Twitter Backlash Starts

With most things “trendy”, there is a fairly consistent cycle of popularity:

First, there are the people setting the trends.

Next, there are the masses who flock to adopt the new trends.

Eventually, the trend setters look around, realize their parents are doing what they do and move onto the next trend.

Then the masses who were professing their love for the new trend drop it as quickly as they picked it up. They scoff at their once beloved trend and move onto where the trendsetters are now.

The circle then repeats.

While music and clothes have followed this cycle for years, social networks are the latest to be hit. Take Twitter. Twitter has been around for several years in tech circles. However, in the past 16-18 months, it’s popularity has exploded into the mainstream, with everyone and their grandparents rushing to twitter.

Now comes word that one of the most popular independent/underground/backpacker rappers in the country, Kid Cudi, has deleted his Twitter account. He cites the need to become more introspective and not shoot out everything on his mind.

What’s amazing about this is that Kid Cudi is exactly the type of user that made Twitter trendy. He became famous by releasing mixtape after mixtape through the internet. Now he’s performing with Kanye West and Lady GaGa. He’s the prototypical artist from the myspace generation. I wonder what’s going to happen when more people follow his lead? Twitter is like any other service / product that relies on the network effect: its value is in the people also using the service. Once no one you interact with is using a service, you will probably anabdon it.

Twitter just announced that they’re raising $100 million in vc capital, which would put their valuation at about $1 Billion. All without turning a profit yet. The guys over at 37 Signals brilliantly lampooned this news by announcing that they’ve raised enough capital to put their valuation at $100 Billion.

If more users like Kid Cudi decide Twitter isn’t for them, one wonders if Twitter will wane with popularity just as quickly as it exploded in popularity.

Blueprint CSS, SilkSprite & IE

We’ve been using the very good Blueprint CSS framework for a while. It provides a nice grid css structure, some default css styles and a nice typography system. It also supports plugins so that you can extend the framework without modifying its internals, which is a sign of a mature framework IMHO.

One of the plugins that we use is a CSS Sprite plugin for the popular (and free) Silk icon set. It’s called, not surprisingly, SilkSprite and it’s very easy to use. We replaced our custom icons and rolled it out in under an hour.

Unfortunately, one of the issues we ran into was sprite rendering in IE. Turns out that you need to add:

.ss_sprite {display: inline-block;}

to Blueprints ie.css style sheet to get the sprites to show up correctly in IE. Hope this helps other people out there.

New OSS project: django-workspace

For the past year, we’ve been developing all of our applications using Python & Django. We love it and wouldn’t use anything else. However, if you find yourself creating a lot of projects using: startproject

you will find yourself repeating the same steps over and over again. If you’re like me, you’ll also find yourself opening up an existing project and copying over some boilerplate code into your new project.

We finally got tired of doing this repeatedly, so we created django-workspace. It’s a bitbucket hosted project that aims to provide a good private workspace for starting Django based projects.

The idea of a private workspace has been around for years. I first started using one back when I was doing Java programming. Like most patterns, it had been a word of mouth best practice until Brad Appleton and Steve Berczuk formalized the concept in their great book, Software Configuration Management Patterns: Effective Teamwork, Practical Integration.

So if you’re doing any Django programming, check out django-workspace and let us know what you think. It’s been useful for us, so maybe others will find it useful too.

Lean, Focus & Waste Reduction

Two weeks ago, I was finally able to meet Michael, our intern turned junior developer. Even though Michael has been working here for 3 months, we’ve never met because he lives in California. He decided that we should eat at The Cheeseboard Pizza Collective. It’s an interesting place, not because of what’s on the menu, but what’s not on there. They only serve one kind of vegetarian pizza a day, in one size or as single slices.

That’s it. No appetizers, different pizza sizes or ingredients.

If you told anyone that you were opening a pizza shop and only offering a single pizza a day, people would tell you you’re crazy. They’d say you need to at least offer customers the ability to have their own ingredients. However, The Cheeseboard has decided to completely optimize their daily business and eliminate all of the waste that goes along with a more traditional pizza place. They don’t need to have a robust stock ingredients available any given day & they don’t have to throw away any ingredients that are unused at the end of the day. They don’t need different pan sizes to cook the pizza and they don’t need to worry about their major bottle neck, their oven, being taken up with different orders. They even make the pizzas without exact measuring and throw in any pizza cuttings when you order a full pizza.

Think this has affected their business? You’d be surprised to know that they consistently had a line out the door for their pizza. They’ve optimized everything about their business around making a profit. They don’t even take credit / debit cards, only cash & checks to avoid the unnecessary fees. This laser like focus has created an extremely efficient business.

One of the core tenets of Lean is eliminating waste. The easiest way to do that is to simply do less. Write less code, build less features, offer less customization, etc… If you focus yourself onto a few core properties or steps in a process and optimize the hell out of what’s left, you will find yourself becoming more and more efficient at that process.

