fairly simple: a huge part of the huge amounts of money flowing into the industry over the past 40 years has come from new technologies and the need to rebuy. Every time the method of delivery changed — from vinyl to cassette tape, from cassette tape to CD — serious music fans have laid out millions of dollars to repurchase music they already had to replace their “old” library.

But then a few paragraphs later he goes on to say...

Small pieces of the industry are changing: any number of smaller, independent labels and a growing number of artists are finding innovative new ways to connect with music lovers and navigate the tricky waters of massive change. Three of the big four labels have dropped DRM from at least some of their offerings.

I'm cherry picking here so I encourage anyone reading this to read his whole post but it was the best way to make a point that I think is really important which is that the industry is making strides to allow people to keep music on their PC digitally and even the most anti-RIAA people know it.  I personally think strides like stripping DRM from new releases shows an industry that is really trying to work with its customers and completely contradicts the characterization of them as people attacking even customers who just want to legally back up their music.

Please Note: I'm not saying the industry has always been this way I'm saying I think they've learned their lesson.



Making everything a crime out of self-defense

clock December 29, 2007 16:24 by author Tom

A real quick post on the RIAA's suit against Jeffrey Howell which has exploded due to an article in the Washington Post.  In it the RIAA is claiming that Mr. Howell committed an illegal act simply by copying the music to his computer even before he illegally distributed it.

The reality here is that this issue is much bigger than the blog posts I've read are making it out to be.  The issue isn't the RIAA's greed it is the fact that the United States is becoming an increasingly litigious nation.  So someone gets hurt by a defect in a product that the manufacturer could never have foreseen.  That person then gets a lawyer who convinces a jury to award the person a million dollar settlement out of pity (as opposed to the facts of the case).  Not being able to afford another suit the manufacturer then turns around and changes their user agreement to essentially say "if this product blows up and destroys your whole neighborhood because of a defect that is completely our fault you still can't sue us"

The same issue is at stake in the RIAA's case in that you may not like the RIAA but their product is being stolen and most people don't see it as a big deal.  So they in turn have made an unreasonable user agreement saying that it is illegal to even copy your music to the computer at all.   I honestly don't think anyone believes the RIAA would prosecute someone who was only storing legally purchased music on their PC and had no plans to distribute it.  The RIAA is simply doing what the manufacturer in the above example did and making an unreasonable user agreement to protect their interests.

Saying that its illegal to store music on the PC is simply a way for the RIAA to have an iron clad case against those who are distributing the music illegally.

So Is the RIAA right?  Hard to say.  When society doesn't take things like theft seriously it invites an over reaction from the person being stolen from.  I do think the RIAA's claim is unreasonable on the surface but I'm not sure you can blame them for following the advice of their lawyers.  As long as people continue not to equate the stealing of music to the stealing of a physical product I think you'll see more unreasonable claims like this.  If you want to stop those claims then your argument is for tort reform not against the RIAA.

On a side note, the idea that the media industry will be "utterly destroyed" by digital technology as put forth by Scott Karp is ridiculous.  These issues will exist even if artists self distribute.  The RIAA explained simply is just a group of lawyers hired by the music industry to protect their interests.  So if the labels disappeared tomorrow people would just start stealing directly from the artists who would then hire a lawyer to stop it and be advised to do the same thing the RIAA is advising the labels to do now.  Music will still have to be paid for no matter what happens. 

Addendum: A friend pointed out that the Washington Post article quoted above did not mention that Mr. Howell was sharing songs over Kazaa (a real breach of Journalistic ethics imho) so many might think the RIAA was just going after him for backing up his songs.  That isn't the case, as can be read here: http://www.homemediamagazine.com/news/html/breaking_article.cfm?article_id=11723



What is it with feed readers these days?

clock December 28, 2007 20:55 by author Tom

I subscribe to this blog in Google Reader just to make sure that everything gets out-putted correctly and recently I've been noticing an odd bug.

For some reason posts from a week ago randomly reappear as new even at times when I haven't posted to the blog.  These changes aren't coming from the feed itself in that Google Reader marks the time posted as today while the feed clearly shows the correct times on the posts themselves.

This parallels a problem I read about on Scoble's blog yesterday (though to a much lesser extent) in which his feed was showing up incorrectly in Bloglines.  In response to Scoble's complaint Paul Querna replied that the reason was as follows...

At the bottom of every post on a wordpress.com blog, is a tracker image used for statistics. It includes a rand parameter, which changes every time the feed is fetched over HTTP. The image URL is something like this:

http://stats.wordpress.com/b.gif?host=scobleizer.com&rand=2045631674&blog=3428&post=3957&subd=scobleizer&ref=&feed=1

Because this rand value changes every time we read the feed, we considered the Item ‘Updated‘.

to which Scoble replied...

