Friday, January 29, 2010

Apple's new iPad

I know many of you are sick of hearing about this thing already - and it was only launched a day or so ago. Nevertheless I thought I'd have my two cents worth on the basis that I have previously said what I wanted in a device like this.
Let's start with a caveat: I haven't seen or handled this device yet. Indeed many hours after its launch it wasn't even on Apple Australia's website, though it is now. Rather I'm basing my response on Apple's published material.
Firstly, this thing will sell, and sell lots. Apple is a good marketing company and this will sell. I've no doubt that it will change and morph over time and that will make it sell more. But right now here's my scoreboard.
iPad = iPhone - voice + screen size - portability
The key issue here is that this thing feels like a first edition. We don't see any startling new developments in multi-touch; we don't see any startling new capability; it seems like a larger, less portable iPhone. I think the screen real estate will provide an awesome browsing, reading game-playing experience. The problem is that iPhone "works" because it's in your pocket. Not because it's the best and brightest screen to work on or the simplest interface, rather it works because it is the best compromise and above all it's with you.
Not so the iPad, it's too big to be "always-with-you" and I'm sorry Steve but I don't think it's small enough (or sexy enough) to be "intimate".
For me though the killer is that it isn't a productivity machine. If this was to work for me I need to be able to leave a gadget at home when I travel. At the moment I travel with iPhone and MacBook. I need iPhone for voice communication and I very much like its app ecosystem (though not its closed nature) and its pocketability. I use the MacBook for real work though, composing lengthy emails, working on documents, spreadsheets, databases. In addition my MacBook has two Java apps that I cannot do without. One of them is an XML editor and the other is the local client for our Component Content Management System. I can't travel without them. Simple, end of story.
In addition every bit of productivity work I do sees me switching between applications - often the email app and the browser with a word processor interspersed from time to time. Or alternatively the local client and the XML editor. The iPad doesn't support multi-tasking and even though I'm a bloke and I'm not supposed to be able to, I do multi-task.
That means that when I travel I still need my iPhone - the iPad has no voice comms capability (yes I know about VOIP over 3G but I need real ubiquitous calling capability); I also need my MacBook because the iPad won't run my workday applications. The question then becomes "Does the iPad add sufficient value that I can add it's 600g or so to my carry on baggage?" Despite the welcome addition of iWork the answer is no.
There is one "maybe" though. It does make me wonder whether you might ditch the iPhone and revert to a $100 simple mobile phone and then the iPad might have a place alongside the MacBook. In the end I think that it just means that your bag got heavier for not enough reason really.
So the iPad doesn't create a place for itself in my bag. Three simple additions would get it there though: multi-tasking, support for Java apps and a move away from the closed App Store ecosystem to allow me to place my applications on there. Oh and a fourth thing: a real and accessible file system.
Beyond that I'd like support for modern wide-screen formats, HDMI out, an iSight style camera (making a cool Skype conferencing device) and a true "next-gen" multitouch interface.
What do you think?

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Bidding War

Politicians are mugs. They can't help but let the opposition wind them up. Then the poor, long suffering populace get....what they deserve. Yes, it's an election year.
Let's take the horrendous bush fires that Victoria suffered, almost a year ago. A very large number of people died and a very large amount of property was destroyed. It was a dreadful day, it had an apocalyptic feel to it. I never wish to see that kind of destruction and loss of life again in my lifetime.
The problem is that the Premier of Victoria, in my view pushed by the opposition, has spent the whole year asserting that he won't let it happen again. Read my lips: it can happen again and it will. I've been faced with the destruction of my house in a bushfire, it wasn't finally destroyed but that was by the narrowest of margins. What I know is that if you live amongst the bush in Australia then at some point you risk losing your house and your life. No government can change that. Any government that asserts that they can is not being straight with you. Any government that lets an opposition push them to assert that, well they're mugs.
So now in Victoria we are in the midst of a "law and order" bidding war between the government and the opposition. The opposition is pushing and the government is playing right into their hands. "We'll crush the hoons' cars with bigger crushers than you." "No we will."
Sorry guys it's all crap . The government can never win a game like this and whatever happens the only people who are really better off are the opposition who feel better and the companies that run the privatised prisons. They'll have their facilities full to overflowing and still the populace won't be better off.
All I can say is give it a rest!! Don't insult our intelligence and for goodness sake don't go the way of New South Wales where they think they're better off but they're not. All they've got is a problem with overcrowded prisons.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Grog and Sugar

Making my coffee this morning I got to thinking about an afternoon ritual that we used to have many years ago. We worked in the Philippines and we used to come home after work and sit in the shade and drink tuba. It's known by a range of names throughout Asia and the sub-continent - palm toddy, palm wine...In a world where everything appears to be packaged, refrigerated and preserved to deliver a long shelf life, tuba is very ephemeral. Tuba is made from the sap of a palm tree often the coconut, palmyra or nipa palm though the date and other palms are used in various parts of the world. Almost immediately on collection the very sweet sap begins to ferment from natural yeasts living on the plant and probably in the collection containers. This is what makes it so ephemeral. The containers are placed in the morning, as the fermentation proceeds you first get a sweet, low alcohol, slightly frizzante drink which is known as "ladies' tuba". Then, as the day progresses, the alcohol content rises and by the late afternoon you have a sharp tasting, high alcohol drink with a pungent hydrogen sulphide smell from the autolysis of the yeast. This is "mens' tuba" and it's a completely different beast from the pleasant drink of earlier in the day. If it is left alone tuba rapidly becomes vinegar. It is very ephemeral - drink it now or it's gone. So drink it you do!
Our tuba used to be bought at the market each day and drunk that evening. It is refreshing and also an inexpensive way to get loaded if you drink mens' tuba. Much better than the local gin, though San Miguel is a good beer if you want something to slake your thirst after a hot day.
The other interesting product of the palm is palm sugar (pictured at the top). Much of the palm sugar available in Australia comes in hard blocks that are a light honey brown colour. I suspect that much of this "palm sugar" is in fact mixed with cane sugar. These blocks tend to be very hard and shatter when hit with a hammer or crushed with a pestle and mortar.
True palm sugar is dark yellowish brown and has a soft fudgy texture. It often comes in tubular shapes and has a complex caramel flavour. It's easy to cut or grate because it's so soft. Palm sugar is made by boiling down the sap of the palm tree before it begins to ferment. It reportedly has a very low glycaemic index and is rich in nutrients. Palm sugar is also remarkably cheap if you know where to find it.
And that's why I thought about tuba, because I was spooning grated palm sugar into my coffee. It adds a indefinable richness to a cup of strong, black coffee. Pure luxury.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Ady Gil - Part 3

A further update is generated from this video which was posted on 8 January, after my last two posts. It is clear from this video that the Japanese vessel was approaching Ady Gil from astern and was therefore the give way vessel with Ady Gil as the stand on vessel. In my view this video swings weight behind the claims of Sea Shepherd that fault rests with the Japanese. There still remains a small question in my mind about whether Ady Gil was in fact maintaining a proper look out and doing all she could to avoid collision. That issue is however much diminished by this video.
Just as a further note however, it is interesting how partial "pictures" make it hard to determine just what went on. The problem also is that each party is engaged in a propaganda war and has been for some years. That makes Joe or Jane Public less inclined to believe either party, making it harder in turn to work out what went on.

Reclaiming the Enterprise - 1

Down to tin tacks, after being interrupted on the way here by the Ady Gil affair.
Australian enterprises are severely damaged, they are ineffective and they need change. Big statements, I can see people launching out of their chairs and beginning to tell me why it isn't so. They'll tell me about how much more profit they make than they did 5 years ago; they'll tell me how their turnover has risen; they'll tell me how their costs have fallen; they'll tell me how they are expanding into new markets.
As far as I'm concerned that's all dross unless those organisations are also good places to work; places that empower and validate their employees; places where people individually can achieve and feel good about themselves. This is where Australian organisations fail. Too often organisations are places of stress and fear for employees, they are homes to managers with personality or psychiatric disorders, they are home to long work hours, a sense of powerlessness and to bullying and a raft of other bad behaviour. Knowledge is selectively withheld in order to manage power, people are demeaned and belittled, they are not nice places to be.
Take this test. Have you ever been subject to any of the following or witnessed somebody in your organisations being subject to them:
  • Being shouted at by somebody more senior;
  • Being subject to workplace harassment, whether sexual or otherwise;
  • Having your job actively threatened;
  • Finding out about your employment future from a co-worker;
  • Working more than 40 hours a week more then 4 times in a year, except by your choice;
That's only a small sample of the abuse that goes on in Australian workplaces. I would expect that a fairly large proportion of people who read that list say - yeah one of those things has happened to me. As an aside, I don't believe that Australian workplaces are any worse than those in other western economies, I'd expect that similar things happen there.
My bottom line is that we've forgotten a key thing: enterprises, organisations are there as places where people work. Without people they don't exist, and indeed there is a fair argument that they only exist for people. The problem is that very often they only exist for a subset of people - those managers senior enough to control the outcome and "the shareholders" who are the reason that the senior managers use for all of their abuses.
Until enterprises step backwards from their present path and begin to deliver value to everyone within the organisation Australian enterprises will continue to suffer from their current pathologies and will therefore not excel as they could.
There's a lot to talk about here and I'm going to pick it off one item at a time. More to come.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Ady Gil - Part 2

NOTE (10 January 2009): Please read this post in conjunction with my post of 10 January. Later video substantially alters my conclusions.
Having reviewed the video and other record of this incident I'd like to go into print once more on a couple of issues:
I made an error in my original post: Despite early reports it does not appear the the Ady Gil was sunk, although damage was substantial. I apologise for that error.
Now to the nuts and bolts. Firstly Sea Shepherd say that the Ady Gil was "dead in the water" or words to that effect. That was not so from the video I've seen. The Ady Gil at a late stage of the incident appears to have used engine thrust which drove her into the side of the Japanese vessel.
COLREGS 1972 are the rules of the road for all vessels at sea. They represent the International Regulations for the Prevention of Collisions at Sea and are published by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).
Now let's look at the legalities. COLREGS 72 Part B Section 2 say, in part:
15. Crossing situations
When two power-driven vessels are crossing, the vessel which has the other on the starboard side must give way.
16. The give-way vessel
The give-way vessel must take early and substantial action to keep well clear.
17 The stand-on vessel
The stand-on vessel may take action to avoid collision if it becomes clear that the give-way vessel is not taking appropriate action.
These are the bare bones of the rules and it is important to note that another section of rule 17 says:

(b) When, from any cause, the vessel required to keep her course and speed finds herself so close that collision cannot be avoided by the action of the give-way vessel alone, she shall take such action as will best aid to avoid collision.

This was undoubtedly a crossing situation. The Japanese vessel was the give way vessel - it had the Ady Gil on its starboard side. Therefore the Japanese vessel is subject to rule 15 and rule 16. It must give way, and it must take "early and substantial action" to keep well clear. It did neither of those things.
The Ady Gil however was subject to rule 17 as the stand-on vessel. It did not take action to avoid a collision as it was required to do.
Should the Japanese vessel argue that Ady Gil was originally more than 22.5 degrees abaft their beam, then they could argue that the Ady Gil was the give way vessel under rule 13. We don't have the evidence for such a claim in the video that I've seen, but it may be that Ady Gil approached from abaft the beam of the Japanese ship and was therefore the give way vessel. Nevertheless, that does not relieve the Japanese vessel of the requirement to take all necessary action to avoid collision.
Culpability on both sides, clearly and by video evidence. Further there appears to be video evidence that Sea Shepherd are not being entirely transparent with their claims. The Ady Gil was NOT dead in the water.
So here we go. Sea Shepherd are committed to stopping whaling. Good on them, I understand that they wish to see whaling stopped, so do I. However they are clearly breaking the laws of the sea in so doing. That's not OK, those regulations are in place to stop people being killed in collisions.
Now to Japan. The Japanese vessels should, in my view cease whaling immediately and go home and stay there. They clearly did not comply with COLREGS and Japan as the flag state should take action against the master of the vessel for failure to comply. I have faint hope that that might happen. However, despite the fact that they shouldn't even be there, the Sea Shepherd guys are putting the Japanese in a very difficult situation. By continually harassing them they place the Japanese in a situation where they must always be turning away to comply with COLREGS. Despite what the Japanese think, they are required to do so. I can see why they may not wish to. To do so means that they have let Sea Shepherd drive them from their goal. Nevertheless they must do what is required to avoid a collision.
Overall my fear is that we will see deaths in the Southern Ocean if this behaviour continues from both parties. Flag States must act decisively now to ensure that skippers behaving in this fashion are disciplined and that, if necessary their ships are arrested.
Enough: Stop killing whales and stop playing dangerous games with each other in the Southern Ocean. Oh and stop bullshitting us about what happened as well.
Here's the video:

Just a further update on this, with a video from Sea Shepherd. From this video (below) it could be argued that the Japanese vessel turned towards the Ady Gil. It's hard to know, given the sea state at the time.
In any event, it doesn't alter the argument I've set out in the body of the text.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Japanese Whaling Must Stop

I was working up another post but then the news about Ady Gil broke. If you haven't caught up with it a Japanese "security" vessel has sunk Sea Shepherd's Ady Gil in the Southern Ocean. Let me first say that I think often Sea Shepherd gets the balance between protest and seamanship wrong. They take dangerous risks with their lives and with the lives of others.
Nevertheless Japan cannot claim the high ground on this matter - they are equally engaging in dangerous behaviour. The fact that they have sunk Ady Gil means that their behaviour is unacceptable.
What is utterly clear however is that four things need to be changed:
  1. This is not science as the Japanese claim. It is simply a jingoistic insistence on continuing, what the Japanese claim is, a cultural tradition. It is long past acceptable. The world has already once hunted whales to the verge of extinction. It should not be allowed to happen again;
  2. Both Japan and Sea Shepherd are very likely in breach of the laws of the sea. The Japanese government as the flag state of the Japanese ships and the flag states of the Sea Shepherd ships must act to stop the bad behaviour now;
  3. The Australian government needs to get off its backside and take this issue aggressively up to the Japanese government. Legal action should be taken if possible to cause the cessation of this whaling. At the least vigorous diplomatic action should be taken and these vessels should be banned from all Australian waters;
  4. CASA and the Australian government need to take action to ensure that flights in support of the actions of the Japanese whalers do not take off from Australian territory. CASA needs to use all aspects of the CASRs, CARs and CAOs to stop these flights and in any event the government needs to ban them.
Show your disapproval of the Japanese whaling activities by using the #antiwhaling and #boycottJapan hash tags on Twitter.

