HP Doesn’t Know What It Wants To Be

I’ve been a bit of an HP fanboy for a while.  I have an 8 year old HP laser printer that I love, a 4 year old HP pavilion that still runs great, an HP Media Smart Home Server, and this year I bought my wife an HP laptop, and a new colour laser jet printer…so I was pretty annoyed last week when they announced they were getting out of the consumer space to put their head in the clouds.

Then I read this: HP Touchpad to Return.  Basically, HP is going to do another run of touch pads.

I managed to snag one last week, and even at $150 (for the 32gig version) it may be over priced considering there are exactly 352 apps in the WebOS app store (and only about 10-20% of those are touchpad specific).  Plus the thing’s buggy as heck, and heavier than the 1st gen iPads.

Are consumers REALLY going to buy a product from a company that wants to exit a market so they can chase some cloud pipe dream?

Does HP realize that those consumers are also the people who work in enterprises?  The same people that HP wants to put their faith in massive enterprise cloud computing platforms that offer them major profits.

What happened to HP the family controlled company that slowly and steadily first became THE name in consumer printers, and is now the largest selling computer manufacturer?

They’ve become a company of dashed hopes and broken promises.  The company that bought Compaq, and shuttered my beloved iPaq line.  Who killed their Media Smart Windows Home Server line. Who ship printers with “e-print” ready stickers…which have notes inside the box saying a firmware upgrade will be available summer 2011 (I’m still waiting btw).  A company which all but killed WebOS last week, and this week resurrects it.

I was at Alliance/Atlantis in the early 2000’s when they went through 3 CEO’s in 2 years and it felt like this, no true direction, just a constant sprint towards the next big thing.  Internally it was demoralizing, and a good chunk of us left.

HP is a company without direction, and a company that anyone would be foolish to trust with hardware or software while they are so clueless.

HP is dead to me until some major corporate shake ups happen.

They don’t want me as a consumer?  Fair enough, but I’m sure as heck not going to recommend them as a cloud provider to my bosses when they can’t even commit to holding true to their word on exiting a business.

If HP bought Amazon’s S3 (which I passionately love), I would immediately start looking at alternatives, because recent track records indicate it’s only a matter of time before HP exits the market.


Zite for iPad is Awesome

Zite, your personalized magazine

Since I bought my iPad a couple of weeks ago, there are two apps I use constantly. One is Flipboard, which turns your Twitter and Facebook feeds into a social magazine, which is pretty cool, but it separates Twitter from Facebook, and while it can use Google reader feeds, they are buggy at best.

The other most constantly used app is Zite. The difference being that it only shows you the links to stories in your feeds. You get none of the social context around it, your friends and people you follow become simple curators.

What’s more is that as you tell the app what stories you like, and what types of content you’re interested in’ it gets better at predicting what you will like in the future.

When you couple this with Delicious as a way of collecting and saving the real good stuff for later reading, you have a killer app.


My iPad 2 review

My iPad
My iPad

The iPad has been out for a year now, and while I enjoyed playing with one when it first came out, I didn’t pick one up.

I’m what’s traditionally known as an “early adopter”. I built my first PVR in 2003. I bought a TiVo on eBay and hacked it to work in Canada in 2004. I’ve owned all manner of Palm Pilot (a Handspring Visor which I had to fet imported from the United States), Compaq iPaq’s, Windows CE devices, iPods mini, classic, touch, iPhone, and even a Microsoft Zune (and just so we’re clear, I think the Zune software is far superior to iTunes, and the wireless syncing was one of the coolest features).

I promised myself that I’d wait for the second generation iPad, once the kinks were worked out, plus having dropped 20k on our basement last year, funds were tight.

So imagine my surprise when I won one last month?!? Of course I promptly took it back to Future Shop and traded it in for a gift card.


Bad Usability: College of Nurses of Ontario

College of Nurses of Ontario
Not a bad looking site at all

My mom asked me to help her register with the College of Nurses of Ontario, it was a pretty clean website, and looked like a decent user experience, so I figured why not.  Well, after struggling through their website, I decided to whip off a letter to them to expresss my displeasure in the usability of some key areas of their site.

This is that letter.


Customized or Scalable?

Custom vs Speed
Custom vs Speed

During my day job I’m confronted on an hourly basis with requests for small improvements that people want to make to the website in order to be more personal. Add “My Account Rep”, only show them content they own, put their name on the page, remember what they last searched, show them the most popular research for the products they own, show them the top rated research in what they own, show non-members a view of what it would look like if they were members, but don’t hide the stuff they don’t have access to, I don’t know, maybe a switch of some sort that you can click to give them the “whole view” (seriously…I don’t even know how in the world to write a spec for that).

There’s a problem with all of these though. Our old site was an example of what happens when you allow unfettered, continual customization, and don’t consider the overall impact that each one of those chips in the scalability wall makes.

The above illustration is a good example of the customization vs speed argument, imagine the teeter toter works like this. When you put something on one side, it lifts the other side up, causing the other side to get more and more out of control.  Everyone at some point in their life has been the one on the top part of the teeter totter, it’s not a lot of fun because the person on the heavy end has all of the control, they decide when you go up, or when you go down. They decide when they’ll just jump off the teeter totter and leave you to slam down hard on your butt and probably fall off.

Out of the gate I’ll tell you that speed’s got it’s work cut out for it. It’s trickier to do than customization. I can customize the crap out of a website in hours, but tweaking the speed requires deep plumbing and hard work.

