Archive for ‘May, 2010’

“Measuring programming progress by lines of code is like measuring aircraft building progress by weight.”

Bill Gates

“The age of features is dead.”

Aral Balkan

“Cool is a detail, useful is a quality.”

Jason Fried

“Maybe that’s why Microsoft’s new business model is lawsuits. Their overpriced tech is failing to attract anyone under 30.”

David Heinemeier Hansson

“Companies should make their own enterprise software as often as network security companies should manufacture their own aspirin.”

Phil Simon

“Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”
Antoine de Saint-Expury
[NB: this quote wasn’t made with software in mind, but I think it is highly appropriate]
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Here are the best Tweets from our staff over the past seven days.
This time I’ve used a slightly modified and improved version of the Blackbird Tweet embed tool found here: http://publitweet.com/blog

“bank” and “holiday”. 2 of the greatest words in the English Language!!!!! Err….actually “bank” isn’t great, but “holiday” is 10 out of 10Fri May 28 07:01:15 via web



lives on the corner of funny street and silly road, In Crazy Town which is in psycho valley, in a twisted state of mind!Thu May 27 19:47:58 via Status Shuffle



The 3rd part of our production blog is now online http://bit.ly/9l09KX All about Wire FramesThu May 27 10:03:30 via web



The Pac-Man game was so popular that Google has now made it permanently available on its own page. HOORAH! http://bit.ly/apB3fQ *APWed May 26 16:00:39 via web



#nowplaying Cheryl Cole… no, seriously.Tue May 25 21:17:24 via TweetDeck


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Wire Frames
With the technical architecture setup and some branding elements designed it was time to make a start deciding how the mytechlog.net application would look and feel.  Instead of cracking straight on with functional and technical specifications we opted to create a full set of wire frame mockups of the entire application to help plan and design an interface before we made a start on coding the application front end.

A wire frame allows for an interface design to be quickly put together, amended and shared without investing a great amount of time to programming and graphic design.  I’d used a few dedicated wire framing tools before and standard graphics tools like Visio and Photoshop, but for this project we decided to invest in a particular wire frame tool: Balsamiq Mockups.

Balsamiq has a thriving User Community and via their MockUpsToGo.net website standard user interface components are shared amongst users.  The wire frames produced in Balsamiq have a whimsical sketchy hand-drawn feel to them.  This suits us well as we don’t like to give the impression that a wireframe is the finished article.

Pretty much every single application screen including alerts and input warnings have been generated in a wire frame format.  Application controls can be hyperlinked to individual wire frame pages, so you can actually navigate through the mock up of the application to trial the interface, the user experience and test the aesthetics of individual application features.

Individual screens have gone through several iterations until the development team was happy with the outcome before we commited to writing any line of interface code.  This makes writing the functional specifications much easier, as you then have a fully visualised application to refer to, and when it comes to programming you have a full mockup to copy.

Finished screens bear a very close resemblance to their original mocked up design and this cuts down on any reworking of the interface once coding is completed.

Before: The wire frame mock up of the New TechLog screen.


After:
The final version of the new TechLog screen.

Click here to read Part 2 of the Production Blog: Graphic Design

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This week Microsoft has taken the decision to file a lawsuit against CRM competitor Salesforce for infringements of software patents.
 
Microsoft vs Salesforce on Yahoo News

It’s all very well for the big mega-global corporation to rinse the little guy for outright plagiarism, but it appears that this case seems to be centred on patents that date back to the early days of the internet.  For example Salesforce uses drop down menus on a web based application which is in violation of the patent…. There can’t be many web based apps that don’t have drop down menus can there??

It looks to me that Microsoft feel directly threatened by Salesforce’s Software as a Service model and have put their team of hot shot patent lawyers on the case.  This act could be devastating for Salesforce which they might have to simply bend over and take – but equally I believe this could turn into a PR shot in the foot for Microsoft.

Unsurprisingly several CRM SaaS competitors have publicly come out in support of Salesforce.

http://blogs.zoho.com/general/we-are-all-salesforce-today

http://37signals.com/svn/posts/2341-microsoft-patent-trolls-salesforce

Microsoft aren’t the only bad guys here.  Historically Microsoft themselves have been on the receiving end of patent infringement lawsuits several times.  Apple have similar cases against the likes of HTC and a recent patent seems to be aimed at protecting themselves against handheld devices with a curved back that look anything like an iPhone.  Amazon were branded as evil for obtaining and enforcing a “one-click” patent.  Surely the software patent should be the equivalent of a nuclear deterrent when companies use them defensively to ward off copy cat competition. It seems like there is a trend for trying to obliterate good ideas by lawsuits whereas in the past this would have been achieved via acquisition.

