Awasu » 2005 » February
Thursday 24th February 2005 8:20 AM [General]

Somehow, one can't really see Hunter S. Thompson as ever being able to rest in peace but he will certainly be missed.

This popped up in my Awasu today and it's worth posting in full.

Security ... what does this word mean in relation to life as we know it today? For the most part, it means safety and freedom from worry. It is said to be the end that all men strive for; but is security a utopian goal or is it another word for rut?

Let us visualize the secure man; and by this term, I mean a man who has settled for financial arid personal security for his goal in life. In general, he is a man who has pushed ambition and initiative aside and settled down, so to speak, in a boring, but safe and comfortable rut for the rest of his life. His future is but an extension of his present, and he accepts it as such with a complacent shrug of his shoulders. His ideas and ideals are those of society in general and he is accepted as a respectable, but average and prosaic man. But is he a man? has he any self-respect or pride in himself? How could he, when he has risked nothing and gained nothing? What does he think when he sees his youthful dreams of adventure, accomplishment, travel and romance buried under the cloak of conformity? How does he feel when he realizes that be has barely tasted the meal of life; when he sees the prison he has made for himself in pursuit of the almighty dollar? If he thinks this is all well and good, fine, but think of the tragedy of a man who has sacrificed his freedom on the altar of security, and wishes he could turn back the hands of time. A man is to be pitied who lacked the courage to accept the challenge of freedom and depart from the cushion of security and see life as it is instead of living it second-band. Life his by-passed this man and he has watched from a secure place, afraid to seek anything better What has he done except to sit and wait for the tomorrow which never comes?

Turn back the pages of history and see the men who have shaped the destiny of the world. Security was never theirs, but they lived rather than existed. Where would the world he if all men had sought security and not taken risks or gambled with their lives on the chance that, if they won, life would be different and richer? It is from the bystanders (who are in the vast majority) that we receive the propaganda that life is not worth living, that life is drudgery, that the ambitions of youth must he laid aside for a life which is but a painful wait for death. These are the ones who squeeze what excitement they can from life out of the imaginations and experiences of others through books and movies. These are the insignificant and forgotten men who preach conformity because it is all they know. These are the men who dream at night of what could have been, but who wake at dawn to take their places at the now- familiar rut and to merely exist through another day. For them, the romance of life is long dead and they are forced to go through the years on a treadmill, cursing their existence, yet afraid to die because of the unknown which faces them after death. They lacked the only true courage: the kind which enables men to face the unknown regardless of the consequences.

As an afterthought, it seems hardly proper to write of life without once mentioning happiness; so we shall let the reader answer this question for himself: who is the happier man, he who has braved the storm of life and lived or he who has stayed securely on shore and merely existed?

I've got a big decision to make over the next few days and it really annoys me when things like this turn up, pushing me into doing something that scares the living crap out of me... 😥

Wednesday 23rd February 2005 3:20 PM [General]

RFC 2324 - Hyper Text Coffee Pot Control Protocol (HTCPCP/1.0), a protocol for controlling, monitoring, and diagnosing coffee pots.

2.3.2 418 I'm a teapot

Any attempt to brew coffee with a teapot should result in the error code "418 I'm a teapot". The resulting entity body MAY be short and stout.

This is almost as bad as IP over avian carriers 🙄

Saturday 12th February 2005 3:51 PM [General]

An interesting post from Christopher Baus about getting things done.

Excellence in software development isn't in the talking. Excellence is in the doing.
...
The one thing you have to realize is that if you want to be truly successful in the software industry there is just no way you can do it 8 hours a day. That's the harsh reality of it, and if you don't like the sound of it, you might want to consider another career. But then you'll realize that the best marketeers, doctors, or musicians aren't doing it 8 hours a day either. Success requires hard work, and my protestant upbringing tells me there is nothing wrong with that.

Amen to that 🙂 I remember practicing my ass off on my saxophone all day, every day when I was first starting out. My room was out the back of the house so I could sort of get away with it but my old man still used to come down and bang on my door to tell me to shut up because it was after midnight 🙂 The heaviest time was some years later, when I was playing a daily 4-hour gig, practicing 5 or 6 hours each day, and jamming around town pretty much every day as well. Yep, it's seriously hard work but if it was easy being good, everyone would be doing it 🙂

It's been worth it, though. Guitarists are dime-a-dozen but the ladies always love a man with a sax... 😉

Wednesday 9th February 2005 2:09 PM [General]

Eric Sink has been running a series of articles about the art of running an ISV (independent software vendor) and his latest one is, as always, excellent.

The executive summary: Eric claims that if ISVs are unwilling to trust their customers, then they won't have any.

He goes on to explain that while the idea of customers having to trust the companies that they deal with (in any line of business, not just IT) is well-known, it is just as important for companies, and ISV's in particular, to trust their customers.

He gives eight ways that ISV's can trust their customers.

1. Have a weblog.

Weblogs give me a way to see the people behind the products. ... The goal is to give the world a personal glimpse of the people behind the product, but not to get too personal.

Well, that's easy: you're reading it now 🙂 At first, I was reluctant to post anything vaguely personal but realized pretty early on that it was a Good Thing (tm) to do, for exactly the reasons that Eric gives. So now you all know that I play music, have studied higher maths, am something of a non-conformist, have travelled a bit and may become a monk at some point in time. And so on...

2. Offer Web-based Discussion Forums

Together, you and your customers form a community. ... Give your customers a place to talk about your product, even if you don't always like what they say.

This is the key difference between a company like Microsoft or IBM and an ISV: the connection between vendor and customer. Whether it be the personalized service we can provide or the incorporation of feedback and suggestions from users into the software or even just the ramblings on the weblog about my non-Awasu life (what little there is of it :roll:), there's a much closer relationship at play than when you get the latest version of Office.

As most of you already know, our forums live here. I've never moderated any forum posts or weblog comments unless they were spam and in fact, I see negative posts as an opportunity, both in terms of feedback to improve the product and also to demonstrate they way we handle such things.

3. Don't Hide Your Product's Problems

[S]oftware customers usually want to know that a product will be steadily improved in the future. ... But not only do users want you to keep improving your product, they usually care about specifically how the product grows and matures. They want to be reassured that your product will be growing deeper, not just wider. I define these terms like this:

  1. A product gets "wider" when it appeals to new users.
  2. A product gets "deeper" when it works better for the users it already has.

The question of "deeper" features is a really good one. We're going to be revamping a lot of the existing features in Awasu and beefing them up so that they work better and more intuitively than they do now. The work on My Channels folders is a good example of this, where we're taking the existing functionality (channel categories) and changing the way it works to make it easier to use and in the process, adding some new stuff to make it more powerful.

4. Don't Annoy Honest People

License enforcement code is a terrible waste. We spend time and money to design, implement and test it, just like any other feature of the product. However this "feature" adds no benefit for the user.

Also a really good point. We thought long and hard about how we were going to implement licencing and eventually decided to just trust people. You get a licence key when you purchase Awasu and the software has some simple (but effective) anti-hacking devices in the code but overall, we rely on peoples' honesty to stay in business.

We've noticed a lot of Advanced Edition registrations coming from companies recently and while the Advanced Edition is not actually licenced for commercial use, we haven't followed up on any of these cases since the Professional Edition has only recently been released . However, now that the Pro Edition is out, there's really no excuse for using an incorrectly-licenced version of Awasu (hint hint)...

5. Offer a Painless Demo Download

This is so standard nowadays that I feel silly mentioning it: Provide a demo download so people can try your product before they buy it.

This would be our free Personal Edition. Eric raises the point that it should be a time-limited, not feature-limited demo. The Personal Edition is not as comprehensive as the paid versions but we have reasons for making this version free and as such, it's not really a demo. Further more, just about every feature in the paid versions is also available in the free Personal Edition to some degree e.g. channel reports are there but you can only have up to 5 of them.

6. Offer a Money-Back Guarantee

A money-back guarantee dramatically increases the transparency of your company. Now your prospective customer can see everything a customer can see. They can taste the product, sample the technical support and smell the purchasing process. If any of it displeases them, then they can just hit "Undo" and get a refund.

This is a really interesting one. We don't specifically offer a money-back guarantee but if somebody is genuinely unhappy with Awasu, we will (and have) given them their money back.

However, we do ask to be given the opportunity to try and resolve any problems. If Awasu won't install or run on someone's machine, we would be happy to give a refund but if the user has only tried running the installer once before giving up and then refuses to help us try and get things working, well, we're naturally going to be a bit more reluctant.

Part of the reasoning behind this is exactly what Eric talks about: transparency. The free Personal Edition contains virtually every single feature in the paid versions, so you can try it out and see if you like it before you buy. You can see what goes on in the forums. You can even email us with questions and we will reply 🙂 In other words, there's nothing that happens with the Advanced or Professional Editions that doesn't also happen with the free Personal Edition.

But after all that, if you're still not satisfied, then yes, we'll be happy to give you a refund.

7. Share a Little About Your Financial Standing

[S]haring a few select tidbits can sometimes increase confidence for your customers. Lots of software companies don't survive. Customers want to know if your firm will be around for a while. If your firm is conservatively managed and operating profitably, let people know.

Well, I'm not going to be retiring any time soon 🙁 But we're making money, it's profitable and we won't be disappearing into the ether 🙂

8. Talk About Your Future Plans

Customers really want to know about your future plans. They want to know what new improvements will appear in the next release and when that release will be available. When they ask these questions, surely there is something you can say?

We often talk about what's coming or even what we're working on right now so if you keep your eyes on the weblog and the forums (they have RSS feeds too; look for the Awasu icon at the top of each forum page) you'll get a feel for what's coming.

My Channels folders is definitely next since work has already started on it :-). The Awasu 2.2 release cycle is going to be a short one and will include a seriously-revamped UI, major improvements to the way the Workpad works plus a bunch of other features to improve the way you can track information as it bounces around inside Awasu.

Man, it's going to be a busy year :whip:

Tuesday 8th February 2005 8:15 AM [General]

Good grief.

It doesn't seem like it was all that long ago I wrote up our first birthday retrospective but it's already been a year :-o. Lots of water under the bridge since then, both professionally and personally.

I'll write up a look-back at how Awasu has grown over the past twelve months when I get a bit of spare time (HA! :-(). It's been insanely busy these past few weeks, what with tracking down this stupid Windows bug, doing the My Channels folders work, plus all the other usual stuff that seems to conspire to prevent me from getting anything done. Sigh... 🙁

A quick scan of the past releases shows that there have been a lot of really cool improvements, both in terms of hard-core functionality and stuff for the more general user. I've already posted about how proud we are of where Awasu is at now, and it's only going to get better.

Woo hoo!

UPDATE: The look-back is here.

Tuesday 8th February 2005 7:57 AM [Awasu News]

How about fixing some of those bugs that have been in every version of Internet Explorer since IE4 (1997)? I mean, it's one thing for a small company like us, with extremely limited resources, to have bugs sitting on the to-do list for a while but you guys have a few thousand more developers than us. And even then, if something really serious comes up, we drop everything and get on it right away.

I've just spent an obscene amount of time tracking down a problem that initially appeared to have been introduced in Awasu 2.1 but turned out to be something much more subtle. It's actually being caused by a bug in WinInet (the part of Windows that handles internet) that is in turn triggered by a bug in some web servers. In other words, nothing to do with Awasu and so it was very tricky to track down since it wasn't being caused by anything that we were doing.

<sarcasm degree="extreme">
Still, at least Microsoft were good enough to document the problem and suggest a workaround, even if they also indicate that the workaround doesn't, well, always work around the problem 🙄 😡 And can someone please let them know that they need to update their doco to say that not only are things broken under IE versions 4.0, 4.01, 4.01 SP1, 4.01 SP2, 5, 5.01, but also IE 6.
</sarcasm>

I've got much better things to be doing than tracking rubbish like this down 😡 Having said that, I initially thought that it might be being caused by a memory corruption so I'm very relieved that it wasn't since those things can be fiendishly difficult to find.

This problem can affect all versions of Awasu but has only come to light now because I suspect that about.com have changed something on their servers that causes the WinInet bug to rear its ugly head. If you're finding that Awasu is using 100% of the CPU and stops responding, please upgrade to 2.1 and then install this upgrade. Since this problem only happens if you are subscribed to feeds coming from certain servers, if you are not being affected then there's no need to upgrade. Many thanks to David Chamberlain and Allan Wilson for their help with tracking this one down.

Working on My Channels folders is actually going to be enjoyable after all this. Sigh... 🙁

Sunday 6th February 2005 1:05 PM [General]

I found a lot of these (PDF) funny.

Aleph-null bottles of beer on the wall,
Aleph-null bottles of beer,
You take one down, and pass it around,
Aleph-null bottles of beer on the wall.

Or even worse...

Q: What's purple and commutes?
A: An abelian grape.

Sigh... 🙁

Tuesday 1st February 2005 10:13 PM [General]

I've been trying to come up with a tagline for Awasu for ages. This one's nice - Awasu, the innovative RSS reader - and brought a smile to my face. Any other suggestions?

And while it might not be rejoicing in the streets, a lot of people will be happy to know that I've started work on adding folders to the My Channels window. I've been slogging away this past week at rebuilding some of the underlying infrastructure to support it. The plan is to do this re-architecting work but not change the way Awasu works and then build folders on top of that. It's depressing work, all this coding and effort and testing to come up with something that works exactly the same way it does now :-(. Still, I've had a chance to clean up a lot of the appalling hacks and design errors slightly less than optimal code that's currently there. As someone much wiser than me once said, every line of code is a liability, so this clean-up is probably a Good Thing (tm).

And no, I haven't finished playing Half Life 2 yet but I'm almost done... 🙂