Computer Sentiment 1984

So I found this book in an IT colleague’s office. 


It’s called: “The Unofficial I Hate Computer Book”.


It was written in 1984, and like the George Orwell’s book by that name, it is a dystopian view of technology. 


The back cover says:

Computer haters of the world unite: It’s time to recognize and avenge the wonderful advances we’ve made thanks to computers–excessive eyestrain and headaches, irritating beeping noises, a one-ton printout where once there was a six-page report, a “simple” programming language you can’t understand without five handbooks, a dictionary, and a math degree.

The book goes on with illustration after illustration of unadulterated computer hate and associated violence. 


– Dogs dumping on it (see cover)

– Contests to smash it with a hammer

– Hara-kiri (suicide with a knife) into it

– Skeet shooting computers that are flung into the air

– Shotput with a computer

– Tanks rolling over them

– Sinking it in water with a heavy anvil

– Boxer practicing his punches on it

– Setting it ablaze with gasoline

– And on and on, page after hate-filled page.


So in the last 34-years, have we solved all the annoyances and complexity with computers and automation?  


Do the benefits of technology outway the costs and risks across-the-board?


How do security and privacy play in the equation? 


I wonder what the authors and readers back then would think of computers, tablets, smartphones and the Internet and apps nowadays–especially where we can’t live without them at all.  😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Who You Calling Ugly Baby?

So in multiple organizations, I have heard systems referred to as ugly babies!


Whether or not it’s true, it certainly doesn’t make the IT folks that develop, run, and support that system feel very good. 


Are some of these (legacy) systems ugly?


Well, of course, they are. 


Many of them work despite themselves. 


What I mean by that is they are awkward to navigate and use. 


The functionality is flawed or outdated.


The workflows are unnecessarily complex.


The user interface is inconsistent and sloppy. 


The user experience is punishing. 


I told someone recently in using a particular system that was so convoluted:

“Is this system what they give to prisoners and make them use over and over again to punish them for hideous violent crimes?”


Seriously, that’s how it felt, even as I knew it was still lightyears ahead of what a paper process still used in other organizations looks like.


Generally better than the waterfall methodology for the systems development life cycle, I understand that one dilemma with agile development is that requirements can be spotty from sprint to sprint and instead of doing the hard work and thinking it out upfront, users are made to expect a nearly endless series of enhancements and tinkering, which isn’t practical functionally or financially either.


Even an ugly baby is still ours, and we love it and nurture it, and even help it change for the better–that’s part of our responsibility. 


Whether we parented a real baby or an IT system, we have pride of ownership and a sense of accountability to the person, system, and future. 


My father always taught me never to throw out dirty water until you have clean water. 


Similarly, we shouldn’t throw out the (ugly) baby with the bathwater. 


We need to work together–technologists and system users–to make truly functional systems and a user experience more like gaming where the players are so happy, attached (and even addicted) to it that they sometimes don’t even get up to eat or go to the bathroom. 


We should love what we have and use, and we should, therefore, work hard to make these things great.


And an ugly baby can be made gorgeous again. 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Answer Your Watch

Watch

So I did it and took the plunge into a smartwatch. 

For over a year, I thought the technology just wasn’t there yet. 

Too clumsy, too difficult to use with such a small device. 

First, I considered just a Fitbit for tracking activity, but I quickly ruled it out, since you can get so much more with a full smartwatch.

Then, I looked into the Pebble, in particular the latest model the Time Steel, which runs between $200-$250. 

But I watched a review that pointed out the the Pebble does not have a touch screen, and everything are the buttons–okay, I immediately ruled that out. 

Next, I looked to old trusty, Apple…they have never failed me yet, and I tried on their various smartwatches. 

I settled on a simple sports model, since I figured as the technology continues to evolve or as the watch gets beat up in daily use, I could simply upgrade to the next great thing. 

Also, I figured if I really don’t like how it works, it wouldn’t be such a great loss monetarily. 

Well, the verdict is in–I really like it!

Easy to set up by simply syncing with the iPhone. 

And then all your major apps just show up on the colorful apps panel. 

In no time, I was checking the 10-day weather forecast, reading news headlines, tracking my activity, using the GPS locator, looking up calendar events, checking email and replying with easy voice dictation, sending text messages, and even calling family and talking to them into the watch!

I even started the music on my iPhone from another room by using the smartwatch. 

Oh yeah, I almost forget, it tells the time too!

Except for taking photos, which would be really cool with the watch, but it doesn’t do–it did most of the basics that I wanted it to. 

For not a lot of money, I felt that I was getting a lot of convenient functionality, and I am now encouraging my wife and kids to get it too. 

Apple, you still got it–so even though Google surpassed you in market value this week, I am still hopeful that you got some decent mojo left in you. 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Versioning Gone Wild

Version Out Of Control

So software versioning is supposed to be a way to manage change control. 


However, many vendors have gone out of control with versioning. 


1) Incompatibility–It isn’t backward compatible, so if you try to work with an older version file/data, you may be sh*t of out of luck getting it to work. 


2) Alphabet-Numerical Soup–We have so many versions of the same/similar thing, we can make your head spin with buyer envy. 


