17th September
written by simplelight

Quote by Sterling Hayden from his book Wanderer:

“To be truly challenging, a voyage, like a life, must rest on a firm foundation of financial unrest. Otherwise, you are doomed to a routine traverse, the kind known to yachtsmen who play with their boats at sea … ‘cruising’ it is called. Voyaging belongs to seamen, and to the wanderers of the world who cannot, or will not, fit in. If you are contemplating a voyage and you have the means, abandon the venture until your fortunes change. Only then will you know what the sea is all about.

‘I’ve always wanted to sail to the south seas, but I can’t afford it.’ What these men can’t afford is not to go. They are enmeshed in the cancerous discipline of ‘security.’ And in the worship of security we fling our lives beneath the wheels of routine – and before we know it our lives are gone.

What does a man need – really need? A few pounds of food each day, heat and shelter, six feet to lie down in – and some form of working activity that will yield a sense of accomplishment. That’s all – in the material sense, and we know it. But we are brainwashed by our economic system until we end up in a tomb beneath a pyramid of time payments, mortgages, preposterous gadgetry, playthings that divert our attention for the sheer idiocy of the charade.

The years thunder by, The dreams of youth grow dim where they lie caked in dust on the shelves of patience. Before we know it, the tomb is sealed. Where, then, lies the answer? In choice. Which shall it be: bankruptcy of purse or bankruptcy of life?”

24th July
written by simplelight


Each successive Zynga game peaks earlier but with less users. Farmville -> Cityville -> Castleville must have been alarming. And then they bought ‘Draw Something’ right at the peak. It’s going to be tough to keep filling the bucket.

What’s difficult to see on the graph is that Zynga’s Sims rip-off, The Ville, appears to have already peaked at aroudn 6.3M daily active uniques.


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8th November
written by simplelight

We have written previously about the outsourcing of the web stack. In this post, we will add more color on why the outsourcing of the entire web platform makes sense. While developers have gravitated en masse to offerings like Heroku, there is still a wider lack of appreciation for why PaaS is a major trend.

In this post, we are going to set aside the wider question of the economics of running your application on a PaaS versus hosting and maintaining your own servers. Our aim is to describe what constitutes a PaaS and how it differs from IaaS (such as Amazon Web Services) and other SaaS offerings like

The Four Pillars of a PaaS

  1. No installation required. Whether your application is written in Ruby on Rails, Python, Java or any other language de jour there should be no need to install an execution environment when deploying your application to a PaaS. Your code should run on the platform’s built-in execution engine. While minor constraints are necessary, our view is that the successful PaaS providers will largely conform to the language specifications as they are in the wild. This ensures portability of your application between platforms and other hosted environments.
  2. Automated deployment. A single click or command line instruction is all that stands between the developer and a live application.
  3. Elimination of middle-ware configuration. Tweaking settings in Apache or Nginx, managing the memory on your MySql instance, and installing three flavors of monitoring software are now in the past.
  4. Automated provisioning of virtual machines. Application scaling should happen behind the scenes. At 3am. Without breaking a sweat.

There are a few other characteristics of the new breed of PaaS services which we would regard as optional components of a platform but which greatly enhance its utility. By integrating other components into the web stack and constraining these to a few, well-curated and proven bundles, a PaaS offering can both consolidate services into a single bill but, perhaps more importantly from a developer’s point of view, ensure inter-operability and maintain a best-of-breed library. Heroku has done a great job of facilitating easy deployment of application add-ons such as log file management, error tracking, and performance monitoring.

There is often confusion as to the difference between PaaS and SaaS: a PaaS offering is an outsourced application stack sold to developers. A SaaS offering is a business application typically sold to business users.

The difference between PaaS and IaaS is more subtle and over time the dividing line is likely to blur. Today, the PaaS platforms begin where the IaaS services leave off: IaaS effects the outsourcing of the hardware components of the web stack. PaaS platforms effect the outsourcing of the middleware components of the web stack. It is the abstraction of the repetitive middleware configuration that has caught the imagination of developers. PaaS saves time and expedites deployments.

