Category Archives: Technology

ezCalc Now Available

ezCalcOn December 30th in Manhattan on an early-morning walk I was passing through Greenwich Village when I decided that I was going to set a goal for myself. I said I would design, develop and debug an iPhone application and then submit it to the App Store by January 31st.

I watched two courses on by Simon Allardice by time I went to bed on January 4th, then I woke up Saturday and started coding. Sometimes I would need to refer back to the courses to refresh my memory, but I finished the app on January 10th. Then I took another course by Bill Weinman on how to release an app to the App Store. After work on Friday the 11th I started to create all of my app’s art work, using Photoshop as my main tool. I was able to use many techniques I learned from Deke McClelland.

I submitted my app to the App Store on the night of January 11th and it was approved last night. It was very rewarding to set a goal that forced me to reach outside my comfort zone and to achieve it.

I don’t actually consider monetary reward as the basis for success and achievement in this case. I set a goal, created an app that I am really proud of, learned a lot, and achieved that goal. I’ve tried to do this before, actually. I’ve wanted to ship an app for the iPhone ever since the iPhone SDK was announced years ago.

The difference here was and, in particular, to the awesome Simon Allardice.

I hope you enjoy the app!

Quality. People. Trust.

I saw this as one of the hero images on the home page. A hero image is a really big photo or ad that takes up a lot of space on a web page. I was intrigued by the message.

One of the hero images on the site.

“Quality products from people you trust”

I have several thoughts when I read that tag line but I won’t get in to them here.

[If you are a company and you have the word “quality” in your major advertising, that means you lack confidence in your brand (and / or) your product. “People” means that I’m supposed to try to identify with people I’ve never met as I continue to read that sentence, and “trust” presumes that I trust people who I don’t know and who have been the brunt of jokes for the past several years. Any-hoo.]

I realized there was an opportunity to help instead of just trashing, so I created this to replace it. Please be gentle in your evaluation and feedback. I am but a lowly software developer with an idea.

Russ Nemhauser's new idea for the same plug on the home page of the site.


Scott Guthrie’s Azure Blog Post

Scott Guthrie, a man I deeply respect because of his technical chops, his dedication to his products, and his dedication to Microsoft stack developers, posted a blog about Azure which I have linked to below.

My feedback here is not about anything technical that Scott discusses in this post. It’s about confusion and inconsistency. It’s about the screen captures in Scott Guthrie’s post.

If you look at the screen shots, only two out of ten follow the same creative direction (for those who are counting, these are “virtual machines” and “web sites”).

Why is it so hard for a company with the resources of Microsoft to deliver a unified, consistent experience? By asking the question, I wonder if I’ve discovered the answer. It’s not about money. It’s about taste.

How do I know what will be in ALL CAPS versus what won’t? What will be white text on a dark gray background versus white text on a blue background versus black text on a light blue background versus blue text on a white background?

How do I know what really huge white text on a black background means in comparison to generally-accepted “large” text on a white background? How do I know how a gray tile with a tiny little white icon in the upper left corner is more or less important than a blue tile with a larger icon?

How do I know why “PHP” is purple but “.NET” and “other” are both blue? Do these purple and blue colors carry through to anything besides the one screen that The Gu captures here in his post?

I’m not saying anything specific is better than what Microsoft has done here in the screen shots that Scott has included in his post. I’m just saying that I’m confused. There is no consistency in the user experience here. There is no unified creative vision that I can determine. In this case, the users are theoretically quite technical in nature, but in my opinion that makes them no less valuable than John Q. Public.

My Thoughts on the Windows 8 Preview

By now many people have seen the Windows 8 preview video and I’ve read several comments about it on Facebook, Twitter, and many other sites. I watched the video too. And I was impressed to see the different type of thinking that was happening up in Redmond – right up until the 3:06 mark where they finally show that all of this new stuff is just a layer on top of the old Windows.

When the video started I had such high hopes that Microsoft was really going to do it this time. They were finally going to step up and do a Windows 95-esque type change to the PC computing world.

Let me just mention one feature from the video and explain how I still see an issue with how they’re still thinking. The tiles have no consistency. Microsoft simply does not understand consistency. Sometimes the tiles are big. Sometimes they’re small. Sometimes they have a photo. Sometimes they have an icon (but that icon might be small, large, left, right, top, bottom, full-color, or white). Some tiles have text – but that text can be small, large, left, right, under an image, etc. Sometimes you can have 9 tiles to a screen sometimes you can have more. Some tiles are animated. Some of them are orange.

