On The Lean Startup

Not long ago, I considered the “Lean Startup”
a bit of a fad, and author Eric Ries a poster boy of the deeply fashionable
IT startup movement. I’m cynically wary of populism and what the majority
wants so I stayed away. But recently facing the job market again has
encouraged me to think (yet again) about what I can and want to do, and the
book needed to be read, if for no other reason than for topical discussion
in networking coffees and interviews.

On a slightly less cynical note, I am indeed a long-standing if sometimes
cautious advocate of agile approaches to delivering software, and
enthusiastic about the extensions to lean, Kanban, and systems theory. But
I’m no spring chicken hotshot developer either, so my skills and experience
are best served in exploring the enterprise–software boundary, using my
diverse if not generalist technology experiences. Still, like many others,
I am intrigued and impressed by the energy and enthusiasm of the (mostly
web 2.0) startup movement, so I made my A$9.99 Kindle purchase of “The Lean
Startup” and began.

The book has been on the one hand a resonant experience. The ideas have
reinforced my agile inclinations, even outside software, my engineering
mindset, and above all confirmed that we live in an uncertain world, where
any dogmatic view or strategy is suspicious until tested. And on the other
hand it has been a surprise because it speaks to me less about startups
than reigniting agility and innovation in existing enterprises of any size.
It’s about taking a more humble approach to markets and customers, and
elevating learning to a primary activity for everyone in an organisation.

For that reason, I’m recommending it to just about everyone I’ve talked to
lately in the IT business, as an approach to engaging both their customers
better, and also their own organisations and their colleagues. Like big-A
agile, it’s a framework of principles and suggestions, not a recipe, so it
needs individual thought and adaptation, but it’s been the most
thought-provoking book I’ve read all year.

More muzak

It’s been a while since the last reviews, so herewith some musical recommendations from the last six months, with links to Beatport…

ASC: The Gradient Project

ASC has a drum&bass background but has headed more recently into techno territory. This is a 3-track EP of deep house and techno that works nicely but doesn’t particularly have any stand-out themes or motifs. More muzak than active listening.

Method One: Symbol #5

However, on the same label is this release from Method One: a four-track EP of what I would call deep dubtech. Love it. Lots of atmosphere with distinctive touches. Track 3 is a stand-out of lush dubby tech.

ollo: Ape Delay

70s/80s analogue synths and rhythms is the theme of local act ollo. Quirky, melodic, and slightly melancholy, this is their best yet. Friends of mine, and so they let me attempt a couple of remixes that will see the light of day sometime.

SCSI-9: Metamorphosis

High-quality deep lounge tech-house (lounge-tech?) from the Russians. Some with vocals, all with groove.

Various artists: Commercial Suicide

Drum. Bass. A chocolate box of soft and hard centres including artists such as Calibre, Klute, Seba, and Dom & Roland. Turn it up.

Various artists: Elektrax Recordings: (Best of 2011)

From DJ Hi-Shock’s flourishing techno label this is classic dark and edgy 4-4 techno. Best listened to loud and pumped in a dark underground club. I make do with headphones and my eyes closed, but it’s not quite the same.

John Tejada: Parabolas

Bleepy, smooth electro, tech-house, and electronica from a prolific and experienced guy. You know what to expect.

Lone: Galaxy Garden

I like classifying things, but I struggle with this stuff from Lone and friends. Not clubby enough to be house, not 4-4 enough to be techno, not precise enough to be tech-house, not bassy enough to be to d&b, not smooth enough to be lounge. My closest label would be jazzy electronica, but not in a naff way. Think Ian O’Brien, older 4 Hero, and Blasta. Bright and sparkly, keeps moving, with warm major 7th pads everywhere.

Flashbacks

A couple of older tracks re-discovered. Best appreciated in full, with video.

