Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Happy BlogDay!

Hello blogographers.

I'm too tired to write much or follow the blogday protocol

Here's five bloggers I like that you might not have read.
  • Amy Hoy - a ruby on rails expert who has a lovely and throroughly entertaining writing style
    |web |rss
  • Matt Homann - a lawyer who has a lot to say - often thought provoking
    |web |rss
  • Steve Pavlina - become a better person, or mark as read - it's up to you.
    |web |rss
  • KrazyDad (Jim Bumgardner) - a smart, clever nerd who's programming skill and brilliant graphics software are always inspiring
    |web |rss
  • Cameron Barrett - probably the first blogger I ever read, well before RSS, who appears to have dissapeared into The Amazing Race...
    | web |rss
Mmmm. Sleep. :^)

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

explain

Emotional trouble will make physical trouble.
Physical trouble is easier to explain away.

Ok, you got me. Who's got you?

Scott finds his subscribers. I'm with Lindsay - all aboard the cluetrain. If you haven't discovered the ability to use technorati (or a bunch of other search engines) to find out what your customers think of whatever it is you do, then you'd better get cracking.

Who knows what they're saying about you?

I mean really, there must be guys over at Apple suffering aggregator meltdown right now....

Meanwhile, with the Context ICE pre-release being made available to partners tomorrow, my eyeballs are feeling kind of scratchy on the inside...I'm super proud of the ICE product team though - there's been a whole lot of hard work to get this far. Nearly there guys!

On top of all this, Stilly and I are trying to write the keynote for the TUF conference in WA next week. So far our plans for the talk involve extreme demos, engineering blueprints for the "wheel of demo" and a $40,000 Robot Assistant. Course, some of that probably won't make it...

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Things that made me smile today

My son Lincoln, running full pelt up and down the aisles in the dark at the cinema, laughing his head off, while the rest of the audience 'Shh!'ed at him, and tried to watch the Fantastic Four...

A thirty-something handsome Italian man, who must've taken a bath in aftershave, dressed very stylishly and spending ages making careful decisions over which herbs and spices to buy in the supermarket, at about 7:00 pm...

My nephew Matthew, who came up to me at the dinner table and asked: "Am I heavy enough for you?" When I looked puzzled, he tried again: "Do I weigh enough for you?" (Eventually I figured out that he wanted to sit on my lap...)

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Your Problem

The world is very small.
The universe is incomprehensively enormous.
Your problem is nothing.

Planning to be sub-amazing

Sigs post on ataxonomy (thanks hugh) got me thinking about one of those little postlets I add from time to time - this one about being sub-amazing.

I was trying to be cute and was thinking about the individual experience - and how there's a weird unwritten law in the workplace that everybody is expected to be incredible at their jobs all the time, (even though we all know that's not really the way the world works).

One of the things that I think is really important in any project development methodology is a resonant sense of reality. The further you get from actual human behaviour (frequently sub-amazing, easily distracted people, who like to waste time laughing and drinking) and the closer you ascribe to crazy robot idealism (where everybody is amazing all the time, and works exactly eight hours a day, and doesn't leave until the job is done), the more likely it is that you are going to be disappointed with the outcome of your project.

The first development methodology I learned was the Microsoft Solutions Framework (MSF ) version 1. The process model itself was a little dull, (and a little idealistic - think RUP or iterative waterfall) but buried within it was this fascinating idea for a project team - one that worked outside of traditional management hierarchies, and was given all the authority it needed to succeed. That really caught my attention. An MSF project team is responsible for everything. It consists of experts in all the important disciplines. All the marketing, the launch, beta programmes, logistics, test, development,deployment - everything. You basically let 'em loose and they do their thing.

Those of you who've worked with me will recognise that team approach as paramount in all my development projects over the last 5 years. Like most Project Managers, I was (still am) desperate for all my projects to succeed. Not all of them did.

But maybe the law of sub-amazing applies here too. Perhaps the reason this approach appears so attractive is because it prepares for failure, just as well as it prepares for success. One of the central tenets of the team model is that "The team succeeds or fails as a whole".

