Archive for February, 2006

The Bozo Explosion

February 28th, 2006 No comments

Guy Kawasaki has a great post: “How to Prevent a Bozo Explosion“. How many is your company guilty of? What about Scoble‘s additions? More importantly – what are you doing about it?

I hate to admit how many of these I’ve seen over the years but there are some great messages in these posts. I’ve been very intrigued by the concept of constraints and what they can mean to a software organization (see Kathy’s post for more). One lesson of the bubble – growing REALLY big REALY fast with LOTS of cash isn’t the answer… I also think Guy’s advice about looking beyond the resume is important – how many great candidates to you think Google has flushed because they didn’t go to the right school?

There were a couple of bits in Robert’s additions that really caught my eye especially the one about changing the spec… And I think you know where I stand on meetings!

Categories: Off Topic, Rants Tags:

Go With the Flow

February 28th, 2006 No comments

I’m constantly amazed at the content industries and their inability to adapt to new technology. Rather than find a way to profit from the shift, entities like the RIAA and the MPAA do what they do best and lobby government to castrate the encroaching technology. Of course this rarely works as Cory Doctorow says “bits will never, ever get any harder to copy than they are today”. Now, I was resigned to the fact that Hollywood would fight tooth and nail and we’d have some kind of broadcast flag however, I ran into something today that gives me a glimmer of hope.

Clive Thompson posted this piece about how KFC is actually using Tivo to their advantage! Rather then bemoan consumers ability to skip commercials, they’ve chosen to embrace the fact that people will fast forward by embedding a subliminal message that gives you a secret code for a free sandwich! I hope this is a measure of things to come. Think this approach might work a bit better than trying to change the technology?

Along the same lines, I hope more people follow the NBC’s lead and release some of their content for free. Think a few people might give Conviction a try if they can download it gratis? Sounds an awful lot like Cory Doctorow’s approach to his books…obscurity is a bigger deal than piracy. As Seth Godin points out “Getting people to PAY attention is enough for most media companies.” Compare that to Ricky Gervais; his podcast (which is pretty funny) is now in the Guinness Book of World Records for the most downloaded podcast. Pretty impressive stuff. How does he choose to follow that up? By charging people for the next one. Think he’ll get three million downloads at $7 a month? Once again, I agree with Doctorow. There is an awful lot of great free content out there – to break through that, Gervais will have to offer something truly compelling. I wish him luck.

Categories: Off Topic, Rants Tags:

Cubes Considered Harmful

February 24th, 2006 No comments

My apologies to Edsger W. Dijkstra but it’s not like I’m the first to play off his classic Go To Statement Considered Harmful. Now, I doubt I’ll ever have the pleasure of offices like Joel’s, but when you consider how little work it really takes to truly craft a space that enables developer productivity…well, I just don’t understand why someone hasn’t done something about it.

But then I remember this quote from Paul Graham “Big companies think the function of office space is to express rank” (in the essay Great Hackers). Clearly, that’s been the case everywhere I’ve worked. At my last company, there were strict rules about who could have an office and thus a door (VP and above) and who could have windows (AVP – no window, VP – one window, SVP – you could get a corner office). Heck, the code even covered the types of chairs you could order! How absurd is that? It doesn’t matter if you space is productive or not – it just has to designate your place in the food chain. Graham continues (my emphasis):

But hackers use their offices for more than that: they use their office as a place to think in. And if you’re a technology company, their thoughts are your product. So making hackers work in a noisy, distracting environment is like having a paint factory where the air is full of soot.

This is part of the point I was trying to make in You Have 11 Minutes – the modern office just doesn’t adequately meet the needs of the typical knowledge worker.

Maybe we finally have some ammunition though – something that managers can actually quantify. Apparently, cubes make us dumber. Perhaps this quote from Kathy Sierra will get their attention (my emphasis):

You always knew that dull, boring cubicles could suck the joy out of work, but now there’s evidence that they can change your brain. Not mentally or emotionally, no, we’re talking physical structural changes. You could almost say, “Dull, lifeless work environments cause brain damage.”

