Monday, March 30, 2009

I'd buy this in a heartbeat!

The MIT Media Labs are universally known for some very cool inventions. MIT is privileged as the world's top technology educational institution and able to attract the best brainware on the planet with Mensa level IQ researchers who are redesigning our lives. It's in here where Apple's innovators are peeping all day long for new ideas about products. You make it here, you make anywhere, and some bright kids from India find their way to slumdog millionaires via the corridors of the Media Lab, sure thing. Thanx much for pointing me to this link to my good friend George Manos, from Athens, Greece, who's always extra alert to serious innovations coming from some of the best sources of technology excellence of the planet.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Email is killing us all...

How was the world before email was invented? I wouldn't know as I've been unfortunate enough to have always worked for companies with email, from day one of my almost 30 year long career. My first job was actually of a trainee in the so called 'Office Automation' dept. at Continental Bank (CINB from Chicago, Illinois), when I joined them in Brussels back in July 1980. We were so 'cool' then doing email in those early days that my boss and I were often invited to showcase our 'experiences' in local ICT venues filled with anxious IT managers gathering info about the beast... Forgot to mention... we used to connect to our servers then at a few dozen baud modem speeds with acoustic couplers doing those funny sizzling modem noises... Oh, the good ol' days... not?

Anyways, before email and wordprocessing became common practice, I imagine, when one worker wanted to send a memo to a co-worker, he'd have to ask a typist to type the darn thing, and after a few correction cycles with mutiple draft copies, margins filled with countless mark-ups, he'd sign the 'final' and send it out. The mail boy would eventually pick it up from the dude's 'out' box and get it somehow to destination. Few days later, the recipient might have reacted in similar ways with an answer, and the story repeats. Sounds like turtles moving on Galapagos shores. For this reason alone, people would typically send typed memos to each other only if the stakes were high. In that case, they'd make the extra effort to structure their text properly, avoid typos as much as possible, and write their thoughts down in descent ways to make you proud to be... an American. Memo's were kinda 'sacred' material and had a lot of face value. People respected them. The 'heaviest' among them, those coming from bosses, would also carry the necessary quantity of stamps and seals to 'feel' like serious shit.

You realize, with slow processes like these, typically office workers didn't send paper memo's around too often. In urgent cases, they'd pick up the bleedin' phone and call the dude right away. Or even better, walk to his desk and talk it out. With immediate results. And a lot of value. People used to walk a lot more those days from desk to desk, and suffered a lot less from arthritis clogged joints. And they'd still have time to watch blond secy's rouge-ing their lips.

We don't bother much about that nowadays. We live behind TFT monitors for most of the day. Our blonds are made of pixels. Email, SMS and IM is the name of the game. Once upon a time members of families used to sit around the table for dinner at the end of the day and actually talked to each other. They watch TV on laptop computers and mobile gadgets these days while rush dining and exchange emails, IMs and SMSes with one another while still living under the same... roof. Trust me, been there done that!

Ok fine, where's the problem? As long as two humanoids decide to exchange ideas and feelings asynchronously, via technology gadgets of all sorts, instead of using good ol' sound waves pressing the air from one dude's mouth to the other dude's ears, in real time, and they're still OK with it, fine. They'll probably end-up like those Wall-e Utopians... but that's fine. I have another problem though and I need to be pretty cranky about it.

See, very few people learn to write properly at school. Very few people can put their ideas on 'paper' so that a reader, any average IQ reader, is able to understand their deeper meaning correctly. It becomes far worse in places where workers need to write in another language. English is common place for most international companies nowadays and many poor sods, locals, whose English might be their second or third language, are really struggling. I used to manage groups in Italy, Germany, Spain and France for many years... I could have assembled material for a NYT comedy bestseller if I kept a record of all those literature diamonds. That is not to say that an average Joe (the plumber) native English speaker is far better than any of them aliens. You wish... No way. Even more, 99% of email messengers are not aware of the elementary requirement for a simple exchange, for instance, a recipient's prompt acknowledgment of reception. And a large percentage among them e-mailers are using the wrong grammar, expressions, words, phrases, and innuendos that drives recipients up the freakin' wall and starts each and every day office cockfights in all colors and shades, adding no value whatsoever to anything. WTF!

I often advised my co-workers: If you feel mad about something, don't write a bleedin' message. Talk it through with your intended recipient face to face. Go have a beer. A shag. Anything, but don't write a fucknozzle email text. And if you still gotta write it... fine... write the bastard... but don't hit 'send'. Sleep over it! Read the prick once more the day after. And re-write it again and again, until it gets the sort of message that wouldn't drive your systolic to 25 if it was sent to you!

As a thought, how about us all doing with email what Toyota Belgium did to its BlackBerry owning workers: Bring back to the office those BBs, dudes, to save some mobile network data fee money and shag the BB and iPhones and all the bleedin' Smartphones together. And, you know what? We'll still be building Corolla's and Prius'es again tomorrow morning, right? Without you lot emailing 24x7...

