New tune – Visitor 2010

December 16th, 2014

Here’s a new track that I have produced. It started out in 2010 as a remix of Another Visitor (sticking with the Impossible Mission theme), but then it sat on a hard drive as an unfinished loop for four years. I finally grabbed a day recently to turn it into a more finished tune. I think this is better than the original; I’m much happier with the production but I definitely need some monitor speakers to get more control over the mixdown.

Bitcasa was (in my opinion no longer is) a very promising cloud data storage provider – a bit like Dropbox except for two practical differences: Firstly the Bitcasa desktop application mounts your Bitcasa drive as a network volume, rather than syncing to a local folder (so it can hold more data than your hard drive). And secondly the data is encrypted both in transit and on the server. They also offered “infinite” storage for a very reasonable fee. In principle it was great.

Rachael has been using it (on my advice) to back up her photography work (~80GB of new images per week), and now has several terabytes of TIFF and RAW files in her account. We’ve been running an automated upload process every evening and had a further 10TB to upload. The data is also on RAID hard drive units but, as it’s business critical information, a remote backup seemed sensible.

Unfortunately on 23rd October Bitcasa announced that they were discontinuing the infinite accounts and were going to be offering a 1TB or a 10TB service for $99 or $999 per annum. For those in the early pricing scheme and with over 1TB of data this amounts to a roughly tenfold increase in annual cost.

“You have between October 22, 2014 and November 15, 2014 to migrate your data”

The other key part of the announcement was that there was a 15th November deadline (just over 3 weeks) to either migrate the account or to download all data, otherwise it would be deleted. That such an unreasonably short amount of time has been given reeks, to me, of some corporate / financial “emergency” measure, but that’s just speculation.

Bitcasa has always felt, in my experience, a bit “beta”: uploads are much slower than with Dropbox and are very processor intensive. This is, I understand, related to the encryption processing but generally (particularly more recently running it on a new computer) it’s been usable. We’ve never had much reason to download files from it though.

Rachael was (grudgingly) willing to upgrade her account to the $999 10TB package in order to buy enough time to find an alternative long-term solution, but it isn’t working. More than 20 attempts to run the account upgrade process have failed with a server error. Several support tickets I raised have not been answered after several days, except one which was marked by them as “Solved” with a generic advice response.

Bitcasa upgrade server error

Awkward indeed… It doesn’t bode well. Maybe they’re just being swamped with user requests but it feels to me like they are going under.

We have therefore been trying to salvage critical data from the account, but the process is slow and unreliable. Despite us having (according to speedtest.net) an 80Mbps download connection speed, downloading 1GB from Bitcasa is taking about 2-3 hours, when dragging the file out of the Bitcasa drive using Finder on the Mac. And more often than not the operation fails after 40 minutes or so.

Bitcasa - Finder error

The alternative – downloading via their web app – isn’t much better. It’s faster but trying to download more than one file at a time results in a corrupted zip file. Not very practical when you’ve got a folder with hundreds of files in it. Even Bitcasa recommend avoiding it (in a support response):

“We recommend not downloading multiple files through the web portal. If one of the file(s) is damaged, it will break the entire zip file. Downloading single files from the web portal should be fine.”

However, this morning I discovered that moving files in the Terminal is much more reliable. A lot of the problems seem to be related to the Finder. It’s going to take right up to the deadline to get all of the data but it is now, finally, just about feasible.

On balance, for us, speed and reliability are more important than encryption for this use-case. So we’re moving the data to Amazon ‘Glacier’ (via S3). Uploading directly to S3 is like a dream compared to Bitcasa, the data is uploading at over 2 megabytes per second.

The sad thing is that we were willing to pay $999 to migrate the Bitcasa account but then technical failures and lack of support simultaneously made it impossible to do this, and destroyed any confidence we had in the system that we would have been paying for anyway.

It looks on the face of it like Bitcasa are moving more towards a business-to-business API-driven service provider but this is basically a big “fuck you” to all their existing customers. If I were one of their investors I would be less than impressed.

