November 16th, 2011


Brain rejecting assignment, not going well.

Unfortunately the next assignment is repelling me forcefully. Even after a few flybys as I try to actually dig into it it's not passing my "this is dumb" filters and is being rejected by a voice in my head yelling about how dumb it is and telling me to run or find something productive to do.

To help us learn how to digest and actually get useful information from specs and other complex documents the lectures and reading explain active reading techniques and emphasize the use of mind-mapping software. The assignment is to use a mind mapping application to make a map of a specification and answer some questions about the results. If you haven't got or aren't familiar with the mind mapping tool you are encouraged to snag it and start in early in the assigned time for this assignment , and I did yesterday with mixed results.

Here's where it gets choppy: I haven't met a mind mapping program that I can actually use effectively, though I have tried a few a few times. Much as no note-taking application is faster or more versatile for me than scribbles on paper (alas I would this were not true, see recent /. discussion for ample discourse. tl;dr use a pen and paper) I have to whiteboard or pen sketch flowcharts, timelines, swimlanes and especially formal maps (at work) before trying to fight them into a computer. So this assignment's technique is unlikely to work well for me however awesome it is. And confirmation bias as it may, I had enough trouble inputting the skeleton into the mapper yesterday that I'm pretty convinced it's a net-loss for efficiency and don't want to use it again, certainly not for inputting data.

But the real problem is that the specification document we are supposed to analyze isn't a spec. It's the bleedin' online manual and is mostly full of marketing and fluff. I haven't seen any numbers in the parts I have tried to skim and if there's a section of fluff about interoperability I haven't been able to find it yet.

I think I could have surmounted (kludged) one of these two problems but with both staring me down I'm locking up. I should be able to analyze this app from the fluffy manual and using it, but I won't have anyhting in 3-4 hours but a headache and a wall-white board full of scribble which it would take me a couple hours to clean up and get into the mapper (Or faster into Visio, Omnigraffle, Inkscape in order of speed and cost).

I've either got to learn to type quickly or the computers need to learn to understand my scribble and/or when I yell at them .. but this shouldn't have anything to do with how to analyze a spec or mock the thing they gave you in the specification folder.

I guess I should try and active read through the spec, taking notes as best I can (still no study skills to speak of) and ignore the map for the remaining 2-3 hours and try and come up with something. It either that or I'll drawn a moderately useful map and need another couple hours to get it into the shiny metal box on my table here. Argh.

ETA: a snip from the assignment to demonstrate the gulf between these techniques and anything that will actually work for me:

Every sentence of a specification should be telling you what the product is (Product Elements), in what way it is good or bad or needs to get better (Quality Criteria), or how it will be built and the context in which it will be built (Project Environment). As you find information about the product, note it under one of the topics or subtopics under these main headings.

This sounds like something best accomplished with printouts, scissors, and maybe a bunch of index cards. Then once you have something maybe you can put it in a computer. Am I really so far out on this? How can anyone actually organize a bunch of random crap on a computer?

ETA: Pics or it didn't ...

Applying the HTSM to the Google Presentations manual

From the online manual for Presentation and relevant sections of the main Docs manual  we can harvest about 36 declarations of features which are mostly Functions in Product Elements:
  • Share presentations with your friends and coworkers. Upload and convert existing presentations to Google Docs format.
  • Download your presentations as a PDF, a PPT, or a .txt file.
  • Insert images and videos, and format your slides.
  • Publish and embed your presentations in a website, allowing access to a wide audience.
  • Draw organizational charts, flowcharts, design diagrams and much more right within a presentation.
  • Add slide transitions, animations, and themes to create show-stopping presentations.
  • See exactly what others are working on with colorful presence markers
  • Edit a presentation with other people simultaneously from different locations
  • Use revision history to see who made changes or to revert to earlier versions
  • Say hello, start a conversation or share new ideas using built-in chat
  • Create Google documents, spreadsheets, other file types, and collections.
  • Upload (from your computer, if you'd like), manage, and store files and folders.
  • Share Google Docs, files, and collections.
  • Preview your docs and files before you open or share them.
  • View images and videos that you've uploaded to your Documents List.
  • Search for items by name, type, and visibility setting.
  • Convert most file types to Google Docs format.

  • Add flair and format your documents, with options such as paint format, margins, spacing, and fonts. 

  • Invite other people to collaborate on a doc with you, giving them edit, comment or view access.
  • Collaborate online in real time and chat with other collaborators.

  • View your documents' revision history and roll back to any version. 

  • Download Google Docs to your desktop as Word, OpenOffice, RTF, PDF, HTML or zip files.

  • Translate a document to a different language.

  • Email your documents to other people as attachments. 

  • Share and edit presentations with your friends and coworkers. 

  • Import and convert existing presentations in .ppt and .pps file types. 

  • Download your presentations as a PDF, a PPT, or a .txt file.

  • Insert images and videos, and format your slides. 

  • Allow real-time viewing of presentations, online, from separate remote locations.

  • Publish and embed your presentations in a website, allowing access to a wide audience. 

  • Share and edit drawings with your friends and coworkers.

  • Download your presentations as a PNG, JPEG, SVG, or PDF file. 

  • Insert images, shapes, and lines, and format them to fit your preferences. 

  • Real-time collaboration with other people, no matter where they are. 

  • Insert a drawing into a document, spreadsheet, or presentation.

We can infer these details about the environment and delivery of the product from the application and the feature list:
  • Presentations is an online application and runs in a web browser and on Google servers.
  • Presentation requires Internet access to Google servers and other Internet resources for full use of features.
  • Presentations accepts file upload from the web browser in certain file formats and outputs files.
  • Presentation files may also be embedded into other web sites.
  • Presentations uses Google's shared user authentication and authorization systems and Google search.
  • Presentation is free to use  without charge for anyone with a Google account.
and so fill in some other details of the Product Elements:
  • Structure: and Operations: Presentations is delivered as a online service (SaaS) and there is no physical product.
  • Platform: Google's platform is used for (at least) storage, authn, authz, search, revision control, machine translation, document format conversions,  and application delivery.
  • Data: Presentations reads in and writes out in multiple well-documented formats and also has an internal format.
We can also fill in some information about possible Operational Quality Criteria.
  • Compatibility: Presentations reads and writes multiple file formats besides it's native data format.
  • Compatibility: Presentations is sensitive to web browser feature levels.
  • Installability criteria may not be applicable since Presentation is delivered as a service
  • Security in Presentations is implemented with features of Google hosting services and may not be directly testable.
  • Capability: A serious failure or lack of any of the features bragged about in the manual will strongly impact quality