Friday, March 30, 2012

idea: bookmarklet to persist personal form data in localStorage

As a developer, I frequently have to clear my browsers cache, and also cookies, in order to test a site.  This is a PITA as now I'm logged out from Google, PivotalTracker, etc, etc.

It also showcases how very few sites store login information in localStorage by default (note to devs, if you're to offer a "Remember Me" button, use localStorage, not a cookie). 

So my idea is this: a set of two bookmarklets: the first would retrieve any form data entered in a form (prior to you submitting it) and store that data in localStorage, then the second would fill out a form using the data stored in localStorage for that site.

What about security you might ask?  Well, clearly this should only be used on a personal computer - and maybe password fields should be excluded in any case.  But this is stored locally, it is not transmitted anywhere, and the data is not accessible to any other site, so the data should stay between you and your computer.  One exception would be any potentially malicious script hosted on the site, but that seems like a risk in itself - the same script could much more effectively simply grab the form data on entry.

So - good idea or bad?

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

"Microsoft has completely lost the web development community."

Last year Mark Pilgrim released a free e-book/site called “Dive Into Html5” (  The site/book has served as a valuable resource on a recent Html5 project we’re working on here at AIS, and I have frequently gone back for details on topics such as local storage and canvas.  It is an excellent book for any bleeding edge web developer.  It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.

This week, Mark posted his observations on how publishing a free e-book (which is also purchasable in print format) works well for him, and that it gives great insight into what parts of the book are being read, and by whom. He then makes the following observation:

6% of visitors used some version of Internet Explorer. That is not a typo. The site works fine in Internet Explorer — the site practices what it preaches, and the live examples use a variety of fallbacks for legacy browsers — so this is entirely due to the subject matter. Microsoft has completely lost the web development community. (emphasis mine)

I forwarded this internally within AIS, and a nice debate ensued.  One common complaint was the hyperbole of the statement, and I agree; a more accurate line would likely be "Microsoft as a browser vendor has lost significant mindshare in the bleeding edge web development community."

Personally one of the things I love about Html5 (using the term the way the hypers would – to mean modern web development with client-driven UI interactions using JavaScript, CSS(3) and some HTML5 semantics) is that it has in some ways unified the web development community:  The debate a few years ago was about JSP vs .NET vs PHP vs Python vs Rails vs someotherservertechnology.  Folks from different camps seldom interacted and learned from each other.  With Html5, the backend processes are completely irrelevant, as long as they don’t muck with the Html (ASP.NET webforms is still a major sinner here, unfortunately) and developers using all sorts of backend software and operating systems are now adding to the collective knowledge, mostly working towards the common goal of getting as much functionality as possible, pushed to end users through mostly standards compliant browsers. 

For instance, our Html5 app is backed by ASP.NET MVC 2 and SQL server.  We do all our development on Windows, in Visual Studio – we’re looking to deploy to Azure.  Clearly we’re MS developers.  But we could just as well have done the app in Php against MySql running on linux and apache, and we’re taking cues from folks using python, java, Rails, Node.js, php and God knows what on the backend.

At the same time I haven’t used IE by choice for about 5 years, maybe more…

I was asked what I thought MS could do to gain back some developer mindshare – so here goes:

  • My thoughts are that if Html5 and the set of bleeding edge technologists that go with it are any kind of priority for MS,  they need to do some or all of the following:
  • Find a way to upgrade the legions of IE 6, 7  and 8 users to IE9.  This will obviously not be easy,  but they could do something similar to what Google did with Chrome frame (i.e. make IE9 a plugin for the older browsers),  or they could do something like the makers of the “IE Tab” Chrome and Firefox extensions do,  allow IE to be hosted inside Chrome,  and only activate it for certain sites.  Or let users install IE9 side by side with the older versions.   All of these would have as goal to encourage end users to use the latest possible browser for the task they need it for,  and to make them install IE9 instead of Chrome or Firefox.
  • Make IE9 the paragon of standards compliance.   (They are actually getting close to this...)
  • Bring IE9 to WP7 and whatever tablet software they're coming out with.
  • Reduce the focus of Silverlight as a browser plugin,  and make it more about web-deployed desktop apps.
  • Drastically improve the support for css and javascript in Visual Studio, including debugging and unit testing.   And give this toolset away in the form of VS Express.
  • Evolve the Dev tools in IE9 to become better than Chrome's inspector and the Firebug plugin.
  • Separate the IE development from Windows to allow quicker iterations
  • Do more things like the jQuery deal. The world of CSS is a mess (we desperately need mixins and code forks like those provided by media queries), MS could take the lead here…

The point is, whether Mark’s browser percentages are statistically valid as an indication of web developer’s preferences, or to what degree Microsoft is lagging/losing developer mindshare; these are not the pertinent questions.  The fact is that Microsoft is now not a leader in emerging web development areas – maybe they never were – but should they want to be, they need to take action. IE9 is shaping up to be a great browser, and they need to push it aggressively.

