Envy Is So Unbecoming…

A few months ago, an friend of mine from HMC forwarded us all a link to a Channel 9 discussion about Microsoft’s Avalon project, hosted by fellow ’97 alum Joe Beda. The general reaction of the recipients was, “Holy crap, Joe’s gone bald!” I didn’t care about the hair; my reaction was, “Holy crap, Joe’s one of the lead developers on Avalon!”

Fast forward a few months, and it turns out Joe has left his high-profile job at Microsoft, to take another job at Google. I don’t know how high-profile this new Google job is, but apparently it’s important enough to be reported in nationally-syndicated media outlets.

Well, Joe says it’s not all that newsworthy… but come on, can’t you just smell the false humility? I’m all about rooting for my fellow alumni,[1] but this is starting to get ridiculous. To Joe I say, pbbbbhhllt! At least I still have all my hair.

1. I’m trying to think of other HMC grads who are moderately famous in the software world. Bookmarklet guru Jesse Ruderman springs to mind, but these days he’s mainly famous for his interest in porn. The only other one I can think of is Wes Cherry, that dude who invented Windows Solitaire for free when he was an intern. Well, that’s something, at least.

Make Money Fast with Clean Markup

Rakesh Pai: “The Economics of XHTML” (via Anne Van Kesteren). Anne advises that when you read Rakesh’s article, you sub in “semantic HTML” for “XHTML”. That’s a good substitution, although I actually prefer “clean markup.” Making your markup more semantic is a good thing, up to a point. Once you cross a certain line, your mind begins an inevitable slide into Semantic Extremism, until eventually you’ve convinced yourself that everything should be a list item or some such nonsense.[1] But I digress.

There have been countless articles like Rakesh’s about how XHTML clean markup will save you big bucks. Honestly, I don’t fundamentally doubt the overall theory, but it disturbs me that none of these fine articles puts out hard numbers on how much money you’ll actually save in practice. The most concrete examples in the genre so far are the “redesign articles”, wherein the author picks a large site with crufty markup, redesigns the home page with clean markup, and performs a highly naive calculation of the bandwidth saved. The best article that I know of is Mike Davidson’s interview with DevEdge, and even that piece only provides a theoretical estimate.

So let’s all put on our Business Analyst hats and ask a few questions that might be pertinent for designing an actual case study. To be sure, thinking in BizDev does not come naturally to most folks, certainly not me.[2] So first, a short cleansing ritual, to prepare the mind for these alien thoughts:

Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Forbes R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn! ROI! ROI! ROI! Aiiiiieeee!

Ah, there we go. Now, consider a largish commercial site:

  • What are the actual bandwidth savings over one-month period, factoring in caching, real-world resource request patterns, etc.?

  • How much does a TB of bandwidth go for these days? How much will that same TB cost three years from now?

  • How much developer time does it take to refactor a complicated CMS to produce clean markup?

  • How much developer time does it take to clean up legacy content? Is this archived material accessed often enough to be worth cleaning?

  • Are developers who have modern skills more expensive than old-skool <font>-happy developers? (I would think so.)

  • What percentage of visitors use NN 4 or IE 4? Does the revenue lost from these visitors outweigh the overall bandwidth savings?

  • How much does it cost to employ other techniques to speed up your site, such as enabling conditional gzip compression? Comparing these techniques with a total redesign, which ones are the cheapest?

I don’t have the answers to these questions. But I do suspect that any web design shops that can answer these questions (with non-foofy numbers) basically have a license to print money.

1. If we all lived in Web Designer City, a metropolis bustling with architects and bricklayers, professors and artists, hustlers and street vendors, you would be the guy staggering down the street, muttering to himself.

2. Business persons tend to ask questions that either A) make no sense or B) are so hard that any response you get back is almost certainly a lie. Or if we’re feeling charitable, a “Wild Ass Guess.”

Quick Hits: The Muggles of Physics

Or, my official “this journal is not yet moribund” post. Err, well, you be the judge.

  • The U.S. Energy Dept. is taking another look at Cold Fusion [via Slashdot].

    Ah, cold fusion. The field of inquiry that is predicated on the belief that chemical reactions of ~5 eV can affect the threshold energies of reactions that require 50,000 eV or more. Of course, this being Slashdot, it wasn’t too hard to find a conspiracy theorist or two modded up. Actually, if you want a better conspiracy theory, physicist Chad Orzel has one for you: if the DOE is thinking about funding cold fusion research, that enables the administration to say that they are “researching alternative energy sources” without, actually, like, researching any alternative energy sources. I wouldn’t listen to Orzel though; as he himself admits, he’s just a nutbar conspiracy theorist.

  • Well, forget about cold fusion. If you’re jonesin’ for some real physics (and who isn’t?), one need look no further than Britney Spears’s Guide to Semiconductor Physics.

    “It is a little known fact that Ms Spears is an expert in semiconductor physics. Not content with just singing and acting, in the following pages, she will guide you in the fundamentals of the vital laser components that have made it possible to hear her super music in a digital format.”

    It actually looks to be a pretty informative introduction to semiconductor physics,[1] although high school or college students looking for term paper material should note that it is probably not a good idea to list this reference explicitly in your bibliography. Just lie and say it came from the IEEE. You should also probably avoid cribbing this illustration of the conduction and valence bands.

  • And speaking of the IEEE, they have another article that takes a look at music encoding algorithms [also via Slashdot]. “At its heart, the MP3 format uses an algorithm that takes the data contained in CD music relating loudness to specific points in time and transforms it instead into data relating loudness to specific frequencies.” When I first read this, I thought, “This is the IEEE and they can’t bring themselves to say ‘Fourier Transform’?” Then I started googling, and discovered you don’t necessarily have to use FFT to do the encoding. You can come up with whatever algorithm you like, and you can even charge people for it if you like. How ’bout that, you learn something new on the Intarweb every day.

    Now, if I was going to write an MP3 encoder, I would use a Laplace Transform. If you think that’s perverse, I apologize… I can’t help it, it’s the way I was brought up.

  • I saw a bumper sticker yesterday, “Bush is a Muggle.” At first I thought, well, of course he’s a Muggle, we’re all Muggles in the strict sense of the definition. Then I thought, maybe that was the bumper sticker’s point? Maybe it’s a very subtle pro-Bush bumper sticker?

    1. Bush is a Muggle.
    2. I’m a Muggle, you’re a Muggle.
    3. We’re all just happy Muggles together. Revel in our common Muggle-osity!

    Then I thought, I’m thinking a little too hard about this.

Time to go make the mint syrup for the mojitos for today’s barbeque. It’s a quadruple batch, Yum!

1. Not only informative, but entertaining as well:

Note that in this technical region [temperature range] if the counter doping is negligible, Na << Nd or Nd << Na, (35) and (37) simplify to

n = Nd (39)

p = Na (40)

which is what we tell the engineers.