ailon's DevBlog: Development related stuff in my life

Email of Happiness or How to Stop Hating Email

11/20/2010 1:21:52 PM

The problem

For many, many years my relationship with email could be described by this scheme:

suckyemail

I have a number of public email addresses, with messages forwarded to a single “central” mailbox. For all these years I’ve had this central mailbox always open. If someone sent me an email to any of my addresses I would get it immediately. And I don’t mean it would go to my mailbox immediately. I mean I would read it almost immediately. That became especially true when in several recent years I’ve had this central inbox configured to sync to my phone.

It was pretty common that I would wake up in the middle of the night for some random reason, look at the clock on my phone, notice that there’s an email waiting, read it and loose sleep for the rest of the night. During the day, when I was working on some project, I would see that I have new email, switch out of my mental work state, read the email and switch back to my work state. This sounds instantaneous but it’s not. And in many cases the email would consume me and I’d start doing things related to that email, abandoning what I was doing before for longer periods.

The most ridiculous thing is that I thought this was normal for a proud geek like me. It took me reading Timothy Ferriss’s “The 4-Hour Workweek” book to realize that there was something wrong with this scheme.

Timothy Ferriss’s Solution

The idea is that most of emails you get are not urgent and can easily wait for a few hours without anyone even blinking. And if there’s something really really urgent, they’ll call. Obviously this is not always true. If your work is answering emails, this won’t work. But we are not talking about edge cases. This definitely works for me. So I switched to checking email twice a day (around 11am and 4pm). Which can be represented by this scheme:

rareemail

You’ve probably noticed that there’s no smile on the face. This approach didn’t cause any problems where one might expect them. In almost a month I’ve been practicing this, I haven’t got any real complaints from anyone noticing that I reply a few hours later than before.

Problem is that in addition to “problematic” email, I get some “happy” email (notifications of licenses for my products sold, messages from nice people, etc.). Reality is that I’m absolutely not worried that I’ll get a bug report 2 hours later than before, but I have a psychic itch for happiness. What if I made an extra $1000 and don’t know about it yet. I don’t want to delay happiness for later. I don’t mind happiness interrupting whatever it is I’m doing.

Enter my solution…

Email of Happiness

What I decided to do is create another “secret” (non-public) mailbox. This email address is not to be exposed to anyone (even your loved ones, best friends, VIP clients, etc.). In other words email should get into it through only one source – my central mailbox. In the central mailbox I setup rules to forward “happy” email to this new address and have that new mailbox “always on” while still checking my “central” mailbox twice a day:

happyemail

I figure that if I ever need to have an important email exchange with someone which doesn’t fall in “happy” category, I can setup a temporary forwarding rule for this conversation and remove it when I’m done.

Technical Difficulties

I’m currently in the process of setting this up and it turns out a little more challenging than I expected. The challenge is not to expose your “happy” address to anyone for as long as possible (via replies, appointments, chats, etc.) and this proves a little difficult using different systems (webmail, phone, etc.) but I think I’ll figure it out and update this post once I do.

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Who Wants HTML5 to Succeed?

11/19/2010 5:45:29 PM

Yesterday I’ve had a short twitter-chat with Laurent Bugnion in response to this tweet:

image

This chat got me thinking about motivations of most of the biggest players driving HTML5 forward. Here’s what I think.

Apple

Apple resorts to praising HTML5 only when they need to justify why there’s no Flash (Silverlight, etc.) on iOS devices. In these cases HTML5 is the answer. But when it comes to comparing HTML5 apps to native iPhone apps there’s no comparison – native apps win hands down. And apparently there’s going to be an app store for the desktop Mac OSX. So Apple’s main interest is in controlling the apps (and I’m not even talking about sales revenue here) that run on top of it’s operating systems/hardware. I don’t see HTML5 fitting well into this plot.

Adobe

Adobe was close to world domination in RIA (or at least de-facto standard) up until Apple killed their dreams with the no-Flash debacle on iOS. And HTML5 was Apple’s weapon. I’m sorry but I’m not seeing Adobe as someone who want’s HTML5 to succeed.

