Monthly Archives: November 2007

Have they seen the light?

The Register, among many other news sites, reports that UK TV giants BBC, ITV and Channel 4 are to launch an on-demand video streaming service sometime in 2008.

Details are scarce in today’s announcement, but we’re promised “an exciting collection of over 10,000 hours of the very best of the UK broadcasters’ current and archive programming”. We’ve known about the project, codenamed “Project Kangaroo”, for some months now. The launch name hasn’t been revealed yet.

Will they get it right this time?
I’m perfectly ok with free streaming and pay for download/rental – one question though, are they finally going to shunt DRM protection?

I’d like to think the BBC has learned something from the verbal abuse it’s taken after the iPlayer was launched – or perhaps they’ll just do as they please and throw some rubbish like this at me:

14. Does Napster work with iPod?
Napster would like to work with your iPod, but Apple has chosen to keep both the iPod and iTunes closed off from Napster and every other digital music service. Napster’s philosophy is different. A Napster subscription gives you more ways to discover and enjoy music on more players. For a list of Napster-compatible players, click here.

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Google tackling online storage

After much anticipation and hype the Gdrive seems to be on its way, or so the WSJ reports.

A Google spokeswoman declined to comment on any specific online storage plans beyond what it already offers as part of its email and other services. But she said in a statement that “storage is an important component of making Web [applications] fit easily into consumers’ and business users’ lives.”

Most companies, from small businesses to big giants are moving their environments online to make documentation/presentations or whatever else may be needed available to their employees, wherever they may be whenever they want.

As I said in a previous post Google is pushing its online productivity suite and a shared online storage could definitely give an additional boost to the entire system.
The online storage is one of the few reasons why I use .Mac, the second rationale behind the choice is that the interface is just brilliant, the iDisk is mounted as a file system and directly accessible from my Finder.

In my opinion if Google really wants to make the Gdisk a must have for small/big businesses a client software to access the data is vital – not because it works better, but because it is a step final users have to go through to get used to online storage solutions. Most people don’t, and won’t for a while, use Writely or Google’s new PowerPoint-ish software – they’ll keep creating documents in their local environment and the sensation of accessing a local drive to save their work will make them feel somewhat more secure.

For its office components to attract big businesses Google still has do a great deal of work on the corporate accounts handling side – being able to organize accounts in groups and set different access permissions on a Gdisk’s folders would be a great start.
Another useful additional feature, which as I understand is due sometime soon, is offline availability of the applications. An internet connection is not always available and an entire company can’t just stop working because IT people in the basement are messing around with routers.

Having said that it’s not only functionality-related issues Google has to address but also privacy and security questions. If they want more of our data to be stored on their servers, and with Gdisk it wouldn’t only be images and documents but all sort of data we may not want other people to see, we expect Google to have some pretty satisfactory answers ready – Especially when we’re talking about reserved and potentially vital information its business customers save in the cloud.

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Celebrate diversity

Another post about my experiences with startups.

The one important thing I have ascertained about programmers during my career is that good ones are hard to find. Furthermore skillful developers tend to be ego-maniacs (I am no exception). The people generally portrayed in films as shy “nerds” are really expansive, loud and boastful persons. After all why shouldn’t they be; a startup’s most important assets are its people, and developers are a vital part of the organism. On the other hand it is also true that everybody is important but nobody is necessary.

In all the startups I’ve worked for, particular emphasis was put in the recruitment process, especially whilst hiring members of the initial core team. Which doesn’t mean only finding smart competent people, but also making sure that they’ll fit in with the rest of the team. Therefore it is very important to have every member of the initial team meet the candidate and make sure that they will be comfortable working with them; even people from different departments, marketing directors should meet programmers before an offer is made.

The other thing you have to make absolutely sure of is whether your newly-hired programmer can accept the technical leader’s style. The manager/CTO (call it whatever you want) has to be flexible, but at the end of the day he/she is still running the show and you can’t really afford to have a small team destabilized, especially when the disturbance undermines the leader’s authority.

I have had to interact with quite a few managers, each one with a different approach to the development process. The two most common and distinguishable modus operandi are certainly the autarchic and the unconstrationist (new word I just came up with).
The autarchic wants to be in full control every step of the way and put a two cents in every decision. The “libertine”, on the other hand, will take care of the big picture and leave the individual programmers to make decisions regarding the piece of functionality they have been assigned.

