BiteofanApple Archive About Code Twitter
by Brian Schrader
BiteofanApple
Archive About Code Twitter

Letter to the FCC

Posted on Wed, 16 Jul 2014

My letter to the FCC today:

The loss of net neutrality would be tragic from so many levels. The internet is supposed to be free and open, and by removing the protections that net neutrality offers the FCC is allowing for the selective censoring of the internet by any given ISP or other provider. Information that we, as a society, depend on these days will be stripped by for-profit companies. Companies would be able to censor opposers of their interests and manipulate the information users receive. If that's not scary to you, I'm sorry, but frankly you don't understand the issue.

The internet is a beacon of the future of free information, of our societal progress, and of an ideal. It's one of the few things in our world that is so close to it's ideal. Would you forbid a book the rights to sit in a library based on its content? If so, this isn't a free country already. Please don't do this. Please.Science and innovation have led us to this, don't let money take it away; not this time.


Please make the right decision; please don't end net neutrality.
Brian Schrader
Software Developer, and hopeful U.S. Citizen

Please take some time today to sign this petition asking the FCC to not repeal net neutrality. I've asked before, and I'll ask again. The fight isn't over.

-Thanks for reading,
      Brian Schrader

Forest Through the Trees

Posted on Wed, 16 Jul 2014

Languages are just tools in the developer's belt. Sure Javascript is nasty, and C++ is a complicated mess, but in the end it's the problem you solve that should be the real decider in what language you choose to use. What do you need? Which language makes your job easier without sacrificing too much in the way of performance? The language features should decide which one you use, not your preference toward any given one.

The ability to program a computer to do whatever you want really is magic. The spells are the finished programs, the words and incantation are the written in archaic languages that only we know. I see a lot of people throwing a fuss about learning a new language or plugin or framework, and to me, that's a weird way of going about your life. Use the tool for the job you need, if you need C, then use it; if you can get away with Python or Ruby (or PHP I guess) use them. It's just another way of solving the problem you want to solve. Do carpenters complain that they have to use a saw to cut lumber when they'd rather use a hammer for everything? No. They use the tool appropriate for the job. Each language has its strengths, weaknesses, tradeoffs and perks. Learn what you can about the different languages, and paradigms (especially paradigms!) the more you learn about one the more it will help you in others.

At the most basic level, developers are paid for, are tasked with solving a problem; we are paid to think. To shut out something because you don't want or need to learn it is to cut off a way of thinking. To stop thinking is to not do your job as a developer.

-Thanks for reading,
      Brian Schrader

Re: Permanence

Posted on Tue, 15 Jul 2014

After watching The Internet's Own Boy I got to thinking about Matt Gemmell's article a few weeks back about digital permanence. I took to browsing the Internet Archive after watching the movie, and I was struck by how exhaustive their collection is. Even my old Wordpress blog was in there, crazy. The thing is, we need more of that kind of thing. We need to realize that what we put on the Internet we are committing to history. In the past, the only way to make it into history was to write a book, or publish a scientific paper. Now it's trivial; blogs, Twitter, Facebook (most people's substitute for a blog these days), Instagram, etc instantly connect us with each other, and almost by accident, provide us with first hand accounts of our modern day events. Future historians won't have to search in the dirt for our words, they'll have to cut out all the crap to find the stuff they want. That changes how historians will do their work, and it should change how we think about what we say and do online.

The Internet Never Forgets

I truly hope that the Internet Archive thrives long into the future. I hope that The Library of Congress does the same thing they do with Twitter to scores of other online services. Students of the future will not know us like we know George Washington, by paintings and second hand accounts, but by his Facebook page, Twitter feed, and his blog. How much history is lost by those who live it not writing it down. With the internet, we have the ability (assuming storage is cheap) to preserve everything we ever say, think, write, or post. That's really powerful, and possible accountability and privacy issues aside, its probably the most important use of an invention in the history of man. That someone decades, if not centuries, from now could read these words (assuming they are looking in the "Blogs No One Reads" section) is amazing. Every letter or period you type is committed to the record of history.

Write Early, Write Often

I try to get people I know, friends and family, to start a blog. And I encourage anyone reading this to do the same. I'm really insistent on it. Why? Because even your personal blog, your meaningless post on the usefulness of digital permanence could end up in the archive (chances are that it will, if it doesn't, you can add it manually). That means that you are a voice in history. Centuries from now your name will be on those thoughts, those bytes. Those words will be yours. To not write, to not give your opinion, is to be forgotten by history. Give your opinions, even if no one sees them. Some one might someday.

