Articles in the ‘Ramblings’ Category

My 2012

It’s been an amazing year, getting married, the olympics, doing my first public speaking gig, so many highlights. Here’s just a few in pictures

2013 is already shaping up to be a landmark year, I’m hugely excited about it already and can’t wait to share the first bit of news in the next few weeks (no, my wife isn’t pregnant – see this: http://instagram.com/p/T5k0Nqv0TL/)

Retrospective: Apple product prediction

Well over a year ago, I wrote an article on the regulated rigidness that is Apple’s product release cycle. I mapped out the next two years of Apple’s product launches down to the month, and it has been the most viewed post on my blog for the entirety of last year, even eclipsing Smashing Mag calling my bookshelf “rough”. nearly 40% of all page views were for that and over 80% of searches led to that page

So, looking back on what I wrote, was I right? Does it even matter?

Was I right?

Yes, most. Of the time. I predicted the iPhone, iPad, new iPods and 10.7 announcements very well. The iPhone 4 sdk announcement was spot on, but the ipad launch date was a bit off, as was the iPad 2 and iPhone 5 as well. I didn’t see OS X 10.7 Lion coming so soon after it’s announcement, given how long 10.6 took to release.

It seems that Apple have switched to an 18 month release cycle with it’s more mature products like the iPhone. The iPad is still new so innovation and new features are simple, the iPhone is more difficult as there’s very few extra sensors that they could add, so software and CPU/GPU components as well as the design of the device itself are the updates to be made. Significant changes like that take longer, so the 18 month cycle seems more reasonable.

What I got wrong or missed completely was more telling: I didn’t get the iMac refresh or te MacBook pro or air updates. I also got iWork 2011 out by 6 months. Not brilliant form, but let me explain why they’re out: Apple don’t control them, Intel do.

Intel’s processors are the main reason to get a new MacBook, they’re certainly the biggest update in every generation. The recent addition of Thunderbolt ports and a bit more RAM isn’t really a good reason to upgrade. Major design changes I.e. the unibody MacBook pro change or the nee design MacBook Air are harder to predict, but Intel makes it’s roadmaps very clear. They go in an annual tick-tock pattern, new architecture on the tick then tweaks and enhancements to that architecture on the tock. Then it continues (like clockwork) with a new micro-architecture every 2 years. This means you get an updated MacBook every year, at almost the same time of year. The only time it misses is if Intel miss a deadline, and they’ve not done that for years.

So, what’s the future? Pretty much the same as when I last wrote. Expect updates, regularly. As products mature, expect their release cycles to extend. New products get 12 months updates, then after a few years get 18 months updates until they are eventually discontinued. MacBook updates will continue to be in line with Intel processor updates.

And that is how Apple’s release cycle works. Any questions, Tweet me or write a comment below.

5 Rules for a great workspace

My back garden office

I started writing this post about a month ago whilst sat in the back garden of a friend’s house. I wasn’t actually thinking of much, but the environment allowed me to think clearly and freely. For reference, I was in the garden pictured above, and there wasn’t just one of those gorgeous dogs, there were three!

Since that time I’ve been thinking more about workspaces, and I’ve come up with some golden rules for a good office for me. I must stress that this works for me, and may or may not work for you.

Rule 1: as few interruptions as possible

I had had a good afternoon in the garden, silent apart from the birds singing, and plenty of tea in the kitchen. I was getting a lot of good thinking done and I was starting to get it down on paper. My only problem was three lovely four-legged distractions. One of them wanted me to throw a stone every 5 minutes and would bark if I didn’t. The further I threw it, the longer a break I got. If I threw it out of sight, she’d come back with a different stone after giving me nearly 15 minutes of uninterrupted peace as a reward for my good throw.

The more I think about my workspace, the more important a lack of interruptions becomes. A place where a person can think, exclusive of noise and distractions is conducive to creativity and great work. Someone speaking to you engages the language part of your brain (the left hemisphere). This generally dominant part stops the creative half of your brain (the right hemisphere) in its tracks and it can take a few minutes to re-engage this half your brain.

Now, in my opinion, coding is a creative task like drawing, and not a language or logical task. I’ve noticed this recently as I’ve been reading “Drawing with the right side of the brain” in an attempt to learn to draw. The book describes giving the language center of your brain a task it rejects in order to engage the right, more creative, hemisphere. As I’ve been doing this with drawing, I’ve noticed I do exactly the same thing when I’m engrossed in coding. The book recommends as few interruptions as possible when drawing, and so I recommend the same when working.

Rule 2: a clear desk is a clear mind

Once again, on the subject of distractions, having too much junk on your desk is conducive to procrastination, the enemy of getting things done. I personally tend to tidy, play with my iPad, sketch something, all generally whilst I’m waiting for something to load (I’ll come to that later). This also relates to any application that sends you messages. I’m a sucker for having GTalk, DestroyTwitter and Outlook open on my laptop as well as the company messaging system. It’s a blessing that most of my e-mail is mailing list stuff that I can ignore and that DT has an “away” function that queues up tweets for when I need a break or I’d get nothing done.

My cluttered desk

For instance, look at the picture above. This is me in 2007, not long after I’d started working at my current employer. I’m not following any of my rules here and I’m amazed that I got much done at all. The following things are wrong:

  1. My desk is a mess, there’s paper all over the place and I have to rummage through things to find what I’m after
  2. I have two notepads in front of me, that’s one too many
  3. There’s another laptop behind me with my work e-mail. This is so far out of my way for looking at my main screen that I disconnect from my task every time the laptop screen flickers

I’ve learned a lot since then and now my desk is a lot clearer with fewer distractions.

So, a new policy, my desk shall be clear and the only apps open shall be the ones that I am working with directly.

Rule 3: I must have a wall, it stores the ideas too big for my head

This one may seem odd, but I have to have a wall for me to put design work on. If I don’t get some place for me to stick my database diagrams and wireframes, even if it’s just the little partition between my desk and the next, I won’t be able to see the big picture.

One of my jobs back in 2009 was up in Sheffield, where a team of four were trapped in a tiny glass box in the middle of a floor of people. Crampt conditions and general overheating weren’t the best when all of us were in the room, but since we didn’t have any desk space, we all used the walls and shared ideas. The result was a well thought-out system which was hugely well received by the client, all because we could see the big picture.

On other projects where I’ve not had access to a permanent wall, I’ve simply worked from home where I have a whiteboard (which I’ve had since uni). Giving myself the freedom to work in large spaces always produces my most creative and thought-out work.

Rule 4: equipment is just as important as space

Recently my desk and office have been brilliant, I’m following my rules and they’re working. However, I’m falling into an old trap, doing something else whilst the system loads. Unfortunately for me, the system needs to take a 30 second break every time I move the cursor (no prizes for guessing what tech I’m using) and hence I’m taking 30 seconds out to do other stuff, like get distracted by twitter.

The rule here is that your equipment is important. If you’re having to compromise and work around issues which allow you to lose concentration, be it a rubbish laptop or running out of sharpies, then you have to correct that. I’d never dream of doing iPhone development on my 2006 macbook, it’s simply not fast enough and would annoy me more than the task would be worth. Get the most powerful computer you can afford, it will make your life so much easier in the long run.

Rule 5: keep yourself happy

This last rule is the hardest to achieve, but will do the most for your productivity. My team, my colleagues and with few exceptions my friends, are not only there to work with me, but to keep each other happy.

An example from a project in late 2009, this time 12 people crammed into a room for 10; desk space at a premium, we were all in the same boat, and we kept each other going. The team dynamic was good because we were all working on something that we knew was important to the client and we were happy to work all sorts of hours to make it work. We also had an assignment manager who bought chocolate and sweets by the boat-load whenever morale started to waiver. Lunch was taken together and trips to the pub were highly encouraged. We were happy, and so we worked hard.

It is important for your health, not just your productivity, that you’re happy at work. Take breaks when you want, not when you’re distracted by someone. Build up a relationship with your colleagues where you can talk about anything, not just about work all the time, and have some fun!

These are my rules that I’ve come up with for a more productive place of work. I’m not saying they’re right, but they work for me.

What are your rules for a productive workspace? I’d love to hear your suggestions and advice. Just leave a comment below.

Geeks need their space

Today’s post inspiration comes courtesy of Matthew Solle (@solle) who tweeted this video of Campaign Monitor’s new offices

This video reminded me of my afternoon at my client. After a week of wireframing, data architecting and meetings, I finally got to sit down and code what I’d had in my head for nearly a month. Fellow geeks, you know how good a feeling it is to be in the zone and just do simply excellent work at what feels like breakneck speed, it’s great.

Except, I work in an open-plan office. There’s meeting rooms all around me and I’m right by the door, so people come and go all the time. I’ve also got two laptops and an iPad on my desk, along with a main monitor. Add to that an iPhone and my actual phone and things are pretty busy and I can easily get distracted without all the people around me.

This video showed me the absolute joys of having space to sit and think. People can still ask you stuff, messenger is always on, and they can pop round whenever it takes their fancy, but you have a room all to yourself with white boards and space to put all your thoughts on the walls. These developers, these lucky, lucky developers, will have the space to concentrate on what they do best, in an environment that they can tailor to their liking. It’s the joy of freelancing and having a home office, mixed with working with the best people around. Throw in guitar hero and I can’t imagine a better office.

So, why aren’t there more of these?

Simply, it’s money. In London, it wouldn’t make financial sense to have a kick-ass view of the river and all that space for only 20 people. It simply doesn’t happen. Open plan offices allow for people to be much closer together and still have some sense of space for themselves (just say no to cubicles).

I’d argue that the best people need this space, and if they can’t always have an office, then a project room for a small team. Failing that, just some space on the walls. As a developer, I value my space to think. As a designer, I value my space to create, and as a leader, I value my team.

Employers, give your people more space. A smaller office does not mean you save money if your workforce is unhappy. A smaller office does not equal more team spirit because you’re packed in together. A smaller office does not guarantee people talking to each other more just because they’re so tight up next to each other. Think about your office, think about your people, and create a space to work.

I’ve found a great post on cool workplaces. Get inspiration from these and make your office a better place to work: 10 Seriously cool workplaces on Chief Happiness Officer