Dearest BlackBerry,

by Mark Zaugg 21. September 2013 11:01

I'm up early, I'm in a thinking mode, I may as well blog.

And with yesterday's horrendous news about my beloved BlackBerry, I guess I better put in my two cents about the whole mess.

First off, and let me put is as bluntly as I can possibly put this, I am not giving up my BlackBerry any time soon.  I am not giving up on BlackBerry as a company, I am definitely not planning to go to any other phone.

Ah, misguided and blind loyalty, right?  Wrong.

So many have spoken of the arrogance of BlackBerry, the squandering of the lead in the smartphone market.  Well, yes, I completely agree they have suffered from horrible decisions.  But despite poor decision making along the way, they have produced an amazing phone that fits my needs wonderfully.  Every speck of arrogance attributed to BlackBerry is suffered in full by the market's new darling, the iPhone.  I like the iPhone.  It's kinda nice.  I have absolutely no desire to own one.  Apple scorns my desire of a physical keyboard.  Apple scoffs at my need to put calendaring first and foremost.  Apple does not care about my privacy.  Apple wants me to carry a charger with me at all times.

Arrogance isn't the whole story here.  The smart phone market has changed forever.  But the smart phone market has not stabilized and there is plenty of room for innovation.  And a physical keyboard and a removable battery.

So, with all my love, I pen this missive to BlackBerry.


Dearest BlackBerry,

I sometimes joke to my friend that I am pushing for him to run the company.  He does not yet realize I am absolutely not joking.  He may be technological and not have the ability to run a company of 7500, but he is one of the people that needs to drive the company from the inside.  He is the person that understands you need to make a seamless experience on a phone - not a cobbled together amalgamation of touch screens and shiny.  BlackBerry's leadership needs to listen a lot more to the rank and file who want to make great stuff.  (I know that's a nonsensical statement - all of #TeamBlackBerry wants to make good stuff, but there is a communication breakdown in there someplace.)

The thing that will save BlackBerry's bacon (if you'll pardon the mixed food metaphor) is a skunkworks project from within.  You've been creating your own Itanium for so long you've lost track of your own talent yearning to do better.  It doesn't matter if it's technically better if the bobble doesn't provide what you want in the long haul.  Intel was forced to turn it around by competition and they did it by redressing their CPU line through allegedly going back to a skunkworks project.  The most important thing for BlackBerry to start today is to find those projects and nurture the good ones.  Think of it as 20% time with 100% effort.

The irony is that you've created a really good, amazing phone.  It runs fast, it's ridiculously fast to type on, it's crazy fast (and fun) to flick around.  You need to leverage your strengths right now before processers ramp up and leaves this gem feeling sluggish.

Leveraging your strengths means start doing one thing right.  Do not fragment your ecosystem.  One operating system.  One phone -- okay, actually I'll make an exception and say two phones.  The Z10 form factor has to stay - I don't like pushing glass but I'm not the target market.  So a Z10 and a Q10 and everything into making them a great EXPERIENCE instead of just a great phone.  I'll give up on my beloved PlayBook, but I need my Q10.  I need my next generation Q10 to be even better than this one.

Your developer ecosystem has failed.  Accept it.  For three years I've been told I can download any app for my iPhone or Android.  That's not good enough.  You have to get sideloading easy and accessible to the masses now with a reasonable chance of making every app run seamlessly.  Hell, I haven't even sideloaded an app because it seems like a pain in the butt.

The great news is your developers on your platform are exceptional.  Blaq on my Q10 is now the primary way I interact on Twitter.  You have talent available.  Leverage it.

I get the notion of going with QNX, but it took far too long.  (There's enough material there for a whole new post!)  That's a problem of not listening to your engineers.  You got caught in a no-mans land between controlling a vertical stack of hardware and software and the commoditized, cheap platform that can sit on anyone's device.  That's a problem with not listening to your visionaries.  Opening the BBM ecosystem is a good start to leveraging your strengths.

And last, I heard the tripe about going back to business markets.  Stop being myopic idiots.  Your market was never business.  Your market was communicators.  Heavy communicators that need to stay in touch, stay organized, stay involved.  That market is huge, it overlaps a lot with business, but it is not business.  Deborah Yedlin calls her BlackBerry a tool and not a toy.  Start understanding just how important your role remains for those of us that must communicate.

My BlackBerry is irreplaceable.  Start communicating with us so we can get what we need from our phones.

Introducing the ZarQ10

by Mark Zaugg 9. May 2013 16:28

I picked up my BlackBerry Q10 from the post office last night. Tore it open in the parking lot in order to view it in all it's splendor, then rushed straight home to begin the transition.

It came with a letter that advised me to call my mobile provider (Telus for me) in order to make the transition. That's opposed to making the change over online. Great, I backed up my Bold 9900 then made the call from my old phone (I haven't had a landline in five years). The fellow warned me we might get disconnected, he promised to phone back on the new phone in case we did. We did disconnect, my Q10 didn't pick up the connection, it wasn't until I did a battery pull that my phone connected with my wireless provider.

After that, it was three hours of unmitigated ecstasy. I'm choosing my words carefully here. I do not want to undersell my Q10 experience.

Before I get into the Q10, let me first explain why I love all things Blackberry. I am one of the people who have felt left behind in the press of smart phone technology. First off, I'm a typist - a good typist and a relatively fast typist. Pressing glass is not typing, - I need the physical responsiveness of a keyboard, the actual click of the keys, to know that I'm typing properly and keeping my speed up. Some days I feel like a teen texting, but I know that in my world speed of getting out messages *counts* and there is no replacement for a great keyboard. A smart phone without a physical keyboard is pretty dumb for me.

Second, my calendar is my "memory in a bottle." I rely upon my calendar and alarms to keep me productive. Anything that gets in the way breaks my life, so a premium calendar experience matters.

Third, because I'm an IT professional I need email to work reliably and seamlessly. I have alerts sent directly to my phone so I know when I have a problem. Correspondingly, I have cron jobs that run at 3:00, 4:00 and 5:00 in the morning and I do NOT want to be woken up nightly by an email informing me all went okay.

I may play a game or two to kill time while I'm waiting to pick up my kids or something, but really I'm more concerned with some nice productivity apps - ToDo lists that meet my needs perfectly, a better twitter client that can handle my loads, that sort of thing. I don't care about a million crappy apps, I want a handful of great apps that extend the phone to match my exact needs and desires.

