Predicting a rotten Apple

Business Insider writes

“Apple is set to release iPhone 6, its latest update to the iPhone juggernaut, in the fall. While iPhone 6 sales are expected to be huge for various reasons, there is a broader question facing Apple: Is it boxed in as a brand and a platform that merely serves the richest 15% of the world, while everyone else uses Android?”

Madness. Nobody questions the sense in marketing a premium product to the same people who buy BMW’s , Mercedes & Audi but that’s a smaller % of the near $90Bn unit global car market than the iPhone is of the global phone market. ┬áNothing wrong with marketing to the richest 15% in the world, in a purely commercial sense anyway.


using twitter to tweak the dev process

I’ve been thinking about an interesting (nuts) social experiment to understand the software development process in your organisation. Software team managers are often surrpised as to how the actual work gets done (or doesn’t) in their development team. With 10 plus people on your team it can be extremely difficult to understand the dynamics involved. Who is actually coding? Who has got the great ideas? Who is preempting future problems and who is firefighting current ones. How does a bottleneck get created and what could solve the problem.
As twitter posting is so scriptable I thought it would be cool to create a random project spec which would constitute a two week iteration (including some test time) and hand it over to a dev team. An agile “customer” would be provided to own and clarify the specification on request.
To capture data you could setup some twitter gateways from jabber/xmpp, http proxy, source control and project management tool (trac, mingle, etc.). To provide some privacy you could have some anonymised logins like
The purpose of having a two week project of reasonable complexity is that it would make it difficult for a team member to behave in a completely unnatural way. I.e. they’ll need some thinking time. They’ll need some respite & chat. But not so much that they’ll delay the development schedule (hopefully).
At the end of the iteration the team would review the twittering to try and understand how the software engineering process worked. What worked well? What could be improved?
When I started working as a software developer at the end of the 90s agile was just taking off and the development process felt highly structured. It wasn’t of course and many projects suffered from the false security of weighty yet incorrect up-front documentation. I’ve noticed that as agile has become more prevalent we’re trying to move from analysis/design/implementation blobs into every smaller chunks of development time which can be reasonably documented while not unreasonably impeding the development process. Where once documented functional specifications were passed around, now it’s many smaller and looser tasks which are collected on web based tools like mingle. Email is still important but more informal instant messaging has become an important part of smoothing the dev process. Collleagues share little nuggets of information or query eachother to clarify issues or solve problems. A big question I have is how informal has it become? Are major design decisions now being made mostly using informal IM and retro-documented? What are the pros/cons of this? Part of understanding this is looking at all design and dev interactions under a microscope.


