Older blog entries for dmarti (starting at number 430)

Best Linux distribution for new users?

Rikki Endsley just put up a blog post on picking a Linux distribution: Which Linux Is “The Best Linux” for Windows Users? There's a quote from me in there, which I based on this thing I wrote a while ago: How to pick a distribution, for hobbyists. My humble opinion here is that the best distribution for a new user is the one that's easiest to get help on, which means something that your source of Linux help is familiar with. Much of the stuff that's trickiest for new users is the stuff that's different from distribution to distribution.

But I think I'm probably just pushing the problem up a level. I have no idea how I would find a productive user group or other forum, starting from scratch today. Work outward from my regular social network, I guess. Or go to a community conference such as SCaLE, and see who has a good presence there.

Benjamin Mako Hill covers A Model of Free Software Success, and points out that the ethical component of the choice to work on Free Software is vitally important, especially if you're at the stage that Linux was, pre-1998. "Essentially, a few hackers are motivated enough by the ethical principles behind free software that they are willing to contribute to it even when it isn't clearly better than proprietary alternatives."

To me, it looks like the appeal has three components: pure hack value, or the desire to build something fun and elegant; freedom value, the desire to develop/legislate (Code is Law, remember) a better technology layer for society; and the desire to make a living. Everyone I know in the Free Software scene has some of each. How well does today's Linux scene, as seen by a new user, appeal to each of those? I don't think the making a living is a problem, since there are plenty of good Linux and free software job opportunities, but how well does the public-facing community show the appeal of hacking and making Freedom? Maybe the availabilty of the Dell Sputnik, plus the ambitious Ubuntu community will be a positive step.

Syndicated 2012-08-14 13:23:41 from Don Marti

Sunday morning articles

Recent thought-provoking articles from the RSS-o-sphere. Enjoy.

Ken Murray follows up on How Doctors Die with Doctors Really Do Die Differently. "When asked whether they would want cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR, if they were in a chronic coma, about 90 percent of the Johns Hopkins doctors said no. Only about 25 percent of the public gives the same answer."

Media is not converging, it is diverging (convergence only leads to conflict). Good point of view on the differences between marketing and social. (Maybe we should just stop calling it "social media" because that sounds like something you can throw advertising at.)

John Scalzi: A Self-Made Man Looks At How He Made It.

Doug Saunders: The Three Lies Michele Bachmann Tells about American Muslims. "All data point to Muslim immigrants and their children integrating into their surrounding societies as fast as, and sometimes faster than, the poor Catholics and Jews of the last century."

Barry Eisler: You Will Be Assimilated. "What are the warning signs, the real metrics a well-intentioned and clear-eyed journalist should consider before her subornment begins, and by which she can judge whether her integrity is slowly being compromised, corroded, and lost?"

Syndicated 2012-08-12 14:44:49 from Don Marti

Who's pocketing open source wealth?

Shane Greenstein asks, Does the clothesline paradox apply to IT? If you use the sun to dry your clothes instead of an electric dryer, your clothes are just as dry, but measured economic activity goes down. Same for open source software. Greenstein writes,

[W]hen a new technology (which uses the free inputs) substitutes for existing economic activity, on first glance it looks like the new technology brings about a decline in total economic activity. That appearance is misleading, of course, because the savings goes into other economic activity, but those gains are diffuse and difficult to identify.

Where do the gains go? Some of them must end up with open-source-using companies. Simon Phipps, citing a report from O'Reilly and Associates, calls this effect the stealth stimulus package. But gains are also ending up in paychecks. Software is really two complementary goods: the codebase and the maintenance programming. Push the price of one good to zero, and the price of the other goes up. For example, Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols reported on a survey done by Dice.com and the Linux Foundation.

"While the average pay increase for tech professionals averaged just two percent in 2011...according to Dice's annual Salary Survey, in 2011, Linux professionals saw a five percent increase, year-over-year, in their pay as well as a 15 percent jump in bonus payouts."

