Tuesday 30 March 2010

In the future, all my blog post headers work as tweets and status updates

My previous post just made me realize a fundamental flaw in automatic
crossposting (ie., what i write on my blog gets tweeted on Twitter
which in turn is echoed on Facebook). A tweet/status update of
"Comment ground" makes Absolutely No Sense At All when seen in that
context. It might have been another cute wordplay when it was a blog
post header but when migrated, all alone, to another platform -- it
just looks stupid.

So what to do? Give all my postings tweet-friendly titles or continue
confusing people with lyrical/musical/cultural references and not get
a discussion? A human-centered approach -- taking YOU into account,
before me -- would probably be the right one, but what will i be
losing in the process?

Comment ground

I have a system in place where my tweets are echoed as Facebook wall
posts. What is a bit surprising to me is that i get a fair amount of
comments to Facebook on these used-to-be-tweets, a lot more than i get
responses as tweets.

While an analysis of the reasons is way beyond the scope of article,
two things emerge. The phenomenon itself, and the redundance of data.
I think it's great that my words of wyrd echo out to where me mates
are, but the fact that the possibly ensuing discussion forks into two
unconnected branches sucks. In fact, there is even little evidence
that an update on Facebook originates from somewhere else. You may be
reading this very posting through Twitter or Facebook but it
originates from Posterous.

What i'm missing is the facility to recombine the responses into one
comment stream. I don't really care where this happens, as long as
there only is one stream.

Tear down the garden walls. Interoperability is playing nice.

Tuesday 23 March 2010

Quick zoom tip in Windows

Here's a tip i've used and forgotten. If you want to zoom the Outlook reading pane text, point your mouse at the text, hold down the CTRL key and roll your mouse wheel up or down.
The same works if you want to resize in Internet Explorer (page content will reflow), Microsoft Word (page will zoom) and other programs (action depens on software and context -- just try it out!)

Sunday 21 March 2010

Another two Kiva loans

Some of you may know that i lend money to people in (mainly) developing countries, through an organization called Kiva. I've written about Kiva in my actual blog a few times before so i won't repeat most of it. Basically the idea is that you finance microloans for folks that need microloans to get out of a rut or build their capacity in doing their thing.
Today, i helped funding a loan to two women in South America.
If you want to do some good with just US$25, i urge you yo also become a Kiva loaner. And if you know me && want to help me gain some more Kiva karma, contact me for an invite.

Thursday 18 March 2010

The call for full screen web applications for netbook and slate consumption

Related to my previous post, i just realized what's missing from my world. Web applications which play nice on nettops and slates and iPads.
And here's my hypothesis. I think the right solution is to create full screen web apps that run on a modest-size screen (the one i'm looking at is an 11" 1024x600 px) and that do not require scrolling of the application itself. People are used with scrolling content but the application should not require scrolling to be useful.
GMail for instance resizes the edit box to fill my web browser screen, which is nice when i'm using GMail on a desktop web browser. But the model fails when i'm GMailing on my small laptop. I use Google Reader for iPhone when i'm using the small laptop. It's fairly okay for modest-screen usage but it could take my keyboard into consideration.
So there we have that. Now to actual, billable work :)

Jolicloud will be nice


I came across a new system the other day, Jolicloud (yeah okay, it's a Linux distribution, based on Ubuntu -- now i've said it). Jolicloud is built with "netbooks", those small and fairly inexpensive laptops built for surfing, in mind. So after trying out the live version, i installed it on my wife's laptop.

The "pre-beta" Jolicloud shows promise. I can't say that the currently running version is ready for deployment and production usage for my dear lady, but it will be after a few iterations.

First the good.

Jolicloud looks very nice. That's always a good one if you're going to push it to the masses,

Jolicloud was Really Painless to install. You can download an installer that runs on Windows and everything is pretty automagic from there ("Go have a coffee, we'll take care of the rest"). After less than half an hour, and that includes downloading Jolicloud over the 'Net and optimizing it for its target platform, the system is ready to boot. Unlike other linucen i've installed, this uses Windows' own boot manager to give you the choice between starting Windows or Jolicloud.

There are two kinds of applications on Jolicloud; locally installed ones like Firefox, Spotify (under Wine) or F-Stop for photo management, and "cloud-based" ones like Google Documents, xkcd and so forth. The "cloud apps" run under Prism, which is a Firefox without the chrome. In this respect, it's very much like the Google Chrome OS, and a worthy alternative while waiting for Chrome OS to be released.

And then the bad.

From a user's standpoint, the two really bad things are that the system feels unresponsive at times and that it still is a bit too "techy". A very natural reason why it (in fact) is unresponsive is that many of the applications do live on the other side of the Internet, and for them to get there takes a bit of time. Some proper caching technologies should be applied. And the sluggy bits have become less prominent now that the system has done it's initial updating bits. Or then i've just become used to them.

