The real-time web is sort of coming soon

A couple of interesting but not unexpected developments today, first Bing announced it was including <a href="http://www viagra suisse prix.bing.com/twitter/”>real-time Twitter updates in its searches(this doesn’t look that live yet), then a few hours later Google announced the same.

Real-time updates have been coming from a few directions in the past few months. There has been a little buzz about PubSubHubBub and to a lesser extent RSSCloud, both of which look to extend RSS (or in RSSCloud’s case take advantage of what was in RSS 2.0 already), and these can be used to provide real-time updates from blogs to RSS readers and to search engines.

Then came the public beta of Google Wave. Wave is many different things, but one of the main parts is messaging and collaboration in real time. You can see collaborators typing letters in real time, and can also publish a wave on a site outside of the interface, so it can be see by others at the same time.

Another example in the real-time space is OneRiot, who are building a real-time search engine. Their index only goes back one day at present, they try to index only the current content about any topic, using a combination of tracking member behaviour and monitoring Facebook, Digg and Twitter.

The movement seems to be at the moment to speed up the flow of information from web sites and social networks into the tools we use, whether that is a search engine, a web site, a blog or a social network. Lots of small pieces are starting to come together to form a larger whole. It is a refinement of existing technologies rather than a revolution, perhaps nothing that would merit the annoyance of the tag Web 3.0, but it is interesting to see this movement starting to form into results over the past few months.

How Google Notebook can help with your Christmas shopping

As well as search, Google Reader, and Gmail, there is one other Google product I’ll use every day, and that is Google Notebook. It works so well for me for making todo lists, storing links and information, and sharing with other people. You need a Google account to use it, and once set up you’re able to create multiple notebooks for whatever you want. It is worth also installing the Google Notebook Firefox extension, as that then gives right-click access to store links instantly, and a popup mini-version of your notebooks in the bottom-right corner of the page you’re on.

How will this help with your Christmas shopping though? Well, let me explain:

1. Making your Christmas shopping list

As you search online for potential presents across several sites, simply add the page for each possible item to a notebook just for presents. Make notes and comments on those links, compare the prices and ideas, drag and drop them order of which are the best. If you have a lot of presents to buy, you might even want a notebook for each person. Add text notes in the same list as well, reminders or a list of what you have to find. I’m also doing a todo list in one of my notebooks which is my Christmas card list, reminding my wife and I of who we have to send cards to (more on that shortly).

2. What about my presents?

Wish lists have been around for many years now, Amazon being perhaps the best and most well-known example. How do you create a wish list for several online shops though? Well, as above, add all the items you’ve found to a notebook.

When your list is bulging with goodies, go to sharing options for that notebook. Say yes to making the notebook a public web page and save. You’ve now got a page that you can send to your friends and family to let them know what you would like for Christmas. In the top-right of your notebook it will now show as published, with a link to view that page. Do note however that this is a public page that anyone can see.

You can add, change or remove notes from within your notebook, and your public wish list will be automatically updated.

3. Organise Christmas together

If you go back to the sharing options, you can also invite other people to collaborate and use the same notebook. Do this if you don’t want to make your list public to anyone. In this case, anyone you invite can edit and add to the notebook in the same way you can. I’m using this option to plan Christmas with my wife. We’ve got our todo list, a list of presents we need to buy for our collective family and friends, and our Christmas card list. Obviously I’ve also got a separate private notebook for presents I might get her too.

So there you are, a few simple ways to use Google Notebook to help get ready for Christmas. It is a wonderful little tool for all sorts of planning tasks, and it is nice and easy to get even newcomers used to using it.

Movember

Welcome to Movember! I, along with several colleagues at work, will be growing a Mo (moustache to the rest of us) during November in aid of the Prostate Cancer Charity. Today I am clean-shaven for the first time in nearly a decade.

The money raised by Movember is used to raise awareness of men’s health issues and donated to The Prostate Cancer Charity which will have an enormous impact on many men’s lives and the awareness will help to fight prostate cancer on every front – through research, support, information and campaigning.

Did you know…

  • Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men in the UK. 35,000 men are diagnosed every year and one man dies every hour.
  • 1 in 11 UK men will be diagnosed in their lifetime.

If you’d like to support me, please go to my Mospace, where whatever you can spare would be greatly appreciated.

BarCampOxford announced for September 2008

Quietly excited to see the announcement of BarCampOxford. Barcamp is a series of user-generated conferences, where participants provide the content, and help to run and organise it themselves. I can remember reading about the rise of BarCamps a couple of years ago, and I’m very interested to see it in action, get a feel for how it works, and of course participate in it myself. Many more details are on the BarCampOxford page for what they have planned thus far.

EDIT: BarcampOxford has in fact been rescheduled for September 20-21 2008.

Graeme and fab

A nice surprise today, I am the 4th Graeme on Google UK, and the 21st on Google.com. Imagine being so highly rated within the world of your own name! I aim to improve, and am setting my sight on being the No.1 Graeme in the UK, and to try and break the top ten Graeme list for the world. Lofty and worthy goals I feel.

The other thing that has got me excited today is the announcement of a relatively cheap fabber. Desktop Factory have announced a $5000 3D printer (via TG Daily). A 3D printer (or fabber) prints objects, cutting and moulding plastic shapes. They could in time become home factories. One possibility is that you might be able to recycle materials, use them in a fabber, then make new objects you need, to a design you’ve downloaded from the internet, or made yourself. There is a long way to go, clearly, but seeing the basic means of production heading towards an affordable price is exciting for me.

Hold tight whilst I make a few changes here

I’m just starting to update the presentation of the blog, so it may look slightly ropey for a couple of days. Hopefully won’t be too long.

As a quick aside, there is a strong rumour apparently that Google are looking to buy up Godaddy. Which would be fantastic for me, I’d love to integrate my Google web tools with my Godaddy accounts, so I’m crossing my fingers. Apparently the rumours have backing in the fact that the owner of Godaddy hasn’t said anything about it, whereas normally he has an opinion and quote to offer on every topic going.

From Pixels to Plastic

I’ve just been reading a presentation by Matt Webb called From Pixels to Plastic. Really inspirational ideas about how we could get the products we want doing the things we want them to, drawing from various ideas such as desktop widgets, and applying them to more physical items such as washing machines. Along with some other stuff. He praises the idea of very small development teams as being more flexible, so definitely channelling Agile/XP etc in some of his thinking. Well worth a read.

Captcha – How very annoying

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I’m sure I must not be the only one whose heart sinks a little whenever I see a Captcha box on a form. The above example is taken from the signup for a hotmail account. I understand the reason of protecting against automated applications for servers, but they are hard to read, often cause you to have to input entire forms against, and rate about -20000 on the useability front, particularly for users with sight disabilities. The sooner they are gone the better.

XPday 2006 – Love in the age of Software – James Noble & Robert Biddle

These notes are taken from the above talk on 28th November 2006, given by James Noble and Robert Biddle. Pretty much free-form soundbites, which was the manner of the talk in some ways.

We now best now. Order is best. Modern is best. Perfection – Repetition – Iteration.

BUT Why do the robots lose to the humans? (There was a brief Kraftwerk tribute around this point).

“We did it right, but the customer didn’t get what they wanted”. A technical success, but a business failure.
The fault lies with us, not the customer. Like Narcissus, we fell in love with our own image, our technologies, our methods, our knowledge. We couldn’t bring ourselves to look to them, so glorious are we.

In the postmodern age, Agile is Love. The danger is that it becomes self-love, in whatever sense you wish to read that.
Acceptance means more than just passing tests. Agile does have human tests. Planning Games, User Stories, System Metaphor, the On-site Customer. However these are in danger of being overridden by our love of the more empirical, definable, understandable. Automaton, tests, only looking to see the green bar of success for our tests which we have written.

New ideas too! One day iterations! Whole team (no customers)! Executable user stories! Automated acceptance! 80 hour week! 3 Month Crisis! Career Change Counselling! All in action, all inaction, too automated, not human.

The Modern Language of Love – points to Shannon’s model of communication. That communication is information being transferred from the lips to the ear.

The Post-modern Language of Love – we’ve learnt to how to communicate from developer to developer. The information isn’t always getting delivered to its final destination. The job of translation is a trial and error process, almost akin to bartering. Ideally, recourse to a grand narrative should be forbidden, small narrative is a far better form. Our tools should aid the translation between developer and user.

We should meet each others needs:

The customer knows business and wants software. The developer knows software and wants business. It can be a beneficial relationship. The customer also holds a lot more knowledge than we sometimes recognise, sometimes ignore in the appreciation of our own reflection.

If you do not love your customer, you are not doing Agile.

So what did I think?

I’ve read colleagues and other blogger’s views on this keynote speech, and going on those and other views I heard on the day, it would be fair to say it got a mixed reaction. The presentation style was loud, and disorientating. If you’ve read any of the Head-First & Head-Rush books by O’Reilly, well it was a bit like someone reading one of those and all the sidebars and speech bubbles at once. Repetition and reinforcement of their points through a variety of means. It was interesting they used Shannon’s model for communication, as it also indicates that the main barrier to verbal communication is noise. I think this was the case in getting their message across to everyone in the room.

I’m interested in how they are identifying some of the pitfalls and problems of modern development, and applying methods of literary criticism to analyse approaches such as Agile and XP. It shouldn’t just be technical and project management views driving how these methods develop, in order to achieve their goals of providing the right product effectively, they need to ensure they are keeping the knowledge of the customer involved, and that they are being sense-checked in a wider sense.

XPday 2006 – An Introduction to Scrum – Joseph Pelrine

What follows are my notes on the XP Day talk given by Joseph Pelrine, on Tuesday 28th November 2006.

Scrum is nothing to do with software, it is to do with managing work.

In any project, requirements, technology & people are all changeable, all come with uncertainty. Scrum can manage and prioritise this complex domain. Joseph pointed to several non-software projects he had managed with Scrum, including his wedding (which was indeed delivered on time and within budget).

The waterfall method assumes requirements do not change during the project, encouraging a tendency to stuff in everything in one go, all at top priority. Scrum looks to not wait for all the requirements, but instead to look to deliver with what is known now.

Waterfall can actually work in manufacturing, you do know your end product, you know what is an acceptable level of waste (although if you look at the Toyota Method of Production you may well see this is not necessarily the best way). When you can’t can’t define things enough so that they run unattended and produce acceptable output, then control is through constant inspection and adjustment. The comparison Joseph made of these two ways was that of the flightplan made by an aircraft, compared to the way in which a large flock of migrating birds move. Apply, inspect, adapt.

Building the Scrum process

Start with a product planning meeting. Plan just enough to drive the first developer sprint to deliver product increment that provides business value. Requirements will emerge as the customer sees product increments. Refactoring of the design and product will cause the system and product architecture to emerge.

Scrum Master

They are responsible for establishing Scrum Practices. They act as a gobetween for management and the development team, and also a coach. A Scrum Master is the agile equivalent of an IT Project Manager. They should be outside of the team, although if the team is too small, the pragmatic approach is to adapt the role to suit.

Daily Scrum Meeting

This ideally should be no more than 15 minutes long, taking place in the same location every day. The aim is that everyone attending answers 3 questions:

What did you do since the last scrum?
What will you do before the next scrum?
Is there anything in your way which will help you achieve what you want to do before the next?

It is the Scrum master’s job to note and then sort any of the impediments raised in the meeting.

Scrum Teams

They are self-organised, with no roles. Responsible for committing to work, and with the authority to do whatever is needed to meet commitment. Almost like the “total footballers” of development. The ideal size is reckoned to be 5-9 people, not too big, not too small.

Product Backlog

This is a list of functionality and technology issues, maintained by the product owner. If there are multiple teams, there should still be only one list. Anyone can contribute to it, be it is the product owner who is responsible for defining what is going to be done, and when. Their decisions in terms of timing come down to their defining if it will be in this sprint, if it may be in the next, or is to be considered further down the line. The combination of the product backlog and the product owner that drives the scrum process.

The Sprint

A 30 day calendar iteration of development. The development team builds functionality that includes the product backlog, and meets the sprint goal. If the sprint should lose meaning along the way, it should be abandoned and restarted with a restated goal. 5-10% of the sprint should be spent researching ahead for the knowledge and information that will be needed to complete it, or further sprints.
The Sprint Planning Meeting

This should consider the following:

Items Processing Action

Product backlog
Team capabilities Review
Business capabilities Consider Implement
Technology stability Organise
Executable product increment

Sprint Burndown

This is a method of charting the progress of the sprint. It is designed to measure results rather than effort, and shows how much of the sprint is left to do each day. Each developer must devote a few minutes each day to updating the burndown.

End of Sprint Review

This is fairly self-explanatory, review the product backlog, and set the next sprint goal in the light of what was achieved in the previous sprint.

So what did I think?

I enjoyed it, very well-presented session. I think that compared to what I have seen of Agile and XP, it is a slightly more formal, heavyweight system. Obviously it has influenced some of the thinking behind both of them as well. It could be easier for a team entrenched in the Waterfall method of development to transition to this way of working, than say jumping across to XP.