Flash 10 Still a Poor Performer on Macs and Linux

YouTube recently switched to a widescreen format and while browsing around to test out the quality I was still shocked at the poor performance of Flash on a Mac, specifically with video. The playback is jerky and constantly pauses in both Firefox and Safari. Restarting the browser helps a bit but by no means solves the problem.

I had recently downloaded Flash Player 10 (10,0,12,36 at the time of this post) and noticed a slight improvement in playback and performance but still not what I would consider acceptable for video. Ars Technica published an article in October benchmarking Flash Player 10. On a Mac Pro, Flash 10 used between 25% and 75% of CPU resources. On the same hardware running Windows it used 6% CPU. On my MacBook Pro 2.33GHz I see between 30%-45% CPU usage watching YouTube. The difference in performance here is enormous and I assume is the result of a product coded for Windows first and then ported to the Mac.

I haven't been able to find any peformance tweaks that would improve video playback but I did find a bug reported against Flash 10 for poor performance on the Mac in the Adobe Flash bug tracker.  Register a bug tracking account and vote it up please.

2.2 Podcasts - Right Order but Download Flaw

The iPhone 2.2 update brought a handful of new features including a few updates to the iPod application. I gladly realized after a day of listening to Podcasts that episodes appear in the order they were downloaded. This means that you can start at the oldest and not have to skip backwards to listen to the next episode in the sequence. A minor update but very welcome.

The most widely covered new iPod feature is the ability to download new Podcasts over the air directly to the iPod. Unfortunately it seems to have one critical flaw. If you don't have at least one episode of your subscribed podcasts left on your iPhone it doesn't list the show preventing you from checking and downloading new episodes. I subscribe to MacBreak Weekly but it's not listed as I deleted the shows from iTunes after having listened to them all.

I've checked the iPod settings and tried to figure out someway to access empty shows but it seems I'll have to conciously keep at least one episode around for each of my subscriptions for now.

Rogers un-connected calls?

For the past few weeks I've noticed a higher percentage of calls to my iPhone on Rogers that go straight to voicemail without ringing the phone. These occur in metro Toronto (at least) with full 3G signal strength. I am sometimes actively using the phone either with data or an application but more often than not the phone is simply sitting idle.

I know that the phone has not received the call as the "missed call" list remains unchanged but I receive the infamous Rogers missed call SMS usually followed by a voicemail.

I thought that this was just me but Jay Goldman had indicated that his wife was having this problem with her iPhone and he thinks that perhaps it's happening to him as well

I wanted to poll the Rogers subscriber base to see if they too are experiencing this and if it's only iPhone related or all phones.

Please comment or tweet me if you've experienced this as well.

The Developer Hat

Recently our small team's development schedule was seriously slipping. Although the Mythical Man Month tells us adding resources doesn't make a project go faster I had enough product and domain knowledge to speed things up and start coding. It's been been almost a year since I've been coding as part of a project and since that time I've felt something missing from my work life. Coding helps to round out my daily routine and brings out a youthful memory.

I've always found a great deal of satisfaction in building things. As a child I found playing with wooden blocks or Lego to be far more facinating than pre-designed toys. When I received my first computer I quickly tired of the one game that came with it and started learning how to program my own simple games.

Software allows you the freedom to build because it's very accessible but also extremely open. Programmers can easily get themselves into muddled code because software is so free form but we love the flexibility it offers.

Managing software development generally precludes you from being too involved in the code but it's nice to dip your toes in the water from time to time.

Home Depot Service

After an eternity of searching for a matching fume hood filter it turns out that I have to special order it from Home Depot. As I said before, service keeps me coming back and Elaine at Home Depot Leaside went above and beyond. I was transferred to her on the floor and she wasn't exactly the right rep but stepped over a few aisles to check stock. Finding none she determined that they don't carry it, took down my number and said she would follow up. Within minutes she called back indicating that she contacted Broan, how much it would be and to take my credit card number.

I inquired as to the the size, which she said she didn't have as it's not in their book but offered to follow-up. I told her it wasn't necessary as Broan had matched the filter to the hood by model number and I was just double-checking. But Elaine would have none of that! She called me back a few moments later saying she followed up with Broan and that they don't have the sizes in their system but confirmed the model number and confirmed my order with me again.

Home Depot, if you have an employee recognition system in place I'd like to nominate Elaine at your Leaside store. She went beyond the call of duty for customer service and made me a repeat customer.

Thanks Elaine!

Medical Myths

As the family know-it-all it is my responsibility to pepper conversations with almost useless knowledge and myth shattering news.

It is with great pleasure that I pass along these recent medical revelations. Here's the original study in the British Medical Journal.

  • There's a lack of medical evidence showing you need to down eight glasses of water daily.
  • We use every part of our brain, not just 10%.
  • Reading in dim light does not ruin your eyes.
  • Shaving does not cause hair to grow faster.
  • Eating turkey does not make you especially drowsy.
  • Cell phones are not dangerous in hospitals.

There is only anecdotal and no scientific evidence to suggest cell phones affect airplane equipment either but you don't really want your phone running at full power at 30,000 feet anyway.

Back to Camp

After missing a few democamps to put in time on my own software I managed to make it to DemoCamp15 held at UofT's Hart House.

The Great Hall is a fabulous room though not necessarily the best for presentations due to it's length and hard reflective surfaces making it a bit of an echo chamber. The projectors weren't co-operating but David grabbed a beer, Joey grabbed an accordion and we were patiently placated whilst the presenters and techs worked to get the systems back online. Thanks to Greg for venue and bar set-up. Always a welcome addition.

Pete Forde wins the award for best demo as he had a straight-forward overview, got right to the meat of his product and skilfully handled the follow-up questions. If you're doing web development check out Jester for client side code with Rails like ActiveRecord conventions. It works with Rails out of the box but supports JSON and XML.

The demos went a bit downhill after that. If I may offer constructive criticism because I really do want everyone to make more successful products and demos.

Aceora: I didn't understand why I would pay $19.95 for a currency converter or $9.95 for a tax calculator that doesn't round to two decimal places when I can fire up my mobile web browser and use something as simple as Google or use the calculator that I've had on my last three cell phones. That aside, the demo should be more concise by going directly to the "what's the pain" or "why I made this" and "what's the solution" or "check out why this is cool". Also, set your resolution lower when using a cell phone emulator. I don't think most of the audience could see what you were demoing.

OMESH Networks: Powerpoint presentations aren't allowed. Thanks to Pete for speaking up. I know the room felt bad for telling Liang to stop the Powerpoint and move on to the demo but we really wanted to look at all the flashing lights and see the promise of true wireless Mesh networking. I'd really like to see a more rehearsed demo that demonstrates the value of good mesh networking which overcomes the inherent latency and bandwidth problems. Conceptually I understood what was going on but in its current forms it's not compelling.

Ogrant: I wasn't as captivated by the demo but I'm clearly not in the target market. The product looks good and the audience was intrigued based on the questions afterwards. Perhaps focus on the efficiency of the process from the applicants point of view or one particular cool feature that sets you apart from the competition. I wanted to be more engaged.

ConceptShare: I love ConceptShare's product, I just wanted a more rehearsed walkthough of the new product features. It seemed a bit off the cuff walking through what appeared to be a random selection of features from the new product. 50% of the room was new as well so quickly reviewing the process from the first demo might have helped. That said I'm sold enough to check out the product again. Can you work Beta into the demo next time?

After the break we had the Ignite presentations. I haven't seen an Ignite presentation before but I was impressed and entertained. I think I'll give the win to Michael Bolton for his incredible energy but I have to give a tie for second place to Andy Walker and Rick Segal. John MacRitchie comes in a very close third as he lost a few points for all the excessive text on the slides but he really stayed on track managing to delivery an incredible amount of information. My biggest pet peeve with slide based presentations is overuse of text. Andy really drove home the fact that the slides should be there to deliver the overall message but not re-state what you're saying. He told the story while the slides made me think about the ramifications.

In the end it's easy to be an armchair quarterback and so I would like to thank the presenters for their courage to show their work and look forward to being on stage in the hopefully near future. Thanks to all the organizers and sponsors for doing such a great job as usual!

David is asking for feedback.

My submitted suggestions:
- test laptop projector compatibility ahead of time
- device demos should have a proper macro camera set-up or a clearly visible emulator
- can we vet presentations to ensure there will actually be a demo and that the presentation will be of a high quality?

Nuit Blanche 2007

Saturday night's Nuit Blanche was fantastic. I've uploaded my Nuit Blanche photos and was amazed by the number of Flickr photos streaming in as the morning moves on. I did a search for "Nuit Blanche 2007" and as I was paging I thought I was seeing either lots of duplicates or a Flickr bug. Turns out that as people are adding tagged images the pagination is constantly changing. This morning my search resulted in approximately 1,800 photos and is now approaching 3,000. Facinating.

Tim Hortons Pay Pass

During my morning commute I decided to stop by Tim Hortons. Their King and Victoria location is now accepting Mastercard and Mastercard's Pay Pass. Just no Interac. I suspect this is because Interac is too slow and would cause increased lineups and lost business or because Interac fees are too high for people purchasing coffee. Most stores have a minimum but I'm not sure if that's being enforced for Mastercard transactions.


Previously I have had serviced performed on my laptop at Carbon Computing but recently I decided to try out the Apple store Genius Bar when I suspected a battery problem on my MacBook Pro. I've had the machine less than a year but the battery was already down to less than an hour charge and the meter was incorrectly estimating the time left. This after applying a recent battery firmware update and reading an advisory that suggested my battery may need replacing.

I signed up the previous day online, arrived at the Apple store at the Eaton Centre the next morning and saw my name up on the board in slot number two. I took a seat at the bar with my Tim Hortons morning coffee and waited only a short period before the next Genius Jorge helped me out.

After explaining the problem, showing Jorge the advisory and my System Profiler power details he determined that my full charge capacity was rather low (<3500 mAh) for the age of my battery considering I only had 118 charge cycles. He quickly updated my registration information, swapped out the battery with a new one and provided some helpful initial calibration advice before I was on my way.

This is how computer service should be. Thank you Apple and thank you Jorge!

