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Friday Philosophy – Is Dave Productive? November 7, 2014

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, humour, Management.
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4 comments

How do I know if Dave is doing his job properly? If I am his (or her*) manager, what techniques can I use to ensure I am getting my pound of flesh out of this worker drone in return for the exorbitant salary my company puts into said drone’s bank account each month?

Well, as a start there is my last Friday Philosophy all about deduction of work profile via auditory analysis of input devices (ie how fast is Dave typing) :-) I have to say, the response to that topic has been very good, I’ve had a few chats with people about it and got some interesting comments on the blog article itself. My blog hits went Ping :-)

However, I have a confession to make. I have a “history” in respect of keyboards and management of staff. Maybe one of my old colleagues will comment to confirm this, but I used to regularly walk into an office full of “my people” and bark “Type faster you B*****ds! I don’t care what it is you are doing, I just want to see those fingers flying over the keyboard!”. They all knew to ignore me, this was just one example of my pathetic sense of humour. In some ways, I was never a very good manager as I was just a bit too juvenile, irreverent and non-managerial.

I was being ironic and they knew it. I had no time for many of the Management Easy Options you so often come across in organisations that are used to apparently help ensure the staff are working hard. What do I mean by Management Easy Options? I’ll cover a few.

 

You have to be at your desk for at least 8 hours.

At Your Desk. Because if you are at your desk you are working of course. And if you are not at your desk, you are not working. Hours at the desk apparently equate to productivity. So a Management Easy Option is to insist all your staff are seen to be in the office and at their desk for as long as, and preferably longer, than the average time across all staff. And that is partly why in dysfunctional companies staff are in the office so long. As if lots of managers want to demonstrate that they are “good managers” by having their staff “productive” at their desks, their staff will be there longer than average…which pushes up the average…so they keep the staff there longer… *sigh*

I could spend a few pages on the academic and psychological studies that disprove the above nonsense about 8 hours of productive work – but we all know it is nonsense anyway. We talk about it at lunch or in the pub. If you are stuck at your desk longer than you can concentrate, you do other stuff that is hard to distinguish from work. Or you do poor work. WE ALL KNOW THIS so why does this myth about hours-at-desk continue? What happens to some manager’s brains such that they start managing and soon stop knowing this?!?

As a self employed worker in the London IT market, I often get given a contract to sign that specifies I must do a professional working day:- that “consists of 8 hours minimum each day”. For the last 5 or 6 years I have always crossed out that clause or altered it to say “8 hours maximum” or replaced it with what I feel should be the real clause, which is:

A professional working day, which is to, on average across a week,  match or exceed the requirements of my manager for a day’s productivity.

If I am being asked to work a Professional Working Day then to me that means I have to achieve a day’s worth of benefit to the company for each day paid to me. If that takes me 8 hours or 6 or 9 or whatever is immaterial. As a Professional I will on average, each day, keep my manager happy that I am worth employing. If that involves 6 hours of extra work one day between 8pm and 2am, fine. But do not expect 8 hours the next day. If my manager is not happy, then you ask me to go and I will go. It really is as simple as that.

{honesty forces me to admit that at present, for the first time in years, I have that 40 hour clause in place. Because I am doing a role for a friend, and I did not want to cause a fuss by objecting to the clause. But if management ever refer to the clause, my friend knows I will simply thank management for their time to date – and I’ll be going now}.

I drifted into my own world there, but the point I really wanted to make is that hours spent at the desk in no way indicate if the job is being done. We all know that, all the managers know that (well, they will if they are any good). Some people can be at their desk 10 hours a day and, frankly, it would help the company if they were not! Other people are at their desk but spend a huge slice of the time on the web or Instant Messaging or *cough* writing blogs.

 

You have to be in the office.