And that's for "Linux professionals" in general. For authors of important code on which other code depends, the deal can be much sweeter. Joey Hess writes, in a blog comment on David N. Welton's "In Thrall to Scarcity," "I think that the scarcity I am taking advantage of is that of deep knowledge of infrastructure. The kind of knowledge that you get by writing pieces of code that become infrastructure."

Using open source in business is sort of like hiring an employee who owns his or her own tools. In the case of hiring an open source developer, though, the "ownership" of the tools is in the form of expertise, something that's personal and that can't be sold or securitized. (Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Karl Marx.)

So who else is profiting from open source? The tax man. A lot of corporate tax returns look something like this: "We actually didn't make any profit because we had to send all our money to Example.com Software Licensing Trust in Taxhavenistan, so we owe nothing." As open source tends to reduce easily relocatable licensing streams, and increase paychecks in Portland and Mountain View, the public sector is getting a piece of the open source gains as well.

Syndicated 2012-08-06 14:00:52 from Don Marti

Economics links: subsidies, inequality, startups...

Jerry Brito explains How copyright is like Solyndra, a government subsidy program.

Steve Randy Waldman: Trade-offs between inequality, productivity, and employment. How much of our accumulated wealth do we use in a zero-sum struggle against each other? Can we ever get enough?

It's illegal to discriminate by race or national origin, but what about favorite stores or music? Alistair Croll: Big Data is our generation’s civil rights issue, and we don’t know it.

Paul Craig Roberts: Escape From Economics. "[T]he problem is that the discipline both lags an ever-changing world and got some things wrong at the beginning. Consequently, learning economics places one inside a box where some of the tools and understanding provided are outdated and incorrect."

Economist Yanis Varoufakis looks at one company with radically bottom-up organization: Why Valve? Or, what do we need corporations for and how does Valve’s management structure fit into today’s corporate world? Sort of like the "peer production" model in Coase's Penguin by Yochai Benkler, only within a single firm.

Aaron Swartz asks, "What do startup founders want?" and rules out money, fame, and power right away.

Syndicated 2012-08-06 00:38:12 from Don Marti

Adtech stinks.

Derek Thompson: Time to Admit What We Already Knew: Online Ads Stink. "Every single major tech and business story this week was the same story: Even companies with 100 million, 700 million, and 900 million free users don't know what to do about Internet advertising."

That's a good point, and that's even before the Facebook bot frenzy. But it looks like the real problem isn't the general idea of advertising on the internet, but the rat hole that we've gotten ourselves into with increasingly precise targeting. The better that ad targeting in a medium gets, the worse the ad medium works overall. Which is why radio and print pull in an oversized share of ad budgets, and web and mobile underperform.

Mike Downey, Vice President of Mobile Solutions for OpenX, has some advice for advertisers that should look familar by now. Real-time bidding is the next mobile ad breakthrough—here’s how you can profit. The answer, of course, is to collect more data, and throw more math at the problem.

We are seeing signals from our exchange that granular geo targeting is becoming a primary driver of bidding behavior in mobile. Publishers that are able to pass a longitude and latitude are seeing more than a 50% premium on their inventory. If you listen to the free version of Pandora on your mobile device you might have noticed that Panera Bread is selling sandwiches at lunchtime. The holy grail of driving local commerce via digital media seems to be getting closer and is eminently achievable with mobile.

(Yes, another knight of adtech seeks the holy grail.)

John Battelle, in Who’s On First? (A Modest Proposal To Solve The Problem with First- and Third-Party Marketing), wants site-by site control of third-party tracking. "I think we all already wear 'electronic clothing' that follows us around, and we seem to be unaware of it. That has to change." Battelle is a board member of the IAB. Bonus link from the same source: My, How the CMO Has Changed. General Motors has a "central video wall sporting constantly updated feeds reflecting consumer sentiment about GM and its brands."

Lois Beckett on ProPublica: Dark Money Political Groups Target Voters Based on Their Internet Habits. "Even when Internet users are sophisticated enough to spot a targeted ad, as Lauren Berns did, it is almost impossible for them to find out why a certain organization is targeting them—or what data about them is being used." (Just in case you needed another scare story about filter bubbles and creepy tracking.)

