Saturday, December 31, 2005

2005 - A year in posts

2005 was the year I became a blogger.

It wasn't exactly intentional - I'd been subscribed to lots of blogs for ages, and blogger.com makes the process so easy, that you can almost accidentally sign yourself up. So I added my first post, as I said, on a whim. At the time, I couldn't have foreseen that blogging would integrate it's way into my life the way it has. Now it's 12 months later, and I've posted at least once every couple of days for a year. Which has actually been really easy and fun. I really like to write, and now I have a place to do it.

Here are my favourites for 2005:

I only started tracking visits at the end of July, and since then I've logged nearly 2000 unique visitors, which was the entire population of Moruya when I first moved there.

All in all, It's been a great experience. Holler to all my blog friends out there!

I'll save the introspective new years resolutions for next year...

Monday, December 26, 2005

Hurricane Christmas

Whew!

Hurricane Christmas has blown through my lounge room for another year. The devastation is quite severe, with paper, toys and candy strewn as far as the eye can see. The children seem positively delighted, fuelled with sugar and excitement. The Finnancial cost of the disaster is hard to precisely quantify in the absence of any credit card statements, but is expected to stretch into the thousands...

It's 35 degrees, and the cricket is on the TV. Now is time to begin the costly clean up operation...

A very Merry Christmas and a happy and relaxing new year holiday to you :^)

Friday, December 23, 2005

The Greatest Novel I Never Wrote

Like everyone, I always wanted to write a novel.

But...

I'm lazy, and not a good writer.

So, whatever the problem is, the solution is wikis, right?

Right. So (drumroll) here's the worlds first* wiki novel.

Go forth and edit it, you internet, you!

*totally unsubstantiated or researched

UPDATE: This post was written during a somewhat drunken christmas party. It seemed like a good idea at the time...

France Lawmakers Endorse File-Sharing

Okay - this is weird.

The French parliament were all set to vote on a proposal indicating that individiuals caught pirating copy-protected material would face enormous fines and jail terms.But then, at the eleventh hour, the legislation was amended to legalize file sharing by anyone who paid a monthly royalties duty estimated at $8.50.

(Read the full story here ...The final vote is not expected until after 17th Jan)

But still - this means the government is paying musicians. How will we know who's popular? How will teenagers know what to buy? Maybe in the absence of "how much money they make", we'll have to find some other metric of success, like, "are they any good?"

Weekend Troughs

The end-of-year google Zeitgeist makes for some interesting reading. What did people search for over the year?

Check out the rise of wikipedia. Looks like 2005 was indeed the "year of the wiki"...

I think it's amusing that all the search graphs seem to go up and down with perfect synchronicity to the working week. Looks like as much as we all love the internet, we don't want to hang out with it on weekends...

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Programming Ruby

If you ever wanted to get started with Ruby, but were too lazy or busy or something else to try, go and check out why the lucky stiff's fantastic Try Ruby Tutorial .

It works in your browser, on the spot, and shows you the basics of the langauge in a really cool way.

If you never wanted to get started with Ruby, go and check it out anyway - These things are fun, and fun is good!

Monday, December 19, 2005

The Long Tail: The Probabilistic Age

Chris Anderson has a beautiful post about emergent intelligence, and why it is that wikipedia is so compellling - by sacrificing perfection in favour of being inclusive, and encompassing as much as possible.

You can read it at www.thelongtail.com

Something I've been thinking about for a while now, that the reason the Long Tail is such an intersting phenomenon, is that it restores people into the equation. Things like Wikipedia, and Bloggers, and this whole shiny Web 2.0 thing are all about celebrating diversity, that comes from the fact that we're all diverse individuals, and not a faceless amortisation of collective public opinion.

Modern society seems to emphasise dehumanising - replacing people with 'markets', or 'resources', distancing ourselves from emotions and needs by analysing economic trends and monitoring other abstract statistics that detach us from things that people like. When investors are watching their stock indexes, they're happy when they rise, and sad when they fall. It's all about the human element, despite the fact that you'd never notice that in the faces peering over the Financial Review in the airport lounge.

Perhaps all the success of all this 'new media' stuff - the reason Wikipedia is so impressive, lies in the fact that it embraces people's innate passion for things, and doesn't hide it under layers of abstraction and process...

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Toast and Jam

Those crazy cats over at google have just released a new firefox extension that that tells you what people are saying about every site you view in your browser - it hooks into google blogsearch, and displays a bit of "toast" (you know, those pop-up thingys that notify you when something happens?) for each comment that people have posted about You can evern post directly to your blog from the little window, if you feel inclined to reply.

So I'm surfing around, and I can read people's comments as I go. That's pretty cool. But having this thing pop up and down like a yo-yo every time I click a link is a bit disconcerting. I'll give it a go for a while, and see what I think.

In other exciting toast related news, I made plum jam this weekend. It was pretty yummy. If you want to make it too, here's the recipe I used (note that I followed it pretty much to the letter, except for the wasps).

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Christmas Fortune Telling

Did you ever just open a book at any page, and see if you could find a special meaning in the first sentence you read?

Uh... me neither. But if you were ever to do such a silly thing, maybe you might find some kind of special insight...

So here's a special link just for you:


Disclaimer:
You might need to look a little harder to reveal the true meaning of your fortune. And then maybe harder still. Actual mileage may vary. Any resemblance to actual events is entirely co-incidental,and no correspondence will be entered into. If you don't like your future, feel free to click it again to get another one. Or get over it. It's up to you. It is your future, after all. Not much you can do about it. Unless you want to get caught in the time paradox- And that would mean having to sit through all those Back To The Future movies all over again...




Monday, December 12, 2005

Gord's Christmas List

Dear Santa,

No friendly chit-chat, just gimme stuff, ok?

I want a:

Pink Flying V Ukelele so I can REALLY rock out,


and an:

Electric Kazoo, so I can drive my family absolutely bananas.


Love Gord :)

Ship It, Dammit.

This post, from Jason Fried, rings loud in my ear. Too often when you set out to define a project's scope, you find yourselves drowning in complex functionality - and often only as some kind of subconcisous self-imposed restriction.

"1 week from idea to launch sure beats 3 months from idea to nothing."


Oh yeah. The best way to get started, is to get started.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Empty Garden

I spent today gardening. I'm not sure what it is about gardening, but it always reminds me of John Lennon.

I know that may seem like a bit of a stretch, but when I'm gardening, I'm usually doing two things:
  • Weeding, (because I don't garden very often) and;
  • Singing (because gardening tends to put me in a very zen like mood, and then my head fills up with music)

And because I'm weeding, I always seem to end up singing that Elton John song that was written for John -"Empty Garden" - particularly the line about "Weeded out the tears and grew a good crop"

Given that it's 25 years since John left the planet in such a tragic fashion, it seemed appropriate, so while I finished the weeding, I sang every one of John's songs I could think of - which is a lot.

As a kid growing up, John was one of my heroes. With my Dad being from Liverpool, and my Mom a big Beatles fan, I was steeped in John's music ever since I was a baby.

He was cool and honest and did whatever he wanted. He could make pretty music that made you cry, and awesome raw, sexy rock music that evoked all the primal grit that only rock music can do. He didn't really want to change the world, but he set out to do it anyway. And he did.

When I was 14 and struggling with cramped and cut fingers learning to play guitar I kept at it because I just wanted to be like John.

And you know, 17 years later, I still do.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Man of the people?

I went down the hall to talk to Geoff Moore today - Geoff is the General Manager for Asia Pacific at TOWER Software. (I was working on some technical responses for a tender). When I got there, he wasn't in his office.

That wasn't really surprising, but then I bumped into him in the kitchen. Turns out that the reason for his absence was that he was spending the whole day on the helpdesk, answering support questions from customers. How cool is that?

I don't know many CEOs that would be up for 8 hours of product support.

And now... Handbags.

I know I'm not supposed to blog about my Google ads - but this is just a little weird. For some reason, my site is now showing a big funky looking advert for Gucci Handbags. How that ties in with my site you probably have no idea.

But strangely, I do.

For ages now, I've been working on a draft post about handbags. I know, you don't believe me, but it's true! I was trying to figure out how I could tell everyone about a great friend of mine who's started a handbag business, without appearing to be some kind of blogging pimp.

