Friday, August 28, 2009

A rant on namespaces

If the idea of naming things is to make them easy to locate, then we have to take culture into consideration.

For example, In Italy (Well Pisa anyway, because that's where I first encountered this), the street names typically START with Via (Street) and then there is more. They are often named after people, so there may be some kind of honorific, then a first (usually Christian) name and then a last name. A lot to absorb if you don't know what is relevant. So the first word (Via) is noise if I am trying to figure out where I am while driving by, attempting to avoid the rest of the traffic and hunt for the correct turning all happening in a foreign language and culture. The local people get it. It is their way and their culture and I adapt - with some occasional getting lost.

Another example. One campus I have visited has 2 buildings that are essentially mirror images of each other. There are other differences but they are minor. The naming conventions for conferences are, however the same.

They go something like BLDGA 2-407-Singapore or BLDGB 3-617-Athens. The point being made here is that the first 4 characters are identical (and thus redundant). The useful high level identoifier A or B is busied attached to BLDG and so is hard to notice. There are no other cues in the strings because the conference room names are all geographic. So no pattern possible there.

The 2-407 is actually a floor number and a neighborhood number. However the 2 can be hard to see because it is a single value embedded in the string. So I would generally see just the 407. Being accustomed to US hotels, I would immediately think that is floor 4 room 7. Thus I go to the wrong place.

This naming scheme fails on so many levels:
  • The first 4 characters are redundant
  • The name of the room is irrelevant - it doesn't really help locate anything
  • The building id is buried deep
  • The floor and neighborhood are treated seperately but the first character of the neighborhood is drawn from the same domain as floor numbers.

You might wonder why I make such a big deal of this. It is because it adds to the burden of finding things - makes it hard to learn where to go - especially for new contractors/employees. It makes sense logically, but not when placed into the context of actual use.

Sadly like so many systems we build.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The kindle and disruptive technology

Clayton Christensen (The Innovator's Dilemma and The Innovator's Prescription) spends a lot of time discussing how disruptive technologies work. The key observation is that a disruptive technology is never introduced in the same model as the incumbent technology that it is disrupting and that it never delivers the full experience of the technology it is disrupting. In other words it is a different business with a different customer base.

So looking at the Kindle from Amazon, it absolutely scores in both of those dimensions. It isn't the incumbent publishing industry and distribution model industries, and it doesn't do some things as well as books. So the serious bibliophiles (me among them) will tend not to see its advantages. However what it does is to enable a whole new class of readers, make certain kinds of reading more doable, and to massively reduce distribution costs - and thus end user costs.

I have had my hands on a V1 Kindle and this is what I thought about it.

It works as advertised - the screen and ink are gorgeous.
Downloads are easy and cheap
It is pretty light with a convenient physical form factor
It is good enough for handling work documents (word/pdf as long as black and white).
You can whip it out anywhere and quickly get to find your place.
In the Kindle 2, there appears to be a builtin dictionary (there may be in the 1 as well, but I didn't try it)

You can't use it while waiting for takeoff (I had my hand slapped for that one!)
The page size is just too small - even with the small font I can't get enough on a page.
The page size means I am page turning like Keith Moon on speed (for those who are wondering, Keith Moon was the manic drummer for "The Who".
Pagination with diagrams gets all messed up. Again a function of screen size.
Book marking is clumsy
Having multiple books open at marked places and hopping between them is clumsy (especially annoying when attempting to learn a new language).

In the cons section, it really all comes down to screen size/format. There is wide variance in the size of printed books. My coffee table History of the America's Cup, for instance is a full 18" wide when opened, with full color photographs that spread across the 2 pages. That simply isn't a Kindle opportunity. Come to think of it, I don't think there is a "coffee table Kindle" just yet!

Where it is a bit more serious for me is in the reading of text books/tutorials. The Kindle does standard novels in paperback form factors very well, but when trying to use it to render a text book (in this case a book entitled RailsSpace) and try to learn from it there simply wasn't a hope.

So for me, adding a Kindle will add to my burden, not detract from it. I'll carry it for the novels, but will still carry my collection of text books.

Monday, January 26, 2009

A Vista and Ubuntu surprise

I had the opportunity to simultaneously do a Vista Business and an Ubuntu install at the same time. I was replacing an old (built 6 years ago) desktop with something newer and faster. On the newer/faster box, I installed Vista business. So, what to do with the older system? The newer faster box is a Dell scratch and dent box - I am not very good with model numbers but it has a dual 3.0GHZ processor, 4 GB of RAM, a 256 MB Video card and a big old hard drive.

Obviously install Ubuntu and play with it. This isn't the first Linux box - I have had a Red-Hat server in my house forever it seems - and it is still doing its thing beautifully.

This was a chance for me to see if Ubuntu was ready for prime time.

Bottom line - yes it is! At least for the relatively frequent and mundane web browsing, emailing kinds of tasks. It is fast, responsive, obvious how to use it - in fact that is for quick and easy stuff, my go to machine.

I use Outlook and the whole Office 2007 suite on the Vista machine and it hums right along too. Painless install, painless moving of files across from its old XP cousin (that's the box that was Ubuntuized).

The place where the Vista box was easier for me was somewhere quite unexpected. I went through fits trying to install Ruby, various Gems, the whole Riby on Rails package, MySql, Apache... on the Ubuntu box. Took the best part of 24 hours because nothing worked quite right. I kept having to install and uninstall various bits of the system so it would work. Getting Ruby-Gems installed was one of the hardest parts. Eventually I had my Rails environment running on the Ubuntu box. And very nice it is too - especially with Rubymine (a very nice Rails IDE rom Intellij).

To get the whole Rails environment with the same Gems, etc. running on the Vista box was much shorter. On the order of 30 hours to my first working Rails app. And before you say, "ahh you learned it all from Ubuntu", I didn't. I did the Windows stuff first! Of course I may have had some wrong expectations, but I liked doing that installation and work on Vista.

So this is entirely counter-intuitive. I am doing my "geek work" on my Vista box and my day to day, don't have to think so hard work on Ubuntu.

Yes Ubuntu is ready for prime time for the normal tasks - nothing at all hard about it - until installation of development environments.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Bait and Tweet.

Amongst the twitterati, there seems to be a contest to get the most followers. No different from the Facebook, "let's see who can get the most friends" behavior.

The standard approach to increasing your follower count seems to be, find someone who isn't following you, follow them. They get the email saying that they are being followed by you. Being relatively polite, they may well follow you back. Once they have done that you drop them (in case their count is getting high and can threaten yours).

This is a form of bait and switch - I think I will name it bait and tweet.