Monday, September 29, 2008

For the Love of Water

I got to see a very interesting film this past weekend at the Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival. Entitled FLOW: For the Love of Water, this documentary is all about the abuses of drinkable water and the resulting impact on humanity.

The film documents how industrialization has increased the amount of pollution in our drinking water. There is a growing trend to privatize the cleaning, storage, and delivery of drinkable water. In theory, governments are supposed to be beholding to the public good whereas private companies are only beholding to their share holders. What ends up happening is that the poor gradually lose access to safe drinking water. They also advocate a more decentralized approach to cleaning water, especially in under-developed countries.

Another disturbing trend that this documentary covers is bottled water. Companies take regular tap water, bottle it, and sell it at a very large profit. This profitability compels companies to grow the business of bottled water. This growth is happening so quickly that it is starting to eclipse civil sources of drinkable water.

What can you do about it? As a consumer, stop buying bottled water. It is no safer than tap water. Buying bottled water raises the cost of tap water. Not only will you pay more at the grocery store or vending machine for that bottle of water but also you will pay more in your monthly bill.

For those who want a more active role, petition your local government against outsourcing water management to corporations.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Bane of Every Coder

I am an advocate of developer documentation. I understand why smaller, less mature ISVs and IT shops would take the quick and dirty shortcut of forgoing developer documentation. No one wants to do it. It costs money keeping that documentation up to date. Programmers should get paid to write code. Blah, blah, blah.

Larger, more mature, shops should know better. They should realize that the total cost of maintaining large systems, over time, is much less when new developers can accelerate their time to productivity by reading some well written, accurate developer documentation. Also, it's nice to throw the developer documentation at the powers that be (i.e. government, acquiring company, BOD) when they want to know what's really going on. I'll bet that Microsoft wished that they had spent some more resources on writing good developer documentation.

You don't like to do it. I don't like to do it. Nobody likes to do it. But writing quality developer documentation is like filing your taxes. Doing it is better than suffering the long term consequences of not doing it.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Ambient Intimacy is the New Collective Intelligence

I ran across this puff piece in the Sunday, September 7 edition of the NY Times promoting Facebook and Twitter. It really helped me improve my understanding of the micro-blogging, social networking revolution.

Like many people born before the age of the personal computer, I was having a hard time understanding why the new prosumer generation have no problem uploading every single intimate detail of their lives into these social networking sites. Apparently, mankind had evolved past whatever needs that the first, third, forth, fifth, ninth, and fourteenth amendments to the Constitution were trying to protect.

Well, I was wrong again. It was while attending the Start Conference that I learned that Twitter's main audience was closer to my age than my children's.

The NY Times article called it ambient intimacy and featured quotes, both expert and anecdotal, linking this phenomena to another upwardly trending phenomena known as collective intelligence.

Having lots of low commitment, casual acquaintances is important for your social development. But there is an upper limit on just how many of these relationships you can have by shear virtue of the fact that there are only so many hours in a day and you have to spend time traveling to each of these contacts and arranging a common time for both parties to meet. That was before the web which reduced the personal costs of time and distance to near nothing. Now, with social networking web applications such as Facebook and Twitter, you can maintain a much larger number of casual acquaintances than before. I have seen the future of human evolution and it is virtual.

Prosumers do use facebook in lieu of personal contact, especially if there is conflict to avoid. Gone forever is the "Dear John" letter. You are much more likely to know that you have been ditched by your girl/boyfriend by seeing pictures of them dating their new paramour in their facebook photo album.

That NY Times article also brought up the notion that these web apps solved a basic human need that was not getting met in urban environments. "This is the ultimate effect of the new awareness: It brings back the dynamics of small-town life, where everybody knows your business."