Fix Outlook – On the first page of Google results please

Wednesday 24th June, 2009

This morning I was introduced to the wonderful FixOutlook.org (thanks @philhawksworth) and thought I should throw it my tiny speck of pagerank support. The short version is that Microsoft are planning on keeping on using Word for HTML rendering in Outlook 2010… which is quite broken (justification on request, I wouldn’t know where to start).

Wouldn’t it be lovely if we could get enough links pointing to fixoutlook.org that it appears on the first page of results for a Google search for “Outlook”.

As a side-point… has PageRank replaced the whole signature/petition thing? Has Twitter replaced PageRank? I love change.


This is me not claiming my Facebook URL

Tuesday 16th June, 2009

Rather than spending 5 minutes claiming my personal Facebook URL I’m going to spend 5 minutes writing a blog post. During that 5 minutes time, a statistically unlikely 165,000 people may have registered theirs.

Reasons in favour of registering a Facebook URL:

  • Vanity
  • Umm… vanity

Reasons against registering:

  • 5 minutes of life wasted (dubious benefit since I spent them doing this)
  • One step closer to Facebook being a closed monolithic identity provider
  • Obstinance

The nays have it.


Internet Explorer fails to render ' in XHTML

Friday 5th June, 2009

XHTML is a subset of XML. All XML rules should apply. Why then, in 2009, does Internet Explorer still fail to unescape the ' entity as XML dictates? Come on. It’s not complicated.

If it’s backwards compatability the IE team are worried about then surely the burden of compatability lies with page authors who wish to switch to XHTML from HTML.


Bing abbreviation of b(or)ing?

Wednesday 3rd June, 2009

I can’t comment on the technical architecture of Bing, but ultimately it doesn’t matter that much. Bing is trying to make solving a solved problem look new by adding a big photograph of a man standing on a mountain. Bing is b(or)ing. As Hugh MacLeod says, Microsoft: change the world or go home.

Maybe they can get some traffic by doing deals but ultimately a mousetrap is just a mousetrap unless it can do something other mousetraps can’t do. Until then I don’t see it making any waves.


MySpace security FAIL

Friday 29th May, 2009

MySpace store users original passwords in clear-text, and return them by email on request. Enough said really. FAIL.

For reference purposes, there are better ways to do this:

One step better: don’t return the original password (potentially revealing additional information to an attacker), just create a generated one or a one-off link that allows a new one to be created by the user.

Two steps better: don’t store the original password at all, store a one-way hash instead, that way even an attacker who compromises the DB can’t see it (assuming you do it right).


Tenuous link between economics and technology, via sociology

Monday 18th May, 2009

flatironThis morning I read yet another article about why people failed to predict the recent economic turbulence. What baffles me most about it is that I, and many others, knew exactly what was going to happen long before it did. I think the real reason most people failed to predict the crash was that they were blinded by the false security of the herd.

All the classic signs of a bubble were in place:

  • Rapidly increasing asset values
  • Commercial purchases based on future asset gains rather than realistic inc0me (i.e. rent was not increasing along with house prices)
  • The inability of intelligent people to comprehend prices going down (it sounds nuts now, but I heard this opinion so many times my skepticism gland was bled dry and red raw)

The last point is particularly pertinent I think. When participants in a market cannot accept that market prices go both up and down then you know that you’re looking at hysteria at work. All of this is described quite clearly in many books on the subject including Bubbles and How to Survive Them, by John Calverley (Chief Economist & Strategist at American Express) which described the problem long before it happened.

The tenuous tech link

Sometimes it’s hard to go against the grain, like the fund managers fired from their jobs during the Dot Com boom because they sensibly realised that tech stocks were overvalued and pulled their clients out (it’s ironic that “Cassandra” is used to put down those that predict disasters, since Cassandra’s predictions were spot-on).

In the same vein I think it’s sometimes hard to speak out against current trends in terms of development processes, or common wisdom. There are some development teams where criticism of Agile or Scrum would earn you a slow death, bound with CAT45 cable and locked in a server cage. I’ve been at the receiving end of group-think like this myself; I was once reprimanded and sidelined for being generally a bit too quick to suggest open source tools to Microsoft-centric developers. The spread of knowledge is sometimes uncomfortable.

It’s an uphill struggle but for technologists, just as for economists, we have to try and push back against our instinct for the herd-mentality.


Terminology, similarity search, and other animals

Thursday 30th April, 2009

In the walkway-level study room of my old Physics department there’s a desk, where I once found this timeless conversation etched into the surface like a prehistoric wooden version of Twitter:

Protagonist: – “You’re a mook”

Antagonist: – “What’s a mook?”

Protagonist: – “Only a mook would say that”

Aside from any revelations about the emotional maturity of undergrad physicists, I think the lesson here is that it speeds up comminucation if both parties use the same terminology and know what it means.

My area of the CBIR industry has a terminology problem. I’d like to have a vocabulary of terms to describe the apps that are emerging weekly.

Visual Search, Image Search, or Visual Image Search

We’re working on image search, of a sort, although the image isn’t necessarily the object of the search, nor does image search describe only CBIR-enabled apps. We’re searching using visual attributes of images, but “visual search” as a term has already been marked out by companies that visualise text search.

Similarity search

This one seems to hit the consumer-facing nail on the head, for some apps at least. Technologically I’d include audio search and image fingerprinting apps like Shazam and SnapTell in my term, but for consumers there may be no obvious connection so perhaps this is a runner.

Media As Search Term (MAST)

Media As SearchTerm describes for me the group of apps that use a media object such as an image or an audio clip as a search query to generate results, either of similar objects or of instances of  the same object. I think MAST sums up what I’d describe as my software peer group (media similarity and media fingerprinting apps), although it doesn’t seem as snappy as AJAX. Ah well.


Wolfram Alpha – poor user experience

Saturday 25th April, 2009

I have an apology to make. The title of this post leaves room for you to infer that I’ve actually used Wolfram Alpha… I haven’t.

What I *have* done (along with many others I’m sure) is signed up for access to their closed preview. Did I get access? Not yet. All I have so far is a series of  unfulfilled promises.

Either this was an honest oversubscription which they’ve handled badly, or it was a deliberate trick to create hype and aquire a mailing list.

Regardless of which is closer to the mark, I refer Stephen Wolfram and Hector Zenil to Seth Godin.

I suspect that in 18 months time Wolfram will be languishing in the Hall of Forgotten Hype alongside the equally world-changing Project Ginger.


Is the ‘Big Rewrite’ important to bond a new team?

Thursday 23rd April, 2009

We’ve just finished the initial rebuild of our web layer required to get Empora up and running (one day I’m going to stop shamelessly linking to our new project but today is not that day), and our team is now working much more effectively together.

It’s prompted us to think, would we have started working so well as a team if we hadn’t tackled the notorious “big rewrite” together?


Semantic Vectors – semantic indexing on top of Lucene

Thursday 23rd April, 2009

For anyone interested in adding semantic structures on top of their unstructured or semi-structured data I recently came across Dominic Widdows’ Semantic Vectors project.

It’s not a big enough project to survive the ‘contributor departure’ test, but it’s in active development and reading the code didn’t make my eyes bleed, so may be worth a look if that’s your bag.