ailon's DevBlog: Development related stuff in my life

Raising a Generation of Liars

7/11/2011 7:17:24 PM

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Photo by Leo Reynolds

Windows Phone, Zune, Xbox Live

I’ve bought a second Windows Phone. At current prices in Europe it’s basically on par with iPod Touch as far as the price goes. So I got it to be able to test stuff on more devices and, primarily, as a phoneless gaming device for my daughter. It seems to work just fine w/o the SIM card.

My daughter has had Windows Live ID for some time already. Windows Live Family Safety is awesome at helping parents give reasonable and safer internet access to their kids. So this worked just fine for me for a number of years.

Now to be able to install apps on Windows Phone you have to create a Zune account (and possibly Xbox Live too). So I went to do that.

First of all none of the Windows Phone related services are available in Lithuania, so I had to lie just there by selecting some other country where services are available. So I chose UK. Then you have to enter your date of birth. I’m doing this for my daughter who has just turned 12. So I enter her actual DoB and I get a screen that a parent needs to confirm this action for a minor. Fair enough. I login with my Live ID and now I have to confirm my own age by providing a credit card. OK, I can do this. Problem is it wont accept my Lithuanian Visa or MasterCard (even though it had no problems reserving 1GBP on it).

So I have these 2 LiveIDs. I’ve been using my Live ID to manage my daughter’s actions via Family Safety for years. But now I suddenly have to prove that I’m an adult. Hmm.

So I start over and enter my year of birth instead of daughter’s for her Live ID and bam.. no more questions asked, account created. Everything is peachy. Huh?

Now I don’t want to give Microsoft too much heat here. They are obviously doing this because of the government regulations and they are doing probably the best job in the industry with this. The only thing that actually failed here is their unwillingness to accept “foreign” credit cards which haunts me for their general Windows Phone services too.

Google hurting 10 year olds

Most of you have probably heard of the 10 year old boy from Netherlands who had his Gmail account locked as a result of signing up for Google+ and honestly specifying his date of birth. If not, you can read the original blog post here and a follow up here.

The ridiculous part is that Google lets kids into Gmail based on them accepting the ToS that has some vague terms on age restrictions and doesn’t ask for their birth date. So the kid is technically not allowed to accept the ToS, yet no one makes an attempt to verify his age during the signup and only punishes him a number of years later when he signs up for a different service and is completely honest about his age.

If they’ve asked for his age during the Gmail signup process he would probably go to Hotmail where his parents could set up an account for him via the excellent Family Safety tools. Probably not what Google wants.

Facebook is a ticking mass suicide bomb

My daughter has no Facebook account. She whined and whined about having one until I sat her down and told her to register while I’m watching. She had to enter her date of birth and wasn’t allowed in. Problem solved.

But guess what? Probably half of her classmates have Facebook accounts. They just selected a different year during signup. Now imagine if something like the above mentioned Google+ incident happens at scale on Facebook… I seriously think there would be not one and not two suicides over this.

Who cares?

No one is really interested in solving this problem. The easiest solution for everyone is for kids to just lie about their age. This way the tech companies are sort of not responsible for letting them in and everyone is happy.

I can’t remember of me having to lie this casually when I was a child and I don’t think it’s going to pass by without affecting our kids. Yeah, I sound like an old fart.

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MVPonT – Most Valuable People to Follow on Twitter

10/9/2010 11:40:44 AM

A week or so ago I was watching my twitter timeline with all the new and renewed Microsoft MVPs announcing their MVP statuses and congratulating one another. Then I tweeted this:

Too bad they don't award MVP to people who talk MS related sh*t on twitter and blog occasionally. In such case I'd be MVP for sure. #mvpbuzz

And immediately had that “aha!” moment. Less than week later I’ve launched MVPonT.

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The idea is that twitter users can nominate other tweeter users as most valuable tweeps in their field (as identified by hashtag) and then other users can vote for them or nominate their own.

Here are some categories that should be of interest to the readers of this blog:

There’s much more. Check out the complete tag cloud for more hash tags or start your own!

As you can obviously see the site was started by developer in a community of developers but it’s totally not limited to developers and might go well into mainstream. The only noticeable venture in mainstream so far was with Russian hashtag #ru where fake Russian president totally dominates over the real one (well deserved btw).

I need your help with going into new areas! Nominate tweeps in your area of interest and we’ll all have a good resource to find most valuable people to follow in any field.

Thank you!

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Globalization Perfectly Implemented

6/6/2008 12:00:58 PM

For the last couple of months every time I clicked a link to some band's MySpace page I was presented with site's GUI in Spanish. I thought that there was something wrong with my browser settings or something and since I don't use MySpace for anything more than described above I wasn't paying much attention.

Then one of my co-workers told me about the same issue and another one confirmed from different location. Apparently for MySpace's AI all non-US IP addresses belong to Mexicans. And there's no easy way to switch language. There's a tiny "MySpace International" link at the bottom (after gazillion of ugly banners, friends, etc.) where you can switch from United States (Latino) to United States (English).

Way to go. MySpace is officially not only the ugliest but stupidest social network out there.

