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The expert

I don’t know how many times I’ve experienced this from “the expert” side. Being an analyst programmer, I’ve sat in on countless meetings between sales people, management and others.

Its that sinking feeling as a project or issue is being discussed. That everyone looks to you to implement whats requested. Except that the requestors have either no conception of what they’re asking for or that all they’re concerned with is that their deadlines will be met.

Often it seems like being brought in as the technical lead is as a rubber stamp on whatever is decided. Regardless of how odd or inconsistent the action items that come out of the discussion.

Try as I might, getting the point across is almost impossible. All I get is that nagging feeling that I’m a naysayer. I could only laugh watching the hapless expert try and explain what was being asked.

Being a technical lead requires consistency and thoroughness. Its being exacting and precise as thats what the role requires. Its when other roles bump up against our role. Hilarity ensues.

This is especially so for computer systems. Applications and systems are inherently complex. A business may rely on a number of disparate systems to operate. These systems may not even integrate or integrate badly. As business needs grow and change, complexity and band aids creep in.

Software development is especially problematic. The whole foundation of custom applications is based on business rules. However business rules are a moving target. Over time applications change and grow crufty. Band aids applied to get the software across the line for the day. Its just a foregone conclusion.

Software does have a use by date. Deciding that date is difficult. Years of proven experience are invested into that code. Adding new functionality gets harder and harder. This is cruft. Long lost reasons for doing something. No one dares remove it for fear of upsetting something.

So there are issues inside and outside of the role.

I’ve only made headway in these situations by being firm. Its not so much in saying “no” as it is in managing expectations. Sometimes its knowing that deliverables either won’t meet requirements and / or won’t be completed in time. Those deadlines can move when push comes to shove.

Of course that shove may be out the door too.

Theres no silver bullet.

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So I’ve run a few blogs for various purposes. The current trend is going to static site generators. Which can be a good thing as there is less issues and maintenance involved with a static site.

Straight up HTML, javascript and no back end. Security is less of an issue. Performance and scaleability are significantly better then an interpreted dynamic environment. The delivery stack itself is less complex and therefore easier to maintain.

There are a lot of pluses to the idea. Its entirely feasible for sites that don’t require significant interaction. However.

The complexity appears to have shifted from the live site to the site generator itself. The frameworks and publishing stack is significant from looking at Middleman, Jekyll or Octopress. Theres Python or Ruby on Rails along with the actual generator software. Significant configuration to get a working publishing environment.

I’ve been fighting with Ruby to compile gems. Not a good sign when its just the actual Jekyll installation and attendant dependencies.

In truth, I’m a little frustrated. But its more about my own shortcomings (lack of patience) then the software. Which is always the case when I’m dealing with something new.

I can’t help but think that the simplicity of the LAMP stack and its ability to deliver dynamic sites quickly has its merits. But I’m keen to see what this new type of software can do.

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Magic Dirt

Adalita is still making great music, with and without Magic Dirt. Always great seeing her appearing with new material.

Dirty Jeans is a fantastic grungy rock anthem that takes me back. I didn’t realise there was a music video.

And something new.

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Sontaran Christmas Carols

Words cannot describe….

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year one and all.

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First Impressions

Great fan film. Well filmed and fun.

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Anna Kendrick – Cups

Late out of the gate. The exceedingly cute Anna Kendrick has a full song version of Cups from Pitch Perfect.

Scott Pilgrim’s sister was terrific in both films.

I think Edgar Wright nailed the essence of the comic, even if he had to leave quite a lot of it out. Definitely an underrated movie. It seems to polarise people intensely which is odd. Its a film that wears its heart on its sleeve and is a whole lot of fun.

Pitch Perfect is great fun and it stands up to re-watching. Its a loosy goosey sort of film that plays it down the line. Probably because a lot of it seems to be improv.

Whats not to like about acapella.

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This is way too meta

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iPad Mini

So the iPad mini rumour storm is picking up pace. Blurry photos of components and prototypes turning up thick and fast.

I’m of two minds about the 7″ form factor. Agreed that its a better size to carry around. I’m just not sure its one thats convenient to use for extensive periods.

Given the choices, perhaps Apple should have gone the alternative route. One that was taken with the iPhone when faced with producing a budget version. That was to use the older model as the entry level. It incurs no development costs, keeps the product lines consistent and has a readymade accessories market.

So would it be better to keep the iPad 2 in production? They’d already done some design work in reducing the components within. Most importantly it doesn’t add another specification to cater for.

In some ways the iPad 2 is superior to the new iPad. Its significantly quicker to charge and lighter to carry.

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What everyone forgot to include. Text book case of misleading ?

“When I’m introspective about the last few years I think the biggest mistake that we made, as a company, is betting too much on HTML5 as opposed to native… because it just wasn’t there. And it’s not that HTML5 is bad. I’m actually, on long-term, really excited about it. One of the things that’s interesting is we actually have more people on a daily basis using mobile Web Facebook than we have using our iOS or Android apps combined. So mobile Web is a big thing for us.”

Cribbed from Tobie Langel. He should know, he’s Facebook’s W3C representative.

There is a big place for web technologies still in the mobile world. We’re sliding from the system agnostic web back to specific platforms again. To my mind there’ll be a shakeout as mobile will reach saturation at some point. Things will become so fragmented that trying to deliver a useful application / service will need a strong cost / benefit analysis.

This is happening now in the Android arena. The mad proliferation of devices of different specifications makes delivering an app a challenge. Thats not even considering the wide variation in versions of Android not to mention the customisations.

Apple have now moved the iPhone to a 4″ screen. Rumours are thick on the ground of a 7″ iPad to go with the existing 10″. The use cases are becoming muddled. Everything is beginning to overlap such that clear decisions need to be made. Not just as a user but also as a developer.