Elizabeth Gould has some striking research that basically says “Complex surroundings create a complex brain.” Gould’s work indicates that we should have a far more dynamic and stimulating environments than the bland cubes that most of us toil in everyday.

I’m reminded of a trainer I had once that used to work at Nike (I must confess – I *love* the swoosh…). He said that the shoe designers had very cool office space. They all had tons of squishy toys, there were lots of bright colors, and it was very “non traditional”. Of course it was only the designers that had what I’ll call functional space – everyone else had boring beige. Some will be quick to say “the designers are different, they’re creative types” and I’d be the first to agree – but don’t most 21st century knowledge occupations require innovation and imagination?

What if you were building a new factory to produce widgets? Do you think you might want your manufacturing line to be as ergonomic and efficient as possible? If it resulted in greater productivity, you sure would; even if it meant some extra up front cost. Yet for some reason, we don’t apply this same logic to those of us that create ideas instead of widgets – I wonder if that will ever change. Imagine what would happen if a company actually put their workers in a position to excel.

Categories: Off Topic, Rants Tags:

Dear Elena

February 23rd, 2006 No comments

Christine and I don’t have children (yet) but whether you do or not, take a look at Dear Elena; I warn you, it’ll tug at your heart strings. For those of you with a young one or two around the house, take the advice of Tim Bray and Doc Searls and love your children. I’m not acquainted with Dear Elena’s author but my heart goes out to him and his family – I hope that the blog will help you work through your grief; know that my wife and I will be keeping you in our hearts and prayers. It’s quite something to see the outpouring of support on the comments – people really are genuinely good.

Categories: Off Topic Tags:

iPods and the Olympics

February 23rd, 2006 No comments

Like many, I’ve been watching a fair amount of Olympic coverage these days and throughout, I’ve been amazed at the number of little white earbuds (don’t they know the sound sucks?) I’ve seen. I don’t know why I’m surprised – I mean you can’t walk more than about 100 feet without seeing a nano or a 4G somewhere (if I had just bought Apple stock when my *dad* purchased himself an iPod for Christmas a couple of years back…) Gez, if it’s this bad in the big Minnie, I can only imagine what San Fran or New York is like!

I’ve written about my iPod before and I have to admit…I really like it. Frankly, I don’t listen to that much music but I’m digging podcasts especially while I’m working out. I used to try to read a book or a magazine but never again – it’s just much easier to listen to something and with the quality of the podcasts out there I can learn a ton. Anyway, two of my favorite blogs commented on iPods and the Olympics and I just had to chime in. First, Clive Thompson, over at collision detection posted Do iPods help Olympic athletes perform better? where he points to an article from the Baltimore Sun. A little while later I ran into Kathy Sierra‘s post iPods increase performance? which talks about the same article but also references this New York Times piece (interestingly, Clive and Kathy posted within 20 minutes of each other).

I completely understand athletes listening before their events – I used to throw the shot and the hammer and part of my routine was a selection of music to “put me in the mood” but the technology I had at my disposal pales in comparison to today. The jackets that the snowboarders wear sound incredibly cool:

The U.S. snowboarding team’s pinstriped uniforms are already wired for the machines, with a nifty iPod-size pocket, speakers in the hood and a control panel on the left sleeve that allows the athletes to select songs.

How cool is that? Man, wish I had one of those keeping me warm! The iPod will be indelibly identified with this Olympic games – from the speed skaters preparing for their races to the snowboarders rocking out while performing you couldn’t miss them. And most remarkable at all – Apple didn’t pay a dime for that exposure which, to me, makes it all that much more authentic.

“One of the lasting images of these games is going to be these snowboarders with their iPods,” said Abraham Madkour, executive editor of SportsBusiness Journal, a trade magazine that covers the sports industry. “It’s the perfect form of subconscious marketing.”

I was really fascinated at what different athletes were listening to (and the impact their revelations had on the artists) still, something just nags at me about an Olympic sport where you can jam away on your favorite music while competing. I wonder why none of the curlers are sporting iPods?

