Virtuous cycle

Bartlomiej Owczarek weblog

New war of platforms?

Interesting article by Tom O’Reilly.

Perhaps days of fragmented but free-for-all web are coming to an end, as the gravitational pull of proprietary platforms – Facebook, iPhone, Google services – steadily increases.

On the other hand, many of these platforms in fact broke open spaces that were previously off limits to anyone but owners of the closed ecosystems and the few who bought their way in.

iPhone allowed everyone to write and distribute apps without mobile carrier’s blessing, and Facebook granted access to its social graph, allowing third party apps to take advantage of it.

Automating MS Office for Mac: editing and pasting

I’m getting used to doing serious work on MS Office for Mac, and while it’s still not close to Windows experience, I believe the work is reasonably productive.

But there were few things which I was really missing:

  • F2 shortcut to edit cell / text field in Excel and Powerpoint
  • Keyboard shortcut to paste as unformatted text in Excel and Powerpoint

Solutions that I used don’t seem very elegant (basically making Applescript emulate clicks and key strokes), but at least it works for me and makes me more productive, so I share it below. (read more…)

Just updated goldenberry page

Trying to make it more respectable.

Thoughts on best approach to consulting

I’m just coming out of a fairly intensive period, and of what? Consulting work. Who would have thought.

In the last couple of years I tested relation with consulting industry from three different angles: as an employee of a large international company, as a freelancer, and now as an operator of a stand-alone consulting practice. Each has its set of pros and cons.

As an employee you get comfort, stability and benefits, and initially you can learn a lot. However, you don’t have any control over your life, you are not rewarded for managing projects unless you are a manager, and you are not rewarded for selling projects unless you are a partner (and I love selling projects).

As a freelancer, you get control over your time, you have incentives to sell and most likely you earn more money. You don’t have direct responsibility for projects, so I was thinking you would be under less stress, too. However, I discovered that watching some people managing projects and having little influence over them is more stressful than having the whole responsibility for the project myself.

Which brings me to third mode of operation, negotiating and selling projects oneself. It’s a hell of a fun so far. It’s like having a startup, but in area when you have the most expertise, so it’s like a ride downhill. You make all decisions. You can invest in research and development to improve the way things are delivered. Or hire people you want to work with.

Sure, it might be just a honeymoon period, but I’m enjoying it enormously.

Preparing for the journey

First stop – probably Prague. No further plans, but I am determined to focus on Western Europe this time. Maybe Vienna and the Zurich and then Italy.

Love my new watch. Shines in darkness. No way in hell a bystander can tell a time from it.

Got my first netbook, too. Acer aspire one. Relatively large screen (11”) and keyboard. Relatively good looking. Unfortunately, with Windows on it. Half an hour of updates and tens of warnings and reminders before the thing is ready to work.

So now I am an Apple fanboy, but if I looked closer, I leave more money with Ecco.

I’m not consuming, I’m investing. There is a bigger scheme.

Only couple of things left for tomorrow and off I go.

In Moscow now. New phenomenon: insecurity

I arrived in Moscow on Monday to do some consulting for the coming months. Two months to be precise, unless there is an extension of the contract.

I’m sitting now in the huge space of Crowne Plaza lobby, a facility with an interesting history – or so I was told – but I cannot find it written anywhere (i.e. not on wikipedia). Colleague told me the complex was built in the 70s and became a rare enclave of capitalism within soviet Moscow, where people in western clothes could be seen, prostitutes abound etc. (full fledged capitalist environment in any case).

What else. The weather is shitty and I can hardly mobilize myself to do any work on Ogito side.

There seems to be a new element which came to light after I was last here, as an effect of the crisis.

People I work with, and they would be typical new middle class representatives, talk about feeling insecure in the country, anxiety can clearly be felt, to the point that makes them worry about state of things in Russia.

In the time of prosperity any troubling signs were filtered out before they could reach their consciousness. Things like political killings or corruption were known to exist, but not something successful specialists aiming for new cars and apartments would worry about.

Plus they bought into nationalistic theme, where every unpleasant fact was dismissed as exaggeration driven by hostile external propaganda.

Not anymore. Moscow streets were always a curiosity, where luxurious cars of the elite are mixing seamlessly with working class in ancient Russian ladas. Now, low income workers start to display open hostility towards suits passing by on the street.

Police would be expected to separate the extreme layers of the society, but unfortunately anyone in the uniform is considered rather a potential threat than protection. Men in uniforms look to benefit from their status for extortion and not serve anyone.

