Tuesday, October 31, 2006

A Halloween Story

Halloween is not a big deal in Australia although retailers would like it to be - anything to make more money. There are more costumes and Halloween themed treats in the stores than there used to be but still nothing like the US. I've visited the US at Halloween and I thought it was awesome! I don't like over-commercialisation but the degree to which people get into Halloween really blew my mind.

Locally, there is a shop that caters to homesick Americans by importing hard to get American products and for the last few years, they have sponsored shop-to-shop trick or treating in their local shopping area. My kids like doing it and scoring a huge haul of lollies so we dressed up and headed out. It was all going well until it started raining. For a town that suffering its worst drought ever, it really sucks when you get rained on when you're trying to do something outdoors. But that isn't what made me angry.

It was almost inevitable that some evangelical would feel compelled to push his "Halloween is evil" message and sure enough, it happened. This guy may as well have had a neon sign over his head saying "I'm a dork who wants to spoil people's fun" - he was that obvious. He sidles up to me while the kids are saying "trick or treat" to a shopkeeper and says:

FREAK: "Do you know what the origins of Halloween are?"

ME: "Yes, it's All Hallows Eve, the day before All Saints Day." (thank you, ten years of Catholic education)

FREAK: "Did you know it commemorates druids slaughtering new-born babies?"

Now, I have learned a few skills in my life... but that day I brought out one of my special skills: my look that says without words: "Listen here you pathetic dweeb, I'm out here enjoying time with my kids and you're about to cross a line. Get the fuck out of my face right now or I'll be conducting a little experiment to prove whether your ugly face is stronger than the tempered glass in that shop window."

I've spent years perfecting that look and all the work was apparently worth it. Captain Shit-for-brains walked away rather quickly and the kids and I continued trick or treating in an idiot-free manner.

And as a community service, here's a video that shows why you shouldn't let kids loose with a huge bag of lollies:

Monday, October 30, 2006

Why is IT recruitment so bad?

My current contract is coming towards its natural conclusion which means I’m about to be blessed with that most joyous of experiences – dealing with recruitment agencies. I’m not a huge fan of recruitment agencies but I don’t have a huge amount of choice. For whatever reason, the Australian IT market seems to regard recruiters as necessary; about 75% of permanent placements are found through agencies and about 95% of contracts are placed through agencies.

So we’re in “necessary evil” territory here, especially given that I’m looking for another contract role. On the plus side, when you take into account that recruitment agencies are so central to the IT job market you can rest assured that they’re good at what they do, right? Yeah, right. One of the enduring mysteries of life for me is: why is IT recruitment handled so badly so often?

The first question I’d like to see answered is why use agencies at all. The idea that they’re professionals who are the best at this sort of thing simply doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. They’re more often than not poorly paid, poorly motivated and with a limited (at best) understanding of what qualifies someone to work in IT. After all, if they knew anything about IT they’d be earning decent money working in IT rather than being in a dead-end recruiting job. The only honest answer I can come up with is nobody at the company who hires the agency can be bothered putting in the work of finding suitable candidates themselves.

So recruitment agencies are a time-saver for HR departments. And I had this crazy idea that who you actually employ might be one of the most important decisions a company could make. I don’t know what else HR departments do to justify their existence. Even the “time saver” response is giving HR departments too much credibility in my book.

I’ve had enough experience to form an alternate theory: recruitment agencies exist to give HR departments plausible deniability. Nobody want to take responsibility for decisions – on the off chance a hire doesn’t work out, the HR department doesn’t want to take the blame. The involvement of an agency gives them the ability to say “it isn’t our fault, the agency said s/he was the best available candidate.” Yeah, god forbid the HR department would actually do their job.

The second question I’d like to see answered is: why are candidates so often measured against some cookie cutter template of requirements? Yes, there has to be some sort of baseline for competence but setting a series of arbitrary measures (x years experience in discipline y) is again replacing actually doing your job with a “plausible deniability” safety net. Anyone with any significant experience in IT who's willing to be honest knows that a checklist approach is often no help at all in identifying suitable candidates and if you enforce the "ticks in boxes" approach arbitrarily you're in very real danger of excluding some very good potential recruits.

So why does this approach persist? Again, my cynical mind tell me that it's to allow an escape route for an HR department that doesn't want to take responsibility for their job. "But he had 10 years experience with Ruby on Rails - that was heaps more than anyone else, he should have been great." Using a wishlist of attributes as a starting point is fine but refusing to think beyond the boundaries it sets is a recipe for disaster. Occasionally when I end up in an interview where they are obsessing over experience in a particular area (especially if it's something as nebulous as a methodology) I try to point out the shortcomings in their thinking. Not in the hope of changing their minds, I do it for fun.

I am a strong believer in many of the hiring principles espoused by Joel Spolsky (he's just published version 3.0 of his Guerilla Guide to Interviewing) which can be summarised as "hire someone who's intelligent and knows how to get things done." When I try to illustrate the benefits of this approach to someone insisting on five years experience with use case methodology, I do it by pointing out where their strict requirement could turn around and bite them. It goes a little like this...

"Say you are down to two people, one with five years use case experience and one without the requisite experience but they're smart, flexible and know how to get things done. It seems like you should go with 'Ms. Five Years' but the problem is use cases are done in very different ways in different workplaces and she may be totally locked into her version of use case methodology which conflicts with yours. You end up wasting a huge amount of time arguing on the right way to execute. On the other hand, Mr Smart and Flexible is far more open to working with you to get the results you want without obsessing over how the methodology is executed. So, many years experience doesn't necessarily mean the best result for you."

Another obvious (to me) point that these obsessive types don't seem to think of is you can have ten years "experience" with something and still suck. Experience alone is not a measurement of competence, let alone excellence. Someone might be a better programmer straight out of university than someone who's spent half their lifetime coasting along. Pointing out these flaws in the recruiting approach can be a lot of fun. Not because you get to achieve some breakthrough that turns the whole recruiting process on its head but because you get to watch as the drone's eyes glaze over because you've introduced enough cognitive dissonance to make their brains shut down.

Life would be much simpler if the recruitment pitch went: "We're going to need you to successfully complete this sort of task in this sort of timeframe to this level of competence. We'll check with your references about your previous performance and what sort of person you are. In the interview we're going to ask you to complete the following tasks to try and get a handle on your competence. If that all goes well and we think we could stand working with you then you might just have yourself a job."

But I don't expect a massive turnaround in this area any time soon. I'm occasionally guilty of being an optimist but I'm not stupid.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Hollywood Calling

In the news this week was one of the big Hollywood agencies, United Talent Agency, forming a division specifically to find online talent. You might think I'd get excited by this news but I'm not holding my breath. Here's a video explaining why:

Mind you, as cynical as I am, I'll still take pretty much any offer that comes my way!

Saturday, October 28, 2006

A little video help from my other half

I've been getting a little bit of help making videos this week from the delightful Ms Angry. Maybe she was jealous of the little angries hogging all the limelight - in any case, she helps me out in the following two videos. It would be possible to draw the inference from watching these videos that I am painting my other half as a nag or I'm henpecked or some such thing. I know my readers/viewers are too smart to fall into such a trap - after all, if she really was like that, there's no way she'd get involved in videos that might suggest the same, however jokingly.

This first one is inspired by an article in the New York Times saying how Halloween costumes for women are essentially dressing them up as hookers:

The URL for this video is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i1jmKHCNZc0

This second video comes from an article on a UK website citing a study that "proves" women are grumpier than men. This all comes from someone called the "Sleep Council" - no explanation of who this sleep council might be, but we're supposed to accept their word anyway.

The URL for this video is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OPcPHRT36-0

BTW, I haven't been posting many videos to the blog lately although I've been making heaps. Nobody's complained about the lack of videos but if you're feeling deprived, let me know. I can post heaps more.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Random workplace observations

A few things I have noticed recently at work:

1. People talk shit. I'm not just talking about the standard "how about this weather?" shit - a disturbingly high proportion of people seem to have a pathological need to say insanely fucking stupid things. I've complained before about people making a big scene when I drink more than one can of cola but make no mention of the person who has four coffees before lunchtime. In the last week, I've been subjected to at least half a dozen people who feel compelled to pass comment on the fact that I'm making a sandwich in the kitchen to put in the sandwich toaster. It's always a variation of "Wow, you're organised." What the fuck does that mean? Yeah, some bread cheese and ham - I'm a regular fucking rocket scientist. Piss of before I stab you.