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8th November
written by simplelight

It is a great time to be a web software developer. Over the last decade the components of web development which have little strategic advantage to a start up have gradually been eliminated and outsourced to such an extent that today the gap between writing code and deploying a new application is often bridged with a single click.

Whereas ten years ago deploying a new application required provisioning a new server, installing Linux, setting up MySQL, configuring Apache, and finally uploading the code, the process today has dramatically less friction. On Heroku, one powerful command line is now all that stands between a team of developers and a live application:

> git push heroku master

Let’s take a closer look at what is happening. The code residing in the repository is uploaded directly to, in this example, Heroku’s cloud platform. From that point onward, the long list of tasks involved in maintaining and fine-tuning a modern web stack are outsourced. The platform provider handles hard drive failures, exploding power supplies, denial-of-service attacks, router replacement, server OS upgrades, security patches, web server configuration … and everything in between.

The implications of this trend are bound to be far-reaching. As common infrastructure is outsourced to vendors such as Amazon, Rackspace, Google and, the base of customers for hardware and stack software will become increasingly concentrated. As the platform vendors function both as curators and distributors of middle-ware for associated services such as application monitoring and error logging, new monetization opportunities will arise for those companies, such as New Relic, providing these tools.

Just as the arrival of open-source blogging platforms eliminated the intervening steps between writers and audiences, so the new breed of platforms has reduced the friction between developers and their customers.

Most importantly, though, the barriers for new private companies to compete have been permanently lowered. Today, $100 per month can buy you a billion dollar data center.

27th October
written by simplelight

As unstructured file data increasingly resides in cloud file systems, there is a large component that is still missing: Drag & Drop.

Currently, it is not possible to drag a file from to or any other cloud service, without first downloading the file to my desktop and then re-uploading it. This problem is compounded on mobile devices such as the iPad because there is no easily accessible local storage or ‘Desktop’ equivalent.

Solving this problem will be more of an engineering challenge than meets the eye. Every cloud service has implemented their own storage protocol and folder system. Second, there is the even larger problem of authentication. Hopefully it will soon be possible to easily tile two browser windows and drag from one cloud service to another. Until then, we will keep on downloading and re-uploading.

Postscript: I have concluded that a single online repository for all my files is a pipe-dream. As the Microsoft monopoly is broken apart, there is going to be increasing fragmentation of cloud services.

25th April
written by simplelight
15th February
written by simplelight

Stacy Smith, Intel’s CFO, has some interesting data on the tipping point for PC market penetration. As the cost of a PC in a region moves from multiple years to 8 weeks of income, the penetration changes from zero to about 15%. Once the cost drops below 8 weeks of income, the penetration rises very rapidly to 50%.

According to Smith, the cost of a PC in both India and China is now below 8 weeks of income in those countries.

25th May
written by simplelight

Even in 1753 people thought there was too much ink being spent on too many worthless thoughts:

Title:     Adventurer 115
Author: Samuel Johnson
Adventurer No. 115. Tuesday, December 11, 1753.

Scribimus indocti doctique.
HOR. Lib. ii. Ep. i. 17.

All dare to write, who can or cannot read.
They who have attentively considered the history of mankind, know that every age has its peculiar character. At one time, no desire is felt but for military honours; every summer affords battles and sieges, and the world is filled with ravage, bloodshed, and devastation: this sanguinary fury at length subsides, and nations are divided into factions, by controversies about points that will never be decided. Men then grow weary of debate and altercation, and apply themselves to the arts of profit; trading companies are formed, manufactures improved, and navigation extended; and nothing is any longer thought on, but the increase and preservation of property, the artifices of getting money, and the pleasures of spending it.

