A wishlist of features for conference call providers. The internet exists, let's use it.

At HP, we are heavy users of conference calls. Most of those calls are provided by InterCall, and we are moving over to using Lync running on the corporate network. And when I was at RedHat, we used a lot of InterCall there as well. And of course, there are all the various external partner calls on Cisco WebEx and on Join.ME.

I have developed a wishlist of features for conference call service providers.

My first simplest wish is that bridge id's / meeting id's should be forbidden from having a repeating digit. This is big pain point that expresses itself when dialing quickly or when using an automated dialing string. I would say that at least half the time, when there is a repeated digit dialed quickly, it gets mis-interpreted.

Next, I wish there was a simple modern web app (with an underlying REST API) that lists all the lines connected into the bridge, showing for each line the caller id, registered user, connection time, is-muted, and instantaneous momentary current sound input level. By "registered user", I would like people to be able to say "when you see this CID/ANI, that's ones of my phones, and display my name". And for the sound level, it would be "who's line has the barking dog"?

And my big "I wish for a pony" wish: I wish for standards compliant SIP VoIP interfaces. Often I connect to a concall by running a SIP client on a machine or device, connecting that SIP client to a SIP/PSTN gateway service provider, and then dialing into one of the PSTN numbers of the concall service provider. It seems that it would be better to bypass some of that complexity, and just be able to point my SIP client directly to sip:123-456-7890@hp.intercall.com

Intercall actually does provide a HA QoS MPLS SIP interface designed to be plugged into large corporate soft PBX systems, but it's not available over the public internet. It is understandable that Intercall can't guarantee call quality for internet VoIP, but a supported best-effort interface would still be useful.

Microsoft Lync is, of course, VoIP, but it's not at all interoperable with any other VoIP client. It has "embraced and extended" SIP with a lot of semi-documented MSFT-only extensions. It does use well known codecs, but it runs media transport over TCP in a way that is in no standard and like nobody else does. (The term "realtime media transport over TCP" makes me facepalm).


Facebook is poisoning itself

My FB feed is getting more and more polluted with "shared" links to "news media" "articles" that already have lots of eyeball juice, and the communicate almost nothing beyond the sharer's own confirmation bias.

Original content textual posts, and links to pictures and other personal media, about what my friends and contacts are actually doing in their own personal life, are now almost entirely crowded out. Also crowded out are posts by businesses and organizations that I've followed (now called "Liked").

The payoff of the personal time investment into Facebook is declining severely.

My own workflow for FB now is to individually select the feeds of half a dozen people I'm most interested in and read them. Which, hilariously, is the *original* FB workflow, back when it was .edu only, before they came up with the "unified feed wall".


Iterative cost reduction causes collapse of UX quality

One can always keep shaving cost by 5% each iteration, each time yielding with a 10% drop in quality of user experience.
That's not impressive at all, and continuing in that course will eventually kill your company.
What is instead impressive and profitable is spending 10x the money, and using those resources to get 100x the UX quality.
That is one of the lessons of the iPhone.


How they talk when they think nobody can hear them, or, did I do the Right Thing or not?

Over a decade ago, in the mid 1990s, I had a subcontract gig to fix a broken backup for an early web message board. The users were mainly from the northeastern US.  And they were all cops.

The owner of the site would check the credentials of all the users, to make sure they were actually real police officers. He then outsourced the technical operation of the site to technical contractors. To people like the sysadmin who subcontracted to me to fix the broken backup system.

The operating sysadmin picked me for the gig in part because he thought I would find the site content illuminating, and encouraged me to read it. I read all the message boards posts via the database. Post after post of cops chattering among themselves, thinking they were "safe", thinking only "brother officers" would read their words, telling each other on-the-job stories, and expressing stomach churning levels of bigotry and hatred, and sharing tips and tricks for all sorts of ways engaging in small and medium scale corruption, thuggishness, theft from the public, fraud on the court, techniques for abusing the people they were detaining and arresting, and why it was ok that they do all these things.

One of the more interesting regrets in my life is that I didn't make a copy of that database, and anonymously send a copy to every investigative reporter, defense attorney law firm, and social justice org in New England.

To this day, I cannot say if I did the Right Thing or not.

I've been hearing about a modern site called "officer.com", which sounds to be a nationwide successor to that small regional web bbs. And from what I can tell from what leaks from it, it sounds like the kind of outlook and conversation has not improved any.


The DOJ vs Aaron Swartz. Rank cowards, who hide in the shadows they themselves cast

The US DOJ has admitted that they started investigating Aaron Swartz not because of the 2011 JSTOR incident, but instead in 2008 because Aaron published a manifesto for open access to scientific information.

This decision to start hounding a non-violent non-dangerous speaker and writer for writing a published article was done by a person.  A human being.  Someone with a face, and a name.  It was some aspiring political appointee, some grey headed civil servant with desk and a pension, or some "sworn LEO" with a crewcut, a badge, and a gun.

I want to know who this person is. Whoever they are, I deeply doubt that they have the courage of their convictions, to be willing to come out, and stand up, and say what they did.

I doubt they will. These people are all utter rank cowards, who hide in the shadows they themselves cast.


On big technical meetings, or why the end of the UDS is a bad idea

Canonical has just announced that the Ubuntu Developer Summit will no longer be face to face and every six months. Instead it will be entirely online and virtual, using Google Hangouts. (Here is the announcement.)

On the surface, this seems like a good idea: It's cheaper monetarily, it appears to open things up to people who are unable to travel, and it makes it easier to make complete records.

However, I think it's a bad idea, for several interrelated reasons.

Some decision making needs face-time to happen. For whatever reasons, internet-only communication is not enough for a good enough "meeting of the minds" for sticky or subtle engineering and design decisionmaking.

The IETF, who probably have the longest history of any organization ever of online internet-enabled collaboration, worked out long ago that while day to day collaboration can be done over email and text chat, some technical decison-making HAS to be done face to face. Thus, the IETF meets every 6 months.

Likewise, at the old MySQL AB, even though the entire company was famously completely distributed, we also figured out that despite being on email and IRC with each other every day, we had to meet ever 6 months, for face-time decision making. Thus, the whole company met every year, and then each team or group met together at least one other time over the year.

And then, most anyone who actually does a working attendance (as opposed to just helicoptering in to give an executive keynote, or being whisked off to a secured conference room to have a private upper executive meeting) at a technical conference knows, most of the ACTUAL work at a conference or at a technical design summit happens in the hallways, over dinner, in serendipitious meetings, in people introducing people to each other, and in impromptu engineering meetings.

These are the reasons that the OpenStack community meets together every 6 months, for our own design summit. The keynotes, the vendor booths with their signboards and handouts, the standard podium-and-rows-of-seats are, at best, a sideshow, from where the real work is getting done, the reason for the summit: the circles (not rows) of seats for the design summit meetings, and for the hallways, informal dinners, and social mixers, where all the individual meetings and necessary social processing happens.

I started to make a list of all the times I personally was part of such unstructured un-"planned" events at conferences that had significant impact, and the list grew too long, so I cut it from this post.

Email and IRC and etherpad are awesome tools, and I commend Ubuntu, as well as most other large  collaborative open source projects, such as OpenStack, for using them.  Likewise, Google Hangouts seem to be pretty awesome, and I'm glad that Canonical is trying them.

However, they do not replace face to face large group meetings, and cannot solve the problems that such gatherings can.

I wish Canonical and Ubuntu well, but this is a mistake that I hope does not damage them too much. /p


Maven's role...

Maven is a great tool to make sure that your expensive and critical application servers are running an independent copy of every single version of every single 2nd and 3rd party Java library ever written.