Compressed

The probabilistic guarantees of a web browser

We’ve all been there. Something goes all sideways in our browser and we’re stuck with a spinning throbber as the fan kicks into overdrive. Tempted to see what might be going on, we roll up our sleeves and pop the virtual hood and our world goes from rainbows and unicorns into a stinky mess of barbwire orc-speak of the Inpect Element window.

James Mickens, writing for ;login: magazine, has a style of writing all his own. His last column for the magazine is a tour de force of the current state of HTML and how the whole thing is a teetering mess that can easily come tumbling down.

Each browser is reckless and fanciful in its own way, but all browsers share a love of epic paging to disk. Not an infrequent showering of petite I/Os that are aligned on the allocation boundaries of the file system—I mean adversarial thunder-snows of reads and writes, a primordial deluge that makes you gather your kinfolk and think about which things you need two of, and what the consequences would be if you didn’t bring fire ants, because fire ants ruin summers. Browsers don’t require a specific reason to thrash the disk; instead, paging is a way of life for browsers, a leisure activity that is fulfilling in and of itself. If you’re not a computer scientist or a tinkerer, you just accept the fact that going to CNN.com will cause the green blinky light with the cylinder icon to stay green and not blinky. However, if you know how computers work, the incessant paging drives you mad. It turns you into Torquemada, a wretched figure consumed by the fear that your ideological system is an elaborate lie designed to hide the excessive disk seeks of shadowy overlords. You launch your task manager, and you discover that your browser has launched 67 different processes, all of which are named “browser.exe,” and all of which are launching desperate volleys of I/Os to cryptic parts of the file system like “\roaming\pots\pans\cache\4$$Dtub.partial”, where “\4$$” is an exotic escape sequence that resolves to the Latvian double umlaut. You do an Internet search for potential solutions, and you’re confronted with a series of contradictory, ill-founded opinions: your browser has a virus; your virus has a virus; you should be using Emacs; you should be using vi, and this is why your marriage is loveless.

This choice bit is from, To Wash it All Away. There’s more where this came from. Someone pulled together a collection of a few choice essays over on MSDN which includes such gems as, Mobile Computing Research Is a Hornet’s Nest of Deception and Chicanery. Prose that only a frustrated Microsoft researcher could spawn. Peals of laughter, tears of joy – go read him now.

Getty Images Opens Up

Getty Images added embed icons to 35 million photos in their collection. Not all images are available for embed (look for the icon). Images are for non-commercial use only and you need to use their embed code which adds the frames you see below.


Unable to close the barn door, Getty material was finding its way online into Google Image search which crawled sites that had properly licensed the images. The explosion of social media has accelerated secondary use via “right-click/save” so this was largely Getty reading the writing on the wall.

Getty Images is smart to do this. By providing a superior image search to Google and a simple way for people to use their images, they gain control of their assets again and wrap some marketing around its use, taking advantage of free distribution that was already happening. All the embeds point back to gettyimages.com so it’s great for SEO and exposure for the vast selection they have available. Getty Images has also said they will collect data on where the photos are used to improve their service which adds an important crowd sourcing to their ranking algorithms. Finally, buried in the Terms of Service is, “the right to place advertisements in the Embedded Viewer or otherwise monetize its use without any compensation to you.” The Nieman Journalism Lab ponders where Getty is going with this,

Aha! The data collected could have internal use (measuring what kinds of images are popular enough to invest in more stock photos, for instance). But they could also help with those ads. Imagine a day, five years from now, with Getty photo embeds all over the web, when they flip the switch — ads everywhere. Maybe there’s a photo equivalent of a preroll video ad and you now have to click to view the underlying image. Or a small banner on the bottom 90px of the photo.

And imagine your website has used a lot of Getty embeds over the years — enough that Getty can actually sell ads specifically targeting your website, using all that data it’s gathered. Or imagine there are enough Getty embeds that it could sell ads only on photos of Barack Obama, or only photos about Cajun music, or only photos about restaurants in Kansas City. You can start to see the potential there. Think of how many YouTube videos were embedded on other websites before Google ever started putting ads on them.

Embedded widgets used to be all the rage but they fell out of fashion as social networks became the place to share social objects. Getty is late to the game unless everybody gets sick of Facebook and fires up their own WordPress site. Notice how the sharing icons for the Getty Images are only for Twitter and Tumblr, the most open of all social networks.