Nanoscope

Nanostudio for iPad and iPhone is the best thing for portable
music-making since Bhaji’s Loops on the Palm five years ago. It gets
away from pattern-based song generation apps like Tabletop and Rhythm
Studio
, which although lovely and fun toys, still make hard work of
joining instrument and drum patterns into a decent track. Their history
lies in 80s sequencers and drum machines, and after the misty eyes have
cleared, we remind ourselves that we’re in a new world of fancy new touch
screens and UI and can transcend historical limitations. On that line,
Garage Band is very impressive but the instrument UIs seem to count
more for folks than the sheer sonic potential that I’m looking for.

sequencer

With Nanostudio on iPad and iPhone, and Nanosync on the Mac to upload
samples and download the tracks, I’m ready to do some creative battle.
Serious creativity requires discipline, which for me means deadlines and
constraints, so my Linchpin-style plan is this: finish one short track
every week, and ship it to the appropriately-titled Nanoscope blog.

The initial rules are:

  • The track must be created and mastered on Nanostudio, any version, either
    on iPad or iPhone

  • Tracks must be no more than three minutes long. Sketches, vignettes,
    impressions, not epics.

  • Any genre, any samples, any sounds, any bpm.

  • A track must be posted each week by the end of Monday, local (Melbourne)
    time

  • Tracks will be named after one of the newest colour schemes on kuler

Short tracks align better with our attention deficit culture. It also means
I can explore more, place a number of smaller bets, and see what pays off.
And, let’s face it, if I don’t have much time, I can quickly throw any old
shit together and call it a conceptual sketch.

There might be some other arbitrary rules or random elements I come up with
over time to enhance the creative process and keep it interesting. And at
some point I’ll stop doing this. We’ll have that discussion then.

The first track is up, just to grease the wheels.

Enterprise APIs

Below are some highlights from articles on enterprise API trends from O’Reilly, Programmable Web, and ZDNet.

  • Enterprise APIs are apparently becoming mainstream as organisations open their silos of data for internal consumption.
  • Enterprise APIs need to align with the business strategy. Most enterprise APIs are now “owned” by the business, not IT.
  • There are increasing numbers of third-party API providers, such as Datafiniti, whose success depends on fostering a developer community around their API, and offering other value-added services.
  • The load on enterprise APIs is unpredictable, so the service implementation needs to be elastic.
  • REST and JSON are already the majority, with SOAP and XML declining.
  • OAuth, both 1.0 and 2.0, is the default for securing APIs, especially for so-called “three-legged” authentication scenarios. Where it competes, OpenID is on the way out.
  • One quick win for implementing internal enterprise APIs is analytics, including the tactical sort I talked about before.
  • SOA, cloud, and enterprise APIs will effectively merge as concepts, and become “the way we do things”.

My thoughts on some of this:

Externally-accessible enterprise APIs make customers do the work, avoiding second-guessing the functionality customers need, and any subsequent delay in deployment. By so doing companies also reduce the cost of doing business, and increase their transparency. More strategically, it can encourage customer investment in building to their API and increasing “stickiness”. Monitoring the use of those APIs (via analytics) can provide a significant source of aggregate and individual customer information.

Among the tradeoffs of opening up enterprise data is of course data security. Another risk is business model security if, for example, substantial IP is visible through the API design and data structures.

Stickiness from implementation investment implies some amount of coupling. SOA and enterprise APIs still require developers to design with them, and generally do some amount of coding. Crucially, they require developers to bind to the API-defined data at design time unless the API is either carefully designed or very simple.

Ideally, an enterprise API should be standardised, with consistent request and response protocols that can be hard-coded across alternate providers, or dynamically discoverable by software agents, either at build or run-time. Even with standard REST approaches such as OData, dynamic or late binding without human intervention requires a level of discoverable semantic knowledge beyond a WSDL-like syntactic description. This is one of the reasons that the Semantic Web was developed, but it seems that mainstream developers are finding it overly complicated. Perhaps. However, for looser coupling and more agile use of enterprise data, automated selection and use of APIs will require a semantic “understanding”, and the significant existing semantic web work will be used and extended.

By example, a CSV file of tabular data, even if expressed in JSON or XML as a structured key-value map, can have machine-comprehensible metadata about the meaning of each column attached. The semantic web already offers the ability to describe each data fields not only in terms of a meaning defined in a common ontology such as UMBEL, but also expected data formats and relationships and dependencies between the fields, using a combination of RDF, Turtle, and OWL. It does require a more formal definition of an enterprise API, but a lot of it could be auto-generated.

I’m exploring. Feel free to agree, comment, or worse.

On Data 2.0

I’ve been thinking lately about what is—for want of a better term—sometimes called Data 2.0. My thoughts have been triggered by internal discussions at my workplace Unico about the direction of our Designer Analytics™ solutions. Caveat: I’m not a content, data, or even database specialist or architect.

Thinking about what could be termed tactical analytics leads to a bunch of follow-on thinking about where that data comes from, what it is, how useful it is, how much there is, how to present it, how to trust it, and so on.

Taking a cue from Michael Porter, my mental model of analytics is about building a value chain, with the following steps:

  1. Capture from data sources such as sensors, logs, feeds, and events
  2. Aggregation; involving filtering, transformation, compressing, often lossy
  3. Storage and indexing into large repositories such as data warehouses, relational databases, key-value stores, and content management systems
  4. Query and retrieval
  5. Analysis, perhaps with statistics, clustering
  6. Presentation of the output; sorting, categorising, summarising, filtering
  7. Visualisation

It occurs to me that tactical is a key word here. As one of my colleagues puts it, our analytics solutions are about “late binding” of the captured un- or semi-structured data, as opposed to the very early binding of structured data in traditional (Data 1.0?) BI, data warehouse, ETL-type solutions, where hundreds of pre-written, pre-ordained management reports are the norm.

By comparison, data 2.0 concerns sets, often large, of unstructured or semi-structured data. Late binding requires that as little data as possible should be thrown away or interpreted, and the downstream activity of query and retrieval is dominated by (often text-based) search, as a more agile approach to extracting sense and meaning from all the data. And because it's tactical, the analytics solution can be a framework for measuring RoI for a particular change project. Baseline at the start, monitor along the way, measure the final improvement, then focus attention elsewhere.

Late binding of data implies loose coupling of systems. SOA is already about looser coupling than pre-existing point-to-point approaches, but there is scope for looser coupling still in things like mashups, using published or enterprise APIs, as tactical responses to getting coherent meaning from disparate data sources. This area is being opened up by approaches like REST, standards such as the OpenData Protocol, nifty products such as ifttt, and ultimately, the Semantic Web.

There’s a lot more to think about here.

On remixing

<p>I&#39;ve been entering remix contests over the last couple of years for fun and challenge, definitely not profit. I take my role as remixer to turn someone else&#39;s track into a collaboration, admittedly in a one-way direction. I try and put a distinctive spin on their track while maintaining respect for the original. It is a creative challenge and a technical one.</p> <p>The creative challenge is to find what resonates in the source track, and to weave something new out of if, whether in the same style, or even into a radically different style. In this process I can&#39;t help but inject my own musical beliefs and preferences. As in writing original compositions I&#39;m sometimes being disciplined in targeting a particular sound or genre (dubstep, electronica...), and at other times I let the track evolve more organically and be more open about what is acceptable. Sometimes I add more compositional elements to the original, at other times I leave some out, to focus on others.</p> <p>Like most creative processes there are iterative phases of exploring followed by phases of evaluation and stripping back what isn&#39;t working. What makes a remix different from an original composition is that you are compelled to work within the constraints of the source material, and we know that constraints are generally good for creativity.</p> <p>The technical challenge is to deliver a well-engineered audio product. I&#39;m less producer than composer, but being a home artist you have to do both, and a remix demands more of the former. Production is both science and art: technically and creatively developing a sound that is both differentiated <em>and</em> listenable. It&#39;s a critical layer in the creative process: it can make a track. Fortunately, my tools of choice—<a href="http://www.ableton.com/">Ableton Live</a> and a selection of plugins—provide endless options for audio manipulation deep into the night.</p> <p>It&#39;s encouraging when it works. A <a href="http://soundcloud.com/cyjet/home-video-i-can-make-you-20">recent remix</a> got an honourable mention and with it the opportunity to release a track on the label. Whether that happens or not, it&#39;s positive feedback. In the meantime I continue writing and remixing stuff. I can&#39;t not.</p> 

Latest muzak

Early impressions and musings on some recent musical acquisitions, largely triggered by Beatport’s latest series of sales. Thank you Beatport, I was getting stale, but my, I’ve got a lot to listen to. So, let’s begin.

Planetary Assault Systems: The Messenger

The latest incoming from Luke Slater is a mix of ambient and repetitive dark quirky techno, but not as hard as some previous outings. It’s rhythm-heavy and achieves this focus by rarely using a bass line, something I noticed only belatedly from his 7th Plain releases. There is subtle depth here that will emerge from repeated listenings.

Blu Mar Ten: Love is the Devil

The cliche of “long-awaited release” is apt for this one, on the back of Natural History from 2009. While it’s all drum&bass, they have a unique sound that comes from both top-notch production, and intelligent song-writing, and pushes them into overlapping space with techno, electronica, and progressive house. Having said that, while it sounds great, I’m not feeling much yet. I’m wondering if it’s had all the emotion polished out of it.

The Black Dog: Liber Dogma

While Black Dog releases over the last couple of years have been moody beat-driven electronica, this is real techno with a dance-floor focus, with a more stripped back sound, simpler sounds and effects, and less atmospherics. I’m assuming this stuff would work really well at an assertive volume through a wicked sound system, so I should crank it up to get the best out of it.

Brian Eno: Small Craft on a Milk Sea

I’ve been a bit slow getting hold of this 2010 release on Warp. Eno is an effing legend, and this album shows why. It’s an audio journey from delicate piano through angry beats, clever electronica, prog rock, and big dark ambience. Sit back and just go with it. As an aside, if you like the delicate ambient piano, go and find a copy of the sublime 1984 Budd/Eno/Lanois release The Pearl.

Biosphere: N-Plants

Inspired by Japan’s nuclear energy program, before Fukushima, and now made even more resonant. This is lush gentle electronica, with a moody edge like most of Geir’s work, and is what looks like his first full-length (well, 50 minutes) since Cirque in 2007, but with more bass and beats this time around. Nice.

Deadbeat: Drawn & Quartered

This is early 90s Future Sound of London brought forward twenty years, so you know I’m going to like it. Just five long tracks (all over ten minutes) of beats, samples, effects, reverb somewhere between dub, dubstep, and dubtech. Genius. And has it really been seventeen years since FSOL’s Lifeforms? Fuck, where has my life gone.

Extrawelt: In Aufruhr

Back to 2011 Hamburg with the reliable tech-house of Extrawelt. Lots of 4-4 goodness, and I detect a definite nod to techno pioneers 808 State. Maybe track 9 (808slate) is a giveaway, although I’d say it’s the least 808 State-like track on there. Similar to their last album Schöne Neue Extrawelt but perhaps less technical; more feel. Das macht spaß, ja?

Bola: Shapes

This is a re-release of 3×12″ records from 2000/2001 and sits somewhere between Soup and Fyuti in date but is more experimental in style than both. Darker, more complex, and less accessible, but still definitely a Bola sound.

Mihai Popoviciu: The Unexpected Truth

After all that dark complex techno shit I was also wanting some more straight-up deep tech-house, and Mihai from Russia did the trick. A deep sexy 4-4 workout with texture, good for both dancefloor and hanging out.

Gui Boratto: III

Another bloke with strong tech-house credentials, but I dunno, this is getting serious. A bit more intelligent and experimental; less dance-able than previous single material like No Turning Back. I like it so far, but it’s more than I was expecting. Track 10 The Third is a definite star but then I’m a sucker for a warm pad.

Calibre: Condition

Drum. Bass. Liquid, apparently, whatever that is. Either way, this is tight, quality d&b with punch, groove, and edge, and, now that I compare them side-by-side, I reckon it’s a more satisfying album than Blu Mar Ten’s latest from above. Good luck to him, I hope he goes far.

Gravious: Junction City EP

This is labelled dubstep, but in my book it’s less dubby than housey. In fact, what might have been called dub house when this guy was growing up. The man does credit some quality old-school artists like FSOL, Boards, Aphex, and Bukem, and it shows through in his tracks at times. This is a 29-minute 5-track EP with some great production and punch. Aside from some aggravated arpeggiator assault and a couple of dodgy vocal samples, it pretty much nails it.