2. Some metaphors are never appropriate. This is a shortcoming of mine. I like to use colourful language to illustrate points, it makes the day less boring. So today, someone offers me a donut for morning tea. I asked if it was a Krispy Kreme donut and they said no, it's a normal boring cinnamon donut. So I said no thanks, "I'd have it if it was Krispy Kreme, I'd kill a small child for a Krispy Kreme donut." Talk about conversation killers. Apparently, it's never appropriate at work to mention things that would compel you to kill a small child.

**Disclaimer: I did mention yesterday that I was considering endorsements. I don't have an endorsement deal from Krispy Kreme, I just really like their donuts. I think it's safe to say Krispy Kreme wouldn't want their product associated with infanticide perpetrated by a foul mouthed angry blogger.

3. Motivational tools almost never work. So the latest "motivational" gumph at work is a mirror over the kitchenette sink with the slogan "Who is responsible for reaching this quarter's targets?" The implication being, I look in the mirror and see my face above this slogan so that means I'm personally responsible for the whole company meeting its targets.

That's so fucking unfair.

What they hell are all those other lazy bastards doing? Why is it all down to me?
I get caught by this mirror every time I go to the sink and I drink a lot of water so I'm at the sink a lot. I get transfixed and stare into the mirror. People think it's because I'm vain but really I'm paralysed by the awful weight of responsibility that's been placed on me.

4. Nobody likes to be told they're stupid. And the more stupid someone is, the less receptive they are to being told about it. I don't believe this requires any further elaboration.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Using a foreskin blog to sell Google juice

One thing I never expected when I started this blog was to appear very highly in an Google rankings. That's supposed to be hard to do, right? I started getting my first search engine referrals after maintaining the blog for a couple of months but they were always for pretty obscure things. It started getting funny when I noticed how many foreskin-related referrals I was getting after having written a piece saying that "foreskin recovery" proponents were (excuse the pun) dickheads.

As it turns out, there's quite an industry surrounding foreskins but for ages now, I've been the number one or number two search engine result for foreskin blog (the title of this post should push me back to number one). Which has gotta piss off the people who seem to be trying to either make money or form a cult around the topic. By the way, a sure fire party conversation stopper is "You can find my blog easily by looking up foreskin blog on Google - I'm usually the number one foreskin blog."

This is a topic that ends up fascinating most blog owners at some point; what bizarre search terms are pointing people to my site? - particularly when you get referrals from sex-related terms and you don't spend a lot of time writing about sex. I don't know why I'm a world-renowned expert on teen sex but according to my search engine referrals I am.

The thing is, it's easy to make some obscure phrase "yours" - I always assumed making yourself appear in relation to a more common or in demand phrase would be hard. If I mention "profligate cumquats" by next week I'll probably be the number one search result for profligate cumquats (it's a fruit you filthy minded animals). God forbid I mention anally inserted cumquats. I have no interest in a readership that's into anally inserted cumquats.

The biggest surprise I've had was when it turned out I was the number one search engine result for Melbourne Fringe Festival recommendations. This seemed like a referral that would actually be sought after. The ranking came about because I'd mentioned seeing rehearsals for shows in the Melbourne Fringe Festival being directed by my old college mate, Adrian Calear. I've also hijacked the Google rankings for his name which is fucking hilarious - don't piss me off, man. As soon as I saw this I made sure I had the details for the shows and gave them a bit more publicity - you gotta help a brother out when you have the chance.

So it seems I can use my powers for good. Surely I can use them to gain some filthy lucre too! :D If Wordpress supported Adsense or something similar and unobtrusive I probably would have dabbled in that. I sure as hell would embed Revver videos here with their inbuilt ads if Wordpress supported that (any guesses as to what I want for Christmas, Wordpress?) Having good Google ranking is known colloquially in nerd-ese as having Google Juice. I'm thinking of bottling that sucker.

If anyone has a good memory, they'll recall a post from a few weeks ago titled "Matthew Churchill is freakin' awesome". I mentioned it was an experiment and I would elaborate later. This is that elaboration. I'm now the number two Matthew Churchill on Google. I possibly should have searched on the name before doing the experiment because the number one is a memorial for some poor kid who was killed in a hit and run and I honestly would have felt like shit if I had dislodged him. But anyway, I proved my thesis: my Google juice is mighty and virile.

So I should be able to sell this to people right? The theory I'm working on is that I could sell particular words on my blog and be paid based on how successfully my Google juice works. I'd charge a sliding scale, say $30 for each week it was on page 3, $50 for page 2 and $100 for page 1. The heading for the post would be something like "The best pub in Melbourne" and the first (and possibly only) part of the post would be "Jim Bob is paying me to say his pub is the best pub in Melbourne" with a link to the site. It wouldn't interfere with my usual posting - if it was for something I thought was worthwhile I could even make it into one of my standard angry rants.

I actually chose the phrase "the best pub in Melbourne" deliberately as I assume that would be a sought after one and probably hard to get a good Google result for. On the other hand, businesses in Australia are absolutely shit at using the internet for promotion. It really pisses me off that I can almost never find what I'm looking for online. Buying Google ads works but nobody seems to know how to get good search engine results for their sites without advertising. Well, Mr Angry is here to help.

Of course, it wouldn't have to be solely for commercial purposes. I could post personal messages that people wanted immortalised in Google or simply support worthy causes (like friends doing shows that need some publicity). Although I'd probably have to be careful of encouraging stalkers. Some careful wording in the contract about consent and withdrawing the post would be required.

Another potential issue I thought of is people screwing me out of money, essentially not wanting to pay me after getting their result. Then I realised this would be a very dumb move on their part when I could easily change the post to read "what's the best pub in Melbourne? Certainly not Jim Bob's where the beer has a high content of rat's urine and the owner is a child molester." Or, possibly worse, change the link to point to their competitor.

I have no intention of plastering ads all over this blog in return for a couple of hundred bucks a month (this level of return seems to be what a lot of blogs sell their soul for.) I'll have to do some sums because I'd really love to blog full time. I've pulled the rather arbitrary figure of $50,000 per year out of the air as an acceptable amount to make me quit my day job. It's a lot less than I get as an IT contractor but it seems quite a decent amount for being able to do what I love. Plus, that would definitely only be the starting point - I plan to build an empire!

At first I thought this was too easy but then my girlfriend pointed out that I only get these results because I've been keeping the blog updated daily for more than six months. Not many people are willing to put that much effort in - maybe I deserve to cash in! :) So, all aboard the Mr Angry Google juice money train!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Fun with traffic accidents

There was a car accident just in front of me on the way to work this morning. Not too serious fortunately - I'd hate to see a major pile-up with fatalities. Despite appearances to the contrary, I actually have a rather low tolerance for suffering being inflicted on other people. It's higher than my tolerance for suffering inflicted on me, but I still get affected when I see other people suffering.

It was a fairly standard sort of accident; one car turning right when the lights turned orange and another car then ran the red (a taxi - big fucking surprise) and smacked into the turning car. He didn't hit the turning car too hard - his bumper came off and there was a lot of crumpled panels on the car he t-boned but no major wreckage. The taxi driver pulled his car off to the side and the other car stayed sitting in the middle of the intersection. This was a busy intersection in the middle of morning peak hour traffic.

This is something I've seen a few times and I've never been able to work it out: why, after an accident, do some people have a tendency to leave a perfectly driveable car where it is BLOCKING THE FUCKING ROAD? Are they expecting the CSI team to come along and so they need to "preserve the crime scene"? Not gonna happen, people. In this case, I give the driver a little benefit of the doubt. First, there may have been sufficient damage to her engine and/or wheels that she couldn't drive it (this didn't look likely but it's possible). Second, she may have been too traumatised by the crash to drive. I can sympathise with this, although it wasn't a serious accident, getting whacked broadside would be pretty freaky.

Having said that, I'll now abuse this person for making a dumb decision. Because that's how we do things in Angry Town - fuck your feelings, you wimp. Leaving your car in the middle of an intersection is stupid for at least two reasons above and beyond the fact that CSI aren't arriving any time soon. First, this was peak hour. Although the road wasn't completely blocked, traffic flow was seriously strangled and, being peak hour, the build-up of traffic would get significantly worse by the minute. This is the selfish side of me speaking but why the fuck would you make peak hour so much worse when there is no sensible reason to do so?

Second, people are stupid. There were at least four people standing around this car with a huge amount of traffic swerving around them. The probability that at least one of these drivers was a fuckwit who was likely to hit them is pretty goddam high. The way people stand around on roads like nothing bad will ever happen to them never ceases to amaze me.