Finally, what about all the folks that check the box on Flickr allowing their photos to be licensed by Getty Images like Phoenix Wang who took the photo above? Their works will now be used freely to help market the Getty service. On the plus side, clicks thru on the image will bring up options to license hi-res images for a fee so it’s not a total loss for the Flickr crowd. I wonder if the inclusion of the Tumblr share icon was a condition of including the Flickr photos in this deal?

The threat of ads running in the footer of the embed makes the service a non-starter for me but if you do want to use these images (which really are stunning), note that you can muck around with the width/height values in the embed code to change the dimensions of the image as I did below. It’s also possible to cover up the footer entirely but that would probably be frowned upon by the folks at Getty.

Apple iOS Carplay

So it begins – iOS CarPlay

Announced at last year’s WWDC, Apple revealed today that CarPlay, the integrated iOS platform for in-dash entertainment and navigation will be shipping in 2014 models by Ferrari, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo. Notable in its absence was Tesla.

The ecosystem will limit apps to approved partners so it’s Siri for voice and Apple Maps for navigation. Music is open to 3rd party alternatives to iTunes with icons for Spotify, iHeartRadio and the newcomer Beats Music. Missing at today’s launch is Pandora.

While a touchscreen launches each app, Siri is now front and center as the main way to interface with each application. I’ve been using Siri to text short messages to my wife while driving and have been pleased with the results.

Automakers have largely failed to open up their APIs and create any sort of developer ecosystem around applications that interface with their cars. The Prius had a healthy hacking community but it was mostly fringe forum chats about hidden menus and easter eggs. People seem reluctant to brick their Teslas.

Will the app ecosystem play into which car you’ll buy next? We all wait for Apple’s entry into the battle for the living room but the opening shots in the battle for the dashboard have just been fired.

Keep the internet ephemeral, distributed, and anonymous

apple as big brother

The internet is full of old hands that were around during it’s renaissance and are keepers of that spirit. Maciej Cegłowski (Idlewords, Pinboard) is one of those keepers and his writings poke fun at the establishment, elevate the strange, and celebrate the possible. His recent rant about keeping the internet free and clear of centralized authority is not to be missed. Tucked into a broader ramble exploring the tragic life of Russian inventor, Lev Sergeyevich Termen, he reminds us of what we used to have and what we could lose if we stop paying attention.

Orwell imagined a world with a telescreen in every room, always on, always connected, always monitored. An Xbox One vision of dystopia.

But we’ve done him one better. Nearly everyone here carries in their pocket a tracking device that knows where you are, who you talk to, what you look at, all these intimate details of your life, and sedulously reports them to private servers where the data is stored in perpetuity.

[...]

When I was in grade school, they used to scare us with something called the permanent record. If you threw a spitball at your friend, it would go in your permanent record, and prevent you getting a good job, or marrying well, until eventually you’d die young and friendless and be buried outside the churchyard wall.

What a relief when we found out that the permanent record was a fiction. Except now we’ve gone and implemented the damned thing. Each of us leaves an indelible, comet-like trail across the Internet that cannot be erased and that we’re not even allowed to see.

Mr. Cegłowski also operates the twitter feed for Pinboard

 

and has written many other fanciful thought pieces (The Alameda-Weekhawken Burrito Tunnel is a classic) on his blog, Idlewords.

Bay Area Negitive Equity Flood Zones

Another map mashup. This one not as pretty.

We just refinanced and collapsed two mortgages into one and locked the whole thing down to a fixed rate mortgage (if you’re looking for a mortgage broker, Anthony Ingoglia is your man) to avoid the 2nd loan adjusting upward upon it’s 10th year anniversary. A lot of people were in the same boat as us, taking out a 2nd in order to be able to afford to move into their home back when the market was booming in 2004. The first round of adjustments hit us three years ago in 2009 when the 5/1 loans adjusted. Another group hit when the 7/1 adjusted. The final round will hit when the 10/1s like ours adjust.

Those that are unable to refinance because their homes are underwater are going to get hit and on the map above you can see where the flood waters of negative equity will hit. It’s not a pretty picture.

Google Maps Gallery

10 years ago, when I was looking for a place to live, I had three maps to help me zero in on where to look. I was concerned with schools so I had a map from greatschools.org along with a school district map showing which houses served which schools. I then had a real estate map from realtor.com that showed the price of houses in the area. Back then the wish was to overlay the two maps on top of each other and, indeed, some of the original mashups which kicked off the Web 2.0 movement were driven by these types of demands.

Since then, the Google Maps teams has been busy pulling in all sorts of layers together and have gathered them all together into their Google Maps Gallery which launched today. There’s a load of things to get lost in (including the overlay of San Francisco in 1938 shown above).

Read their blog post to learn more.

HMB-1 at Bay Ship

We can neither confirm nor deny. . .

The strange origin of the Glomar Response and its relation to a shipbuilder in Alameda.

We finally got a decent Winter storm here in California which meant that instead of my usual train/ferry & bike commute I had to shlep it home on a bus to stay dry. The bus is comfortable but it involves a good 60 minutes so it’s a good time to catch up on podcasts.

Today I listened to a fascinating piece which told the story of the “Glomar Response” which is that foggy response that a PR flack gives when they want to answer a question with a non-response.

“We can neither confirm nor deny the existence of. . .”

When did such a phrase come about? What were the circumstances that required someone to come up with such a turn of a phrase? The good folks at Radiolab dug in and found the answer. Give it a listen, it’s an amazing piece of cold war yarn.

Here’s the Alameda connection. A sister ship to the Hughes Glomar Explorer was the HMB-1. This was basically a floating dry dock which had ballast tanks that would flood and submerge the dock underwater beneath the Explorer. Inside was the massive claw device used to grab the submarine mentioned in the story. The sub could then be pulled into the docking bay while it’s still underwater and the HMB-1  surfaced and the retractable roof pulled back over on top, all the while hiding it’s cargo from the prying eyes of Soviet spy satellites. It’s all very James Bond.

Later, the HMB-1 was commissioned by the Navy for the Sea Shadow, an experimental ship built back in the 80′s when stealth technology was all the rage.

Sea Shadow.jpg

This would have been an excellent race barge for Team Oracle.

The HMB-1 was designed to hold this top secret boat, again, to keep it from prying eyes between engagements.

Sea Shadow at rest

The Sea Shadow never was produced and it, along with it’s floating/submersible covered dry dock was eventually mothballed in Suisun Bay north of Martinez.

The Alameda connection takes place several years later when the Navy decides to auction the whole package off.

Even though Bay Ship & Yacht Company would eventually be awarded the vessel, the company’s bid wasn’t the highest. “The highest bidder was a Chinese outfit, I believe,” Cameron said. “Even though the Sea Shadow project had been declassified, there were still some privacy issues, so the government didn’t want to sell her to a foreign entity.”

“And the second highest bidder, which was a company in the Gulf Coast, backed out when they realized how much it would cost to move her down there. We actually wrote it off as ‘not gonna happen’ when we found out we’d been outbid. Then we got a call a month later letting us know she was ours if we still wanted her.”

The $2.5 million price tag was small compared to the $15-$20 million that it would cost to build a new traditional dry dock, which Bay Ship & Yacht had been considering for some time. “And we wouldn’t have that cover, which makes HMB-1 such a strong and unique piece of equipment,” Cameron said. He estimates that to build HMB-1 now would cost upwards of $50 million.

The biggest challenge that shipbuilders and ship repairers face with traditional open-air dry docks is weather. Rain (or any moisture) and wind can bring a job to a screeching halt, making income harder to come by during winter months. “HMB-1 is definitely going to be an asset in that respect this winter,” Cameron said. “But it’s the ability to be more efficient and the environmental aspects that we’re all really excited about.”

 - Bay Ship & Yacht Repurposes Top-Secret CIA Project to Go Green

Bay Ship & Yacht Company is, “one of America’s leading service, refit and new construction yards for superyachts and commercial vessels” based on the old naval base on the West end of Alameda. If you have ever taken the ferry over to the Alameda Antique Fair or visited Rosenblum winery, you can see the HMB-1 docked right next to the ferry terminal.

HMB-1 at Bay Ship And now you know.

Further Reading:

History of the HMB-1 (Hughes Mining Barge)
Virtual Tour of the Sea Shadow
Flickr set of the HMB-1

a blog by Ian Kennedy