The Idea Dude


Monday, August 31, 2009

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

Too early for winter but just the right time for Snow Leopard, Apple's latest OS update. Usually I'm pretty cautious about new operating system versions, waiting a couple of months until the bugs get ironed out. But heck, I'm a Mac fan, so this weekend was dedicated to installing Snow Leopard. It's a great upgrade. While the base OS was 64-bit, all the system apps like Finder was still 32-bit in Leopard. Enter Snow Leopard with true 64 bit system apps.

The advantage? All the apps are now much smaller (I suspect the 32 bit apps in the past had to still honor 64 bit boundaries but utilizing only half the instruction and data space). Smaller means faster load and execution times, less swapping etc. So even if there were no new features, this alone was a great update.

  • Faster execution of all the system apps. Definitely feels more snappy.
  • Less diskspace. I got back around 6-8GB on my two Mac systems at home.

  • None really except it will ask you for permission for apps you installed because it thinks you're using them for the first time.

  • Make sure you backup your current system first. I do a full backup to a dmg file and time machine backup. Good job I did.
  • The upgrade re-installed apache and deleted my conf files. The lesson learnt is if you think you have custom files in directories outside your user directory, make sure you back them up, you'll have to copy them back after the install.
  • MySql lost its symbolic link and didn't start automatically.
  • My iTunes crashed trying to access my iPhone but resynced successfully after relaunching. Some anxious moments here!
  • Xcode didn't think my iPhone was a valid development device until I rebooted my iPhone. Tip: shutdown iPhone and hold down the home button while restarting the iPhone until you see the Apple logo.

    Takes about 45 minutes to do the upgrade. For developers, XCode is supplied with the DVD. Nice touch.

    So for the very first time in my life, I'm glad it snowed in August!
  • Thursday, August 27, 2009

    To Blackberry or not to Blackberry

    We're at the crossroads this week. After 8 months of iPhone development, we're wondering whether we should diversify our market into other mobile platforms. The logical answer is yes, the practical answer is a little tougher. It means supporting a different application channel.

    We're dabbled before with writing Blackberry apps. It's not a technology issue. It's whether we want to spend time learning a different environment. By that, I mean finding out the hard way the quirks of multiple Blackberry devices, a different App Store, approval process. Probably the marketing plan would change too.

    So the first step is the opportunity. The market share of iPhone vs Blackberry is pretty even with Apple around 13% and RIM at about 18% (source: Business Insider

    This would essentially double our reach.

    Apple has approximately 70,000 applications in the App Store and Rim has 2,300. A breakdown of the RIM appstore as of today is shown below. As expected Games and Books take the lion's share, over 40%.

    Barrier to purchase
    Apple has made it dead easy to buy an app. For the Blackberry you need a PayPal account plus not as seamless as Apple. We have no clue whether Blackberry users are more likely or less to buy than an average iPhone user.

    Approval Process
    Less onerous and faster on the Blackberry Appstore from our understanding.

    It looks tempting but I'm fully aware of spreading ourselves too thin and sacrificing the quality of our products and our service. But then as the saying goes if you continue to do what you've always done then you'll get what you always gotten.

    I think I need an extra large latte and more downtime to make this decision.

    Is this the next gold rush or are we going to be tumbleweed in the desert?

    Tuesday, August 25, 2009

    Bistro - the Best iPhone Sites That Rock

    Today we generally design our webpages to be 1024x768 as the lowest common denominator. It used to be 800x600. !2 years ago, VGA was tremendous breakthrough in color depth and screen size at 640x480. It's hard to buy a wide-screen monitor these days that is less than 22 inches. So it's hard to imagine a life of 320x480 (i.e. half VGA). Welcome to the world of the iPhone.

    If you own an iPhone or iPod Touch, you'll be familiar with swiping, squeezing, expanding we have to do with our fingers as we navigate websites that were never conceived for a format so small. The fact that we can view most websites (as long as they don't start with a flash homepage!) is quite amazing. Nevertheless, it isn't satisfying.

    There are quite a few websites that offer an alternative view to accommodate the iPhone. Problem is most often people don't know they exist. So we took it upon ourselves to find, collate and share them with the public.

    Welcome to Bistro, the Best iPhone Sites That Rock.

    Visit our Bistro page today for the first installment of apps offering news, technology, entertainment, food and other great sites that has made browsing the web with an iPhone a great experience.

    I'm not sure we're making the world a better place. We're certainly making it easier for you to find it if you have an iPhone.

    Three splats

    It's happened to all of us. You're running late in the morning, trying to get the kids out on time, making breakfast and sometimes everything just goes disastrously wrong.

    For me, that was this morning.

    Coming up from the basement, I was trying to hold on to a couple tubs of yoghurt, bottles of water and some snacks for their lunch bags. Splat! a tub of yoghurt drops on the floor splattering it's contents.

    I pick it up and go back to the fridge to get another one for the lunch bag. The offending tub falls again, this time even a bigger mess. Splat #2!

    Ok, deep breath, run upstairs to get some paper towels. En route, I quickly try to flip the omelette I've got going. It didn't flip well. Splat #3!

    At that point, as the US President would say, it would prove to be a learning moment. Do I totally freak out, shout obscenities and proceed to have a bad day? or do I figure out how not to ruin the next 16 hours of my day.

    Takes a lot of discipline to do the latter because it is so easy just to give in. Deep breath, visualize myself watching all of this from somewhere far away or 10 years later. Think about how big the situation really is. And all of the sudden, even three messy splats which look like mountains a moment ago, now look like mole hills.

    Three splats, but I didn't strike out. So I'm having a better day after all.

    It's a mental exercise I try to remember to do every time something bad happens. I try not to look at the situation now but how I would feel about it looking at it 10 years later. Was it really that big a deal? Most times, it's not.

    Have a terrific day!

    Friday, August 21, 2009

    The importance of great habits

    I have an old Roland A90 midi keyboard that I hooked up with GarageBand. My son started mixing tracks like a pro. Enough to inspire me to spend an hour tickling the ivories (actually plastic keys!).

    So I pulled out Fur Elise and proceeded to try and play it. Age took its toll and my long forgotten music reading skills let me down. After struggling for some time. I closed the book and played from memory. Surprisingly I did much better, my fingers seemingly guided by hidden strings as I magically found notes, chords and progressions.

    Somewhere in my brain lay a hidden map. Although dusty, it was there, chiseled in by hours of repetitive practice years ago.

    It reminded me of the importance of building great habits. A habit is a unconscious behavior that is reinforced by repetition. Great habits mean that we do the right thing without thinking. I call it unconscious greatness. Alas it takes practice and discipline but eventually they become an automated responses, great ones.

    Thursday, August 20, 2009

    More about boxes

    I thought more about my post yesterday. I think people like putting stuff in boxes and labelling them because if they can define it, they believe (perhaps erroneously) they can control it.

    It's perhaps because of the way we are educated. As engineers and scientists, we are always taught to breakdown a problem, identify and classify and solve it bit by bit. Our analytical bias is probably due to the system making us think that way.

    Kids have no boundaries because no-one told them there should be any. Indeed, if you look at who has the greatest imaginations and see possibilities instead of roadblocks, it is our children and not us.

    Perhaps we should learn from them as much as we want to teach them.

    Wednesday, August 19, 2009

    Don't box me in

    I was reading a post this morning on Gamesutra about the state of gaming by Wanda Meloni. Her concluding comment was really profound.

    ...It all depends on who you ask, their individual preferences and their frame of mind. Are we still so myopic that we can’t see where this is going? Entertainment has no defining demographic, it simply is...

    And that would be a perfect way to describe the Internet. The web is a like a molten mass of digital assets that really defies description. It is different things to different people. Being in the tech world, we take it for granted everyone has a Facebook account or everyone twitters. When you have a hammer, yep, everything looks like a nail.

    The reality is the web is like smorgasbord and to even try to define an individual's preferences and partiality is wrong. That individual changes every day. Yesterday it was MySpace, tomorrow it is Facebook and tomorrow who knows?

    They should dub our current generation, Generation-N for Generation Now. My kids live in the moment. They have no qualms in changing emails, social networks, games or tv shows. To try and define them and put them in a category would be futile. It would be obsolete by the time you read this sentence.

    It does change the way we look at loyalty and how we build loyalty programs. Making people collect points over 12 - 24 months are not going to make consumers change their buying habits. They would happily jump ship for the 10% instant discount across the street or worse still it is just a url away.

    Those who figure out how to give you a 10 second emotional buzz and get that one time purchase every time will eventually be king.

    Tuesday, August 18, 2009

    Every day is a crossroad

    Every day we wake up and face the task of making decisions. Some are easy like what you're going to have for breakfast, others are a lot harder like where are you going to take your business today.

    I make it a habit of questioning all my assumptions almost on a daily basis. Not the same as second guessing myself but I know too well how easily we hang on to our prejudices and biases. In fact the longer we travel down a particular path the harder it is to switch paths mainly because generally people hate change and also we feel like we are throwing away our previous investment (time, money, emotions).

    We all play the same game, i.e. if we a priori decide that we want something, we will always find a way to justify it regardless of cost or practicality. That is the genius of the human race and also its flaw. That is my biggest fear in life, that I may be fooled by my own desires and ambitions that I make the wrong decisions because of the wrong reasons.

    If we are not successful, there is a determinism that makes us prevail. If we are successful, we are loath to try something else in case we lose our success. But time brings new paradigms, culture, preferences and thinking and if we don't move with it we become dinosaurs.

    For every decision, there is always an example why it was right in one circumstance and wrong in another. One entrepreneur will tell you how prevailing for 10 years in one domain was his demise, another will tell you how he hung on until the last payroll and ended up rich because of his perseverance.

    At the end of the day, every piece of advice we get is only a guideline and at the end of the day, our decisions rest solely with us. We live and die by our own swords, there is no-one else to blame.

    Perhaps we should not view our changes in our lives and businesses as radical acts that invalidate everything we've done before. Perhaps we can come to terms with them if we view every path at some point has a crossroad. We make our choices that may take us down a path less travelled but we never forget how we got there.

    Our legacy got us here and helps us figure out what's next at every crossroad.

    Tuesday, August 11, 2009

    What's love got to do with it


    We just received a review from iPhone App Review. The reviewer used the words, So I LOVE – truly, madly, deeply – Signature from IdeasUnplugged. We get quite a few of these in emails every week. When users take time to email you with suggestions and tell you what a difference it's making for them, you know it's all worthwhile.

    We've put a lot of work into Signature and will put a lot more in. Financially, it's not the home run. But heck, we wanted to make a difference and slowly and surely we have. Every upgrade isn't a "Gee Whiz, look a this feature that makes all my friends laugh!". It's a determined effort to come up with a professional slick application that hopefully people will appreciate. I'm starting to think so.

    It is a great lesson on how to build a following of raving fans. Don't just give them something that works, give them something they love. Who would think that you can build a business app, especially a signature app that people love. I think we just did.

    If you think I'm wrong? Take a look at Unix. It's been kicking around for decades. Unless you're a geek, you would never consider loading it as your OS. That is until Apple took it, wrapped in aluminium, added a sexy interface and called it a Mac. The rest as they say is history. Listen to a Mac or MacBook owner, the word that comes up as often as the word "Apple" or "Mac" is the word "Love".

    Gotta love it. I do.

    Monday, August 10, 2009

    The Problem with Momentum

    A really good topic for a Monday morning. Momentum is one of those properties of life that is synonymous with been effortless or at least minimal energy while maintaining a good speed. Finding life's momentum is probably the toughest thing to do. Like getting a huge rock moving, once it gets going, it's pretty awesome but the energy required to get the rock rolling is pretty darn hard. It's called inertia, it's the nemesis of momentum.

    We just started another web project. It's not unfamiliar territory but still it felt like a chore. Lots of mundane and time consuming tasks to do just to get it to a point of being presentable. Pretty much trying to get that big rock rolling.

    Then I remembered how I used to get my own teams from overcoming their inertia. Divide your tasks into much smaller and manageable chunks. Then tag a few that will give you some quick easy wins. Part of overcoming inertia is feeling good about your progress. Do one thing at a time. Make sure it is one small thing that you know you can reach quickly and easily. Before long, momentum kicks in and you look back feeling good about how far you've come.

    Incidently, there is a reason why the couplings between train cars have some slack in them. There's no way a train engine can pull 50 trucks from standstill. What it does because of the loose couplings, is pull the first one. Once the engine and the first truck is moving, it is easier to pull the next one. With each moving truck, the momentum gets larger and larger and eventually the whole train gets moving. Pretty smart. We have to remember to do that in our own lives. Building momentum one truck at a time.

    Wednesday, August 05, 2009

    Listen to the user

    Too often in the software industry, we create elaborate product plans thinking we know what the user wants. Usually we partially right but often we don't really know what is the pain point (and hence the purchase decision) until the software is really in the hands of the user.

    A significant upgrade to our Signature app has just been made available in the AppStore. The biggest feature? Letting users use a photo taken from their iPhone camera or pick one from their photo album. Of all the support emails we received, most people had no clue how to post an image to Flickr or some image host and get the URL from that picture. As technology geeks we thought it was trivial. Obviously we were wrong. Most people were probably put off after struggling to add their profile image from an Internet hosted image.

    Our lesson here. We got the first version out as fast as we could without sacrificing quality and then we listened. Version 2.0 is simply stuff people wanted and struggled with when customizing their signature. Every support email got a personal reply. We felt their pain. And in the end, we produced an even better product that we're pretty stoked about.

    In addition to better image support, we threw in a couple of fonts, allowed users to chose the style (normal, bold, italic) and even the font size. People want reasonable defaults so they can see and use something quickly. But once hook, they want to make it their.

    If you're interested, more about the Signature app can be found at Ideasunplugged on our Signature application page.

    One of the funniest reviews we had in the store was someone complaining that we were fabricating the reviews by getting friends and family to comment. It's a common practice amongst the developer community but one we don't do. We'd rather let our raving fans do the shouting. Every comment and review has been submitted by users without our input or request. The fact that someone thought the reviews were too good to be true even though they really were is just way cool.