Would someone just buy that man a toupee?

David on the I think Microsoft would be wise to remember that trying to buy cool has a tendency of making you look even more like a dork. I guess they have to try something — anything — to improve their image to investors, entrepreneurs, future employees, and the media.

Ouch, this means it’s not just me that thinks Microsoft is making some major blunders.

But this is the problem when you’ve got higher-ups who just don’t understand cool. Microsoft never did. They were never hip and happening any further than the celebs they’d invite to their product launches, most of whom were very public Mac users. Further pinning their hopes for the future on Ray Ozzie (whose very name should inspire fear and doubt due to inflicting Lotus Notes on the world), Microsoft is definitely entering the Autumn of their time. Sure, they’re still pulling in billions in revenue, but for how long. It took them 30 years to get where they are now, it’ll probably take another 20 of them to fall.

Seagate dumps Limavady Plant: opportunity?

BBC News LinkMore than 900 workers losing their jobs at a County Londonderry computer company are to receive details of the redundancy terms being offered to them. Staff at Seagate in Limavady were told on Monday they were losing their jobs. Seagate, which has received £12m from Invest Northern Ireland and its predecessor IDB since 2001, will close in the second half of next year.

However, it has a plant in Malaysia which is due to start operations in the new year.
It will make the computer components currently being made in Limavady.

Ouch.

The hard drive manufacture market is going to take more of a beating in the future as more and more devices move to solid state memory. Seagate don’t really have a rep for reliability anyway but reduced margins and reduced costs are not going to improve that.

End of the day, that’s probably 900 Christmases ruined. I love it when companies wait til this time of the year to dump their staff. Scrooge ain’t in it. Nortel was an expert at it (note: it’s now 5 years since I left Nortel) with multiple years of “Christmas is coming, better go down the job market”. Bless them.

This, alongside the Nortel/Flextronics fallout, is going to flood the Northern Ireland marketplace with ex-technology workers. I think, however, the market will have to realise that these things come in cycles. Technology firms like Seagate will come in, stay for a decade and realise good savings from Northern Irelands low-cost economy (and a £12 000 000 sweetener ain’t bad) and then will move off again to a lower cost economy. This means, in the grand scheme of things, that Northern Ireland is just a middle man, a safe harbour for US companies to attempt their offshoring. Once they’re confident with it, they can go further afield.

Is Northern Ireland doomed to an ephemeral manufacturing economy? Yes, I think so.

Are there other areas where Northern Ireland could excel? Possibly.

We’ve already seen how popular Northern Ireland is as a call centre location: all of the call centres in the province are growing, especially as companies attempt to bring them back from their first rounds of offshoring. The Irish just seem to be cheap good at it.

InvestNI should be focussing on the Seagate fallout and acting as a dating service. There are going to be a lot of potential startup companies coming out of Limavady in the near future with specific (and potentially high margin) expertise in data storage and retention.

There’s a frighteningly large number of empty and derelict warehouse and manufacturing premises in Northern Ireland that could really do with being repurposed. All of them “InvestNI properties”. Empty they’re a drain, filled, even with only a small number of tenant companies, they’re a boon.

BECTA says “Microsoft is anti-competitive”

Yeah, there’s a certain “Duh!” about the headline…

The UK computer agency Becta is advising schools not to sign licensing agreements with Microsoft because of alleged anti-competitive practices.

The government agency has complained to the Office of Fair Trading.

The article is on the BBC News site. The reasons being:

a spokesman for Becta said the problem was that Microsoft required schools to have licences for every PC in a school that might use its software, whether they were actually doing so or running something else.

Finally BECTA get off their ass and do something about it. This was news back in 2002 before I had even started up Mac-Sys. One school I had dealings with (as a free consultant) was that they were being forced to go for a 3-5 year deal where they needed to pay for every PC in the building despite NONE of them being able to run Windows XP (most of them struggled with Windows 95) and the remainder being Macs. Yet the advisor from the board said they would have to pay for Office and XP for every computer whether it was capable of running the software or not. This would include whether the machine was running older versions of Windows, Mac OS or Linux.

Never mind the absolute hash that Classroom 2000 became where teachers found that their laptops were suddenly not covered under labour costs and so many lost their laptops altogether. And installations were often left half-completed (the school I was dealing with had their school rooms HALF-CABLED and I went in and did a patch job so they could actually use the network). Schools may also be better off buying their own ADSL connection and a NetNanny style proxy due to the costs and draconian firewalls involved in the C2K network. Plus C2K’s partners in this, SX3 (now Northgate) were charging hundreds of pounds for callout to look at the problem. It’s one thing being expensive when you’re offering a boutique service but C2K are administering a network of PCs which are locked down tighter than a wallet from Ballymena. How can they be more expensive????