Extreme privacy measures from JR Conlin: Lying to the Internet. "My fake person gets her own browser (or browser profile for those that support it) where she is logged in to sites various sites long enough for me to get what i want and then leave. i tend to use her when visiting new sites to poke at things and see if that site has earned my trust (or at least provided enough value that i feel i could use it). Most of the time, the answer is 'no'."

I don't think we should all go as far as Conlin does, but if we redesign norms, infrastructure, and client software to make tracking less accurate, we're going to see both more total spending on Internet advertising and a larger share of that flowing through to publishers.

Syndicated 2012-07-31 14:24:46 from Don Marti

Links about connected organizations, and a must-read 1989 book

Islands in the Net: might as well read it because we're already living it. Some thought-provoking articles on networked organizations and related topics.

Ruslan Meshenberg explains Open Source at Netflix. "We’ve observed that the peer pressure from “Social Coding” has driven engineers to make sure code is clean and well structured, documentation is useful and up to date. What we’ve learned is that a component may be 'Good enough for running in production, but not good enough for Github'."

Mike Hendrickson tries the new developer laptop from Dell: Dell’s Sputnik – Git what you want. "As I explored, what struck me was that, out of the box, Sputnik was not full of unnecessary bloatware apps. Some folks have said that Macs don’t come with bloatware either. To them, I’d ask: have you used Safari? To me, it is not in the same class as Firefox or Chrome—yet you have to keep it on your system or all hell breaks loose."

Sean Park on designing a loosely coupled organization: The Connected Company. "By explicitly embracing a networked rather than hierarchical structure we have built in the ability to experiment and fail while at the same time giving us many more chances to succeed."

Syndicated 2012-07-31 13:52:27 from Don Marti

Holy grail, or chalice of poison?

What is your name?

The ad tech bubble.

What is your quest?

To seek the holy grail.

What is your favorite color?

I don't know, what does our database say that your favorite color is? Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!

Sorry, Monty Python, but it was the first thing I thought of after reading this: “Ultimately advertising should mesh with content and users’ interests. This remains the Holy Grail…” at the OpenX blog. Jonathan Miller, of News Corporation's Digital Media Group (yes, that News Corporation) reflects the conventional wisdom on online advertising really well.

"The more real-time and the more data enriched we get the better the services and the better the experience will ultimately be for the user."

Really? But what's the long-term result of throwing more math at advertising? For another perspective, see Advertising Gets Personal by Samuel Greengard in Communications of the ACM.

Critics believe the inability to control what software and tracking mechanisms are placed on a person's computer is nothing less than a violation. Many Web sites contain a half-dozen to a dozen or more tracking tools or third-party cookies. It is akin to a company installing video cameras and microphones in a home and recording everything that occurs in the household. "When people find out what is really happening, the typical response is 'Are you kidding!'" says Marcella Wilson, an adjunct professor of computer science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

For a long time, ad blocking was a nerdy Internet sideshow. It was easy and effective, but few users did it. I wrote an ad blocker myself, and got one other user—another Linux freak, who rewrote it.

But new attention to the tracking problem, especially the Wall Street Journal's What They Know series, might be changing that. One startup, ClarityRay, is reporting that 9.26 percent of all ad impressions on 100 popular sites are being blocked.

My best guess is that ad blocking is finally catching on for two reasons. First, personalized advertising just sets off people's intuitions about what's creepy. (We've all read the Charles Duhigg piece in the New York Times about how Target tracks who's pregnant and who's not.) Second, it goes back to the whole signaling thing,

As a reader, as soon as it looks like advertising is just for you and not a general statement, it gets less valuable. Why do we leaf through magazine ads, but discard most direct mail unopened? Targeting reduces the signal.

In the long run, the real Holy Grail for this business is software and infrastructure that does a better job on privacy. That way, nobody's creepiness buttons get pushed and ads carry a clear signal of the advertiser's intentions.

Syndicated 2012-07-30 14:18:37 from Don Marti

Third-party tracking enabled here (or not)

As I've been saying for a while, we have a problem in how we talk about third-party tracking on the web.

