October 28, 2009

Balancing Need and Want in the Product Development Process

I just read Matt Moore's most recent post over at Engineers without Fears.
I was inspired enough to comment as I felt his argument covered a key challenge of the Customer/Product Relationship.

As organisations which develop and Sell Products and Services, we need to sell to make ourselves relevant. In order to ensure we get and keep our customers we sometimes have to perhaps emphasise parts of the service which we know are going to appeal more to specific customer segments. That's called Marketing and PR, I think. The question is though, is that a form of prostitution, or just fulfilling a real need which actually exists?
As with most things, the challenge is to find the balance between creating a need, filling a need which exists. That's probably more sustainable than creating 'wants' in order to fulfill over zealous forecasts to keep the Shareholder happy.
(note: Image sourced from http://www.zazzle.com.au/)

October 26, 2009

55K Homes worth of Standby Power

Florida Power & Light are just about to open a new solar facility in Florida, of all places. Apparently it will generate 42GWh of electricity for the Grid each year and use just 180 acres to do so. It also cost JUST US$152M as opposed to the unknown Billions which will be used to either develop or maintain new coal power around the world in the next few years. Example being the unknown $ costs (not to mention the environmental costs) of 'Bayswater B' at Musswellbrook in the Hunter Valley

According to a report commissioned by the Australian Government in 2000, that would cover the 'Standby' Power usage of about 55,263 households in Australia in 2001. One wonders whether the number associated with 'standby power' from the study above has reduced or grown in the intervening years. While the energy saving properties of devices has no doubt improved in the period, I imagine - given the evidence of mine own house - the prevalence of even bigger TV's always on computers, servers and Cable TV boxes has offset much of that savings.

I appreciate compared to those 'Baseload' power stations, this one is relatively miniscule, but with the only Solar Power Station being developed or planned in NSW being ONLY a 10mWh system, two and a half times smaller than the one just about to open in Florida, I have to ask; are we THAT short of sun here? Wouldn't the equivalent of 10 Solar Plants of this nature, produce the same amount of power as this proposed Coal Plant? And despite the area required (less than a km squared), end up having a lower Environmental Footprint?

Either way, good to see this plant opening, hopefully the NSW and Federal Government will see beyond the shortsightedness of their Union and Industry Paymasters to invest some of those CPRS 'offsets' into energy generation with a future.

Perhaps they should listen to Buck Martinez of the Florida Light and Power for some down to earth logic on the matter;
"This is an incredible opportunity to build new industry in the state," he said. "It will put people to work. Solar energy can create tens of thousands of jobs."

October 21, 2009

the annual tax struggle

I just used etax to do my Tax Return. Seemed like an easy way to get money back without having to go to an agent to do it. Did you know Australia processes SEVENTY THREE PERCENT of personal tax returns through Agents? Absolutely ridiculous. A result of the over complicated Tax system which seems to be the ongoing legacy of Peter Costello and John Howard's tenure in office.
Don't get me wrong, Tax Agents have their place, and I certainly benefitted from them over the years. But now, I don't need to use one anymore. Using a Dead tree was the first option, but once my daughter scribbled all over it, I figured out I also needed the 'supplement' and I left it so late in the year to do my return, I thought; 'lets try e-tax'
And then the Pain started
Not only does it not work on MacOSX, but it neither works on Linux or in Parallels running Windows on Mac. Way to support a large percentage of the population likely to do their tax online, ATO.
Once I got a Windows box to run the software,  I quickly realised the ATO was quite concerned about users security...ironic, anyone?
Once I got going, it was relatively easy - my details are pretty basic these days. But I PITY anyone who has even moderately complicated affairs.
Then I hit the 'Occupation' page. Which you MUST fill out. There was a rather lengthy list and it was filterable, reasonably so. But my Occupation wasn't there. I mean, there was 'Hansard Clerk' and 'Brothel Owner', but NOT Product Manager? What's that all about? And to add insult to injury, their is no option to manually enter a value. Software Development 101 failed, methinks. Though they probably have some rationale business rule for the lists behaving this way.
Instead I chose some random entry. That'll teach the ATO, screwing up their stats and bringing the average income for 'CEO' down somewhat, I imagine.
Unsurprisingly, they had the issue again if you dropped into any of the Personal Services or Sole Trader type fields. As far as the ATO is concerned, if you don't work at certain roles, you don't work.
In the end I got it all done, and submitted, despite more obscure behaviour around the 'print' function. Positively, they asked for feedback and when asked if I would use the service again, I chose unsure. I then entered a reason and surprisingly enough, there were no restrictions (that I reached at least) in the data entry fields. Following is my response. Perhaps if enough people send a similar response, the suits at the ATO might realise what an absolute beauty they might have here - otherwise, it'll be same old again next year.
Ridiculously you do not support a large minority of Web and Computer Savvy Users. You must realise supporting only Windows is discriminatory to those who choose to use better and MORE SECURE platforms.
The restrictive nature of the occupations listed is inane. My occupation is NOT Listed, and there is NO WAY FOR ME TO ENTER IT.
Both these items, to me, indicate LAZY and 20th Century SW Development Practices (yes I have worked in the Industry for 15 years). I suggest you quickly fix these issues as I have already raised with my local representative. I know of many other who have also experienced this failure to adequately service your customers.
Its a pity I need to respond in this way really, because the idea and the general execution is EXCELLENT and a quick way to reduce the unnecessary reliance on Tax Agents in this country.

