Friday, November 4, 2011

Macs in PC workplaces

Much has been trumpeted in the twitterspeher and elsewhere about the general studliness of Mac users in the workplace.

This piece probably summarizes the situation well, and quotes from Forrester research. And while it may make individuals more productive, it fails to recognize the burden that Mac users place on the rest of the community. A couple of small cases in point.

A company I worked for had a significant Sharepoint knowledge sharing infrastructure. However, my boss - a Mac user claimed he couldn't get to the Sharepoint site from his Mac, so could I please email him stuff. He - more productive? Perhaps, the jury is out on his productivity anyway. Me, less so because now I have to remember to place the items in the Sharepoint - and mail them to the Macerati. Knock on effect? My mailbox filled every day because instead of sending pointers, I had to send files. The files were often large. So I lost 40 minutes per day managing my mailbox + whatever extra time/effort I expended creating the extra emails.

A second case in point, another boss (and a few people in the company) runs a Mac. The corporate standard for instant messaging is Lync (a Microsoft product). The Mac users don't have access to it (I don't know what the issue is), but it means I am now deprived of the ability to use a very valuable tool in internal communication. Again, my productivity is affected negatively - I try not to worry about the effect on the boss.

The main purpose of the article, however is that organizations should not ignore the needs of Mac users. I think that is all wrong. The organization must ensure that all users are productive - and provide tools that work seamlessly across the user base.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Architect's serenity prayer

The serenity prayer (in one version at least) reads:

"O God and Heavenly Father,Grant to us the serenity of mind to accept that which cannot be changed; courage to change that which can be changed, and wisdom to know the one from the other, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen."
This prayer has been adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous, the group founded to help people with problems with addiction to alcohol. I think the insight about the wisdom to "know the one from another" is extremely important for architects as well.

I can see a tendency to want to exert control over things that we really can't control, to produce architectural models that cover a huge span, but don't take into account some practical realities. In other words the much maligned "Ivory Tower Architecture".

So perhaps we should have a version of the Serenity Prayer for another AA group - Architects Anonymous.

O, powerful Zachman, grant us to accept what cannot be changed, the intestinal fortitude to change what needs to be changed and the wisdom to know the difference and the relevant columns

Friday, September 23, 2011

Yelp through the Value axis

VPEC-T is a thinking framework, useful for teasing out different perspectives between stakeholders/participants in a "system". Not necessarily a computer system (in fact many of the thinking models are expressly about the non computer parts of a system). The V (Value) filter helps in understanding the value of the desired outcomes to both the individual and the business.

Applying that filter to some of the more interesting pure-playweb properties (illustrated with examples from yelp and Groupon), we can look at some of the value offered and value received, helping us peer into the business models.

First, yelp. Yelp is a restaurant review site - the slogan being "Real people. Real reviews". The idea being that people like you and I can visit places, and review them - from a non-professional perspective. A nice idea indeed, but really to what purpose - especially what business purpose?

Yelp allows businesses to sign up and somehow advertise.  The purported value proposition being, "yelp has all of these people reviewing places, do you want to make sure that your establishment is properly placed?" There may be other models too. But I suspect that isn't where the real value lies. So let's look at yelp from the perspective of the individual "yelper".

A person signs up with yelp. Has to provide an email address and a (small) number of demographic details. A yelper then interacts with the site by chatting with other yelpers, or reviewing service providers - mostly, but not exclusively restaurants. In other words it is social media for the eating out crowd. Yelp provides inducements (elite status) to provide aspirational goals, and an air of exclusivity for its most prolific posters.

So for the privilege of belonging to a social media site - centered around people's favorite thing to do (giving opinions) yelp is able to collect a large amount of quite well targeted data, that can then be used/sold on or whatever for targeted advertising. Knowing that I travel a bit, which restaurants I eat at, buy certain kinds of furniture, etc. is the most valuable asset of all. It is self reported information, where there is no reason to lie with a very precise perspective on my behavior.

The Value exchange in the relationship is that the yelper gets a strong social group in exchange for letting yelp have great insight into the yelper's habits. Is this appropriate? Absolutely, but you always have to understand what value you are exchanging with another entity when you sign up. Similarly a company like yelp has to make the value proposition enticing enough, so that it can attract the mass it needs in order to sustain a valuable advertisement based business model.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Forced opt-in and opting out

In the current political climate in the USA, "individual rights" have been brought sharply into focus. The whole "what should the country provide, vs what should individuals provide?" debate is in full swing.