The present age, if we consider chiefly the state of our own country, may be styled, with great propriety, _The Age of Authors_[1]; for, perhaps, there never was a time in which men of all degrees of ability, of every kind of education, of every profession and employment, were posting with ardour so general to the press. The province of writing was formerly left to those, who by study, or appearance of study, were supposed to have gained knowledge unattainable by the busy part of mankind; but in these enlightened days, every man is qualified to instruct every other man: and he that beats the anvil, or guides the plough, not content with supplying corporal necessities, amuses himself in the hours of leisure with providing intellectual pleasures for his countrymen.

It may be observed, that of this, as of other evils, complaints have been made by every generation: but though it may, perhaps, be true, that at all times more have been willing than have been able to write, yet there is no reason for believing, that the dogmatical legions of the present race were ever equalled in number by any former period: for so widely is spread the itch of literary praise, that almost every man is an author, either in act or in purpose: has either bestowed his favours on the publick, or withholds them, that they may be more seasonably offered, or made more worthy of acceptance.

In former times, the pen, like the sword, was considered as consigned by nature to the hands of men; the ladies contented themselves with private virtues and domestick excellence; and a female writer, like a female warrior, was considered as a kind of eccentrick being, that deviated, however illustriously, from her due sphere of motion, and was, therefore, rather to be gazed at with wonder, than countenanced by imitation. But as in the times past are said to have been a nation of Amazons, who drew the bow and wielded the battle-axe, formed encampments and wasted nations, the revolution of years has now produced a generation of Amazons of the pen, who with the spirit of their predecessors have set masculine tyranny at defiance, asserted their claim to the regions of science, and seem resolved to contest the usurpations of virility.

Some indeed there are, of both sexes, who are authors only in desire, but have not yet attained the power of executing their intentions; whose performances have not arrived at bulk sufficient to form a volume, or who have not the confidence, however impatient of nameless obscurity, to solicit openly the assistance of the printer. Among these are the innumerable correspondents of publick papers, who are always offering assistance which no man will receive, and suggesting hints that are never taken; and who complain loudly of the perverseness and arrogance of authors, lament their insensibility of their own interest, and fill the coffee-houses with dark stories of performances by eminent hands, which have been offered and rejected.

To what cause this universal eagerness of writing can be properly ascribed, I have not yet been able to discover. It is said, that every art is propagated in proportion to the rewards conferred upon it; a position from which a stranger would naturally infer, that literature was now blessed with patronage far transcending the candour or munificence of the Augustan age, that the road to greatness was open to none but authors, and that by writing alone riches and honour were to be obtained.

But since it is true, that writers, like other competitors, are very little disposed to favour one another, it is not to be expected, that at a time when every man writes, any man will patronize; and, accordingly, there is not one that I can recollect at present, who professes the least regard for the votaries of science, invites the addresses of learned men, or seems to hope for reputation from any pen but his own.

The cause, therefore, of this epidemical conspiracy for the destruction of paper, must remain a secret: nor can I discover, whether we owe it to the influences of the constellations, or the intemperature of seasons: whether the long continuance of the wind at any single point, or intoxicating vapours exhaled from the earth, have turned our nobles and our peasants, our soldiers and traders, our men and women, all into wits, philosophers, and writers.

It is, indeed, of more importance to search out the cure than the cause of this intellectual malady; and he would deserve well of this country, who, instead of amusing himself with conjectural speculations, should find means of persuading the peer to inspect his steward’s accounts, or repair the rural mansion of his ancestors; who could replace the tradesman behind his counter, and send back the farmer to the mattock and the flail.

General irregularities are known in time to remedy themselves. By the constitution of ancient Egypt, the priesthood was continually increasing, till at length there was no people beside themselves; the establishment was then dissolved, and the number of priests was reduced and limited. Thus among us, writers will, perhaps, be multiplied, till no readers will be found, and then the ambition of writing must necessarily cease.

But as it will be long before the cure is thus gradually effected, and the evil should be stopped, if it be possible, before it rises to so great a height, I could wish that both sexes would fix their thoughts upon some salutary considerations, which might repress their ardour for that reputation, which not one of many thousands is fated to obtain.

