The Idea Dude


Tuesday, June 30, 2009

IdeasUnplugged goes mobile

Seems like a silly thing to say, but our mobile site was never formatted for easy viewing on iPhones... until now.

Like most websites, you had to scroll around and pinch the page to get the right size and where you wanted to go. Not a great user experience.

We finally found time to fix that. Took us 2.5 days to revamp the site. Fortunately, most of the work was redoing the CSS stylesheet but we did have to redo some of the content. When it normally takes 2-3 weeks per website, I guess we did do some things right this time around.

Now both TheGoodBlogs and IdeasUnplugged are formatted properly for iPhone browsing. But you do need to have an iPhone or iPod Touch to see the fruits of our efforts.

We were contemplating of creating an iPhone simulator like we did for TheGoodBlogs but we used some Safari specific extensions (specifically, the webkit for CSS) which would not work well in a browser other than Safari. So unlike TheGoodBlogs that gives you a choice of looking at the main site or the mobile version, IdeasUnplugged will switch you over automatically when it detects you're browsing on your iPhone or iPod Touch.

Some lessons learnt.

  • When doing a website, make sure you separate raw data (text and numbers) from formatting (like HTML tags) and styles (like CSS). That way you almost get away with just redoing the CSS for a different format. Where it breaks down, is you may elect to display less content or different content, in which case you do have to mess with the content logic.
  • Doing a mobile website teaches you to prioritize because of the limited space (which is a funny thing to say because the format of the iPhone 320x480 is half VGA for those of us old enough to remember VGA). That's the space us oldies had to contend with. These days with monitor resolutions 1,024 and up, we tend to fill our web pages with too much stuff.
  • Focus on getting a user to have just one good experience on a page and convey just one message to him/her. Probably the majority of websites today break that rule.
  • Worry about loading times and image sizes. Even 3G these days are not as fast as broadband despite what the techies tell you. Not as bad as dial up but we have less patience when you're holding a small device in your hand and you're waiting for just one thing.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The passing of a genius

This week saw the passing of a musical genius, Michael Jackson. I grew up on his music and witnessed how he changed the music industry both in the music, the videos and the business. Alas the last few years, all his achievements were eclipsed by his eccentricity.

His death however, has made it possible for the old to reconnect to music and choreography and introduce the young to legend of old.

I routinely check our website at that monitors the top songs, iPhones apps etc, and was surprised to find that in the US iTunes store, 15 of the 25 top iTunes downloads were songs by Michael Jackson. In France, 18 of the top song downloads belong to him too. Similarly in Germany. In Britain, however, only a several songs made it to the top 25 as did Canada. You can track this at

It is ironic but not unusual that it takes the death of a genius for the world to appreciate his accomplishments. There will be other stars, but none quite like him again.

I bought his Off The Wall and Thriller albums on vinyl. Some of my favorites that I remember when I was at university were "Ben" and "She's out of my life". Do you remember?

Goodbye Michael.javascript:void(0)

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The price to dream

John Maxwell has a terrific article on The Cost Question

We've been living the self-employed dream at TheGoodBlogs now for almost 3 years. Maxwell's questions are relevant to our scenario, methinks.

  • Want to live the dream? Pay the price.
    Done that, problem is like the adventurers of old, you don't know where the edge of the world is until you fall off. There's no universal price tag. Our pioneer forefathers didn't know either.

  • The dream is free, but the journey isn't.
    Probably the most shocking truth that never hits home until you've run out of rations.

  • The price must be paid sooner than you think.
    That's why startups raise millions of dollars, so you can spend someone else's money for your mistakes.

  • The price will be higher than you expect.
    And it's a price not just of money but time and personal sacrifice.

  • The price must be paid more than once.
    That's why startups raise several rounds of financing each time promising it will be last one before IPO.

  • It is possible to pay too much for your dream.
    I think I already paid too much for this dream... but like the pig, I'm committed now. Unlike the hen, it's not so easy just to contribute an egg and move on.

These are sobering thoughts. So much so I think I need a beer to drown my sorrows.

Monday, June 22, 2009

On a clear disk, you can spin forever

Hopefully the saga of the broken drive is now over. Got a replacement drive from Apple, Fujitsu 160GB, 5400rpm. Copied the new drive I had bought earlier, the Western Digital 320GB, 7200rpm and reinstalled. So here's my subjective view.

The Western Digital was definitely faster, everything seem to be more snappy. Apps launched faster, the folders displayed quicker etc. But here's the problem, there's an audible hum that's annoying especially if you were used to the quietness of the original slower drive. I could also feel a bit more vibration under my right palm (the hard drive is at the lower right hand corner of the computer). I suspect if I had the WD installed from day one I would have not known the difference.

Having swopped the new but slower drive back in, my suspicions where confirmed. So now the WD has been relegated as my backup Time Machine drive for this and my iMac Mini at home.

All is well again in my MacWorld. Back to coding...

Friday, June 19, 2009

Where amazing happens

I'm reading a book called "The One Straw Revolution" by Masanobu Fukuoka. Fukuoka's approach to agriculture is to be at one with nature, choosing to do as little as possible and yet was able to have yields and quality comparable to other farmers who used pesticides, fertilizers and other modern day methods of farming. He maintained the reason that we have to resort to the techniques we use today is because we have upset the balance of nature and now have to spend time and money restoring the balance, e.g. crop rotation.

