Input Output Disconnect

I think its interesting that calendaring tools can understand the definition of complicated event reccurence rules, as well as exchange those definitions in a powerful standard format, but that the user interfaces on the tools I have used (ical, google calendar) don’t actually support creating events with anything more than the simplest recurrence relationships… Goes to show that the bottleneck in many systems is still the interface between the human and the computer.

The other day I received my first $50 parking ticket of the street cleaning season. The rules on my street, even side cleaning on the second and fourth Wednesday, odd side cleaning on the first and third Tuesday seem simple enough to follow, but I still think Somerville’s chief revenue stream must be parking violations.

I thought perhaps I can set the events in iCal, upload that file to google calendar, and get SMS reminders. Turns out one can’t specify a recurring event like second and fourth Wednesday in iCal or google calendar. iCal’s interface allows one and only one “nth day of the month” recurrence. This made me wonder – is this stuff even possible in the iCalendar format?

So I checked the iCalendar spec in RFC2445 and sure enough, it supports powerful enough recurrence rules to handle any conceivable event schedule. Here’s an example that will handle the odd side street cleaning, April through November of every year:


I edited the one 1st Tuesday rule generated by iCal in a text editor to arrive at this iCal file. Imported it back into iCal, and it rendered the recurrences perfectly. Google calendar also reads the file well even saying under details “Every first and third tuesday”.

Its a shame there’s all this underlying power, yet the user interface allows only a small sliver of it. The 80/20 rule probably dictates an organization doesn’t put in the resources to develop and support a really complicated UI for creating event reccurences, but I would think some user facing tool would support that. Are there any out there?

Anglicized Names

I just switched projects at work to one in which a significant percentage of the team is based in India. One thing that strikes me all of a sudden is how many members of that team have made-up “American” names like “Austin” or “Joe” that have no bearing on any possible pronunciation of their real names. Granted some of them take a syllable of their name that may sound like an American name – I’m just not sure what to make of the phenomenon.

Part of me thinks they should stick to their guns and teach people how to pronounce their real names, but another part of me realizes by giving up, they’ve effectively made their own lives easier too, because now they don’t have to spend all that time correcting people.

22 Dollars poorer, 30% less productive

My Viewsonic vp171b display crapped out all of a sudden late last week – just late enough in my school project to be somewhat bearable. It would flicker for a moment, then the backlight would shut off. Turning it off and on a few times usually resulted in it working for a few more hours. I only got the display in October 2005, orthopedist so its under warranty, but still a pain in the butt. $22 to ship it to California and 3-4 weeks without my second display. Good thing I don’t plan on working on anything so involved as to require a second display for a little while.

I’m sure some people must be capable of managing all of Flash’s pallette windows, including the terrible excuse for an editor present in the actions pane without two monitors, but it escapes me how. Semi-interesting Flash note: I did get to find out that the Flash IDE crashes when its running on a second display that gets unplugged.


What are high stakes tests doing to our education system? This New York Times article has the disturbing answer: cutting out all subjects besides reading,
math and gym. I presume gym is legally required.

Being able to read and do basic math are obviously prerequisites to any higher level learning, but what kind of job are we doing if we churn out young adults who can do only that? How can people who missed out on other imporant subjects like history, social studies have the critical-thinking skills required to make informed decisions in the future, whether at the voting booth or elsewhere?

IBM Workplace in the annual report.

Got my copy of the IBM annual report in the mail yesterday – as always, a beautiful piece of work – the cover is especially trippy this year. Anyone who opts to receive it electronically is really missing out. Anyways, paging through it I wondered “How is my old friend IBM Workplace doing in the marketplace?”. This paragraph indicates they doubled their revenue during the year:

Lotus software revenue increased as clients continue to demonstrate strong response to the Domino version 7 product line, as well as very high interest in Workplace software. Workplace software more than doubled its revenue in 2005 versus 2004. (page 30)

Well that sounds awesome! Doubling is good, right? That must mean Lotus revenue is through the roof! Lets see… Hmm, this is interesting: page 33 says Lotus revenue grew 1.6 percent and page 35 says Lotus software revenue increased 3 percent. I guess it needs to redouble a couple more times before we can say its setting the world on fire.

