Technical Sales

January 11th, 2014 by andylockran No comments »

Disclaimer:  Forgive me for the ramble.  I started this blog off on quite a separate topic, and in doing so found myself on quite a different train of thought..  If you do end up staying with me to the end, I’d really appreciate reading your comments so I can start to formulate a more cohesive account of what we are trying to say.

One of the most challenging jobs I consider is the role of technical Sales. I’ve been involved in quite a few software businesses where the salesperson has to have a full grasp of not just the company’s immediate offering, but how it may strategically evolve to become the right choice for the customer.

Ironically there is a parallel here with car industry. Companies like Lucas used to develop car headlamps (their premium models branded “King of the Road”) and other specialist car parts. I have a vague recollection of being on holiday in the West of France with my family when the Vauxhall Frontera was relaunched with a fundamentally different rear suspension system, dramatically improving the car. From the AA:

“Semi-elliptic rear leaf springs gave these early models an unrefined ride, but things changed for the better in April 1995 with the introduction of a coil-sprung rear axle, plus better brakes and improved rear door opening with lifting glass.”

The real crux here is that when there is a major leap forward in technology or innovation, there is a transitional period where the customers who don’t understand the technology need to have a technical salesperson explain the benefits. Once the technology is bedded in, there is less of a need for the technical sales as the technology has become, if not ubiquitous, at least understood in the realm in which it is used.

For digital communications, this same phenomenon appears to have occurred. In the late 90s and early 00s digital was about having an online presence; it then became the focus of communications experts to align the online presence with the offline marketing plans. Following on from this we’ve seen the social media boom, and now marketing departments are starting to understand what social networks are, their advantages and drawbacks, and aligning all their messaging accordingly.

It seems to me that the next jump is going to be another technical one. With the imminent introduction of browser-to-browser communication, what are the innovations or restrictions that such technology may carry? Having recently read (and commented on) @Documentally’s piece on the ‘Perfect Prison‘ – what could the internet look like in another 5 years?

In the last 200 years the majority of the Western World has been fortunate. We’ve been able to align the progress of time with what feels like improvement. This story, perpetuated by the media and by ideas such as “Moore’s Law” has made us believe that through the simple passage of time things will get better*. However, could the real story be that, as a society, we are starting to regress?

I am a huge fan of Hans Rosling, though his talks on the wealth of nations in comparison to life expectancy over the last 200 years aligns more with the first story than the latter.  In them, however, you’ll see anomalies that don’t match the overall story are ignored.  In the disclaimer there’s also the admission that due to the pure volume and scarcity of data, some of it has been ‘normalised’ and ‘interpolated’ to enable its use in the chart.

One of the most intriguing articles I read at the end of 2013 (it was actually published in Feb 2012) was on against TED.  I’ve always had a soft spot for TED.  I used to spend afternoons at college with a friend pinging each other TED talks.  They were a ‘cool’ glimpse into what would be possible in the future.  Intelligent role models taking time to share their ideas in a way that we could easily digest.  The most intriguing part of the criticism for me was the following paragraph:

At TED, “everyone is Steve Jobs” and every idea is treated like an iPad. The conferences have come to resemble religious meetings and the TED talks techno-spiritual sermons, pushing an evangelical, cultish attitude toward “the new ideas that will change the world.” Everything becomes “magical” and “inspirational.” In just the top-ten most-viewed TED talks, we get the messages of “inspiration,” “astonishment,” “insight,” “mathmagic” and the “thrilling potential of SixthSense technology”! The ideas most popular are those that pander to a metaphysical, magical portrayal of the role of technology in the world.

Technology is what we make of it.  As a technologist myself, I’m sometimes the awe of my friends when they come round and see that I’ve got my heating system graphing hourly electricity usage, and I can set my alarm in the morning to not bother turning the hot water on because I know I’ll be showering at work after cycling in.  This isn’t mystical, nor is it a ‘great leap forward’ – it’s actually using five year old technology in a way that the original inventor did not intend.

Behind all the technology that we’re currently using is an inventor that has set the technology up and is manipulating it in some way.  Sometimes it’s obvious and we are fully aware of the manipulation and carry on; other times it’s more subtle.  I think the big change over the next few years will be algorithms that are not used simply to manipulate, but to identify where this manipulation fails and find ways of making it work.  We will be made redundant from our roles as technical salespeople, as people think they understand how the technology works and can make the decisions themselves, but with the oversimplification of the technologies so ‘everyone can understand it’ comes a price.  The price, in this case, is the freedom to choose.

Hooking the user

January 10th, 2014 by andylockran No comments »

Last year, I directed the concept development of a rowing app that has gone on to get quite a reasonably sized organic following. Its success was very much unpredicted, but post-rationalising and having read ‘the Hook model’ by Nir Eyal, I noticed that we had ended up incorporating quite a few design patterns from the book.

Hopefully we’ll get the budget to develop the app further, as there are plenty of more ideas learned from the book that we could incorporate. The slideshow below is a nice summary of the concepts, but I recommend supporting Nir and getting the book on amazon here:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Hooked-How-Build-Habit-Forming-Products-ebook/dp/B00HJ4A43S/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1389375947&sr=8-1&keywords=nir+eyal+hooked

The wonderful world of computing

January 2nd, 2014 by andylockran No comments »

Well it seems like 2013 gave me a little hiatus from blogging – it wasn’t planned but so many of the projects I was working on were about implementing previous knowledge, not pushing the boat out and learning new things.  In hindsight, I realise that is a big mistake, as well as a bit of an untruth – as pretty much every configuration I’ve touched has improved in some way.

2014 is going to bring with it its own challenges, and I hope to keep as many of them catalogued as possible.  2013 brought me into the world of Rackspace – on both their co-location and cloud services – and I’ve found them  ‘fanatical’ about everything, just as they claim.

I’ve also started picking up some AngularJS and using Yeoman for my scaffolding.  I hope to learn a CSS tool, such as Compass/LESS/SASS and use a templating language such as jade.  I’m also going to kill the blog at www.andyloughran.co.uk and bring it back here.  There’s no point in separating my personal and technical blogs, I’ll just make sure I tag them properly on here so people can read what they choose.

Welcome back, and I wish all of you a prosperous 2014.

Tech 21 Impact Snap Case for the Samsung Galaxy Note 2

November 20th, 2012 by andylockran No comments »

The Galaxy Note 2 – the latest smartphone / tablet from Samsung – is without a doubt the finest phone I’ve ever used. For some the size and included stylus are a little off putting but for me it’s the ideal step up from my Galaxy S2.

The Galaxy S2 was a really slim and attractive phone and despite the increase in size this is a tradition the Note 2 continues in style. In order to protect my S2 I went for a large two layer case comprised of a rubber inner layer and a hardened plastic shell; this worked wonders and to this day it hasn’t sustained any major damage. However this added protection really added to the overall size of the phone and made it quite bulky to hold.

With my Note 2 I was offered a different and more innovative choice; a Tech 21 Impact Snap case from Mobile Fun. What sets this unusually thin hard plastic case apart is the progression from a thick layer of rubber or silicone to thin orange strips of a smart substance called D3O. These line the inside edges of the case and whilst they feel soft to the touch, on impact the material hardens to absorb the force that would otherwise be transferred to the handset.

The case fits tightly and has cutouts where required, including a generous opening for Samsung’s S-Pen stylus which I found actually helped me remove it from the phone more easily. There is also a slight lip over the front of the phone which ensures that should the phone land face down the screen will not directly impact the ground..

If I were to suggest a way of improving the protection offered by the Tech 21 Impact Snap case it would be by pairing it with a Galaxy Note 2 Screen Protector just to keep that 5.5″ screen safe and scratch free.

  

ZRMT – to Andy Loughran (www.andyloughran.co.uk)

March 10th, 2012 by andylockran No comments »

As I’m opening up ZRMT to multiple authors, I shall be moving my personal things to www.andyloughran.co.uk .

Thank you.

Ubuntu – The Philosophy

March 10th, 2012 by andylockran No comments »

When I first came across Ubuntu, I fell in love with the philosophy.

I am who I am, because you are who you are.

Having studied Psychology, the ‘person in social psychology’ is an extremely complex issue. When you ask a person to define ‘who they are’ – they very often describe social relationships. “I’m a rugby player” describes a person, because we can then draw on the social norms associated with rugby players, drinking, fitness, fairness and camaraderie.

In our consumerist society, the western adoption of ubuntu would probably go along the lines of:

“I am who I am because I’m better than him”

In the race to the top, in constantly looking as individuals to better ourselves, the first thing that breaks is community. The social fabric of communities that helped build up the work ethic in the early development of the industrial revolution has been reversed, when now the paradigm is to try and better oneself in comparison to one’s peers.

The problem with this approach is that it breaks community. Instead of looking for shared prosperity, we are looking to break it. The recession of 2009 is evidence that such an approach is not sustainable, nor what people would actually want. I can assert with confidence that the majority of people would be uneasy to say all they want to do is be ‘better than their neighbours’.

