Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Just semantics

A phrase which often comes up in the IT business, perhaps more often from the business and management side of things rather than the techie side, is "that's just semantics". It has always bothered me. How can semantics - what something actually means - be dismissed in such an offhand manner?

Often, IT projects go wrong because there has been miscommunication. Requirements have been misunderstood. The architecture has been implemented incorrectly. The infrastructure has been built in a way that failed to take account of some critical operational features. Yet when it comes to getting a clear understanding about some things, a wave of the hand and a flippant "Oh, that's just semantics" is all it takes to set a disaster in motion.

I have often found that people talk glibly about a concept, or use a particular word, and when queried they either cannot define it, or, more often, there are wildly differing meanings being used by a group who remain ignorant of the fact that they are not talking about the same thing. I came across an example of this phenomenon only a couple of days ago, around the interpretation of the word "warranty". I've encountered many over the years. And yet to some, querying what they mean by a particular word is quibbling over what is "just semantics".

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Card Of Hearing

Oh, it's been a while, eh? Blame FaceBook.

I've recently (via my iGoogle news items linking me to something on The Telegraph) become aware of the Song Chart phenomenon, where an attempt is made to represent an item from the hit parade as a graph or chart of some kind. Or maybe a list. Or some element of a computer application or web page. Or a flow chart, UML activity diagram, entity relationship diagram, venn diagram, etc., etc., etc. Here's a couple of examples (of my own), in increasing order of difficulty:

Just will not do

Optimal Proximity
I'll post the answers in the comments box if prompted. If you like these puzzles, I would recommend visiting the Flickr group where they live. There's loads on there, some of which made me laugh out loud.

So, having played around with the concept a bit, one popped into my head, almost immediately followed by the thought that it would make a great birthday card for my Lovely Husband™. Then it occurred to me that what would be even better would be to have it play an appropriate bit of the song when the card opened. So that sent me off on the trail of customised card with sound chips inside them. Of course we're all familiar with the technology, and have probably received a talking or musical card at some point in the last 20 years. I had never looked into the possibility of getting one specially made.

In researching the topic, I learned that the chips that are used in the pre-made cards in shops actually support recording as well as playback, but they don't have a microphone, since that would increase the cost of the card. Now I could have gone and bought such a card, taken it to bits, put a suitable microphone on, and gone ahead with it. But instead, I discovered a place that sells blank greetings cards into which your own audio message (max 10 seconds) can be recorded. And it should have been obvious all along - the Royal National Institute for the Blind. They're a fiver a pop, and they have a built in microphone as well as a speaker, making it easy to record your own message in the card. I sent off for one, it arrived this morning, and I made the card up.

Not surprisingly, having gone to all that effort, the last thing on my mind was then hiding it in a cupboard for the next 9 months, until the birthday comes around again. So, he has seen it, and it did indeed delight him.

The whole exercise has opened me up to the possibilities of really interesting, home-made cards. And it is very easy to re-record and re-use these things, which makes them even more appealing. Hmm ....