Aaron Brazell

The BASIC Cloud Framework API

Last night, I spent the evening with a bunch of PHP developers in DC. This informal gathering in the DC-PHP community is a regular occurrence known as the DC PHP Beverage Subgroup – Virginia Chapter. There is also a DC-chapter that meets once a month as well. These two informal gatherings are for the sole purpose of getting together, enjoying some food and cold beverages and generally just talking about anything and everything. It complements the official DC PHP meeting which is generally a technical presentation directly related to PHP.

So last night, we were yukking it up about how PHP has re-invoked the GOTOoperator, a programming mechanism that, we thought, died with the BASIC programming language of yore. Coding in BASIC was very procedural and not very rich in its abilities.

10 PRINT "Hello World!"
20 GOTO 10

One of our number suggested that PHP, since they regressed so badly with the GOTO operator inclusion, should also adopt line numbers in code as well. :) This conversation devolved into all the cliché buzzwords of our time and eventually, it was suggested that what we really need is a “BASIC Cloud Framework API”.

Putting aside BASIC, which is not really practical or desirable, the concept of a Cloud-based Framework API, whatever it actually is, is not all that undesirable. If you think about it, we already have a Cloud-based API for APIs (yes, I realize this is very meta) with the super-cool Gnip which we covered last year when they launched. Social services channel their data through Gnip and Gnip provides a single API layer for data access. And it’s built in the cloud.

Similarly, up until a few years ago, Javascript was painful to write because developers had to write code for all the browsers and all their nuances. That was before Javascript libraries — or APIs, if you will — like Prototype or jQuery came along providing the developer with a single layer of javascript programming that would work seamlessly on all browsers.
The concept of single layer APIs is not a new one. Why can’t we have an API for cloud-services as well?

Think about this. Right now, anyone wanting to build an application has three options. They can build out a server cluster or farm that physically scales and, by proxy, ends up costing a lot as physical hardware costs a lot. A second option would involve a virtual cluster made up of virtual machines. You still need hardware, but each server souped up with up to 32G of RAM can theoretically host tons of virtual machines all acting as a physical server. An entirely virtual solution is hosting applications in “the cloud”.

Cloud computing is not without it’s challenges. I’ve challenged the reliance on it in the past, and I still do. However, with cloud services like Amazon’s EC2, S3 or Google’s App Engine, it becomes entirely possible to not only store data in the cloud, but also run and maintain entire services in the cloud.

The problem is, each of them require different things. Amazon has a suite of developer tools that are needed to build against their cloud offerings. Google App Engine only supports Python, Ruby or Java.

There should be a way to abstract this development to a single layer — or API, if you will — to take advantage of this.

Laugh it up, chuckles. A cloud-based framework API is not all that ridiculous of a concept. The world once thought the earth was flat as well.

Aaron Brazell

WordPress Bible Book Tour

From the moment I announced that I would be writing the WordPress Bible, friends and fans all over the world have been asking me to come to their city to do an event. Clearly, I would love to do such a thing, but without tremendous support it is not in the cards.

However, more recently, as I’ve just reached my 50% writing deadline, I’ve thought more seriously about going on the road next year after the book goes on sale. (It’s slated currently for Feb 22, 2010 and you can pre-order the book now on Amazon for $31.49
– aff).
So here’s the deal. I am working on a sponsorship that would provide me a vehicle for a round-the-country 2-3 week book tour in late March, early April. I would like to visit 12-15 cities around the U.S. and Canada. Ideally, these are cities where there are a core of WordPress users and, ideally, where there has been a WordCamp (this denotes interest in the topic). Some of these cities might be:

  • Washington, D.C.
  • NYC
  • Boston
  • Toronto
  • Nashville
  • Columbus
  • Chicago
  • Dallas
  • Denver
  • San Francisco
  • Los Angeles
  • San Diego
  • Seattle

Each city needs to have a host who can organize the event, take care of expenses, etc. I would like to be able to host an open bar/reception time as well so sponsors probably need to be raised. Don’t get me wrong, this type of thing is probably not a break-the-bank kind of event. We need a venue (bookstore likely), venue (reception), maybe sponsors, my expenses, and someone to get people out.

If you’re interested in hosting in these or other cities, send me an email at aaron@technosailor.com.

Aaron Brazell

Crime Statistics in DC

After the news today that MSNBC.com acquired EveryBlock, a service that tracks local news in 12 different cities and organizes news, reviews, and other localized data into searchable locales (zip codes, neighborhoods, etc), I decided to poke around a bit.

One of the areas that EveryBlock tracks is crime statistics and Washington, DC is one of the 12 cities. I discovered that according to publicly available crime data, there are over double the number of crimes reported in Northwest than their are in Southeast or Northeast.

