February 29, 2004

10 Songs I Didn't Choose

Following Steven's Notebook, this is much more fun than a chain letter...

Step 1: Open your mp3 player. (Musicmatch was easier than my empeg player to retrieve a list)
Step 2: Put all of your music on random.
Step 3: List the first ten songs it plays, no matter how embarrassing.

Not only 10 songs I didn't choose; 10 songs I wouldn't choose. Not because they're all songs I don't like, that would be a pretty unfortunate snippet of my music collection. Just not songs that I'd have thought "ooh, yes, let's include that" . Just for fun, I'll find each of them on my Empeg and that'll tell me how many times it's played them, how many times I've skipped the track, and when it was last played.

  1. Who Got The Camera - Ice Cube (played: 3, skipped: 0, last played: 7/7/2002)
  2. Dream On Dreamer - Brand New Heavies (played: 3, skipped: 0, last played: 1/6/2002)
  3. Sweet Love - Mongo Santamaria (played: 0, skipped: 0, last played: Never)
  4. In The Midnight Hour - The Commitments (played: 2, skipped: 0, last played: 2/7/2002)
  5. Accelerator - Quest (played: 1, skipped: 0, last played: 14/6/2002)
  6. Nails In My Feet - Crowded House (played: 1, skipped: 0, last played: 15/2/1970... presumably there was something wrong with the clock when that got played, or did I miss the time-machine option?)
  7. Is It Wicked Not To Care? - Belle & Sebastian (played: 1, skipped: 0, last played: 16/2/1970...)
  8. Original (Live Dub) - Leftfield (played: 1, skipped: 0, last played: 17/6/2002)
  9. Let Me Show You ('99 Remix) - K Klass (played: 4, skipped: 0, last played: 14/7/2002)
  10. Hellbound - The Breeders (played: 0, skipped: 0, last played: Never)
Posted by Adrian at 01:58 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

February 28, 2004

Peter Rees

"The only constant in a healthy city is change. When there is no change the city will be dead. And cities mark change on their skyline." - Peter Rees, chief planning officer for the Corporation of London.

This quote comes from an article in the Financial Times Magazine today, about the new architecture of skyscrapers gracing London's skyline

Posted by Adrian at 06:25 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 27, 2004

A Useful WAP Service?

Froogle, the online shopping price comparison service from Google has launched a WAP version so you can see if that shiny new gadget you're about to buy is available cheaper elsewhere, whilst you're still stood in the shop. It's a minimalist UI, the usual Google approach, and pretty usable, but seems to be rather US-centric - not surprising, given that the web version is too. I think it'd be more use if you could get pictures of the items from the search, and it would be cool if you could take a picture of the barcode or something to use for the search, or if you could tell it which shop you were in so it could use knowledge of that chain's stock to narrow the search.

Still, it's a service where the mobility aspect is important, and not just trying to put a desktop web service onto a mobile phone.

Posted by Adrian at 09:13 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 24, 2004

In Search Of Ethics

Diego Doval is trying to kickstart a discussion about ethics in computer science, a topic I've been wanting to raise recently, but hadn't found a suitable way in.

There does seem to be some discussion on ethics in computing, but it seems to me that it's seen as just another area of research, rather than something which must be woven into the day-to-day work of computer professionals.

We did touch upon ethics as part of my Computer Science degree at Lancaster, ranging from discussions of copyright and piracy (I remember our lecturer, Ian Sommerville, asking how many of us possessed pirated software, and then how we expected to earn a living...) to questions over the use of computing in missile guidance systems, and the like. The ethical question was one of my considerations when I was being courted by defence contractors after I graduated (being taught Ada made me quite an attractive proposition).

The problem, as Diego also notes, is where to start? How do we frame such a debate? I don't have any of the answers, but I might have some pointers that could help us find the answers.

I think Rich Gold has an excellent approach to getting people thinking along the right lines. His presentations are thought-provoking, insightful and, most importantly, accessible. He doesn't present any answers in When My Father Mows The Lawn Is He A Cyborg? but presents a whole ream of new questions.

Theories such as Albert Borgmann's "device paradigm" could give us a framework to decide whether or not a given technology is beneficial. Whilst this is straying into philosophy of technology, it aims to help us decide if an advance adds to, or detracts from, our quality of life. I'm sure I'd do a better job of describing it had I found the time I need to finish reading Technology And The Good Life, a collection of essays on the subject.

