WordPress 2.5 Release Candidate

I am very crunched for time today, but tonight I’ll be installing the WordPress 2.5 release candidate on one of my development blogs and give a full report here–probably posted sometime very early Wednesday morning.

WordPress new interface

From the looks of it, the “Write” section of the dashboard is going to be much improved, which is an area I think WP needed to catch up.  Another great new feature will be a customizable dashboard.  Both of these features should work out great for me, as one of my projects in the works is going to have scores of contributers.  I want to be able to limit the functionality for experienced users and also make it as easy as possible for newer users to contribute using WordPress.

Sort The Viewers, Not The Movies

My buddy IB sent this article to me…very interesting.  Netflix is running a contest for data crunchers and offering $1M to anyone (or any team) that can beat their current recommendation system by 10%.  One of the leaders is a psychologist working by himself who is looking less at raw data and more at human nature.

One such phenomenon is the anchoring effect, a problem endemic to any numerical rating scheme. If a customer watches three movies in a row that merit four stars — say, the Star Wars trilogy — and then sees one that’s a bit better — say, Blade Runner — they’ll likely give the last movie five stars. But if they started the week with one-star stinkers like the Star Wars prequels, Blade Runner might get only a 4 or even a 3. Anchoring suggests that rating systems need to take account of inertia — a user who has recently given a lot of above-average ratings is likely to continue to do so.

I think this guy is onto something, and I’d like to see this move a step further.  Associating movies using k nearest neighbor is relatively straightforward, but attacking the other side of the equation (the viewer) is a lot tougher.  Here’s an example…

“The Outlaw Josie Wales” is one of my favorite movies, but that doesn’t mean that an algorithm could spit out a bunch of westerns and give me something I like.  Clint Eastwood movies wouldn’t do it either, but it would be a little closer.  The real way to suggest movies for me would be to look at some other factors that aren’t so obvious.  You need to be able to draw conclusions from my other favorites–“Fight Club”, “Pulp Fiction”, “Smoky and the Bandit”, and “Swingers”.  You may peg all of these as “guy movies”, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to like “Gladiator”.  In fact, I hated “Gladiator”.  A movie like “Thelma and Louise” is a much better suggestion for me than “Gladiator”.  Why?  Because it is much more quotable, and that’s something my favorite movies suggest that I like.

Just an example, but that’s the direction we’re going.  In order to make a powerful suggester for anything (books, movies, music, raincoats, etc.), it is now necessary to consider the individual making the purchase instead of a one-size-fits all approach.  How else can you help a guy like me who hates sci-fi but loved “The Matrix” and can’t stand to watch horror flicks but has seen “Scream” several times?

I’m oversimplifying it a bit, but this is a very difficult problem.  You’re basically tasked with generalizing a solution which has to consider literally millions of individual problems within the problem.  It’s very tough to quantify so many parameters in so many dimensions.

What amazes me most is that this is such a simple task for us to complete in our heads.  Computers are still so far behind us in our ability to do something as simple as watch a movie and think to ourselves, “That movie sucked, but my buddy really likes movies like this…I think I’ll suggest it to him.”

Yeah, What He Said

The other day I posted a meandering attempt at not ranting about information technology and the manufacturing sector. Today, Seth Godin wrote a post about basically the same thing. The difference is, his post actually makes some sense.

Talent is too smart to stay long at a company that wants it to be a cog in a machine. Great companies want and need talent, but they have to work for it.

Stop whatever you are doing and read the whole post. If you don’t read Seth, you probably should. Whether you are the guy running the show or the guy who sweeps the floors at night, he has great insight delivered daily for free.

And here’s a nice bit of irony for you…Seth Godin’s blog (for whatever reason) is blocked by our corporate IS department. Luckily, the concept of RSS feeds and readers hasn’t trickled down to them yet, so we can still read whatever we want through them.

Give them a few years and they’ll get Google Reader blocked as well.

BIG Manufacturing. Last to Know, Last to Go

I was mulling my current employment situation over yesterday, and I thought of something that I think not many people have realized yet. Dare I say this is a bold prediction?

Big manufacturing companies are notorious for being late adopters of technology. From my experience, technology tends to happen to them instead happening for them. Allowing this to continue is fast becoming a dangerous approach to business.

Manufacturers (especially the large ones) prefer to dictate the market (especially the labor market) instead of adjust to it. When the market changes, most adjust slowly and reluctantly. They’ve been successful thus far with this strategy, especially when dealing with their production work force. But they are quickly falling behind in dealing with their IT work force.

Why are they falling behind and why is this dangerous?  Because IT is becoming more and more integral in measuring and locating the biggest threat to manufacturing margins–inefficiencies.  The cost for entry into efficiency analysis technologies is becoming cheaper and cheaper, which allows smaller manufacturers with more agile and hungry management to tool up with the same resources as BIG manufacturers.  As a result, the demand for those with the skills to implement these technologies is growing.

Many big manufactures haven’t tooled themselves to the point of realizing that their old methods of measuring inefficiency are themselves inefficient.

By being late adopters, many BIG manufactures are getting a late start to using the technology available to them, and even those who catch on early run the risk of losing their talent to market forces over which their control is diminishing because of their “business as usual” mentality.

