April 30, 2004

A Benefit Of Developing Phone Software

Developing mobile phone software usually means you end up with an assortment of handsets and SIMs in your possession. This obviously increases the likelihood of receiving a text message sent to the wrong number, such as the one that just arrived at one of the test phones:

Misdirected text: Did I just see you going down the a1?
My reply (on behalf of the test SIM, obviously): I doubt it. I've been hiding in a drawer for the past few weeks.

Unfortunately, they don't seem to want to join in the fun...

Posted by Adrian at 02:56 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 26, 2004

London Booted

This afternoon I've been listening to London Booted - A tribute to the Clash. It's a "charity-ware" downloadable album of Clash mash-ups - Corona's The Rhythm Of The Night over Bankrobber is just one of the many surprising blends.

And I've created a WebJay playlist if you just want to listen to the album.

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April 23, 2004

Not Even Best At Being Crazy

It's always good to remind yourself that whatever mad thing it is you've decided to do, there's always someone doing something more insane. And blogging about it more. And just getting on with it.

(Via Ben Hammersley).

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Baby Racer

So this is how I should've gotten out of my speeding ticket. If only.

(Via Damien's Irishperson in Exile Diary)

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April 22, 2004

[Bouncing Back] Presentation by Robert Swann of Alphamosaic

No notes for this I'm afraid. It was at the end of a long day, and the remaining stragglers were getting a little shell-shocked. If I remember rightly, the main "take-away" was to be flexible, and listen to your customers. The market with which Alphamosaic is having quite a bit of success isn't one they had initially targetted.

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[Bouncing Back] Protect Your Idea

Notes from the session with Bill Thatcher.

There are two main ways to protect your ideas: the legal, enforceable way through Intellectual Property (IP) rights; or just by keeping them secret. Of course, the latter doesn't work for all kinds of ideas, but also the former tends to favour bigger companies over small ones, as they can afford to pay the lawyers :-)

Some IP rights you gain automatically:

  • Copyright

  • Database rights

Others you have to register:

  • Registered design rights

  • Patents. It can be cheaper to file for a patent through European office than UK office (although that might be just because you get multiple countries at once and so is cheaper than doing each one individually). There are some ways to delay the costs involved, for example, sometimes the patent office has a backlog, so you don't need to pay until they're ready to proceed.

    For small companies the main (only even) value of a patent portfolio is to add value to the company in the eyes of investors or potential purchasers.

    Employees usually have to sign any inventions over to their employer and aren't necessarily suitably rewarded. They can claim compensation if their idea provides "great worth" to the company, but in practice no-one has ever won such a claim.

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Squeezing The Schedule

Gamasutra offers some oft-overlooked points about managing software projects. I particularly agreed with...

  • Only plan the things you've scheduled for the next two months down to days, get the rest planned to the nearest week, you'll be replanning anyhow. You need to have the plan for the next milestone nailed down, so you know when it's going to end. Towards the end of each milestone you should revisit the plan: check that the work planned for it still makes sense; add anything that got cut from the current milestone (assuming you're date-driven) and of course work out how you're going to deal with the extra work now in the next milestone (find a new person to do it, push something else out into a further milestone, etc.). All of this can make quite a difference to what you thought would be in the milestone, so any detailed planning done early could be wasted.
  • Know your team. Then be smart about who does what. Sounds obvious, but isn't that easy to do when you can't give everything to your star performers.

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April 20, 2004

Thomas Jefferson

"I find that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have." - Thomas Jefferson.

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April 15, 2004

Online Business Networking

Through this interview about online networking, I found Online Business Networks.

For someone who still doesn't fully get Orkut, I'm hoping that the eBook The Five Keys to Building Business Relationships Online, and networking-focused weblog will help me understand the value of such activities. Then I can use their guide to online social networks and business communities to choose which ones to join.

They never covered any of this in the networking module I did in my degree!

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April 12, 2004

You Can't Always Get What You Want

But if you try, sometimes, you get what you need

McFilter was one year old on Friday! I'm quite surprised. I didn't think I'd keep it going as long as that.

A year ago, I was talking about life outside my comfort zone. Since then I've moved back into the outskirts with regular trips out to the discomfort frontier, but all that's about to change.

Last week, my contract with Trigenix came up for renewal, and they wanted me to go back to working full-time. I was a little surprised, as there'd been no indication that there was any problem with my working part-time, but it was a pretty easy decision to make.

Friday 7th May 2004 will be my last day as an employee, and I'll then be back to full-time self-employed. I'd have preferred to get a bit further with developing my software before jumping ship, but this should give me opportunity to focus fully on what I really want to be doing. Time for some more detailed planning of what's left to do, and catching up with my accounts to check that I'll be able to fund things.

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April 07, 2004

Gruesome, But Great

I obviously need more time to work on my cakes so I can produce masterpieces like this dismembered body cake.

I particularly liked the idea of filling the cake with sauce which oozes out when the cake is cut, and the white chocolate ribs are inspired too.

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April 06, 2004

[Bouncing Back] Doing More With Less

This was the least useful session I attended, but that was probably due to the title. "Doing More With Less" promises the world but is hard to pin down to any specifics - doing more of what? With less of what? None of us delegates really knew, so despite the facilitators best efforts, the discussion never really got going.

I suspect it may have been more successful had the original speaker not been unable to attend at short notice.

Posted by Adrian at 11:20 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Usability For The Masses

Today, Jon pointed to this rant about how Linux usability is doomed to failure by John Gruber.

I think the underlying point is that usability is difficult, and that it is much better to design it in from the start rather than try to tack it on as an afterthought. On this I totally agree with him. Unfortunately, he tries to back this up with a number of points which really grate with me.

The argument seems to boil down to "normal developers are just code monkeys, whereas us UI designers are artists and deserve lots of money and so can't do open source."

  • "Talented programmers who work long full-time hours crafting software need to be paid. That means selling software." What? None of the guys who've written open source software are talented?!?! I'm sure they aren't all talented, but in my experience neither are paid programmers. Or is there something special about UI programmers that they are purely driven by money, rather than any of the other factors which motivate the rest of us? Are the UIs in John's own open source projects deliberately worse than in any paid work he's done?
  • "The distributed, collaborative nature of open source software works for developer-level software, but works against user-level software... Movies are collaborative art, but require strong direction. So it is with end user software." This implies that "developer-level software" doesn't require strong direction. Good software design is a creative process best driven by a small core team of architects. The distributed, collaborative model of development will only work well if there's either enough code surrounding the new module that it's obvious how it will fit in; or there is effective communication of the designers' ideas. I fail to see how UI design is different, but if it truly is, then surely that is an obstacle to be overcome, rather than an immovable barrier?
  • "Most programmers donít have any aptitude for UI design whatsoever... no amount of practice or education is going to make them good at it. Improved, yes; good, no." So there's no point in complaining about it, we might as well all go home now, no? Sorry, but I'd take improved over bad if that were the only option; but it's not: improved visibility of usability is a good thing on it's own. Maybe some of the coders who really can't do UI will realise, and seek input from those who can. Maybe some of those coders have got an aptitude for UI, but haven't bothered to exercise it as it didn't seem important. And I don't buy this "Itís an art, and like any art, it requires innate ability." bullshit. That's like saying that because I may not become a concert pianist, there's no value in learning the piano, or that piano cannot be taught.

A much more productive, and constructive, response to the Eric Raymond article is the one I've been following by Jon Udell, from his initial discovery that OS X isn't any better through more recent articles promoting the development of UI and usability guideline "standards" and the issues with RSS going mainstream.

As long as usability and UI design is kept sacred for the "UI specialists", it will be given short shrift by those implementing the systems, because it's not their job and they don't have to worry about it.

It is the responsibility of all engineers to worry about, and aim to maximise, usability.

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April 02, 2004

More Political Blogging

I see that Shaun Woodward, the MP who controversially stood for Labour in St. Helens South, has just launched his own blog.

Posted by Adrian at 01:40 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack