Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Rich Web Experience 2008 x 2

Rich Web Experience East Rich Web Experience EastLast year, one of the most refreshing conferences where I spoke was the Rich Web Experience. Too often, conferences are mono-cultures, and mono-cultures are generally boring. RWE is fundamentally different because it's what I call a condiment conference. The focus is on how to make applications better, not how to make the plumbing better. Nothing wrong with plumbing, mind you, it's just refreshing to look at faucets for a change.

This conference has an eclectic mix of developers. Hallway conversations lack the implicit assumptions you can generally make at main course conferences. For example, all Java developers have an implicit context. At The Rich Web Experience, you have to throw away your base assumptions, both in sessions and conversations. Just like travel broadens you because you meet people with different contexts and experiences, attending the Rich Web Experience does the same for technologists. Instead of the usual low-level animosity that each technology tribe exhibits for the non-tribe members, everyone focuses on common ground. This year, there are 2: one near the east coast and another on the west.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Finally Treeware

pp book cover on tableOK, it's finally here. I got my copy of The Productive Programmer in the mail last week, and today Amazon updated it's status to "In stock". For all those who have been patiently awaiting this book, it's finally here. Finally! The first glimmer of this book started in 2005(!), so it's taken upwards of 3 years to convert what David Bock and I were talking about into actual tree-ware. Because it took so long to produce, I suggest that, if you are going to buy one, you should go ahead and buy 2, in case you lose one. And, of course, nothing says loving to your spouse like an O'Reilly book. A great gift for anniversaries, birthdays, bar mitzvah's, etc.

Even if you don't buy the book (and can ignore my bitter tears) and you still have an interest in developer productivity, you can head over to the Productive Programmer wiki and contribute.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Sony eReader Update: It's all Bad and Ugly

Back in January of 2007, I wrote about my impressions of the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of the Sony eReader electronic book reader. I thought I’d update that, given my time with the device and the eBook service. And the news isn’t good.

One of the major annoyances of the eReader is the inability to reflow PDFs. That’s a complex problem, so they get a pass on the actual reflowing part. The solution they offered was the ability to view PDFs in either of two formats: either the entire page or just the width of the text on the page. The latter worked reasonably well for most PDFs when viewed in the landscape mode of the eReader. But here’s the fatal bug: when you switch pages in the PDF view, it restores the “width of text” view to the “width of page” view, but doesn’t update the mode on the reader. Thus, you must hit the button to actually get it back to what it thinks is officially “width of page” view, then hit it again to actually get back to “width of text” mode. Page refreshes on the eReader are very slow, which isn’t a big deal when reading a book because you only have to do it occasionally. But forcing the multiple page switches just to restore it to the mode it says it’s on is deadly. It effectively made reading PDFs on the device unpalatable. I reported this back in my original review, and predicted that it would be fixed in a software update (leaving aside for the moment how the device could have ever shipped with such an obvious bug).

It never happened. The new version of the reader came out with no software update in sight for this killer bug. I don’t know if they’ve fixed it in the new version because, frankly, I wouldn’t take one if they gave it to me. They did offer to sell me a new one when my original died. I turned it on one day in December and the screen was a garbled mess. I contacted their support who told me that, since mine was out of warranty, my best course of action was to purchase another, new version. That’s never going to happen.

In fact, the whole experience has soured me on Sony. They used to compete in mind share at least with Apple for delivering innovative products, with a modicum of understanding things like design and aesthetics. Apparently, they’ve abandoned that. I still own a single Sony product, the PSP Portable, which embodies many good features and design touches. But seeing how they treat their customers for an admittedly small, trivial market is enough for me to cast all their products in doubt. They clearly don’t have any concept of quality assurance (given the original bug) or responsibility (never fixing it). It’s a shame too because reading actual eBooks on the reader wasn’t bad. I probably read about 40 books on it, and liked it a lot. But, given that you can’t read PDFs on it, and their eBook format is proprietary (another annoying characteristic about Sony — memory sticks anyone?), I won’t buy another one.

I’ve looked at the Kindle but haven’t taken the plunge yet. I want a killer user experience, and it doesn’t look like it. I wish Apple (or someone who understands design like Apple) would release an eReader so I could read the Neal Stephenson Baroque Trilogy without herniating myself!

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Expert Panel at Agile Experience

Last weekend, I spoke at the Agile Experience in Reston. It was a great conference, lots of interesting topics, and a different crowd than most technical conferences. Half the attendees were managers, and everyone was enthused about Agile development. The experience level with Agile was diverse too, so it was fun to get out-of-the-blue questions. My first talk was Real-World Agile, and I start that talk by soliciting the agenda from the crowd (I open up a text editor and make the group tell me what they want to talk about). That was great here because it let me understand the actual pain points for the attendees, and it makes for a more interesting presentation for me.

On Friday night, we had a wide-ranging expert panel discussion which ranged from methodology to soft skills to cultural fit. And it was recorded. Come hear me stereotype all Americans as assholes!