Diamonds

Winds and the mists that swirl,
their fierce beauty unfurl,
glistening diamonds in the sky.

The barren branches creak,
subtle language they speak,
lustrous diamonds on the plant.

Nature’s children at play,
frolic throughout the day,
gleaming diamonds on the ground.

Light beams shatter and break,
their paths beguile and quake,
polished diamonds in my eye.

The day is at an end,
no more light can it bend,
reflecting diamonds no more.

Dedicated to Rebecca for her homecoming.
Copyright 2014, John Paul Mueller

The Ongoing Evolution of Libraries

I read a news story this weekend that confirms some of the things I’ve been saying about the future of libraries. The story, Texas library offers glimpse of bookless future, describes a new library in Texas, Bexar County’s BiblioTech, that doesn’t actually contain any books. This library contains computers and e-book readers that people use to work with content electronically. The article states that a lot of people are looking at this library to see how successful it becomes because the cost of maintaining such a library is significantly less than a traditional library. In fact, advances in technology will continue to make it possible to further reduce the cost of maintaining this particular kind of library.

However, I’ve been exploring a question for a while now about the future viability of libraries as physical entities. I first described this particular issue in my A New Emphasis On Libraries post. For 3 ½ years now I’ve tried to expand on the theme discussed in the Future of Libraries? post. The problem with a library that serves up only electronic media is that it’s overkill. Eventually, such libraries will disappear because people will be able to find the content online. A national library that’s based on the Internet will eventually take hold and that will be the death knell for the local library.

Something that the article brings up is that this library serves a neighborhood where few people have the hardware required to read electronic books and there is no Wireless Fidelity (WiFi) connection in the area for them to use. At one time rural areas didn’t have telephones because it was too expensive to service them. Now rural areas have good satellite or Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) connections. It won’t be long before rural and less serviced areas in cities have WiFi connectivity. So, the first problem this library solves won’t be a long term condition. We’re in a transitional phase.

The devices used to read books electronically will continue to evolve and become less expensive. At some point, the government will figure out that it’s less expensive to simply issue a device to those in need, rather than build physical libraries. At that point, a virtual national library will become feasible and probably appear on the scene. Paper books will eventually be relegated to the niche market—sold to those who have the money required to buy such products.

I’m one of the few, I’m sure, who will miss the paper book when this change happens. Using e-books for technical reading really is quite nice, but the feel of paper when I read fiction just can’t be overcome by the convenience of using an e-book reader. At one time I predicted that paper would continue to be available and preferred to meet my fiction needs, but things have changed faster than I could have ever predicted. It may very well be that the transition to e-book as the only viable media will happen within the next few years—only time will tell.

What do you feel about the transition to e-books and virtual libraries? If you like the idea of being able to find any book and check it out using a virtual library, let me know how you envision this system working. More importantly, how will such a system compensate authors for the time and effort spent putting the books together? Send me your ideas to John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Understanding the Need for Perspective in Development

I have received a lot of e-mails over the years from developers who don’t quite get the idea behind application design. The problem is that developers are taught about tools, strategies, patterns, and all sorts of other technical details, but are never taught an essential lesson that all applications are essentially products and that it’s up to the developer to sell them. The societal claim that all developers are socially inept nerds who are incapable of communicating with other humans doesn’t help. The fact of the matter is that an application that doesn’t serve the customer’s need will never get used—it will never be successful. Developers need to get the idea that they’re creating a product that must satisfy customer needs in order to be successful.

Many applications today are akin to inflexible restaurants. Imagine how you’d feel if you went into a restaurant and ordered a single egg, fried, with white toast, and a side of sausage and the server says, “I can’t fulfill your order.” Your first question would be why the order is so hard and her response of, “It’s not on the menu.” takes you completely by surprise. It turns out that the menu specifies two eggs, not one. Many applications present users with precisely that sort of choice, yet developers seem surprised when users are less than thrilled. A response of, “It’s not on the menu.” was never a good or valid one, yet that’s the response developers have offered users for a long time now.

In order to be successful, an application must be flexible enough to meet user demand. A developer must understand the user perspective and create an application that can meet the demand for one, two, or even three eggs (or how many ever eggs the user wants). After all, it doesn’t matter how many of an item the user ultimately wants, as long as the user is willing to pay for those items. In order to gain that perspective, developers must talk to users, listen to what they have to say, and engage them in the development process. All other businesses that I know of engage their customers in some way to ensure their products meet customer needs and the computer industry must learn to do the same.

Many applications also make things entirely too complicated. It’s akin to going into a restaurant and not being able to order until you provide the secret handshake. Servers who say, “Talk to the hand because the head isn’t listening.” won’t stay employed for very long. A restaurant won’t stay in business very long with that attitude and neither will the developer. A user isn’t interested in the arcane science of development or how many cool widgets your application uses. The user is only interested in taking a picture or performing some other activity that has nothing whatsoever to do with development or even computers for that matter. As far as the user is concerned, your application should be invisible.

So, why my preoccupation with restaurants in this post? I was watching someone use one of those restaurant data entry programs this morning. After the server provided the secret handshake, she had to navigate no less than ten menus before she was able to complete the order, which then failed because they were out of a particular item. So, she had to cancel the order and reenter everything. Would it really have been all that hard to add a feature where the cook could simply tell the server that something was out of stock? Does an order really require navigation of ten menus to accomplish? It surprises me that this order entry system is actually installed somewhere—perhaps nothing better was available.

The day where a developer can offer inflexible solutions that don’t meet user needs and offer only complexity is over. As users become less interested in accommodating developer needs because there is always another solution to try, developers will need to accommodate the user’s needs. Actually, that’s what should have happened in the first place. No other industry would have tolerated what users have had to tolerate from the computer industry. Let me know your thoughts on gaining the user perspective at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Happy New Year!

Welcome to the New Year! It’s going to be an interesting year from a number of perspectives. I’m really looking forward to seeing the changes and I hope that you are too! Make sure you subscribe to my blog to keep up with all of the new material I provide with greater ease. A subscription will automatically send a synopsis of new content directly to your e-mail, which will make it a lot easier to determine whether you want to follow a certain post (and it’s associated comments).

The computer market will continue to move away from the desktop toward all sorts of mobile devices. Of course, this will make browser-based applications become even more popular because you can achieve the same look and feel no matter which platform you use to interact with the application. I’m not saying the desktop is dead, but look for browser-based applications to take on added importance. In some respects, browser-based applications can still be limited, so you’ll continue to see the desktop used in situations where a user must interact with complex data from multiple sources.

Self-sufficiency is going to take on added importance as well. There are a number of reasons for the increased participation by people. Of course, the economy continues to provide ample reason for many people who are looking to ways to make their money go further. A lot of people are starting to realize that self-sufficiency also comes with substantial health benefits and is also good for the environment. In fact, except for the time commitment and the requirement to learn new skills, self-sufficiency has a lot to recommend it. I’m planning to provide more emphasis on self-sufficiency in the coming months.

My blog will also feature some of the additional kinds of content that you’ve come to know and love. I’ll be posting a number of reviews and a bit more of my poetry as time permits. A few posts on writing technique are almost a requirement. A number of you have sent e-mail asking about my crafting. A few personal issues have kept me from posting on the crafts that I enjoy, but I plan to address that particular need soon. I hope that you continue to enjoy my blog and will let me know the sorts of content you’d like to see at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com. In the meantime, Happy New Year!