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Defrag conference 2009 logoThe past year I've been speaking at several both large and small conferences in Norway, but this month I also went abroad to speak at the Defrag social technology conference in Denver, Colorado. This conference is one of the most interesting I have attended, so to share my experience I've written this piece about the experiences and insights that I got out of Defrag.

Now if you'd like to start off by getting an impression of what went on during the conference before I get into my analysis, then go have a look at the Defrag 2009 liveblog that Graeme Thickins did throughout the event. Another good starting point is to look at the twitter-talk that took place with the #defrag and #defragcon hash-tags, which is all documented at Defrag's EventVue page. Finally there is a guerilla video stream covering most of the conference that were being created and put online by ReussDesign. My talk on open data was also filmed by Reuss and can be found about 12 minutes into the recording titled "Defrag Conference Clip 4".

Twitter logoSince I started using Twitter last year I've been especially annoyed with one thing, and that is the arbitrary length limit on the real name field in settings. The field is limited to 20 characters, but my full name unfortunately is 21 characters including spaces. This means that I've had to either truncate part of my name or remove the spacing between my first and last names, neither of which are good solutions when considering one of the main reason for having the real name field at all, namely search engine findability.
As can be seen from the forums at Get Satisfaction, I'm far from the only one having a problem with this, but despite this there isn't any satisfaction to get as Twitter themselves are dead silent on the issue. Luckily I have now discovered a work-around for this limit, published here for the benefit of all those with a "long" name of more than 20 characters!

Learning to flyA more common look at creativity than the one I presented earlier is what could perhaps be called applied creativity, namely the type of creativity commonly associated with idea-meetings and brainstorming sessions. One of Norway's leading experts on such applied creativity is Stig Hjerkinn Haug of Stig&Stein Idèlaboratorium, which I've had the pleasure of meeting several times. Most recently this was at a meeting in the Norwegian engineers association Tekna, where he held one of his inspirational talks on fostering creativity and learning to fly!

Since the lectures of Stig are truly amazing, there is no substitute to attending one yourself. However I that is not an option for everybody, so while you might not learn to fly without actually being there I'll recap the highlights of his creative methods and some of his amazing stories here to try and give you at least a bit of air under your wings. Also remember that if this leaves you wanting more, then you can always buy Stig's books (in Norwegian) or even hire the man himself for a lecture or workshop. The stories he spin about his life with creativity are just incredible, and if you believe him mostly true as well. They include everything from practical tips on idea-generation to stories about inspired new ways of doing business, and how just being curious and doing things differently can be a powerful force in itself.

CreativityA few days ago I attended a very inspiring lecture called "The creativity of organizations". It was about how effective changes can be introduced to any organization to improve productivity, decrease sick days and increase motivation among employees. And all of this will be very noticeable in less than a year. Sounds impossible, doesn't it?

Well, not so according to Swedes Göran Erikson, initiator of Better Working Life, and Mats Birgerson, former CEO of the ventilation systems manufacturer Fresh AB that has proved such changes to be possible. Their theory is that motivation and productivity are directly influenced by the creativity of employees, and that the keys to fostering an improved and more creative working environment is to accommodate freedom, understanding, participation and contributions at all levels of an organization. Under their management they have successfully implemented a range of changes to this effect in dozens of organizations across Norway and Sweden. Fresh AB did for instance, despite the ventilation-industry having a negative market development, go from beeing an apparently doomed business heading towards bankruptcy, to having a 50% productivity increase per employee that allowed a tripling of their staff and being named among the top 25 employers in Europe in less than five years.

This amazing achievement and the ideas they presented are certainly very intriguing, and many of them are absolutely worth their salt. I can myself vouch for the advantages of several of the changes they suggested as I have personally experienced them in action at my former employer. For me it was both motivating and inspiring to work in a culture of responsible freedom and mutual respect, and I believe that this applied to most of my co-workers as well. But how exactly does one create such an environment? Below I've compiled an overview of some of the ways to go about this that was mentioned in the lecture.

TaggingWith my company having a large degree of knowledge workers it is a fairly common event in the company to hold internal conference days with in-house specialists giving talks on their various topics of expertise. The previous one was held in the middle of December, and several of the talks of the day was about using tags for organizing information. While this probably isn't a particularly cutting edge topic any more, one of the talks by Filip Van Laenen stood out in being about how one should leave hierarchical code repositories behind, and instead use various forms of tagging to organize files with source-code in a so called tagarchy. While this is both a novel and quite interesting topic in itself, what really caught my attention was a mention of how using a combination of distinct 'hard' and 'soft' tags can be used to good effect in logically organizing files of program code. The example was that a set of 'hard' tags would describe generally unchanging technical aspects of the code in the file, like for instance pattern-types used or services provided. Then a separate set of 'soft' tags would be more about code usage, like for example if it is needed by or contains login functionality or whether it supports one or more particular areas of the business logic.

