Saturday, February 21, 2009

Credit Crisis Visualized...

The following videos explain quite a lot of things in a nice visualization. Tad simplified, but correct. Both Part 1 and Part 2 are embedded below (together they run for approx. 10 min.). If you want a more detailed explanation Chris Martenson has a Crash Course (a few hours). If you want a rigorous and academic version, Prof. Steve Keen's blog (of Uni. Western Sydney) is well worth reading and his research is also worth supporting.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Friday, February 20, 2009

Mobile phones will have a Universal Charger...

Most mobile phone companies have signed up to have a Universal charger by 2012 (ZDNet article). Seems to be a mini-USB jack.

The question is - will plug-in type chargers be the preference in 3 years time? There is a company called Powermat that offers a mat that will charge a phone (or mobile device) without any wires. You simply place it on the mat, and it gives it the juice (see their site for details on the technology).

There are a number of companies that are also experimenting with mini fuel cells and other newer batteries that will work on cigarette lighter fuel for about 1 month with no top-up (a very small quantity is used -- so it should not ignite and blow up, unless it is a used in a Hollywood movie in which case it will be used to level a small city).

The most interesting aspect of this new is that Apple and Palm did not sign up. My bet is that they are planning a charger with no wires soon. And in 3 years time, most others will just follow down this path. The Palm Pre which is out soon has a wireless dock (called the Palm Touchstone). Apple most likely is close to having their version out soon.

So what will happen? We are likely to have many different wire-free charging stations, and a Universal cellphone charger that is DOA. Lets hope they standardize the wire-free technology a little faster.

-- rv

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Chompr - Hamburger grasper....

My mind just cannot compute this. More at - Gizmodo. See the comments for some serious entertainment.

I wonder if they have conducted any Usability trials on this device?

So does this have any practical use?

These are in the class of devices that once can consider "cool". Kinda like those fancy user interfaces in Sci-fi movies, where the objective is to design a user interface that looks nice on a super large screen [ridiculously large fonts, insanely rich colors, useless animation effects, excotic sound effects, animated backgrounds etc. etc.]. It would be hell if one were forced to actually use these user interfaces everyday. Personally, I classify the animation effects of Windows Vista (screen flipping) and the new UI themes in Linux into the same bucket. They look fantastic in the demo's, but have no real value beyond that.

Will the burger holder work? All I can see is anyone using this will now have to clean their hands as well as this device. Not to mention all that accumulated build-up of sauce over time on this contraption.

Will it sell? Such devices will move in some volume around Christmas and potentially Fathers day. To be avoided at all costs for Valentines day or Mothers day.

-- rv

Friday, February 13, 2009

Monkey see ... Monkey do...

Microsoft will soon open retail outlets (just like Apple).

If that news alone is not weird enough, given the current economic climate ... it gets worse. They actually hired a Wal*Mart veteran to help them with their retail store. So, I guess they are planning on selling Windows 7 right out of shipping containers in dimly lit stores at $2.00 per box.

Oh yes, they are also going to provide an App Store for Windows Mobile just like the iPhone has.

I just hope Windows 7 sells well .... they are going to be needing the $$ to pull a few more holes.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Interesting test questions (from mid-term exam)

This is a link I picked up on Reddit:

See questions 19, 20 and 21.

I'm now going to spend valuable time thinking of viable ways to translate this into Programming related (or) Project Management related questions. Wondering if the University will invest some $$ into research material acquisition .... [[it will all make sense once you look at the actual questions]]

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

ANZ Money Manager again...

I recently wrote a post about ANZ Money Manager. My review was not exactly too kind, esp. regarding their choice of Flash animation. As far as I can see, the default page has changed (it was probably something they planned to do). The new Flash animation is a little bit more interesting, and most certainly different. I still think a simple static page with images of the actual screens will be more effective -- and it may happen as they built it out.

The real interesting part was that ANZ actually responded to the blog (you can see their response at the end of my blog message, it was polite and actually asked me to send an email to their support staff raising my browser compatibility issue). It was really good to see a solid and pro-active team that was responding to the feedback. I will also send in my browser rendering issue directly (with a screen-grab, so they can see and correct as needed).

Now, the real question was -- "How did ANZ actually find my blog post?". I was chatting with Andrew this morning about that, and he suggested doing a quick search to see if the blog was picked up by Google.

So was Andrew right? Well, he was spot on --if you search "ANZ Money Manager blog" it shows that post I made as the top hit by Google Page rank.

-- RV

What should a plan contain?

I was just reading some of the 'new plan' from the US Govt. about how they will get the economy fixed. I have not been formally training in Economics, so to some extent I'm not quite sure I understand their mental model and vocabulary.

But from any sensible perspective, a plan should consist of the following parts:
  1. A statement of the current problem (where are we?)
  2. What are the objectives? (Where do we want to go? and Why?). Objective need to be S.M.A.R.T
  3. Assumptions made in order to determine the problem as well as the objectives
  4. What are the resources available, and How will they be put to use to achieve objectives.
  5. What is likely to go wrong? (Risks!)
  6. Sanity Check -- Is the plan internally consistent? Is the plan likely to work in the external context?

To some extent, the common item that comes to mind for most people when the word 'plan' is used is a 'Gantt Chart' or something similar like a Work Breakdown Structure. This will explain what work will get done and by which resource. Unfortunately, in many cases the problem statement and assumptions matter a lot more. The human brain is wired to look for solutions based on how a problem is framed.

The actions from the US govt. suggest that they see 'lack of consumption' as the problem. But, what if we state the problem as debt driven consumption? Would the current solutions be still valid?

Now, back to 'new plan' by the US govt., as far as I could see .... the problem, the objectives, the assumptions, nor the resources available have NOT been stated clearly. As far as I can tell, there is no validity checks made.

So, here is my attempt at articulating it...

Problem: People are not spending money, causing the economy to shrink (as it is currently measured).

Goal: Expand the economy by getting people to spend money again.

1. Economy can expand forever -- no questions.
2. Resources available are infinite.
3. Where resources are finite (as evident to a 4 year old), it is possible to increase productivity infinitely, because humans are creative, inventive etc. This will imply resources are infinite.
4. When we do not have resources today, we can borrow from the future or other people. Paying back these people is optional.
5. Energy is cheap, will continue to be cheap forever.
6. People around the world will continue to work for low wages, face hard choices, pollute their local environments and send their savings/manufactured goods to USA forever.
7. Most of the people on the USA will focus their efforts increasingly towards inventing/'designing' new gadgets. People from the rest of the planet (particuarly Asia) will take these designs and convert them into gadgets for consumption/enjoyment of the Americans. This will continue forever, because people around the planet can think of nothing better to do.
8. Climate 2.0 will never be released.
9. People from around the world will continue to give precious resources and energy to the USA in exchange for Hollywood movies.
10. People are happy to be employed. The salary they take home is not as important as a job.

Resources Available: US dollars, good-will, a super-large military, land, buildings, civil servants.

Actions to solve problem: "Spend money". Where money does not exist, borrow it. If borrowing is not possible, print it.

Risks: The money printing press may run out of ink as we add more zeros. Mitigation: Force everyone to use digital currency.

Sanity Check: All assumptions are valid. External environment/Global political and social context will be static.

So, do I think it will work? .... I'll let you arrive at your own conclusion. But, I'm looking towards the day when hard-currency will be completely banned in favor of digital currencies and transactions to the risk outlined above. There is going to be a lot of work for IT professionals :)

Friday, February 06, 2009

ANZ Money Manager....

ANZ Bank recently launched a new product called 'Money Manager'. The aim is that it would take a 'read-only' snap shot of all your bank transactions and then display them visually -- summarize the data -- and potentially scare you half-to-death once you know the real state of affairs. It potentially will have links to Doctors and other medical practitioners.

The idea is not new, this has been done quite well by a product called 'Mint' in US. That service gets just about every award there is for online financial management tools.

So, what can I tell you about ANZ Money Manager? The site is pretty much a work in progress (it even spouts the Beta logo) --- but it has some very interesting design choices.

1. When you attempt to learn about the service -- it spends about a couple of geological era's actually loading a massive Flash animation. It has a cute robot (not the best metaphor for financial matters btw). They pretty much broke the first rule of web design -- making it rather hard and painful for anyone remotely interested in their product.

2. The Flash animation sadly now attempts to actually layout and render 'text'. Yup -- they decided that HTML was not good enough, and the entire product information is actually presented from inside the Flash applet. (Thankfully, I found a tiny link at the bottom of the page, that says 'Plain HTML'. My recommendation if anyone from ANZ is reading this blog -- please please make the 'Plain HTML' the default page that anyone sees.

3. You want to learn about a product -- so one would expect to see some nice images, screen shots -- anything worth actually looking at. ANZ has decided that they shall provide all content in 'text' -- embedded inside a Flash applet. Yup -- the only animation/image is a silly robot that makes weird noises at random intervals. I'm certain that the designer was inspired by the 'MS Office Robot' (which was an option that you could use to switch from the paper-clip help dude). Sadly, it just does not work -- the whole thing is a woeful mess in need of some serious adult supervision.

4. Thankfully, the actual site is much better laid out. No more Flash applets or robots. The form that they display for Registering your account seems to have been tested on IE 6, so all other browsers beware -- it does not properly render the page.

5. I have not been brave as yet to provide them with my Netbank login details. They assure me, that it is safe! The technically interesting aspect is that they are 'scraping' the website of other online banks in order to get the information that they need. This would mean that they did not get back-end readonly access from external parties. It would quite a challenge to keep updating the scraping software as other external parties update their online banking systems. I would actually go as far as saying that this is going to be quite messy to maintain in the long-term. I hope they can reach read-only data sharing agreements soon -- they actually should have most of this underlying infrastructure already in place information since their ATM's talk to each other and they can transfer funds between each other.

So will it work! ... My take is that it would be fine for ANZ customers, but scraping financial information from 100 different web sites it not a viable long-term solution. It may be possible and something you can push along for a period of time -- but certainly not a long term solution that you can rely on. We are *not* scraping weather information, sports scores or real-estate listing (I have written simple software to do these myself) -- we are talking about financial data. Any minor errors can cause a lot of heart-ache for far too many people -- not to mention the support nightmare.

I'm happy that this option is starting to become available -- maybe the 'Which Bank' will notice :)

-- rv


Thursday, February 05, 2009

Civilisation 1.0

This was a witty and well crafted short-film (approx. 3min.). Enjoy!