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What user groups are for?

6/4/2008 4:23:55 PM

lt_dotnet_usergroup For the past half a year I've been watching (from a distance) the creation of Lithuanian .NET User Group in it's initiator's - Sergejus Barinovas's - blog (both sites in Lithuanian). I couldn't get the purpose of this "movement" from what I've read. Then I've read reports about the first 2 meetings and still I couldn't see any serious reason to attend (except free beer or was it free?).

Then last week I've listened to the DotNetRocks podcast - Show #344 Building Communities at Dallas TechFest. Half way through the show I felt the urge to go to the next LT .NET User Group meeting but then as the show continued I found myself back in the skeptical mood.

So I decided to outline here what uses I can see for the "user group" concept and try to see if any of them appeal to me:

  1. Socialize with geeks. This could be hit or miss. I like or dislike people individually. I can't relate to a person automatically just because he/she is of the same ethnicity, color, likes the same basketball team or programs using the same language.
  2. Find a new job. I think these groups could be a powerful tool in finding a new job by meeting people working in other companies. Unfortunately (or rather fortunately) I'm not looking for a job and hopefully wont ever look for one.
  3. Find an employee. This could work too. If I ever look for employees I'll think about going to a group meeting to check if there's someone there on a mission #2
  4. Establish yourself as a local authority in the subject. For someone looking to achieve this goal user group could be a starting point but you have to actively participate rather than just "attend".
  5. Learn something new. I don't think so. I mean you could learn something new there for sure but in the same amount of time you could learn a lot more by reading technology blogs, articles and books. Unless group meeting is the only "excuse" you have to learn something.
  6. Solve your technical problems. These meetings are too far apart to be a useful medium for discussing issues with smart guys. You can solve your problems faster by asking questions in appropriate forums, newsgroups, blogs, etc.

So, from my point of view there's not much to gain from this type of activity: I'm introverted (like most developers) and not seeking to meet random people for no apparent reason, I'm not looking for employers or employees, I'm not looking to become a technology speaker or something and I can learn much more by spending the time wiser.

I'm ready to accept that I'm wrong if someone has really good arguments in favor of user groups. For now the concept sounds as bullshitty to me as "team building" - something for some "social scientists" to justify their existence and, probably, some statistical analysis tool for vendors of technologies in question.

Do you go to your local "... user groups"? What for?

kick it on DotNetKicks.com

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Twitter

5/12/2008 10:25:43 AM

twhirl-twitter I was contemplating about starting twitting for some time but lagging. Lately there were numerous post in the blogs I read on the subject and on Sunday morning I was wasting my time waiting for my wife to get ready to go and read this blog post by Rick Strahl. I had about half an hour to waste so I registered my Twitter account and the rest is history... Follow me on Twitter under ailon.

So, honey, you are the one to blame for the additional time I waste ;)

Language dilemma

I speak, read and write (more or less) in 3 languages all the time: Russian at home and with friends, Lithuanian at work and with other friends and English mostly for the technical stuff. So, deciding in which language to twitt is not an easy thing to do. I have 2 blogs: one in Russian for personal non-geeky stuff and this one in (crappy) English for technical stuff. Sometimes I have to decide to which blog (and in what language) to post about subject that border between the two (like the post on Parental Control) and that wastes additional brainpower.

But since twitting should be something less mind consuming I decided I don't want 2 separate twitter accounts. I'll twitt to one account mostly in English but switching to Russian or Lithuanian when I find it more appropriate.

Tools

There are so many Twitter clients that I definitely must write another one! (just kidding)

Windows

I had Adobe's AIR installed so I decided to try twhirl since it seems to be the most popular. It looks nice and works fine so far. However I plan to try Witty in solidarity with fellow .NET developers.

Windows Mobile

I've seen ceTwit popup several times in freewarepocketpc.net's RSS feed so I went and installed it and it seems to work just fine, too. I'd like to try Kevin Daly's Twitula too, but there's very limited information on it's page and I had no time yet to just download and try it.

Other

I also activated twitting through Jabber/GTalk/Miranda and tried to activate twitting by SMS but it doesn't seem to work for me for now. Anyone knows what's the catch?

So, start following me on twitter right now or else...

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More on "The DotNetKicks Effect"

2/15/2008 11:16:47 AM

As I can see from your comments many have misinterpreted what I wanted to say in my Yesterday's post. So I need to clarify a few things.

First of all I love DotNetKicks! Without it I doubt I would ever get across the excellent Amr Elsehemy's series on Custom Controls Design Time Support which is what I'm currently doing for the best flash charts in the world (shameless plug, sorry ;)

Secondly I've never stated that DotNetKicks is going to degrade in quality to zero or to the level of digg (whichever is lower). The point of my post was that the higher the front page bar the lower are the chances of quality content from less popular sources to get through and the bar should be inevitably raised as popularity of DNK grows.