In a big company, maybe the ability to start projects that fail is the thing that sets them apart. Smaller guys can't afford to learn the lessons, without going broke. If you are a big company, and you're not embracing reality - sticking instead to those chain-of-command-my-department-vs-your-department rules, my guess is that you're constraining your brilliance by optimizing for non-failure.

It seems wherever money is concerned, people become obsessed with non-failure. Maybe more so than with success...

More great sub-amazing reading:
Eric Sink - Make more mistakes

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Go away and stop bothering me.

I must've been born under a bad sign.

Every single week, I get at least one sales-droid from telephone companies, ringing me up and asking me to change to their stupid and no-doubt vastly superior plan. The last thing I want is more people to pay money to. I can't be bothered futzing around and changing anything - I don't care if I save 3 cents every local call and can keep my own phone number.

And is it just me, or do these phone companies get shonkier sounding every day?. This is (roughly) the call I just had with a guy who I think called himself Anton:

Me: Hello?

[weird silence - probably due to outward bound call centre connecting two people who don't want to speak to each other]

Anton: Hello?

Anton:(in thick weird accent - maybe chinese but speaking about 12 words per second.)"Hello , can I speak to Mister Taylor, please?"

Me: This is Mr Taylor

Anton: Hello Mr Taylor, my name is Anton from Southern Cross Telco, how are you today?

Me:From where?

Anton:SuthCrosTelco - Is this your phone number?

Me:(suddenly desperate to hang up, having realised what's going on) Yeah...

Anton: lemme say to you mr taylor, you've been selected for a VIP package offering you the latest deal on blah blah ..( he probably said some other stuff-my eyes glazed over at this point)

Me: Look man, I don't want to change my telephone provider. I can't be bothered, I'm lazy and my phone works okay, so If it's all the same, I'd rather...

Anton: No, no, mr taylor you don't have to do anything (more inane rambling about a free dial-up internet connection and how they take care of everything, no paperwork)

Me: Anton!

Anton: Yes

Me: I do not want to buy your crappy product.

Anton: You can have a low, low price on all your telecommunications calls...blalblblah (reading from script)

Me: ANTON!

Anton: Yes

Me (thinking I'll try a different tack) The thing is: I HATE saving money.

Anton: you what?

Me: I hate saving money. I hope you're not trying to offer me A VIP program that can save me money, because I hate that. Could you say, make it possible for me to triple my telecommunications costs? I might be interested in that package...

Anton: uh...

[another awkward silence where Anton shuffles paper and tries to figure out what to say next. Obviously they didn't teach him about nuts like this in call centre school .So eventually he just decides go back to the beginning!]

Anton: Lemme say to you mr taylor, you've been selected for a VIP package offering you the latest deal on...

Me: Sorry, man.

[click]

So phone companies! - (Southern Cross Telco in particular.) There is NO good time to ring me. Ever! Find some other way to sell me your shitty thing. Get creative! Get a blog, send me spam, Send a supermodel around handing out leaflets at the summernats, park a giant plastic telephone out the front of my house - I don't care! - just STOP CALLING ME!

Ahh. I feel better now.






Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Lead us not into tempting

I promised Cam I could solve his distraction problems - well, somebody else has, and as we all know, It's always better when somebody else does it for you...

Spending valuable worktime reading Bloglines? Checking out the WoW forums? Reading endless ultra-nerdy Slashdot comments, just waiting to flame a n00b? Constantly find your guilt-o-meter creeping into the red? Well, webJillion has just the product for you. And at a price no self-respecting moocher could resist!

Voila! Temptation Blocker!

Monday, August 22, 2005

For small values of B

Hey! My post on the Aardvark spec was quoted in The Farm - way to make me feel important...

I should clarify my position by pointing out that I don't see any value at all in trying to design every little facet of your software before you start. That's classic, old school, kidding yourself project management, and you're bound to fail, because reality will kick you in the ass everytime.

What you should do, is design a detailed central specification to describe your common architecture and your overall feature set - one that lets every member of the team develop a shared vision of what the product will be, before it exists. One that lends itself to a believable schedule. Armed with a clear idea of what it is you're doing, and a timeframe people don't think came from a magic eight ball, and you're ready to get started.

