Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Did you know...

That a Day on the Moon is the same as a Year on the Moon?

A day is defined as a celestial body's period of rotation around it's axis.
A year is defined as a celestial body's period of revolution around whatever it's orbiting.

The moon is in synchronous rotation - both of these periods are 27.321 days, which is why the moon always shows us the same face.

Which, of course, led to that dreary Pink Floyd album.

(There's currently a furious debate going on between our help desk manager and LHS as to how this can be so. I hope it doesn't come to blows... )

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Marble Madness

When I was a kid, we had a marble craze sweep the playground.

But it wasn't the traditional, knock the marbles out of the circle kind of marbles.

Oh no. This was way more 'Lord of the Flies'.

What happened was that kids set up shop by drawing a line in the dirt, and then putting a particularly attractive marble a certain distance away. Other kids could then front up to this 'stall' consisting of a dirt line and a kid sitting in the sand, and throw marbles at it. The rules were simple. If you hit the marble, you got to keep it. If you missed, the stall-holder got to keep the shooter marble.

So every lunch time, the playground would be turned into this kind of dust bowl marble bazaar, with all these kids yelling 'One shot a Tom!' or 'One shot for two bird-cages!'

As I recall, there was a discreet order of value, with 'normals' being near worthless shooter marbles, and a whole dazzling array of 'milkys', 'sheenys,' 'Steelies'(Ball Bearings), 'Speckles', and 'Clearys' all with different levels of rarity,and hence worth. And if you could get any of them in a Tom or 'Jumbo' size, then they were worth way, way more.

It was interesting the kinds of marketing tactics that kids employed. Some kids would set up little stalls and only offer normals and put the line really close. Others would offer very attractive marbles, but put the line miles away. And of course, every now and then some 'criminal' would try and claim a marble that they hit with a rock, or a piece of plastic. More than once the teachers would be called in to police fights.

Me and a few other 6th graders ran a consortium - we basically pooled all our marbles, and then used them to get more, using a bargain basement strategy.

We'd offer two normals and a 'special' marble for one hit. The line was far enough away to be attractive, but not too close - turned out we'd nearly always get more than four marbles before someone claimed the prize.

With four of us working the playground, over a few weeks, we amassed an enormous collection of marbles. We'd take turns taking them home, and showing them off. One night, I gave the bag to my friend Scott, who didn't want to take it.

"Nah", - he said. "I don't want it. It's too heavy"

It was true. A thousand marbles is really heavy.
(It took me two rest stops on the walk home. )

"Well, I'm not taking them ."

"Me neither", said Nathan.

"Well, what are we going to do with them?"

I really didn't want to take them home again.

"They're just marbles. I don't want them. They're pretty stupid, really."

"Yeah - You can't actually do anything with them ...."

What happened next spelled the end of all marbles at Village Creek Primary School. We took a thousand marbles, and emptied them into the middle of the marble bazaar. Marbles went everywhere. Kids were fighting for them, and beating each other up. There was absolute chaos, as the biggest marble stock crash ever went down all around us in a grabby, screaming high pitched fit of devaluation.

When the dust cleared, there were teachers everywhere, kids of all ages hoarding all these marbles in their school shirts, and showing them off to each other, and the principal, who carried us all off to his office for a good talking to.

So that was how the marble bubble burst.

I wonder how much money I'd need to dump in the middle of the CBD to get the same effect in grown-up land?

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

And Pages Begat Pages...

I was invited to test the new google page creator today. I recently spent some time with joomla, and a few other content management systems, and to be honest I was a bit disappointed at how complicated it was to create a web page. It's easy for nerds like me, but if you're a more casual web user, having to type html, or learn a scripting language is too hard. If a user has to read the manual, you've already lost.

So I was pleased to see that google make it ridiculously easy, and all you need is a browser and you're good to go. That makes it easier still. The image uploading process was particularly easy - and a little different to the standard HTML file input that we see so often. The templates are all nice, and there's enough diversity to please nearly every one.

So, yeah - nice one, you guys. Less power to the nerds, I say.

If you'd like to see the results of my investigation, you can share the love here.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Seth Godin at Google

Stilly already posted this one, but I just got around to watching it:
Seth's talk to the Googlers.
Some great, candid takeaway points about permission marketing, and how making things you love can make products that sell themselves - (As long as someone else loves it, and tells a friend...)

Monday, March 13, 2006

The Slider of Process and Innovation

Generalizations are all good.

While I'm talking about that, let me just mention that the point of every software team is the same: build something great. A piece of software that fulfils its promises, is easy to use and learn, and adds real value to any human who wants to achieve whatever goals are incorporated in the system. That's great software. That's what we're all trying to do.

The Google search engine is an example of great software. I'm not a player, but I bet World of Warcraft is great software. The .NET framework is great software. There are beacons of design that inspire every software team, in every field.

When I first started managing software teams, I was a process nut. I just assumed that the best way to get great software was to join the process dots.

Back then, it was all about the planning. Plan the planning phase, and then plan out how you were going to build it, in painstaking detail, from the very beginning. Then you build it all (exactly as you planned it), test it all (exactly as you planned it), fix the bugs (but there wouldn't be many, because you had planned everything so well) and as long as everybody did everything precisely as you'd planned it, then perfect, delightful software would just fall into the customers joyous, enraptured hands.

At first I blamed the team for not following the plan.

Or me, for not enforcing the following of the plan.

Slowly, I began to realize that you could take the best, most clearly articulated plan, and still not ship on time, or ship anything good.

That planning wasn't enough.

This made me sad. A good plan should always win, right? It must be the people that are at fault. Everyone knows that people are the surest way to wreck any fine process.

So I turned to the dark art of winning hearts - of convincing people that the plan was good. Of finding out what it was that motivated people to do the best they can, with the devious plan of getting them to stick to my plan.

"This is a good plan. You should follow it. I will buy you a car if you follow it."

I couldn't afford to convince people. Then I realized that people only liked plans that they felt they had contributed to. That the team dynamics, and the people in the team affected the outcome even more than the plan.

And then I realized something that struck me at the time as really strange.

A loosely federated, appropriately sized team of talented people could produce great software without following the plan. That's what all this agile hooplah was about.

Because they loved it. They created it. They innovated. They made it better, once they'd made it once already. They would make late cycle changes that give risk managers heart attacks, and make the product twice as good. They felt like they owned the process that had let to its inception, and they were prepared to take responsibility for the project's success.

I'd already discovered the hard way, that a perfect process didn't guarantee the kind of amazing software I was looking for.

This morning, while trying to juggle the schedule, it dawned on me that this relationship is best illustrated with the following slider:

It's all about where you set the slider. Are you willing to enforce more process, in order to increase predictability? It will come at the expense of innovation. Want to increase innovation? Release the process constraints to increase flexibility.

Too far to the left and your biggest risk is boring software, that fails to inspire.

Too far to the right and your biggest risk is no software at all.

Attempting to move the slider in the middle of a development cycle is nearly impossible, and always extremely dangerous. At project inception, that's when you need to set the slider, and you need to do it with universal agreement from your team.

Generally speaking, of course...

Saturday, March 11, 2006

And so Writely sold...

Google acquires Upstartle, the tiny silicon valley startup that made a pretty neat little in-browser word processor.

Naturally, everyone's abuzz with Microsoft vs Google talk, and how Microsoft have got it all wrong trying to beat google at their own game, and how they should stick to what they do best, and whatever.

Personally, I think that it makes some sense to move the office productivity stuff onto the web. The more stuff I can do on the web, the better, as long as it's not a hassle. That's the key, I think. If I have to install stuff, and poke around with any configuration at all, then the whole thing is a dumb idea. But the technology isn't really the issue here.

But if the focus is true zero-footprint, nothing installed, just write a letter to your mom and save it from wherever you are office suite, then we've got something. Something that might just be the next wave not so much in technology, but in business development models.

Naturally, Google will want to give it away, and have it sponsored by those nice non-intrusive ads. Microsoft, on the other hand, don't have an ad revenue model - so they can't really give it away - and office is such a crucial part of their revenue model. So now the very strategy that they used to crush Netscape in the early nineties ('who can compete with free?') is threatening their most precious business.

Interesting times...

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Transit Billboard

Having spent so long in traveling mode gets really tiring. Crazy scattered thoughts of a tired man.

I don't know how I can be so respectful of people as individuals, yet harbor such a deep-seated resentment and dissatisfaction at the money crazed, status chasing society that we've all created. It's like an ant colony- I can appreciate each individual ant for their own qualities, but I don't like the anthill.

You know what? I don't want to be successful! I don't want a Raymond Weil 'Timepiece' or a buxom blonde wife dressed in Versace. I don't want to smell like those super attractive gay men in Hugo Boss advertisements. I don't want to 'challenge everything', or 'be a tiger', or 'always come out on top'. I don't want to buy a sports car that goes faster than you are allowed to drive it. All of these status driven capital achievements are stupid and hollow, and they are just stuff designed to compensate for things that make you really happy.

Doing something you love. Sharing time with the people who make your life fun. Learning, and appreciating everyone for whoever they are. Looking at every person you meet as though you were their mother or father. Striving to make other people happier. Experiencing the world. These things are the rewards.

At the end of the day, we all just want to be happy. That's why two strangers can always relate to each other, even if they're chasing completely different goals.

The world is full of false promises.

Make sure you find what it is that makes you happy, and not some Madison Avenue CEO.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

This used to be an interesting, witty post...

But the stupid IE browser at the Heathrow Terraces Lounge somehow manged to erase it.

(I have a long, long flight ahead of me, and I can't be bothered typing it all again.)

EuroTUF 2006 was really cool.

It was snowing, and we got drunk and sang songs at night.

We talked business during the day, and shared some new stuff. All of my demos went well.

My vote for Worst Weekend Ever: Get on plane Friday Night, get off it Sunday.