Successful SaaS stacks

A great post for seeing what’s behind a good piece of software ‘these days’. For those that don’t know: A ‘stack’ refers to the preferred technology and tools chosen to run various parts of a product / service, and ‘SaaS’ stands for Software as a Service, and refers specifically to software and services that are hosted and managed for you, not things that you have to install, support, or update yourself.

Emphasis above on ‘these days’ relates to why this post resonates with me personally, as the stacks outlined are exactly what we meant in our notice about closing With Associates when we described an “ecosystem that was utterly unimaginable when we began”. It’s also what I meant in Point 8 of this post, about changing our old service offer, toward a more fixed cloud stack. It’s sort of what do these days, focusing on WordPress builds with the team and heritage of behind them. Smart move if you can build a team that’s up for it.

Ensuring resilience

It’s been an emotional few months in the UK, specifically in London. Waking up to find news about tragedy, or to read texts from friends and family, checking that we’re all OK. Looking at my phone in the morning has developed a new sense of foreboding, making we take breath before I peek, and wonder like Schrödinger, if just leaving the box closed is the safest or most positive option.

While I feel unable to add to emotions already expressed, and unqualified to add views and opinions on ideological causes and resolutions, I can’t help but think about something I learned recently from the world of engineering, namely ‘Black Sky Hazards’ which to me are like advanced forms of defensive pessimism.

The particular Black Sky hazard that I learned about focused on “resilience of electricity infrastructure systems”, meaning, what happens to the electrical grid and infrastructure in the event of something really crazy happening. Not like an outage, or one substation having an accident or something, oh no, those are easy issues. Black Sky’s are like Black Swans and the polar opposite of Blue Skies, things that are more like sci-fi storylines or at a scale that’s almost unimaginable.

Massive and utterly destructive system wide hacks for example, or electromagnetic pulses (EMP’s), or even more coordinated physical terrorism, or even never before seen scales of environmental ‘attack’, from solar flares or freak storms that knock out and destroy more than one or two systems. Basically, hazards that have a super low probability of happening, but in the event of which, you have to have made some sort of preparation, meaning that you have to have imagined the worst.

While this sounds and feels pessimistic, there’s something I like about having a term for it like Black Sky. It reminds me of the project premortem idea, where you find a way for a team to productively imagine and prepare for things that could go wrong, without it being brushed to the side like a naysayer of health and safety. It’s just preparation. Essential and even potentially a competitive advantage if you think it through.

Here’s to more detailed planning then. Imagining Black Skies so that in the slim chance of something terrible happening, you’ll be ready, and glad that you were. Preemptive optimism, if you like.

Cook this page

A fantastic promotional idea that deserves going into production. A set of large format IKEA posters made of baking paper with human friendly ink. Just place all the (IKEA sold) ingredients onto the page as instructed, fold, then bake:

Nose to tail IKEA. Such smart design. So obvious yet unlike anything I’ve seen from anyone else in the recipe card, instructions, book, magazine area.


Personal Parables #13

The Simpsons, Season 2, Episode 7, Bart vs. Thanksgiving. The bit in The Silverdome, when the announcer points out the uselessness of camera flashes in the crowd.

I searched for this episode and clip for years, remembering only that there were camera flashes in a stadium and that the announcer referenced the camera flashes. Finally I came across the Simpsons Archive Episode Guide and started searching for ‘flash’ in the scrips, season by season. Thankfully it was only in season two so didn’t take long. Next, for the gif above, I used Too much detail here perhaps, but this Personal Parable has come to my mind so many times over the years that finding the actual reference feels like exorcising a demon of some sort! Back to the point.

The comment comes from a halftime show announcer at a Thanksgiving Day football game, and is a classic quick throw away Simpsons joke, like all the ones involving maths, but this one is about physics, user experience, with a tad of Dunning–Kruger effect for good measure:

”In the Silverdome, now ablaze with flashbulbs, as ‘Hooray for Everything’ leaves the field! Of course, a stadium is much too big for flash pictures to work, but nobody seems to care!” Announcer for the halftime show

The joke, if you never studied photography, or like other normal people, never gave much thought to how cameras and flashes work, is about how camera flashes are only useful at distances of a few meters. Maybe more if they’re powerful. But at the range of a stadium seat to the centre of a stadium, a camera flash is utterly useless. If anything, it will actually make your photo worse, as along with the flash, your camera will use a faster shutter speed, and lessen your chances of getting a good long distance exposure.

In short, it is pointless to use a camera flash in a stadium, yet how familiar and in our culture is that idea of seeing thousands of flashes firing off around an arena or in front of a stage, each flash effectively a hand in the air for “I don’t know how my camera works and no! Of course I never read the instructions”. More things in the world are like this than designers accept I think. From website forms to phone interfaces to central heating systems to voting. Assuming people understand what you understand is the first worst step to take as a designer of anything.

Ultimate interface when it comes to considering experience

I don’t know what just reminded me of this. And it wasn’t as morbid a chain of thought as you might think. I was just considering user interfaces that prompt us to consider and be conscious of our perceived user needs, which led to the UI of nuclear weapons, and this idea for making it painfully clear what the results will be:

Roger Fisher, professor of law at Harvard University, offers a simple suggestion to make the stakes more real. He would put the codes needed to fire nuclear weapons in a little capsule, and implant the capsule next to the heart of a volunteer, who would carry a big butcher knife as he accompanied the President everywhere. If the President ever wanted to fire nuclear weapons, he would first have to kill, with his own hands, that human being. ”He has to look at someone and realize what death is – what an innocent death is. It’s reality brought home, ” says Professor Fisher. Source

Gives you another perspective on that OK or Cancel button styling at least.

I thought ‘Flat-Earthers’ were a joke

A little more to my previous point on understanding each other, and understanding in general: I thought that when people joked about ‘Flat-Earthers’ they were using the term metaphorically in some way, to mean, ‘people so ill-informed that they might still believe the earth is flat’. Well, no, jokes about Flat-Earthers are about a real group of people who believe the world is flat.

Some people reading this might think that I am also a bit daft now, for not realising that they’re a real group of people. But to you I say really? Are you sure? Because while I did write the above paragraph about realising that they are a real group of people, I’m still having trouble believing it! Or reserving the confidence that the site was set up by a bunch of trolls, not actual believers.

The whole thing is reminding me of seeing American wrestlers as a child for the first time. Even at 4 or 5, with peers who believed it was real, I remember doubting, but being slightly convinced by their conviction. In fact, by the conviction of everyone that watched and got so involved. So even in later years when I had my hunch confirmed, that it’s all just an act, I couldn’t help question the conviction of adults that still watched and took part. It’s just so elaborate and unbelievable, how could anyone suspend enough belief to watch it so intently?

Take these two cases forward now, and apply the miss comprehension to the current US presidential situation. Is that real? Are there actually Trump believers? Are the elaborate unbelievable scenes on TV actually real? How do we know? Seriously? OK, not really seriously, but when the Flat-Earthers FAQ has this response to the question: “People have been into space. How have they not discovered that the earth is flat?” you have to question the mechanics of how anyone believes anything these days:

The most commonly accepted explanation of this is that the space agencies of the world are involved in a conspiracy faking space travel and exploration. This likely began during the Cold War’s ‘Space Race’, in which the U.S.S.R and USA were obsessed with beating each other into space to the point that each faked their accomplishments in an attempt to keep pace with the others supposed achievements. However, since the end of the Cold War, the conspiracy is most likely motivated by greed rather than political gains. Thus opening up a tremendous amounts of funds to embezzle as it only takes a fraction of the total budget to fake space travel.

How is this logic any different to anything that the actual (allegedly) president of the United States applies to climate change or anything else that he states are fact?

Different countries react to ambulance sirens

I always loved the way people react to emergency sirens on the roads in the UK, and totally assumed it was the same the world over. Oh my, was I sadly wrong it would seem:

We act like Poland seems to in this video. Humanely. Compassionately. Obviously. No? Well, clearly not. Really, I’m blown away by this. It’s adding fuel to a path of research that I’m on, with regards to how we understand each other, or more precisely, how little we really understand each other.

Also, to be fair, I don’t think the Japan clip should be included here. It’s not the same comparison to how other drivers react, and we don’t know if they do have some special toll barrier opening deal, and it’s not like they can just smash through barriers. Or maybe some people think they should?

Anyway, while I can’t remember where I came across this video, I know that I’m thinking about it again after the amazing 8 minute response time that the London emergency services made to the London Bridge attack. So proud of our city, service people, and the amazing people that live here. Like John Oliver puts it: