What Was The Future of Web Apps?

I went to either the first or second Carsonified Future of Web Apps/Design conferences -- I think it was back in 2005, so over seven years ago now. I've been thinking a lot about that time and the things that used to preoccupy me: 37signals, Ruby on Rails, Digg, Apple products, Ajax, and IE bugs spring to mind.

What happened since then?

The most obvious answer has to be "the cloud". Historically, distributed systems and software/platform as a service have existed since before 2005, but Amazon launched AWS in 2006 and that's when the term started to become widely known. At least that's when journalists started using it in an annoying way.

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Silent Running

I have a limited edition Masters of Cinema SteelBook edition of Silent Running. I'm not a big collector of films, but Silent Running is special. This particular edition has been beautifully transferred and includes the The Making of Silent Running documentary.

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The Open Tsunami

I had a G3 iBook (PowerPC 750FX, mid 2002), and buying it stretched my finances to say the least. During my university years I became an open source zealot, using FreeBSD and Linux on my computers and enjoying it immensely. I bought a Mac because I also liked writing music, and there was a much richer selection of commercial software available for Macs. Upon buying the second generation iPod, I considered buying shares in Apple because it seemed like they had a perfect storm on their hands: Unix, incredible design, and products that appealed to both the non-technical and hackers among us.

I really should have bought those shares!

That iBook came with me to several technical conferences around London, and Macs weren't yet particularly popular with my fellow programmers and designers. They were probably more popular in more affluent technical communities around the world, but programmer salaries have never been particularly great in London. Back then owning a Mac garnered something like a motorcyclist's wave: the Mac-owner's nod.

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Eighteen Months

I've been trapped in the 18 month hardware cycle for over a decade. Whether it's mobile phones on a contract with a "free" upgrade, PC hardware replacement driven by games, or Apple's relentless yet undeniably compelling product refreshes, I can't escape it. I won't lie and pretend that I don't get excited by Apple keynotes or video game hardware news, but we can blame Moore's Law for a certain amount of this thirst for improved technological artefacts.

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More Programming Languages

Picture Mark Zuckerberg sitting down to write an early version of Facebook. He knows enough PHP to make it happen, he's ready to hack all night to a Trent Reznor soundtrack, with enough Shasta to quench an elephant's thirst. At the end of the day he's tired, but chills out the best way he knows how: eating a burrito, drinking bad instant coffee, and browsing the latest news for nerds. He starts reading a discussion about how PHP is a terrible language, and questions whether PHP was the right choice for the nascent project that he's embarked upon.

He decides to rewrite Facebook in the current language favoured by the alpha geeks on the web. Do you think he'd still have built Facebook, or would the project have been derailed by an endless quest for technical perfection?

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The Technological John Peel

When I was a teenager I regularly listened to John Peel's Radio 1 show. Peel is credited as breaking entire genres, as well as bands. He was one of the first broadcasters to play progressive rock in the UK, and he championed bands including The White Stripes and Smashing Pumpkins who both went on to be hugely successful.

"Oh well, it's tough being 14." I know it is Clara, this is for you.

-- John Reads Clara's Letter, from the Peel Session for A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules From The Centre Of The Ultraworld by The Orb

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DailyJS: Sponsored Content

"Money is only a tool. It will take you wherever you wish, but it will not replace you as the driver." -- Ayn Rand

I'm trying out an experiment on DailyJS called Sponsored Content where people offering commercial products can pay to get an article written and featured alongside the usual content we publish. That almost sounds like payola, so it's going to take care and tact to manage it.

My goals are fairly straightforward:

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Put Your Smallest Clients First

I've been freelancing since 2005, which means I've been doing it just a shade longer than regular employment (whatever that means). At this point I feel somewhat qualified to talk about how to survive as a freelancer, although the process has been made less turbulent for me thanks to a handful of regular clients that keep my baseline income stable.

That leads us to point number one: look for stable contracts. Corporates are looking for contractors all the time to support technical projects that they don't think are long-lived enough to warrant permanent hires. However, from the freelancer's perspective, their short timescales are quite long (six months, which can easily lead to several years). And the best thing is a reasonable hourly rate is cheap compared to a corporate salary (plus tax and benefits), which means from our perspective as lowly freelancers we actually get a good deal.

Still, being on a contract doesn't guarantee regular work. If you're on a retainer your contract might forbid other clients, but in the UK I'd be wary of this because ideally you want to run a company rather than be considered an employee according to IR35 rules. It's particularly important for me to avoid being seen as under "disguised employment" because I invest some of the money I earn back into my own entrepreneurial projects.

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Researching for Technical Writing

How are technical articles and books written? It all comes down to research. Every editor I've worked for has always extolled the importance of research, and a well-researched article is certainly more pleasant to write.

The following suggestions are based on the methods I employ intuitively, so I may have missed out some important points. However, I hope it gives readers some ideas on how they can bolster their own technical writing.

Reader Competency

First, decide who your article is for, and what they already know. Writing for beginners means drawing on standard documentation, and perhaps putting more creative effort into example code.

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