Monthly Archive for March, 2010

What I am going to do next…

On Monday morning I’ll be down in Burbank, CA at the Walt Disney Studios getting ears fitted for my new job. I’ll be working in the Disney Interactive Media Group as Director of Advanced Technology. The advanced technology group has a fairly broad scope, and a few of the things that we’ll be looking at include devices such as tablet computers / e-book readers, HTML5, and cloud computing fabrics. The world of media is being reshaped by technology, and I am excited to have the chance to help Disney navigate those changes.

The Disney Interactive Media Group is located in downtown Seattle, a few blocks from the ferry terminal. So after nine years of working at home, I’ll be going to work in a “normal” office setting. I had several work at home offers, but I have been feeling restless about working at home, so I’ve decided to shake things up a bit on that front. Seattle locals, I’d love to catch lunch or coffee with you.

Job Search Insights

One interesting part about looking for a job is that you end up talking to lots of people and companies. As I’ve been doing this, I’ve noticed some interesting patterns.

Companies

“Services” are more interesting than “pure software”. Many of the companies that I found most interesting were not creating software for distribution, but were creating or modifying software in the course of providing some other service. This is a trend that has been going on for some time, arguably since the arrival of the web, but for some reason, this stood out to me in a way that it hadn’t before.

Open Source

Open source has won, at least for the companies that I’ve talked to. Most of them were using infrastructure mostly based on open source software. Many had people contributing changes back to various open source projects. A few were looking to open source their internal software as a way of defraying development costs, increasing adoption, and/or many of the other known benefits of open source software.

There’s still some ways left to in terms of people understanding the world of open source software. Several interviewers thought that I worked for (as in got paid by) Apache. That’s probably partially LinkedIn’s fault, but it also shows that while people are eager to use open source software, they do so without an understanding of the nature and role of open source foundations.   

Nonetheless, I’m happy to see evidence that open source software is coming closer to being standard operating procedure.

Technologies

Of course it is always interesting to hear about the technologies that people are working with, especially if they have put them into production. Here are some technologies or areas which appeared often enough to be notable: Cassandra, Redis, Hadoop, mobile devices, good analytics, machine learning / prediction, and “cloud computing”.

Peopleware

I was definitely surprised by the number of companies, particularly startup companies, that were willing to take on a remote employee, especially given the state of the economy.

Process

I’ve accepted an offer for a job, and I’ll be writing about that tomorrow. For now, I’d like to say thank you to everyone who contacted me with a job opportunity. It’s nice to know that there are jobs out there, since much of what we hear about the economy is quite negative. Even more than that, I am grateful that people extended themselves to help someone (in this case me) in need.   

Macintosh Tips and Tricks revised

For years I’ve maintained a page of Macintosh Tips and Tricks. It’s one of the most referenced pages on my blog, so someone must be using it, despite the fact that it was only up to date for Mac OS 10.5. I’ve finally gotten around to updating it for my current world. I hope it continues to be useful.

Lifestreaming clients round N

I guess two posts on lifestreaming clients isn’t enough?.

Yesterday MacHeist started offering pre public beta access to Tweetie 2 for Mac.   That caught my eye because Syrinx, my primary Twitter client has been a little slow at keeping up with Twitter features.   I didn’t really want to get the MacHeist bundle (don’t want to hassle with packages that I don’t want) just to get the private beta, but I mentioned on Twitter that I was thinking about it.   Several folks suggested that I try Echofon.   I gave it a whirl, found some things that I like and other that I didn’t.   I started keeping notes about Syrinx vs Echofon, and now it’s turned into a blog post.

My usage style / requirements

I follow a bunch of people, including many people who live in Europe who tweet while I am asleep.   I need a client that can remember unread tweets from overnight.    I’ve found very few clients that are able to do this.     My reading style tends to be bursty as well, so I want the client to do a good job of keeping track of what I’ve read and what I have not.    These two requirements are what has kept me on Syrinx – it can hold days worth of tweets without a problem.   Syrinx’s bookmark also gives me definite way of marking what has been read and what has not, and puts control of that mark directly in my hands.