Prosperity is over for now and status quo where everyone is paid into submission through oil money may become unsustainable. Things may get ugly then.

Politics in Poland continuing to get better (and younger, prettier too)

Agnieszka Pomaska, 29, will become a new member of the Polish parliament. She barely missed being elected in Gdansk last time, now she will take place of a new EU representative.

She is a hell of a sportswoman, studied politology and apparently did a good job in Gdansk’s government (can’t tell since I’m not from Gdansk).

With liberal party getting 45% of votes in the middle of the recession, Polish politics doesn’t leave a lot to complain about, but surely it wouldn’t hurt to have more young politicians.

Even better if they understood new technologies and helped the country compete – topics like user-friendly copyright law and support for high-tech startups could use some spokesmen.

3D map visualizations of data from presidential inauguration

Some impressive map overlays (phone calls data during Obama inauguration):

I find visualizing data to be such a cool topic – which can easily be seen from the number of posts related to statistics on Ogito blog, like this one.

But there is often a gap between aesthetics and usefulness of advanced visuals.

To be useful we typically require easy access to lots of context, to be able to draw any conclusions from the data, for example:

  • ability to drill down – investigate what contributes to the variable value
  • ability to compare variable level through time
  • ability to compare variable level in case of different objects (e.g. competitors, regions, etc.)

(Ogito statistics for cities — registration required to see the charts — use simple Google Charts and tables with links to underlying sets of objects, and this is already enough to get the basic understanding outlined above)

Sometimes complex visualizations add difficulty to perform these basic operations rather than reduce it.

Giving ground to the kids

It used to be like this: kids were first to learn new technologies, and then explained them to their less savvy parents.

In my family it was always the case, with stuff like VCR and computers.

I was always curious if that situation will remain with my generation, or if perhaps we are different – world is so much about learning something new all the time, that we simply cannot afford to fall back on getting used to new things quickly.

I got my first feeling that I was behind a kid (10 years old daughter of a friend) a couple of days ago, when we were skyping and she used XD emoticon (written form), and I didn’t know what she meant.

First sparrow?

Google Waves goodbye to email (and Microsoft)

Google revealed its stealth Wave project, with the announcement timed, by the way, within minutes after Microsoft Bing’s coming out.

Wave is an attempt to redefine and merge communication media, possibly replacing email, IM and others.

The demo looked really cool. Sadly Wave is not available yet – but I am really eager to check it out when it opens.

Demo lasted more than an hour, the video is available at project’s homepage.

Briefly, Wave aims to replace exchanging messages back and forth, which is the current practice, with single threads, called waves.

Different stuff can be added to waves – messages, but also photos and instant messaging.

In fact they implemented IM in a way that allows to follow each keystroke of the counterpart – like in good old days of Talk sessions on unix systems.

Meanwhile, Microsoft rebranded its search engine to “Bing” and tries to promote it as a “decision engine”, tailoring search results layout depending on the recognized query context (e.g. travel related search) and presenting structured information on its own page, rather than rely on user to go to any of the results.

I like the direction Microsoft is taking, but at this point I would be more excited about Wave’s ability to change my daily routing rather than Bing.

Bing is at most evolutionary step in the right direction, while Wave has more revolutionary feeling to it.

Note: this doesn’t bode well for Microsoft, which is an underdog compared to Google. In this position it should be Microsoft coming up with revolutionary ideas, not Google. Microsoft fails to show real innovation for all the dollars it sinks into search (for years already).

Another note: Wave makes me think of tremendous advantage Google has thanks to it capabilities in mass scale, real time processing. Building a system like this would be a challenge for a small startup.

Browser to gain lots of power, soon

Just reading stuff from Google I/O.

The event was used to showcase some of the things we can expect from the browsers in the (near?) future. Screenshot from one of the demos:

All this purely browser computing (javascript and html). Soon things like video and location will be available in the browser without any plugins.

Check out the rest of the demos.

Notes from the event at Techcrunch.

The browser is going to be really powerful, and the promise of writing software that can run anywhere without need of any installation will inspire developers to push the envelope ever further.

Browser apps, which now often look quite rudimentary, might evolve rapidly.

All this erodes value of the underlying OS, so it’s not surprising that Microsoft is dragging its feet in this area.

Changing the game: fee structures

There is an interesting story of Boies Schiller at

Boies Schiller is a legal firm, so how can it be interesting?

