Summer 2020

What a year!

As previously written, for me, 2019 was awful.

Towards the end of 2019 as the brain switched back on to matters of career. I focussed more on Scrum and agile in general, with the PSM-I to at least reduce the barrier to entry with an Agile employer.

bootlacehankymask

Opportunities to interview were starting to improve, then, COVID-19!

Considering what the family went through last year, we can only be thankful that we didn’t have that to deal with on top of everything – and of course thinking of those having to cope in this year’s circumstances.

Of course career opportunities and those roles that were looking promising quickly dried up in March/April. Now, with lots more people entering the job market, the immediate future looks challenging. My focus remains on finding a role within an Agile/Scrum environment, where I can transfer tonnes of digital experience along with the last couple of years of learning Scrum/Agile/Product. That learning needs to be put into practice.

I got my hands on a new Mac, so I am bang up to date with OS versions and current software. The big screen is ideal for working with JIRA, Miro and Lucidchart.

So, learning and self-improvement continues, and I’ve added a reading list of the resources I have found most useful. This blog will be kept more up to date as and when I find things that I think are worth sharing.

Sunny day in the park

All said and done, long walks everyday have been a good way to clear the mind and start the day.

Posted by creacog in Personal, Product management, 0 comments

Hello to my iMac 5K 2019

As previously noted, my trusty Mac Pro Early 2008 has been end of life for some time. It entered Apple’s vintage and obsolete products list back in 2015 and the last supported Mac OS version is 10.11.6 dates from 2016. Over it’s time, filled with hard drives, memory upgrades and a replaced graphics card. Switching to SSD for the system drive in 2014 gave it a new spring of life. Still a decently speedy machine, but it kicks out some heat. Over recent years, 3rd party application updates have been dropping backwards compatibility so after 12 years use, it is time for something new.

While the iMac has been at “Don’t buy” status for some time on MacRumors, with the prospect of a 2020 iMac rumoured to have a substantial redesign. The 2019 MacBook Pro (or its expected 2020 update) having been much improved over the prior generation would have been an option, however the ‘Covid-19 lockdown‘ triggered the decision to act. With everyone home based, there is less reason pay a premium for a Mac Book Pro and having found a base configuration 2019 5K iMac on Apple’s Refurb store (≈£230 less than a non-refurb) seemed very good value in comparison.

iMac 5K 2019

Upgrading the memory to 24GB was quick and easy and inexpensive using the 16GB kit from Crucial and an inexpensive 2TB external drive serves as a TimeMachine backup drive.

The most painful part of the process was the time taken to encrypt the drives and to transfer data with the Migration assistant.  I now have a fast machine which doesn’t blow heat into the room. The 5K screen looks great compared to the 12 year old 23 inch cinema display. I have no problem with the size of the bezel, it frames the screen from the background in my room. It will be a little bit more of an issue when I eventually add a second screen.

Having skipped four major OS versions to Catalina 10.15.4, I expected a lot of change. The increase in security permissions checking was a little annoying at first – but less annoying than a compromised system. I was looking forward to Dark Mode, but sadly I found that I don’t like it. The white on black text is too high contrast for me, and it presents a heavier font weight – making differing text styles less clear. Further, the Mac OS X application windows rely on a shadow rather than border chrome to define the edges. These shadows are ineffective as visual cues when everything is dark, so it is back to light mode for me. Being able to run current versions of XCode, Photoshop, XD and others, and the much improved quality and speed of video playback on the 5K screen are more than worth cost of this machine.

I’ll be continuing with my trusty Matias Tactile Pro 2 (used daily since 2006). I’ve never understood why anyone would choose to use laptop-style keyboards with a desktop. Apple hasn’t offered a decent keyboard since the Apple Extended Keyboard II.

Posted by creacog in Apple, Mac OS, 0 comments

Getting Scrum onto my CV

I have worked in largely non-Agile, non-Scrum organisations. With my Product ambitions, ensuring my next role is Agile is something of a challenge. I have stacks of experience of handling the sort of problems that always arise in any event – mostly due to change management. My feeling is that in a Scrum environment, through its three pillars of Transparency, Inspection and Adaptation change should be immediately easier to handle, not harder.

I decided to certify. Being self-funded, the Scrum Alliance route was going to be out of my reach, so PSM via Scrum.org is my way to go. The prospect of having to pay to to re-sit the test is extra motivation for working to pass first time and there’s more to it than just reading the scrum guide a few times. My route:

On completion of the assessment, a report of your scores is returned with percentage achievements by focus areas (e.g. Product Value) with corresponding links to specific resources for improvement in those areas.

So, for me job Done for this one and on to the next.

PSM I

Awarded: Dec 13, 2019

In conclusion, the study and practice assessments were all valuable experience and leave me more determined than ever to work in an Agile, preferably Scrum environment going forwards.

