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November 2, 2010

SSDs

Filed under: Life — see @ 10:38 pm

When I build my current PC in spring I got a small SSD (Intel 40GB) plus a big standard HDD. Actually this runs really well. Very quick bootup (about as fast as an ipod touch startup…). And why you wonder why I write about this, just to maybe win a new and bigger SSD at Netbooknews.de ;)

Would be nice to finally get a netbook and add the SSD to it :)

February 21, 2010

(pirated) usage of stuff (DVD and BD and other)

Filed under: Data,Death,Film,Usability — see @ 1:49 pm

Reading “buying DVDs vs pirating them” reminded me again that I wanted to rant about this stuff  (again…).

Using DVD as a normal innocent user is a pain (for more see article):

  • handling constrictions preventing the user to skip stuff like unwanted trailers, REALLY unwanted trailers about “copy is a theft” (WTF, I bought this DVD!), long menu animations and the really annoying “warning, do not copy” signs in up to 50 languages or more!
  • region code bullshit
  • not easily (e.g. officially forbidden by law in Germany and elsewhere) being able to make a backup copy (DVDs are delicate, I had a few ones lasting 2 or 3 years only :( )
  • lots more…

Using BDs is about the same if not worse as copy protection handling via HDMI is just unbearably slow.

CDs with copy protection (which seem to get out of fashion finally) and their specific problems (incompatibility with cars, computers, even security problems – I somehow recall a rootkit there) are about the same category. The music industry seem to have (painfully)  learned a bit from the past years but still seem to not fully understand what their customers want :( There are hardly any hidef music downloads available despite more and more users would be able to use and enjoy them (ranting about MP3 music downgrading and people being educated to accept this crap is another story…)

Even stuff like the iPhone could be added to this. Otherwise no one would have developed Jailbreak in the first place…

All share the same annoyance: Having to deal with constrictions which are not technical (these would be understandable even for an ignorant user) but are purely arbitrary.

Mostly I am annoyed that when I do use this stuff normally (no ripping etc) I am being cheated. Pirates have the better experience. And a good experience is what all the media are made for in the first place, are they not? So somehow producers force people to cheat on them which in turn makes producers feel forced to add more constrictions – vicious circle.

Producers seem to ignore what people want but focus on what they the producers need. This may be ok upto a point but totally ignoring the demands of the consumer is just plain stupid.

I don’t think ranting about this stuff will help at all but what can you do?

More and more people seem to not buy CDs anymore, rip their DVDs or even BDs, Jailbreak their iPhones (I guess roughly half the men I know do this, BTW, iPhone seems to be male only anyway…) etc.

But pirating is not my preferred method and actually I wonder why people in the creative business especially (to which I count designers etc but also IT people, who understand the difference between a technical and arbitrary constriction even better) use some kind of pirating which they would strongly argue against when dealing with their own “creations”…

Solution? Highly unlikely to happen but a producer should research what a consumer wants and offer a product which fulfils these wants without destroying the experience. I still naively think the better product will win…

(pirating) usage

February 6, 2010

On office organization?

Filed under: Design,Life — see @ 9:15 pm

Due to the fact that office layout at work has changed recently I was forced (being quite annoyed by the change actually) to think about how a middle sized (web)agency could work more efficiently (smaller agencies probably just sit in one big office and bigger ones have bigger problems anyway ;) .

How to place people into offices influences how they communicate which influences how they work together and in the end if they work efficiently or not. Things to consider:

  • people in a fixed project team (working more or less exclusively on that one project)
  • people having a variety of different projects
  • skill groups (specialists like the visual design group, the conceptual design group, the development group (which might again be devided in backend programming, frontend development, and maybe a dedicated flash group),  the management group (project managers and the like) and maybe other specialized staff like business development, PR, HR and accounting and possible teamleaders of any group
  • human factors

Leaving more organizational groups like accounting etc out of focus and concentrating on the majority of groups in a webagency (people working on projects at hand) I guess there are more or less two questions:

  1. how to make inner project communication and work efficient (the project team)
  2. how to make cross project and skillgroup communication possible (for the smaller projects with no dedicated team or people having multiple projects)

It seems question 1 is mandatory to answer as any company needs to finish any given project on time, budget and quality just to survive…

“Classic” agencies (especially) which mostly work on certain “accounts” seem to have fixed teams on any given account and so answer question 1 simply by putting all people working on an account together (which sometimes has the side effect that if an account is lost the whole project team is suddenly out of work and sometimes simply “lost” too – but that is not the point here ;)

Any agency not working in separated “accounts” but instead where most people work on several projects more or less in parallel has a problem there as there simply are no “projectteams” to place together.
(There is an additional  problem with fixed project teams. They tend to separate themselves from the other projects both on the personal and the work level. In the long term this is quite a dangerous problem for an agency.)

An idea how to solve this would be to place smaller projects dynamically into temporal “work” offices as long as the project lasts. (Preconditions of course are free dedicated office space (which sometimes would be double booked or in calmer times not needed at all and so somehow wasted) and you need all people to be mobile (mainly meaning they got a laptop and not a fixed PC)).
Again this does only work for short “peak work” (like pitches for new projects or code sprints etc) but not if projects actually are worked on in parallel. I do think however that dedicated space for short term concentrated work is a good idea.

Still you end up having to place all people into something that answers the two questions above. (Also I think to have fixed working place is good for a lot of people just to be able to concentrate on a task like e.g. a design or a complex Java application programming.)

Question 1 of inner project communication actually does not seem to be such a problem after all. I would argue that even if a project team does not work in one room they can work  together efficiently. They might schedule  regular meetings and they might work dynamically together in adhoc work teams simply by grouping in an office for some hours. Actually question 1 does more or less answers itself as the people involved simply HAVE TO communicate just to finish the project. (Of course you need to look into details e.g. if it would be good to place two people near each other who work close most of the time anyway. So I think small adjustments should be sufficient.)

Question 2 how to enable cross project and inner-skill group communication is a bit harder. It does not simply happen by itself as there is no need to do so.

One might think this communication is simply not needed at all and could be neglected completely.
But without communication here syndicated skills and knowledge transfer does not happen either! Any solution for a specific problem will be invented over and over again which simply kills efficiency naturally…

Also experience shows that cross project and inner-skillgroup communication actually is hard to achieve by outside means. Dedicated skill meetings can only help up to a certain level as day-to-day work is different to what you can present and discuss in a meeting or workshop. I think natural work side by side gives at least a certain amount of group communication.

So I think there are a few options to place people together.

  • place people of a skillgroup (including skillgroup teamleaders) together in dedicated offices as they naturally (implicitly) learn from each other despite not being on the same project
  • maybe mix members of different skillgroups into “knowledge groups”. I think you need to have at least 2 of every skill group in such a knowledge group (e.g. 2 visual designer and 2 conceptual designer) because of point 1. Knowledge groups instead of simple skillgroups have the advantage of cross skillgroup communication but may have the same problem as project teams (see next point). This cross skillgroup communication may better be handled with in actual explicit projects and not in the implicit communication talked about here
  • move dedicated project teams near to each other but not in a single office (problem of separation)
  • project managers are better off in separate offices (due to noise issues of phone calls alone)
  • have temporal office space available for “peak work” which would then provide for project (or cross skillgroup) communication

You still have the problem which people of a skillgroup (or multiple skills) to place together. But there also are a few options you have:

  • simply ask people what they think! (You might find out mondane stuff like if somebody likes to sit in a small or big office and possibly cannot fulfill any wishes but at least you know possible problems)
  • look which people worked well together in the past (in projects or in skillgroups). Some people just work together nicely while others simply cannot be productive together. This is a human thing and should not be underestimated but is a problem which normally can be avoided quite easily.

The problem of office organization definitely is difficult. Therefor you have to be careful with any change and also that you keep the balance of good inner- and crossproject communication. Also optimizing in details might be the best idea. On the surface minor thing like office layout might have other results than expected. There are the problems described above. But also any reorganization results in a reorganization of all the human relationships too. And these may take a while to adjust again (or might not adjust not at all in case you need to change again)…

May 2, 2009

Blu-ray blues…

Filed under: Death,Film,Usability — see @ 12:20 pm

I do like watching movies. I used to go to the cinema very frequently (there was a time in which I went more than 200 times in a single year). I totally passed on Video as the quality never was good enough (and I also never had the money to buy a decent TV and VHS at the time ;) . And VHS just was not anywhere near cinema quality.

When DVD came out (and became affordable) I got a player and also a projector with which a cinema like experience at home was almost possible. I did not get any high-end player nor projector but still the experience has been worth it and it is affordable. Also starting at that time I like watching movies in their native language which is a real problem in Germany as most films are dubbed and not just subtitled. This is the main reason I do not go to the cinema very often these days. At home I can see movies in their native language (it takes a while until films are released on DVD etc but this time has been getting less and less recently and I think almost bearable now). See also An Epic Fail which is very interesting.

So naturally after HD came about I was thrilled. Even better quality! No way to afford a full HD projector yet but 720p projectors have been quite affordable for some time now and even on these HD makes a difference (depending on the quality of the film of course ;) .

I watched the dreadful battle between HD-DVD and Blu-Ray which is one of those needless but self-destructing things in modern technology it seems. In the end HD-DVD (being the better technology it seemed) lost. But as BD-players were still much too expensive and I did not want to get a noisy power-hungry monster like the PS I waited. HD-DVD players were in sale and the price was as low as a middle class DVD player and so I got one of the last ones. The player was good enough or even better than my old DVD player so it replaced it.

Films on HD-DVD were quite cheap as well (at least not as outrageously priced as BD still sometimes is today – a movie for 30€?!) and near normally priced DVDs (which is somewhere a movie ticket for 2). I got about 5 or 6 movies which I sometimes already had on DVD but all of them were worth the (now sometimes doubled) investment. Very crisp and clear image, films like 2001 are just made for HD. Also the menu system was nice. Nothing too fancy but menus popped up quick and just on top of the film (so a quick change in e.g. subtitles etc was easy). Also for most films each extra showed its duration which sometimes is very interesting. A making-of has a range between maybe 5 and 200 minutes and knowing that beforehand is nice. Of course the player had some drawbacks. It was dead slow until a disc was finally running, sometimes upto a full minute. But all in all the experience was enjoyable. The main stuff – the movie – in good quality, extras were good and easy accessible.

Of course I knew HD-DVD was a dead technology but as the price I paid was hardly more than what I would have paid for the same stuff on DVD it was totally worth it.

Then, I think this year, BD-player prices finally came down to affordable ranges and also movie prices finally came down. Also the range of movies available on BD is high enough that not only last years blockbusters are available now but also classics like Kubrick films, the Bond movies, and generally movies which are not in their kindergarten age but like Planet of the Apes are from the sixties and older. Even some Hitchcock movies are at least announced.

So when a very nice offer came along I finally got a BD-Player. New generation but very decently priced and a player which had good reviews in every magazine and online review.
I don’t think the player is bad and I also don’t think that my player does anything very different than other players on the market (ignoring high-end ones for now). I guess any player from any brand is at least similar. Sometimes a bit slower, sometimes a slightly better image but all in all exchangeable. So my problems with BD are not with my specific player. (One point: My player does not have a subtitle button which I would like to have as I need about 5 clicks to change this. Very annoying).

But I think BD has problems…

First, reading a BD is as slow as reading a HD-DVD. This will improve with new models but it is painful. During the player reading a disc for the initial time it flickers between funny images like a complete blue screen, a wobbly black and green one and other stuff. This is the same when I start up my PC but I want a home consumer technology to hide this.
It seems handling the HDMI HDCP handshake and handling the BD copy protection the player is so busy that it simply is unable to show anything decent.
Also the “Reading” message is shown as frequently as the typical “LOADING” on any PC-game or modern Flash based websites…

So the player is slow but the real problem is that EVERY TIME I press the button to go to the main menu it takes time. It seems the menu has to be read from scratch every time. HD-DVD was much better there, menu popup was almost instantly there.

