Monthly Archives: March 2009

Lionhead Studios – Experiments and Innovation

Peter Molyneux is a great visionary that over time I have come to watch what he does and says. A pioneer definately, but to be honest I often found his games rather dull to play. Lionhead Studios – biting off more than you can chew. While I admire him, I can’t see myself actually playing any more of his games unless something changes.

With great interest therefore, I was passed this Shacknews link for an interview where he discusses the limits and benefits to creativity and experimentation in the product design process.

In a presentation I made for Fairfax Digital on the topic of innovation I stated that often it was saying “no” to an employee’s (good) ideas enough that will drive them to become your competitor of tomorrow. I was extremely gratified to see him say

“And if someone has a really bright idea, what do they do? Well a lot of times I’ll tell you, they leave your company and they go somewhere else, because the idea is so smart.”

The remainder of the interview basically talks about formalising the innovation process in the form of getting sponsorship for your experiment. I have been wrestling with this issue myself. I will continue to look with interest at, and wish Mr. Molyneux and Lionhead the best of luck. Hopefully they’ll let us know how they go.

In my own thoughts it is a matter of balancing letting the experiment succeed (or fail) without prematurely terminating it or under-cooking it while also keep it in the bounds of reasonable expectation of return on effort. It’s about knowing if you are at the peak or a trough.

Scary Times

Tonight was a first for me. Just before midnight – sitting at my laptop, after bathing my son, I heard what I thought was 5 gunshots. Within 10mins sirens. 20mins helicopters, search lights, police with dogs etc. 12:50am all is quiet (I think).

If I was a betting man, I’d bet that someone was shot dead tonight very close to where I live. I’d also bet it has something to do with bikie gangs.

I am still running on adrenaline. Every dog bark puts me on edge.

Ubuntu 9.04 Beta


Installed Ubuntu 9.04 Beta on my Dell Inspiron notebook today.

First impressions: I like. It’s not perfect, I’ve seen a few odd things (more on that below) but overall my first impression is that it is faster and feels smoother. Everything worked out of the box – wifi, correct resolution, sound etc. So far so good.

Good:

  • Some nice new visuals – boot screen is okay, nice login screen.
  • New wallpaper is still brownish, but deeper and richer looking. I still changed it as one of the first things, but it was an improvement.
  • Finally dust is a pre-installed theme. Massive props.
  • Smooth transitions – this one is hard to explain until you see it in action, but it feels more polished.
  • Disk partitioning at install was faster to scan. The last few ubuntu’s have been slow as a dog when you try to manual partition from the installer.

Bad:

  • The timezone selector at install time has the +10 zone band all over the shop. Brisbane, Australia is in Indonesia, Sydney is off the sunshine coast. Canberra is near Sydney. Not a total show stopper, but it has been right in past versions, why be wrong now? Bug confirmed and fix committed in launchpad.
  • I formatted / as ext4. Grub wouldn’t boot. Reformatted as ext3 and no problems.
  • While using it after the first reboot, after I left the laptop idle for 10mins I came back and it was back at the login screen. It hasn’t happened since (yet) but it was not a good feeling to lose what I was working on.
  • Firefox 3.0.8 feels more sluggish than ever, especially since the rest of the desktop feels even faster by comparison.

Conclusion: Being dumped out to the login screen makes me hesitant to recommend the beta unless you like living on the wild side. Other than that issue, on my Dell it feels much faster than 8.10. The greater selection of pre-installed themes is very nice. Roll on the final release!

Digital Natives

An interesting term that I encountered for the first time “Digital Natives”. It was used in the Services 2020 Workshop 1 Report and was put in context of the up and coming generation of young adults that have grown up never knowing a world without the internet. As someone that is currently working in digital media, I think it would be foolish not to keep one eye on this, yet untapped, segment of society. The gap between my own generation and that of my parents and the younger citizens of the digital world will probably be the same – a scary idea.

As much as I love all things digital, my own expectations are quite forgiving compared to the Digital Native.

How would I put myself in the shoes of the Digital Native?