Making sure we never have a Knowledge Economy

As many readers of this blog will know I work for a research group in Waterford. I also have a gallery, have trained as a mediator and do a spot of IT consultancy in my spare time. I pay all my taxes and work a ridiculous amount of time during the week. I guess that, whatever philosophising I’ve done to the contrary, I’ve officially joined the rat race with the reasonable goal of wealth generation.
As part of my day job I help to create wealth for Ireland Inc by creating joint ventures between Irish industry and academia. Generally this involves getting software developed to a high standard such that the companies can help find new business opportunities, create wealth and employment. We do a good job and employ many people who have previously worked in a range of industry roles. We’ve organically created over 200 high-tech jobs in the South East. That is without a doubt a major success story and something I’m incredibly proud to have participated in.
My co-workers are demonstrably not passengers. Not so-called “public sector parasites” and all work well in excess of their expected weekly hours because they like their job, they NEED their job and they’re commited to what we do. We have NO baseline funding so anything we get is gained through competitive funding process against academics and professional research groups from every country in Europe. I have heard several ministers refer to our work as a pillar of the knowledge economy.
Our pay is not wild and we don’t get things like bonuses, share options or other private sector perks. Private sector workers have conveniently forgotten about these former benefits over the past few months. We regularly travel on the weekend. We don’t get overtime. We don’t have a “grade” and we’re not entitled to guaranteed grade increments on top of inflation. If this doesn’t seem like the public sector many of you love to hate then I’m sorry. Perhaps you should look for bogeymen elsewhere. We had one ace which was the entitlement to a defined benefit pension. However, even that was a bit odd as the ultimate aim of many of us is to setup a campus company.
Today the Taoiseach succinctly made the point to us that rather than punishing malfeasance by bankers. Rather than ending section 23 tax relief schemes. Rather than any other measure that might actually improve the economic situation he’d decided that all public sector workers, us included, were to be forced to pay an additional and substantial new income tax under another name. The second time in a few months a member of the government has invented a new term for taxation. It makes the late nights all worthwhile! Some of us have tried in the past to opt-out of the pensions scheme as we thought we’d reasonably manage our own over a long career. Ultimately, there’s little point if you plan to leave the public sector anyway. Yet, it’s nigh on impossible to opt out of the state pension scheme as my friend jonathan brazil will attest.
The Irish economy is a complete mess. All this measure will do is appease private sector employees who have taken pay cuts or are about to be let go. I sympathise with them but the obsession with blaming the public sector is unhealthy. The major public sector pay increases came at a time of seeming prosperity in the country where inflation had run rampant and pushed the price of an average Dublin semi to the same cost as a nice chateau in France. Thanks to the Irish Times we got a new comparison every week to make us feel bad. Private sector workers were happy with their bonuses then and they contributed to the lunatic property bubble that’s now tearing Irish society apart.
During recessions people always look for someone to blame. Foreigners, a cartel, a profession, a religion.. the list is endless & the targets are easy. Ireland has the public sector. It’s an easy target as there are endemic problems which need addressing such as the need for performance related pay and the disparity in terms between some fixed term and permanent public sector employees. These have been well covered elsewhere but the first step to recovery is admitting there’s a problem.
In typical Irish fashion the angry private sector mob can now look on and be comforted that someone else is getting screwed too. Is that not the history of this sorry sod? The ultimate result will be less spending, less consumption, less indirect tax revenue, higher personal taxes and lengthening dole queues as most of the retailers in the country go broke. This is not alarmist. It’s happening as I type. The only message that the present government have clearly sent to world leaders is “We don’t know what we’re doing, god/IMF help us”.
The message to the people is one of arrogant indifference. As I said in a previous post it’s about time that change came to Ireland. Economists like McWilliams, Hobbs & Aherne have pointed out that the government risks turning a recession into a depression by acting incorrectly and destroying public confidence. Mission accomplished!
Did it ever occur to BIFFOT that many younger public sector employees would actually be happy to opt out of a defined benefit pension scheme. How long can such a scheme continue? The main reason the defined benefit pension looked so friggin great is that the government SINGULARLY FAILED to implement an EU directive requiring them to safeguard employers pensions. This has recently been discussed in the wake of the Waterford Crystal collapse.
A good if pessimistic solution to surviving the current economic crisis has come from Eddie Hobbs. When asked what the youth of today should do he advised them to get the hell out of Ireland.
In a time of hardship the people of any country look to their leaders for statements of principle and solutions. Something to keep them going. Cowen is describing income tax increases as a “fightback by the economy”. He has no rational economic basis for describing it so. It won’t fix most operational problems of the public sector while hastening economic contraction. We need some real ideas for creating growth and stimulating the economy. Our banks may fail ANYWAY if consumer confidence is destroyed. Some of them are little more than financial rubbish bins at this stage.
Our most skilled knowledge economy workers will be the first to leave the sinking ship. Who should blame them? Look at what we’ve seen over the past few years. The never ending tribunals costing hundreds of millions to the tax payers to investigate corruption in public office. How we wish we had that 400+ million back now? A financial regulator with the lightest of touches. A cartel controlled Dublin property market. The price of houses soared and degraded the quality of life. All the while, we were told we’ve never had it so good. The celtic tiger was veneer through and through.
Sure there were real achievements. We shouldn’t overlook the excellent work we’ve done in getting FDI from foreign multinationals and building some decent indigenous industry. We got these on merit. Revisionism may suggest it was all tax but that’s not the case. The Irish are thought of as an inventive and dedicated bunch. At least we were until the recent financial scandals. Yet much of Irish business is now being exposed as the trading of phoney wealth amongst ourselves. This is not sustainable. Eddie Hobbs was just raising a valid point for Irish youth. Perhaps the real opportunities are elsewhere?
Not for the first time in Irish history a generation may leave because of the incompetence and corruption of their leaders…
It goes without saying that the views expressed here are my own and do not reflect the views of my employer any commercial entity I’m associated with. They do reflect a personal despair for the values of modern Irish life and those we have elected to legislate & manage our country.


Bye Bye Moto

Is what many Motorola Labs employees will be saying in a few days time thanks to the culling of 150 engineers of the approx 600 total in the R&D division. There will also be 180 reassignments to other divisions. There are pros and cons to this but I don’t think it’s reasonable to blame one of the most creative R&D departments in the telecoms industry. The reg picks up on the story here. However, the reg misses a trick. The innovation from Moto R&D is often way ahead of the released products but the actual products launched have often been somewhat disapointing. Niggly bugs etc. It wasn’t just the late Geoffrey Frost who brought about the RAZR models that arguably saved the company (stay of execution?.The engineering worked with the packaging to produce a quite satisfying phone. The sad thing is that Motorola could have produced the iPhone based on their R&D but they haven’t. If Carl Icahn wants to put anything in place at Motorola it should be a longer term view which could yield a sustainable company rather than a vain hope of finding the next RAZR. There’s more money and value to be created in the long run from this. Don’t give someone a band-aid when they’ve just cut off their arm.
Of course with the closure/sale/reorg/whatever of the mobile phone division in 2009 it’s hard to think long term. It’s easy to lay off staff to cut costs. It’s easier to close or sell off divisions to cut losses. However, building a successful company that knows and taps its niches requires vision, leadership and a strategy that can be articulated. Steve Jobs gave that to Apple. Motorola should take a good look at the Apple board and consider how the fruit company’s management team have consistently delivered over the past few years. Not just great financial performance but innovative and beautiful products. Consistency of software, hardware, design, packaging; functionality and elegance. Which in many ways the RAZR had.