Tuesday, February 28, 2006


One of the things I was dreaming about last night was the concept of precision. I know it sounds a bit strange to be dreaming about a concept, but there you go.

When the plane I was flying into Heathrow on descended through the clouds, I was, as always, relieved to find that right there, directly below us was an airport runway. And it dawned on me that the pilot was probably a little bit relieved too, despite the fact that he knew it would be there. Because when you are landing a giant aeroplane, precision is absolutely critical. You can't be "Close Enough", or even "Pretty Good" - try explaining that to the people who's houses you've just landed on:

"Come on, it's pretty close to the airport! I'd like to see you fly a giant hunk of metal for 10,000 miles and get it absolutely perfect..."
No, precision is one of those things that humans really, really, care about. And it's something that we usually do really well. That's why people say things like "It's not Rocket Science", or "It's not Brain Surgery". That's why they say "You're missing the point".

I recently read a great quote that went something like:

"When designing software, there are two approaches you can take. You can make it so simple that there are no visible mistakes, or you can make it so complicated that there are no visible mistakes"
And I got to thinking that in my industry, software development teams often cover up their imprecision with features, or other technicalities, which are really just excuses. But, it gets worse - Customers often accept these excuses, because it's easier than admitting their own imprecision when it comes to understanding the way that the product works. The lack of precision by both parties leads to a moderate compromise, where nobody's completely happy.

What sort of things do you do that require 100% precision?

Do you always get them right, every-time?

Sunday, February 26, 2006

575m and rising...

I'm flying over to the UK tonight - to speak at the European Trim User Forum (TUF) next week.

I'll be talking about the new features of Context 6, discussing some of the future plans for the product and explaining how we built ice, how it works, and demonstrating some of the ways that the web framework can be used. (I know it might not sound that exciting, but it could be a life changing experience for someone in the audience. Although that's quite unlikely.)

I'll also be praying to the patron saint of software demonstrations, (as soon as I can figure out who that is). If you'd like to read a laugh-out-loud-funny-because-it's-true account of what it's like to be a presenter who suffers the consequences of not praying, check out Rory's experience.

I'm not generally a supertitious person, but some things are too important to risk...

Friday, February 24, 2006

What's in a domain?

I was just helping some friends set up their new website, and to buy a .com.au domain, I sort of autopiloted my way to melbourneit.com.au.According to them, registering a .com.au domain was going to cost 140$ for two years.

Smartyhost, on the other hand, offered the same service, for 49.95$- a saving of 90 dollars!

Now, I know that some kind of brand power justifies an increased price - but nearly 300%? That's just plain crazy.

A domain is a domain is a domain, right?

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

New Google Enterprise Blog

Hey! I just found the Google Enterprise Blog.

The Google team have just released a version of Google desktop specifically aimed at enterprises, and are encouraging users at companies and organizations to install it now for free. I noticed they're also offering a premium support package that offers consultative help with deployment and configuration. It looks like you don't need to be running a google search appliance to use it, but you get cooler functionality if you do.

Having been a Google Desktop user since it's first beta, I know how well it works. And at first, this offering looks to me like an interesting take on the ECM field. They can search all content across an organization from one place. They have some nice collaboration stuff built in with Googletalk. They're even offering rudimentary retention management.

But, unlike everyone else in the ECM field, Google aren't storing the content. They're leaving it exactly where it is. All they're storing is a large index of where to find it. So, it's not really Enterprise Content Management - - it's more Enterprise Content Discovery. Without the ability to properly manage retention or versioning, just to name a few, the big ECM players aren't in any danger of having their revenues eroded anytime soon.

But it does make me wonder about the relevance of accurate classification and filing in a post Google world. Does my corporate fileplan matter, if I can always find whatever I'm looking for? Is simply storing the document title and the content enough to always retrieve whatever a user wants?

I know that my personal documents (that aren't put into our corporate ECM system) are dreadfully filed according to my mood at the moment I click 'save', but Google Desktop can find them every time.

It will be really interesting to watch the development and direction the GE guys take.


How to relax

LHS and I were musing the other day on how once you find out a little about how people's brains function, you always end up thinking to yourself - "Yeah, well you're actually pretty strange. "

(This discussion came up just after we had discussed dream-logic, and how strange dreams are.)
And, to illustrate the point, I'm going to share the way that I relax before I go to sleep. It seems perfectly natural to me, but it may well leave you thinking that I'm a bit nuts.

