Archive for April, 2008

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

Quote of the day

“Rails is a lot of fun, and lets me do cool new things – but it’s hard to eat it.”

Simon St. Laurent


Tuesday, April 29th, 2008

How to negotiate

Tips from Leo Reilly in How to Outnegotiate Anyone (Even a Car Dealer!).

  • Be patient. If you insist on having something today, know what you want and be prepared to pay for it.
  • Never disclose your deadline.
  • Cultivate a positive relationship with the other party.
  • Don’t make the other side look stupid (for a prolonged period of time).
  • The best negotiators talk only 40% of the time.
  • The most intimidating thing you can do to someone trying to intimidate you is to not be intimidated.
  • Never be the one to make the first offer.

The most critical aspect of negotiation is the opening offer. Four opening gambits are possible:

  1. Lowballing. Offering substantially less to create psychological downward pressure on the price.
  2. “Up against the wall.” Forcing the other side to make more concessions than you do.
  3. Anchoring. Having both sides make equal concessions.
  4. “The Kiss.” Like anchoring, except allowing the other side to take one final (often minor) concession.

If you want to find out what Leo says about how to buy a car, in 5 minutes, below dealer cost, you’ll have to pick up the book though. :-) -m

Monday, April 28th, 2008

SearchMonkey in private beta

I haven’t mentioned it yet, but SearchMonkey (now an official name, not just a project name) is in external limited beta. Keep an eye on ysearchblog, lots more technical content is on the way. -m

Sunday, April 27th, 2008

Is there an inverse to the Innovator’s Dilemma?

Roughly speaking, the innovator’s dilemma happens when a product progressively gets more and more advanced features, to the point that it misses out (by listening to customers) on an entire new opportunity. At that point, a simpler, competing product can come into play and make large gains.

But what happens when a company is generally aware of the Innovator’s Dilemma and tries to compensate? It seems like second order effects might come into their own. A product widely known for being (and remaining) minimalist is exposed to attacks from deliberate enhancements and related complexificaiton of competitive products. As the market gets more mature, the steadfastly-simple market leader gets left behind. In a sense, it’s a role reversal from what Clayton Christensen describes. But can it work out the same in the end? Please comment. -m

Saturday, April 26th, 2008

Deadlines and connections

I’m not involved in the the corporate wrangling about Microsoft and Yahoo! talks. Which leaves me relatively free to comment on it. [Disclosure: I am, not too surprisingly, a Yahoo! shareholder.]

Lots of things have been happening lately. A deadline of, well, today. Talks of Google adsense trials. And all kinds of merger speculation involving Rupert Murdoch in some fashion, or else AOL.

But I haven’t seen anyone point out this connection: Google owns 5% of AOL, having invested a billion bucks and taken over search there a couple of years ago. So if Yahoo! and AOL merged, there would already be a Google advertising connection in place. Running pre-trials now is just due dilligence on something that might happen anyway.

Having both an in-house advertising network and an outsourced one has some advantages too, namely in the form of “knobs” that can be adjusted to tune margins as conditions warrant. And maintaining the in-house system keeps Google honest and makes sure that relatively good deals can be negotiated in the future.

Lots of pundits talk about regulatory scrutiny, but honestly, it’s been years since any antitrust machinery in this country has been effective. And the recent spectrum auctions showcased Google’s skill at turning regulatory tables in their favor. If it came down to it, the smart people on both sides of the table shouldn’t have a problem crafting an agreement in a way that meets muster, even in the stricter EU.

Summary: based solely on public reports, it seems like the AOL connection might be a credible threat to Microsoft’s appetite. The ball is firmly in Steve’s court now. We’ll see what he does.

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2008

Shame on you, J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, herself rowling in gazillions of dollars, is along with her publisher suing Steven Vander Ark, a poor librarian who produced a lexicon of the Harry Potter universe.

Rowling says it’s not about the money, it’s about control. Poppycock. If that was the case, she would have objected to the web site. Instead, Rowling is quoted as saying:

This is such a great site that I have been known to sneak into an Internet cafe while out writing and check a fact rather than go into a bookshop and buy a copy of Harry Potter (which is embarrassing).

A lexicon is a collection of existing (fictional) facts, not something that is going to wrest creative control of the franchise away from the author. This work makes the Harry Potter universe more valuable, not less. Even if legally this is a gray area, it’s a boneheaded move to sue one of your greatest fans for providing a valuable and useful reference.

What troubles the bean counters so much is that the printed lexicon costs, well, actual money, $24.95 to be exact. As an author it troubles me to see how out of touch copyright law is, and how badly the scent of a few dollars can make an otherwise reasonable person behave. -m

Monday, April 14th, 2008

5 modern books that changed my life

Some books you forget immediately, but some stick with you. Some affect you so profoundly that years later you still think about them. They get under your skin and shape your future. Here’s my list:

  1. How to Win Friends and Influence People This got me through years of W3C work, and still affects every human interaction I have.
  2. Gödel, Escher, Bach This book is impossible to describe in one line, but it will make you think. And re-read it. This book directly inspired my Hyperlink Offering article riffing on XLink and my fondness for predicates.
  3. Three Men in a Boat The funniest book I have read. Ever. But I actually read Connie Willis’s To Say Nothing of the Dog first…
  4. Kicking the Sacred Cow Sometimes you need to think about the impermissible. Or understand why others do. This book inspired my XML Annoyances column.
  5. On Writing Stephen King’s “CV” (aka life history), writing tips, and harrowing description of his real-life near-death experience. This book influenced my choice of house to by–get one with an office…
  6. Calculus Made Easy I was originally given this book by my mentor, Virgil Matheson, when I was probably in the 6th grade. “What one fool can do, so can another,” the author opines. An utterly remarkable book that deflates the aura of complexity normally around higher maths.

OK, I guess that’s 6. Also, I would have to mention another that caused significant changes: XForms Essentials ;)

What’s on your list? -m

P.S. These links are Amazon affiliate links. If you buy some of them you will be helping support my terrible Amazon habit, now at around 50 pages a day.

Friday, April 11th, 2008

Google App Engine dwarfed

Thanks to chromatic for the link. Largely hidden,  largest app clusters of this particular platform can:

Control over a million computers and can deliver over a hundred billion advertisements per day.

However, “don’t be evil” is not a part of this particular platform’s strategy… -m

Thursday, April 3rd, 2008

US Census == paper technology

Never let anyone say that forms are easy. What seems like a boring, tedious topic on the surface is surprisingly deep and challenging. As evidence, the multi-billion-dollar plan to modernize the US census in 2010 has fallen back to paper technology. Sadly their plans didn’t involve XForms.

Highly-critical applications, like say voting, are even more difficult to get right. Possibly the government will get it in shape be 2020 or 2030. -m