Speaking: Leeds Digital Shorts

Leeds digital shorts | Events | E-consultancy.com

As the evenings draw in and Santaโ€™s little helpers are doing their stretching exercises, Ian Jindal, Editor in Chief of InternetRetailing.net, will be reviewing the key developments of note to ecommerce professionals during 2007.

Looking forward to heading up to Leeds tomorrow to speak at a Digital Shorts event, entitled “Digital Resolutions”. This is a similar format to the Digital Shorts event in Manchester last January (indeed I’m going to be reprising that evening in January 2008 when I return to Manchester for another Digital Shorts evening).

Looking forward to seeing some friends, colleagues and clients in Leeds both for the session and for drinks afterwards.

Quilter St Olives: end of the first week of brine…


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Originally uploaded by ikj

Here a photo of the olives after their first week in brine.

Since starting on the preserving olives route last month I’d been soaking the olives in plain water, changing daily.

Last week I moved onto the soak-for-a-week-in-brine and this is the state of affairs just before I rinsed them and put into a fresh briney solution.

Although it looks a bit ‘brown’ and hazey it smells OK – not exactly “olivey” but then not exactly anything. The olives still feel firm so I’m hoping that they’ve not started festering.

Let’s see how things progress – only another 3 months to eating…

“Chief Electricity Officers”: Editorial from Internet Retailing magazine.

This is my Editorial piece from November’s issue of InternetRetailing magazine.

A plague of recruitment calls has set Ian Jindal to musing about what we can learn from the reign of the Chief Electricity Officer.

The phone’s been ringing to the point of melting at IR Towers recently and invariably the opening phrases are either “Hi, I’m looking for a new eCommerce Director – could you help?” or “I work for an exective search firm and a client’s looking for an eCommerce Director – can you help?”. Anecdotal evidence indicates that we’re in a boom in ecommerce – the late adopters (sorry, those with “second mover advantage”) are competing with the pureplays and early-starters for a small pool of talent. Actually, for “talent with experience”.

Such is the clamour for talent that in January’s edition we will look in more detail at the state of skills in the industry – how to grow and retain talent, as well as poaching it.

I’ve had cause to consider the skills we require in senior ecommerce folk: major change management, technical literacy, sales-focused customer marketing, trading experience and if possible some understanding of buying product. Oh, and while you’re chatting to this Superhero, ask whether they have board level gravitas, significant expertise in your sector, a desire to work somewhere lost in the bowels of the company bureaucracy and the self-discipline not to use their x-ray vision other than on company business.

This stringent recruitment requirement – out of kilter with market supply – sent me into the bowels of IR Towers, to the musty library, to research when last there was such an intrusion upon the board hegemony of Managing, Sales and Finance directors (at least, since the invention of Marketing in the 1960s, loosening Sales Director’s grasp on the executive washroom key).

The IT revolution put IT Directors on the Board (now they report to the COO – the morphed, ever-resilient FD in many cases); the people-are-our-capital boom of the late 80s put HR Directors on the Board (they too now find a place within the COO’s domain) and the MBA explosion of the last decade had Strategy Directors and Business Development Directors duking it out for the freshest PowerPoint [tm] templates (now everyone on the board is expected to have an MBA). Of course there are strong HR/IT/Strategy Directors on major Boards. However, if you were to prohibit three directors travelling together on a rickety plane you’d select the CEO, COO and CMO, would you not?

Whither then the eCommerce Director, often batted between Marketing, the COO or as a digital adjunct to B&M? Few today would doubt either the importance or transformational responsibility given to the eCommerce Director, yet a permanent position at the Board table is not a given. eCommerce is still seen as “other”, “different” and something to be dumped on someone else’s desk.

Some dusty research offered up by our nonagenarian archivist reminded me of the brief but important tenure of the Chief Electricity Officer. Electricity defined the modern era, yet was an expensive and immature technology. Once standardisation (voltage, plugs etc) was in place the industry entered the mass-marketing phase – but adoption was slow. In 1902, Niagara Falls alone could generate a fifth of all the electricity used in the United States, and by 1907, only 8% of American homes had electricity. eCommerce is just leaving an analogous phase – with broadband now having reached all of the most commercially-attractive homes in the UK, and browser compatibility and stability taken for granted – customer are now looking ‘through’ the technology and assessing the proposition, the price and promotions.

