Android Market versus Apple App Store

My current carrier, T-Mobile, may have the first android phone as soon as next month. I doubt it will be an interface slam-dunk like the iPhone, but news of its app store, Android Market, and the full keyboard are enough to make me wait and see.

The Ars Technica article below compares/contrasts Google’s plan with Apple’s existing store. Is Google finding a better middle ground between control and freedom than Apple? Maybe next month we’ll know.

Google’s Android Market: cathedral or bazaar?

A Great Night for Podcasts


One small consolation of my contract in Rockville is spending quality time with my iPod Touch, podcasts, and the Civic–who is now officially named “Blue Monday”.  Tonight’s drive was especially pleasant from both the driving and podcast listening perspectives.  Here are some highlights from the things I heard:

Beer-Drinking Tree Shrews

Oh, beer.  You are such a Good Thing that even evolution loves you.  A palm evolved natural fermentation chambers to capture yeast and brew you from its own nectar.  A species of beer-swilling shrew doesn’t seem to get drunk despite a hefty habit; I can’t decide if we should praise or pity the little fellow.  A species of loris has also developed a drinking habit, nothing nearly as nasty as their anorexic cousin’s habits who grace the cover of one of my favorite O’Reilly books.  Evolution, beer, UNIX, and primates behaving badly–fabulous!

Nail Your Files

Stever Robbins, the Get-It-Done guy over at has some helpful hints about a subject near and dear to my heart, file naming conventions.  He gets points for suggesting the ISO 8601 date to tell apart your 5,000 report.doc files and to sort them chronologically in your file manager of choice.  It’s sad that most people still live in a world where meaningful search or–dare I say it–real metadata doesn’t exist.  On a related note, I definitely have a few things to say about how much I’m using Spotlight in a subsequent post.

Outsmarting Bombers

This edition of the Scientific American’s weekly podcast podcast takes a fascinating look at counter-IED technology in Iraq and a related story about the continuing problems with turning the lights back on in Baghdad.  More robots controlled by the video-game generation combat an adaptable enemy turning our commodity tech against us.  Scary and fascinating.  Finally, our friend the beer-swilling Loris makes an appearance at the end of the podcast in the “Totally Bogus” segment.  Who knew I was embracing my Inner Chimp every time I popped the top off a bottle of Midas Touch? Mmm, beer.

Tell Me a Story

Finally, RadioLab has produced some of the best podcasts I’ve ever listened to.  It’s This American Life meets Nova, two things I already love.  In this between-seasons short, Robert Krulwich addresses Cal Tech graduates.  I won’t butcher it with a summary.  Just go listen to it right now.  Being a science reporter like Krulwich or Mursky (of SciAm) is my new dream job.  Subscribe to the podcast, go back through all the episodes–especially the ones or morality and emergence–and thank me later.

My iPhone Ultimatum

I’ve given up on iPhone 3G after 48 frustrating hours.  Instead of today’s post praising the platform, I must chastise Apple for one of the worst product launches in memory.  Given Veronica Belmont’s experience, maybe I should be grateful for the delay.  To avoid my inevitable agonizing over buying it or not buying it, I’ve come up with my five-point ultimatum that Apple must meet before I’ll consider buying an iPhone again:

1. I don’t have to stand in line to buy it.  My current Blackberry/Touch configuration is good enough for now.  One of three things needs to happen:  Demand abates, supply increases, or Apple bitch-slaps AT&T until they agree to online purchases and at-home activations.  Otherwise, it’s just not worth the bother.

2. Apple releases two software updates.  Apple’s notoriously bad at Dot Zero releases, and they don’t seem as on top of things with the iPhone as they are with OS X.  In this particular case, I’ll stick to the two update rule assuming the first update will fix most things but break a few more in the process.

3. I can synchronize with a released version of OmniFocus. Having my not-at-computer actions with me is a must have, and I’m unwilling to trust my daily operations to a sneak peak version of OmniFocus.  I may buy the iPhone version for my Touch when OmniFocus 1.1 comes out, but only if I can use or transfer it to an iPhone later.  Anybody know how the App Store works with multiple devices on the same iTunes account?

4. Reliable sources report battery life exceeds 24 hours.  If the device can’t last an average day without turning everything off, I don’t want it.  Ideally my everything device needs to last 48 hours–one weekend away from home and/or laptop–to be practical.  This might be a deal-breaker with iPhone 3G.  Anybody know how to tether an iPod Touch to a Blackberry Pearl or Bold?  That might hold me over until a third generation iPhone with a reasonable battery life hits the shelves.

5. It comes with a reasonable plan.  A reasonable plan includes text messages.  The fact that I’m paying for an all-you-can-eat data plan but still have to pay extra for snippets of text drives me crazy now.  I don’t love T-Mobile, and I don’t really hate AT&T from personal experience, but I have lots of AT&T-hating friends and feel that the iPhone and Apple itself have both been tainted by a deal with this particular devil.