But I'll reserve my real anger for the fucking idiot who was two cars in front of me at the intersection (I was three cars away from the intersection when the accident happened). This person was now first in the right turning lane but they chose not to turn. They got out of their fucking car and decided to console the traumatised driver of the car in the middle of the intersection. Thus completely blocking the right turning line.

Yes, this genius decided they had to get out and comfort someone who they didn't know and wasn't injured. Their actions may possibly have helped the driver but at the expense of significantly (and absolutely unnecessarily) worsening the traffic problems and increasing the chance of another accident by about a factor of ten. Particularly from idiots like the driver of the extremely large 4WD directly in front of me who decided to pull onto the wrong side of the road despite the fact that there were clearly two full lanes of oncoming traffic.

All in all, the inconvenience to me was very close to zero so that's not what I'm angry about. What makes me angry is people reacting in precisely the wrong way to a traffic accident. Oh no, I've been in an accident! I know what to do now, I'll piss off lots of people and see if I can get killed while I'm at it. And I really reserve my bitterest bile for the fucking moron who decided to get out of their car and block a lane to console a complete fucking stranger who wasn't in a particularly bad situation anyway.

I call this sort of self-indulgent shithead a grief junkie (because they are indulging themselves, it's far more about their gratification than the "victim's" suffering) and I think I'll devote a whole rant to them another day.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Chris Masters outs Alan Jones as a classic bully

For those who don't like to read, jump straight to the video at the end of this piece, it essentially covers the same territory.

Remember how your mum used to always tell you that bullies were really cowards and if you stood up to them they'd run away? Well, I've been beaten up by enough bullies to know that this isn't universally true but it certainly seems true of Australian radio "personality" Alan Jones. Jones fits the standard mould of a bloviating, egotistical, right-wing talkback radio shock jock - he's never happier than when he's talking about himself.

Unless it's one of those occasions when he doesn't want to take responsibility for his actions.
Jones suffers from problems common to narcissists - most notably he seems unable to come to terms with the fact that when the rest of the world conflicts with his views, it's just possible that it's his views that are wrong. He made an astonishing blunder recently when he pressured the ABC into dropping a planned "unauthorised biography" written by respected journalist Chris masters. It's a tribute to his arrogance that he couldn't see the only possible outcome of this action: another publisher picked up the book and Jones essentially gave it an enormous amount of free publicity.

The book was published on Monday and by all accounts it's flying off the shelves. It seems now everyone is keen to find out exactly what Jones wants to hide. A lot of hoo-ha is being made about the book finally confirming one of the worst kept secrets in Australia - Alan Jones is gay. The book actually explores this topic far further than I expected it to - read an extract here. I really don't give a crap about his sexuality but it is interesting to consider why he's gone to such lengths to hide the fact.

For my money, the obvious answer is that he's spent a lot of time cultivating a fan base of rabid rednecks and whipping them up against easy targets like refugees, migrants, Muslims generally and Lebanese Australians specifically. Our boy Alan might be vain and shallow but he aint completely stupid. He's got to know that the average knuckle dragger who hates the wogs, lebs and ragheads don't got a high opinion of no fags neither. He's been playing with fire for years and he's way overdue to get burnt.

But all that makes him a jerk, not a cowardly bully. My evidence for this assertion is his consistent behaviour every time he is put on the spot and might have to answer for his behaviour: he runs away. His behaviour with the publication of Masters' book "Jonestown" is simply the latest example. The book came out on Monday and Jones is conveniently on holiday so he doesn't have to face any questions. The staff at his radio station have even used the intelligence-insulting tactic of saying his holiday is nothing to do with the release of the book, he had planned the break ages ago. Guys, the publication date was known "ages ago". It might serve you well to realise that we aren't all as stupid as your target demographic.

Jones' standard behaviour to difficult situations has always been to run. Way back when he had his most notorious misadventure in a London public toilet in 1988, he dodged ever discussing in detail what he was actually doing that caught the police's attention. Maybe he stayed silent to avoid telling a direct lie (although he did promise to tell his faithful listeners the full story when the court case was over - not following through on that constitutes a lie) or maybe he felt he had the right to avoid further persecution based on an unjust law. We don't know because he won't talk about it.

More recently, there was his involvement in the Cronulla riots. In the week leading up to the ugliness on Cronulla beach, Jones was whipping his listeners up into a fury. He was proudly proclaiming his leadership role in organising the upcoming demonstration on Cronulla beach and made no secret of his feelings towards the "outsiders" who were causing problems. To be sure, it seems there was a serious issue with some aggressive young men, most of whom (if not all) seemed to be of Lebanese or Arabic background.

But the big day got a bit out of hand. Racist signage and slogans were everywhere. If that was as far as it went, it would have been an ugly display but I strongly suspect Jones would have strongly applauded it. But then drunken idiots in the crowd started attacking anyone brown skinned they saw, going so far as to jump on trains and attack people who happened to be travelling while brown. If all they had done was beat up males I wouldn't be surprised to hear Jones say it was a justified response to previous violence perpetrated by Lebanese youths.
But then they started targeting women.

Traditional Muslim headwear makes women easily identifiable and several young women were assaulted by crowds of drunken young men. A real proud moment for white Australia. I have trouble imagining even Jones would applaud this behaviour. But it went further than that. The drunken crowd was whipped up into such a frenzy that they started to attack police and ambulance officers who were trying to protect brown skinned folk who were outnumbered about 100 to 1.

That's downright "unAustralian" (oh how I hate that phrase).

So what did Jones do Monday morning? Did he castigate the crowd and condemn their actions? Did he say the excesses were regrettable but the previous provocation from Lebanese youths was the real issue? Did he applaud the actions of the crowd? None of the above. The gutless wonder disappeared from the air so he wouldn't have to answer questions.

So it's hard to avoid the obvious implication. Alan Jones is not only a loudmouth bully, he's also a coward who will run when put on the spot. This is an important point that some politicians should wake up to. This seems to be one of the main goals Masters has with his book - it's a clarion call for people to stand up to Alan Jones. The available evidence certainly suggests that Jones will run away from anyone who challenges him.

Here's my video editorial on the subject (warning, this is longer than my usual pieces - about 12 minutes long):

I've used the audio of Jones before to have a bit of fun:
Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Some people wonder how this audio got out "into the wild". It's really pretty simple, Jones is a jerk and his staff hate him. The tapes were deliberately released to make him look bad. Some of the extracts from the book that I have seen contain some very specific information that I suspect Masters was able to find for basically the same reason. When you are as abrasive as Jones, there is no shortage of people who want to spill the beans on you. God forbid I ever gain any sort of fame. There will be a long line of people waiting to dish the dirt on me.

Monday, October 23, 2006

When is workplace discretion the better part of valour?

Here's the most common question a Business Analyst (BA) is ever asked: "What does a BA do?" my standard answer is "It depends who's employing me and what stage a project is at." A slightly better explanation of what I do is a combination of translator and problem solver. The idea is that I understand both the business side and technical side of projects well enough to translate for each camp because in my experience, both the IT group and the business group have trouble communicating their issues in a way the other group understands or finds useful. I usually find that part easy but the problem solving side can present some prickly challenges.

Perhaps the most obvious reason problem solving presents challenges is that the problems are often quite difficult ones - otherwise they wouldn't be problems, right? The second, and usually thornier, issue is that problems often morph from being technical problems into being political issues. For programmers who don't understand why you need BAs, this is their main service to you: they're a shield against the idiocy that threatens to destroy your working days. If all a BA ever does is come up with creative ways to say "You're an idiot, we're not doing that," then that BA is your best friend. Because no matter how much an idiot deserves to be told "You're an idiot," it's rarely a good career move to put it so bluntly.

That brings me to the title of this piece: although "discretion is the better part of valour" is a well known saying, I often find myself struggling with identifying the boundary between discretion and wimping out. Bowing to pressure every time it's applied is a recipe for disaster but continuing to argue way past the point of productivity is also destructive for all concerned. Unfortunately, solving this is more art than science - there is no single equation that can be applied (this might explain why, in my experience, many programmers have trouble dealing with this issue.)

You have to take into account the importance of the person who may be demanding a particular solution, the cost (in both time and money) of going along with a demand, the potential long term impacts of both resisting and going along with a demand, the technical feasibility of a demand and how your recommendation is going to affect your standing in the organisation (or marketplace if you are dealing with customers) among other factors.

So, having said there are no hard and fast rules to govern this situation, here is my number one rule to apply when you find yourself being pressured to do something you think is wrong. Avoid saying one proposal is wrong unless you can put forward an alternative that you think is right. I learned this approach from an old boss of mine who had two sayings "Don't tell me I'm wrong unless you can tell me what's right," and "Don't come to me with problems, come to me with solutions." Now, she was one of my best bosses but she could be a bit hard-headed this way. You literally couldn't go to her and complain without offering a viable alternative - she simply wouldn't listen.

This approach is good for forcing you to think but it doesn't really fit situations where you just know a proposal is wrong but you haven't yet come up with an alternative. Sometimes stopping forward momentum is as important as providing an alternative trajectory. This brings me to my second rule: if you can't offer an alternative at least clearly articulate what your problems are. Simply saying "it won't work," isn't good enough. Even if you're right.

Because human nature is an unpredictable thing, sometimes even bringing up a list of logical flaws isn't good enough. People can be so pissed off at you for questioning their vision that what you see as logic, they see as picking a fight. And some people are always ready for a fight. One way I've found to defuse this mindset is to not put your problems forward as problems - ask them as questions and articulate what you think a negative consequence could be. Keeping your responses open-ended can be a very powerful ploy.

When your antagonist says something along the lines of "You always say we can't do things," respond with "I didn't say we couldn't do it, I asked if you had considered that doing that would have the consequence of..." When you're dealing with a really belligerent workplace bully (and we all have to deal with this type at some point) who refuses to back down no matter what, get it in writing.

It's amazing how many bullies fold when you say "OK, we'll document that I raised issue X would have consequence Y and you said that wasn't a problem and we should keep going." A paper trail is a good defence against being blamed for someone else's mistakes. Even if they are so intransigent that a paper trail won't make them back down, at least you'll have the evidence if worse comes to worst that you voiced your concerns at the appropriate time.

For me, that's the last garrison, the "Alamo" moment. If you retreat from that point you may as well cut your wrists. I don't believe in wasting too much effort on a losing battle but if you don't at least ensure your voice is heard and documented, all you're doing is setting yourself up to be the patsy. If some idiot with an MBA is trying to shout you down but won't commit it to writing, it means they don't have the courage of their convictions and they're deliberately leaving a back door open to blame you if things go wrong. If you let them get away with it then you're the idiot.

If you find yourself in this situation and you aren't given the opportunity to have your objections recorded, you need to do one of two things: quit or accept that your working life is going to be miserable. When it gets to this point, discretion is no longer the better part of valour. If you wimp out this badly, you pretty much deserve to be the office whipping boy.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Some old school angry behaviour

This video is my post to The Blogging Times for this week. I think this is the angriest I've been in a video for a while - it was easy to get angry given the subject matter. Some moronic judge thinks he has the right to pass a sweeping judgement against anti-spam outfit Spamhaus including suspending their domain which would give spammers everywhere a free ride.

If there's any common sense in the world, this would be overturned. But any regular visitors here would know my opinion of how much common sense there is in the world.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Angry News Updates

I haven't posted any videos since last weekend and I've been doing them on YouTube all week. So here's a few Angry News bulletins. In this first one I go for possibly the most gratuitous joke I've ever done. And I get the Australian foreign minister's name wrong - It's Alexander Downer, not Alistair Downer.

After one of my subscribers mentioned the Australian news story about "Doctor Death" another subscriber wanted to know the details. So here's my report on Doctor Death.

This next one is sort of a follow-up to my previous bulletin about Jack Straw saying Muslim women should consider removing their veils. It seems there's a similar debate going on in Dubai about community standards and clothing.

There are more videos to come this weekend - maybe I'll even write something.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Adventures of an Angry Clown

Long term readers of this blog who have good memories will know I did a theatre degree in the deep dark past. One of the things we did during our course was to perform as clowns at various community events. Here's something you may not know about performing as a clown for kids: it's fucking hard. A significant proportion of kids are rotten little shits. And as it's generally frowned upon to give them the beating they so richly deserve, a clown has to have coping strategies.

The lecturer who ran the "physical" theatre classes that included clowning wanted us to be traditional clowns. In his book, traditional meant we could have pretty much any sort of makeup and wear whatever whacky clothes we wanted but the mandatory item was red nose. Red noses are a fucking target for kids. They see you wearing a red nose and their single-minded focus becomes to get your red nose and run away with it.

They will swarm all over you and do pretty much anything to get your nose. There's always more than one of them who thinks of punching you in the nuts so you'll double over and then they can reach your nose. The big thing is, they want you to chase them to get the nose back. No amount of asking or bribing will get it back and threatening them can have legal consequences. This gets exhausting real quick. And kids have inexhaustible energy supplies, you get tired of running waaaaay before they do.

Interestingly enough, the strategy that ended up working nearly all of the time was to sit down and cry when one of the little bastards got my nose. It seems that they can't deal with the idea of a clown crying and they'd give the nose back to me out of embarrassment (or possible the out of disgust at the sight of a grown man, stupidly dressed, sitting on the ground and apparently crying.) This worked on most kids but there's always one sociopath who simply doesn't give a shit.

I remember at one school fete there was a particular kid who pushed me too far. We were performing at a "special needs" school - the students at the school had disabilities (or were retarded or whatever PC or non-PC label you want to apply). There was a big crowd of locals and the kids were not all from the school. The students from the school were great, they loooved clowns! In fact, one of the older kids grabbed my hand and wouldn't let go. She kept telling me how much she loved me. It got creepy. She loved clowns a little too much.

But some of the other kids were the typical little shits. I can usually deal with this but one kid was way worse than usual. He was aggressive, abusive and violent. I saw him hitting and shoving other kids and he was sure as hell hitting me way too hard for comfort. The one thing I didn't see was his fucking parents anywhere taking responsibility for him. Anyway, he's about 10 years old, so I have to be careful how I deal with him. I kept doing the happy clown dance and pretending not to notice him even though he kept slamming into me and jumping on me, trying to get my hat.

I was reaching the limits of my tolerance for this little bastard when the perfect opportunity to deal with him presented itself. I noticed all the other kids had been scared away by him and none of the adults were paying attention, certainly nobody was within earshot. So, without warning, I stopped the happy clown dance, grabbed the front of his shirt, pulled him towards me and leaned into his face so my red nose was pressed against his nose. Then I said in a guttural voice:

"Kid, if you don't fuck off right now I'm going to rip your fucking head off and shit down your neck."

Then I dropped him and went straight back into the happy clown dance. All of this took about two seconds. This worked astonishingly well - the kid stood there dumbstruck like he wasn't even sure it happened. I think the rapid happy clown/psycho clown/happy clown transition just fucked with his head too much. I like to think I permanently traumatised the little bastard and to this day he flinches whenever he sees a clown.

The message of this story is clear: clowns are your friends but fuck with them too much and they'll find a way to get into your psyche and destroy your mind.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

GooTube - cutting through the bullshit

After yesterday's post, I think I have the measure of my audience. You want to hear stories about me being incredibly mean to people. Fair enough, and I have a few good ones in mind - notably one about me being an angry clown at a school fete. But today there's something I want to vent on.

So I'm finally jumping on the bandwagon and throwing in my 2c worth about the Google-YouTube merger. My main reason for adding my voice to the noise (this is probably the most over-discussed topic on the internet) is that I'm getting increasingly angry at the fact that so many commentators don't have a fucking clue what they're talking about.

The commentary I'm hearing that is flat-out wrong seems to fall into two camps: one, the people with a vested interest whose trashing of GooTube is based solely on promoting their own interests (Mark Cuban, anyone employed by Murdoch-owned companies) and two, people that don't know the first thing about YouTube.

Talking from the inside of an experience is not without its pitfalls, cheerleaders for any service or organisation (e.g. Google, Microsoft) seem almost wilfully blind to flaws that are completely obvious to outsiders. But the staggering ignorance I keep seeing online and in mainstream media needs to be countered. So here I go, taking apart the bullshit:

1. YouTube is going to get sued out of existence. No it isn't. This is so absurdly easy to disprove that I can't believe it's getting any play. YouTube can't be successfully sued because if someone says they are illegally hosting copyrighted material, they take it down. The "safe harbour" provisions in US copyright law mean YouTube are completely within the law. END OF FUCKING STORY.

I am so sure of this that I'll make a pledge: if anyone successfully sues YouTube for copyright infringement I will not only make a video admitting I was wrong, I will not only do so without my mask (and without using any tricks to obscure my face), I will perform the video completely nude!

