Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Why bother with filing?

Simon dropped something of a megaton bomb on the Tower Software blog the other day. For those of you who can't be bothered with the link, the (heavily paraphrased) summary goes like this:
"If I mis-file something, it takes me all day to find it. It also takes me all day to organize my filing cabinet. So, in a world where Google can give me stuff no matter where I file it, Why should I bother filing anything at all?"
ECM Systems, like TRIM Context, are often heavily based on information science, and encourage a kind of "virtual filing".

It reminds me a bit of my own post in 2005, where I was musing on exactly the same thing, perhaps unsurprisingly, after having to search through my personal piles of mess, just like Simon...

A few years have passed, and I've cultivated some partial answers...
  • Retrieval - Filing things properly and retrieving them is still the single most efficient way to manage data. Finding a document that's been filed properly will always be faster. It sounds to me like Simon organizes things much better than I do- if he'd been able to remember where he filed his passport, he would have been in and out of his study in no time at all. Sure, an unstructured mega-sort and index is getting more practical as hardware and processing power increases, but it will never be as efficient as finding something precisely where it's expected. High speed hunt and pick is always going to cost more, and take longer. There's a reason Google only completes a full internet crawl every 3 months or so...
  • Business Topology - a structured repository is worth a lot more in terms of business value, because it can teach you about your business, how it really works (as opposed to how you think it works) and can also give you clues as to what you need to do to in order to optimize it. Being able to see exactly where people are doing their work, and tracking and reporting on it is they key to operational efficiency. Nowadays, your information IS your organization. Is your organization a big vault filled with random stuff?
  • Context - Just like I was saying about Pandora - sometimes it's not what you're looking for, but what's filed next to it that counts. If I can find an email about a given project, all by itself it's not very valuable. Within a folder containing everything else that ever occured during the life of that project, it's business context becomes apparent. Now, instead of looking for an email with the word 'Strategic Plan' in it, I have every single business document that contributed to the Strategic Plan being formed. That's powerful stuff.
  • Control - If nothing was filed, every single piece of controlled information would need to be manually assigned at the document level. Having a structured and laid out filing plan allows you to apportion security and business logic in a much less granular, more sensible way - it's part of what allows you to scale. Applying security policy to a non-definitive search: 'show me all the things that contain the word missile' is hardly responsible. You might miss stuff. And what's worse, you'll never really know for sure...
So, there are more reasons to file in a modern Google World than you might think. Unstructured Search is all about making sense of chaos - systems like TRIM are more about organizing data when it comes in, and keeping the chaos to a minimum to encourage optimal knowledge retrieval.

Although it pains me somewhat to say it, I think that responsible, truly effective information management is really more about files and folders and policy than it is about giant supercomputer AI robots indexing a massive vault of random assorted business confetti looking for patterns.

(That doesn't mean that giant supercomputer AI robots aren't cool though. They are. )

Monday, February 26, 2007

Electric Mario

Has anyone else noticed that the logo for Newfoundland Power and the logo for Nintendo Power are almost identical?

Probably just me...

Thursday, February 22, 2007

And, in a quest for more girlfriends...

... The worlds engineers are having an

"Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day!" as part of Engineering Week

It's tomorrow - February 22, 2007.

More here.

Some of the best software engineers I've ever worked with have been girls - it's just that comparatively there have been hardly any of them...

Me, I'm going to sit down and watch cyberchase with my daughter...

blog == about == blog

I've been blogging a lot over at the TOWER Blog lately, and that's made me resuscitate my feed reader (something about having to have some interesting content...)

So I fired up blogbridge, but then, as always, I went looking for something better... Why can't I pick a feed reader and stay with it? I don't know, I just can't. Form is freed from content! I want my content to look and behave ... better!

Anyway, I ended up coming back to the Google reader. They've obviously listened to the worlds complaints, and they have made it significantly better. In fact, I might even go so far to say that I'm delighted with it.

I've always felt that RSS feeders should be web based, but both bloglines and newsgator gave me the shits for various reasons. For a while, I was using the Google homepage, but that's too much hassle, and doesn't really track what you've read or where you've been.

If you were one of those guys (like me) who checked out Google reader in the beginning and dismissed it, you should go back.

It's good.

And it just further entrenches all my personal information into the Google machine.

Is there any other way?


Tuesday, February 20, 2007


Look how much fun you can have with three inches of icy snow, an abandoned brightly lit parking lot, a two dollar toboggan, and a few beers...


Sunday, February 18, 2007

Advice for the hungover...

I just returned from Tampa, Florida, where this years North American TOWER Software TRIM User Forum (TUF) was held.

Yes, it's all about ECM, and TRIM, but as nearly anyone who's attended a TUF can tell you, it's also about having lots of fun, and something called 'Customer Advocacy', which often seems to entail a lot of drinking...

My mate Greenie, another Aussie over here with TOWER came up to me the morning after the night before, looking positively green and smelling faintly of vomit:

"Y'know mate..." He said to me,

"I reckon you must have to be really sick to die."

Oh man.. I laughed so much that I had to sit down. Well, mainly because my head was also killing me.

You can read about the much more sensible, work related efforts of the conference over on the TOWER Software Blog

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Wii Help Cat

With the latest firmware upgrade, my Nintendo Wii seems to have acquired a new feature - this mysterious black cat slinks onto the screen every now and again when the Wii is idle. If you try to grab it, it runs away - unless you sneak up on it with the wiimote very carefully. If you actually manage to pet it, the cat will give you a reward - a useful tip about how to use the Wii Dashboard, or whatever feature you're in.