If you are at home, you will be goofing off.
So what does the above say about the manager if that is their opinion? If you are at home, you would goof off, so therefore your staff will? Of course working from home has other considerations, such as it is only possible if your role allows you to spend some days not physically doing things in the office (pressing reset buttons on boxes? Making tea for the team?) and you are in the office enough to maintain and make proper bridges with your colleagues. I also think working from home is a privilege to earn and not a right, as some people really are incapable of working from home. I had a role a while back where when one chap was “working from home” he was actually doing all sorts of things – but his smartphone was set up to fake an online presence. He was incapable of working from home.

But in IT there really is not a need for many of us to spend all that time and unpleasantness commuting and some tasks really are done more efficiently if people can’t keep coming up to your desk and demanding their personal priorities really are your priorities too (which usually equates to they are in it up to their necks and you can dig them out).

 

Enforce a Clean Desk policy.

Now, there are things that should not ever be left on your desk. Financial information, personal information (like people’s CVs or annual reviews), management information (salary reviews, plans to axe 22% of the workforce, stuff like that) but I have no time at all for the argument that a clean desk looks more professional. It does not look more professional, that is just weaselly, lying balls. It looks more like someone has implemented a draconian clean desk policy and any sign of the desk occupants being human is of no consideration.

If you walk into an office with 300 utterly clean desks, it looks like a soul-less, bitter and degrading place to work slave.

You walk into an office and you see pictures of offspring & partners, little toys (not my thing but some people like to have the gonk their boy/girlfriend gave them) and that’s just fine.

Yeah, if Malcolm has a pile of 237 Diet Coke cans in a pyramid on his desk that is not so hot, but as a manager it is your job to go tell Malcolm to recycle those damn cans. And for those of us who work in Clean Desk environments, we all know we spend a few minutes each morning pulling stuff out of our pedestals and a few minutes each evening chucking it all back in there. Great use of time, oh management clean desk police. So the Management Easy Option is to make everyone remove all signs of humanity and *also* waste time moving all useful things off your desk each evening and drag them out each morning, rather than occasionally check what people leave on their desk and, when Cherry has left details of the latest dodgy plan to hide details from the FDA on her desk, give her a seriously hard talking to.

In one job I did not have desk pedestal, I had a locker – “Over There” at the other side of the office where my first allotted desk was. It took two or three trips each morning and end of the day to sort out my stuff and keep my desk “clean”. At least I docked it off the 8 hour day…

 

So having moaned about a few of these Easy Management Options that, in my opinion, are detrimental – how do you ensure Dave is Productive? Now, this is a complex and challenging idea and I am not sure some managers will understand it. But, the way you can tell if Dave is productive is that…

He Does His Job.

He completes the tasks assigned to him in the time frame that is reasonable or informs you of the reasons why the tasks are taking longer. If Dave’s role includes scooping up issues and solving them autonomously, you know Dave is doing his job as the end users are not screaming at you. In fact, if as a manger you are barely aware of Dave existing, either he is doing his job exceedingly well or you employed him to do a non-existent job (so more fool you). The bottom line is that, as Dave’s manager, your job is to to aid Dave do his job, overcome obstacle and track that his tasks are done.. ie be a proper manager, not rule by Easy Management Options.

Bottom line, to get back to my first paragraph or two, it matters not one jot how fast Dave types. If (s)he is in the office for the meetings and any core hours needed, fine. So long as a member of staff is not doing things that negatively impact their ability to do their job or those around them to do theirs, there are few blanket rules that help. All those Easy Management Options simply exist to cover the backsides of poor managers and satisfy the desire for control that comes from HR and upper management. Neither of which *Ever* abide by the rules they lay down on others.

Break free! Type slowly! Put a picture of Debbie Harry on your desk. Work from home and Go Crazy spending an hour in the afternoon combing the dog. Just make sure you do your job. In my book, that makes you worth your pay. Is it really so hard to manage people in that way?!?

(*) I have yet to meet a lady called Dave, but Dave is simply my generic name for someone working in IT. No real Dave is implied. But both sexes are.

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 – Network to Work or Work to Network? December 20, 2013

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, Private Life.
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11 comments

A couple of months ago my friend Big Dave Roberts blogged about the benefits of networking – as in social/business networking as opposed to using hairy string to connect bits of IT kit together – after we had met for a drink in Birmingham.