Microsoft

Microsoft came up strong about HTML5 in IE9. It sounded strong enough for some people to pronounce Silverlight dead. But why would Microsoft want something that could run on Linux, Macs, etc. as well as on Windows to be a RIA platform of the future? I can see 2 answers here:

  1. they are confused and will come to their senses later;
  2. they will “extend” the standard to a point that “cool” apps run only on Windows.

Now in the second case that won’t be the HTML5 generating the buzz right now. That will be MSHTML5 or something.

Browser vendors

I’m not talking about Microsoft, Apple or Google here. I’m talking about the other 2 major browser vendors who have browsers at the core of their businesses: Mozilla and Opera. I don’t think they have any end-game in this. They are just trying to make great products that users would want to use to browse the web and what that web is will be decided by other players.

Google

That leaves us with Google. I believe they are the only big party that has a genuine interest in making HTML5 succeed as a cross-platform standard. After all they have the deepest current investment in the area with all of their awesome web apps, Chrome OS, Google TV, etc. But I doubt that they are strong enough to overcome the obstacles in form of above mentioned companies. After all Google is currently in direct competition with all of them, so why would they hand the torch to Google?

Conclusion

I think I’ll have to agree with Laurent’s statement. I believe there will be HTML5 “standard” in the near future, but it will be along the lines of what all the other HTML incarnations always were – good in theory but requires a lot of duct-tape to glue it all together into something working across browsers. And it will be up to enthusiasts (like the creators of libraries such as jQuery) to make it all kinda work.

I’d like to end this post with “History Repeating” by Propellerheads. Enjoy…

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MVPonT – Most Valuable People to Follow on Twitter

10/9/2010 11:40:44 AM

A week or so ago I was watching my twitter timeline with all the new and renewed Microsoft MVPs announcing their MVP statuses and congratulating one another. Then I tweeted this:

Too bad they don't award MVP to people who talk MS related sh*t on twitter and blog occasionally. In such case I'd be MVP for sure. #mvpbuzz

And immediately had that “aha!” moment. Less than week later I’ve launched MVPonT.

largeLogo

The idea is that twitter users can nominate other tweeter users as most valuable tweeps in their field (as identified by hashtag) and then other users can vote for them or nominate their own.

Here are some categories that should be of interest to the readers of this blog:

There’s much more. Check out the complete tag cloud for more hash tags or start your own!

As you can obviously see the site was started by developer in a community of developers but it’s totally not limited to developers and might go well into mainstream. The only noticeable venture in mainstream so far was with Russian hashtag #ru where fake Russian president totally dominates over the real one (well deserved btw).

I need your help with going into new areas! Nominate tweeps in your area of interest and we’ll all have a good resource to find most valuable people to follow in any field.

Thank you!

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Automatic Defaults

6/27/2008 6:06:20 PM

ryanair-hertz Every time I go to car rental sub-site of Ryanair.com I get frustrated with smarty-pants "Pick up Country" dropdown. As you can see on the screenshot, it automatically selects pickup country by visitor's IP address (or something like that).

Now I don't know how many people fly from UK to UK or from Germany to Germany, but I know for sure that you just can't fly with Ryanair from Lithuania to Lithuania. So this automatic selection super-feature is at the very least useless and in reality it's annoying. As I said you can't fly from Lithuania to Lithuania with Ryanair and what are the chances that when you're already in Lithuania you will go to Ryanair.com to rent a car? I think something like 1:10000. On the other hand automatic selection in "Country of Residence" is actually a nice little feature which probably works correctly 99% of the time.

So what should be in that pickup country dropdown by default?

The most obvious option is the message "Choose one" like in that "Pick up Location" box. And by the way there's only one Ryanair "location" in Lithuania so why the hell it's not selected by default? While just leaving "Choose one" seems most logical to me and easiest to "implement", I accept that it might be not fancy enough for someone at Ryanair. In this case they could've determined my location and then get the most popular destination from that location and make it the default.

Are there any other logical default values for that dropdown? I don't know. What I know is that seeing my own country there annoys me. In most cases no AI is better than seriously flawed AI.

