Friday, April 28, 2006

The Top Ten Lies of Engineers

Guy is at it again! A hilarious read, this brings back a lot of memories!

1. "We're about to go into beta testing." This is a meaningless statement because it doesn't matter when you go into beta testing--what matters is when you come out of beta testing. (The only hard and fast deadline for coming out of modern-day beta testing is "before you run out of money.")

In the good old days, "alpha" used to mean "all features are implemented though not necessarily working properly." "Beta" used to mean "there are no more repeatable bugs." Nowadays beta means "we've gone as long as possible past the shipping date that we promised our investors."

2. "I don't know anything thing about marketing..." This is a lie of false modesty. The engineer is thinking, in totality, "I don't know a thing about marketing, but how hard could it be compared to what I'm doing? I should run marketing and engineering. I just hope that the marketing the MBAs come up with is worthy of my code." However, don't worry too much about this lie because it self-corrects as the engineer misses deadline after deadline and comes to realize that he has bigger issues.

3. "I'll comment the code, so that the next person can understand what I did." This is a lie of good intentions. Really, the engineer did intend to comment the code but as the schedule slipped, priorities changed. The question put to management became: "Do you want me to comment the code or finish it sooner?" Guess what the answer was. Luckily, the lack of comments usually doesn't matter because the code is so crappy that a total rewrite is necessary in a year.

4. "Our architecture is scalable." This is the lie that I enjoy hearing the most. Typically, an engineer who has never shipped a product says this after creating a prototype in Visual BASIC. The whole conversation goes like this: "Google's architecture isn't as scalable as mine. They can support 25 million simultaneous searches. We will be able to easily handle a billion."

Luckily, in most cases, the adoption of the product is slower than the CEO's "conservative" forecast, so scalability never becomes an issue. Yeah, those clowns at Google, Yahoo, Oracle, Microsoft, Apple, and AOL don't know anything about scaling compared to the engineer...

5. "The code supports all the industry standards." This is almost a truth but for a short omission: "This code supports all the industry standards that I agree with." The engineer has made a personal decision to ignore standards she doesn't like--for example, those promulgated by Microsoft. It's no big deal--customers will never know...

6. "We can do a Macintosh version right after we finish the Windows version; in fact, much of the Windows code can be re-used because of how we architected it." The truth is that version 1.0 of any software is an experiment. It can be a magnificent experiment, but it's an experiment nonetheless. Thus, Windows version 1.0 is held together by duct-tape. The Macintosh version is a copy of the duct-taped Windows version written by an engineer who just finished college and got his first Macintosh a month ago. How hard could it be to learn to program for a different platform? C++ is C++, right?

7. "We have an effective bug reporting database and system." Of course, the assumption behind the design of the bug reporting database and system is that there are no bugs in the code, so there's not much to database and report. Generally speaking, if the largest number of documented bugs doesn't ever exceed 1,000, it means that the company isn't tracking bugs carefully.

8. "We can do this faster, cheaper, and better with an offshore programming team in India." Rank and file engineers usually don't tell this lie; it's the CTO who does. Somehow we've got it in our heads that every programmer in India is good, fast, and cheap, and every programmer in the United States is lousy, slow, and expensive. My theory is that for version 1.0 of a product, the maximum allowable distance between the engineers and marketers is thirty feet.

9. "Our beta sites loved the software." In twenty five years of working in technology, I've never heard a company report that its beta sites didn't like its software. There are three reasons for this: first, many beta sites are so honored to get pre-release software that they don't want say anything negative. Second, most beta sites haven't used the software very much. Third, most beta sites don't want to seem cruel by criticizing a company's new product. Doing so is as socially unacceptable as telling someone that his baby is ugly.

10. "This time we got it right." The scary thing about this lie is that the engineer really believes it. Again. The problem is that "this time" occurs over and over again. I have great faith in engineers and believe that in the long run, they do get it right. It's just that in the long run, we're all dead.

And even the comments on this one just cracked me up! Go here to read the entire chain.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Nokia's planning to make your iPod, Camera and tablet PC obsolete

According to Business Week, this is Nokia's biggest attempt to disrupt the consumer electronics industry. Why, do you ask? Read on...

I normally don't post cool tech toys here, but this new phone from Nokia just made me drool a lot! Not only will the Nokia 93 let you watch TV, listen to music and take great pictures, it'll also record video at 640x480! Plus all the other cool stuff like posting to your blog, surfing the net using WiFi and a faster processor than the N91 and N92.