Everything seems to be up for grabs and discussion. For example, vaccination of children against childhood diseases is public policy, but there is a group of people (highlighted on the radio yesterday) in Washington State (not the US capital, Washington, DC.) who won't vaccinate their children for several reasons. Individual choice? For sure. Good thing - the medical community doesn't think so. My view, I side with the medical community.

Then we come to some real sacred cows. Charities. There is no doubt that many charities do fantastic work. There is no doubt that many people are comforted by their Churches, that their faith sustains them. However, each of us is somehow forced to contribute to their upkeep, How? Because charitable deductions are tax-exempt - at least here in the US of A. So if I have a marginal tax rate of 30%, then every $100 that I give to a results in a reduction of my tax burden by $30. Yet the charity gets all $100. So where does the difference come from? Presumably the general fund. And where does the general fund get its money? Er, um, from taxes.

Ergo, we are each paying for each other's favorite charities. I am not saying whether we should or shouldn't have the instituions, but let's value them properly/transparently.

Make it a matter of public policy to explicitly show where from general revenue the funds are going, and if people want to give more to support others - in times of crisis or whatever, then let them. I don't want to support mega-churches, I don't want to support super-mosques. I don't want to support giant synagogues. I don't want you not to be able to support these things.

Let's get the government of of the charities business, drop the administrative burden (reducing government cost) and let those who want/use the services pay for the services.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Knowing the purpose of communication

How hard it is for the news media. This morning's post from the mangling of information department comes from our local ABC affiliate, Channel 8 in Dallas, Texas.

It is pretty common to have a "crawl" going at the bottom of a screen - giving some highlights, quick overviews of what's happening, etc. So one would expect clear, crisp writing that is able to be understood easily. After all, the viewer is being forced to multi-task while watching the show, listening to the speaker/interview or whatever, and to read the crawl. That's a lot of brainwork - especially at 0500.

So imagine my horror when these 2 gems showed up this morning. "Michelle Bachman's campaign chief is stepping down, along with his deputy, Ed Rollins, who is 68, cites health reasons." and "Forecasters say it is less likely that hurricane Katia will hit the US. It is now a category 4 storm with 135 mph wind speeds."

So what's wrong here? There is so much it is hard to know where to start.

First, the format is just not suitable for a crawl. Especially with all of the commas. But more importantly, the message is just plain hard to tease out. In a crawl, by definition some of the message is not available to the reader. So, imagine that part of the hurricane crawl had gone by and all you saw was the piece that said "hurricane Katia will hit the US. It is now" - which is what I saw when I glanced at the TV this morning. Exactly the opposite of the intended meaning.

Writing for this medium is different than writing long form. We as writers need to understand the form that our message will be delivered in (yeah, I know, dangling preposition), and craft the message accordingly.

Oh and is it Ed Rollins who is the campaign chief? or is Ed Rollins the deputy? I don't know. I can guess, but am really not sure.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

For whose benefit?

I keep seeing systems where "automation" is applied to benefit the wrong people - and where that automation actually leads to a much worse state of affairs. John Seddon of  Vanguard would have a field day with some of the horrors that we see. I suspect tha tRichard Veryard might too - applying the POSIWID (the Purpose Of a System Is What It Does) principle to some of the horror shows.

Let's take a couple of old chestnuts. HR systems. HR systems are generally designed for the HR department and not for the majority of poor suckers who have to use it - the employees. Somehow to be an employee, I have to be an expert in labor law, an expert in health plans, and expert in company labor policy, a mind reader - when do I have time to work?

Then expense claim systems. 2 (major) constituencies here. The people who need to be reimbursed for expenses they have incurred and the accounting (usually accounts payable) department, rolling up to management. Every expense system that I have ever used (except that of MomentumSI) seemed to favor the accounting over the employee. For sure there are corrupt employees, so lots of processes have to be put in place. Fiddling expenses = fraud = dismissal for cause in my book. So again taking a POSIWID view is the purpose (really) to get the employees their money back quickly or to manage the accounting? Actually there is a third possibility - make it so hard that employees would rather not claim than endure the pain.