I heard of somebody I know, bringing his BB with him in the toilet on Saturday mornings where he does his... thing, while checking his freakin' email! C'm on dude! Get a life! Your company will still be around in two hundred years when your great grand children will be long retired, for crying out loud! And get your stress levels down. Because, stress hurts your immune system... and cancers will start growing in your body... and you'll end up crippled and dead one day, much too early... Trust me... I know... been there done that! Not dead yet... but been close enough a short while ago.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Ryan Air Staff Mannerisms

I came across this article and then went to follow the entire trail of blog messages that it was referring to. It's quite entertaining to read, trust me. The story goes like this...

There is this freelance developer blogger who goes by the name of Jason Roe. While booking a flight to Ireland, Jason was convinced he stumbled against a software bug in the Ryan Air online system that allowed anyone to get free tickets to any Ryan destination. Eventually the story proved bogus, but that didn't stop three loyal Ryan Air staffers, more Catholic than the Pope in their love for Ryan (if you know what I mean), to get online on Jason's blog and repeatedly take the piss on him, calling him an idiot and a stupid f@ck.

I know the Irish love to dress their oral expressions with strong and foul epithets, four letter words and their adjective derivatives starting mostly with the sixth letter of the alphabet, on any given occasion. If you don't quite mind or get offended, it's fun to hear them talk like this. Watch the movie "In Bruges" and you'll understand what I mean. I personally enjoy their ways a lot!

Oral expression is one thing though. Posting similar rhetoric on online blogs and behaving like hooligans behind their company's firewalls is of course another. Reading the Ryan staffer #1, #2 and #3 comments on Jason's blogs is plain disgusting. Jason, in comparison, remained civil all the way.

The French have an expression that goes like: Fish rot from the head down. In other words, having staffers like these in the company, Ryan Air tells us that this attitude of aggressive and arrogant addressing of the outside world must be somehow inspired by the company culture and the management policies their wonderful leader(s) define and implement throughout. It brings to memory their bully stance against the Belgian government, and the city of Charleroi a few years ago in order to maintain landing privileges via subsidies offered to them in the past.

Pity... When will some people ever learn! I betcha, lots out there rather be a-holes than descent folks.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Made4u

Made4u is a European RTD funded project within the FP7 scheme of research funding, that I happen to work at, as one of the consortium partners. In my task (Dissemination and Exploitation) I also take care of the communications part of our project. In that chapter, I was pretty busy lately setting up our project's website, which explains why I haven't spent much time blogging since late February. Go have a look and tell me what you think. Looks pretty impressive, eh? You'd be even more impressed if you heard that, having done this all on my own, I still ain't got a clue how to write a single XHTML or CSS line, let alone Javascript or AJAX, but nevertheless managed to get this thing up and running and looking cool, in just a few days. How come? SquareSpace is the answer! The most fabulous and totally inexpensive solution for any business to create and maintain a web presence. These guys are just so cool! Not many bells and whistles exist in the world of web creation that these folks don't allow you to implement via their CMS... W√ľnderbar!

I actually found out about them recently while watching Dvorak's Cranky Geeks, and there, out of nowhere, John C. himself starts advertising SqSp and being ecstatic about their service and their technical implementation and stuff. Thus, I'm like, why not, let's give it a try. You see, the first attempt I did to implement our made4u homepage was via a local Barcelona, Spain based ISP implementation of free as a bird Joomla and there were quite a bit of contemporary web functions missing. One key thing missing, for example, was the ability to create and publish custom forms, like questionnaires. And those buggers, questionnaires I mean, were a must-have to our project.

Imagine my feelings when I found out how swiftly SqSp implemented forms to build questionnaires! It was an instant 'buy'! Next thing happens, I had to convert my initial trial into a permanent annual subscription and carry over the entire site from Joomla to SqSp. Six hours work and... Bob's your uncle!

One of the functions I'm enjoying the most with SqSp's CMS, is their CSS styling fine-tuning. Although, it seems at times that it kinda doesn't go deep enough in using Classes and Id's, still, you get sufficient freedom to do your own cool stuff. Now, if you happen to be a seasoned developer, and quite proficient in HTML, JS and CSS, then the sky is the limit... not?

Last thing I'd mention about SqSp was their user support. Jeez! Unbelievable. It starts with a fabulous ticket maintenance system that aggregates all tickets reflecting your dialogs with support. A rich, informative, stylish online system, all implemented in AJAX, that keeps track of the status of all your tickets, which you are the one responsible for closing! Next, the responsiveness of those dudes on the other side of the pond, Manhattan. It was Saturday midday over here, something past seven am on the East Coast. I fired a couple of tickets asking some trivial stuff that beginners always ask (like, eh, where can I find such and such,...) and by the time I finished typing in the details of my second ticket, something goes flashing in red on top of my browser saying I had an answer to my first one, sent to them literally minutes earlier. Jesus, Maria, Josef! Couldn't believe what I saw! Go try this one with one of the big boys then, the likes of MSFT, SAP, IBM or ORCL... Good luck!

Well done SquareSpace. Hope you grow real big in your branch...