His point was that, though he had made a positive effort to network more to help his career (along with several other steps) networking had not in fact, as far as he could tell, helped his career. But he still did it because of the other benefits – meeting diverse people with different experiences and ideas and enjoying it.

By the way, I really do dislike the use of the word “Networking” in the social/business context as it smacks of PR/Sales type people just developing more contacts in order to make more money out of them, somewhat akin to milking cows. IE, in a totally self-centered manner where they really don’t give a hoot about the people they are fawning to. This is what business networking is anyway, isn’t it? I mean, do people really play golf for enjoyment?!? Or just to schmooze and get the contract or a promotion? :-) {Apologies to Carol and Rob, I know you really do enjoy golf. Oh and Neil. I think I just lost some friends…}.

I also made a decision way back in about 2002 to meet more people and build better links in the community. I was having to design some very large databases and there was not a lot of information out there about doing so as most people building VLDBS would not or could not talk about them officially. Then when I went self-employed again in 2007 I once more made a conscious effort to promote myself and network more, in order to help me get more work (in exactly the way I don’t like PR/Sales people doing it!).

I can’t say it helped me much either time. For one thing, despite the presenting and blogging and London Oracle Beers, I’m rather poor in the social skills area. I can come across as a bit of an idiot to my friends, who only let me off as they are friends. I actually find it a little hard to keep a conversation going with someone I do not already know, I can end up either being silent or I just come out with a random and never-ending stream of rubbish. For another, I just can’t fake sincerity. I could never be an actor. If I am not enjoying talking to someone I think it is obvious to them and I fall flat on my face. I can’t make myself laugh at someone’s anecdotes if, to me, they just are not entertaining. And I certainly can’t pretend to like someone who just isn’t someone I get on with. I can manage to be civil to them and work with them but I just can’t make myself spend any social time with them if I don’t have to. I’ll just invent dead Grandmother’s funerals to escape – see, I can’t even come up with convincing reasons to avoid networking with people who I don’t mesh with.

So I stopped networking. I just couldn’t do it.

I am now in the situation where I am aiming to only do only consultancy work and recruitment consultants are useless at getting you short-term consultancy work. Well, most of them are just useless at being human beings, but not many companies go to them to fill short-term needs and the agencies would make less money than they would spend filling the position. So if this is going to pan out for me, I need to get my work from my contacts, my network. Hell, I surely need to start Networking like some sort of crazed PR madman!

Well, I am not. I know it is just not in my nature and I am poor at it.

Something odd struck me about 4 years ago. I realised that half my work was coming about via friends. And when I was getting work via agencies, it seemed that either a friend had mentioned my name to the agent or the person interviewing me knew a friend of mine. Not someone I had networked with, but a proper friend, someone I would go out of my way to share a beer with or a coffee.

What I am going to do is what Big Dave and I have both ended up doing. I am just going to socialise more, for the primary reason of just wanting to socialise. A big part of the presenting and going to conferences is, for me, simply about meeting friends and having some fun. The London Beers is totally about that. I’ve discovered that despite me having no memory for names, an ability to insult people without trying and at times a total lack of comprehension of what is going on in other peoples’ heads, I actually enjoy meeting people. Well, most people. And Dave? I think having more friends does indeed lead to more work, but it takes a long time to pay dividends. Longer than most people (well, I) can fake it for via Networking, and the other benefits are more significant and immediate than the financial ones.

In fact, when my wife and I were talking about my “retiring” and she was asking me what I wanted to do over the next few years, one of them was to keep going to conferences and presenting. But that costs money. “So how are you going to pay for that Martin?” she asked – ” I’m not going back to work to pay for you to swan off to conferences and drink and discuss bloody block buffer latch chains and enjoy yourself!”. Well, I am still going to try and do this mythical consultancy work. Our agreement is that I can go to conferences if I earn enough to pay for it.