And the last piece of idiocy comes from professor evaluations. It used to be the case that towards the end of the semester, the students were asked by the professor to fill in a paper form evaluating the professor against some predefined criteria. The professor would leave the room while this was going on. It took about 10 minutes, the forms were placed into an envelope, sealed and handed in. The data were entered somewhere and the scores tabulated and handed to the professor some time later - often at the beginning of the next semester. It worked pretty well. Most students filled the forms in and good data were obtained. Enter the internet, direct entry, etc. Now the students are pointed to a website whee they can fill in the scores. Of course there aren't computers in the classroom, so the students have to do it out of hours and it conflicts with the many other tings they have to do. And of course they have to remember. So now we have a much lower participation, a tendency to towards the extremes. Only people with strong views at the positove and negative ends tend to fill these in. It is so bad that some classes are bribed with extra "points" to fill them in (and what does that say about ethics and education), the data aren't as valuable as they used to be, and aren't even ready as soon as they were under the old system? Why you might ask? I can't come up with a great answer to this - except maybe it seemed like a good idea at the time.
Moral of the story - just because you can "automate" a process doesn't mean you should.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

OK - So its not technology, but it is in some senses a system

I have been puzzled by the way that corporate travel works. It seems to be a classic case of sub-optimization and I have never had a convincing story from corporate travel managers. I'll use some examples from my past to illustrate.
First comes from when I ran a consulting business. I figured that since my employees would often have to travel to the customer sites, I would quote rates to the customer that were inclusive of travel and then manage the travel down. I'd make some assumptions and then quote an all-in daily rate. Of course our rates looked higher than some of the competitions' rates, but the TCO was better. And then as a bonus to my employees, I would reward them at the end of the year with some percentage of the "saved" travel costs - assuming that they would normally have to pay $0.50 per mile on a trip for the airfare portion. Some of the more creative consultants were getting $0.20 or less, so there was lots to share.  I typically bumped the hourly rate factoring in about $0.35 per mile. So all were happy. Except they weren't! This was very difficult for the bean counters at some of our customers. They needed to see expenses accounted for differently.
Fast forward a few years. I was walking with a large travel agency on some modernization projects. This involved some of us commuting to the customer site, and staying the week.  Of course, since the customer was a travel agency, we had to use them for booking. Round trip airfare + 4 nights in hotel = $1300. We could book on Travelocity (and did a couple of times) getting the same flights, same hotel, same durations for about $700. We offered that to the customer - no deal. And then they had the gall to not renew the contract because "our expenses were out of control".
Fast forward to now. Texas education is in a budget crunch. There are important conferences that people need to go to - especially the people in Industry Studies kinds of programs. People have travel budgets to do these. How these budgets are calculated, I have no idea. What I do know is that accommodation and transportation have to be itemized. That's the policy, there's a travel department that does this. So, again, it is impossible to use the low cost mechanisms (like Travelocity) to book trips. Travelocity bundles airfare and hotels into a package, and is often a whole lot cheaper than booking the parts separately.
In corporations that I have worked for, it has almost never been acceptable to book the cheapest options - even when that is more convenient as well as cheaper. As a traveler would I prefer a package allowing a cheap non-stop flight or paying more and having to change planes in order to apply with (misguided) travel policy.
So given that there has to be some benefit to the current expensive, nonsensical approaches we have to ask where the benefits accrue. There are several candidates:
  • Corporate travel can look like heroes because they have negotiated special airfares with preferred carriers. Except of course that's a false economy.
  • Corporate travel gets all sorts of perks and inducements for the deals it does. Hmm, that doesn't look too helpful either.
  • Travel policy can more easily be enforced up front. Well, that;s probably true, but employees who make unauthorized trips should not have the cost of those trips reimbursed.
  • Fraudulent refunds - using an employee's own credit card, getting the trip changed, refund comes to employee and the employee makes some extra. That's really bad news and the employee should be fired for fraud.
  • Being able to track travel independently of the travelers' own reporting. yes that might make a difference.
  • No business class/first class generally available on packages booked on Travelocity. Well maybe there's a cheaper way around that.
The bottom line for me is that I don't see how corporate travel agents can really be justified - unless they facilitate the booking of all inclusive bundled packages. That surely has to be the way to save $$$$$

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Video when you should use audio

I was reading one of Jeremy Shoemaker's excellent SEO posts, but was struck by a strange use of media. He has an interview with Levi Horowitz from Link Wheelers on the site, But the annoying thing about it is that it is a skype video. The video adds no value - a pair of talking heads. So it means I can't (easily) play it while driving, I essentially have to consume a bunch of extra bandwidth (and with the mobile carriers charging for bandwidth that's going to get expensive) to consume the valueless pictures.

