Category Archives: Technology

Commentary about what happens across the country from me in Silicon Valley and other technology news.

MetaFilter on being on the wrong end of DMCA abuse

If you’re curious as to why there is such an uproar about the Stop Online Piracy Act and its companion in the Senate, the PROTECT IP Act, read Mat Howie’s post at MetaFilter, in which he describes a situation where he was targeted by a mistaken takedown notice under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and nearly lost his site completely (which comes up very rosy in comparison with SOPA and PIPA).

The DMCA is imperfect law. SOPA and PIPA are downright dangerous and unnecessarily broad. Jam your representative’s and Senators’ phone lines today!

Gillmor on SOPA: It’s not about piracy

A common thread through the SOPA drama is that Congress is legislating from a position of ignorance on how the Internet works. In a column for the Guardian today, Dan Gillmor argues the opposite:

[...] What we’re seeing does not derive from any misunderstanding. Rather, I’m convinced, this concerted push to censor the internet, through measures that would fundamentally break it, stems from a very clear understanding of what’s at stake. Indeed, legislation like Sopa, or its US Senate companion, the Protect IP Act (Pipa) – and a host of activities around the world – share a common goal. These “fixes” are designed to wrest control of these tools from the masses and recentralize what has promised to be the most open means of communication and collaboration ever invented.

I’d take this one step further and posit the question: Do you think WikiLeaks could exist in a SOPA-fied world? Not a chance.

(Also: Interesting that Gillmor frames it as an attempt to recentralize the Internet. Seems like we are doing a pretty good job of that ourselves with the current generation of social networks.)

SOPA tabled for now

Update 1/17 @ 4:21PM EST: SOPA markup will resume in February. It’s not dead yet.

SOPA has been tabled for now (though the Protect IP Act, SOPA’s contemporary, lives on in the Senate).

Pardon my cynicism, but I’m fairly sure that in an election year, no member of the House would want to be saddled with passing a bill that the public believes would censor the Internet. Something tells me this will be back (especially if PIPA presses on in the Senate) — let’s just hope there is some actual technical consultation in the next go-around (though I have yet to be convinced we need something beyond the DMCA).

Experimenting with LESS

I’ve been exploring LESS this weekend as a way to make writing CSS a much more efficient affair. So far, so very good! I’m using LESS.app for Mac OS X to compile my .less files down to CSS with each save. There are Ruby scripts and JavaScript available for interpreting LESS on the fly, but I far prefer to serve up already-baked CSS with the app, which gets bonus points for spitting out minified files. Be careful with the minifier, though, if you’re writing CSS with LESS for WordPress (try saying that three times fast) — it will strip the comment block WordPress needs to identify your theme from the CSS file. There are a couple workarounds for this; the easiest way is probably just to use a minifying WordPress plugin (I use W3 Total Cache’s minifying facility myself), or if you want your server to have one less thing to do, you can spit the minified files out to a different location, reference that location in your HTML, and just use style.css as a way to identify the theme and for nothing else. (WordPress doesn’t require you to store your styles there, but it is generally more consistent to do so.)

Using the app has another great side benefit as its compiler flags errors it finds in the code and tosses up a Growl notification with a brief explanation of the problem — so not only am I writing CSS more efficiently, I’m also writing much more error-free CSS as a result. Win-win.

Who else is using LESS (or its contemporary SASS) to write and simplify CSS?

WordPress over IM

Matt Mullenweg:

Glad to see someone still remembering how powerful it can be to get notified of social media over IM. It’s still a real shame Twitter never brought back its XMPP bot.

Head over to im.wordpress.com and get the bot if you’re into being pinged about blogs — you can subscribe to my blog using the command sub jaredwsmith.com.

A no-doubter: It’s time to stop supporting IE 6

Internet Explorer 6 usage share in the US is now below 1 percent according to Microsoft. If you’re still expending energy trying to design for IE 6, it really is time to move on. It turned 10 last year. For some perspective, the other active browsers at the time of IE 6′s release included Netscape Communicator 4.7, Netscape 6, and Opera 6. Do you still test for those?

