Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Nissan - Great cars, Great Company

Someone asked me today, how I was getting on with my Nissan Primera SE - well it's magic.

I bought a Nissan about a year ago. I had been renting a Nissan for several weeks whilst the car I owned (a Mercedes Benz A-Class) was in the garage on one of its numerous and reoccuring visits.

The Merc was my first car, I had owned it from practically new around five years beforehand. Within the first few weeks of ownership, I had called out a repair van because the lights had gone faulty.

By the end the car had done around 68,000 miles and at the time of it's last visit these were the sort of faults that it had racked up.

1. Engine control unit failed - replaced
2. Clutch failures - fixed.
3. Gear failure - intermittent visits to the garage.
4. Rollbar links failed - replaced
5. Rear axle arms failed - replaced.
6. Rear suspension failure - replaced.
7. Windscreen washer failed - pipe replaced.
8. Central locking failed - pump replaced.
9. Intermittent electrical faults - all replaced.
10. Car stinking of petrol - fixed on third attempt.

and on...

I was generally under the impression that this was all part of the course of owning a car (having spent a lot of time working in the computer industry with particular products, I was used to things not working all of a sudden).

Anyway, the A-Class was in the garage again with gear failure, it was a dead duck so to speak.

I decided that enough was enough, the repair and service bill over the last five years had been horrendous. So I decided to buy a cheaper Japanese car instead and to sell the now non-working A-Class on a trade auction.

The Mercedes dealer advised me against this purchasing choice and had some interesting commments on Japanese cars. I decided to ignore this though.

I did discuss my problems with Mercedes, and after a good old merry-go-round, I was eventually told they were not going to do anything and how important customer support was ... yada, yada, yada.

So I bought the Nissan. How have things been? Fabulous.

1. It has NEVER gone wrong - not even a tiny little smidgen of a problem. Not a teeny weeny itswy witsy little hint of anything.

2. The service has been brilliant. They always keep on improving things.

3. It doesn't cost a fortune to run.

4. It is totally reliable.

5. I keep on discovering all these useful features it has - and they are genuinely useful.

6. It is a wonderful driving experience.

7. It's made in Britain.

8. Their customer support is absolutely fantastic, incredibly supportive and always helpful.

and lastly, everyone I have ever spoken to at Nissan has been helpful, polite and pleasant. They even sent me a model of a 350Z because I said I liked that car so much (it's definitely my next car now - Nissan have completely sold me on it).

Nissan know a thing or two about "A" class quality - "A" class cars, "A" class people and "A" class support, which is unfortunately the one thing that I feel was missing with my A-Class.

Anyway, that is my experience.

3D printing

I've been working on some research projects in this area - so I haven't posted much about the development of this industry recently.

There has been the usual progress and announcements made with printed electronics, displays and so forth - some of this is already being commercialised today.

However, one thing of big interest was the following "sensation" piece in New Scientist.

printed UAV

Cool.

Commoditise, Commoditise!

Hurray!

We've launched an updated version of Zimki our utility based Javascript development environment.

I'm a happy man, the team has been working hard and done a great job.

Zimki is an online development environment that is designed to make developing web apps - quick and easy.

We use javascript both for front and back-end to simplify language choice. Objects can be created and saved in a persistant environment included as extensions to the language and building web services is simplicity itself.

Hosting and everything of that ilk is taken care of, and the whole system works on a utility based model - you pay for what you use, no more, no less.

The whole idea behind Zimki came from removing all the obvious barriers to developing a fun web app (startup cost, hosting, setup, server environment, backups, scaling etc) and reducing the complexity of others (database, persistance, users, login etc), thus enabling developers to get on with the art of developing.

It fits in-between SaaS and HaaS - and hopefully will become a platform for developing SaaS like apps in the future.

There is a change occuring in the software industry - a positive one of commoditisation which will open the door to new future opportunities, in much the same way that today's industry is built upon the past commoditisation of power (utility electricity providers) and data processing (the silicon chip).

It is an exciting time.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Duck count

I live in small heap with a little pond.

When I say little, it's large enough that it is on the local ordinance survey map and I have a rowing boat.

Anyway, for the last couple of years I have had ducks and moorhens living there. I'm now upto the grand old count of thirty two ducks and ten moorhens.

They are all wild, I do provide feed daily and they are the most wonderfully affectionate creatures - especially the brigade of ducklings who charge out of the wood to surround any visiting person.

A duck isn't just for christmas.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

A driving force for change

For the last ten years, I've been talking about 3D printing and how it will commoditise manufacturing.

For about the same amount of time I've also been talking about commoditisation of IT (and later on such concepts as worth based development) and been actively doing something about it.

So what's with my obsession on commoditisation?

In the world of business, most things break into three basic categories - competitive advantage, cost of doing business and the "in-between" or transitional state.

Competitive advantage is something which is novel, new and brings a real return or benefit to your business. It differentiates you and your competitors.

Novel and New? Well if your competitors are already doing it, it's not going to bring you any advantage over them and it's more likely to be a cost of doing business. Of course if it is novel and new then it is also untried and therefore risky.

Real return or benefit? Well if it doesn't then it is unlikely to be an advantage.

Most businesses live in this world of competitors who will always try and level the playing field by implementing similar measures. Hence any competitive advantage tends to be generally short lived, of course I'm talking here about a functioning fluid free market rather than any monopoly like situation.

As your once "competitive advantage" spreads throughout your industry, it becomes a cost of doing business. You need to do this to compete - try setting up a freight service without a modern transport system.

The characteristics of "cost of doing business" are necessity (i.e. you need to do this to compete), it brings no value (i.e. it does not distinguish you from your competitors, you just need to do this in order to compete), it's long term and because everyone else is doing it then most of the lessons have been learnt and so it tends to be lower risk.