The root of the problem then lies in the social system, which is manipulating our individual psychology for prosperity. We are told by adverts to want the next big thing, we need to get bigger houses, more TVs, the latest iPad.

The good news, for me, is that it is the system that is manipulating the individual, rather than an inherent belief in an individual to want to better their peers. The vast majority of people look to share their prosperity with their friends, family and future offspring. There are other factors involved with the status quo, but I will not go into them in this post.

So if we go back to the root, if we look carefully at how we behave. Think about the pound that you spend; the time you use up. It is possible to turn the system on it’s head. I’m lucky enough to have been involved in the ‘Open Source’ movement – this is moving away from software being regarded solely in terms of monetary value, and instead being given a social value. We exchange it for free, so that each of us may have a more prosperous resource from which to work.

Certainly, there are more challenges to be faced when using the same structures to share material goods, but these are not insurmountable. I’m sure anyone that’s worked in retail will be fully aware of the mark-up put on products. If buying through a third party supplier, it’s possible for the end distributor to make far more money on ‘mark-up’ that was earned by the manufacturer. I’d argue that the main reason for this is that the ‘buffer’ between the distributor and manufacturer is large enough for it not to have to play on the conscience of the distributor. If we move to a more local economy, then I’d suggest that these discrepancies in ‘value’ versus ‘price’ would be much narrower.

Etape Pennine

March 5th, 2012 by andylockran No comments »

On October 7th 2012, I shall be participating in the Etape Pennines cycle race up in County Durham, England.  If I were doing this by myself for a group of fit cyclist friends, it would be a challenge.  In order to make it even more exciting I’ll be doing it with my family.  This will include:

  • Chris Loughran – Dad
  • Jim Loughran – Uncle
  • John Loughran – Elder Brother
  • Simon Loughran – Younger Brother
  • Chris McCarthy – (ok, so I did have to get one experienced cyclist in to help us).
  • Me.

The reason I’m doing it is to raise money for the Alzheimer’s Society.  Unfortunately last year my Nan lost her battle with Dementia and passed away at the end of November.  It was a very tough time for the family, but unfortunately it was not my first experience of the condition.  Both my mothers’ parents also had the condition.

I remember posting many years ago about John Suchet‘s battle in coping with his wife having the condition.  He pointed out that it was not a condition which necessarily caused the contractee to suffer, but the family and loved ones that surround them.  It can be a very painful condition, moreso when you are left to comprehend the suffering of an increasingly lonely partner.

What does make a big difference though is education and experience.  I was a few years younger when my Gran started showing the signs of dementia, but old enough to have been by her bedside for the last few days of her life.  Understanding the condition made it much less of a chore, and though it was obvious to see that many in the family were in distress, I always felt happy that my Gran wasn’t the one suffering – and if we took to her new character and interacted with her ‘in her world’ then she was extremely content.

The Alzheimer’s Society is a fantastic charity, and due to my girlfriend having worked with the Alzheimer’s Society last year, I’ve been able to gain an invaluable insight into their work.  Funding both care and research into dementia, the Alzheimer’s Society are fighting on all fronts against dementia.

The donation page at the moment is still setup from the donations from my Nan’s funeral.  I hope to get the login details off my Uncle soon so that we can re-theme the site to raise the funds for the cycle.

I look forward to your support over the coming months – I need all the peer pressure I can muster to force me to keep training (and keep patience during a 5 hour+ cycle with my family).  Please share your stories of dementia and I’ll be riding for you too.

 

1st Training Run - http://www.endomondo.com/workouts/40492892 

Project Management

March 5th, 2012 by andylockran No comments »

I’ve worked in a new role for nearly two months now, as a Project Manager for Score Communications.  It’s been a very relaxing transition from my earlier more technical roles.

I’m really enjoying working with a great new team, and the support and help they’ve given me so far as I settle into the new role.  The challenge I face is how to make my mark on the company without adding ‘red tape’ to their development work.  I know all too well that having to fill in too many forms and statuses can make the job of administering/developing very tedious.  The key part is capturing project timescales, rather than developer timekeeping.

The next few months will be incredibly challenging, but hopefully even more enjoyable.  I look forward to sharing a bit more information about our ‘stack’ and what tools we’re using in the future; I also hope to get feedback from the people reading this blog about what they use.  We’re playing around a bit with Agile Methodology, whilst trying to transition from the existing methods.

