Election 2012

cbsnews.com 2012 Election

My 4th election, 2nd presidential election. I couldn’t even tell you how many primaries, debates, etc. without hitting Wikipedia and counting. Handling the technical side of elections on a large internet news presence is nothing short of crazy. It’s a lot of 1′s and 0′s to move across the internet in a very short amount of time. No margin of error, no time to recover from mistakes. You’re product launches with the firmest of deadlines and is consumed immediately. Scale later is not an option, you scale from the starting gate to handle an unknown number.

It’s an interesting experience no matter how many times you do it. No matter how much planning, quick thinking and judgement calls are unavoidable. At least there’s a 2 year break until the next one :).

On Andy Rooney

One of the benefits of working at or near the CBS Broadcast Center is you never know who you’ll see walking the many hallways of the storied yet somewhat obscure complex. It’s not at all uncommon to hear a head of state, or celebrity sighting. Lots of things, including some you wouldn’t expect are taped there.

I likely saw Andy Rooney at least a dozen times in my years at CBS, always in or outside the Broadcast Center, generally on my way in and out. He’d always be slowly shuffling through with those iconic bushy white eyebrows, a few papers in his hand, hunched over. I mention this detail because it stands out in my mind. You don’t enter your late 80′s and early 90′s and continue the daily grind the way he did unless you enjoy your job at least a little bit. I could be wrong, but I imagine it must have been exhausting for him. It looked tiring. Most people want to be retired by 65 and he was working a generation beyond that. But I guess you don’t want that to love of your job to be terribly obvious when your known as “America’s Curmudgeon”. He made a career out of expressing his disdain for so many little nuances of life.

He said before he hated being recognized, but every time I or someone else said “good morning” or “good evening”, he’d always look up and return the pleasantry then continue on his way. Hardly a grump whenever I saw him.

There aren’t many people who could make a career out of complaining about the little things. Not many could even make a career complaining about the big things. He managed to do this with just a few minutes. He said in his last piece “When I went on television it was as a writer. I don’t think of myself as a television personality. I’m a writer who reads what he’s written.” Reading the transcripts is a reminder that a great wordsmith can say quite a bit in very few words.

Disclosure:As always, the views expressed in this blog are mine alone, and do not represent the views of CBS or CBS Interactive.

The Great East Coast Earthquake

8/23/2011 - Never Forget

I didn’t get a chance to post earlier about the earthquake. It was just a tiny earthquake for 15-20 seconds, but still extremely rare for this part of the world. Being 17 floors up the building definitely rocked a little bit. Hard to miss, but it wasn’t violent or anything like that. I was on a conference call which continued through it with no incident.

My first thought was construction in the building or across the street, but about half way through I realized without noise that wasn’t possible. My next thought was the fault lines near NYC, which I’ve heard about a few times before. I knew seismic activity is not unusual for NYC, but to the degree that we can feel it is very unusual. I suspect most never knew about those faults, but I like science ;-) . Oddly enough I wasn’t 100% wrong.

An immediate search of Twitter turned up reports of vibration in the city. A few seconds later turned up reports of the same thing in Philadelphia 94 miles away from NYC (which confirmed seismic activity in my head). Meanwhile my inbox had a bunch of reports about Pentagon evacuations and other happenings. A perk of working with a large news organization is being fed news 24×7 (it’s also a bad thing). Confirmation of an earthquake came what seemed like seconds after that. This all took place in a matter of a minute or two.

All together it took just a minute or two to find out the full story. I actually had the full story well before building management had it. They didn’t even know what happened and I knew it was about a 5.8. Amazing if you really think about it. Back in 2003 with the blackout it took considerably longer for substantially less information. Granted having electricity helped. Cell phone networks were still largely unusable for a short time after.

The jokes going across the net were quite amusing (as shown above).

Gadgets And Work-Life Balance

On this rainy Saturday I was reading a NY Times article about work-life balance, obviously with my work email open in another tab.