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Twitter

5/12/2008 10:25:43 AM

twhirl-twitter I was contemplating about starting twitting for some time but lagging. Lately there were numerous post in the blogs I read on the subject and on Sunday morning I was wasting my time waiting for my wife to get ready to go and read this blog post by Rick Strahl. I had about half an hour to waste so I registered my Twitter account and the rest is history... Follow me on Twitter under ailon.

So, honey, you are the one to blame for the additional time I waste ;)

Language dilemma

I speak, read and write (more or less) in 3 languages all the time: Russian at home and with friends, Lithuanian at work and with other friends and English mostly for the technical stuff. So, deciding in which language to twitt is not an easy thing to do. I have 2 blogs: one in Russian for personal non-geeky stuff and this one in (crappy) English for technical stuff. Sometimes I have to decide to which blog (and in what language) to post about subject that border between the two (like the post on Parental Control) and that wastes additional brainpower.

But since twitting should be something less mind consuming I decided I don't want 2 separate twitter accounts. I'll twitt to one account mostly in English but switching to Russian or Lithuanian when I find it more appropriate.

Tools

There are so many Twitter clients that I definitely must write another one! (just kidding)

Windows

I had Adobe's AIR installed so I decided to try twhirl since it seems to be the most popular. It looks nice and works fine so far. However I plan to try Witty in solidarity with fellow .NET developers.

Windows Mobile

I've seen ceTwit popup several times in freewarepocketpc.net's RSS feed so I went and installed it and it seems to work just fine, too. I'd like to try Kevin Daly's Twitula too, but there's very limited information on it's page and I had no time yet to just download and try it.

Other

I also activated twitting through Jabber/GTalk/Miranda and tried to activate twitting by SMS but it doesn't seem to work for me for now. Anyone knows what's the catch?

So, start following me on twitter right now or else...

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Milestone

4/16/2008 5:27:10 PM

This week I've reached a new milestone which doesn't make me happier. My Spam folder at Gmail has crossed the 30,000 message mark, meaning that now I officially get more than one thousand spam emails per day.

Amen.

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More on "The DotNetKicks Effect"

2/15/2008 11:16:47 AM

As I can see from your comments many have misinterpreted what I wanted to say in my Yesterday's post. So I need to clarify a few things.

First of all I love DotNetKicks! Without it I doubt I would ever get across the excellent Amr Elsehemy's series on Custom Controls Design Time Support which is what I'm currently doing for the best flash charts in the world (shameless plug, sorry ;)

Secondly I've never stated that DotNetKicks is going to degrade in quality to zero or to the level of digg (whichever is lower). The point of my post was that the higher the front page bar the lower are the chances of quality content from less popular sources to get through and the bar should be inevitably raised as popularity of DNK grows.

Some numbers

In the first 9 hours since my post post was submitted to DNK I got about 15 hits from there (I don't have exact hourly stats but this number could be off by +/- a couple of hits at most). Then it became popular/published and in the next 9 hours I've got 250 hits from DNK. That means about 6% of DNK users read "Upcoming stories" and/or read by tags, search, etc. If we take what we know about DNK stats - ~4000 main RSS subscribers, we get 240 RSS readers of not front page articles.

I know that these numbers are affected by things like that at the time of submission it was afternoon in Europe, evening in Asia and early morning in America and when it was published it was day in America, evening in Europe and night in Asia. But these are not presidential elections so that is not that important for the general picture.

My point in other words

As some of you have correctly reminded me, DNK has Tags and that's sort of additional way for content to get noticed. So let's rephrase my statement about "kicking" sources:

  1. DotNetKicks.com (including "upcoming stories", tags, search)
  2. Badge/KickIt button on the contents own site

So <Total number of kicks> = <DNK kicks> + <Content site kicks>

Now let's break down these 2 parts:

<DNK kicks> = <number of DNK users reading through upcoming stories, tags, searching> * <content quality coefficient>

<number of DNK users reading through upcoming stories, tags, searching> is a constant at any given time. <content quality coefficient> is also a constant for a specific article (though I don't agree that this is 100% true without regard to the name of the author). So the number of <DNK kicks> is a equal for the same article published on small blog with 5 readers or bigger site with 10,000 readers.

