Monthly Archives: November 2011

Competitive Intelligence with Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.

Posted by mitch on November 30, 2011

Recently I did a quick interview about how I used Twitter at my last company. As I was answering questions, I realized there are three major activities that I used with Twitter:

  1. Promote ourselves (so that people find us)
  2. Research customer needs and identify new customers (we find people)
  3. Competitive intelligence.

The third I thought was particularly interesting as most of the blather (er, blog posts) on the web are about (1) and (2), but not (3). Of course, searching Google for “competitive intelligence twitter” has about 21,000,000 results and I didn’t have time to go through them all.

Here are some thoughts based on what I’ve done for competitive intelligence with Twitter in the past:

You may want to know what their engineers are working on and doing. Using LinkedIn, you can map companies to teams with names. Those individual profiles may have links to personal Twitter accounts or you might be able to find those people with Google and Twitter Search. Engineers talking about tools or technologies may reveal what they are working on or new areas under investigation.

Of course, LinkedIn is gold mine in and of itself—too many employees say too much in their LinkedIn profiles about what they are working on. There have been several times where I’ve asked my employees to tone down what they are saying on LinkedIn.

You might care about what the sales folks are doing. Where are they traveling? Not all sales reps are going to tweet “just landed BigCo!” but they might check-in on Foursquare at a restaurant across from BigCo’s west coast office. Using Foursquare and Google Street View and Google Maps, you can quickly reverse map who someone might be meeting with or spending their time.

I recently took a class at MIT where one of the professors was Dr. Jay Paap, a management consultant who has done a lot of work on developing competitive intelligence frameworks. One of his papers (PDF) is an excellent summary on sources of intelligence and these generally map back into the social media world (so don’t disregard this because it was published in 1995).

The flip side to all of this, of course, is that companies need to be very careful what is being posted. When I worked at Motorola 11 years ago, the company was hugely paranoid that the cleaning crew might be Nokia employees. There were weekly sweeps of the office and reports on who had unlocked computers, file cabinets, papers left out, whiteboards not erased, etc. Documents had various levels of confidentiality classification and corresponding trash cans. I haven’t worked at a company that paranoid since, but I have brought some of those policies into my own work.

What are you doing to gather or evade competitive intelligence?

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When marketing designs the UI

Posted by mitch on November 28, 2011

I resisted writing this post as long as I could. I really did. I’ve always been so excited about Drobo and everything they were doing to enable anyone to have the benefits of redundant blocks in a storage system. I was super excited when Drobo started going up-market with the introduction of the Drobo Pro a few years ago and later the Drobo Elite. It was going to be an exciting ride to see where Drobo took things.

Recently I made the mistake of upgrading to the new Drobo Dashboard, the management tool for monitoring one or more Drobo boxes. I was struggling to get my Mac Pro to see my Drobo after installing an SSD and pulling in a recovered OS configuration.

In any event, I ended up with the new Drobo Dashboard. You can tell it was designed by the marketing department because the Drobo name and logo appear at least 8 times in this screenshot. Do you think this reflects the voice of the customer? “Your UI is great, but I really wish you had the name of your company up on the screen in more places. One or two is just not enough!”

There are other problems with the look of this interface, of course–I have no other apps that look like this or behave like this (fact), it’s ugly (opinion), it’s hard to read (fact: white text on a black background is a bad idea)…. I could go on, but it’s too painful and frankly I feel bad. I’ve pumped out my share of bad user interfaces over the years, but none of them had the vendor name on them in 8 places in a single view.

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Fun with Mac Pro SSD Performance vs SAS vs eSATA

Posted by mitch on November 19, 2011

This week I finally got around to biting the bullet and buying a 250 GB SSD for my Mac Pro. I’ve been using MacBook Airs with SSDs for a few years now, but since I had a fast SAS RAID array on my Mac Pro, I had been pretty content to live without one in the Mac Pro. My Mac Pro is almost 4 years old and really starting to show its age. I’ve been hoping to keep it limping along until the next revision.

So with mild expectations, I bought an SSD from OWC (and a NewerTech 3.5″/2.5″ bracket from Amazon, shown in the picture above) and configured it as the boot/applications drive. I did a fresh install of Snow Leopard onto the SSD, updated it, and migrated over my applications. Using the ‘Advanced Options’ by right-clicking my account in the System Prefs > Accounts panel, I pointed my user account at my old home folder on the SAS RAID. Everything was good but a few things didn’t work as expected:

1. DropBox seems to have hard-coded /Users/<name>/Dropbox for its path. But my home directory is now /Volumes/sas-raid/Users/mitch. I wonder what else has the home directory hard-coded.
2. I forgot to change my boot arguments to boot 64-bit after reinstalling Snow Leopard, which caused some confusions for Adobe applications, Drobo, and others until I remembered to change that. (Note: This has nothing to do with the SSD, but rather that I was using 64-bit prior because I have 32 GB of RAM.)