The real shame here is I’m totally hyped about iPhone 2.0 as a computing platform.  The total interface package (multi-touch, accelerometer, proximity) really delivers in what has been a decades-long innovation dead zone, and the App Store is a first look at the amazing possibility of putting such power in the hands of thousands of developers.  The missing piece with the Touch is Internet Everywhere, but I’ve learned to live with good-enough works in progress elsewhere in life.

I can wait.  I think.  Ask me again tomorrow.

DFC has Junk (DNA) in the Trunk

In a webex with EMC engineering about DFS and UCF, I asked if D6.5 would bring full coverage of DFC functionality to DFS. The answer was yes and no.

The first cut of DFS was a little minimal even for my tastes. Anything beyond basic object-related operations was either barely implemented or completely ignored, like workflow and lifecycles respectively. D6.5 promises more than a dozen new services that will fill out much of the missing functionality and add some application-specific services for things like formal records management and content transformation. EMC is clearly committed to DFS as the primary API for application development and system integration.

The only big chunk of functionality missing in D6.5 will be administration-related. There’s still no way to write your own Documentum Administrator (DA) in DFS. I can’t think of an application more in need of a make-over than DA, but we’ll have to wait until D7 or beyond to write our own in DFS.

If I were the DFC, I’d be feeling a little uncomfortable about now. Documentum is like the Zsa Zsa Gabor of APIs and client interfaces; just as an interface matures, they dump it and move onto the next pretty face or fat checkbook. EMC’s already been seen around town with party boy Magellan even though Webtop still wears a ring. The same goes for DFS and DFC. With DFS 6.5 meeting all of EMC’s needs, I hope DFC’s hiring a good divorce attorney. DMCL didn’t, and look what happened to him!

No more wire hangers!The “yes and no” answer I got stems from my previous observation about Documentum’s junk DNA. That idea resonates with people, including Pie who provoked me into posting this with his own latest post. EMC sees the DFC as littered with failed ideas, obsolete patterns, and deprecated methods. When I pressed, EMC said that the DFS will contain everything an application developer would require. Parts of the DFC that qualify as junk in its trunk will not find their way into the DFS closet. No more wire hangers DFC classes!

Fear not, DFC fanboys! The DFC will still be the primary interface for writing things that go into docapps or service providers–methods, (S|T)BOs, custom DFS services and my bad boyfriend of the day, aspects.

While I understand EMC’s constraints and the issues of compatibility versus new development, I have to say my feelings here are mixed. Are we going SOA as a choice to solve particular kinds of problems or because it’s too hard for people to treat Documentum objects as java objects? My relationship with the DFC hasn’t been a smooth one, but I do feel that it has come to express the underlying model fairly well. By saying “DFS for applications, DFC for the back end”, my read between the lines is that the average application developer just can’t handle Documentum as OOP. I wish I could disagree.

I’d Rather Be in Philadelphia

W. C. Fields would also rather be in PhiladelphiaI’ve been working in Maryland for two months–it feels longer–but I drove home today as part of my two days from home every other week.  It’s a compromise in the truest sense–it makes me and my client equally unhappy.

My role as architect means limited hands-on, but there’s been time to investigate a few of the features I was eager to check out in D6.  Turns out it’s like every other Documentum release of the last ten years, full of promise and compromise.

Oh, Aspects, how you break my heart.  When you work, my heart sings.  That cross-cutting on-instance functionality is oh-so-tasty.  When you don’t, I feel like I ordered you from the back of a comic book, waited six weeks, and discovered you didn’t let me see through walls–or see at all!

<F> has some issues with Composer and their build process, so I looked into doing a manual or old-style-BOF install–not easy or well-documented.  In the end, it was too much trouble to hack for a relatively small functional payoff on the project du jour.  I hope we get clear, complete documentation and better-integrated packaging in D6.5.

Updated 8-Dec-2008:  After some investigation I found that F’s problems with Composer had nothing to do with the product itself and everything to do with the client’s build procedures and comfort level.  Apologies to the Composer team for the mistake and for taking so long to correct it.

The quality of the implementation feels like it’s a peek-a-boo on something EMC grew for internal use.  There’s a big enough herd of applications in the EMC Software pasture that features may come from needs inside first, then find their way into our greedy little hands after some dressing-up for appearing in public.  In this case, think pig in make-up and a dress.  Not pretty.  Then again … Mmm, bacon inside. 

Maybe forced cross-pollenation within EMC’s software factory is an unexpected benefit of their rapacious business practices; it’s an eat-your-own dog food that goes a step further than Howard’s edict to use Smartspace internally back in 2000.  It also could be a side-effect of an internal policy that’s moving Documentum further into the background as either a turn-key application or an OEM-only product.

DFS has similar deficiencies like minimal support for workflows and no lifecycles at all.  The D6.5 propaganda claims we’ll see almost four times as many services, although I have to wonder what things will look like given some strangeness in how they partitioned things in this release.  I sort-of see and sort-of don’t why versioning is a separate service from objects.

It all feels so, well, procedural.  That was a dirty word five years ago, back when the scripter in me refused to drink the Gang-of-Four Kool Aid–or would that be eating the yellow snow?  I’d grown tolerant of the  DFC since then because it resembles the underlying model, and now this?

There are some good points beyond the SOA hype, like being able to create a set of objects and relationships in a single call.  Can we hijack this as a de facto way to serialize Documentum objects or transform legacy dumps into read-to-import xml?  Anyway, the topic should motivate me to post about the DFC and DFS as promised in DMCL: Language-Neutral API.

Now it’s time to enjoy sleeping in my own bed before waking up and wrestling with a work laptop that is as unhappy to be away from its docking station as I am to be away from my city.

Blogged with the Flock Browser

Back on the Job

After a few delays, I’m back on the job.  Today was my first day at a securities regulator in Rockville, MD.  Philadelphia just couldn’t deliver the goods, so it was time for another away mission.  While DC isn’t on my list of must-work/live places, I do have a half-dozen friends in the immediate area and could use some time getting to know the neighborhood better, even Baltimore.

Right now I am really, really missing my bed and my shower; I’ve gotten so spoiled. with my own private deluge.  I’ve got a different hotel next week–this one is pretty ratty for being “newly renovated”.  Spending quality time with the Civic and the Touch made up for the dumpy digs.  Sadly though, my podcast backlog has only grown because I moved some programming from TiVo to iTunes.

Libraries and Downloadable Content


Logo of the Free Public Library of PhiladelphiaLibraries are moving online.  The Free Library of Philadelphia (FLP) is podcasting author events and provides all kinds of digital media downloads.  I was thinking about joining, but now I’m having second thoughts.  Why buy books (or movies) online that I’ll only read once–if I finish them at all?

My sad little DVD library, about 40 discs in a black binder, gathers dust; I haven’t bought anything in years, and the whole HDDVD/Bluray brouhaha drove me further away from copy-protected physical media.  The only HD content ever played on my years-old HDTV came out of the DVI connector on my Powerbook.

I’m perfectly happy buying music from iTunes, Amazon, and Magnatune because I expect to reuse that media often.  An audio book, TV show, or movie download won’t have the same reuse value.  How many times will I really watch that BSG episode?  (Once is almost too much since the end of season two.)  I’m perfectly happy letting TiVo gather what I wan so I can delete it when I’m done.  It’s not that I don’t want to pay, but I’d feel obliged to keep what I buy.  There’s just not enough room on my hard drives or in my minimalist soul for all that kept-out-of-guilt content.

Renting movies and TV shows makes perfect sense, and I’m hoping AppleTV continues to grow.  They need to work out a few kinks first like longer replay time:  Who thinks 24 hours is enough time in a busy world?  Rent-to-buy might also entice me to spend a little more on those rare occasions when I actually want to own what I just saw.

DRM is a necessary evil for rentals.  I don’t like it on content I own, but it’s a reasonable way to simulate the rental store–or library–experience.  In the rental store model, the content provider gets a cut of each download.  That doesn’t work for libraries since there is no cost for downloads, so the trick is simulating the real-world limit of actual books on a shelf and library cards.

Each downloadable title on the FLP site has a “Copies Available” count.  The DRM on the download self-expires based on the standard schedule (e.g., 21 days for a book) and decrements the available count for that time.  (I don’t know if you can return something early and increment the count.) At first I cringed a little due to my “information wants to be free” impulse, but I’m growing comfortable with simulating real-world behavior to keep the content creators happy so free libraries fulfill their mission of content to all–just not all at once.

Some titles can be burned to CD while others cannot.  There might be public-domain works that have no DRM, but I haven’t found them yet.  I haven’t hacked around or done experiments since I don’t want to raise red flags, but I’ll have plenty of time driving back and forth to Rockville for audio content.  My podcast backlog should in fact disappear in late May given the five or six hour round-trip each week, so I’ll need more content.

Maybe FLP’s system has some hidden glitches; I can always bite the bullet and download read-once content from Audible.  Otherwise, that five-year-old library-geek inner child of mine will delight every time I drop by my branch library and check out a few books from anywhere in the world.

(UPDATED 2008-04-25 20:01)

One tiny hitch–FLP’s downloadable content uses Overdrive, and it only works on Windows machines.  For a few short moments I got to relive the joy and wonder of my childhood love affair with libraries.  Now I also get to relive the disappointment and disillusionment of puberty.   

It looks like it’s DRM features in WMA that aren’t supported on the Mac.  Other libraries use the same technology, so I hope I’m not the first to write in about it.  If you use a Mac, I’d suggest you find your local free library’s web site.  If they support downloadable content through Overdrive, politely suggest that they need to support everybody (i.e., Windows, Mac, and Linux).  If they provide Mac support, thank them and post the details here as a comment.

In either case, take this opportunity to support your free library with a donation.  It’s as pure a good deed as they come, it’s tax deductible, and your library-geek inner child will thank you.