Posted by: Rowan | March 11, 2009

Sauvignon or chardonnay?

Every now and then, something opens your eyes, so to speak.

Now that Jonathan Mosen is back in Wellington we took the chance yesterday to catch up and shoot the breeze.

Jonathan’s got this annoying habit of flooring me with his use of technology. He does it every time we meet. I should have known he was going to do it to me again.

And sure enough, after free and frank discussions about the web and accessibility and Flash and Facebook and working for [insert variable] and ARIA and RSS feeds and what we’ve been up to and good ol’ DOS and accessible appliances and people hooking their washing machines up to Twitter etc … he pounced.

He’s got this neat piece of software loaded onto his phone, he told me. It does an OCR scan of the photos he takes with it, and reads out the words it finds in them. Ergo, he can pull two bottles of vino out of his fridge, photograph the labels, and find out which one’s the sauvignon and which one’s the chardonnay.

Brilliant.

I wish I knew how to do that. It would save me the time I spend back-tracking to find where I left my glasses.

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Posted by: Rowan | February 20, 2009

Street view’s face blurring technology

It really works.

Posted by: Rowan | February 18, 2009

Keeping agile

Meanwhile in Wellington it’s Webstock time again, and Tuesday found me deep in thought in a workshop led by Jackson Wilkinson entitled Designing Balance Into Your Agile Process.

I have no formal training or qualifications in Agile as a development methodology, but it’s something I’ve tried to smuggle into various bits and pieces of work I’ve taken on in the past. Why? Because on the surface it makes so much sense and is in harmony with the way web projects usually work out in practice, in my experience.

The politics of doing this within a traditional waterfall methodology have occasionally gotten mildly interesting.

But that’s OK, because the project outcomes have invariably been well received, and not only by upper management but by other team members as well.

And personally it’s a whole lot more satisfying. It beats the crap out of all that paperwork, meeting time, planning, Gantt charts, reports, rigour and overhead that seems to go with waterfall. It feels like a much better fit for the nimble environment that the web is, where you’re generally expected to go from A to B in something of a hurry.

So Tuesday gave me a whole lot more methods and techniques for – managing? no, guiding – web development projects, and containing or smoothing out some of the issues that invariably arise on the way from go to woah.

It’s given me better structures and tools to work with in the future, and a better case to put for the inclusion of Agile techniques in web projects when traditional waterfall is often the default methodology.

Scuttling back to work on a drop-dead beautiful Wellington evening, I had a chance to think about my two major takeouts from the day.

The first was the intuitive appeal of the Agile approach. It came from a slide that Jackson put up early in the day, which overlaid the natural human thought process over the rigid structure of the waterfall methodology. Here’s my scribbled notes from that slide:

Handwritten notes from the workshop - description below.

The regular, waterfall shaped line is the unbending, sequential path the waterfall process takes on the way down from identifying the problem through to implementing a solution. The dotted line that jumps (seemingly haphazardly) between the problem, a knee-jerk solution, revisit the problem, other solutions, alternative design options, ways to implement them, back to the problem, and so on all the way through the project is more like how people think about things. I do, for sure.

With waterfall, it’s sooo easy to get blindsided by process that you lose your focus on the original problem. When you’re up to your arse in alligators, etc…

The Agile model accommodates the way people I think far better than the straitjacket of the waterfall methodology. Isn’t it just so much more intuitive? Won’t that result in better thinking and better outcomes? Better usability, and better ROI?

Speaking of ROI, my second takeout came from renewing an acquaintance with Sandy Mamoli who’s an Agile advocate and a certified Scrum practitioner. Here it is, and I invite you to read it. Enjoy.

When the red bus hits … (Agile during a recession)

Posted by: Rowan | February 1, 2009

WCC fundraiser

These bastards must be hiding in shop doorways waiting to pounce.

Parking paid till 11.56am. Ticket is tagged at 11.57am and issued at 12.07pm.

Posted by: Rowan | January 25, 2009

Two guys in a pub

It’s a bit like watching two guys in a pub eyeballing each other and itching for a fight. Apple and Palm are giving each other the legal evil eye about their smartphones and muttering under their breath about having a punch-up.

I’m not in the smartphone market yet but I will be in the next couple or three months. And I’m not too fussy – all I really want is always-on access to the internet.

The iPhone is out there already, and I’ve been watching the arrival of the Palm Pre and the Android-based G1. I’ve played with an iPhone (thanks, Colin) and I really liked the interface. It’s the kind of thing I could get used to pretty much overnight, but the phone itself seemed kind of fragile for the way I treat my stuff. The Palm is interesting because it’s getting such good reviews on the quality of its interface, and it just looks a little more robust and less breakable. And the G1 interests me because it’s built on an open source platform, and it has a slide-out keyboard – some habits die hard. I don’t know what to think about the Blackberry yet, but it just seems a bit corporate to me, whatever that means. I’m not sure I want a permanent keyboard at the expense of screen-space.

But when I decide I’m ready to fork out for a smartphone, they’ll be among my primary choices. I don’t know what my telco will try to push on me but I’d like to have at least a couple of those choices available when it happens.

And to see Apple and Palm thinking about squaring up to a sue-them-out-of-the-market argument is a real piss-off, as a consumer.

Why don’t these guys keep their focus on bringing a good product to the market, and marketing it better than their competitors? Instead of threatening to reduce my choices by trying to kick them off the market with legal arguments? And then making me pay for their fancy footwork by loading their legal overheads onto the price I pay for the phone?

Am I na├»ve about the dynamics of a competitive market? I don’t think so, I’ve been part of it for long enough. I just hope those two guys stop eyeballing each other, have another slurp and just get on with doing what they do best.

I hope my telco can give me the choices I want. And if they can’t, I hope somebody else can. And I’d like both those guys to be part of the equation, but preferably without their legal costs.

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