Reflection, Mastery & Mentoring

Being a parent is an interesting experience, it gives you a great deal to think about! But first I want to define that word "mastery" so that we're all on the same page: my use of the word mastery is definitely a lower case use. I don't mean mastery in a "masters of the universe" way, not in an ego driven way, rather I use it in a lower case, quiet satisfaction way. Mastery to me means a quiet understanding that in a particular little subject area you are on top of things. It doesn't mean you've stopped learning, it simply means that you pretty well "get it", whatever "it" is.
A number of years ago my son, then about 16 or 17 had his first public gig with a small band at a well known Melbourne jazz joint. I was sitting at the bar along with a friend who is a very well known jazz and latin musician. She was also my son's teacher. The band were playing and my son launched into a long solo. A friend of my friend walked in, he was also a well known muso, he said to my friend, "who's that guy? He's on fire." My friend said "yeah, he's a student of mine" and grinned.
Meanwhile I was sitting there gob-smacked. As a parent you nurture, support, challenge, and help your kids to learn. But as I was discovering there is a revelatory moment. I was seeing my son for the first time as a truly and utterly separate entity who was, at that moment, in absolute mastery of his sphere. He was knocking the house down with the quality of his improvisation, he really was on fire. I understood for the first time (slow maybe) that here he was demonstrating mastery of something which was beyond and above my scant knowledge on the subject. That really made me think as a parent - it was a new moment, and a good one.
Yesterday I had a different parental moment. My daughter and I were doing what most pilots do from time to time - shooting a few circuits. Approach and landing account for an uncommonly large proportion of aircraft accidents and it's an area that pilots practice a lot, hence shooting a few circuits. I was just ballast, my daughter was the pilot.
She was flying well, in the groove and coping well with the thermally conditions. If you are flying well you get into a really good rhythm flying circuits, it all just flows. That's where she was.
After an hour she decided that this one would be the last circuit. It was starting to get really bumpy and hot. As we slid down final we flew into a great big bubbly thermal. Even with the throttle closed and full flaps we were above glide slope. She grinned at me and said "big thermal". As we got closer to the ground I said, without thinking "you'll sink when you come out of the other side". I have no idea where that thought came from, just one of those snippets that you "know" through having experienced it so many times.
We were by now very close to the ground and at that moment we flew out of the lift and, lo and behold, we sank like a stone. From the left seat there was an involuntary "oh", she responded well, moving aggressively into the flare and using a bit of throttle, nevertheless, the landing was a bit firm. I couldn't help thinking that if she had instinctively known, as I did, that we were going to get big sink out of the other end of the lift, then she would have reacted a little more instinctively. She reacted well but if she had been a few micro seconds sooner the landing would have been up to her usual perfect standard.
This got me thinking about what gives rise to mastery and why it's important. The key is experience and what you do with experience. David Kolb proposed a model of learning and a set of learning styles. You can read about it here. The important thing about Kolb's model is that it proposes a theory about what you need to do with an experience to turn it into learning. There are four steps: Concrete Experience, Abstract Conceptualisation, Reflective Observation and Active Experimentation. These steps are closely aligned to 4 learning styles: Diverger, Assimilator, Converger and Accommodator. It is a process, such as that proposed by Kolb, that turns a simple experience, through a process of conceptualisation and reflection into something that we can add to our kit bag as new knowledge that will affect how we act "next time". This is what true learning is about. Whether it's in the midst of a negotiation for a multi-million dollar contract where you are using this process to understand the people across the table, or it's my daughter thinking about the sink after the lift and therefore what she would do next time.
A number of years ago I was working with an organisation that was in strife, they were dysfunctional and disconnected from their environment. The members of that organisation were extremely intelligent and very well qualified but they weren't cutting it and they had finally realised that. One of the early activities that we ran was a workshop for the majority of the staff of the organisation in the ballroom of a large city hotel. We asked each person in the room to complete the Kolb learning style inventory. Then we used chalk to draw a grid on the floor - one quadrant for each style - just like the inventory. Then we said to the 40 or so people in the room: "go and stand on the grid where you were placed by the inventory". The only people standing in the Accommodator section of the grid were me and one of the members of the organisation - he was seen as an outsider. Almost everyone was crowded into the Assimilator part of the grid - in fact there was barely enough room for all of them. I simply said to them: "Start talking - one at a time, what are you thinking?". It was a very powerful experience. The first person addressed the person standing alongside me and said "we always knew you were different, what are you doing there?". Then they began to talk about why the organisation was like it was. There was nobody to act, it was all quiet reflection and proposing ways to act but never any action. That was the start of massive change in that organisation driven by awareness of all sorts of issues.
Here lies also the reason why an MBA is not the answer to the world's woes. If you are a good learner, and you develop mastery of an area it gives you the capacity to deliver that gift to others, through being a mentor. Book learning doesn't cut it in this sphere. Instead it is the capacity to learn from experience, to draw the book learning and the other experiences of the past together, to make sense of a situation and to cast effective action. To be an effective mentor you must be an effective learner.
I would argue that mentorship also requires that you are comfortable in your own skin. That your ego must be at peace and must not intrude. Mentorship is a zen experience. It comes along in lots of ways, by modelling behaviour, by helping others to reflect on experiences, by challenging others to explore alternative perspectives, to experiment with different approaches, to submerge their anxieties.
The current cult of Management and Leadership - both capital letter words in this context - misses out on the notion of mentorship, the quiet leadership of wisdom and experience. Mentorship is aimed at supporting others to learn and excel. It derives from personal mastery and continued learning. In my view it's the key behaviour that's sadly missing in our ego-driven and often pathological organisations.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Apple Tablet Computer

