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Comment UX is not always UI! (Score 3, Informative) 192

A few thoughts

- UX is not always UI. Most discussions on this topic end up being about UI aesthetics, the Metro look, and what not. UX is about the user experience. Eye candy certainly has the bling aspect to it, and might even get you into the door with certain clients. However, I do feel that for complex products (ERP certainly is one!), what is more important is that the application functionality and application data should be structured around the way people *want* to use the application. It should not be based on how product designers or even UX experts think that people *should* use the product.

tl;dr - You can improve UX significantly by making small changes in a legacy user interface.

- From what I have seen, big bang approaches to UI overhaul (or even functional overhaul) almost *never* works for a large complex product. Think about chipping away at the problem instead. Think about the 80/20 rule of getting the most bang for the buck by making a few quick changes that can significantly improve the UX of your product.

- Consider a survey or face to face interviews or best, both. If you can measure the benefits of the changes you are making, or even get enough qualitative anecdotal feedback (especially from power users and from key clients), you will have a much stronger case for making more far reaching changes.

- This is a topic of debate and some controversy - but consider the Net Promoter Score. It gives you at least one way to measure what your clients think about your product.

Comment Re:Not actually that impressive.... (Score 1) 179

GPU floating point performance has been leading general purpose x86 CPU floating point performance by an order of magnitude - for many many years now. There's nothing new in what you are saying.

What is indeed new is that this is the first general purpose x86 based solution that gives you similar floating point performance as a graphics card. And you get all the advantages of the general purpose CPUs as well as all the x86 codebase you might want to support.

There must also be a reason why the number 1 supercomputer on the planet, the Tianhe 2, uses Xeon Phi.

Oh, and while the dedicated RAM allocation is much smaller than the nVidia card in question, it is also much higher bandwidth, and is stacked RAM, similar to AMD's HBM.

Comment Re:So? (Score 1) 259

The answer is that "walkable" Evanston is only walkable in a handful of spots - downtown, parts of Chicago Avenue, Dempster/Main shopping districts. Effectively, only the part of the "city" that is east of Ridge Street or the 8 blocks nearest Lake Michigan.

Which is a tiny part of actual Evanston - the majority of which is an old-line suburb with a mix of single family homes and small apartments with lots of cars. You have two other business "districts" (Central/Green Bay and Emerson/Dodge) but the two block Central district is the only one that's "walkable" and it doesn't have a grocery store. Dodge is a high crime area (and location of the high school) - walking is a daylight operation only and even then there's parts you don't walk.

The Evanston city council is basically made up of goo-goo types from the richer East Side attempting to buy off the poor South/West side with services that no one can afford. It sort-of works - unless by "works" you mean has a reasonable budget and tax base and schools that perform on par with surrounding communities, in which case it doesn't work at all. But they do have better restaurants...

Yes, Dodge is definitely dodgy. But you miss the point completely - the article was about Evanston using a contrarian strategy (unlike other suburbs) and reinventing itself to attract businesses, shops, and more residents.

And that fact is undeniable. It is indeed the suburb with the biggest buzz compared to most of Chicagoland, or even other Northshore "villages" or "towns" in Chicagoland. Yes, this has not been inclusive and Evanston has really rough parts. But it has had this problem for decades - the problem has not arisen because of the commuter oriented policies. And for what it is worth, the outlying communities are also seeing the benefits of overall prosperity of Evanston. Slowly, yes, I will agree with you.

And if you talk about being "on par" with neighboring communities, you were really referring to the much richer communities North - Wilmette, Winnetka, Glencoe etc. Which are also 97% white communities where every rich white person in Chicago ends up sooner or later because they want to be around more people like them, and because of New Trier high school (or the other private schools in that area).

But you conveniently ignore the other neighborhoods like Rogers Park, Skokie, Devon etc. For better or for worse, Evanston is really a meeting ground of these two very different worlds. Fact of the matter is, it has been able to manage these contradictions and challenges quite decently. Room for improvement - for sure.

But you are cherry picking when comparing Evanston to other communities, while ignoring the other very real challenges that are an integral part of Evanston and always were. You simply cannot have diversity, safety, prosperity, amazing schools - all at once, all at the same time. At least Evanston is doing something bold about this.

Comment Re:So? (Score 1) 259

Most cities that got established before cars became popular were built to be walkable. Hence, they were also densely packed, especially around the city center. And public transit systems had their focal point around the city center. Evanston was also built this way. So yes, every old city is essentially a commuter oriented city.

