Thanks for the memories, Softpro Books

Before moving to Denver 17 years ago from Silicon Valley, I used to spend hours every weekend at the Computer Literacy bookstore in San Jose.  I was a student and this store embodied a world of possibilities.  I’d thumb through, and often buy, books about what was then still unselfconsciously called AI; or books about numerical methods, graph theory, UNIX, C, Smalltalk, or Perl.  Before blogs, Google, Stackoverflow and eBooks, books were an important part of learning.  At least, they were for me.

Computer Literacy was on the (very short) list of things I knew I’d miss about the Valley.  Imagine my joy at discovering Softpro Books within a week of moving to Denver.

softpro books

I feel like we grew up together, Softpro and I.  I bought dozens of books there every year, even when I couldn’t really afford it.  It was an investment in my craft.  At first it was C++ and more UNIX, then the Web started eating the world and there was HTML, ASP, PHP, MySQL, Python and Java.  And there were always the books from the “esoteric” section, my favorite section at Softpro.  These were books on genetic programming, neural nets, data mining, and machine learning.  I don’t think I finished many of them, but as a favorite professor of mine used to say, you can get a damn fine education by reading the first few chapters of a lot of books.

When I ran out of space in my office, I gave away books to make room for more.  Out with you, Oracle Performance Tuning and XSLT!  Make room for Lucene and R.

Computer Literacy closed in 2001.  Next week, Softpro will be closing its doors.  There will still be an online presence at softpro.com, but this is the end of the browse-and-buy era.  The last 17 years have seen amazing changes in how we use and program computers, and in where we get information and learn.  I feel just a little bit old, but I also feel very lucky to be in this business and hungry to keep learning.  I’m sad I’ll have to do that without Softpro.

Jim and Eric – you’ll be missed; thanks for being there all of these years.

Another fine feature from my fine team-mates.

The WordPress.com Blog

Once in a while, it’s important to stop, catch your breath, and look at your accomplishments before you move on to the next thing — to put a stake in the ground that says, “I made it this far!”

Today, we’re rolling out a couple of notifications to help you celebrate your blog activity milestones. From now on, whenever you hit a milestone for how many followers your blog has (5, 10, 20, 50, 100 and beyond), you’ll get a badge:

We also created badges to celebrate when you receive lots of likes from visitors:

In addition to celebrating your achievements, we wanted to notify you when you’ve had a particularly good day for receiving likes or new followers. From now on, we’ll let you know of your best days for such activity:

Keep in mind that we’ve only started counting your best days this March.

We all blog for different…

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My favorite feature in WordPress.com stats.

The WordPress.com Blog

If you’ve ever wondered where on Earth all the visitors to your site are coming from, this feature is for you!

Mosey on over to your My Stats tab on the WordPress.com homepage:

…and check out the brand new “Views by Country” panel.
Now, you can see at a glance exactly which countries comprise your audience:

When you click on or hover over a country name, the map zooms in so you can really get a feel for all the parts of the planet your content has reached:

The Summaries page shows you country stats for the previous week, month, quarter and all time, but keep in mind this feature is new and views by country are not available prior to March 2012:

We are tremendously excited to be working on new features like this for your WordPress.com My Stats tab.  Stay tuned for the next evolution!

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Apple, you’re cold and I’m leaving you

This is the story of how Apple lost the enthusiasm of one family of formerly fanatical customers.

We’ve owned nine or ten iPhones, a couple of iPads, and a long string of iMacs and Macbooks. Most of these are no longer with us, but the warm glow of that “it just works” feeling is still with us, and that’s what keeps us going back to the Apple store for more. About a month ago, Apple breathed an icy wind into our idyll. One of our iPhone 4’s was bricked by Apple’s iOS 5.0.1 update.

One minute it’s humming along in perfect working order, eagerly anticipating its new iOS version, the next minute it’s a useless brick. Doing Apple’s own iPhone update from within iTunes on a Macbook Pro had bricked the phone. It’s not jailbroken or anything weird like that, just an innocent iPhone 4. I think to myself, “no problem, I’ll take to the friendly geniuses at the local Apple store, they’ll take care of it”. I made an appointment, drove down to the store, and explained to the genius what had happened and that I’d tried the various restore methods found on Apple’s support site.

Enter the icy wind. Not being able to tell a customer from an idiot, the genius tried the same restore methods again and, surprise, they didn’t work. This is where I expected her to say “This is our fault, I don’t know how to fix it, I’ll give you a new one”. Instead, I heard “it’s a month out of warranty, we can only sell you a replacement”. Cost of said replacement: $149.

This would be an extremely generous offer if I’d caused the brickification of the phone. But since it bricked itself during the iOS update process, with help only from Apple’s own servers and software, this offer was an affront. Clearly Apple caused this issue. Asking for some explanation of why Apple wouldn’t own up to the problem, I was told that since they’d replaced so many cracked screens and things in the past for free, they were no longer doing that.

I tried to explain very patiently the difference between a problem I might have caused myself (e.g. cracked the screen) and a problem that Apple caused due to some defect or snafu in their iOS update. The latter is not my problem, it’s Apple’s problem. The fact that Apple used to give away free replacements willy-nilly to people who sat on their phones or left them out in the sun is also not my problem. It’s Apple’s problem. The Apple store employee and I went around and around for ten or fifteen minutes before I left.

That’s where things stand now, with an icy wind where there used to be a warm Apple-shaped glow. If you can’t own up to this, Apple, you’re off my list.

I’m still a fan of Apple computers, and I’ll continue to buy them, though I’ll probably wait longer between upgrades. I’m not eager to give Apple money anymore, the magic spell is lifted, their computers are simply more efficient to use than the alternatives.

In a future post, I’ll write more about how the Apple mobile device ecosystem is like being in an all-inclusive resort, whereas Android is more like a city, with traffic and noise. And choice. A resort is all about the warm glow and the “ahhh” of settling down into a beach chair with a mai-tai.

But after a while you get sick of resort food, and resort muzak, and resort transport, and resort activities, and you’re ready to go back into the world of choice. Having used an Android phone for a while, there are quite a few things to like and amazingly it just works and is more efficient and easier to use than my iPhone. If you’re getting resort ennui from your Apple devices, go out into the world and take a look around. You might be surprised.

2011 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys (and their fabulous keepers — trust me, I know them, they’re amazing) prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,600 times in 2011. If it were a cable car, it would take about 27 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.