Wise up folks, use video when you have valuable pictures to add. Use audio otherwise. Processing video (at least in my head) takes a whole lot more brain energy than processing audio. At least with audio I can do something else. And then use that great concept the podcast so I can listen to the audio in the car or in other off line situations

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Openness of Open systems

I was having a spirited conversation with a friend (involving beer of course) yesterday evening. We got around to discussing the sham of "Open Systems" - especially as applied to the travel industry. My belief is that the Open Systems marketing term was coined to attempt to break the stranglehold of TPF (transaction Processing Facility) on IBM mainframes. Now TPF is an unbelievably reliable system, but without a lot of flexibility. Maybe that's what makes it reliable. So when you want the system to be rock solid, run on TPF, otherwise do something else. That all comes at a price, so "Open Systems" were used as a way to beat up the TPF crowd with the promise of cheaper and more agile computing - and supposedly the promies of being able to switch - i.e. not be beholden to any single vendor. So *NIX systems were the darlings. Well kind of. Solaris, HP-UX, AIX were all candidates. But realistically how easy is it to switch from one flavor of OS to another?
That led me to draw an analogy between Operating Systems and DNA. A pretty woolly analogy, I admit, but it came out kinda fun. Let's imagine there is somehow a bit less than 2% difference (whatever that means) between a pair if UNIXes (UNICes?). That's about as different as the DNA differences between humans and chimpanzees.
It doesn't take a lot to see that the ~2% difference at the DNA level leads to some pretty major incompatibilities. That's true in the "Open Systems" world too. 2% different? Not much will switch easily.
So I continue to suggest that the openness of "open systems" is still a crock.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A work order for everything

The concourse at work was full of vendors and other exhibitors yesterday. So there was much more traffic than normal. That also mans that there was much more demand for the restrooms than normal, and a run on towels for washing afterwards.

The towel dispenser was empty. On the wall a small sign, asking people to call facilities if there was anything wrong with the restroom. I bit. Stupidly it turned out.

Expectation, on my part: Call give the room location, the issue and hang up before my hands had a chance to dry.

Reality: Call routed to the contracted maintenance company. They wanted name office location, extension number, cube location, email address..... With the explanation that they need this data for the work order. One would think that since I work there, maybe my name would suffice - or just my employee id. Then I had to codify the request. This whole process took almost 15 minutes - enough time for me to catch the elevator to the 4th. floor, sit down at my desk AND for Windows to boot. What a shocker.

The help desk person said, that we only need to enter that data once, so when I create another work order, my data will be there. Irony it's my last week. I won't have to do this again.

The world has gone mad! So much so, that I was already to use the restroom again - this time to er...vomit after such a fatuous experience.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Spoiled for Choice

I was at a fast food joint yesterday and ordered the "meal" which consisted of a hamburger, fries and a soft drink. Nothing special there, a normal fast food lunch. At least until I met the Cocal Cola Freestyle (R) machine which announces that it has 106 choices. Far from having the desired effect, it pushed me to a simpler modele iced tea dispenser. That got me thinking in the time between sitting down and the burger/fries being ready.

Why do I want that much choice? What effect does that much choice have on my desire to purchase? Are there studies on done on choice overload? I was clearly suffering from choice overload myself!

And yes, there is at least one study It dates from 2000, Columbia University and can be found here. A key finding (quoted from the artice directly) is "....people are more likely to purchase gourmet jams or chocolates or to undertake optional class assignments when offered a limited array of 6 choices rather than a more extensive array of  24 or 30 choices."

I see choice explosion all the time. Overly configurable software, shopping options when buying travel, brands of chocolate. You name it, we have so much choice over things that end up giving us distinction without difference. That is horribly wasteful - we have to use significant brain cycles in order to drive to a decision when fact there are no sensible criteria against which to measure the distinctions.

The sad part is that my experience "when faced with too much choice do something else." looks like it is a default human behavior and leads to the opposite effect that the marketers actually want.

I have long said that the hardest technology decisions are those made when you can't properly distinguish between the contenders. When asked to justify choice we end up choosing with the "gut" and then backfilling or fudging the "objective" data to justify the choice.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Downgrading the XOOM

A month in, it feels like I may have bought the wrong tablet. That's quite an admission having dumped a whole lot of $, but the XOOM just isn't good enough. The culprit? Google itself. Its applications and environments are so unseamless, so unintuitive and so arrogant as to render the device a pain to use.

It's a bunch of silos not a nicely integrated whole. So what has my ire and indignation? What was the last straw? iGoogle. I was playing around with it - and it magically became my home page. I couldn't find a way of reverting the home page to the google android page. Even when resetting to "default", I get iGoogle.
Why is that bad? Because the bloody calendar displayed there doesn't show me my Google calendar - that carefully synched ruler of my life. There are no, zero, none, nada appointments in the iGoogle calendar. So what's going on, I wonder? And it says clearly on the iGoogle home page it may not work properly on tablets. Then give me a way to not have it - bastards.

Then there is the general rant (admittedly on the desktop/laptop) where the irritating autosave causes me to lose characters when typing. And Google's phenomenally arrogant attitude ("it's a feature, we know best, now go away and let the people who know how YOU are supposed to work tell you what to do")

The crassly stupid email (even for connecting to corporate mail) where the visible size of the address field shows just one email address (in to: CC and BCC) making it really hard to edit addresses.

