Thoughts on the iPad

2010-05-01 17:34:50 +0000

I love the fact that the iPad has no preferred orientation. I find myself often turning it upside down. I have the apple cover and with the stand up and upside down it sits really nicely on the lap when I'm sitting on the couch.

The keyboard is definitely usable for typing. In fact I love the fact that it autocorrects as I type. I loved this on the iPhone and it is even better on the iPad. We'll see if I still like using it for content creation in a week or so.

Consuming media is compelling. It's beyond the first flush of awe that you get when you use it for the first time and it's the sort of thing that will only get better as the apps mature.

The NPR app is a killer app - I've read and listened to more content there today than in a long time. And i can see it being like a paper - the sort of thing that becomes part of the daily ritual, listening to a story as I have breakfast, or get ready to go out.

The battery life is superb. I've been using it all day and it is still only at 50%. When that happens on the iPhone I start looking for a power outlet. I guess it's going to take a while for that habit to die.

For all the amazing apps that are out there (and they are *amazing*) there are some rough edges and false starts. Since no one has actually had the chance to use one before developing the apps it is amazing how good they are. I can't wait to see what the next generation apps are like.

Now for some observations on the apps.

Omnigraffle is still much like a mouse driven app. The gestures associated with drawing are not yet intuitive. This is going to take some experimentation, so despite the power of that app on the desktop I think the space is open for a competitor who gets it right.

Many websites display the old desktop versions on the iPad. So for example you get the desktop version of the BBC. Now it is great for reading those sites, but one great thing about the iPhone sites was that it forced sites to trim down the extra guff and concentrate on content. It feels strange to have a third of the page filled with an advertisement on the New York Times iPad app. And the BBC website is much nicer on the iPhone than on the desktop version. It will be interesting to see if people start optimizing their sites for iPad as they now do for iPhone.

The Magazine and newspaper apps are a revelation. It's like the newspapers in the Harry Potter books (or the book in Neal Stephenson's Diamond Age for the geeky) in that photos become videos, you can expand them, you can play them, all in place. It really does feel like magic. And it is surprising how much of the web is already accessible despite the lack of Flash. Flash is dead. Sorry Adobe.

So what about the closed nature of the iPad? Well I pretty much agree with what Joe Hewitt says as reported here.

It is all very well to complain that apple is closed and a walled garden etc. But like it or not, apple are inventing the future here. So unless you want to be the Lotus 123 of the touch era, you should take every opportunity you can to learn how this new platform will work. That knowledge will be transferrable in the same way that Microsoft's learning from developing the early Macintosh versions of Word were. This is a brand new human computer interface, from the company that designed the last new HCI back in 1984*

* yes I know, the WIMP interface was developed at Xerox PARC. But the desktop metaphor, overlapping windows etc. were all Apple. And they brought it to market. It doesn't count if no one used it.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Mea culpa

2009-05-05 01:31:15 +0000

I like many have been following the recent discussions in the rails community about the p0rn presentation. This is not about that, except peripherally.

This is a mea culpa. Some may dismiss it as a luxurious middle class angst and maybe it is. But it is how I feel and reflects the learnings and thoughts of quite some time.

When do we learn to discriminate?

A friend of mine told me something the other day. He was playing an old video game with a friend's child. At the start of the game you get to choose which character you play. There are two player avatars, one white, one black. The black character is wearing a hat. His friend's (white) child would always choose to play as 'the one with the hat'.

In a similar vein I had a shock once after being in India for a long time, and traveling back to the UK. On the train on the way back to London I felt wierd and uncomfortable, and I realized that it was because everyone else on the train was white. I had become so used to living in India that my concept of what was 'normal' had shifted so that white people looked 'different than me'.

In one of my first jobs we had a female lead DBA (let's call her Alice). She was incredibly good at her job. We had a contractor (lets call him Charlie). Charlie was a man in his 50s who was contracted to come and do a review and audit of some of the data. There had been problems with the data in previous years that meant that external review was important.

Another colleague of mine pointed out something that has remained with me ever since. He pointed out that Charlie never talked to Alice. He would never ask her for help, or address questions to her, or even acknowledge her in meetings. The next time I was in a meeting with them both I watched, and it was perfectly true. He would address questions to some of the other DBAs, and if he spoke it would be to someone else.

Two things struck me abut this. One was the obvious misogyny and disrespect that Charlie showed towards someone who I knew to be incredibly competent - in fact far more competent that he. The other - and in many ways more frightening realization - was that I had never noticed this. That I had been in meetings before where this behavior had happened and that I had never seen it. I started to question my own assumptions and behaviors and have tried to do so ever since.

Recently I've come to realise that I am a lot more like Charlie than I like to admit. I have worked in India and China for a long time now, and when I see the sort of discrimination against Indians or Chinese people and towards foreigners I have always hated it, and done what I could do divert or deflate it. But while it is sometimes easy to see in others it can be hard to see in yourself.

I am a tall, experienced, confident, financially secure white man. I have all the advantages in our world. My only minority status is as a gay man - ironically out middle class gay men are one of the richest niche demographics in the western world. While I can empathize and recoil in horror at the treatment of GLBT people in Africa, India, China and parts of our western world I have been lucky enough to live in places where that kind of discrimination is not common. Debates about same-sex marriage notwithstanding, I have never suffered negative discrimination on that account, even being 'out' in India and China where the majority of society still treats gay locals as outcast.

As that experienced, tall, confident rich white foreigner I get a lot of deference and respect. It is far too easy to internalize that deference - to come to believe that all of it is deserved - to take it all for granted. As that happens more times you start to think you are always right. No matter how many times I have been humbled by the skills and knowledge of my junior colleagues. And no matter how hard I try it is easy end up thinking as yourself as 'better'.

I like all of us have seen cases where a good suggestion or idea from a junior in a team is ignored, while the very same suggestion from a person in power is enthusiastically taken up. Often times this happens in the same meeting, and the person who does it seems completely unaware of what just happened. Earlier in my career I saw it happen to others, and sometimes myself. These days I wonder how often I do it myself.

I don't know if I, or any of us who are in these unconsciously powerful social roles can ever move beyond conscious incompetence at recognizing when this is happening. I try to set up an environment where people can learn and people can own their own innovations. I try to give others the chance to propose solutions *before* I give my ideas. I try (and often fail) not to drive too much while pairing.

We miss things like this all the time. We become desensitized to our surroundings and we don't see the things that stare others in the face. Go into a shop that sells hose (I was buying it for a stage costume - honest) or cosmetics and see what the 'normal' color range looks like. Walk through an American city as a vegetarian and look at all the pictures of dead bleeding meat on billboards. Walk as a gay man and notice all the heterosexuality on billboards. Walk as a woman and notice the number of semi-naked women sharing a space in an ad with a fully dressed man.

This is why it is so important that I listen to a colleague when they tell me that something makes them feel uncomfortable. Because I have been be blind to it in the past and I will be in the future. To question their experience is to prolong my own ignorance and increase the offense.

I will never reach the end of this path. The best I can hope for is that by keeping constant guard I may be able to realize and notice these things, and try to address them in myself. When I fail (and I fail often) it is not just others who suffer, but my relationships with others, and I myself diminish.

In the Middle Somewhat Elevated - San Francisco Ballet

2009-01-30 10:30:17 +0000

"In the middle, somewhat elevated" is what modern dance should be about. The piece opens with an industrial crash, and the electronic-punk soundtrack by Thom Willems grabs the audience (and the dancers) by the throat and doesn't let up. 

It was first performed in 1987 by the Paris Opera Ballet - in the Palais Garnier with its rococco stylings and Marc Chagall roof. The stage is bare, the wings exposed, and the performers wear skintight lycra. This contrast carries into the choreography with its playful contrast of angular movement with classical references and pas de deux.

The dancers match the frenetic music, the focus shifting from one dancer to a group to a pair. Often there are multiple groupings at once, and sometimes the briefest of handoffs as a single shared movement is taken in different directions.

Dancers give the briefest of acknowledgements to each other before they part - stalking away in disdain - forming again in aggression or sexual tension before parting again. The piece is demanding and relentlessly angular - making heavy demands on the dancers.

This performance by the San Francisco Ballet was magical. It came at the end of the night after two other pieces. 

"Naked" is choreographed by Stanton Welch to music by Poulenc. It seemed that the dancers were not fully invested in the piece however. There are playful elements to the piece that I felt were missing, and while it was entertaining I felt myself drifting. "Ibsen's House" by Val Caniparoli to music by Dvorak seemed to engage the dancers more. There are some engaging ensemble dances for the female dancers, and some of the pas de deux are great. 

But really the Forsythe, last for physical reasons, is a level above in terms of performance and commitment. It was worth the ticket price on its own. Highly highly recommended.

PS. You can catch a flavor of the piece on youtube but really there's no substitute for seeing it live. You can see it until 8th February - Book tickets here.

Microsoft's recursive search

2008-08-12 10:26:48 +0000

Finding things on Microsoft's site is an exercise in frustration.

Here is a case in point. I am looking for a fix to a problem caused when trying to open a VSTO (Office) project in Visual Studio. I get a helpful error that says "The project type is not supported by this installation.". There are a few places around the web that talk of this problem and suggest ways to fix it. I follow one link to an MS web page:

Unfortunately this is an old link, and the page no longer exists. MS use their flagship Live Search to give me a set of alternatives. Unfortunately, and insanely stupidly, the very first link that comes up as a result of the search is the same link that I was trying to go to in the first place -- the one that doesn't exist.


Interestingly when I put the same search into Google and follow the link, I get the same 'not found' error but the first link on the page is not the recursive search link.

Is that Martin Fowler?

2008-08-04 09:27:40 +0000

I was showing to a colleague – I like the three column view – when I noticed this rather unexpected image appear when I did a search for Martin Fowler :

So who is that youngster that appears? Did Martin clone himself a few years back and is starting to accustom us to his new younger avatar?

Martin Fowler's clone?

The photo does not appear on the linked page that I can see, and the image link itself doesn’t help. But there is a clue in the categories on the right hand side :

Cuil search for Martin Fowler categories

So here is the solution - it seems that Martin has actually been a fictional character all along, and indeed Patterns of Enterprise Application Architecture itself is a subtle astroturfing campaign to add credibility to a character in an english soap opera

Who knew? :-)