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I moved this blog onto its own domain: http://www.spuriousthoughts.com/.

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A rant about (enterprise) software in the cloud

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Disclaimer

I'm a huge fan of yammer. Fantastic service. Clean UI. Love it. iPhone and desktop clients. We use it everyday in our little corner of the universe. If you're not using it within your enterprise, make sure to check it out. It's fantastic. As far as our set-up and user count is concerned, yes, I know that I'm arguing from the point of a rather small business.

Internalized the disclaimer? No? Read it again. Did you get it? Good.

Confession

Todays outage of yammer pushed me over the edge. I have to confess: I hate strongly dislike enterprise software in the cloud. There are hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of users hammering the system at all time. Don't tell me that this is improving the odds of a stable system. If you're paranoid (I'm not), you smell privacy issues. If the system goes down, you're hosed. You can't do anything except frantically pressing "Refresh" in your browser of choice. Or check Twitter. Or blog. Generally speaking: Do anything but get work done. It will get even worse if your external internet connection goes down the drain because the caterpillar driver from the construction site next door had a bad hair day.

Compare this with our internal installation of JIRA. Enterprise software. Quite pricey (as far as I am concerned). We plunked down $2000+ for the license plus $2000 / year for a support/update contract (which I can cancel at any time and still run the software as is). But worth every penny (or cent, depending on where you live). And it's running within our firewall. On a mac mini. It is running flawlessly with about 10 users on-site and 15 users on two external sites accessing it basically 24/7 (plus 120+ not-so-frequent users), 18500+ issues. Our software development group lives within JIRA. Did I mention it's running within our firewall? And it's fast. Plus, it's backing up the database three times a day. Plus backing up the whole system to a bootable disk at night. In four years, the system was down once for about 4 hours, because we somehow managed to insert a 4MB unparsable piece of crap into an issue which caused memory overflows on the server. Lesson learned. Don't insert crap into an issue comment.

If the server (yup, it's a mac mini) goes down in flames, I will get hit with a rolled-up newspaper immediately because nobody will be able to get any work done. I will run into the server room, murmur a few expletives of my choice, take the nightly backup disk, put the latest database backup on it, confiscate any mac in our office, plug in the backup disk, boot from it and JIRA is back up for all our users. Net time for this stunt? About 10 minutes. If I refrain from cursing, it's more like 7 minutes.

I then trash the faulty mac mini, get a new one from the store nearby for $500, do the same stunt again, and we're fine again.

Summary

Traditional IT isn't that bad. If we f$%& up, it's our fault. If we messed up the set-up, it's our fault. But we're in control. If I have a bad hair day, I can do something about it.

Tune in next week when you'll hear Dr. Bob say "I feel a rant about software as a service pricing coming on...".

Thanks for listening. Ah, I feel better now. I should try to get some work done.

Avoid Alert Dialogs / Messages...

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Yammer 2.0 for iPhone is a huge improvement over 1.0. Local caching. Improved performance. Way better usability. Excellent.

One gripe. After composing and sending a new message to yammer, I am greeted with the following alert:

yammersuccess.png

Which requires me to press "OK" in order to proceed with my quest of wading through a morning's list of messages while waiting for the car in front of me to move another inch through morning traffic jam.

In order to avoid the alert dialog / message, I would suggest to insert the new message into my list of messages, probably marked with a special badge or color in order to let the user know that the message was sent.

Lesson to be learned:

Avoid alerts at all cost. They get in the way of the user. Most of the time, users don't read them, anyway. There's almost always a way to achieve same goal without an alert dialog.

(...stepping down from soapbox)

HelfRecht Zeitplanbuch und iPhone

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Nach Jahren der Abstinenz habe ich neuesten HelfRecht-Katalog eine iPhone-Tasche entdeckt, die sich in ein Zeitplanbuch Topline-S mit 17mm Ringmechank einheften läßt. Konnte nicht widerstehen. Perfekt Sache, wenn man das iPhone mal nicht in der Hosentasche transportieren will.

The Atlassian Dragons Exercise

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The installation process for the Atlassian Starter suite - Crowd, Bamboo, Fisheye, JIRA, Greenhopper and Confluence - is quite daunting and takes about 5 hours+ (way more on my Parallels VM setup, but I did expect that).

It's obvious that the different Atlassian products have been built by different teams, at different times and sometimes even different companies. Although, AFAIK, all products are built with basically the same base technology (J2EE), each product has some minor differences in

  • Installation
  • Configuration
  • Directory set-up
  • Starting up / Stopping products (e.g. there's no shutdown command for Crowd, Bamboo automatically installs as a service)
  • Configuration files

If the suite has to be installed manually, consistency in the setup process trumps everything. This is even more relevant if the suite is installed by a non-IT, non-Java plain old-fashioned C++ hacker like me.

Generally, editing the configuration files was no big deal, although the sheer number of changes necessary induced cross-eyes at times.

Including Crowd into the installation process made the setup process quite involved and complicated. Although single sign-on is quite a feature, I wouldn't consider it crucial for a 10 user set-up. I would've preferred to make integration with Crowd an optional exercise. Plus, removing Crowd from the standard equation would have enabled more detailed feedback on setting up the different applications's integration features.

Kudos to the Atlassian documentation team responsible for the detailed step-by-step descriptions. It was close to perfect, just very very minor errata in terms of version numbers. A few more screenshots would have been helpful, but would have made the endeavour of documenting the suite's installation process not only daunting, but outright impossible to maintain over time.

I was very disappointed that Crucible was neither part of the exercise nor part of the $10 offer. Atlassian, please make Crucible part of the Dragons exercise and part of the $10 / 10 users offer. I'm sure there were very good technical and/or business reasons not to include it, but if the Atlassian team can pull of a stunt like the Dragons exercise, I know they can pull off including Crucible, too. It just takes a few more beers, I suppose. German beer, of course. :-)

Work ethic

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After experiencing the "Magic" tour concert of Bruce Springsteen & The E-Street Band in 2008, I felt inclined to draft a blog post on "Bruce Springsteen and Work Ethic". However, I never finished because I couldn't quite find the right words.

Luckily, I stalled.

Today, I found an excellent blog post by Craig Peters which sums up the topic quite nicely:

Work ethic is just one of many reasons why the Springsteen canon has become the soundtrack of a generation and why he continues to create five-star albums while so many of his contemporaries have drifted off into the nooks and crannies of retirement and classic rock radio.


The energy, passion and dedication he brings to his work is unmatched in the entertainment world. We'd all love to bring the same kind of energy, passion and dedication to our own work, whatever it might be.

You can always argue about music, taste or if a certain artist / kind of music resonates with you - but you can't argue about the work ethic, energy & dedication you should bring to your job.

Make sure to read Craig's complete post.

Cutting down on RSS feeds?

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Brent Simmons makes the case for a News Diet.

RSS no longer delivers news to me. Twitter delivers news. And if I miss some, I don't care that much. It's quite easy to ignore a tweet as it scrolls by.

RSS delivers longer essays on certain topics to me. I've unsubscribed most of the standard "news" sites and focus on "meatier" sites.

That said, I should probably weed out some of my 1200+ feeds :-)

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