Interesting Work for Interesting People

O’Reilly Press, now O’Reilly Media, has long been a publisher of quality technical books. I own at least a dozen, and I also subscribe to Safari Books Online. And if I had more time, I would keep up with more of the O’Reilly web offerings, which feature a lot of amazing content for free.

All that noted, this Inc.com profile of O’Reilly is really interesting. I had always assumed, based on what others have written about him, that he would have a larger sense of himself than he does. I either want to work for the guy or emulate him.

Louisiana at Risk if China Slows Down

Yeah, I had a *wha?* moment, too, but I came across the following information while checking out the [Business Insider](http://www.businessinsider.com/)’s [Chart of the Day](http://www.businessinsider.com/chart-of-the-day). Economists speculate that as the Chinese economy wobbles a bit — because everybody else is wobbling — a number of U.S. states/industries are more exposed to risk than others. They have ranked the states that have the worst exposure to risk from any significant slowdown in China. Of the top ten with the most exposure, Louisiana is fourth, following only behind California, Washington, and Texas.

Here is the relevant info:

> 2008 exports: $3.5 billion
> Exports to China growth, 00-08: 230%
> Top exports: Crop Production, Chemicals, Processed Foods
> Potential loser if China craps out: Dow Chemical Co. (employs 1,700)
> Source: US-China Business Council

To see all the states at risk: here’s the complete (http://www.businessinsider.com/ten-states-about-to-get-murdered-by-the-china-slowdown).

The good news here is that it is far from certain that the Chinese economy will indeed slowdown, nor is it clear how much it will slowdown.

And, yes, I read business magazines. I read them all the time.

The Future of App Stores

This essay might have also been titled *The Coming Differentiation of Trust* but that seemed like a really ugly slug.

### The (In)Security of Apps

Only on rare occasions do I wander into the territory of security, a domain I consider to be almost as complex as religious experience in America, but the recent scare on the Google Martketplace as well as the ongoing furor over the slow, and often byzantine, nature of app reviews at Apple’s iTunes Store has got me thinking about where the acquisition of apps might be going in the future.

For those who are not familiar with the news story, the gist (from USAA’s own press release):

> USAA recently stopped a software developer from selling an imposter USAA application designed for use with Google’s new Android phone. The developer had posted it for sale within Google’s Android Marketplace, but USAA took immediate action and had the application removed.

The scary part, from the point of view of victims of this fraud is that it could have captured their sensitive banking data — user id, login, password, account information — without their realizing that there was anything wrong other than the app didn’t work correctly.

One possible response to this is that Apple’s App Store is better because applications there have to pass a vetting process. A number of stories — too many to link here; I leave it to my readers to search on their own — have revealed that (1) the app store reviewers are mostly looking for applications that misbehave within the context of the operating system or misbehave in terms of the content they deliver and (2) app store reviewers are incredibly overworked and prone to make mistakes as a result.

Is there an alternative to [Google’s bazaar and Apple’s cathedral][esr]? I would argue that when it comes to applications, especially those that deal with sensitive data, there is: the vendor itself. That is, the very best place for me to download an application with which to do on-line banking is from my bank itself. Why would I want to risk either downloading from an open third-party site — be it Marketplace or VersionTracker (both fine places for software to be sure but not sites that can guarantee certain levels of trustworthiness — and nor should they be in that business)? My relationship is with my bank.

I can’t help but imagine that much the same thing would be preferable for other kinds of applications as well. After all, there already exists at least one decent platform for the [on-line distribution of games][steam]. Why wouldn’t I want to use them as well for my iPhone games?

This suggestion is sure not to go over well with Apple. After all, it looks like everyone wants to be in the content distribution/delivery business. (The middle man always makes his/her money.)

But the promise of the internet was the disintermediation of middle-men. And I think we should continue to hold out that as an ideal. Buying my software and content directly from its producers means the producers get more money and could, as a result, potentially afford to sell to me for less.

At the same time, one of the things we’ve discovered during this initial foray into disintermediation is that curation is, well, it’s nice to have. Librarians add value. Middlemen, in fact, add value. They add value in the form of potentially being objective purveyors and reviewers of comparable apps that then must compete. Functionality and features increase in such an environment, where the relationship is the more complex producer-channel-consumer as opposed to the simpler producer consumer dyad — which always seems ideal.

Middlemen are bound to proliferate in some fashion as more devices — including now things like cars (see Ford’s [Sync][sync]) for example — become capable of extending their functionality through software, i.e., apps. Middlemen offer us curation and the creation of certain kinds of trust but we are going to have accept that trust must now be differentiated: apps for my car should come from my car’s manufacturer and apps having to do with banking should come from my bank.