What is interesting is that they are very successful due to their willingness to use flexible fee structures. For example, they agree with the client to cap his legal expenses, or base their remuneration mostly on success fees.

On the other hand in consulting success fees are also used sometimes (restructuring jobs, which can be quantified with relative ease), but not very often, so I’m thinking if finding some areas in which risk could be shared with the client would not reveal interesting opportunities.

Must be a better way to do business process documentation

The last project was all about process documentation. To be honest, these are not exactly my favorite kinds of projects, mostly because they can be easily associated with long hours of unthankful, tedious work.

Why tedious? Well, one reason is that process documentation tends to have large volume, while efforts required to produce it are mostly not automated.

I was wondering if there is any simple way to streamline this kind of jobs, aside from hiring more analysts or investing in a some BPM software package, which would probably be an overkill for most of the projects I did.

Making any amendments to the processes is especially pita, due to all the custom diagrams interlinked with detailed textual content.

(that is if you use diagrams + text – sometimes just slides are used, especially for high-level documents – I think text is much more flexible if you need to accommodate more information)

While in fact, amending the design based on remarks from business users is the core of process-related projects.

Process-related projects shouldn’t be such a chore – if you take away all the time wasted with Microsoft Office, these projects allow to get the best idea of how the business really works.

Looking back, projects involving deep understanding of processes provide most powerful references today.

The kind of customized process work that is done during relatively short strategy project shouldn’t be mistaken with implementing whole “process-driven” approaches in the company, for which elaborate business process management IT solutions exist.

The idea is to store process designs in central repository, where they can be easily versioned, accessed by large groups of employees (which can be assigned different access rights), monitored, and modified.

Truth is – maybe it’s because it’s Eastern Europe and we are backwards – I never saw any of these system in real world use at any of the clients. Perhaps they are more popular in production company than the financial sector. I remember one Russian client mentioning before the project started that they had one, and that deliverables (processes to a large extent) would eventually have to be integrated in it somehow, but it was the only time the topic emerged.

I think there are plenty of good reasons for such solutions to have difficulties in real life adoption.

Enabling new users (like external consultants) to access the system requires at least creating new logins, in worst case it might require to buy additional licenses. Hardly easier that just emailing process documents.

People are used to work with Word or Powerpoint documents, but might need time to master unfamiliar interface of the process application.

Even though usually it should be possible to export process information in format like PDF, it might not be possible to export in format that is editable, so ad-hoc participants can contribute remarks.

The reason are many and truly converting organization to be managed around a consistent BPM system must be a daunting task. And partial implementations often leave orphaned systems that are not used.

For now, I was rather thinking if there was any way to improve the way stand-alone process documentation is created, rather than an end-to-end system.
(read more…)

Just finished my first commercial project

Ogito is fun to work on and all, but it’s not going to be a huge money maker in a foreseeable future, so sooner or later there’s going to be liquidity problem.

I saw two obvious solutions: find an investor or do freelance consulting.

Finding investors is something I don’t have much experience in, and moreover the timing is not too good, crisis and what not. I was lucky to have some friends declare to invest if necessary (which was not necessary yet), but as far as investment funds are concerned, I talked to just two of them and that was it.

Consulting, on the other hand, is a proven and quite manageable (I hope) revenue engine. Having commercial activity in form of consulting, in which I have experience, would allow to finance all the other activities, in which I don’t have so much experience just yet.

A week ago on Monday I woke up to see an email which could go as an rfp, and voila, till the evening my first freelance project was sold (why bother to execute your strategy if you can just let it happen).

The client: an investment fund. Ironic.

Actually it’s not really my first freelance consulting, but I’m taking into account just post-corporate period.

We managed to cover quite a lot of ground in less than a week, and both sides are happy. Three sides even, since I don’t really like to work alone.

Maybe more will come. Will see. Need some business card eventually, if more are supposed to come.

RESTful Ogito: I need to clean up some mess

I decided to rebuild something I specifically hoped would not need to be touched, namely Ogito’s internal routes structure in Rails.

Ogito uses links looking like this:

The idea in itself is ok – links include context information like city and country, so that they are more meaningful.

Much better, in my opinion, than links like /places/4652. Not even from the point of view of SEO, but rather of users who are given additional hint if the link is relevant to their search or not.

However, the purpose doesn’t really justify the way I implemented them (read more…)

« Previous PageNext Page »