The big difference is - most old cities let this advantage rot. They started copying the suburban city planning formula instead and became car friendly. Which meant massive parking lots, spaced out buildings, lower population density, ultrawide roads and expressways. Fact of the matter is, after cars became popular, most Americans started valuing privacy, acres of backyards, etc. They want to create their own little isolated mini universe inside their private lots.

But I digress.

The real effect of this can be seen everywhere in America - except for New York and other old cities in the East Coast, most other modern cities are built mainly as car oriented cities and suburbs - even their downtowns.

Mind you, I am not being judgmental here as to what is right and what is wrong. People on this have even leapt to conclusions that high density means socialist/commie and low density means conservative! Which is a strange extrapolation, from my perspective.

What Evanston did and is noteworthy, is that it bucked the trend and took a contrarian approach instead. It changed the zoning laws to allow higher density buildings with significantly lesser parking allocation. And the numbers from the article are quite startling. A parking space costs a builder $20000 - $50000. On top of this, huge parking requirements means that a builder literally cannot build a good looking building in a small lot - either he has to build a massive parking lot next to the building (which means he needs a much bigger lot - again destroying density and walkability) - or he has to build several levels of grey ugly parking, and only then can build apartments or offices on top of it.

And to be fair, the timing worked out too. Smartphone apps have made commuting so much more easier. And Evanston now has literally 50+ good quality restaurants, pubs, microbreweries, movies, dozens of doctors and dentists, hardware store, Whole Foods and Trader Joe's and Jewel Osco, and pharmacies - all in a 10 minute walking radius. And because of the density, the restaurants are able to do business. Even other Northshore communities now come to Evanston to eat and dine instead of going downtown.

Comment How I learned to stop worrying and cut the cord (Score 2) 236

When my Comcast bill steadily crept up and reached $250 with all the bundling (internet, cable, phone - which I didn't even hook up after a year), I got fed up and seriously looked at cutting the cord. Plus, the customer service was so frustrating that I just wanted to shake off the whole bundling and customer service mess so I could breathe a little better.

I first solved the internet problem by hooking up with a local vendor - a setup that I ran in parallel with Comcast's internet for a month or so. I live in a building and my local vendor has hooked up her pipe directly to the Ethernet switch in my building, so all I have to do is to hook up my wireless router to the Ethernet port in my living room. Quite elegant actually. Cabling is Cat5, but really, for my needs (~30-50mbps), that really is quite sufficient. The only downside is that the local vendor is not fiber or even copper all the way through. They have a wireless connection before they reach my building, which means that in really bad weather, connectivity is sometimes spotty. And sometimes, the wind is so strong that it moves the dish that they use for transceiving. So a tech has to reposition the dish, and I lose internet connectivity when that happens. Has happened a few times last year, but all in all, the service is decent and support is actually quite nice and human.

Next problem: OTA. I was really tempted by options like Simple TV. I especially liked its Roku integration - which meant that I could have used Roku as my one stop shop for all TV content - on-demand or live. However, the reviews also indicated that it did have some drawbacks. So I ended up buying a Mohu Leaf indoor antenna (powered), a ChannelMaster+ DVR without storage, and a 256GB pen drive for $80 to act as storage. Antenna positioning was a bit finicky but in the end, the setup worked. Channelmaster was quite decent actually in terms of user interface, and would even get programming info from the internet for free. I didn't go for a Tivo because I hated paying a monthly fee for channel info and for their service - in my mind, the whole point of cord cutting was to reduce these monthly payments.

I already had Netflix and Amazon Prime, but the Roku2 XS was hanging fairly often. So I replaced it with a Roku 3 (about $90) and boy, did it make a difference. I also added Hulu and Sling subscriptions. Sling really represents the future of television broadcasting. The only downside was their sports coverage - while they show ESPN, I was unable to get football. I was getting football on OTA but due to several storms etc during last winter, the coverage was often spotty. In a couple of cases, I had recorded football games and was avoiding seeing the score so I could watch it later not knowing the outcome. However, a significant part of the match was unwatchable because the screen was totally pixellated or too flickery. It is interesting to see how much we have taken reliability for granted. A nice thing about Sling though is that it allows you to see all programs in all channels "on demand" that were aired in the last 48 hours. In other words, it acts as a DVR that records everything in every channel for the last 48 hours. Something that no DVR currently does today. Well, scratch that. Comcast allows us to see a lot of content "on demand", but it often takes them a few days to make the content available on demand after it has aired.

