Adaptive Path, Talis and Joel

Good companies to work for are coming out of their shells more and more in the style of writing used in adverts. The search for the best people is hotting up again. We’ve been on the trail of talented people for a few years now at Talis and we have one or two…

Anyways, it was great to read JJG’s post looking for a visual designer. They’ve thought a lot about what the language says about them and feels a lot like briefs I’ve written looking for “people who get bored easily”.

If you think you’d like working at Adaptive Path, but are wanting to stay closer to home… We’re looking for an interaction designer.

Sometimes, you have to ask yourself "why?"

Sun seems to raise this question in my mind more than any other. On this occassion it was “why didn’t Sun win the battle for the desktop?”

This film, from 1992, might explain why

bear in mind when watching this that…

Windows 3.x had been out for 2 years already

Columbo was more than 24 years old

Logan’s Run and Battlestar Galactica were old hat and even Star Wars was 15 years old!

And that’s the best that “the talents of more than 100 engineers, designers, futurists, and filmakers.” could come up with!

Da Vinci's Model of Thinking

I’m on an interesting communications skills course for a few days, and already, by just 10.30 on day one, I have an interesting reference. Apparently, Da Vinci had 7 ways of thinking and exploring ideas, puzzles and so on.

  1. Curiosità
  2. Dimonstrazione
  3. Sensazione
  4. Sfumato
  5. Arte/Scienza
  6. Corporalità
  7. Connessione

These are in Italian, so I’ll expand and translate (not that it’s hard to guess the English) when I get a chance.

These come from Michael Gelb’s book How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci which I haven’t read – as I say it was just referenced on this course.


<< 12:30:11: mackerel
>> 12:30:20: huh?
<< 12:30:28: well, it’s a fish init?
>> 12:30:28: at least provide some context:p
>> 12:30:36: last time i looked yeah!
<< 12:30:47: how often do you check?
>> 12:30:58: not as often as id like!
>> 12:31:02: is that what u had for lunch
<< 12:31:13: yep, but that’s not my point.
>> 12:31:17: oh ok
<< 12:31:21: have you ever seen a mackerel that wasn’t a fish?
>> 12:31:32: no cant say that i have
<< 12:31:51: exactly.
<< 12:31:55: thanks.
>> 12:32:03: your welcome

“How do I know you are who you say you are?”

Over on Alan’s blog he mentions that banks are training us to be insecure.

This is a hard problem to solve. The population at large can well understand that somebody could phone them and say “hi, I’m from blah-blah bank”, but the assumption is that they won’t.

This initial assumption of trust is what makes it easy to do business with each other, easy to have a conversation. But it also makes it easy for people to take advantage. Kevin Mitnick‘s book on the subject, The Art of Deception, is a great read. It’s full of horror stories of how perfectly normal, smart, people are duped by simple things like “but I knew who hew was, he phoned the other day”.

No, I know I’m a freak – I’ve used “I Like Cheese” to ward off tele-marketers – so I simply ask the bank for the 3rd and 5th letters of their password. It usually goes something like this:

“Hi, this is Samantha, I’m calling from blah-blah bank. Is that Mr Styles”

“Yep, what can I do for you?”

“I need to check some details on your account, but first I need to ask you some security questions. Can I have the first line of your address?”

“Sure, but first I need to make sure you’re who you say you are. Can I have the third and fifth letters from your password, please?”

“I’m sorry?”

“Well, you called me, so I don’t know who you are until you answer some security questions. Can I have the third and fifth letters from your password please?”

“I’m sorry sir, I don’t understand what you mean.”

“Well, I need to know who you are before I can give you any of my details.”

“oh, ok, I’m Samantha from blah-blah bank.”

“Great, can I have the third and fifthe letters from your password please?”

“erm, I don’t have a password sir, what is it you mean?”

“Well, you should have received a telephone banking password in the post in order to access your customer, that’s me. I need you to tell me the third and fifth letters from that password, without revealing the whole password to me, before I can give you any details.”

“ok, I don’t have that password”

“ok, perhaps you can email then?”

“sure, I’ll do that”

Of course, by the end of the call the conversation has slowed to an incredulous and confused drawl, not the chipper, bright young thing that started off. I know, it’s sad; I’m a freak, but it makes me laugh.

It's all just talking.

Nadeem’s been talking about How technical writing sucks and worrying about his own abilities in this area. He even goes so far as to suggest several other people who are better at it, me included (aw Thanks Nad); although he does accuse us all of being old 🙁

Then, this week, he blogs “learning a new programming language is just about learning a new syntax”

Both posts are well-worth reading, but it made me wonder why they’re two posts? The main reason IMHO that learning a new programming language isn’t just about learning the syntax is because it’s technical writing.

