Why Not?

Monday Nov 15, 2010

Moving blog...

While OA have plans to move blogs to another blogging engine more integrated into the new web structure (blogging by Drupal module, maybe...) this post is not about that, but a more personal, singular reference. Namely, I'm moving my blogging over here. A number of reasons - it's an excuse to rework a bunch of old postings, saving my tired brain from having to come up with new subjects; it's a chance to aggregate a couple of existing blogs into one place and then integrate all of that with my broader online presence; and it is an opportunity to do the whole thing better, creating a base set of tags that allow my readers (or reader...) to read just posts on particular subjects, whether that be technical, managerial, audio or miscellaneous posts about dogs or motorcycles.

OA blogs will likely continue to have a Planet feed which some or all of my posts will appear on. If for some reason or other an aggregator is not included in the new setup, please come on over. Although some of the initial posts might seem a little familiar...

Friday Jun 04, 2010

Nations and empires

Managers at all levels in all types of organisations are often accused of "empire building", the acquisition of new staff, responsibilities, resources and budget, when sometimes they are actually engaged in nation building. While the latter is essentially positive, the former is not.

The prima facie actions involved are more or less the same; the difference lies in the motivation. Empire building is associated with the attitudes that drive the equally negative "them and us" of 70s style management and old-style unions; it is about a zero-sum game where people are striving to get more from the organisation than others, and to take from others within the organisation without the appropriate primary motivation i.e. the good of the organisation.

Empire building is for the builder, the person or persons in charge - it is defensive, about ego-stroking or just being plain power-hungry. Other than by the builder themselves and their allies, the empire is generally seen and experienced as unpleasant, both in the short and, importantly, in the long term. Empires are built for the now and the next day, not the next month, year or decade; the builder might want the empire for the long-term, but the building is done for its own sake. In the long-term empires are usually negative for all involved as they tend not to be sustainable; they get too big to survive.

Nation building is for those who come after you; it is about the future, bringing together elements to make something sustainable in the long and very long term; recognising where natural boundaries lie, not growing unless there is a genuine benefit in growing; and when the nation grows, growing with the support of those involved, with alliances, trade and exploration. The objective is to make something stable and resilient, something that you can pass on with confidence that it can continue, and can continue as something positive.

It is often difficult to differentiate between an empire and a nation from the outside looking in, or even from the inside; this seems to be true regardless of the political system in which the empire/nation building takes place, democracy through to dictatorship. But in systems where there is an identifiable and more or less fixed ruling class, whether it is a kingdom, dictatorship or oligarchy, there tends to be a presumption of the negative, of a less than savoury motive behind the actions of that ruling class; this is particularly true when there is a group in the system which is opposed to the system type or to those currently in charge.

So organisational managers have a challenge on their hands. On one side we have the actuality that most teams/departments are in effect an oligarchy (actually I hope in practice a meritocracy, but that is another discussion...) and have trade unions in opposition to the organisation, ready to criticise whether or not there is something worthy of criticism. Within such a negative power atmosphere it is not surprising that most nation building, growth and change for the sake of the organisation, is perceived and opposed as empire building, and resisted as such, passively or actively. At best the negative voices detract from what might have been a collectively positive development, at worst they can create such a negative environment that the development fails, or even ends up bringing to the fore a very negative and dictatorial management style.

For sure, many department managers do engage in empire building; trying to get a bigger budget, control over new areas, a higher staff count; and in the final analysis doing this purely for the sake of having them. But at least as many, if not more, start off as decent capable people, and the changes they engender are all done with the best of motives. Sometimes, sadly, the continuous and unreasoned opposition to their well-intentioned efforts changes these people for the worse, forcing them to becoming dictatorial, encouraging them to develop negative views of human nature, to cease to be open to input; in all making the opposition self-fulfilling.

So, why not do something different? Why not be positive, engage with change? Why not start with the assumption that people are basically well-intentioned? Why not go with the assumption what is being built is a nation, not an empire? And that when people ask questions they are not being negative, just trying to understand and engage? Wouldn't that be nicer?

Maybe, just maybe, starting positively will lead to positive outcomes. Maybe even a nationan organisation fairer for all...

Wednesday May 26, 2010

More stuff that works

A mixed bag, one for motorcyclists, one for people who like to listen to music.

For audiophiles, particularly those who commit a relatively small amount of money to their love of music, get yourselves online and buy some Quadraspire isolation supports. Funny shape bits of plastic that sit under your audio kit and stop vibration; impressive how much effect such little things have on output quality. For those who spend a little more, the same company's Sunoko Vent hifi racks performed remarkably well in a demo; I went in with considerable cynicism, but came out a believer. Just moving the CD player source from an old rack to Quadraspire's entry product and then to the Sunoko produced appreciable step changes in audio clarity and tone. Moving the player back to the normal table and back again clinched it - absolutely, definitely and even to non-educated ears, the audio quality improves on the Sunoko Vent rack. One to look listen out for.

And for motorcyclists, so many of whom will have heard the first part of this one before: the vanishing point; watching it obsessively really, really works... The vanishing point is that point at the which the two edges of a road appear to come together as you approach a bend. If the vanishing point recedes away from you as you approach, the bend is relatively shallow; if it doesn't move at all the bend is sharp and slowing down is probably advisable. This is something I have known for a long time, and used more or less my whole motorcycling career (not always effectively...); but I picked up an extension to this information in a motorcycling periodical. I read it, thought about it and went out to try with much success, so I thought I'd pass it on. :)

If you keep watching the vanishing point as you go around the bend, not just on the approach, it has several additional benefits:

(i) vehicles of all types have a tendency to go where the person in control is looking, so watching the vanishing point helps prevent those embarrassing verge/kerb encounters, and for me it seems to result in a better, smoother line through the bend;

(ii) you see and understand what is around the bend sooner;

(iii) you are in a far better position to understand what the bend is going to do, allowing you to continually reapply the basic rule described above, namely if the vanishing point starts to recede you can accelerate. Or brake if it seems to get closer...

Thursday Apr 01, 2010

One in the eye for iPhone users with pets

See, look, if you had an Android phone not only would you get a better operating system and more choice in hardware, you'd get an app that translates what your pet says using the newly released beta of Google Translate for Animals. Cool...


Friday Nov 20, 2009

A couple of things that really work - further evidence

Ok, ok, not so much from a scientific perspective... But the Yumega (which comes in suspiciously cool little bottles, like so cool we're keeping them to make flavoured olive oils with herbs from the garden) ran out. Within a week levels of scratching and licking were definitely higher, and after two weeks of the return to previous levels we ordered more Yumega. Things seem to be settling down again, time will tell.

And Quistel? Definitely, that's a good-un. Skin conditions disappear almost like magic, dogs smell a little less like dogs :)

Saturday Oct 03, 2009

A couple of things that really work

Probably of interest to dog owners only this one, but hey, you find something or things that seem to be good, you should tell people about them...

So recent discoveries: Quistel and Yumega; one's a medicated shampoo, one's a dietary supplement; both are about improvements in skin health and fur health. Neither are cheap, although Quistel (the shampoo) is normally used diluted which makes it as cheap as any shampoo.

Used neat Quistel claims to help cure various skin conditions such as allergic reactions and eczema, used dilute help prevent them, and in general has the repute of making the dog's fur feel soft. Of vague archaeological interest is that one of its key ingredients is arnica, used by, among others, the Romans for treating burns and other skin damage.

Yumega is a mix of oils high in Omega3 and 6 derived from plants, specifically golden flax and starflower; we're actually using Yumega Plus, which also has salmon oil. These oils are, like Quistel, intended to improve coat and skin condition and in particular claims to reduce moulting. The salmon oil is intended to reduce itchiness and sensitivity. Golden flax oil is also good for cricket bats, and if that was not enough, there's an archaeological link here too; both golden flax and starflower have long been seen as having health benefits, with some sites claiming evidence of use

The observed results are possibly just seasonal, possibly coincidental and cannot be traced to one or the other of the products and may actually require. But let not the rules of science impinge on this blog post... For sure there's less hair around the house; not a little, a lot less hair. The retriever, Louis, being from a wussy show line, has always had problems with eczema, particularly in areas where dampness tends to linger. As a result he has lost a lot of hair on the insides of his rear legs and associated "leg pits"; this is now growing back. Maybe, just maybe there's been less scratching and licking; for sure the shampoo has an effective deoderant component and the fur on both dogs does seem a little softer.

All in all, it seems to me these products are having the desired and claimed effects. Pretty good. If it does turn out to coincidental and changes with the seasons or all the observed benefits just disappear despite continued use, I'll let you know...

Monday Apr 27, 2009

If ever someone deserved it...

This guys does. Sponsorship, that is. Whatever your views on the troops in Afghanistan, anywhere else or the military in general (or if serving, your views on the RMP!), Major Phil Packer is one tough guy who deserves our support to reach his sponsorship target. A man told he'd never walk again attempting the London Marathon on crutches? Come on, get over to his site and make a donation.

And yes, we know the marathon was yesterday, but it's going to take Phil a few more days to finish as he's only allowed to do two miles a day...

