April 15, 2013

April 15, 2013

Filed under: Personal Blog — marcstober @ 8:44 pm

So the big thing today for me was supposed to be Take Your Kids To Work Day. My company was running a really nice program for employees’ children and I had been really excited about.

I never imagined it would end with explaining to my daughter, in the elevator, that we had to leave early because Mommy was having trouble getting home from work because the trains were shut down because of a bombing at the same marathon that her teacher was running in.

It’s also Patriots’ Day in Massachusetts; tax day in every state but Massachusetts; and, starting tonight, Israel Independence Day. A planetary alignment of conspiracy fodder.

Thankfully, my wife and my daughter’s teacher both made it home safely. Although I’m honestly not thinking as much about the people who made it home (who had always expected to make it home) as I am thinking about the ones who didn’t.

March 22, 2013

Google Reader Takeout Reader

Filed under: Consumer, Information Politics, Software Blog — marcstober @ 7:24 am

Enough inkelectrons have been spilled over the Google Reader sunset. I simply offer a simple tool to take your Google Reader data from Google Takeout and convert it into a nicely formatted list of links to browse and re-bookmark/subscribe in your new favorite service (or save as a backup, even if you’ve found a new feed reading service).

Using it is as simple as unzipping your takeout file and dropping a file into the same folder.

  1. Unzip your takeout file.
  2. Download the file (right-click and “Save Link As…”) below and drop it in the Reader directory you just created (the one that has the JSON and XML files from Google).
    reader.html
  3. Double-click on the reader.html file in that directory.

This only displays part of your Google Reader Takeout data. Do not delete any other files!!!

No warranties, express or implied. None of the data in your takeout file is uploaded to me (although I may track usage of this tool).

March 17, 2013

Autonomous, Jewish, and OK

Filed under: Elsewhere, Halakhah, Judaism — marcstober @ 3:39 pm

I really like Jordana Horn’s response in the Forward to David Brooks’ New York Times piece about Orthodox Jews. And I’d like to take it a step further.

The way I’d summarize Brooks is that Orthodox Jews are “countercultural” because, well, they don’t think for themselves. They just follow the law.

I go to a Conservative synagogue, although I grew up mostly in a Reform synagogue. My father converted to Judaism, which is sometimes euphemistically called a “Jew-by-choice,” but I’d like to reclaim that term: my ideal Judaism is a religion that can stand on its own merits as a path worth choosing.

Religious law, for me, is not about following blindly, but trusting in good advice handed down from earlier generations. The Law of Gravity isn’t a something you go to jail for violating, it’s something that makes you fall down. Halakhah is a path through life that, ideally, will keep you from getting tripped up along the way.

Sometimes this means I don’t quite fit in in either the Reform or Conservative worlds. The Reform folks reject traditions that I autonomously choose. And some vocal Conservative folks believe the problem is that we don’t all keep to their ideal of Orthodox-lite: egalitarian, eating non-hechshered cheese, but still focused on obligation. (I worry that those viewpoints, while keeping a few devoted to the Conservative movement, cause a lot more to leave.)

The really successful Conservative and other non-Orthodox communities that I’ve seen understand the power in a nuanced balance between tradition and autonomy. For me, religious life includes independent thinking and shopping for Kosher food.

March 3, 2013

Usability, Backward-Compatibility, and “Three-Way” Light Switches

Filed under: Design, House Blog, Usability — marcstober @ 8:40 pm

My nine-year-old daughter commented the other day that it was confusing to turn off the living room lights because you couldn’t just push it down to turn it off, sometimes you had to push it up and sometimes you had to push it down.

Indeed. It’s a so-called “three-way” switch, the biggest crime against usability that’s been foisted upon the world. These are the type of switches you use to control a light from two locations, like both ends of a hall. They look just like a classic light switch, that you push up to turn on and down to turn off; and they sometimes work the same (at least from the user’s perspective), but other times, depending on the state of the opposite switch, they work the opposite way. To add insult to injury, they’re called “three-way” switches when they can only be used in two locations. (Three-way refers to the wiring, with three instead of the usual two wires inside. In the rare occasion you need three switches, are you surprised that you need a four-way switch?)

As an aside, the typical toggle switch doesn’t offend me. Paddle switches with screwless wallplates are nice, but not necessary; I just want to fix the usability issue.

One solution would be a single push-button switch. In an example of what was old is now again, the 1950’s house I lived in as a child in the 1980’s had Honeywell Tap-Lite switches. (At least it did at first, my first exposure to electrical wiring was when my dad had to replace some 30 year old switches that failed.) Recently, Legrand has introduced push-button switches in its Adorne line. I think I might use these in my house.

An even better solution would be a switch that you could simply always push down to turn off. It could spring back to the center position, so if the switch at other end of the room was used it wouldn’t end up in the wrong position. But I haven’t seen such a switch for normal residential use.

The amazing thing is that all these switches are backward compatible. The living room switches above were a replacement for the original 1920’s two-button switches that failed after over 90 years of service! I like the character of those old switches (and there are reproductions available now), although the three-way version did have the same usability issue. But, I was able to swap out the 90 year old part with little more than a screwdriver. I think about this when I see USB charging ports that you can hard wire into your house now–will any new hardware and software of today be as compatible at the dawn of the 22nd century?

February 4, 2013

A confession about that GoDaddy ad

Filed under: Consumer — marcstober @ 9:44 am

I’m coming out of the closet. I’m straight. I like women.

I say this because the reaction to the GoDaddy Super Bowl ad makes it seem like this is something to be ashamed of.

