- Microsoft HoloLens Goggles (Wired) — a media release about the next thing from the person behind Kinect. I’m still trying to figure out (as are investors, I’m sure) where in the hype curve this Googles/AR/etc. amalgam lives. Is it only a tech proof-of-concept? Is it a games device like Kinect? Is it good and cheap enough for industrial apps? Or is this the long-awaited climb out of irrelevance for Virtual Reality?
- The Facebook (YouTube) — brilliant fake 1995 ad for The Facebook. Excuse me, I’m off to cleanse.
- Natural Language in Social Robotics (Robohub) — Natural language interfaces are turning into a de-facto interface convention. Just like the GUI overlapped and largely replaced the command line, NLP is now being used by robots, the Internet of things, wearables, and especially conversational systems like Apple’s Siri, Google’s Now, Microsoft’s Cortana, Nuance’s Nina, Amazon’s Echo and others. These interfaces are designed to simplify, speed up, and improve task completion. Natural language interaction with robots, if anything, is an interface. It’s a form of UX that requires design.
- Microservices and Testing (Martin Fowler) — testing across component boundaries, in the face of failing data stores and HTTP timeouts. The first discussion of testing in a web-scale world that I’ve seen from The Mainstream.
Support experimentation and continuously evaluate to stay ahead.
Businesses have always come and gone, but these days it seems that companies can fall from market dominance to bankruptcy in the blink of an eye. Kodak, Blockbuster and HMV are just a few recent victims of the rapid market disruption that defines the current era.
Where did these once iconic companies go wrong? To my mind, they forgot to keep challenging their assumptions about what business they were actually in.
Businesses have two options when they plan for the road ahead: they can put all their eggs into one basket, and risk losing everything if that basket has a hole in the bottom, or they can make a number of small bets, accepting that some will fail while others succeed.
Taking the latter approach, and making many small bets on innovation, transforms the boardroom into a roulette table. Unlike a punter in a casino, however, businesses cannot afford to stop making bets.
Business models are transient and prone to disruption by changes in markets and the external competitive environment, advances in design and technology, and wider social and economic change. Organizations that misjudge their purpose, or cannot sense and then adapt to these changes, will perish.
The sad truth is that too many established organizations focus most of their time and resources on executing and optimizing their existing business models in order to maximize profits. They forget to experiment and explore new ideas for customer needs of tomorrow.
Variations in Test-Driven Development
“Red-Green-Refactor” is a familiar slogan from test-driven development (TDD), describing a popular approach to writing software. It’s been both popular and controversial since the 2000’s (see the recent heated discussions between David Hansson, Bob Martin, and others). I find that it’s useful but limiting. Here I’ll describe some interesting exceptions to the rule, which have expanded the way I think about tests.
The standard three-step cycle goes like this. After choosing a small improvement, which can be either a feature or a bug fix, you add a failing test which shows that the improvement is missing (“Red”); add production code to make the test pass (“Green”); and clean up the production code while making sure the tests still pass (“Refactor”). It’s a tight loop with minimal changes at each step, so you’re never far from code that runs and has good test coverage.
By the way, to simplify things, I’ll just say “tests” and be vague about whether they’re technically “unit tests”, “specs,” “integration tests,” or “functional tests”; the main thing is that they’re written in code and they run automatically.
Red-Green-Refactor is a very satisfying rhythm when it works. Starting from the test keeps the focus on adding value, and writing a test forces you to clarify where you want to go. Many people say it promotes clean design: it’s just easier to write tests when you have well-separated modules with reasonable interfaces between them. My personal favorite part, though, is not the Red but the Refactor: the support from tests allows you to clean things up with confidence, and worry less about regressions.
Now for the exceptions. Read more…