PS And pass it on, only 650,000 more people donate £1 and he's hit his target :)

Friday Apr 03, 2009

And I thought this one had been dealt with already...

So, way back when (that being when as an IT professional I realised that open source was the way to go), one of the common issues raised with adopting it in your organisation was "who do we go to if it goes wrong?", commonly shortened to "who do we sue?". Well, I had an answer ready for this, as it was a big part of the reason for my change of heart.[1]

Who do we sue?. Well, no one. Open source, closed source. Free or really expensive. One hobbyist's creation or a product of the world's most profitable company.

And I quote:


This limitation applies to

- anything related to the software, services, content (including code) on third party Internet sites, or third party programs; and
- claims for breach of contract, breach of warranty, guarantee or condition, strict liability, negligence, or other tort to the extent permitted by applicable law.

It also applies even if

- repair, replacement or a refund for the software does not fully compensate you for any losses; or

- Microsoft knew or should have known about the possibility of the damages.

Some states do not allow the exclusion or limitation of incidental or consequential damages, so the above limitation or exclusion may not apply to you. They also may not apply to you because your country may not allow the exclusion or limitation of incidental, consequential or other damages." (c) Microsoft, from the Office 2007 Standard edition licence.

The warranty section is even more fun. For those who doubt (read "those who never read the licence they are agreeing to"), this useful site should help them:


Coincidentally, exactly where I got my copy of the licence from for the quote above, having never installed MSO2k7 on my (Linux) computers :)

[1] Previously I was a Microsoft qualified sort of IT person, with expertise in NT/2K server and a specialism MS Exchange 5.5. You live and learn, and I was so much younger then ;)

Monday Feb 16, 2009

Mii injured...

Some out there will immediately read the title of this post and say "Ahh, yes. You too?". Others will quickly guess at the implications but not quite understand and rush to confused conclusions. For all, here's the why and the how...

So, I was a bought a Nintendo Wii. With the Sports pack. That would be enough for those partly in the know to understand. For the uninitiated a Wii games console uses a controller that, unlike the more traditional joystick, requires you to move it through real space in 3 dimensions to play the game. Wii Sports is a game and add-ons that allow you to play various sports (tenpin bowling, baseball, tennis, golf and boxing). Many Wii games have "players" you choose from and create that are called Miis.

I haven't injured one of the Miis, strictly I've not actually injured anything. Turns out that while taking part in sports on a games console involves very little running around, reproducing the movements uses many of the same muscles. Combine that with a very competitive person, the enthusiasm of a puppy with a new toy and a system that rewards you by increasing its perception of your skill level and the skills of the computer opponents you are presented with and you get, well, ouch. I feel like I've played about 300 frames of tenpin bowling, 20 baseball innings, gone a few rounds with the bag and been soundly trounced in several games of tennis. Which I have, sort of...

Thursday Feb 05, 2009

Containers being standard makes the world a better place

Or at least a cheaper place. Which may or may not be the same thing, but for me professionally it is basically true. A way of achieving the desired output that is cheaper than the last way is a good thing and allows the money saved to be spent elsewhere.[1] This should make the world a better place, albeit marginally.

So, containers. Specifically this post was inspired by shipping containers, but there many other things out there, like railway gauges, that have been beneficial by their being standardised.

Before shipping containers the speed with which you could load a ship was controlled by all sorts of factors: the size and type of ship; the sizes and types of the objects to be loaded onto the ships; the cranes available at the dockside or on the ship itself; numbers, strength and current injury status of dockhands and crew members; etc..

With containers someone loads the stuff into the container limited only by volume and mass, in much the same process, time and effort they would have needed in loading the vehicle delivering the goods to the dock. The container is then put on a train, an artic or a barge and moved to the dock where one type of crane lifts the container onto the ship. The containers are a standard size and shape and a known maximum weight. The ships need loading space that fits containers and can be scaled as necessary.

The end result is a method of shipping goods around the world in huge quantities at a small proportion of the costs before. Using containers is simple, safer and less time-consuming for everyone. Excellent. A simple and open standard saving us all money. Your container needs to meet a size and strength specification, have places for the crane to get hold suitable for the maximum gross weight of the container, and be marked appropriately as per the ISO standard.

Now in much of IT standards have been equally beneficial, and pretty much all the best ones have been equally open. The Internet only exists because the standards were and are open to all; the web as we know it today only exists because the specifications for HTML and HTTP, etc., were open from day one. Networking works because TCP/IP is a standard (the dominant protocol used to connect network devices to each other); because RJ45 is a standard (the network port and plug you probably have on your workplace wall); because Cat5 is a standard (a standard for network cables, most likely the cable connecting your computer to the network port). And so on and so on, throughout your computer and its connected devices (a few hardware manufacturers being a dishonourable exception :( ) all the way up to the operating system.

Until we get to interchanging human-level data. Then we (collectively) seem to think standardisation is about having the same software version as the majority. It isn't. We need to standardise the way we interchange data and as consumers, whether professionally or domestically, ensure that those providing the tools with which we create and share data use and comply with those standards. We need interoperability. This will have much the same benefits to us all as shipping containers have had and that the other standards which IT already depends upon have had. Real interoperability. That means I use my computer to create a file and store it and you use your computer to retrieve it and read or edit it. Without issue. Without you having to use the same software, operating system or even device type as me.

I want to be able to create a document using OpenOffice on a Kubuntu PC, store it on my document management system and have you able to access it with your Symbian or other smartphone and read and edit the document with whatever software you have on it and store it again, then someone else retrieve and open it to check and comment on something in the document using their Apple Mac using whatever software they have, and so on. Without anyone having to fiddle with formatting or install some extra stuff so they can access the document management system. And then me retrieve the document again, open it with Lotus Symphony on a Moblin Netbook, accept or reject the various comments etc. and PDF the document and email it off.

This means the format I save it in has to be a standard and all the editing packages have to properly, really support that standard. Luckily we have one that we can use for that, ODF (OASIS Open Document Format). It means that all technology involved has to be able to speak the same network protocols. Luckily we have some that work great, TCP/IP and HTTP. It means that that the devices all need to be able to authenticate to the document management system. More difficult depending on the strength of the authentication required. But we trust SSL/HTTPS for many online financial transactions so that should do. Awesome, I have what I want!

Except one software manufacturer seems to think I don't want interoperability on my terms, only on theirs. They call it "true interoperability". A phrase which as someone pointed out has all the Orwellian overtones one could possibly want. Especially when you find out that interoperability on their terms doesn't seem to mean the interoperability outlined above but something far more like the "interoperability through everyone using the same software" situation that we already have. Annoying isn't it? Even more annoying when you find out that company, having avoided being involved in development of ODF, are now involved in numbers and trying to prevent it becoming more interoperable.

Interoperability. We want it. It will be good for all of us, make life easier, make IT more inclusive, drive down costs, etc., etc.. Apparently however we must be clear we want real interoperability, proper interoperability, interoperable interoperability. Not that pesky Newspeak "true interoperability"...

[1] Bearing in mind my employer's "not for profit" status. Those in the private sector can think more money for shareholders and maybe the public sector can focus savings on reducing taxes :)

Monday Dec 15, 2008

Becoming part of Ubuntu Planet

To quote the audience participants in The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged): "Maybe, maybe not, maybe, maybe not...". But OA is submitting a feed of Ubuntu related blog posts for inclusion in Planet Ubuntu. We may or may not get accepted, and it will just be posts tagged as part of the feed. But 't'will be cool to be so accepted...

Wednesday Nov 19, 2008

Lock-ins - anyone's friend?

No, not that type of lock-in.[1] I'm talking hear about the deliberate and/or thoughtless aspects of some software and hardware products.

There are some companies notable for a traditional approach to lock-in: the practice of using undocumented file formats and deprecating older formats. Autodesk famously do this with their AutoCAD product, changing formats as often as most people buy new shoes and dropping "save-as" support for older versions. Microsoft also do it, by changing their document formats, but also by having unpublished APIs on products and building software with the assumption that everything is or should be Microsoft. Most software companies in a dominant position in their market do it (if you know of exceptions, let me know). They do it to protect their immediate market at the expense of the their competitors and their customers.

Sometimes lock-in pretends to be your security friend: Bruce Schneier on lock-in.

But the consequence of lock-in is simple; slower innovation, increased costs and slower market growth. So companies practicing lock-in gain in the short-term but lose in the long-term through a smaller market. Everyone else just loses. So why do we stand for it? In IT probably habit, a case of just accepting that's the way it is. Or maybe the influence of the big organisations: those private sector behemoths that can afford it so don't bother to change and those, like councils, who are both highly resistant to change and have annual expenditure models (rather than three or five year) so don't see the change to be a saving. Then all those who deal with those organisations as suppliers and even customers are forced to adopt the same technologies to be able to interoperate. Raising everyone's costs in the process.

But we would all gain from more openness, a set of standards we interoperate with. The web has HTML, CSS and Javascript, which is starting to benefit us all. File formats still need some work, primarily of the civil protest variety; the formats exist but not enough is being done about the adoption of them.

[1] For the uninitiated or non-native English speakers, the phrase "lock-in" is often used to refer to the practice of closing a public house at the end of licenced hours with guests still inside, almost invariably limited to regular guests. Of course that kind of lock-in is also a form of protectionism as those locked-in won't be spending money anywhere else :)

Wednesday Oct 22, 2008

...a kind of click hungry hippopotamus in a tutu...

Surely a contender for the best line of all time in a tech review? Paul Murphy compares MacOS, Linux (SuSE Enterprise Desktop version) and Windows Vista in this ZDnet article, and in process makes a couple of excellent points about the options available for your desktop OS. I couldn't help but feel that a different flavour of Linux may have caused his recommendations to become one, but the comment "a kind of click hungry hippopotamus in a tutu" really covers off one of the contenders!

Anyone wanting to contribute drawings of a click hungry hippopotamus in a tutu I think I can guarantee some fame if not any fortune. I'll definitely start a gallery...

A kind of click hungry hippopotamus in a tutu. Couldn't resist saying it one more time :)

Friday Oct 17, 2008

First they ignore gvSIG, then they laugh at gvSIG, then they fight gvSIG, then gvSIG win?

Actually I'm not entirely sure ESRI went through the laughing stage, but they seem to have reached the fighting stage. In Spain at any rate. This email circulated on the gvSIG and OSGeo mailing lists:

"Hi all,

I write this mail on behalf of Álvaro Anguix one of the leaders of gvSIG Project (it seems he is more confident with my English than me :P). I've posted his letter in Spanish on my personal weblog[1], and I write down here more or less his thoughts.

As you may know, he works for IVER, the most prominent company that supports gvSIG (aside note, I work for Prodevelop, another gvSIG supporting company). Ok, some coworkers of him went to Madrid few days ago to attend the Annual ESRI Users Conference. Because IVER has customers that use ESRI technology they, as every year, wanted to know the latest "arc-news". Obviously they registered previously and they were confirmed by the organization.

Well, when they tried to register at the beginning of the conference, the Marketing Director invited them to abandon the conference. Even more, the Managing Director of ESRI Spain insisted one of the IVER people that "to talk with customers, better she should go to a café or on the street". Quite annoying and bizarre!

As Alvaro says, why they have this behavior with his colleagues? Maybe they fear FOSS companies?

Anyway, all of you are invited to the gvSIG conf, even to discuss, it's free in both senses ;)

See you"

The weblog (in Spanish) referenced can be found here.

Excluding a company from your conference on the grounds they also work with competing products smacks of anti-competitive behaviour to me. Presumably not allowing IVER staff into the conference reflects ESRI Spain's concerns that their product can't compete with gvSIG and an OSGeo stack. At least not the pricing they have been accustomed to charging; and maybe they have seen previews of gvSIG v2 and realise competing is going to be hard whatever they do with the pricing...

Monday Sep 22, 2008

What we can learn from monkeys (part 1)

There are arguably many things we can learn from monkeys and in many senses. I'm not going to go anywhere near things like dietary content and biochemical realities; I'm more interested in what we can learn in terms of behaviour, individual and group and the degree to which they are interdependent, and what monkeys can teach us about real world maths. So welcome to part one: monkeys, policies and traditions...

A friend of mine from university dropped by yesterday and we got to talking about common practices vs best practices and how faced with too many choices and a degree of uncertainty (i.e. choosing from competing and rapidly developing technologies) people tend to stick as close as possible to the way it is now or seek justification for choices based on the what most other people have chosen up to now. This gave me the chance to air my new favourite saying:

"A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it the superficial appearance of being right" Thomas Paine.

He countered by reminding me about the parallel between monkeys and many company policies and practices; programmed as opposed to reasoned behaviour. The parable of the cage full of monkeys and the bananas...

Take a large cage full of monkeys. Lower into the cage a large and attractive bunch of bananas. The instant any monkey touches a banana let loose thunder and lightening, fire hoses of ice cold water over all the monkeys in the cage, etc.. Pretty soon, the monkeys in the cage will stop trying to reach the bunch of bananas and content themselves with other sources of nutrition provided. Now substitute a new monkey into the cage. If this monkey tries to reach for the bunch of bananas the other monkeys, not wanting all the bangs, flashes and cold water, will stop them by force until the new monkey learns not to try and get the bananas. Then substitute another new monkey into the cage and the same thing will happen, with even the predecessor new monkey helping to prevent banana grabbing. Then another. And another.

Eventually you will have substituted all of the monkeys in the cage. None of them will try to get the bananas and any new monkeys will be violently prevented from getting the bananas. And none of them will know why...