Now on to <Content site kicks>:

<Content site kicks> = <number of site's readers> * <current or potential DNK users percentage> * <content quality coefficient>

Provided that <current or potential DNK users percentage> and <content quality coefficient> are equal for both sites in our example, we get that <Content site kicks> is directly dependant on the <number of site's readers>. In our sample this means that the site with 10,000 readers has a potential of getting 2000 times more kicks than the site with 5 readers.

Note: I know that it's not all that straightforward in real world and that any decent mathematician would laugh in my face for such a linear approach, but, though I accept that actual numbers and formulas are oversimplified, the principle stands.

We are already seeing these things in action. As rev4bart noted in the comments to my post on DNK: "theblogengine...didn't 5 different themes make the top page in consecutive days?". I love BlogEngine.NET but is a release of a single theme for it worth of front page status? I don't think so.

Solutions?

Personally I think that digg's concept is flawed by design. But that doesn't mean that nothing can be done about it. Digg is doing something about it (balancing the "secret formula", etc.).

I see this possible routes:

  1. Getting rid of the KickIt image and banning for "kick requests" on the site. This is radical and not going to happen but from the top of my head this is the only real solution.
  2. "Balancing the formula". I don't know if it is possible to track the initial source of the kick reliably (DNK or site) but DNK kicks could have a higher weight than site kicks. Kicks from "friends" should have a lower weight than strangers, new users lower weight than veterans, those who kicked other stories by the same author lower weight than those who never kicked anything by this author, etc.
  3. "Controlled democracy". Addition of moderators/editors. Not sure though what they would be responsible for (pre-approving kicked articles before becoming front-page news or selecting additional front page articles from the ones with lower kick counts or both)

Another option is to enjoy DNK while it's still very good and deal with problems later. Your ideas?

kick it on DotNetKicks.com

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The DotNetKicks Effect - Enjoy While it Lasts

2/14/2008 12:24:59 PM

DotNetKicks is a great source to stay on track with latest .NET related developments, tutorials, tips, etc. It is also a great way to promote your .NET related articles or products. Here's a "kicked" article by Ryan Lanciaux about how cool it is for a small blog to get "kicked".

This is all true but if we can learn from digg (of which DotNetKicks is a clone) this is not going to last forever. To understand why let's analyze the only 2 ways how your article can get kicked/digged/whatever:

  1. Someone sees your article in the "upcoming stories" section of DotNetKicks and kicks it
  2. Someone reads the article on your site and presses the "kick it" button (if you have one)

Now those of you who read the "upcoming stories" section of DotNetKicks please stand up. Anyone? I don't. And judging from the quantity of hits I got to my articles submitted to DotNetKicks but not kicked to the front page I can assume that not more than 50 people do. Lets not fight about this number cause the actual number is not that important. What's important that only a small percentage of DotNetKicks readers read the "upcoming stories" too.

So this leaves us with only one actual way of getting kicked -- through the link on your own site. While the threshold of becoming "popular" on DotNetKicks is low (6 kicks?) it's ok. You can expect that out of 50 visitors to your small site 10% would bother to kick your article. But as DNK becomes more popular this bar would go higher to filter not that interesting stories which would inevitably grow in quantity the more popular the DNK becomes. So let's say the bar is raised to 30 and (if we assume that 10% of your visitors would kick your article) you'll need to have something like 300 readers already to get kicked to the front page.

You can see this effect on digg. For example to get your story about some gadget digged to "popularity" you have to be Engadget or Gizmodo or at least your article should be linked from some popular site(s) (or many less popular ones) before being digged. Here's a good article on the same subject by DownloadSquad.

So let's enjoy the great DotNetKicks while we can and while noise ratio there is low. It's not going to last forever. At least I don't have that much faith in humanity.

kick it on DotNetKicks.com

Update: read the follow-up: More on "The DotNetKicks Effect"

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