Why Starbucks

Any organization that becomes sufficiently large such as McDonald's, Microsoft and now even Apple will have the soulless corporate persona automatically associated with them. Thus is the image that Starbucks must confront. In addition, Starbucks is viewed as the overpriced yuppie coffee shop that clueless young urban professionals frequent for whatever vain reason it appeals to them.

I love Starbucks, but it's not for the atmosphere that the design creates and it's certainly not for the standard French roast coffee that they serve because I actually dislike that particular beverage. I will venture to a Starbucks over a Timothy's, Second Cup or a lesser known haunt when it comes to a fancy latte or mocha because of one thing. Service.

Yesterday afternoon I dropped into the local Starbucks and ordered my usual weekend Grande Mocha with Whip. The store was quiet and I was the only one in the queue. The service was upbeat and with a smile as usual and the order was promptly shouted to the barista standing by. I moved to the pickup counter to wait for my beverage and noticed that the barista had left her station and was tending to other duties.

Apparently the barista on duty had not heard my order placed and thus the empty cup with my order on it went unnoticed. I waited for about two minutes before the server noticed me and asked if they could help me. Upon realizing that my order had gone unfulfilled for two minutes the server, without batting an eye, apologized and immediately presented me with a free beverage coupon before promptly filling out my awaiting order.

That one small gesture is the perfect example of why I come back. I'm pretty easy going. People forget things and stuff falls through the cracks sometimes so I don't sweat it so I wouldn't have protested or thought about needing to be compensated. But Starbucks excels at customer service. They know that since I'm paying upwards of $3 a coffee at regular intervals it makes sense to rectify their mistakes immediately and properly.

Consistently good service is the reason I will now pass by a Timothy's or a Second Cup when looking for a fancy coffee and a spot to get online.

I shall endeavour to remember my Starbucks experiences during future client interactions and engagements.

DemoCamp Gender Bias

Jennifer McCarthy tables the issues of gender bias at DemoCamp events. I don't think anyone would disagree with Jennifer that every DemoCamp is biased towards men. Jennifer believes that our stereotypes of men and women in technology are the basis and that "We are all well aware of the idea that men are simply better at math and computers then women".

Now call me naive, but I've never heard the stereotype put this way before. I would rather characterize it as men like gadgets more. This is a personal observation rather than fact but if true, its amplified by DemoCamp as it's partly a gadget demo before a product demo.

When I attended Mesh, my business partner Jay pointed out the much more balanced ratio of women to men as is generally viewed in technology related conferences. I agreed but realized that Mesh was marketed not just to technology but at media, marketing and business in general as the name suggests.

Imbalanced gender ratios in technology are nothing new. I would be surprised if there were more than five women in my graduating computer science class. The issue is why. What are the aspects of technology as is that doesn't not attract as many women as men?

If we wish to make DemoCamp more attractive to women we have to ask what aspects other than the dearth of men are making the event undesirable. I would suggest that DemoCamp requires a more holistic approach factoring in product applications, design and marketing. Unfortunately because of the format of DemoCamp we can't enforce this but it can certainly be encouraged by questions from the audience. We can force the presenters to address issues beyond the "coolness" of their product and focus on the applications and implications.

Am I even close here or am I falling into the same stereotypical observations that my male colleagues are?

Australian copyright law vs robots.txt

Apparently Australia is attempting to enact a law which acordding to Google seems to require search engines to request permission before indexing a website.

"The Australian government says the new laws are designed to keep up with the fast pace of technological change"

Here's how content providers can keep up with the fast pace of change:

User-agent: *Disallow: /

Apparently adding this simple text to a robots.txt file on a corporate website is too much for lobbyists' clients in Australia.

Captcha Testing

I finally snapped this afternoon. Several months ago I switched to a form based contact method on my website after I was receiving a deluge of Spam through my email address. I then had the form pass on the messages to a new email address and my Spam problems blissfully disappeared. That is, until some enterprising Spam pedlar or pedlars decided to either map my form to an automated system or employ some very cheap labour to submit the hell out of my contact form.

I decided to implement a text based CAPTCHA system. Now most CAPTCHA systems employ the distorted letters image based approach. I suspect those are much harder to defeat but are also much more of a pain for legitimate visitors trying to send a message. I like to employ the lesser used question based method.

What colour is the green monster?

This simple question should be easy enough for a five year old to answer but  changes to a random question each time the form is rendered. It's possible for me to increase the difficulty of the question or change to less predictable questions if the pattern becomes too simplistic or mappable. It has the advantage of accessibility since it doesn't require the visitor to view images or hear sounds. It's also much easier to implement

I simply create a set of questions and answers with a numerical key. The questions are then selected at random when the form is generated and the numerical key is passed along with the form for validation. Before sending the email, the code checks to make sure the associated value matches the correct answer. If not, the visitor is told the answer was incorrect and is presented another random question to try again.

I think the system may actually be more effective than image based techniques as it's not a mindless copying procedure but rather a slightly more taxing logic problem. Time will tell I supposed. If I start getting Spam again I'll change up the question type or make the question slightly harder.

Now to implement this for comments.