What a crazy idea - making people work hard for a measly tip! (hang on - that's the whole principle behind the service industry in America...)

And yet, no matter - it's fun! I always try to catch the cat (if I'm lucky enough to have it appear). It dawned on me that if those same tips were presented every time I turned on the Wii, in a boring grey window, that I almost certainly wouldn't read them at all...

Dean and I were discussing yesterday how strange it was that people pay real money to do boring busywork in game worlds, that they wouldn't do in real life. Things like in World of Warcraft ("bring me back my chalice/treasure/pants" or whatever), or the Sims, where people are just managing pretend people's boring lives, instead of their own.

Sometimes seemingly bad design (intentionally making things harder to get at) can make them more attractive, and ultimately have greater impact.

You can read a full analysis of the help cat ,(and see a a video of it in action) over at Lost Garden.
Actually you should really go and do that, it's a good article on usability and design...

Monday, February 12, 2007

A Wiki Novel

One silly Christmas Party in 2005, My colleagues and I decided that what the world needed was a wiki novel. That anyone could edit. So, after a few beers, we started one, with the sentence:
"It's a compelling story of Vernon "FireFox" Wilson, a crack addicted journalist who decides to leave his humdrum job and become a ninja....
Alternatively, it could be about something good."

I kind of forgot about it, but Big Headed Simon pointed out that the Reluctant CyberProf had mentioned it in one of his essays... Then I kind of forgot about it some more, until Little Headed Simon told me that Penguin are actually doing the same thing, with their new wiki-novel, A Million Penguins.

They're proclaiming that:
" Anyone's allowed to write and edit the world-first novel, A Million Penguins, which is constructed in a similar way to the online encyclopedia, Wikipedia"

World First? I don't think so! We know better, right folks?

Anyways, I went back to our novel, and to my surprise (and secret delight) It had grown to two chapters! Two! Count-em!
(Admittedly, they're not very good chapters, but hey... )

So, if you'd like to hang with the cool kids, and get in on the real world-first wiki novel (instead of those fancy publishing company pretenders), you should drop by and share your literary acumen with the world... :)

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Color vs Colour

I must be thinking in American these days. I just accidentally stumbled on this great site:

ColorPicker.com - Quick Online Color Picker Tool

Purely on spec - just by typing in the url directly. Once I'd found my colour with no hassle (great site - couldn't possibly be easier) , I realised that the only reason I found it was because I didn't spell colour right....

Monday, February 05, 2007


Check out the wonderful Whitney Music Box, by KrazyDad.

If you liked Electroplankton, you may well find you stare and play with this for a while.

The idea is to turn a harmonic visualizaion (basically dots moving at standard related speeds around a fixed point) into the corresponding harmonic music. The result is hypntoic and beautiful - and very natural sounding.

You can read more about it the theory here.

Going Through the Motions...

Well, Saturday started okay. Ali and I slept in, while the kids ate cereal and watched cartoons. We woke up and made breakfast. I sat down to do some work, and play with Ruby on Rails some more. I went to the store and bought some coffee and bananas. All in all, everything was shaping up much like a Saturday should. I was happy.

And then, came a strange cry from my 4 year old son.

"Dad! I can't have a wee!"

I'm often a little hard to distract when I'm concentrating, so I guess some part of my brain might have registered the strangeness behind that statement, while I was still mostly trying to divine the magic of ActiveRecord...

"Aggh! There's water all over my feet!"

Okay, that made me stand up, and step down the hall to the bathroom.

Yep, there was indeed about two inches of clean water all over the floor - repeated attempts by Link to flush the blocked up toilet had generated a nice cascading fountain spilling out all over the tiles in the bathroom.

Okay - Blocked toilet, not the end of the world. I grabbed the handy plunger and began to plunge, ignoring my wet socks (ew).

Then from the other end of the house:

"Aggh! There's poo coming out of the shower! Gross!"

I left wet sock footprints on the carpet between the two bathrooms.

And it was gross. A chocolaty brown ooze had emerged from the shower drain in the ensuite.

Gagging, I put the plunger over the drain, and plunged some more. A brown sea-spray of finely filtered family excrement shot all over me, and the shiny bathroom.

"Ew!" came the yell from the other, spouting toilet, "Now the Bathtub is full of poo!"

Oh man. This was not good. Every single facility for cleaning humans was overflowing with sewage, and I was covered in poo.

For the next three hours I worked with an auger and plunger, trying to clear the blockage to no avail. It's funny how, at first, I was all squeamish about the poo. After three hours, I'd kind of come to accept it as part of my life. Eventually, in desperation, and thoroughly soaked with poo, I opened a sewage access cover in the basement, and stuck my entire arm up the pipe.

I know. It's revolting. Just writing about it makes me gag. At the end of the disgusting tube I felt something soft and wet, like a giant spitball. With the carefree abandon of a man with his arm dangling in a septic tank, I firmly poked at the thing with my finger.


What happened next made all the disgusting things that had happened so far pale into insignificance. This gigantic brown fountain of human excrement poured out around my arm, and spouted about 4 feet into the air. It was like the Captain Cook Water Jet, (only brown and full of bits of poo and toilet paper). I desperately tried to replace the lid of the pipe cover, squirting the jet stream in five different horizontal directions across the basement. I fought the poo, with all the strength I had, and eventually, the torrent subsided enough to let me replace the access cover.

Successful, yet feeling defeated, and in no condition to go out in public, I slumped against the basement wall. From up above, I could hear my son's cheering:

"YAY! Daddy fixed it! Now can I have a wee?"

Perhaps today will be a better day...