Old Mo and free agency in a down economy

There’s a great list of Football pet peeves (via Smart Football – hands down my favourite football blog)

…..if I were ever named commissioner, the first rule I would enact is this: Any receiver who looks at a ref and does the little throw-the-flag wrist flip gets a 15-yard penalty and a lifetime ban from the league.

OK, I wouldn’t go so far as a lifetime ban but I whole heartedly agree (as with most of the other pet peeves).

One of my pet peeves which isn’t on the list is the idea of momentum, or in cliched coach speak ‘Old Mo’. Certainly a big play or a big hit can get a team fired up but I just don’t believe in a thing called Momentum, that one team has, and the other team doesn’t but can ‘take back’. Football history is littered with counter-examples but you only have to think back to the Superbowl to find the most recent.

In the 4th quarter the Cardinals had all kinds of Momentum on their side. They’d had a big goal line stand (2 if you consider that the stupid personal foul on Adrian Wilson gave the Steelers a fresh set of downs), and their D had all but shut down the Steelers O. The Cards offense had erased the Steeler’s lead and then put them ahead with only 2.35 (IIRC) left on the clock.

All the Cards defense had to do was do what they’d been doing all 4th quarter and shutdown the Steelers – they’ve got all the Momentum so it should be easy, right? Except ‘Old Mo’ didn’t turn up, and Ben Roethlisberger, Santonio Holmes and the rest of the Steeler’s O did – or did they somehow steal Momentum back? Did Holmes’ drop on the play before the game winning TD lose some Momentum? The whole thing is just nonsensical.

Football teams win / lose because they make / don’t make plays, and in close games it’s about making plays at critical times (just how Federer knows to conserve his deepest concentration for big plays). Smart Football doesn’t think much of Momentum either although Chris does a much better job debunking it than me.

On a sort of related note, NFL draft and free agency are upon us and I wonder what, if any, the affect of the struggling economy will have. I can’t think of a year where the no 1 draft pick didn’t sign for more than the previous years pick, and since the advent of the salary cap and free agency, and year that the cap didn’t go up, or that some free agent became the highest paid at his position. Sustainable growth or an about to burst bubble?

The NFL’s revenue sharing arrangements and salary cap should help buffer it from serious bubbles unlike the top Premiership teams which seem highly leveraged due to the skyrocketing transfer fees and wage demands, with no cap to limit them (last year Chelsea were £736m in debt). NFL teams could however suffer from cash flow or lack of credit problems as they have to pay signing and roster bonuses upfront (even though for salary cap purposes the numbers are pro-rated over the life of the contract). Likely the smaller market teams or those without mega rich owners who might be most effected.

But there’s not just pure economics involved. If the still wealthy are hiding their extravagant shopping behind unmarked bags (via Penelope Trunk) then I wonder if there will be a considerable backlash against ‘spoiled athletes’ holding out for a bigger signing bonus. I expect Drew Rosenhaus to be as unrepentantly money grabbing as always.

I also wonder whether the economic situation will spur on the restart of the NFLPANFL labour negotiations (once the NFLPA finds a replacement for the late Gene Upshaw). The thought of uncapped years doesn’t seem quite so appealing in a down economy.

Anyway it’s the offseason so I’ve got to have something football related to think about.

the great netbook bonanza

Don Marti wrote a rambling (for him) post about impact netbooks and linux, and musing about the great netbook windfall. Here’s some stuff I wanted to throw into the pot.

There’s still a lot of network value in a copy of Microsoft Windows because of all the compatible products out there. But, thanks to hard-working Linux driver writers, “driverless” USB class-compliant devices, and the rise of web-based applications to take the place of shrink-wrapped Win32 applications, the difference in network value is less and less at the low end of the market.

When ever you create a Linux based devices, whether it’s a phone, MID, netbook, laptop, there’s more to getting it consumer ready than trying out a LiveCD and knowing your ACPI tables. (I know that’s not what Don, or Harald, where implying – just trying a LiveCD would be a start for many). Even after the LiveCD runs there’s a not insignificant chunk of NRE that needs to be done to make sure that everything works together properly according to spec – in fact this is true of every hardware & OS combo.

So one of the hidden forms of Windows network value is that Acer, Asus, HP, IBM/Lenovo, Dell, etc have 10+ years of institutional understanding of what needs to be done to get hardware + Win{95,98,XP,Vista} ready, and (for some) 5+ years of server hardware + “Enterprise Linux” (but creating server room ready hardware and consumer ready devices is different kettle of fish). And now they’re learning, often the hard way, all the obvious stuff about building Linux consumer devices; while you can fork and customise and do your own thing you’re then left maintaining patches while projects move on, so it’s better to get stuff upstream; binary drivers are even more painful than on servers, fun with GTK+ and Qt theming, and yes ACPI tables, and on and on. There are more bonghits to come but hopefully less frequent and not as high.

OSV’s like Canonical, Xandros, Linpus, Novell etc can’t make the per device profit that Microsoft can but they can make a living (I would hope). Many of the netbook guys, Asus in particular, seem to feel that it’s a crime to let a few weeks go by without bringing out a new SKU, which is more NRE, and ongoing security and feature updates. So I would expect that being involved in desktop (or mobile) will be more than just a signaling strategy in the future – that increasing institutional understanding of how to get devices ready will mean that OEMs want to deal with OSVs that are directly involved in UI and Application projects, as to provide direct feedback and a greater likelihood of important changes & bug fixes going back upstream. That’s my theory, let’s see what happens.

User feedback

But the opportunity here is not in simply delivering the crack of the day to our users, it is in developers to easily create user interface experiences that our users can provide feedback on what works and what doesnt. Imagine if I could write up a small Python script that uses Glade and PyGTK that demonstrates a user interface idea. I want to share that idea with interested users and see what other ideas could be inspired from my concept. I also want to make the solicitation of feedback as no-brainer as possible. No subscribing to mailing lists. No account creation. I want it to be as simple as walking up to someone and saying “so, what did you think?“

So speaketh the Baconio in his build up to bigging up gritty by ryan lortie – which if I understand correctly is a neat hack to get code from a scm repo to a random desktop in a couple (one?) of clicks. All very good and worthwhile stuff, but lets just backup a second – gritty is going to be used to get feedback? From Users?

I would expect that user feedback will fall into two camps; either love it or hate it. Actually 3 camps, love it, hate it, or it’s OK but it would be great if you added my crack idea here. Also if what we’re talking about here are UI mockups, then the mythical ‘average user’ is going to have to be pretty inspired to even try a mockup and pretty self aware to provide useful balanced feedback. Jono continues;

There is nothing new in what I am suggesting, at least outside of IT. In the car industry, manufacturers produce concept cars. In the fashion world there are a range of convoluted and frankly ridiculous creations gliding down the catwalks. These innovations are never intended for the mass market, they are intended to show what is possible when the creative minds behind them can create with no restrictions.

We can always stretch analogies too far, but I would point out that as a very ordinary user of cars and clothes, no one has ever asked me for feedback on a concept car or catwalk design or particularly made any effort to get the designs in front of me in the first place, and if they did I would likely just say ‘That’s brilliant!” or ‘Frankly ridiculous’. Now if I was car enthusiast or a fashion follower then I probably be well aware of the latest stuff, and have the vocabulary to give more sophisticated feedback.

Which is my point – this sounds great as a way for us, the enthusiasts, to give each other feedback. Nothing wrong with that – anything that improves the ‘Flow of Ideas’ within a project is good in my book. But to get clues as to whether UI mockup is any good, or where it could be improved, then we need to test it by observing people playing with it, for example like the Meetup user testing described by Clay Shirky

Glusman and van Schaardenburg have also made it possible to take Jacob Nielsen’s user-testing advice — “Test with five users” — and add “…every week.” Obstacles to getting real feedback are now mainly cultural, not technological; any business that isn’t learning from their users doesn’t want to learn from their users.

That’s a pretty sobering thought – I’d always thought that doing distributed user testing, for a distributed developer base, was a pretty hard technical challenge, but maybe mashing up Istanbul and Cheese, to record the desktop session and the users expressions and mix them into a side by side video, is the easy part. Working out how we would use Istaneese, and interpreting and accepting the results would be hard part?


Things I like about Dropbox :

  • They have a native Linux version, properly packaged for a wide variety of distros.
  • Nice integration with Nautilus
  • It Just Works
  • It sychronises the local Dropbox folder, meaning it’s usable offline, and you can access files at native speed
  • Web interface is pretty decent, with some nice touches, like offering folders for downloading as a .zip

Things that I don’t like about Dropbox :

  • It’s not open source or free software – while the Nautilus integration piece is GPL, the dropbox daemon is closed, and this is the bit that does all the clever work. I guess Evenflow are worried that if the whole thing is open, any tom, dick, or harry could rig up some S3 storage and offer a competing service. On the other hand if it was open I would be using it everywhere; to sync to my file server, to usb drives, and would have already bought the upgraded service (although I’m assuming it could be made generic and still have all the good points above).
  • I don’t mind that they require source code assignment for patches to the nautilus part, however I think it’s somewhat misleading to equate what they’re doing to assigning copyright to FSF for GCC contributions. Assigning copyright to a commercial entity is quite different to assigning copyright to an nfp like the FSF (especially given their 20+ year record).
  • Currently only monitors the $HOME/Dropbox folder (ability to sync any folder is a medium term feature)

Overall I’m liking the Dropbox experience and starting to rely on the features, which is why the licensing / business model is such a dilema. While my data would never be trapped if the company went under (at least one machine would have the definitive files) it would likely be a significant disruption.

More Pollen based equations

To all the lovely people commenting on my previous post (highest number of comments on any post in 4 years, thank you): You are assuming that that Hayfever, cold, and suck are all in the Ring of Integers. There may well be Rings where the equation 2x = x^2 has many non-obvious solutions – I’m ill so can’t really face thinking about some examples (or maybe there are only ever two solutions in any non-trivial ring – there’s an exercise for the interested).

I guess what might have more clearly expressed what I was thinking was that the function f : {hayfever, cold, plus enough other stuff to make an additive group} -> N (natural numbers representing units in some metric on the space of suckitude) is quadratic rather than linear. But, you know, I was ill and grumpy so tried to say that in a more satirical way (maths satire, just what the world needs). But again I’m not exactly firing on all cylinders so please be gentle.

Anyway I’m going to start thinking up some more random algebraic posts and start cashing in the Adwords revenue.

One year

As the oldest brother of 3 I always felt a responsibility to look after my younger brothers. Of course at some point younger brothers grow out the need for their oldest brother’s protective cover (such as it ever was). With my brother Theo that moment came the pretty much the first day we were at the same school. Since he was 4 years younger than me, we were never at the same school until I was 15 and he was 11 and had just started at our high school.

The school was split between two sites and during break I was strolling back up to top site with a group of friends – we were joking about what we’d do if anyone started bullying Theo (and given that he was bigger, stronger, and quicker than me, even at that age, it didn’t seem like much of a possibility or that I would likely be able to do anything about it which is probably why we were joking). As we went through the gates into the large playground, one of my friends said ‘Hey, your brother’s in a fight!’ – this was the first time I’d seen him at school. I turned to see Theo holding some other kid in a head lock, and he was wrapping his knuckles across the kids head with a great big smile across his face. I turned to my friends and said ‘Hey, that’s my brother and you better not start bullying me!’ – it was at that point that I realised Theo no longer needed my protection (and though I didn’t realise it at the time, it wouldn’t be long before I’d start relying on him).

Aside: I did ask Theo, when I got home, who was the unfortunate recipient of his headlock. He told me it was a friend and they were just playing – his explanation satisfied me at the time and I honestly don’t remember who it was. I hope it’s just an temporary blip in our culture, but we were lucky that we could do stupid things like get into (play) fights without the worry that knives (or other weapons) would get involved.

Aside 2: I must have rewritten this post a million times in the last few weeks. Not that I care what any else thinks but I wouldn’t want Theo to think I’m stupid or overly sentimental (things he used to tease me about loads when we were kids). Mentally I just always think he’s just died like a few weeks to a month ago – not because I want to wallow in grief, but rather I think that the more I realise how long it is, the more I miss him, and sort of half expect him to randomly call, or to see him the next time I’m at our parents house. God damn, I miss him.