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SBC June 26, 2014

Posted by mwidlake in humour, off-topic, rant.
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When I was about 14 or 15 years old I had this idea that I could create a company selling stuff and make a fair amount of money at it, very easily. What prompted these thoughts were advertisements that attempted to persuade you to buy things that were not at all special or unusual or even good, but the ads claimed that they were in fact fantastic and desirable and having them would significantly improve your life. Often the ads were for really quite rubbish things. It was blatantly obvious that, whilst no factual lies were uttered, the promise of the sun always shining, the big smile on your face, the family joy (with mandatory cute dog) and the inner glow that comes from the product were ludicrous. The product was not going to do that, the whole underlying premise of these adverts were ludicrous lies.

In particular, I was struck by breakfast cereal advertisements.

When I was a kid I had most of the main brands and I can tell you, a bland product based on flattened corn, puffed wheat, mashed wheat, wheat in long strands woven into a small hard cushion, abused oats or any other tortured grain was fine to stop you feeling hungry before being booted out the house to walk to school – but it was not actually adding to the joy in my life. They were OK. Actually, without the sugar and the milk they were a bit shitty. And I knew they were cheap.

This summed up many products – not at all exciting, nothing special, in fact a bit crap. But they did the job and they were cheap.

So why not sell them as such? would people not prefer the honesty of a product and advertisement that fundamentally said “buy this because it is shitty but cheap”? I would have, I would have loved the base honesty of the proposition and not having to wonder why grey-brown food that tasted only slightly better than cat litter was not making me smile and the sun shine. (I was fine about not having the dog though.)

So I was going to create a company called SBC Limited that made basic, cheap stuff that you had to have and that it was ludicrous that anyone was telling you it would improve your life. Shitty But Cheap Limited. Breakfast Cereal would be one of the products for sure.

Role forward about 10 years and I created my first company, as most computer contractors in the UK do, back in 1995. Guess what I was going to call it? Yep, SBC Limited. But my wife took a firm stance (and by this I mean she set her feet a good foot and a half apart, the better to give her purchase as she slapped sense into me) and said I could not do this, as I would be incapable of not telling potential clients what SBC limited stood for.

Of course, I now realise that my outlook on things and sense of humor is not universally shared and, sadly, there are a lot of dull people who are swayed by those facile advertisements. My company to sell fundamentally bland but cheap morning foods would probably have failed. That and the Swiss Banking Corporation or SBC Telecomm or, more likely as I reside in the UK, the Scottish Borders Council might have got in touch to object.

But imagine my joy today when I was sent a potential job by SBC Recruitment!

And the icing on the cake was the job was for an APEX developer with HTML 5 proficiency. No mention of those skills on my CV, my CV makes it pretty clear that I am a DBA-type, so a fairly shitty attempt by the agency to fill the needs of the client. So presumably the recruitment company pretty much matches my intention for a company called SBC…

:-)

(* Note to lawyers, SBC Recruitment could be the best agency in the country, this post is humorous. But I really was not at all suitable for the job, very poor targeting).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday Philosophy – The Passing of Nelson Mandela December 6, 2013

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, off-topic, Private Life.
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As this is a blog on the technical aspects of the Oracle RDBMS and management in IT, it is not really the correct place to pass comment on the passing of a political figure, let alone touch on the politics of race and discrimination.

But I don’t care, it’s my blog and I can do what I want.

I’m partly saddened by the death of Nelson Mandela even though I never met him as I think he was one of those rare things – a politician who was actually a good person who was trying to right wrongs. Thus I think humanity has lost a very good human. But he had been suffering from very poor health for a long time and maybe he would have been happy for it to come to an end. I do not know of course.

I do know that tonight’s next glass of wine will be lifted to him, even though I never met him and know less about him than really I probably should. Personally I think I agree with his politics but only in that fairly nebulous “we should all get on and act as a community” left wing type of stuff.

What I am finding interesting is watching the media output on the death of Nelson Mandela, the rounds of significant people queuing up to praise him and the footage I am seeing of people in South Africa who seem to be more celebrating his life than suffering in mourning. I’m a bit cynical about the world leaders and politicians but rather affirmed by the SA nationals saying “Let us celebrate this person”. That agrees with my philosophy on life.