And then the techy bit. Jolicloud's main menu is mixes user-centric bits like Internet or Sound & Video with system-centric stuff like Accessories, Preferences and disk folders. While i understand the historic reasons why these are where they are, they really should be separated so that there are parts which are for the user's benefit and other parts which are for pampering the machine and the operating system. But i guess these things will be ironed out before actual release.

Another thing which should be addressed is all this logging in. The user needs to log in separately to the machine (which is okay, but why ask for a username if this is primarily for a one-user setup), into the Jolicloud itself (only once, but you do need to create an account, which is a bit weird for your typical user), to Google Mail, Google Docs, Google Calendar and if there's anything else on the Googlesphere i use, then that bit too. The user would probably appreciate a bit more magic behind the scenes. Also, many of those so called web applications are just web pages, which for instance means one scroll bar for the text field i'm writing into just now and another scroll bar to scroll the whole page. GMail should create a more application like interface if this thing is to take off.

Some surprising additions came from hardware support. While i couldn't get wired Ethernet working on the computer, wireless worked perfectly well on any network i connected to. Most pleasing however was the fact that connecting to the 'Net using my cell phone was a plug and play affair. That was nice. And my daughter got to play Tractor Beams while we waited for our son to have his music club.

So there we have it. Using Jolicloud really has a promise of a silver lining out there. I'll be eagerly awaiting for it to come.

Wednesday 17 March 2010

If a tape backup system requires two hours of specialist time just to change the tapes, something is wrong

I just came back from a customer[0][1], having spent the AM there changing their backup tapes. The good: ArcServe support tweeted me back even before i had the chance to write this (good work @arentejaswi!). The bad: everything else.
The manoeuvre required to change the backup tapes includes copious amounts of arbitrary-length waiting time and split-second reaction times to when one waiting has ended. It requires living with a tape drive and its controlling software that both seem to have individual minds of their own, sometimes with conflicting goals. To perform this seemingly mundane task, i need to "move a tape" (from the drive to the magazine, but only if the tape is in the drive). I need to run inventories on the tapes which take 20 minutes or more a pop. Sometimes the backup software informs me that the "Unit is busy" (which unit?), and i'll have to wait for another 20 minutes. I manually need to inform which tapes are in the "save set" and which are in the "scratch set", which probably is backup-lingo for which tapes can be saved onto (that's the scratch set, mind you) and which tapes should be left untouched (the save set, which incidentally consists of tapes that even aren't in the bloody tape drive).
All in all, using the system requires that i have a system-level understanding of it. And i don't. To operate it, i don't even know if i should; a properly trained monkey should be able to change tapes.
One problem i had today was that the backup software claimed tape 11 was in slot number five when i knew it was tape 20 in there. Tape 11 was in fact in the tape box. It took an hour of convincing the system and i'm still not sure it approved.
Still, all of that is technicalia. A system should not be so complicated to maintain that it requires hours of specialist time to do the seemingly mundane task of changing the tapes. The system should take care of doing inventories. It should understand which tapes were removed and which were replaced. It could even suggest to me which tapes i should insert next. Or it should accept whatever tapes i feed it and be able to take it from there.
At the same time, it feels unethical to the customer that they're going to see a bill from us for that changing-the-tapes time. It's not like it's their fault that changing tapes on a backup copy system sucks. But i know that something in all of this must be wrong.
[0] A real one this time
[1] Taking a therapeutic detour through my favorite curry joint

Tuesday 16 March 2010

How not to destroy your workstation

Dear client,
Once again i will have to bill your company for removing viruses/spyware/some-other-ware from one of your workers' machines. The job took me seven hours of which i only have the heart to bill you for four. After all, i want to keep you as a client in the future too. But for the price i should be billing you, you could get your employee a new computer.
Here's what you should do.
In short terms, educate your users that their workstations are for work only. That it will cost you the equivalent of one new computer each time i have to make it work again after the fun software they installed onto it brings it to a screeching halt. this money could be put into much more fun and/or productive use. Ask them to be very, very careful with the tool you've provided them with. A craftsman will take care of his or her tools even if they belong to their company and not themselves.
Ask them to get a personal computer for personal work. If you can, sponsor them into getting a personal computer. We can even work out something that is so easy to re-install that if it's broken again, it will be painless to get it back to wor... to play.
Or we could put all the work stuff on a terminal server. The users can bang their computers to bits for all i care, but the work is behind a remote connection.
Here's my favorite one, and it's not even expensive. We'll install a second environment for your people to play with. If they're at work, they boot into "work mode" and if they're at home, they boot into "play mode". I have the perfect suggestion for you.
So please, let's sit down and talk. This will only take a while and you'll save lots of extra money for it.
(fictional message to a customer)