On January 26 - an inauspicious day if you are a Koori Australian - Apple is announcing their new Tablet Computer. I don't actually know that, but that's what all the Apple watchers are saying is going to happen. Whatever the case I'm fairly certain that we will see something from Apple in this line sooner this year rather than later.
That got me thinking about what I'd want from such a device, what digital niche this device would need to fit into to be allowed into my ecosystem. It's an interesting question. Of course if you are Apple you'll have tickets on yourself about any major new product being a "niche creator" - we won't know that there is a niche until we see the product. At that point we'll smack our heads and say "of course I need that, that's so obvious now I see it".
So what do I want? Any new device would need to fill a niche between the iPhone at the little end and the MacBook at the big end. It could entice me if it:
  • Was a multitouch device with substantially more screen real estate than the iPhone, to allow me to browse the web, compose real answers to emails and do all those day to day communications tasks;
  • Has real document creation and editing capability - I need to be able to open and edit real Word/Excel documents in real versions of the apps, not some "app replacement". Indeed these first two items - real estate and documents are the key shortcomings of the iPhone for me;
  • A file system I can access and browse. The iPhone file system and the way that it's "private" as far as the user is concerned sucks. I need to be able to load, store and access documents on my mobile device;
  • Real presentation capabilities. If this is going to be my go-to mobile device then I need PowerPoint et al and I need to be able to use an Apple Remote to drive it. Unless there is a wireless connector for the data display device I can't carry this thing around the room so I need a remote;
Now the interesting thing about that list is that I'm talking about the Tablet device, not as consumer electronics but as a road warrior's device. I want a single, low profile device to take on the road. I want to be able to do all the things I do on my iPhone, plus I want a chunk of the desktop capability, but using a multitouch interface. Just for good measure it needs to weigh in at 500g or less (iPhone 3Gs with a silicon skin is 134g and my MacBook is 2181g for comparison).
The difficult bit is that I'm still left with the Tablet and an iPhone, because sure as hell I'm not holding a Tablet up to my ear. More importantly I'm not carrying a tablet everywhere I go. So how does the tablet hook into the cellular network without a completely new SIM, number... I suppose via a WiFi network to your iPhone. Tethering anyone?
Guess what I don't want/need? I don't need a book reader - at least not as the compelling, central raison d'etre of the device. I'm not likely to go and buy or rent books to read on this device - I hardly use the iTunes store for music - in fact I don't think I have. Maybe I want TV, though given the quality of the TV programmes at the moment I doubt it.
So, that's my somewhat biased view of what I'd like to see. Somehow I doubt that it will feature in those areas. I'm pretty sure we're getting a consumer electronics item, not a road warrior's device. So back to lugging the MacBook or trying to file flight plans on the tiny screen of the iPhone. Pity, it would make it very attractive to me if it was a road warrior's weapon!