Generally the menu system is really strange. I guess any publisher does his own menu so there are no best practices yet. So any publisher makes his own mistakes how to structure and navigate the menu. (BTW, no BD I have seen until now had duration information on any extra feature which HD-DVD discs had and which I liked – maybe it is just coincidence). The possibilities in designing a menu for BD are much higher than for e.g. DVDs but with this power also comes a higher responsiblity (sorry for this overused quote ;) . It seems hardly anyone tests if a menu is usable at all.

Two examples:

On X-Men 1 the extras have lists of parts or subfeatures. These are “scrollable” with a click but they do not rotate which is annoying in a list of 12 items and you are at the bottom but want to the top of the list which then takes 12 clicks. Also going back to the menu takes about 3-5 second every time I am finished watching 1 extra which is most tiring when I have like 30-40 extras all in all…

The Zodiac BD menu is much simpler (basically a one screen menu like a sitemap which is actually good) but navigating this menu is not self explaining. The Menu has 3 columns which you navigate up/down by using the cursor up/down keys on the remote. I would expect the highlight cursor on the screen to move to the top of the next column if I am at the bottom of the column before. But that does not work. I have to use the cursor right and left keys to move between columns. Ok, let it be so. But I also have to be on the proper height in a column to move to the left or right! If I am at the bottom on col 2 I cannot use cursor right as the right column has no selectable items at this point… (BTW my player locked up totally once while navigating the menu which is really strange given such a simple menu with no animation or any other fancy stuff. I had to shut the player down completely which took about 30 seconds as it did not wanted to shut down. I am patient so I did not pull the power cable but I wonder what would have happened…)

Another problem is the handling of buttons in the menus. It seems most menus just use the cursor and ok buttons on the remote. The remote also has a “Return” button which is used in the player setup menus. So I expected to be able to use it in disc menus too. Returning from a deeper level of the menu to a higher would be a reasonable function of this key I think. But all I get is a player message “This function is not available at this time”. This seems to be a standard message if a key press it not supported (Also e.g. when trying to get to the menu during the dreadful legal message screens after some movies which are shown in 10-30 languages. But this is a DVD problem too…). But I get this message on almost any second press of a button which is just strange. I simply do not feel comfortable with such a control. And I guess people not familiar with technology generally just think the disc is broken…

These are all minor annoyances. But should a new technology not be better than an older one? Watching a DVD is quite simple, menus are basic but simple to use, menus are generally quick and also loading of a disc is quick. BD is generally slow, sometimes unbearable. And why? One reason is the copy protection which makes the player so busy it cannot even respond at times. And it is known no copy protection is safe forever (not even years) so a IRONY:”feature” I don’t want and does not help anyway does even annoy me?
I don’t copy movies, I do buy them. But I have to live with a handicapped technology. I did not even mention region codes…
The usability problem of dics I guess will not be solved as it would force publishers to test any new menu. Website usability has improved over the years (still not perfect of course) but I think BD menu usability is not even recognized as a problem yet.

In former times products were developed for a need and to help the customer (at least that is what I think). BD just seems to cause problems and being able to watch a movie in good quality is just a side effect. The greatest fear I have is that it will even get worse in the future (BD+ copy protection is on the way but what madness will the next technology after BD have)…

February 8, 2009

words I like: “Libelle” and “now”

Filed under: Language — see @ 1:22 pm

A word I do like: “Libelle” (german for dragonfly which I actually do not like really).

Another word that I do like a lot is “now”. Slightly more 80s though (maybe because of some songs using it extensively like some Art of Noise stuff).

Actually “though” is veerry nice too.

