Technology moves fast

Sometimes I feel like the technology space moves slowly. Cool new devices appear every few months, but I want neat new things every day! When I feel like this, it’s tough to remember that technology moves quite quickly compared to most industries. I was recently at a book sale and picked up a techno-thriller from 1996 called Back Slash. As pulpy books go, it wasn’t half bad. Until I arrived at this passage about twenty pages into the book:

To the right of the desk, in an oak cabinet custom-built by Crane, were three midtower computer cases. Each housed a Pentium-based computer system capable of 166 MHz processor speed. Each had 128 megabytes of Random Access Memory (RAM) and a 1.6-gigabyte hard drive. The video card of each held two megabytes of memory, and he could channel the output from the three machines to either of his two monitors. He could also link them in parallel for greater computer power. Twenty thousand bucks, right there. ….

Directly above the desk, the shelves held a variety of easily accessible accessories: a 5-1/4-inch floppy-disk drive–in case he ever needed it, two 3-1/2-inch disk drives, two one-gigabyte tape-backup drives, three multidisc CD-ROM players, two 28.8-kilobytes-per-second fax modems, and on one shelf, ten 4.3-gigabyte hard-disk drives.

Crane figured he could store much of the Pentagon’s data here if he wanted to have their crap on hand.

I had to put the book down and leave it. The description of a “cutting edge system” was so jarring that I could no longer suspend my disbelief. A videocard with two megabytes of memory? Geez. It makes 1996 feel like this:


[Image CC-licensed by Steve Jurvetson.]

It makes me want to rev up my grumpy-old-man voice:

“Back in my day, we had 300 baud modems and we were grateful! Sometimes you’d type too fast and you’d have to wait for the modem to catch up.”

“You know, in our high school typing class we had to use mechanical typewriters. No joke.”

“We had to type programs into our Commodore 64 from magazines. And in those days, the magazines didn’t even have checksums!”

What old timey technology story would you tell?

Harry Potter font looks like Yahoo logo?

First, a non-spoiler review of Harry Potter: I liked it a lot. If you enjoyed the other books, you’ll really like the final Harry Potter.

But you know you’ve been concentrating on search too much when you look at the book spine of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and the first thing you notice is “Wow, that font looks a lot like the font that Yahoo! uses for their logo.”

Don’t believe me? Sarah McFalls made a similar freeware Harry Potter font that she called Lumos.

Then I followed these short instructions to install a TTF font on an Ubuntu machine.

Now compare the two fonts:

Lumos font


Yahoo logo

Pretty close, huh? At least, the Y, A, and H looked similar to me. :)

Happy July 4th + digital photography + FeedBurner’s MyBrand

Hey, I hope everyone had a good Independence Day if you live in the United States, and a perfectly normal July 4th otherwise. My wife and I went to see fireworks at Shoreline in Mountain View, and I took my camera along:

Fourth of July fireworks

My fireworks pictures turned out 10x better than they ever have before. It’s true that I have a tripod and digital SLR now, but the pictures would have sucked again this year, except for a wonderful little book called The Digital Photography Book, by Scott Kelby. The idea behind this book is brilliant. From the back cover:

If you and I were out on a shoot, and you asked me, “Hey, how do I get this flower to be in focus, with the background out of focus?,” I wouldn’t stand there and give you a photography lecture. In real life, I’d just say “Put on your zoom lens, set your f-stop to f/2.8, focus on the flower, and fire away.” That’s what this book is all about: you and I out shooting where I answer questions … — without all the technical explanations and techie photo speak.

For the fireworks photos, the advice was
- Set your camera to full manual mode and put it on a tripod.
- Use a three or four second shutter speed.
- Set your aperture to f/11.

That’s all I did, and my photo snapshots were great. The book is jam-packed with tips like that. I highly recommend Kelby’s book if you’re starting out in photography.

By the way, a hat-tip to Rick Klau for turning me on to this book. It was one of the books I read on summer vacation.