So, I am not networking to work. I am working to network.

And in fact the title of this blog is a lie. I am working to socialise. In my experience, for me, Networking fails. I hate Networking. I can’t Network. I can just about manage having some friends. Like Big Dave, Networking has not really got me any work, but being more sociable has allowed me to meet some very nice and/or interesting people and has led to *some* work.

So get out there and socialise more, it’s great. Just don’t Network and don’t play bloody golf.

Time for Bed, said Zebedee November 15, 2013

Posted by mwidlake in Private Life, Uncategorized.
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6 comments

Zebedee has just boinged onto my TV screen on his big-spring lower body and told us all that it is “time for bed”. I concur Zebedee. Good night everyone!

zebedee

For those of you who are not of UK origin and of “a certain age”, Zebedee was a character on the BBC Children’s TV Program The Magic Roundabout. At the end of the program (5 minutes of oddly surreal kids entertainment) more often than not Zebedee would arrive (if not already present as part of the narrative arc) and announce “Time for Bed” and that would be the end of the program. I won’t go into the rest of the details but for those of us who grew up with it, Dougal, Florence, Brian, Zebedee and Ermintrude the cow were large in our childhood. Dylan though was odd… {for anyone wanting a nostalgia trip, try this episode}

Well, for me it is “Time for Bed” children. I started working in IT almost exactly 24 years ago on the 13th November 1989, arriving wearing my new (cheap) suit with (shiny) briefcase clutched in my hand at a (tatty) office block in Bristol owned by the NHS. It housed their regional computer department for the South West of England.
And on the 15th November 2013, I will exit a much plusher office, no suit on, no briefcase, and I will go home and, for many complex reasons, I will “retire”. This does not mean I will stop working in IT and it *may* result in me being a more regular blogger and more of a teacher than I have been for 2 years, but let’s just see, Boys and Girls.

What it does mean is I am stopping doing the 2 hour commute into and out of London every day, wasting my life. It means I am not signing up for 6 months on a single project on the basis of a couple of 30 minute interviews. I am also not signing up for 4 weeks and then finding it becomes six months – as when that happens it is *always* 6 months of misery trying to undo the work of a dedicated hoard of hopeful but under-skilled youngsters being forced to do a job they lack the training for by people who should not be allowed anywhere near management positions (as they see “management” as a way to gauge their importance, polish their egos and garner more cash – rather than as a role that should encompass “nurturing, developing, admonishing and making the most of your team(s)”.). It means I won’t have to play by corporate rules any more, which is good as I am finding it harder and harder and harder to do that without coming home and being really quite mean to my cat, and she does not deserve that as she is friendly and quite forgiving really. Neither does my wife deserve it, but if I am mean to her, she punches me.

What I do hope will happen is that, after a couple of months to get a few things sorted, I will continue to get the odd call I seem to get about once a month where someone would like me to just help out with a specific problem. Occasionally I have been able to say “yes” and it has been interesting and enjoyable, but usually I have been in the middle of one of the situations that resulted in my rant above and have had to say no. If I do get the calls, it will be great. I would like to earn enough so I can still do the conferences and present and meet people and talk about interesting problems and drink beer. If not, I have a lot of other things I want to have a crack at.

So I am not sure what awaits me now. But I am “retired”. I have calculated that from now to my demise I can afford to buy a tin of beans every day until I die. Plus some bread, so beans on toast is possible. That is enough. I did not retire 9 months ago (as was my original plan) so, as a result, now I can afford once a week to buy a very cheap bottle of wine. Something better than Blue Nun. If I get more work, I could step up to beans and cheese on toast. Hmmmm!

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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8 comments

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.

You Will Be Our Slave – Err, no, I Won’t May 27, 2012

Posted by mwidlake in contracting, Friday Philosophy, rant.
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10 comments

For the sake of current clients, this posting has been time-shifted.

I’m looking at the paperwork for a possible new job in front of me. Document seven out of 13 is the Working Time Directive Waiver. It’s the one where you sign on then dotted line saying your proposed new client can demand more than 48 hours of work a week out of you. {This may be UK or European Union specific but, frankly, I don’t care}.