ElizaClare specialises in some of the coolest handbags you've ever seen. Those Wilson girls sure know how to make incredible things. If you are looking for a really special present for a special lady in your life, you should go and check them out. Heck, you should just check them out anyway, because they are so cool looking.

Meanwhile, what I want to know, is if Google are searching through my draft posts. Or somehow indexing my daily thoughts. Coz that would just be plain creepy and strange... Well one would be strange. And one would be a little creepy. Surely my drafts are my own?

Is this Google being evil? or just a freak co-incidence?

Fitter... Happier...

Sadly, there's some oft overlooked part of my brain that seems ever so slightly obsessed with body image. Only a little bit obsessed, mind you, but obsessed nonetheless. I'm sure most of you are familiar with it's ranting:

"Man, you are getting to be one tubby looking IT guy. When was the last time you actually did something huh? You think you can just live forever drinking beer and sitting around banging keys all day? Get off your lazy ass and get some regular exercise!!"

Most of the time this Exercise Bit Of My Brain (EBOMB) is totally outvoted by the rest of my smart, lazy brain, who would rather solve problems and talk nonsense, but today, that little part of my brain got it's way.

I woke up early to go for a run. I'm not, by any stretch of the imagination, or through any creative use of the word, in any sense, a runner. The whole thing seemed a little embarrassing to me. I was standing on the road, in stupid looking clothes, feeling stupid, and I was supposed to start to run?

"Go On!" urges, EBOMB, "Get on with it..."


Okay. I start to plod down Badgery street, despite the notable absence of anything chasing me or any other urgent calamity.

And off I went. For a while it was kind of fun. There's a nice rhythm to running.

"Okay," I think, "maybe I get it after all..."

"See?" smiles EBOMB.

Then I remembered why it was that I never did very well in this whole running caper. At school, I was always one of those 'cool' kids who refused to run the cross country race - I would always walk at the back and try to impress some equally lazy girls. This wasn't because I didn't want to run (although there was no way I would admit that in high school) , but because whenever I try to run, I have an instant Asthma attack.

I can't figure out how my lungs work. I think they must be some kind of communists. I wonder if there was some conversation going on between them against the sound of feet pounding the concrete:
Lung 1: "Man, I sure am breathing. Something must be chasing us. I hope we get away..."
Lung 2: "Nah- I think he's running for fun"
Lung 1: "Running for fun? What kind of loser are we?"
Lung 2: "Oh - some guff about being more productive, not drinking too much.."
Lung 1: "Bugger that, let's go on strike."
Lung 2: "Strike, you reckon? I like your thinking, Comrade..."

So, I stagger home, trying to breathe through lungs that have filled themselves up with treacle, and wheezing like the air coming out of a rubber ducky's ass. Thanks to the magic of Salbutomol,(Which was almost definitely created by a lazy smart person), I get to breathe and blog again. Both of which are nice. Mainly breathing, though.

Apparently it's a common thing called EIA -Exercise Induced Asthma (which is obviously God's way of telling me to be a lazy IT guy). And the EBOMB is notably silent...

Fitter... Happier...More Productive...

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Bovine Programming

Next time you drive past a field, you should listen a little harder. Who knows, the next 'killer app' could be being discussed over some cud by our bovine friends.

I bet you're thinking - What the hell are you talking about, you crazy Australian hippy loony? Good question. (Albeit a little hurtfully phrased). I'm talking about COW.

COW is a programming language ( a variant of brainfuck) that uses various capitalizations of the word 'Moo' as it's syntax. I know - it's deranged. But it's funny to read.

"No man, just here, where you say 'mOo mOo Moo' - you need to say 'moo moO Moo...'"

Humans are without doubt the most bizarre species on the planet. Nerds are doubly that. Or triple. Or more.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Call to arms...

Computers are really good at doing some things - they never complain, they're really smart, they never get bored or forget anything, and they can work for ages at a stretch. Yep, computers are pretty amazing. But it's time we faced up to it. Soon, they'll be taking your jobs. They'll be slowly taking over the world, one byte at a time, until they have no use for us and our primitive, meat-based brains at all. And then we will all have to live in little tubes of goo as nothing more than a bio-organic source of power.

" Yeah, yeah - I know ", you say, "But what can I do?" Well, if you'd like to rage against the machines, you can take on a whole heap of boring repetetive tasks thanks to Amazon. You get paid in cash if you do... But more importantly, if all the humans take on all the really boring repetetive tasks, then the computers will be out of a job. Ha! Beat them at their own game, I say...

Friday, December 02, 2005

Is everybody happy?

Cognitive Daily (link via scoble) reports on an intriguing study on the relationships between mood and being able to synthesize memories - basically, if you're in a great mood, it looks as though you are more able to make what psychologists call 'gist' memories - an artificial memory that's based on deduction.

It always fascinated me how human brains can do this. At some point in time, some hairy ancestor of yours and mine figured out that five seeds lying in the cave were the same as five fruits - that the concept of 'five' was common. And then went on to apply the newly 'remembered' concept of 'counting things' to all sorts of stuff.
(This leap of faith is brilliantly illustrated in Robert L Forward's Dragon's Egg - one of my all time favorite books - which you should really read if you get a chance).

So it turns out that being happy means that you're more likely to make such a leap -that you're actually smarter when you're happier. That's not too surprising - I spent this week in a fairly glum mood, and I felt that my work probably suffered a bit because of it. I'm sure everyone has had similar experiences.

It all adds more weight to something that I've always believed - that anyone responsible for managing people should do their very best to ensure that they are happy. Unhappy people don't produce great things, in fact, come to think of it, they end up sabotaging things. Optimizing the mood of your team is absolutely critical to any projects success.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Decision Trees

If you're a tech savvy, computer aware person, you probably spend a bit of time doing tech support - helping friends and families with general PC problems . You've probably experienced the kind of guru-like awe and reverence that you're viewed with when you quickly solve a problem by breezing through a thousand unrelated options. For us nerds, it's not so hard - just a case of knowing the behavior, and the conventions, allows us to pick our way through even completely foreign application with relative ease.

For the rest of the world, Computer use is something of a dark art. User interfaces are complicated. Designing such complexity for an untrained human to use is really hard. Of course, Software Engineers are frequently not great at it, which doesn't help.

Jan Miksovsky's post, (via The old new thing), got me thinking about an old idea I had to try and visualize the complexity of a user interface. I call them 'decision trees' ( I apologize in advance if these already exist) Basically, the idea goes that you graph every option that you can present to the user in your interface. As Joel Spolsky says in his book on UI Design for developers - "Every option you add forces the user to make a decision. "

So I thought I'd have a go at trying to create one of these decision trees. I picked Windows Notepad, because it's a pretty simple application, and I'm lazy. I started to build the decision tree for Notepad, starting with the menu bar (because it contains nearly all of the options available to a Notepad user) After I'd finished the file menu, I decided that would be enough to illustrate my point. Check it out:


You can see that even one menu item of Notepad extends down to 5 branches. That's five levels away from the original decision to click on the file menu. Look how many possible paths the user could take! Imagine how complex a real application could get!

If your application is really designed for untrained users, optimizing your interface for a shallower decision tree should be your aim- such an interface should try to reflect the users intention as quickly as possible - this will make untrained users a lot more happy. In a way, this means you have to take a lot of power away from users, and make decisions for them. I think that Apple does a lot of this kind of stuff really well. (I love the way that the iTunes visualizer has one option - "on" or "off". )

So is a deep decision tree harmful? Maybe. If you are looking for an extremely high level of acceptance, (by nearly every class of user) the more decisions you present per user intention, the less likely it is the user will be delighted.

But if you have a specialist application, like Photoshop or Maya, a deep decision tree is unavoidable - at that point, the UI challenge is to find a sensible way to present complexity..

This is one of the problems that the new Microsoft Office 12 interface is trying to deal with, and the new ribbon interface looks like a really cool way to address it. (Much better than just hiding things, which was the approach taken in Office 10...)