Finally, I also got Google Chromecast so I could throw or cast non-youtube content on to my TV. Roku finally has a youtube channel and also has a couple of other apps but there are often limitations. I did a A/B comparison of youtube over Chromecast versus youtube via Roku (directly via Roku as well as streaming from my phone - but casting into Roku's youtube channel instead of casting into Chromecast). The funny/ironic thing is that the quality of video and audio on Roku's youtube channels (direct streamed as well as cast from my phone) was significantly superior compared to Chromecast. Ironic because Google's Chromecast is inferior for Google's own youtube compared to Roku.

I also use Roku as a full blown media player - I have a USB stick that has my music from my CDs stored as FLACs and high bitrate MP3s. I use Roku's app to browse audio content and play it from the attached USB stick. I also use Roku for other streaming audio channels - such as Pandora. It has 100+ audio apps and it really covers almost everything. I've been using Roku as my audio player since my Squeezebox Classic died and since it is no longer being made (what a tragedy that was). I have held the notion that Squeezebox was the best audio player made (barring multi $k high end audiophile options - yes, Auralic Aries, I am looking at you), but really, Roku is not a bad alternative at all.

Another super awesome thing about Roku 3 is that the remote has a headphone jack in it. It works seamlessly and when I want to watch a movie or a documentary silently, especially when everyone else is sleeping. I can just plug in any headphones or earbuds I have lying around and it "just works". And works with fairly good audio quality. Consider that wireless headphones cost as much as the Roku device itself and have additional hassles of keeping them charged etc.

Finally, phone. I was paying a ton of money (about $50 or so) for Vonage. While Vonage's service was good, I wanted to try something different. So I replaced it with Ooma. The device costs $100 but it gives me lifetime phone service and lifetime unlimited domestic calls - which honestly, is a no brainer. Service and voice quality has been as good as anything else I have ever used for telephony. International calls are not free (unlike domestic calls) but are still priced very reasonably - about 6 cents or so a minute. And the device has an answering machine built into it.

All in all, I felt that despite Channelmaster and OTA channels, I was quite let down and disappointed by it. If I had to do it again, I would not even bother. I guess the main reason is that the content available OTA just does not interest me personally (except football and sports of course!). And then it is spotty and unreliable. I would focus purely on stuff available online - on-demand or live streaming. I only wish that services like Sling would expand their coverage to become full blown cable TV alternatives. Even if they priced themselves similarly (say, $50-$80) and offered enough options for users to mix and match channels at different price points, it still represents a significantly better option compared to traditional cable. It is to cable what Google Fi is to cell phone services. For phone, I would highly recommend Ooma. Just as I would highly recommend Roku 3.

Oh, and I would also highly recommend a Logitech Harmony 650 (or above) remote. I was able to cut down from 5 remotes down to 1. While I can manage multiple remotes, my family was just so frustrated and would often get stuck because the TV was on, the DVR was on, but the AVR was switched off - or some such.

Comment Not always true (Score 1) 152

I dislike over generalizations, and while i agree with the theme of the article, this is my objection.

Take the flip side. If you have a programmer developing software in a business area that she or he has no prior training or formal education in or kniwledge of, would you consider that programmer to be useless and worthless?

I suspect the true answer lies somewhere in between, and is also subjective. In a given project team, the effectiveness of an individual (manager or otherwise) is dependant on how well that individual is able to use their skills to help the team achieve their project goals.

That does not mean that every single individual has to technical. It only means that the individual has to be highly effective in what they do, and their effectiveness should be aligned to benefit the team.

For example, if a team is developing an accounting software, a manager who is an accountant could be as effective as a purely technical manager. The accountant manager still needs to understand software and system limits/tradeoffs, but by that token, the engineers in her team aldo need to understand accounting. And if a bright engineer can pick up accounting basics on the fly, then a bright accountant can also pick up technology basics.

Assuming that the latter is not possible is just hubris and snobbery, IMHO.

Comment Re: Never (Score 1) 118

Apparently PMP doesn't include reading comprehension, because you're attacking straw-men. Go back and read what I wrote, and see if you can come up with a more coherent response.

I will try to reword my response so that you are capable of understanding my straight-forward point.

Most of your post is trying to explain why PMP is important. You do it by saying, "the person will have to learn X, the person will have to learn Y, the person will have to know Z." In other words, to show that the certification has value, you also show that a person can learn something by getting the cert.

A certification does not teach, it certifies.