This trend is likely to only serve to stifle future innovation and competition which can only be a bad thing.

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Whether you are organising a conference, an exhibition, a product launch or even a client get together social media apps represent a powerful tool for promotion, marketing and delegate engagement.  Here are 5 quick, simple, free, no brainer ideas that frankly you’d have to be daft not to be doing as a matter of routine when hosting an event.

Twitter
Unless you actually want to be the best kept secret in the industry you should be promoting your event by Twitter.  Push out news and updates of your event via your usual Twitter channels. For larger events consider registering an event specific account and push out dedicated news and updates both leading up to and during the show via that account.  Consider asking delegates for their Twitter ID during the registration process and promote your own Twitter details via normal marketing channels.  Assign yourself a Hashtag for your event and push out to your delegates and followers. During the Future of Web Design event #FOWD was trending almost all day in the UK.
 
Engaged delegates will push out news worthy information themselves from your event resulting in a self promoting buzz…..

LinkedIn
The Events widget in LinkedIn allows users to promote their own events and for delegates to announce their intentions for attendance.  This is a great tool to promote delegate networking before and during more professional business oriented events such as trade shows and conferences. Influential attendees will automatically attract potential visitors in turn. Why wouldn’t you use this freely available tool?  Presentations and delegate details can also be shared via LinkedIn afterwards which in turn promotes recurrent events.

Facebook

Facebook has an Event tool which works in a very similar way to LinkedIn except that guest invites can be sent out to connected friends and contacts or to the wider public world. During the event, photos and other media can be attached in Facebook. Bearing in mind that Facebook is used as a more personal social media application I would consider this for more informal occasions.

FourSquare
Foursquare is a relatively new location specific social media phenomenon that is being seized upon by businesses in a big way.  Businesses especially in the retail sector are concocting engaging promotional ideas to entice users to their locations by providing discounts and free offers via foursquare rewards and “specials”.  Promote the involvement of your event with Foursquare to encourage visitor engagement.

 
YouTube & Vimeo
Why not video your event and post the results to video sharing sites like YouTube and Vimeo?  Tell delegates you’re doing this and this will save them the trouble of taking notes during presentations and seminars – ideal for future reference and to promote your event next year!!

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Graphic Design
Once we got our concept agreed and a few technical architecture elements in place we began to work on a design for our web app. I started working on the User Interface (UI) whilst Ella our Graphic Designer made a start on some of graphical elements of the app including the logo and a temporary home page for the website.  This probably wasn’t an ideal approach in terms of the sequence of events, but Ella had a window in her schedule for a few days of work and we had made a conscious decision to start promoting the product during development – so it seemed reasonable to have some branding elements in place as soon as possible.

As part of our brief to Ella we emphasised the importance to us that the logo should be readily identifiable with both the Conduce brand and with other Conduce products.  I cited a number of software product families which had a similar theme running through them: Adobe Products have the product initials on a plain square background, 37Signals have a snow globe theme running through them and MS Office products are readily identifiable.  We had ruled out earlier the idea of just using the standard Conduce logo in a different colour.  As the Conduce logo is actually the net of a box Ella came up with the idea that the product logos should be an assembled box. We would then have a sub-logo representing the product either on or in the box.
The first stage design looked like this:
 
Here’s how Ella described the first stage of development: “I think the box is how we envisaged, with it being sketchy but modern at the same time! Ignore the icon colours (though I quite like them), my idea behind this is that it’s a tech ‘log’ which makes me think of a book of papers. I wanted to create something using shapes from aircraft that resembled pages of a book in an abstract way. I tried using the full aircraft shape but it got lost, so I narrowed it to the tail shape.

The idea of the glass box was good – but we didn’t feel it related directly with the Conduce box. If the box were opaque the correct colour of each Conduce division could potentially be used for individual products.  We were a little worried about how the glass box would render at low resolutions.  So a good start, but back to the drawing board.

The next stage of development saw all of the critique acted upon with a solid cube employing the Conduce Software colour scheme.  Although some of us liked the realistically rendered box colour it wasn’t loved by all of the development team.  In particular this design had much better results with a high resolution output compared to low resolution icons.
 