C2K’s policies in this regard, as well as the fear, uncertainty and doubt that they espoused was one of the reasons that my company stopped working with Education markets. We’d respond if called but the amount of time and effort spent in building a relationship, hammering down a set of requirements only to have it cancelled at the last minute and given out to a box shifter just killed our enthusiasm for it. I really used to care about the state of education technology in Northern Ireland as a whole. Now I’m concentrating on making sure my kids are okay.

you’re too stupid to own a computer

John Welch writes (in his Oc 27th entries) about people who upgrade to Leopard and then whine about how their software, which they need to do their jobs, stops working.

Boo, fucking, hoo.

While the rest of us are either waiting for the updates or finding workarounds (and considering small companies who manage to get their updates out in time), Mister Upgrade Moron is sitting outside playing with his poo-poo.

[I’d add a feed link but he’s moving to MT4 and I can’t find one!)

Small steps…

[[NSFileManager defaultManager] createDirectoryAtPath:_attachmentStorageDirectory withIntermediateDirectories:YES attributes:nil error:nil];
NSLog(@"Directory created!");

Anyone who knows me, knows I’m not a programmer. I speak Hello World in about 8 languages. Not very impressive. I’ve been able to hack a little php and javascript in the past and played with perl and Java for nothing useful. I did fix a couple of C programs back in the day so, like music, I’m able to read it but not really write or play.

The code block above represents my first real line of production code and though it’s fair to say that my hand was guided at every step, I do see it as a way forward.

I’ve never really needed to be a coder which is apparently one of the main reasons I can’t code. It’s never been instrumental to my daily bread and so it wasn’t a skill I retained despite learning Modula 2, C, Java, Javascript, Perl…etc. The only “code” skill I developed in any meaningful way was shell scripting which was used infrequently enough to require relearning when I needed to modify my own code.

My background was in Networks and there’s little programming needed in desktop support and network support. My own shell scripts were developed to enhance my burgeoning laziness (it is my contention that the best IT person is a conscientiously lazy IT person – someone who will work a 36 hour shift in order to put something in place that will shave 5 minutes off his daily routine.) I was happy to script snmp commands so I didn’t have to type them in, I’d just cron them. I was happier still to script AV definition file distribution so I didn’t need to visit every desktop and laptop with a floppy disk.

But there’s a change afoot and I want to get more into the code. It’s not something I really relish because after being known for years as the local Mac Daddy I find myself now a complete noob and no-one likes to feel stupid. But it’s something I want to do and, to be honest, feel compelled by myself to manage.

Learning Objective-C with Cocoa is daunting, not only because the syntax is odd (though really I have little to compare it with) but because the libraries are so comprehensive. As I’m also trying to get to grips with Object Oriented Programming, I have a double-whammy of confusion.

And the winner is…

John Battelle writes on the recent investment into Facebook from Redmond giant Microsoft. Microsoft invested $240 million and got a measly 1.6% stake (and likely the guarantee they’re going to be the advertising supplier for the Facebook platform). The real upshot of this is that Microsoft just verified the wild claims that Facebook was worth $15 billion dollars.

Maybe it comes down to this: Microsoft won, Google lost. If that’s the case, OK, but…the real winner here is Facebook. At least, until it has to earn into a $15 billion valution. Good luck with that if social ads doesn’t pan out. On the other hand, well, congratulations for getting money so cheap.

All of the recent activity indicates to me that the market has certainly gotten over the dot-com bubble bursting at the start of this decade and they’re ready to invest in internet firms. It used to be enough to use the word internet in your business plan to have investors falling over themselves to throw money at you. Now, the buzzwords are “social networking”.

Were our lives better when we could buy pet food over the internet the first time round? Are they better now that we have Facebook and Friendster and Myspace and Bebo? We’re not seeing much enrichment of people’s lives from these companies and I think that’s why we’re headed for another bust.

It’s also a big red flag to me that Microsoft desperately needs to compete with Google and they’re willing to spend a lot of money for a tiny stake in order to beat them, even at this one, potentially ephemeral, game. I mean, you’re not going to drop that amount of money for that amount of equity just so you can scrape pennies from online advertising? Are you? Ah. It seems you are.

Microsoft has too many enemies at the moment and I feel a little sorry for them. They’re having their ass handed to them in Operating Systems and Music/Media players. They’ve had their first good month for the XBOX 360 and to get that they had to develop Halo 3 and say goodbye to Bungie (there’s a tradeoff – can you see that Bungie was bored of Halo and used the development of Halo 3 to buy their independence? Oh yeah.). They’re trying and failing to get Silverlight positioned as a Flash replacement (I mean, who cares?). They’ve previously failed to displace PDF. They’re not doing too hot with the Open Document format wars. They’ve a litany of failures (Tablets haven’t taken off. Mira? Zune? and I’ll let you in on a secret regarding their competitor to iPhone and multitouch: Surface, the $10 000 coffee table – it’s going to be shit.)

