Friday, February 26, 2010

Belated Valentine's Day Post

With Valentine's Day now safely behind us, it's time for the First (And Possibly Last) Annual Belated Valentine's Day Post. Rather the reciting the litany of loved ones, all of whom are dearer and more important to me than I can say, I'm going to write about technology I love.

In particular, there are two products that are currently my All Time Favorite Products ... this week, at least.

The first is a recumbent tricycle, better known as a 'bent trike. I started bike commuting a few years ago, and expanded that pursuit into more recreational riding. Once I started riding just for fun, I started thinking about less practical, but more fun human-powered vehicles. In researching this, I wound up borrowing a 'bent trike from some neighbors who just happened to have one sitting in their basement. It was an older model, but still very functional once I made a few adjustments.


After a few short rides, I was completely hooked on this. The feeling is like sitting in a comfortable lounge chair, and yet being able to zoom around anywhere you want. You're still pedalling, and you still feel it when you're climbing hills, but even then, it's a complete pleasure. Let's face it ... a 150 to 250 pound person balancing 3 feet off the ground on two bike wheels, each about an inch wide, is just not that stable. Sure bikes are very efficient and practical, and once you learn to ride, you never forget. But I live in New England. What about snow? Ice? Wet leaves? The trike has no problem with any of these conditions. You just keep rolling.

After failing to pursuade my neighbors to part with their trike, I was forced to buy one. My particular trike is a TerraTrike Cruiser with the optional 26" wheel upgrade, but there are plenty of other models to explore. Unfortunately, it's hard to find places to try them out. Ask your neighbors!

The other item of technology that has endeared itself to me is formally known as the Fujifilm FinePix REAL 3D W1. Most users I know of just call it the 3D Fuji or the W1 or something. I've been taking stereo (3D) photos for over 15 years, but as film got scarcer and harder to process, the options were limited. Nobody made an actual digital 3D camera, and even with a rig cobbled from two separate cameras, it was difficult to get synchronized shots, and even more difficult to view them in 3D.

The W1 is not only a decent quality (10Mp per image) stereo camera, but it's extremely portable, and has a built-in 3D viewer on the back! That's right, you can see the 3D, without special glasses, right on the back of the camera. Ok, it's not immersive like, say, an IMAX screening of Avatar, but it's still pretty impressive. Since 3D requires a bit more care in composing the shot (objects that are too close or partly cut off cause problems), the viewer on the back provides a great way to quick-check the shots immediately, so you can re-shoot if necessary.

This is also the most compact 3D camera I've ever seen, and fits nicely in a shirt pocket. For an opportunistic photographer like me, it means I can have it with me at all times ... even when riding my trike!

I mention these products because I'm getting great pleasure from them. I paid full price for them, and have no relationship with the companies other than being a very satisfied customer.

See? I'm not such a curmudgeon!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Agile Schmagile!

There's a lot of talk about Agile development in the software world. Basically, this means that instead of planning big projects by figuring out what's needed, and then methodically building it, you take baby steps. You set small goals, and have teams work their butts off to achieve them in a few days or weeks, with frequent brief meetings to keep everyone on track. There's more to it that than, but that's the high-level, non-technical, other-hyphenated-adjective view.

So what's the point? The point is that things change too fast for classical long (e.g., 12-18 month) software development projects. In the Web market particularly, companies have to react almost daily to changing technology, changing demands, viral cults and fads, etc. Plus, the ability of the Web to deliver upgrades continuously or nearly creates the expectation of constant newness. In theory, atomizing development into projects of a few days' or weeks' scope helps companies be more reactive ... agile! Get it?

The only problem is that for all its flood of buzzwords (agile, sprint, scrum, stand-ups), Agile methodology (actually, methodologies, as there are already multiple factions with the Agile development world), really just boils down to: do small steps quickly. There's no new idea here. The difference between Agile and more traditional methodologies is one of quantity, not quality.

Also, many of these methodologies are observed only by lip service. This approach is so trendy that everyone wants to be a part of it, even if only by renaming their status meetings stand-ups, and their now much abbreviated project cycles scrums. I know one place that holds stand-ups in a comfortable lounge area. Everyone sits.

I can certainly appreciate the goal of formalizing development methodologies. I've seen plenty of utterly chaotic organizations. But in those places where the methodologies are formally applied, they often become more of a hindrance than a help. There's only one methodology I've seen as universally successful: Hire good people!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Can't Sit Still

I recently joked that the technical support people in my company were basically like the engineers, but with social skills. This remark was met with great amusement by the support folks. Less so by the engineers.

I mention this because, although an engineer, I've always taken a certain amount of pride in my social skills. I can create effective presentations, speak comfortably in front of crowds, and parlay my technical knowledge into sales when called upon to do so.

I can also sit still in meetings. It's a minor point, but I confess I've looked somewhat disparagingly at those who jiggle their appendages while listening to someone else speak. I've sat next to leg shakers and foot waggers, not to mention cell phone fidgeters and that classic type, doodlers. While this is hardly anti-social behavior, it can be a bit distracting. Moreover, it suggests that the mover and shaker is feeling some unease.

Then I read this New York Times piece. Olivia Judson argues that sitting still is, in fact, unhealthy. Fidgeting, twitching, and even getting up and pacing around are ways to stave off obesity, heart disease and diabetes. Who knew?

So nervous is the new cool. That will take some getting used to. I'll have to find some ways of making myself uneasy. I'll have to give myself that sense of deep disquiet that overwhelms repose, and spurs the body to action. I'll have to find some way to maintain that perpetual state of anxiety. How can I do that?

I'll start by reading the rest of the New York Times.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Can't get decent help

Suppose you hired an assistant to help you with various work and life tasks. Suppose when you asked the assistant to do something for you, he or she would just randomly stop and start doing something else. Suppose the assistant said your task was getting done, but in fact, it wasn't. Suppose when you needed something critical, the assistant has to go shop for some new clothes first.

So why do we put up with this from our computers?

Friday, February 5, 2010

Top level domains

Why isn't there a .blog top level domain? You know, or or, etc.

For one thing, then you could register your blog name without having to compete with a bunch of adolescent hackers who think they're starting up a goldmine.

Most importantly, you'd know if the link someone sent you has real content, or just a lot of stupid posts like this one.