We’ve talked about this a lot at our Geek Book Club and I take a pretty extreme stance (nothing new for me there then). I don’t care if your code compiles; I can get code to compile because I have an unambiguous arbiter of truth – the compiler. I care that your code expresses what it is trying to do clearly, concisely and above all accurately because I have no hope of making it work (even if it compiles) if I can’t read your understanding of the problem. It’s all technical writing. It’s all just talking; telling someone else what you know about the problem.

Sure, programming languages started as a way of describing a set of instructions for the computer to follow; to understand them you had to mentally model what the computer would do with each push, pop and jump. Then we started writing compilers that would translate descriptions written in our own words (variable and function names) into whatever the machine needs in its registers.

With that came different langauges for describing different way of thinking. What happens if you’ve only been taught to think one way? What if you’ve been taught that a program is a set of inctructions for a computer to follow, rather than a language for writing about a model? Then you’d be stuffed, right?

You’d have been taught practically nothing about how to assign responsibilities to different objects in an OO language or how to think about depth-first or breadth-first searches. You’d probably not have taught about Propositional Logic (and I really don’t think that way) or Modal Logic.

But let’s look at “learning a new programming language is just about learning a new syntax” from another perspective; the language designer. This statement says that the language designer is doing nothing but making arbitrary changes to the use of semi-colons or braces; changing the choice of a few words, for, if, then. This is so incredibly disingenuous – to suggest that some of the most incredibly intelligent people in the industry are just playing with syntax.

Now, folks graduating from computing courses are not at fault for thinking that the point of a program is to tell the computer what to do – the lecturers are. Joel Agrees.

Perhaps we should be asking applicants to write a short essay rather than some code.

Five Things about Five Things

So, the five things meme is going around like wild fire. I got tagged by Ian who got tagged by Leigh who got tagged by Phil who got tagged by Jim who got tagged by Erik who got tagged by Thibault who got tagged by Sylvain who got tagged by Gianugo who got tagged by Yoav who got tagged by Jim who got tagged by Sam who got tagged by Jim who got tagged by Dave who got tagged by Siel who got tagged by Ivan who got tagged by Tara who got tagged by Jesse who got tagged by Joe who got tagged by Carolyn who got tagged by Sandra who got tagged by Drew who got tagged by Liz who got tagged by Phil who got tagged by Pam who got tagged by Wendy who got tagged by Holly who got tagged by Kelly who got tagged by Simran who got tagged by D.T. Kelly who got tagged by Dawno who got tagged by Victoria who got tagged by Cathy who got tagged by Jackie who got tagged by Martha who got tagged by Ryan who got tagged by Nichole. who got tagged by Prousty, but without a link there the trail goes cold… So, Nic, if you read this then put a link and a trackback or comment and I’ll continue tracing it back!

  1. The meme spreads so well because it gives people an excuse to say things about themselves that they never have an opportunity to say.
  2. The meme highlights the sloppiness of blogs, a lot of the links back were effectively dead as they used the root of the blog rather than the permalink; forcing me to search back to find the ‘five things’ posting.
  3. The meme highlights the hostile nature of the web for computers; the difference between machine readable and machine understandable. A micro-format would have allowed the relationships to be harvested and graphed quickly and easily.
  4. The meme implies a missing feature in blogging. The Trackforward Link. When we tag the next five people we’re asking them to write something that logically tracks back to our own posting. We’re asking for a Trackforward.
  5. The meme shows we’re all stil really, really silly 🙂


Five Things

Well, after saying “shouldn’t that finish with ‘if you don’t tag five friends your mom’ll get cooties’ or something like that” I guess I more or less asked for it. I have been caught out by the rather ridiculous Five Things Meme, courtesy of Ian (internet alchemy) D.

Now, if this were email I sure as hell wouldn’t do it, but as it’d my blog I guess I have to. Now, the big problem is I don’t actually have five friends. So… Five Things:

  1. I don’t actually have five friends, at least not that blog. Hey, when I started writing that I felt kind of down, but it’s just occured to me I can be really proud – I don’t have five friends who blog.
  2. I’ve been a Christian for the past five years. I’m not very good at it.
  3. I fight a constant internal battle between dong what’s right and doing what would be funny.
  4. I named my youngest son after Sam (only joking).
  5. My favourite tipple is South African red wine, usually Merlot.

So here are my tags…

  1. Jingye (another Talisian who needs to re-start blogging)
  2. Andy (another Talisian who needs to re-start blogging)
  3. Ivan (putting the Tea into Team)
  4. Alan C Francis (for getting me into [Grid::Fatherhood] a few years ago)
  5. Rachel Davies (go on Rachel, tell us you used to be a nun or something)

A Periodic Table of Visualisation Methods

Compilation of visualization methods called “A Periodic Table of Visualization Methods.” Interesting idea and some nice examples. I find a lot of these are about simplifying very complex projects into something everyone around a table can agree on. Usually by removing a lot of the interesting bits.

found via Guy Kawasaki’s blog “How to Change The World

Guy’s post also contains links to this most beautiful and wonderful mind map of a talk he gave…