Categories: Apple Tags:

The Upside of Ajax

February 20th, 2006 2 comments

Near as I can tell, none of the major Ajax sites have referenced Tim Bray‘s piece entitled The Real AJAX Upside. Tim hits on some of my company’s reasons for adding Ajax to our applications – it makes them perform better (or, more precisely, it looks to the customer like it does – waiting for a full page refresh just takes time). While I fundamentally like the idea of pushing more work down to the client (kind of like SETI) we can’t forget that the browser is not always the ideal environment for, you know, heavy duty XML processing. I’ve been stressing the usability aspects of Ajax but maybe I need to push this comment:

Yeah, that cool, responsive AJAXy stuff is nice but maybe it’s the icing on the cake; the real win is making the Web run faster.

What do you think? Should we pitch Ajax as a usability story or is it about performance? Or is this just a classic win-win situation? Oh, and if you are trying to justify bringing Ajax into your application, check out Measuring the usability and business benefits of AJAX and AJAX performance stats, ROI, and business value.

Categories: Ajax, Usability Tags:

What Can You do Without?

February 20th, 2006 No comments

I’ve touched on this before, but the next time someone says “what if a customer wants to do…” reply it just doesn’t matter. The hardest part of software isn’t figuring out what the system has to do – it’s determining what you can do without. When all else fails, keep it simple already (via Presentation Zen).

Categories: Development, Software Tags:

Practices of an Agile Developer

February 16th, 2006 No comments

Practices of an Agile Developer
I was lucky enough to get a early look at Practices of an Agile Developer by Venkat Subramaniam and Andy Hunt, one of the newest books from the Pragmatic Bookshelf. I’ve actually been anxiously awaiting this book ever since I saw Venkat speak about Java generics at the No Fluff Just Stuff conference last year – and I wasn’t disappointed! Whether you’re already doing agile development or just looking for a good resource to get started, this book is a must read.

PaD covers what you would expect from a book about agile development including integrate early and often, automate deployment, use short iterations, collective ownership, and keeping it simple. However, it’s the personal practices that set this book apart from others on the subject. Practices of an Agile Developer discusses many of the “soft” aspects of software such as criticize ideas instead of people, keeping up with change, and the importance of rhythm.

Speaking of rhythm, this book is a joy to read. Unlike some tomes that drone on and on, PaD presents material in easy to digest chunks of 2-5 pages making it particularly approachable for those of us with limited contiguous reading time! Venkat and Andy do a great job of putting these practices into context by providing “devil” and “angel” quotes throughout (and if you’re anything like me, some of those devils hit awfully close to home…). Each section leads off with the devil tempting you to do something foolish and ends with an angel’s advice on following the practice.

It’s one thing to read about something but unless you’ve actually successfully applied the knowledge (or have Venkat and Andy on retainer), it can be very difficult to know if you’re doing it right. To help reinforce the material, each section gives you a sense of what the practice should feel like and as someone that has only worked in pseudo agile environments, I found these pointers particularly helpful!

Subtitles are often overlooked – but “Working in the Real World” really is fitting. Unlike some books that preach practices that only work in narrow niches or the halls of academia, this book gives you practical advice that you can apply to your work today. The book is on its way to the printer and should be available in early March – preorder your copy now! But don’t just take my word for it

Categories: Book Reviews Tags:

Ruby for Everyone

February 14th, 2006 No comments

I was really happy to hear that an old friend was starting to explore Ruby and Rails! I haven’t had an excuse to use Ruby or Rails in anger yet, but that hasn’t stopped me from heading to RailsConf (speaking of which, a fresh batch of seats is now open – I’m glad it’s so successful but I was really looking forward to the “exclusivity” of the event.) So, do you have YOUR ticket yet?

Categories: Rails, Software Tags:

The Future of User Interfaces

February 14th, 2006 No comments

If you haven’t taken a look at the Multi-Touch Interaction Research done at New York University, you really should… I haven’t seen anything this cool in quite some time.

Categories: Usability Tags: