I’m a busy, busy Beetil

October 18, 2008


When we first set up YouDo (vote for us here as a top 10 startup), our long term goal was building successful products, as opposed to just focussing solely upon services.  

Having managed some pretty critical IT systems in my previous life, I could never find an effective tool that helped me manage across the whole IT service management lifecycle.   We had evaluated numerous products out there, but they were either too simple, too complex, too expensive, too unusable, or just downright rubbish.   A lot of other people I know find this.   And a lot of people end up building their own – but that just gets too expensive and unmaintainable in the long term.

We were unsatisfied.

So we did something about it.

So I’m pleased to announce that we’re not too far away off of opening up a beta of our first product:

Beetil – service management without the pain.

We’ve got quite a few alpha users on the site at the moment, and pretty much “they can’t live without it”.  We’re using it to manage our own services.  And we love it.   If you’re interested in taking part in the alpha programme please feel free to give us a yell.

It’s a fun time.

Gmail Outage Outrage

August 14, 2008

Wow! There’s been plenty of coverage of the recent massive (yeah, right) 2 hour GMail outage. The end of cloud computing? Erm… I don’t think so.

A couple of observations that immediately sprang to my mind:

One. Do the Maths.

Go figure how much all this would cost you: email server, email software, o/s licenses, backup software, hosting, ongoing management and maintenance, staff costs, etc… Yes. This all adds up. Compare the costs against GMail…. Erm.. That’s a no-brainer.

Hey – ask yourself this as well. For those in corporate environments, how many times is your email service down? Probably more than GMail I would say.

Two. Is email *that* important?

Have you ever heard about GTD (I’m quite fond of it myself). In today’s world of a gazillion emails they’re now recommending that you check your email only at certain intervals. I know countless people that say they only check email three times a day!! So it’s obviously not that big a deal.

Wooo! Then there’s this amazing technological invention known as the telephone. Or this marvel called face-to-face. Yes – we can actually talk to people. That’s a good thing.

No email equals no interruptions. I remember my days as a CIO, when we had a four hour unplanned email server outage. Outrage! “Burn him!”, they cried. Four hours and a good lashing later, people came up to me and said that was the most productive four hours they’ve had for years!

Email ain’t everything. Get over it.

A two hour email outage is not the end of the world, nor for cloud computing.

(and if you even bothered to check IMAP was working fine – sigh!)

Now that we’ve got our own offices, and I’m free of the super restricted corporate firewall we we’re previously (and kindly) bludgeoning off, I was really excited at the prospect of using GMail’s IMAP capabilities and finally being able to use Mail.app.

One word.  Disappointed.

Pluses for IMAP and using Mail.app:

  • I can work offline
  • Creating mail is faster
  • I can haz decent signatures
Pluses for staying with the GMail web browser:
  • it’s instant
  • I can easily tag (Google call this “label”) messages
  • no mucking about with syncing
  • it’s not restricted by IMAP locked down firewalls
  • great search functionality across my whole mailbox
I have tried and tried and tried and tried to persevere with Mail.app and IMAP, but no matter how hard I try I still gravitate back towards browser based Gmail.
Am I missing something here?
Are there some uber-tips and uber-features I just haven’t seen?
At this stage, Gmail through the web browser wins hands down.

Time: My Precious

March 31, 2008

I’ve mentioned a few times now how hard you have to work when you set up a new business.  So it stands to reason that you really have to plan your day and prioritise effectively.

I used to hate the daily commute to and from work, but now I have grown to love it.   It’s pure “me” time – without disruption, in my iPod cocoon on the number 23 bus!

In the mornings I use this time to plan what’s ahead for the day, prepare my first five or so emails for the day, and also to get a download from Roger, our now UK based developer.   The Blackberry Curve is an awesome gadget and with Google Talk, I can choose to be connected anytime I want.

In the evenings, I use the bustime to quickly check-in with everybody and get an update as to where they are all at.   That helps me have a good think on it overnight, ready for planning the next morning.  The evening commute is also a great time to tidy up that inbox.  I’m still trying to maintain Inbox Zero!

Since I’ve gotten into the habit of spending 30 minutes at the start and end of each day I’ve noticed that my days really do seem to be more structured, organised and productive.

Make the investment in yourself and your time.  It’s well worth it.

After Webstock 2008

February 16, 2008


Webstock 2008 is now over.   The brainwaves have subsided and the hangover ended.   A massive thanks should go to the Webstock team for organising what can only be described as world class event.
Whilst many would have seen some of these talks or content before (especially the podcast nuts) – there’s simply no substitute for taking two days out to talk face-to-face with some of the most respected dudes in the business.  You get two days to let it all soak in – and you get to see many angles over the course of the conference.   It was a great investment of my time.
Here’s some of the stuff I got out of Webstock 2008.
  • Tags and Taxonomy.   Free tags are like leaves.  A gazillion of them, but eventually they all fall off the tree, rot, and end up feeding the tree’s structure (the taxonomy).   Tags are for quick learning.  Taxonomy is long term.    A great session from Peter Morville.
  • Continuous Integration, Release and Ops Management at Flickr.   It was great to hear from Cal about how the Flickr team run their shop.   Talking to him post conference, I found out Flickr has about 2,500 servers!!  Yikes!  In short, they do everything to make their lives easier, make them more agile, and to reduce risk.  You know, things like continuous integration, continuous deployment to “pre-production” servers, release flags (i.e. flags in the app to turn functionality on/off – to reduce branching), running tests on their software every hour, and building a whole plethora of “one-click” tools to manage all this stuff.
  • Achieving Flow.   There was one diagram that Kelly Goto put up, which really hit the nail on the head as to why people get in the flow.  See my (keynote) scribbling below:
  • Primal Software Development and Managing Design.   I really enjoyed Michael Lopp’s presentations. Fascinating to hear that at Apple, they start their product process with 10 pixel perfect mockups, which they then reduce to 3, then to 1.   Also – a key take away I got from his sessions was that you can build software many times, but you only build culture once.  Go check out his blog, particularly this post – which captures nicely his first presentation.   
  • How good design helps tell the story.    Jason Santa Maria showed a great example as to how design helps to augment the story, and how the transition from print to web often loses this.  In short, give your site some “context” sensitive design.  If that kinda makes sense?
  • Blending the real world with network data.  Tom Coates gave a great presentation which really opened up my thought processes.  In short, the web is not so much of a collection of web pages, but more a massive collection of data that manifests themselves as web pages (of which is only one form)!   Your product is not your site! (it’s the platform).  And once your size of data gets too large, forget hierarchies – they will collapse under the weight.
  • Eloi vs Morlocks.   Remember that our users are Morlocks and that we, the Eloi, must make their lives as miserable as possible.   Seriously, though, this was a great presentation by Damian Conway, who rightly advocates that we must remember that most internet users are just like Grandma.  So design for them, not us.
  • Feel their Pain.   The brilliant Kathy Sierra says that we need to actually experience the pain our users feel so that we can “mind read” them.   Seriously.  There’s  theory that it will more effectively trigger our “mirror neurons”.   When you’re usability testing, look at peoples faces.  It’s the feelings that you’re after!  Another great tip when building your help.  Document exactly the questions your users ask in the usability sessions. Exactly how they ask them.
All in all, a brilliant conference.   
Thanks Webstock Dudes! 

Busy Boy…

February 9, 2008

Hello All.I am, indeed, still alive.  But have been a very busy boy lately.  But a happy busy boy.We’re working on a large-scale project, built on Rails, due for a bug kahuna release some time this side of winter.It’s been a fantastic eye-opening experience for me, as we’re truly doing the continuous integration thing, and reaping the “long term” benefits – even at this relatively early stage.  I’d heard all the theories from a multitude of people before, but never really seen it executed well in practice.  Until now (big kudos to the guys, especially Will).So what’s this continuous integration all about?:

  • Every time some one checks code into the source code “trunk”, all (automated) tests are executed to validate the build – in other words, the build is “validated”
  • Everyone gets visibility of the (mostly) successful builds.  Good build = kudos.   We’re doing about 5-10 check-ins per day.
  • If a build fails, the project team is notified!!   Bad kudos for the developer.  Bad Kudos = Incentive to improve
  • Quality of code is maintained.  Bugs are reduced
  • More test coverage = more confidence = faster release cycles = agile business = keep ahead of others
  • Eventually leads to a test driven development (TDD) mentality
What it really means is that you are able to change with confidence, and change fast.  If you hadn’t already noticed – this is kinda a key factor for success, if not survival.
I’m really chuffed to work with a crew that are committed to this philosophy, and know that what we’re delivering to our client is top drawer stuff.
It’s the way to go. 

We Like Curves

November 19, 2007


Howdy Strangers!!It’s been a while, and I’ve been a busy boy, so apologies for the lack of recent posts. I’m finding out the hard way the effort it takes running your own business.   

Anyway, after a month of faffing around, I finally decided to opt for a Blackberry Curve.   Being the stingy northern git that I am, it was the cost that did it for me.   We got a great deal on the Curves (<$500 all up, with Voda providing a very handsome discount), whereas the cost for me to have iPhone lurve would have been well over $1,100 (and that for an unsupported device!)  I was a Telecom customer and they wanted to ping me a whopping $250+ for switching to Voda.  So much for number portability.

Anyway, the Curve is going really well – I was initially very disappointed but am now very impressed.

Here’s why:

  • Push Email.  You fully appreciate why Blackberries are now called Crackberries.  Having true push email from MULTIPLE accounts (i.e. exchange, gmail, yahoo, etc) is awesome.   Care does need to be taken with the missus!!
  • Google Talk.  Yes! Google Talk.  I was on the bus home tonight catching up with one of our developers.  How good is that?
  • Keyboard.  The keys are miniscule but, once you get used to it, you can tap out reasonably lengthy emails in no time at all.
  • Phone!  It’s actually a very good phone.  The sound quality is great.  I was coming from an HTC Apache – and that just suck suck sucked as a phone.
  • Holster Lock.   I’ve set the Curve so that when it goes into the holster it automatically switches to the “silent” profile, and locks the keypad!!  Brilliant.
  • The Feel.  It actually feels like a nice phone.  But I guess anything feels nicer than the Apache!  

Overall I like the device.  It allows me to be always on, and connected to my customers, friends and colleagues.  And the keyboard really does allow you to tap out good responses in no time.

The GPS is total pants, but to be honest I see it as a gimmick at the moment until you start getting some good location based services.    Maps, great!!  But, come on, we live in New Zealand.  You don’t need maps here!!

It’s not as sexy as the iPhone – there’s no doubt about that.  But the sheer amount of work I’ve achieved on the device on my trip home has been quite impressive. It’ll at least keep my technolust at bay until the iPhone makes its official debut here.  Whenever that may be.


Next toy? – the Blackberry Helmet.

iWork with iWork

September 27, 2007


Wow! It’s been almost one year since I switched from Windows to Mac.

One of the things you soon learn is that, if you play in the corporate space, you need Microsoft Office.    Quite simply without it you’ll just have headache after headache with formatting incompatibilies,  and the like.  Whilst I admire Open Office and NeoOffice (and I also like the likes of Google Docs & Spreadsheets) they simply can’t handle the “corporate” word document.  Especially if you’re having to deal with richly formatted documents.    I’ve found NeoOffice and OpenOffice slow and buggy as well.  Just not a good experience all up.

I’ve also held off purchasing Office for Mac, since it’s so unclear as to what Microsoft’s plans are with regard to this product.  So at present it’s Parallels desktop with a Windows XP virtual machine for the sole purpose of servicing MSOffice  (given I had a licensesalready!).  Parallels coherence mode simply rocks.

I’ve recently been trialling iWork08, and I have to say I am pleasantly surprised.  I’ve been working with a whole range of quite complex word, excel and powerpoint documents that have translated almost seamlessly – certainly without any issues that would turn me off the product (unlike NeoOffice and OpenOffice).

Keynote is the dogs b*ll*cks, and iWork08 is worth it just for that.  The presentations you can create are simply mindblowing – assuming you don’t adopt the death by powerpoint approach.

Numbers is okay – but omits one essential feature I use ALL the time in Excel – “freeze panes”.  WTF?

Pages is pretty good, and is a nice and pleasant alternative to word.  It feels nicer, and the commenting and track changes is mindblowing clear and simple.  Kinda what you would expect from Apple.

And then there is the price.  NZ109 for a single license, or NZ$138 for a family pack which I can install on my ever growing family of Macs.

Cheap as chips.

I’d urge you to at least try it.   Like me, you may be pleasantly surprised.

I’ve gotta try iLife08 next…

CoffeeDoing business over coffee is one of Wellington’s great perks.  I shudder to think about my annual expenditure on the beautiful black stuff.   Somehow, the cafe atmosphere breaks down those barriers and just lets you get on with, well…  business.  Judging by how busy all the cafes are, I’m not the only one that thinks this way.

Here are some of my favourite joints:

  • Espresso Republic – My local.  Great coffee (Mojo), great food, but avoid the 10am rush!  It’s not called ER for nothing!
  • BNZ Mojo – consistently good coffee, at the foot of the old BNZ tower
  • Magnetix – if it’s a nice day, grab a takeaway and sit on the grass in Midland Park
  • Leuven – coffee and their six dollar breakfast is a real goodie

and if you’re feeling like a cool afternoon beer then my perennial favourites are:

I took my car for a service the other day. I’ve been taking it to the same place for years.

The guy asked me “when was the last time you had an oil and filter change?”

To which I replied, “I haven’t got a clue. I’ve been bringing it here for years so you should know.”

At that point the car mechanic quickly swung around his PC screen and within a few keystrokes had pulled up my cars details – all the last 10 years of service history. He was brilliant at getting around this app – all keystroke driven. And it was fast, fast, fast.

THIt dawned upon me that I’ve never seen a web app (even one served internally) that operates anywhere near even a tenth of this speed.

The trend is for everything to move towards web based apps at the present, but can we ever get response times like the good old client server? I suspect there will always be the need for both.

The tortoise beat the hare in the long run. Will web apps win out in time?