Here’s Bloglines reply about the issue with my feed and turns out the problem was actually a bug in Wordpress.com, which Matt Mullenweg admitted to and is taking care of. Nice to see this taken care of, thanks. I mean that sincerely. Sorry I had to make a stink, but I was getting tons of complaints and needed to force the issue cause no one was taking care of this bug.

I have to disagree here.  Bloglines is choosing to use a non-standard way to judge which entries are updated even when a standard way exists (the last updated timestamp) and in doing so they are causing a problem for their users.  That IS Bloglines' fault.  The fact that Matt Mullenweg was nice enough to work around their feed reader's bad behavior does not change that fact.

Back to my problem I really don't know what the issue is with Google Reader but I'm almost sure it stems from the same type of issues as above which is to say a feed reader that is choosing to implement its own standards rather than follow the ones that already exist.  I would hope that anyone who makes a feed reader would consider stopping this type of behavior in that it makes troubleshooting impossible for individual feed publishers (because you can't know the unofficial standards they are using) while simultaneously annoying their users (with multiple posts).



Age and the Information Revolution

clock December 28, 2007 20:53 by author Tom

One of the more interesting conversations I had while in Sacramento was about information delivery.  For those who don't know me personally I'm what can charitably be called a "Consistently Distracted Guest" in that I'm constantly checking my Cell. Phones as different buzzes inform me there is new information to be had. 

I work really hard to be polite about it but the bottom line is that I like to be connected at all times.

One of the things you forget about family is that, though you've known them longer than anyone chronologically, in many ways they don't know you at all.  You may e-mail, you may talk on the phone but unless you are within a few miles of each other you probably spend no more than a handful of hours per year together.  So sometimes they'll notice certain behaviors in you that everyone else in your life has just come to the point of taking for granted (and because they're your family they'll be open enough to say it) 

My obsessive checking of Cell. Phones was one of those occasions.  Where this becomes interesting is when I began to explain to them just what I was doing looking at my cell phone every 15 minutes and what being able to do that meant for me.  The real eye-opener came when showing them how to use Google Reader and getting the reaction "Why would you want to do something like that?" 

I'll be the first to admit the reaction took me by surprise.  I had always known that most people didn't live their life like I did but I always assumed it was because they lacked either the patience or the ability to leverage the tools in a way that would deliver what they wanted to them.  Only after probing a little did I discovered just how uncomfortable people of a certain age are around the rapid delivery of information. 

Quick Caveat: I'm going to break things down be age below but I realize that in many ways those are artificial generalizations.  There are certainly those over 30 who have embraced technology and those under 30 who have not.  But in the context of the current discussion I'm referring to what I believe to be the majority of people in each age group.

The similie I came up with to describe what I found was this: Imagine a person's youth as them growing up in a locked room.  The difference between people older than 30 and people younger than 30 is that for the older people the room was empty and for the younger people the room was full of people.  Now that both are adults and both are interacting on the essentially equal footing the younger ones feel uncomfortable without the noise of the other people in the room while the older people feel uncomfortable without the silence. 

If you think about it the above holds fairly true to life.  Younger people have grown up with E-Mail, Cell Phones, Pagers, IM, and so on which all act as a thousand little voices coming at them at all times.  So they've become accustomed to that type of environment.  Older people on the other hand could walk away from their land line and essentially be cut off from the world which is the environment they'd grown accustomed to.  Two very different experiences that create two very different comfort zones.

I really think this has a big impact because it raises the question of how we tailor solutions that both serve the needs of the (for lack of a better term) "Web 2.0 Demo" while still drawing in the older crowd?  How do we reach each demographic without alienating the other in the process? 

They're questions I've just begun to ponder and I suspect I'll be talking about them more as time goes on but I wanted to share the experience for now.  If Web 2.0 is about scale and harnessing the wisdom of the crowds than it will only achieve its full potential by drawing everyone into that crowd, even people who are uncomfortable with technology in the first place.



Getting back on track...

clock December 27, 2007 21:12 by author Tom

When I started this blog I feared I wouldn't have enough to say... Now, as I think over what seems like an overwhelming list of things I have to say, that previous thought is almost foreign to me. 

I've tried to stick to the philosophy of holding this blog to one post per day because I know everyone's time is valuable and if I'm lucky enough to have you as a reader I don't want to take up too much of your time.  That said I do have a bit of a backlog so I might end up breaking that rule a little (see: Today).  Here's what I'm going to try to do over the next week or so to catch up.

I'm going to spend the next couple of days trying to put down some thoughts on my Christmas vacation and some of the things that occurred to me while I wandered around visiting with family.  In particular I got the opportunity to have some interesting discussions with people who are older than me (and not technically inclined) on the role of information technology and the differences in how I prefer information to be delivered and how they prefer information to be delivered.  I also want to talk a little about a conversation I had with a friend over why I've gone out of my way to ignore reader statistics regarding this blog (at least for the first few months) and why I think that's important for new bloggers.  Finally I'm hoping to get out a quick post about my iPhone and the various reactions to it during the holidays (again dealing with the age spectrum).