Just as Matt promised in his post, I promise here to keep this site up as long as I can. I have this site version controlled so that the entire site can be rebuild as I built it, step by step. Why? Mostly for safeguarding against my own stupidity, but also to preserve the site as it used to be or as it will be. Anyone who got their hands on the repository could reproduce this site as it was at any point in its history. Every style change, every typo fix, every deleted article, everything. Most of this information is worthless, true, but deleting it is doing this information a disservice. Keep backups of your work, and make sure that backup is safe. It's our job as parts of history to report what we see, think, feel, and say not only to offer our thoughts as evidence for some future grad student's thesis proposal, but to preserve ourselves, and our identity indefinitely. In the past, libraries have burned, their knowledge lost. It is possible now that we can make sure that kind of tragedy never happens again, and that all people can have their footnote in the book of human history; that is, if they write it down.

-Thanks for reading,
      Brian Schrader

The Internet's Own Boy

Posted on Tue, 15 Jul 2014

I just finished watching The Internet's Own Boy, the documentary detailing the life and tragic death of one of, in my opinion, America's great activists. Long story short: watch this documentary, really, just do it. It's licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA so torrent it if you want.

Then, when you are sufficiently riled, and fed up with the way our government pursues "justice", donate to The Mayday PAC. I did. It's still accepting donations and they need support.

-Thanks for reading,
      Brian Schrader

It's just a Phone

Posted on Sun, 22 Jun 2014

In a conversation with a friend a few weeks ago, we stumbled into an interesting discussion. He brought up that he'd been playing a particular game on his smartphone, and that it kept badgering him with "Pay to continue" messages. He made it very clear how, even as a casual gamer, the constant barrage of messages was exhausting to deal with, and in many cases would stop him from playing altogether. Leaving aside the whole "Free to Play" discussion, I asked him if he'd ever purchased one of those upgrades, or indeed if he'd ever bought an app or game on the Google Play store.

He paused, thinking about it, and finally said, "No." I then asked, why he wouldn't.

"I wouldn't, but I don't know why I wouldn't."

Intrigued I said, "You know it takes teams of people and months of time to make those games and apps; how do they make money if you don't buy anything from them? You downloaded their app for free, and refuse to pay anything for it."

He paused. "Wait, if I don't buy this, the developers don't make any money?... Wow. I didn't know that."

It sounds silly, but this isn't that uncommon a response. Neglecting the gross oversimplification of the app/game payment model here, I think this illustrates one of the most common problems that developers today face. We, as developers, love to imagine that people refuse to pay for apps because they are used to software being free. We love to repeat the phrase "Rush to the bottom" and mourn the loss of paid apps, but there's another problem here as well: A lot of people still don't know how software is paid for, or that the only source of income that the developer has are those in-app purchases or upfront charges (neglecting ads of course).

"I just assumed that the app was getting money for being in the store, or from Cox, Comcast, etc."

That took me by surprise. I'd never heard that idea before.

Really, this whole discussion was just as intriguing to me than it was to him. It means that there's still mystery surrounding apps and games, mystery about where they come from, and how they're made. We've heard that many people still believe that Apple writes all the apps in the App Store, that they're all paid for from ads, or something similar, but it just underscores the reality that most people don't see "pay for this developer's rent" in those little popups or up-front price tags, they see, "give Apple more money."

Speaking for Apple, (since I don't know much about Android, I won't group Google in this analysis) the fact that individual developers don't control refunds, and don't have the ability to respond to comments and reviews in the store really cuts the communication between developers and their customers to an unfair level. Apple did add quite a few improvements to the App Store at this year's WWDC, but the ability to better communicate with their customers was not one of them, and it's sad. Apple gave us a lot, and that's good, but it's not enough. I really hope that Apple continues with the theme of this year's WWDC and improves the App Store next year (though sooner would be better).

Ultimately, I think it's a communication problem; developers can't come out from under the rug that Apple throws over them and just talk to their customers. As the conversation continued, I posed other questions and got the usual responses:

"Would you pay for Twitter?"

"No."

"Facebook?"

"No."

"Google?"

"Umm...maybe."

That one surprised me; even Google, the homepage of the internet, doesn't get a pass.

To me this just underscores the reality that a large percentage of the population still consider software to be free, meaningless, and ephemeral additions to a device that they already felt was too expensive. Whenever the conversation gets this far, I make the comment, "Remember when software was hundreds of dollars?" Hell, Microsoft Word is still $99 or more (for the old versions that don't require a subscription, and now the payment model is arguably worse). Why do most people pay for that, and not a far better piece of software or service?

The response I almost always get is, "it's a phone." Phones aren't full-fledged computers in the popular mindset; they're toys. That, I think is the real problem. I'm not sure how to change that, maybe it'll come with time. We in the developer circle like to think that the popular mindset already considers smartphones a real computing or working device, but we forget that a lot of people, (probably a majority, though I have no data to affirm that) still consider smartphones expensive toys. Until this perception changes, apps are just meaningless, free toys to justify the price of our phones.

-Thanks for reading,
      Brian Schrader

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