Neither attitude is wrong. However, I generally adhere to the more liberal approach, hence the title of the post. Being in charge of something every step of the way certainly helps prevent bugs from being introduced, if not because of a CTO’s superior experience because two brains are generally better than one. Anyhow if you try to be involved at every level of the development, from the requirements gathering and analysis to the practical development you’ll quickly end up being overwhelmed with work and with a crew perhaps not prepared to scale and be in charge of new hires themselves.

Contrarily leaving developers some independence in their restricted realm helps boost you team’s morale and prepares a normal programmers to be in change of somebody in the future as the company grows. Admittedly this approach will leave the whole system more exposed to potential bugs, introduced either for a technical mistake or lack of wide-angle-view-to-future-developments of the programmer in charge. The second drawback of this method is that you’ll most likely end up with a code library written with very different styles, hence harder to maintain and get used to for new people. Be that as it may, I still stick with “Celebrate Diversity”.
There’s always going to be a better tool or programming style than the one used when developing something. However, asking a proud programmer to change his code and do whatever you asked for exactly your way is worse than a punch in the guts.

As I said before neither approach is wrong and it’s purely a personal decision of the person in charge. It is a very difficult balance to strike. Ego-feeding is good, keeps the spirits up and developers are more likely to work harder and better. Unfortunately, programmers are human and as you leave somebody in charge of a single piece of functionality there might be nobody to find that stupid bug which could have been caught in a second by an additional brain.

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Reads of the day

I spend a considerable amount of time every day reading blogs and news on the internet. In fact, I go through so many interesting articles every day that is difficult even for me to keep track of every single one. I have therefore decided to create a new category on this blog and post the most interesting/insightful/funny things I find surfing the net on a semi-daily basis.

At the same time I’m very interested in discovering what you, who read this blog, have found interesting or insightful so I’d appreciate if you could leave comments with links on these posts.

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BBC streams video the Microsoft way

I was invited a few months ago to test the BBC iPlayer. I quite liked the idea and I’m very interested in everything streaming. I also tested Joost and Zattoo.

Unfortunately when the BBC decided to send me the invitation I had a Mac laptop and my computer at home was running Vista, !@”#$. Obviously the player doesn’t work with Mac OS. I wasn’t, however, expecting the application not to work with Vista. When I tried to activate the application I was greeted by an error popup telling me that the system works only with Internet Explorer on Windows XP. Fair enough.

iPlayer web interfaceI have now switched back to good old XP and am ready to test this player. Still no Firfox, I opened IE and logged in the BBC site with my beta account. Beautiful web interface, which works fine with Firefox too. After installing the small application an icon appears in the systray which is called: “Your Library”. Say what? I thought all BBC content was part of my library and I just had to click on any video to have it streamed to me instantly.

Apparently not. Opening the “Library” just says: you have nothing. Ok, so back to the BBC website with my newly installed IE plugin. Click on the new episode of Little Britain and right away the site told me that the video was being downloaded. Again, my only reaction is “Say what?”. So back to the library window, which is not even an application but a small popup running the IE engine with the BBC plugin to access your system information. This bright pink window is telling me that a 300 MB video is being downloaded and I had 500 MB of space on my hard drive allocated for the library.

My video is now here, excellent, click on play now. Another small IE-powered popup opens and, disguised under a customized interface, Windows Media Player starts playing the video, a bit slow though, but you can’t expect much from WMP. Oh yeah, almost forgot, my license for the video expires in 3 days then it’s a useless 300 MB file.

Now I don’t pretend to know any better than the BBC people working on this. They must have thought it through quite thoroughly. I do have a few questions though.

  1. Only windows XP and IE? Ever heard of flash? YouTube? Anybody? How about Mac users? Linux? Vista?
  2. Download a 300 MB file that I have to trash after 3 days? Planning to save on your Bandwidth anytime soon?
  3. Ever heard of streaming using P2P technology to save aforementioned bandwidth and offer more content? Seriously you should check out Joost, they started developing their application before you did.

Please, please have a look at Joost. Multi-platform, more content and less bandwidth usage because we stream to each other using BitTorrent‘s P2P technology. Maybe Janus Friis and Niklas Zennström will take pity on you and give you a small channel on their platform to share your content, if you ask nicely.

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US goes on holiday, the internet goes bye bye

Does the blogging world revolve around the US? This blog statistics seem to confirm it.

I had a look at the statistics for both my blog and other websites I work on (charts below) and it would seem that most of the internet traffic for blogs is generated by the US. Everything stopped for thanksgiving. There’s no denying that even in Europe we’ve seen the internet boom and the whirlwind of activity and startups ensuing from it, but the traffic, the user-base, seems to be still mostly US based.

