6/29/2004

The Greatest Email Prank

The best prank I ever heard, occured here several months ago.

Caller: "Help me! Every time I email someone and they respond, they get an inappropriate message that says it's from me."
Helpline: "I see. And you aren't sending it?"
Caller: "No! I swear I'm not! But it just went to a prof and now I'm in trouble."
Helpline: "Ok. I'll email you, and we'll see what this is."
So the email is sent, and the response received. I wish I could remember what it said. All I can remember is that it was highly inappropriate.

As it turns out, a friend had turned on his vacation message and filled it with the inappropriate response. That poor student.

6/24/2004

Guaranteed ways to lose a bid

When an institution, be it academic or commercial, decides to purchase a piece of software, it is important to make sure that what is bought fits the need. A stringent evaluation criteria, time, patience and a clear sense of what you want is always required. In most cases, you will be offered more than one solution that fits your needs. You will also be ofered more than one solution that has nothing to do with your needs at all.

Take this fellow for example.
"I'm going to be quite blunt here at the risk of offending our evaluators." The moment and evaluator reads this, no doubt alarm bells will go off. But allow me to continue the quote.
"Putting Customizability down as a low priority (4) on your list of requirements displays a lack of understanding of what is important for an Enterprise application that needs to accomodate a range of requirements."
In other words you, the customer, don't know what you need.
Indeed?
Well then, my good sir, would you be so kind as to explain why exactly your solution is almost entirely unrelated to our specified problem? We requested an ITIL compliant Service Desk. Comments such as:
"The <brand name> Solution has out-of-the-box functionality to manage issues "problem management" which we interpret to mean a global problem likely affecting more than one person."
Hmm.
But what about our request for Change Management and Configuration Management? Also, your interpretation of Problem Management is only partially correct. Are you familiar with ITIL?
No?
Then why are you bidding?
Yet another curious quote. This was a response to our request for improved efficiency of current Helpline Operation.
"To be completely honest software alose will not in of itself help you generate efficiencies. Anyone who tells you that has never truly implemented these types of tools."
Anyone?
Never?
Are you certain?
Curious you should say this when I have here beside me a bid from another company that has a proven record (and by proven, I mean an independent study was conducted) in this area. Their software and their processes consistently improve their customers efficiency. That's why they are in business.

And then there's the section on security.
Where do I begin?
Here are the actual questions (which the bidder generated, I did not) and their answers:
"Are security logging capabilities built into your product?"
No.
"Are security auditing capabilities built into your product?"
No.
"Does you product provide any facility for identifying suspicious
activity or possible intrusions?"
No.
"What encryption services have been implemented and how?"
<brand name> does not encrypt data.
"Have you conducted a vulnerability assessment of your package? What
security holes did you encounter and how did you fix them?"
<brand name> does not conduct vulnerability assessments.
"How do you handle security patches to your application?"
<brand name> has never needed to release a security patch.

Hmmm.
So.
You're rude, incompetent, are not providing us with what we need, tell us we don't know what we need, aren't providing us with a secure system and, to top it off, are the most expensive.
Why would I give you this bid, again? Please remind me...

6/22/2004

Silence and Denial

Do you remember in school, how you hated the importance of group work? There would always be someone who never did their share, and what would the teacher say?
"Learn to get along; this is how it is in the real world."

Truer words were never spoken. Of course, the well-meaning teacher always intended the group project to be a "learning" experience. Live in harmony with your fellow man, be a team, work together and so on. What happens though is that people learn how to slack without getting caught. Years in this system produce highly adaptable slackers and their partners, the workaholics. If we fast forward ten years, what do we see? The same people doing the same things. Of course, now the setting is not school, but work.

However, we now have a problem. Because people are now paid for their work in money rather than grades, money is required for daily life, they are unlikely to do work for which they will not get paid. Understanding
the body politic, the corporations dependence on income, the role of Project Manager is created. The lucky Project Manager gets the joyful job of keeping the minions in line, making sure that not only is work done, but it is done well, done on time and preferably under budget.
Inevitably, the Project Manager falls under the workaholic category.
The slackers are now in trouble. Years of not working have made them
incompetent at anything other than slacking. If someone discovers
their incompetence, they could lose their job. The slackers must now develop a plan to save their way of life or be discovered, and fired.

The plan involves two key elements:
Silence and Denial.

Silence is most effective in the meeting room. If the entire group refuses to say anything, the meeting will be dismissed and work can progress as normal, that is, not at all. It will be back to business as usual: the slow, grinding turn of the collective corporate wheels in the inches deep rut of political mire.
Denial is effective in the office. When asked any question, the response is simply "I don't know." Although it can be useful in the meeting room, this response is more likely to be questioned. In the office, it yields the immediate results of investigator disappearance, especially when coupled with "Joe Body might know." Joe Body may be an unsuspecting workaholic, mired up to the elbows in other important projects or a distracted manager who is too important to be bothered right now. As slacker will often not pass an investigator off to another slacker, unless of course that slacker is the distracted manager. In such cases, both workaholics and slackers will send the investigator to the distracted manager: the one out of dislike for the incompetent superior, the other because they know the investigator will wait ad infinitum for their answer.

But back to the recently hired Project Manager.
The Project Manager, whether they are new to the corporation or have been there for many years, recognizes slacker behaviour intuitively. However, intuition is not proof. How does one obtain proof?
The answer is simple:
Documentation!
With an effective documentation strategy, one can track slacker inactivity and provide proof of their incompetence. It is, however, of paramount importance that the documentation strategy be implemented quickly, be communicated completely, efficiently but with as little advanced warning as possible. Otherwise, you provide slackers with an opportunity to plan. Timing is of the essence! If you are too quick, slackers may use the denial tactic, claiming they "never heard anything about it." If you are too slow, slackers have time to organize a massive silence movement or they may willfully bury themselves in documentation, thereby creating a new slacking activity.

Above all, Project Managers must resist the urge to hire Consultants to help them plan their approach. 95% of all Consultants are slackers. Their goal is to get paid for telling you something you already know. No documentation ever produced by a Consultant or their team has ever led to a more productive corporation.
The better approach is to elicit useful feedback from your workaholics, not from someone else's slackers.

6/17/2004

The Canadian Election

Recall the article discussed in the post dated June 9th, entitled "The Three Faces of Eve."
It would seem that, like Americans, Canadian politicans have also taken to the web. This will not strike anyone as news, I am sure, but let us examine each parties website for a moment.


The Conservative Party
The Green Party
The Liberal Party
The NDP
The Bloc
The CHP


A brief glance reveals:
The url for the Bloc website does not have .ca at the end. Try changing .org to .ca and you will be redirected to the Bloc party in Ontario. Subtle, but very poignant.
Only the Conservative party website keeps a blog.
None of the sites maintain a forum, but the Green Party does licence their site under the GNU LGPL, which struck me as not at all surprising.
You can download pictures of a very posed Jack Layton from the NDP website. Very modest of you Jack. Incidentally, this site also has the least information.
The CHP and the Green Party websites are the least busy. Well placed white space can really do a lot for the clarity of your site.
The Bloc's website is the busiest, followed closely by the NDP, Liberals and Conservatives. How busy your website is can make it less easy to find information quickly. The user's eyes should be drawn to one or two things first, not everything all at once.
The best platform summary cannot be found at any of these sites. Instead, visit this site, at the CTV. It's a simple summary of the key points. It's clear, concise and quite informative, everything a summary should be.

6/15/2004

Space: the Final Frontier

Read the article...

Poor Yahoo! Feeling the crunch of competition.
I have had a Gmail account for some time. This morning I logged into my Yahoo! account to discover a 100MB of space. With my 1GB of Gmail space, I will never need another email account again!
But then, 64KB is more than anyone would ever need, right?

It would also seem that my Yahoo account is slower today. I wonder if this have anything to do with their recent upgrades. ;-)

According to the article, someone is selling their invitations for accounts. People will do anything for money. Please, people, don't buy your account. Just ask me. I'll give you one. The very idea that someone might be making money off people this way is, well, typical. Anything for a buck.

It will be interesting to see how the email industry develops over the next few years. Certainly, this is not the end. Eventually, a Gig of space will be standard and then one day someone will take it one step further and I'll have a Terabyte of space. No one ever stops to ask if the extra space is needed, or if the quest for more is beneficial to society as a whole. What do we teahc ourselves and those that come after us if the thirst for more is never quenched? Socrates would have had a thing or two to say, no doubt.

In the meantime I, the customer, will reap the benefits of two corporations trying to outdo each other. Hopefully, the powers that be realize that space will only take you so far and exceptional customer service is also needed.

6/09/2004

The Three Faces of Eve

Read the article

I had been pondering writing an article on the way people express their political views online after visiting the She Thinks website and the Little Green Footballs Blog. I didn't have a well-formed argument, however, and so sat on the idea, waiting for inspiration. And then along came this article regarding political advertising on blogs.
How could I resist?

The article begins by introducing a relatively unknown Republican Congressman, and then points out that your chances of having heard about him increases if you enjoy left-wing blogs. Apparently, his rival Democrat wishes to see him out of Congress and so has begun a campaign targeted at blog users. The article goes on to discuss similar tactics by other politicians.

Here's a question (actually two): why? and is it effective?
Why, is probably obvious. They're politicians. They love an audience. The web, be it any community found therein, provides as good an audience as any.
Is it effective? The article doesn't say, and in any case effectiveness might be hard to measure. I, for one, rarely if ever look at the ads posted above my blog.

Hold that thought for a moment.
Now jump to She Thinks.

I have not taken a careful look at the website, only cursory. It's run by a group of people who consider themselves to be Independent Feminists, not to be confused with Feminist. Not feeling "oppressed by the patriarchy," and having overcome the "old boys club" many, many a time by the bat of a few eyelashes, I can't say I'm overly concerned with the Feminist or Independent Feminist causes. I'm sure there's a difference, and I'm sure each group sees herself as being better or more important than the other.
However, is the informaiton provided on this website useful? I did look, but couldn't find anything.

Hold that thought.
Now jump to LGF.

If you are not intimately familiar with Middle Eastern politics, and more specifically, with the militant Islamist movement, you will jump to the conclusion that the blog writer may perhaps be racist. I carefully read this site. Not only is he not racist, he's extremely well informed. There is a lot to keep track of when dealing with the world of Middle Eastern politics, and he provides quite the spread.
However, his approach is very "in your face" and some may find it offensive.

Now consider these as the three faces of Eve, where Eve in this case is the general body we call Politics. Each is dramatically different of course, and it would be foolish to try and compare them. Instead, what to they tell us about politics online?

1. Political advertising online, much like any advertising, is done for money. This is specifically pointed out in the blogging article: "In the old days, you could take somebody like Jesse Helms or maybe Ted Kennedy and you could demonize them in order to raise money. With the Internet, you can hit any candidate and raise money by turning him into Jesse Helms for a small demographic."
If you will look at each of the sites noted, all involve money somehow, perhaps a small donation.
But, let's be honest. Where politics go, is money far behind?

2. Politics inherently have a message targeted at a specific audience. This is no surprise: it has always been true in the offline world. Not everyone is a Liberal, Conservative or a member of the Church of the Universe. But there was a time where the web was hoped to be the "great equalizer," disseminating information to everyone everywhere. In fact, there are some who still believe in that view.
For those of you who do, I would suggest that do a little research into the percentage of the world's populaton that is actually online. That you own a computer, or even have access to one, inherently says something about your social status.
The web may one day attain the impact of the clock or the printing press, but today is not that day.

3. The delivery of a political message online may more extreme than it would be otherwise. I base this on what my experiences are, not on measured fact. However, in her book "The Psychology of the Internet," Patricia Wallace would agree with me. Online, extreme views are not softened as people learn about others. Instead, they become more extreme and like minds congregate together, feeding each other with more extreme views. All three sites provided above seem to reflect this idea. By stirring up those who agree with you to some sort of action, we arrive back at point 1: money.

There is a huge amount of information available online, political and otherwise. A few closing questions: how much of it is useful, or even factual? Does the proliferation of extreme views improve things, make them worse, or have any effect at all?

6/03/2004

Google Bombs

Read the article
Read another article

Ah, the Google Bomb.
A few good ones include the "miserable failure," mentioned in the article, "weapons of mass destruction" and "French victories." Apparently, an old bomb would provide the Microsoft website when "more evil than satan himself" was entered. I am searching for it now, but it doesn't seem to work anymore.
Too bad.
Unfortunately, people get quite upset over this sort of thing.
"What about companies using Google bombs to make money?" Valid question. Yes, it's a problem if a company manipulates Google's "Feeling Lucky" feature to always produce themselves as the result in order to improve sales. It is an entirely different problem than "French victories," however and the two should not be treated with the same concern. I would by no mean hamper someone's good time, especially if it's not illegal.
Would I stop a company from Google bombing in order to increase sales? Probably not. It's not illegal, and I am always very wary of trying to introduce unenforceable laws or rules or codes of conduct into the Internet. If it were to become that serious of a problem, Google would have to fix it. The company is not stupid, and they have been doing quite well so far, hence the introduction of Gmail and the upcoming release of stocks to the public.

6/02/2004

Previous Web Lives

I have posted the following questions on two of my most frequently
visited forums:
Is this your first forum experience?
What draws you too this community?

Nearly everyone answers "The people here," to the second question. I
am not surprised. People are usually what attract me to or repulse me
from a particular community.
The first question has drawn mixed results, however. I was surprised
to discover that there are a large number of people who are only
members of one community, and have never been members of any other
community. It would be interesting to see whether this is typical of
many communities or not.
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