Seems to me that was what Joel's spec was all about.


(Whether that's agile, traditional or regurgitated-weasel is kind of unimportant.)

Don't ask.




Okay, I know blogday isn't for another few days but I just had to point out how cool whytheluckystiff is. Sorry Rodawg, but this guy makes Rory Blyth's ramblings sound like a conversation with your Aunt Mildred. His (poignant) guide to Ruby had me laughing out loud.

(Granted, I still don't know anything about Ruby, but man - that's some crazy ass writing style you got going there. And cartoon foxes, too.)

Subscribed.

The Beginning

The best way to 'get started' is to get started.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

The Joy of Programming

I was having a conversation with Big-Headed Simon on Friday, about what it meant to be involved in the software industry.

As far as I'm concerned, the whole point of writing all this software is solely to improve people's lives. Solve problems, automate repetitive tasks - generally remove the clutter and periphery from the process at hand, so that there is more time spent at the intention, than is spent on the surrounding process. Ultimately, that should translate into people having more time to enjoy their lives, and less time poking about shuffling paper and arguing with bosses.

So for me, actually writing code is something of a necessary evil. I don't much like it, and as long as something works, I'm not really concerned with how horribly inelegant it is. Computers are fast, they get faster all the time, and If I was honest with myself, I would say that I really couldn't give a toss if my code has an elegantly defined OO hierarchy, or if it's just one enormous chunk of procedural code filled with thousands of nested IF statements . Because, to me it's all just a means to an end - not an end unto itself.

Simon on the other hand, views his work as an art form. He's always striving to write more and more perfect code, and appreciates the code itself, probably slightly more than the problem he's solving. He likes languages, and the subsequent innovation and difference between languages, whereas to me it's just the difference between "Abracadabra" and "sHazzam!".

Obviously well written code is easier to maintain, test and share - which are all great reasons to pay close attention to your code - and for those reasons, whenever I write code I always force myself to refactor (Constant Vigilance!) , even though I really don't want to. I wish I could actually care as I go, but the sad reality is that I don't.

So, as with most things, I guess you need a balance. Hiring a developer who understands the Joy of Programming is a very good thing to do. But, hiring a whole team of them could mean that you miss the whole point of developing software in the first place - you need people focused on the ultimate outcome too.

How fast?

The speed of life is defined by the intervals between your children's birthdays.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Big Aardvark Up Front

I really got a kick out of reading the Project Aardvark spec. Like Joel, I think a big design up front, is a superior way to get a project completed. While I like lots of the extreme programming dogma, the concept of getting the whollistic design down pat before you start to write any code is a great way to clear out a whole bunch of distractions, that can prove really expensive when you do them on the fly (in code).

I think that it's mainly about being responsible. When you're managing a development project, you have three things you have to concern yourself with: Schedule, Features and Resources. That's all there is to manage. Investing your precious resources on actually building features that might not make the product, when you could spend a week planning to avoid it seems irresponsible to me. And the other thing is that once you have an actual, code complete feature, it's heart-breaking to cut it. Deleting a paragraph from a document isn't the kind of thing you come home about and cry into your beer over.

Of course, you can't get everything right first up - there are always bits you have to add as you go. With Context ICE, (my current project - coming soon!) we left out a bit of functionality from our design (template generation) which has ended up costing us weeks out of the plan. The team still has to be able to adapt and change in order to get things done on time - the BDUF doesn't solve all your problems.

But it does make for less surprises, which means planning is easier to get right.

Happy Blog-aversary!

Scott Flowers, a blogger from my blogroll, celebrates a year of blogging this week. I found Scott through a Technorati watchlist, after he posted a bunch of problems he was having deploying TRIM Context- it was kind of proof to me that this RSS/blogging thing really had some potential to improve the way businesses deal with their customers.

Two years ago, he would've been just another administrator saying bad words in a server room somehwere - now we can find out what the problems are, and help out. Much cooler.

So yeah, happy blog-aversary, Scott!

