Friday, April 15, 2011

Checking in from Hong Kong

Alicia and I are currently en route to Hong Kong. I figured I'd take the opportunity to hammer out a long overdue blog post. 747s provide a (mostly) interruption free environment to concentrate. About the only distraction is the video they're playing. The Tourist looks as dreadful as I've heard.

Now that I'm writing, what to write about? How about returning to writing about our Antarctica adventures? That project has been on hold (sort of) since January 20th - almost two months!. Why the delay?

It's a combination of circumstances. Since returning from Antarctica, I've travelled to Chicago, Boston, and Philadelphia. Each of those business trips has been very time consuming. Additionally, I spent a serious chunk of time studying to take the VCAP-DCA exam. Still waiting the results (gulp!). And on top of that, I've been nursing Alicia back to health after her shoulder surgery.

All of these collectively have sucked up a sizable portion of my time. But in my opinion those aren't the main reasons for the delay. The main contributor to the delay has been Google.

NOTICE: I'm about to go on a rant here. If you want to skip it, jump over the <RANT></RANT> tagged section below.

I remember the first time I heard about Google. I was living in San Francisco and was driving down the Embarcadero on my way to Santa Cruz late one evening. I was listening to KQED and they had an interview with two guys named Larry and Sergey. They explained that the name was derived from 'googol', which I seem to recall is the number 1 followed by 100 zeros. Big number.
The interviewer went on to explain that they were two guys from Stanford working on a new search engine, and how this Google search engine aspired to replace Yahoo!, and Altavista, and all the other search engines on the new frontier called the Internet. The interviewer's theory seemed to be that anybody who knew what a googol was had to be smart, and someone that smart could come up with a better search engine. Larry (or was it Sergey) seemed to be of a different mind. He explained that to make a better search engine, they had to return more relevant results. They were so confident that they had achieved that goal that they added a "I'm feeling lucky" button to their page.
I made it a point to 'surf' over to later that evening and check them out.
<TANGENT>Who the heck came up with the mixed metaphor of "surfing the web"? Lame.</TANGENT>
One novel thing that I discovered was how simplistic the web page was. I chalked up that simplicity to two geeky guys who were more concerned with solving a technical challenge than mere aesthetics. I looked beyond the crudely simple page and tried some searches to see how relevant the search results were. Now I don't recall exactly what my criteria was - I don't remember the criteria at all truth be told - but I walked away from my first encounter with Google of the opinion that their search engine was, in fact, better than the competition. And Google has been my primary search engine ever since.
Since that night long, long ago, Google has turned out to be a remarkably successful tech company (but you already knew that). They've branched out in a multitude of directions: Mapping (does anyone use Mapquest any more?), photography/imaging (Picasa), video (Youtube), and email (Google Mail) to name a few. And each time they've managed to tie those technologies to their search/advertising engine.
But (and this is the very kernel of my rant) the vast majority of the time, Google's user interfaces suck. And they suck badly. It's like Lord of the Flies over there in Mountain View and the engineers are ruling the island. Almost every time I look at a Google user interface I'm dumbfounded by the design decisions they make.
Take Gmail for example. Does Gmail have folders? Noooooooo. Gmail has labels. Labels are better, don't you know? If you don't understand why labels are better, you must not be as smart as a Google engineer. I've used labels for years now, and they still irk me. Email threads? We're Google. We collapse threads whether you want us to or not. Want to send a new email? Don't go looking for a "New" button. That would be too easy. I could go on and on, but the worst thing is that Google's user interfaces aren't just clunky and different, they're ugly. Consistently so.
I'll freely admit that sometimes Google surprises me. Take Google Earth. I'll give Google high praise for that user interface. Cool stuff, Google Earth.
But to get back on topic, I turn now to (the website acquired by Google on which my personal blog is hosted). When I first created my blog, I didn't really have any plans for it. I wasn't writing for any particular audience. I mostly started it just to see who would find it. I quietly started it and didn't tell anyone about it. Since my plans weren't all that big, I didn't need anything much in the way of tools for blogging. I just wanted to write and post some of my photos.
Since embarking upon posting my abundant collection of Antarctica photos, I've quickly realized just how awful a platform Blogspot is for someone who wants to post a lot of photos.
One of the pain points is Blogspots lame unwillingness to let you upload multiple photos at a time. I searched for ages to find a way to do it, but kept hitting a dead end. I'd have to keep uploading one photo at a time. Sloooooooow.
I eventually found a somewhat acceptable solution (ironically enough by googling). So that I don't just sound like a total whiner, here's the solution in case anyone else out there is encountering the same stuggles.

When you're on the "Compose" tab and click on the add image icon, that user interface only allows you to upload one image at a time. Forget taking a coffee break while your your 15-20 minutes of photos are uploaded. You have to upload one at a time. PITA.
What you need to do is to click on the "Edit HTML" tab, then click on the add image icon. I'm not sure what the rational is behind this lovely aspect of the user interface, but that's the way it works.
BTW... This workaround still limits you to uploading five images at a time - hardly batch uploading but better than one at a time. There is a Firefox plug-in that allows you to do more, but I want to be able to use whatever browser I want.
Another gripe I have is that once you've uploaded your photos, trying to reposition them is a nightmare. My only workaround for that is to click on the "Edit HTML" tab and do just that - edit my HTML manually. I done entire websites in HTML. But it's 2011. I shouldn't have to edit HTML manually unless I'm doing something tricky.
I could go on and on describing the many ways that Blogspot slows me down. But I'll spare you. Just think "death by a thousand cuts" and you'll get the idea. In this case, those thousand cuts have severely slowed me down. 
One thing I learned running my own company for years is that the most demanding, obnoxious, pain-in-the-you-know-where customers are those you to whom you give your product or service for free. 
In light of that lesson and out of fairness to Google, I would like to applaud all they do and the price they charge. I struggled last night to think of a single time I've ever given a dime to Google. The only time I could think of was AdSense. Or was it AdWords? I never could keep those two straight.
Now that I've gotten that rant out of the system, it's time to start packing up and heading to the airport. From Hong Kong we'll be flying to Okinawa where I'll be delivering a vSphere 4.1 Install, Configure, Manage course.

Huh? Aren't you in a 747? Well I was when I starting writing this, but I eventually drained my battery, landed in Hong Kong, met our friend Titus, took the train from the airport to Hong Kong, checked into the hotel, went out for dinner, collapsed exhausted, slept like a rock, awoke just before 6:00 a.m. feeling very rested, ate breakfast, and now I'm out of time.

When I get settled into Okinawa, I'll finally be updating my blog with more photos from our Antarctica adventure!

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