The technique goes like this.

Just before I turn off the light before I go to bed, I'll take a mental 'picture' of my room - where all the furniture is, and what's piled where, and so on. Then, after I close my eyes, I imagine that I can open up my head. I never really thought about this, but I guess I imagine four flaps opening up on my head like the lid of a box. Out of my head comes a whole bunch of boxes, that represent all the thoughts that I've been fussing over all day. Each box is colour coded and a different size, depending on relevance and emotion. I then imagine these floating through the air, and landing in various empty spaces in my bedroom.

So typically, there's a bunch of green boxes (things I feel guilty about), red boxes (thing I've been actively working on), pink boxes (romantic thoughts about people and places), and blue boxes( ideas and prospects), then a few little black ones that are full of thoughts that make me feel terrible. Once I've gone through this exercise, I lie there with my head empty and try to come to terms with what it feels like to have nothing in my head. Sometimes my room is really full of imaginary boxes, and sometimes there's not many at all.

If I'm not asleep by then, then I float all the boxes back into my head. Sometimes I leave boxes out on purpose (usually black and green ones) and then close my head back up again.

I've been doing this ever since I was about 12 - And to me it seems perfectly normal. But having it all written down here makes me feel as though maybe I'm a bit nuts.

See? People are innately strange...

What crazy things does your brain do when it's time for bed?

Sunday, February 19, 2006

A day at the River

Me playing the artsy photographer out at Wee Jasper.
(Picasa makes it so easy to blog photos!)

Saturday, February 18, 2006

My house hates me.

It's true.

This is a list of the things that have exploded, broken or otherwise ceased to function in my house in the last two months:

Dishwasher (x2) - Pump broken, 350$+ to replace - abandoned.
VCR - won't load tapes without chewing them and jamming - binned.
Clock Radio - mysteriously crushed - binned.
Microwave Oven - spontaneously ceased to function. No explanation - binned.
Regular Oven - spontaneously ceased to function. Still sitting in kitchen wall.
Dryer - exploded. Still fixed to Laundry wall.
Washing Machine - wouldn't spin. repaired after 200$ and three visits from repairman.
Television Set - displays thin line instead of picture - binned.
Kettle - won't work - binned.
Bose Lifestyle Stereo - amplifier sends no signal - still in lounge room.
Range Hood - doesn't work at all - still nailed to ceiling.
Iron - fell apart and leaked rust all over clothes. Replaced.

Oh, and a CD Rom exploded in my PC, shattering plastic shards all over the place, and rendering it incapable of reading any optical media. Which isn't that bad, at least the PC still works.

On top of the frustration of not being able to use these things, I now also have a giant pile of useless appliances, that I can't get rid of.

What's going on! Is this just an extreme case of "They don't make 'em like they used to?"

I suspect that my house is trying to show me the error of my consumerist ways by gradually destroying everything I own.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Holy Popularity Contest, Batman!

A Big congratulations to everybody's favourite googlebot, Mikal, for his appearance in the Feedster top 500.


That means that (according to Feedster), our humble bespectacled nerd friend has only 119 other blogs in the entire (known) blogosphere that are more popular than him! He's more popular than DJ Adam Curry, The hilarious Rory Blyth, Celebrity Nerd Will Wheaton (Wesley Crusher), and even Doc Searls, co-author of the cluetrain, and practically the inventor of the modern blogosphere.

That is a truly bizzare thing. Onya, Stillbert.

And this link is dedicated to my friend Simon, who got a pretend parking ticket. Which is quite lucky, really.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Multiple Touching is Good.

Remember the gesture based computer interface in Minority Report?

Ok. Hold that thought in your mind.

Now check out this video of multiple touch interaction research. Cool...

Monday, February 13, 2006

Happiness as a sales tool

Lindsay asks: 'who are your customers?' It's an interesting question, and the answers aren't always as obvious as you might think. If you're shipping software, your customers are the people who buy your software - these are often not the ones who use it.

But, as she says:
The people who pay you, want the people who pay them to be happy.
And that means the people who use your software. If you sell your software through partners, or re-sellers the same applies - your deputies want to deploy your software and have it a success. And annoyed users are a great shortcut to unsuccessful projects.

It all goes back to something I've noticed for a while now - that perceived failure and actual failure are the same thing. If your users don't like the product you build, it's a failure. Even if it helps them solve their problem.