As an aside, I think its also interesting that mainframe shipments are measured in MIPS (millions of instructions per second) growth year over year. I might just be grossly underinformed, but it seems to me the number of MIPS a contemporary computer can do is always growing at some double digit clip year to year, so even selling the same number of computers, assuming Moore’s law holds, you’ll have 100% MIPS growth every 18 months.

The spring restructuring actions, of which I was a lucky participant, cost the company a $65 million one-time charge.

Not Quite Murphy’s Law…

Is there a name for the phenomenon described below?

  1. One has a problem developing or building something for some long period of time.
  2. In frustration makes a post to a newsgroup or other source of public support.
  3. A very short period of time later figures it out on his or her own.

It can’t be murphy’s law, because something went right for once. Or is it just something going wrong in a twisted, different way?

I was working through some tutorials for Macromedia/Adobe flex today, and was having some strange problems with the second tutorial (build a calculator) and not more than 30 minutes after posting to a yahoo group “flexbuilders”, I find the faulty configuration responsible.

My Kingdom for a Radio Button

Are radio buttons going out of style? When I was using turbo tax recently, I saw several cases where two or more logically mutually exclusive choices were represented by checkboxes rather than radio buttons. Here’s one of them:

Radio Buttons Needed

Although, as the expression goes, never attribute something to malice that could be just plain incompetence, it does seem that the designers at Intuit must surely have made a considered choice in not using radio buttons anywhere in Turbotax.

Is there a reason for that? I wonder if “today’s youth” even grow up having used a radio with buttons like that – I suppose you could get through your life using an iPod etc and never encounter controls like an old fashioned radio. I think even radios themselves muddy the waters on this: I recall the original radio in the 1987 Camry I used to drive had four or five radio channel buttons, but you could also use them in primitive chords: press two at the same time to select the virtual button between them.

UI affordances tend to have mirrored the world where possible, but perhaps on this front, the world is moving faster.

Someone please invent a band stalker!

Earlier this week I found out that two bands I like, Stars and Snow Patrol, are coming to town. One the next day, one next month. Of course I find out after the tickets are sold out…

Unfortunately there’s no one repository for tour information. Rich at points out that Pollstar doesn’t have RSS feeds, and in this case, neither Pollstar or Eventful (the other site he mentioned) even were aware of the Snow Patrol show in time (the tickets went on sale last saturday, so now its too late).

It seems the only way I could have become aware of the Snow Patrol concert in particular would have been to a) be on their mailing list or b) visit their site constantly- (they don’t have a feed) – neither of these approaches really scales well.

Gathering enough up to date information (and not from joe q public listing an event when he gets around to it) seems to be the hardest problem, but how about a service that would accept uploaded itunes music library files and zip codes, and give me back an rss feed of events involving artists in my library, in my area, as they become known?

The downside of this is that hardcore fans who would go to the band’s site every day could get shut out as the information finds its way to the more casual fan with less friction.

Will the real English language please stand up?

Language Chooser DropdownI was just navigating the IBM web site to view the Lotusphere 2006 keynote presentation so as to see IBM Community Tools Sametime 7.5 in action (more on that later) and found myself having to negotiate all sorts of barriers to actually view this promotional material.

An interesting sidelight for me was encountering this lengthy list of languages to choose to receive marketing material in. I find it noteworthy because it makes the effort to distinguish “English” from “English,
Australian” and “English,
UK”. Apparently American english is now the “standard” English, because no one felt the need to label that form “English, US.” When did that happen?

I also noted the irony that a video in which the ability of various Lotus tools to run on Mac, Windows and Linux happens to be served by a video delivery platform that frowns upon anything but Internet Explorer 5+ or the 3+ year old Netscape 4.x, which certainly no one using a Mac or Linux can use (or would get caught dead using). Someone is sending mixed messages:

A browser version (Mozilla, Opera or Lynx) that does not support advanced features of IBM webcast presentations (e.g. synchronization of audio/video with slides) has been detected. To successfully view the fully enabled IBM webcast presentation, it is recommended that you close all open browser windows and re-launch the Webcast event page in Internet Explorer (version 5 or newer) or Netscape (version 4.x).

Good thing Firefox 1.5 and Windows Media player were able to come through for me.

I gave Yahoo the metaphorical wag of the finger for this, so IBM gets it too.