I’m not signing it. For one thing, I doubt the legality of the document under EU law – especially in light of the issues the UK government had with this and junior doctors {who often, and still do, end up making life-deciding decisions on patients when they are too tired to play Noughts and Crosses, having worked 80 hours that week}. For another, well, I don’t give a damn. I ain’t signing it.

Now, I’ve just completed about 60 hours this week for my client. Not a problem at all, something needed doing, I could do it and so I have. I have done, am doing and will continue to do long weeks for clients when there is a business need and it fits in with the rest of my life and it is not a chronic situation {chronic is a medical term that means “long lasting and on-going”}.

If I am doing 60 hours plus every week, that means I am trying to do 2 people’s job at the same time and doing both of them badly. I don’t care how great I am at doing what I do, if it is 60 hours each and every week, I’m doing it badly because I am too stressed and tired to be doing it well. Also, where is the rest of my life? I have no “rest of my life”.

If my client is asking me to do 60 hours this week and I say “no” and they sack me under the Working Time Directive waiver – that means it is not a request, it is an enforcible demand. I am their slave. Nope. Not happening. It is best all round if it is acknowledged up front before I arrive on site that the client may ask and I may well say yes – but I can say no.

I know, some of you will be reading this and saying “but I need my job and if that is what it takes, I do it”. Well, I’ve worked for 20+ years and I’ve realised that (a) there are organisations that don’t abuse you and (b) you actually get little real payback for those ridiculous hours. But it can ruin your non-work life, even your family life. I don’t need any individual job and I am bloody well not playing those games any more. Employment in a modern, democratic society is supposed to be a mutual agreement and, if is it not, I ain’t playing. That is my small win for all those years of grind and I’m insisting on it.

I know, some of you will say “look, it never comes to anything, just sign it and ignore it like the rest of us”. No. If you are right, it is a corporate lie and is not required. And, to my detriment, I know you are wrong and sometimes there is an attempt to enforce it. If you cannot get me to do the 60 hours by asking and explaining, either you do not have a valid reason {and history proves I am an utter push-over to a half-reasonable request} or there is a reason very important to me why I can’t comply. If you try and insist, you really are treating me like a slave. That empty space? That’s me having gone for a looong walk.

I am not signing a document saying “you can demand I work over 48 hours any and all weeks you like”. Your are not signing a form saying “I can demand any time off I like week in and week out”. All contracts have a clause saying “this is not working between us, we will curtail the agreement”. We will use that if need be, not a bullying document that says I am your slave.

I am not signing.

Rant – Unique means UNIQUE! Argh! April 22, 2012

Posted by mwidlake in rant.
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21 comments

I’m not a die-hard “Queen’s English”, “thou shalt not split infinitives” type but I am sick of people miss-using the word Unique.

The word unique means being one of a kind, the only example, the singular occurrence, the absolute only one. One. Singular. Get it? Still don’t get it? Well it means….unique! As a word that has only one unequivocal meaning, “unique” pretty much bloody well is it, by it’s absolute definition. It’s a yes/no situation. If you are unique in some respect, it means you are the only one example.

Now we lot in the database world should be bang on certain about this, what with Unique Keys and the like, and you would expect that other group of pedantic types – scientist – would be sticklers for the word as well. But no, last week I had someone who I thought was a good, solid IT person ask me “how unique” a situation was, I’ve just seen a scientist on TV describe a rock formation as “quite unique”. You can’t BE “quite unique”. You can be unusual, you can be quite rare, you can be uncommon. They all mean one of a few or a bit more blagh than usual. Unique means…The One. I can’t even think of another word that means “unique” in the way that word means. “One” and “Only” and “Singular” are close, but they all indicate something is unique. You cannot have a situation that is “quite ‘the only one'”. It is the only one or it is not the only one. Tick or cross. If you claimed a situation was unique only for someone to point out that it had happened before they would say “aha! So, it is not unique”.