That may be a touch ambitious as an initial way to engage people more widely. Privacy and identity issues look to be a good initial topic. Our privacy and identity are being increasingly challenged and redefined, and awareness of at least the basic issues is widespread. Attitudes seem to range across all possibilities, from those experimenting with recording their entire life to those actively avoiding anything which may give them an identity on the Internet.

Two of my friends avoid anything which would link their name to something on the 'net, so much so that they don't even want their names mentioned on my blog. How then do we, who live our lives so much in the online world, ensure they are included in any debate about such matters? I post all my photos online so that friends can view them, but then so can anyone. I think it's quite cool that if you search for "adrian mcewen" on Google images, you get a picture of my car and one of me; others find that quite alarming. What if the picture was on the company website for a company that I'd left? What if I'd left the company because I campaign for animal rights and the company had been exposed to perform horrific animal testing? What if one of my party guests is cheating on their partner and is caught on camera with their paramour? Should someone be able to force me to remove an image of them if they don't like it? What if they wanted it removed because it showed them attacking someone?

Questions are good. If nothing else, they can help give a sense of our position on the matter, and give pause for thought before rushing headlong into the latest cool idea.

Posted by Adrian at 10:59 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Using Stock To Motivate People

Stock-options seem almost a default part of the compensation package in computing start-ups these days. However, it's not clear that the rich pickings will return following the dot-com crash, so is a 1% or 0.5% chunk of the company any more than a nice bonus?

HBS Working Knowledge: The Leadership Workshop: Is Equity-Based Compensation a Good Thing? discusses the pros and cons of offering stock in order to motivate employees
, and it's something that Joel Spolsky pondered whilst deciding upon his company's compensation policy.

Thank God I've got a while yet before I have to start worrying about such things.

Posted by Adrian at 10:12 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

February 23, 2004


The MP3s are now gone, and so the 31 Songs project is officially put to bed. I found it a very interesting exercise in writing, and I hope that all who read it enjoyed it.

It intrigues me that as the writer, what I get from the project is very different from that which the reader gets. For me, the project is all about the writing: choosing the songs; finding something to write about each of the songs, there was an obvious topic for only a quarter of the songs I chose; keeping to a strict deadline, something with which I had only limited success. For the reader, the content itself is key. This essential difference in what each party gains is explored in some depth by Kevin Kelly.

There are two main insights that I gained into my writing. One is the need to restrict the number of components to a piece. That often, less is more. Just because I can find a number of strands or directions for a particular topic, I shouldn't include them all. I was often pleasantly surprised to end up with a completely different post to that which I'd envisaged at the beginning, when an aside became more attractive than the main theme and so replaced it.

The other insight was the amount of time writing can consume. With hindsight, it was ridiculous to believe that I could write thirty-one articles in twenty days (the aim was to be finished before I headed North for Christmas) in addition to everything else I normally do. As a result, the 31 Songs was almost all I did in December, at the expense of any progress in my own software development. So, whilst a very enjoyable exercise, it showed that my blogging needs to take a lower priority, at least for now.

Posted by Adrian at 01:45 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

February 20, 2004

RSS Must Be The Future

If even the BBC are promoting it ;-)
BBC NEWS | Magazine | The really simple future of the web.

Posted by Adrian at 06:36 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Orkut. Or...?

Or an assortment of existing services, from what I can see.

There's been lots of discussion about the assorted social networking sites (Friendster, LinkedIn, Orkut), so I was quite interested to see what the fuss was when I was invited to join Orkut by Neil.

The first problem I have with such FOAF (friend-of-a-friend) services is that it wants me to hand over the email addresses of all my friends, so that it can send them a nice invitation to join the network, and the only way you can join is if you're invited. I'm afraid I'm not about to hand over all my friends email addresses to some random third-party so they can hassle them about joining a service they may have no interest in. It would be better if I could include a URL or attachment in an email that I send.

As a result, I currently have one friend in my network, so maybe I'm not seeing the great advantages of the service. If anyone wants an invite, drop me an email and I'll invite you.

Once you've registered, you can add a photo of yourself, and then try to condense your interests, personality, likes and dislikes into a few paragraphs and check-boxes. Another thing I'm not too keen on.

And then? Well, then you seem to have access to a number of discussion forums, sorry, communities, the ability to browse your network of friends, friends-of-friends and so on, and can send messages to other people.

So Orkut appears to merely provide a facsimilie of services already available on the Internet, but with more information about the people you're interacting (you can see their picture and little snapshot of their "life") and often less functionality than the standard Internet equivalent.

I have a much richer environment for sending and receiving messages from people with my email client: it notifies me when I have a new message, I can sort my messages into folders, attach files... I can discuss my interest in Integrales on the Evocorner Forum, find out what's happening in the Cambridge area by reading the cam.misc newsgroup, and Yahoo! Groups has a much better interface for finding groups I'd be interested in - Orkut has fourteen top-level categories, and you have to search in one of them for keywords to try to narrow down the list of communitites.

It seems to me that Orkut is reinventing too many wheels just to be able to add the ability to find friends of friends and make new contacts, the FOAF network approach looks like a better bet. Maybe I'll change my mind if I end up with enough contacts on Orkut...

Posted by Adrian at 12:23 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 19, 2004

If You're Wondering How To Get Viagra...

...and are thinking of replying to one of those really insightful people who keeps emailing you about it, I mean, how did they know?, but you're concerned about exactly what happens when you apply...

Then wonder no more, John Hargrave has found out.

Posted by Adrian at 05:17 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 17, 2004

Your Career Plan

Similar to the goal setting article I pointed at a while back, Boxes and Arrows: Planning your future advocates writing down what you want to do and achieve, and helpfully sketches a skeleton of what such a plan should look like.

Posted by Adrian at 05:28 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

How Smart Is Your House?

How smart would you like it to be?
How smart could it be?
Could it be smarter than you?
Should it be smarter than you?
How smart does your bed have to be, before you are afraid to go to sleep at night?

A masterful introduction to some of the philosophical questions we should be asking ourselves about the continued encroachment of technology upon our lives. But which we aren't.

And the problem with not asking the questions is that, left to their own devices, the geeks will build these things just because they can. Or because it's "cool".

I don't want a house that is smart. I want a house that helps me to do what I want.

Everyone should read these slides.

Posted by Adrian at 02:31 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

ElectionsUK.org - A Missed Opportunity

I am pondering my lack of interest in politics; although I have an interest in individual policies, and opinions on the general form of government (for state provided healthcare, good education, without restricting entrepreneurship or commerce unduly), I'm largely apathetic when it comes to elections. My overall feeling is that the parties are much of a muchness, and it's difficult to compare and contrast them. I wasn't particularly bothered when I missed the last general election through having to visit Seattle on business.

Of late, I have resolved to exert more energy into such matters, not so that I become politically active; just so that I feel suitably informed to decide for whom to vote.

When I came across ElectionsUK.org I imagined I had found the answer to my electoral dilemmas - here is a site whose aim is "To initiate, design and develop Impartial Electoral Education, using the Internet..."

I was directed to the site from the North West Regional Assembly website, because ElectionsUK have been chosen to cover the debate about the referendum.

However, it was rather difficult to discover that information. ElectionsUK.org seems to be two websites separated by a common domain name. The page at www.electionsuk.org/ gives information about the aim of the website, and the background of the project, but you have to click on a banner proclaiming "NEWS FLASH... CLICK HERE" to get to a site with a different look and feel and a completely different menu structure (http://www.electionsuk.org/elect2003/01/newsindex.htm)
There's just no need to have a flash animation for a basic link to a news page! It isn't clear that it's part of the site, it looks like a banner advert and the text isn't obviously connected with an election site. Luckily for me I could see the text - there isn't any alternative to the flash plugin, so anyone without it, or anyone who couldn't read the text in the image would be restricted to one half of the website!

It also had a predilection for launching new windows (admittedly one of my pet hates with websites), so by the time I'd found the press release about the North West referendum I had half-a-dozen copies of Firebird open on various parts of the site.

So, overall, I was disappointed with my visit to ElectionsUK, annoyingly because it promised so much but then fell so short. To be fair, it seems to have grown from an experiment in the Lincolnshire area, and had I been in search of information on those elections I'd probably have had a better experience. I think with some usability testing and a revamp of the site to reflect its new national direction, this could become a valuable resource for the UK.

Posted by Adrian at 11:13 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

February 16, 2004

Promoting The North-West

Political activism through blogging. Is it a new force in politics, or just the replacement for micro-scooters?

The Necessary Group are hoping for the former, as they are promoting blogging as a tool for people to get involved, and also linking to Meetup.com. Shame they haven't embraced the format for their own website, surely an RSS feed could keep the campaign fresh in people's minds?

Doing some investigation, I found this report which claims that "[a]wareness of government policy for the English regions was very low, with around 50% across England having heard nothing of government proposals."

I'm not surprised. I can't even find the whitepaper about devolution in England (Your Region, Your Choice) on the government's website - the site it was on seems to no longer exist. Google was a little more fruitful, finding the aforementioned report, along with a white paper explaining the implications for the North-West. Nor have I been able to find any details of the "official Yes Campaign" mentioned on the It's Necessary FAQ or a No Campaign.

From what I've read so far, I'm largely in favour of a regional assembly for the North West. Not that I'll have any say in it, seeing as I don't live there anymore. The entrepreneur in me, however, feels that it would be more beneficial to narrow the North-South divide through innovation and commerce; get back to what the North West did best when it was leading the industrial revolution and succeed, if necessary, despite government help.

Posted by Adrian at 08:10 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

February 10, 2004

CDs Ripped? Check. Next Step DVDs...

BYTE has a basic HOWTO for ripping your DVDs and converting them to DivX in the article Building Your Home Video Jukebox (paid subscription to Byte required).

I'm not as into my films as I am my music, so it'll probably be a while before I can stream movies around my home network...

Posted by Adrian at 11:26 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 09, 2004

Oh How True

Dr. Fun on wireless networking.

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February 07, 2004

Steve Jobs

"Real Artists Ship" - Steve Jobs

This is probably my favourite quote regarding product development. It is said that Steve Jobs wrote it on the wall to urge the developers of the first Mac to complete the project.

It highlights how important it is to actually ship product! The world has far more to gain from the imperfect tool in the hands of many than it has from the perfect tool in the hands of one.

Posted by Adrian at 04:34 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 04, 2004

How To Manage Smart People

The style of management described in How to manage smart people reminds me of one of my favourite maxims about managing:

As a good manager, when things go well it was down to the efforts of my team; when things go badly it was my fault. As a bad manager, when things go well it was my skilled management which won the day; when things go badly it was due to failings of the team.

The only area the article doesn't cover is dealing with people who don't want to be part of the team. The sort of person who wants to be left in the corner hacking, and not have to communicate with anyone else, nor answer to such non-coder frivolitites such as deadlines.

Luckily such people are fairly rare (I reckon around 2% of the engineers that I've worked with), as I don't have any wisdom to add. I haven't had to manage anyone like that for any period of time, so maybe it just takes longer to work out how to get them on board.

Apart from that, a good article, and I think it pretty much describes how I manage; of course, to find out if that's true you'd have to ask someone I've managed.

Posted by Adrian at 02:28 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

PR About PR

Rainier PR have produced a white paper on PR for Startups. Whilst it doesn't go into any great detail, it does identify the different target audiences for PR and gives some other hints and ideas.

Posted by Adrian at 11:28 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 03, 2004

Avoid Embarrassing Document Faux Pas

One problem with sending Microsoft Office documents around is that often the recent edits are sent with them, particularly if you've been using the track changes option. As a result, someone who goes looking may discover that your report justifying going to war was copied from a student paper...

To avert such disasters in future, Microsoft has released the Office 2003/XP Add-in: Remove Hidden Data to let you clean your documents before you release them to the world.

Posted by Adrian at 10:56 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

What Should You Use To Replace CVS?

Obviously, because I spent yesterday migrating my CVS repository over to the new server and getting my development environment set-up, O'Reilly proclaim that "the interesting question is no longer 'Should you think about replacing CVS?' but rather 'What should you use to replace CVS?'"

They've put together a review of some of the alternatives but I think I can survive with CVS for now. It's not as if I need atomic commits, etc. when there's just me doing any development.

Posted by Adrian at 10:38 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack