Why Google Search Integration with Google+ Sucks

This is a very simple example of something I am seeing more and more on Google Search. I did a very simple search for “.NET 4 launch activity in background thread”. The picture below shows the results:

image

What’s my issue with this? Well, how about the fact that the number one result has absolutely nothing to do with my search. Google knows it really is not the best result for my search, but puts it there, I assume, because the author is in almost 7000 Google+ circles.

Sorry Google, but I do not give a crap about Google+ circles when I just want relevant results from my search.

Samsung SUR40 for Microsoft Surface Receives Best of Innovations Award at CES

The Samsung SUR40 for Microsoft Surface (the Surface 2.0), which was announced at last year’s CES, has been awarded a “Best of Innovations 2012” award (http://blogs.msdn.com/b/surface/archive/2012/01/13/ces-award.aspx).

Compared to the Surface 1 unit we have in T4G’s Moncton office, this is a great step forward. The Surface is a computer vision based system for doing multitouch systems. In Surface 1.0 this meant that the solution relied on a DLP projector, and a set of cameras to detect touches by fingers or objects. This made the Surface 1 large, heavy (around 200 lbs), and limited deployment options (for example, the Surface had to be horizontal.

Surface 2 is still a computer vision based system, but uses a new technology called “PixelSense”, in which there is an IR sensor attached to every pixel. This allows the device to be much thinner than the original (about 4 inches), and weigh less than half as much. It also allows it to be deployed horizontally, vertically, or anywhere in between.

Other specifications have also been greatly improved. The Surface 2 is a FullHD 40 inch LCD, compared to the original unit’s 32 inch, 1024×768 DLP projection. The new Surface also has considerably more processing, video and memory capacity than the original (as it should – the original’s specs were from 2007!)

It is also made of Gorilla glass, making it say to deploy in “uncontrolled” environments. When it was announce last January, it was the largest piece of Gorilla Glass ever produced, but at CES 2012, Perceptive Pixel demonstrated an 82 inch touch display made of Gorilla Glass).

Also improved is the development model. While the original was programmed in .NET using either WPF or XNA, it extended those frameworks in a way very specific to the Surface. In the Surface 2.0 SDK, it builds upon the touch support designed into .NET 4.0, and allows applications to be built to run on either the Surface or Windows 7 touch devices with minimal code changes.

Give Your Employees Unlimited Vacation Days?

I found the article Give Your Employees Unlimited Vacation Days | Inc.com. interesting, as I have had this discussion with people in the past. While I pretty much agree with what is said in the post, I have a few things I would like to say (as I do about almost everything!), and a couple of counterpoints.

Going back a bit, vacation time has never been something I looked at closely when I was younger, as I hardly ever took vacation. Through the 90s, I think I went 5 or 6 years without ever taking more than a day or two of vacation. In fact, back in 1999 when I joined Whitehill Technologies, I never even thought to discuss vacation when we were negotiating the employment agreement. Some time after I started, I thought to ask my boss (the CTO) about it, and he said “Fred, you have as much vacation as you can find time to take!”. Note, it turns out I took no vacation in the first few years!

I believe vacation time is important, though. Even when I was not taking vacation, and running myself into the ground, I believed it was part of my responsibility as a leader to ensure members of my team took their vacation time. This all stems from my belief that is a leader’s job to ensure their team stays healthy for the long haul. If you burn your team out during the first few games of the season, you will have nothing left for the playoffs. You have to protect your team, keep them healthy, protect them from the demands of the business, and in many cases (especially with young developer-types who think they are super-human) protect them from themselves.

This is one of the problems I see with the “unlimited vacation days” model, which is often phrased as “take as much or as little vacation as you want”. Unless it is implemented very carefully, and managed by people who truly look out for their teams, there is a great risk of people not taking vacation and burning themselves out – not a good scenario for the staff or the business.

The second issue I have with the “unlimited vacation days” model is that people may feel pressured to take fewer vacation days as they feel they will be viewed poorly for taking time off. This is especially true in a business where you are judged based (wholly or partly) on billable hours realization. There is pressure (real or perceived, implicit or explicit) to not take vacation in order to exceed your target – and you are frequently rewarded and cheered for doing so. Again, this is something that must be carefully managed if you want to ensure your employees maintain life balance. While this is a problem already with “defined vacation allowances”, since many people in North America already do not take the vacation allotted to them (see, for example, here). I think there is risk of the situation becoming much worse if the amount of vacation time is undefined, especially for more junior staff.

