Saturday, July 30, 2011

The 3 Dirty R-Words

In business and IT exercises, there are 3 dirty words that all begin with "R":

  • Reconciliation
  • Retroactive
  • Reversals
Reconciliation can be tedious under the best of circumstances. The best of circumstances being situations that were expressly designed, a priori, for reconciliation (e.g., balancing your checkbook). But often we find our ourselves performing reconciliations post-hoc, where there are many factors, small and large, that make it hard to reconcile. 

Retroactivity is a problem because it just completely messes up baselines, timing and common-sense assumptions. It is also one of the things that makes reconciliation hard--those sneaky retro transactions can throw your compares off. [Date Warehouses may have very sophisticated timelining strategies, to allow reliable reporting of "as is" or "as of" (incorporates retroactivity) and "as was" (reproduce snapshot of the situation, as of a given date) states, from the same recordset.]

Reversals are a sophisticated and often complex form of logical delete. One reason they are challenging is just thinking of all the situations that require them. Then there is the question of what data has to accompany the reversal, in order to create the same state that would have existed had the transaction never happened--while still preserving a clear audit trail that the transaction did, in fact, happen. It is usually a quantity that is being reversed, but what related meta-data goes with it? And how do you make it clear that a given transaction is a reversal, while also trying to ensure that any computations or reports pull in all reversals? Reversals are one contributor to retroactivity. 

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Old Rituals, Undone by Information Age


  • Letters and mail-call started disappearing more than 10 years ago, with the widespread adoption of email.
  • The family phone--its competition for the line, knowing who your kids are talking to--started disappearing 7-10 years ago, as it began increasingly common to get cell phones for increasingly young children.
  • In my case, at least, the venerable bedside alarm clock--with its need to be set every evening--has been replaced by the multi-alarm flexibility of the phone.

I wonder how long until we don't need to carry a wallet?

Flaw in Smartphone Keyboard Auto-Correct (Don't Fix If It Ain't Broken)

Auto-complete and auto-correct can be very nice. Swiftkey for Android, in particular, can feel like it is reading your mind. However, I would propose that auto-correct should never change a word that is already a valid dictionary word. At best it gets in the way, at worst, it creates weird and occasionally embarrassing results.

Smartphone and Farsightedness: Google Maps Is *The Worst*!

I've complained before about smartphones and farsightedness. Google Maps is positively the worst offender. The street labels are tiny. Not just small (8-10pt) but tiny (4-6pt). And no matter how much you zoom the map--they stay tiny. It is awful. Of all the apps to have this problem, this is the most inopportune one.

Need Better Hyphenation

Reading is one of my major uses of a smartphone. Obviously, screen real-estate is at a premium. There is no room for waste. Thus, as noted, one feature that is crucial, but often lacking, is full-screen mode. Here's another: better hyphenation. Especially in portrait mode, a huge amount of screen real-estate is lost to whitespace, because words don't get divided.

Tablet Use Cases

I suspect #1 is watching movies. #2 may be games. My use case, reading, is probably farther down the list.

As to tablet popularity, I wonder if some of it is attributed to the resolution and beauty of the screen. I find reading on my 4" smartphone not enough words per page, but the phone's resolution is very, very nice. Now, when I use my regular monitor, I find it washed-out and grainy. The crappy screen of our family netbook is even worse.

One more thing to think about...the more a computer activity uses brain-hand interaction, the more we may be drawn to it. I don't have the links at hand, but I have read research in the past about how deeply the human hand-brain connection runs. Such articles have included some degree of finding computer interaction problematic, since it undermines that connection (I don't think mere typing "counts" as hand-brain). So maybe part of the "subliminal" appeal of tablets is stimulating that deep, ancient neural connection.

Feature Idea: Transient Twitter Subscriptions, Driven by URLs

Twitter is a great way to follow breaking details (like a weekend soccer tournament, where the games keep getting re-scheduled due to weather). But the overhead of following, then especially UN-following, is a little tedious. Like Glympse, I would like Twitter subscriptions that automatically expire.

The whole other problem is the slow uptake of Twitter in the non-techie population...we are still a few years away from widespread usage of this type. Currently, posting on Facebook is considered pretty much cutting edge. Not trying to be sarcastic, that is not a bad thing, but Twitter is ideally suited to this use case.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Don't Twist the Facts, Even in Service of Good Policy

The findings from this so-called "pragmatic trial" may change the way British doctors prescribe drugs for the prevention of asthma flares. Patients may be told that it doesn't really matter what controllers you take, although intensive clinical trials suggest otherwise. In effect, the recommendations will be dumbed down, because some (or even most) patients simply aren't very good at following directions. Even savvy patients—the ones who are perfectly able to handle the more complex and better treatments—would be treated the same as everyone else...Should patients be separated by ability groups, as some students are in schools?
I can sympathize with this viewpoint from a pragmatic financial and clinical perspective, but I have a couple of problems with it. One is personal--the dumbed-down, lowest-common-denominator, one-size-fits-all perspective sacrifices too much for those who aren't dumb. For instance, if you don't have high blood pressure and aren't salt sensitive, there may not be much reason to deny yourself the gustatory delight of salt.

The second is more a matter of philosophy, and its long-term implications for public policy. In a nutshell: in the long-run, no good comes from deceit, even deceit borne of the best intentions. People will start to figure it out, sooner or later, and that will breed distrust at best, conspiracy theories at worst.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Samsung Is on the March

I think Samsung is poised to be the a combination of the next Sony, Panasonic and maybe Maytag. In the past few months, we have purchased a Samsung smartphone, a Samsung refrigerator, and a Samsung laptop.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Lead Generation Sites

This NYT article explains a new (to me) form of internet-based scams, Lead Generation sites:
By that, the Haggler means that there actually is a guy named Bob Strom, who is a bonded locksmith. And he owns a business, which you can visit, at 7352 15th Ave NW. This might seem too obvious to note, but it sets Mr. Strom apart from more than 90 percent of his local competitors. According to Yelp, there are — no joke — nearly 3,000 locksmiths in Seattle, though with relatively rare exceptions these operations aren’t in Seattle at all. 
They are phone banks, typically set up in far-off places, often in other countries. Call them and they’ll dispatch a locksmith. Some are legitimate, but others may all too often do shoddy work and/or charge two or three times the estimate.
That is another example of why social recommendations could be very useful.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Idiom checker

Next frontier for word prcessors and text editors: an "idiom checker". Purpose, in multi-nationality work teams, to point out to writers that they may be using idioms unfamiliar to those nationalities. And also to offer right-click translations.