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

How to free space on your server

I try to be responsible. I like to back up my data. I know that bad, bad things happen when you don't back up. So, last night I decided to back up the databases we use for the ICE development environment. Good thinking right? Sensible Gordo.

Well, as I tried to back up the development DB, the server tells me that it's only got 20mB of space left on disk. Hmmm. 'That can't be right, ' thinks me. 'What's using all this space?' Well, it turns out the Microsoft SQL server log files are occupying about 7 gigabytes. So, not really caring about recording the history of updates made over time to the development data (which is largely records and documents title 'poo' and 'asdf') I decided to delete them. They're just logfiles right? Log files are boring things invented for dweeby auditors to pore over. We don't need no stinkin' log files...

And so, I deleted them. And that's where the world started to go bad. Windows told me those files were too big for the recycle bin - is it okay to delete them forever? sure, sure, says me. Logfiles? meh. Well, now the databases don't work. Turns out that SQL server has something of an affinity for it's logfiles (something about the only file with data that ever gets written to disk, ever) and was REALLY, REALLY PISSED that I had deleted them.

So, two frantic calls to Grant later, and about an hour and a half of wizardry on his part, and the world is good again.

And the moral to story - Never, Ever, EVER delete logfiles in SQL Server. I know I'll remember that. You should too.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Because Technology is irrelevant and boring.

Hugh and his mates have been discussing the impending doom of TV advertising, and debating how the 'new media' (rss/blogging) could possibly help launch a big brand, like Budweiser.

My take on this is that technologies are largely irrelevant - the thing that's interesting about the 'new media' is not the media itself, it's the change in attitude that the new media brings.

The new media revolution isn't about technology, it's about being honest. People have been saturated with advertising for too long, and they are sick of it. I don't know about you, but anything appearing in a 2'30'' timeslot between TV shows has to get past my cynico-meter set at maximum. The open mouthed magic of "How did that small person get inside a box in my lounge room?" has completely disappeared, guys.

The read-write web has exposed us to actual people's opinions. Assuming that these trends hold true, you can extrapolate that, just as most bloggers appreciate honest and direct insight into organisations they deal with, so will most people. So yeah, Budweiser may or may not get anything out of a 'blogging campaign' per se. But by watching the trends, and using the blogosphere more as a monitoring tool than a 'channel', they should be able to produce advertising for more appropriate channels that resonates with the target market.

This campaign, which I commented on last week, is a clear attempt to bring the small and honest approach to a big brand beer, in a very new media way - not talking at us, but to us.

Look at wikipedia - When you tell people that it' s an encyclopedia that anyone can edit, they always ask the same thing: "Isn't it just full of crap?"
And the answer is no. A finite number of monkeys, banging keyboards all day, and what comes out is an honest, largely objective and correct analysis of everything that every human knows.
The truth wants to be free.

Look at post-Scoble Microsoft. Now we have a window into the company that previously didn't exist - heaps of Microsoft bloggers telling heaps of stories, making it virtually impossible for any marketing department to try and spin public opinion at all. For example, If Microsoft's media unit were still spinning out glossy marketing crap about how excellent internet explorer was, while the IE7 team were telling us the opposite, the company would look terrible. So it has to be more honest. It's a better company because of it.

It's about the conversation - about personal communication. When I'm trying to sell something to a single person I don't yell at them with a megaphone. (They tend to find it somewhat off-putting.) The days of bald car salesmen yelling at us to 'come on down for CRAZY deals!' are well and truly behind us. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it seems that people react really well to honest and direct approaches.

Truth in advertising is nothing new. Al Ries and Jack Trout wrote about the law of candor in 1994. But rather than seeing it as just another card up the sleeve, big businesses need to have it as their core PR strategy. Like most of us, I'm more likely to buy things from people if I trust them. And if they're straight with me, I'll be straight with them.

I think the marketers in charge of big brands that get this, will be the successful ones - The silver bullet isn't in the media, it's in the connecting...

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Friday, August 12, 2005

To the nice kid who stole my phone from my car,

What exactly was the point?