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Monday, July 12, 2010

Yet another pre-stolen idea: the electric supercharger

In my not-too-consistent series of “pre-stolen ideas”, here’s another from the automotive front: the electric supercharger, as part of EcoMotors’ new engine design.

Based on my unused mechanical engineering degree, AFAIK, some of the drawbacks of a supercharger are the additional engine friction it provides, and the fact that the boost provided is directly related to engine speed. Since you only really need the additional boost some of the time, my thought was - why not control boost with a near-zero lag electric motor whose output is completely independent from that of the main engine?  Which is of course what EcoMotors is now doing.

Volkswagen is using a twincharger design in their latest creation – a 1.4 liter engine that produces as much power as V6 engines twice the size did a decade or so ago.  EcoMotors seem to have done VW one better, enough for Bill Gates to invest in the company.

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Wednesday, July 01, 2009

How about this for a business idea

Seth Godin makes some excellent points in his blog post “Graduate school for unemployed college students”.  Basically he says unemployed college grads should just approach the next 12 months as if it was another year of school, and spend the time contributing to the community while learning marketable skills.  Great concept, but as 3rdgirl and snappers15 point out, this is hard to pull off when faced with student loans or other financial responsibilities.  Seth acknowledges this in his followup-post, “Tough!”, but doesn’t offer these people any actual solutions.

How about this for a business idea - and solution to the grad’s financial problem - :

A joint recruiting and student-loan firm that does four things: 

  1. places college grads with non-profits for part time, minimum-wage paid work ($7,540 per year for a 20hr workweek), plus bare-bones health insurance.
  2. provides study-sessions/instruction/seminars/workshops for real world, marketable skills
  3. provides some form of student-loan deferment for the candidate’s current loans, removing that burden for one year from the grad’s shoulders
  4. acts as a recruiter for the grads, generating recruiting fees (to cover costs)

Come to think of it, why can’t our colleges do this, already?  Or why can’t they provide real-world marketable skills in the first place?

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Friday, May 22, 2009

Gmail’s number one missing feature

IMAP Client Mode.

I can access Gmail through IMAP, using Gmail as an IMAP server.  But I can’t access, say, my work email (which is an IMAP server) through IMAP, using Gmail as the client.  I can through POP, but that is sub-optimal at best.

Come on Google, I know you can do it.

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Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Pre-stolen Idea: The Google Chrome Omnibox

Are you feeling lucky?

Image by dullhunk via Flickr

Just the other day I was saying to one of my office mates that Google Toolbar ought to replace the URL address bar with a suggestion-style drop down list that would suggest URLs for you, similar to how the Windows Explorer intellisense works.

That is, if I started typing goo - it should suggest to complete that with, or, etc, etc.  The Firefox address bar does this now, but only for URLs that are in your history.  With all the PageRank data available at their fingertips, Google should be able to suggest the URL of a page that is NOT in your history.

And now, apparently, in Google Chrome, they will:

Google Chrome - the comic book, page 19

Time to brush the dust off the ol' JavaScript books - or buy some new ones.  JavaScript is not going away any time soon.

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Thursday, July 31, 2008

iPhone Business Card Scanner Software

Ok, this is partly an experiment to see if putting a sexy title on the blog will result in additional hits, and partly stating yet another pre-stolen idea (not necessarily restricted to an iPhone):  Use a client-server model mobile app that lets you take a picture of a business card, email/MMS it to the server and have the server respond with a contact file.

Turns out scanR already does exactly this, but I think their monetization scheme is all wrong - they have a free trial that allows 1 - ONE - upload, and then they jump straight to 2.50 quid ($5) per month or 15 quid per year.  Seems this could be monetized quite easily through targeted ads accompanying the business card.

Mistake number two is that they haven't taken advantage of the hype and made an iPhone app that does the picture taking, server log in, image and contact file transport (and ad display)...

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Sunday, March 02, 2008

Concept: The 'Serverless' Database-Driven Web Application

For some time now I've been intrigued with the notion of using free hosted services such as Google Base or Google Docs as back-end databases for simple consumer-oriented web applications.  I'm not sure what drives my fascination, other than an irrational but predictable attraction to anything free.

In any case, since the debut of Google Base it has been easy to offload the database itself to Google.  As long as your load is within a certain limit, Google is happy to take your data load.

