On walkabout in life and technology

Smoke Screening

Charles C Mann writing on Smoke Screening in Vanity Fair, spends an afternoon at the airport with Bruce Schneier looking at the TSA in action and asks whether any of it actually makes is safer? His conclusion is obviously no, locked cockpit doors and aware passengers are the only things that work. Even the $1.2b worth of scanners and another $1.2b in air marshals are totally useless.

We’re spending billions upon billions of dollars doing this—and it is almost entirely pointless. Not only is it not done right, but even if it was done right it would be the wrong thing to do.

Bruce Schneier

Have fun removing your shoes, getting swabbed, radiated or sexually assaulted, opening your laptops, removing your coats and taking loose change from your pockets this holiday season at the airport for no reason at all.

Adam Savage on SOPA

Adam Savage from Mythbusters writing in SOPA Could Destroy the Internet as We Know It at Popular Mechanics (sorry about their ads folks).

The Internet is probably the most important technological advancement of my lifetime. Its strength lies in its open architecture and its ability to allow a framework where all voices can be heard. Like the printing press before it (which states also tried to regulate, for centuries), it democratizes information, and thus it democratizes power. If we allow Congress to pass these draconian laws, we'll be joining nations like China and Iran in filtering what we allow people to see, do, and say on the Web.

And we're better than that.

Bang on, dude.

The Missing Feature

My new product seems to be missing a key feature. One that every client so far has asked about. They are almost incredulous that I do not provide it. Come to think of it, none of the software created in my career, that’s 21 years folks, has ever had this feature. The feature I am talking about is export to Excel for users*.

No export to Excel? Am I nuts. What kind of software does not have an export to Excel function? You need export to Excel, don’t you?

No you do not, you don’t even want it.

Developer and Power Tools

Justin Williams has a pretty good list of tools he uses both for daily use and for development in My Ultimate Developer and Power Users Tool List for Mac OS X (2011 Edition).

I have quite a few of the same, but several key differences:

  • Acorn I have, but use Photoshop, Illustrator and Pixelmator a lot more
  • BBedit is open all the time, but I use TextMate for programming (already switched to TextMate 2 Alpha)
  • Appviz instead of Appfigures
  • The great Kaleidoscope for file compares instead of Changes
  • Tossing up between Coda (my old favorite) and Espresso 2 (because I think the old CSSEdit was the best)
  • Skitch for snapping instead of LittleSnapper (use only for storing well designed web pages, though thinking of going back now that Evernote owns Skitch)
  • Fantastical instead of Today

New to me:

  • Coderunner, HTTP Client and Patterns (used to just have additional terminal windows open - purchased them)


After the holidays, I think I’ll write a more comprehensive post on the tools I use and why.

Hiltmonism - if It Ain't Broke, Break It

You have all heard the phrase “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”. The implication being that if something is working adequately well, leave it alone.


If this were the case, we’d still be using stone axes and living in caves, as we did for 98% of the past 100,000 years. The reason we have metal axes and houses, electricity and cars and computers and internet is because there were people out there who felt it was broke, and they found new and interesting ways to fix it.

The same applies to business processes and software. Many a client of mine runs an expensive, convoluted and manual labor intensive business. They know it. But the business does run and the work does get done. So to them, it ain’t broke, no need to fix it.

How wrong they are. Business happens in a changing environment. Just because something works today does not mean it will work tomorrow. And when things do change, and the business cannot change with it, the business dies. Buggy whips all over again. The modern equivalent may be the Blackberry.

Given that the environment is changing, and businesses need to be nimble and flexible, if a process aint broke, then why is it not broken? It should be. If the business changes and the process does not, how is it possible that the process is not broken? These are hard questions to answer because the people in the process have no idea things have changed, and their managers, who should know better, either have no idea the strain their people are under or are trying to protect their crumbling faux empires.

The best businesses and processes continuously change and improve. To do so, one has to break the old process to find a new and better one. Look at the recent success of companies like Apple who ruthlessly break and replace their product lines versus Dell who does not, IBM who continuously refine their services and offerings versus HP that is stagnating, UPS going all electronic versus the US Postal Service that is still mired in the 1800’s.

In each case they took processes that were perceived to be working, and broke them. And they made better products, better services and had better success.

So when it comes to creating new software, or updating existing software, start by breaking it. Ask why a step is needed in a process, a function is needed in a script, a module needed in an architecture. Use the opportunity to not only refactor, but to create new and better and more flexible ways of doing things. Take the changing business environment into account and apply these business changes to the process.

Stone axes take a long time to make and can only be used a few times before the stone shatters. Metal axes are easier to make and last for years. I can’t wait for monofilament axes or light saber axes.

If it ain’t broke, break it.

Bring in the Nerds

Joshua Kopstein, writing in Dear Congress, It’s No Longer OK To Not Know How The Internet Works, getting angry with Congress on the SOPA hearings:

It’d be one thing if legitimate technical questions directed at the bill’s supporters weren’t met with either silence or veiled accusations that the other side was sympathetic to piracy. Yet here we are with a group of elected officials openly supporting a bill they can’t explain, and having the temerity to suggest there’s no need to “bring in the nerds” to suss out what’s actually on it.


This used to be funny, but now it’s really just terrifying. We’re dealing with legislation that will completely change the face of the internet and free speech for years to come. Yet here we are, still at the mercy of underachieving Congressional know-nothings that have more in common with the slacker students sitting in the back of math class than elected representatives. The fact that some of the people charged with representing us must be dragged kicking and screaming out of their complacency on such matters is no longer endearing — it’s just pathetic and sad.

In The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776–88), Edward Gibbon famously placed the blame on a loss of civic virtue, the cultivation of habits of personal living that are claimed to be important for the success of the community, among the Roman citizens (thanks Wikipedia).

Free speech, a wise and working government, enlightenment and intellectualism are some of those civic virtues that made the USA great, and the citizenry of the USA pushed these upon Congress. But these civic virtues are no longer being upheld by the citizenry or Congress.

Seems to me, history is repeating itself right here, right now, at a much faster rate.

On the Topic of Talent

Jorge Quinteros, writing on the Topic of Talent.

Talent is the natural ability to do something for which people may think there’s not much effort put into accomplishing something and that’s simply a result of people not always being previewed to what you go through to do what you do.

I’m a very good software designer. Proof? I have a long track record of excellent software. Those who know me and my work invariably describe me as talented. Therefore, ipso facto, I must be a good software designer because I am talented. Rubbish! Bunkum and tummyrot!

I agree with Jorge. This imaginary ‘talent’ thing comes from years and years of hard, painstaking work; from failures and picking yourself up again and again; from criticism and despair; and from occasional success. You know you are getting better when you craft something great, only to fall down on the next endeavor. And it never ends, there is always more to learn, more to improve, more to perfect.

I am a very good software designer because I have spent the last 21 years of my life learning, practicing and tuning my craft.

And I still have a long way to go.


Via Buzz Andersen,

Google products are machine-driven. They’re created by machines. And that is what makes us powerful. That’s what makes our products great.

Marissa Mayer In the Plex

Explains why their design comes up short.

Design Is Horseshit

@yongfook, writing in Design is Horseshit!, makes a good point:

Focus on value creation. Design enhances value, it does not create it. Stop creating shitty startups that look amazing.

He’s not saying that you should dump design and designers (phew!), just that he is sick of over-designed new startups that provide no real value.

Money quote:

Think hard about what problem you can solve that a customer will give you $10 for and work your ass off at delivering that $10 of value as fast and as cheaply as possible.