Archive for February, 2009

Omni-directional treadmill’s are soooo cool!

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

Wow, look what I just saw on engadget:

that’s soooo cool. 

a) for the gaming industry, obviously.

b) for doing that cool thing in sci-fi movies where you can experience being in another place, and meetings! Like the next stage of video conferencing! Although we need to figure out how to do decent holograms without resorting to peppers ghost tricks, as a low tech solution we could just put a peppers ghost on wheels though to fix it.

Also, think of the possibilities - using this relatively low cost device, you could allow people to visit the Taj Mahal or the empire state building. I saw one of those Paul Merton programs in India where he goes on a old jumbo jet with a load of people who want to experience flying - this will revolutionise that! It’ll be great for education!

All they need to do is figure out how to do the whole stairs thing, but that’s not a big deal.

Crikey, the future is going to be SOOO AWESOME! I have to get one of these for my office!

sometimes I can feel my life slipping away from me.

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

I’m going to make a fairly simple assertion, that I’m sure has been made many many times before.

People’s attention spans last about 40-50 minutes in meetings or presentations, after-which they generally switch off. If your doing a super multi-media presentation with sounds & graphics & explosions, you might be able to drag it out to the length of a short film - 90mins. BUT THAT’S IT.

After they have switched off, they will contribute very little that’s productive to your meeting and take in about 0.001% of what your saying. Any decisions they make, they will forget they made next time you speak to them as their brains have deactived.

So why the f*ck is it that people continue to have meetings and presentations that last 3 hours, without any sort of break!

It’s futile. If you have something to present that takes that long you need to split it up into manageable chunks otherwise you will just get NOWHERE. The only person that wants to listen to the sound of your voice that long is YOU.

Everyone else after 40-50 minutes is sat there, becoming acutely aware that every second you continue to talk is robbing them of a second of their life, where they could be out laughing and drinking with friends or playing wii tennis with their children.

If you have to present something that takes a long time - split it up, not with ten minute breaks, but with hourly breaks - every hour you present you must give your audience an hour to recover and absorb or conversely escape if they choose (if you lose your audience then there is something deeply wrong with what your doing).

happy pancake day

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

Today in Marks and Spencer I noticed they had pancakes for sale, next to them had a sign that proclaimed that February 24th was shrove Tuesday, hang on a moment, I thought today is Tuesday and I’m feeling a bit shrove. So I brought some self raising flour and sugar with my Asian style salmon parcels (which I can highly recommend) with the intention of making some pancakes. 

Now, I used to love making pancakes at one stage in my life and for many years I would make my own American style pancakes for desert. This became a necessity after M Day (Milk day - where I was rendered incapable of processing cow lactose) and I used to make some fine Dairy free pancakes using the same ingredients only with water or rice milk to replace the cow milk. However, as time wore on and my life got busier the pancakes skills faded and my scales formed a layer of thick dust.

Which is why I was so surprised when my attempt tonight turned out so well! At the end of the day, making pancakes isn’t that hard after all and takes relativly little time with a good batter mix, take a look for yourselves.pancakes

This event feeds into a phenomenon I’ve been noticing recently which is that humans (me in particular) have a habit of forgetting they can do a task, to the extent that they become convinced they cannot do it. I’m going to call it memory intimidation, and it seems to cross over vast swaths of the spectrum of life.

My pancakes are a fairly simple representation, a task that I knew I used to do well and that took concentration to get right, the longer I didn’t do it, the more I built it up in my head as being this monolithic task that would require me relearning something that took years to perfect. But it didn’t, turned out the knowledge and skills came back pretty quickly after all.

I’ve realised it’s happening with programming too. The more I specialised in frontend, css & javascript, the more backend and actual technology intergration seemed like this beast that I had wrestled with for many years and would take more time to relearn what had changed and what standards were like now.

Turns out, it’s Bullshit, a project I’ve been working on recently with a group who claim to be the most advanced backenders in the world and using the latest most advanced methods and technologies. Bullshit. I was in awe of all the new fangled automation tools and tests to make sure everything was at a high quality, I thought finally the backend development world has taken a turn and now websites & programming is becoming more like the car production line.

Bollocks. The code that gets turned out is of the same quality. All the hype is a sales tool. At the end of the day it appears things are actually getting built slower as there’s so much procrastination about trying to take advantage of the latest greatest thing.

At the end of the day, code should be **relatively** simple and straightforward. If you look at something and it’s incomprehensible, it’s bad code. Similarly with systems, if you can’t do a build or an install with a one click process, it’s a bad system.

The reason memory intimidation has gotten sooo bad is that people benefit from proliferating the myths. It’s salesmanship, someone shows you something and tells you it’s simple. You look at it and it looks complicated and you don’t understand and feel like a fool.The kneejerk reaction is to give it back to them so you don’t have to deal with it, rather than having to stress your brain understanding it, the laziness inside you wins and you agree to pay someone to do it for you. They win. 