This is true of any system or process, even sports. Take this quote from Chris Brown, author of the fantastic blog Smart Football about the choices offensive coordinators make with regards to their offensive systems:

– Grab-bag offense: Far and away, the number one problem from a strategic view is a disorganized, “grab-bag” offense that lacks a definable identity. This isn’t to say that you can only do one or two things, but the bad teams almost universally do not know who they are. Say what you will about Tony Franklin at Auburn, but that whole thing was a mess last year because, among other reasons, they had an identity crisis. But this problem is not just germane to coaching changes or new offensive coordinators. Often, teams that have been fine try to “update” their offenses with the new-new thing, and more often than not they regress. There’s a completely true old coaching adage that it is less important what system you run than it is the fact that you have a system, preferably one that you know well and can coach. Hence an offense like Urban Meyer’s works for a lot of reasons, but one reason is that the entire team is completely committed to it. The same is true for Paul Johnson at Georgia Tech, or Nebraska’s great I-option teams, or really any other good team you can think of. They might appear “multiple,” but there’s an identity there. Again, it’s hard to underemphasize this because not only does it make planning coherent, it has its biggest gains probably for practice time: when Meyer or Johnson or Osborne or any of the other committed coaches practice their offenses, they focus exactly on what they will actually do in games, and their stuff all fits together. A grab-bag team might be adding or subtracting stuff week by week, and they never get good at anything.

It’s amazing how spot on this quote is. You can even replace the names and the football references with any complex process and business and it really loses nothing. The cost of adding anything new to a system is measured not only in what you’re adding, but also what adding it displaces. You have to shift resources, train people, plan for what happens if anything goes wrong and more.

In the end, you have to focus what’s important & eliminate the unnecessary crap that doesn’t directly contribute to the end result. In the case of the The Cheeseboard, the end result is to sell pizzas at a profit, not to have more choices than any other business. For football offenses, it’s to score points, not to have a 500 page playbook with a 1000 different play combinations. The focus is profit and scoring points, respectively. Nothing more.

Chicago Semantic Web Meetup

I know it’s little late notice, but I wanted to send out a note about tomorrows Chicago Semantic Web Meetup. Here’s the description:

This month the talk will be given by one of our members Marc Temkin.

Data Mining “Alchemey” on free text in databases.

Text can be freed from non-semantic memo fields into useful data with the
help of skillful use of modern languages and frameworks. Marc Temkin will
give an overview of how he “freed” classical music data regarding composers
and artists from the human readable only to the machine comprehensible.

Speaker Bio
Marc Temkin teaches in the Interactive Arts & Media Department at Columbia
College, instructs professionals in C# and .NET at TechNexus, and has spoken at the Chicago Code Camp on data visualization using WPF and .NET. Marc has been an independent and contract programmer working for Argonne National Laboratory, Harris Bank, ACH integration projects with Chase, hospitals, banking units of non-profits and Network Chicago (PBS, WFMT/WTTW).

We are also scheduling some time for people to meet and talk.

Food and drinks will be provided, however it would be appreciated if you can chip in $5 to help cover our costs.

If you’re interested in coming, please RSVP by today because I’ll need to send a list of names to security.

Quick Tip: .bashrc & OS X

Just a quick tip for those on Macs who use bash. By default, your .bashrc file will not be source’ed when you open up a new terminal. To change that, add this to your .profile file:

if [ -f ~/.bashrc ]; then
. ~/.bashrc

Hide Dropbox Icon

In my ongoing quest to minimize anything that’s unnecessary from my life, I’ve been aggressively removing icons from my Macs menubar & dock. I’ve been doing well, until I got to Dropbox. Dropbox is an essential service I use to keep files in sync across several computers. They have a great OS X app that runs in the background. The bad part is it puts a icon in the menu bar that I don’t use at all and you can’t remove without quitting DropBox. It’s fairly annoying.

Now it seems my problem has been solved by a clever workaround. Erik Hansen has devised a fix that only requires the replacement of a few icons. Works smoothly and flawlessly. Check it out here.

(H/T: Minimal Mac)

Delicious & Snow Leopard

After holding off upgrading our development machines for almost two weeks, I decided to upgrade to Snow Leopard. Whenever a new version of OS X comes out, I usually follow the same process:

  • Make a complete, bootable copy of my HD
  • perform a complete erase and install of the new OS
  • Pull over things I need off of the bootable copy

This works very well for eliminating the cruft that tends to accumulate over the months.

However, this work well for docs, media, and other stuff, but I don’t want to pull applications off as I need them. I could be away from a wifi signal or for some other reason. So over the past few years I’ve been tagging software in Delicious using the tag macinstall. This helps me know which software that I use on a regular basis and what needs to be installed when I reinstall my OS. It saves me a ton of time.

Lean, Theory of Constraints and Agile

Last month a former co-worker, Tom Looy, gave a presentation at Agile 2009 about taking Lean and TOC to an agile project. I got to have dinner with Tom after his talk and was very excited to hear about his material and disappointed that I missed the talk. Tom was the one who originally turned me on to the Theory of Constraints back when we both worked at ThoughtWorks. He recommended that I read ‘The Goal‘ by Eliyahu Goldratt. The book literally changed my whole way of thinking about systems as a whole, specifically product production.

It was exciting to see how far Tom has taken his ideas. He’s a gifted speaker and teacher and it shows in some of the slides and animations he uses in his talk. Luckily for me ( and everyone ), Tom decided to collect his presentation, shrink it down from 1.5 hours to 30 mins and post is in vimeo:

The Beer Game – Application of Lean and Theory of Constraints Using an Agile Wall Chart from Tacit Knowledge on Vimeo.