The Wedgebuster

Just about 25 years ago, for one week at the start of football season in 1988, I had the nickname “The Wedgebuster”

See, I played junior varsity football in high school. “Played” is a bit too charitable for my participation. I was 3rd-string center for a team that only had one other center, which was appropriate for a 14-year kid that was about 5’3” and 130lbs and ran the 40 in a blistering sub-8 seconds with the wind at my back, downhill.

But I went to every practice, listened to my coaches, paid attention, knew all my plays, hustled at (almost) every drill. To this day, the smell of just mowed grass and tobacco herbicides on a balmy August evening brings back almost fond memories of up-downs and ladder sprints.

I became The Wedgebuster because my sub-Rudy hustle earned me a place on the kickoff team the first two weeks. Our team didn’t kick off very much except if we won the toss. But there I was, the ceremonial arm-dropper, closer to the center where you stick the slow kid, and there I went, down the field right to the wedge, running as hard as I could right at the kid from two counties over, eyes filled with some combination of faux anger and bemusement.

And there I was – with what I can’t for the life of me remember happening, but game film clearly showed, lumbering down into the wedge, and managing to defy Newtonian physics by coming off it, backwards, with a velocity greater than the forward speed of the wedge. Which was replayed three times on whatever 70’s betamax reject VCR the athletic department owned, with the coach gleefully explaining “There goes The Wedgebuster”

I loved every minute of it. No really. Because I ran as hard as I could, did exactly what I was supposed to do, and left it all right there on the field. Seriously, I think I lost my mouthguard when my ass hit the ground.

But this isn’t about being the Wedgebuster. It’s about what happened the next week.

One of the coaches on the team was also the school’s wrestling coach, and loved to have us do all kinds of wrestling drills, from “monkey rolls” – but his favorite was the sumo drill, which is clearly supposed to be done between similar size kids.

Which is a little tough when one of those kids is a 6-foot close-to-300 pound 9th grader, that has beat every kid to that point, whereupon the coach announces “Who will take Sterling on next?”

And no says a word. No one. You know where this is going of course.

No one, until me. “When no one else will say it or volunteer for it, he will” – I’ve been the damn A-Team of speaking up all my life.

I held my own for about 25 seconds, and then all 300 pounds of Sterling landed on my outstretched leg, and the knee had nowhere to go but out, and being a knee on a 14-year old, right back in, in two loud pops that probably sent every deer in the county running away in fear, if not from the pops, than the otherworldly screams of a not-pain-tolerant child.

At that, the wedgebuster was gone, replaced with stories told by my teammates the rest of the season, full of high school sophomore sexual euphemisms at my 25 seconds of grunting, groaning, and straining, followed by two loud pops and high-pitched screams and wailing.

For my part, I won no awards, no medal for heroism. I ended up with a hairline fracture of my growth plate, which put me on crutches for nine weeks.

I never played football again. I mean who wants to play 3rd-string center and still have to run all the ladders the starters do? I shot golf, acted (okay, recited lines) in plays, and found out that I was pretty good at Calculus.

My A-Team volunteerism was as dumb right then as it was the next day.

But 25 years later? I wouldn’t change it for the world. For two consecutive weeks in the late summer of 1988, I went as hard as I could, did exactly what I was supposed to do, and I left it all right there on the field.

And that, really, is what it’s all supposed to be about, then, now, and tomorrow.

And when your 39-year old knee is sore on a warm April night, think about August, freshly mown grass, and call it “an old football injury.”

Divesting in Google

Three years ago, at OSCON 2010, I was ready to go all-in with Google.

I came in a Google fan-boy. I used every Google service I could, both personally and in shifting (particularly mail and chat) any IT services that I would have traditionally provided at work. And while I hadn’t yet shifted to Android by July 2010, I would have imagined it would have only been a matter of time and the next cell-phone contract. I was, and am, still in favor of a lot of the ideals of Android, and functionally if I was all-Google all the time, it would make sense.

And maybe it was the excitement of my first OSCON, by far the best conference of its size I had ever attended. But I came away ready to build on Google Wave, ready to come back and spread AppEngine throughout the services I hosted, and evangelize it among my colleagues in Higher Education/Extension throughout the nation. I wrote Wave notes on multiple sessions, interacted with the Wave Team listened intently in every training, built a gadget, even if the platform was a little mystifying. I really, really liked AppEngine.

And while I couldn’t get the AppEngine developer evangelist to respond to my wave-based communication and questions about the training materials and licensing ( “hey, he’s busy, maybe he hasn’t caught the wave internally yet.” ) I left OSCON all ready for my Google future, and immediately announced a multiple-part training series on AppEngine.

The next month, Google killed Wave.

You know, I don’t blame them for the decision. Wave had incredibly interesting technology, but, honestly it was weird. It was never going to acheive mass-market, ever, in the form that it was. And I’ve seen Apache Wave since, I’m not going to run one, and I understand Google not running. And honestly, I admire Google for saying “no” – well sometimes saying no. It’s not an “Apple No” – but it’s more “no” than any organization in which I’ve worked.

But to have that much evangelism of the platform, and then weeks later ended – well, that still stung. It’s totally weird, I know, to have feelings about a platform I had been pretty skeptical of before – maybe I was scared of what was next of the free products that I really, really depended on? Notebook? Docs? Reader? Mail?

Well, Notebook died next, but I had already moved on to Evernote, and I couldn’t ever see Docs, Reader, or Mail going away. Reader had no advertisements, but it felt like almost the entire tech illumanati had shifted to it to have something server-side. And everything I actually cared about, every attention I had, from products to services flowed through Mail, and even importantly Reader, and I figured Google was mining the hell out of it to sell me things in my search.

And in the three years after Oscon, I started drifting back to Google. Chrome everyday over Safari and Firefox, Mail, Reader, an uptick in Google+, other Google products at work. And while the whole quagmire over Google’s caving on Network Neutrality in cell networks ticked me off, I still value the Android ideals and the unlocked Google-provided Nexus hardware was tempting from time to time.

Occasionally I’d think about writing my own feed reader, because the outage here and there made me nervous. And I’d think about paying for email, even paying Google for it.

And then, the thing I didn’t think would be killed was. Reader is the third Google product I depended on the most, and knew the most about me after Search, and Mail. But for Google that’s not enough. I was mad, but that’s just silly, so I’m not mad anymore. Like others are saying, it’s going to unleash a wave (pun intended) of new products in the Atom (and RSS if you must) parsing space. I’m looking forward to that.

But it is the stark reminder I needed again that I can’t depend on Google for anything that I want to keep around. I’m not sure you can depend on anyone’s technology/service or anything that’s not an open standard and that you run yourself, but still, I don’t want to run everything.

But with Google there’s no customer relationship. Their customer are the advertisers (as I’m reminded of in the Google snail mail I get for my registered LLC offering AdWords credit) – and the only products staying are the ones that achieve the advertising volume they need (and a few really incredibly interesting future pet technology projects, yes I mean Project Glass).

I can, do, and still love their technology, and will continue trying it and using it, but just not depending on it.

So personally, I’m done. Google has lost my investment. I get my Mobile OS from Apple, my desktop OS from Apple (for now, and that’s as much Apple Hardware and Lightroom as anything). I’ll get my maps from Apple on mobile, and just as often as Google from Microsoft on the desktop. My work browser stays Chrome, my personal browser is back to Safari (for now). My feeds I control, for now from Fever, but I’ll write my own reader, starting with Sam Ruby’s Mars – or one of the twenty bajillion readers that will come out of the community or the market now. Opera Software/Fastmail gets my mail. My google spreadsheets get replaced with Numbers sync via iCloud. My bookmarks and notes are in Pinboard and Evernote (though Evernote makes me a little nervous long term as well). Google analytics for my personal sites, gone (I’ll replace it with Gaug.es when the time comes that I want analytics again).

I still need a replacement for Google Voice – but I seem to be keeping that around only for the email notifications of messages and because the transcriptions are like subscribing to some mashup of LOLCats and Damn you Autocorrect and are worth the humor factor alone

Google still gets my search. Maybe Google+ keeps making that better, but I’m not so sure. My content is mostly coming to me from my feeds, and twitter, and facebook, and specialty sources these days.

And they get my work (well everything that’s not my code) But my work email and docs, and plusses are just as temporary as Google, Just for an age. Not like Shakespeare, or my personal data or my code history: “for all time”. (and probably not anywhere near as valuable as my personal interests to Google’s advertisers)

Google you’ve been an awesome date, but really, I just need more, and you just don’t have it in you to be long-term.

We’ll still be friends in Facebook though.

In Memory, Aaron Swartz

When I begin to write, I start with an almost audible internal monologue, a set of rambling and rarely cohesive set of words and fragmented sentences that if I’m lucky, I’ll edit later into a rambling and barely cohesive set of run-on sentences.

But until I wrote that sentence, every time I’ve started this post, I had not gotten farther than “I… uh”

I… I’ve never really completely understood that when a tragedy occurs, particularly with famous people, the reactions, the emotions, the out-pouring of grief, or anger, or sadness. I don’t mean that I don’t logically, or psychologically, or sociologically understand the connection that people form to a person that they’ve never met, but yet touches their lives through music, or art, or politics, or whatever bridge that forms with someone you never know, but still know through that connection. I’m not a stranger to suicide, but even then, I’m not sure that even that particular tragedy when it has happened to strangers, celebrity strangers, has ever really moved me prior to now

Now? Now I can’t stop thinking about Aaron Swartz.

If you know anything about that how’s and the why’s and the who’s of the technology and the politics and the issues of the internet, you’ll know about Aaron. If you don’t, you should. Start where I learned about his passing – from a link by Jason Kottke to Cory Doctorow’s post. Then others, from Duncan Davidson to Larry Lessig to danah boyd and maybe what touched me the most, from Quinn Norton

You should know, and once you know, I don’t know anyone in my life that wouldn’t care. Aaron seemed to be able to make you care.

I never knew Aaron Swartz, I never met him, I never interacted with him. But I’ve known a little something about Aaron maybe as long as anyone has known about Aaron in the internet world. I had vague memories of Phillip Greenspun’s ArsDigita prize – I remember (after Phillip’s reminder) when Dave Winer bitched about the 17 year old kid, Reddit, Recap, the MIT/JSTOR incident, all that I had read.

Most of all, I’ve read and known as much as you can know a stranger through his own words

During a particularly difficult conversation with a colleague last year, I linked to Aaron’s words post-Steve Jobs biography, because it said what I was trying to say, about how I approached things, and even sometimes, and unfortunately, how I expressed things.

Another time I had linked to Aaron’s “Sweating the Small Stuff” post in the attempt to explain to others just what it took to do the job we do.

Aaron could communicate things and see things in ways that I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to do.

Aaron was 26 years old. I’m almost 40. I’ve worked very hard and very long and I’ve been lucky as well to be in a position to be good at what I do, but in what is part of a source of both connection and conflict with friends and colleagues, my work and the work I’m involved in is never good enough.

Because I want to be as smart, and as lucid, and as good at what I do as Aaron Swartz.

As Duncan pointed out, Aaron once said that “I think a lot of what people call intelligence just boils down to curiosity.” I don’t disagree with that, but the most awe-inspiring thing about Aaron was his ability to act on that curiousity at the level in which he did.

And even still, like all of us, Aaron was human, with all the foils and flaws of us all, maybe made even harder and harsher by his intellect. Our greatest strengths are just as often our greatest weaknesses.

I can understand where he was, at least as much that anyone that can only know him through his own writing and through the writing of his friends can understand. I went through some things in my 20’s that were a pale comparison to what Aaron was facing with the federal trial. Had I faced what Aaron was facing, I don’t know that I would be here today. Looking at 40, I want to say the same things that Duncan Davidson would have said and that Quinn Norton said to him and undoubtedly others in his life have said and would say. It gets better.

Aaron’s life inspired his friends, and those of us that were his fans. And those friends and fans will make sure that his life continues to effect change.

I just wish for Aaron, for his family, for his friends, for all of us, that he was still with us to see it.

Maps – Illustrated

I’ve been giving a lot of slack to Apple over their release of their own Maps service in iOS6. Maybe it is because I don’t depend much on my iPhone maps to search for businesses or places. Maybe it’s because I’m pragmatic enough to know that mapping is really hard, and pretty much all mapping software has challenges, and while it’s so un-Apple like in recent memory to be so bad – maybe I remember how bad the first versions of OS X and OS X server were, and that iOS didn’t even have copy and paste for goodness sakes. And don’t get me started on the Xserve. Maybe I’m still pissed at Google about Google Wave. Or maybe I’m just an Apple fan(atic).

I really like parts of iOS6 maps, and the whole Apple-Google spat is at once great for innovation-through-competition, and lose-lose over Google data-backed features and Apple presentation – including Maps, all at the same time.

I’ve been searching for a new house in NC for about three years now, usually the western side of the Research Triangle Area, and sometimes in the mountains of NC from Boone to Asheville.

I’ve used Google Maps a tremendous amount as well as Microsoft Live maps (whose “bird’s-eye view” trumps Google’s aerials most of the time in NC). They are far from perfect, but it’s still awesome – 12 years ago buying my first house, I had nothing like this, and man I wish I had.

Apple deserves flak, especially with how they set expectations. And the maps can be really, really bad. And thankfully the internet is there to let us know just how bad

But if any of you out there, for one second, are going to somehow give Google some holier-than-thou-so-much-better-than-Apple-maps pass? You better think again, because while searching for where the Oklahoma City memorial was this evening – this is what Google Maps showed me – a sponsoring business 4.5 miles out of place – right on the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building Plaza.

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And that folks pretty much illustrates the whole Apple – Google difference for me.

Frustrating UX Design At Twitter

Like any self-respecting web developer, I’m pretty pissed at Twitter right now.

No, it’s not about that whole API thing where they are intent on becoming the next Compuserve.

It’s about what has to be the most idiotic settings page user experience I’ve had in a long, long time. (I’m just going to ignore that checkbox in my own application that didn’t do anything for about 3 years that I discovered last week)

About a week and half ago, in a bit of snit, I decided to “protect my tweets”

Through no fault of Twitter’s – I’m using 1Password for my twitter password. When you change your twitter settings, – it presents a javascript modal to provide your password. Unfortunately, the by-product of this was to enter my username in the email field which was then submitted along with the “checkbox” for Protect My Tweets, which then submitted the email as “jasonadamyoung” – which came back from Twitter as “This email is invalid” – but then Twitter in their UX brilliance, didn’t show “jasonadamyoung” in the email field (which it would have dawned on me as invalid) – it showed me my email address.

I took this as some Fail Whale event on twitter’s part at the time. I ended up working around it by managing to change my email to another email address and then cancel the confirmation of changing it.

Tonight, I decide to change the setting back, and finally – after multiple “this email is invalid” – both from the AJAX email lookup – plus the form submissions, managed to realize that 1Password was the likely culprit.

Only now, I want to check the setting off on my Twitter stream – and WHILE NOT CHANGING ANY OTHER SETTTING – I get this:

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or “Sorry, but you’ve reached your limit on email updates for now.”

And I can’t change a single setting.

Clearly, I understand they’ve implemented the settings as a “change ALL THE THINGS” kind of deal. I pretty sure I have more than one of these in my own apps with far worse error messages. But I’m not Twitter, I’m not raking in millions in revenue, I’m not hundreds of employees strong. I’m not what is like thousands and tens of thousands of settings changes a day.

And while I probably should take some solace that even the bigco’s get it wrong too? I don’t. I just want to change a single setting, and it makes me curse Twitter like you wouldn’t believe. Okay, you’d probably believe it.