Widgets August 2010

Flotsam and Jetsam #7

By Nick at August 30, 2010 04:55
Filed Under: Flotsam and Jetsam
  • Julian Bucknall of DevExpress has a great post about a coding pattern that I didn’t know had a name:  the Composed Method pattern.  The idea is to break your code down into many methods with only a few lines of code.  His second point is the really important one, though:  We should be writing code to be read by people, not by the compiler.
  • Here’s an interesting article:  10 things non-technical users don’t understand about your software  Do you take utter noobs into account when designing your software user interface?
  • Question of the Day:  Can (or should) a software installer assume that an internet connection is in place?  I notice that most of the applications that I download and install these days are actually internet installers.  Thoughts?
  • Here is a good run down/review of Microsoft LightSwitch by long time tech writer Tim Anderson.  Interesting stuff.  Here’s the most intriguing quote by Tim:  Speculation – LightSwitch will one day target Windows Phone 7” 
  • Argh!  The iPhone now has a NetFlix app. I confess I am jealous and am anxiously awaiting  the ability to watch NefFlix on my Android.
  • This is an oldie but a goodie: Things To Remember If I Ever Become an Evil Overlord (Hat tip to Jeff Dunteman for reminding me....)

Nick’s New Job

By Nick at August 28, 2010 03:15
Filed Under: Personal, General

I’m very happy to tell you fine people that I have accepted the job as Director of Development at Gateway Ticketing in beautiful Boyertown, Pennsylvania.  I’m really delighted and happy.  The job is exactly what I’ve wanted with a great small and growing company. If you’ve ever been to Disneyland or an amusement park or one of the major zoos around the US, chances are you’ve used our products.  The Gateway people are great, and the Boyertown area – where I will be moving eventually – is lovely.  It’s a great opportunity for me, and I’m very pleased.  I’m looking forward to leveraging my technical skills as well as these great leadership skills I supposedly know so much about.  ;-)

Many of you have been very supportive and sent me words of encouragement during this time, and I’m grateful.  It’s a tough time, being uncertain of the future, and I’m grateful for the support.  Gateway is a Delphi shop, so I’ll still be around.  And I must confess it will be strange to move to the other side of the table as an Embarcadero customer.  ;-)

Flotsam and Jetsam #6

By Nick at August 20, 2010 13:10
Filed Under: Flotsam and Jetsam
  • We can’t all hire awesome programmers and we can’t all hire great team members, but you can consciously decide what you are going to get.  ;-)
  • Nice writeup on RAD Studio XE in SDTimes.
  • Remember when we were supposed to be wary of "chat rooms"? Do "chat rooms" even exist anymore?
  • Google looking at doing a tablet with Chrome OS?  My question:  What is the difference in Googles mind between Chrome OS and Android?  I would have thought that Google’s tablet would be Android based, but it appears that they are going to be using Chrome OS.  Huh.
  • My 11 year old son has done some pretty cool things with Scratch, so this article was of interest to me:  4 Tools for Teaching Kids to Code I am particularly interested App Inventor, which is for building Android apps.  That looks like something that might not just be for kids!
  • Here is a huge pet peeve for me:  Blogs that have “<—Previous Next—>” at the bottom.  Does previous mean “older” or “where you just were”?  Shouldn’t “Next” mean “I want to see the newer stuff”?  In addition, it never seems consistent.  How about “Older/Newer” instead?  That is obvious.

Mad Men vs. The Cluetrain

By Nick at August 19, 2010 12:05
Filed Under: TechBiz

You know, I think this Interwebs thing might actually take off.

Well, of course it will. Actually, of course it has. Well, actually, one could argue that not only has it taken off, it has utterly transformed the way that people communicate. I know I spend a lot more time in front of this laptop than I do the TV, and I used to spend a lot of time in front of the TV. I also spend a lot more time writing emails, IM'ing, and on Facebook than I do on the phone. And I used to spend a lot of time on the phone, too. Talking to girls. Running up huge long distance phone bills talking to girls. Of course, this was before I had the good sense to marry my awesome, super-hot wife.  Now I don't talk to girls on the phone very much or at all.  (Actually, I don’t talk on the phone very much at all anymore, but that is another blog post).

