LearningStone and the color blue

Just a short note on progress: LearningStone has been officially launched… no not fully but softly… it’s a soft launch! We are being used by our first client, the Training agency Driestar (thank you for your confidence!) and all is going well. Very well. We’re now looking for more training agencies so please get in touch if you want use LearningStone. It could be free!

Let’s do some adjectives: LearningStone is a private, secure, easy to use, cloud-based, instant, and flexible, beautifully designed… learning and communication tool for trainers and training agencies. More about that here: www.learningStone.com

The color of LearningStone is blue. It’s a purplish blue (actually the exact same color used in the background of Windows 8) but still blue. Why? Well… we will be serving training companies that we don’t want to out-design so we thought going for the most conservative color would solve that.

My working life has been defined by colors starting with a lighter IBM-style blue at the start of ICATT. The first thing my partner Hanneke van der Horst and I did when we officially launched the company (it had been a foundation at the University of Amsterdam) was to move to orange which – back in 1993 – was a pretty radical move. NO company used orange back then. As the years progressed, just about every online-agency thought it necessary to use orange for its house style, so by the time we needed a redesign of our house style we worked together with Visual Space and switched to bright red. When I then started Maximonster Interactive Things, I thought it fun to move to a dark purple (which had been considered together with orange before).

And now I’m back full circle!

23-Oct-13 1-07-02 PM

 

Zwarte Piet

A year ago I was having a video conference with a client in the US. He asked me, a Dutchman, what this was with this Sinterklaas guy, or Sint Nicolas – our version of Santa Clause. He had heard that there were black helpers called Zwarte Piet or Black Peter who were like servants… or perhaps like slaves owned by Sinterklaas. I carefully explained (he was a client after all) that this was a tradition not very different from the elves who help Santa Clause but that I agreed that it had a strong racist undertone. I explained that few… very few Dutch people agree with me that it had anything with racism. No… Zwarte Piet was black because he had to climb down the chimney (so he’s not black but just plain stupid). But what about those big red lips? Eh… well he scrapes his lips along the chimneys…

My client was totally shocked when I showed him images of the streets of Amsterdam with Zwarte Piets (lots of them) running around giving children candy (he’s a nice black guy). And now it turns out that UN investigator Verene Shepherd has started an investigation into the Sinterklaas tradition and is already against it, saying that we should stick to Santa Clause…. Now that’s the worst approach you can take if you want to deal with the Dutch. Now we’ll probably keep Peter black just to show the UN that we have our own mind…
There are people (most Dutch people) that argue that Piet’s blackness is a tradition that we shouldn’t spoil but the time has come for us to accept that the racist undertones are offensive to many people and that – as history has shown – it’s really not such a problem to adapt a historical character. All you have to do is consider which part of the history, of the story we can easily change without changing the plot. I discussed this with a black friend and we agreed that changing Sinterklaas into a black guy (on a black horse!) would be hard to explain away and would be just plain silly but that many details of the whole tradition could easily be changed. The solution would be to not only add colored Piets* to the celebration but also white ones. And then we can leave the tradition alone for a while as we love Sinterklaas and Zwarte… eh… colored Piet. We certainly refuse to give up Sinterklaas all together which would be giving in to American pressure as we all know that Santa Clause is actually Sinterklaas after he got a full make over last century, sponsored by Coca-cola.

Zotonic the Movie – the making of

We had a lot of fun making “Zotonic – the movie”.  Here’s the “Making of ”

I’m working on the team as… um… what is my role? I guess in the Open Source world it might be “Community Manager” or manager of business affairs. In a ‘regular’ business it would be General Manager or  Marketing Manager. For the time being I’m eh… Michiel.

Want to know more about Zotonic – the Erlang Web Framework and Content Management system?
Check it out at http://www.zotonic.com

Zotonic: The Movie

This is a video I produced with Peet Sneeks to promote Zotonic, the Erlang web framework & content management system.

It features Charlotte, a successful “twitter girl” who wonders if she needs Zotonic. Charlotte is actually for real!  Marc Worrell and Arjan Scherpenisse explain what Zotonic is all about. The Video is available on Vimeo and Youtube or on the site.

I’m really excited about Zotonic: it’s an open source framework being used for many mission critical applications. I got involved in the project due to my sponsorship during the MaxClass project. The movie is our most recentl project, but a long list of activites are going to follow (like an article the next edition of “The architecture of Open Source Applications“, called the Performance of Open Source Applications) and an upcoming interview

Want to keep posted? follow @Zotonic or test. We’re developing professional services too soon.

For Erlang Geeks: in the course of the video we make a joke that has kept us laughing all through the production. You might notice that there is an old fashion telephone that resembles the phones from “Erlang: the movie” .  So when Arjan hears the phone ringing and picks up with “Hello Mike”, this isn’t me, but the Mike (Mike Williams, the co-inventorof Erlang). from the original movie. :-).