Want to see what technology can do to big industries that try to maintain the status quo in changing marketplaces?  Check out what is happening to some other “bigs”–namely BIG music and BIG newspapers.

Of course, there’s always the possibility that I’m completely wrong.  Time will tell.

Microsoft to Buy Yahoo!?

From the WSJ:

The offer, $31 a share in cash and stock, is a 62% premium to Thursday’s closing price. Microsoft said Yahoo holders would be able to trade their shares for cash or 0.9509 Microsoft shares a piece, with no more than half of the overall purchase price paid in cash.

Seems too good for Yahoo! shareholders to pass up. What would it mean for us?

It could have a big affect on bloggers and site owners. Currently Google dominates the pay per click advertising market with AdSense. Microsoft getting control of Yahoo’s advertising network could mean a higher payout for publishers and maybe even some transparency in just what percentage of the cost of an ad a site owner is paid for a click. Currently, there is no market force to compel Google to pay out higher rates or to disclose their payout percentages.

Microsoft can actually afford to operate a division at a loss for a while in order to change the market. For proof, look no further than Internet Explorer and the X-Box.

Of course, Google could always counter with an even better offer. It’s a good time to hold Yahoo! stock, huh?

Sun Buys MySQL

I don’t write about tech stuff here too often, but since this blog, and most likely yours*, is backended by MySQL, it’s relevant. MySQL’s business model works like this–it’s free (as in beer) to use, but enterprise level users do pay the company for support. That’s what makes it so great for the web. People can back end blogs, content management systems, bulletin boards, and just about anything else they can imagine using freely available open-source tools. In fact, there’s even an acronym for the most commonly used tools working together (LAMP–Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP). For the end user, more than likely nothing will change.

So why does it matter to us that Sun now owns it? Because the fact that Sun owns it means that Google, Microsoft, and Oracle don’t own it.

Story

*HM, I know you do your own blog engining…mad props.

This Hits a Nerve

XKCD is an online comic strip for nerds.  Usually they stick to programming, uh, “jokes” and making fun of the fact that nerds can’t get girls.  I have had chick-getting skills so I mostly like this strip to laugh at my peers.  But this one cut pretty deep…

Lessons From the Record Industry

Seth Godin has a great post today on the lessons to be learned from the music business.  It’s a little lengthy for a Godin post, but it’s definitely worth the full read.

I shouldn’t have to say this, but here goes: suing people is like going to war. If you’re going to go to war with tens of thousands of your customers every year, don’t be surprised if they start treating you like the enemy.

This point alone is a lesson that the record companies themselves still don’t seem to have learned.

SAFE Bill Makes Me Feel Vulnerable

I’ve read a lot of bellyaching today about the SAFE Act.  Mostly people are worried that free WiFi access will disappear from Starbucks, hotels, bars, bike shops, and airports.

But Ars Technica says:

the bill doesn’t require any active surveillance of user behavior, and it won’t affect your local coffee shop’s WiFi, despite what you may have read.

I think this bill is bad, but not just because I’m worried that free WiFi is going away.   I think it’s bad because it is, well, bad.  If strictly enforced, as some fear it will be, it is invasive.  If not strictly enforced, it is worthless.  Why?  Because it doesn’t actually fix anything.

Proponents of the bill say that it is an effort to curb child pornography.  What a noble cause.  The problem is, that this doesn’t actually address that problem.  It only increases the responsibility of providers to report this activity and increases the penalty on them for not reporting it.  I see this all too often at my job, where this type of thing is called a “countermeasure”.  Very telling.  It doesn’t move towards a solution to a problem, only a reaction to it.

No, this bill doesn’t mention coffee shops and restaurants.  But it doesn’t give them exemption either.  One of the sponsors says the intent of the bill is not to punish mom and pop shops offering WiFi. 

It is NOT the intent of the SAFE Act to target Wi-Fi providers but rather the entities that provide the internet to those conduits. 

Then I’m confused.  Why wasn’t it written clearly enough to express its intent?  And if passed into law, who will decide how should be applied?  My guess is the courts–yet another opportunity for judges to legislate from the bench.

By the way, only two members of the House voted against this Bill.  Guess who was one of them.

Your Computer Will Get Thinner–Guaranteed

I’ve been saying for quite a while, at least 5 years, that we aren’t far away from a time when your desktop computer will be little more than a browser, with all of your applications and data stored server side–somewhere out there.  The day may be closer than you think according to the Wall Street Journal.

Google is preparing a service that would let users store on its computers essentially all of the files they might keep on their personal-computer hard drives — such as word-processing documents, digital music, video clips and images, say people familiar with the matter. The service could let users access their files via the Internet from different computers and mobile devices when they sign on with a password, and share them online with friends. It could be released as early as a few months from now, one of the people said.

I think this is a good and bad thing.  Good because it will open up the ability to store and share information between individuals.  Bad in that Google is the entity doing it.  As far as I can imagine, no competitor has both the resources and the power to do it.  Microsoft?  Maybe, but they are going in so many directions and have their fingerss in a lot of pies.  Google is web focused.