The Cluetrain Manifesto

Posted by Brian Tue, 30 Mar 2010 22:07:00 GMT

The Cluetrain Manifesto
By Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls, and David Weinberger


Well I started writing this review once and lost all my work when I was about three quarters done. Consequently I have no motivation to write a detailed review again. My initial one dug into what parts of the The Cluetrain Manifesto had come true and which had not over the past decade. Since I am lazy you get the CliffsNotes of the CliffsNotes version.

The Cluetrain Manifesto was written at the beginning of the rise of the internet and basically boils down to markets are conversations. Companies that wish to proclaim and hold their customers at arms length will suffer as real conversations come to dominate. To a certain extent this has come true. Many small businesses are built entirely around this concept, but it is arguable whether many ever lost authentic conversation to begin with. With respect to large businesses this has been applied as just another avenue of market research, support, and advertising. It hasn’t supplanted the traditional proclamations from on high or mass market advertising campaigns.

If you want a view of the early optimism of the power of the internet this is a great read. Today that optimism is tempered with fear of big business and governments continue to dream of locking down the internet to further their own ends. The writing style is purposely aggressive. In many ways the authors are almost belittling the old guard. I for one am always up for that.

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Ease of Trac

Posted by Brian Wed, 03 Mar 2010 23:15:00 GMT

I wanted to take the time to highlight how easy it is to hook into Trac. A couple of months ago I had never even looked at the Trac code base in any meaningful way, let alone wrote anything with it. That changed when we wanted some customizations done at work.

Our (now canceled) BPM initiative uses Teamworks as the engine. Unfortunately, Teamworks 6 offers no version control at all, which makes it very difficult to keep track of what you have changed for a particular release. To get around this we wanted to start listing these on Trac tickets in a way that would allow them to be aggregated into a list that could be used for deployment and to see who else was working with a particular item. To do this I created a macro that scrapes the individual items from text areas into a neatly formatted list. Using the Trac and Genshi APIs this was very easy. The only hurdle was my mediocre Python skills. I haven’t put this up on Trac-Hacks, but I may do so at some point. It’s still a little rough around the edges for general use.

Around this time I also discovered the batch modify plugin, which would make our release engineer’s life much easier. Unfortunately it was unmaintained and broken. I fixed it internally and then offered to officially take over the plugin. Once again most of the pain has been in my lack of Python experience, but Trac itself is very powerful. It’s amazing how little code is actually in the plugin. Kudos to the Trac team.

I may get some more hands on experience in the future as well. The batch modify plugin may be merged into Trac itself and I have a kanban board plugin that I have been working on a little in my spare time that would give an alternative view to query results.

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Predictably Irrational

Posted by Brian Wed, 03 Mar 2010 23:13:00 GMT

Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions
By Dan Ariely


Predictably Irrational was the right book at the right time for me, making it one of the best books I have ever read. In it Dan Ariely discusses the findings of behavioral science and how they contradict the assumptions of classical economics.

Classical economics assumes that the actors in a market are completely rational and will always act to maximize their personal gain. Behavioral economics breaks from these assumptions by putting them to the test and, as any honest person can attest, finds that they simply are not true. We are not rational beings. What is being discovered is that we are irrational in consistent and predictable ways though.

Ariely primarily highlights our irrationality through experiments. Each chapter discusses an experiment he or his colleagues have ran to test some aspect of our supposed rational actions. For example, he discusses the influence of sexual arousal on the choices we make. Participants in the study answered a series of questions about their sexual activities and preferences. They were asked to estimate what their preferences would be when aroused. Then the questions were repeated when they were highly aroused to see if they correctly predicted. The results were clear: people can’t estimate how their behavior will change when aroused. The most interesting question referred to condom usage. When unaroused the vast majority of participants said they would take the time during a sexual encounter to put on a condom. However, when they answered the same question aroused, the number plummeted. He then extrapolates that perhaps these types of experiments should be taken into account when advocating abstinence only education.

Another experiment analyzed the effect of a placebo pain killer. Two groups of patients were told they were being given a new pain killer, but one group was told that it cost $2.50/dose and the other group was told it was only $0.10/dose. Those told it was more expensive were more likely by a significant margin to feel that it worked. Experiments such as these can have a profound effect on health policy.

In a way this is a return to the economics of Adam Smith, who classical economists often trumpet as a free market champion. What they either don’t realize or simply ignore is that Smith wrote The Theory of Moral Sentiments in 1759, which, as Ariely reminds us, “notes that emotions, feelings, and morality are aspects of human behavior which the economist should not ignore (or, worse, deny).” Classical economics gives us many useful tools, but they must prove their mettle in a reality that accepts the fact that we are irrational beings.

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