Saturday, August 28, 2004

Tricks of the Trade

Every trade has its own tricks that make life easier, and clean up your mistakes. Here is an article that outlines a few Tricks of the Trade for several professions. Good tips if you've ever wanted to know how to fake it as a street musician or what your butcher just yelled to his mate out the back.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Microsoft Press to Publish "Beyond Bullets" Book

Recently Cliff Atkinson announced that Microsoft Press will be publishing a "Beyond Bullets" book.
The content of the book will expand upon many of the ideas in this blog, but present them in a more methodical and accessible way. And it will introduce new ideas and innovations well beyond anything you've seen here, keeping them all grounded in practicality.
I've got his blog on my blogroll (at right) because of how powerful and effective his communication tips are, so this will definitely be an addition to the McDonald library.

Monday, August 23, 2004

HDTV, DVD, Hard Drives and the future

Blog Maverick is a blog run by the owner of the Dallas Mavericks NBA team and one of the guys behind HDNet, who provide high-definition TV.

He has a post about HDTV, DVD, Hard Drives and the future where he makes some interesting points:

1. DVD will always be limited in size (even if it moves up to 50GBs), but portable hard drives aren't - and keep on getting larger capacity.

2. Making movies/programs in high-definition and then distributing via hard drives will allow media companies to kill off internet piracy - because the files will be too large to share over public networks.

HDNet are already having to compress their programs down to fit the broadcast standards. Putting them uncompressed on hard drives would increase the quality that people could watch them at on their TV at home.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

RedSheriff's View of Google

Speaking of Google, Red Sheriff's latest report on internet and technology trends has this to say about
Google is used most regularly by 42% of Australian Internet users compared to Yahoo at 18%. Other search engines mentioned were Ninemsn (14%) and Altavista (4%). Google achieved the highest level of search satisfaction with 80% of their users very satisfied, compared to Yahoo users of whom 63% gave this response. Peoples' satisfaction with their search engine increased significantly as they became more Internet savvy, indicating it can still take time and practice to learn how to search effectively.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Just Answer the Question

Jakob Nielsen's latest Alertbox, When Search Engines Become Answer Engines, shows how web users no longer value individual sites as much because they know they can find whatever they want on the web using search engines.

I find this myself - there is no one technical site that covers every problem I have - I get my answers by Googling for them, using Google's search engine to scour websites and newsgroups for answers.

Jakob goes on to point out the consequences of this for website owners, and strategies to increase loyal users versus unique visiters.

It is clear that websites cannot create loyal users just by reproducing content found elsewhere on the web, users will rely on search engines to find the pages that are most relevant to their needs and will only stick around if;
 a) Your content is superior to that elsewhere; or
 b) Your contextual links interest them, and/or help them answer their current question.

There is an interesting parrallel in current theories about how Web Services will affect distributed data. Most businesses that operate in multiple locations put up with the need to replicate their data (e.g. contacts lists, sales figures, etc.) around their various locations. Broadband web access and WANs/VPNs have gone some way to reduce this need, but it is still the industry convention.
We replicate because there has been no sensible alternative. Yet replication is an inherently weak and error prone model that causes inconsistency, complexity and huge costs. Web services based interoperability offers interesting solutions to this problem as the new SOAP based Internet standards enable pervasive accessibility.

Business users just want the answer, they don't care which data store it comes from. More to the point, they will have problems with data that is inaccurate or out of date. In the same way as websites need to concentrate on the information that is unique to them, so too might corporate data stores specialise in the data they own, and then use Web Services to make that data accessible to users that might previously have had to rely on a local replica of that data.

I think that Microsoft's commitment to architectures that support Web Services and distributed collaboration (such as .NET, SharePoint Technologies and SQL Reporting Services) will help drive this move to more accessible local data. With SharePoint Portal Server the power of web search engines is harnessed to make corporate data more accessible to all users. In fact it provides better functionality because it handles user authentication, different levels of access permissions and rich meta data.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Practical CSS Layout Tips, Tricks, & Techniques

I'm building a website for my brother-in-law at the moment, and so I decided to eschew table structures completely in favour of CSS2 styles. Everything was sweet in Mozilla Firefox, but then when I check it out in IE 6 weirdness abounds (and why does this not surprise me?).

So I am out and about searching for good CSS help and I along the way I found that A List Apart has a great set of Practical CSS Layout Tips, Tricks, & Techniques. I especially like the one for HTML forms, which I am using with some minor mods (I got rid of the span for the labels and styled the LABEL tag instead).

Friday, August 13, 2004

Producing Quality CSS in a Team Environment

Digital Web Magazine has a great article titled A Matter of Styles: Producing Quality CSS in a Team Environment. The article points out that with the widespread adoption of CSS standards by large corporates, web designers are being forced to work together on stylesheets - something many web designers are not used to when it comes their CSS.

The best example of how much personal choice is available to designers is the specification of colour, a relatively simple aspect of web design (use hex numbers right?). Here is the problem for the designer updating CSS stylesheets maintained by others:
His find-and-replace dreams were quashed by more methods of color notation than he’d care to think about: some of the application’s developers prefer to write #003366 in its entirety; others are fans of the terse #036; a few sadistic souls apparently ditched hex notation altogether, and opted for rgb(0, 102, 153).

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Pat Helland's Metropolis Vision

Pat Helland has a vision of information technology (IT) evolving in the same way that the American Metropolis evolved over the last two centuries.

Leaving aside the question of whether this is a desirable direction for software development to take, I don't think this metaphor works. It reminds me of the first few websites I designed back in the mid-90s ... clients thought their website should look like a building, perhaps have the sort of presence their building lobby had. Heck, when I first explored web development I thought that looking for novel navigation methods based on physical objects was a good idea. The fact is that those ideas ignored usability, and only sounded good because of our lack of experience using the new medium.

What is the point of the city metaphor? Well for one thing, it neatly places the current state of development back in time and so allows us to gaze into the crystal ball and have some idea of where we might be going, based on where cities have gone over that time.

Unfortunately, this idea only works if the factors driving the evolution of the city are similar in nature and effect to the factors driving the evolution of IT, and if the rest of the metaphor actually maps the way he expects it to:
  • Cities map to IT shops

  • Factories or Buildings map to Applications

  • Transportation maps to Communication

  • Manufactured Goods map to Structured Data

  • Manufactured Assemblies map to Virtual Enterprises

  • Urban Infrastructure maps to IT Infrastructure

  • City Government maps to IT Governance

What about parks (national and public), public areas, shopping strips, sports facilities, natural geography, etc.?

Pat looks at the internet like the arrival of railroads, but in reality it is more like the arrival of mass produced automobiles, except that upsets his timeline, and creates problems with the metaphor. He says that:
Economic pressures changed our cities. Certainly the best intentions of city planners eased the transitions—and saved some historic monuments—but economic opportunity is what really drove cities to modernize, to share services, and to devise creative means to achieve efficiencies.

What about the mass movement of the labour force from the shrinking labour markets of the rural areas to the growing labout markets of the urban areas? What IT object maps to the people in the city?!

More to the point, a building often remains standing long after its original use has expired. Sometimes it is retained for its historical/heritage value, other times it remains because economics meant that it suited another use, and sometimes it is simply renovated and re-used. Applications are not used this way, and often do not lend themselves to being re-used like this - perhaps they might in the future (I have seen components re-used) - but their basic nature and our relationship to them does not encourage this sort of behaviour. Even if it did, we would not see the sheer volume or diversity of re-use in applications that we do in buildings.

I once worked in an old church that had been renovated into the headquarters for a record label and then was taken over by an ad agency, only to end up being sub-tenanted by a number of different companies. Rooms were re-purposed - my old office had been the agency's multi-media theatre - the upstairs corridor became a meeting area, the back-door became the front-door for one of the tenants, etc.

But then again, perhaps I am griping to no end here. After all Pat's intent seems to be to encourage us to see our current situation as backward and to provide a rallying cry for SOA (Service Oriented Architecture). I admit that there is a lot of justice in the idea that the current state of IT leaves something to be desired ... at least for businesses/users. The fact that heterogeneity always occurs, and usually just when you are happy with your IT architecture, is a well observed side-effect of Murphy's Law, and so the sort of interoperability that SOA is pushing makes a lot of sense to IT people and business users alike.

Nasty Thought: Or perhaps this is just another attempt to reinforce the idea that IT architects have common interest with building architects, their more established and far 'sexier' cousins? Is the real aim to add lustre to the title Software Architect? (or Application Architect, or Solution Architect, or ...)

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Inside the Mind of Jeff Bezos

Continuing the theme of short little lists, Fast Company takes us Inside the Mind of Jeff Bezos and summarises his tips on business in general and Amazon specifically:

The Book of Bezos
  • Hire very carefully -- you're creating an enduring culture.

  • Be stubborn and flexible.

  • Obsess about customers, not colleagues.

  • Know when to throw away the org chart.

  • Get good advice -- and ignore it.

  • Don't chase the quick buck.
The Amazon Rules
  • Communication is terrible.

  • Take leaps of faith.

  • Be simpleminded.

  • Add up lots of little advantages.

The Ten Commandments of Egoless Programming

Here is an old article, but one worth checking out again, lists the Ten Commandments of egoless programming:
  1. Understand and accept that you will make mistakes.

  2. You are not your code.

  3. No matter how much 'karate' you know, someone else will always know more.

  4. Don't rewrite code without consultation.

  5. Treat people who know less than you with respect, deference, and patience.

  6. The only constant in the world is change.

  7. The only true authority stems from knowledge, not from position.

  8. Fight for what you believe, but gracefully accept defeat.

  9. Don't be "the guy in the room."

  10. Critique code instead of people -- be kind to the coder, not to the code.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Web Based MSN Messenger

Dana Epp points out that there is a beta Web Based MSN Messenger available.

It is missing some of the cool functionality we've come to know and love, like inviting other people into your conversations. Also it will not work if you are logged into MSN Messenger elsewhere.

Still it's nice to have a web-based solution for when you're going to be on a computer that doesn't have MSN Messenger installed, and you can't/don't want to install it.

Australia 23 def. New Zealand 18

In another great victory the Wallabies beat the All Blacks on Saturday night.

I've decided that Stirling Mortlock deserves a new nickname - his running style when defending (or for that matter when attacking) has his long arms held down low with hands open like a crab's pincers, so for me he will now always be "da claw!"

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Review: The Chronicles of Riddick

Top of the head rating: 4/5 (probably 5/5 on DVD)

Some mates and I went and saw The Chronicles of Riddick on Tuesday night. I had researched the film extensively on the internet, and so had a pretty good idea that the editing would leave something to be desired ...

This film is a great example of a good science-fiction film, one where the story and the characters are as interesting as the special effects and the alien environment.

Good bits: The action rocks and is involving, but like many moder movies where it is too fast and furious the director helps by distancing you from the action. The style of the film is great, and the difference between the Necros' gothic look, the mercs/prison look and the Helion Prime look is believable and consistent. The end of the film brings to mind great scenes from Conan stories, with the barbarian become king of the evil empire.

Bad bits: Some of the editing is clumsy, and it looks like the bits that were done to get it an 'M' rating in Australia. From what I had heard on the web, I knew that they had ripped out bits of the action for censors in the US, and then had ripped out bits of the story when test audiences said it was too dull without those action bits. There are a few parts of the film that show this; like Riddick's escape from the Necros' mothership; and where Riddick is talking without looking at the camera - which indicates they are using a previously non-talking shot to convey information lost when they made their cut.

Lux: Project Lifecycle Methodology

Huh. Sometimes you find someone who just says things in a way that makes sense to you.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Getting Things Done (GTD)

I am conscious that changing jobs will create the need for me to become familiar with new management processes and tools.

Hopefully my new workplace will have lots of these, and they will work well ... but there is a good chance I will have to supplement these myself.

At my last workplace I customised my Lotus Notes mail database to make my job easier, and rarely had more than 5-20 emails in there at once. However, I don't expect to be using Notes in the future.

With this in mind, I was interested when I came across references today to the Getting Things Done self-management methodology by David Allen.

Especially interesting is the GTD Outlook add-in that helps automate the methodology within MS Outlook. I can see this being of a lot of value, and the recorded demo certainly shows how easily it could work for me - if I was using Outlook (at the moment I use Gmail, and was using Lotus Notes).

It is all Michael Hyatt's fault that I am considering GTD at all. I discovered his Working Smart blog for the first time today, and found a very interesting post on Eight Things You Can Do in a Meeting with a TabletPC (and the GTD add-in to MS Outlook).
[Edit: Here are the 8 things:
1. Take notes.
2. Enter tasks.
3. Ask questions via e-mail.
4. Make assignments via e-mail.
5. Look up information in computer files.
6. Look up information on the web.
7. Respond to urgent messages.
8. Keep my staff moving forward.]

Now, a TabletPC is one gadget I have wanted ever since I first heard of them, but it's nice to get the testimony of someone who is using one themselves, and isn't in IT. I have experimented with PDAs using PocketPC myself and always found them wanting (perhaps my hands are just too big?) so a TabletPC is the next logical step up.

Great PowerPoint Resources

I have been researching PowerPoint tools today and found some great blogs and resource links. So in the spirit of using this blog as a public post-it note, here they are:

Beyond Bullets

Beyond PowerPoint

Tony's PowerPoint Blog

Who Needs Information Design?

Power Point Answers

Michael Hyatt's PowerPoint Resources

If you know any other ones that are really good, feel free to leave a Comment with the URL/info.