Stephan Schwab

Software development and farm life

Archive for September 2006

Taxis in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia

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It’s not the first time I visit Colombia. But this time a lot of things have changed. The city was heavily remodeled and there is still construction work going on at a lot of places.

Taxis in Colombia always have been yellow. In most Latin American countries they use cars with regular paint, so you have to spot the taxi sign on top of the car.

What has changed is that they now use only newer cars. A couple of years back some taxis were almost a moving wreck, but now everything is new they feature a big replica of the license plate on the doors of each side and even a bigger one the top. The one on the top is probably meant to be seen clearly from the air.

There are more changes visible in the streets. I’ll try to take a few more pictures today before we leave tomorrow morning.

Written by Stephan Schwab

September 27, 2006 at 4:24 pm

Posted in Travel

The webtop – back in time?

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What is all the hype about bringing classic desktop applications like word processing or spreadsheets to the web? CNN Money writes about The Webtop:

Software that was once the bailiwick of desktop computing is now going online. In fact, these web-based applications may someday entirely replace your desktop suite.

Ajax – or maybe we better call it DHTML as it was named earlier – is a useful extension technology that allows to build interactive webapps. There is no doubt about that. It just makes sense that changing a value in any input element on a page should have some effect on the state or values of other elements. Nobody will doubt it is useful to present the full contact information about selecting a person from a drop-down list.

But will anyone want to write books, business plans, letters, the important thesis online on somebody else’s server? That’s a bit awkward. People have shiny new, powerful desktop computers. There is a local printer attached, even a scanner or camera. And then they should login to a website running on a server at some far-away datacenter to write a letter? I don’t believe that this is really a useful application.

Some proponents of online office applications might defend it saying that the user does no longer maintain her computer, doesn’t have to worry about malware. It just sounds too good to be true. What hinders a virus to spread from a unsecure desktop operating system to jump to the server via the insecure web browser? That’s no better than before. It’s just another game for malware developers.

And what about data storage? Does everybody nowadays want to store their private documents on a server they don’t control? What happened to people’s wish for privacy? Maybe I will be able to store the documents locally. But then I can as well use a regular desktop application – can’t I?

Server based applications are a great means for collaboration. A browser based user interface is great when I can’t install software on my user’s computers or when there are too many different devices. The web UI is perfect when my users use desktop PCs, tablets, PDAs or have to use computers at public places like an Internet cafe.

Once there was a promise: Write once, run anywhere. Do you remember? Java was said to be the technology that would make it become true. You would write a Java desktop application and your users can run it on every operating system that has a Java virtual machine (JVM). With Java Web Start there is even a technology that avoids shipping installation media to the user and perform a real software installation.

The only advantage webapps have is that they require absolutely nothing to get started. You just navigate your browser to the URL and can use them. But when I want to use a word processor or a spreadsheet that doesn’t count much.

Or maybe we are now entering the age of the reborn mainframe with terminals? But probably to understand that one has to be older than 25 …

Written by Stephan Schwab

September 25, 2006 at 9:40 am

Latin American business culture

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Latin American culture is different than European or American culture. While in the United States everything is fast and people tend to work long hours, things in Latin America go by another pace. That doesn’t mean Latinos are lazy, they do work hard, but they spend quite some time on social stuff like proper introductions at the beginning of a meeting and caring for personal relationships.

What you wear and how you speak determines how they treat you and how far you will get. Everybody in the office of a typical Latin company is properly dressed. Women wear perfect make-up and you won’t find men without a tie and perfectly clean shoes – and those are not sneakers. It doesn’t matter how important their work is, whether they receive clients in the office or are just working on internal stuff.

People address each-other with the proper title. A customer service technician named Carlos Rodriguez at the local cable company becomes Engineer Carlos. The higher the social rank more attention is paid to the right way of addressing a person or speaking about somebody, even if that person isn’t present. In front of customers Carlos is always Engineer Carlos, because he had to study at the University in order to know how to install cable TV or how to use the provisioning system. His fellow technicians will call him just Carlos, if there is no customer around. But the receptionist, messenger or a sales guy will always refer to him as Engineer Carlos.

The social rank of a person depends on several factors such as your position in a company, your wealth, the name and rank of your family, whether you are a foreigner, your profession and on how you act and dress.

As a foreigner you are seen as a powerful person by default, because you need to posses some wealth in order to come to the country in the first place. Secondly, if you don’t come as a tourist, you are seen as an important business person, as an investor and it’s presumed you play an important role in the company you work for. While Latinos between themselves pay great attention to the clothes the other person wears, in some areas they do understand that foreigners might be important persons although they don’t dress like a high-ranking executive.

How you are supposed to treat other people depends on the social rank of both parties involved. If you happen to talk to Engineer Carlos as the owner of a business, then you will address him simply as Carlos and never ever call him Engineer Carlos. You are the boss and Carlos is the guy who has to do something for you and Carlos has to respect you. It’s important not to appear weak, but powerful. If Carlos has reason to believe, you might have the power to make his life hard, then he will work well. In those cases you don’t ask for something, you demand it. But still with polite words and a regular tone, because you need to respect Carlos as well.

Another important detail is how you introduce yourself to other people and how your company introduces you. The Spanish language knows two different words for the English you. tu is used to address persons you know well or who are of similar or lower social rank as yourself. usted is more formal and generally used to express respect for the other person, but sometimes it’s used as well to make clear that you are serious about something you are saying. Parents use usted talking to their children, if the boy or girl has done something wrong. The younger person addresses the older person with usted as well – even it’s within the same family.

Let’s say your name is Walter R. Smith. You are the owner of the company and have a meeting with a client. All your employees will address you and your client saying usted and refer to you or address you as Senior Smith – in front of the client. While in regular office communication they well use usted and you become Senior Walter, because the environment is less formal. On the other hand you will refer to your employee Roberto Rodriguez in front of the client as Senior Rodriguez and without the client’s presence simply as Roberto. Of course you won’t say usted, but tu, because he works for you and you don’t have to respect him that much as he has to respect you.

Written by Stephan Schwab

September 25, 2006 at 4:48 am

Posted in Panama

The PC – An entertainment device

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Just found this on Jeff Nolan’s blog: Dell gives buyers the no-crap option

I bought my mom a HP desktop computer a while back and when I plugged it in for her I could not believe how many marketing icons were preloaded. I literally spent an hour cleaning it up figuring that the more stuff that was there the more confusion it would create. A few months later we had to send it back to HP because of a hard drive failure and went it (finally) came back… yep, all the preloaded crap was back with it.

Apparently PC manufactures think of their customer as a person who buys the machine as some kind of additional TV set, an entertainment device. People should consume, not use. They should buy, enjoy for a short moment, throw it away and buy the next fancy gadget. This sounds like an intriguing recipe for higher profits for the manufactures. But what about the long run? Doesn’t that lead eventually to ever dropping margins and ever increasing product cycles?

Back in the 80’s and early 90’s “some dreamers” thought of the PC, and followed by the Internet, as devices that will help to increase people’s knowledge. It appears that the manufacturers of those “entertainment PCs” know very well what the masses want. Looks like they aren’t that much interested in gaining more knowledge but more fun instead.

Written by Stephan Schwab

September 25, 2006 at 4:41 am


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