I look at the screen as a whole and the first thing that I see is confusion. There is no consistency. I have to start reading each tile to see what it is for, what it does, and what it is telling me. This reminds me of so many changes that Microsoft labelled as “innovations” that forced me to re-learn my way around the computer. I know I personally didn’t find them innovative. I found the changes annoying. And I could name a lot of other people who did, too, but I won’t.

I totally get that each person has their preference, which is why I said “I look at the screen…” instead of “Anybody who looks at that screen…”. But I feel that Microsoft is trying to catch up to Apple in all the wrong ways. In other words, I don’t think they’re realizing what truly matters. I think they’re overlooking it completely because they’re driven by what they *think* matters.

It is so interesting to me that I just wrote “Microsoft is trying to catch up to Apple” just now. If this were 5 years ago, I would have said the exact opposite thing. Isn’t it remarkable what is possible in such a short time?

A friend of mine posted the Windows 8 video on Facebook with the comment “Wondering why Apple pre-announced iOS 5? Wonder no more.” I actually disagree with that, for a couple of reasons.

First, Windows already has so much more market share in the desktop and laptop PC world than Apple does that it’s not even a real comparison. Second, Apple has a mere fraction of the number of products that Microsoft does.

Even taking that in to account, however, Apple has more revenue and profit (as of the last quarter reported) than Microsoft does. All I’m trying to say is that I really don’t think Windows 8 worries Apple in the slightest. Because based on what I saw in that video, Microsoft will primarily accomplish two things:

1. Introduce a new version of Windows that will sell a gazillion copies and keep the cash cow going – but won’t affect Apple at all.

2. Release something that barely, if even, stays current with competitors.

I predict no significant change in market share over the next 5 years except to say that I bet Windows will have less then than it does now, by whatever the percentage.

I say the following with the senior leadership at Microsoft in mind, not many of my friends who are brilliant, passionate, and wonderful people who work there. That said, the way I see it, it has become useless for Microsoft to simply do better than itself, because “itself” is stale.

I reiterate what I’ve said several times over the past couple of years. It is time for new leadership at Microsoft. And I’m not only talking about Steve Ballmer.

Comments on the Scoble MySpace Article

Last week Robert Scoble wrote a blog entry about MySpace’s “death spiral”. He said that he spoke with people involved, which he also referred to as “workers inside MySpace”. According to the article it all comes down to two things. Microsoft technologies and being in Los Angeles.

I worked at MySpace for just under two years. Facebook hadn’t quite passed MySpace in reported number of registered users or traffic to the site when I left. My last day was two weeks before their first big round of layoffs.

I don’t believe that MySpace’s “death spiral” occurred as a result of either Microsoft technologies or being in Los Angeles. And this comes from someone who frequently tweets frustrations about Microsoft products. While I was at MySpace I met and worked with some of the most brilliant developers I’ve ever met. Some might argue, “not brilliant enough”. That’s certainly a valid opinion, and I can understand why many people might think that way. But the way I see it, brilliant people often need good leadership just like every other human being. We wouldn’t be people if we had all the answers. Others show us new things and inspire us in many ways. We all strive to learn and do great things and do them well.

Armed with the number of smart, willing people that MySpace was, I think they could have accomplished whatever they wanted. But leadership got in the way. Leadership that was focused on the wrong things, got complacent, and let the market move away from them.

I realize that there was technical debt, and my friend Steve Smith, who supplied a great comment to Scoble’s article, explains the cost of that very well. He also mentions a few other things in his comment that ring very true. But if the task of reducing the technical debt or changing technologies was left to the brilliant minds that I worked with under the right leadership, MySpace would be in a very different (and I believe more successful) position today.

I could take the time to name those that come to mind when I criticize the leadership, but suffice it to say that it straddles senior management like a horseshoe. It goes from the executive level straight to the product level. And that is, arguably, one of the major causes of the reversal of MySpace’s growth.

Regarding Los Angeles, there are countless companies that get their start in this area. For that matter, there are lots of companies that start pretty much everywhere. Sure, Silicon Valley and Seattle have certain concentrations of technical talent, but that doesn’t mean that they have a monopoly on that talent. And I mean that from a technical, client, business, and sales perspective.

MySpace didn’t fail because of a lack of technical talent or because it was in Los Angeles.

This is What I’m Talking About

The Gu himself, Scott Guthrie of Microsoft, wrote a blog entry yesterday about some power productivity features that people can get with a new VS 2010 update. It only took me a few seconds to find two classic examples that clearly illustrate one of the things that frustrates me about Windows: There is no consistency.

