Chromecast

Example of Chromecast mirroring.

Of course I couldn’t pass up a $35 gadget that plugs into my TV and connects to the internet. This is my weakness.

Installation was painless, plugged right into my receiver and the client app you install on your computer found it ASAP. A few minutes (I use WPA2 + MAC filtering) and it was connected to my network and I was streaming video. It looks like it has too main operating modes: mirroring (Hulu seems to use this), and playing from the cloud (which is how YouTube seems to work).

There is a noticeable lag between the video on my laptop and the video on the TV, however the video on the TV is rather good. Sound quality is also pretty good. I went into the options and choose the higher bitrate. So far it’s smooth and runs well.

Google To Release iOS Maps

It sounds like it’s going to become a reality in a few hours: Google Maps for iOS 6.

My experience so far with Apple maps hasn’t been terrible. Data quality issues never actually affected me. I have missed the lack of public transit. That is the primary reason I plan to switch over. Public transit integration is critical in NYC.

I’m hoping it’s just a refreshed UI of what was in iOS 5 with as lean of a UI or leaner.

Inside Google’s Data Centers

Google Data Center Storm Trooper

Google’s opening up about their data centers in a pretty big way. From being secret to even the locations a few years ago they’ve now posted a street view tour, as well as some pretty great video. Facebook has also become a bit more open in terms of their data center operations.

Part of this openness is to make the “internet” seem more trustworthy and less intimidating. The other part is to show off the energy-saving improvements they are making in the wake of controversy data centers have faced over their power usage.

I think someone at Google or Facebook needs to get me a tour of their facility ;-) .

Chrome Enables Do-Not-Track

Chrome finally added Do-Not-Track (DNT) to Chromium. They are the last major browser to complete implementation and start giving users a choice in terms of their preference to tracking.

DNT isn’t a perfect solution as it has no enforcement. Regardless it’s a step in the right direction and empowers ad networks to respect users privacy preferences, something that in the past was difficult even for those willing to do so. It won’t solve the problem, but it helps and has a low barrier to entry. That’s a good thing.

Washington Monument Prank

True story: For several years (2003-ish to 2009-ish) if you did a Google image search for “Washington Monument, one of the first search results you’d see came from me:

Washington Monument Search Results

Here’s the actual image:

Washington Monument

Needless to say it was slightly photoshopped and the fact that this showed up for so many years was quite amusing to me and many others. I’ve gotten a few emails, and quite a bit of traffic over time for it. It was completely unintentional that it SEO’d so well and for so long. Ran across the image today and figured it’s a good time to tell the tale.

Tour Kennedy Space Center In Google Maps

NASA - Shuttle Atlantis - Google Maps Tour

The folks at Gizmodo point out that Google Maps has an awesome feature now that lets you tour NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. You can point and click your way through all the different parts you’d never have the security clearance to go yourself.

Needless to say I spent a nice little chunk of the evening browsing around.

Full SPDY Ahead

For those not keeping score, Twitter, and Facebook have both come out publicly in favor of SPDY. Twitter is already using it in production. It sounds like Facebook will be soon. Mozilla implemented it in Firefox. Opera has SPDY. Google, the author of SPDY is using it in production.

This leaves Microsoft and Apple as the holdouts. Microsoft’s HTTP + Mobility is SPDY at it’s core. Microsoft hasn’t started supporting SPDY in any products, but it seems inevitable at some point. They are a holdout in implementation but not opposed to SPDY it seems.

Apple is the last major holdout. SPDY hasn’t been announced for iOS 6 or Mac OS X 10.8. As far as I’m aware Apple hasn’t made any statement suggesting support or opposition to SPDY. However I can’t see why they would oppose it. There’s nothing for them to disapprove of, other than it’s not using their IP. I’d be surprised if they don’t want to implement it.

However given SPDY is a rather backwards compatible thing to support, I don’t see this holding back adoption. Nginx is adding support for SPDY (thanks to WordPress creator Automattic), and Google is working on mod_spdy for Apache. That makes adoption for lots of large websites possible.