So yeah, decision trees are an interesting reflective tool that you can use to determine how complex your user interface is. And the next time you give your baffled friend some tech support, remember that while the correct path may be apparent to you, he might be stuck in some unrelated part of the tree, floundering around with weird and unrelated options...

Update: Decision trees do indeed exist, as a tool of decision theory. Mapping a traditional decision tree like this to a user interface would take forever. Maybe someone should write a cool application that generates one..

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Bah Humbug and so forth

As the creeping Christmas crap encroaches into the shopping malls this time of year, I must admit I always tend to get a bit Scrooge about the whole affair. I was thinking I'd share that surliness with you all.

But, then I read on Seth's blog, the sentence that sums up Christmas Shopping for me:
"The consumer portion of our economy is now dependent on a four-week long debt-fueled race to buy the useless..."
So sad. And so true. But mainly sad...

All the kids are right

On the drive home the other day, my friend Rhys and I got to talking about when we first discovered the internet. He mentioned that he started using the internet in high school, when he was about 15. (Rhys is one of those funky young, talented hip marketing guys that software companies love to hire because they make them a bit cooler.)

Okay - so that just made me feel old. I can't really remember seeing a web browser until I left college. And it dawned on me in a moment of horrible reality that there are kids arriving in the workplace today who were born in 1987. These guys started high school after the .com boom. The internet is to this generation, what TV was to mine.

These are kids who have grown up with the web - and not just the old style, "hey look! It's just like a library but packed into a tiny beige box!" kind of internet - but the communicative chat, publish and discuss kind of internet. According to the Pew Internet project, More than half of the US kids online today have created digital content - added blogs, posted or tagged photos, remixing internet content. That's about 6.8 Million kids, and that's just in America.

Content now is more nebulous than ever - it's becoming as free as conversation. Maybe someday soon the government is going to have start handing out grants to journalists, in the same way they do to sculptors or musicians...

I guess where I'm going with this is that this read/write web hooplah is actually a thing. The internet isn't just being written by big media and consumed by the public, it's being edited by the public. It is the public. How does your organization communicate with this all reading, all writing public? How will it relate in the next three years? (Because by then, the kids born in 1990 will be arriving to help run your organization...eek!)

Local H had it right...

Monday, November 28, 2005

All in a Fluxiom

Fluxiom has one of the nicest demo videos I've ever seen. It looks like it might do just about anything. I'm not sure what it is, but I think I might want to use it.

Apparently it's developed in rails, which makes it just that little bit cooler still.

There is a lot of noise happening around enterprise content management and web 2.0 at the moment - It's going to be interesting to see how these young new whippersnapper guys are going to compete with the established big ECM players.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

What's new?

I decided that with summer coming, it might be time for a new site template.

So I borrowed a pagekit from elated.com, and tweaked my way to the summery goodness template you see now.

(Nice work guys- those pagekits are an absolute godsend for the discerning web site owner with very little eye for design. )

Thursday, November 24, 2005

The power of procrastination and distraction

I've spent the week trying out the (10+2)*5 hack, from 43 Folders. It's a life hacking technique that's designed to help get things done, by forcing you to use the very vices that you are trying to overcome.

My task list, nay my life, is a fractured, diverse collection of things - it can contain specifics like:
"Refactor the code that cleans up the bug tracker", or fuzzy things like "Learn more about subversion".

On a typical day, I have about 6-10 of these tasks on my today list. Now I should admit, I have a tendency towards procrastinating, (unless I have a task that's really exciting). In fact, being faced with a long list of slightly uninteresting tasks is the very thing to set off my distraction alarm, and send me out into the cube farm to find somebody else to harass.

Which is where this clever life hack comes in. Basically, you pick a task, and work on it for 10 minutes. Then you force yourself to take a 2 minute break, and switch to another task. (That's where the (10+2)*5 comes from) The focus is not so much on completion, as just progress. At the end of an hour, the theory goes you've done 50 minutes of real progress.

Weirdly, at the end of the first hour, I didn't feel the urge to seek out a distraction - so I went straight on to the next hour. It's actually quite remarkable - I found that it definitely improved my efficiency. You get more stuff done, and it feels like you're just being your regular old distracted self. It is a little strange forcing yourself to abandon a task and do nothing for 2 minutes, although I did find that you can squeeze a single race of Mariokart DS into a 2 minute break nicely.

If you're keen to give it a go, you can grab this Konfabulator Widget to help out.
It probably won't work too well if you have a job that needs serious 'zonal' focus - like writing lots of code. But if your task list gets too long , and there's at least five little uninteresting things that need to be done, it's a nice hack to have in your arsenal. Which is kind of an unpleasant sounding sentence to end with, but there you go :^ )

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Gord on blogging

There was an interesting discussion today at work about the blogging. Always with the blogging. Blah Blah Blah. Before you all tune out and go – "oh, Gord’s just blogging about blogging again," hear me out. This is the longest post I’ve ever done, so I must really care about this stuff. Anyways, back to the discussion…

Depending on which side of the fence you were on, the conversation was either about the increasing importance and value of the read/write web, or it was about the potential dangers of having bloggers on your staff, and generally questioning the relevance of blogging.

Obviously, as a blogger, I took a healthy interest. As an internet consumer (mmmm. packety.) I know that I am innately more trustworthy of a company that is prepared to openly blog about stuff. In fact, it's becoming increasingly evident to me, that in the web 2.0/new media/ future of connected clichés, the only way you will be able to prosper as a business is by adopting this corporate motto:
My company will endeavor not to suck at what we do.

This isn’t exactly news. It’s pretty obvious that the best way to avoid bad press, or bad opinions of your organization, (and word can really get around nowadays), is by always doing your best to provide your product or service the best way you can. If that's always your intention, you're well on the way to success.

On the other hand, if your intention is to try to swindle somebody, the blogosphere will absolutely eat you. Sony is hanging it’s head in shame after Mark Russinovich’s blog exposed it’s plan to secretly install ‘security software’ (spyware) on unsuspecting users of CDs (full story at wired). It only took 14 days of uproar before they announced they were pulling software off the shelves and offering to replace ‘faulty ‘CDs for free.

Now, anyone who's been around longer than 5 minutes will be able to tell you that companies aren't really as perfect and pretty and amazingly well organized as their annual reports and TV ads make out that they are. That's because companies are made up of people, and people screw things up. Not all the time, but sometimes. So, there will always be a risk that your company will look stupid. Just occasionally. The old adage ‘nobody’s perfect’, applies to collectives equally well as individuals.

Imagine that blogs are a transparent window into your organization that allow people to see what's going on inside. They can see people working hard, enjoying their jobs, healthy arguments, people having fun - They can also see that your company occasionally makes mistakes, or if people are unhappy. What would be the end result of such an imagining - Dwindling stock price? Deserting Customers? Impending Doom? granted, all of these things may potentially eventuate, but the important thing to remember here is this:

Your 'market' are all actually people.

There are no robots or rhinos out there with cash for you. Just People - and they've all made mistakes. They understand that occasionally things go bad. Just as you’ll forgive bad service if it’s adequately explained.

Going back to the Sony example, the absolute worst thing they could have done in that instance was to keep quiet about it:
”Rootkit? No, there is no rootkit. Everything is fine. Please continue to buy lots and lots of Celine Dion Albums.”

That kind of arrogance can cause irreparable damage. People remember that stuff. So what to do? Panic, yell, call a few meetings, and then admit the mistake, and make it clear to the customer that you're doing your absolute best to fix the problem. Like Lindsay says here – the first rule of crisis communications is “telling the truth, telling the whole truth and telling it fast."

But future customers aren't going to hear that. Instead they're going to hear:
“...I read on the internet that My Celine Dion CD will install evil virus death software that deletes windows and downloads loonix…”
Without that window for people to see for themselves, an excellent effort at customer service goes unnoticed - it could even potentially damage the next customer, because the bad news is still traveling quickly.

So, future customers can benefit from the transparency. Present customers benefit, because you try extra hard not to suck. What about the downsides?

If we have that window in place, who else can look in? Obviously it's not just potential customers. It's competitors, potential colleagues, partners, market analysts, shareholders... This is the scary part.

Chances are you wouldn't mind sharing this window with your partners, or future colleagues (unless your operation functions in some sort of really embarrassing way, like all work has to be done naked, or something.)

