Monday, January 07, 2008

Back to work - 2008

Apologies for the lack of posting - I've been on leave, with family visiting from interstate, and disappearing into one's study to blog is not really acceptable hostess behaviour. But my visitors have gone back home, and I went back to work this morning, so normal service will be restored as soon as I get my backlog caught up a bit. I'm guessing that a few of you are also just getting back to "normal", because comments started up again a few days ago, and I owe a few of you a response. I'm going to respond here, rather than in the comments section, because (I'm pleased to say) some of my older posts are still finding an audience, and generating comments; but not everyone wants to dredge through old comment threads to follow conversations, so let's chat here.

There is a question from Sherman, about PDA/PIM software on the Mac: he's looking for "the ultimate", and I have to say that I'm not finding more than "mediocre". In my experience, integration between PDA/PIM devices and Mac OS X is poor; I've dwelt on this problem, and I think I understand why it is so. Many of the currently shipping PDA's run some sort of Microsoft operating system. They are designed to play well with other Microsoft software, and I imagine that most Mac developers react to them by recoiling in horror and disgust. Microsoft has that section of the market well sewn up, so there is no incentive for developers from the Mac camp to waste their time writing software for that platform. Palm, on the other hand, runs Palm OS. You would think that would be a better platform for Mac integration: no Microsoft to compete with, or to mess with underlying document formats and cause things to break. Trouble is, Palm has been looking less and less clever for a few years now, and if they have a direction it looks like "down" to me. Project cancellations, product confusion, failure to deal with the rise of Blackberry. I see fewer and fewer Palm Pilots in meetings, and more and more competing products. Developers have to eat: if the target market is not big enough, they are not going to expend their efforts on writing code for it.

And the reported trends for countries like Japan are falling PC sales and rising mobile phone sales. Demand is for the small, portable, integrated gadget that does it all, from browsing the web to reading your mail and playing music. There are problems with that, particularly for the corporate user: companies like "end-point control", for security's sake. My Blackberry is administered from a central server, with settings pushed down to the handset. I cannot install any application I wish. This is quite reasonable - the company owns the phone, it has access to the company network, they have both a right and an obligation to secure the device appropriately (anyone interested in an extended diatribe on end-point security, drop me a line).

So is all doom and gloom on the PDA front? Perhaps not: check this prediction from Andy Ihnatko, at (you may have to scroll down a bit). He's gazing into his crystal ball and seeing a whole new kind of device. I can't judge how well tuned his crystal ball is, but I like his thinking: here's hoping he's right! I can't imagine that Steve Jobs will announce such a device next week - I'm hanging out for the the rumoured sub-notebook - but perhaps later in the year? There's no denying that we are moving into the always-online, instant-access era (many of us are already there), but I think the trend has further to go - perhaps not to the SciFi predictions of Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle's Oath of Fealty (there's no company in existence whose kit I would trust inside my brain!) - but further than we are now.

I see a comment from Dana, who found Delicious Library disappointing, because the barcode scanning would not work. I also had problems with this initially, until I figured out what was wrong. To get a good shot of a barcode, the camera (built in or external iSight) needs very good light. This is particularly true if the background colour is not plain white, or if the code is faded. I have a powerful halogen lamp above my desk, and if I want to scan things into DL, I turn it on and make sure that the area around the camera is really well illuminated. I find this helps enormously. I do agree that Delicious Library has room to improve, but version 2 is just around the corner, and the previews are getting good press. Here's hoping!

Finally, there is a comment from Michael Bywater, who must have recently found my posts from last May, about the Art of Storing Things. First, thank you for your kind words - my university lecturers would be pleased that their efforts were not wasted. I'm glad you found the post useful. I do agree with you that every student should get at least a basic grounding in classification and information retrieval theory: these are becoming critical life skills, not something that should be confined to knowledge management consultants and librarians. If you have ever had the experience of having to use to locate something for someone else, you will know how hard this is for some people. I used to get asked to do this a lot while I still worked for Sun Microsystems: I was told when I joined that about 1 in 5 machines on the Sun network were web servers (and I believe that number may have been pessimistic, and 1 in 3 more likely). The amount of information is huge, and often difficult to navigate. Colleagues would turn up at my desk, and ask something such as "I know there is a document that describes this procedure, can you find it for me?", and I would do a couple of searches, and find whatever it was, and the other person would go "I've been looking for that for hours!"

Perhaps what I need to do is write something on how to search, and how to relate the way things are stored to various search strategies - let me think about that.

Anyway, my husband just got home, so I must end here for today. A Happy 2008 to you all, and culturally appropriate seasonal greetings.


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