So what are the results? The raw benchmarks show that the SSD is about 2x faster for small, random 4K reads, a little faster for small, random 4K writes, and much slower for everything else:

So the SSD performs slower than the RAID for everything sequential, which is not surprising. (If you’re wondering why these results are lower than some SSD numbers you might have seen, bear in mind the 2008 Mac Pro has a slower SATA interface than the modern stuff.) However, the SSD is faster–in fact, twice as fast for small random reads! This is rather remarkable–the SSD runs about $400 and the RAID setup is about $2,000 (though with 32x the physical capacity).

The “real world” results in terms of how the computer feels is fantastic. All the usual speed you’ve heard about SSDs was true for me too–faster OS boot, faster login, faster app launches. I have a Windows 7 Pro VM for Outlook and a Linux development VM, both of which I tucked onto the SSD and resume/suspend is very fast–and best of all, VM operations don’t interfere with other operations on the computer. I will probably add a second SSD for these two VMs shortly.

Other Benchmarks
Since I was doing benchmarking anyway, I also compared my external eSATA 4 disk RAID and the DroboPro connected via iSCSI. The eSATA results are quite good for the price ($50 for the Sonnet Temp E2P card and you can put together an array with similar performance for $600). As expected, the Drobo is quite a bit slower (although sequential I/O is decent), but no one buys a Drobo for performance anyway:

Most striking here is the 300x difference between the small random writes on the eSATA RAID and the SSD! I believe this RAID is waiting for data to be on disk (vs the disk cache) and perhaps the other RAID examples are not (Areca is pretty clear on requiring a UPS for data integrity). And of course, we see an 8x favor for the SSD for small random reads. For the cost, I really like the performance of this RAID unit and plan to buy another of these with 7200 RPM drives. The Sonnet eSATA card I am using is SATA I and II; upgrading to the Sonnet Tempo 6Gb card probably won’t open up the performance of this RAID further (which OWC says is 3.0Gbps = SATA II).

What should you conclude? Certainly what makes sense for your work is likely different than mine. But you’re still going to have an OS and applications and the SSD random I/O performance makes that quick. What else you augment the SSD with may vary, but I think at this point, any and every power user is going to see benefit from investing in one or more SSDs.

All the benchmarks were performed with XBench 2.1. I ran them a few times and eyeballed that the results were relatively consistent. I didn’t do any averaging. The computer was otherwise relatively idle, with regards to both CPU and I/O. An obvious benchmark that is missing here is comparing the speed of a single SATA internal disk. I just don’t have any bare drives in my Mac Pro to test at this time.

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My Favorite Parts of “Getting Things Done”

Posted by mitch on November 09, 2011

I first read David Allen’s book Getting Things Done in December 2008. Now that I’ve been using pieces of his system for a few years, I can comment on some of my favorite parts:

1. Put manuals in a file cabinet. I used to have stacks of manuals in drawers, corners, shelves, on top of bookcases, and so on. Now I have a few dozen folders in a file cabinet that contain all the manuals for my appliances, computer stuff, electronics, and tools. This has reduced clutter and stress of needing to find manuals. I know some folks have moved to just downloading PDFs from the manufacturer and keeping those organized. I do that for some things, but big purchases like a kitchen appliance, I’ve kept the physical manual.

2. Label all files with a label maker. Allen says that doing this will inspire you to keep your files neat and tidy. And he’s right! I have a lateral file cabinet and two pedestal file drawers in my desk. All of my folders are labeled with a $100 label maker. Allen says buy the cheapest one; I didn’t because I had used both a nice one and a cheap one before and really liked the nice one a lot better. Until I took this approach, I never really used my file cabinets. In fact, I got so much use out of this system that I had to buy the lateral cabinet after I filled my pedestal drawers.

3. Do a regular brain dump where you write down EVERYTHING you need to do. Off the bat this can easily be over 100 things: Empty the trash in the laundry room, sweep the garage, prepare a report for work, pay the water bill, donate clothes, buy a new ceiling fan, and so on. Allen says getting all this stuff out of your head will reduce your stress. I have found he is absolutely right.

I read Allen’s book because I was pushing myself to accomplish more in less time than I had ever done so before and it really helped me get a framework that works. I have forgotten less and accomplished more in the last 3 years than I ever would have imagined myself doing prior to doing it. For $10, this book was well worth the investment.


Mousing Around

Posted by mitch on November 06, 2011
hardware, productivity

A few months ago, my right wrist was bothering me. I had been using the Apple Magic Mouse since it came out on all my computers. But apparently my wrist was tired and I needed to look for alternatives. So I bought a lot of mice of various sorts. After testing them for a few months, here’s what I learned about these mice (from left to right in the picture above):

Microsoft Natural Wireless Laser Mouse 6000 ($60, Amazon)
This mouse is a “fat” mouse on the left side; it forces your hand at an angle vs the “flat palm down” position of a regular mouse. I was excited about the angle. The tracking and scroll wheel are the same as all other Microsoft mice. If you like other Microsoft mice and you mouse with your right hand, this could be a great mouse for you. However, I have never been a fan of Microsoft scroll wheels, so it wasn’t a good solution for me.

Apple Magic Trackpad ($70, Apple)
I actually bought this when it came out but rarely used it. I still don’t find it comfortable as a solo mouse on my desktop. There are a few things I do love about it—the gestures such as two-finger scroll are all wonderful. I find clicking on it a bit awkward.

Apple Magic Mouse ($70, Apple)
I love this mouse. It has left/right click, it’s relatively lightweight, and enables two-dimensional scrolling. It is “short” and that took some getting used to. I own four Magic Mouses and really enjoy them.

Logictech Wireless Trackball M570 ($50, Amazon)
I didn’t expect to like this but I bought it in the interest of diversity. It is actually quite wonderful. Although it doesn’t put my hand in a substantially different position, the use of the thumb to move the cursor instead of the wrist means my hand is doing different motions.

Razer Abyssus High Precision Optical Gaming Mouse (wired) ($30, Amazon)
I bought this because a friend mentioned she loved her Razer mouse. I love how lightweight the mouse is (note that I have a corded version). It’s very easy to move around and tracks very well. Unfortunately, it’s just a regular mouse and didn’t put my hand into a different position, so I didn’t notice any difference in pain.

Evoluent VerticalMouse 4 (Right Hand) ($90, Amazon)
A colleague had this mouse on his desk and so I thought I’d given it a spin. Initially it feels very strange to use, like coaxing a potato around on your desk. It took me a few days to get the hang of it. In particular, precision movements are very tough initially. My girlfriend took this mouse for a drive and loved it so much she ordered a left-hand version for her office. This mouse comes in two versions, left and right-hand, so you’ll need to know which hand you will mouse with before you order. The scroll wheel is very nice to use on this mouse.

DXT Precision Mouse ($100, only available from Kinesis)
This mouse is similar to the Evoluent, except it feels more like holding a pencil in your hand. The mouse is small, super lightweight and “reversible” for either left or right hand use. The buttons feel good and tracking is excellent. The only negative is that the scroll wheel is a disaster. My hands really can’t use the scroll wheel at all on this mouse. I think this is my favorite mouse, scrolling issues aside.

Adesso Glidepoint (in the background in the above picture)
I actually bought this mouse years ago. It was good for its time and has two-dimensional scrolling by moving your finger on the edges of the pad. However, the Apple Trackpad is the winner in this category now. I wouldn’t buy this now, but tossed it into this lineup for comparison. My biggest issue with this trackpad at the time was that it’s not heavy enough and it would end up sliding around on the desk. Trackpads should stay put.

So what did I end up doing?
Because none of the mouses were perfect, I have ended up using 4 mice most of the time: The DXT Precision Mouse and the Logitech Thumb Trackball I use with my right hand and switch back and forth between them throughout the day. I found it more convenient to buy a large mousepad (about 14″ x 18″!) to avoid running out of room as I switch which mouse is closest to the keyboard. With my left hand I switch back and forth between the Apple Trackpad and Magic Mouse. This lets me keep the nice scrolling features of those mice handy and offer a bit of relief to my right arm. Sometimes I will use one of the other mice for a little bit to get my arm into a different position. Although I am not a doctor and this is not medical advice, my belief is that the key to “RSI” is the “R” (repetitive). Putting my hands in different positions should reduce the “R”. Either way, the pain is gone.

If you’re looking for a better mouse solution, I’d definitely give the DXT a shot although the scrolling situation for large hands isn’t very good. If you have the room and budget for a secondary scrolling solution, that might be an ideal combination.

(“Mousing Around” was the name of the mousing tutorial that came with the Macintosh in 1984 to teach folks how to use the mouse. I loved that program.)

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