Tom Insam

For movieos, I'm going to try to avoid building anything like the terrifying custom CMS that powered jerakeen.org, because, although writing web apps is what I do, I've always felt terribly hampered by the power of the thing. Once you have a custom CMS, it's so easy to add more features to it. Every feature you add is probably something that you can't get anywhere else. Every time I re-wrote the thing that powered jerakeen.org, I had to reimplement more features. Every time I tried to get out of running it myself and host it on a wordpress or something, I had to give up because I couldn't get the new thing to respect some weirdness I'd done with permalinks five years ago, or it wouldn't handle both my blog and my code pages from the same templates, so it would be too much trouble to manage.

The custom code is also a pain to run. PHP isn't my thing, so I tend to write personal projects in Ruby or Python, depending on whim, and that doesn't make them easy to deploy. I have to run dedicated daemons and reverse proxy through to them from apaches, which would be fair enough for some real application somewhere, but there's not a lot of memory in this colo box. I'd rather not allocate half of it to mongrel processes. PHP looks ugly, but I'm going to learn it one of these days just because for projects of a certain size, ability to ship easily trumps just about every other consideration.

Hence Tumblr for blogging this time. I'm attracted to it for the same reason I suspect many of my friends are - it's very easy to put content into it, because of the first-class support it has for different post types, and it's very hard to customise it to any significant degree. You get to pick a template, and you get to decide if your posts get permalinks with words in, or permalinks with just numbers. End of story. Simple URLs mean that if I need to leave it at some point, it'll be easy, though I may have dug myself into a bit of a hole with the domain name.

I can't keep everything in Tumblr, though. There's a few other pages that I want to be able to manage. In the interests of starting with the simplest thing I can make work, these are currently just HTML files served out of an apache for now, and I'm going to add intelligence to them using JavaScript rather than server-side stuff whenever possible. That being said, it's nice to have something in the way of a templating engine for them, so I looked at a few modern page baking solutions, after a friend mentioned webby to me as something I should look at: webgen, jekyll, nanoc and webby.

In the end, I went for jekyll. Not for any particular reason, even, it just worked. I check all my raw pages into git, and a post-update hook on the colo updates the web checkout and runs compass and jekyll across the raw files, generating my pretty HTML.

Apache can serve it just fine, it doesn't rely on a database being up to work, and I can be confident that I can survive a slashdotting. It's also extremely simple. Let's see how long I can resist the urge to tinker with it..

All change

I’ve been using the nick ‘jerakeen’ for at least… hmmm… 13 years? A long time, anyway. It was a pretty good name, I think - it’s decently unique, quite easy to spell, it’s a slightly-obscure and yet nerdy reference, and (crucially) pretty unique; It’s been pretty easy to maintain myself as the top google hit for the word.

But that was 10 years ago. For a while now I’ve considered this whole ‘handle’ thing quite childish. And there are other Jerakeens now and the mis-addressed twitters and delicious links are getting annoying, not to mention the fact that I’d quite like my work to be associated with me. It’s clearly time to do what all the other Serious People have done, and just use my actual name everywhere.

Thus, I’m retiring jerakeen as a nick/handle/whatever it’s called. In hindsight, using the same name for myself and my domain was a mistake, so I’m retiring this domain entirely as well. I’m renaming myself on all the services that will safely let me do so, creating new accounts on most services that don’t, and just putting up with it on the few services (hi flickr!) that I’m pretty much tied to.

So, the new me can be found as

I’m going to move my web output to the movieos.org domain, which I’ve had knocking around unused for a while now. It’s in a terribly rough state, but I don’t expect I’ll break it too much. This gets me a new email address as well, which will probably be the most

This site will obviously stay around. Permalinks are important. But I’m going to bake it out to flat files and retire the terrifying CMS that powers it. Likewise, I assume I’ll keep watching the old accounts for a few months in case anything still gets @jerakeen-ed to me. And I’m sure I’ll forget things. But in so far as much as you have to pick a line and say ‘this is when I’m changing my name’? This is it.

Contact sync is scary

So what the Nexus One did was decide that my device was the Master, and the Gmail server hosting all of my contacts should be overwritten with this master content. [..] I had 5 years worth of contacts in my gmail, from so many projects and encompassing so many people I’ve met and done work with.

Alfie lost his GMail contacts. I feel for him; contact (and calendar) sync can be magic, annoying (because now you have two of everything) or _lethal_, because everything is suddenly gone, and there's no undo. But there's an important lesson here. Back things up. Just because it's in the cloud doesn't mean you don't have to have backups. It just makes doing them harder.

Going forward, our free plans will no longer provide basic moderator tools such as the ability to set official responses and topic status. These will be available as part of our entry-level package and up.