When I looked at the premade pancakes and saw all the ingredients I wanted to buy it, it looked complicated to make, I didn’t want to stress myself (or do the washing up) the laziness in me was amplifying the fear of having to try and make pancakes again and the possibility of failing. However lucky for me I couldn’t buy them and was forced to think, and realise that pancakes only require flour, sugar, salt, egg, margarine and water and are pretty simple to make. I win.

The next time someone shows you some code and tries to tell you it’s simple so you’ll go away, make them explain how it’s simple, make them explain it line by line so when they’ve gone you can do it at the drop of a hat. That’s what i’m going to be doing tomorrow, and that’s why tomorrow developers will hate me, but I will have beaten the memory intimidation of backend coding.

Crap, now I have to go do the washing up, shame i’m not afraid of failing at that…

Err guys, we’re f*cked….

Saturday, February 21st, 2009

 

I am often the person who gets brought on to a project and after a few days has to pull the senior owners aside and say “look, we’re fucked, if we continue on in this manner, there is no way we can deliver what we are supposed to, we need to do X to deliver on time”.

 

normal_dr_strangelove01

Now to fix this common problem, you have to understand why it happens. It’s a fairly simple chain of events; someone estimates a project with overly tight margins, the project begins as normal; there is a set back or some kind of scope misunderstanding that with such tight margins means the possibility of meeting the deadline gets blown out of the water. You end up in a scenario where the developer has been tricked into committing to completely implausible deadlines and has to save face by staying consistent, the project manager desperately wanting the original estimates to 

be correct is subconsciously not reading the underlying signs that – no actually everything isn’t going ok on the development and one client looking at the situation saying – there’s no way in hell this is going to come off why do they continue to try and lie to me and say it is?

 

Rather than looking at it from a programming/software management point of view, you could see it as a sinking ship type of affair, with the captain, a lowly engineer and a tarted up Kate Winslet as the client, but either way it’s a common scenario and it’s happening right now with the economy – but no ones willing to step in and say “Err guys, we’re f*cked…”

 

So maybe I will.

Err guys, we’re FUCKED.

 

Our economy has been revealed as the shaky house of cards it is, and all we’re doing at the moment is running around trying to prop-up it up and fix the leaks, when what we really need to be doing it ripping it down collecting up the cards, mushing them down into paper bricks and start again.

 

If this was a software project, I would most probably be suggesting a massive refactoring of the code to make it more stable and salvage what we can and get on with building what we don’t have.

 

As this is the economy, I think we need to be looking at investing in some key areas:

 

1)      EDUCATION, which in this country sucks at – R&D is the future. The scientific and technological advancements that come out of this countries R&D will lead to the revolutions of the new century and keep us prosperous and at the bleeding edge. We need to be teaching our next generations the secrets of great R&D and providing the money to do this research and build the facilities, companies, institution and bodies to enable it.

 

2)      Energy, we still have a massive energy crisis looming on our doorstep, it’s all very well to sit back and be waiting for someone to produce some new super fix to the energy problem, but hell in the mean time, why don’t we devote some time and money to doing the little things that might help, like insulation, micro generation, etc. apparently there are a shit load of builders sat around with nothing to do…

 

3)      Transport, yep we still suck at transport too, our roads are too small, oil is too expensive, cars are too expensive, the movement of goods is phenomenally overpriced. So lets sort out our transport infrastructure – maybe now is a great time to invest in a decent motor/freight rail program that could actually aid the countries growth – especially with the EU! And where the hell is my electric runabout!

 

4)      Art. GOD has anyone seen a good British film recently? I certainly f*cking haven’t, how about some great installation art or amazingly innovative architecture – no? Well, that sucks seeing as we have some of the most talented people in these fields trained in this country  - we’ll I know why don’t we let them do what they’re FUCKING GOOD at and sponsor some art – hell we’ve got the Olympics in a few years, maybe we could tie it into that somehow!?!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, I’m guessing, a bunch of the things I have mentioned here are being looked at and that the British recovery plan is not as invisible as it has been made out to be on the news – but if that is the case – then we’re missing one vital thing which is to TELL PEOPLE WE’RE FIXING IT AND HOW otherwise it just looks like we’re desperately sat in the bottom of the boat with a bucket flinging water back out into the sea with no rescue in sight.

hasBehaviour jQuery Plugin released

Thursday, February 19th, 2009

Oppps. I’ve been meaning to do this for a few weeks but due to sickness/rubbish holidays etc. I haven’t had a chance. Anyway ’tis up now and ready for public scrutiny. hasBehaviour is a plug in for jQuery that allows programmers to see whether a certain element has a certain behaviour bound to to a certain event. It all sounds very cryptic but is very useful for unit testing your code with Qunit. Enjoy:

http://plugins.jquery.com/project/hasBehaviour

The future of Agile project management tools.

Sunday, February 8th, 2009

robbie-the-robot-20020500Project management comes in various guises. Throughout my freelance and perm-ilance career I’ve worked for central government in Prince2 environments, advertising agencies with XP environments,  cowboy coding environments, no environment at all with the code stored on various people’s desktops and lastly Agile environments, which seem to be the flavour du jour.

With all of these methodologies comes various different tools to help you get the job done, from MS project & MS excel, Google spreadsheets & docs, adobe connect, sourceForge (resultsSpace2 from Sapient), Jira, BaseCamp, fogzBugs,  and most recently Mingle, a product of the company Thoughtworks. These are all products that do pretty much the same things.

They all have their merits and scalability, but I was thinking of what the next generation of project management tool and it strikes me that these key features will be required (in brackets is the software that already does this):

  • agile project management wall (Mingle) (- with a UI that makes it more like a mind map),
  • IRC style chat rooms (Mingle)
  • Video conferencing & Skype facilities (unknown as to who does this currently)
  • Generic upload capabilities of unlimited size (BaseCamp, mailbigfile etc.)
  • ScreenCasting abilities (Fog creek co-pilot, adobe connect, jing)
  • Time estimation tools (fogzbugs)
  • SVN repository (Sourceforge)
  • bug/task tracking (Jira, fogzbugs, mingle)
  • inline text editing (squizz CMS)
  • packaged Audit trail output(dump)
  • track changes style document/image commenting (MS word)
  • visual screen capture and comment - for bug tracking (Fogzbugz)

Anyone who can put these all into one nicely wrapped up box will come out on top (for the time being) and be able to sell their wares to all of the big agencies, IT consultancies and small players. Having all of these at your fingertips will significantly help to improve the painful process of client centric agile software development.

Also one major feature will be online/offline syncronisation whether using adobe air, wpf or google gears it is up to the vendor.

Most importantly in this world of GDD (global distributed delivery) and 24 hour timezones and economic crisis style proportions, there is one person who will definitely need it - moi.

 

I’ve just found a comprehensive run down of most web 2.0 project management apps out there for web projects:

http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2008/11/13/15-useful-project-management-tools/

trust me to be late into the game… again.

The global economic (morality) crisis.

Sunday, February 1st, 2009

It strikes me that as a nation (the U.K.) since 1997 we have been running. New Labour created a beacon of hope and suddenly the emphasis on capitalism was upon us.

No longer did we need to fear as the new dynamic all knowing authority of the government would stop us if we went wrong as show us the light. The money markets ran wild and some people made an awful lot of cash. Only now, the New Labour government, the proverbial father of the British free market slipped up and we got stung.

That’s not so bad but the thing that’s killing us is the realisation that we’re not as protected as we thought and a global sense of financial karma that for too long we’ve had it too easy and now we need to pay for our exuberance is washing over the most important investors : us.

the_beatles_crossing_road2The analogy I’m going to use is those times when you (often embarrassingly) aren’t paying attention and step out in front of a bus.

Now 99% of the time you do it early enough that you can step back or sprint across the road to the other side and look dishevelled.

Your immediate post reaction is to think, “cor that was lucky, I’ve been far to complacent about crossing the road these x number of years past” (since it happened before) and get on with your day…

Now if your sensible you realise that every time you cross the road you take a calculated risk, you should maybe try to be a bit more savy, but no real harm done. HOWEVER, if your of a British disposition and surrounded by a gaggle of merchant-of-doom journalist from a variety of British institutions (i.e. the Daily Mail) your perspective is much more likely to be “SHIT, OH MY GOD, WHAT JUST HAPPENED? I AM NEVER CROSSING THE ROAD AGAIN!” which of course is a massive over reaction and means that you have serious troubles trying to get back to your house with the toilet roll you just brought from the news agents.

So being pessimistically inclined and assuming that we deserve a bit of punishment for our risky ways will only result in a long, boring recession while we slowly build back our confidence in ourselves. So what can we do to speed this process up?

a) Start some rock solid investments and publisise them : in an uncertain time people want guarantees and safety, so give it to them and make sure everyone knows it is available, create some big bright, loud traffic lights to help you and others cross the road getting you to your destination. We have enough impending problems with infrastructure and population to fund a lifetime so let’s invest in some of the straightforward ones.

b) Do things that help redress the financial Karma and give people back some faith, going back to the road metaphor, this is like building back up your confidence by helping an old lady across the road with her shopping. We are all in this boat the more people we help make these simple investments that restore some of our faith in our foundations the more we will all prosper. Let’s start looking into some environmentally friendly investments and educational & social regeneration schemes to trigger some innovation and growth.

c) Get more people to help you cross the road. Crossing the road and making investments can be a dangerous task, so why not share the burden and get as many people to help you as possible. This means MORE IMMERGRATION to the UK, the rest of the world has a wealth of cultural knowledge and understanding that if we gain and share and improve upon our techniques for crossing the road we will ALL benefit from a healthy economy. By isolating ourselves we are only prolonging our recovery.