Are we European still a bit behind in terms of internet-mentality? With China being still pretty much behind a great-wall internet-wise and broadband connections not being quite as readily available in most areas of Asia as they are in the west is the only big “market” the US?

The Big Deal - statistics

chart2.jpg

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The big deal – Weekend edition

I have a few things to post but no strength to do it. I figured another one of those trademark Bird and Fortune videos would do just as well.

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MOvember continues

Hi All,

During Movember (the month formerly known as November) I’ll be growin a Mo (slang for Moustache). That’s right I’m bringing the Mo back to raise funds for The Prostate Cancer Charity because I’m passionate about men’s health and the fight against prostate cancer. Why…

  • Prostate cancer is now the most common cancer diagnosed in men in the U.K. with at least one man dying every hour from the disease.
  • Every year about 35,000 men in the U.K. are diagnosed with prostate cancer and about 10,000 men die from the disease.
  • One man in 11 will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime in the U.K.

To sponsor my Mo (moustache) and fight against prostate cancer please go to http://www.movember.com/uk/donate, enter my registration number which is 120922 and your credit card details. Or you can sponsor me by cheque made payable to “The Prostate Cancer Charity” clearly marking the donation as being for my Registration Number: 120922. Please mail cheques to: The Prostate Cancer Charity, ATT: Movember, First Floor, Cambridge House, 100 Cambridge Grove, Hammersmith, London W6 0LE.

All donations are made directly to The Prostate Cancer Charity which will use the money to fund high quality research into the causes, treatment and impact of prostate cancer and to provide support and information to men and their families.

Movember culminates at the end of the month at the Gala Partés. These glamorous and groomed events will see Tom Selleck and Borat look-a-likes battle it out for their chance to take home the prestigious Man of Movember title. If you would like to be part of this great night you’ll need to purchase a Gala Parté ticket.
Thanks for your support

Stefano

Movember - Sponsor Me

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With the benefit of hindsight…

During my short yet intense career I have worked for quite a few startups and small businesses. I want to talk about a phase most startups go through – Our application is crap, lets trash it and rebuild it from scratch.

Hindsight is something few people have and wisdom is just a myth, just a fancy name we have come up with to call our mistakes.
Nevertheless when a company outgrows the chrysalis stage and starts producing revenue and growing accordingly hindsight is one of management’s favorite words. It’s widely abused in every meeting. Who hasn’t heard at least once “With the benefit of hindsight we could have…”.
This special word makes the eager-developers brain click. There’s our chance to build the perfect application. We know what to avoid, we have wasted countless hours solving all the problems we found in our path before and we’re now ready to whip out the ultimate system.

Perhaps with a bit of hindsight, wisdom, or a wee little bit of both, our developers would realize that every time they start developing an application from scratch a whole new bunch of complications will crop up and will have to be solved. While this happens the management team who has promised to deliver in time to the big bosses is obviously breathing heavily down the programmers’ skinny necks.

This happened to me once, although we didn’t go as far as actually begin the development a countless amount of hours was wasted in meetings to trying and figure out what we were going to do and how.
The issue for many startups is that very often the software is developed hastily for lack of funding or time constraints. This generally leads to a structureless applications patched together at the last minute. That’s how it is and always going to be – and in my personal experience it’s definitely better this way than running out of funding because the entire process is managed by a megalomaniac-developer with serious ego-related issues.
Once the application is ready and the product is launched there’s never going to be time to stop. Look back. Amend emissions and non-blocking bugs until it’s too late. That’s just the natural process.

After 1 year of life the initial product will most likely be completely unrecognizable and changed/badly-patched in many of its core components. This will make keeping track of what’s exactly going on inside the software harder.
So now what.
The approach I’ve found most feasible and realistic is to gradually fix and produce documentation as the development progresses. A software, especially a website, will never stop evolving and the amount of feature-requests and bugs to fix will only increase with time, stopping the entire machinery to go back and fix is just not an option. However, whilst new functionalities are being added, they will probably have to be integrated with old ones. This is where wisdom can assist you. It is definitely worth spending a few hours more on each new piece of code to patch up the old part it has to touch. Gradually your development process will fall back on track and there won’t be any more wild panic because of obsolete or faulty routines and functions.

If, on the other hand, your software is rotten to the core and cannot be rescued, well, tough sob, you should probably have thought it through more carefully before putting your hands on the keyboard.

Having said that I’d like to add that rewriting an application is not entirely impossible, but it’s most likely going to be a colossal process which will require large sums of money.

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