This change by Get Satisfaction seems to suddenly make it much more pointless for me to engage with my own support community. Given that my answers will no longer be considered more important than others, and I can't indicate good answers by other people, doesn't this just turn them in to a forum?

Update

From a conversation elsewhere, "[this] makes sense for GS as a profit-making company, less so as a fluffy happy site".

My point here is, their model was always having lots of free users and some will/might pay. Standard Web 2.0. Probably doesn't work well, I'll admit. But specifically, their model was for your community to organise without you, then you can step in and make it better, then you can pay if it works out and you need better tools. Whereas now your community can organise without you, then if you want to usefully engage you have to pay to sustain/curate this thing that other people have chosen for you.

Maybe your customers should be choosing your support forum for you. But I prefer marco's take on customers..

I’ve compared notes with a few other people who play MMOGs the same way, and the phrase that I keep coming back to is “I don’t just want to play alone; I want to play alone with other people around.” And I think that’s it. Other people in a game do more than just provide opponents, or someone to converse with, get to know and leave your spouse for. They’re just as much part of the experience as the level design and the thousands of wandering monsters; they all go together to create the atmosphere. Even if you’re only watching from a distance as they run back and forth between the inns, shops and questing areas, people give the impression of a bustling, breathing world that would otherwise seem empty and dead.

This is what the iPad simulator looks like on the screen of my 13" MBP. It's big. Without the chrome, it would just fit, so I guess I just have to hope for a trimmed-down version of the simulator some time.

Sorry. I’m cynical about this new email client thing that Brent has kicked off. Don’t want to be a source of stop energy. But quite aside from my normal IT‘S DOOMED instincts, I think they’re solving the wrong problem.

There are people on the list saying that an email client needs to be aware that people have 3 computers and a phone nowadays. There are people wanting it to be properly mailing-list aware so that you don’t have to set up manual filtering rules. There are people wanting it to be more understanding of current email conventions, so it (for instance) will trim automatic mailing list footers from replies so you don’t get 30 lines of repeated cruft.

But the first of these goals undermines every other clever feature. Most of the current problems with email are inherent to IMAP, because IMAP is just a heap of folders with too many configuration options (folder prefix, for instance..). IMAP doesn’t do magical mailing list filtering, so it doesn’t matter if I have a clever client that does, because my phone won’t benefit from any of it. And if I reply to a mail from my phone, the footers won’t magically get trimmed, my phone doesn’t do that. And if your phone doesn’t sync with your desktop address book, you won’t be able to compose mail to your friends anyway.

Google Mail gets this right. They don’t do IMAP except as a backwards-compatible API to their mail store. They got to start again, and properly reinvent what mail is. Mailing list and spam filtering is done on the server side, rather than relying on the client to pull down all your mail, sort it, and push it into new folders. (Yes, there are server-side filtering systems. I don’t know any GUI clients with first-class support for them.) There’s one address book, and one place for that annoying ‘people I reply to go into my address book’ setting, and my mail sig, and all those other stupid things you need to tune every time you get a new email client.

The Android GMail client is a perfect example of what a client looks like in this world. It talks to the (secret / private) GMail API, it does offline mail reading, and queues actions so you can archive / filter / whatever mails while offline and it’ll push changes later. You can read and write mail. It doesn’t try to do anything clever, because anything clever done on one client isn’t reproduced on any other client. And if I don’t have a client on my current computer for GMail, I can use a web browser, and still get all the features of the server. I use the web gmail interface for everything anyway, because it’s better than any GUI client I’ve got.

GMail is a long way from being perfect. I’m not saying it’s the Solution. Maybe you disagree with the auto-conversation threading, and there’s the large nit that you’re not allowed to write your own client on the GMail API (due to the Google terms of service, plus you’d have to reverse-engineer it anyway). But I believe that Brent’s effort is never going to produce a truly great mail client because ‘Uses IMAP‘ is one of his core requirements.

Dave Winer wants a programmable twitter client.

Unix had a shell language. DOS had a batch language. Lotus 1-2-3 had its macro language. Emacs is a programming tool as much as it is a text editor. We have gotten out of the habit of making programmable end-user products, but they are still just as important today as they were a couple of decades ago.

What if there were a relatively simple and low-power programming language built into a Twitter client that allowed power users to build their own little apps on top of Twitter.

I have a few thoughts about this. Firstly, I think the reason lots of apps don’t bother packaging a programming language any more is that programming languages are better now. The DOS batch language is horrible compared to Python. Or even Perl.

Secondly, Twitter has an API. It’s a really really easy to use API. There are clients for it in lots of languages. A unfollow-for-24-hours app would not be difficult to just write.

But more importantly, I have a programmable twitter client. Shelf already asks Twitterrific about the currently displayed tweet so it could display other data about the user. I could do this because just about every application on my preferred platform is already programmable.