But your competitors will benefit – they’ll be able to use whatever information they can get against you, and if you are a serious player in your field, you can bet that they will. How much damage could they do? Potentially a lot - I guess it depends on what your company does. So, how do you prevent this from happening? This can largely be catered for with a corporate policy that aims to grant you the benefits of the window, without disclosing anything that could be potentially damaging. Employees like their jobs. Good employees will appreciate the policy and understand the need for it, and blog accordingly. Bad ones will continually breach it, and then you can fire them, or stop them from blogging...

Google does a great job of keeping it’s secrets. It has loads of bloggers. There was a big hoo-ha a while ago about a particular blogger who didn’t, and he had to get a job somewhere else. A corporate blogging policy has to be part of a modern HR world.

And what if people get the wrong idea? What if the window doesn’t reflect the company at all? What if this blogging window thing makes everything a hundred times worse?

All good questions. If you like to hire deranged lunatic ex mental asylum employees, or cheap prison labor, then this whole blogging caper might not be for you. If you can't trust your employees to say good things about your company, or you are honestly scared that their opinions will be more hurtful or harmful, then you probably have a much bigger issue to deal with.

Oh – and it’s most important that the window is actually real.
My favorite post from the Microsoft IE blog has Chris Wilson telling people that they still haven’t got CSS support right yet. I read it, and said “Yay! That is so cool of Microsoft” (even though I’d been swearing about IE’s crummy CSS support for at least 2 years.) Microsoft have turned their whole image around using this technology. Yay Channel 9. Yay Scoble. Real people, not marketing droids, talking honestly and openly.

It can't be a candy-assed pretend marketing department painted on rainbow and fluffy clouds and cute hopping bunnies window. That’s not the kind of window we want. It’s been proven that such Madison Avenue nonsense will do far more harm than good. Check out the sad, sad Juicy Fruit effort (well, you can’t - it's gone now, because it was laughed out of existence by the self correcting nature of the blogosphere) but you can see some of the fallout here and here.

Modern technology is empowering us all. As Seth Godin points out on his blog, We are all getting access to the same tools that the big guys use. This has never happened in history before.

This point is being and has been made a lot, by lots of other bloggers around the world, and I think that as we get along, it will all become part of the woodwork, and certainly not worth ranting about.

Meanwhile, my inspiration behind all this comes largely from the following places:

Seth Godin

Memeorandum

Hugh Macleod

Shel Israel

The Cluetrain

Technorati

UPDATE:
It's also most important to note that the original discussion (and hence the subsequent rant) was largely inspired by Ian. (And because I haven't yet discovered how to link in the real world, this hypertext tip-of-the-hat will have to do...)

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Red Shell, Green Shell

Okay. I promise I'm not going to start constantly ranting about MarioKart. I know where it all ends up - people get so annoyed you have to start another blog.

But...

I was just lazily reclining in my hammock on my front deck, dappled sun filtering through the jasmine vines, warm light spring breeze blowing from the north-east. As I lazily swung to and fro, I was locked in a fierce battle for kart supremacy with some bad spelling stranger known only to me as 'MasterCheif". We were at 1-all after the first two races, and had settled on the spooky Luigi's Mansion track as the decider.


Towards the end of the third and final lap, I jumped into a big long slide that gave me the perfect boost - I was headed for victory, for sure. I could see MasterCheif languishing behind me. Just as I began to laugh maniacally, a green koopa shell, (fired by me two laps before) appeared from nowhere and knocked me into a spin, leaving me about a foot short of the finish line. As I fell out of the hammock in shock, MasterCheif shot right past me to claim the title.

Amazing - the game engine, the wireless technology, the whole infrastructure that lets you share such an awesomely fun experience with someone on the other side of the planet.

When I was 12, I used to have a pen-pal in Germany. We used to write letters on paper with our hands, and send them to each other on aeroplanes. Nowadays, people I've never met can knock me out of a hammock remotely. Now that's progress.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Mario Grows Up

I just ran out and bought Mario Kart DS, and spent all of last night getting totally 0wn3d by a bunch of people from around the world who are much better at mariokart than me. I mentioned this to my friend Alan, who said, with a wry smile:
"Well, to be fair to you, they are eight years old. They probably have much faster reflexes..."

Ha! Well, to counter that, I give you this:


(from Japundit)

Now, I have no idea what's going on, but I think that "次へ" is the Japanese equivalent of 'Next'.

Make sure you click the link to get the whole story!

(PS - if you would also like to beat me at MarioKart DS, my Friend Code is: 060189 090100)

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Still Crazy

When I started with TOWER Software four years ago, I was keen to get on with the job. You know, new project manager guy and all, trying to figure out what was what, and who was who. As part of this breaking-in process, I went around and asked each developer what they were working on, and how long they estimated that their current project would take.

I'll admit that I had a secret agenda - it's important to find out who are the overly optimistic guys, and who are the more seasoned realists, because you're supposed to adjust your project schedules accordingly.. Anyway, I collected all this data and feed it into a secret Gantt chart I had somewhere. Most of the team were working on features that were being shipped in the next few months, and I got the broad range of overly positive responses, which is pretty common. I know I'm a terribly optimistic estimator.

(Incidentally, if you're like me, my advice is to always multiply your estimate by the value of pi in order to give a more realistic number, with an impressive precision: 'That task will take me ninety-one point six eight four days', but I digress.)

In the middle of all these 'thirty', 'fifty', 'twenty five' day estimates, one figure made my Gantt chart look extra stupid . The young guy who was tasked with porting Web Drawer to Context had told me that the task would take three hundred and eighty five days. When I queried him on the figure, he returned my quizzical gaze with a very straight look.
"Well, I based the calculation on the fact that you Gantt chart boys are really into paperwork, so I divided the tasks and multiplied them by a factor of four as a documentation overhead, then I figured you'd want change management and stabilization factored in. I allocated a further factor of point five to compensate for those status reports and change notifications. I did the Prince 2 course, so I know about contingency time. When I added it up, It came to three hundred and eighty five days. If you keep asking me about it, it will take longer. See you next year!"
I thought he was crazy. But it turned out he was Michael Still.

Over the years, Michael and I became firm friends. He is a fiendishly smart guy, who's never afraid to speak his mind. He drove me crazy, but he made me laugh ten times that. We argued a lot, but always constructive and valuable argument. And so it was with a mixture of sadness and pride in his accomplishments that we farewelled him off to go and play in Mountain View with the other Googlers this week.

It's weird farewelling someone as connected as Michael (his farewell email was about half the length of his signature, listing all the ways to contact him), because although he might be heading over to the other side of the planet, I'm sure I'll still hear from him regularly. It's really just a goodbye to the Stilly-the-meat, not Stilly-the-man.

So on that icky note, Good Luck and Farewell!

ps. The Context Web Drawer project was finished in about four months.

Monday, November 14, 2005

The Real Google Kool-Aid

Many have speculated on how it is that a couple of kids from Stanford turned the internet upside down. Some theorized that maybe it was because Sergey and Larry went to Montessori Schools. "Perhaps", some wondered aloud, "there was some fiendish pact with the devil..."

Well, now, I know the real secret. This post makes it abundantly clear. The magic of Google comes from Kombucha tea. Because you didn't follow that link, I'll explain. Kombucha is this weird tea made from a "polyculture of at least two yeasts and two bacteria, living synergistically." Basically, what happens is you take this gelatinous blob of yeast and some as yet unidentified bacteria, get some sweet black tea, and 'feed' the blob, removing some beverage each day in the form of an alcoholic(5.0-1.5%) caffeinated, crazy-ass yeast and bacteria excrement liquid. Which Googlers drink for breakfast! (1 and a half gallons of the stuff, every day...)

Who knows what weird and magical properties this stuff has. People have variously claimed it cures cancer, combats stress and is a natural anti-biotic. Adverse affects reported from drinking kombucha include
liver damage, metabolic acidosis, cutaneous anthrax infections - Anthrax! For breakfast!

Isn't it obvious that Google is really a company that's not actually controlled by humans, but by a polyculture of super talented gelatinous yeast and bacteria?