I can safely make this pledge because (a) I am not wrong so I'll never be forced to do the nude video and (b) if I was wrong, the nude video would get taken down straight away. My nudity is more offensive that normal nudity (offensive to good taste and aesthetics)

2. YouTube is going to lose content creators to pay sites. No they aren't. YouTube has been built up by an army of content creators who never had any hope of being paid in money. What they are being paid in is attention. YouTube provides at least ten times the attention and interaction that its nearest competitor can offer. I think even YouTube undervalues this because many of their social interaction features are utter shit. This is where MySpace has it all over YouTube.

MySpace is not about video, it's about social interaction - any talk about MySpace serving up as many as or more videos than YouTube are smoke and mirrors. They are without a doubt YouTube's biggest threat but at the moment, people don't go on MySpace primarily to access videos. If MySpace went about it the right way, they could most definitely steal YouTube's thunder. GooTube could introduce a payment system for creators overnight (I'm calling it GooTube here because the payment model would almost certainly come through Google, a la AdSense) so this isn't a problem for them. If they don't fix the community aspects of the experience, that's where they could end up being creamed.

3. Users will leave YouTube if the copyrighted material is taken down. No they won't. First, it's unlikely the copyrighted material is going away - companies are finally realising they need YouTube to tap into new markets. It's just details that need to be worked out now. Second, even if all the copyrighted material did go away, all of the highest subscribed YouTube "channels" (i.e. content creators) create original content. It's these highly subscribed contributors that give YouTube it's stickiness and they would hardly suffer at all from even the most severe copyright regime. Third, as I mentioned before, one of YouTube's biggest drivers is the desire for attention, not the desire to watch clips from TV shows and movies. The clips are a bonus but they aren't the engine of YouTube's continued growth.

4. YouTube will never make money. Wrong. Apparently YouTube have been lying to everyone and have been profitable for ages. The figures are collected here by Robert X Cringely, someone with enough experience to know. It's almost embarrassing how wrong this assertion is. Plus, another blindingly obvious point: Google has so much fucking cash they don't need YouTube to make money. They gave YouTube stock, not cash. This could well go down as one of the best deals of the internet age.

Those are the biggest issues I see clueless commentators pointing to, but there are doubtless more. What really boggles my mind is when otherwise intelligent people say brain-bendingly stupid things because they have no experience of YouTube. They talk about it from the outside and completely miss the point of what is going on. They would do well to take a leaf out of Warren Buffet's book: during the dotcom bubble when he was under pressure from some shareholders to invest in dotcoms he refused, saying he didn't know enough about what was happening to make an informed choice.

He turned out to be very astute as his investment company would have lost billions if he had listened to some people who claimed they knew what they were talking about. I wish more people who didn't have a fucking clue what they're talking about would admit it. I don't know exactly what the future holds for GooTube, there's a dozen things I could think of that could trip them up and probably dozens more possibilities that i can't think of. But I know the majority of the doomsayers I've read are talking utter shit.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Rewarding Stupid Behaviour

Here's a confession: sometimes, I'm mean to people. Hard to believe, I know, but it's true. In my defence, when I'm mean to somebody it's almost always for their own good. They don't always appreciate that I'm helping them but that's the sort of burden I took on when I realised I was much smarter than the majority of the populace. I have to help people whether they want it or not.

The alternative, so far as I can see, is to let people get away with stupid behaviour. To me, letting them get away with stupidity is the same as actively rewarding stupid behaviour. If they aren't punished, they won't realise they were wrong and they'll never learn better. As I look around me, I don't have any great faith that the knuckle draggers surrounding me are going to spontaneously get smarter. They need help.

They need my help.

One situation where I often find myself helpfully pointing out other people's stupidity is when I'm driving. Often, when somebody does something brain-bendingly stupid in traffic, I'll gently alert them to the fact by blasting the horn for an extended period and politely describe their shortcomings. Something along the lines of: "What the fuck is wrong with you?" Usually screamed at the top of my lungs.

Occasionally, passengers in my car have suggested that this doesn't achieve anything. The moron did something stupid, I reacted in time, accident avoided, leave it at that. That's crazy talk. My mother for one always wants me to be nicer to people and I told her that was a crazy idea: "Shut the fuck up mum, these morons need to be kept in line. If you let these dickheads get away with their fucked-up behaviour they think they're in the right. You can't encourage them."

Okay, I don't really talk to my mum like that. First, I'm too respectful. Second, she'd fucking kill me. Don't fuck with my mum. My mum will fuck your shit up.

Just the other night I conducted a little street education that I found particularly fulfilling. Melbourne loves its sport and I had the bad timing to be driving past a major sporting venue just as the massive crowds were spilling out at the end of a game. I knew exactly what would happen as I waited at the lights for the hordes of pedestrians to cross. The lights would change and these fuckwit lemmings would keep streaming across regardless of the fact they were going to come off second best in a clash with oncoming traffic.

Sure enough, morons kept shambling across the road long after the signal told them to stop. Then the lights turned green for me. I let the few straggling dickheads get out of the way then started to move forward. BUT the morons weren't finished. After I started forward, another group of four fuckwits stepped right in front of me. Obviously, I braked (I'm not going to jail for them) but they actually seemed totally unaware of how fucking stupid their behaviour was. Honestly, I feared for their safety. Other drivers aren't as deferential to pedestrians as I am and this level of stupidity was definitely going to get them killed.

So I decided to help them.

My lesson to them consisted of revving my engine sharply, dropping the clutch which made the car jump forward, then stopping just as quickly after half a metre. The added bonus is my car's tyres have a tendency to squeal dramatically when I do this. This actually had a better effect than I intended. I thought they would jump a bit and get out of the way. As it turned out, they totally freaked - one of them even fell over in terror (don't worry, they weren't hurt). They really thought I was going to run them down. They may just think twice before walking into traffic in the future.

It was pointed out to me that this was a little mean. Well, yeah but I think it was justified. Not because I was teaching them a lesson for their own good - but because it was really fucking funny.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Mainstream media is less trustwortht than Pay Per Post

I notice that a lot is being said online again about false representation through blogs (Scoble's post is a good place to start). It's always worthwhile to expose people who are straight up lying but the earnestness of some people about the struggle for some "pure" voice in online communication strikes me as rather pointless for two reasons. One is that it's totally futile; you'll never find out everybody who's being paid to post comment no matter how hard you try, plus one person's definition of objective comment is not going to match another's. Two is that the mainstream media is completely bought and paid for so why the fuck should independent online media be any different.

The evil of mainstream media's blending of advertising and reportage was brought home yet again while enjoying dinner at one of my favourite el cheapo eateries the other night (drop me a line if you're visiting Melbourne and I'll shout you a $6.50 dinner special if you're lucky). While waiting for dinner I was flicking through a tabloid newspaper that was sitting on the table. I shouldn't have looked at it - I fucking hate this particular rag and this was the Sunday edition which, for whatever reason, is actually worse than their weekday edition. I don't know what it is about Sunday that makes them think they have to go out of their way to mentally rape you.

I thought I was making the right choice when I avoided the main paper and went for a "supplement" that was included. This seemed like it might be some harmless fluff that would be a temporary diversion rather than a source of enragement. I was wrong. It was titled something vacuous like "Body and Soul" and was full of so-called health and lifestyle advice. The content was 100% advertising although about 60% of it was made to look like articles - they might even have the audacity to say these pieces were actual reportage. They certainly didn't come out and admit that it was nothing but fluff to soften the advertising pill.

I could easily tear apart every single "article" in the supplement. They were all outrageously intelligence insulting bullshit. But, given the way my mind works, I'll limit myself to ripping on the one that obsesses over toilet germs spreading everywhere. To read this utter garbage, you would think that this is a bigger health threat than AIDS, ebola and the bird flu combined.

The whole piece was basically saying we're all going to die because we leave our toothbrushes lying out in the open in the bathroom. We are exposed to the ridiculous "fact" that every time we flush the toilet, tens of millions of germs become airborne and you just know they're all making a beeline for our foolishly unprotected toothbrushes. Of course, our only hope is to purchase this insanely overpriced "toothbrush sanitiser" which will protect us from this horrible fallout.

Apparently we desperately need to keep our toothbrushes in this enclosure that regularly steam cleans the brushes to kill germs. If we don't do this we will all die because everybody who doesn't have this has died horribly from infection via toilet-related germs. Oh, wait a minute...

Having seen my ability to get good Google listings for things I mention, I am sorely tempted to mention this product by name and follow its name with: HOW FUCKING STUPID WOULD YOU HAVE TO BE TO BUY THIS TOTALLY UNNECESSARY PRODUCT?!?!?!?! For god's sake people, think about it logically: the only thing that could make this product necessary is if we were all dying from toilet borne infections and if we were all dying from toilet borne infections we wouldn't be around to buy this fucking product!

That is the message I would like to be seen by anybody stupid enough to consider buying this product.

Monday, October 16, 2006

How does an angry analyst handle difficult customers?

When I do these more serious posts about workplaces issues, not so much of my angry persona leaks out. A little does, to be sure, but not so much as, say, when I'm foolish enough to get into politics. Part of this is not wanting to completely obscure serious points with humour but part of it is my nature; when I'm dealing with situations that require more analysis I tend to get more clinical and I try to keep emotional responses to a minimum.

I'm sure this is true in business generally but I know for a fact it's painfully true for IT workers: sometimes you have to deal with "customers" (whether internal people/departments that have a stake in IT development or actual paying customers) who are absolutely infuriating. The disconnect between customer thinking and what is possible, sensible or even a vaguely good idea is sometimes truly staggering. But then again, if we were honest, we'd have to admit that some of the thinking coming out of IT departments is not even a distant relation to common sense or reality.

As a Business Analyst, I tend to be put between these two (often conflicting) worlds. When I'm in a good mood I feel like I'm the bridge between two worlds, clarifying and translating when IT doesn't understand business needs and the business side doesn't understand IT needs. On bad days I feel like the meat in the sandwich. My starting point is that I'm in IT and I'm usually representing IT interests - so how do I do this without losing my cool in the face of what seems to be insurmountable ignorance?

I should probably start by giving an example of a fairly dramatic failure on my part to do this well. A little while ago I was contracting with a little start-up who were doing some interesting work, very web 2.0 stuff. They are probably the best at executing this type of web based services I have seen in Australia. But, inevitably, the day came when something really dumb was proposed. A web application aimed at the advertising industry was under development but progress had stalled and I was working on resolving some of the issues. It soon became clear that the biggest issue was the manager of the internal business unit that was selling the product to advertising agencies (selling a product that didn't actually exist - is this sounding familiar to anyone?)

The concept itself was extremely strong - an online communication tool that let everyone involved in the very complex of shooting an ad stay in touch and book each other's time. The development was well-advanced, we had a prototype that showed how to turn what had been a manual process that could take weeks to resolve into an online process that could be set up in one or two days. But then the product manager saw some over-designed Flash-based website with animation out the wazoo that he decided was "sexy". Everyone wants to be sexy. People in the advertising industry definitely want to be sexy. So when he showed this example to potential client and promoted how sexy it was, of course they all said that was exactly what they wanted.

Nobody wants to say "no thanks, I'd rather not be sexy."

The problem is, this was a product designed to be used all day every day for people's core work. No matter what someone tells you they want, what they need is something that is functional and doesn't get in their way when they're working. The primary problem with this over-designed monstrosity is that it would slow down every single task for the sake of animated menus, rounded edges and general "sexiness". I needed a way to convince the product manager that his central idea that he was so excited about simply couldn't work. No matter how much people said ahead of time they loved the idea (nobody will say they don't want to be sexy) they will hate you five minutes after they start using it and it becomes clear this application will make their life a misery. So I sat him down and calmly said:

"This is a really dumb idea. You have to go with the simpler interface the programmers have already developed. I know everyone at the advertising agencies told you they loved the concept but trust me, they'll find it impossible to use. If you insist on following this, the developers will hate you for making them do it and the customers will hate you for making them use it."

Did I mention that the product manager was a senior boss's brother? All in all, not the best career move I've ever made. On the plus side, after saying this the development team really, really wanted my contract to be extended. On the negative side, nobody on the business side seemed particularly impressed that I'd held up one of their own to ridicule and started to argue that "I wasn't a good cultural fit" for the company. I probably could have stayed there if I had really wanted to (the CEO was on my side) but it was a really good job market and I decided I didn't need to put up with that sort of crap.

So there's a prime example of how not to do it. Here's a few examples of how to handle difficult customers in a way that's more likely to generate a positive outcome for everyone concerned:

1. Don't tell someone their idea is stupid. Instead of what I did in the above example, try to steer the discussion towards a positive outcome rather than highlighting how stupid the proposed idea is. The best way to do this is to ask questions rather than make statements. People can argue with statements but they have to answer questions. I learned while researching something else that this is essentially Socratic Irony - you play dumb and treat the person you disagree with as an expert. Eventually, they'll talk themselves into a corner.

2. Start the analysis at the highest level possible. Any discussion with a customer that starts with "I want this type of system that uses this framework and looks like that" is destined to have a lot of problems. It's surprising how often people who dive straight into "solution mode" can't clearly articulate the central problem they're trying to solve when you put them on the spot. How can you arrive at a solution when you can't even say what the problem is? Discussions should start at cloud level (to borrow a term from use case methodology) and ask in the broadest possible terms: what are we trying to achieve? Ideally, the first people to talk about an actual IT solution should be programmers.

3. Know when to stop analysing. I'm not an advocate of Agile methodology per se but you definitely need to avoid analysis paralysis. If a customer is driving you crazy with over analysis of requirements, know when to move from thinking to action. There are too many variables in any IT project to know without doubt how things are going to turn out. I'm in favour of having clearly defined goals and a plan on how to reach said goals but at a certain point you need to stop planning and start delivering. Sadly, this is more art than science and it's impossible to define exactly how much analysis will be required in all cases (anyone who says otherwise is trying to sell you books and/or seminars). The right amount is however much it takes to execute the project successfully - don't stop too soon and don't go on too long.

4. Define what you're going to deliver. It's an irony of IT that the customer who wants something is often very bad at defining what they actually want. One of the most important roles of a BA is to articulate what is actually going to be delivered in a way that's clear enough for the business side to understand yet precise enough for the development side to deliver on. It's easier to avoid getting angry with a difficult customer if there's an objective source to refer back to, that way you don't have to argue over points in isolation because there's always a way to bring focus back to the conversation.

And my number one tip for avoiding getting angry with a difficult customer:

5. Know when to walk away from a discussion. There will come a time when it feels like you have two choices with a particularly insane customer who is placing unreasonable demands on you: strangle them or walk away. Walking away is always the right response no matter how satisfying you think it might be to strangle them. End the discussion in a dignified way, not with a screaming hissy fit. Say: "I think we've reached a point where further discussion isn't getting us anywhere, let's leave this for a while so we can all think about it and get back together later," and set a time for another discussion. This is infinitely more useful than screaming "I hate you! I'm not putting up with this crap any more!" and storming out.

The sad fact is that in most organisations, IT people are lower on the food chain than sales people and we simply have to deal with that. Mastering the anger that threatens to well up when dealing with people that we quite frankly consider to be idiots is a skill everyone should master. I've seen too many people who were completely in the right lose all credibility because they shouted, swore or stormed out of a difficult meeting. Find you own way of dealing with customer-inspired anger if none of these work for you but for your own sake, don't let the bastards get to you.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Cute Overload Revisited

Well, my video posting got taken over by my kids this weekend. Despite the danger of making everyone diabetic with this much sweetness I present the little angries rampaging through YouTube.

This first one shows how my daughter is being indoctorinated/taught about water conservation in school. By some measures, Melbourne could be out of water in 15 years unless there are some radical changes in either weather patterns or water usage.

The URL for this video is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vEwBnhGmex0

This one is my daughter's reaction to how lousy some of the drivers about town are. It seems my influence is coming through.

The URL for this video is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Oi-tzBScfw

This one started out being a demonstration on how I made my mask then it got kind of out of hand.

The URL for this video is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GdynRoP2xWk

There were so many positive comment about the previous videos over the weekend my daughter decided she was more popular than me and was going to take over. She plays dirty.

The URL for this video is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BFU-ZnBN-T8

Saturday, October 14, 2006

More Angry News Bulletins

Here's a few more video bulletins I've done over the last few days. The first one covers some Google news you may not have heard. Google have absolutely dominated tech news coverage for the last week but this item didn't get a lot of play.

The URL for this video is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QEDsyQHJ3HY

This next one was inspired by a story I found in the New York Times. This is an example of some really worthwhile science - there should be more of this sort of research.