Take, for example, the following screen shot that Scott includes in his post:

Don’t those “On / Off” switches look cool?? There’s just one problem. No where else in any of Windows do options have this interface for turning things on or off. People are used to checkboxes. There was nothing wrong with checkboxes. Everyone was used to them. So while this may LOOK cooler to some people, it’s different behavior. It copies the switches iOS now. But one reason they were made like that for iOS was because people weren’t going to be using mice – they would be using their finger, which is less precise.

Next, take a look at another screen shot he included:

If you look at the little triangles, you will see that they point down when the node is expanded and they point to the right when the node is closed. But if you look back at the first screen shot, those triangles point to the lower right when the node is expanded, and appear all in black (there is no discoloration in the other window’s arrows). Furthermore, the arrows on the second screen shot are filled in gray. The ones in the first screen shot are gray outlines. Also, they’re different sizes.

I’m not commenting on the particular features that Scott is writing about, I’m commenting on how there is so little attention paid to details like consistency. Call me nit-picky, go ahead. I deserve it.

Microsoft Tries to Change History

In a YouTube video posted by “WindowsPhone”, Microsoft claims that the mobile phone industry has hit a wall, and that each new smartphone that is released is only slightly better than the one before it. While this is being said, they show tons of smartphones including the iPhone.

I think it’s important to be truthful here and say that if not for the iPhone being released 3 years ago, Microsoft never would have even started Windows Phone 7 Series. They would have just made insignificant improvements on their Windows Mobile platform just as they had done for the previous six years. So I have two main issues with this video.

To claim that the iPhone is just a slightly better smartphone than the one that came before it is simply one of the most preposterous things I’ve ever heard. Even if you don’t like Apple or their products you still can’t deny the effect the iPhone had on the entire industry. It was at a virtual standstill until the iPhone came along.

Second, to claim that Windows Phone 7 Series is the mobile OS that breaks through the wall that Microsoft claims exists in the mobile industry is really only true when you compare it to Windows Mobile. What the video should have said is “At Microsoft, we hit a wall with our mobile phone strategy.”

iPhone OS and Android are clearly setting the pace in today’s world. But 9 months from now when the first Windows Phone 7 Series hits the market (provided there are no delays) we’ll see just how much of an impact it makes.

Watch the video here.

My Mom is On Board

What would life be like without a cellular phone? Just consider that for a moment. You can’t make a call whenever you want. You can’t send a text message to anyone, or receive one. You can’t send or receive any email, either.

Now consider that this extends in to your home and office. You have no computer.

Think about that. You do not have a computer of any kind at home or at work. That means you have never sent or received a single email. You’ve only browsed the web once or twice from a friend’s house when you’ve been visiting. But browsing the Internet is pretty simple. All you have to do is click on things and read or watch. But you’ve never received a photo of your son, daughter or granddaughter who live on the opposite coast that was taken five minutes ago. You missed your granddaughter’s first steps because you didn’t get the email that went out to everyone else that had the link to the YouTube video. And because you live 35 miles from the nearest bookstore, you couldn’t browse the latest releases without conquering the snow and sleet.

But let’s get back to having a computer. You don’t. So you have no idea how to use one.

There are lots of examples of people who might fit this description. My mother is a mail carrier in a rural area. She’s never needed a computer. She’s never even really wanted one. She lives in a rural area and said that because of her location, $80 per month would be her monthly internet access bill (after paying $299 for equipment).

I asked her “would $30 per month for unlimited traffic be an amount you’re comfortable with?” She said yes. She didn’t believe me and assured me that she had called all around to phone companies and satellite companies and cable companies and that $80 per month was the cheapest that she could get.

So I put myself in her position and ignored everything I know about computers and imagined that someone put an iPad in front of me. They tell me that “Safari” means the Internet, but that’s all. I can see everything else (Mail, Contacts, Clock, Maps, Calendar, etc.) makes perfect sense. I’m told that all I have to do is reach out and touch the thing I want to do. That doesn’t seem likely, but I do it anyway. Suddenly the web appears. I see something I’m interested in so I reach out and touch it. All of this without any wires or keyboards.

Something is strange – I’m online and there was no hassle. I’m instantly productive on the Internet. How can this be? I don’t even know how to use a computer. But somehow it’s just working.

There’s no other machine and operating system in the world that offers anything even close to this kind of promise. And I will finally be able to email photos and video to my mother.