CERTIFY (transitive verb)
- attest or confirm in a formal statement.
"the profits for the year had been certified by the auditors"
synonyms: verify, guarantee, attest, validate, confirm, substantiate, endorse, vouch for, testify to;

- officially recognize (someone or something) as possessing certain qualifications or meeting certain standards.

The irony is thick here. You accuse me of a lack of reading comprehension skills, while you do not understand the meaning of the word, "certification".

You're trying to come up with some roundabout logic that a certification implies learning, or forces you to learn, but that is incorrect. It is subjective and may hold true for some. But I will repeat, a certification is not meant to teach. Technical certification or otherwise.

Of course there are people who already have the skill.....should they get the certification? Usually those people already know if the cert is worth getting or not. They don't ask that question. Furthermore, for those people, a certification is not hard to get, spend a few hours taking the test, a few hundred dollars, no big deal, if they have to.

In some cases, certifications are mandatory. Civil aviation for example. In most countries, an aircraft engineer (the guy who inspects your aircraft before it takes off) needs to be certified by a central civil aviation governance body. They get certified and licensed for a specific model of aircraft and have to periodically renew their license to continue to do their job. Regardless of what skills they possess or how many years they have been doing it.

If a certification is not hard to get, and if it adds value to your resume (or so you think), then I am not sure why someone would not get it. It sounds like a no-brainer. And in some ways, it the same argument that someone would make to get a college degree. And many would advice you to get it, even though the cost and time commitment are non-trivial.

The entire argument in this thread hinges around a "bottom of the barrel" argument. If you are being interviewed for a job by incompetents, or work in an oganization that values certification over skill, that is a different matter. However, these two aspects (organizations valuing certifications, and organizations valuing skills) are not mutually exclusive. There are many organizations that value both, and people who do not hold this easy to get certification, are at a disadvantage. Just as someone from a good school does enjoy some advantages even in good engineering oriented or dynamic organizations.

And by your logic, no-one should be required to get a driver's license, especially for those people who feel really confident of their driving skills.

And jeez man, you don't have to get antagonistic. You triggered me off, and I realize it in hindsight. So I guess I am too.

Comment Re: Never (Score 1) 118

You are oversimplifying this. Project management is not one skill. It is a collection of skills, techniques, adherence to certain processes and best practices.

Most people acquire these skills on the job, either hands on, or by getting mentored by others or by watching others or even through past failures.

But that could still mean that a technically skilled project manager is still lacking awareness of some aspects that she or he should be considering. Even simple things like doing effort estimation correctly. By doing it anonymously and via consensus for example (wideband delphi or planning poker) instead of making unilateral judgment calls on estimates. I mention this because i see technically strong managers often run roughshod over their team, sneer at the estimates their team provides or shame them publicly, mico manage the technical design, etc.

You can also do the agile equivalent of PMP and become a certified scrum master, but in all these cases, the certification is meant to test your awareness of project mgmt fundamentals.

Yes, they will ask you to drink their koolade a bit. PMP will ask you to read the PMBOK for example. But the certification is not meant to train. It is meant to be a forcing function for you to educate yourself on all these aspects.

The point remains though.. how is it a completely bogus endeavor? I buy the point that focusing solely on certifications during hiring is stupid. And a pmp will not make a technically weak person a great manager.

But that is only misuse of the certification. It still has value if used correctly.

Comment Re: Never (Score 1) 118

You have it backwards. The name should give you a hint too. A certification is meant to certify a certain skill or capability that you should already possess. It also certifies that you are aware of the process and formal rigor you are supposed to follow when you handle certain responsibilities.

Such as project management. A PMP certification for example certifies that you know how to handle various aspects of project management. It also certifies that you make the right judgment calls in handling various ambiguous situations.

While everyone on this thread is loving to hate PMP, the flip side is that i have seen many bright engineers and leads become project managers, handle some core aspects brilliantly, but completely ignore other aspects. Such as communication. Or establishing a change management process. Or failing to get the buy in of all stakeholders. Or even identifying all stakeholders and keeping them adequate in the loop and communicating to them.

A PMP also requires you to prove that you have a few thousand hours of project mgmt under your belt. They also audit you quite frequently to verify your claim by checking the references you provide.

And most PMPs are not even in the software industry. It is far more sought after and considered important in construction, civil engg, etc. In industries where you cannot dick around and screw up a big project because you, the project manager, are not even aware of the various things you need to consider. Being bright unfortunately is not enough in these situations. Things like workload buildup and identifying critical paths and dependencies and having a formal risk mitigation plan.. this is not fluff. If your cement mixer arrives and your people are not ready, you are incurring losses.