C'mon, people, you know it's true...


Saturday, November 12, 2005

Things that made me smile today

There's a whole bunch of construction work happening outside the TOWER headquarters. When Rhys and I arrived at work, there were about four construction guys wearing yellow safety vests and hard hats, hammering stakes into the ground - and the mandatory building site AM radio was blaring out Starship's 'We built this city on rock 'n roll' at maximum volume.

The local pamphlet delivery lady, wearing an ice cream container with eyes painted on top, and carrying a big stick, warily sneaking around the neighborhood from letterbox to letterbox. (In the Australian spring, the Black-Backed Magpie is prone to pecking people on the head if they get too close to a nest...)

My five year old son Reuben's new battle cry - Brandishing a plastic sword, he charges at you from the backyard and yells 'Shannon Noll!' (link) in a deranged way. I'm not sure where he got it from, or what he thinks it means, but I was certainly frightened...

Friday, November 11, 2005

Begin Invoke

Having spent the week refreshing my .Net skills, thanks to Paul from Readify, I remembered that programming can be a very satisfying activity. So, with me sporting a head full of curly braces and semicolons, Alison and I joined some friends to see Bernie McGann play out at Poacher's Pantry, a restaurant a few Miles out of town.

When I was a 'young adult' I couldn't figure out what kind of nerd I was. I wasn't sure if I was your basic engineering/science nerd, or one of those creative artsy fartsy type nerds. At the time, it was a cause of great consternation - but in the end I ended up in software, which is probably the best of both worlds - a pretty creative endeavour that's grounded in engineering.

Jazz music reminds me of a lot of things, but listening to the band last night got me thinking about the border between creative and structured. Jazz can really screw with your engineering head - it's based on a definite mathematical structure - scales, modes and time signatures, and yet if you try to bring along your engineering discipline, your music will sound stilted and awful.

Great musicians (like Bernie) bring so much empathy and colour and warmth into the music, through a creative, emotional thing that is really hard to define, yet gives Jazz all of it's magical power.

And so we sat there, enveloped in music, and awash in the organic imagery that comes along with such a spontaneous, ephemeral musical experience. For me, it was evoking the fresh hidden tunes in rolls of thunder, the musicalness of a Fibonacci curve, inspirational highs, those long lopey summer days, where rays of light tug at your nostalgia chords with each sunset.... ah.

It can be so rewarding to really listen.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Software Services

Last week, my access to Google went away. Must've been some local cluster outage, but in Canberra, I couldn't get to any Google sites. That was weird, because I couldn't check my mail. Couldn't get my document from my Gmail inbox to work on. Couldn't complain to the world about it because I couldn't get to Blogger. And so I sat around and twiddled my thumbs and waited. And it dawned on me how reliant I am on this company for access to my own information.

I'm not usually in the habit of defending Microsoft - but David Kirkpatrick's article Microsoft Plays Catch Up seems to me to be a little unfair. Sure, Microsoft are really behind. They don't have a strategy for the new web, just like they didn't have a strategy for the old one.

But the first time I ever heard the phrase ' Software as a Service', it was from a Microsoft Employee.

Remember Hailstorm? (My Services) Microsoft were totally ready to pounce on this stuff, about four years ago.

And then there was this unanimous public uproar about 'I don't want Microsoft looking after my data' and somebody in Redmond got spooked, and pulled the whole thing days before it launched. I'm not sure if they were planning to give it away for free, but it certainly wasn't 'baby steps'. There would certainly have been MS built web clients to access them. For a while these services were billed as an integral part of Windows XP (which may have been why they were pulled - maybe more legal reasons than otherwise)

So here we are, 4 years after Hailstorm died, and things are different. Now, it seems we're all happy to have a single company store all our information somewhere else, no complaints.

I don't think that it's quite right to blame Microsoft for lack of innovation around software services- truth be told, they drove a lot of it. They just weren't in a position to gain everyone's trust, which it turns out is what you need for all this stuff to work.

The ladder of bloggertunity

It's been a fun week in the blogosphere - my post on innovation was picked up by a few blogs around the planet, most notably Fortune Magazine's business innovation 2005 - (which it turns out is quite a cool blog - subscribed). Lindsay even asked me for my autograph, so I figure that I must have made the grade from Z-list to Y-List.

So what's a Y-lister to do? Cash In!

I added some Google ads to the side of my blog. I know, sell out and all. But if you find them interesting and click them, then they pay me money!

(I'm trying to recoup enough cash to pay for the fact that they stole Stilly away....)

Monday, November 07, 2005

Subversion Land

As I was saying, our development team at TOWER Software is in the process of making the transition from Source Safe to Subversion.

This meant that we had to spend a whole bunch of time trying to figure out the best way to manage branches, and releases, and a whole bunch of other really important SCM stuff. Now I know I probably also said this before, but despite the importance of this discipline, I find it really hard to care about as much as I should, because it's so very, very boring.

So, I came up with a way to make it more interesting: Here's a part of our SCM Model, displayed as your neighborhood. (If you live in a sparse, snow covered land full of highways and pine trees, that is...)



Points of Interest: You can see our smart, free-range (well, somewhat less responsible) developers in the train at the top, working on some cool new innovative stuff for later on. You can see our smart, semi-responsible developers in the train at the bottom, carving out our next immediate release. And you can see our two smart, super responsible developers working on our field update packs, released specifically to help our customers out.

I'm not sure if they realize that they're actually trapped...But then, code maintenance can be like that. Where do you want to go today? (bwa ha ha...)

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Warp Pipe or Garbage bin?

When I was 12, my brothers and I went on an intense money gathering campaign. We pooled our collective resources, and began nagging our parents, washing cars, and weeding gardens. In desperation, we even collected aluminum cans...

(I seem to remember my brother actually telling the Alco guy to 'piss off!' when he handed over seventy-five cents in return for two garbage bags of crushed cans. To us, that represented an entire weekend spent in garbage cans. He was a pretty brave nine year old.)

The purpose of all this entrepreneurial activity was this machine: the Nintendo Entertainment System. At the time, I didn't want anything else in the world.

Back then, I didn't know anything about marketing, or statistics. If you had told 12 year old me that 31 percent of homes had a video game console, I wouldn't have cared. I would've smiled politely and asked you for money.

Now that I know enough to be interested, do you know what that figure is?
31-32 percent.

That's a market that hasn't grown at all (proportionately) in 18 years.

That's why Nintendo came out today and started talking about disruptive technologies. Reggie Fils-Aime, the original extreme marketing guy, spoke at a press summit about Nintendo's strategies for moving forward, and for the upcoming Revolution (Which I now want more than anything else in the world).

He cites the example of Sony, who were so focused on building a better discman, they didn't notice an unexpected competitor almost completely capture what used to be their market with a remarkable product, pitched squarely at early adopters.

That's what Nintendo are trying to do - shake up the market in order to see it grow. Will they be able to do it? We'll have to see. But the alternative is just to keep watching your competitors, asking focus groups, getting locked into feature shootouts, and delivering more of the same. Which I guess is still a sound strategy, if your goal is to make cash...

(It doesn't sound very exciting, though.)

More on disruptive technologies here.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Copy Cats, Cows and Giants.

Just after my post on how a lot of web tech stuff is boring and derivative, comes the introduction of Yahoo! Maps. It looks great. No doubt a lot of people will find it very useful. But the sad thing is that, in the scheme of things, it's boring as hell.

I really feel for the development team behind that effort. They all must've known that when they finally shipped (and shipping software is a really, really, amazingly hard thing to do), that the blogosphere would be full of big gaping yawns and nasty posts about what copycats they are. And no matter how good they made their service (it's really cool), nothing would change that.

Speaking of copycats, I reconnected with Robert Scoble today - His feed had been super quiet, and I thought he might be dead, until mikal pointed out that he'd actually moved house, over to wordpress.com. (Maybe there should be a forwarding service for RSS feeds. That might be an original idea...) One of the things that makes Robert mad (in fact almost completely deranged, by the sound of it) is the fact that when you look at my innovation graphic, there are very few 'created' lines coming from Microsoft. And there are a lot coming from Google.

Scoble wants Microsoft to try to delight the early adopters - the bloggers, the slashdotters, the people running beta software, and most importantly, the people who hold enormous sway with their friends and colleagues. But then, he's a nerd. He's an early adopter himself. Those kind of folk always get passionate about this.

It's all beautifully defined on wikipedia under Diffusion Of Innovations. Seth Godin illustrates it again in Purple Cow. Google are delighting nerds like me and my friends. They're being remarkable. Microsoft are focused on delighting the late majority and the laggards, because those folk are conservative and rich. And yet, Google are slowly reeling in the rest of the market, because people like me tell people like my Mom and Dad.

In the end, it comes down to corporate culture, because that determines how an organization reacts to corporate change. I'm not sure a company with a huge history of delighting slower, more conservative people can ever re-invent itself as one focused on the early adopters.

But then, Microsoft have more money than God, and they are never so scary as when they are stealing somebody's lunch. Who knows what might happen?

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Are there any original ideas?

Innovation is a weird thing.

Everytime I go into a movie theatre, I end up asking the same question aloud:

"Aren't there any original ideas anymore?"

It seems every movie is a remake of an old movie or a fairy tale or a kids book or a TV series, or a sequel to some other movie. In a flash of simplistic reductionism. I decide conclusively that there aren't any new ideas at all. That all 'new' ideas are just a baked together collection of old ideas.

Lets use the internet technology world as an obvious example of what I'm talking about, because that's something that moves pretty fast, and something I (sort of) understand.

Once upon a time, a California company made a better search engine. And coupled with that, they made a better revenue model, that made money from 'the long tail'. They made a gazillion dollars, in a way that didn't even seem intentional.

Now, they have this wonderful reputation, as nice guys, but also as innovators. (Although it's been humorous watching the slashdot crowd slowly turn on Google. The conspiracy theories start creeping in at the edges, and before you know it, it's Larry's face with the Borg implant...)

But while Google are certainly innovative, they're not immune to a bit of inspiration, either.

Every time something new comes out in the web tech world, it seems like you've heard it all before. And you know why? Because for the most of it, you have. Check out my innovation map of who made what and how, and you'll see that there are only 7 original ideas, from the 21 products listed:




(I know, I left out a bunch of stuff. I'm just focusing on the web 2.0 stuff from the last few years. And I'm calling all those yellow 'inspired by' lines based solely on how I saw them, so there's probably room for argument. )

Still, none of the seven ideas are actually new. Webmail is just mail on the web. (E-mail is the actual idea, and that's really just the pony express). These guys pre-dated the google maps phenomenon, but even all that Ajax and Web 2.0 stuff is just based on XMLHTTP, which Microsoft invented years ago for OWA, but even that's just http...which is just more pony express. Skype and all the IM crew are just coasting on the coat-tails of Samuel Morse, and Keyhole just made a big fat round atlas....

Isn't reductionism fun? It makes you feel ever so clever :)

And that's better than most modern movies...

Monday, October 31, 2005

A pox on both our houses.

Well, we only have one. House, that is. But we've got lots of pox!

I've spent this Canberra rainy weekend quarrantined with my kids, who all have chicken pox. It's not a particularly virulent disease, they all seem perfectly fine, just, well... spotty. And itchy.

So now I'm working from home (lying in bed, in fact.) It's easy to get things done, but it's a bit lonely. Somehow I don't think the telecommuting revolution will ever really happen.

A bit like the XML revolution. Remember watching that Microsoft guy drag a project reference out of a Barnes and Noble web page and into Visual Studio.NET, many years ago? Remember how the world was supposed to be inter connected with all these vendors publishing their catalogs in XML and SOAP? Whatever happenned to that? Weren't all the computers supposed to be doing all the work, and all the humans just lazing around on the beach?

And what's with the whole "Year 2000" thing, and NOBODY HAS ANY JET-PACKS? No silver space suits with upside down fish-bowls on our heads! No cool vacuum powered transport systems! No Flying Cars!

*sigh*

viva la revolutions, people.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Wha?

Can someone please explain to me what is going on at
www.frozenchicken.com?

UPDATE: Stilly comes to the party to explain. I'm still not sure why someone would do that though...

Visio - The Dark Side

While browsing for Visio Shapes, I came across this: The Visio Crime Scene Template:



At first I thought - "Oh - that's just some crazy joke thing - but no, it turns out that people actually use Visio for recording evidence like this. (When you think about it, it makes sense - Visio's ability to do scale drawings is great, so it would lend itself to this sort of thing pretty well.)

But still, a little creepy. There are twenty different murder weapons, including a meat cleaver and screwdriver. ... ew.

Now what I want to see on CSI is someone yelling at their terminal: "No! I didn't want to rotate the shape! I wanted to resize it! Grrr..."

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Subvert this.

Our development team is in the process of moving from Visual Source Safe to Subversion for Source Control. (Yeah, I know that there’s all kinds of cool new stuff coming in VS Team System, and that VSS probably won’t ever suck as much as it has for the last 5 years. But we’ve made the decision.)

As part of making the Transition, I read Eric Sink’s articles on Source Control, which are probably the best things I’ve ever read on what can be a super boring topic.
One subject that was particularly well explained was the topic of branching.

(Branching is a way of creating a copy of a bunch of code so that you don’t break important stuff. That’s my 20 words on the subject. If you want to know more, go read the article. ) In the end, we settled on Eric’s preferred model of branching – having an unstable trunk. So all our development work is actually done on the main trunk, and we branch our releases off for future maintenance. Seems sensible enough.

However, developer idiocy (a common malady that affects developers around 3:30 in the afternoon) set in, and so I had to come up with the following bumper sticker:


Yeah, I know.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Hiring Software Developers

I was musing over job advertisements today, and I decided that the one thing that made them all sound horrible was the all too common overuse of superlatives. Let's face it, nobody wants to hire a bozo. But on the other hand, very few people actually qualify for the ridiculous aspirational ideals posted in most job ads these days. Check out this, randomly selected from seek:

Leading Consultancy. Career opportunity.
You will possess excellent business communication and presentation skills, with the ability to deliver outstanding enterprise solutions to key clients. You will be client facing, with strong business relationships skills at all levels. You must have a positive attitude to today'’s technology marketplace, and the qualities to deliver the required solution to your clients.

C'mon, what does all that mean? What exactly is client facing? Something about where your desk points? And having a positive attitude to today's technology marketplace. That doesn't make any sense at all. Are there people out there who have a negative attitude who would admit it? And what's a technology marketplace? Your local computer fair?

I know what they mean - what they're saying is: "we want to hire people who understand and actually like technology, are comfortable talking to customers, and don't freak out if they have to talk to developers or CEOs." But it all comes out like "blah blah blah". It's not exactly attractive sounding. All those 'excellent's and 'strong's just make it sound scarier and more formal than it probably needs to.

Then, on the other hand, you can be too informal. Check out this ad:

Outstanding Oracle Funkster!

A funky, fun senior Oracle DBA is required for an interesting 12 month contract working within one of NZ's most innovative Telco environments.

You need to have solid Oracle administration skills, and the desire to impart some of those gems of wisdom to junior team members. Although this is not a 'Team Leader' role per sae, some mentoring will be involved, so here's your chance to look clever!
Apart from the obvious flaw (there are no funky, fun senior Oracle DBAs. They're all sullen and surly), This ad just looks way too desperate. But granted, it's actually better than the boring one.

Why do I care?

The company I work for, TOWER Software, is looking to hire a couple of smart, talented software developers for their product development section, based in Canberra, Australia. If you really care about writing great software, you're up to date with modern development methodologies, and you could hold your own in an argument about the virtues and risks of multiple inheritance, then you should send your resume to employment@towersoft.com.au


Sunday, October 23, 2005

My Wave

Okay - a lull.

The pounding sets seem to have stopped coming. Paddling time. Trying hard not to use every ounce of strength left in my arms, it's head down, and left, right, left. I can see a couple of guys sitting up on their boards on the horizon. I paddle straight at them. All of a sudden, they vanish, disappearing behind another giant blue wall that rises up in front of me to become my immediate problem. I can see the crest about to topple and crush me - do I paddle straight at this thing? Surely that would be madness. Or do I dive? I panic a little, and take far too long to decide. In the end, the wave makes the decision for me. My pathetic attempt at a dive consists of staying pretty still and sticking my bum up in the air in an attempt to get the nose of my board under the water. ..

Miraculously, it seems to be enough, my stomach lurching as I travel up through the face of the wave to emerge in the air on the other side. A fine spray travels slowly down with me as I re-connect with the ocean, tail first, landing awkwardly on the trailing back of the wave. Crap. These waves are far too big for an amateur like me. I re-adjust my board under me and keep paddling.

The next couple of waves are a bit smaller - I can paddle over them before they break. Still, there's enough time for me to get a good three paddles on they way up, and three on the way down. I finally make it out to the locals out on the horizon.

"Hey," A bearded guy with a hat, and a young grommet, about 17 greet me.

"It's nice to see some swell!", The kid jokes.

"Yeah," says me, breathless. Pause.

"I've never been out in waves this big"

The kid looks at me with an expression of serious concern. "No shit?"

I shake my head, and smile with what I hope is a tough, devil-may-care grimace.

The kid's serious expression remains.

"Well, make sure you wait and pick the right wave. If you catch a close-out, you're going to get snapped real bad."

With that reassuring comment, The next wave arrives. The bearded guy and the doomsaying kid both disappear, one going left, and one going right. I can hear howls from the beach as their drunken mates watch them flying along. I can see the spray from their turns fly up over the back, as the sound of the wave breaking cracks along the beach like thunder.

Still panting, I survive the rest of the set. A few times I paddle out further as a big blue wall threatens to crush me. Another lull. I start to think about maybe trying to catch one of these monsters. Just thinking. I sit back down, swing to face the shore, and gingerly paddle at the first wave of the next set. I peer down at the drop down the face...
Jesus.
I pull out.

When you're lying on your board, you're about 14 inches tall. That wave would be the equivalent of jumping off a five story building. All of a sudden, It becomes patently obvious to me that I'm a land-dwelling animal. I remember back to a session a few years ago, with Alex. The image of him taking off on (what I thought was) a big wave, and yelling:

"Well, This is what we came here for!..."

The next wave looms. Okay. Inspired, I paddle at this one like a crazy man. I must actually be a crazy man. I shape up to go left.

Suddenly, time slows down. I feel like a spectator as I get to my feet. There is a crushing roar behind me, as the slick green wave curls out in front, arching up over my head. My legs stretch out as I accelerate down the wave. I've never traveled this fast in my life. The surfer guy in charge of my brain makes the bottom turn, and pulls back up the face of the wave. Again, acceleration like you can't believe, like riding your BMX down death hill, when you realise you're going way too fast.

Another turn. I'm losing a little speed. Up ahead, I can see the wave closing out into a big, sucky barrel. Crouching, I plunge headlong into it. For an instant, I can see this cavern of cascading water, frozen in time , with me in the center - before the lip hits me in the head, and knocks me into white. Around, and around, and around. Which way is up? It doesn't matter. More ragdoll tossing, over, and over. My board hits me in the side. I become vaguely aware that my leash is wrapped around my right leg. I would really like to breathe, anytime soon would be fine. Then suddenly, gasping, blue sky.

I climb back onto my board, and am considering paddling back out to catch another one, but the next wave breaks directly on me, and forces me back down. More tossing, and a whole lot more wanting to breathe. Elated, exhausted, and bereft of oxygen, I prone out and catch the next foamy white wave into shore.

Delight all your senses at once.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Shortcut for the day

If you like the Format Painter in Word 2003, you're going to like this - you can cut and paste formatting from and to anything by holding down shift when you cut and paste -
(so Ctrl + Shift + C to copy formatting, and Ctrl + Shift + v to paste formatting)

That's cool - no more poking about with the little paintbrush icon.

Ahh, the small pleasures of life. I do so love discovering a new shortcut.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

What is software?

I've been tasked with preparing a presentation to explain to new members of staff the way that the software development process works at TOWER Software. As part of my preparation, I thought I'd draw up a mind-map around the topic of "What Is Software?"

Software is more than just a bunch of ones and zeros banged out by computer nerds. There are a huge number of other tasks that need to be completed in order to have a successful commercial software product. Once I'd mapped out as many as I could think of, I was a bit scared by the size of it all:






I would surmise that a company that strived to achieve success in every element, would be a really successful software company.

Of course, this list is far from conclusive - any additions or obvious exclusions are welcome!

Monday, October 17, 2005

Five reasons why I'll never be a pro surfer

  1. I'm not very fit
  2. I don't live anywhere near a beach
  3. There are only 44 Pro surfers in the world (or in the Men's WCT anyway)
  4. I get scared by really big waves
  5. I'm not a very good surfer.

For those with no artistic skill

Whereas StrangeBanana just tends to make random hideous color mash-ups,
Colorblender seems to do a great job of choosing a color palette. You pick a colour, and it automatically selects complementary and highlight colours. Works right in your browser, great use of sliders, and lets you download your new palette in a variety of formats.

Now if only there was a similar tool for screen design and layout...

(Via Mitch Denny)

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Whaddya Hate?

The Software Management Bible, Peopleware, has a parable buried within it somewhere that goes something like: (I'm paraphrasing, because someone nicked my copy, and I haven't read it for years)
People hate Change.
They really hate change,
They really, truly hate change,
Oh yes they do.
With software - the path of least change is always the path to greatest acceptance. But then, without changing anything, the software doesn't get better. Sometimes you have to just give up and force people to make a change, in order to make the world better in the long run. Check out the new Office 12 Interface. I automatically hate it a little bit, because it's different. But I know what's going on under there. Microsoft are bridging the gap to Vista (which has a radically different look and feel) with the big product that most people use. They're forcing us to change. And most people will absolutely hate it.

I'm not sure exactly why, but today has just reminded me of that fact. Examples include:

  • Stilly's apprehension about taking a brilliant job in another country;
  • Listening to my wife complain about Firefly, because she expected it to be as cool as Buffy (I think it's way cooler)
  • Listening to me complain about how all new music sucks, and back in my day, there were Real Musicians...
I'm not exactly the most conservative person I know, but on some level, it seems that the older I get, the more my default reaction is to be perhaps a little defensive when confronted with anything new.

Kids are so great at accepting new things. Older folk these days are watching the teenagers with their iPods and their SMS and their X-Boxes, and scratching their heads because they don't get it.

The next time you find yourself objecting to something new, maybe you should check yourself to see if you're just auto-responding.

UPDATE: The office 12 interface is actually really, really well designed. Check out this channel 9 video for proof.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Project Sites

I like project sites. Whenever I start a new project, I always create an online portal that shows the team where they are, where they're going, and what should happen next. Back in the bad old days, I had to laboriously create project sites using ASP and carefully hand-tooled HTML. Nowadays, there are a thousand automatic instant-web-site-majiggery things out there. For Context ice, we used a sharepoint team site with a few minor tweaks. It did the job, but it wasn't anything special.

This one, on the other hand, looks a bit special. The ability to see code checkins on the project site, plus a solid bug tracker and a pretty cool looking wiki engine makes Trac look like it might be well worth investigating for your next project. Looks like they've nicked some of the best ideas from FogBugz, as well as some cool highlighting features for viewing code changes...

In order to get code checkins published onto our ice team site, I had to set up a service that published an RSS feed of checkins from VSS, and then use Smiling Goat's feedreader component to display it on the sharepoint home page. It was a messy solution, and one that wasn't always up to date. Oh, and we also used a flexwiki engine to collect help doco. Trac seems to have it all wrapped up in the one package. Me likee.

Some good document management mightn't go astray though...

The voice that sunk a thousand ships...

KrazyDad talks about audiophiles, while discussing the Sonic Impact T-Amp , a new $30 dollar digital amplifier.

"But did you ever notice that these audiophile guys who talk about the frequency response of their speakers for hours on end never talk about the actual music they’re playing on them? That’s because they’re actually listening to Celine Dion."

I wonder if you can get gold-plated, zero-distortion, frequency reducing ear plugs...

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Every body needs a holiday

Ahh.

I like holidays. After driving for two days, (the kids were generally great, but I have learned that it's not a good idea to to fill your seat-belt clicker with magic gum) we made it up here to Mooloolaba, on the Queensland Sunshine Coast.

I finally got back in the water! To my surprise, I didn't suck as much as I would've thought, although my paddling muscles are really, really sore. Doesn't take to long to get back a bit of surf-fitness though - lots of 6am starts... The swell here is pretty awful, and catching choppy beach-breaks is a skill that I am really far away from mastering. Still, lots of fun.

So far, we've seen koalas at Noosa, been out to a massive salt water lake called lake Cootharaba, which is about three kilometers wide and about sixteen inches deep. It's weird to see your three year old dissapearing into the middle of a lake. We've paddled the canoe around the Maroochy River, lay on the beach and generally had a lot of fun.

With all the respect in the world to my colleagues and customers, this is much more fun than work.

Oh - and I picked up the latest edition of Tracks Magazine, becuase they had a poster of this shot in Teahupoo, which I posted about ages ago. Much to my head-scratching surprise, the author guy had captioned the photo with my comment about needing "brown board-shorts".

Now I have no idea if he read my blog or not, but it's a nice story, and there were those little double quote marks around the comment...I like the thought that I might have contributed three tiny and stupid words to the most seminal surfing publication in the country.

Cool, this internet thing.

Oh and Double Oh - My Sister Kirilee has been shredding the waves in the leadup to the RipCurl GromSearch which started today - apparently she won her last heat and made the finals in the under 16 and the Semis in the Open class. Go Kizz! you rock.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Open your mind and your orbits.

I have a folder in my RSS aggregator that I call "Newbies". If I find a blog I think I might like to subscribe to, I add it to the Newbies folder. If I find I like their posts, I'll promote them to the "bloggers" folder. One of the blogs I found through my referrer logs and added to the newbies folder was Bill Rini - a poker player from LA.

I thought that it might be nice to open your mind to the fact that other peoples lives and interests are entirely different from your own. But, little did I know, exactly how true this was. The latest post arrived this morning, and out of ALL the sentences, I understand approximately ZERO of them. Observe:

"I got aces cracked twice in two orbits. Both times I picked them up in the blinds and had 7 or 8 callers before it got to me. The first guy to crack me was this older Asian dude who called two cold with pocket threes and hit his set on the flop. After my aces got cracked the second time I turned to the dealer and pleaded that she not deal me any more aces. I had lost half a rack in two orbits because of those damn cards."

Oh... Yeah? Well, ....er... Man, um.. That's really cool. You know, I cracked my ace on the toilet wall. Lucky the blinds were shut. Huh? Those old Asian dudes - man, you gotta look out for them. I caught a cold once from a guy who had a nice rack, but a was a bit of a flop with the crack, if you know what I mean....

The world is an amazingly diverse place. Blog-land, doubly so...

Thursday, September 22, 2005

The Triage Secret

Working in a software company comes in two flavours - the green-fields, dream-plan -build-software bit, (which is fun) and the dreary endless bug reports that come from testers and customers (which are not fun).

As a very depressed project manager once said :

"The software is not finished until the last user is dead"


At TOWER Software, as these bugs arrive, they are prioritised according to a simple scale:

1) Urgent Fix
2) Fix ASAP
3) Fix
4) Fix if Time
5) Won't Fix

It's pretty self explanatory, so I won't go into the bleeding obvious, but each day, the team goes through and assigns a significance score to each bug. Then we hand them all out and get to work. That process is called triage, after the medical hospital waiting system. The goals might seem pretty similar -you might think "Ok, you want the bugs that are really bad to be fixed first - not unlike the hospital scenario where the man with the axe protruding from his head gets treatment before the snot-nosed baby".

Well, yes. But also, no. Therein lies The Secret.

People (usually testers, but I generalize and digress) have this crazy idea that the aim should be to fix all the bugs, and ship with none. Well, I don't know what planet these people come from, but all I have to say to those people is this:
A ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!
*gasp*
*breath*
A ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!
There is no software with no bugs. All software projects have bugs in them. All of them. Leaving aside the definition of a bug, just think about the bugs you live with in the software you use. Did you ever have Microsoft Word just spontaneously shit itself and delete your document? You know you did. Do you know why Microsoft implemented system restore points in Windows XP? Because The Bugs live with us, baked into our binary apple-pie that we consume every day.

The big secret difference between the medical Triage and Software Bug Triage is this:

We're not trying to decide which bugs to fix. We're trying to decide which bugs to ship.

That way, we only ship with bugs that people a) won't find or b) won't mind.

Each time we find a bug we are prepared to ship, it's like a fairy gets it's wings somewhere.

At the moment, as we inch towards the 1.0 release for ice, the only thing climbing higher than the team's stress levels is the triage bar. It's getting pretty hard to get a bug fixed right now.

This comic makes a joke out of it, but the fact is, as you get closer to shipping, you just can't wobble the jelly. Remember that as soon as a developer fixes a bug, there's a risk that they'll add a new bug, or break something somewhere else. It's a constant balancing act and one that takes incredible attention to detail to get it right. .

That's not to say that I don't think you should fix bugs. You should. And in a perfect world, where we could push a button on a wacky time machine-o-tron and stop time, and fix absolutely every bug, and then ship - well, then that would obviously be a better option. (Obviously I left out the bit about where you would start time again, otherwise there would be nobody to buy your instantly developed and totally bug free product.)

But the reality is that we don't have one, and so we try to make most of the people happy, most of the time.

Oh and if anyone has such a machine, can I borrow it for a week? Only one, honest....

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Speaking bad of things

Doesn't everyone love to read a blogger handing out a good bollocking? I've been working on [secret project] using Ruby on Rails of late, so I've been subscribing to some rails lists and blogs.

Getting started with Rails can be kind of weird and hard, but being a fairly patient person, I've just kept at it with nothing more than some head scratching and mild swearing. This guy, on the other hand, had obviously had enough persevering...

His review of ROR?

"it's fucking horrible. Anyone who tries to convince you that it's in some way an elegant and consistent way to create 'web applications' is entirely insane."

hehe :)

Friday, September 16, 2005

Nintendo Fanboy Unleashed

I usually manage to contain my fanboy-ness, but today's unveiling of the Nintendo Revolution controller at the Tokyo Game Show made me all frothy with excitement.

I desperately want to play with one of these things. I want to slash my way through bad guys, wandering the worlds of Hyrule. I want to point at the things I want to use. I want to pick up and roll the dice in Mario Party when I'm playing with my kids. I want to battle fellow pokemon fans on the other side of the world, and race other people in Mario Kart.

Interaction is where all the magic of gaming is, and thankfully somebody is thinking outside of the (x) box. The Revolution will be able to wirelessly download and play all of your favourite Nintendo games - all the way back to 8-bit NES land, 16-bit classics, through N64 games, and still play gamecube titles. Plus who knows what cool things they'll come up with for the revolution itself.

Hats off to Nintendo for making a truly next-generation console. The more masculine and narrow minded among you can keep your kill-sim-tit-box-360's. I'm spending my next-gen cash on one of these beautiful things...

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Time...

Is like money - You only worry when you're running out of it.
(From Urs)

When everything looks like a nail...

Alex Bosworth has a great article on his blog about AJAX Mistakes.
Sometimes it might be best to keep that javascript in your pants...

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Office Politics

If you ever thought that office politics where you worked were bad, the folklore archive from Andy Hertzfeld about the early days at Apple in the 80's might make you cry.

blog searching that doesn't take a month

If you check out that silver search bar thingy at the top of my blog, you'll see it has a new button: 'Search All Blogs'

This is because the google blog search has been released into beta. If you've ever used Technorati to search blogs, you'd know that while they provide a great service, it was frequently ball-bouncingly, poke-your-own-eyes-out- in-frustration-ly s-l-o-w. Conversations among the blog-savvy in the tea room would always gravitate to the same topic:

"How long will it be until google gets a similar feature, and those guys will be out of a gig?"

Looks like we'll have to find something else to talk about... whatever you want in a blog search engine, it's there. Subscribe to searches via RSS or ATOM? simple clean easy interface?...advanced search?