The one platform / technology that can and does cater for all these is the mobile web. So I don’t discount it. After all, Steve Jobs first proposed that that was how to deliver apps to the iPhone originally. Its something that was forgotten conveniently in propping up certain arguments.

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So it only took how long ?

Artemis! Crew a starship and prove that Starfleet training is necessary.

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Twittering on

Dave Winer covers off some more about Twitter in a post. That they’ve reached the point where the average twitterer, like the google user, is now a commodity.

Its become clear that Twitter’s customers are now any buyer interested in aggregated client information. Much like Google’s customers are advertisers.

He goes on to propose a modified form of RSS reader that collects news into a twitter like stream. The technology is especially simple and easy. That is if a simple broadcast system is the goal.

The issues I see are in capturing users and maintaining conversations. Its not immediately obvious that blogging software is now the front end to an RSS river.

There is no specific service that can be pointed at as the medium in the way Twitter is. Twitter has just enough form as a service for people to grasp. Dave, himself, pointed out its centralised nature is its greatest advantage.

The other issue is in having cogent conversations and the tone of those conversations. RSS in itself doesn’t encompass conversations. Acting chiefly as a broadcaster. Twitter in itself doesn’t particularly do this well either though.

As to the tone, tweets tend to have an informal tone. Partly due to the 140 character limit. Websites, on the other hand, are more long form and therefore “formal”. Take for example any author’s website, which tends to be more serious in tone. Whereas their tweets may be more relaxed and engaged.

Its totally possible to create separate RSS feeds to represent different conversations. But is it significantly simple to be widely adopted ? Can an RSS River reader differentiate the tone ? Should they ?

The internet needs messaging and conversation thats more aligned with its users. Theres a lot more about RSS Rivers and other alternatives to come. Google+ is one of them.

The issue I have with it is the crude way that its being introduced. Rather then earning users’ patronage its being forced into every aspect of Google. Painfully so to my mind. Google have terrific services. That they are generally free is a huge boon but the buy in to that grows more difficult by the day.

I’m interested to see if the conversation and dabbling materialises something concrete and influential with social media.

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Twitter dilemma

Once again, the whole centralised nature of Twitter is coming into question. Thanks to the change in the developer terms of service looking to effectively close off key features to competitors. Ramifications of which came to a head with the cutting off of Instagram and Tumblr.

The previous round was more philosophical, that data silos were surrendering ownership to third parties. Twitter looked on bemused.

So there was the rise of federated Twitter clones briefly. Leo Laporte championed for a time. Now the interwebs are a buzz with new takes like and

Dan Wineman has summarised it well. I leapt to the same conclusion looking at the federated Twitter diagram, people have just re-invented usenet.

Usenet developed around the decentralised, low bandwidth internet that existed back in the 70s. Enabling water cooler talk back in the day. Then hacked into a file transfer medium thanks to uuencoding.

Perhaps we just need an app for that? Thats usenet, son. Look at me when I’m talking to you.

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Wind tunnel aerobatics

Wow !

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Finding the way

Since OS X, I’d returned to the Apple fold. It’s UNIX with a good useable UI. It has its quirks but for the most part it gets out of the way.

The killer attraction is the hardware. Apple have iterated through a number of key use areas. The Macbook Air being as close as perfect to my needs of a laptop.

Lately however there have been a lot of missteps. OS X, itself, has grown crufty. I’ve yet to move to Mountain Lion. Lion’s iOS attributes seem half thought out. The UI being dragged in a different direction in much the same way that Windows has done. The core of OS X has remained the same so its never been a major issue.

Apple seems to be finding its way since Steve Job’s departure. Its the little things that point to the whole. Apple stepping back from and then returning to EPEAT. The complex process of obtaining the free upgrade to Mountain Lion for a new machine. The apparently odd new Mac ads.

I’m sure that Apple is in good hands. It’ll take some time for things to shake out. However an essential element seems to be missing. That attention to detail. Only time will tell.

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Sparrow flies the coop

Sparrow is a great OS X e-mail client. Light and fast. Presenting e-mails in much the way tweets are. One of the first to adopt grouping of e-mails into conversations.

It let me deal with e-mail quickly and got out of the way after that.

It made great headway and garnered much mindshare. Definitely a pleasure to use.

I greet the acquisition news by Google with some trepidation. According to the Verge, there will be no new features added. Even though the team will continue to maintain and support it.

As a client, Sparrow is pretty much complete. What could be added that would add a significant improvement ? Theres nothing worse then feature creep for the sake of it.

I just hope that it doesn’t fall by the wayside. It’d be a shame to loose that customer base.

Best of luck to the Sparrow team. Thank you for an amazing piece of software.

Addendum – Just discovered a couple of applications have been bought up by Facebook and Google this last week. If its truly a talent acquisition, then what harm could come of selling to someone who’d continue it or open sourcing.

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Working backups

Note the emphasis. It happens even at Pixar.

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Putting on the Ritz

Catching the taxi in to Hong Kong I saw this.

Ritz Carlton Hong Kong

At night this looks like its about to take off. Its the new Ritz Carlton on the Kowloon side. It commands that harbor side with its support buildings. Its scale in a city where tall buildings are the norm, just beggars the imagination.

Even during the day, as we headed back to the airport it towered into the periphery of vision.



Ok. Everyone just go home.

The cos play scene should probably just go home about now. It doesn’t get much more ultimate then this.

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Take me home

Eight hours.





Suns out

Smoggy but sunny Sunday. Yum cha lunch ahead. Oh. And shopping.

Pic of last night in Mong Kok. Someone should write a musical.




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