October 19, 2009

Creating Intangible Value in the Climate Change Debate

I just wrote a rather lengthy blog for blog action day in which my basic tenet was the conversation around Climate Change had to change to be more postive. Conincidentally I've just watched Rory Sutherland on TED discuss in gallingly wonderful terms on how to create 'intangible added value to replace actual material value'.At about 6'45" in the video he touches briefly on the Climate Change Debate in which he nails my argument exactly. He posits that this is what Climate Change Campaigners should be doing and then moves on to the rest of his presentation. No more needs to be said.
I heartily recommend this 16 minutes to all. Best Ted video I've seen since Ken Robinsons on Education

October 15, 2009

Win the argument by making the Conversation on Global Warming more Positive

The desert grows three miles a year, and it just grows. I put my pain in a jar and it will be full tomorrow.

I imagine every generation needs something to be afraid of. Generally every generation does that with the guidance of their government, elected or otherwise. I'll leave the research on that one for you. But to quote Charlie Haughey, erstwhile Irish Taoiseach and fucking crook,; "The only way to keep people in line is to scare the shit out of them". Okay, well maybe *he* didn't say that, but it was a sample used in a Fatima Mansions song many years ago and for some reason, I always thought he said it.
Damn, now all the rightwingers and those suffering from Cognitive Dissonance will know I'm confused and not take this article seriously at all. What am I thinking...
Nothing, soon at least. Well not too soon, I hope, but some day.
But what about my offspring? What about them? What will they fear? Will it be the same as I've done? Will their fear come real, or as was once famously said they will instead fear "fear itself"?
Is there a reason what we really fear is what the Bossmen tell us to fear, and when we start to fear something a bit more tangible, out of the control of the Bossman, the Bossman tends to play it down? I'm sure there are examples throughout history, but despite my best efforts as a child, I never became a history scholar. Pity, I might have a warmer complexion and no RSI.
(Partly) Seriously, because this post was inspired by Today's 'Blog Action Day', I wonder are people now finally taking control of their lives enough to finally fear something which isn't a fear created by a Government? Is Global Warming the Monkey on all our backs which the Governments can't invent a war, a terrorist or an invisible enemy to displace? Well they, or at least their naysaying lackeys, are certainly trying very hard to do so.
But those of us who understand the potential for long term disaster - i.e. after most of us are already mouldering - seem to be sitting back recently. We are allowing those who, like the Speculator, only are interested in their own short term benefit take the lead with the conversation. I could say 'it's time to take it back', but I don't think we ever LOST the conversation. Instead, as usual, perhaps we direct the conversation instead only to those who would listen. Preaching to the converted as it were. I see - and do - this all the time.
So I think that's what we need to change. Find the best conversation to have with everyone at a level which everyone understands and start pitching a positive message. Scare tactics of huge increases in sea levels, massive, storms, huge fire seasons etc. while they may be true, tend to create too much fear in peoples minds. They've been done, and the message will still be there as the sword dangling over our heads. But now, I think its time to instead talk about what certain changes in behaviour, lifestyle and engagement with others can, over time, achieve to avert these dangers we have been talking about. Else there is a danger the target audience will put their potential pain in a jar and hide it there like the ostrich does with his head.
I've discussed this before at a previous post, and suggested some actions, but now I'm canvassing for input on what the new conversation looks like. A large enough percentage of the population understands Global Warming now, and of those who don't there is damn good chance a large percentage never will. For the others, the best way now must be to share the message on how personal change plus demanding change from their politicians can make the threat if not go away at least start to recede.
Examples might be how the proposed $Bn of subsidies (they call them 'credits'!) proposed for the Brown Electricity industry in Australia is an appalling false economy. And how the potential results of investing that in alternative electricity generation system, plus better, more efficient devices is a far superior investment, both in the long term to save the environment, but importantly, also in the short term to continue to provide jobs and investment in the 'now' economy. And I don't mean the gimmicky type of conversation, of which some of the GetUp stuff is a good (bad) example. It makes a point, but does it come out with an action?

I'll not go into why I think some subsidies are probably required, though I'd prefer if they too weren't given. And I don't pretend to know the full extent of the science behind Global Warming, though I agree with what I do know of what I've been told and disagree with the do nothing shysters. But I fear that if the conversation which has been held for the last 4 or 5 years doesn't adjust in the next 12 - 18 months, ennui will set in and the naysayers will win the day.
I'm amazed by their ostrich like behaviour especially since, just like ours, their Grandchildren will continue to see the desert grow three miles a year. But they don't really care, do they? It's just someone elses pain, which may as well be in a jar. By the way, Charlie wouldn't have went along with the deniers...at least in Public.

A girl consumed by fire We all know her desire From the plans that she has made I have her on a promise Immerse me in your splendor All the plans that i have made

October 08, 2009

What I learned from WebJam 10

And the last thing I learned at WebJam 10?And that was what I learned at WebJam 10

October 02, 2009

Taking back the asylum

Blogger Action day is coming up.

So Sick am I of the way the conversation around Climate Change and, dare I say it, Global Warming have been hijacked by the unscientific naysayers, I'm getting involved.

If you are not, you should. Sign up here and start thinking of what you want to write about. Check the tags to see my other posts on the subject both here and over at my old site

Its time to tell the world that people like Andrew Bolt and Pat Michaels are at best obfuscating facts for some sort of personal gain or at worst liars.

Are you In?