Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Communicate the Status of Your Cloud Service!

For my primary email account I use FastMail instead of GMail. Why? FastMail is very fast, reliable, and feature rich. GMail is fast, reliable, and feature rich. I like the features of FastMail, but the primary reason I use it over GMail is the communication that they have with their user base when there is an (inevitable) problem. Here's a post about a recent problem:


This is the kind of thing I have never seen out of Google or Yahoo and probably never will. It's an advantage of being a relatively smaller service. They have maintained a policy of rapidly communicating with their user as well with a status blog in addition to their regular blog.

SalesForce implemented a similar "communicate with the users" policy after they had a major outage. You can see what they tell you about their service at http://trust.salesforce.com/trust/status/. Google Apps has a similar page at http://www.google.com/appsstatus#hl=en. Amazon has one as well: http://status.aws.amazon.com/.

Even small companies that are providing services in the cloud should have a status page and method for rapidly communicating with users when the service is down.

Historical note: back when I worked for CERL (Computer-Based Education Research Lab) at the University of Illinois I implemented a system variable on PLATO called zdegraded. It was used to allow programs (such as games) to modify their behavior (or become unavailable) if the system was running in a degraded state. The variable was removed within a year of being implemented, I suspect this was because the presence of such a system variable was viewed as poor public relations. This idea has changed now with the transparency competition on the web. Downtime is bad, but not having a way for your users to know what is going on is even worse.

P.S. I constantly evaluate whether I should stay with FastMail because GMail (and Yahoo as well) provide some nice to have additional services including calendaring. I use my BlackBerry as my primary calendar and synch with Outlook for that and address book management. I tried Google's sync, but was not happy with it at the time and was also tied in with Outlook for my day job. FastMail has some nice file management features and now that it has been purchased by Opera I'm less concerned about its survival longer term. I tend to review my email / calendar / address book situation every year though.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Videos: FogBugz and Kiln

In recent interviews I ran across FogBugz and wanted to note some useful videos about it on YouTube. It looks like a well integrated solution for software development groups and I especially like the use of Wikis for documentation having experimented with them in the past myself.

Kiln is the version control system built on Mercurial.

1 - Intro

2 - Wiki

3 - Projects

4 - Cases and Evidence Based Schedules

Interesting concept of using Monte Carlo simulations for predicting accuracy of schedule.

5 - Bug Tracking and Search

6 - Plugins

7 - Customer Support

8 - Release Notes

9 - Source Control

FogBugz and Kiln World Tour Talk by Joel Spolsky

In addition to showing off FogBugz, there is lots of discussion about Mercurial and distributed version control throughout.

A quick/fun video discussing distributed version control and Kiln in particular:

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Using Google Apps in Education

A great slidedeck of ideas for using Google Apps in K-12 education:

Google Apps in Classrooms and Schools
32 Ways to Use Google Apps in 50 Minutes

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Video: One Hell of a Long Day (Work at the South Pole)

This was just a fun diversion of hearing what it's like to work at the South Pole. If you're footloose and fancy-free, have a craving for adventure, or are very driven to be cold you may want to try landing a position in Antarctica.

One Hell of a Long Day - A Summer Working at the South Pole
(David Pablo Cohn)

Friday, May 06, 2011

Pre-Agile Ideas: Jim McCarthy Videos

I've been a fan of Jim McCarthy since I heard a recorded session of his talk at one of the Microsoft developer conferences back in the 90s. The thoughts represented are echoed in Agile practices today.

There is a nice set of short videos at:


which are also available on YouTube:


He also has a recent (Dec 2013) keynote at InfoQ:

Culture Hacking

Some my selected favorites:

Rule 1 - Don't know what you don't know
Rule 8 - Beware of a guy in a room

Dynamics of Software Development

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Video: Games Everywhere: ... Serious Games ...

Games Everywhere : The Larger Role for Web Platforms and Services for Games & Serious Games (by Ben Sawyer, Serious Games Initiative)

Very dense video with lots of good information. Some time codes of interest:

3:30 What I'm playing lately -- keep everyone honest

7:00 Games everywhere -- where TV audience is going

23:00 Design Pattern Evolution

28:00 Google Maps for games

28:15 Start of many useful graphics/grids

30:00 Short Play / Long Lifespan

34:00 Health records and games

35:00 through 40:00 Many useful charts/graphs - dense

42:00 Good enough games

43:20 Brower games

45:20 Behavior change chart (change management)

46:00 Leveraging infrastructure outside the game

47:00 Neptune's Pride

51:45 Badges and Awards Question