Plaid: Scintilli

No surprises here. Plaid doing what Plaid do best. Fucking clever clogs, both of them. Get a Masters degree, you’ll need it to get into this.

 

Goodbye Android

<p>I&#39;ve made the decision to give up on my Android phone and have ordered an iPhone 4S. My HTC Desire is 18 months old. It is a nicely-engineered phone, with decent battery life, good screen, and is fast enough, but I&#39;m tired of its limitations. The last OS update was to Fro-Yo a year ago, and there are no prospects of it ever being upgraded again. The limited onboard RAM means I can&#39;t install any more apps, and each incremental update to the existing ones only eats more memory, often forcing me to remove yet another app from my ever-decreasing list, despite the ability to store many (but not all) apps on the SD card. There are also intermittent issues with the 3G data connectivity that make it frustratingly unresponsive at critical times. </p> <p><img src="http://cdn.cbsi.com.au/story_media/339301153/htc-desire_1.jpg" alt="HTC Desire" /></p> <p>Android isn&#39;t bad either; it&#39;s fully-featured, and has good sharing options and a decent app base, but the UI is a little under-baked, it encourages an inconsistent user experience in apps, and the OS leaks through too often. Google integration, while good, isn&#39;t so compelling any more, in a large part due to the diminishing gap in innovation in its cloud-centric apps.</p> <p>Compare that to my 12-month old iPad 1 that I type this on. It still gets updated OS versions, and even with 16GB has enough RAM to buy new apps. In contrast, no point my getting interested in new Android apps. </p> <p>In iOS land Siri isn&#39;t yet a must-have but it will certainly improve, and iCloud will start replacing an amount of the Google cloud. The iPhone will play nicely with all my other Apple gear, and although I worry about lock-in to the Apple ecosystem, it&#39;s the best technology in town and the aesthetic works. Sorry, Google and HTC. You need to sweat the small stuff more.</p> <p><br /></p>

iPad note-taking

<p>When I started at my new job three months ago, I decided to ditch the pen and paper and do all my note-taking on my iPad. I wanted the iPad to be a complete solution, and not require post-production on a laptop to finalise.</p>

So far, so good. I’m using Notability for pure note-taking, and it’s meeting 90% of those needs. It’s augmented by Dropbox for iPad to laptop sharing, Toodledo for todo list management, iThoughts for conceptual thinking and capture, and a small set of drawing apps.

Some general observations:

Tablet UI patterns are still developing. Many apps are just fiddly. Do I double tap, tap with two fingers, swipe, tap-and-hold or select a menu item?

Data stored in app silos doesn’t fit my need to use multiple apps to get a job done. The platform needs to support robust but decoupled sharing of data and content. This will drive use of standard formats, protocols, libraries, and patterns. For example, why not a lightweight services-oriented app architecture for iOS?

At a deeper level, I’m more conscious now that I rarely look again at the notes I’ve made. It correlates with my use of my work and personal email archives. Even at work I only revisit 5-10% of what I archive. It’s not that I capture because I have a bad memory, or to cover my ass, it’s about the “just in case” requirement, the faintest ink better than the best memory concept. It makes me wonder how can I take more effective and efficient notes for my current role. How do I pick early what I’m going to look at again? How best to capture it?

I keep meaning to journal on work activities more, to let thoughts coalesce and organise themselves by writing (like this post) but I don’t allocate time for it. It’s mitigated to some extent by a couple of high-level mind maps I maintain. Maybe that’s working fine.

Talker’s Block

<p>Seth Godin, as usual, got me thinking. His post on <a href="http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d83451b31569e2015435a1252c970c">Talker&#39;s Block</a> reminded me that writing is the complement to thought. It&#39;s only by articulating thoughts that they gain clarity. So, I need to write more. The question is whether to do it publicly. If you do it from the beginning then you never need to decide when to publish. On the down side, it&#39;s public. So, I say publish and be damned.</p>