The URL for this video is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SyEaKq191Ck

The Smoking Ghost

One thing guaranteed to piss off a non-smoker like myself is being subjected to cigarette smoke. I hardly go out to live gigs because of the assault of smoke while I'm out and the horrible stench of stale smoke impregnating my skin, clothes and hair when I get home. So the one thing you can be guaranteed that my place won't smell of is cigarette smoke. The fucking pope can come for a visit and I won't let him smoke.

But I can't stop the ghost from smoking.

I'm not a superstitious person but the only explanation I can come up with for the recurring cigarette smoke smell in my place is a wandering smoking ghost. It isn't my imagination because my girlfriend has confirmed that she smells it as well. It tends to be strongest in the kitchen and I've been working on a theory that might explain it.

Before anyone gets worried and thinks I've left my stove on or my wiring is shorting out - this a very specific cigarette smell, not a generalised burning or smoke smell. I've ruled out someone standing outside my kitchen window and smoking there just to piss me off - that would be paranoid. But I'm pretty sure the ghost is a sound theory.

If it isn't a ghost I think it may be something to do with the plumbing. I learned the hard way that all the plumbing in this building is interconnected when my bathroom flooded after someone upstairs emptied their bathtub. So I'm working on an elaborate theory that involves smoke from someone else's apartment being sucked down the pipes and coming up my kitchen sink.

If anyone has a better theory, I'd love to hear it.

Friday, October 13, 2006

The toilet is judging me

I know that title sounds paranoid (or possibly insane) but I swear it's true! As some background, this is another story of arbitrarily enforced workplace rules gone astray. No matter how well-intentioned, the problem with arbitrary rules is their inflexibility. At some point, a circumstance will occur that results in an unintended negative consequence of the rule but because the rule is arbitrary there is no ability to make concessions.

In this case, the arbitrary rule revolves around my workplace's gung-ho attitude toward being as "green" as possible. I've detailed some of these policies in the past (using rainwater, massive recycling programme) but this is a new one. The toilets have motion sensors that automatically shut off the lights if they detect no motion after a set period of time (it seems to be set at about ten minutes.)

This would obviously not be something you'd even notice in a highly trafficked toilet. Not an issue for Alan Jones in other words. But I've recently moved desks to a half-empty section and as a result, the nearby toilet doesn't see a lot of business. Often when I go into this toilet the lights are off and they switch on as I enter and trigger the motion detector. Noticing this had prompted me to wonder how long it took them to switch off. One day I found out.

It was a weird experience because, not surprisingly, the toilet is windowless so when the lights went out I was plunged into pitch darkness without warning. And I soon discovered the motion sensor wasn't point to the cubicle because I stood up and waved my arms around all to no avail. I won't go into detail of my status in the cubicle to avoid grossing anyone out. OK, a little detail: I wasn't even taking a crap, I was pretty much hiding in there - taking a break and playing games on my mobile phone.

So, possibly, the sensor was right to give me a "hey you, get out of here," message. It did strike me at this point that being caught out this way if you were suffering from either extreme end of the ablutions spectrum (diarrhea or constipation) would be a pretty awful and possibly embarrassing experience. Awful for the obvious reasons and embarrassing if someone came in, the lights switched on then they saw someone was actually in the cubicle. In the dark. Who knows what they would think?

And so I'm going to be stuck with this arbitrary rule because this is hardly the sort of setting you could question. How would you do that? Calling the amenities people and saying you think the timer setting is too short would go something like this:

Me: The auto timer in the toilets is set to switch the lights off too soon.

Amenities Person: How do you know?

Me: Ummmm...

AP: It's set for ten minutes, did it switch off when you were in there?

Me: Well...

AP: How often would that happen to someone?

Me: I dialled the wrong number, I meant to report a computer fault. Bye!

I've avoided it up to now but I have to say it: this light timer gives me the shits.

The Angry News - There's Something About Mary

I've fallen a little behind with posting Angry News bulletins on here recently (I've been keeping up with them on YouTube) so you'll probably see a lot of videos over the coming weekend. This bulletin was inspired by a news story on Keisha Castle-Hughes, the 16 year old actress who came to some international notice when she was the youngest ever nominee for the Best Actress Academy Award for her work in the New Zealand film "Whale Rider." This is not that story. This is another story.

The URL for this video is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N35RL3ZrS1Q

Thursday, October 12, 2006

300 Posts and still here!

Six months without missing a day, 300 posts, 100 videos, over 2,200 comments... it's distinctly possible I need to get a life. Who am I kidding? Despite the occasional moments of blog-induced stress (usually when I was suffering from writer's block) this is the best my life has felt in years. True, my actual offline life is in better shape than it's been in ages but the sense of purpose and fulfilment I have found through blogging is phenomenal.

Plus, while I don't want to get my hopes up, I'm starting to feel like I may have found a new career path through blogging. There are still many way it could go; writing a book, live performance, something via video or even making actual money via blogging (how's Wallstrip coming along Howard? I beat everyone with my YouTube prediction - do you need a prognosticator?). Even if nothing comes of the blogging, I think my improved attitude shows through strongly in my day job performance, so it's all good.

Of course, the only down side of feeling such personal satisfaction is it occasionally makes it hard to stay angry. Don't worry though, I have plenty more angriness coming - not least because I feel like I'm being judged by the toilet at work (more on that tomorrow). Hopefully this makes it clear to anyone who was wondering: yes, Mr Angry is just a character, I'm nothing like this in real life. I exaggerate some real life experiences for comedic effect and to express the feelings that so many of us are forced to suppress on a daily basis.

It sometimes surprises me how much my writing resonates with people - it seems there really are certain experiences that are common to many people. So what was originally intended as catharsis for me seems to be catharsis for everyone. Think of me as your therapeutic angry pill - to be taken daily or as required. If symptoms of personal anger persist, venting via comments or on your own blog is recommended - it does wonders for me.

And the haters and other intolerant pricks can take the angry pill as a suppository for all I care. Fuck you in the neck with an angry pill you fucking losers.

Now, the looking forward bit I've done at each 100 post milestone. At the 100 mark, I said I'd start podcasting and I actually took it one step further and started doing videos. At the 200 mark, I said I'd do live performances and I've done that. So now I think I have to set myself a real challenge for the next 100 posts. This time I really have to take it to the next level.

So, before my 400th post, my goal is to actually make money or sign a significant deal with somebody I don't already know. I have a few ideas that I'll be exploring via the blog over the coming weeks. Because, at this point, I can't think of a blog money-making venture that isn't at least a little intrusive (i.e. some form of advertising or endorsement) I'll be looking for some honest feedback from my trusted regulars on how much different plans are likely to piss you off. I'd rather keep doing this for nothing and maintain my readership than make some money but lose my core audience.

Also, feel free to toss any money-making ideas my way! But most important, stick with me. There's no way I would have kept going this long without the regular support of my readers so I don't intend to forget you when I'm famous :) I'm maintaining my promise to visit everyone's town on my inaugural world tour so keep your eye out for the tour dates!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Methodology Wars

A sure fire way to set off a full scale geek war is to promote one software development methodology over another. Online behaviour being what it is, methodology wars usually take the form of tearing down an "opposing" methodology rather than promoting the preferred methodology in isolation. This approach serves two purposes; first, highlighting things you see as wrong is often a good way to clarify your point about what is right. Second, it's a great way to attract attention and inflame passions.

Back in the day, operating system wars were all the rage and arguments over Windows vs. *nix vs. Apple left blood on the wall of many an IT department. The operating systems wars are far from resolved but methodology wars are a far sexier topic these days.

For a few years now, advocates of Agile methodology have been evangelising it as the cure to all ills (as a side note, it's interesting how this topic lends itself to political and religious terminology - ideology, war, evangelists). One of the things the Agile movement has in its favour is a fairly significant mindshare in the IT set and a commensurate share of shelf space in the IT section of bookshops. One of Agile's biggest problems is its supporters have trouble pointing to any large scale successes. By definition, Agile works best with small teams. In the real world, 90% of IT workers work in big IT departments. I'm not about to rush to the defence of huge bureaucracies but changing the structure of a company based on an unproven theory is a tough sell.

Another plus for Agile is its proponents are usually very good at identifying the shortcomings of existing processes and methodologies. The downside is often, again, that real-world success with Agile methodologies is more difficult to attain than the glowing manifestos tend to suggest. The tendency of Agile proponents to respond to failures by saying "You didn't do it right" doesn't inspire a lot of confidence in non-devotees. Surely if it is such a panacea it shouldn't be so hard to implement?