The trouble with Twitter

October 31st, 2014

The Problem with Facebook is well explained in this video by science communicator Derek Muller. Basically they algorithmically filter your news feed in such a way that you probably won’t see most of what your friends post. This is contrary to what users expect to happen, but they are none the wiser because they don’t know about what they don’t see.

Of course it’s all about this button, the heart of Facebook’s business model:

boost_post

Once you give them cash they’ll show your post to all your friends / followers and of course a load of other people who don’t know you too. Fine: they have to make money. I just happen to hate it because it feels dishonest to actively hide things like that.

Facebook would argue that they’re trying to make my new feed “relevant” and “manageable”, something which Twitter does not do.

I’ve always greatly preferred Twitter’s follow model to Facebook’s friend model because I’m not socially obliged to follow my friends and family. I might be related to you but I’m not necessarily interested in your town’s local politics, or whatever. On Twitter it is left up to me to curate my feed by following the accounts I find interesting.

However, it’s changed. I joined Twitter early when it felt like a close-knit little network. For ages I followed about 40 people, most of whom I knew personally (early adopter web industry-types) plus a handful of other interesting people. Posting a Tweet was like putting something up on the village noticeboard. Most if not all of your followers would see it. And I would see all of my followers’ posts; in fact at first I received an SMS message whenever one of them tweeted. My feed was a mix of industry stuff and <= 140 character witticisms.

However—grumble grumble—Stephen Fry joined and got stuck in a lift then it went mainstream. Soon those 'brand' things got in on the action and it became a marketing and news platform, all about driving clicks to websites.

This has driven real human users away. I'd say 80% of the people I used to connect with on Twitter no longer use it. Or if they do they're completely silent and passive. "Last tweet: July".

The trouble is that now when I post a tweet it feels like I'm standing at Oxford Circus during the morning rush hour. And most of the people surrounding me in the crowd are announcing things through megaphones. If I'm lucky perhaps I'll glimpse a familiar face but – to continue the urbanisation analogy – most of my friends don't come this way any more because they find it unpleasantly busy and they've moved out to the country.

Evidence of this data overload symptom is the regular appearance now of ICYMI tweets. Often re-posting something a few hours later I’ll get a number of people commenting on it that I would have hoped to have seen it the first time but it’s now a mile down their timeline.

Solutions do exist: Using Twitter lists or TweetDeck, and the act of curating your following list by unfollowing non-human accounts. Sadly what’s left when you take away the noise is a bit of a ghost town.

For me Twitter was most interesting as a system for connecting human minds in real-time, not unlike Conjoiner technology in Alastair Reynolds’ fictional universe. That was genuinely exciting. Sadly, real-time is only usable up to a certain tweets-per-hour threshold. I don’t want to be connected in real-time to machines.

Here are two hypothetical experiments (that of course would be completely at odds with Twitter’s business model) that would make it very different but to me more interesting:

  1. Limiting the number of people you anyone can follow to 100
  2. Not allowing any links or media in tweets*.

A third experiment would be the option of following things that ONLY appear in a list and / or making a list your default timeline view, which would have the same effect.

But maybe it’s too late for all that. Or maybe I’m just being a sentimental Old Web guy.

*Yes, I tweeted a link to this blog post.

October 2014

October 26th, 2014

It was all going so well, last time I wrote one of these. That is, I’d got my life under control enough to find time to write a blog post. It’s a measure of organisational state, a bit like having a tidy desk.

June. I was into a nice routine: Busy, but rarely working late and never at weekends. I’d lost nearly a stone in weight since Christmas, going on two or three runs a week, walking more and eating and drinking less. Not rocket science but it takes a concerted effort to consistently consume less than your appetite wants you to.

After that I got busy again. Time has flown by. My son turned two on July 5th, and my Nana (my Dad’s mother) sadly passed away on August 4th. Bowel cancer. Awful. The funeral, up in Stockport, was two weeks later; hopefully not the last time I’ll see my aunt, uncle and cousins although we’re rarely in touch.

Somehow it’s nearly November. Most but not all of the weight is back on. My skin is pale and blemished. My desk is a mess.