I am not glamorizing PMP. Yes, it has become a magic wand in some cases. But most of the replies make grand ill informed claims about how trashy PMP is. I beg to differ. It is a certification by a well established neutral body that does its due diligence. The trainers might be shady but the certification is not.

You can flame me now.

Comment Re: More and more abstraction (Score 1) 289

Not sure why this post was downmodded. It really is true. A significant part of developing a piece of software or a service is in the plumbing, the mechanics, the boilerplate code, the rote incremental work that needs to be.. done.

And this becomes worse. A major cost and effort of any software is in its maintenance phase, not the design or even development phase. Now the job of maintaining the software; through L1, L2, and L3 support; becomes even more menial and labor intensive.

And this is exactly the same evolution path that the manufacturing industry went through, and is going through.

So the resentment at low cost IT workers is not that different from the resentment that Asimov portrays in his books, where people hate robots because they think the robots will replace them.

And yeah, they are all right. Only the adapts survive.

Comment Re: They also believe (Score 1) 129

Don't be silly. We went from cars to the moon because two of the richest and most powerful countries funneled a significant part of their money, talent, and resorces to make it happen. And had deep pockets to survive multiple failures and ability to spend zillions of dollars.

Compare this to a startup that seems to have equally grandiose ambition but a fraction of the ability and resources.

Nobody is pulling you down from trying any of these moonshot ideas. But if you want people to really believe that you have a good chance of succeeding, you need to do more than have fancy ambitions. Especially if you are asking people to i vest their money and their careers on your dreams.

Too many people are drinking the bay area koolade.

Comment Re: Obvious fail is obvious... (Score 1) 391

That is funny and actually true for many audiophiles. The burn in myth.

But i find it interesting that no one called out ars on their shoddy experiment. If you are going to bother going through a scientific ish experiment, at least do it in a better manner.

Someone who buys a "high performance part" would be doing it on a system with other components that are well built. DACs and preamps and power amps and sources with well built power supplies, components with matching impedances, high quality speakers or headphones that offer neutral and accurate audio reproduction. Such as Sennheiser 800s or even studio monitors.

And you use well mastered and well recorded audio that has enough instruments, enough detail, enough dynamic range, enough variety - that you are testing accurately and comprehensively.

If you are going to test a high end car part for example, no matter how hokum it sounds, you will still test it on a high performance car, on a track, and driven by pro or amateur racers. In other words, enthusiasts.

You will not likely put the replacement part in a corolla and ask someone to drive it on neighborhood lanes.

Apologies for the car analogy. But i find it disingenuous that no one has sarcasm and derision when people spend stupid money on cars, parts, components, etc. And there are ricers and there are serious performance enthusiasts, and there are people who will pay a million for a vintage.

But there is a special kind of sneering that happens only with high end audio equipment. I submit that there is a lot of snake oil, as it is in many other pursuits and hobbies as well. But getting accurate audio reproduction is extrely difficult and fiddly. The component setup is extremely fragile in terms of how small inocuous component changes do make audible differences. Good or bad. And that is what some take advantage of.

You can choose where you want to draw the line.. i.e. how much of an enthusiast you want to be. But as in other pursuits, for the true enthusiast, there is often no point of diminishing return. There is only the pursuit.

So be gentle, please!

Comment Re:Compustick (Score 1) 158

There are tons of super compact PCs available nowadays with Intel and AMD chips. They are larger than the ridiculously small Compute Stick but are still only as big as a few CD cases.

Like this AMD A6 based Zotac ZBOX for example. Fully built up with 4GB RAM, 64GB SSD, AMD HD8250 graphics - can be easily used as a dumb terminal (even as a decent standalone). Then use a remote desktop app to control your desktop. And get a wireless keyboard like Logitech K400 (or its big brother). You will still not be able to game (possibly) but you can pretty much do everything else.

Comment Re:So, what's the plan? (Score 1) 63

Sure, all you need is another $3,000 software package (and
another $2,495 per year to keep it up to date) to let you do
anything with the FPGA... no problem, right?

Everyone has that kind of cash laying around for every box
they own!

Oh, you forgot $10k in annual support cost.

That's absolutely not a problem when you are running computational workloads for your business that has millions riding on it. Doesn't even have to be mission critical stuff. Even for regular analytics (never mind the "big-data" buzzword). $6k for a significant performance boost (even for specific workloads) and reconfigurability is a piddly amount.

Quark! Quark! Beware the quantum duck!