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Meetings dust

The builders are currently in our house, the last week they’ve been knocking down walls. And oh the dust! It’s got everywhere, no surface in the house remains without a thin layer of dust. And that is dispite their putting up plastic sheets to contain it. As the building work has progressed, there are many parallels to software development. But is there a parallel to the dust? Something unpleasant, gets in the way, chokes you and makes everyone tense and unhappy? Well come to think about it there is. Meetings. Surely meetings are the dust of software development.

Office inconsistency beaten by a tortoise

If there is a Golden Rule of usability, surely it must be consistency. Internal consistency (i.e. whenever you click “home” you will always return to the homepage), external consistency (i.e. mirror “real life” – when I “send” a mail it goes to a “recipient” … when I do something similar I expect a similar behaviour.Experience has taught me when using Microsoft Office that I should continually save. Experience also teaches me that if I select “undo” that will reverse the change I have just made. Cool! In Word I make a change – save – undo and the change is undone. PowerPoint is in the Office Suite so I expect consistent behaviour. I expect to be able to save my document and still be able to undo any changes I made before I saved.

But Office breaks the Golden Rule and yet again looses all my work.

I wanted to send a single slide from a presentation to a colleague so I deleted all the other slides, and subconsciously hit control-S. I then realised that I didn’t want to save the document using the current file name, but should have selected “save as.” No worries, I can undo that delete… Only I can’t. And I’ve lost all but one slide of my PowerPoint masterpiece. Once again I’m cursing Microsoft.

What to do? No hesitation, straight to Tortoise CVS and a resolution to use source control locally on my documents. It’s not just Devs who check work in and out… Only problem may be when I come to share documents with colleagues – rather than calling documents v0.n, I’m always working with version 1.0. Now if I had a personal central repository that others could access…

Pleasing the brand police

February 20, 2006, 12:26 pm

Barclays have recently updated their web pages to reflect the new brand. Had someone told the brand guys that they no-longer needed to render fonts in HTML – they could use images for fonts.¬† Immediate impressions with this is that it is getting the stylesheet to do something it was never intended to. Aren’t style and content supposed to be seperated? But it is for the developers to argue the elegence of the solution. You cannot argue that it appears to finally give those people in marketing what they’ve always wanted on the web – anti-aliassed fonts. (And accessible to! we’re using stylesheets, look! I can turn the style off on my browser and the image is replaced by a nice and large header! No more need for alt tags! Whoppeee¬† But hang on. A little digging reveals that the web killjoy of accesibility says it is not a good idea after all. The ephemeral smile on the brand police face has vanished. We’ll be using html fonts after all.

Lotus notes sucks

February 17, 2006, 5:13 pm

The Guardian ran a good article about Lotus notes.

“Imagine a program used by 120 million people, of whom about 119m hate it. Sound unlikely? Yet that’s the perception one garners in trying to discover whether Lotus Notes, IBM’s “groupware” application, is – as readers of Technology blog suggested – the “world’s worst application”.” Good news! They are redesigning it and asking for feedback. So I dutifully went to the IBM feedback form and filled it out. “question 3: blah blah blah. If not skip to question 5. So I skipped to question 5. And when I submitted the form it wouldn’t let me progress until I completed quesiton 4. Doh! There were other blunders in the form. If they can’t get a simple form right…..

Building with bricks, developing with code

January 30, 2006, 12:34 pm

We’re building an extension on the back of the house. Three weeks into the build, the foundations are down, the walls are up and the roof is on. And in many respects the builder is like an agile developer. For a start he is cursing the architect.

The build is to some extent emergent, not least because of all the hidden surprises that QA (building inspector) is throwing up. And the customer (me) is having to make decsions as the build progresses, reprioritising according to business value (or cost – how much for those folding sliding timber windows? Sorry aesthetics. Hello uPVC).

But what we can always return to are the architects plans. Not so much for the detail (much of the time the realities of the build invalidate the up-front design) rather for the vision of what is being built. I’d argue this vision is equally important in agile projects; without it can you really be sure what you are going to get? Story cards are great, but when supported with storyboards (lo-fi prototype, wireframes, call them what you will…), it is then that developers get an “a-ha” moment and see the phyiscal manifestation of the story. At least how the analyst and the customer see it. And with that tangible, visual model it is easy to gain consensus before a line of code is written.