I’m also hoping to use the blog a bit more – much of my time over the last few years focused on my online presence on Twitter, LinkedIN and Facebook – a much lazier approach to ‘Social’ Media.  I’m also hoping to kick off a few side-projects and keep my technical skills up to date.

Coding Guidelines

March 2nd, 2012 by andylockran No comments »

I saw this, and I concur:

You code sucks, let's fix it
View more presentations from Rafael Dohms

Back up to Ubuntu server using Time Machine with OS X Lion 10.7

February 5th, 2012 by andylockran No comments »

I recently put my mind to tackling the problem that had been plaguing mine and my fiancés MacBook Pros: backups.

We both have files held on our systems that we simply can’t afford to lose. We also work wirelessly. For those reasons Apple’s TimeMachine seemed like a really good option. However, at the £250GBP price tag and already having a home server, a bespoke solution appealed to both the geek and cost-saver in me.

After collating information from several different sources, please find below the steps required to setup and configure an Ubuntu instance to take backups from your Mac via TimeMachine:

Download netatalk 2.2 (The version held in Ubuntu repositories is 2.1 and Lion requires 2.2)

Natty i386: https://launchpad.net/~stefanor/+archive/ppa/+files/netatalk_2.2.0-0ppa2~natty1_i386.deb
Natty amd64: https://launchpad.net/~stefanor/+archive/ppa/+files/netatalk_2.2.0-0ppa2~natty1_amd64.deb
(Others here: https://launchpad.net/~stefanor/+archive/ppa/+packages)

Install netatalk
via dpkg -i <netatalk package name>

Edit /etc/netatalk/afpd.conf
The only line you want: “- -udp -noddp -uamlist uams_randnum.so,uams_dhx.so,uams_dhx2.so -nosavepassword”

Edit /etc/netatalk/AppleVolumes.default
Remove the default line for ~/ (if it exists) by commenting it out (a # should do). Add a new line: “~/.TimeMachine “$u Backup” allow:jamesanslow cnidscheme:dbd options:usedots,upriv,tm” – REPLACING “jamesanslow” with YOUR server username.

Create your Timeachine directory
mkdir ~/.TimeMachine should do it fine

Edit /etc/netatalk/netatalk.conf
Add/append/uncomment/leave the same the following important lines to:
ATALK_NAME=`echo ${HOSTNAME}|cut -d. -f1`
ATALK_UNIX_CHARSET=’LOCALE’
ATALK_MAC_CHARSET=’MAC_ROMAN’
export ATALK_UNIX_CHARSET
export ATALK_MAC_CHARSET
CNID_METAD_RUN=yes
AFPD_RUN=yes
AFPD_MAX_CLIENTS=20
ATALKD_RUN=no
PAPD_RUN=no
TIMELORD_RUN=no
A2BOOT_RUN=no

Create a new file in /etc/avahi/services/afpd.service
Copying in the following:
<?xml version=”1.0″ standalone=’no’?><!–*-nxml-*–>
<!DOCTYPE service-group SYSTEM “avahi-service.dtd”>
<service-group>
<name replace-wildcards=”yes”>%h</name>
<service>
<type>_afpovertcp._tcp</type>
<port>548</port>
</service>
<service>
<type>_device-info._tcp</type>
<port>0</port>
<txt-record>model=Xserve</txt-record>
</service>
</service-group>

Restart netatalk:
sudo /etc/init.d/netatalk restart

Connect to your server from your mac
Go to Finder and your server should appear in the left hand side. If not, CMD+K to manual connect.

Create your sparse backup file
Open up a terminal on your Mac. Move (cd) to the folder where your server’s mounted. This should be /Volumes/<username> Backup. So for me that would be “/Volumes/jamesanslow Backup”. Then run this command to create your backup file (replacing 512g with the size you’d like your TimeMachine to be in Gigabytes):

hdiutil create -size 512g -fs HFS+J -volname “Time Machine” `grep -A1 LocalHostName /Library/Preferences/SystemConfiguration/preferences.plist | tail -n1 | awk ‘BEGIN { FS = “|” } ; { print $2 }’`_`ifconfig en0 | grep ether | awk ‘BEGIN { FS = “:” } ; {print $1$2$3$4$5$6}’ | awk {‘print $2′}`.sparsebundle

Configure OS X to show all types of media for use in TimeMachine
Set OS X to show all types of media, such as ours by running this command in the terminal:

defaults write com.apple.systempreferences TMShowUnsupportedNetworkVolumes 1

Go for it. Open up TimeMachine, select your network TimeMachine instance and get backing up!