Google Reader

To those of us who use an RSS reader it’s hard to imagine life without it.

But, we have to keep in mind that these are far from mainstream tools today. Think about your extended family: how many of them would be able to subscribe to an RSS feed without your help?

In the last couple of weeks I’ve introduced a few different people to Google Reader. Hopefully it will make it much easier for them to keep up with the various sites they are interested in.

I found this nice “Getting Started” guide on

How to get started with Google Reader

Sometimes it’s the technology we geeks take for granted that really has the potential to make a difference.

Extra for experts:

Firefox users will be familiar with the page which asked you to choose between Google Homepage and Google Reader when you use the built-in feed detection to subscribe to a new feed. I don’t use Google Homepage so this is a redundant step. With a simple about:config change you can skip this altogether.

Why blog?

Here is a really good example of the power of a blog:

  1. Go to
  2. Type “Rod” in the search box.
  3. Click “I feel lucky!”.

That’s right our Rod is the #1 Rod in the whole world!

What about Rod Stewart (with more than $250m of album sales, and six consecutive UK #1 albums) or Rod Laver (the only professional tennis player in history to win all four grand slams in the same year) or Rod Steiger (who won an Academy Award for best actor in 1967) or even Rod Flanders (son of Ned)?

All less important, according to Google.

As far as I can tell, none of them have a blog. Coincidence? ;-)

Amazingly this also works if you search for “Rowan Simpson” even though I’ve only been doing this blog for just over six months.

Thanks to everybody who has linked here or commented. You’ve all made it much easier for people who are looking to find me on Google.

And hopefully you’ve enjoyed some of what I’ve written in the process.

Green is the new black

Check this out:

According to my friend who sent this link to me…

“When your screen is white – either an empty word page, or a Google page, your computer consumes 74 watts, and when it’s black it consumes only 59 watts.

Mark Ontkush wrote an article about the energy saving that would be achieved if Google had a black screen, taking in account the huge number of page views, according to his calculations, 750 mega watts/hour per year would be saved.

In a response to this article Google created a black version of its search engine, called Blackle, with the exact same functions as the white version, but with a lower energy consumption, check it out.

It’s better for the world people!!”

Here is the Mark Ontkush article:



UPDATE (27-July): Turns out to be a bit of a scam. Go read the comments. Anyway, “green” is so yesterday. Today privacy is the new black. :-)


I’ve been Mac-curious for a while, I guess.

All of the cool kids have one.

At Kiwi Foo Camp earlier this year there were so many Apples it was like an orchard!

What was I missing out on?

I’ve been using Windows ever since I bought my first PC in 19961994. I didn’t (and don’t) consider Windows to be broken. On top of that I was obviously at the back of the queue when they handed out the Apple kool-aid … I still don’t even own an iPod.

But, they say a change is as good as a holiday, so I took the opportunity when I moved to Xero to try switching.

A month in and I’m hooked.

I have found that most of my assumptions were wrong.

For starters, I was surprised to find that it didn’t cost much more. I priced up a Dell and sent the details to a couple of Apple fanboys. The challenge for them was to convince me to buy an Apple instead. Actually it was pretty easy for them. I’d always assumed that Macs were more expensive. While it’s true that you can buy a much cheaper PC, when you compare like with like (Apples with not-Apples?) there is not a great difference.

OS X has been a surprise too.

I didn’t expect to rave about an operating system.

And I know that there are lots of people who don’t like it. Phil for one has taken the time to document the specific things that frustrated him.

But, I love it. It took me a few weeks to get through the valley of despair – or more accurately the valley of unfamiliar keyboard shortcuts. But, now I’m there I find I’m spending much less time fighting with software and more time getting on with things. It feels like the operating system has melted into the background compared to what I’m used to.

And I haven’t had any trouble finding software to use. Like Nic I’ve been pleasantly surprised to discover a healthy industry of small application developers creating great software for OS X. My favourites so far are Yojimbo (which has replaced my hitherto dependence on OneNote), VLC, and Quicksilver. And of course Firefox (I’ve also tried Camino, but in the end went back to Firefox for the add-ons). If you’re into Getting Things Done then Actiontastic is also worth keeping an eye on (although it’s not quite there yet for me). I’m also keeping an eye out for VMWare and Pixelmator.

The switch has also highlighted to me how much of my software now resides on the net and so is independent of the operating system – Gmail, Google Reader, WordPress, Xero, etc etc.

I’ve heard a number of people say that OS X isn’t suitable for business use. Now I can understand why.

Microsoft Office for the Mac is a pale imitation of the Windows equivalent. Entourage is especially painful. I’ve failed to get our Exchange server working with OS X Mail, so for now I’m stuck with it.

I’ve started to learn Omni Graffle and Keynote, but I’m still a bit of a novice with both, so I’m not as productive.

So, until the new Mac version of Microsoft Office comes out I’m resorting to running Vista on Parallels for some of this stuff. It’s a bit of a security blanket, but I’m cool with that. It’s a feature. As Marc Andreessen points out, with a Mac you effectively get three operating systems in one (OS X, Unix under the covers, and Windows in Parallels/BootCamp). Or, for a slightly more fanboy spin on the same point: “… all computers can run Windows, but some, the special ones from Apple, also run Mac OS X.” (from John Gruber).

I haven’t tried to do any development yet – although I know plenty of great developers who are Mac users, so I don’t expect any problems and again, with Parallels and/or BootCamp the development languages and environments I am more familiar with are only a mouse click away.

Of course, the hardware itself is super sexy. As Amnon said about the Dell when I sent him the comparison: “How will you live with yourself with that monstrosity in the house?” The only downside is I have had to upgrade my laptop bag to match!

As a long time ThinkPad user I wondered how I’d go with the track pad (I always thought I was more of a nipple man!) but I haven’t had any problems adjusting. I’m now addicted to the two-finger scroll.


Choosing the right time to buy seems to be a secret art. I was all ready to go until a friend pointed out that there would be a new version out shortly. I realise that Apple manage to generate a lot of buzz via their rumour mill. But, I have to wonder if they don’t create a fair bit of bad-will (is that a word?) when they make sudden leaps forward in their product lines. Take, as an example, this comment from the forums following the announcement of the new MacBookPro range:

“NOOOOOOOOO! I’ve just bought my new Macbook Pro! Loving it alot. But now……. a little less.”

To get around this I got a temporary machine from Rentamac for a couple of months until the new model was released. This would also be a good option if you’re not totally sure that you’ll want to stick with a Mac.

Would I recommend it?

Definitely give it a try.

I can also recommend a Mac to anybody who is looking to opt out of providing tech support to their extended family. I got an iMac to replace Mum & Dad’s old PC, and I can now honestly say I don’t know how to fix any problems they have when they call. Although, so far to be fair there haven’t been any to fix!

Now, about that iPod … :-)

Cartoon from: Hugh McLeod

[Blogged from SuperHappyDevHouse Aotearoa!]

Parlez vous Anglais?

Some interesting responses to my post yesterday about the evergreen VB.NET/C# debate.

Andrew from Mindscape makes the point that every different language has “different levels of expressiveness and also different aesthetics.”

Quite right.

He posts this Ruby code snippet …

10.times {|i| puts i }

… and asks “Which do you find more beautiful?”.

The VB.NET equivalent is:

For i As Integer = 0 To 9

I agree that the Ruby code is beautiful.

However, I’m not sure that is the right thing for us to optimise on.

How about optimising for readability? Most code is read much more often than it is written. When we’re designing databases we understand what this means. Adding an index to a table adds a small cost to every write, but it’s worth it in situations where there are many more reads than writes. But we don’t seem to apply the same principles to the code we write.

I’ve worked on a few different applications now and can’t think of any where the limiting factor was the number of keystrokes in the code. And as a couple of people have pointed out a good IDE setup can significantly help with this anyway.

MVP Alex calls the VB syntax “ridiculously clumsy”, and points the finger specifically at keywords like Overridable, NotOverridable, and MustOverride.

I guess that depends on what language is native for you. For me, when I read ‘virtual’ (a term that can actually mean 1000 different things depending on the context) I have to translate that into ‘able to be overridden’ or ‘overridable’. I’m not the only one.

You say tomato, I say tomato.

And that was really the point I was trying to make.

An argument between two developers about which language is “best” is like a debate between an Englishman and a Frenchman. Each will prefer their own language. And each will be right because they will both be able to express themselves best in their own native language.

And again, while the debate continues, important problems remain unsolved.


C# vs VB.NET

Kirk (one of my new colleagues at Xero) and Phil (one of my old colleagues at Trade Me – Phil, where’s your blog?) have organised a C# vs. VB.NET debate for the Wellington .NET users group tonight.

Should be fun.

My predictions:

  • Most of the audience will be C# developers;
  • Few of them will have ever used VB.NET in anger;
  • Despite that, they will have already convinced themselves somehow that VB.NET is inferior;
  • None, if challenged, would be able to build anything using C# that Phil couldn’t build just as well in VB.

Meanwhile, important problems remain unsolved.


Update: I’ve responded to some of the comments and emails generated by this post in a subsequent post called Parlez vous Anglais?

Giving people what they want

Andy Lark has a nice post on The Power of Community.

This quote of his has stuck in my head:

“Marketing programs, clever PR and community activation aside, nothing really beats giving people what they want.”

Too true!

As I’ve noted before, one way to market a product or service is to build something that people love to use and happily tell their friends about.

He also maks an interesting point about how much of the iPhone story has been told in community-driven sites like Digg et al:

“Apple is launching the iPhone at a time when content aggregation sites like Digg, Techmeme, and even Google News can put a potential customer before hundreds, if not thousands, of possibly interesting stories about the product. All Apple has to do is trickle out information every now and then, as it has done in the weeks leading up to Friday’s launch, and watch the frenzy take hold.”

Here’s an interesting comparison along those lines:

The Official Nokia N95 site

A pretty standard marketing site: slick, flash-based, but doesn’t really tell me much about the product that I really believe.

