Probability Tree

The personal site of Joseph Agreda

Filtering by Category: Web


This is entirely random. But the more I think about it, and evaluate my employment options come May, the more I get the feeling that I'm a Product Person. First, a few counter-points.

I love/hate math. Really, I love logic, which is why I am repeatedly drawn back in computer science and engineering stuff in general. Nothing beats pouring through tech specs on a new device or technology. And I do love the thrill of squashing that bug and troubleshooting something into oblivion. But when it comes down to algorithm design or optimization, I start to glaze over and I get bored. It's not that it's hard, it's that after a while, something so deeply mathematic starts to bore me and I look for something more broadly complex. Something larger.

I understand networking. Well. Not only that, but the history of the stuff is fascinating as well. But I can explain TCP/IP, and "how routing protocols help route routed protocols" (Cisco CCNA 3.0). Routers, switches, and big telco metal are tons of fun and do present the kind of troubleshooting and design challenges that I revel in on a technical level. Elegance in network design and the knowledge that our fiber link isn't going to collapse upon itself like so many dying stars is tremendously rewarding. But here again, I eventually get bored. Things are always exciting yes, but they do start to fall into patterns for me, and things can become so process oriented and slow (for good reason) that creativity is often stifled and the new and dangerous don't really have a chance to flourish.

Then, there's Product and Design.

Both are essentially creative endeavours, and both (in the right org) are going to be pushing the envelope to something prettier, more useful, faster, and so on. Moreso than design, I see Product as being a sort of 3,000 feet high view of a single product/design/problem with the fun problem-solving part being the before, during and after "vision" fiddly bits. The way my brain sees it, is that when designing and guiding a product, you're constantly solving a puzzle. If you're lucky, you start at the beginning so you get to choose your foundation and initial direction, in either case you're having to be consistently one step ahead, choosing the next move in anticipation of what will follow, and steering the big ship on a dime (as some would say) to course correct for any missteps that follow. In my experience, the fun parts always come together in crisis, such as in the STS mission simulator when you're acting as Flight Director and you just realized that the Shuttle has lost usage of two fuel cells and is in the middle of a docking maneuver with the ISS. The best of times are often the worst of times, if for no other reason than you survived.

At the end of this midnight excursion, I finally found the perfect analogy for all of this. Chess.

Chess club taught me two things. 1, move your pieces forward quickly, aggressively, and intelligently (react, not reactive). And 2, never ever underestimate the power of dumb luck.

Good night.

The Blogging Cake

When I think about blogging, and all the tools we have to make the task simply easier or possible at all, I can't help but think of a layer cake. I'm going to dive into a bit of an analogy ride here (I am a big fan of analogies) partly to help explain the concept of a blog to my peers and friends who keep asking me to try and explain it to them. If this is simple stuff for you, just move along, this will get interesting in a later post. To define a "blog" in the terms of a dictionary, we would start with something like "a Web site on which an individual or group of users produces and ongoing narrative". In other words, a site that is regularly updated, can also suffice. The use of the word has become so broad that it requires some hands-on use and some refinement.

On with the cake.

The analogy only carries so far, so bear with me. At the base, where the cake is biggest, we have regular old blogs. This site being an okay example, but also other WordPress blogs, Blogger blogs, MovableType, Django-based blogs, etc. Blogging software or systems that allow full and complete (for the most part) customization of the interface, and addition of new functionality through the use of plug-ins or other software.

The second layer in the cake is something called LiveJournal. I first got started with the thing back at the end of middle school going into high school. Needless to say there's a lot of junk there, typical ramblings and rants of a teenager. Had it been a few years later, it could have just as easily been a "MySpace Blog". Same stuff. But nowadays LiveJournal has evolved into essentially, community blogging. There are thousands of group journals that people contribute to covering a massive array of topics. This has been seen before, it was called Usenet, or newsgroups. It's also pretty similar (when you get into the commenting threads) to a typical online forum or other bulletin board system. But really the majority of LiveJournals are personal, structured like blogs, and themselves tie into the greater community at large. Moderately sophisticated commenting tools allow other users to start threaded conversations about that post, or something else entirely. So, LiveJournal allow people to blog in a more or less watered down way (it's hosted, so a lot of the magic sauce is behind closed doors), and it's community centric.

Now we get into the third, somewhat smaller, layer in our cake. Services such as Tumblr and/or Pownce. Now I know there are others in the area, but let's keep this simple for the time being. These services are not intended to directly compete with a service like Blogger or WordPress, rather, they are along the vein of something called a MicroBlog. In this case, Tumblr is a specialized MicroBlog, while Pownce is a bit more broad and generic. Tumblr for instance, is focused on acting as a simple and easy to use online scrapbook. So you post all the neat little pictures and video clips you come across online to Tumblr and your friends can come on up and see them or they can subscribe to your Tumblelog (like one subscribes to an RSS feed). Pownce has a similar capability of allowing you to post up images, audio, video and text, but both have a focus on quick and short posts. They are not set up to carry on extended stories or conversations. Although there have been some creative uses in that application of these sorts of services, that's not the focus.

Which brings us to my favorite part of the cake, the top. The best example I have, is a service I use all the time and love, Twitter. Keep in mind this is a hierarchy of content types/styles, not necessarily the winners or losers or anything like that. But here we get into a really interesting idea. Twitter is rather unlike Pownce or Tumblr in that it not only does not allow you to attach images or videos directly to your "tweets" (posted updates), but you are limited in how many characters you can upload in a single tweet, 140 chars to be exact. Twitter has found a plethora of uses, notably the idea of a "lifestream", the posting of your day, play-by-play. For instance, you could be tweeting weather updates on your way to work on the train while also tweeting about a news story you noticed in the newspaper while tweeting what you're eating for breakfast. Not all at once mind you, but you get the idea. Others use it in much the way one might use, tweeting URLs of interesting things they come across online. There are many more uses we could get into, not to mention the communication theories that are at play here, but I'll save that for another post. Here, we're just getting the lay of the land.

An important thing to note with all of these, is there are a number of ways to interact with these services. Most notably, Twitter, which has in my opinion, the best desktop companion to the service. It's called Twitterific and is a wonderful Mac application that sits in your menu bar and totally changes the way you think and interact with Twitter. Someone else already gave a pretty good explanation on his views on the matter, but in short, when you use Twitter through something like Twitterific, your use and approach of the information delivered through it is changed. For me, Twitter is an application that lives on my desktop, and dutifully notifies me of interesting tweet every 5 minutes, and to whom I can quickly and easily tweet away with and easily track and form conversations through Twitter's direct messaging option. To someone else, and in fact, very many of the first users of Twitter, it is a website and an SMS updating service. Part of the reason for the character limit system-wide is the character limits placed on the US SMS system. One of the primary interfaces for Twitter when it first launched was the SMS (AKA: TXT or texting) screen on a cell phone and the other was the web site itself. Tweets would be sent to your phone from those you followed, and visa versa. This, so far, is the thinest of the MicroBlogging layers.

All these services exist to fill a need that was not met with the tools that existed prior to them. They are all empowered with RSS, and are all offered (for the most part), free of charge. They are quickly changing the models of communication that we are studying right now in class, and I am extremely excited to be alive right now to witness what is happening. I could gush for hours on end, but the point is simply this. Go out and try them out. Find the ones that work best for you. I abandoned LiveJournal a long time ago, but I am active on my blog once again and I am now an avid Twitter'er through Twitterific. Try them out and get back to me with your findings.


© Joseph Agreda 2008-2015