If you always aim to make the users happy, chances are that your ultimate customers will be happy. I think this applies right across the market - from the tiny microISV aimed at the home consumer, to the large enterprise software house selling an abstract product nobody really understands.

As a consequence, I always like to see one feature in your feature set that's solely to make users happy.

As an example, the next version of Context ICE contains a cool new date selection tool. It took about a week to build. We didn't need it - ICE is really good at figuring out dates when they're typed in an input box. But it looks cool, and it makes it just that tiny bit easier to enter dates. And, in our initial random usability tests, it provokes lots of nods and praise.

So sure, consider your customers. Make them happy however you can. Send sexy looking Sales people out to take them to dinner. Put expensive advertisements in targeted periodicals - whatever it takes. All of these tried and true techniques are still worth doing. But if you delight the users, the customers should always be happy. And that might mean adding features and styles that offer no significant benefit to the product, other than to make the users happy.

And once you've got happy users, what then?
Turn them into Salespeople.
Seth Godin explains how.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

How to unlock hidden features in Gmail

I often wondered (well, not often, but at least once, or maybe more) why a lot of the features in Googles Gmail weren't available to me.

For instance, there's a cool feature that lets you see snippets of any RSS feed you like, called Google Web Clips. I could read the ad. I could even read the help pages. But I couldn't use the feature. Same goes for the new "Talk in Gmail" Ad that Australian Gmail Users might've read today.

I naively assumed that rolling out new features like this to everyone in the world might cause some kind of intragoogle support explosion that might cause everyone in Mountain View to cry. (well, I didn't actually think about it that much, as is evident by my lame assumption) . I did however conclude that the magic of google was somehow preventing me from getting access to such features - that I might as well just forget that they exist, and wait for the Blessing of Larry to enliven my web mail experience if and when He saw fit.

But, thanks to this post from Mike Little, I have found an easy way to enable all the goodies that have been otherwise off-limits to us non-Americans.

Just Change your language settings to English (US)

Voila! A veritable cornucopia of features. Web Clips, Chat in Gmail, Quick Contacts, Email Forwarding - all available if you're willing to forgo a few extraneous vowels, and some crazy use of the Z from time to time.

Cool huh?

Oh, and if you don't have a Gmail account, you could ask me nicely for one...

Sunday, February 05, 2006

On the title of my blog...

A few people have asked me why my blog is called 'Over the Falls'. Well, it's a subtle double meaning, that's so subtle, I think I'm the only one who understands it. So, allow me to explain.

When I started blogging, I decided I'd probably end up carrying on about my job - which involves managing a software development team. But then I thought that it was inevitable that I'd end up bragging about my surfing to at least some degree. So, how best to combine those...

In surfer land, going "Over the falls", is when you take off on a wave, but you don't match the wave for speed - and you end up getting sucked right up to the top of the wave, and unceremoniously pounded into the ocean ( or whatever is under it). It's not fun. (Although it can be funny when you see someone else do it)

In Project Manager land, there's an old fashioned, long standing bastion of project management called the 'Waterfall Process'. Basically, it's where you do everything sequentially - design, build, document, test and ship, and then dust your hands and gleefully congratulate yourself (and skip town before everything comes crashing down around you). And after a few bad experiences, I decided (along with most of the Software Development world ) that I was, in effect, over the said process.

I tease, but the lineup at Waterfall 2006 looks pretty tempting - from the agenda:

Because it's possible you may want to attend all sessions, Waterfall 2006 features no concurrent sessions. All sessions are run sequentially for your enjoyment. However, since in a waterfall process we don't want testers to know anything about coding, or programmers to know anything about design, and so on, you can only attend sessions that match your job function. When you register to attend you'll be asked to select an appropriate job function. When sessions that are not relevant to you are running you will be required to sit idle in the lobby.
See? You know it makes sense... (thanks to Cam for the link)

And so that's where Over the Falls came from.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The endless quest...

For a good RSS aggregator just got a little more difficult.

Feedlounge has just gone live - and based on my observations, it looks to be an outstanding web based blog reading experience. All the cool stuff is here - easy to manage tags to replace the folder metaphors, great use of AJAX to dynamically construct the UI in a way that doesn't bother you. Shiny, pretty uncluttered interface, that remembers where you've been and what you saw last.

All in all, it's extremely well done, and looks like the web based reader that bloglines should be (and the google reader certainly isn't). At 5$ a month, the old adage of "You get what you pay for" seems to hold true here...