The iPhone is great for many people, and I love Apple for many things but the iPhone is not for me. Apple's disinterest in a physical keyboard is disheartening for me. The non-removable battery is not normally an issue, until I go camping with my kids and can't bring a spare battery for when there are no power outlets about. I love they have an app for everything, but I don't need a lot of apps when the phone is near perfect out of the box. I want to love an iPhone and integrate it with my technology, but I can't. That saddens me.

Android has had me hopeful. Coming from the Linux world puts me in a comfort zone. I like that Google has held looser reins and allowed folks to really stretch the ideas of what their smart phone can do. The hardware has let me down so far. Other than some slide phones, there is nothing equivalent to the BlackBerry physical keyboard on offer. The slide phone that I touched wasn't very good or very responsive. It may be passe, but for me a tactile keyboard makes the difference between a usable phone and a waste of time. When I went to preorder my Q10, I could not even find an Android with a physical keyboard.

In the rush to get the next great thing in smart phones out, I've been left in the neglected demographic. I genuinely love my Bold 9900, but I'm less enthralled with the camera and it's starting to show it's age.

Doesn't anyone except BlackBerry care about us? As of today it no longer matters. BlackBerry cares about me and people like me very much. Although it took longer than it should have to deliver, they have delivered the goods in spades!

-----

Other than the network blip I was warned about, the device switch could not have gone more smoothly. I saved my settings to my SD card, took the card from my Bold 9900 and placed it into my Q10 and followed directions. It was painless and I have yet to find a contact, a wifi network, a phone record out of place. Calendar and alarms which are so essential for me transferred so smoothly I forgot to even check until the alarm woke me this morning. Move on up and GO! That was fast and easy. I love those words.

I then rearranged my icons to put my important apps where I want them. Yes, my "camera" icon is a little redundant, let's call it a placeholder until I adapt to my new phone more. The name of the game here is speed. Things I want quickly or often are available. Call this confirmation of what is important to me on my phone.

 

I will mention "Remember" in particular. BlackBerry has merged my ToDo list with my Notes. Given that I somewhat misused Notes on my BB9900, this will take me a while to clean up and evaluate. A really good ToDo app (I survive solely due to ToDo Task Manager on my PlayBook from www.mikesandroidworkshop.com) just may be the trick if I don't love Remember, but I won't make a decision for a month or two - complete with potentially more pleading for Mike to port his incredible app if necessary.

This is more than me just talking about icon placement, though. The BlackBerry folks have put together a great design around gestures. By swiping around the screen I can get to things fast. Everything on my phone is easily accessible, even when it's three screens deep. Drop an icon on another to group them in a folder. This phone has amazing competence to handle and organize many levels of apps and to get to what I want quickly. Not to mention the satisfaction of flicking a completed task away to start something else.

I own (and love) my Playbook, so I've had a year to really understand BlackBerry's concept. It is unique to BlackBerry, it doesn't take long to grasp, I certainly hope others appreciate what the flick gesture brings to a phone.

The BlackBerry Hub was what I was most interested in. I have heard two opinions about it: Either it is loved as something super-efficient or it has been described as a good idea, but kinda clunky. Having used it, I understand both viewpoints. If it fits your mindset, you will find it instantly useful.

I already like having one place to go to check calls, voice mail, email, text messages, instant messages, and alerts. The hub works for me very well to get a quick update on, "Where am I standing with regards to my day." Where it does not work is integration with my Twitter account. I follow about 2000 people, few of whom I know personally who I don't include as regular contacts. Happily it was easy to turn off what doesn't belong.  I go to the Hub to get my status reports, then drill down when something needs my attention.

I have only hooked in two of my 13 (*coff* 14 now *coff*) main email accounts to my Q10. My Playbook will continue to be my "Go to" for email on the go, my phone is my primary source for critical alerts and personal email.  I only had to enter basic information to get email to go. Which is great, I'm going to be entirely reliant on my phone until Google gets a 2 step authenticator working on my Q10. Let's hope it comes quickly.

The very best of my Q10 is the continuing theme of this post -- speed.  A fast processor, a fast setup, a fast way to orient, a fast way to maneuver around my screen and a fast, physical keyboard makes this phone blaze along for me. This has exceeded my expectations which I thought were impossibly high 24 hours ago. Nice work, BlackBerry!

Best of all, I have all those lovely BlackBerry keyboard shortcuts back. Skip the apostrophe and "cant" becomes "can't" magically before your eyes, now with a splash of colour so I know when "Hell" becomes "He'll" against my wishes. Click on the screen and it gives a target circle with a cursor in the middle so us fat-finger-folk can actually point to exactly where we want to be. No one has ever put the kind of foresight into keyboard convenience like BlackBerry has. I am loyal if only for that.

 

 

 

 

The keyboard is absolutely that good. I'm typing this entire post on it right now. I wouldn't consider it pushing glass.

No upgrade comes without compromises and I have two worth mention.  I seriously loved my Bold 9900 and losing the trackpad still has me reaching for that space just above the "t" and "y" keys. The reason is a cost in speed. It was just easier to reach a little above the keyboard and be able to move the cursor or click "okay" without slowing down to move my fingers up the length of the screen. A compromise I'm willing to endure thanks to the larger screen and the vastly improved screen navigation BlackBerry has created for this phone.

The other compromise has been Bridge between my Q10 and my PlayBook is nowhere near the experience I enjoyed with my BB9900. I know, the PlayBook is considered the red-haired step child, but as a companion to a BlackBerry smartphone it is a spectacular device. I still enjoy the instant Internet tethering, but I most used my PlayBook to display my calendar by week or month for strategic analysis of my week ahead. I've lost that until the new BlackBerry Bridge comes out which can not happen soon enough for me. Please, guys, take some of the profit from my preorder and throw some resources into making that great again.

Most people read poor reviews of the PlayBook and have not experienced the power hidden there. As more Z10 and Q10s are sold, I truly hope BlackBerry fans at least consider a PlayBook as a companion to their phone. They work beautifully beautifully together and increases the usefulness of my phone immensely. Get the Bridge perfect soon so people can enjoy this please!


Overall, I hope I don't come off as too much of a Fanboi here, but this is the phone I've been waiting for. This is very much the promise of BlackBerry's magnificent keyboard, their email infrastructure and their creative melding of physical keyed entry and gestured touchscreen navigation. There is nothing else like the Q10 available from anyone other than BlackBerry. They really do care about power users like me who rely upon our phones as tools to get us through our day. This is a serious phone with a solid feel and speedy, speedy operation that makes it a joy to use. BlackBerry has delivered an amazing phone that fills my needs. Thankfully someone has.

Understanding appropriateness

by Mark Zaugg 24. March 2013 16:20

I'm ashamed to say I've raged on this topic before and I'm saddened that I'll rage on it again.  And so it goes on, and once more I blather into the void that is blogdom.

And I'm okay with that.

I'll point out again when I started this blog it began as a place for me to throw up photos to share with my family.  It's went through a whole lot of change since then - now instead of my Mom being my target reader, the me of the future is my own target reader.  This serves as a sort of journal to my life these days in that uncomfortable, self-absorbed kind of way.

The major point is that I am going through another significant round of transition right now.  As I go through a more significant change I certainly draw from previous experience and some of the lessons I've learned along the way.  I'm drawing strength from that knowledge, it is through learning to apply it in new ways that we grow.

I'm five paragraphs in and I have yet to actually say, "Yet another tech conference.  Yet another uproar over comments perceived as sexist and inappropriate.  Yet another escalation of an otherwise insignificant event."  In reality, my favourite response came from Ken Fisher at ars technica.  I liked it so much I gave it a link and recommend you go read it too.

The last time I recall addressing a similar issue was a few years back at the Golden Gate Ruby Conference.  For context, I was working in a Ruby on Rails environment at the time with an exceptionally talented Ruby on Rails coder as our lead programmer.  She brought it to my attention and it became formative to my life's plan.

Simply stated, I have become a huge admirer of some of the people involved and they have influenced me to both become a better person but also to increase my abilities.  Sarah Mei was one of the first to draw my attention, Mike Gunderloy has become a massively inspirational figure to me from his integrity and thought.  I have remained distant fans of both - from afar and in a very non-creepy manner I hope.  Along with Lori, they inspired me to tackle the Ruby route.

No, it hasn't went as smoothly or as quickly as I had hoped, but I have found a whole world of abilities within myself that I did not know existed.  Last week I met with a recruiter in downtown Calgary who mentioned that I sounded like a huge fan of Agile.  "Not really," I thought out loud, "I found it very disruptive on occasion when we had a set of pair programmers that simply didn't fit into the environment too."  A true, good Agile programmer ought to recognize which of their Agile methodologies are working and which ought to be de-emphasized based on the feedback around them.  And it clicked in my mind.

Being a generalist means I love to learn from the environment around me and to try to understand everything I possibly can in order to bring improvements around me.  I've discussed this while reworking my resume last week -- it's a talent to recognize that CRM "A" needed upgrading, when CRM "B" languished from disuse we had to find a new solution that solved the problems of the first and wasn't so cumbersome that it would actually be used.  I have to understand appropriateness.  I don't quite know how to best explain it, but that's why I hash out ideas here.

So when inappropriateness occurs at a Python conference, my ideas line up again.

It is completely and entirely inappropriate to fire off sexist jokes at a technical conference.  Period.  It has been too much of a problem for far too long, too many people have been uncomfortable about it, too many people have been upset by it.  At this stage ignorance is no longer an excuse (and let's be honest, it was never a good excuse in the first place).  Go to a conference, act professionally.  If I go to a comedy club and hear a racy joke I won't be upset, if I'm at a professional conference it's fair to say, "Not cool."

Saying "Not cool" is, in fact, very cool.  When people like Mike stand up to express their opinions in a public forum it becomes inspiring to people like me.  Bringing that inspiration to others makes those around us even better than before, we all need to maximize our talents.  Some times we all need our own reality checks.  If you accept it as constructive criticism and improve, all the better.

Escalation is very uncool.  I've learned long ago that disciple involves correcting a mistake, an error or a misbehaviour.  Escalating by means of degradation, humiliation or even by giving ultimatums ('Shut up or else you'll be escorted from the building!") has little to do with disciple.  Set the standard, when people do not abide by the standard then it's valid to point it out and offer an opportunity for them to redress themselves.  Usually things stop there and positive outcomes result.  When it doesn't, that's the time to firmly and politely ask the offender to leave.

Ultimately, we ought to be looking towards the positive outcome.  Even in the negative of GoGaRuCo 2009 I'd argue the positive came from my inspiration from Sarah and Mike.  Learning and applying those lessons are key.  Improving myself, increasing my knowledge and skills base, and actually becoming a better person are incredibly important outcomes.  The ultimate result must be an increased drive to help each other improve ourselves.

From a coding perspective, we want to provide opportunity for women to apply their skills.  Right now they are under-represented in technology fields.  Any barrier to recruiting or retaining a skilled woman willing to participate needs to be eliminated.  We need every person we can get.  We need every diverse viewpoint we can get.  It enriches us all, we are not in a position to be exclusionary in the slightest.  Only positive outcomes will come when we encourage everyone to work to the best of their abilities.  Programming as a career is one window into the wider issue of gender balance we need moving forward.

There's a flip side to this, too.  When I attended university there were more men than women graduating.  That's now reversed and the gap is increasing.  As a society we cannot afford to have an entire gender ghettoized.  We gape at the prospect of keeping a woman "..in the kitchen barefoot and pregnant" as an anachronism today.  It would be equally unacceptable for men to fall into the same role in 20 years.  We need each other to succeed.  We need to recognize professionals in every field.  It is fundamental to being a complete society.

We need to recognize that bringing and end to the lame jokes is more than just Political Correctness run amok.  The outcome needs to be about working together and letting every person bring their best to the table.  We need to understand that we need educated men and women for tomorrow's society.  We need talented men and women to excel in skilled trades.  We need to encourage everyone to contribute.  We do not have the luxury of floating - especially with a shaky economy and an infrastructure deficit, an environmental deficit and where the gap between Haves and Have-Nots is increasing.

If treating each other respectfully is a part of the answer, I'm all for it.  I'm not so trite to believe it's the complete solution.

Back to myself, I need to remind myself that ultimately my endpoint needs to include basic survival, but also I need to explain that I bring with me the ability to distinguish what is ultimately essential for business success.  I know appropriate infrastructure, I know appropriate staffing, I know appropriate business models (yeah, that was hard knocks).  I can improve my skills appropriately to fill business needs.  Applying lessons from around me and applying them to other situations is a skill I need to apply daily.

I'm still growing as a person.  It's amazing what you can accomplish when you apply your best to get better.  Don't let the cruft get in the way, learn from the lessons and drive forward.

Implicit conversion vs. Explicit conversion

by Mark Zaugg 22. August 2011 21:27

I went through the DBA programme at SAIT.  I'm rather proud of what I've accomplished, I only wish I got to use it a lot more.

I really love Oracle, it sings to me for a whole bunch of reasons.  The structure is beautiful.  Laying out a tablespace across spindles is the sort of thing that makes my heart cry out with joy.

Sure, it's a pain in the ass.  I particularly love the ORA-03113 error.  The fact that I didn't even have to look up the damn number says I need to get better with my tools.  The pain in the ass of Oracle is that you have to set each parameter and you have endless settings to get right.  The beauty of Oracle is that you have a gazillion parameters and settings you can tweak to get perfectly right for your particular situation.

The one thing I'm going to talk about tonight is found in many more places than just Oracle, but that's where I first encountered it.

Here's the situation:  You're entering a date into a database.  Without thinking, you just happen to type in, "22-Aug-2011."  Or maybe you typed in "22/08/11."  Or perhaps, let's go completely wild and crazy and type in "08/22/11."  You are a wild party.

Here's the thing, if Oracle is expecting a date and you're giving it a string of characters, it will look at the input and, if it makes sense, do an automatic conversion of what you typed to what it expected.  It's called an "implicit conversion" and it can figure out - in certain cases - what it got and what it expected.  "22-Aug-2011" is pretty clearly a date, so is "22/08/11" and, if you're a North American bend of mind, the same with "08/22/11."  It happens with all kinds of computer languages where the system figures out what it was supposed to be getting and just does the translation for you.

Ahh, but what if I wrote this entry ten days ago?  Then it would have been  12-Aug-2011.  No problem when I write it like that, but if I write it 12/08/11 we can already sense a problem.  Should I write that date as 08/12/11 I shifted our timeframe out by four months.  There's no way for a computer to know precisely if the date is August or December.  It could be either, depending on your convention.

So to counteract the ambiguity of the implicit conversion, we have an explicit conversion.  It's more work, but there is absolutely no doubt as to what you meant.  You hand-hold Oracle (or whatever) through the translation and you are very precise to ensure it's meaning is perfectly correct.

What's this got to do with me?

I've been suffering from a whole string of implicit conversions lately.  (No pun intended!)

I'm a very straight forward, practical guy.  I'm horribly vague, I dance around a subject a lot, but if I get confronted directly I'll take the time to at least try to explain myself.  In reality, this whole series of blog posts are one, long, run-on sentence that will culminate with one great big post that will piss someone off.  I hope.

It takes me a while to develop my thoughts.  It takes effort for me to explain myself step by step.  Much of the time I have to go back and explain twenty or thirty years of history to explain why I just made the decision I chose.  But I try to be consistent in my thought process and rational in my decisions.  It just doesn't always show through.

The other problem is when I use those "tidbit" soundbites that has a deep meaning to me but doesn't necessarily have full relevance to someone else.  I try really hard to not use those conversation shortcuts when not everyone knows what they mean, but they're often really useful to me and slip through.  You'll know when I use one - they seem strange and out of context.  I'll talk about "Loading the truck" and I'm really talking about pretending to throw my anger over my shoulder, but I'm really just throwing it into the bed of a truck I'm dragging behind me - and I can drag a dump truck, no little pickup truck for this guy!  It's a bad thing, eventually that truck has to get dumped and you don't want to be the one dumped on.  See?  Easy, short, logical, and pretty much impossible to figure out without having it explained to you.

Implicit conversions often need to be made explicit.  Implicit conversions work okay for a while, but explicit conversions leave no room for error.  They're a lot more work, it's not always worth it, but when I find I am getting misunderstood I need to go back to explicit conversations.  Explicit conversations can sometimes be risky, or hurtful, but they are worth the clarity.

So a couple of helpful hints about conversations with me:

My entire life is dedicated to meeting my cornerstones as a person.  If I'm not honest, trustworthy, fair, and respectful I am nothing as a man.  If my conversation runs counter to those principles we need to have an explicit conversation and I need to either apologize or explain myself.  And probably apologize and then explain myself.

I have an overdeveloped sense of humour, and my entire life is a huge inside joke.  If you don't get the joke, I can try to explain it but it's going to take a while.  Laugh along if you can, we'll talk explicitly about it later.

I am absolutely an unhurtful person.  If you feel hurt by anything I've said, please, let's immediately have an explicit conversation over coffee.  Hurting someone else is utterly unacceptable to me.

Apparently I'm flirty.  Yay me.  It's going nowhere.  Trust me.  For the full explanation of that one, see "This is (Really) Why I'm Single."  Oh wait, Firefox crashed and I lost that post.  Just trust me on this one for now.

Lastly, you may think I'd be fun at a party, I'm not all that much fun at a party.  You may think that I'm more fun with a couple of beers, I'm pretty much the same after a couple of beers and I'm a lightweight anyways.  You may think that I'm just a super nice guy, I'm really the same old asshole I've always been but I'm trying to be more tactful about it.

I should be exactly the guy I appear to be.  If I'm not, it is time to shift from implicit to explicit.  I'm more than willing, let's sit down and discuss it.

Distressed from the Disregard

by Mark Zaugg 19. August 2011 21:50

I love Twitter.com.

No, really, I love it.  A whole lot.  I love the people I've met there.  I love the ideas I've shared there.  I love the things I learn and the links I dig up.  The whole environment is exactly what I like.

The only thing that will make me fall out of love with twitter is... Twitter itself.

I tweet long and often.  I retweet any time I read something interesting or like something or laugh at something.  Some people think I'm there 24 hours a day, 7 days a week because I always seem to be about.  I'm not, but with my ridiculous schedule you never have the slightest of ideas when I'm actually reading your tweets and following up with something interesting I spotted.  The reason twitter works for me is because I strictly trust it to NOT be private (and therefore anything I say on twitter is spewed to the world with a "No Genie Back in the Bottle" guarantee (tm).  And also because I have found a huge network of friends-I've-never-met (also tm).  Counterpoint that with a service that I loathe.  My experience with privacy on Facebook has been atrocious and I refuse to use it actively.

Now, there's a few secrets I haven't told anyone until now.  The reason I can manage to appear to be on twitter continuously and always be ready with a reply or a joke comes from two things.
 1) I can type quickly.  I'm probably not at the 140 words per minute range anymore, but I'm guessing I can still probably pull off 100 wpm.
 2) I'm really good at using the tools at my disposal.

Lists are essential to me.  If you're on one of my lists, it's a good thing and I want to be certain you know it's a good thing.  I'm at 12 lists (the maximum) and I use all of them on a regular or semi-regular basis.  I have to use them well or I'd never manage to stay sane.

I was once told, "You know, you'd have a lot more followers if you limited what you talked about and focused on one or two things."  I just slightly regret not splitting the political with the astronomy-and-the-rest accounts because they are somewhat separate and apart.  In the process, I've found so many of my politically-oriented friends are interested in the science that interests me, or ask me questions about the cool stuff I RT.  I've had dozens of space tweeps ask me about curling when it was on during the Olympics and I was able to make the point that curling looks graceful and easy for Olympic athletes, but for us league curlers do it for fun and exercise and we'd get slaughtered if we played against any of those teams.  Forming relationships in the minutia of day to day life is where twitter has excelled.

I don't care about my follower count, I care that I'm communicating with cool and interesting people.  I care that I'm discovering awesome ideas and learning new things.  I don't care if you're put off that I'm talking about space and then my kids and then curling and then local politics and then the latest security software for your computer and then the clouds going overhead.  These are the things that make up me.  The total of all of this (and more) makes up the whole of me.  You get a window into the person that I am.

So what's happening with the diminishing love as of late?

It's going back to last March, really.  Twitter has been going through some internal changes with the way it operates with outside software.  Part of this has been twitter saying a few select clients are to be blessed as official and they don't want a pile of new clients confusing the ecosystem.  It was a terrible mistake from twitter and it severely hurt a large component of the good will and community that made twitter great in the first place.

My favourite twitter client is (was) called Nambu.  It was built specifically for Macs - not for Windows or Linux, although it could have easy been moved over to other platforms with enough time and money.  By being specific to one platform (ie "Native on a Mac") it performed as a twitter client exceptionally in a Mac environment.  It looked great, it behaved great, but most importantly to me, it allowed me to use my tools in a way that was extremely productive.

I used it as shown here:


You can change the layout, but this is the one that really works for me.  On the left are my two accounts: @Zarquil and @BetterYYC.  I can see instantly through the tree how many unread messages in each category.  Lists open up like the searches have in the photo and it's no time at all to flit from interesting thing to interesting thing.

But the real magic is that Nambu has built in translation.  I literally follow people from around the world, some of my favourites are @Miu___ and @geeky_teacher who are not from English speaking countries.  Nambu makes it easy to stay in touch even when they're tweeting in Japanese or Spanish.  A tool that works *for* me, that makes my life easier and more complete.  Awesome.

Except the Nambu team gave up on twitter.  Presumably the changes became too onerous and they no longer felt welcome in the twitter ecosystem.  And it's a shame.

I understand where twitter is coming from.  They want all their users to feel comfortable and have everything feel pretty much the same no matter which tool they use.  They feel that there's enough interesting projects on the fringes that they don't need a hundred thousand twitter clients with their own unique ways of presenting tweets.  Twitter figures that they are going to eventually create the perfect interface and all the other clients are "filling in gaps" that twitter itself will eventually get around to.

And there, they are now dead wrong.

The problem is that twitter has the hubris to believe they (and only they) can get it right.  They haven't, they cannot.  You cannot be all things to all people.  You shouldn't even try.  You cannot protect your business interests if you are driving away your customers with a substandard experience.

Nambu works for me because the interface is laid out perfectly for the way I use twitter.  Twitter's interface looks nothing like that and it is much, much harder for me to effectively participate at the level I did before.  I have to click and search to get lists.  I cannot flip rapidly between searches to keep up with what's happening in real time.  Twitter does not have a button to click (or more ideally, a keyboard shortcut) I can use to translate foreign language tweets from people I love to read.  My replies don't autocomplete usernames, I have less control of retweets, I can't mute topics of disinterest, the entire experience is substandard.

We're not talking gaps in the twitter interface.  We're talking huge, massive gaping holes you can lose a Narn Heavy Cruiser in.  Things that are essential to me, but may not matter to you at all.  It's an obscenity of hubris that they believe I can only use twitter in the fashion they imagine.

Harming the relationships with your users is what will eventually destroy your service.  My relationship with twitter is not only with twitter, but also through Nambu.  By harming twitter's relationship with Nambu, twitter has harmed their relationship with me.  Hopefully another service such as identi.ca (where I've been establishing more of a technical relationship) may be able to step forward and my friends from twitter will find ways to re-establish their relationship with *me* through a medium that is more respectful of it's diverse users.  The relationship between the users - my friends - is more important than our relationship with twitter itself.

Why am I mentioning this?  Am I threatening to leave twitter?  Am I building a new service or a new client?  No.  I'm happy, for now, but my productivity has dropped significantly and I'm missing some of the connections I used to make easily though a better user experience Nambu brought me.  Now I have no other option I'm happy with.

The reason I am mentioning this is that twitter is just the example.  The same hubris is happening all over the place.  Firefox has went to a rapid release cycle - not a bad thing in and of itself, but the side effects are killing me and the user experience is worse than ever.  The bugs that are affecting me are not getting fixed and some are actually getting *worse*.  My former bank has the hubris to feel that I need to fit into their new style accounts rather than the account they won't let me have any more because it doesn't fit their business goals.  My experience is horrible and I found a bank that offered a better experience.

Any time our choices get restricted without good alternatives is a bad experience.  When your users or your customers are complaining about the bad experience we perceive and you treat us like we're wrong and our concerns are unimportant, you are setting yourself up for spectacular failure.

There are two take home lessons here.  If you are outright ignoring a segment of your user base, no matter how small it may appear, you risk alienating the most influential segment of your user base and risk failing to improve, failing to succeed, and quite possibly the failure to even exist into the future.

The other lesson is that if you are a user and a service is providing you with a diminished experience, it is your duty to complain and complain loudly.  If the service is unresponsive and you have exhausted your options and your patience, it is time to look for other options.  Other options are always out there.  Even when they have to be built up from nothing.

A tale of two laptops

by Mark Zaugg 6. May 2009 21:52

Last Thursday or so, my Lady-love brings in her laptop and says, "It's wrecked.  Fix it, you sexy geek of +3 studliness."* 

"Uh-oh," I think to myself.  She pulls it out of her bag, I see a hinge standing straight outwards and a shower of broken plastic bits where the outer shell used to be. 

Crap.  I hate fixing laptops.  It's bloody impossible without just getting entire new parts.  May as well just go buy a new one that's modern and up-to-date rather than fixing it or you're guaranteed to be toting around a decrepit piece of junk that's patched together with bailing twine and horse gum.  It's impossible to properly fix anything with broken plastic.

Laptops are the one and only thing for which I strongly recommend getting an extended warranty.  I never get an extended warranty for anything else, but I expect a laptop to last me three years before I get a new one and if anything busts on it, I damn well don't want to fix it on my own. 

Furthering the complication, she didn't buy it on her own so I had no idea if it was still covered under warranty.  Okay, before I permanently destroy it, let's call Asus.  Dial them up.  Get a tech on the other end.  Explained what happened.  Provided the serial number.  Got an RMA.  Asus shipped us a box to pack the laptop into for return.  That's it!  Most painless return I've ever endured.  Good customer service, a decent tech who knew what he was doing, what a great experience.  I'm not at all concerned with having problems with an Asus laptop again. 

So how do you top a good experience like that? 

Sunday night I'm flipping though some tech sites and my screen hashes out on me.  Think something along the lines of "blue plaid shirt" screen effects.  "UH-OH!" I thought.  "Looks like my Mac overheated."  Well, it was late, it was easier to shut it down and take a shot at troubleshooting on Monday. 

Monday night I got home, opened the Mac, and...  core dumped.  Notwithstanding the incredibly fortunate pun of a Mac core dumping, I was wondering what the hell was going on.  Rebooted.  Opened Firefox.  Screen gibberish all over my Firefox tabs and then my computer hangs.  That can't be good.  Reboot.  Open Safari, see the same junk on my screen and the computer crashes again.  At this point I'm really happy I got AppleCare. 

So I call Westworld and ask for service.  I didn't even get that far, the woman I spoke with tells me to bring it in for a tech to diagnose.  Oooookay.. 

Take it in, their service tech takes it to the back, returns less than 30 seconds later and says, "It's the logic board.  Three to five days."

Now, not being one to speak Applease, but being one who's just thrilled that it's covered under AppleCare, I'm happy to leave my laptop behind and have it repaired.  "Logic board" means "motherboard" to most people, and the long and the short is my MacBook needed some expensive love and care.  $1,236 plus labour, thank you very much.  I feel smarter for wasting my $300 or so on an extended warranty. 

So tonight - Wednesday - I get a call just as I'm leaving work.  It's Westworld and I'm feeling the dread well up inside me considering what WON'T be covered by warranty.  Excess dog hair in the fan?  Unapproved music in iTunes?  Dead hooker in the trunk?  How much extra is THIS going to cost me right now?

"Sir, your MacBook is ready to be picked up." 

It was fantastic.  The timing was perfect.  All I had to do was go get my laptop.  Easy.  Easier than easy.  Absolutely painless. 

When I picked it up, I'd left the work order at home.  I wasn't expecting it to be ready until Thursday at the soonest and possibly next Monday.  I had to present my drivers licence and...

Well, I had to wait for her to clean my computer.  Yes, my computer is officially as clean as the day I bought it.  And normally it's the same texture as my stove.

Sooo....  That's it!  Customer service that's been a complete joy to deal with.  No messing with stupid, recite by rote service droids.  No incomprehensible accents.  No scrambling to find original packaging.  No hidden charges.  No panic.  No problems.  No issues.  Except, of course, our original issues, which were resolved.

Well, mine was resolved.  My Lady-love's are still in process.  Westworld wins the speed race, but there was no shipping involved.  We'll see how Asus does in the next week or so.  It's a long, long ways away from the bad old days of craptastic service.  Yay.



*All conversations may have been filtered through the brain of a man and may not be exactly as represented.

An email regarding Conficker

by Mark Zaugg 31. March 2009 19:14

Hey Claude, I've got good news, good news, and more good news for you. 

1.  The way that conficker works is by attacking a bug that was known in Windows but was not patched by the computer's owner.  Fortunately, I've spoken with the bozo that patched your computer and he assures me that he did, in fact, patch your system with all patches that were available on the day that he worked on it.  Sometimes when you install programs on your computer it uses new components that weren't used before.  Those components might have patches too.  When I updated your computer, I made sure that I rebooted and checked Microsoft Update as one of the very last things that I did.  The end result of this is that I know your computer was fully patched when you got it.  The bug that conficker uses was fixed with the patching I performed on your system.  Yay!  You're probably covered.  (I *never* speak in absolutes.) 

2.  A whole pile of smart people figured out a way to find it.  I won't bore you with the details, but most of the antivirus programs out there are busy jamming it into their products to protect you.  I've been told AVG 8.5 does include conficker protection, so once more, you should be safe. 

One small warning:  One of the things this sucker does is turn off some of the things that keep you safe such as:  Windows Update, Windows Security Center, Windows Defender and Windows Reporting.  It also may block some antivirus software websites!  Hence it could be blocking your antivirus.  In the unlikely event that you have been infected, and you notice odd behaviour from your computer, use one of the removal tools listed here

3.  Last of the good news is that it's April Fools Day in Australia right now and so far it's looking okay.  That's not to say that 12 hours from now the servers are going to wake up and cause havok.  But as of this moment right now, we're going fine.

  - Mark

---

Most important is to not panic.  Second most important is to use some common sense. 

Patch your system by using Windows Update or Microsoft Update.  That would have stopped this in it's tracks.

Unfortunately, many people object to Windows Update because of the check they employ to test for pirated copies of Windows.  Please go patch your systems!  Microsoft gives access to critical updates to avoid this exact scenario.  If your copy of Windows is pirated, then get a proper licence, install a distribution of Linux (I prefer Ubuntu) or get off the internet.  If you're one of my clients, call me immediately because something requires immediate attention.

In my opinion, Microsoft has done a truly horrible thing by linking WGA to Microsoft Update.  It gives the impression that you're under the magnifying glass for piracy instead of focusing on it's job to keep you safe.  I would like to see it offer critical updates first and then push out the WGA.  But I'm not majority shareholder in Microsoft yet.

Second on the list of common sense is to have an antivirus program installed.  There is a lot of hype about Conficker right now, use an anti-virus program I trust.  I personally recommend the free versions of AVG, Avast and Avira for home users and there is always the Open Source ClamWin - based on the technically excellent ClamAV.  There are several other reputable anti-virus companies available, although I do not believe there is any reason for home users to pay for anti-virus solutions any more.

Third, go get a home router and don't connect to the internet unless you're behind a firewall.  Bonus, you can easily hook several computers to your broadband connection.

Safe computing out there.

Who am I not?

by Mark Zaugg 8. March 2009 02:17
One of the weird things that's been happening the last few weeks has been the seeming implosion of people's computers around me. 

My philosophy is that people should feel free to use their computers without fear that they'll bust something or screw something up or do their banking on-line and instantly lose their life's savings.  I think you have to be in the stock market to do that still. 

The problem with this is that people get a very disjointed view of what I actually do at work.  I've been having a whole series of piecemeal conversations where I'm trying to explain what I do.

Yes, much of my time is doing updates.  Well, yes, it's sort of like running Windows Update, only more frequently and a whole lot easier.  Yes, I do backups.  Well, no, taking backups is not particularly arduous, but I have to think about what is being backed up, how frequently it's being backed up, and trying to make sure that the important stuff that gets created gets included in the backups.  And testing backups is critical - it's no good having a backup if you can't get the data back after you've had some kind of disaster.  Much of what I do is to try to learn new ways of being more proactive and averting problems in the first place. 

And sure, that's a lot like what I do when I work on someone's home computer.  But the scale is a whole lot different.  I'm never fixing viruses at work - in fact I'm quite annoyed when I have an infected computer.  Okay, I'm royally pissed off, but that's probably because someone did something stupid.  I'm never troubleshooting, say, a video card.  Suspect hardware usually isn't worth trying to salvage in a business environment.  You try to head off issues long before they occur, because inevitably you're going to have the question of "Why doesn't my email come in blue anymore?  All of it comes in as read now!"  You'll have to go try to figure out what changed, what crazy circumstance is different, and what it actually means.

On the other hand, although I can run circles around just about any Windows issue I get, I've been feeling really stressed out about some Linux issues lately.  Mostly I need to spend some time thinking things through and playing on my own hardware and trying to break things and then subsequently fix them.  Time invested means value returned.  Also true for your computer at home. 

I'm pretty good on the server side, but I'm not great and I want to reach that level of greatness.  It's harder with all the cruft getting in the way right now, but time + effort brings accomplishment and I'm really trying not to stress over not knowing everything.

So I'm talking about skill levels with a buddy of mine and we get comparing myself to my guru.  "Hey," I said, "It's not like I'm Trever or anything.  I'm sorta like Trever-in-training."

I get that deadpan look that indicates I've just said something stupid.

"What?  Did you just say you're T.I.T?"

I Can't Stand Still

by Mark Zaugg 4. January 2009 17:37



"I feel the frustration 
In this funky old city tonight. 
There's a pack of dogs on the lawn 
And they're hung-a-ry for a bite." 

Ah, the new year.  Time for reflection on what's transpired and rumination on what is to come.  What did I do last year for my pseudo-contemplative musings? 

Oh, right.  Nothing.  I was going through the cold-soon-to-be-pneumonia with the side trip of "Does cancer run in your family?" and "Whatever happened to that blood clot in your lungs?"  I wasn't blogging much then. 

The year where I got fired from a place I no longer wanted to be and took the reins on a bunch of Linux servers just to get smacked around with how great the gap between what I know, what I want to know, and just what precisely it was I thought I knew in the first place.  You know? 

The year I turned 40 and realized that I still think of my father in terms of him being 30.  The year where I drove a honest-to-ghod race car and set my best time on a lap I made from a standing start.  The year I met my goal of 100 cache finds.  Wait, I didn't quite make it yet.  Next year.  The year I discovered the sweet intoxication of a Blackberry (my precioussss) Curve.  The year I recovered the photos of the kids I'd lost two years ago.  Remind me to back all those up to archival DVD's, okay?  Heh heh..

I get the impression most people are happy to see 2008 fall behind them.  For me, it wasn't all that bad.  Once I got past that really lousy few months.

I haven't been doing great on the Couch to 5k programme, but I'm significantly stronger in my lungs than I have been.  I took a hit with the cold weather and Christmas, but it's not about being perfect, it's all about improving.  There was a reason I gave myself six months to finish.  It's the year I got back into curling and I'm having the time of my life.  I genuinely like all the guys on my team, I'm learning how to be a better player and I'm adapting from the "player who doesn't fall coming out of the hack" to the "player who can adequately find weight about 50 percent of the time."

After a couple years of blah I've been more in touch with the music I love again.  I've actually got a little bit more than just the podcast of Dispatches on my iPod.  I need more blues, funk and jazz in my life especially after Iceberg reorganized again (sigh).  But riding home on the bus my mind flips over using one of those more obscure axes it likes to use, and I think of Danny Marks.  Damned if I don't dig up his website too!  Looks like birthday 41 is going to include some great music.

Thinking of Danny makes me think about this one time back on the Hum Line when someone called in and asked about a song that contained the phrase, "It's hot and it's sticky / Think I'll get myself a mickey / I'm so parched and dry."  And, in my mind at least, Danny shot out of his chair and said, "That's a song from a buddy of mine, _____ _______."  Now, I liked the song and hadn't heard it for years at that point and I was giddy to have a handle on who did it and what the album was and I rushed right out and searched for a couple of years and managed to dig up a casette tape (title and artist long since forgotten) which is probably out in Mike's basement right now.  And riding home on that bus, I dug out my trusty ol' Crackberry and spent the next 45 minutes chasing down the song, failing miserably.

Today, I'm messing around on youtube and I find it.  The Extras with "Can't Stand Still."  And he's got the video for "Jealous Girl" up there too!  Ooooooh, eightieslicious!  By the way, Danny's friend was Leon Stevenson who will also be getting a visit from my credit card in short order.

So yes, I still feel like I have too much to do and not enough time or brainpower to get it all done.  Yup, I've got a pile of clutter and hell stacked around me that drives my Lady-love crazy that I can't seem to get a grip on.  Runescape time has dropped from a couple hours a day to a couple hours a week on a good week.  The year I planned on shrinking my consulting business saw expansion.  I took a couple financial hits that I'll have to work on and probably won't see much improvement for a couple more years now.

All in all, the biggest plus in my corner right now is that I'm not standing still.  I still feel a lot of frustration, I can feel those dogs nipping at my heels, and it may be hot and sticky and on the edge of something nasty ready to break out, but I feel like I've gotten traction regardless of everything else around me.

The idea of keeping a finger on something from my past while looking forward to the future appeals to me.  Don't forget who you are and what made you the person you are.  Now just dig in, change what you can to keep moving forward and don't worry about the costs, focus on the benefits from your effort.

Hard drive recovery, the hard way.

by Mark Zaugg 17. September 2008 23:03

Here's a surprise. 

I'm a professional System Administrator.  My standard joke here goes, "Because I get paid for it, not because I'm any good at what I do." 

I have long and hard declared my own ineptitude along the way.  Yes, I forward spam.  Yes, I have the coding skills of a 1970's monkey strung out on polyester.  Yes, Virginia, even I can fail to count to three starting from zero. 

But all in all, you take the battle scars and you learn from them.  It's more than just not repeating the same mistakes all over again, it's also about being wise enough to foresee mistakes before they happen and avert them. 

If you have to choose patch or no patch, take patch.  Just don't patch your production server FIRST if you don't have to.  When you're buying a new computer, the first question ALWAYS needs to be, "What are you planning to use this for?"  I have four computers I use almost daily, and each is good at something and lousy at another. 

A couple years ago, my external hard drive failed.  It was a 250 GB drive formatted with FAT so I could haul it between all my various systems and plug it in.  I'm proud to say, I lost absolutely NOTHING of consequence because it was only my backup drive.

Well, except for those photos of the kids I only stored on the backup drive because I never bothered burning them to CD when I had the chance.

Number one rule of paranoia, never, EVER consider possibly not having a backup of your important files, and never EVER consider not having a spare backup in case the first one goes bad and never EVER consider not testing your backup once you've made it.  That's one rule.  Did you back up your files lately?  BACK THEM UP!  NOW!  DON'T WAIT!

Well, what keeps me running in the professional class is my ability to recover after spectacularly failing.  Sometimes it's trial and error.  Sometimes it's using a great deal of searching the web.  Almost always it's trying to find someone else's experience and following their solution.

I first hit the web.  There are hundreds of programs out there for data recovery.  A few dozen that look sorta promising.  Most are costing around $100, give or take.  Not a lot that look appealing.  For me, it's a real pisser to go through the effort of downloading a trial version which may or may not let me look at my lost files, then go through the effort of paying to hopefully recover the files I may or may not get.  I'm wary of the Symantec's of the world (where good software goes to die) that have this massive promo department but the software itself just isn't very good.  Sure, any of these *may* recover my files, but that's a lot of time, effort, trust and "if's" to wind my way through.

On the other hand, I trust anything licenced under the GPL.  Not because I can read the code and figure out what it does, but someone could.  (Not that anyone necessarily does, either, by the way.  Don't hang yourself with blind trust.  It's a paranoia thing.)

FAT-32 isn't an overly complicated file system, and magically losing the whole drive usually means the entire drive wasn't magically lost.  Think of it like a book with the Table of Contents ripped out.  The data's still there, you just have to go through it page by page to figure out where stuff is.  It just takes a while to piece it all together and you can re-create the Table of Contents later.

My drive likely had the File Allocation Table (that's the "FAT" in "FAT") or the Master Boot Record ripped away.  Sure, I had pictures that I'd rather not lose on there, but it wasn't life or death if I couldn't get them back.  Well worthy of taking a shot at it on my own.  Remember - I am a professional.

Well, I managed to dig up TestDisk from CGSecurity and figured I'd give it a shot.  Downloaded it to my good hard drive, scanned the bad hard drive and let it walk me through the recovery process.  For the record, the first pass found nothing, the second "deeper" pass found the backup FAT and restored using it.  Easy!  Fun!  A little bit convoluted if you don't know what you're doing.  But it worked fine - I got my photos back.

I didn't have to pay a dime, but I did.  They suggested 25 Euros, I donated 10 instead.  I doubt I'll hear harsh words over it, and I'll donate another 10 the next time I use TestDisk.

I recommend letting a professional try to recover your data rather than doing it yourself if you have the choice.  But sometimes the choice isn't easy to make.  Take your time reading the options, and feel free to put your trust in the program.  Christophe Grenier is also a professional and I justifiably put my trust in his abilities.  It's good to have smart friends.  That I've never met.

----

Zarquil Zonar's guide to what to do when your hard drive fails:

1.  Turn off your computer.  The more you write to the hard drive, the higher the risk that you'll overwrite a file you need.
2.  Don't panic.
3.  Remove the failed hard drive and put it into a working computer as a secondary drive.  Beware the gotchas:  Is it an IDE (older) drive or a SATA drive?  If IDE, do you have it as master, slave or cable select?  If you're not sure, disconnect your DVD/CD drive and plug the hard drive on a cable of it's own.
4.  Boot from your good drive, be patient.  I have seen a chdisk actually repair a failed drive when the computer booted.  It's not likely, but it happens.
5.  If your system finds the other drive but does not recognize the formatting, don't panic.  And don't format it.
6.  Download TestDisk or your favourite rescue program.  (Ideally, this happened before you put in the other drive.)  One of the reasons I like TestDisk is that you don't have to install it - just unzip it and run.
7.  Scan the bad drive.  Follow instructions carefully.  Usually the program will guide you with default settings so you only have to hit enter.  But be alert, and pay attention to the warnings.
8.  Don't panic.  Odds are you either recovered your drive or it's unrecoverable.

Remember, a good backup regime means never having to recover a failed drive.

Welcome

Change is the only constant.

Welcome to the semi-exciting new look, same crappy blogger.

All comments are still moderated, I'll approve everything that isn't spam or offensive.  Agreement with His Dorkasaurus is not necessary.

What has changed is that I don't have 1000 junk accounts clogging up the system that I have to go through one by one.  Yes, you too can set up an account and no longer need to wait for me to notice you posted.  Completely optional.

As always:  Have fun, be respectful.

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