Anyway, it is safe to say that the Interwebz has changed communication methods. But it has done more than that. It has changed the tone and timbre of the communication that goes on. You guys probably all know what I'm talking about. The vast majority of the time we seem to spend on the Internet is in conversations. We are answering emails. We are commenting on blogs. We are chatting back and forth on Instant Messenger. We are commenting on each other's Facebook pages. We are tweeting and re-tweeting and lord knows what else. These are conversations. It's me saying something and you saying something back. It's arguing with people that we've never met. Heck, half the time we don't even know their names. (You haven't lived until you've had an online discussion about the intricacies of anonymous methods with some guy(gal?) named Lord Vacuous.....)

So much of what goes on on the Internet are conversations. And as a result, the way that companies communicate with their customers has changed as well (or it should have).  Many companies realize this.  Many companies don’t.

One thing you find out really quickly is that everyone on the Internet has a ‘voice”.  It’s the way you ‘sound’ online.  Some people sound happy.  Some people sound grumpy.  Some people sound silly.  But everyone sounds like something.  For instance, I’m pretty sure that I “sound” different to people online than I do in my head when I type.  I’ve grown more aware of that over the years of hanging around in the Delphi forums.

Companies sound a certain way, too.  They have a “voice” just like people do.  They communicate with customers, and customers “hear” them.  They get a certain impression about the company based on these communications.  Obviously, how people “hear” a company is pretty important to that company’s success.

Now, folks who watch the terrific AMC show “Mad Men” know that back before the Interpipes, companies spent millions of dollars getting smart advertising guys to help them “sound” like something that they wanted to sound like.  Companies could control how they sounded because there were few avenues for companies to communicate – TV, magazines, newspapers.  You couldn’t actually “talk” to a company.  They talked to you, and you decided whether you liked their message and bought their products.  They had complete control over the message, and short of sending a letter with a stamp on it (if you could find the address), then you had very little way to talk back to the company.  It wasn’t a conversation, it was a lecture.

Well, things are different now, a whole lot different.  Now, a company -- despite their best efforts  -- can’t control their message.  The internet – with its blogs, newsgroups, forums, message boards, email, web sites, Facebook fan sites, twitter feeds and goodness knows what else – means that companies no longer have control over what customers hear.  Quite the contrary, in fact.  The “voice” of a company is made up of what people are saying about it as much as what a company says itself.

Many companies haven’t figured this out yet.  Sadly, many technical companies haven’t figured this out yet, and one could argue that they are the ones that should have figured it out from the beginning.

Now, of course, this isn’t a new idea. In fact, I’m pretty much saying the exact same thing that the Cluetrain guys were saying over ten years ago.  I strongly suggest you read their book (you can actually read the whole thing online) as they explain this notion better than I do.

But here’s my point (finally, I know):  I think there is a strong correlation between companies that were around before the Internet and companies that haven’t jumped on the Cluetrain.

Company cultures are a persistent thing, and can actually persist long after the original people who formed the culture are gone.  (There is a famous experiment involving gorillas, bananas, and a high-pressure water hose that illustrates this phenomenon.) A company whose culture and way of communicating were built on the Mad Men model can often have a difficult time making the transition. 

And what can even be worse is when they think they have made the transition when they really haven’t.  Companies that try to somehow straddle the old-school way and the ClueTrain way can end up kidding themselves.  They think that they are having a conversation with their customers, but they really sound “tinny” and artificial.  If a company is constantly worried about “messaging” things properly instead of communicating in a simple, straight-forward way – like two people conversing -- or if they are so hopelessly secretive that no one knows what they are up to, then it might be a company that hasn’t quite gotten the Clue yet.

Companies that have risen up in the age of the Intertubes are much less likely to have failed to understand the conversation going on or to have ended up straddling the gap.  These are companies with cultures steeped in the open conversation. They usually have already caught the Clue.  They started out having conversations, and they have a voice that sounds conversational.

So, what do you think?  Is your company having conversations with people? Are you caught in the middle?  Do you have to deal with companies that are seemingly in constant spin mode? 