Posted by creacog in Agile, Product management, 0 comments

Book donation to NMOC

An enjoyable trip to The National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park, UK. Excellent presentations by the volunteers there explaining the history and operation of the codebreaking machinery including the BOMBE, Tunny, Heath Robinson and COLOSSUS. I’d very much recommend anyone visiting Bletchley Park walks the extra few paces to visit this separate museum in Block H.

BOMBE

There are working exhibits of so many of the computers important to computing in Britain, from mainframes through the explosion of personal computing from the late 70s.

A key purpose of the visit was to donate an old book and punched cards. I received these from a neighbour in 1986 while studying A-level computer science. The book dates from 1973 and relates to an ICL 1900 series Main Frame.  The ICL 2966 in the museum is far more recent but is running as a 1900 and gives a feel of the scale of the machinery then used.

It was interesting to read, some 46 years since it was written. I am reminded of a time when it was unusual for people to encounter, let alone own or carry, any computing device.

Introduction to computer systems
Technical Publication 4955 International Computers Limited 1972
Reprinted 1973

Posted by creacog in Retrospective, 2 comments

Summer 2019

I admit I am writing this retrospectively in 2020 and setting the publish date back to 2019, the context of these words.

My break from my employer was much needed, and the last months of 2018 I look back on as a vital de-stressing time. I did, as planned, explore a few VR applications from a user point of view, having got hold of an oculus Go and it was fun to send my Dad into space. I spent some time working through a LinkedIn Learning course on Unity, to get a feel for the development steps involved in getting an application onto the Go. I enjoyed the experience, however the application build times were enormous on my old Mac. I wrote up a few notes at the time. I also found a fairly comprehensive Product Management course on Udemy to work through: Become a Product Manager | Learn the Skills & Get the Job.

As we entered 2019, it started to become clear that my father’s cancer journey was taking a turning for the worse and after a frankly horrible time for him and those closest, we lost him this summer. My sister especially put a huge amount of time into building the family tree on ancestry. My contribution mostly in the form of PhotoShop restoration and repair of old family photos.

Posted by creacog in Personal, Product management, 0 comments

Agility before Agile

Having spent the last 6 years or so, mostly project managing things digital, web and mobile we selectively adopted some artefacts and ceremonies from Kanban and Scrum. However neither the organisation nor clients were ready to fully adopt Agile culture.

Meanwhile Agile has found its way beyond tech’ into traditionally conservative organisations including banking.

There was agility before the Agile manifesto formally pulled it all together. As a Studio Manager in the late 1990s we had a few things right which map to Agile priorities:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

We certainly recognised and valued staff who could work in multi-function teams.  We sought designers with technical aptitude and developers with an creative flair to ensure some overlap in skill-sets (T-shaped capability). A core project team consisted of a designer, developer and account manager. Any of whom might be project lead, based on the nature of the project. i.e. a very creative project may well be lead by a designer, functionally complex projects lead by a developer and content driven projects typically by an account manager.

At that time,  laptops were rare and hot-desking impractical with each person’s workstation often highly customised, big and heavy.

We redesigned our studio and it’s furniture to facilitate quick and easy team flexibility. Instead of benches of workstations, we had specially designed furniture arranged in clusters of four. Within the cluster, the centre space was kept clear with computer screens were arranged to the outer edge ensuring team members can see each other, easily communicate and view each screen content with a slight turn. Workstations consisted of desktop computer and monitor both on top of a customised mobile pedestal. Changing teams was simply a matter of unplugging and wheeling the workstation to the next cluster.

Two clusters of 4, ready for workstations
Wine and beer for the opening of the new studio

I haven’t found an environment quite like it since. Of course, laptops and WIFI make the ‘wheelie-workstation’ less necessary. I remain proud of the work we did in that studio, my colleagues and the way we worked together.

Posted by creacog in Agile, Product management, Work, 0 comments

Team ideas raise development opportunities

A video, demonstrating a positive development environment. As I shift my mindset to ‘Product’, it also shows significant investment in the team’s knowledge and instincts as a source of product development ideas, company wide and how that benefits all concerned.

  • Agile makes it possible: (from 2 minutes) Transforming to best practice and an agile development culture improved code quality and development flexibility
  • Hack sprint: (from 6 minutes)
    • Every 5th sprint is a ‘Hack Sprint’, ‘hack’ ideas are put forward, teams formed and concrete demo’s built
    • Demos are presented back and pitched for roadmap inclusion

How this approach contributes to a positive culture of continuous improvement is clear from the video; company, product and personal.

Posted by creacog in Developer, Product management, 0 comments

Baby steps: Trying out Unity development for Oculus Go

My aim was to get hold of Oculus Go, experience and understand current UX for that environment and see how easy (or not) it is to develop for.

  • I am not new to programming, but I have been hands off for a few years
  • I had never used Unity
  • I am new to VR/XR

Notes from my getting started experience over the last few weeks:

Posted by creacog in 3d, Developer, Mac OS, Oculus, Oculus Go, Unity, VR/AR, 0 comments

Mac Pro early 2008 approaching the end of its useful life

UPDATE: Within Safari, I disabled: Canvas accelerated drawing and full page accelerated drawing. Since then, there have been no further system freezes. (As per the message here: https://discussions.apple.com/message/31166261#message31166261 )

My Mac Pro (Early 2008) I think is finally coming to the end of it’s useful life. Over 10 years since taking ownership I can’t complain. This 14Gb 8 core machines has served me well with only a few minor repairs along the way:

http://blog.creacog.co.uk/2009/12/10/macpro-early-2008-video-card-dies/

http://blog.creacog.co.uk/2011/02/28/apple-cinema-hd-23inch-dies-then-resurrects/

http://blog.creacog.co.uk/2012/09/09/mac-pro-wake-from-sleep-restarts-instead/

There is I think a hardware fault developing. It occasionally freezes. Mouse pointer still active, but nothing clickable and no keyboard interactions. Forum users suggest the video card is a likely culprit (https://discussions.apple.com/thread/5022785) and a good clean may fix it.

Mac OS  10.11 El Capitan is the last version of the system to support this hardware. Until now, most software has continued to run happily on that system, but I am starting to see El Capitan drop out of the support list for key software. Crucially today, Adobe CC updates drop support for Mac OS 10.11.

Creative Cloud upgrade needed

Can I hang on to see the iMacs expected to be released this or next month? Or do I part with a load of cash on a Mac Book Pro 2018? Or even consider PC if I want to get more into Oculus platforms? Unfortunately the old machine has no trade-in value – I remind myself in terms of total cost of ownership over the last 10 years or so, this has been the best value computer I have ever had. I can’t see any replacement coming close with so few options for upgrading/repairing memory or storage.

Posted by creacog in Apple, Mac OS, 0 comments

Common VR user experience issues

My experience so far is of 180 and 360 movies, some interactive movies and a couple of games. I am yet to experience any VR sickness. My background has involved a lot of software testing so I generally feel the need to write up anything that looks or feels wrong.  The following are the most common UX issues I encountered to date. I have used the Oculus browser a couple of times, but for the most part these are within the game apps or the media player apps.

Streaming artefacts

When using a slow internet connection (mine was at less than 7Mb/s at the time of writing) then a streaming 360 video will suffer the low resolution and compression artefacts. This gives a blurry and chunky edges to high contrast areas. While it is the same as you’d expect with a normal 2D movie, seeing the same within a stereoscopic movie seems to amplify the discomfort.  The only advice for the full quality is to download the file before playing if the player app allows this.

Objects (or people) too close to the camera

I have viewed a number of objects far too close to the camera. As an object get’s too close, it first becomes uncomfortable. At a certain point the stereoscopic view breaks down and double vision ensues making for a horrible experience. The production guidance I have found so far is that user comfort is based on objects being 0.75m to 3.5m away within the environment. Same applies to both video captured and 3d rendered.

People are smaller

I think in all of the acted video experiences I have watched, the view is smaller than real life which becomes apparent viewing people. They seem to be about 75% or maybe 66% of full size. At least they are consistent within Amaze, so some standard parameters are being used.

Rapid movement

A director of standard 2D video uses tricks such as depth of field and blurring to guide the viewer’s eye, and give the impression of smooth movement. Neither of these work in 3d video. The user moves their eye wherever they like, so everything must be in focus and sharp. This drives the need for higher frame rates. In any event, fast moving parts such as helicopter rotors appear to strobe rather than sweep.

Camera vertical position

In real life, I am of slightly over average height (6’1). Most of the experiences I have seen have placed the camera at the actor’s eye height, or lower. On normal video this seems not to be an issue, but in VR, especially where there is context of other people taller than the actor being filmed, it feels unnatural to me. Clearly this will be different for everyone and may just be an oddity of VR which cannot be overcome, but it can feel like I am crouching in an unnatural position through some of the video experiences.

Taking screenshots

Taking screen shots within Oculus Go leaves something to be desired. Currently requires the user to drop out of their experience, Choose Sharing > Take Photo from the navigation bar, then return to the experience and the snapshot will be taken 5 seconds from the time the take photo button was pressed. This doesn’t work for me at all in the missed spaceflight experience.

Another route is mirroring the screen using VLC to my Mac and taking the screen shot there. Unfortunately there is often some lag or degradation and it is difficult to have one eye on the mirror while keeping inside the experience.

The easiest method I have found so far is to use Sharing > Record Video, then use the Android File Transfer tool to pull the mp4 video from the device and pick the frame(s) I want to use later

How to set up mirroring is well described on Pixvana ( https://pixvana.com/sharing-your-oculus-go-screen-on-your-laptop/)

This year’s Oculus Connect (OC5) announced Casting for Oculus Go ( https://www.oculus.com/blog/oculus-go-at-oc5-even-more-to-watch-and-play/) . It will be interesting if and how that provides a better route to extract and share experiences.

Posted by creacog in 3d, Oculus, Oculus Go, UX, VR/AR, 0 comments