The trouble with me is that when I get into a big project I become sort of absorbed by it. And being self-employed I don’t switch off at 6pm. I somehow need to keep the project’s complex wiring diagram in my head while the work is in progress. So it’s always there like a big program hogging most of the memory on a slightly underpowered computer. Everything else still works but it’s sluggish. Switching apps is unresponsive.

Everything was fine up till about the end of June but in an effort not to burn bridges with existing clients I’ve had to double-up, managing and developing on the startup business and fitting other projects around it too. The result: late nights, going in on Saturdays to “catch up” and “rewarding” myself with “well deserved” beer and takeaway food.

This works in the short term when you need to get over a hump, but try to sustain it and it quickly becomes a false economy. A late night of intense work is mirrored by a morning of staring blankly at the laptop, trying to kick start your brain chemistry with coffee. Then not sleeping properly the next night. Being a zombie-like husband.

Anyway, today was good. Literally a long day, as the clocks went back this morning. Did no work except for some satisfying physical work in the garden. Went out with the family. We saw some owls, which made Henry happy as he’s been a bit obsessed with them since being introduced to them on YouTube.

Back to work tomorrow. Let’s see if I can wrest control of this thing. Twitter and Facebook off, idiot.

Introducing Milk

September 17th, 2014

Milk is an application suite for schools and colleges designed to be used by students, teachers and parents. It is a student self-management tool. Milk comprises an iOS and Android mobile app for students, as well as the Milk Web Portal which is open to all users.

I was honoured to be invited to join the Milk team at the end of December 2013 and I have been heading up its development since January. Milk is being piloted in a number of schools across the UK this term. It’s been a lot of hard work but it’s immensely satisfying to see it now coming to fruition.

To find out more about Milk visit our website.


Introducing Milk

Ambient Mix

August 17th, 2014

I’ve put together a new ambient mix. It was recorded live and then tweaked in Ableton. The field recordings were captured with my ancient MZ-R50 MiniDisc recorder and a stereo mic.

It’s on both SoundCloud and Mixcloud:

Firstperson Ambient Set August 2014 by Ade on Mixcloud

Track list:

  • Firstperson – field recording: Stamford morning
  • Stéphane Kerecki & John Taylor – La Source (intro)
  • Firstperson – field recording: Wet London street 1
  • Carroll Gibbons – The Night Is Young
  • Brock Van Wey – Forever a Stranger
  • Bill Evans – Spartacus Love Theme (sample, looped)
  • Firstperson – field recording: Rain on plastic roof
  • Tim Hecker – The Star Compass
  • Firstperson – field recording: Market day
  • Firstperson – microphone feedback experiment
  • Hallgrimskirkja Motet Choir – Jón Leifs – Requiem, Op. 33b
  • Firstperson – field recording: Wet London street 2
  • Future Sound Of London – Photosynthesis
  • Stephen Crow – Starquake, in-game sound effects (C64)
  • Arthur Russell – Another Thought
  • Spooky – Orange Coloured Liquid
  • Nick Drake – Hazy Jane II

New office

July 17th, 2014

Ade Rowbotham Ltd HQ

Seventeen months ago I left the now-merged-with-Work Club Pirata. Since then I’ve been working on a number of projects mostly from home except for the occasional trip to London for meetings, pitches and so on. That’s been fine to an extent as we have a decent office in our house but, as those who work from home will know, there are a number of pitfalls linked to the lack of formality normally associated with going to work and leaving work.

A recent spate of extremely late nights (“I must finish this thing”) convinced me that something had to change. Other factors included: Frequent visits from my two-year-old son and the cats (welcome but distracting), ease of access to the fridge, and lack of exercise (sometimes not leaving the house at all in a 24 hour period when particularly busy).

Given that we’ve moved out of London we’re lucky enough to have a reasonably large garden, so I had considered getting one of those garden-based studios or “posh sheds”, but the investment at the moment is hard to justify. And walking to the garden is hardly a commute, psychologically speaking.

Then thanks to Twitter I discovered an office vacancy in the centre of Stamford, so I’ve taken the plunge and I moved in on Monday. With the obligatory Ikea trip and assembly mission out of the way, it’s now time to get on with some work.