Some numbers

In the first 9 hours since my post post was submitted to DNK I got about 15 hits from there (I don't have exact hourly stats but this number could be off by +/- a couple of hits at most). Then it became popular/published and in the next 9 hours I've got 250 hits from DNK. That means about 6% of DNK users read "Upcoming stories" and/or read by tags, search, etc. If we take what we know about DNK stats - ~4000 main RSS subscribers, we get 240 RSS readers of not front page articles.

I know that these numbers are affected by things like that at the time of submission it was afternoon in Europe, evening in Asia and early morning in America and when it was published it was day in America, evening in Europe and night in Asia. But these are not presidential elections so that is not that important for the general picture.

My point in other words

As some of you have correctly reminded me, DNK has Tags and that's sort of additional way for content to get noticed. So let's rephrase my statement about "kicking" sources:

  1. DotNetKicks.com (including "upcoming stories", tags, search)
  2. Badge/KickIt button on the contents own site

So <Total number of kicks> = <DNK kicks> + <Content site kicks>

Now let's break down these 2 parts:

<DNK kicks> = <number of DNK users reading through upcoming stories, tags, searching> * <content quality coefficient>

<number of DNK users reading through upcoming stories, tags, searching> is a constant at any given time. <content quality coefficient> is also a constant for a specific article (though I don't agree that this is 100% true without regard to the name of the author). So the number of <DNK kicks> is a equal for the same article published on small blog with 5 readers or bigger site with 10,000 readers.

Now on to <Content site kicks>:

<Content site kicks> = <number of site's readers> * <current or potential DNK users percentage> * <content quality coefficient>

Provided that <current or potential DNK users percentage> and <content quality coefficient> are equal for both sites in our example, we get that <Content site kicks> is directly dependant on the <number of site's readers>. In our sample this means that the site with 10,000 readers has a potential of getting 2000 times more kicks than the site with 5 readers.

Note: I know that it's not all that straightforward in real world and that any decent mathematician would laugh in my face for such a linear approach, but, though I accept that actual numbers and formulas are oversimplified, the principle stands.

We are already seeing these things in action. As rev4bart noted in the comments to my post on DNK: "theblogengine...didn't 5 different themes make the top page in consecutive days?". I love BlogEngine.NET but is a release of a single theme for it worth of front page status? I don't think so.

Solutions?

Personally I think that digg's concept is flawed by design. But that doesn't mean that nothing can be done about it. Digg is doing something about it (balancing the "secret formula", etc.).

I see this possible routes:

  1. Getting rid of the KickIt image and banning for "kick requests" on the site. This is radical and not going to happen but from the top of my head this is the only real solution.
  2. "Balancing the formula". I don't know if it is possible to track the initial source of the kick reliably (DNK or site) but DNK kicks could have a higher weight than site kicks. Kicks from "friends" should have a lower weight than strangers, new users lower weight than veterans, those who kicked other stories by the same author lower weight than those who never kicked anything by this author, etc.
  3. "Controlled democracy". Addition of moderators/editors. Not sure though what they would be responsible for (pre-approving kicked articles before becoming front-page news or selecting additional front page articles from the ones with lower kick counts or both)

Another option is to enjoy DNK while it's still very good and deal with problems later. Your ideas?

kick it on DotNetKicks.com

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The DotNetKicks Effect - Enjoy While it Lasts

2/14/2008 12:24:59 PM

DotNetKicks is a great source to stay on track with latest .NET related developments, tutorials, tips, etc. It is also a great way to promote your .NET related articles or products. Here's a "kicked" article by Ryan Lanciaux about how cool it is for a small blog to get "kicked".

This is all true but if we can learn from digg (of which DotNetKicks is a clone) this is not going to last forever. To understand why let's analyze the only 2 ways how your article can get kicked/digged/whatever:

  1. Someone sees your article in the "upcoming stories" section of DotNetKicks and kicks it
  2. Someone reads the article on your site and presses the "kick it" button (if you have one)

Now those of you who read the "upcoming stories" section of DotNetKicks please stand up. Anyone? I don't. And judging from the quantity of hits I got to my articles submitted to DotNetKicks but not kicked to the front page I can assume that not more than 50 people do. Lets not fight about this number cause the actual number is not that important. What's important that only a small percentage of DotNetKicks readers read the "upcoming stories" too.

So this leaves us with only one actual way of getting kicked -- through the link on your own site. While the threshold of becoming "popular" on DotNetKicks is low (6 kicks?) it's ok. You can expect that out of 50 visitors to your small site 10% would bother to kick your article. But as DNK becomes more popular this bar would go higher to filter not that interesting stories which would inevitably grow in quantity the more popular the DNK becomes. So let's say the bar is raised to 30 and (if we assume that 10% of your visitors would kick your article) you'll need to have something like 300 readers already to get kicked to the front page.

You can see this effect on digg. For example to get your story about some gadget digged to "popularity" you have to be Engadget or Gizmodo or at least your article should be linked from some popular site(s) (or many less popular ones) before being digged. Here's a good article on the same subject by DownloadSquad.

So let's enjoy the great DotNetKicks while we can and while noise ratio there is low. It's not going to last forever. At least I don't have that much faith in humanity.

kick it on DotNetKicks.com

Update: read the follow-up: More on "The DotNetKicks Effect"

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