Let it be deeply impressed, and frequently recollected, that he who has not obtained the proper qualifications of an author, can have no excuse for the arrogance of writing, but the power of imparting to mankind something necessary to be known. A man uneducated or unlettered may sometimes start a useful thought, or make a lucky discovery, or obtain by chance some secret of nature, or some intelligence of facts, of which the most enlightened mind may be ignorant, and which it is better to reveal, though by a rude and unskilful communication, than to lose for ever by suppressing it.

But few will be justified by this plea; for of the innumerable books and pamphlets that have overflowed the nation, scarce one has made any addition to real knowledge, or contained more than a transposition of common sentiments, and a repetition of common phrases.

It will be naturally inquired, when the man who feels an inclination to write, may venture to suppose himself properly qualified; and, since every man is inclined to think well of his own intellect, by what test he may try his abilities, without hazarding the contempt or resentment of the publick.

The first qualification of a writer is a perfect knowledge of the subject which he undertakes to treat; since we cannot teach what we do not know, nor can properly undertake to instruct others while we are ourselves in want of instruction. The next requisite is, that he be master of the language in which he delivers his sentiments: if he treats of science and demonstration, that he has attained a style clear, pure, nervous, and expressive; if his topicks be probable and persuasory, that he be able to recommend them by the superaddition of elegance and imagery, to display the colours of varied diction, and pour forth the musick of modulated periods.

If it be again inquired, upon what principles any man shall conclude that he wants those powers, it may be readily answered, that no end is attained but by the proper means; he only can rationally presume that he understands a subject, who has read and compared the writers that have hitherto discussed it, familiarized their arguments to himself by long meditation, consulted the foundations of different systems, and separated truth from errour by a rigorous examination.

In like manner, he only has a right to suppose that he can express his thoughts, whatever they are, with perspicuity or elegance, who has carefully perused the best authors, accurately noted their diversities of style, diligently selected the best modes of diction, and familiarized them by long habits of attentive practice.

No man is a rhetorician or philosopher by chance. He who knows that he undertakes to write on questions which he has never studied, may without hesitation determine, that he is about to waste his own time and that of his reader, and expose himself to the derision of those whom he aspires to instruct: he that without forming his style by the study of the best models hastens to obtrude his compositions on the publick, may be certain, that whatever hope or flattery may suggest, he shall shock the learned ear with barbarisms, and contribute, wherever his work shall be received, to the depravation of taste and the corruption of language.

4th June
written by simplelight

So Bush speaks of the “wonder-working power of volunteerism” and the Left has a conniption but Obama quotes straight out of the Koran  and no one so much as murmurs. People are never threatened by those who don’t believe what they say.

21st April
written by simplelight

I frequently meet with the executives of alternative energy companies. Unfortunately, in most cases, the price of the electricity they’re generating is too high or the payback period for the required capital investment is too long.

In the past two years (April 2007 to March 2009) my wife and I have used 13,226 kwh at an average price of 13.3 cents per kwh (including all the taxes, distribution costs etc.). The total cost was $1,761 which amounts to $2.42 per day. We are fairly efficient and only use about 18.2 kwh per day which, according to PG&E, is a lot lower than average.

Nevertheless, it is hard to contemplate spending $10-20k to install any type of edge electricity generation when we can so easily pull it off the grid.

California, though, has a tiered rate system. Similar to tax rates, the more electricity you consume the higher your rate per kwh. The following are the approximate rates in California as of today.

  • Baseline
  • Tier 2 (up to 130% of baseline) — 13 cents per kwh
  • Tier 3 (up to 200% of baseline) — 21 cents per kwh
  • Tier 4 (up to 300% of baseline) — 37 cents per kwh
  • Tier 5 (over 300% of baseline) — 44 cents per kwh

The baseline rate varies by geography and season but is priced around 11.5 cents per kwh and includes about 23 kwh per day currently.

If you are consuming enough electricity to be hitting tiers 4 and 5 then it begins to make sense to install solar panels or fuel cells such as those provided by ClearEdge Power.