At the end of the day, the right methodology is the one that works. Slavish adherence to any development dogma is going to get you into trouble (I could argue the same for actual religious dogma but that would probably get me into even more trouble than questioning Agile - if such a thing were possible.) The real world doesn't fit into neat boxes and anyone who tries to arbitrarily fit diverse situations into the same box (because that's what you should do, dammit!) is headed for a world of pain. And reflexively blaming failures on the... ummm, box-maker (taking a metaphor too far is a mistake) almost always undermines your credibility rather than advancing your cause.

Agile proponents often suggest the only alternatives are the twin evils of "waterfall" or "Big Design Up Front" (BDUF). Traditionally, the waterfall method assumes development is completely linear process. A business case is developed and thrown over the wall to a designer and/or Business Analyst. A spec is written and thrown over a wall to a software designer. A software spec is written and thrown over a wall to a programmer. A solution is developed and thrown over a wall to a tester. The system is tested then thrown to users. Anyone who thinks that such a process can deliver anything workable without making all participants' lives a misery is far scarier than the most wild-eyed Agile evangelist.

In such a complex process as software and system development arguing that you can define ahead of time when any of the stages will be "done" and never need revisiting is tantamount to insanity. It certainly has no tangible relationship to reality. In any development cycle, each stage is likely to reveal something new or some additional complexity that wasn't considered in the previous stage. Sometimes this will mean revisiting a previous stage to clarify the way forward and sometimes it means an extension to the time for the current stage to be completed. If a methodology isn't fluid enough to allow for these variations then it is doomed to fail.

Full disclosure time: Disclosure 1 - I'm a proponent (broadly) of what Agile fans derisively call BDUF, so long as the disclaimers are in place that allow it to be an iterative process. I subscribe to the crazy idea that if you don't have a clear idea of what you're trying to do before you start programming (i.e. do at least some Big Design Up Front) then how the hell do the programmers know if they're doing the right thing? I'm also a believer in having faith in each person involved in the process so I like to keep the process fluid. When one person discovers an issue that hasn't been thought of up to that point, the process has to be fluid enough to cope with this (e.g. it must be possible to revisit design decisions and re-write specs when necessary).

Disclosure 2: I don't have a great depth of knowledge of Agile. I read quite a bit on the topic, usually from Agile advocates but I don't have real-world experience of using the process. Personally, I can see lots of promise in the Agile approach so long as the participants are open-minded and the workplace has the resources to dedicate to the required training. Religious evangelism of Agile makes me uncomfortable and sometimes it seems absurdly easy to pick the zealots apart.

I read the Signal vs. Noise blog of the 37 Signals crowd quite often and I think they offer some excellent advice to smaller organisations. I also think they have a tendency to promote their pro-Agile views as universal truths that will work anywhere. When pressed (for instance, in critical comments) they will add the disclaimer "yeah, this might not work everywhere" but it would be a lot less annoying if they added this qualifier up front. Glibly asserting that your methods are universally applicable when they clearly aren't provides ammunition for your opponents - don't give them a free shot.

At this point, I'd like to add a disclaimer: The 37 Signals guys are probably much smarter (and richer) than me and definitely develop some very good products. If I was running a startup I would definitely listen to what they say but for anyone in large organisations, a grain of salt is recommended.

Couching this discussion in religious terms is intended to have more than a humourous effect (although hopefully it added some humour). Much like I would run a mile from an evangelical politician who zealously pursued his goal to introduce a theocratic state, I try very hard to avoid people who obsessively seek to install a methodology ahead of worrying about achieving practical results.

I've seen enough examples of disasters to believe that it's almost impossible to successfully implement an even moderately complex system without some formal methodology in place. "Flying by the seat of your pants" is not a way of life I aspire to. But when the tools start to take ascendency over the end result, it's usually time for a reality check.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Last Rehearsal before my second live gig

So I'm venturing out to a second open mic night tonight - wish me luck. Here's a video of my final rehearsal.

My Best Video Ever

I really do think this is my best video ever - because it's all of my videos. The first 100 anyway. This took FOREVER to edit. I'm usually my own harshest critic but I actually really like how this turned out. I'm hoping by the time I do 200 (and I thoroughly intend to do that) I'll be making money and be able to pay someone else to edit the next highlight reel. It's 15 minutes but you only have to maintain your attention for ten second bursts, it's the best of both worlds.

Oh, and I take my mask off at the end too.

The URL for this video is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8karvfqR_HI

Monday, October 09, 2006

A Video Endurance Test

My YouTube subscribers kept asking me to post a long video and I kept thinking it was a bad idea. In the end I decided to call their bluff and posted this 20 minute video of me conducting a rambling monologue on my way to work. And it seems they like it. Weird.

Personally, I only recommend it to people suffering from insomnia. Or maybe they could screen it on an endless loop to prisoners at Gitmo. Nahhhh, not even the CIA are that cruel.

The URL for this video is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p0zkwVlTedU

Melbourne Fringe Festival Recommendations That Saved My Sanity

If you want an indication of how screwed up I managed to get over this past weekend, check out my 100th YouTube video that I posted to this blog over the weekend. In most of the videos I make, the mood is either exaggerated or outright faked. Not this one. That's exactly how goddam angry I was at that point. Fortunately, my sanity was saved by seeing some of the shows in the Melbourne Fringe Festival.

These were the shows I have mentioned previously that I saw in rehearsal a couple of weeks ago. "Mule" has finished its run but the comedy shows are running through until this Sunday (October 14th). A good laugh was exactly what I needed to get me out of the shitty mood I had descended into because of video editing issues. Lucky for me, these shows provided plenty of laughs. So as a public service announcement, Mr Angry gives you the inside dope: if you're lucky enough to be in Melbourne over the next week and need cheering up, check out these shows. Also, if you're already in a good mood but like a laugh, these shows are a must-see.

Dave Bushell's "I Can't Help Myself" (details and bookings here) has gone up a level in energy since I saw it in rehearsal. How a 20 years old Australian manages to play an American twice his age so convincingly I don't know, but he does it. There's even the added authenticity of the pre-show warmup guy to get the audience in the mood. Dr Alex McFarlane wrote the only self-help book you'll ever have to read. And fortunately for all of us, he wrote several sequels as well.

Tommy Dassalo's "The Universe is Parmigiana" (details and bookings here) present a grand unifying theory just in time. I hear string theory is almost discredited so maybe those scientists should be eating more parma. At one point in the show Tommy mentioned being nervous because, at 20, this was his first full length solo show. Yeah, all he's done up to this point is come runner up in a national standup competition and put on an award-winning two person show ("I Heart Racism" with Dave Bushnell). What's taken you so long to get it together you under-achieving bastard?

Dave Thornton's "What... Me Worry?" (details and bookings here) is proof Mad magazine isn't as litigious as Dave once thought. Dave's laid-back style is completely engaging and very Oz (Australian audiences - think Carl Barron but 15 years younger). His life's journey as related onstage includes his letter from the Queen and his email from the Dalai Llama and, if you're really lucky, he'll show you the mark left on his butt from when he ran with the bulls in Pamplona.

I think therapists call this a "coping strategy". I managed to deal with some major setbacks that were really pissing me off by, dare I say it, actually getting a life and going out. There was a point on Saturday night when I was most definitely feeling like a complete failure. Thanks to the diversion provided by these shows along with the voice of sanity in my life, I came through OK. This voice, by the way, is not one of the voices in my head that I've referred to multiple times in the past. None of those voices are sane.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

My 100th YouTube video

It's official - I need to get a life.

The URL for this video is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_RXezvLCYW8

The Angry News - Man of Straw

UK Cabinet Minister Jack Straw actually seems like a decent politician but I can't help thinking that he's recent comments suggesting that Muslim women should remove their veils are a bit of a publicity grab. It's a bit of a coincidence he shooses to say this right when the leadereship of the Labor party is going to change .

The URL for this video is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SwI4pFv_0r0

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Video Time!

How's you day? Mine's been fucked. Here's some videos, so cheer up. I did and I was really pissed off before.

This first one is this week's post for The Blogging Times:

The URL for this video is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x3neAmUBl4A

This next one is another installment for The Angry News:

The URL for this video is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JSc4lR0_Whs

In a disturbing turn of events, an increasing number of YouTube viewers are saying they are hearing about these news stories from me first. The world really is going to hell in a handbasket if I'm a reliable news source.

Friday, October 06, 2006

The Angry News - It's Nuke Time

I have one simple desire - that one week would go by without some news that makes it seem like the apocalypse is coming. This is my news report on the latest evidence that this isn't going to happen any time soon.

The URL for this video is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nNvjFLNjRDk