The flip side of “get your apps a lot of places” is the dangerous nature of just how easily people will download apps from a variety of websites or will swap things with friends and family. That is, we have not yet had a disaster of such scope and significance that most Americans practice any form of safe computing. Too many people are just too ready to click on PowerPoint slideshows or go to websites found in e-mails from people they don’t know. (Hi, mom and dad, thanks for all those PowerPoint shows! Really!)

Finally, my thanks to [Jon Gruber](http://daringfireball.net/) for writing the way he does and encouraging people like me to stretch my legs a bit.

[esr]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Cathedral_and_the_Bazaar
[steam]: http://store.steampowered.com/
[sync]: http://syncmyride.com/

Fake Steve Tells the Truth

[Fake Steve Jobs](http://www.fakesteve.net/) is a bit off my usual path, but thanks to one of those odd trails of links, I ended up at Dan Lyons’ ventriloquist act. FSJ is good for poking fun at Steve, but he is also good at poking fun at the larger tech industry. In his most recent post, he does an amazing job of not only pillorying AT&T for complaining about, of all things, pesky users who actually want to use their phones for crazy things like making phone calls and the 3G network for wacky things like moving data around, but also of pillorying corporate America in general which really does seem to have fallen into something of a malaise in the MBA era. (The re-thinking of the MBA by no less than its home, the Harvard Business School, is something for another time.)

Here’s the best two paragraphs from his [pretend dialogue with AT&T](http://www.fakesteve.net/2009/12/a-not-so-brief-chat-with-randall-stephenson-of-att.html):

> While I’m ranting, let me ask you something, Randall. At the risk of sounding like Glenn Beck Jr. — what the fuck has gone wrong with our country? Used to be, we were innovators. We were leaders. We were builders. We were engineers. We were the best and brightest. We were the kind of guys who, if they were running the biggest mobile network in the U.S., would say it’s not enough to be the biggest, we also want to be the best, and once they got to be the best, they’d say, How can we get even better? What can we do to be the best in the whole fucking world? What can we do that would blow people’s fucking minds? They wouldn’t have sat around wondering about ways to fuck over people who loved their product. But then something happened. Guys like you took over the phone company and all you cared about was milking profit and paying off assholes in Congress to fuck over anyone who came along with a better idea, because even though it might be great for consumers it would mean you and your lazy pals would have to get off your asses and start working again in order to keep up.

> And not just you. Look at Big Three automakers. Same deal. Lazy, fat, slow, stupid, from the top to the bottom — everyone focused on just getting what they can in the short run and who cares what kind of piece of shit product we’re putting out. Then somehow along the way the evil motherfuckers on Wall Street got involved and became everyone’s enabler, devoting all their energy and brainpower to breaking things up and parceling them out and selling them off in pieces and then putting them back together again, and it was all about taking all this great shit that our predecessors had built and “unlocking value” which really meant finding ways to leech out whatever bit of money they could get in the short run and let the future be damned. It was all just one big swindle, and the only kind of engineering that matters anymore is financial engineering.

Tell it, Fake Steve Jobs. Tell it.

An Open Company

Sometimes the series of connections that is the internet (not the wires but the ideas) is truly amazing. As many readers of this blog know, my editor of choice is [Textmate](http://macromates.com). Textmate made quite a hit when it premiered on the Mac platform, which up until that time really only had BBedit for users in need of a heavy-duty editor. (Was XCode available and useful then?) BBedit had a free version, but if you wanted the full version, it was expensive. Textmate was €39 — which was closer to $39 then than it is now. Textmate also possessed the amazing ability to be extended in utility by its users, who quickly proceeded to share bundles of snippeds, commands, and macros with each other.

Linux and Windows users who saw Textmate, perhaps through David Hansen’s famous Rails screencasts, wanted to know when its developer, Allan Odgaard was going to port his application over their preferred platforms. Allan steadfastly refused, and in a move that surprised everyone, seemed perfectly happy when Alexander Stigsen began to develop an editor not only a lot like Textmate but also one that could use adapted Textmate bundles — the very engine of Textmate’s success. I occasionally checked out the [E Text Editor](http://e-texteditor.com/), but because I don’t work on Linux or Windows, I never paid any serious attention.

All that has changed with Stigsen’s announcement that he is going to turn his stable, profitable, conventional software company into an [open company](http://e-texteditor.com/blog/2009/opencompany).

What does that mean? The first thing he has made the application’s source open — except for a small, central portion that he maintains as proprietary. The next step is to set up a venue in which individuals can participate and begin to feel their way around the project — the code, the tasks at hand, the procedures. What he hopes will happen is that as some individuals become more interested in working, they will find themselves commensurately compensated. (The mechanism he has planned is worth reading on his site.)

Why is this an interesting series of connections? Because these kinds of enterprises are exactly the kind of thing that I think we should not only be studying in the academy but also replicating.