Monday morning

Recently the cartoon Dilbert posted the following.  This strip has consistently done a good job of pointing out the challenges and realities of the modern corporate world.  What I liked about this strip was the tension that we see between engineering and marketing.  This same tension can be seen between development and sales, management and employees, and any other group that has a codependency on each other.  When your success is dependent on someone else’s work, incentives must be put in place to ensure that the dynamics are not one sided.

Many developers don’t understand sales and marketing teams.  I’ve been in many meetings where the thought is marketing makes charts (they get customers to want things that they don’t need) and sales is only coin operated (they will sell only those things that give them the most commission).  This is a very cynical view of sales and marketing.  As a developer, sales and marketing are two key groups to make you successful.  Marketing should be listening to customers and understanding what they want.  The should not be making up “markets”, but understanding what the market needs and wants.  Sales should be listening to customers and helping them to find the right product within your portfolio which will meet those needs.  

As a developer you should be expressing to sales and marketing, what you are doing.  How it may address the needs of the customers.  And you must be willing to change to address shifts in the market.  Part of receiving an MBA, is understanding how to build an appropriate business case.  A business case is like a project plan, where you are balancing costs and potential revenue, to build a story that helps drive the right decision.  One point that many people struggle with is that in this decision, you should not consider sunk costs.  Sunk costs, are those expenses that you have already spent.  

You can’t change the past, but you have to leverage the work product from these sunk costs to do the right thing.  This same challenge comes into play as a developer when you look at the features and code you’ve already written.  Customers change their mind, markets shift and change, and technology changes.  Figuring out how to leverage the work that you’ve already done to address these changes sometimes means throwing it away.  Take what you learned developing those features and make your next features better.  

I believe that the quickest way to help drive this balance is to listen to each other, and understand that for development to be successful, customers need to use your code.  Sales and Marketing are successful when customers are open and honest, knowing that the solutions that will be made available to them will meet their needs. Ultimately, listening to each other and focusing on what truly benefits customers, should drive the right behavior.   You must understand your capabilities and your market.  If your marketing has grown beyond your capabilities, you may need to refocus back on your core abilities.

Post Thanksgiving Thoughts

This morning I made it to the Gym and got a nice mile long swim in.  All the lanes of the pool were full, which is not the usual case when I get my swim in, so I am thankful that not everyone gorged themselves yesterday to the point of not being able to do things today.  The roads were not too busy, and given that in the US it is Black Friday, I expected them to be crazy.  But I guess all the shoppers were already at the stores when they opened up.

The thing that got me this morning, however, was the talk in the locker room, when I had just arrived.  The Gym I go to belongs to a major NC public university system.  Many of the people who work out there, have a relationship with the university.  I know many of the people I swim with on my Sunday morning swim are current and former professors.  Anyway, the coversation I heard in the locker room went something like this:

“I guess we can make fun of the handicap now.”

“Yeah, less then 60 days until the PC error is over.”

I was shocked.  They didn’t say this as a joke.  They were actually happy that they would be able to start making fun of people.  People who “in the Political Correct Era” it would have been inappropriate to make fun of.  The three men who were talking all were older and college educated. 

Last night, after our Thanksgiving dinner, we got to watch the movie “Race“.  The story of JC Owens and his historic race in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.  One of the storylines had to do with Avery Brundage, who worked with the US Olympic committee (ultimately heading it for 20+ years).  He ended up cutting a deal with Joseph Goebbels, the head of Germany’s propaganda machine, to ensure that the US would be at the Olympics.  That deal basically was that the US could bring both Jewish and African American athletes to the games, the Germans would hide much of the racists acts against the German Jews, and the US would then show up.  Avery Brundage was also rewarded with the building rights for a new German embassy in Washington DC.  

The movie and this morning’s comments got me thinking more and more about the underlying hatred, racism, and bigotry that nevery goes away, unless the government and everyday people step up and fight it.  I hope that the “gentlemen” in the gym are wrong.  I hope our error of respect and tolerence has not ended, and that people will be judged “not by the color of their skin” or other physical manifestations”, but the content of their character”.

10 years of Podcasting

While recording my podcast this week over at Games At Work dot Biz I realized that I have been doing podcasts for over 10 years now. It all started with my current Co-host Michael Martine and I putting together an audio recording to promote a project we had for work. We called it Project Wookie, the idea was to take the addictive qualities of MMO games (in this case it was Star Wars Galaxies, that included an entertainer character that you would have to go watch in order to reduce your characters fatigue) and apply that idea to work and education.
We quickly morphed into a podcast called Dogear-Nation (as an homage to our favorite video podcast at the time – DiggNation). We would look for social bookmarks in a tool called Dogear, and spend time talking tech and gaming technology. We did 200 public episodes of that podcast (and about 70 or so internal episodes within our work).
During that time, I also did two other podcasts, one called “Tripping the Verse” – where I got experts in various Virtual World technologies to talk. The Verse in this case was the Virtual Universe Community inside of IBM. I also got hooked on the Kindle a few years later, and did a book review podcast, where I would focus on business and sci-fi books. I did about 10 episodes of each of these podcasts, as the topics were very niche and for the Kindle podcast (which I called Random Abstractions) took up too much time to keep my schedule of 1 book per month.
After the 6 month hiatus from Dogear-Nation (which had a ton of great cohosts including Matt Simpson, Steven Harrison, and the incredible Andy Piper), I decided to start up a new podcast. We would focus back on what got me started in podcasting – Gaming technology and Play!
We’ve had a few of us on the podcast as co-hosts: Michael Martine, Andy Piper, Phaedra Boinodiris, and Sandy Kearney.
I am thinking we need to do something special on episode 150 of the Games At Work dot Biz Podcast. What do you think?

iPhone 7 Plus Portrait Mode

It didn’t take Apple long to release a new beta that supports Portrait mode for the iPhone 7 Plus. As someone who likes taking depth of field pictures with a DSLR, I couldn’t resist. The feature does show amazing promise:


The above grid shows two sample shots, one in bright sunlight and the other in a coffee shop (my favorite one – BeanTraders. The biggest thing that you see is that the traditional iPhone camera doesn’t really have a focus area. Everything is clear and in focus, which makes the picture look a little flat. Once you turn on portrait mode it will focus on things between a few and eight feet distance. The second thing that you learn is that the brighter the light the more pronounced the depth of field will be.
Overall, the effect is very satisfying. I wish they would call it depth of field instead of portrait mode, as I don’t then to take portraits. I find that landscapes are more satisfying. However, Apple has this working really well and I can’t wait for the full release.

Apple Watch Series 2 and Swimming

I was waiting for this morning before I posted my review of the new Swim features of the Apple watch Series 2. I’ve been a bit under the weather the last few days, so there was a chance I would not go for my Sunday morning swim… but I felt up to it this morning. I decided to do half my normal swim. I normally do a mile (or 72 laps) but this morning I just did a half mile. What was cool was that the watch performed perfectly.
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I received a first swim achievement, which I hope to be able to blow away quickly, as the watch will capture many more swimming sessions.

img_0835 One thing that was cool was that it captured the dominant stroke. My Garmin Swim used to capture the stroke for every lap, and provided me with details on all of it… Perhaps a new swim app will come out quickly to analyze the data and show me a per lap time and stroke, but for now, getting the details of the workout is good enough.
The post workout twisting of the crown made a delightful (not really) noise, but I did not see any water spit out of the speaker. Perhaps it had already gotten out by then. Another thing I noticed was that the watch didn’t react to my touch for a while after the workout, but that could also be due to my fingers getting a bit wrinkled. We shall see.
Overall a nice new addition to the apple watch workout capabilities.

Apple’s Wednesday Announcement – Three “One More Things”

img_0230One of the things I look forward to each summer is upgrading my iOS devices to each of the developer beta drops. It is always an exciting time, usually with lots of bugs and problems.  For some reason this summer was different.  The upgrades were simple, they didn’t cause a lofty of problems, and not once did I lose all my passwords and configurations.  

As we look at the devices which were just announced, we learn the new features that were right in front of us during the beta, but we could not see. I enjoy seeing this, as it comes as the “one more thing” that you didn’t see all summer during testing the beta.  This Wednesday there were a few interesting one more things, 2 for iOS and 1 for Watch OS3. 

The first “one more thing” is the update to the camera on the new iPhone 7 Plus.  I specifically call out the iPhone 7 Plus since it allows the new zoom feature enabled by the 2nd camera lens.  The software feature in iOS10 that I am looking forward to is depth of field in portrait mode.  I don’t take a lot of portraits, and while I will do a new selfie every so often, I am not a bit fan of selfies.  But I am looking forward to testing this feature out.  More so for close ups of inanimate objects.  Expect at least one review of this feature when my new iPhone arrives.

The second “one more thing” is attached to yet another non-surprise, the loss of the headphone jack. The software feature that looks really amazing is how much easier Apple has made pairing the Airpods with you iPhone and Apple Watch.  While I will probably not go for Apple’s new Airpods, since the shape of them doesn’t fit well with my ears, I do hope that Apple opens up this feature for third party headphones. 

The third “one more thing” is the swim mode of the Apple Watch series 2.  I have really enjoyed the updates to WatchOS3 this summer, the spead increase by keeping certain apps in the dock has made a huge difference to the usefulness of the Apple Watch.  I’ve also noticed that the battery usage has not been adversely impacted by this feature.  I have been using the three rings and the workout app this summer, a lot.  But when I do my swim workouts on the weekends, I’ve had to swap out to Garmin Swim watch.  The Garmin doesn’t integrate with the activity rings on the Apple Watch.  So I am so happy to see this update both in hardware and software.  Now I just need wireless earbuds that work with the Apple Watch Series 2, so that I can not only capture my workout, but also catch up on podcasts while I swim too!

Stay tuned for updates after I play with the new hardware and these new software updates!  I can’t wait.

Tivo and DRM

I’ve been loving my TIVO, we can watch / record upto 6 shows at one time.  Very cool… However, recent changes in the system have really made me frustrated.. and I am betting it is TIVO cowtowing to the media industry.

I used to be able to sit in my computer room and do some work on one of my computers while watching a show (via streaming) to my other computer.  My wife could sit downstairs and watch shows on the TV.  But, recently many of my shows do not allow me to watch them (on the same network at home) via the web browser.  Evidently if a TV show is flagged as DRM, even TIVO’s own webplayer is not allowed to show the show.  There is no TIVO app for the Mac so at this point I am screwed.

I have also used an app to convert TIVO’ed show to run on my iTunes library.. again these same shows are no longer available to that app.  While the TV industry is struggling to come to terms with the digital world, I feel they are making things worse for their consumers.  And will only continue to encourage people to “break” DRM instead, as we saw with the music industry, once it becomes easier to be in compliance people will do the right thing.

Has anyone figured out a way around these ludicrous restrictions?

Engineers and Developers save the day!

OK, a quick update on yesterday’s blog post, on how individual people work hard at fixing the problems of corporate policy. Yesterday the service tech came by anyway, left his business card, found and fixed the problem for the hum..asked that I double check this morning, and if it was still a problem he’d come back out. So while the corporate policy was to stiff arm the customer, the tech in the field saved the day. Thank you to the engineer and the developers who make the world work in spite of policy.

The death of Customer Service

In the last month, I’ve had the “opportunity” to have to use customer service from a couple of companies.  Both companies have websites and call centers, with the goal of improving customer service.  To say that they actually provide customer service is another thing.  The first is a major appliance manufacturer. About 14 months ago we had to replace our clothes dryer.  After 15 years, our old dryer had a problem with one of the boards, and while almost every other part could be repaired or replaced, this part was no longer available.  So we spent a few months investigating and picked up a brand new dryer with a ton of positive reviews on multiple sites.

Now 14 months later, the dryer’s drum won’t turn.  Of course the warranty is only 12 months, so it is no longer covered by a warranty.  We tried calling using the website for customer service, and after spending 30 minutes trying to find the right place and form, decided let’s place a phone call.  The phone tree was confusing, and given that they manufacture almost every major appliance, plus a ton of consumer electronics, we tried the press * until the tree finally got confused enough to drop us to a human.  The person answering the call then tried spending the next 5 minutes ignoring our questions and taking us thru the call tree options again. We hung up.  Instead we called the major retail chain where we bought the dryer and got their support team.  They scheduled the appointment quickly and then tried to sell us a $500 service plan on a $600 dryer. When we politely said no, they tried three more times.

Nearly three weeks ago, I had an early morning call I had to take for work and decided I could take it at the house before going to the office.  When I got on the line there was such an awful hum on the line, that the participants on the call couldn’t understand me, nor could they hear each other.  I tried using mute on my phone, but ended up having to hang up, missing the entire call.  I got off the call and called customer service for my local land line company.  They indicated that there were a bunch of service calls happening and they would have to schedule coming out a few days later.  While frustrated I agreed to this delay, and changed my wake up time to I could make it into the office for early calls.  They day of service came and went and no one came by. I used the website to check and had a 30+ minute chat only to be assured that they would come the following day on Friday in the afternoon.  On Friday, no one showed, and due to my work schedule (working from home on Friday) I didn’t have time to call back.  On Monday morning, the line is just as bad as the day the problem started and I reached out via chat… The person informed me that a service tech had been there on Friday and checked the line at the street without finding a problem and closed the ticket.  WTH? The problem is in the house, and we have been faithly paying for the “in house wiring” support for 17 years.  I informed the chatter that this was the case, that I was upset that they had not even rang the doorbell, and that they had closed the ticket without any customer interaction.

At this point the chatter politely apologized and offered to create a new ticket for me.  Sure, I said as the problem was still there.  At this point in time I was able to provide a bit more information, as the problem was worse in the morning.  I indicated this and requested that they come the next day.  I was told the nearest time was a week later (on Wednesday), I asked for a service escalation, as this was unacceptable.  I was ensured that the ticket would be escalated and I should expect someone to show up on Monday instead.  Monday, came and went, with no service.  Checking the online ticket system it indicated an appointment between noon and 9pm on Wednesday (the original schedule).  So I changed my work schedule and worked from home on Wednesday now, because they would need to come into the house.  I started checking the online tool at noon, between back to back calls that I am now doing from my computer as the line still has the hum.  

At 9:01pm I call customer service.  I ask, so what happened?  Apologies, from the service person, the techs couldn’t come by.

Why didn’t they contact me? Apologies, I will schedule a new appointment.  Does tomorrow work?

No, I have been inconvienced enough.  I want them here Friday morning, and I want to talk to a supervisor because this has been going on too long.

At this point customer service really breaks down.  The poor guy on the phone could only say “I’ve entered that in your record” and we will try to get someone there. I asked, I want to  be notified on Thursday afternoon to confirm the person is coming and what time.  “I’ve noted that in your record”.  

Me, many things have been noted in my record but nothing seems to matter.  Can I speak to your supervisor? 

“Sorry, there’s no supervisor available.”  

Me – Ok, what’s their name and number so I can call them when they are available.

“Sorry, we don’t have a name, it’s a pool”.

Me – Ok, who’s the manager of the group?

“Sorry, I can’t provide that information”

Me – Ok, who’s the director, of the group?

“Sorry, I can’t provide that information”

Me – who will call me to confirm  my problem will be solved this time?

“Sorry, I can’t provide that information”

Me – Ok, what’s your name so I can voice my displeasure when I do finally get a name.

“My first name is – XXXXXX”

Me – Ok, and your last name.

“Sorry that information is not relevant”

Me – yes it is, what if your name

“here’s my serial number”

Me – Thank you, ok who can I talk to.

“Sorry, I can’t provide that information”

At this point the call ended.  I am still not sure if I will ever get my phone to work correctly.  I am hoping that my network in LinkedIn can help get me to anyone who actually can resolve a problem.  It is obvious that Customer Service has become the route to get customers to go away, and to setup a process that blocks escalation.  The fact that XXXXXX has no “ability” to provide any meaningful information means that he got the brunt of my built up frustration.  I have detailed chat logs that I kept from my interactions on the Web, and the chat system was supposed to send logs, but they never came.  

So much for Customer Service!!!

Brexit and social media

I don’t tend to  post a bunch here, and I’ve been crazy busy lately, so I feel a bit guilty that I’ve not had much time to blog.  So what’s up?

I have been completely dumbfounded by Brexit, and the demographic split that has shown up in the UK during this debate.  A while back a friend and co-worker had recommended a podcast for me to listen to – it’s called More or Less.  They had spent a few episodes prior to the vote going thru the various numbers and rhetoric on Brexit to help voters stay informed.  The second podcast I listen to is WNYC’s On the Media, which recently had an rebroadcast episode on Lies and politics. Highly recommend that you listen to these two podcasts to get a better understanding of how things like Brexit come to be.  Perhaps I live in the tech bubble so most of the people I know in the UK were on the side of stay.  However, recently I went to a local meetup, and we have a UK Ex-Pat who is a financial adviser.  He is of (or beyond) retirement age, and a big supporter of Brexit.  To be honest, his position floored me.  He certainly came down on the side of local control of borders and reduction of EU regulations.  However, after listening to the More or Less podcast and talking to others, I find that the regulation aspect, is a bit of a red herring, and the benefits of open borders in the EU, far out weigh the perceived threat.  

Speaking of open borders – social media.  Social Media have continued to drive open communications across geographical boundaries, while at the same time reinforcing echo chambers for many people.  In the past I’ve been a huge user of Twitter, but the amount of self promotion and marketing BS I get in Twitter, has caused me to get more and more of my social media fix via Facebook.  However, Facebook tends to cause a bit of an echo chamber for me. I get frustrated by the political rants of old friends who have drifted away from how I remembered them growing up.  I have unfriended many of them.  I get annoyed by family members who have diametrically different social views as mine, I mute some of them.  And ultiamately I end up going more and more narrow in the feed.  And when something does pop up in the feed that I don’t like, it becomes even easier to mute or unfriend.  What I find interesting about this, is I tend to feel like I am open minded, and respectful of other people’s opinions, but in practice when I don’t see it reciprocated I block / unfriend, etc.  So am I being narrow minded or am I protecting my sanity?