Friday, June 27, 2008

Testers report bugs for dead frogs

Once again we find ourselves testing software later in the day as we attempt to meet a self-imposed deadline. It's not all bad though - to keep morale high I picked up a few drinks for the crew. While it was generally well received, it did not arrive until the bulk of the work was already done which is probably good, because there is only so much value to be had from a tester 'simulating drunk user' testing. Not that we imbibed anywhere near that amount. And we would know if we did, because people would start looking like this. Fortunately, that was not the case, at least not today.

Oddly, one of the things I like best about the first photograph is the newsprint on the paper that was hastily used as a backdrop. The article talks about the reaction people had when Fox News used a banner graphic about Barak Obama that came off as racist. For me, it's like embedding a little time capsule into the blog. Okay, maybe that's overstating it a little bit, maybe in 5 or 10 years I will not care at all. Only time will tell.

The second picture of course, is of a real dead frog, or as Greg likes to call 'em, dead dead frogs.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

No longer sharing our laundry

For the past while, we have been using the laundry facilities in our condo building because our clothes dryer stopped heating up. Tonight we decided to replace the old with the new and got a replacement dryer. Bonus feature: we don't have to use the shared facilities any more.

Seriously, you see the worst side of some people when you have to share laundry machines.

I'm going to let it go though, since we can once again return to doing our laundry in-suite. In a totally unrelated note, today's photo was taken while out walking the dog and is of a condo on Bayshore Drive, I believe. The wooden dory reminded me of home, although I suspect that a boat like that would still be put to use and not simply a decoration if it was near the Atlantic. Still, they did a nice job with it, so I'll just admire it for what it is.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Blogging about blogging

Lengthy post alert. You have been warned.

I have begun watching the stats on my blogs much more closely than usual as of late. A lot of us at the office maintain personal blogs with various levels of readership. For some, it is a personal diary, for others, it is a digital legacy and for yet others, it's just something to do.

Of the two or three blogs I have created, the one for Louise has significantly higher readership stats than the others. On the surface, that makes sense to me for several reasons. One, it has a tightly focused theme. If you go to her blog, you are expecting to see photos and quick little updates about the various things that my dog has done lately. There was a spike in readership (and reader comments) recently when Louise was having some bowel problems. One photo of her looking miserable had people checking back daily to see if the situation had improved or not.

Lesson number one would be that blogs that are 'about' something, or have a consistent theme are going to be more likely to generate repeat visitors than blogs that are just 'my diary' or tend to write about anything in general (such as this blog). The readership of this blog tends to be limited to people I know in one way or another which is fine by me. In contrast, of the people that visit Louise's blog, only a small percentage know me personally. There are much more visitors that come to the site because they are interested in pugs and initially know nothing of Louise. The stats on google analytics support this, as I can see the locations of the site visitors. The map for visitors to iTripped is filled with hits from places I have lived, or places where I know family and friends happen to be. Interestingly enough, I also see what places have NOT registered any visits from, even though I have family or friends living there. This is the sort of information useful for tailoring one's Christmas gift list.

So back to Louise's blog - her site averages about 35 hits per day and I am guessing that many are repeat visitors. Not necessarily all 35 people checking daily, but an average of that many people returning to check out the site roughly once or twice a week. In keeping with that, I try to make sure that I post semi-regularly to that blog - much more frequently than any other blog I have on the go.

Lesson number two is obvious: people don't come back regularly unless there is new content for them to see. Further to that point, the content also has to be something they want. The more regular the updates, the more frequent visitors will check back. If you always update your blog in the morning before going to work and never on weekends, your readers will figure this out and won't bother checking after Friday until Monday morning.

Another thing I have noticed is that I get a lot of feedback from people (again, on Louise's blog mostly) telling me how much they enjoy the photographs. Admittedly, Louise is a pretty easy subject to take a good picture of and since many people like that breed of dog, her site appeals to a moderately wide swath of people. These people are looking at the photos, and then clicking for the larger, high resolution versions. I see a similar thing over on Greg's blog, where he sets it up so a visitor who clicks on one of his daily images is sent to a completely different picture. People expect this and many visitors come to click his pictures specifically to uncover the hidden photos. This is really a followup on Lesson number two, with giving the visitors something they want.

The third lesson I have learned is that it is much harder to get readers to comment on Louise's site compared to this one. Maybe it is because the vast majority of people surfing the net do so passively, or maybe it ties back to the fact that the people commenting on this site tend to know me personally. However, the ones posting to Louise's blog tend to be her 'fans' and aside from my mother in law, tend not to be people in my social circles. On second thought, I suppose these people could be defined as being part of another circle - the folks who read Heavy Breathing. One thing I try to do is to post responses back in the same place, so if someone posts a question about Louise on her blog, I'll post a comment with the response. Conversely, comments on this blog tend to only loosely reference the post they are attached to.