August 17, 2008

ipot…

Filed under: Life — see @ 6:38 pm
ipot

saw the other day in a shop, the ipot… ;)

August 2, 2008

lost mail…

Filed under: Death,Web — see @ 1:53 pm

despite my freudian misspelling of mail (male ;) I lost all mail which I got on friday August 1…
Thunderbird got confused while handline over 500 of “:o) ” referred emails and simply seems to have swallowed all still in my inbox. Very annoying.

Luckily I don’t too many really important emails (hopefully I do no offend anyone with this statement ;) but please resend any mails you may think I should have read or answered (but did not). Thanks a lot!

June 14, 2008

Wordle of my thesis

Filed under: Death,Design,Fashion,Life — see @ 3:56 pm

as Matwan did it for his writing, here the Wordle for my thesis which is a bit older but the image is neat:

April 3, 2008

Good programmers MUST use OS X ???

Filed under: Death,Life,Programming — see @ 9:07 pm

normally do not partake in all these Mac is better – Windows is better – Linux is better stuff. But An article on “Loud thinking” actually annoyed me. Some excerpts:

OS X offers the best personal computing experience available today

This may be different for different people. Simply historical reasons or personal stuff effects this judgement, so this does basically says nothing.

If you don’t care enough about your tools to get the best, your burden of proof just got a lot heavier.

I actually do care a lot about the tools I use. That is the main reason I do not use OS X. A tool you have problems to work on without a mouse is a tool that makes you not as productive as you could and want to be. I am no vi hero but simply to control a browser with the keyboard makes me more productive. (OS X without a mouse is like eating without hands.)
There are other reasons why people think one tool/OS is better than another but again denying peoples differences is too simplifying. Denying peoples’ reasoning is a tiny bit ignorant.

Besides I don’t think the OS is the main question today. More and more apps are available on the web (Maps, Office, etc), so to be able to have access to a good browser (be it Firefox on Win/OSX/L) or Safari (OSX/Win) or maybe even Opera) is the more important question. Not so important the question if you use that on Windows or Mac OS. Also the question of programming language is more important than on which OS you are developing it on. Most languages are more or less plattform independent. And also the infrastructure (IDE, Versioning, Server) most of the time is available for at least Windows and Mac (Java, Python; Javascript being even more independent mostly running in the browser).

If you have any desire working for the rising rank of companies building their business on open source technologies, you don’t want to carry a liability like that around on you resume.

Maybe one should first look how “open source” the “alternative” Mac OS is. How lame can one be to say “I do open source and therefor use OS X” but depend on one of the “closest source” companies imaginable? If Apple would be bigger than MS I fear it would even be more evil if one defines MS as evil. “iTunes”, “iPod” and even the Mac Hardware is the stuff MS is dreaming of….

(BTW, isn’t the productiveness of the developer (in any aspect) it’s main value?)

Armin has a very sharp answer to the post too but I think his final conclusion just says what the situation actually is like: Any plattform has it’s strengths and weaknesses. Denying peoples intelligence is ignorant and arrogant. Where does it stop, does wearing white shirts instead of black turtlenecks make you suspicious too?

November 5, 2007

wasting time

Filed under: Death,Java — see @ 11:51 pm

On my more private site I have a massive problem with spam send via the contact form (which all ends up in my mailbox as there is (as far as I know as least) no way to use it to send mails to other people but still :( ). So I thought putting recaptcha on the form just like on this blog. Problem is the contact form is JSP which I build a couple of years ago (when still interested in Java). Today just doing all the stuff you need to do when writing Java (e.g. compared to Python or Javascript: all these “;” or just the compiling, baah) is just awful and makes no fun at all. Luckily the java implementation and the example provided are very very good and easy to use. I just forgot to generate a new recaptcha ID for the different domain…

I hope this whole undertaking (more or less more than an hour wasted) helps at least getting rid of all this meaningless spam. Actually all mails coming from the form was almost always considered spam by me so it may have been easier to remove the form completely…

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