Photo via Badercondo.org

Photo via Badercondo.org

In DC, the city is divided into four quadrants based around direction from the U.S. Capitol building. That means everything south of the National Mall and west of South Capitol St is considered southwest. South of East Capitol St and east of South Capitol St is Southeast and is generally considered the most violent area of the city. North of East Capitol St and east of North Capitol St is Northeast and is largely residential. North of the National Mall and west of North Capitol St is Northwest, the busiest and most upscale quadrant of the city.

I dug around for a bit, looking at data by zip code, by ward, by quadrant, by types of crime, etc. Needless to say, it was quite startling to see this chart via Everyblock.com:
Picture 4
Naturally, we can draw some conclusions based on this striking data:

  • The socialites that go to the upscale bars that pepper Northwest, are clearly more likely to commit crimes than the Hipsters who pepper the bars along H St in Northeast.
  • Traffic circles have a higher rate of inciting violence than straight roads (the bulk of DC’s many traffic circles are in NW).
  • A higher cost of alcoholic drinks is directly responsible for an uptick in theft.
  • A higher concentration of tourists in and around the National Mall and monuments escalates anger level in citizens who have a tendency to then get into altercations as frustration level boils over.
  • The Metro and access to the Metro has a negative effect on people.
  • Sunday brunches don’t have quite the positive effect everyone assumes they do.

Clearly, we can draw these conclusions. Clearly.

Or maybe we just like to jump to conclusions that support our own worldview. For instance, I really dislike Northwest because it’s pretty douchey, expensive and parking is hard to find. Therefore, my worldview is projected into these crime statistics and I can make claims such as the ones above. Finding evidence to support our own worldviews, instead of finding a worldview that matches the evidence is the American way, eh?

Yeah. It is.

Reminds me of a healthcare reform debate.


Health Care Reform: Trillion Dollar Spitballs

Here in the doldrums of August, the debate around Health Care Reform spins wildly as both sides position themselves against a Trillion dollar problem that is the key point of the Obama agenda. Basically, the debate comes down to two perspectives, as it always does.

On one side, the argument is made that the health care system is broke, primary care physicians make too much money from ad hoc testing, and insurance companies collect on the loot while millions of Americans go without the insurance needed to give them peace of mind in case of an accident, injury or just preventive healthcare.

On the other side of the debate, the argument is that the proposals on the table cost too much, put too much government in the middle of personal healthcare decisions and will hurt the businesses (and the GDP produced) by an artificial price ceiling on the healthcare business ecosystem. The argument from here, as well, is that we can’t rightly identify the problem that exists.

As a fiscal conservative, I tend toward the latter but as a social progressive, I can certainly see the points made by the other side.

In software development, there is a development paradigm called Agile development. In Agile, the idea is that the quickest way to get a product to market, gain valuable insight and feedback in real user test cases, and enhance the product delivery is with a fast, iterative approach. Get the product out there and people using it. Listen to them and identify the problems. As quickly as the product is released, start turning out updates on a very fast pace. Iterate. Iterate. Iterate. If you wait for the product to be “done” it will never be “done”.

The Agile approach to software development makes a lot of sense. You produce something, can very quickly get real life data, and adjust. The cost of investment and overhead are small and the footprint for total failure is reduced.

In the current Health Care Reform debate, it astounds me that both sides take an all or nothing approach. Either we throw trillion dollar spitballs and problems that no one can fully identify or wrap their heads around (individual input here is taken with a grain of salt since it is only one point of view from a limited scope of experience), or we do nothing at all, knowing that there is a problem even if we can’t identify it.

I think any startup will tell you that on the route to success, they had no idea where things would go. They may have only had a good idea that wasn’t vetted in their own minds and as they proceeded in building the product or the business, they encountered (and learned) along the way. This is the process that needs to occur. We can’t know everything right now, but we do know some things, and we do know there’s a problem.

Democrats need to stop trying to do it all right now while they have control of both houses of Congress and the White House. They are rushing things and that makes the whole deal failure prone. Republicans need to stop stonewalling and get something done. Yes, it’s going to cost money. Maybe a lot in the long run. But at the end of the day, there is an obligation of a society to take care of those who may not be able to take care of themseleves. With this in mind, iterate toward the perfect solution where society can do that, but let’s try to limit the costs and footprints and preserve the free market as well.

It won’t be perfect, but trillion dollar spitballs don’t solve anything.

Aaron Brazell, guest blogging, Venture Files

FriendFeed is now In a Relationship with Facebook

In a move that surprised many in the tech world, Facebook and FriendFeed today announced that FriendFeed has been acquired by Facebook. This announcement came as a surprise to those who see FriendFeed as an annoying, yet open approach to the web whereas Facebook has a history of being a walled garden, often only opening up their data streams in limited or crippled fashions.