The topic is somewhat interesting considering when I entered the work place it was just a few years into the 24×7 work treadmill that quickly became the new normal. On top of that, supporting a 24x7x365 news site it seems even more natural. In my eyes the days of a 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM Monday-Friday job are clearly dead and unlikely to ever return. While my primary task is day-to-day development, I also support the site, meaning when there’s a major news even (planned or unplanned), or a technical problem, that means we’re stepping up. Election nights are planned, shootings, major deaths, etc. are obviously not. Systems fail, things need to be upgraded, scheduling with a 24x7x365 newsroom who needs to always be ready to go is hardly easy. I should note that’s in addition to having a top-notch 24x7x365 operations team a phone call or email away. The repeated use of “24x7x365″ is intentional.

Throw in my extensive reading to keep up on things, constant need to hack on things, occasional desire to write about things, and I think I find myself identifying with the people profiled in the article to some small degree. Truthfully I was like this in college already, having a job just replaced the academic part.

On a side-note, while I was reading this article I did a double-take when I saw John Lilly’s name mentioned. I’ve seen his name in the press on many occasions, but never unexpectedly ;-).

We Choose To Go To The Moon

Moon Landing 40th Anniversary

It started during a Joint Session of Congress on May 25, 1961 with John F. Kennedy challenging the United States to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. 1969, 6 years after JFK was assassinated Apollo 11 landed on the moon and this famous newscast with the late Walter Cronkite who coincidentally passed away on Friday.

For the 40th anniversary NASA restored some of the old video of the landing, now available in H.264 to view. It’s not true HD in today’s terms but still impressive to see. NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) also manged to snap a few pictures of the landing sites of the Apollo missions just in time. I believe this is the first time they have ever been identified since the actual landings. 2-3X higher resolution images are under way.

Lastly The John F. Kennedy Library launched “We Choose the Moon” a clever “live” broadcast of the Apollo 11 mission in its entirety with exactly a 40 year delay.

Now 40 years later NASA is embarking on Constellation which even in vehicle design parallels what was done in Apollo. We may be back on the moon by 2020 assuming Constellation, Aries IV or DIRECT succeed.

Mozilla Prism

Mozilla Prism is an interesting product. What I really like is that it requires no real extra work for your app to run in it. With some additional effort you can potentially add some great stuff (offline support for example). It’s too early to develop applications for it just yet, but it does show off some serious potential. I did two tests as an example:

Google Calendar

Url: http://calendar.google.com (SSL doesn't seem to work at this time)
Name: Calendar
[ ] Show location bar
[ ] Show status messages and progress
[x] Enable navigation keys

Create Shortcuts
[x] Desktop
[ ] Start Menu
[ ] Quick Launch Menu

CBSNews.com Video Player

Disclosure: My employer.

Url: http://www.cbsnews.com/sections/i_video/main500251.shtml
Name: CBSNews.com Video
[ ] Show location bar
[ ] Show status messages and progress
[x] Enable navigation keys

Create Shortcuts
[x] Desktop
[ ] Start Menu
[ ] Quick Launch Menu

Both worked nicely. It gave me a way to keep the app open independently of my browser. The second test proves the next thing I wanted to mention. Plugins are supported. No reason why you can’t use a Flash player for example. Of course you could also use <video/>. I wonder if Google Gears could be installed on it? You can use about:plugins as an application url to see what plugins are installed (I believe it should be the same as Firefox). There doesn’t seem to be an about:prism just yet.

There are however some security aspects that an application like this must take into account.

Improvements

There are a bunch of things I’d love to see. For example:

  • API for Interactions – For certain events such as minimized/maximized (or user-visible/user-hidden to make it more neutral in terms of meaning). Also one for for opening a file so that the OS could map a file to be handled by an Mozilla Prism Application. The event could be handled similar to that of an upload. Haven’t looked to see what WHATWG offers in regards to these two things.
  • Extensions Support – Think of this as an interface/vehicle for XULRunner. Full window apps like Calendar could be run in Prism. This provides a common runtime shared across multiple applications.
  • Install Mechanism – To share the two things I did I had to document my settings up above. The ability to pass those perhaps using a protocol would be really nice. For example:
    prism://url=calendar.google.com/&name=calendar&enableNavigationKeys=true&createShortcuts=prompt

    would then open prism who would then ask you if you want to “install” this application. Bonus points if it accepted a base64 encoded icon similar to a data:url and used it. Using an technique similar to what Apple does for iTunes and having a landing page would give the user the option to install Prism if they didn’t have it already.

Great stuff. I can’t wait to see where it goes from here.

Edit [10/29/07 @ 11:45 PM EST]: Fixed bad url in example.