Thursday, October 28, 2004

Check the Basement for Pods

Last month, my family acquired an iPod - I had won it at a tradeshow, but promptly gave it to my nine year old. It's just a toy, right? Wrong.

You may recall my views on sourcing music from the internet though ...

Well, in the space of just 30 days, our esteem of these lil' gadgets has risen to the highest level possible. My eldest daughter uses it to bring homework and photos to/from school. I grab RSS feeds and large spoken word files for long car trips. My wife keeps calendaring and office management stuff on there too. Now it's to the point where sharing is no longer feasible.

(Oh, great gift, Dad! Thanks a lot!)

Hmm, no good. A solution may not wait for the holidays.

All sorts of insanely great software - like iPod Agent - are springing up across the globe over night, like lunar spores sown by an incandescent meteorite.

As in some sci-fi B-movie from the 1950's, these things hold monstrously powerful sway over all terrestrial life forms. I dare say, very soon there'll be one (or an equivalent) for every man, woman and child on earth.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Instant Collaboration

Wow, this looks pretty darn wonderful at first blush. Test drive?

But the product name irks me - intrapersonal might be more apt.

Thursday, October 14, 2004


*Complex networks have a tendency to fail*. And complexity is the enemy of security, or so goes the old saw. Since large corporate enterprises such as our own are of necessity complex, it is imperative that when failure occurs, it be ductile - that is to say, limited in ramifications, a target of little or no value.

Here's a brief piece about defending against cascading failure in systems. In it, Robb (whose website deserves accolades, devote some time!) cites a great definition - betweeness centrality - one which I must add to my stücke.

Let's call it BC.

Aside: I'll bet Robb is a Go player, perhaps dangerous with classical forms training. If you, gentle reader, ever want a game, please drop me a line.

Aside: Isn't German a wonderful language for engineering terminology?! Systempunkts carries delightful double meaning. I was not surprised to learn that CCC is the group most advanced in the mapping of critical points of BC on the WWW.

*those very failures, or "happy accidents" as I like to call them, often result in mutations - the end results of which tend to make networks more reliable and resilient. but I will save further exploration of that for the near future*

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Tiered/ Weird

Remember Tired/Wired? Kevin Marks has posted a Naughties (that would be the first decade of the century) version of the Nineties classic.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Inside, outside, leave me alone

One of our key requirements for a team workspace is that it works the same regardless of where you are or what your company affiliation is. It should work the same for an employee working from home or an off-site consultant as it does for an employee sitting at her desk in a company facility. If you should have access, you do, and if you shouldn't, you don't. Furthermore, end-user workspace administrators need to be able to simply add and delete people regardless of company affiliation.

While security wonks might want to exert tighter control than that, let's look at what people do today. They email the documents in question to the recipients. The access control list is the email's distribution list. Setting up a team workspace this way has the same security profile, and you have to replicate the simplicity of email with the team workspace or people won't use it.

The challenge is in making this happen. Most people still reflexively think of security in terms of inside and outside the company, but the lines aren't so clear anymore. Worse, inside and outside are often taken to mean literally on company premises or not. Location is a poor proxy for company affiliation.

Ideally, this sort of access control needs to apply to your "internal" blogs as well as most of your "unstructured" company information, but the infrastructure simply isn't there right now. Our team workspaces project will hopefully start to get more of the necessary infrastructure in place.

Internal blogging update

Our internal blogging efforts are struggling along. There are two main issues. The first is the user interface. We are using WordPress, and its posting interface leaves something to be desired. While Blogger's interface is far from perfect, it is a lot better than that provided by WordPress, especially for those who aren't comfortable with HTML. I was a big fan of "reveal codes" back in my WordPerfect days, so I tend to use the "Edit HTML" mode on Blogger. Most people, though, seem to be more comfortable with "Compose" mode, which is much more like using Outlook. Another problem is the lack indication of authorship in group blogs. There's probably a variable, but I need to find it and include it in the template. That should be in the template by default.

The second, and bigger issue, is just what we figured it would be: how do you get people to actually change their ways and use this stuff? We started with a limited, simple concept: status reports. Why email these to the group when you can simply post them? Also, you might change the nature of status reporting from an omnibus biweekly document to quick, focused updates on a particular topic. Theoretically, these would be easier to write. However, this blog has been slow to take off. While some in the group are posting their reports as intended, others are still using email.

We clearly haven't provided enough goodness to provoke a change in behavior. We have successfully changed status reporting behavior in the past, when we went from boring each other to death with oral renditions at staff meetings to the current email format. While writing status reports isn't a joy, it is so much better than the oral alternative. Apparently, the current environment isn't enough better to drive change.

The UI issues are one problem. Even the reports that make it to the blog are generally not as well formatted and easy to read as those that are emailed.

Another problem is notification. The site automatically produces a feed, and I recommended five different options for feed readers, so my teammates can get notified. However, first they have to install a feed reader, and then they have to remember to fire it up or place it in their startup group. If you haven't already been converted to the joys of RSS, why would you fire up your feed reader for one site? You wouldn't. If you have been converted, then why would you switch from a server-based feed reader like Bloglines that you can access from anywhere to a client based one for one feed? Again, you wouldn't. Email is ubiquitous and has none of these issues, although it has plenty of others.

The WordPress problem can be fixed by replacing it with something else. Does MovableType, for instance, have a better posting interface? We could also pick a feed reader that synched with Bloglines via the Bloglines API, which might make a client feed reader more appetizing. Finally, we have to get more interesting internal content than status reports. Before we can get there, though, we have to work out some kinks.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Missing the point of RDP

Chad Dickerson completely misses the point of the remote desktop connection client:
If I'm in an office where I can connect to my PC over the network, I'll just use the PC.

There are several interesting assumptions there. One, that there will be a PC in the office. Second, that you'll be able to log in to that PC. Third, that there's no monstrous roaming profile downloading over a slow link waiting for you. Fourth, that any PC will do rather than your PC in particular. Apparently, these aren't problems for Chad.

I travel a fair amount, and for me, the fastest way to get productive on a PC at a company site is to remote into my desktop. As Chad points out, this doesn't help you when you have no connectivity, but an RDP client is a useful tool.

As a caveat, I've never used the Mac RDP client, but in my experience, RDP is RDP. I actually end up using a Linux RDP client more often than anything else.