The presentation rapidly convinced me of the potential usefulness of having a distinction between 'hard' and 'soft' tags for semi-structured data like program code, but I sensed that the concept could be put to even better uses elsewhere. A rather obvious application for this would be to improve the currently popular approach of single level folksonomy or social tagging, like that which is used on YouTube, Flickr and amongst others. By separating the tags used to describe items on such services into multiple logical groups, one will immediately get an extra level of semantics for searching or filtering the otherwise unstructured data. This should make the tagging systems of such services a lot more powerful and useful than they currently are, especially in providing better findability for items and more descriptive search-results on the service.

It is however apparent that a clear limitation to the potential of tag-typing hinge on which selection strategies are used to decided on which logical tag-groups to include. A first impulse could be to continue with the successful crowdsourcing used in the original folksonomy tagging, and simply let the users themselves assign the tag-groups. While tempting, I believe that this would not alleviate the current trend of non-semantic tags and neither provide any particular advantages, so in this case going towards the other extreme of semantic taxonomies appears to be more suitable. But while semantic taxonomies are generally considered very advantageous over folksonomy tagging, a major downside is that they are often overly complex and thus can be very demanding to work with, especially for amateurs. To alleviate this I instead propose using a professionally selected, limited set of tag-types, and combine these with folksonomy tagging within each type. This way one can get the best of both worlds by obtaining a modicum of semantic meaning from the tag-types, while at the same time providing the freedom of independent crowd-sourced tagging as we already know it.

On which tag-types to expect I would suggest that images for instance should have separate tag-types to describe its actual contents, its context, any persons depicted and perhaps its intended usage and any special techniques used to create it. With the addition of such tag-types the accuracy of an advanced search on Flickr or iStockPhoto would most certainly improve greatly.

The big open question then is if this is an actual feasible technique, or if there are a bunch of reasons for why this wouldn't work as I have proposed here. Please enlighten me if you have any thoughts or experiences about this, as I feel that a system such as this could be a suitable next step towards a more semantic web.

My GravatarWhen launching this blog I started out using Disqus for the comments functionality as it seemed a good choice that would be more interactive than regular comments. However I soon discovered its many downsides, including a lack of search-indexing and the instabilities caused by having the comments section generated in Javascript, which currently is the only option when using their Movable Type plugin. There is a v2.0 plugin for Wordpress that avoids these downsides, but there has not been any word from Disqus on whether a v2.0 plugin for MT is forthcoming. Due to this I have now returned to the regular MT comment-system.

However I still wanted users to get neat avatars next to their comments, and the easiest way I found to do this was to add support for the Gravatar user-pic service and Favicons to my comment-listings. Adding them was very straightforward as there are ready made Movable Type plugins for both, except of course that neither of the Gravatar-plugins worked. *Sigh*
After some research it turned out that the Gravatar-supplied plugin is outdated and also only supports Movable Type versions pre-3.0, and the MT supplied plugin only supports MT 4.0 or later. Combine this gap in supported versions with Murphy's Law, and it is just obvious that I still had to be using MT 3.3. I did upgrade to MT 4.x once, but it caused so many problems for me so didn't keep it for long, and attempting that upgrade again was not an option right now as I just don't have the time to get it working properly.

That leaves the option of hacking the plugin! Yay! With no plugin-documentation to be found and me never having toyed with MT-plugins before, the task naturally stumped me a bit at first. However I figured out soon enough how to get it working, so for anyone else having the same problem I hereby present you with the updated Movable Type 3.3 Gravatar plugin! Enjoy :-)

And now all that remains is for my readers to get their own Gravatars. Go fetch!

Folder iconAfter a recent defrag of my harddrive it suddenly became excruciatingly slow to browse 'My Computer' and other folders with Windows Explorer (explorer.exe) in Windows XP. Sometimes just opening a regular folder with a few files in it would take more than 5 minutes, as well as having explorer.exe hang and be not responding. As none of my other applications were noticeably affected it really had me stumped as to why a regular defrag would cause such a slowdown for folder-browsing, until I discovered that browsing was still near instantaneous when using other file-explorers like Total Commander. Relieved that it wasn't a problem with my drive but likely just a bug in Windows Explorer I set out to find a fix that would bring it back to its old self, but that was easier said than done, and I spent several days searching and experimenting with various fixes.

Apparently many people are having problems with Windows Explorer being slow, and for a host of different reasons too. Most commonly I found the obvious suggestions to run windows update, antivirus, antispyware, defrag and chkdisk, as this will commonly fix the performance and many common issues that crop up on computers that are not kept and maintained by professionals. The next step is to improve performance by adjusting the Folder Options in Explorer. Good tips here are to disable the automatic search for network folders and printers, as well as using simple folder view and to not cache thumbnails. But it didn't make any difference and explorer was still just as slow afterwards. Then I downloaded and ran CCleaner to do a full systems checkup and registry cleaning, and I also removed all recent network paths from my "Network Neighbourhoood" as these things also appear to cause many slowdowns too. Still none of these suggestions made any difference. A thread at Google Answers hinted to NeroVision Express as a possible culprit, but I didn't have that installed of course.

Finally I stumbled across a Techspot thread describing how you by logging in as a different administrator user and deleting the folder "c:\documents and settings\<username>\local settings\application data\microsoft\windows", can fix the problem of extremely slow browsing in Explorer, and this actually worked!
It seems that something had corrupted that part of my windows user profile, but deleting the folder and inducing an automatic recreation of it on the next login fixed all of the problems I was experiencing. Another good thing to come out of this is that all the other tweaks has made the rest of my computer faster too :-)

Presidents sealThrough the Enterprise 2.0 blog I discovered an article in the New York Times discussing how President-elect Obama may have to give up his personal Blackberry when accepting the position as leader of the free world, while he might be the first President to actually keep a computer in the Oval Office.

It is really food for thought that the most powerful man on earth does not have the freedom to use the web as he likes or even to read his own email. Maybe then its not so strange that high-ranking politicians are becoming more and more disconnected from their electorate.

On a different note Eirik referred me to some maps from StrangeMaps comparing the southern election-districts where Obama won with the cotton producing plantations in 1860. While not surprising, the overlap is certainly striking!

Elevator signWhile doing my Masters degree I used to volunteer for the student organization Start Norway, an organization working to promote entrepreneurship and innovation among students and faculty staff at higher-learning institutions all across Norway. This experience inspired me to apply for a graduate programme called the Norwegian School of Entrepreneurship, where I was accepted and got to spend three months studying and working as an intern in the heartland of IT, Silicon Valley. Both during my volunteering and during the entrepreneurship programme there was of focus on learning and doing the so called "elevator pitch", a very valuable skill that everyone should learn and perfect for their own needs.

For those not familiar with the term, an "elevator pitch" is simply a short practiced speech that explains in an enticing way what you do during the time one usually spends in an elevator, often 30 seconds or less. And why an elevator in particular? Because it is based on the assumption that if you by chance should find yourself in the unique opportunity of being in an elevator with someone you badly want or need to talk to, having a prepared elevator pitch to present might pique the other persons interest enough for you to get a real meeting later, and with that a real chance to present your business or idea properly.

That's not to say this is only applicable in elevators of course, as using it successfully in an elevator will likely be a very rare occurrence for most people. However it is also a very useful and efficient way to present yourself to new people in various other settings, for instance when people at a party ask what you do, or when you are presenting yourself at networking events. Having a good elevator pitch prepared in such situations lets you stand out and be interesting to the people you talk to, and lets you avoid having to say those conversation killing words: "I'm a consultant"

So how do you prepare a good elevator pitch then? Well, like most things there is no single answer to how to make the perfect pitch, but good suggestions abound on the Internet so check out these resources:

And finally have a look at other peoples pitches to see how yours compare!

EvolutionPå et nettverksmøte i kveld lanserte Dataforeningen offisielt en ny veileder (PDF) for hvordan man kan kombinere smidig systemutvikling med bransjestandard PS2000-kontrakter for iterative utviklingsprosesser. Denne er utarbeidet i Faggruppen for Effektiv Programvareutvikling av et team som har inkludert deltakere fra både kundesiden, leverandørsiden og rådgiversiden, representert ved blant annet Bekk, Computas, Conceptos, Promis, Forsvaret, Lånekassen, NAV og andre selskaper. Møtet bestod av presentasjoner av nyvinningene i veilederen sett fra synspunktene til alle tre deltakende grupper, samt en åpen debatt om fordeler og ulemper ved bruk av smidige metoder i forhold til prosjektvilkår og kontraktsforpliktelser. Som kan forventes var Forsvaret som et konservativt statlig organ noe skeptiske til å slippe bruken av smidige metoder fri av frykt for å miste kontrollen, mens konsulentbransjen er svært opptatte av å kunne benytte de beste tilgjengelige arbeidsmetodikkene for å kunne levere bedre løsninger til sine kunder.

Veilederen er delvis delvis basert på pilot-erfaringene som er gjort i MATS-prosjektet der jeg selv har arbeidet i snart to år, hvor et stort team fra Computas arbeider med å utvikle et nytt enhetlig fagsystem for Mattilsynet. Avtalegrunnlaget for prosjektet er en standard PS2000-kontrakt hvor kunde og leverandør i fellesskap og med stor suksess har gått over til å benytte Scrum som arbeidsmetodikk for alle deler av prosjektet. I løpet av denne prosessen har mange erfaringer og tanker dannet seg her og på andre prosjekter rundt emnet smidig PS2000, og disse har blitt løpende presentert på en rekke konferanser, inkludert Smidig, Prosjekt og JavaZone, samt på andre møter og seminarer.

Mine erfaringer fra dette og andre utviklingsprosjekter levner ingen tvil om at smidige og post-smidige metoder er veien å gå for å oppnå høyere kvalitet, måloppnåelse og effektivitet i de fleste typer utviklingsprosjekter. Sammenlignet med fossefall og andre tidligere metoder som i stor grad er basert på 'intelligent design' er smidige metoder mer Darwinistiske i sin tilnærming til problemene som skal løses. Dette gir systemutviklingen en mer naturlig flyt mot å oppfylle systemets faktiske krav og bruksområder, framfor å være begrenset til de løsningene man klarer å forutse på forhånd. Dette er virkelig et stort steg videre for systemutvikling som en prosess, og ennå har vi ikke engang begynt å snakke om automatisk programmering... :-)