  1. Have no fear of the net – for better or worse, I think that the digital native values their digital privacy differently. What is valuable to keep to oneself versus what is worthy of putting “out there” is something that each generation will redefine for themselves, it may not be the choices of my generation but I have to be able to at least put my bias aside temporarily.
  2. Expect my choices to mean something. I think the days of web-based products and services that dictate every aspect of the user experience are dying out. Early examples of customisation were as simple as letting the user choose from a list of styles. The Digital Native demands much more than this now. Drag and drop to completely change the interface such as iGoogle is the norm.
  3. Expect the basics to be free with some sort of up sell.
  4. Expect Service A to interact with Service B.
  5. Allow sharing with other users and the ability to submit your own content. Remember that the digital native will use the net for everything – they want space on your site to put their stuff. Their motive for using your site is to further cement their digital presence.

Some people have probably started frothing at the mouth about point five. Some people might say that the digital native can’t really expect to see the net as a massive collaborative network for sharing between like minds. The digital forefathers created the internet for exactly this purpose, it has since been hijacked. To that I ask “why not?” – paying bills online is just another transaction between the digital native and a website – after all, they researched the provider, signed up and interact with the company this way from the beginning. The utility company of the future is going to be run from a website. The successful company will be the one that can effectively monopolise (and then monetise) the digital natives browsing habits. For all we know the utility company of the future won’t need a full web-presence at all, it will just need a few very complete and easy to use facebook+1 (eg. the next social networking “big thing”) plugins. Imagine in the very near future, having your water company “friend” you!

Watchman movie

Saw the Watchman movie today. Very faithful to the comic. The changes that were made (some were large changes) were done with deliberate care and I couldn’t fault them. As a fan of the comic, I recommend it to others that want an anti-hero comic book based movie. It is violent, confronting and most of all thought provoking. A fascinating (almost) 3 hours.

Data Bunkers (part 1)

Huh?
During a rather long meeting this morning the words “Data Bunker” came to me. I don’t really know why, but it stuck with me all day and I could not shake it. There are many traditional terms used to describe data storage instances such as data store/silo/mart/base and probably a dozen or so more. While the phrases differ they ultimately refer to the same idea. I found it interesting that when I started trying to puzzle out what a data bunker is, I was equally trying to define it in the traditional terms. I soon started realising that the terms brought with them a certain bias in mindset.

Data store implies a very generic and passive viewpoint – you kind of put data in boxes or the back room. Data silo has connotations of deliberate separation and insulation. Data mart implies prepackaged data ready for consumption. Finally data base places data as a foundation for things being built on top of.

My musings above are not a criticism, each term has its reason and they are all valid but since language is important to me and the act of naming something shapes how you use it I brought into question my own ways in which I think about and name data management. Throughout my career in data I have used all of these terms many times. Suddenly a new term (to me) appeared and got me thinking – Data Bunkers.

Data silos, to me is the beginnings of examining what I mean – keeping data discretely apart so as one silo cannot spoil another if something goes wrong. However this did not satisfy me. Data bunker sounds much more militaristic, solid and most of all defensible.

Why?
The tired old saying of “Garbage in, garbage out”, is unfortunately very true. People are best shot in the foot by their own guns. Data management, which I will define as “The art of planning, storing, transforming and retrieving data.”, often struggles as much with the self introduced errors and misunderstanding as those of the data supplier. Therefore, when designing and maintaining a data store (especially large corporate ones) which becomes the foundation for information systems and/or products you need a certain level of reliability and protection from your own mistakes.

Large data systems, particularly those that have to satisfy more than one role (reporting, product servicing and transaction tracking) tend to require subtly different requirements. Therefore, for the sake of performance it is quite usual to end up with many data storage schemes that represent the same data but in different ways – less normalised and highly indexed for reporting and product usage or highly normalised and less indexed for transactional. It’s the whole seekable versus storeable and maintainable line that a data engineer must tread. Due this mix of needs it is very common that processes are designed to transform the same data into different data marts. Now bringing in the garbage in/garbage out rule, it goes without saying that your databases are only as good as your data importing, processing and exporting scripts. This is approaching the crux of the matter – accuracy, reliability and scalability are not solely the domains of the good data schema. The best data storage designs might go a long way towards keeping the data relational and consistent (constraints, enforcing relational integrity, etc.) but they are fairly blunt tools (and often you can explicitly ignore them). I don’t think that my point is a shocking revelation, we all know that bad/incomplete data rules and simple logic errors in loading scripts have the power to ruin the “database guys” day.

Are we there yet?
Kinda. The traditional terms mentioned in my first paragraph all tend to be passive in that it’s where you put your data. But let’s roll in the data loading and manipulation scripts that maintain the data’s value into the data term – hence a Data Bunker is where data value is protected.

More to come…