Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Show me the Numbers

Yesterday we had a great talk at the SDForum Business Intelligence SIG from Stephen Few called "Show me the Numbers". Stephen has created a career for himself teaching how to present business information in a way that is clear and understandable. And as he told us in the meeting he did this because he saw a crying need for better information presentation and nobody else was doing it.

One of the chief problems is that BI systems vendors compete by offering the most features and in the presentation space this is done by offering a wide variety of impressive 3-D graphs. We looked at and critiqued a number of graphs taken from vendors sales and education literature and we had a field day. For example, in one memorable graph, the months in the time dimension had been sorted in alphabetic order!

When it comes to selecting the type of graph to use, many people use "Eeny Meeny Miny Moe", or look through the list of graph types and select one because they have not used it for some time. I know that I have used this method in the past. Stephen has a well thought out methodology for designing information presentation and he started to go through it, although there was not enough time to go into depth. If you want to find out more you have to read the book.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Apple's ISA Shift

The most extraordinary news last week was the announcement that Apple would drop the Power chip and adopt the Intel chip and Instruction Set Architecture (ISA). There was a lot of speculation and disbelief before the event, the announcement in its own reality distortion field, and generally positive or at least understanding reportage afterwards.

First I should disclose a couple of personal connections with this event. The first one involves my mother-in-law (God bless her soul). Many years ago she wanted to buy a computer and hearing that Mac's were easier to use, bought one of the last 68000 based systems that Apple made. A couple of years later she got fed up with it because cruising the web had become impossible. Most complicated web pages took a very long time to render and many caused her system to crash. Of course there were no software upgrades to help her, so she went out and bought a PC which worked well for several years. This last January it broke down and she asked me for advice on getting it replaced. I suggested buying the Mac Mini that had just appeared and she bought one. Now I hear that it is obsolete, so is she going to be in the same position as she was with her last Mac? And this time its all my fault!

The second disclosure is that I worked for DEC, and was tangentially involved in their disastrous dithering with ISAs. Firstly they decided that the VAX ISA had no horsepower left so they adopted the MIPS chip for a short time and then completely changed tack to use their own internally developed Alpha chip and ISA. Old DEC hands may have thought that as they already had 12, 16, 18, 32 and 36 bit systems that throwing a couple more ISAs to the masses was business as usual. In practice customers took it as a sign that the company did not know what it was doing. DEC had always been deliberately run at the edge of control and when the customers deserted, DEC crumbled.

Back to the story. The most interesting commentary came from Cringely. I do not believe his major thesis, that this in an opening move in a merger between Intel and Apple. I do think that he is right on the money with his "Question 4: Why announce this chip swap a year before it will even begin for customers?" Who is going to buy a Mac now, knowing that it will be obsolete when Apple changes their ISA next year? Apple has basically destroyed the market for their major product for the next year.

There are a couple of possible reasons for making the announcement now. Firstly Apple may have decided that it was not going to keep it a secret and so the announcement was inevitable and put the best possible spin on a difficult situation. Alternatively, it could be hubris. Jobs has a history of being very successful and then getting caught up in his own reality distortion field to the extent that he blows it big time. His last big failure was Next which was colossal. This could be his next, we will see.

One other vector is Intel. Cringely is on the money in that they have a big stake in this. Microsoft just announced their xBox 360, which uses an IBM chip. If the xBox 360 turns out to be the home media center in disguise, Intel has potentially lost the consumer part of their franchise. In this context a link up with Apple who also have their eye on the home media center makes perfect sense.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

What the Dormouse Said

An extraordinary event at the PARC last night. The SDForum Distinguished Speaker Series went out with a bang as John Markoff spoke about his new book "What the Dormouse Said: How the 60s Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry". The truly remarkable thing about the night was the audience, as many of the people featured in the book were in the room.

Sandy Rockowitz introduced several audience members. The names I recall are Doug Engelbart, Bob Taylor, Butler Lampson and Adele Goldberg. Sandy did not introduce everyone and I did not catch all their names, so this is a partial list of a partial list, but it gives a glimpse of who was in the room.

John Markoff presented his thesis. The conventional story of Personal Computers is a story about Xerox PARC and the two Steves. The real story goes back much further to the 1960s and involved Doug Engelbart, John McCarthy, LSD, and only later Stewart Brand, the Homebrew Computer Club, and Stanford institutions like Kepplers bookstore around which the grateful Dead also formed.

At the meeting several people denied their personal involvement with drugs. I have not read the book so I do not know whether drugs really played a part or whether they are there promote book sales. I will let you know my opinion when I have finished it.

Saturday, June 04, 2005


I was using Google to do some research at work the other day, and I noticed that whatever I searched for I got lots of useless results from the likes of and In fact, for some searches, the pollution of off-topic search sites was so high that I found nothing useful in the first few pages of search.

Personally, I have found sites like and to be completely worthless, even when I am looking to buy something. Whatever I am looking for they seem to offer something slightly different and whatever they present is jumbled and difficult to comprehend. The Google sponsored links are on target, easy to digest and much more likely to be useful than any of these sites.

The problem is that the usefulness of internet search is being destroyed by these sites. So can we do about it? The first step in any campaign is to name the enemy. I propose we call it Spom. We have Spam polluting our email and Spim polluting instant messaging, so Spom polluting searches seems to fit. We could even explain it by saying that SPOM is the contraction of Search POlution Menace. Well it is a bit forced, but it will do. Finally Spom is so far unused (mostly).