Friday, 11 June 2010

False economies. Software development and pcs. Should you demand the best machine?

I've always wondered as a software developer whether a highered powered machine would be a good investment for the company I work for. Many purchasing decisions are made by accountants and sometimes managers with no input from the people who actually use the machines. They believe that a £400-£600 machine is fit for a developer and that it should be replaced every 5 years. Yet they're happy to pay a developer £35k  I think this is a false economy. Every day I'm at work I can only do as much as my machine allows me to do. It's the same as a farmer using a 10 year old tractor and combine harvester or a new one. You'd expect the new ones to cost a little more (given inflation) but also do a lot more work in the same time. 

I just thought I'd put a short analysis together and see if I can make the argument that it's actually more efficient to give a software developer a better machine because the return on investment will be huge.

I mentioned a salary of £35k. What does that mean per day? Google says there are 252 working days per year. £35000/252 = £139/day. so in a working week my employer will pay me £695(£139x5). I know these figures aren't exact but they're close enough and make the point. The most important tool I have as a developer is my computer. It's the equivalent of a chefs knife, an accountants balance sheet and a printers press. You don't give a chef a shabby knife do you. so why do I get a less than adequate machine. And why do I have to keep this low spec machine for another 5 years. 

Another thing I've noticed is that companies are happy to pay for photoshop licenses (£800 or so), they don't ask graphic designers to use gimp (a free open source product that's excellent but not quite so polished), they'll pay for xml spy for xml developers, for ms office for all, and shell out for ms project. All these products have annual license fees which they don't quibble about paying. I could get a much better machine just by reducing my reliance on these products. That's what I've done but no one has thanked me for it and allowed me to spend the difference on a better machine as a thankyou.

Yet no one considers the value that each item of software delivers is related to the power of the machine it runs on. Developers are the same as graphic artists. Many tasks are intensive. Even searching the code base takes a minute or so and I do that regularly. We get a machine that costs £400 and use it for 5 years. That seems to be the policy of many companies, £80/per year/machine. It makes no sense to me when we pay far more for just one item of software. 

Being a developer means my machine is my most important tool. It's the one thing I use for 7.5 hours a day. So I don't see why it's the tool we spend the least on. Particlulary when I makes specific choices to save money  in license fees for the company I work for. I don't use ms office or outlook, and I use many free but highly rated products.  

I'll stop there but now I've had a little rant I also don't feel like I'm being silly or selfish. The same policy applied where I used to work. It was no coincidence that I delivered sooner and to a higher quality after I fought for a better machine. I'm a software developer. My work is very different to the rest of the company. Therefore I require tools fit for my needs not theirs.

This isn't me just venting and wondering if I am making any points I could potentially take further. After this rant I see that I do have specific needs. I'm just asking for them to be recognised. 

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Presenting the Guardian University league table

As an example of how easy I'm now finding it to present online data I thought I'd use the Guardian University league table.

I was inspired by the article 'Liberating data from the Guardian... Has it really come to this?' to present the data in the guardian article University guide 2011: University league table as a series of charts to make the data easier to interpret.

I learnt that google docs spreadsheets can import data from web pages and other items into formats that charting tools can understand. Previously I was entering data by hand. Now I know I've got a bunch of import tools to help me.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Brief exercise reduces the impact of stress

I just came across a fascinating article suggesting that Brief exercise reduces the impact of stress. It's a potentially profound finding. I hope in time. It proves correct. it's great to read about how far our testing practices have come aswell to be able to make these links.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Social city in perspective

Ok, I know it's a bit sad but I like playing Social city. It's free and simple and it's web based so I can play from any where. So I wanted to know the contracts with the best profit per hour, the residential buildings with the best population for coins spent. That kind of stuff. Heck I might aswell be effiicient so I can afford more stuff.

So I found that this had all been done for me. In Which Social City contract should I accept? Chao Lam answers these questions and a lot more. He created a public online spreadsheet and put all this information there. So all I have to do is check it out to figure out what is the best to buy.

Anyway, being lazy and a web programmer, I thought I could build on this work and make it even easier to figure out what to do. So I've hooked the spreadsheet up to a graphing tool to turn the numbers into images and make these decisions no brainers.

So what contract should you choose. Check out the figure below. It doesn't include the actual time the contract runs. The format the time was entered isn't understood by the chart. But you can figure out all you need.

So what residential buildings to buy? I only care about those I can buy with coins. So I've excluded those bought with Social City bucks. It's pretty clear that I should now be buying italian villas when I can. Nothing else even comes close in terms of bringing people to my city.

Leisure is interesting because you need it to allow more people into your city but it can also get you profit. So firstly lets see which buildings give you the most smiles (inhabitants) per coin spent.

Yep, you can collect profit from buildings so they can earn you money. Sometimes they are almost as good as contracts with the added bonus that their profit doesn't expire. Most earn you cash per day or every 20 hours but a couple give a return every hour. The royal casino, as shown in the graph below, is by far the highest earner you can have.

Terrain is just about increasing the number of inhabitants (smiles) your city can sustain. I've ignored the inhabitants/cost ratio because by using the graphs above you can ensure you have plenty of cash coming in. Then you just want to maximise the inhabitants per square of space in your city. so the graph below makes this really easy for you.

Elements of the human body by mass

It's fascinating to visualise just what we're actually made of. Below is a pie chart showing the percentage of total body mass for each element. Seeing this, for me, puts into perspective what we eat and drink. It makes me realise just how much I should drink compared to what I should eat.

Just an excuse to try the graphing tool I made.