Overall, I think it is a great idea, for the reasons stated in the article. But it is not without risk, and needs to be managed, like anything else.

Windows 8 tablets secret weapon: OneNote and inking | ZDNet

Windows 8 tablets secret weapon: OneNote and inking | ZDNet.

This has always been my view of Microsoft’s tablet strength, and the competitors’ glaring weakness. For me, without a viable input method (and the onscreen keyboard is not a viable input method for anything more than 140 characters), existing tablets are nothing more than one-way consumption devices.

I, too, used slate tablets + OneNote for all of my note-taking. Not just in meetings, but when I was brainstorming, researching new ideas, collecting and annotating content from the Web, etc.

I have OneNote notebooks with every note I took from 2003 through 2008, all searchable, and all with me all the time. The only reason I stopped was because my slate tablet died a slow death, and all of the newer Tablet PCs I have tried are complete crap for handwriting (mostly because of the introduction of and focus on touch).

However, this is just me, and the way I work. As I discussed in a previous post, this is not the case for millennials (or however you want to label the up-and-coming generation). For my kids, handwriting is awkward and slow. They would much rather type things, even on smartphone keyboards, or onscreen keyboards. Writing is an absolute last resort. Look also at the fact that a number of education departments are now removing cursive writing from the curriculum. For better or worse, in the next generation, handwriting may become almost unknown.

So for Microsoft, Windows 8, tablets, and handwriting, it will ultimately come down to (as it almost always does) answering the question who is your target market?. If Microsoft is going after the same people who buy iPads, and Android slates, then handwriting may not be much of an advantage at all.

In fact, it may just make those people think “more old fashioned stuff from Microsoft”.

Brainstorming is a bad idea (yet again)?

I love these articles – I blogged about this in response to articles a couple of times (here  and here) and the issue is always the same. They refer to brainstorming as “throwing a bunch of people in a room and letting them come up with ideas”.

Of course this is ineffective. How could it be otherwise? Would you expect to throw a bunch of programmers in a room with no process and expect good results? How about throwing a bunch of kids on a field with no structure and expecting them to be a football team?

Without a process and without structure, any group collaboration will fail.

I maintain, however, that brainstorming can be effective, when done in a structured and facilitated manner. At some point I will have to throw together some references on this, because I have seen them, but I think to say that “brainstorming is a waste of time” just because unstructured brainstorming with no process is ineffective is completely unfounded.

Bing Maps WPF Control Beta with Surface 1.0

Microsoft surface table
Image via Wikipedia

As announced on the Microsoft Surface Blog (and elsewhere, I am sure), a Bing Maps WPF Control Beta has been released. This control targets WPF4 with functionality similar to the Bing Maps Silverlight control.

As a WPF4 control, with support for touch, it will also work in the Surface 2.0 environment. For those of us developing on the Surface 1.0 hardware, which of course runs over .NET 3.5, I wanted to see if I could make it work there.

Some time ago, Josh Blake wrote a post on how to write WPF4 applications for Surface 1.0 using his Blake.NUI library.

Using that same approach, I was able to build a simple application using the new Bing Maps Control under WPF4 on my Surface 1.0 hardware. On the downside, the app seems a little jumpy when panning, but I may be able to clean that up with some more work This is a start, though.

Interesting opinion piece on the backlash against Smart Metering

In many parts of the US (and maybe in Canada, too) there seems to be significant backlash against the idea of utilities using smart meters in consumers’ homes.

The concerns seem based around paranoid beliefs in four areas:

Elster A3 ALPHA type A30 single-phase kWh smar...
Image via Wikipedia

 

  1. Many of the meters use UHF radio to transmit their data, and some are concerned about the health risks (as opposed to their smart phones, satellite TV, microwave oven, etc.)
  2. The meters transmit information about your usage (duh), which some see as an invasion of privacy (though they do not seem to object to their phone company monitoring usage in real-time)
  3. There are fears that the utilities will use this as a way to charge consumers more for electricity if they use it during peak times
  4. There are fears that the utility could unilaterally control some portion of your usage (heat, lights, etc.)

Here is a link to an opinion piece that talks about this (from the perspective of someone fighting the backlash). It is an interesting read – I had never even considered that there would be such a backlash against smart meters.