His agricultural philosophy extends easily to a living philosophy. His do-nothing approach does not literally mean do nothing, but do as little as possible by going along with nature's flow instead of fighting it. Swimming against the current takes more time and effort than channeling the river to where you want it to go. Or think about our use of plastic bags because they were durable, cheap and convenient and now we spend thousands of dollars recycling them. So where did all the savings go?

I'm not done reading the book but last night, one of his key thoughts helped me realize why I blog. This blog is really not about me although it is about me. (Go figure). But like Fukuoko and his life, I don't seek fame or imitation of what I do or believe. Most, if not all, of my life has been insignificant in the grand scheme of things. Chances are the rest of life will not be much different. But that's not the point really. The really point is that I live in an age where I see great changes, incredible inventions and marvelous things.

And so while this blog rarely shares the significant things in my life, it does provide me with a platform to share the significance of the world around me.

This is not the NBA where amazing happens. But it is where I witness the amazing...

I think if I can focus on just this thought, (thanks to Fukuoko), this blog will become a mirror for the amazing.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

More about hot laptops

There's a myth about why putting faster harddrives make your laptops / notebooks much hotter. Sure, the drive itself gets much warmer but not by more than a few degrees generally.

The harddrive is the bottleneck in your computer. Way slower than your RAM and CPU. So generally, the CPU waits for RAM and the RAM waits for the data to load from the harddrive. That's why a RAM upgrade is one of the most important ways to make your computer go faster.

What's really happening is that with a faster harddrive, the data bandwidth increases substantially meaning the disk controller is working harder, the RAM changes more often and the CPU is less idle than it was. Which all leads to the fact that the motherboard or logic components get much hotter and hence the temperature increase.

Since putting in a faster harddrive, my average temperature in the Mac has gone up but 5-10 degrees (subjective measure i.e. have the actual values from SMC fan controller but didn't do it perfect experimental benchmarks).

Which leads me back to my leadership ideas. We don't often spend enough time to see who is the weakest link or the biggest bottleneck in our organization.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Blogging to vent or blogging to inspire

For some blogging is a way to vent. Getting all the stuff that annoys you out of the system. It's a way of shouting out at the road hogs, the bad customer service, the bad luck that life throws you. A another free therapy channel and if someone empathizes all the better.

For me, I blog because I was inspired by something or someone. I believe there's enough bad stuff out there to around. Not sense in having one more person to rant. I'd rather rave about a good deed, a great quote or a wonderful movie.

This year has been a blogging drought. When your back is against the wall and you're racing the clock to get software out, it's not a good combination for blogger like me who likes to think about what I say before I say it.

Some days I miss being a knowledge worker, i.e. someone has to surf as part of his job to learn about what's happening around him/her and get paid for it. To inspire, you have to be inspired and the best inspiration comes from absorbing blogs, twitters etc.

Note to self. Take time to be inspired. It's a better shot in the arm than a Red Bull.

The Mac is Dead, Long Live the Mac

My Macbook suffered the first hard drive crash I've ever had. 3 trips to the Genius bar in three days and now I'm waiting for a new hard drive on order. To get up and running quickly I bought a Western Digital 320GB hard drive that is so much faster than the standard drive that ships. It runs a little hotter and more vibration can be felt through the aluminium unibody and certainly noisier but the better performance is worth the trade off.

If I had to do it again, probably a 500GB 5400rpm drive would have been better than a 320GB 7200rpm. The throughput of the larger drive is certainly slower but not by much because of the greater density of data and probably more drive heads. In return, the drive is much quieter and less noisy.

But for now, just happy to be up and running again. 3 days of not writing software is an eternity.

For the most part, I was able to keep all my data intact and ported. The best thing about the Mac is that is Unix based so just copying your user home directory will get you 90% of the way there. Unlike Windows, there is no registry settings that get lost. Everything is pretty much under your user directory.

Note to anyone who thinks that just backing up your home directory is enough, there are other user created data areas like MySql databases or network configuration files for Apache etc that reside outside your home directory. These will have to be backed up too.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Make it personal

The whole month has been incredibly hectic, hence the silence. To be honest, I didn't realize it's been so long since I updated this blog. Our latest app Signature has been released.

Signature allows you to customized and insert up to 6 signatures for your iPhone. Born out of necessity, I hope others will find it useful too. I have one that is my TheGoodBlogs signature with mainly online info. Another has my office address for consulting emails. Often I just want to insert my fax number, I have one for that too.

Interestingly enough, it outsold some of our social network apps in the few days it has been released. We thought KissStickies and SendABunny which are more viral but have a lower price point would do better. The free versions are doing phenomenally well, just to need to convert them to paid customers.

The economics of the appstore is that it's pretty hard to formulate a real marketing budget if your apps are free or 99c. Generally, you can drive 100 impressions and 1 will click through. Of 100 clicks, 1 will buy. So you need to be able to have very low CPMs and CPC to make it viable. I'm sure the trick is for people with deep pockets to throw a couple of thousand dollars down to drive sales into the thousands. Once you're in the top 25 apps in the AppStore, it's pretty hard to displace, such is the inertia of the long tail.