CMS vs. Wiki

This past week we had the second meeting of the Hudson Valley Drupalers, over at Marist College, which was really impressive. Vonn gave an overview of some of the really amazing things you can do with Taxonomy in Drupal, which I’d not even thought about. It was incredibly inspiring, and making me think about how I’ve created content types in all my sites, and how to do it better. And it’s really gotten me thinking.

At work we largely work with Wikis. Over the years I’ve been really a big supporter of wikis (heck, the wiki that our division uses is one that I started for our department years ago that got successful enough for our infrastructure folks to take over), but as I watch a current effort to organize some information on an internal wiki, I see how tough it really is. Wiki is largely a write only medium. Yes, with lots of effort, you can create something like Wikipedia. But you have to remember that 100x more effort goes into editing to keep it consistent then the initial content creation. Content Management Systems are really read mostly media. You only get to change a small amount of the page, then that content is sliced and diced in many ways throughout the system. This may seem like a trivial distinction, but when it comes to organizing information, the power of that slicing and dicing is huge. There doesn’t need to be only one way to see the data, there can be many ways in, and many ways through.

Maybe it’s time to try to introduce the CMS model in our area, and see if it would help productivity. I might make that a “Think Friday” activity once the Day of Service is over. The wiki experiment from 2004 took this path, and eventually got adopted on a broader scale.

Spirit of Dutchess Awards

Last month I was nominated for a Spirit of Dutchess Award for the effort that I’ve done with the Poughkeepsie Farm Project. It’s something I’m very honored by. There are nearly 30 nominees, and all are quite impressive. In a field as good as that I finally understand the phrase “it’s an honor just to be nominated”. This letter to the editor (skip past the Harold Camping one) in the Poughkeepsie Journal drove that point home even more.

Tomorrow is the luncheon for the awards, which I’m really looking forward to. I’ve got no allusions that I’ll be one of the few winners from this field, but I am looking forward to participating in such a celebration of service in our county.

Happiness is a clear dark night

Tonight I got in the first real night of observing since a series of equipment upgrades this April. Yes, it took until June to actually get in a clear dark night. The views of Saturn don’t really count, as I was doing those with plenty of moon. There were lots of really great views tonight from off my deck, but the thing that blew my socks off was the 2 Globular Clusters in Hercules (M13 and M92). The combination of a laser alignment tool for my optics, light baffling inside my scope, and a new focuser that lets me really dial in a tight focus, made these objects just amaze me.

You are looking at a cloud of stars, hundreds of thousands, that are the core of a galaxy eaten up by the milky way billions of years ago. But with all the improvements the number of individual stars you can make out in that cloud goes way up. They shine like jewel boxes in the sky. I just sat there in awe, and took in the night.

A new way to find something good on TV

I’ve generally had mixed feelings over my GoogleTV since I got it in the fall. It’s a promise unfulfilled, largely for 2 reasons. #1, every Big Media company with streaming video on their website specifically blocked the device during it’s first month out. So much for neutral net. #2, there is not yet an SDK, and this is a device all about enabling creation on your TV. That will be fixed soon, and I think after that I’ll be a lot happier. I have a lot of ideas for this platform.

But it has really shined on a few outings, and this week is one of them. The World Science Festival is going on in NYC this week, and they have been nice enough to livestream some of their events. Via the GoogleTV, it’s a not quite HD stream, but very good. I had the panel on about Dark Matter and Dark Energy last night, and tonight I’m watching the lecture on Sleep, going on right now.

A better voice for your phone

I really appreciated my Android phone when we were down at the shuttle launch, for many reasons, but the best of which was the built in Google Navigation system. It got us around perfectly, and helped us find some decent restaurants while we were there. The fact that your journey ends with streetview pictures of your location is just icing on the cake.

On the way back to the airport I was complaining that the stock voice is pretty horrid, and wished there were replacement voices. Apparently, I’m just an idiot, because there are. For $3 per, you can get a whole bunch of voices for different languages from SVOX. They’ve got an application that lets you hear a sample of all of them, and after poking with that for a few minutes I bought the Grace voice.

The voice engine is deeply integrated in the Google stack, so you basically just change the default voice engine in preferences, and from there on out everything that speaks to you, does so with the new voice. The only exception I found was Tasker, so I needed to specify which engine to use for it to read me incoming text messages when the headphones are plugged in (which is likely when I’m driving in the car.)

Agile Resistance

One of the things that’s most inspired me at IBM over the last couple of years has been a division wide initiative to adopt Agile development methodology among the teams. There remains a lot of resistance to such a change, but for those of us that really think this is a better way, it’s opened up a new freedom to demonstrate how much more effective we can be. We can actually point out that multitasking is bad, and completely wasteful, and not sound like lunatics any more, as it’s part of the standard training. We can plan with 1 to N priority lists, instead of time estimating tasks 18 months in advance, and have a leg to stand on. And for those of us that have really embraced Agile approaches, and surprised ourself on the effectiveness, it adds new focus and drive to the tasks at hand.

Yesterday, in a “scrum of scrums” (quotes because it’s really just a status meeting, as many of my peers aren’t really getting what Agile is) I shared with my peers some of the recent successes we had because we had stopped splitting up our 3 person team on various independent tasks, and instead got in the mindset that we, as a team, are tackling one thing at a time until it’s done. Every time we focus in this way, we get much more done. It does take vigilance to keep this focussed. Inevitably in the past we’ve backslid into slicing, and dicing, and multitasking our way into a spinning ball of busy that doesn’t seem to accomplish anything. I’m hoping this time the habit will finally stick.

I was just interested in sharing my experience at the end of our recent break through on a problem (which had happened only 10 minutes prior to the meeting). I got unsolicited comments from two of my peers effectively saying the old ways were just as good. It caused a good chuckle in a back channel.

Culture changes are hard, I know that. And with a ship as big as a division of IBM, turning it is something that’s going to take many years. But at least we’re starting.

(Disclaimer: my words are my own, represent my own perspective based on what I can see and who I interact with, and don’t represent the views of my employer.)