Tests of symbol ideas on the box proved more successful with a single colour or tone directly on the box rather than multiple colours in the box or on the box using some kind of icon or label.  The idea of a paper airplane was honed, improved and eventually made much less abstract.
The final design was reached after testing various box angles and shading options.

Next was to decide on a font style.  We had already agreed to use a combination of Georgia and Helvetica fonts for the website, the application and the mobile app, but we decided that the logo itself should use a contrasting font.  A relatively quick and simple selection exercise resulted in the unanimous choice of Berlin Sans font and colour combination.
 

As soon as the logo design was completed we put together a temporary holding page for the website and began incorporating the logo and its themes into our UI design and other branding elements.

Click here to read Part 1 of our Production Blog: Conception

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We’ve been keeping an eye on the Icelandic volcano which shut European airspace last month.  Despite a weekend of respite Eyjafjallajökull has fired up again with renewed vigour.  With weather systems coming from the North West there is a distinct risk that a new ash cloud will cause further disruption to European airspace in the very near future possibly as early as next week.

News regarding the last spate of disruptions was very well served via the internet with social media in particular being vaunted as something of a hero of the hour.  Service providers and aviation geeks were universally tweeting and retweeting updates using the “#ashtag” hashtag. Expect more of the same next time with authorities, airlines, airports and everyone else being pretty well prepared.

Here’s a definitive list of resources on all things Eyjafjallajökull:

The UK Met Office has a section of their website dedicated to the volcano updates. It includes activity updates, latest observation images and maps, plus forecast information.
http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/corporate/pressoffice/2010/volcano.html
The Met Office also publishes volcano specific weather forecast charts here:
http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/aviation/vaac/data/

Eurocontrol the agency that regulates European airspace has a dedicated Volcano sub-site with up to the minute updates and resources
http://www.eurocontrol.int/corporate/public/subsite_homepage/report-ash-cloud.html

The UK air traffic control service agency NATS has latest ash avoidance statements available on their website:
http://www.nats.co.uk/index.html

The UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) also has an area of their website dedicated to volcanic ash news.
http://www.caa.co.uk/default.aspx?catid=2011&pagetype=90

Local updates:
Icelandic geological services and the government’s department of Civil Protection provide some essential updates on the volcano’s activity.

http://hraun.vedur.is/ja/Katla2009/stodvaplott.html a local tremor plot

http://www.almannavarnir.is/displayer.asp?cat_id=413 Civil protection news updates.

http://eldgos.mila.is/eyjafjallajokull-fra-valahnjuk/ a live webcam

Images & Videos:

For those not caught up in the flight disruption there are some stunning images and videos to admire.  The Boston Globe has some superb images from mid April showing the effects of the volcano from fairly short range.
http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2010/04/more_from_eyjafjallajokull.html

Here’s a gorgeous time lapse video of the eruption from YouTube

A couple of weeks back Channel4 aired a documentary called “The Volcano That Stopped Britain”.  If you are in the UK you can see it for a few more days here: http://www.channel4.com/programmes/the-volcano-that-stopped-britain/4od

EDIT: Update – I was sent a link to an even better video which I highly recommend watching on full screen!!

If you do get grounded there are so many options that Conduce can assist with to help you carry out business as usual.  We can help with VOIP and Web Conferencing communication tools, mobile computing and handheld devices.  We have recently helped Mackenzie Morgan Aerospace Consultants establish a virtual office of airworthiness which proved invaluable during the last bout of flight space closures when their MD was stuck in Bahrain for a whole week.  The environment that we host allowed normal business to be conducted from a hotel room and even from a shopping mall.  Read their blog here for details of the experience.
http://www.mackenzie-morgan.com//index.php/business-contingency-planning/

One thing for certain is that the airlines, maintenance organisations, engine manufacturers and regulators have really learnt from the ash cloud experience in April.  You can be sure that disruption will be guaranteed to be kept to a bare minimum. Are you fully prepared as a passenger for the next ash cloud heading our way?

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This morning I stumbled across a video which was posted on the excellent Flowing Data blog.

Its a TED Active Talk by Sebastian Wernicke who has done a statistical analysis of TED Talk data and has produced the definitive guide on what makes a successful and unsuccessful TED Talk.  It is both funny and thought provoking… though I am a little bit concerned he didn’t intend for it to be as funny as it proved to be.

There are some excellent points made that are worth bearing in mind for your next PowerPoint or Keynote presentation.  You can find Oliver’s tedPAD resource here.

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