While the details of SPDY and the direction it will go are still in flux, it seems nearly certain that SPDY is the future of the web. Time to start digging into how to adopt it and ease the transition. The primary concerns I see are as follow:

  1. TLS Required – While not explicitly required, SPDY essentially builds on TLS and virtually any real world application needs it. This means purchasing SSL certificates for any website you wish to use SPDY with. Some have argued performance and scalability, but Google, Facebook and Twitter use SSL extensively on commodity hardware.
  2. IP Address – Unless you use Server Name Indication (SNI), which almost no websites do because of compatibility, you need an IP address for every hostname that you use TLS with. That means until IPv6 is widely adopted, it will be putting further strain on the remaining IPv4 pool.

Both of the above concerns increase complexity and cost of building websites at scale and for those who are on a very tight budget (the rest of us will manage). Because of this, I don’t think we’ll see a 100% SPDY or HTTP 2.0 web for quite some time. Don’t expect SPDY for shared hosting sites anytime soon.

In a world of increasing surveillance and user data being integrated into everything, the benefits of TLS will be realized. Both Facebook and Twitter acknowledge it’s importance in preventing user data from getting into the wrong hands.

I, For One, Welcome Our New SPDY overlord.

Leap Smear

On how Google deals with leap seconds:

The solution we came up with came to be known as the “leap smear.” We modified our internal NTP servers to gradually add a couple of milliseconds to every update, varying over a time window before the moment when the leap second actually happens. This meant that when it became time to add an extra second at midnight, our clocks had already taken this into account, by skewing the time over the course of the day. All of our servers were then able to continue as normal with the new year, blissfully unaware that a leap second had just occurred.

Good idea. The second itself is meaningless. Spreading it out is much better/easier than accommodating for it in the rest of your stack.

On Google’s Made In In The U.S.A. Experiment

Google is reportedly building the Nexus Q in the USA. It’s almost assumed these days that electronics are made in China, with a few notable exceptions in Japan or South Korea. However when you think about it, it makes sense. Consumer technology has come full circle.

Open up some electronics made before 1985. With rare exception, they look almost foreign by todays standards. They are spartan in design. Big circuit boards with a few components, some wires to peripheral lights, motors, whatever the device needs to do it’s thing. It’s almost elementary to figure out how it works. Even fixing it is well within reason.

Now open up a modern device like a modern cell phone. It’s generally a single highly concentrated circuit board with a mess of finely placed parts on and around it. Every year they get smaller and more complicated. Until recently.

A curious thing started to happen. Electronics in an attempt to use less power, become cheaper to manufacture, started simplifying their designs. Kind of. They consolidated many of their parts. For example the complex set of layers in a cell phones screen that separated the backlight from LCD panel from the digitizer were made into one slim component. Multiple chips were combined into a system on chip (SoC). Common things like WiFi a Bluetooth which are almost never exclusive were on one chip. Devices became simpler.

Most of these individual components are manufactured through highly automated means. For example those LCD panels are not made by hand, they are made by machines because a high level of precision is needed. No human etches a CPU or any other chip. Even soldering is increasingly machine driven as most use surface mount techniques like ball grid array which would be nearly impossible to do by hand with anywhere near the accuracy or speed needed.

The result is that these components are made increasingly by machines. These components are assembled increasingly by machines. This changes the equation when it comes to deciding where to manufacturer. The biggest advantage to China was very cheap skilled labor. This is changing. First of all China is starting to become more expensive as affluence builds in China. More notably, the need for labor is able to decrease as designs become more machine centric. While the iPhone is very labor intensive today, but don’t expect it to stay that way. It’s increasingly simplifying it’s design despite pushing the limits. Energy costs and shipping costs are also changing.

Google’s bet is that they’ve simplified the human part of manufacturing to the point where the labor costs are becoming minimal. It’s a reasonable bet. If you look closely at the photos in the NY Times piece, you’ll see lots of humans posing, and a few doing actual tasks related to assembling. Of those assembling, there’s no mention on if they are working on prototypes, or if they are in full scale production (which may involve less humans and more automation).

Factory automation will increasingly bring hardware manufacturing back to the US. But don’t expect to see the jobs of the 1980′s coming back with it. These will be highly automated facilities run by engineers and supervised by increasingly limited staff. They may one day operate like data centers.