I'm all by myself at home now, and I don't know where my family is, and all you have is a useless bit of electronics that can't be used for anything, because the people at Telstra have disabled it from functioning in any way (other than perhaps throwing it at a dog that chases after you as you jump fences in suburbia, trying the handles of other parked cars. )

So, we both lose. My insurance company whom I pay regularly won't replace my phone, because they have a clause in the policy that specifically excludes claims against mobile phones stolen from cars - by people like you. You ransacked my car ashtray (because nobody uses them for cigarettes anymore) ,and stole 10 bucks in change, and then you took my phone. Fair enough with the ten bucks -you could probably buy something nice from the tuck shop - but the phone? It's useless to you, and it makes my life extra hard.

So, in an effort to protect myself from you and your skanky friends next time, I've installed a special theft-detterent in my car ashtray:





Yeah. That'll learn ya.

World of Fanta

Stupid Friday Fact:

Do you have any idea how many kinds of Fanta there are in the world? There are a LOT. Take for example, this lovely looking bottle of "Lactic White Grape" Flavour from Taiwan....

The full list of flavours, by countries, (from Wikipedia.)

Amazing

You are not amazing all the time.
Most of the time you are sub-amazing.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Teaching Kids Technology

So today for Year 2 Computer Club, I took Stilly's advice, and took an old crappy computer and a couple of screwdrivers along. I told the kids we were going to do an autopsy. After we'd explained what an autopsy was, we started taking the computer to bits, one screw at a time.

The kids were absolutely mesmerised by the various components,( and the general joy of destruction) and there was always at least six hands poking around the case - some great diagnostic talk was going on:

"What's this flat grey cable?"
"It goes into this Shiny Square thing over here"
"What's this box with a big fan on it?"
"This green thing looks like a tiny city!"
"Look at all the dust!"

Gradually, we went through all the components of a computer, and learned what they were for. At the end, we had a test to see who could correctly identify which bits were what, and what they were for. The PC was one of those old Pentium II's that had the big fancy black plastic CPU in it's own special card. When we removed that, I told the kids that this "chip was like the brain of the computer - the bit that figures things out " and there was a sharp intake of breath.

(For a brief instant, I thought it was my superior teaching skills, but it turned out Intel had put a very cool looking hologram sticker on the other side. )

All in all, everybody had fun, and I think we learned quite a bit about how a computer works.

Now I have to think of something fun for next week...

Mmmm... Scripty


Script.aculo.us shows how Ruby On Rails is growing with the whole AJAX revoloution - there are some really neat demos here that show you what AJAX is all about.


I should really get back to playing with Rails. With Context ICE nearly finished (oh, end game - how do I hate thee!) maybe there will be some spare time one day...

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Aloha

I once had this dream that I moved my family to the big island in Hawaii. We bought a big fancy house for really cheap, because it was covered in flecks of black lava from the volcano, just behind it. Anyway, we were all enjoying our new house one morning, (and scraping off the lava), when up walks Grant and Lindsay walking about twenty dogs.

Turns out that they had had enough corporate crap, and 'downshifted' to start a dog-walking business in the sunshine. At the time, I just thought it was another nocturnal brainfart from the subconcious that brought you this drivel.

But having read Fuzzy's beautiful, eloquent post, I'm beginning to think that I might be some kind of psychic diva. Changing your life just for the hell of it is one thing, but it seems to me that Grant's got other plans here. I think that they're one step on the way to Hawaii. The laid back 70's music vibe, the more time for living thing - the pathetic attempts at belittling broken colleagues -all the signs are there. Pretty soon it'll be all flowers and beaches and 'walk your dog, man?'

I'd like to congratulate them, and tell them I'm really proud of both of them. They'll both be sadly missed.

When you find the yellow house with the lava on it, drop me an email, guys...

Hey Pat!

My son Pat has his own blog now. When I was nine, the information superhighway was reading a garfield comic book on the road to Melbourne...

2 Levels of Empathy

simple:Pretending that eveyone is just like you.
advanced:Understanding that everyone is just like them.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

August 9th in Nagasaki

The Nagasaki Broadcasting Corporation has some translated interviews from people who survived the atomic blast in 1945.