Flotsam and Jetsam #5

By Nick at August 16, 2010 04:55
Filed Under: Flotsam and Jetsam
  • Looking for a semi-educational and non-banal toy for kids?  I can’t recommend the Perplexus enough.  It’s one of those frustrating, fun, challenging toys that you can’t stop trying.  I myself have not yet conquered the whole thing.  Okay, it drives me crazy, but it is great to have out on the coffee table when people come over.
  • I consider it a major failing of the marketplace that I cannot purchase a jar full of the stuff that is in the middle of Oreos.
  • I’ve been on a number of airline flights over the past couple of weeks, and I have a few thoughts:
    • Is it even remotely possible that there is anyone out there that doesn’t know how to use a seat belt?  They demo it every time.  Seriously? If you can’t figure out the seatbelt, or don’t have someone flying with you that can figure it out for you, should you even be on the plane? 
    • What, exactly  are “service items”?  As in “your flight attendants will make a final trip through the cabin to pick up any service items you may have”.  Is there no “garbage” or “refuse” allowed on planes?
    • Is it federal law that some crew member is required at some point during the flight to use the phrase “sit  back, relax, and enjoy the flight”?  I ask because I’ve never been on a flight where those exact words weren’t used. 
    • As an added bonus, how, exactly are you supposed to “sit back” in those notoriously barely-reclinable seats?
    • And what is the deal with this announcement:  “This will serve as a final boarding call for flight 666, service to Hell”?  What, aren’t they allowed to make actual final boarding calls, so they have to merely make announcements that merely serve as one?  Huh?
  • This is probably old news for most of you, but there is a new RAD Studio roadmap out.  And the next release of the product will be using the new “XE” identifier.  You can get a sneak preview of the product here.

Book Review: Gone for Soldiers

By Nick at August 09, 2010 15:26
Filed Under: Book Review

A number of years back, I read – and was deeply moved by --  The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara.  It vividly tells the story in novelized form of the men that fought at the Battle of Gettysburg, a seminal battle in American history and a turning point in the war.  The book brought to life the battle and the men who fought it, and I truly enjoyed it. 

Michael Shaara passed away before he could write more of his unique novels, and his son Jeff has taken up the mantle.  The Killer Angels was so well done and so interesting, I soon completed the Shaara family Civil War trilogy by reading Jeff’s prequel, Gods and Generals and sequel, The Last Full Measure .  In them, you’ll get the full tale of the men that fought on both sides of the Civil War. 

The American Civil War in general, and the Battle of Gettysburg in particular, pitted many old friends and former comrades against each other.  If you really want to get a feel for these men, you need to know how they were bonded together in the Mexican-American war, and Gone For Soldiers tells that tale.  Focusing much attention on then Captain Robert E. Lee and General Winfield Scott, we follow the army from their initial landing in Mexico to their conquest of the capital, Mexico City.  Along the way we meet many of the men familiar from the America Civil War – Ulysses Grant, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, Joe Johnston, James Longstreet, and the flamboyant George Pickett.  In the typical Shaara fashion, we see into the minds of the leaders and how their strategies were formed, as well as the hard reality of battle. 

One of the last acts of America’s unofficial policy of “Manifest Destiny”, the Mexican-American War was controversial at the time, but has since faded to obscurity for the average American.  However, a reading of the excellent Gone For Soldiers will remind and educate the reader about this war that, to a very large degree, made America what it is today.  I recommend it, along with the entire Civil War trilogy.

I’m now determined to read all of Shaara’s books, covering the American Revolution as well as World Wars I and II. 

Flotsam and Jetsam #4

By Nick at August 01, 2010 11:18
Filed Under: Flotsam and Jetsam
  • The Corporate Bulls*** Generator.  Sadly, I suspect that quotes were not computer generated but actually copied down in meetings by real people.  ;-)
  • Here’s my  marketing idea of the week:  For every 50th? 100th? 1000th? download of your product’s trial version, give that person a free license.  It would only cost you the opportunity cost of a free license, and would certainly garner some interest in your trial.  I don’t know – maybe it’s crazy – an idea worth what you paid for it.  ;-) I guess you’d have to defend against bots some how, but an interesting idea in theory.
  • By the way, my last post probably should have been titled “Getting the Internet into Another Room” or “Getting a Switch….”.  I didn’t really need to get a new router in there.  And it continues to work marvelously.  I heartily recommend the solution.
  • Hey, I thought I did a pretty good job here on my personal website, but this guy….. wow, very cool. And the Minesweeper game actually works. 
  • Nick’s Advice for the Week: Never ask a barber if you need a haircut.  Actually, my wife said this one – I have to give credit where credit is due.
  • Geeky Post of the Week: I thought this was a very interesting post:  How Not To Sort By Average Rating.  I particularly enjoyed the “Sites that make this mistake” part.  ;-)
  • Controversial Item of the Weekprivate is the new goto.

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The views I express here are entirely my own and not necessarily those of any other rational person or organization.  However, I strongly recommend that you agree with pretty much everything I say because, well, I'm right.  Most of the time. Except when I'm not, in which case, you shouldn't agree with me.