This post is already longer than I intended, but I just want to send a shout-out to Rick Klau and all the Feedburner folks that joined Google. In my encounters with them before they joined Google, the FeedBurner team was amazing and humorous. Plus FeedBurner just started offering a couple really useful premium services for the low, low cost of free.

I was paying for one particular FeedBurner service called MyBrand. Instead of hosting your feeds on e.g. , the MyBrand services lets you create a CNAME subdomain so that the address of your feed can be instead. That way the “ownership” of the final feed location always stays under your control.

I’d say that anyone using FeedBurner should take advantage of the newly free MyBrand service. The best write-up I’ve seen of how to do it is this MyBrand tutorial by Danny Sullivan.

Good summer vacation books?

Okay, I was overwhelmed by all the creative vacation suggestions, so I’m going to ask for help once more. I’ll need 10-15 fun books to read on vacation. I got some awesome vacation book suggestions last year, so I’d love to hear any recommendations for this time. :)

A week or so ago and ordered
- Caught Stealing by Charlie Huston. In Dublin I happened upon Already Dead, Huston’s gritty vampire story set in Manhattan and told in neo-hard-boiled style. If you liked the movie Brick then you’ll like Charlie Huston. I’m just reading everything of his.
- Boomsday, by Christopher Buckley.
- True Stories I Made Up, a comedy CD by Daniel Tosh. I heard him do a bit on XM and thought I’d check him out more.
- Hacking Ubuntu by Neal Krawetz.

As you can tell, I’m running dangerously low on fiction. :) Normally I enjoy stuff including Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, William Gibson, Neal Stephenson, Bruce Sterling, Penny Arcade, Douglas Adams, Tranmetropolitan, Lee Child (but not many other thriller authors you’ll find in airport bookstores), Chuck Palahniuk, etc. So what do you recommend for some light summer vacation reading?

Update: Cool! Neal Krawetz (author of Hacking Ubuntu that I mentioned above) stopped by and even gave a few suggestions of his own! He also asked what I thought of his book so far. I’ve only skimmed a few parts, but so far I really like it. For example, it gives a really good description of EasyUbuntu vs. Automatix. The book also has nice screenshots to document things well. The only thing I noticed is that many of the tips are less about hacking Ubuntu and more about tweaking or tuning Ubuntu. Probably “Tuning Ubuntu” wouldn’t pack the same oomph with potential buyers compared to “Hacking Ubuntu” though. If you’re a rank beginner to Linux/Unix, the book wouldn’t be as good a match. But for anyone with any power user experience, Hacking Ubuntu looks like a great guide to tweaking Ubuntu to be just the way you want it. I may say more once I’m done with it.

Neil Gaiman’s son coming to Google

File this in the “kick-ass” department: Neil Gaiman’s son is coming to work at Google. Apple, you may have the sexy iPhone, but we’ve got Neil Gaiman’s son. :)

And if you don’t know who Neil Gaiman is, then I feel sorry for you. But also happy, because you get to read Neil Gaiman for the first time:
- Start with the Sandman series of graphic novels.
- Then get dark and eerie with Neverwhere if you want to know the real secrets of London. Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar are two of the most delightful villains I’ve had the pleasure of meeting.
- Lighten up with the hilarious Good Omens, which Gaiman wrote with Terry Pratchett.
- Round it out with Stardust, which wins my award for “Best use of the word ‘fuck‘ in small print, exactly once, in a book.” You’ll have to read it to understand.

If you see him in person, you quickly notice that Gaiman gives off this “I’m mellow enough to be game for anything” vibe. At a book signing, I asked him to sign a book “Ach Crivens” (which anyone will tell you is a Terry Pratchett-ism). He tilted his head at me for a second, maybe trying to figure out if I was right in the head, then smiled and let ‘er rip:

Ach Crivens!

So Gaiman is a good egg in my book. :) By the way, if you’re looking for a good non-search-engine blog, Neil’s is delightful. His posts are insightfully funny and self-effacing, and the way he responds to readers could be a case study in creating passionate fans.