Every time you add a feature to the customization side of the scale, the speed side gets lighter, and it becomes harder for speed to balance the teeter totter. Eventually you get to a point where poor speed is thrashing and flailing at the top of the teeter totter trying to gain his balance…and he simply can’t.

Well why can Google do it then?

Google’s not much different. Take a look at an iGoogle page with loads of gadgets on it, and watch how slow it loads, compare that to the straight Google home page…also keep in mind that Google has locked up about 90% of North America’s smartest software engineers…and if they can’t figure this out, what chance do us mere mortals have?

The appearance of customization is better than true customization.

First off, I believe greatly in putting more of the customization components on the client side. Cookies are a great way to do this, keep their display name, and some basic customization options in their cookie. Users who refuse customization on their machines simply don’t get customization.  Sorry, but that’s the realities of the internet in 2009. On the server side, you need some pre-assembled components, preferably in XML, HTML, or plain ole text files which use the file system rather than the database.  It’s MUCH easier to scale a file system up than it is a database into a cluster.

Too much customization is a bad thing

No matter how much apparent customization you do, eventually you reach a point where you’re still making database calls for pieces. There’s no hard and fast rule for how many database calls are too many…but you know when you hit it.  Your site’s slow.

You also hit a strange point where you’ve essentially created an infinite number of slightly different sites. While this is appropriate for a site like Google, it’s not great for a site which is trying to convey a single directed message.

Customization vs editorial control

There’s a certain level of editorial control that I expect when I go to a website. I’m figuring that there are people who get paid six figure salaries to show me what’s important, to make certain editorial decisions, and decide that this is their best stuff. Yeah it’s cool when I can add a filter to that content to let me see stuff that I’m most interested in, but when I go to the Globe and Mail’s website or, I want to see what their editorial has determined is most important…because even though I’m not all that interested in Bio Tech, maybe today’s biotechnology story is relevant to me in a way I’m not even aware of.

In the end, customization is a good thing, but too much can put blinders on content, and put excessive strain on systems.


Design Trends I Love – Pseudo 3D

Pseudo 3D
Pseudo 3D

There’s a new design meme that’s making the rounds. Websites that have some dimensionality to them. I first really noticed it on Jonathan Snook’s, but recently SlashFilm added some of this, and my new favourite site Mail Chimp has some too.

It adds much needed depth to the web, and is neat because it’s a whole new design trend which appears to have sprung up out of nowhere.


Search Engine Optimization is Bunk

The Radical Hive Logo
The Radical Hive Logo

I get about 7 or 8 email spam a week to my domain accounts promising that so-and-so can make my search rankings much higher for only $xxxx.  Of course this stuff is so much snake oil it’s not even funny.  I can help you improve your Search Engine ranking with 10 easy tips.  Best of all, this is completely free!

So, for the robots out there, check this out:

Top 10 Free Search Engine Optimization Tips by Brian Garside

Consider that a preview tip right there.  That title not only improves the ranking for my name, but will also raise the profile of this article in search engines.


A plea from the family computer guy

Dear (aunt, uncle, or family friend);

This week I got a call from (family member) who said they hadn’t had email in a while.  I went through the usual troubleshooting stuff with them, and it came down to the fact that email was timing out.

I went over there, and 45 minutes later I found that there was a very large email in his/her queue.  (His/Her) internet connection is painfully slow…and I very nearly pulled out all of my remaining (hair / goatee) waiting for your emails to download.

Everyone loves (insert from Cats on Baths, Top 10 Surprising Thoughts, Mixed up Families), but the email originally went around eight years ago and is now dead.  Furthermore, it clocked in at (insert ridiculously large number here).

If you’ve got something funny to send, why not find the original website instead of inserting all of the pictures into a huge email?  A link to a website is much easier to download that dozens of megs on (relative’s) tiny little connection.

This would really help me out.  Heck, while you’re at it, why not come up with an original email, rather than forwarding the hundred millionth repeated warning about (insert from any of 200 urban legends quickly debunked at

Thanks a ton
(insert name here)


How to get a job in web design

Me and my Logo
Me and my Logo

I like hiring people right out of school.  For one thing it brings a great energy to a team to have someone young with new ideas.  For another, it’s a chance to shape someone who hasn’t picked up years of bad habits (and who may impart some good habits on me and my team).  I also think it’s my duty to give others the same breaks that were afforded me early in my career.

You’ve finished up your classes, you’ve read a bunch of stuff on your own (including Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think, Dan Cederholm’s Bulletproof Web Design, Andy Budd’s CSS Mastery) and you’ve been networking, you’ve been twittering, you’ve met some people, got a couple of leads, and now you’ve sent out your resumes.  You’re well on your way to getting your first job in web design.

Now you’re ready for your first job interview, so here’s some tips for you to make sure that first interview goes really well.


Top 10 WordPress Plugins – Updated

Not available in stores...the WordPress Plugin Bar <tm>
Not available in stores...the WordPress Plugin Bar

For this week’s Web Design Wednesday segment, I’m going to revisit a post I wrote about back in August, but a lot of stuff has changed in the seven months since I first wrote it.  For one thing I’m about 100 times more comfortable in WordPress than I was seven months ago.  For another I’ve totally swapped out my old WordPress Plugins for newer better ones.

For another thing, I’ve learned how to build my own plugins.

So this is my latest and most updatedest listing of best plugins for WordPress.  These are all what I consider “manditory” for a new WordPress install.