14 Jul

Web Services and APIs Need to Advertise Their Health Status

It seems everything is now being turned into an off-the-cloud service, and as a case in point StatusPage.io launched in 2013 to let companies outsource their availability dashboards. They already have lined up a nice customer roster, with a monthly runrate now above $30K. It is rewarding to see best practices becoming so obvious and prevalent that they turn into products in their own right, though it often takes a bit longer than you might first expect for things to bloom to full maturity.

This entry started with a 2004 post, and spans more than a decade since I started advocating for API and web service providers to provide transparency into their operations. Check out how things propagated, starting with the latest developments:

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28 Jun

Smartphones: Time to Go Direct

The likes of Dell and Gateway exploded on the PC scene in the late 80s/early 90s by streamlining their supply chain, thinking of themselves as OEM assemblers rather than manufacturers, and selling direct to customers, at the time mostly by phone (we’re talking pre-web era here!). This became known as the Wintel model, where you don’t buy an IBM computer as much as you buy an OS/CPU combo at the best value, the PC brand being a commodity.

25 years later, some players are taking a somewhat similar approach in the smartphone world. And it’s high time this happened. Read More

22 Jun

Saas Integration Trends & Players

Note: entry originally published in November 2014, maintained regularly since then.

By definition Software as a Service is easier to roll out than on-premises software because you don’t have to install it on your own servers, let alone desktops or mobile devices. This favors a best-of-breed approach rather than picking monolithic suites from the same vendor. That alone is a big market shift from the steamrolling that Microsoft was able to inflict in the 90s on the desktop with Office, and to a lesser extent on servers with what was then known as BackOffice. Over the past decades, IBM became DEC, Microsoft became IBM, Google became Microsoft, and a thousand SaaS players are now blooming – though none of them has quite become the next Google yet. Facebook and Apple, consumer companies at heart, are shunning this market for the most part .

As of the mid 2010s there’s SaaS not just for broad enterprise functions such marketing, sales, or HR, but it’s also getting very granular within these functions. The “tech marketing” space has been booming for years with ever more targeted applications (split tests for freemium mobile games anyone?) mushrooming every day, while other functions such as HR have been receiving increased attention as of late.

Which means team, departments and whole organizations increasingly need to integrate this plethora of applications, especially if they’re trying to, say, build a common view of their customers.Like most things SaaS, Salesforce has led the charge years ago to the point of turning into a platform. Beyond granddaddy SFDC, the marketplace has responded with the emergence of SaaS middleware, as well as an increased number of bilateral integration efforts among vendors.  This is what this entry is about. Read More

21 Jun

Turbo-Made in China

I first posted here in 2007 about Andrew Shane Huang’s great coverage of manufacturing and technology in China, especially the street availability of electronics components. I hadn’t kept close tabs on him, and I see that he’s kept going strong for the past decade. He’s recently crowdfunded the printing of a sourcing book, as well as appeared in well-made videos by Wired UK, embedded below. Well worth checking him out, see also What $50 Buys You at Huaqiangbei, the World’s Most Fascinating Electronic Market. Read More

21 Jun

Out-of-Left-Field Idea of the Day: Google Broadband

Over the past decade, the headline of this entry, first published in October 2004, seemed less and less outlandish. By March 2014, Larry Page had made that a very explicit goal, echoing Bill Gates’ earlier promise of a computer on every desk and in every home. Here is how the idea that Google would get into the internet access business – as a fundamental enabler to bigger things, not in a Comcast incumbentish (hereby a word) way – turned into reality over the years: Read More

20 Jun

Why You Want to Develop in Production-Like Conditions, and How to Do it with Vagrant or Docker

Note: entry originally published in March 2014, with numerous edits and additions since then. As of September 2016 I’ve started moving to Docker for my local dev needs.

Like many people developing with WordPress, I initially used XAMPP to run a Linux/Apache/MySQL stack under Windows. This beats developing directly off a remote server by a long stretch (in case anybody still does that), but it turns out to be quite a hassle as you wrestle with / vs \ in paths and other discrepancies between the Unix and Windows worlds. Developing in an environment as close to production as possible ends up being a much better choice. Popular free tools to do so are:

  • VirtualBox to run other operating systems within your own
  • Vagrant to manage development environments within VirtualBox
  • Puphpet, a wizard-like interface to help set up Vagrant through Puppet automation scripts. Phansible does the same but using Ansible.

Yes, these work somewhat like Russian dolls, as modern web development has a severe case of tools to set up tools to set up tools. It can get a little crazy at times, so you want to find the sweet spot where you gain efficiency without becoming a slave to your toolset (which is supposed to save you time in the first place). Getting this up and running is a big enabler for continuous integration, and why you would want to think and develop that way is the topic of a separate entry.

In this post I’ll share some practical details to contribute a little back to the open source community and not just consume its benefits passively.  The end result is a fully functional Unix environment serving a WordPress website locally on a Windows PC, across a whole local network.

This entry is written from the perspective of “Unix as a foreign language” from a Windows native. It does assume that you have read the basics about VirtualBox and Vagrant, and focuses on common roadblocks that I’ve encountered along the way. As always, the key to learning a whole new way of doing things is to break it down in small digestible chunks. Read More

27 May

State of Google As of 2016: AI, Mobile, Auto – For Real?

As a user, it’s hard not to notice that these days, Android apps such as Google Now, Maps, Waze, or Contacts, are increasingly integrated behind the scenes in a way that reduces friction and just surfaces up the information you need when you need it. This often happens with little to no explicit user input, which can be spooky at times, but it works. Black Mirror and Her are warning us not to fall for it, but I’m sure we’ll let the computer overlords take over anyway because it’s just too convenient and we’re just too lazy.

Thus taking for granted that for better or worse, we’re not going to opt out from being babysat by AIs, here are some notes on where’s Google at.

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30 Mar

Will Caixin Preserve Its Editorial Independence?

Note: this entry was first published in early 2014 and partially updated since then.

I don’t speak Chinese, so I rely on English editions of Chinese media to have a bit of a local perspective. The state-owned media such as Xinhua tends to run pure propaganda right out of their government/party/military masters. It’s so laughably bad it’s good. There is some fledgling independent media though, and among them I’ve been reading Caixin with interest for a while. I think Western media – and its media about the media – should stop their navel gazing and pay more than token attention to events such as China Media Capital (CMC) taking a stake in Caixin Media at the end of 2013.

There is of course some amount of Western reporting, and meta reporting, on this, but it tends to be ghettoized in sections about China/Asia. Approaching such issues primarily through the lens of geography strikes me as somewhat provincial, but this may reflect audience preferences that publishers don’t dare challenge. Read More

17 Mar

How I Save Time with the Right Shortcuts, Handpicked Apps, and Finetuned Hardware [Spring 2016 update]

Over many years I’ve found a lot of good hardware and neat apps that work well together. In the spirit of the setup and how I work interviews, here’s my advice on picking desktop hardware, some of my favorite software, and various productivity shortcuts, all of which may prove useful to other multi-monitor Windows users who work with a wide variety of applications.

Warning: this is a relatively geeky entry, but these recommendations are the fruit of years of hard-won experience! Beyond advice about specific products, I hope you’ll get some broadly applicable help out of this entry, as technology adoption is a madness that requires method. Read More