Monthly Archives: June 2009

Why I don’t own a Kindle

I would love to own a Kindle. I borrowed one for a week and even bought a book. It was easy enough to read and the convenience of having dozens of books in a single object. The battery life was good and although the UI wasn’t perfect it was good at staying out of the way.

The most obvious downside is the DRM. On so many levels I cannot countenance supporting any DRM regime. Experience has shown that sooner or later everyone will get screwed by DRM. Philosophically I cannot countenance supporting or encouraging any DRM regime although pragmatically it has been impossible to be entirely free of DRM.  I also understand that Amazon is walking a tight line here.  They want to establish the market and must appease the greedy and paranoid delusional publishers and author’s guild.  Roy Blount Jr. this means you.

The other major downside was the relative fragility of the physical device. A printed book is a remarkably robust thing. It can get somewhat wet, it can sustain intense shock, it never runs out of power.  The Kindle is pretty solid but it’s  no book.

In the week that I tried the Kindle I realized that I would probably trade the relative hardware fragility for the convenience.  After all, it’s only a few hundred and if a device is damaged one can always buy another and re-download all the content. Right? It turns that the answer is a DRM infested “not so much.”  How tragic that two weaknesses join forces to undermine the product entirely.  The utter lack of transparency by Amazon about download limits is at best an embarrassed omission and at worst a bald faced deception.  Even Apple did a better job of this.  I found out a little while ago that Apple let’s you reset your device count once per year.  In this case we’re talking about authorized computers but there’s no difference  That’s really smart.  It covers all kinds of legitimate scenarios but is nowhere near enough for any practical form of abuse.

Looking for wireframing and site map tools

I’ve been looking for tools to help with site maps and wireframing.  Visio is not the answer here.  I’m much more interested in the functional architecture of the page and site than pretty layouts.

In no particular order, here’s what I’ve found so far:

A few months ago I stumbled across something that looked great (and was open source) but now I can’t remember.  This is definitely an ongoing research project.  Please comment with other ideas.

Alternatives to DNS

While researching BigTable for the previous post about Hammers and nails and the rise of search engines over relational databases I came across mention of Google’s Chubby Lock Service.  This was inside an article about distributed lock managers and points out how they are in effect simple distributed file systems.  The article then goes on to suggest that Chubby has supplanted DNS inside Google.

I presume this to mean that instead of using the existing DNS protocol to distribute information they using Chubby (where the  value of the “lock” is the address of its name).  Do they have a custom DNS client stack?  I doubt it, more likely they have local DNS servers that act as proxies.

I wonder what actual gains they derive from this architecture.

Of hammers and nails

I’ve been a busy boy lately.  I’m in the early phases of two different projects, one of which is taking up all of my time and the other of which is taking up the rest of my time.  :)

One of my projects involved faceted search.  This is also known as search directed navigation.  What’s interesting is how this approach is becoming the new hotness.  Not only are multiple clients broaching the topic but as I become familiar with it I see faceted search as a solution to other projects as well.

Given how popular faceted search has become it’s surprising how few solutions are available.  The king of the hill these days appears to be Endeca.  I’ve been getting to know this quite a bit and while it is quite expensive it’s also really good.  Most people should be going this route.  If you’re building a platform then something like Solr is an option but if you plan to keep changing your search configuration, Endeca is hard to beat.  Do you really want to develop and maintain your own search system?  What business are you in?  Spread over a five to six year period, the cost of a commercially supported product like Endeca is a pretty easy sell.

I think we’re finally seeing the beginning of the end of the relational database era.  Relational databases will always have their place but developers are now able to apply other solutions.  Search based applications and BigTable like distributed stores are coming to the fore.  Even when you need transactional behaviour there are interesting locking models that are akin to row locking that cover many common scenarios.

When will the Rails of search based apps emerge?