These stories about the reality of nuclear weapons are disturbing, but perhaps the most disturbing thing is the fact that while I assumed it would've been horrific, It's easy to 'forget' exactly how horrific it was. It's not like I was there - more that 'it-never-happend-to-me' so it becomes easier to rationalize away in your head... How possible is it that some trigger happy moron with a similar mindset (and a big grudge) decides nuclear weapons are a good idea?

From Ampontan over at Japundit:
  • Whether you want to ban the bomb or think the type of weapon used isn't the problem, whether you think the decision to drop the bomb was entirely justified or driven by racism,and in particular, if you're one of those people who thinks Japan didn't learn anything from the war, and especially if you're from China and South Korea,

    You owe it to yourself to read these stories.



Go read them. Be horrified. Remember.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Hey look- A Shiny New Template!

Mmmm. Templatey.

I finally got around to creating a template all my own. (Well, largely. I stole a lot of bits.)

After staring idly at the new template for ages, I finally decided I think I like it.

(If any of you HTML readers are troubled by the background, let me know.)

The wave behind this text is the legendary break that is Teahupoo in Tahiti - the heaviest wave in the world.

To celebrate, I felt like a drink, so I bought some Kirov Lemon-Lime Vodka, which has a very peculiar taste I couldn't quite figure out. Eventually it dawned on me - It tastes exactly as though you squeezed out a whole bunch of KFC "refresher towellettes" into a glass.

Mmmm.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Well, it is big.

I couldn't stop laughing at the big ad from Carlton Draught.

Here's a great example of a smart advertising company designing advertisements pitched squarely at people who have grown up in an advertising saturated world, and know that advertising is trying to trick us.

We're smart consumers, who aren't easily conned. TV advertising is becoming progressively less effective, because we aren't as easily manipulated as previous generations.

By being honest with us, they win us over. They don't take themselves at all seriously, and the end result is that we end up warming to them.

(and posting about their ads on our blogs. Oh no, you can't manipulate me...)

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Teaching Kids to Program

I spent an hour today teaching the Aranda Primary second graders how to program. Rather than get involved with setting up compilers, and configuring software, we wrote code using a simple logo-style language, and a pencil. Then we 'ran' our 'programs' in our heads. It sounds a bit obscure, but it was actually really fun!

The way it worked was this. One kid gets to be the 'programmer', while the other gets to be the 'robot'. The programmer can issue the following commands to the robot:
  • Go Forward
  • Go Backward
    (These Go commands have an optional parameter, which is the number of steps)
  • Stop
  • Turn Left
  • Turn Right
  • Turn Around
  • Pick Up
  • Drop
The robot only listens to his/her programmer, and follows the commands exactly (even if they're stupid)

The aim was to write a program that picked up a teddy bear, and put it into a basket. After each having a go being the robot, and being the programmer, and test driving our robots, everyone wrote down their program on a piece of paper. Then I mixed up the programs, and I read the commands to the robots (making sure nobody got to be a robot for their own program)

When run-time came, only one program executed successfully. Some robots ended up walking into desks or walls, and one ended up in the hallway. This gave me the opportunity to teach about bugs, and debugging. We all 'debugged' our programs using an eraser (the number one bug was mixing up left and right) and ran them again, with much greater success.

Afterwards, I sat with the kids and discussed the fact that while computers could do amazing things, and appear to be really clever, they only ever did just what they were told, and so they were actually pretty dumb. And that software programmers have to deal with the same sort of problems that they'd faced today, every day.

It was funny watching the 'programmers' blame the 'robots', for their bad code. You certainly wouldn't see anything like that at a professional place like TOWER Software...

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Free as in Beer

My seemingly endless quest for a decent Windows aggregator stopped for a while with JetBrains Omea Reader - but deep down I always preferred onfolio's funky newspaper view and firefox integration.
Well, Huzzah! I found a free version of the Personal edition offered here ($29.95 value).

Go get it! it's free!

Thanks to Matthew H for the tip!