Is good corporate software design too much to ask?

January 25, 2006, 1:45 pm

Someone left a copy of Computing on the train this morning. Thumbing through it there was an interesting comment around how “users” are becoming more demanding in their expectations.

Why should you be able to go home and see your 13 year old son playing with a Sony PSP, with awesome graphics, great design and compelling experience, but when you get to work the brand new Enterprise Application looks like it was designed by amateurs, is difficult to use and is yet another cumbersome product that IT have rolled out with apparently little input from the people who are actually going to use it (“No-one asked my opinion…”.)

Why should you be able to have a google mail account with more than 2 gigabytes of storage space and a whopping 10 meg filesize you can send or recieve. Yet in your corporate mail box everytime you try to send an important and timely mail you get a warning message preventing you from sending it until you free up some space. (And what happens to your level of productivity when that happens? ) And the creative agency who want to send you the new creative treatments can’t email them to you because they are too big. What do you look like?

Users are beginning to expect more. Giving them functionality is no longer enough, you have to ensure the application is engaging and compelling. (Why? Because happy users start to like IT, and a loved IT function will have less difficulty securing budget for the really sexy projects that everyone wants to do).

Spam

January 24, 2006, 1:52 pm

It seemed like a good idea, to have a blog. Never thought I’d have to maintain it beyond entering posts. But Lo! Behold! 250 odd comments, all of which are spam. The blog engine I’m using doesn’t handle spam comments well, so I have to go to the mySQL database and delete them at source. So I am now realising that it is time to use a different blog engine. WordPress comes reccomended. The documentation is all fairly straight forward. So now to estimate how long it will take me to upgrade. Recalling my velocity last time round, to install the engine and update CSS across the whole site, (a bunch of simple stories for seasoned developers) took me on and off 12 months. So maybe I’ll be deleting spam in mySQL for a while longer…

Developing a nervous twitch

January 18, 2006, 4:13 pm

A colleague just IM’d me, she’d lost the last hour’s work on PowerPoint. That has happened to me far too many times in the past. I’ve now learnt a nervous twitch in my left hand. An involuntary spasm causes the little finger to hit the Ctrl button and the index finger to hit ‘S’ simultaneously. I don’t trust Autosave – I trust that twitch.

Carpark experience, learned behaviour betrays innovation

January 9, 2006, 6:09 pm

I’ve never really considered car parks as places for innovative ideas, yet such innovation exists in the Bentalls car park in Kingston. Every parking bay has a light indicating if it is rmpty or taken. As you drive along the floors you can see the vacant spaces before you get to them courtesy of the green light above the space. in addition, on each floor there is a sign notifying drivers of how many free spaces are available on this floor and the next floors. Excellent stuff!

The immediate question that comes to mind is “what would the business case have been for this?” This innovation can’t have come cheap. I presume there were two overiding factors – firstly to increase the throughput of cars. If drivers can see free spaces they won’t need to sit waiting for the driver of a car in a space to reverse out and eliminate the consequent hold up of traffic. The technology also should provide an improved customer experience – it should make drivers feel better about using this carpark and become repeat users (is there such as thing as carpark loyalty). Problem is, the reality is slightly different to what is intended.

The new technology fails to accomodate existing behaviours. So whilst drivers can see there are spaces available further down the level, when they see reverse lights come on, they still stop and wait for the car to reverse and take that space. There are still hold-ups, still hill starts on the ramps. And we had to wait 20 minutes before we found a space. Bottom line, the technology may be great, but how ingrained are user behaviours that it is designed to replace? Does your business case cover users un-learning those bad habits it is based upon?

It’s been said many times before…

January 6, 2006, 2:51 pm

So the great new Dell top has let me down. Not even a blue screen, just an endless loading screen and reboot. As I write things are not looking hopeful. The prognosis is bad. Into the valley of dispair I tread. Looks like nothing can be saved, the hard-drive is beyond saving, my data has left this world. Maybe we’ll meet again on judgement day. Judgement day when I’ll be reminded of my mortal sin: “you didn’t back your data up. Did you…” Forvever doomed. Six months of work (for that is how long it’s been since my last back-up) lost. Looking on the bright side, six weeks in plaster have come to end and I’m learning to walk again. My advice? When it is icy look where you place your feet. And back up your work tonight.

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