From there I'm going to be gone again to celebrate the New Year's Holiday so I'll be posting the remainder of my pre-written "Building My Blogroll" posts (that I successfully got off the broken notebook's hard drive).  I really had fun doing these posts and I hope they have been at least partially enjoyable to anyone who might be reading this blog.  The Blogosphere is a confrontational place and so a lot of the great bloggers I read never seem to get any praise (and again that includes far more than just the ones I'm listing).  It feels good to heap some praise on a few of them and give a little piece back to people who have given so much to me over the years. 

Finally, at some point in all of the above I'm hoping to throw a reply out to a very special e-mail I got.  You know you're new to the world of blogging when you get your first hate e-mail and you're excited about it.  So in celebration of this monumental occasion I'm going to post a short reply to that message. 

That's the plan for the next week or so, I hope you'll stick with me for the ride. 



Building My Blogroll: Mathew Ingram (plus other stuff)

clock December 27, 2007 21:04 by author Tom

I'm going to cheat a little bit here. 

I had already written a pretty anemic post explaining why I like Mathew Ingram but I was never happy with it because of how short it was.  Then Mr. Ingram made a point I really wanted to draw attention to and that made the situation worse because it would be odd to make the blogroll post and then turn around and quote him in a separate post.

So I'm combining the two ideas into one post with the first part being why I appreciate his blog and the second part addressing what I wanted to say about his recent post.

On the first point, I think the easiest way to make it is to say that there have been many occasions where I honestly felt Mathew Ingram was the only sane  person in the blogosphere.  Whenever there's one of those "techmeme explosion" where everyone's jumping up and down over some imagined slight Mr. Ingram is almost always the first one to (a) realize how unreasonable everyone is being and (b) call them on it.  Neither of which are small tasks as you end up drawing the enmity of everyone and often times end up alone because those who agree with you don't have the guts to draw that same enmity.

I'm really not sure the tech blogosphere could go on without a Mathew Ingram in it and I would hate to see it try.  For that reason I've put him at #4 on my blogroll. 

That is also what makes it hard to write a whole post about him.  I don't think you could overestimate his value but stating that fact doesn't take terribly long.  Which is why my initial post on him was so anemic and why I'm now resorting to this (somewhat awkward) transition.

Recently he made a post in regards to the whole "Google Shared Items" snafu in which he lays out how odd it is to get angry at Google for sharing items that you marked as "Shared" (a point that a surprising amount of people are missing). 

That's a good point in itself but in his post I think he makes a bigger point that gets lost in the shuffle.  That is what I wanted to draw attention to.  In the post he says...

Scoble has decided to take the high road and blame Google for not implementing ‘granular privacy controls’ — and that might be a good thing for Reader, just as it would be for Facebook.

But it’s not something that’s necessary, in my opinion, nor is it something Google should be slammed for not having. The company explained that shared items would be visible to GTalk contacts — pretty simple, in my opinion. Plus, they can only be seen by contacts who also use Google Reader, and those contacts have to specifically click on the shared items from other users to see them. It’s not as if they’re being emailed to your friends, or scrolling by on the Jumbotron.

Would GPC be handy to have? Sure.

This brings up something I noticed earlier this year with Amazon's Kindle when several people commented that the Kindle was insufficient because it lacked the iPhone's touch interface.  Bloggers understandably want their dream product but it is not understandable to then bash a product if it doesn't do everything exactly the way you want it to. 

Sure there are some features that really do become "must have" but those are a rare occasion.  Even features as great as a touch interface or Granular Privacy Control aren't enough to make the whole product insufficient and I'd bet money that virtually no one dropped Google Reader because of the sharing feature.

If you want to fairly review any product you really have to force yourself to be sensible and weigh all the good features against the bad.  What makes the above cited criticism particularly maddening is the fact that none of each products competitors sport the features being demanded.  So how is it fair to then demand that feature from one vendor?

I'm not saying you can't suggest things for future releases I'm just saying there's a huge difference between "I wish it had this" and "it sucks because it doesn't have this".  That's a difference that more bloggers should pay attention to. 



About Me

Not really relevant right now. This blog is on hiatus. I really haven't decided if it is an indefinite hiatus yet

For the record if you've tried to e-mail me over the last 4 to 6 months I didn't mean to ignore you. The e-mail forwarding isn't working and I didn't realize that until months worth of e-mails had been deleted on forward. The tom@tomstechblog.com address still won't forward to the postmaster account and I don't know why because it's provided by the webhost. But if you're one of my old blog pen pals I would always welcome an e-mail from you at the postmaster@tomstechblog.com address

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