3) Functionally Indistinct–Version changes are so minute or insignificant that there is virtually no difference to the end-user, but you’ll love it anyway. 


4) Long And Meaningless–Some versions just seem to go on and on into the weeds…like version 2.10.3.97–ah, let’s compare that to the new version of the week of 2.10.3.98, and don’t forget the 2.10.4 will be a completely different platform, so you better remember to order the right one. 


5) Upgrade Pathless–You want to be on the current version, well your version is so legacy and ancient, there’s no (easy) upgrade path–you have to install 26 patches, hot fixes, and 9 new versions and then you’ll be on the right one!


6) Maintaining Multiple Versions–You’ll need to maintain multiple versions of the same product, because your data on the older version can’t be migrated to the new one. Can anyone say multiple maintenance fees?


7) Out Of Support–Your older version that you spent a lot of money on is no longer current  and is now out of support–so scr*w you unless you pay us again for the next money maker version. 


If you want to kill your brand and possibly your customers’ sanity, keep on going mindless version crazy. 😉


(Source Graphic: Andy Blumenthal)

Stack Theory Doesn’t Stack Up

Extraordinary People.jpeg

Christopher Mims’ article in the Wall Street Journal today on why big companies get disrupted by others doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. 

He discusses the “Stack Fallacy” of Anshu Sharma a venture capitalist that it “is the mistaken belief that it is trivial to build the layers above yours.”

Mims explains that the stack is like a “layer cake of technology”–where one layer is built on another.

Similar to the OSI technology model where there are architecture layers for physical, data, network, application and so on. 

Basically, Mims explains that tech companies can only invent at a single layer of technology (or below). 

But when companies try to invent up the stack, they fail.

Here’s why…

Mims says that companies despite their size and resources can’t innovate up the stack because they don’t understand the users there. 

But this doesn’t stack up to me. 

Companies can and do use their resources to study and understand what users want up the food chain and what they can’t easily build, they can acquire. 

Apple successfully went from a iPod and iTunes music player and song store to producing a highly sophisticated and integrated iPhone and Apps store where music is just an afterthought.

Similarly, IBM went from being primarily a mainframe and desktop company to being a top-tier consulting firm with expertise in cloud, mobile, social, artificial intelligence, and analytics computing. 

But it isn’t easy for a company to change. 

And to me, it’s not because they can’t understand what users want and need. 

Rather, it is because of something we’ve all heard of called specialization. 

Like human beings, even extraordinary ones, companies are specialized and good at what they are good at, but they aren’t good at everything. 

A great example of this was when NBA superstar, Michael Jordan, tried to take his basketball talents and apply it to baseball…he was “bobbling easy flies and swatting at bad pitches” in the minor leagues. 

As even kindergarteners are taught that “Everyone is good at something, but no one is good at everything.”

Companies have a specific culture, a specific niche, a specific specialization and expertise.

And to go beyond that is very, very difficult…as IBM learned, it requires nothing less than a transformation of epic proportions. 

So I think Mims is wrong that companies can’t undertstand what users want in areas up the innovation stack, but rather it’s a monumental change management challenge for companies that are specialized in one thing and not another. 

Welcome to the world of Apple after Steve Jobs and his iPhone and to the the recent 25% decline in their stock price with investors and customers anxiously waiting for the possible but not certain next move up the technology stack. 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Simplify Me

Technology Complexity.jpeg

So here’s the monitor in the “modern” and beautiful Fort Lauderdale International airport. 


Can you see the number of electrical plugs, wires, connections, input/output ports, etc. on this device?


Obviously, it is comical and a farce as we near the end of 2015. 


Think about the complexity in building this monitor…in connecting it…in keeping it operational.


Yes, we are moving more and more to cellular and wireless communications, to miniaturization, to simple and intuitive user interfaces, to paperless processing, to voice recognition, to natural language processing, and to artificial intelligence.


But we are not there yet.


And we need to continue to make major strides to simplify the complexity of today’s technology. 


– Every technology device should be fully useful and usable by every user on first contact. 


– Every device should learn upon interacting with us and get better and better with time. 


– Every device should have basic diagnostic and self-healing capability. 


Any instructions that are necessary should be provided by the device itself–such as the device telling you step by step what to do to accomplish the task at hand–no manual, no Google instructions, no Siri questions…just you and the device interacting as one. 


User friendly isn’t enough anymore…it should be completely user-centric, period. 


Someday…in 2016 or beyond, we will get there, please G-d. 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Lauding Over A Toilet Brush?

Not sure about this video on the SimpleHuman Toilet Brush



On one hand, it’s funny to have such a serious video lauding the functionality and design of a toilet brush.



But on the other hand, the video is pretty darn convincing:



– Slim for easy placement and accessible for quick use. 



– A magnetic collar for picking up the brush and housing with one hand–no messy spills.



– With a stainless steel rod for stability and durability.



– Specially innovative design crescent-shaped brush for those hard to reach areas under the rim.



– Easily detachable brush for when you need replacement. 



– Comes in black and white–so fashionable. 



Ok, so now I have to admit that I ordered one of these today.



I’ll let you know if it really works (Uh no!) 😉