Dec 05

Beethoven’s Piano

Here’s a great post on the inadequacy of todays CAD tools for architects: Beethoven’s Piano.
While I fully admit that the tools are not yet where we want them to be (and ours isn’t different), I find that complaining about tools has a longstanding tradition, especially among software developers.
It’s easy to produce crap – with any tool. First and foremost, your results depend on your personal skills (and I’m not talking about your in-depth knowledge of J2EE here, but about code-writing skills).
That’s not to say that a great & adequate tool won’t propel you to new heights, but if you aren’t working on mastering the basics of your profession every day, changing the tool won’t make a difference. It may make things worse. I would even say that the 80/20 rule applies: 80% of the result is directly related to your personal skills, 20% of the result is related to the tool you use. Which one do you tackle first?
A point worth remembering if you’re involved in the daily flame wars about the merits of Java, C++, XML, Ajax, Flash, Ruby, Python etc.

Dec 05

Stanford on iTunes

Stanford on iTunes. Is this cool or what.

(Via Loic Le Meur Blog.)

Dec 05

Less software?

Tilman wonders about 37signals “Less software” approach and concludes that “Less” sometimes is – less!.
Here are a few unstructured thoughts of mine on this very topic:
* The need to integrate a software product in a complex workflow with different, heterogeneous components makes it hard to build “less software”. Interfacing with different machines, different ERP-systems is hard. And complex. Which translates into more, not less software.
* The software 37signals creates is great stuff. The apps work beautifully. However, these are not “mission-critical” apps used by companies to run their core business processes. Plus these apps are very much targeting the “knowledge worker” who’s used to work all day long in front of his/her computer. There are many users out there who don’t want to spend a lot of time in front of their computer & who don’t have the time to play around on their computer. Because they aren’t interested in computers at all plus – more importantly – they get paid to run a business, build real products and face real-world problems. These types of users tend to expect a lot of features with minimum intervention on their behalf.
* You may get away with less features by creating a product which appeals to both tourists & sailors as outlined in Guy Kawasaki‘s The Macintosh Way. However, most likely you’ll end up with powerful software with a great, easy-to-use multi-level UI. To my understanding, that’s not the “less software” approach 37signals is advocating.
However, I still think a lot of the “less software” concepts which came up in the context of 37signals are worth pondering and worth pursuing. Especially if you think about them as related to the well-known YAGNI principle used in XP style software development:

It’s not about anticipating and building what may be needed tomorrow, it’s about building great software for what is needed today.

[Update: Another twist to the topic is that the type of customer I described above wants to pay for features he/she most likely will never use, but doesn’t want to pay for simplicity or ease-of-use]

Dec 05

Killing Applications…

Looks like Don Park is wondering about document-centric computing.
Don, read this first before following this road any further.

Dec 05

iTunes TV shows

Now that Jay Leno & Conan O’Brian are available on iTunes, how am I supposed to buy the shows? No, I’m not located in the US.
There’s a really cool, weekly podcast-like show called iSchmidt available in the German iTunes store. How do I subscribe to the show? Does the iTunes music store expects me purchase every show every week?
It would be very cool if I could subscribe to a weekly show (like iSchmidt or Conan O’Brian) and my credit card would be charged if and only if I actually listen to or watch the show.

Dec 05

Fundamentale Mentalitätsprobleme

An folgenden Beiträgen der letzten beiden Tage läßt sich exemplarisch aufzeigen, was hier in Deutschland fundamental nicht stimmt:
Süddeutsche Zeitung – Krise der Wikipedia – Unleserlicher Mist

Nach einer Serie blamabler Pannen ist die Online-Enzyklopädie “Wikipedia” entzaubert. Im Netz nennt man sie bereits “Wiki-Prawda”. Der Betreiber hat Korrekturen angekündigt. Doch bleibt das Projekt einer “Social Software” im Kern gefährdet.

n-tv.de – Eintagsfliege – Weblogs völlig überschätzt

Weblogs sind ein völlig überschätztes Phänomen. Zwar ist die Anzahl der Internet-Tagebücher sowie ihr Bekanntheitsgrad sehr hoch. Doch die Anzahl derer, die darin ihre Kommentare abgeben, ist ebenso gering wie die Anzahl derer, die einen “Blog” betreiben. Zudem ist die Reichweite von Blogs sehr gering. Das sind die Ergebnisse der neuesten W3B-Studie, für die in den vergangenen beiden Monaten gut 100.000 deutsche Internetnutzer befragt wurden.

Typisch Deutsch:
* Tritt ein Problem auf, wird das ganze Produkt/Konzept/Idee komplett in Frage gestellt
* Kein Mensch interessiert sich dafür, was man denn besser machen könnte – es macht ja viel mehr Spaß, einfach hirnlos draufzuschlagen anstatt konstruktive Ideen einzubringen
* Lieber warten wir mal ab, es könnte ja ein Problem auftreten
* Wir machen mal lieber nix, es bestände ja sonst die Gefahr, daß wir durch eine Aktion etwas dazulernen
Warum haben wir Deutschen wohl alle relevanten technologischen Trends der letzten 100 Jahre komplett verschnarcht? Warum ist deshalb unsere Volkswirtschaft in einer Schieflage, aus der sie selbst nicht mehr rauskommen wird? Hat sich das mal jemand gefragt? Nöö, ne.
Um meinen Freund Garfield zu zitieren: Mann, bin ich geladen…
Zum Thema passend wie die Faust auf’s Auge dieser Artikel in der New York Times.
Back to work.

Dec 05

Irrelevant UI improvements

Don Park makes an interesting observation on the average computer user, and Dave Winer agrees.
I’ve rambled about this topic quite a while ago: 95% of the UI improvements in Windows Vista or MacOS X are irrelevant to 95% of the computer users out there. Why? Because they don’t address the fundamental challenges these 95% face.
I would even go farther and say that 99% of all past improvements to the Windows Explorer or Macintosh Finder (remember the spatial orientation discussion?) were irrelevant to 99% of the users.
[Update: And I don’t subscribe to the theory that the Web is a fundamental advance for these 95% of the users, as David Berlind notes. It’s not that the desktop (OS) is flawed and the Web-based UIs change that. Web-based UIs just have different kinds of fundamental problems.]

Dec 05

Amazon’s Mechanical Turk

Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. I missed that one a while back. Very, very cool. There’s still a lot of manual work out there to be done, even in an IT-centric environment.
(Via TechCrunch).

Dec 05

Eating like a bird and pooping like an elephant…

Eat like a bird and poop like an elephant”. A classic quote from Guy Kawasaki, whose best book remains The Macintosh Way.

Dec 05

Ruby interpreter in your browser

Try Ruby in your browser. Very cool.

(Via Bob Congdon.)