Monthly Archives: March 2007

Something different – me without a mask

Seriously.  I actually don’t wear a mask in this video .  I still think you can’t really see my face because of the lighting I used but a few people on YouTube got excited when they saw it.  I ought to give the same disclaimer here I did on YouTube:

I HAVEN’T GONE EMO!  This is actually a piece I wrote about 20 years ago.  It is about death and it is about a true story but I think I’ve managed to get over the events described in the intervening decades so don’t worry about me.

So without further ado, I present me doing a dramatic reading:  “The Bonfire”.

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Homophobia and Homoeroticism

Here’s a bit of inside information for those who may not know: when you’re a male, you learn from a very early age that terms like fag, poof and homo are insults.  These days most people don’t see “gay” slurs as particularly strong insults but they remain insults due to homophobia.  From my experience, the driver for people’s homophobia falls into one of the following camps (or it might cross a few of them):

  1. Religious or cultural indoctrination
  2. Thinking gay sex is gross
  3. A fear that a gay guy is going to come on to them and violate their precious heterosexual butthole (this fear is unique to men and is usually totally unfounded – the men most paranoid about this tend to be completely unattractive to gay men)
  4. A fear (in men again) that they will be seen as gay if they aren’t homophobic
  5. Repression of actual gay feelings (seriously, look up the studies – most aggressively homophobic men are closet cases)

Homophobia can have funny effects on men’s behaviour.  The dominant stereotype is that gay=effeminate so to distance themselves from any potential gayness, many men get obsessive about being “manly”.  It seems like a good theory but the insistence on surrounding yourself with other many men and performing acts of physical prowess can’t help but, well, seem a little gay.  I find it funny how often homophobia and homoeroticism cross paths.  In Australia particularly this can get extreme.  One of my favourite jokes is “An Australian male’s definition of a poofter is anyone who likes women more than beer”.

I’m continually being called gay on YouTube for example because, by mainstream standards for men, I’m expressive (particularly with my hands) as well as articulate and well-spoken.  People (usually males) tend to say it because they think, according to the stereotype, it might be true and/or they think it’s an insult.  I fail to see how the topic can be of any relevance to anyone, male or female, straight or gay, unless they want to suck my dick.  People interested in sucking my dick may feel free to contact me privately.

There are many good jokes about the boundaries between male camaraderie and homosexuality, a favourite of mine can be found online – the trailer for a fictional film that combines sequences from “Back to the Future” with the themes of “Brokeback Mountain”.  In “Brokeback to the Future” we learn the truth of the relationship between Doc and Marty.  It’s a beautiful story.  What I find really funny is that they could create the gay mood just by using images and dialogue that already existed in the original movie.

More recently, someone tried to do the same thing with the movie “300” with far less success.  It fails for two main reasons (1) it simply isn’t as well-done as “Brokeback to the Future” (although some of the editing is good) and (2) you’re trying to find “hidden” homoerotic subtext in a film about near-nude Spartans?  Ummm, guys, how good is your knowledge of history?

What I found far funnier than the video was some of the comments it inspired.  300 has been very popular with young men.  And many young men are desperate to assert that they are not gay.  Homophobic reasoning often follows this path: “if I like something gay or admire someone who’s gay, that might mean I’m gay.  Therefore I don’t like anyone who’s gay and nothing I like is gay.”  This train of thought came out pretty strongly in some of the comments like:

“show some repect to the spartans you idiot … the Athenians were into sodomization with their pages, not Spartans … Too hard to make spartans look gay … Dumbb video. you CANNOT make 300 seems gay (grammatical errors are in the original) … actually spartans looked down upon homosexuality … spartans were straight, athenians were gay … just doesn’t work with this movie … i dont think that 300 guys that have KIDS and like to kill people are going to be gay.”

Boys, boys, boys.  I think all homophobia is stupid.  If you’re going to try and justify your homophobia, you might want to avoid making yourself even more stupid by making idiotic assertions that fly in the face of all current historical that I’m aware of.  When you thrash around like this, tying yourself in knots saying “NOTGAYNOTGAYNOTGAYNOTGAY”, honestly, it just looks like you’re trying to hide something.

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Filed under General Angriness

IT Leaders Who Inspire

Inspired by Jerome at The Corporate Cynic I have decided to take a break from detailing work issues and people that make me angry and write about qualities in people I have worked for and with who were capable of inspiring the best from people rather than simply demanding it. OK, to provide contrast I’m going to give negative examples as well but this is still more positive than my usual approach.

I’m going with the generic terms of “leaders” because the roles filled by the people who inspired this post have varied over the years. Some have been team leaders, some have been project managers, some have been departmental managers and some have been CIOs. The Corporate Cynic does a good job of covering qualities that are applicable in any industry but for this post I’m going to focus on qualities that are of particular value in IT leaders. Arguably, these traits have value beyond IT environments but they are more integral to an inspiring IT leader.

A passion for technology Great IT leaders don’t have to be hardcore geeks but if they aren’t passionate about technology, if they aren’t excited about the possibilities of the future then they’re hardly going to inspire enthusiasm in their staff.  IT staff can tell a mile off when a manager is only interested in climbing the corporate ladder and has no passion for the work.

Knowing they aren’t the smartest It’s actually often a bad idea to promote the best programmer (for example) to management. Good workplaces find ways to reward good IT workers other than pushing them away from what they are good at and into management.  Strong IT leaders understand the concepts behind the technology but are happy to acknowledge when superior expertise exists within the team.  Bad managers refuse to admit when someone is smarter than them and refuse to take the advice of people who know better than them simply because they happen to be subordinate.

Knowing how to promote IT within the business  The best managers I have worked with have gone beyond protecting IT staff from office politics and have actively promoted the benefits of IT at board level.  The confidence this gives IT staff helps them deliver better quality results.  Bad managers promote themselves at the expense of the IT department.  They take credit for success and blame the team for problems.

Provide a vision  Doing this right can be a bit of a balancing act.  The dynamic nature of IT make providing a compelling vision even more important for inspiring workers.  Steve Jobs might not be God but the level of direction he gives Apple is a major factor in the dedication of the staff and the company’s success.  But there has to be integrity and depth behind any talk of vision – IT staff can smell bullshit in this area a mile off.

These are some qualities that can help a leader inspire IT workers.  Of course all the other good stuff covered by the Corporate Cynic should be there too – being honest, respectful, supportive, dependable.

Why is this even important?  The number of bad managers who place no importance on inspiring staff provide fuel for a million blogs.  The “do what you’re paid to and stop complaining” attitude is so common it seems like it must be taught at day one of business school.  But I know from experience that, on average, being “inspired” is far more important to IT workers than it is for many others.  Most IT people start working in IT because they love the work.  They start “working” on IT long before they’re employed to do it.

And sadly, truly inspiring IT leaders are few and far between.  Most bad managers I have been subjected to seem to take active joy in treating their staff badly.  They think giving staff more than the minimum is inefficient and a waste of time and money.  But in purely economic terms, giving IT staff inspiration is one of the most valuable things a manager can.  Inspired IT workers will willingly work longer, harder and produce higher quality work.

The thing is, leaders capable of inspiring their staff probably don’t need any advice from me.  And I worry that bad managers will exploit the above tips by using the other lesson they learn on the first day of business school: “once you learn to fake sincerity, everything else is easy.”

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Uncle Angry’s bedtime story

Here’s something a little different after the turmoil I was posting about yesterday. I think we could all benefit from relaxing a bit. And what could be more relaxing than sitting back while your Uncle Angry reads you a bedtime story? So take your shoes off, lean back and let me tell you all about “A Quiet Day In ToyTown…”

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It’s the same old story

I rarely join in on the blag-o-spheroid buzz of the day but I do feel compelled to throw in my 2c on the events that have a massive number of people all a-twitter today.  Essentially, a rather high-profile (and rather good) blogger, Kathy Sierra, has been subject to some extremely vile and graphic harassment.  She details the events here on her blog (I should throw in the obligatory warning here – I wasn’t joking when I said graphic.  Consider yourself duly warned before you follow that link.)

The actions of the people involved are utterly reprehensible and inexcusable.  And you know what else?  This.  Is.  Normal.  This is how people behave online.  The only difference I can see in this case is that the perpetrators seem to be connected to some incredibly high-profile people.  I imagine those people are in major arse-covering mode right now.

I find the majority of reaction from other bloggers slightly confusing.  The outpouring of support for Kathy Sierra is fantastic but the recurring “I can’t believe this happened” theme simply boggles my mind.  Really?  You can’t believe people would do this?  What fucking internet are you using?

It isn’t that I’m not outraged by this – I am.  I’m just not surprised.  Maybe I’ve spent too long on YouTube (as xkcd put it so eloquently, the behaviour of YouTube haters is bad even by internet standards.)  I’ve gotten so used to receiving violent, anti-semitic (ironic considering I’m not Jewish) and homophobic (ironic considering I’m not gay) threats that I thought everyone was used to that standard of behaviour.  I’ve also repeatedly seen the most vile, disgusting attacks imaginable levelled at women and children.

Ever wondered why I post anonymously and wear a mask when I make videos?  Astute readers will note that I’ve done that from day one.  It wasn’t an afterthought.  I’m not doing it retrospectively as a results of some vile little troll.  I thought it through ahead of time and realised it was going to be very important.  Sometimes it pays to have a very low opinion of humanity in general.  You’re so rarely proven wrong.

So I am having a little trouble understanding why people are so surprised by this.  I remember one prominent female YouTuber said she was going to stop making videos unless something was done about the haters.  I hope she does the right thing by herself and never goes back to YouTube.  Nobody deserves to be treated like that and if you don’t have sufficient psychic armour to withstand the assaults then you’re far better off staying out of the online fray altogether.  It’s a sensible response (I’m not sensible).

Kathy Sierra has cancelled a public appearance and is seriously considering not returning to blogging.  I can’t blame her.  I would like to throw a few questions at Robert Scoble, who’s taking a week off blogging in support/protest.  In his announcement, one of the things he said was “We have to fix this culture. For the next week, let’s discuss how.”  Fix it?  You mean change the behaviour of thousands of (mostly) young (mostly) male fuckwits who get their jollies by launching cowardly, vile attacks against people who don’t deserve it?  You really think you’re going to fix that?

Short of rounding them all up and shooting them (they aren’t as anonymous as they think) there is no “fix” for this problem.  So far as I can see, there’s just dealing with it and not contributing to it.  And as for taking a week off, it’s a noble show of support for someone who deserves support but don’t you realise that these gutless little dweebs would see that as a victory?

This is how the internet works.  I thought people realised that.

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Why IT people get angry with bad business decisions

I’m going to use an incident from my past to illustrate why bad business decisions drive IT people crazy. And if you work in IT and you don’t get involved in business decisions then you should – this example will show you why. This is possibly the single worst business decision I have personally been involved with in my entire IT career.

I’ve never been involved in some massive multinational company where the decisions involved billions of dollars and affected thousands of people. This story also isn’t about the collapse of a company. It might not be as sexy as some stories but it does highlight a typical, fundamental disconnect that occurs all too often between business and IT.  Or between business and any sort of rationality and common sense.  Some of the identifying elements have been changed to protect the guilty but the core aspects of the decision as I’m going to relate it are true.

I was working in a large logistics company that leased a large range of assets to companies all over the country. Everything from furniture to computers to vehicles were managed via the corporate leasing system. When leases expired on the assets (after 6 months to 3 years) my company took them back and usually sold them via auction (through 3rd party auction houses) to recoup the residual value. Each year, tens of millions of dollars worth of stock was sold this way. Here’s a tip: find out how end-of-lease merchandise is sold in your town – you can save a fortune buying this way.

I was the analyst on the development of an IT system to handle these auction transactions. The existing process was paper based – a list of inventory was distributed, auction houses nominated what items they wanted to sell, the items in question were delivered to the auction houses, they were sold at auction, the auction house took a commission and paid my company the remainder of the sale price.

I was given some high-level business requirements (essentially revolving around tracking and reporting on progress of the transactions) and had to develop some detailed specifications that the programmers could use to develop the system. A key part of the development cycle was that a pilot was going to be run with the single biggest auction house. This one outlet handled about 40% of all our inventory and the remainder was split among about 10 other auction houses. If the software worked with the big outlet, it would then be rolled out to the others.