Roughly speaking,

Competitive Advantage (CA) - novel, new, high risk, short lived and high return,
Cost of doing business (CODB) - necessity, known, low risk, long term and no return.

A debate I often get into is funding of software projects. If the project has the characteristics of competitive advantage then ideally it should be driven by principles of worth based development - a venture capital approach to development where both parties share in the risk and returns. This also has the advantages that both parties focus on the results and create agreed measurements for the results of the project rather than the usual client / supplier focus on the specification and who changed what. (Given that the project is novel and new, then the project itself is principally an R&D exercise and the specification will be fluid - however that's another debate on project management methods and the difference between dynamic and static processes).

If the project is CODB, then "cheap as chips" is the order of the day. Ideally you want an off the shelf product or even better a utility service.

The basic order goes roughly like this.

1. Company A thinks of some new thing called Y which brings a potential CA, they build it.

2. Y is a success.

3. Company B and others create equivalent their own Y's to level the playing field (a consultancy field is created).

4. Company C and others create standard products to do Y (a product marketplace is created, and Y is now becoming a CODB).

5. Company D and others create utility services to do Y (it has now become a commodity which businesses use and take for granted).


This is the bit where normally argument start. However, I'll say my piece.

Most software is following this process. Furthermore most activities are following this process as well.

By activities I mean things like :-

Trading - which has been commoditsed by money and has utility services known as banks.

Energy - which has been commoditised by utility services such as electricity providers.

Communication - which has previously been through this route and is now being further commoditised by the internet.

Data processing - already gone through the standard products (silicon chips - ICs, servers) and entering the utility stage (HaaS).

Software - impact of internet, web services, HaaS and other enhancements is leading to utility provision of (SaaS) and also utility development of (i.e my company's own product Zimki is an example of this)


This in my view is an important process. Many of today's industry depends upon reliable utility provision of energy, currency and communication and so forth, as well as massive provision of computing power - they couldn't exist without it.

Tomorrow's industry will have utility provision of energy, currency, communication, data processing and information technology etc. They will depend upon it in much the same way, it will just be seen as a cost of doing business.

Commoditisation is linked with what many would loosely call "progress", it's a process of where that which was novel, new and of benefit becomes commonplace, ubiquitous and almost taken for granted.

That's why 3D printing has always interested me. At the heart of this is the commoditisation of the manufacturing process itself, where "factories" no longer have novel characteristics but instead a general, commonplace and everywhere (the shop, your home place etc).

Today you can already for example "inkjet" print physical 3D structures in a variety of materials as well as "inkjet" print working electronic systems ( transistors etc) and even displays. Many of these processes are being commercialised today.

The progress has been remarkable in the last ten years, and it is not unreasonable to conclude that in the next ten years entire functional systems will be printed as such new & novel methods bring real advantages in terms of cost, freedom, and conservation of materials & energy over the existing methods.

As such it will first be used for CA, and then become CODB, eventually commonplace and commoditised by which point tomorrow's industry will be built upon reliable utility provision of energy, currency, communication, manufacturing and so forth.

At that future time, we will all look back at the days of companies with their own factories, in much the same way as we look back today at companies in the past with their own electricity generators or hand built computers - a sign of how society has progressed and changed.

Of course, by then we will all be busy commoditising the next big thing - whatever that is.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The insane zero stuff.

It's a personal view on how to build everything with nothing. Start with Zero. This is then mutated to "equivalent" values.

 For example {} =[0]= [{},{}]=[[0],[0]] = [[2-1-1], [0]] = [[2,-1,-1],[0]]

The idea behind this comes from when I was about 15. I had this nagging idea that space, energy and matter are simply different interpretations of the same thing and time is merely linked to the variations in that interpretation - I warned you about the madness bit didn't I?

I developed a system for this, which occassionaly I refine. In this system nothing is not quite how it seems, zero is not the same as nothing and empty space is teaming with activity.

This isn't a theory of how things really are - it's more a quirky exploration of something I find interesting and it keeps me amused when I'm not working on real problems.

Makes sense? Confused? I warned you it was madness. Still, you'd be surprised what you can make out of nothing and random statistical probability.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Choice - it's overrated (well in games.)

Having played in the distant past such MMORPGs as World of Warcraft, I decided to dust of the games machine last night and play an old game - Starlancer.

This space combat simulation game has fairly strict scenarios of play with set missions and narrative around those missions. Not having played any computer based game in quite a long time I wasn't expecting much.

Wow, was I suprised. It was great fun. The missions and action was slick, well crafted and enjoyable.

Ok, it's not upto the standards of choice available in MMORPGs, you can do mission 3 and only mission 3 rather than this quest or that quest. You only have a choice of these few ships with this selection of weapons, rather than a mass of armour, spells, weapons and other customisation.

But it has some huge advantages. First, there isn't so much choice so "what shall I do next?" becomes "mission 3".

Second, it doesn't require other players so there is no waiting for "Gandalvian the Gnome Mage to finish shopping in Stormwind" before you can start your quest (note, by the time Gandalvian turns up generally Lucialla the Elf Priest has left the group, so you have to spend more time finding someone else) - in Starlancer you just press start mission and then you just pummel the bad guys with plasma guns and screamers.

Thirdly, when I stop playing, I stop playing. There is no feeling of "missing out", as you know nothing is happening in the Starlancer world - you've switched it off.

Cool.

I suppose when it comes to games, I just want to play rather than build a new life.

Another four years

The world cup is over and Italy are the winners - on a penalty shoot out. England didn't do as well as was hoped for, Ronaldo is the new villian of English football, and Theo never got to play. Only four years to go for another round of hoping to see England in the final - the clock is ticking already. Fortunately Euro 2008 is just around the corner.