The Nokia N95 page on Wikipedia

A pretty good summary of the phone and it’s features, including some of its flaws:

“Nokia N95 handsets supplied by Orange and Vodafone in the UK have had the VoIP facility removed from the phone to the annoyance of many users. Vodafone’s explanation for removing the facility was that ‘it doesn’t believe it’s a mature technology’.”

“It should be noted that the N95 does not support US based versions of UMTS/HSDPA; UMTS features in the US versions of this phone are disabled by default (but can be reactivated if needed).”

Which is more useful to somebody considering a purchase?


So the iPhone hype (iHype?) is reaching fever pitch.

I’m struggling to get excited … yet.

I’m guessing it’s going to be years before they are available here in NZ.

And it doesn’t look good for those who were considering using something like Shipbuktu to get their hands on one …

“Then there is the issue of the iPhone being sim-locked. And I don’t just mean that the phone is locked, nope, the sim is locked physically into the phone! It can’t be removed. Seemingly there is a way to map your existing number to the sim in your iPhone – this will be part of the activation process. But you can’t take your sim out of the phone for any reason. What happens when you want to upgrade to a new phone? No idea. Presumably this will be straightforward if your new phone is another iPhone – but if it is not…”

From: Tom Raftery’s Social Media

Those in the US need to sign up for a two-year contract at US$60 per month.

Now that’s lock in!

UPDATE: (from this thread on GeekZone) apparently this video shows that you can actually remove the sim by poking a paper clip into this hole.  So, not easy, but possible.

Wiki Groaning

This courtesy of Helen Baxter from Mowhawk Media on National Radio’s “Virtual World” segment this week …Wiki Groaning is a Wikipedia game in the spirit of Google Whacking.

To find a Wiki Groan pick a useful general interest Wikipedia article. Then, find a related article that is longer, but at the same time, completely trivial.

Some examples:


The show is half and hour and this piece is near the end. But, listen to the whole thing as they also cover Ponoko and PlanHQ, two exciting Wellington-based web businesses.

Web 2.0: fizz or substance

Marc Andreessen has recently started his own blog.

An awseome addition to the conversation I’m sure you’ll agree.

One of his first posts is about Web 2.0.

He doesn’t seem to be a fan:

“Web 2.0 has been picked up as a term by the entrepreneurial community and its corollaries in venture capital, the press, analysts, large media and Internet companies, and Wall Street to describe a theoretical new category of startup companies.

Or a ‘space’, if you will.

As in, ‘ is in the Web 2.0 space’.

At its simplest level, this is just shorthand to indicate a new Web company.

The technology industry has a long history of creating and naming such ‘spaces’ to use as shorthand.

Before the ‘Web 2.0 space’, you had the ‘dot com space’, the ‘intranet space’, the ‘B2B space’, the ‘B2C space’, the ‘security space’, the ‘mobile space’ (still going strong!)… and before that, the ‘pen computing’ space, the ‘CD-ROM multimedia space’, the ‘artificial intelligence’ space, the ‘mini-supercomputer space’, and going way back, the ‘personal computer space’. And many others.

But there is no such thing as a ‘space’.

There is such a thing as a market — that’s a group of people who will directly or indirectly pay money for something.

There is such a thing as a product — that’s an offering of a new kind of good or service that is brought to a market.

There is such a thing as a company — that’s an organized business entity that brings a product to a market.

But there is no such thing as a ‘space’.

And, as far as startups are concerned, there is no such thing as Web 2.0.”

This all doesn’t bode well for Brenda, Phil and Che, who will be the negative team in a celebrity debate that I’m going to be moderating at the next Webstock Mini on Tuesday 19th June.

If you’re going to be in Wellington make sure you book your tickets today and get along.

We’ll see you there!


Rumours last week suggested the upcoming “Leopard” release of OS X would use the ZFS file system.

I’d never heard of that, so I asked Wikipedia to fill me in:

It turns out that ZFS stands for “Zettabyte File System” (a zettabyte is equal to one hundred thousand million gigabytes!) and was developed by Sun Microsystems.

It is a 128-bit system, and has been designed to have storage limits which are “so large that they will never be encountered in practice”, so large in fact that it couldn’t be filled up without literally “boiling the ocean”:

“The mass of the oceans is about 1.4×1021kg. It takes about 4,000J to raise the temperature of 1kg of water by 1 degree Celsius, and thus about 400,000J to heat 1kg of water from freezing to boiling. The latent heat of vaporization adds another 2 million J/kg. Thus the energy required to boil the oceans is about 2.4×106J/kg * 1.4×1021kg = 3.4×1027J. Thus, fully populating a 128-bit storage pool would, literally, require more energy than boiling the oceans.”
Source: Jeff Bonwick’s Blog

You’ve gotta smile!

Recently closed tabs

As of this morning I have a new favourite Firefox feature:

History > Recently closed tabs

As the name suggests it lists any tabs that have been closed in the last wee while. It’s like an undo button for when you accidentally close the wrong tab.

Simple, but brilliant!

(extra: there is even an extension available which allows you to add this function directly to the toolbar)