More surprisingly, the acquisition was something like Sixth Sense where you watched the movie trying to figure out what the ending would be just to be totally blindsided as the credits rolled. Yeah, it was that sort of satisfactory “ah, you got me” moment.

friendfeed-facebookI have had a torrid relationship with FriendFeed culminating with a termination of my account, causing much angst and name-calling from the puppets who have pushed FriendFeed as the only way to have legitimate conversations on the web. From my perspective, and others, it was a noisy, troll-filled social platform that, though having good technical features like real time feeds, also provided an almost cliché approach to communication.

Where the web has become increasingly fragmented and dispersed, fans of FriendFeed often touted it’s aggregation platform as the end of disbursement, a concept that I disagree with. Such end of disbursement also marks an end to competition, if allowed, and a navel-gazing mentality that assumes nothing can be better. Competition in the market place is good, and I chose Twitter.

What this means to consumers is unknown yet. Facebook has a historic closed stance and, though opening up certain APIs such as Facebook Connect, and allowing developers to develop applications for Facebook, it still stands as a relatively closed system. In order to really engage with Facebook, you really have to be using Facebook itself or the mobile apps built for Facebook.

FriendFeed has a robust API that developers can access to distribute or repurpose the content within. It has failed in many ways by not providing a really great application ecosystem, but on paper, it is much more robust of an open system than Facebook.

Facebook has certainly taken pages from the FriendFeed book, however, making their newsfeeds real time, and integrating their “Like” feature. However, it still is not as quick or reliable, much less intuitive for the user.

In an ideal world, Facebook takes almost all of the real time, and “Group” functionality of FriendFeed and integrates it into Facebook. Lose the walled garden, and keep the API open for developers. Time will tell, however, as these two companies figure out how to be “In a Relationship” with each other.

More on this acquisition from other sources:

Aaron Brazell

Bring Different Innovation to Washington

A few weeks ago, I received a call from my friend Robert Neelbauer at about 11 pm. He wanted to talk about innovation and technology startups in DC. For those who live around here, you know there’s not a lot of them. Mostly project-type things that entrepreneurs who work day jobs have cooking. And of course, even though DC is home to Launchbox Digital an accelerator program in the order of Techstars or Ycombinator, there remains a dearth of Silicon Valley style startups.

This call got me thinking about the landscape in DC. It is, as it always has been, a center of government. Those of us who live here joke about the difference between Washington, the center of government, and the District, a wider culture of arts, nightlife and activity outside of government. The reality is, however, that the two are inexorably fused at the hip. Spending Friday nights enjoying nightlife inevitably means spending time among people connected in Washington, on Capitol Hill or other parts of government. It is difficult to live in this city without being part of the Washington-culture somehow. More after the jump.

3531416607_3e8e066127Today, with the Obama administration and its embrace of internet culture, the advent of “Government 2.0” has come about. Government 2.0, a term describing the second generation of government using the faux-fashionable way of versioning, describes an embrace of web technologies and culture to advance the mission of government. Without getting into my feelings on Government 2.0 as a whole (my thoughts are well-documented), it’s difficult to escape the reality of enterprise in DC.

DC is not a city lent to Silicon Valley-style innovation. We will never house the next Twitter and Google only exists here as a lobbying arm of the Mountain View, California search giant. It is a city dedicated to practical innovation. We will never have the sex appeal to attract the innovators in California here. It’s not our style.

What we do have is an opportunity for innovation as it pertains to agency mission. We do have the opportunity to develop products that meet the needs of elected government, established government and citizens in a time of economic uncertainty. We do have the ability to build products and services that meet the needs of Washington, but as long as we try to meet the needs of the country and the world, we run the risk of barking up the wrong tree.

Yahoo made a massive move last week, announcing a search deal with Microsoft. Carol Bartz, the CEO of Yahoo, suggested that Yahoo could not compete with Google anymore in search and the deal would allow Yahoo to focus and innovate in the areas they could compete. If you haven’t been paying attention to me since 2007, then you would have missed my thoughts on this. Yahoo came to grips with the realization that they couldn’t compete with Google but they could own another niche. This is the same realization that DC has to come to for itself. We can’t (nor should we) compete with Silicon Valley. Besides the fact that they are dwindling in relevancy as the spotlight shifts to other cities and reasons, we have something they can never have.

And while Silicon Valley warlords aimlessly try to find their relevancy and foothold in Washington, we have the ability to use our real connections, our real knowledge of the inside-the-beltway world, and our real grassroots abilities that we displayed in getting our President elected to bring new and relevant innovation to government.

By the way, the first person who suggests government agencies need wikis and Twitter to be relevant, is banished back to California.