Totally Erlang – a site in one day

Now I don’t often believe start-up stories when people say the ‘site was nearly free’ or  “all it was, was a brilliant idea”. No, my experience is that everything – and I mean everything – is hard work. Fun, but hard work. The stories about cheap projects usually don’t cover the work that people put into it them selves.

In one case, I was involved in a small success that was actually born in one day: Totally Erlang.

In 2010, I started Maximonster Interactive Things with Marc Worrel and we set out to create new and exciting applications using Erlang (MaxClass, Zotonic and more). We needed an Erlang developer and I was researching how to find them. Recruiters I had worked with at my previous company ICATT, couldn’t really help and I didn’t want to waste money on the mainstream job sites.

So one morning, Marc and I decided we should make our own Erlang job site. We were really busy, so we gave ourselves exactly one day. I came up with a name, a logo, registered the domain, came up with some ideas and Marc set the site up with Zotonic – the Erlang web framework and content management system. We actually did do some spellchecking and bug fixing the next day, but it was minor. I am still impressed that Marc could build something in one day that has had virtually no downtime in two years.

The site did what it had to: Atilla Erdodi, a talented Hungarian developer who had done an internship at Erlang Solutions, joined the company and has since then joined the Zotonic core group. But we wanted the site to keep going. So we tweeted about it and told a few friends and the “rest is history”.

Totally Erlang

The site has now hit the nr.1 position on Google for Erlang jobs and is really starting to grow and we have decided to spend more time on it  – to start off with, we  finally have a Twitter account (Follow us on www.twitter.com/totallyerlang and a new logo!

We have moved on to organize a Erlang Talent Community  for a more personal network of developers but Totally Erlang will continue to grow and we hope to be adding more services to support the Erlang community.

 

 

 

 

 

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Zotonic!

I proudly joined the Zotonic core team.

Zotonic is an open source framework for developing web and mobiles systems. My start-up Maximonster built MaxClass and other projects with it. Besides funding via the MaxClass project, I will be developing the business perspective and have started contributing by organizing a survey. If you are an open source thinker, developer or just plain smart. Feel free: http://zotonic.com/survey-future

zotonic

E-learning & Flash: the end is nigh and what now? (8 non-flash solutions)

Since the web replaced cd-roms, there hasn’t been a bigger shock to the e-learning market than the killing of Flash by Apple. Ever since Apple so successfully introduced the iPad and announced that Flash would not be supported, the e-learning world has been in all states. And now that Microsoft will be following suit (no support for Flash or even Silverlight on tablets), the end is really nigh.

Let’s face it, Flash was the first technology that was suitable for (reliable) multimedia content on the internet. When it was first introduced, it was one of many plugin based technologies and there was some resistance as plugins were frowned upon. But Macromedia and later Adobe went on to develop an incredibly stable and useful technology and just about everybody happily installed the plugin. Many – actually nearly all – e-learning companies have been using tools which are based on Flash. Especially the rise of ‘rapid e-learning’ (relatively simple e-learning roughly based on PowerPoint presentations) which often used voice overs, video and relatively simple interactions and testing.

I was recently asked to offer my opinion on what strategy would be wise when developing a new e-learning course in the near future (in this case for a healthcare project). The big dilemma (there are lots) was of course: does one use flash for another few years and ignore iPad or find a tool that outputs HTML5 (or maybe even basic HTML) .

I didn’t realize what I was getting into when I doing some research. My wish list: an efficient production approach that can scale (at least a promise of workflow) and a tool that could offer rich media (video, voice over, learning interactions etc.) and all this based on HTML5. And – I thought this would be obvious: something that really works…

There is an incredible amount of software developers struggling with the HTML5 issue. Actually, it really isn’t possible to publish HTML5 without problems at all (right now) and I don’t think it will  become as easy to publish HTML5 as it was Flash for the next couple of years. As we speak, there is,for example, not one single HTML5 video format that will work in all browsers.

Anyway… I thought I would share some things I discovered. If you think I missed an important tool that produces HTML5 based e-learning, I’ll add it.
There’s one thing you need to know: not one of these tools can guarantee anything. HTML5 is just not finished and it won’t be easy to build a tool that makes e-learning production for all platforms as easy as it was during the Flash-era.

Articulate: one of the main players in the rapid e-learning market. A pretty good product which works with a Powerpoint plugin so that you can use Powerpoint to design about 90% of the product. It has been rumored Articulate is working on a HTML5 tool but nothing has been announced. www.articulate.com

Moodle: the famous open source LCMS isn’t really good at rich media but as it’s all HTML you can use it in combination with e.g. youtube video (which is HTML5). www.moodle.com

EXE: an open source editor which produces scorm complaint HTML-only courses (demonstrated on the Moodle demo site). Not supported anymore and outdated. There have been people willing to take over the project but I haven’t been able to find any progress being made. exelearning.org

Lectora:  they have announced publishing-templates for iPad but it’s a steep learning curve and you have to know what works and what doesn’t as Lectory does lots of things that won’t work on iPads. www.lectora.com

Captivate: Adobe announced HTML5 support (by export) for Captivate, one of the leading tools for rapid learning and tutorial development. I’m not the only one that has tested it and I’m not the only one that found that  it just doesn’t work. Rumor has it that Adobe is starting from scratch and will be offering something new. www.adobe.com/products/captivate

Udemy: an interesting startup offering basic course development tools (mostly video and text) and publishing tools (you can earn money!). As they have avoided really interactive learning, it will work on an iPad. www.udemy.com

Luminosity: this start-up offers an interesting tool for developing HTML5 e-learning. The interactions are all a bit simple but it’s new so worth looking at. Includes some workflow. www.cm-luminosity.com

Rapid Intake MLearning:  the only tool I have found that offers working examples for IOS. A bit rough and relatively expensive but worth taking another look at.  Rapid Intake also offers a LMS and they also offer cloud collaboration tools. rapidintake.com/mlearning-studio

Taking scrum into my private life

After two days with Jeff Sutherland, one of the inventors of Scrum, I was rewarded with this celebrity picture taken in Amsterdam. Even though he was teaching me the fine art of Scrum Mastery and product ownership  in software projects, it was obvious that Jeff was nearly more interested in scrum on the enterprise level than in projects alone, something I can fully understand.

Jeff Sutherland and Michiel Klønhammer in Amsterdam

One of the arguments against spending much time with Scrum in some companies, is that the amazing results of scrum for a development team are really not very important within the context of an ineffective enterprise. A wonderful example was given to me by Jeff in the form of a case study of a Swedish game company.

A game took 18 months to produce but after analysis it turns out that only 1 or 2 months were actually development. So what’s the point of reducing development time if it has so little influence on the total product life cycle (which includes concepting, selection, production, user testing etc)? No… you need to Scrum the whole organisation. And if you do, you can reduce the product life cycle by a year or so. Now that’s impressive and worth some thought for just about every company.

I spent the weekend thinking about this and as a little experiment I tried to use Scrum in my personal life.

1. The Name Game. Scrum to make my daughter Maria totally effective.

Scrum is about focus. Very serious focus. Focus that can speed projects up to 10 times a fast.
And one of the funnest ways to prove that focus works is the name game (which I learnt from Jeff). Try this: Let one person write letters down on a piece of paper  which a group of other people say out loud, so that you end out with their names. Each person says one letter of his or her name and then the next person says one letter. This will take something like 80 seconds. In this example you would write M – M – L , then a -i-a  etc.

Maria
Michiel
Laszlo

Then let the five people just quickly spell their names one by one. This takes about 8 seconds. Get the point?
So I played this game with my daughter Maria (15) who I might say is one of the most  best organised people I know as it is. But she has so many activities (Piano, Street dance, Volleyball, Model United Nations, editing a website, running, a lot of homework etc etc )  that it all gets a bit busy, sometimes too busy. Alle these activities need to  be combined with keeping up with Facebook, twitter and other social things… you can imajine she just runs out of time. So even for a teenager it’s pretty important to know that you can be 10 times as effective by NOT multitasking.  Ah… you say… but this is life not a software project. Well fine… we could settle for 2 times as effective 🙂

2. Limit communication time with loved ones.

An important ceremony in scrum, is the daily stand-up or scrum. It’s a short meeting with a specific structure. I don’t really believe the chosen structure is so important (though Jeff would argue otherwise) but I do believe that the limiting of time of a (regular) meeting is very important.
So after a needlessly long and irritated discussion with a loved one, you might think about this (I did this weekend).  Most couples know how it goes: something has been irritating you both for a while and then you both try and solve it with a veeery long discussion. You get tired, confuse feelings and there you go, a perfectly fine day has been spoilt while you could have avoided this so easily.

Now don’t worry, I’m not going to have a daily scrum with my love (though I’ve heard of families adopting Scrum), but I did suggest a change based directly on Jeff’s teachings: less but more focused communication. I admit it made her laugh (which is a good thing), but it did make me realize scrum is indeed a wise approach for more than software development.

Erlang talent community!

Erlang is hot and Erlang is here to stay. It orginated in Sweden at Ericsson as a language for telecom-systems. Really fast, really scalable. Used by Facebook, used by SpillGames, used by MaxClass.

Erlang is what we need now for internet or mobile platforms: real scalability. Cheap concurrenty. Hot swapable code.

So after being involved in MaxClass (social network), Totally Erlang and Zotonic implementations (all Erlang), I decided we should start a Erlang Talent Community. If all goes well, within a few weeks we should be up to speed and don’t need to keep dissapointing clients in need of exactly that talent.

So please pass it on or if you are an Erlang developer of even if you work as a front-ender together with a Erlang developer and feel good about it: sign up for the:

Erlang Talent Community.