It would be less of a linguistic stupidity to ask “how dead is the parrot – a bit dead or a lot dead or quite dead”. The parrot is in a binary state, dead or not. {As a biologist you can actually argue about this, but most of us accept the yes/no state of dead}. It is NOT “quite dead”.

Is Usain Bolt’s 100 meters fastest time Unique? Yes. He’s the fastest, not one of the fastest, not “fairly world record holding”.

Would it make sense to say “I have the fairly only stamp of it’s kind in my possession”? No. If someone said “this set of events have approximately never happened before” you would think “huh?” and ask for clarification – maybe ask “do you mean it’s a unique set of circumstances?” and would expect a yes or no answer. Only no, I would half expect “fairly unique”. Arrrgghh!!!

Friday Philosophy – The Abuse of Favours March 30, 2012

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, humour, Perceptions, rant.
Tags: , , ,
8 comments

You probably all recognise this situation:

Dave needs something doing that he can’t do himself – let’s say it is creating an API for the file management package. It isn’t your job to do but it is something you can do. Dave is blocked until the API is created.

So, being a nice person, you tell Dave you will see what you can do for him over the next couple of days.

So why is it that what Dave hears is “Dave, I love you more than life itself, I am dedicated to this task and I WILL complete it before the end of tomorrow. My other tasks, emergency production issues and the untimely demise of my cat are all secondary to this endeavour.”.

You see, 24 hours later, Dave is at your desk “When will this be done?! I’m blocked until I get this!!!”. If he’s the guy I had recently his next step is to slap his fist into his palm as he utters, almost shouts “I NEED this!”.

No. No you don’t need it. What you need is for that slap to be in your face, followed by “wake up! You don’t go shouting at the guy digging you out the hole!”.

I find this particularly unacceptable when the favour is to be fixing some mess that Dave created, or doing something Dave told his boss he had finished last week. Of course, those are the exactly situations where Dave is most likely to get upset, as he is in real trouble and most likely to commit that ultimate Favour sin:-

Dave to Boss “I Didn’t get my task done as Martin promised to create the API and he hasn’t. I’d be there now if I only did it myself”.

If you are thinking “Hmmm, I think I might have been ‘Dave’ recently” then Shame On You and go beg forgiveness. Of course, if you were ‘Dave’ you may well be the sort of sod who will twist the situation around in your head so it was not your fault anyway. Grrr, bad Dave.

For a while I gave up doing work favours as I got sick of the situation above playing out. Then I started doing favours again but being a bore about saying repeatedly, up front, that this was a favour, it was only if I had time, not to rely on me and, if it is that important, go ask someone else. Yeah, sounds really grumpy doesn’t it? That gave me a reputation for not being a Team Player (which is code for “mug”).

Now I have a rule system. As soon as someone starts getting demanding about the favour, I immediately challenge it. If they get shouty they lose their favour rights. No more favours for you until the requisite number of beers have been bought. It’s three.

Of course, you see this scene played out on help forums all the time. Initial message is nearly always in upper case text speak “PLS HLP ME, IS URGNT! CN U TELL ME HOW 2 DO MY JOB – THNX!!!” and soon degrades into helfull person asking for details of the exact person and Mr Shouty demanding more and more help. I don’t help. After all, this guy is never going to buy me a beer.

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

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, off-topic, Private Life, rant.
Tags: , , ,
16 comments

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.

Friday Philosophy – Tosh Talked About Technology February 17, 2012

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, future, Hardware, rant.
Tags: , ,
9 comments

Sometimes I can become slightly annoyed by the silly way the media puts out total tosh and twaddle(*) that over-states the impact or drawbacks about technology (and science ( and especially medicine (and pretty much anything the media decides to talk about)))). Occasionally I get very vexed indeed.

My attention was drawn to some such thing about SSDs (solid State Discs) via a tweet by Gwen Shapira yesterday {I make no statement about her opinion in this in any way, I’m just thanking her for the tweet}. According to Computerworld

SSDs have a ‘bleak’ future, researchers say

So are SSDs somehow going to stop working or no longer be useful? No, absolutely not. Are SSDs not actually going to be more and more significant in computing over the next decade or so? No, they are and will continue to have a massive impact. What this is, is a case of a stupidly exaggerated title over not a lot. {I’m ignoring the fact that SSDs can’t have any sort of emotional future as they are not sentient and cannot perceive – the title should be something like “the future usefulness of SSDs looks bleak”}.

What the article is talking about is a reasonable little paper about how if NAND-based SSDS continue to use smaller die sizes, errors could increase and access times increase. That is, if the same technology is used in the same way and manufacturers continue to shrink die sizes. It’s something the memory technologists need to know about and perhaps find fixes for. Nothing more, nothing less.

The key argument is that by 2024 we will be using something like 6.4nm dies and at that size, the physics of it all means everything becomes a little more flaky. After all, Silicon atoms are around 0.28nm wide (most atoms of things solid at room temperature are between 0.2nm and 0.5nm wide), at that size we are building structures with things only an order of magnitude or so smaller. We have all heard of quantum effects and tunneling, which means that at such scales and below odd things can happen. So error correction becomes more significant.

But taking a reality check, is this really an issue:

  • I look at my now 4-year-old 8GB micro-USB stick (90nm die?) and it is 2*12*30mm, including packaging. The 1 TB disc on my desk next to it is 24*98*145mm. I can get 470 of those chips in the same space as the disc, so that’s 3.8TB based on now-old technology.
  • Even if the NAND materials stay the same and the SSD layout stays the same and the packaging design stays the same, we can expect about 10-50 times the current density before we hit any problems
  • The alternative of spinning platers of metal oxides is pretty much a stagnant technology now, the seek time and per-spindle data transfer rate is hardly changing. We’ve even exceeded the interface bottleneck that was kind-of hiding the non-progress of spinning disk technology

The future of SSD technology is not bleak. There are some interesting challenges ahead, but things are certainly going to continue to improve in SSD technology between now and when I hang up my keyboard. I’m particularly interested to see how the technologists can improve write times and overall throughput to something closer to SDRAM speeds.

I’m willing to lay bets that a major change is going to be in form factor, for both processing chips and memory-based storage. We don’t need smaller dies, we need lower power consumption and a way to stack the silicon slices and package them (for processing chips we also need a way to make thousands of connections between the silicon slices too). What might also work is simply wider chips, though that scales less well. What we see as chips on a circuit board is mostly the plastic wrapper. If part of that plastic wrapper was either a porous honeycomb air could move through or a heat-conducting strip, the current technology used for SSD storage could be stacked on top of each other into blocks of storage, rather then the in-effect 2D sheets we have at present.

What could really be a cause of technical issues? The bl00dy journalists and marketing. Look at digital cameras. Do you really need 12, 16 mega-pixels in your compact point-and-shoot camera? No, you don’t, you really don’t, as the optics on the thing are probably not up to the level of clarity those megapixels can theoretically give you, the lens is almost certainly not clean any more and, most significantly, the chip is using smaller and smaller areas to collect photons (the sensor is not getting bigger with more mega-pixels you know – though the sensor size is larger in proper digital SLRs which is a large part of why they are better). This less-photons-per-pixel means less sensitivity and more artefacts. What we really need is maybe staying with 8MP and more light sensitivity. But the mega-pixel count is what is used to market the camera at you and I. As a result, most people go for the higher figures and buy something technically worse, so we are all sold something worse. No one really makes domestic-market cameras where the mega-pixel count stays enough and the rest of the camera improves.

And don’t forget. IT procurement managers are just like us idiots buying compact cameras.

(*) For any readers where UK English is not a first language, “twaddle” and “tosh” both mean statements or arguments that are silly, wrong, pointless or just asinine. oh, Asinine means talk like an ass :-) {and I mean the four-legged animal, not one’s bottom, Mr Brooks}

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