If you’re using Internet Explorer 6 by choice, stop. You are missing out on the best the Web has to offer. If you can’t upgrade your machine from Windows XP or earlier, there are still working versions of Firefox and Chrome available for you (and IE 8 works on Windows XP, too).

And if your corporate IT policy demands Internet Explorer 6, your corporate IT department is knowingly running an insecure browser (Secunia reports at least 15% of IE 6′s known flaws remain unpatched). Who in the world would think this is sane IT policy?

IE 6 had a remarkable run largely at the expense of the advancement of Web standards. Fortunately, Mozilla disrupted things and kicked Microsoft out of cruise control and back to competing (a position from which Microsoft has historically done its best work). IE 9 was a massive improvement over any previous version of IE to date, and IE 10 is expected to be pretty fantastic standards-wise, so even if the open source alternatives aren’t palatable, Microsoft is doing a much better job on this front and should only continue to improve.

How Path is winning me over

I’m trying to get into Path more. While the idea of a social network with an extremely low friend limit (150 friends) is hard for me to grasp given my assumptions that anything I publish online is for public consumption, I’m won over by its excellent design — indeed, it has a timeline implementation that Facebook could only dream of — and its ability to be a universal publisher to the big four social sites (Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare and Tumblr).

By far the most interesting use of Path I’ve seen so far is by Jon Mitchell on ReadWriteWeb, where he uses Path to illustrate a story on his experiences serving on a jury and what they mean for the social Web. It only works, too, because Path is so well-designed and thought out.

It will be fun to watch Path’s path. It could be quite a contender in 2012.

Paul Thurrott on RIM

In a column for his SuperSite for Windows explaining why he has never covered the BlackBerry, Paul Thurrott makes a damning case for RIM’s demise:

RIM didn’t declare bankruptcy or exit the market for smart phones or anything. What they did announce, however, was that their next generation mobile OS, now called Blackberry 10, won’t ship until the end of 2012, a full year from now. This comes on the heels of one of the worst years I’ve ever seen any tech company experience, and I’d remind you that this happened during a time in which both Yahoo and HP were stumbling around blindly, looking generally foolish and without aim. RIM makes both of those companies look like huge successes by comparison.

RIM’s downfall started with the BlackBerry Bold 9000. It was a great phone, but it looked like an iPhone with a physical keyboard and was the first BlackBerry I owned with serious stability issues. RIM became reactive with the 9000 and it’s been all downhill since then.

RIM succeeded with consumers for a while because its Facebook integration outclassed everybody. If you wanted to use Facebook on a phone, you got a BlackBerry. The Pearl and the Curve were immensely popular with college students in particular in the mid-late 2000s for this exact reason. As a power smartphone user with a notification fetish, the BlackBerry more than fulfilled my purposes (and I think it may still be unmatched). Great notifications, though, are a drop in the bucket against the power and stability of modern iOS- and Android-based smartphones. The fact that the BlackBerry is still difficult to build apps for and the BES duplicates functionality and adds overhead at an enormous cost are just the nails in the coffin.

Updated at 5:15 PM with a little more context in the first graf.

WordPress 3.3 is available

WordPress 3.3 “Sonny” is out. I haven’t upgraded here just yet and might wait a few days to see how the plugin situation shakes out. There are some fantastic improvements in this release, including a drag-and-drop uploader and improvements for multi-user editing. Here’s the full changelog. I’ll let you know how my multisite installation here goes (I also run Somnambulonimbus on this instance).

Update 8:16pm EST: WordPress 3.3 is installed and running. Fast upgrade as always. If you’re using W3 Total Cache and hosting your wp-includes files on the CDN, you’ll probably run into trouble with the new toolbar (formerly known as the Admin Bar) if you’re caching aggressively. It took a few minutes for my new files to finish pushing to CloudFront, but after a couple refreshes, the proper CSS was in place and everything looked good.

Update 10:21pm EST: The WordPress download counter is always fun to watch after a new version is released. At the time of this update, it’s already been downloaded over 64,000 times. This includes in-place upgrades and .zip/.tar.gz downloads from the site, but not Subversion checkouts or one-click installs on web hosts.