The theory goes that we’ll see targeted ads because of entries on personal profiles. If Facebook knows you’re into Hello Kitty, Friends and Lost but you dislike 24 and CSI, then they’re going to tell Microsoft and Redmond is going to fire adverts at you containing just the things you like. Advertising based on what you’ve told the system – what you like and what you dislike which, I suppose, has better success criteria than “what I’m searching for now” which is the model espoused by Google. Not sure about that one.

Reading the Segala blog on enabling more trustworthy, relevant and reliable search, I’d think that was a worthy way for Google to combat Facebook. (I’ve never spoken to Paul @ Segala but I’m sure he’d like $240 million!) Remembering that Facebook is very much a walled garden at the moment (you can put your data in but you can’t get it out –not quite true, but still ) and attempts to retrieve data have found some companies getting a kick in the nads and told to eff off. Facebook wants to own the data, thanks, so please stop doing that and use the limited APIs we’ve provided. Or we’ll kill you. (and we have £240 million dollars with which to buy hit-men).

At least with such a minority stake we’re not going to see a desperate, drawn-out attempt to make Facebook just like Hotmail, including ripping out any server not running Windows.

You’d hope.

Upcoming nerdiness

Damien Mulley pointed out some of the following:

  • On Tuesday, October 30th 2007 The “possibilities for a post Web 2.0 world” will be explored iby Mike Culver, Web Services Evangelist with Amazon.
    The presentation will provide an overview of Amazon Web Services, the company’s distinct technology arm, which allows developers to build software applications leveraging the same robust, scalable, and reliable technology that supports Amazon’s retail business; there will also be a code demonstration showing how .NET developers can easily build managed clients for these services.
    This takes place in the swanky Westin Hotel, Westmoreland Street, Dublin 2 with registration from 7.00 pm. If you wish to book a place, please contact Cormac Moore, Verkom, on (01) 432 1501 or email cmoore [ at ] verkom.ie
  • On November 1st Digiweb are holding a free seminar called ‘Making Websites Work’ which is part of their Online Edge Seminar Programme. At the Digital Hub, Dublin. All you have to do is go to www.digiweb.ie/onlineedge.ie and register your attendance. Registration closes at 6PM Tuesday 30th October. Laurence Veale, Eoghan McCabe and Richard Hearne will be the speakers this time round. They’ve a lot to live up to since I was fantastic at the last talk. I’m sure they might get near that high bar. You can do it guys!
  • Mashup Camp Dublin. November 10th. Seriously, get to it. Also, if you have a blog and readers of the nerdy/tech variety can you let them know about it too? It’s not everyday we get people of this calibre mixing together and it would be great to see Mashup camp come back on a regular basis.

(rearranged into chronological order – mj)

If that’s not enough, check out:

  • Fogbugz Euro Tour hits Dublin on November 7th. Register here. Joel Spolsky talks about the software development process with FogBugz 6.0. – An introduction to the software development process using FogBugz. Learn how to track features and bugs, write documentation, and maintain accurate schedules using the new 6.0 version of FogBugz from Fog Creek Software. This event is free at the Radisson SAS Royal Hotel, Golden Lane (at Chancery Lane), Dublin 8, Ireland.
  • If you’re not fussed on that, then try IrishDev’s Java Conference, also on 7th November but it runs to the 9th November if you want to attend both. It has speakers from Apache, Sun, Iona, JBoss, Oracle, and Microsoft as well as a heap of companies I’ve never heard of. Might be a good dodge off work, you never know!

I doubt I’ll actually get to any of these because weekends are sacrosanct and $BIG_BUSINESS would hardly entertain the idea of sending people to learn about something that’s “new” (they much prefer old, archaic, pre-dot-com-bubble 1.0).

If you do, ping me with your review? I can live vicariously through your experiences!

Getting Creative

Steven Aitchison writes on his three pillars of creativity

  • Do it alone
  • Do it with available tools and material
  • Do it anytime, anywhere

Do it alone
This is more a criticism of committees. You can certainly brainstorm with a few people to be creative but using these as springboards for ideas and not as decision makers is important. Creativity requires vision and it takes a special sort of person to spread that vision to other people. I think small groups are best. With a small group (say, less than 4) you’ve got enough room to express yourself without feeling like you’re being talked over or interrupted too many times.

Do it with available tools and materials
I’m guilty of this but sometimes you do need the right tool for the job. While I enjoyed using it, blogging was a pain on my Nokia N800. It was never a good fit. In fact, any sort of data entry was just painful. I had to wait until I got a laptop again before I could feel productive again. Likewise, give me a camera and I’ll give you some shaky mis-aligned photographs. Give me a violin and you’ll give me a Noise Abatement Order.

Do it anywhere, anytime
At the most basic level, this means keeping a notebook and pen with you at all times. This also means getting yourself into the lifestyle where you can work when the inspiration strikes you. My after hours are flexible enough that I seldom need to pencil in time to do things, I use something called a “Nag” (which will feature in an upcoming Infurious product) to remind me to do things and along with my Do Something Now guidelines, I’m usually kept busy with the jobs I want to do when I want to do them.