The other major requirement is that I spend some time (probably too much) on airplanes, without net access.   I want a client (mostly on my iPhone) that can go back in fill in the gaps left by being in the air.   Tweetie 2 for the iPhone can do this, but the experience of switch back and forth between reading the stream on desktop Syrinx and iPhone Tweetie 2 is annoying.

A minor requirement is to be able to monitor a number of Twitter searches at once – that means opening a window for each search, something that Syrinx also does.

Now, let’s have a look at how Syrinx and Echofon stack up for me.

Syrinx

The obvious things that I like about Syrinx are that it can hold as many tweets as I want, as well as the bookmark.    I’ve also grown accustomed to the way that it displays time in absolute format, something which Tweetie 2 / iPhone also does.   One other nicety in Syrinx is that it can display real names in addition to Twitter handles, because sometimes handles and people are hard to match up.   When you have tons of tweets lying around in the? client, sometimes you want to go back to one, and Syrinx obliges with the ability to search all the tweets that it currently has in memory.

So what are the problems with Syrinx? It’s been occasionally unstable, but not in a show stopping fashion. It doesn’t have good support for lists, but I still haven’t made much use of lists. Syrinx does great on opening windows for searches, but it doesn’t remember what searches you have open, so you have to keep track of that yourself. Probably the biggest drawback of Syrinx is that its development is going slowly because its author has a day job.

Echofon

When I compare Echofon and Syrinx, I realize that a lot of the things that I prefer in Echofon are niceties. I like that it can open browser links in the background. I like the way that the drawer is used for dealing with Twitter users and profiles and for displaying conversations.   I just wish it could display more than one conversation at once – but that’s hard in the drawer model. The ability to colorize tweets matching keywords makes it easier to pick out tweets on high priority topics.    As a photographer, I appreciate the ability to display pictures without going all the way to the browser.    I do wish there was a way to get some kind of preview of those pictures right in the tweet stream.   Echofon does this clever thing where it combines “rapid-fire” tweets from the same person.   This seems to work really well, and the visual cue is definitely helpful.  

Looking at the tweet authoring side,  I love the “retweet with comment” option.   One reason that I stopped commenting on retweets was that it was annoying to do it.  No more.   Echofon can tab complete Twitter id’s when @replying or direct messaging.    I still wish for a direct message “rolodex” – there are some people who have hard to remember Twitter id’s.   bit.ly is my preferred URL shortener because of the analytics, but you have to be logged in to bit.ly in order for that to work well.   Fortunately Echofon is able to log into bit.ly accounts so that your analytics work.

In theory, I like the idea of an Echofon ecosystem that syncs the desktop and mobile clients.   I haven’t tried this yet because I have iPhone Twitter client fatigue, and because as much as I like Echofon, there are some issues that make it hard for me to switch over.

The first of these issues is that Echofon won’t hold all of the tweets that happen overnight.  It looks like Echofon will hold about 5 hours of tweets before it starts to drop them on the floor.  There go some of those European tweets.

The next big issue is that marking read/unread doesn’t work for me.  If I am scrolling up through my home tweets and I hit the top, everything gets marked read.   It’s easy to do that by accident.   Switching to the @, DM, or search tabs also marks my home tweets as all read, and that doesn’t work for me at all.

Compared to those two issues, everything else is just nits, but here goes, just to be complete.   Echofon doesn’t display absolute time or real names.    Also, Echofon doesn’t let you search your home tweets.

Wild and crazy wishes

Certain URL shortening services (su.pr and ow.ly come to mind) wrap the page in a header bar, which is annoying.  I’d love if my client would route through those services so that the URL that I got in the browser was the actual content.

Sometimes there are links that are retweeted a bunch.   I would love it if a client could compress all those retweets into a single entry which showed how many / which people I follow retweeted a link, along with an indication of whether or not I had already “read” an earlier retweeter (which would mean I had already read the link).

I guess I’ll have to do another version of this post when Tweetie 2 for Mac finally ships.   Or maybe it’s still early enough for some of these ideas to make the cut.