Monthly Archives: July 2005

Marking the passage of time

Recently my neighbor removed a couple of trees due to sap damage and lack of maintenance by the city. (Pruning once every four to six years hardly counts as maintenance in my book.) After dealing with a break to one of my sprinkler lines as a result of stump and root removal, I was ready to plant a new tree in the area between our two properties. Following instructions and dealing with a great nursery made for a very smooth planting process–and this from a first time tree planter, too.

Purple Robe Locust Tree

Above is the newly planted tree from a 15 gallon container: Robinia x ambigua “Purple Robe” (or Purple Robe Locust Tree). It will be fun to keep tabs on its growth annually.

What is volatility?

This question was raised within the 1996 annual report for American Funds‘ SMALLCAP World mutual fund and accompanied by the following Ibbotson Associates chart:

Volatility is in the eye of the beholder

The report goes on to state: “Most people instinctively know that volatility and risk are related. But they’re not synonymous. Volatility refers to the amount of fluctuation–both up and down–that an investment may experience. Risk is the perceived possibility of loss (or the perceived loss of purchasing power to inflation). … The charts above are an attempt to show that olatility, like risk, is in the eye of the beholder. Each uses the same data to illustrate what happened to small company stocks between the years of 1973 and 1982. The first chart (which we tend to think reflects how most people view their investments) traces the month-by-month percentage return. The second plots the cummulative effects of those monthly returns on the value of a $10,000 investment. The third shows the cummulative annual change in value of that same investment, illustrating how short-term fluctuations generally smooth out over time.”

I’ve always appreciated this chart’s visual reminder to perspective when investing, but lately, it’s caused me to think about its applicability to my profession of software development in a number of ways as follows:

  • What kind of environment is set by executives, line management and architects like me to those in the trenches? How are decisions perceived once conveyed?
  • In the context of mentoring and contributing to annual performance reviews of staff, how does the day-to-day translate into a curve of career development (or decline)?
  • What are the equivalents of volatility and risk in software development for my superiors, for me and for my subordinates?
  • Are context switches–the bane of most developers–about risk, volatility, or both?

How would you answer these questions? What connections, if any, can you draw here?

More on IM-related Pew study

Instead of reading news first in something like InformationWeek, it’s a nice change to “report” on something before bigger media does–and I’m certainly not a media outlet of any kind. However, this personal enjoyment isn’t why I posting here.

InformationWeek quoted Pew researcher Mary Madden as follows: “[Teenagers] see email as much more formal, similar to how adults would see written letters: a quaint way of communicating with older relatives or for formal communications.”

What bothers me about this statement isn’t that it’s necessarily inaccurate but rather what its impartial reflection effectively means with respect to communication excellence and effective conveying non-trivial thoughts, ideas and beliefs. Are we now at the stage of IM capturing it all?

It’s true that I basically send email now and don’t write letters, which I wrote regularly up to the point that my wife (then serious girlfriend) moved to the Bay Area. However, I use email to convey the same reasoned thought that I would otherwise have penned to paper. (And I use the delay rule technique in Outlook just in case my efficiency on the keyboard gets me in trouble where writing with pen would slow me up enough to prevent poor or ill writing “just in time.”) Hand-written notes and cards are still the best way to convey certain sentiments. I enjoy receiving these as well. So, I don’t view written letters as quaint but rather a luxury I’m hard pressed to find time for making general practice. I enjoy written communication, and email is the medium I regularly choose–when I’m not posting here.

Now it’s true that a fair number of emails I receive are nothing more than single sentence directions or confirmations. In these cases, IM and email amount to a simple difference in medium. However, attempt to leverage IM for something that amounts to a paragraph or more in email and be prepared to irritate or otherwise loose your recipient–“cya l8r!”

Written personal letters are meant to read more than once over time. Emails can be saved for the same purpose, but often aren’t due to reduced time to create a new response and receive a new reply. The dialog goes back and forth more rapidly in email than today’s USPS can facilitate via regular mail. Plus mailboxes are mostly for bills (if you’re not into electronic bill payment) and junk mail. Of course, one’s email inbox probably has just as much if not more of the latter these days–and spam isn’t yet prevalent in IM.

So, I come back to my previous comment about IM: the need to facilitate conversational recall in this medium. Trillian does this, but it’s not pervasive. If the younger generation is already “there,” software should be supporting them–us all–in ways that keep IM relevant, informal and current. Otherwise, IM is bound to be replaced with something yet to be unleashed.

“There’s a sense of needing to always stay connected and having this persistence online,” Madden said. “Even if friends don’t IM each other everyday, they still know each is OK and around because they’re logged in.”

This statement supports and clarifies my previous comment about conversation roundtrip speed. The more connected two parties are the less need there may be for volume or formality in conversational content.

Recall this message

Instead of recalling messages, delay their delivery long enough to confirm they’re truly right to send in the first place.

While reviewing my flagged and annotated items in Omea, I was reminded of Scott Hanselman’s post on Outlook’s “Recall this message” function being naive. When I first flagged Scott’s post, I annotated it to remember its familiarity with a post by Chris Sells some time before. Later, Lars Bergstrom shared a Outlook rule idea with Chris that Chris captured here.

Along with Scott, Chris and Lars, an effective delay rule is priceless and more importantly more reliable, effective and professional. Recommended!

Young and the restless prefer IM to email

Given my previous post and Donald Norman’s recommendation that designers facilitate past-as-just-present functionality, I found the following headline in My Yahoo! news section particularly timely: “Email is for older people, teens say in survey.” Settings aside the fact that many in the world now view me as old, the fact that today’s teenagers prefer IM to email tells me that IM needs to grow up a bit or teenagers need to develop (or already possess) significant short-term memory capacity (i.e. more than the older set).

One of the reasons I use Trillian Pro is for its invaluable “prior chat capture” feature. Certainly there are times when individual chats with someone else run a wide enough range of topics that past history is rather moot, but being able to visually recall previous discussions with coworkers and colleagues is fantastic.

The Pew Internet and American Life Project study in question may be found here.

It’s important not to forget that despite what one generation may think of another, that those who build software keep in mind that generations very much change. Software designed for one may not be usable to or used by another.