The same parts of blogo-twitter-space that would gush about Anne Hathaway’s latest movie, Project Runway, or the dresses on the red carpet suddenly declare that the idea that hot female celebrities would actually appeal to certain proclivities of the straight male is somehow shameful.

It’s like the emperor has no clothes; the only thing I find really explicit about GoDaddy’s ad is that they’re the only ones who actually say that sexy sells.

Ordinarily I’d be offended by sexism in a professional technology context, like a trade magazine or conference. I’ll retract this article if you show me that GoDaddy actually expects its male and female network engineers to look and act like the characters in the ad! But this is the Super Bowl, with cheerleaders and Beyonce, and they’re selling a commodity product to a mass market. Come on.

In fact, the thing about the ad that attracts me as a customer means they’re a financially secure enough company to run a Super Bowl ad. I’ve been burned by going with a darling of social media when they went out of business, taking my website down with them.

January 29, 2013

Anne Frank and Amanda Todd

Filed under: Judaism, Social Justice — marcstober @ 12:15 am

Like a lot of teenagers, I read Anne Frank’s diary as a teenager, and what stuck with me was this idealistic quote:

in spite of everything I still believe that people are basically good at heart

Recently, I was thinking about that, and that maybe it’s not true. But, you know, I didn’t want to disrespect the memory of Anne Frank, or of all the teachers who influenced me and held that diary up as an important work to teach values to their students.

Then I heard about Amanda Todd (via Jeff Jarvis). A teenage girl who died because people were basically awful. So, I don’t think Anne Frank has the last word on this any more.

Most of the time, people are basically good, and you can expect them to be. But sometimes, they’re not. And it’s important to remember that.

January 1, 2013

2012: The Year I Gave Myself Permission to Succeed

Filed under: Uncategorized — marcstober @ 11:58 am

A lot changed in 2012, because I gave myself permission to do so.

I bought a new car and a new laptop (and a Mac, at that).

I went to two conferences: the Jewish Futures Conference in New York, and an Interaction Design course at one of Neilsen/Norman Group’s events.

Finally, I started a new job at Vistaprint at the end of the year.

The common theme is that these were all things I’d previously told myself I couldn’t, or shouldn’t, do.

I’d told myself I shouldn’t spend this sort of money on myself. I’d told myself that jetting to a conference with a Macbook or working at a household-name e-commerce company were things that only the “cool kids” could do.

And I told myself, as I always had, that I was one of the unpopular kids. I came up with moral reasons to justify to myself why I didn’t buy the tech I wanted, the car we needed, or go after the career opportunities I was ready for.

But I was lying to myself if I said that I didn’t go for more because I really didn’t want it. So I faced my fears, and I succeeded.

November 13, 2012

NEMUG Presentation on Test Driven Development

Filed under: Software Blog — marcstober @ 6:00 pm

View tonight’s presentation to NEMUG entitled “Test Driven Development with %UnitTest.”

Download as a ZIP file.

November 7, 2012

The Right to Tinker and Make Stuff

Filed under: Consumer, Politics, Software Blog, Uncategorized — marcstober @ 9:16 am

I’m amazed by the overwhelming 85% support for Question 1, “Right to Repair,” in Massachusetts.

Here’s a summary of the question (from boston.com):

Should auto makers be required to give owners access to the same diagnostic and repair information that dealers and authorized repair facilities have?

I suppose people will vote yes on this because they expect it will hit them in the pocketbook when they get their car serviced. But it’s also a vindication that people don’t think it’s wrong, and shouldn’t be illegal, to do what you want with stuff you’ve bought. I thought maybe I was crazy or at least living in a tech bubble from hearing that our elected leaders favor things like SOPA or TPP. Years ago I wrote to Barney Frank on the issue, and he strongly disagreed with me. And what to make of Chris Dodd’s new job?

Now, here are some more referendums I’d like to see pass:

  • People should have the right to jailbreak their devices. (This is now legal for iPhones–but not iPads nor other devices–because of a bureaucratic exception, not by right in the law.)
  • People should have the right to copy DVD’s to their iPad (without paying extra for a “digital copy,” like I did with the last DVD I bought).
  • People should have the right to keep, permanently, a book they’ve bought on their Kindle; it’s not a rental.
  • People should have the right to bring a book home with them from an overseas trip. It should be clear in the law this isn’t the same as a mass counterfeiting operation.
  • People should have the right to put their dancing baby video on the Internet without licensing the music on the radio in the background.
  • Girl Scouts should have the right to sing Happy Birthday at camp, without relying on the forebearance of those who could sue them.
  • People should have the right to create their own prayerbook with their church/synagogue’s liturgy, and not be told not to share it.

By the way, I don’t jailbreak my iPhone, and I take my car to the dealer for service. But I like to have that choice.

October 31, 2012

A Response About Ephemera From a Software Developer

Filed under: Software Blog — marcstober @ 5:36 am

The cover story of the Ideas section in this past Sunday’s Boston Globe talks about how academics use ephemera—for example, handwritten notes in the margins of books—and whether anything like it will survive from the digital age.

Those of us who create digital information technology, software engineers, understand the problem well and have our own solutions. Most software code is still written in simple text files, or encoded in open formats like XML. Every computer language has a way to insert comments, so its author can explain what they were thinking. We use version control so there’s a record of earlier drafts of our work. And we often publish our work as open source on sites like GitHub so that those who come after us will be able to use our work.

Why don’t other fields do the same?

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