The idiocy of having to accurately place fingers on text that you want to edit. Some arrow keys on the keyboard would be pretty handy sometimes.

The half hearted integration between email and calendaring.

The Android market - it renders in landscape only. If I was in portrait mode then selecting the market means I have to physically rotate the tablet. It seems to turn into some elaborate plate spinning ritual.

In other words, the user experience software is terrible. The operating system itself and the underlying capabilities of the device are excellent. Extremely reliable, good battery life, etc.

Now if Google would stop trying to develop software that humans have to touch we would all be better off.

Apple may control the developer experience, but the user experience seems somehow freer. Google opens the platform for developers, but the user experience really suffers.

What's a poor user to do?

Monday, March 21, 2011

A Rant against Google

The attitude of Google around Gmail/Blogspot etc. is just unconsciable. You mayind some weird contractions in ths post (in fact there is one on the previous line it should say "may find", not "mayind").

Google has an autosave feature on gmail and blogspot. How can this be bad you ask? The answer is that
  1. I can't disable it (you will take it our way and there are no exceptions - Shades of Apple anyone?)
  2. When autosave kicks in (in this case on IE9) it suspends the recognition of keyboard events. So whatever I was typing while autosave was taking place gets lost. Hence there will be letters, punctuation and white space missing from posts and mails.
  3. I can't change the timing - it happens every 30 seconds whether I want it to or not.
The Google position (from forum, etc.) is

"It is a feature. But if it is causing problems, then the feature has bugs. You fix it by removing the bugs, not by removing the feature.
The fact that the draft is causing an error means that there is a bug someplace. (It might be a browser or add-in problem rather than a google problem, but there is still a bug.) If you want to work on getting rid of the bug, follow my instructions above.
Saying "any feature that has a potential for disruption should be fully user-configurable" is not at all helpful. If you talk to a software designer, they would tell you that there goes the path to madness. EVERY feature "has a potential for disruption", but every time you add a configuration option you make your software more complicated and MORE prone to breakage. The solution is to make features work correctly, not to add hundreds and hundreds of configuration options."

This is directly copied from "Joshua's reply" I don't know who Joshua is, nor what responsibility he has. But judging from the amount of angst there has been around this, and the crass insensitivity of his answer above, I hope he doesn't jave product direction nor customer facing responsibilities for long.
Oh and one of the (many) links (primary sources) for this rant is at

I understand Apple's walled garden (orchard?), but Google's not at all.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Adventures in VerizonLand

VerizonLand isn't quite Wonderland and I am not Alice. But there are some similarities...
A couple of weeks ago we bought Motorola Xoom devices. Nice they are too. In fact we like them a lot. No worries there. While in the Verizon store a rep asked us to see if there was a way to reduce our monthly billing. We have FIOS, phone service a couple of mobile phones and the Xooms. So we are quite well kitted out. Of course what was really wan was for us to switch to FIOSTV, but we have resisted that for years. We did find a way of saving some $, - so far so good. The rep mentioned that we were "eligible" for the Verizon hotspot capabilities - and of course they are free. Cool, I thought. So far nothing terribly strange.

Eventually I get around to the sign-up for the wifi services. Thee provided by the Residential group within Verizon (not the Wireless group like you might expect). The penny had yet to drop with me. So off to the website, and once I had gone through the mental gymnastics of password recovery, waiting for a PIN etc. I felt that I had stepped out of Louis Carroll and into Samueal Becket. Managed to get over that.

Off to the link I went, and the system wants to install something on my desktop. Now this computer is a boat anchor. It is never going to access an external wi-fi unless I make a special trailor for it and house my own portable generator.So that's just plain nuts. However I was already into it - I had my flamingo as it were and had started playing croquet. Eventually it installs. I get this nice tote telling me to visit a Verizon web site to get access from other computers.

The only computers that need to have this feature are th XOOM and the DINC (an Android smartphone). So of course I attempt to go to the website to activate the XOOM. I manage to get the first layer sign in - but t wants something I don't have and can't possibly have. Trip to Verizon store later and am told that the application isn't available for the XOOM. I scratch my head and clean my ears thinking that the one device that could really benefit doesn't have the capability. So I ask again. Same answer. The assistant tells me that the "XOOM is a wireless device and is handled by Verizon Wireless and that the WiFi service is a residential service and handled through residential group." No sense of irony there.

I think perhaps Verizon really has had its head cut off and that its parts are flailing about independently.