The Nokia N93 is packed with features that take the ability to watch mobile TV on your phone to the next level. Its planned to have DVB-H compatability allowing for the watching of broadcast TV programs on a cell phone. The N93 is also expected to pack a 3.2 megapixel camera with 3x zoom and a Carl Zeiss Lens.
It also has a QVGA screen, Bluetooth 2.0, GPRS, EDGE, UMTS/WCDMA and WiFi/WLAN. It will be based on the S60 third edition user interface and the Symbian V9.1 OS.

According to MobileWhack:

The Nokia N93 is based on S60 3rd Edition - the same as Nokia N91 - with 50MB internal memory and support for miniSD cards (expandable up to 2GB). This one's also a 3G phone, supporting WCDMA 2100MHz with simultaneous voice/packet data, and integrated 802.11b/g wireless LAN connectivity. What's more, with its TV-out capability, you can even browse the web, work on your office documents and even play games on the TV.

Update: There's more on the series at The Register

Monday, April 24, 2006

The Bastard Operator from Hell

In case you aren't familiar with the BOFH series, its a hilarious look at how a System administrator can completely screw your happiness and have a ball doing it. Its a very old series of articles that unfortunately have become very popular with system admins, but luckily there aren't too many of these guys :)

Guru first introduced me to this a few years ago, and I've kept reading them ever since. Go here to read the very first BOFH article and see why I got hooked :)

The Register seems to regularly update the archives with their own BOFH articles too, like this latest one:

BOFH: Interview with a CEO

It's late at night and I'm in the CEO's office rifling through his correspondence for evidence of the much-rumoured budget cuts in IT. Apparently, the powers that be have decided that the IT spend isn't reducing as fast as the board would like, so they're just going to hack out a major part of the annual budget and see how we cope with the pain. Or so the document says...

I'm midway through the re-edit of the document on the CEO's laptop (recommending increased investment for future growth, blah, blah) when the man himself walks in. And when I say walk I mean a drunken stagger, assisted by a couple of young women with the aura of professional services delivery about them.

"What the hell are you doing here?" he fumes alcoholically.

"Just doing some, uh, out of hours maintenance work," I say, touch typing the remainder of the sentence about one-off bonus payments for key technical staff and closing the document."

Yes, I know the BOFH series is old news, but it's amazing how I still end up laughing so much even after re-reading them!

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

"Software as a Service" Myths

There are a gazillion buzz-words (or "buzz-phrases" if you must) in the software industry, and new ones get formed quite often. But one that seems to have hung around in the shadows for quite a few years and still not become completely mainstream is "Software as a Service" or SaaS.

A reader on Slashdot has a nice simple explanation of SaaS:

Basically they mean to say that businesses are becoming more and more open to externalizing anything that is not the core part of the business.* So, a company selling cooking grills no longer has an employee or department who handles email. They simply contacted 'Turnkey Enterprise e-Solutions Ltd.' and had them handle everything about email for the cost of $5 per address**, per month. After all, this company is in the grill business (core competency) not in the email business. Why worry about maintaining a server, or setting up users, or doing backups, or handling spam? The executive just wants to make better grills and sell them to more people.

So, let's say something like that (email) is proposed. Let's say our grill company (GrillCo) needs about 400 email accounts. Since they are not buying email servers or hiring spam gurus, there's no large initial investment for them. They can test it out with one department (accounting) and if the ten people there like it, they can expand to doing everyone's email that way. It eliminates risk for the buyer.

Now, is this a better way to go? The truth is anyone that will provide a definitive answer either way is off their rocker. It may work for some things, it may not work for others.

But the reason things like these are discussed, and possibly becoming more and more popular, is simple; for better or for worse, cost-cutting is being highly rewarded at the executive level. If you run a publicly-traded company and do not appear to be "cost oriented" then you raise suspicions among boards, shareholders and Wall Street.^ There's a whole crop of companies whose only goal is to cut costs for their clients (for example, ICG Commerce []). Of course, sometimes these pressures come other sources [].

So, by performing a buzzword-ectomy on the above, we result with something like this, "It has become fashionable to look at costs above other parts of a company's overall performance. Software-as-a-Service can sometimes help cut costs, so it is being considered more widely as an option."

Unfortunately for the tech crowd, it has less to do with AJAX and new whiz-bang applications and more to do with the business side (shudder) of things.

* Whether or not this is true I don't know, but that's what they are proposing.
** I'm picking a number out of thin air.
^ I'm not saying it's good, that's just largely how it is.

Business Week has an interesting article on 8 Myths of Software as a Service which is what started the discussion on Slashdot.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Web 2.0's Startup Fever

The Technology Review reports that a lot more people don't think the Web 2.0 phenomenon is going to last too long.

This explosion of new Web sites -- a phenomenon often dubbed "Web 2.0" -- is great for all kinds of Internet users. But how long can this new crop of startups survive without charging for their products?