In the end, I guess it is safe to say that I don't take my blogging too seriously. Where I have been more consistent and stuck to a more focused theme I have seen an increase in readership. Of course, one might argue that my efforts really don't matter much too - it could be that there simply are a lot of people out there who like pugs and I'm merely tapping into that. This whole post has used the metric of quantity of readers as a baseline for 'success' and that in itself is misleading. Unless I became interested in selling advertising space, it really doesn't matter how much traffic comes to my sites. What matters more, especially for personal blogs, is the relationship a site visitor has with the author when they visit and that is usually determined outside of the blogosphere, be they coworker, parent or friend.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Conflicted about Car-Free

There was a Car-Free festival in my neighborhood today, and we did turn out to support it. I like the idea of riding my bike or taking public transit instead of driving a car and it makes me feel good to know that I am not 'part of the problem' as it were.

Having said that, I still am somewhat of a car enthusiast. When I see a nice car, it turns my head just the same as a nice bike does. In recent years I have become a fan of cars like the Smart Fortwo and others like it because of the way it sips gas like a scooter. But really I guess I won't be truly satisfied until a truly sustainable car becomes available. Something that does not release emissions into the atmosphere, for example. Even this doesn't address traffic problems but honestly, I think that the current (and rising) gas prices are going to do a lot to reduce volumes over the next few years.

Unfortunately, some of the best cars are the classics which means that even if they do build something that has no emissions, it will also be something that likely has no soul. I have seen the electric sports cars and they don't quite do it for me. The only hope for beauties like the one pictured here would be to retrofit an engine that was able to do the job without the mess. I don't see that happening anytime soon.

Friday, June 13, 2008

The gulls at Burger King

As I was walking into the office, I noticed this car in the Burger King parking lot, with seagulls walking all over it. The explanation is simple, the driver was feeding the gulls. As a consequence, there are almost always seagulls in the BK parking lot.

I'm not going to preach about how bad a diet of BK must be for wild birds, or how getting them used to/dependent on humans for food is not the ideal model. I just don't think I would want birds walking and crapping over any car of mine.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A Simple perspective on Agile talks

I promise not to turn this into a 'work blog' but one post won't kill any of the four readers I may have. Noel and I headed over to Sophos the other night to take part in an Agile Vancouver event hosted there. The discussion group was to be about 'Simplicity.'

Simply put, this outing proved to be of little value to us, as the gentlemen speaking worked in a completely different world than ours. While the strategy they put forward may have been viable, and they did look at it from many angles, there was little to take away from this particular meeting that we could apply back at the office. It just wasn't the most relevant topic for us.

Having said that, both of us were somewhat discouraged by this as we were hoping that this would be an informative event. Since both of us had little to eat before the meeting, we decided to grab some dinner and call it a night. We started talking about work over burritos and even though we were only there about twenty minutes (both Noel and I are fast eaters, and that may be putting it politely) we had covered some interesting ground about how we are managing things, and how we might be able to improve.

This morning we went over our thoughts once again, then showed our plan to our boss. It evolved as he shot a few holes into it, but it did survive and we began introducing some of those changes right away. Now, only time and metrics will determine if our changes are for the better. For me, the takeaway here is that even though the discussion group was of little benefit due to the choice of an irrelevant topic (for us,) it was still of a high value because it got us to look at how we do things in a different way. From that, we were able to speculate how certain changes could bring about improvement to how we do things.

It's either that, or I do my best work after having a beer.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Tri-Freeze-athon in Vancouver

All week the city has been preparing for the Triathlon, and it has included street closures and a fair bit of coordination and setup. This is a shot of the finish line (I think) as well as one of the more interesting buildings in the city. I am referring to the one with a tree growing on top.

I also noticed all the scooters required for the event - there were so many I was wondering if it was a motorized triathlon instead. Actually, that could be fun - a boat race followed by a motorcycle (or scooter) race followed by a segway race. Ok, maybe that's just a crazy thought.

Anyway, the weather has been so crappy here that I noticed on the news today that they first tried abbreviating the swim portion of the tri-race, and later decided to abort it all together in some categories - because some athletes were getting hypothermia. Yes folks, it was cold enough in Vancouver to catch hypothermia in June. Somehow I doubt this is the kind of record that the city wants it's name associated with, but here we are. This is a first for the sport.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Aggressive Crows

We had some friendly gardeners come to take out some bushes we had growing on our balcony today. Earlier I had advertised them on craigslist as free to whomever could come take them away. These were just the sort of people I was hoping for. It was a fair amount of work as they had to dig around the root base, dodge some over protective crows that had babies on the other side of the fence and haul the bush they wanted to keep out of there. When all was said and done, they even gave us a bottle of wine as a gift! Thanks, gardeners!

I have never been more excited about an empty patch of dirt before.

As I mentioned, these crows were not pleased to have us out there today. The would swoop down to strike me on the back, peck the branches in frustration and at one point, they even shat on me. I know that's supposed to be lucky, but I was pretty happy to change my shirt once it was all done. We did see the young crows too - they were not quite fully grown and could not quite fly so they were on the ground hiding in the corners. I suppose I can understand the parent crows being protective. If they weren't squawking so much I would have endorsed their stay, as I haven't seen a skunk or squirrel in days. But after getting bird poop on me, I no longer feel bad for throwing rocks at them to chase them off.