Any time I check the web to see if I am being mentioned (something I do every few months, mostly just due to narcissism but also to see if anyone has mentioned me and I should say thanks) I will come across Brian Widlake, who is a journalist who got to be about the last person to interview Nelson Mandela {and one of if not the first to do so for television} before his incarceration and when Mandela made a comment that maybe peaceful methods of protest were not going to be enough. So I am constantly reminded of Nelson Mandela.

I’m actually named after a similar person, Martin Luther King. It must have been my Father’s doing as my mother, as she creeps up on senility, is showing a level of casual racism that bugs the hell out of me.

Anyway, I started by saying this is not the place to pass comment on politics and I am not really going to as I have no position of authority or knowledge to do so. But I do have a fair knowledge of genetics and biology, what with it being the subject I was trained in at University.

Racism is rather knocked into a cocked hat (from a biological perspective) when you understand genetics. We are all one species with really very, very minor differences between us all and, if you go back just a few thousand grandparents, well we all had the same “grand” mother – and at a similar point maybe one grandfather too but that is harder to track. However, as humans are all so very, very similar genetically/biologically, how come some people are so fundamentally good and some people are fundamentally not and most of us bob around in the middle somewhere? It’s a complex question and though I think I understand some of the factors, I *really* am not going there. I’ll just have another glass of wine and ponder them.

Maybe in my “retirement” I will stop being a moderately successful geek and become a really very poor philosopher.

The Three Tenners- OUGN 2013 April 26, 2013

Posted by mwidlake in Meeting notes, off-topic, Presenting, Private Life.
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Seeing as I did a blog post about looking forward to my second Norwegian Oracle User Group spring meeting, I suppose I should say how it went.

Given the circumstances, it went well and I enjoyed the conference far more than I would have enjoyed being home for those days. Part of the enjoyment was the reformation of the Martin Cluster as mentioned in my last blog. A small part of that was the slightly childish humour I found in those situations when people introduce themselves when they meet at such meetings. I’d be chatting to Mr Nash, Mr Bach and usually one or two others and when a new person came along and asked names, the three of us would take it in turns to say “hi, I’m Martin” – “I’m Martin” – “I’m Martin too”. It was like a poor take on the “I’m Brian” pastiche of the Spartacus movie. Most people smiled.

At the Speakers Meal on the first night Bryn Llewelyn suddenly said something like “Well, let’s take a picture of the Three Martins – it’s almost like the Three Tennors!” It had to be done, I dug out three ten pound notes so we could have a picture of the Three Tenners. If only the idiot on the right had held his the same way around as the other two…

The Martins doing a terrible "Three Tenners" joke

The Martins doing a terrible “Three Tenners” joke


Thanks to Bryn for the picture.

So, why did I say the event went well despite the circumstances? Because I was ill thoughout the event :-(.

I met up with some friends in London on Tuesday night before the conference, as I could not get into London and across to Heathrow in time for my flight in the morning. So I had to stay over. I know, you are all thinking I drank waaaay too many beers and was hung over the next day! I could not argue that I did not have several beers that night but it was more the 4 hours sleep and long walk that I blamed for how I felt. At the end of the evening I went out to Heathrow and I got directed to the wrong Premier Inn there {I was very specific about it being T5, I knew there were two hotels} and it took a while to get to this wrong hotel. Or rather half a mile past it. I new what side of the road the hotel was on (online maps with street view are so helpful) but it did not appear {as I am in the wrong place} and the bus driver who was going to give me the nod did so a stop or two too late. So I walked waaay back – and get told “Other Premier Inn sir”. OK, can you get me there “No, get a bus”. It’s midnight, the last bus was not so helpful. Shuttle bus? “No sir” Taxi? “Get the bus sir”. Sigh, not helpful. Well, that is what you should expect when you use budget hotels I guess. How far is it? “About 2 miles Sir”. I walked. It turned out to be over 3.

So when I met Martin Bach at the airport next day, I blamed the beer, long walks and lack of sleep. But as the day progressed I felt worse and worse and worse. Tuesday night might not have helped but this was more. We got to the venue and after lunch I did my talk on Row Level Security and masking data (which was packed, to my amazement) then checked into the hotel and went to bed. Thus I missed all other sessions. I managed the Speakers Meal (and it was jolly good, thank you OUGN) and then had a good night’s sleep. It did not help. The next day was a blur, half of it I was asleep but I did manage my second presentation, on Disasters oddly enough. Afterwards I went back to my cabin and only got up briefly to see about trying to eat some food, but the rough sea quickly made me decide not to bother. I managed two other sessions other than my own. One was a Martin talking (a very good one on making practical use of virtualisation) and the other was the Keynote by Cary Millsap, who did a talk that was more about life than Oracle. I had missed this talk at the UKOUG conference but had heard about it, so I was keen to see it. It was the highlight of the conference for me. I’ll probably do a Friday Philosophy on it “soon” but the main message was that Cary feels life always changes and it seems best when you are doing something to progress from a bad place to a better one, rather than ‘enjoying’ the better place. It’s a philosophy I have a lot of time for.

The last day was similar except that I seemed to perk up a bit in the afternoon and I finally got to see one or two more sessions. I did my final one, on “an introduction to tuning” and it was awful. I had a lot of material to cover and I knew I could pile though it on a good day, but this was a bad day and I simply could not keep my thread or progress through the material rapidly. *sigh*. At least there were not too many people there to witness the car crash. I’ll be interested to see how poor the ratings on my talks are.

So all in all I should count the event as a bit of a disaster. But I managed to honour my presenting duties and, despite spending half the time laying down in the dark, I had some fantastic conversations with people in the two evenings I managed to be awake. Oh, and thank you to the people who organised for them to play Happy Birthday to me in the Piano Bar at midnight on Friday (45 now), I might have been a bit quiet about it but I did appreciate that. It sums up half of what I like about the OUGN spring conference. I missed the first half, the excellent talks you get from what both years has been a very good speaker line-up, but the other is that everyone is around in the lunchtimes and evenings and you get to chat, find out other stuff, make new friends and just spend time with lots of people who are interested in some of the things you are, ie Oracle.

After the conference I did stay on in Oslo for a few day, my wife had come out to join me for my birthday weekend. We enjoyed the weekend but she kept on saying “you look dreadful” or “are you sure you are up to going out?” and “stop coughing you annoying bloody bas….” :-) I’m still coughing now and feel pretty rough, a week on.

I’ll be sure to try and be there next year. I hope I feel better by then!

Friday Philosophy – Work Inside Life August 24, 2012

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, off-topic, Private Life.
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I know, the usual phrase is “Life Outside Work” but I like to think that, no matter how much we may like our jobs, our overall life is the key thing.

I was prompted to write today’s Friday Philosophy when I was reading Neil Chandler’s blog a few days ago and saw that he had posted about his up-coming {and now in progress} Banger Rally. He and some mates are doing something very cool in their spare time, taking part in a rally from, basically, Calais in France to Naples in Italy, in a “banger”. This is a UK (and wider?) term for an old, tired, worn out car. The most they could spend on the car was £250 and it has to go over some pretty extreme mountain passes. I presume it also has to carry the set of 4 people involved too, so not a lot of weight there then, Neil :-). You can follow their progress at this blog. I was in a pub in Leeds with Neil when he was considering one car for this rally.

I can’t claim that I do anything as striking as Neil’s current jaunt when not working, but I do like to spend some time doing things that are nothing to do with IT at all. For me, this tends to be physical tasks like cutting down trees with my chainsaw. Or building structures in the garden with wood (OK, half-building them – I constructed the below platform and another out into our pond maybe 18 months ago, both still have no balustrade around them and there is a 45cm gap between the bank and the pond platform – NEXT weekend I’ll maybe finish one. Maybe.)


Another garden task recently was building our wood-fired, mud-constructed pizza oven. My wife and I went on a 1-day course to learn how to make a mud-based pizza oven and then spent, ohhhh, about 10 days over 8 weeks building one! We dug a big hole in the garden to get some clean clay (we live in an area that is on top of clay), stole some straw from the horse that lives at the bottom of our garden (long story), bought some sand (because nicking it from beaches is both illegal and bad form) and mixed up our first batch of clay-sand-straw. Add in some old bricks and we got started. It took about 30 lots of mixture, a few alterations to the ratios as we went, but we ended up with this monster.

If you are wondering what the white stuff on the oven is, some ants decided to build their nest in the oven, between the layers I guess (you build the inner oven first and then add several extra mud layers to give insulation and a larger thermal mass, so that the oven stays warm longer).

Like anything, if we did it a second time we would probably make a much better job of it as we learnt so much from the first attempt. One of them was to invite friends with young children over to see us during the build. Kids love the idea of treading the mud mix and you can get a suprising amount of work out of a single ten-year-old (and very insistent I get the age right) German girl if they are allowed to get very muddy.

I found the whole process very relaxing (but very tiring) as you do not need to use too much brain power, slapping the mud mixture on the outside is deeply cathartic and you end up with something useful. Well, slightly useful.


Having built it we then had to learn how to fire it. As an ex-boy-scout I thought this would be easy. Getting the fire going is not too hard, you need to keep it burning well for about an hour to heat up the oven and, one big tip, don’t use any damp wood or wood that “spits” (like willow). Having a burning log explode and shower your almost-ready pizza with charcoal embers can lead to angry garden scenes and considerable bad language.

We can just about get a 9″ pizza in there. The pizza in this shot is actually about 6″. The oven was designed to take a 12″ pizza but, errm, I forgot to allow enough space to one side to push the fire into as well.

Another major thing to keep in mind? That arch! You can’t put anything in the oven that is larger than that hole. More importantly, you can’t get anything out that won’t easily come back through that hole. Sticking your arm inside to jiggle things about is also tricky as it gets up to around 300C! {for US readers – about a millon F}

As you can see, the results are anything but professional! And, compared to nipping down to the shops to buy a pizza and just slamming it into the kitchen oven, it takes a lot, lot longer. But you can drink beer or enjoy a bottle of win and sit in the garden whilst getting the mud oven fired and hot. Last weekend we had friends over and the ladies made the pizzas, I cooked them and the other gentlemen helped us work through the beer collection and ate. As for taste? Fantastic.

My wife is far more artistic than I and she makes decorative cakes, sews and now even makes hats when not auditing IT systems (Have you ever been involved in an IT audit and the person knows how to make lists and check them – but can’t plug in a PC? Well, Sue was once a DBA and also a Unix Sys Admin, so when she audits you, she finds what you are hiding!). As such, maybe as an industry we should encourage her hat-making

So what, if anything is the point of this Friday Philosophy, other than to show off my pizza oven and my wife’s hats?

Well, I see this outside work activity as important in the workplace as well, especially if you are having to manage people. Firstly, it is important, I feel, for us all to do something we really enjoy to relax and re-energize (and this can be “computers” for IT people, but as I get older I notice more of my friends who were utterly technology-focused in their 20′s are now moving more towards non-IT hobbies).

Secondly, what people do in their spare time can tell you a lot about the person and what keeps them happy. If they have hobbies that are artistic and their IT job is very regimented, it could indicate they would be happier with some more less rigid task in the mix, say some design work. If they have NO outside hobbies, you are probably working the poor dears a little too hard!

Thirdly, and I have seen this for real, you may have a person or a team that is not performing well in the office – but it turns out a lot of them do interesting and challenging things at home. Someone who can motivate themselves to be a part-time fireman or has the dedication to train each day for a sport has skills and energy. Why, as their manager, am I not seeing much of these traits in the office? Because they are not happy and/or motivated. So I have an issue to sort out. I don’t manage people at present, but I still find it interesting what people do and achieve outside the office as it can indicate that they have talents and skills not being seen in the workplace.

I wonder how I can introduce my chain-saw skills into performance tuning?

Friday Philosophy – New Game: Phone Zombies! (You Too can Play) August 17, 2012

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, humour, off-topic, Perceptions.
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I’m spending a lot more time in Central London at the moment due to current work commitments. A few weeks ago I was having a quiet stroll through the streets and had what I can only describe as an odd moment:

I looked around and found I was being converged upon by 5 or 6 people walking slowly and aimlessly towards me – all from different angles, all only vaguely aware of their surroundings, all looking like they were making straight for me. I instantly thought of one of the scenes from “Shaun of the Dead” {A cracking film, go hire it tonight}.

They were all on their smart phones of course, intent on the little glowing screens of whatever it was they could not drag their eyes from – despite them also trying to navigate a busy city landscape. As some of you know, I have a bit of a “hate-mild dislike-grudging acceptance” relationships with Smart Phones.

I was so struck by this scene that I nearly did not move in time, but finally I did step to one side as I watched them do this quite wonderful, little, shuffling-dance around each other. I think only one of them actually looked up properly, the others all did that micro-glance; frown; direction shift; re-engage-with-screen procedure that is becoming so common. As a species we must be somehow pre-designed to cope with this as none of them actually bumped into each other – but it took several micro-glance manoeuvres for some of them to make it through.

This has resulted in a new game I can’t stop playing as I make my way through London:

Phone Zombies - How many people can I see at any time who are effectively lobotomised by their personal electronic device?

I have a few rules:

  • I has to be an electronic device – phones, smart phones, crackberries, tablets, electronic books etc.
  • Real books and papers do not count.
  • They must be upright (so no sitting).
  • If they are moving they count.
  • If they are stopped in the middle of the path they count.
  • If they have put themselves in a doorway or some other sensible place they do not count.
  • Unless, even though they have done that, they are still e.g. blocking ingress and egress from the doorway.
  • A bonus point if they micro-glance manoeuvre.
  • 5 bonus points if contact is made with another person in the time I am watching.
  • 10 bonus points for contact with something inanimate {only once to date}.
  • 20 points if they go “uuurrrgggghhh” and have blood on them. {no one has got 20 bonus points yet, but I live in hope}

I think my best so far is about 14, but that is because two phone-zombies both walked into each other. Classic.

Off Topic Rant – Olympics Athletics Annoyance August 3, 2012

Posted by mwidlake in humour, off-topic, rant.
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I’m very much enjoying the current Olympics, the achievements and drama by so many competitors from all over the world in different events,  and the coverage provided by the BBC  - when they can keep narrative and vision together and they are not asking tired competitors who have just done their all daft questions like “how do you feel now” {I’d love some of them to reply “Knackered, just sod off OK!”}

However, a concern I have had for weeks seems to be panning out. For athletics I think we will see running. And more running. With running thrown in. Running, running, running. with a light scattering of everything else if there is UK interest. What vexes me is that most of this “running” is not even actual running!

I do not know what it is like in other countries but when an Athletics event is covered in the UK the broadcasters seem to regard anything that is not running as, well, Mhhh! There is a lot more going on, guys, and I would like to see a lot more of the throwing, chucking, jumping, swinging, vaulting and basically things other than running.  Don’t get me wrong, the races are thrilling and I am eager to watch them. But instead of showing the runners come out, showing you each one, watching them prepare, wait as they settle down, showing the race – then showing it you again. And agin in slow motion… Slow motion from the side. Slow motion from above. Last 30 meters in slow motion from the front… The start in slow motion… the whole race focused on the UK person… The competitors wandering about after…asking the person who came 6th if they enjoyed it and would they like to have done better….

All this for a heat! We get this for each heat for short races and meantime lots of other stuff is going on that is just as interesting as the actual race and way, way more interesting than the fluff around the race.

How about, cut 75 percent of that fluff and show us a good few minutes of the hammer? The long jump, the triple jump, the javelin, the pole vault. Not just the 2 or 3 favourites {and when no runners can be found by the camera), but you know, some of the other competitors and people achieving personal best or falling over.

I desperately hoped that with 20 plus channels they could use two on athletics. One on running and all the fluff around it and one on Everything Else that cuts to the running for the, you know, actual running bit along.. But it seems not, at least not yet. *sigh*.  I often wonder why the UK broadcasters call it athletics and not just Running.

I’m actually lucky enough to be going to the stadium this evening. I plan to really enjoy watch things as well as running.

Oh, can I tie this up to the world of Oracle? How about, Oracle tuning is like broadcasting Athletics. If you only concentrate on SQL tuning you are missing 75% of what you could achieve. So running is like SQL tuning. Sort of.

Broken Technology – Watching Smurfs Play Tennis July 7, 2012

Posted by mwidlake in humour, off-topic.
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This post is just a bit of fun. I was just doing some email and I decided to see how the tennis (Wimbledon) was going. I fired up the BBC web site and clicked on the live match – and I’m watching Smurfs play tennis! (NB I added the Federer/Murray picture after I originally put this post up)

 

I don’t know if the problem is with the BBC feed or my reception of it, but it’s kept me amused for half an hour now. Maybe James Cameron could have save a lot of money and filmed Avatar a lot more cheaply than he did (now there was a thoroughly average film made significant almost purely by the technology used for the effects).

Agnieszka Radwańska looks particularly blue, I guess due to the contrast with the “yellow” outfit (which will have been white due to Wimbledon’s strict dress code).

Crowd scenes are particularly good :-)

Oh well, the game has finished. Back to the Email…

Friday Philosophy – The Inappropriate Use of Smart Phones February 24, 2012

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, off-topic, Private Life, rant.
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I’m kind of expecting to get a bit of a comment-kicking over this one…

I never much liked mobile phones – Yes they are incredibly useful, yes they allow countries that lack a ground-based telephony network to create a nationwide system, yes they allow communication all the time from almost anywhere. That last point is partly why I dislike them. {Actually, I don’t like normal phones much, or how some people {like my wife} will interrupt a conversation to dash across the room to answer it. It’s just a person on the phone, it will take a message if someone wants to say something significant. If someone calls your name out in a crowd, do you abandon the people you are talking to, dash across the room and listen to them exclusively? No, so what act that way over a phone?}.

However, I hold a special level of cynical dislike for “smart” phones. Why? Because people seem to be slaves to them and they seem to use them in a very antisocial way in social and even business situations. It is no longer just speaking or texting that people do, it’s checking and sending email, it’s twittering and blogging, it’s surfing the net and looking things up. I have no problem with any of this, I do all of these things on my desktop, laptop, netbook. But I don’t do them to the detriment of people who are there in the flesh – whilst supposedly in a conversation with mates at the pub or carrying out a transaction in a shop or using the coffee machine at work or, basically, standing in the bloody way staring at a little screen or rudely ignoring people who I am supposed to be interacting with.

The below is my phone. It makes calls, it sends texts, it might even be able to work as an alarm clock (I am not sure). It does not do anything else much and it was ten quid {actually the below might be the version up from the really cheap thing I have}:

I was pondering this rude (ab)use of Smart Phones in a meeting this week. It was a meeting to discuss a program of work, what needed doing and by whom. It was a meeting where everyone in the room was involved, each person’s opinion was important and we all had a vested interest in the outcome of the meeting. So why did over half of the people not only have their Smart Phone out but were tapping away, scrolling through stuff, looking at some asinine rubbish on Facebook {yes, I saw you}? One or two people in the room might have been able to argue that they needed to keep an eye out for important emails or calls – but really? Are things so incredibly important and only you can deal with them that you can’t just play your full part in a meeting for an hour? I was so annoyed by this that I missed half the meeting internally moaning about it…

I just see it as rude. It’s saying “while you people are talking, I can’t be bothered listening and I certainly don’t need to give you my full attention. And I don’t even care that I’m making it so obvious”. Or “I am buying this item from you and we need to deal with the transaction but you are so inconsequential I don’t even have to pause this conversation about which cafe to meet in next week. You do not deserve more than 15% of my attention”.

I supposed that is what really gets my blood slowly heating up, it’s that it has become accepted to be so rude. Just walk down the street, head down and eyes fixed on your glowing little screen, making no attempt to navigate with your fellow city dwellers. I made a decision 2 {correction, 3} years ago that, if you are walking along staring at your phone and you are going to collide with me, you ARE going to collide with me if you do not become aware of me and make allowances – and I am lower down than you, I braced my shoulder and I am going to win this one. If they are so fixated on that bl00dy screen that they do not heed any attention to others, people ping off me like they’ve been thumped by a tree stump. It now happens a lot and I always “win”. I’m surprised no one has punched me yet.

If I was a manager again I would introduce a simply rule. No Smart Phone in your hand unless you have a stated reason for doing so. There are many valid reasons, which will all be related to the meeting. Otherwise you are just being disrespectful. If you feel the meeting does not apply to you or this section is not relevant, fine. Sit still and listen anyway. You might actually find it useful to know what everyone else is doing. Stop playing bl00dy mental chickens or whatever or updating your status to “bored”.

I will hold strongly to these opinions. Right up until the minute I finally buy that iphone I’ve been considering getting. I really want to be able to check my twitter account during meetings, you see.

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