The answer, in some cases, may be not long. Simply put, many of these outfits, much like their dot-com predecessors in the late 1990s, don't have business models. The most common revenue source in the Web 2.0 world is contextual advertising -- but, as some analysts point out, the nickels and dimes earned when visitors click on ads provided by the likes of Google's AdWords barely bring in enough to cover the costs of Web server hardware. Consequently, some industry watchers believe that a shakeout is likely within the next 12 to 24 months.

The winnowing of Web 2.0 won't be as bloody as the dot-com crash of 2000-2001, though, simply because these companies never accepted much venture funding and have far fewer employees. What's more, the underlying technologies won't disappear -- more likely, failing companies will be bought up by slightly larger competitors in a wave of consolidation.

So what else is new? ;) No really, there just are too many people out there vying for too small a target audience. Is there a way to survive instead of dying out? Other than getting bought by one of the big guys, apparently not.

Companies can survive the Web 2.0 boom, Ali says, by doing one of two things. They can attract the interest of larger companies, who buy a technology and bring in its developers rather than developing their own version. Flickr, Delicious, WebJay, Konfabulator, and Upcoming, for instance, have all been acquired by Yahoo. Or else startups must acquire so many users that they gain an insurmountable lead over competitors, as YouTube seems likely to do in the video downloading market. Or they can both, of course, like MySpace, which has more than 50 million users and was purchased in July 2005 by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.

Also, I just read that apparently most people using a search engine expect to find what they are looking for on the first page of results, says a US study.

At most, people will go through three pages of results before giving up, found the survey by Jupiter Research and marketing firm iProspect.

It also found that a third of users linked companies in the first page of results with top brands.

The study surveyed 2,369 people from a US online consumer panel.

Well it still just a survey that's a little skewed towards only American consumers, but interesting nevertheless. I always wade through at least 6-7 pages of links with every Google or Yahoo or MSN search.

Monday, April 10, 2006


I learnt a new word today: Everyware.

Everyware is an attempt to describe the form computing will take in the next few years. Specifically, it's about a vision of processing power so distributed throughout the environment that computers per se effectively disappear. It's about the enormous consequences this disappearance has for the kinds of tasks computers are applied to, for the way we use them, and for what we understand them to be.

In a well written and articulated piece, author Adam Greenfield writes about an age old promise: computing from anywhere and everywhere, device-agnostic and a major part of nearly everything we do and everywhere we go.

Today, your gym membership, shopping expeditions, fuel purchases and even workplaces are already governed by digital technology - credit cards, swipable identity cards, mobile ticket booking and even mobile stock purchases.

Haven't you already thought of the day when you'll have just one identity? The one that will give you access to your home, your money, your car, your bank accounts and maybe even your workplace? Companies are already working on plans to build a system like this, which sounds amazingly ambitious but not impossible. Will it take a long time, see innumerable hurdles and have to deal with a lot of privacy issues? Yes. Will it make life easier for us? In all probability, also a resounding yes.

The stakes, this time, are unusually high. A mobile phone is something that can be switched off, or left at home. A computer is something that can be shut down, unplugged, walked away from. But the technology we're discussing here - ambient, ubiquitous, insinuative into all the apertures everyday life affords it - will be environment-forming in a way neither of those are. There should be little doubt that its advent will profoundly shape both the world and our experience of it in the years ahead.

Update: A List Apart has another article on Everyware

Friday, April 07, 2006

Where's the art?

Working with agencies, sometimes you just end up wondering where the traditional art skills have gone. With Photoshop, CorelDraw, Painter and Illustrator around, chances are that the next illustration or painting or random piece of 2D art you see has not been drawn by hand.

I just saw this article today and realised its so true even for people who are not inexperienced students. Take a look at designers/visualizers/illustrators in agencies here who have more than 5-6 years of experience on large campaigns. Do any of them still draw their illustrations themselves? Or NOT scan them in and touch them up in Corel or Illustrator?

Students are more comfortable manipulating computer graphics than doodling, drafting and drawing with pen on paper, and this has created a sharp decline in drawing skills in recent years, teachers say.

Additionally, tech-savvy students simply lack the initiative and persistence developed by drawing, resulting in uninspired work--at least work on paper.

What's even more astounding is that people (like in the article above) are complaining about students losing their drawing skills! In India, except for a talented few, that actually might be a good thing! Taught illustration styles at least 50 years outdated, most of the art school graduates and post graduates that get into agencies automatically realise that their drawing skills are nowhere near what the world has begun to expect in terms of style and quality.

And then tools like Photoshop, CorelDraw, Painter and Illustrator are brought into the picture, to help dull illustrations look more interesting, to edit out lines and mistakes and to colorize and close nodes. Is this faster than traditional drawing and illustration? Yes. Does it need as much skill? Not really.