Upon analysing the rather sketchy Business Requirements document (filled mostly with ill-defined jargon and waffling), one half-sentence stood out as essentially being the whole requirement for the project. After transactions were processed “an exception report is required.” This made sense – tens of millions of dollars in inventory was going out to external parties every year. It would be nice if you knew the sales they were reporting matched what you had sent them to sell.

I spent some time with the primary business user (who was much more switched on than the bodgy BR document suggested – it turns out he had very little to do with its creation.) He agreed that identifying any discrepancies between the items we sent out and the items reported as sold was the single most important requirement. After some discussion we identified a way to track discrepancies far more accurately than simply “we sent you something to sell and you didn’t give us any money for it.”

Because my company bought and sold such huge volumes we had a very detailed cost history in a database. We could say quite accurately what something should be worth new, after one year, after two years and so on. The system could be programmed to check sale prices against historical averages and if the deviation was too big (say, more than 20%) you could follow up with the auction house to find out why they’d sold it for such a low price. The whole thing could be managed much more efficiently because instead of having to check every transaction, the business user would only have to check out of the ordinary sales that triggered the exception rule.

So we had an elegant solution that wasn’t particularly difficult to implement. I was feeling pretty good. I submitted the specification to my manager for approval. And received a rather unexpected response:

Manager: “We don’t need to check the dollar amounts they report.”

Me: “Why not?”

Manager: “We trust them to get the numbers right.”

Remember, this was for transactions worth tens of millions if not hundreds of millions every year. My manager was suggesting the amount of oversight required for external parties handling these transactions was zero. I was stunned. I thought maybe I hadn’t explained the solution clearly.

Me: “We’re not talking about manual checking of figures. We already have all the information required to automate this sales audit. We can make the threshold as generous as you like – maybe a 25% deviation. Maybe only apply the check to transactions worth more than $10,000. If they never get the number wrong then nothing will ever happen – we’ll only be notified if a transaction looks wrong.”

Manager: “We trust them so there’s no need to check the figures.”

Me: “What exactly do we trust them to do? Do we trust them to never, ever make a mistake when they enter a value? Do we trust them to never dishonestly manipulate the auction and sell our stuff to a friend of theirs for far less than its fair value? Do we trust them to never falsely report a low sales price and pocket the difference?”

Manager: “Of course, that’s exactly what we trust them to do.”

Me: “That’s crazy!” (note to self: stop telling business people their ideas are crazy) “You trust every single person that works for that company? You trust people who might work there in the future, people we’ve never met? And even if you trust our major partner, this will be rolled out to a dozen other companies. Do you trust everyone who works for them and everyone who will ever work for them?”

Manager: “I’ve answered your question, stop trying to make things more complicated than they need to be.”

Me: “I’ve already talked to the programmers and this check is relatively trivial to put in place. Maybe two days of programming and testing. It won’t affect our overall delivery schedule and it will result in a much better system.”

Manager: “We don’t need to use even those two days because we trust them.”

Me: “So you’re going to consciously put into place a system that would allow massive errors to pass through undetected. A system that would allow large scale fraud to go undetected. When there’s a really simple solution already defined?”

Manager: “Yes. It isn’t required because we trust our partners.”

I think it would have hurt my head less to bash it against an actual brick wall rather than to continue to butt up against this figurative one. Here’s why business decisions like this make IT people so angry: it’s illogical, it allows bad data to enter the systems and it’s easily solvable. And here’s why IT people should care about decisions like this: you just know when the inevitable happens and some huge amount of money goes astray, IT are going to be blamed for building a system that “allowed” it to happen.

So what did I do? I circulated an email to everyone who could possibly be affected that this decision had been made. I made it clear that it was possible to have this check in place but it had been declared unnecessary. I included the same information in the specification. And at the first opportunity I found a job somewhere else because I wasn’t going to be subjected to that lunacy if I could avoid it.

Any suggestion that I took a job processing payments at one of the auction houses is unfounded conjecture. The fact that I have an early retirement planned at an offshore tax haven where I have a secret bank account is purely coincidental.

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A haircut makes all the difference

I made a few videos recently about my own haircut misadventures.  I was lucky, haircuts are important.  Think of how defendants at murder trials always look clean cut – even if they’re homeless psychopathic serial killers, their defence lawyers want them to look good.

As an example, check how legendary rock producer Phil Spector is wearing his hair at his murder trial:

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