When you're on Site A, and the browser tells Site B about it without your knowledge, that's a bug in the browser. Unexpected behavior. Unfortunately, too often, we make Site B the subject of the sentence. "Site B is tracking users! How can we regulate sites to keep them from doing this?"

This is dangerous. If we pursue the approach of regulating all the site Bs out there, we'll end up with a situation in which sites with sufficient lobbyists and lawyers will be able to track you, and others won't. And it's the sites with the lobbyists and lawyers you're probably worried about.

The safer approach is to rethink how browsers handle third-party content. I'm running RequestPolicy, which is great, and secure, and all, but requires some work to approve third-party domains. On the first visit to a new site, I have to pick out the sneaky trackers from the harmless CDNs.

Microsoft's Tracking Protection for Internet Explorer is also promising, since it lets users share lists of sites to block and approve.

Anyway, if you see some third-party web site logos below this post, your browser has betrayed you, and it might be a good idea to file a bug or look at privacy extensions.

Syndicated 2012-07-29 14:54:32 from Don Marti

The online advertising problem: bullet points

Here's a quick outline of the online advertising problem.

  • Advertising gains signaling value when it's attached to something that the user sees as difficult or expensive to produce.

  • Advertising gains signaling value as its apparent cost increases.

  • Advertising loses signaling value as it's attached to less valuable resources.

  • Advertising loses signaling value as it becomes more targetable, since the user can't tell how much of the resource was funded by the ad impression that he or she saw.

  • Advertisers tend to pay less for ad media with lower signaling value.

  • Internet advertising has a problem: it's targeted increasingly finely, and is therefore less valuable to advertisers.

  • Solution: Design infrastructure and applications to make tracking more difficult.

Syndicated 2012-07-26 14:38:11 from Don Marti

Link frenzy: Essays on organizations, information, and work

Stephen O'Grady on competitive advantage: Software is the New On Base Percentage

Derek Thompson: The Consumer's Revenge: Can We Beat Corporations at the Efficiency Game?

Crowdfunding FTW: Joey Hess: I work for The Internet now

John Hagel on empowered customers, the VRM movement, and Doc's new book: The Rise of Vendor Relationship Management

Paul Smalera catches up with Clayton Christensen: Paradise regained: Clayton Christensen and the path to salvation (If I had to nominate one word for the “You Keep Using That Word. I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means” award, I'd have to pick disruptive.)

Paul Ingrassia on cars that changed the market: Car czars "The people who created them overcame formidable obstacles to put them on the road."

Doing unimportant projects, but really well: “You can’t control what you can’t measure” revisited.

Umair Haque: Declare Your Radicalness. "We may honor the radical—but we surround ourselves with the banal, trivial, humdrum, and tedious."

Robert X. Cringely gives you something to think about next time someone calls you a "resource": IT class warfare — It’s not just IBM

Gar Alperovitz on co-ops: A New Era for Worker Ownership. (Somebody needs to put together a conference panel that's half co-op people and half crowdfunding people.)

Peter Levine: Software Eats Software Development "GitHub runs one big SCM in the cloud and the management issues vanish."

Penelope Trunk: How I got a big advance from a big publisher and self-published anyway. One author who can out-publicize the Publicity department.

Jonathan Kahn on making your web site look nice on phones, I mean totally transforming how you organize information: Digital-first companies thrive on mobile disruption. Everyone else struggles. "I have bad news: a fancier CMS won’t help you withstand mobile disruption."

Remind anyone of r0ml's IT deli? Fast-turnaround IT projects at DoD: Conversations Between Scientists and Sailors: UNSCRIPTED

Daniel Lemire: Why we make up jobs out of thin air. "People who complain that big governments are inefficient are missing the point: they are not meant to be financially efficient, they are meant to confer as much prestige as possible onto as many people as possible. In this way, big governments are highly efficient and so are large corporations. I predict a bright future for both of them." On a related subject, Christopher J. Coyne reviews David Keen's Useful Enemies. War Is Still a Racket.

Syndicated 2012-07-24 14:20:59 from Don Marti

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