It will also let you query and read data anonymously, so you can offload that process to each end-user's browser, through the JSON API and client side processing of the results

Ok, so, now we have:

  • DB and DB queries: hosted at Google
  • Reads and processing of read data: JS on Client
  • Presentation: JS/HTML on Client

What's missing?  Writes of course.  Google, probably wisely, have so far chosen to restrict Google Base writes and updates to authenticated users.  Which means you still needed some server code to handle POST requests and wrapping the request with authentication data.  Makes sense.  Right? 

Yes. Except they have now decided to open up Google Spreadsheets to accept data input through a Forms interface.  Which means it is now VERY possible to post data to Google anonymously - thereby removing the final need for your server-based code.  Granted - it's not Google Base, but for simple (non-relational) storage needs, Google Spreadsheet does quite nicely.

Take the following boring spreadsheet:
Reads are still simple GETS, and the querying can be done at Google (quite speedily, I might add):

So far this is pretty much the same as Google Base.  But it also accepts anonymous input from a form:

Go ahead and enter some data and go back to the spreadsheet - as you can see it is updated live.  This form can easily be faked in JS (though that may be against Google's Terms of Service).

Next time I have some serious downtime I'll have to reproduce in pure JS/Google format.  And then maybe wrap it up as an iGoogle and/or a Facebook widget...

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Monday, January 14, 2008

Pre-stolen Idea: Scanner with Option to Add Watermark During Scan

Update! So this is already done (of course). StegMark is the name of a product that will do this and which is e.g. implemented in certain HP Scanners, among a host of other products.

Original post: There are a number of scenarios in which it may be beneficial to have a scanner automatically add a watermark to a scanned image.

Example: A scanner is used at a bank - images should be "stamped" with "Sensitive - do not distribute".  Or a date stamp should be applied, etc, etc.

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Thursday, September 07, 2006

Pre-Stolen Idea: Traffic Tracking by Cell Phone

My Idea: Use the aggregate (and anonymous) cell phone activity on cell-phone towers to track traffic congestion along major traffic routes. Measure traffic speed by signal strength and tower-hops, measure congestion by number of phones on the towers.

Their Idea:

Of course this is one of those ideas that are a hell of a lot easier said than done, and the MIT guys appear to have actually figured out how to do it. It's also a lot easier to do in Europe where everyone is on a single GSM network, whereas here in the US, there are (at least) 2 network protocols and several carriers' whose data would have to be aggregated. that said, I believe this could be a valuable differentiating service that each major network could offer to its customers or sell to the media at large.

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Monday, August 28, 2006

Pre-Stolen Idea: Ad-Cars

My Idea: Create an auction based advertising system, similar to adwords, but where you sell advertising covering a car, rather than an online space.  The drivers of the cars would be regular commuters who live, commute through, or work (and park) in a high-profile area.  Drivers would apply by entering their home and work addresses, their average commuting route and time, and whether the car will be parked on the street or in some other visible location.

Upon successful match-up with an advertiser, each driver would be issued - for free - a brand new, low-cost, but noticeable car (like a Mini, a PT Cruiser, a  Beetle, or a Zap/Smart Car).  Each vehicle would be outfitted with a GPS tracking sensor so that the advertiser would have complete access to information regarding where and when their ad is displayed.  (Other minutia like keeping the car clean and in good repair would be stipulated in the contract.)

Their Idea:
Basically exactly the same idea.  Groan.

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Monday, August 14, 2006

Idea: Cool Black Paint

Following up on Pre-Stolen Ideas and Truly Anonymous Search, here's an idea I've been kicking around for quite some time:

Create a (commercially available) type of paint that absorbs (the majority of) the visible spectrum, but reflects (most) everything else.  The idea being that black is a desirable color for many purposes (cars, clothing, etc), but it has the unfortunate drawback of getting quite hot in the sun, as it absorbs a large portion of the sun's energy spectrum, including infrared and ultraviolet.  This paint would look black to you and me, but by reflecting non-visible colors (i.e. energy) it should stay cooler than 'regular' blacks.

Specialized, spectrum sensitive paints, exist (like radar-absorbing paint, used in many military installations), so I'd think this should be feasible.


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Monday, August 07, 2006

Pre-Stolen Ideas

I have had a number of ideas pre-stolen over the years.  From the aerodynamic pick-up truck tailgates to creating a marketplace for ideas.  My problem has always been timing (someone else thought of it first), or a lack of irrational excuberance - while I believe my ideas have merit, I so far haven't believed in them strongly enough to go out and do anything with them...

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