In order to thrive at the Board table our eCommerce Directors will need every one of the formidable skills that the headhunters are seeking. Alongside them, however, so will their Board colleagues. Which FD can today say they ‘don’t do marketing’, or which CMO could blithely claim to be financially illiterate? Of course this no longer happens. In short order, therefore, we’ll see eCommerce Directors with the full range of skills needed to make a contribution to a savvy, supportive and challenging group of Board colleagues.

This temporary bubble should not relieve Boards of the imperative to fully embrace ecommerce any more than the temporary scarcity of talent in eCommerce should lull specialists into an arrogant separatism. The eCommerce Director has no permanent place at the Board table unless and until she manages to “drop the ‘e'” and become, simply and gloriously, the Commerce Director.

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81 degrees: hot Mac Book Pro after the Leopard upgrade

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Well, as you’ll know I upgraded to Leopard and had an OK time of it (once I’d sorted out access privileges). Overall, I’m enjoying the new OS, but I must admit that I’m really missing MailTags… roll on the Leopard upgrade in January!

I’ve noticed a couple of things that are a bit annoying:

1) MY GOD IT’S RUNNING HOT! The laptop is too hot to hold. Toast!

2) Occasional ‘freezing’ of the keyboard. There’s an active thread on this, but my own amateur diagnosis is that it’s something to do with either the heat, the superdrive spinning up, faulty cabling, a USB driver or all/any/none of the aforementioned. Whatever, it’s spurred me to sort out the heat thang…

3) “Airdisk” – vapourware disk, more like. I have an Airport Extreme: it’s solid, reliable and pretty. I ask no more. Well, actually I do: please don’t break when you automatically self-upgrade to 7.2.1 (or whatever). Also, how’s about your claim to make attaching a USB drive a piece of cake and then sharing that over the network a reality, rather than a stalling, fumbling, inept sham?

Deep breath.

I only want the airdisk so that I can back up verily mine laptop using Time Machine… however, as I sit here it’s struggling to do the first 100Gb while tethered to firewire, so I’m wondering how realistic the suggested hourly disk snapshots are…

But I digress: back to the asbestos question…

I used to have FanControl running, but find that there’s a newer version specially for the Intel Macs and I’ve just downloaded and installed it.

Since it’s been up and running the keyboard’s been behaving, the ‘puter is definitely a bit cooler, and there’s a neat display of fan speed and temperature.

I’ve also inadvertently found that the biggest contributor to a cool laptop is wedging a pencil underneath the machine, towards the back. This lifts the rear of the machine (giving a rather nice angled keyboard) and lets air circulate. Basic and effective. Got to love pencils ๐Ÿ˜‰

Tasty – “Open in TextMate” from Leopard Finder โ€“ The Pug Automatic

This is nice.

I’m still in love with TextMate (especially since I’ve been doing lots of editing property lists of late – yuk).

I’ve always liked the way that if you select multiple files and then cmd-click | open with… and select Textmate then it “knows” to open them all and create a working project for them.

This handy little button (which looks rather nice in the finder – a touch of colour) reduces that to one click.

It’s small, fast and effective. One could ask for no more.

Upgrade story: Mac OS X Leopard

So, this was the advice I gave myself about upgrading to Mac OSX 10.5 “Leopard”:

* don’t rush – wait for the war stories
* don’t rush – do some major backups
* don’t rush – do some serious housekeeping
* don’t rush – check you’ve got the serial numbers and details of all applications ESPECIALLY those little plugins that you forget about until they’re not there.

Anyway – I lasted less than 24 hours.

I had a rather horrible experience with the user accounts being disabled after log in. Ouch. I’d log in, all would be as normal, except that the Keychain (where passwords etc are stored) was corrupted. Worse, after 3 attempts to open Keychain it kindly told me that I was locked out. No problem, thought I, I’ll do something else and get back to this. Unfortunately the user account then disappeared!

There was no mention of the account on the log-in screen and even when I fired up terminal and tried to ‘su’ to the user the password wasn’t accepted.

Panic was alleviated by my being able to see all of the user accounts on the drive so I knew that the data was intact (and because I had root access and the system disks as a boot option I knew I’d be able to recover everything).

Interestingly I had a realisation about backups. Even though I had a full backup of everything (read/write) and a disk image (‘ghost) I could use to fully restore the machine, the very thought of losing 24 hours of restoring time was just exhausting. I therefore chose to continue my efforts at recovery.

There’s about 250Gb of data and stuff on the G5 and if I can’t be bothered to restore then goodness help me when there’s a couple of terabytes there!

My insight from this is to fully separate the OS and vital applications from data. As of today the data is kept on an external drive and both the data and the OS on the desktop are backed up to a second external NAS drive. I sorta knew this would be better but it took a prod like this to make it happen.

I tried to rectify the log-in problems every which way. Googling gave me myriad answers and I did the basics: restart from the CD, reinstall the OS, repair privileges, recover the keychains from backup, recreate the keychains, run the keychain repair, install the keychain patch… All to no avail.

Finally, I found this most excellent support document: “Unable to log in to an account after an upgrade install”. Interestingly, this support document was created 2 days before Leopard was released to the public… Would have been nice to have been told!

Anyway, starting in ‘single user mode’ (a unix-like startup) and doing some stuff as root fixed everything. Huzzah!

Armed with this knowledge I upgraded the laptop last night and, well, it took 45 mins and worked like a dream. Mac-like, indeed. I left it overnight to index my mail and 100Gb of HD contents and this morning it was zippy and lovely.

The interface is slick, perceptibly rapid and all of my plugins and apps work fine – apart from (sob) MailTags. The Apple “Discoverers” are truly awesome and astoundingly accurate but my workflow really needs the MailTags approach to which I’m now habituated. I hadn’t realised its utter non-workingness. Pity – and roll on the upgrade due at the end of the year. Note how, in my new well-behavedness, I’m not going to install the beta version… ๐Ÿ˜‰

So – what have I learned from this?

1) Backups are vital, but it needs to be a real catastrophe to make me do a full restore. The time taken and effort required are simply too onerous for a ‘minor disaster’. I need to improve my backup approach
2) Separate data and OS/apps really clearly – makes a sensible backup and recovery process easier (I hope)
3) take care to synchronise settings (keychains, preferences, licence keys etc) – this is what makes your computer “yours” and you’ll be kicking yourself for months without these…

The final lesson is the most serious one, however. Don’t mess with “production” machines! Bit by bit ‘my’ collection of Macs is no longer mine. Vicky really relies on the G5 for her design work and having me “upgrade” the computer where the improvement is, erm, being locked out and losing a day’s work is not acceptable. I’ve now taken myself off _her_ machine and will get it ready for full production support.

Of course, this means that I now need a dev/test machine… ๐Ÿ˜‰

e-Consultancy: Harnessing the Power of Social Media


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Originally uploaded by ikj
This is a really fun training day and you can (see details of the event) and I was speaking on “Emerging trends in social media”.

This is a photo of the audience as I manifestly fail to update my site via SMS… thankfully it worked the second time ๐Ÿ™‚

The slides from the morning are on e-consultancy’s site and I recommend having a look – Ged, Ros and Will were great presenters and I learned a great deal in each of their slots.

It was interesting too how engaged the audience was in the ‘social media’ arena – there was a mix there from agency-side, publishers, government, retail and professional bodies. All are active in SM – from basic starts to pretty extensive activity. However, everyone’s now looking for a certain ‘edge’, to making money and to a more sophisticated exploitation of the opportunities.

Props to BSG for the venue too. I was trying out Apple’s Keynote and their nice ’embed a web page’ capabilities to switch in and out of presentation and live demo/use. This is always high risk, but the excellent bandwidth and presentation facilities pulled this off. Much better than the time I tried it at a client’s where their wireless network was flakey and saturated and all of the windows blocked mobile/3G signals… There’s nothing worse (or more ironically sublime?) than doing a presentation on Web2.0 interfaces using nothing but a flipchart and the power of mime!

Cat under the umbrella




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Originally uploaded by ikj

This cat knows which side its bread is buttered!

The cat’s a regular at Jones Dairy is Ezra Street, part of the Columbia Road Flower Market extravaganza each Sunday. It’s a pretty haughty and selfish cat – only interested in cadging salmon and cream cheese.

That he was sitting so calmly with these two people sheltering from the drizzle caught my eye. When I asked if it was OK to grab a shot I commented that they must have a gift with cats since he wasn’t normally this friendly. They were laughing as they admitted to having given him the whole contents of their salmon and cream cheese bagel.

I want to be a cat in my next life ๐Ÿ™‚