LEVI/FIGUEIRA/blog

Open Knowledge - A Concept

How many times have you benefited from open source software? And I mean that as a developer: how many times have you benefited, either personally or professionally, from open source code? Now, how many times have you benefited from open and free knowledge? And I also mean that both personally and professionally…

I remember when we first got Internet: 1998, 33.6kbps modem, single phone line at home. My Internet time was limited to a sliver, right between the time my mom would either call or get a call from her mom, shortly after dinner, and the time my dad would need to make some international calls (because timezones). From the day one of being online at home, I remember being drawn to the immense readily available knowledge. Most people were excited about email, chat and getting their news online (instant communication), but I clearly remember devouring tutorials and forums. Shortly after being online, I found about and started using Linux. I also discovered a passion in hardware and overclocking, with the safety net of countless expert peers. It was armed with countless tutorials and guides that I first ventured into web programming (XHTML/DHTML yo!). Heck: I used to print hundreds of pages of freely available tutorials and books just for the (false sense of) security that the physical representation of that virtual knowledge provided me even when offline. Don’t get me wrong: libraries and resource centers had been around for centuries, but this felt very different and a lot more convenient.

As I look back at the past ~16 years that I have been online, I can’t help but feel slightly guilty. Guilty because, even though I have participated in countless IRC chats and forum threads, I have never taken the initiative to compile information I have discovered myself. Linking to content sources is fine and easy (both when programming or when learning) but contributing with new concepts or refining existing knowledge has never been something I took seriously… and that is sad.

Like me, I’m sure a lot of you have never contributed back to the community in any structured way and that, in many cases, defined you. Personally, and because I’m a perfectionist tinkerer, I feel like my “experiments” are never ready to be published. If you ask any programmer considering contributing to an open source project or open sourcing their own code, the feelings are identical.

I want to challenge myself to start writing, screencasting, recording or podcasting my findings, new or development of existing ones. My areas of interest are extremely varied, and that shouldn’t frighten me: computer hardware and overclocking, programming, system architecture, cars and racing, etc… I need to convince my lizard brain that the extra time it takes to do so is my humble contribution back to the world. The reality is, I know I’ll benefit from it in a lot of ways (consolidated and solidified knowledge–that’s a fact–and a personal knowledge database/reference) but that shouldn’t be my main motivation. I look at it sort of like code documentation: it will slow me down in the short term, but tremendously benefit me and others in the long run.

Have you ever thought of your life’s legacy, that something that will survive you, either directly or as part of something greater? I believe sharing your knowledge is great way to build legacy, with the added benefit of helping countless people (and you!) instantly (yay Internet!). I’m sure most of you reading this understand the value of open source software, many of you probably have open sourced some of your code or contributed to an open source project, but… are you just sharing some of your fish or helping others learn how to fish?

Action

As I think of this concept, would creating a place for compiling and categorizing knowledge be something we should consider building? It would be sort of a hybrid between Wikipedia and Stack Overflow, focused on technical knowledge (not just answers to questions)… Most Linux distributions seem to have something like that, but there seems to be a shortage of places like that for general technical knowledge, like programming, design, etc, and I’m not sure a wiki is the best solution for that…

Am I missing something? Thoughts? Hit me up on Twitter. :)


Gaming. Retro.

The other day I spent some time reminiscing on some of the games I have spent the most time playing. It seems these days I am more driven by the thought of seeing myself as a gamer than actually playing the games. Looking back, my interest in games was thwarted by my interest in computers: the time playing games became time learning about Linux, programming, the Internet, etc.

I still buy a lot of games today. Heck, I buy games now that I don’t play. Maybe, in a way, I feel compelled to pay back for all the games I played back when “buying” wasn’t even an option. Regardless, I started playing less right about when I started buying more. The drive became getting better machines, better graphics cards, maxed out settings, perfect graphics, etc… Before, it was playing a compelling game. For the most part, I always played games with friends. At first it was because I didn’t have a computer myself, so I’d stop by their house to 1) fix their computers and 2) play some games. So, in a way, I’ve always enjoyed multi-player more than single-player… :)

As for why I don’t play as much, that’s arguable: priorities, availability, etc. I guess I’m simply not a gamer, no matter how much I think I am… was…

Here’s a list of the games I remember spending the most time playing and having the most fun with:

Jones In The Fast Lane

Jones in the Fast Lane.png

Street Rod

Street Rod 1.png

SimCity

SimCity Classic.png

SimTower

Sim Tower.png

Elifoot II

ElifootII.png

And more “recently”…

Tomb Raider II

TombRaider2.png

Championship Manager 2 96/97 - Italian League

CM2-9697.png

Considering how much money I spend on games, I kinda want to play more and feel like I once did… I guess for that to happen, another thing else needs to happen first: I need to focus on less interests and less hobbies… but that’s subject for another post. :)


Disarming Introspection

Every once in a while, there comes a time where some event sends you into a contemplative, introspective state. I don’t believe that can be a state of mind, neither should it be a predisposition. It’s a state of the soul.

Tragic events tend to make us wonder and question everything. Those what ifs are not necessarily introspective, and even when they are, they tend to be subconscious and subliminal, as a breeze caused by changes in pressure in the atmosphere all around you. They are driven and motivated by events that, no matter how dramatic, your mind and body are designed to overcome and move on from.

Critical life decisions on the other hand, coupled with time to make them, force you into a deep analytical state. These are not taken instinctively, nor weighed emotionally. Emotions are accounted for but the quest goes deeper and farther, in an attempt to explore scenarios and outcomes, to evaluate potential and consider consequences. With it come the questions, the contemplation, the introspection. You look back at past decisions and question them. You diminish the values of your strengths and over-critically consider your weaknesses.

This state of deeper introspection can be frightening. It is definitely disarming. But it seems to me that the potential outcome is always greater. You should come out more aware of yourself, warts and all, and that is priceless. We have been trained to think highly of ourselves and it seems that is ultimately leading to either delusional or depressive people. Meditation only takes you so far, emptying the mind to refill it with the same data as before, like a corrupted backup. The goal isn’t to empty but to fill, to savor, to ponder.

Honesty. That is the ultimate result of disarming introspection. And when you are honest with yourself, you’re more likely to be happy. And we all know happy people tend to live longer, fuller, more successful lives.


The Revolution Will Be Delayed

When the iPhone launched, it lacked Flash and the outcry was loud and clear: the iPhone would fail and die because of it. Blog posts were written, print press picked on it and wrote random words that they thought made them look smart, and the general public kept buying iPhones. Five years later, the world is a better place, the birds still chirp, and global warming is still the biggest subject of discussion and conspiracy in the world. I’d argue Adobe is a better place now too.

TL;DR

Adobe’s Digital Publishing platform is a lazy route, standing in the way of innovation. I believe it should be removed.

Enter Newsstand

When Apple launched the iPad, they launched “Newsstand” and the ability for periodicals to have a “reserved area”, with background downloads and subscriptions, everything so that the user could wake up in the morning, brew some coffee and sit back reading a newspaper or magazine, without having to wait around for any downloads. Publishers saw the opportunity but weren’t sure how to take advantage of it. The problem was that these publishers saw the iPad/digital format as an “add-on” for “nerdy subscribers”. They failed to see the opportunity and, more importantly, failed to understand how Apple was giving them first-class access to the future of publishing. Most took a long time to seize the opportunity and only did so when Adobe introduced their Digital Publishing tools. Basically, the promise was the same as Flash or Air (or Java before them): write/edit/paginate once, sell on all platforms.

Laziness

When Adobe introduces this promise of “edit once/sell everywhere” a whole slew of publishers jumped on board. While this was actually positive for Apple in getting some visibility and value out of Newsstand, I’m arguing that it actually stifled innovation. Most of these digital publications are little more than PDFs of the print version, with little to no interactivity and no uniqueness whatsoever. They are all huge (300Mb+) and take ages to download: if you happen to reinstall your OS, get ready to re-download your entire collection in case you want access to back issues. Also, most of them don’t even do progressive downloads, letting you read while it downloads the rest in the background. The reason for this is simple: being mere digital exports of the print layouts, they don’t actually use text but images of the text!

BAN IT!

When Apple banned Flash, HTML5 rose to the challenge. I’m not arguing that HTML5 is the perfect and absolute replacement to Flash, but the amount of innovation we’ve seen since Apple made that move is nothing short of incredible. The rise of HTML5 led to crazy things like the rise of client-side development (e.g. Node.js, etc…), the rise of dynamic stylesheets (e.g. Less, Sass, etc…) and many other tools that sped up web development. I’m not arguing that Apple’s ban was the sole reason for this innovation either, but it sure helped to have web applications become first-class citizens. Average salaries for web designers/developers have since raised as well.

Apple should ban Adobe’s Digital Publishing Platform (DPP). I’m not saying this because I think it’s feasible or likely. I’m saying it because it’s Apple. Banning Flash was a bold move, putting the user first (e.g. battery consumption, fluidity of the interface, etc…) and banning Adobe’s DPP would, in my opinion, do the same. We need more periodicals that innovate in how they the user interacts with them, with how light and snappy they feel, with how smooth the whole reading experience becomes.

Digital != Print

Print has very tight requirements and limitations. Digital has a lot of flexibility but some tight limitations too, namely size and fluidity. We need a lot more “digital-first” typesetters and editors and that is only possible once these publishers understand the value of digital and how their own future may very well depend on it. Positioning themselves as a high quality digital periodical may very well save a lot of centennial publications. Oh, and don’t get me started on digital pricing…


To Put Things In Perspective...

So, this just happened. To put things in perspective, I decided to compare two major acquisitions done recently.

Instagram

Mobile app for taking and sharing pictures taken with your phone.

Price: $1B

Lucasfilm

Movie studio (and much more) responsible for creating some of the biggest blockbusters since its inception in the early 1970s

Price: $4.05B

Nope, we’re not in a bubble at all.

UPDATE: To clarify, I’m not attempting a market analysis or anything of that sort. I decided to write this from a pure curiosity standpoint. Please don’t take this for what it is not. The reference to the “bubble” stems from the sheer disproportion of revenue vs value of these acquisitions, not from the value in terms of opportunity cost. This is not an argument; it’s an observation. Take it lightly… :)

  1. I couldn’t even figure out totals for revenue or number of employees across all subsidiaries quickly enough… I guess I could put a bit of time into figuring that out but it’s beyond the point of this post. Let me know if you find details on those… Thanks.


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