Category: Projects

Web 2.0 Databases

One thing I noticed in interviews recently is the shift in focus for the candidates. It's been a while now that tech has shown itself resilient to the overall downturn in the economy, so we have been living in and with a candidate market (vs. employer market). One of the many reasons cited by people to turn you down is simply lack of technological fit. In particular, people are really fond of their infrastructure.

If you have a Ruby on Rails person in front of you, it's like the good old days when you had to talk to a Forth Dimension geek. Ruby is perfect, and Rails makes it sublime. PHP people are not happy with PHP alone any longer, now they swear by CakePHP or some other framework. Java folks won't even talk to you if you don't use JBoss.

All in all, this is a good development. There has been way too much investment in reinventing the wheel, and a rational approach that reuses concepts and code is of enormous value. At the same time, though, all the frameworks strike me as ill-concieved in some form. They work fine as long as it's five people using them, but they don't scale well at all.


Frustration = Opportunity

Thinking about it, people move into something new only if the old is not working for them any longer. If that's the case, then frustration is the driver of innovation to a much larger extent than the realization of opportunity. The interesting thing about this notion is that frustration is measurable, while opportunity is not.

You can ask people what they don't like about the world around them. Usually they won't give you accurate information, since they have no understanding of their own pain – but that still beat asking yourself what opportunities there are out in the world. Even when you find an opportunity, you'll have a hard time selling it to others if there is no pain associated with it; that's my summarizing of the Internet bubble: solutions to problems nobody had. 


Open Services

Frustration is the mother of open source and has always been. You have a problem that is solved in a deficient way by the free market (which is not free as in beer or as in speech, it's free as in fall). You think to yourself: I can do this better. You start working on it but quickly realize you really can't do it by yourself. So you enlist a bunch of people to work on it for free (as in beer) in return for complete freedom (as in speech) to divulge what you have collectively built.

Frustration with the free market, though, is not limited to software products. Anywhere you find an oligopoly there is frustration, and that's pretty much in the entire community and culture these days. People express frustration about the art they are perceiving ("The Crap That Comes from Hollywood"), about the roads they are driving, but most importantly (because I have an idea on how to solve the frustration) in services.

If you've ever used a cell phone, please tell me how satisfied you are with your provider.  I am with Verizon, which has a decent enough network, but which thinks any reason is good enough to gouge my eyes out in extra fees. $3 for a ten second clip of a song as ring tone? Verizon, you should be ashamed of yourself! $36 for activating a phone? Boo! 


Facebook apps – personals

I have been following the ascent of Facebook, just like everyone else in the Bay Area that likes technology. The advent of a company that does so much so well is astonishing, especially after considering all the competitors that didn't do so well.

In particular, Facebook opened up their own application to third party app developers. They provided a series of APIs that allow geeks to create add-ons that use the Facebook database and integrate into its user interfaces and communication mechanisms.

Most of the apps that came out early on were simple dissemination gadgets. It was about "infecting" your friends and creating as wide a circle as possible. This is in direct response to the concept of the social graph that is so close to the company's founder. 


Autonomous Surveillance Camera

An interesting project for the house in Hawaii – something totally exciting because it's easy to use, yet very marketable. Something I would need myself, and something I absolutely know how to build. It's the perfect project for the time after I quit, hopefully tomorrow.

My frustration with surveillance of my place in Ninole is growing. I never have the slightest idea in what state the house is, and it's something I'd really like to know. The problem is that I have no power here, not Internet connection outside of Verizon Wireless, so it's not easy to get a camera installed.

The idea is to combine three things:

  • A standard webcam to take pictures
  • A standard power generating device, like wind or solar
  • A standard network connection, like VW WAN or WiFi

Combine the three with a Linux computer and a little software, and voila, you have a remote surveillance camera.

Well, not really, you still need two more things: a computer that runs the whole setup (of course using Linux, with which I have made wonderful experiences), and a web service that allows you to set the configuration for the camera and that accepts the camera's pictures.

It's a hot idea: you configure the little device, install it, and then you run off to your web site to check on your camera. Of course, if something malfunctions you are screwed, but after all, you bought the best camera on the market for precisely that reason!!!

The device is perfect for anyone that needs a camera outdoors – do you need to check on your chickens? Want to know who's at the front gate of your compound? Interested in freeway traffic? I think it's a really wonderful opportunity, especially because the need for service is automatic. 

Open Source Phone Network

QTopia Greenphone (linked from Trolltech site)Granted, this is not originally my idea, but I cannot find where I read about it, so please get in touch with me if you know the source.

My frustration with mobile phone networks is growing. My own provider does a few nasty things:

  • Voice mail setup is idiotic: you have to enter your password even if the call dropped and you get in again; you have to listen through the introductory message even though you know the menu options
  • Contracts are bizarre: if you like the two year option, you'll be happy, but why?
  • Surcharges are unreasonable: come on, I get 5000 free  minutes, but you charge me per SMS? How stupid do you think I am?
  • Features are crippled: how come my phone can play my MP3 all day long, but I have to use your (expensive) MP3 for ring tones?

Of course, the answer to all these deficiencies is that it's a way for the carriers to make more money. they compete on the base price, and jack up the charges for anything they consider non-standard.


Running iPodLinux

Call me crazy, call me a fool, just don't call me late for dinner! I just bought a 30GB iPod Video 5.5G for the sole purpose of running iPodLinux and RockBox on it. I am sick of my iPod (Nano), and I am more than interested in creating something that is more user-friendly than the thing I am using. 

iPodLinux is a fairly new project, and it hasn't been successful in porting a lot of stuff. Just the right moment for a geek like me to start working on it – I can contribute a lot of userland experience, and don't have to deal (a lot) with boring hardware internals. Additionally, I get to implement some of the things I always wanted to do – like skip-playing (which allows you to listen to songs more frequently if you listened to them without skipping), mood-playing (recognizing that you enter moods where you want to listen to the same set of songs over and over again). In short, I want to implement intelligent skip recognition. Maybe stuff like if you rewind the same song more than twice, you probably want to put it into infinite loop until you are sick of it and play forward.

There is lots to do in music land – and the companies that run the show don't know how to do that. Probably because they never listen to songs…