This is not a blog. So sue me!

Crikey, things are looking up!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

BS bingo

One way to occupy one's mind during sales/marketing bun-fights (apart from open criticism and ruthless mockery à la Heather Mallick) is to keep track of the surreal forms of language used. Many of these phrases have a proud provenance in management stories from airline magazines way back to the '90's:

Paradigm shift (1962)
Low-hanging fruit
Back to base
Crossing the chasm (1991)
Reorient internally
Commitment to be visible in the market
Outwardly focussed
Abandon the status quo
Rebrand the company
Market relevant products
Be proactive
High impact events
High profile
Resonate with the customer
Leverage the brand
High touch, high value
Fly below the radar
Barely tapped the opportunity
Learn how to play in those markets
Lifecycle of customer
Load up model
We moved the boat a lot last year
Smart investments
Helping your customers buy you
Cover off the bases
Create excitement
Touch the customer
Take it to the next level
Stay on the radar
Execute and trust the person next to you
Be counted
Top of mind
Care passionately about
The takeaway
Biting off more than we can chew
Focus on bigger market niches
Drive additional revenue

"C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas la guerre: c'est de la folie." Pierre Bosquet

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Movie review: Lust caution

This Ang Lee epic (aren't they all?) drama is well worth watching. It's also disturbing - a serious work about love, death, war, fascism, youthful idealism, and of what, depending upon your POV, it takes to make either a freedom fighter or a terrorist. An espionage drama with a gritty Grahame Greene feel to it.

The protagonist is Wong Chia Chi, played by the absolutely gorgeous and talented Tang Wei. She is the unwanted daughter of a rich man who has fled China. At school in Hong Kong at the end of the '30's, when China is torn by warring factions and the Japanese are very much the enemy, she falls in with a group of politically-minded students who form a patriotic drama group. She becomes the star of their show to provide support for the Chinese cause. Afterwards, realizing that they haven't actually done anything useful, the group of five, now friends, resolve to take action. They decide to assassinate an important collaborator, Yee (played by Tony Leung) who has arrived from the mainland. Since their target is well-protected, they invent a honey trap baited with Chia Chi, disguised as the neglected wife of a businessman, although she has no sexual experience.

Their efforts nearly succeed. Yee, middle-aged and with a boring wife, is intrigued by her youth and charm. However he returns to China before the group can take action, and the messy murder of a minor thug drives Chia Chi away from them.

A few years later with the Japanese and Kuomintang now in full murderous control of South China, members of the cell, discover Chia Chi living in poverty in Shanghai. They recruit her back to finish the job, supported by mysterious Chinese resistance agents now that Yee has become head of the secret police. The last half of the movie details her successful attempt to become Yee's mistress and her struggle to bring him to be murdered by the group. Needless to say, it does not end happily.

The mind and behaviour of the character Yee, is very disturbing. A powerful and ruthless killer, he is apparently completely amoral. He even knows that the collaborationist regime he supports is doomed. We are seeing corruption taking place as his civilized exterior is eroded by his lust for his work. His internal conflicts appear only when he is shown in the home with his rich, spoiled wife. When alone with Chia Chi he can give rein to his brutal nature. This includes some of the most violent but compelling sex scenes that I have seen in a serious movie. Most of them have been cut from most distributions. The reaction of the woman who is raped and tortured, and cannot flee because of her commitments is breathtaking - she hates it and yet she is consumed by it. In a horrible irony, her compliance actually changes her abuser; he comes to some form of love for her, although he is still a monster.

Another interesting characterization was that of the students; young, well-educated, idealistic, and with a sense of justice and righteousness on their side. They take to the life of a terrorist cell as a desperate measure to do something in an attempt to help their cause. This seems to me to be the real explanation for ideologically driven espionage and terrorism, from the Cambridge group in the '30's to the people who brought down the World Trade Center towers. Once people are caught in a web of ideology in their formative years it is easy to see how they can be used to do almost anything.

The incidental scenes of life in China in the 1939-1943 are also very striking: rich collaborators having polite tea and mahjong parties while the poor are brutalized by soldiers; destitute multitudes passing through security checkpoints and in breadlines; lost White Russians washed up in Shanghai working as prostitutes and rickshaw runners.

All told, a brilliant, serious work.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Pair programming: an experience

As with many of the Agile techniques, pair programming may be counter-intuitive when you first hear about it. Having worked like this for about 6 months now, I think I can say that it can be very successful.

This particular experience has been productive, fun and a very effective way to transfer knowledge. I was, prior to this, a Java/JSP developer for a couple of years. I consider myself a professional programmer. My oppo, Derek, was a very experienced Flash designer/web programmer. Two totally different domains with practically no intersection.

Our mission was to pick up the pieces of the ASK Flash client apps (the previous incumbents having departed 3 and 12 months previously) and to develop the first of the oral reading training activities for students using the red5 media server for recording/playback.

These previous apps had been under development for about 5 years and in that time server-client traffic had become a bottleneck. The apps needed to hold the server's hand when they did anything. The Flash apps are pretty and intelligent and could do a lot more of the heavy lifting. So we also had to implement a new way for the apps to function in the system.

Working together, often at the same computer, I found that I learned a huge amount about Flash apps, and, of course the programming language AS2. I am now quite proficient. I am still a beginner at the design side of Flash, although I can follow what Derek does - this is truly an alien way of thinking for a text-based worker like me.

Derek for his part was not an object-oriented programmer before this, but is now a pretty fair coder.

Together we have made 3 major apps, now working on the 4th, each of them is better than the last in both design and code. It has been very effective for us to actually work at one desk for a lot of the time, especially when coding and building the logic of the apps. It's also been a lot of fun. This has been perhaps the only drawback - I've heard a manager grumble about "splitting us up", as if we were just being social - lol.

Interestingly, almost but not quite the same degree of collaboration can also be achieved remotely from our homes about 80 km apart, VPN'ing in to the company network. We use IM and Skype to talk and run local dev environments as well as Remote Desktop to our office machines.

One major consideration is code quality; we catch a lot more errors earlier than I would alone. Also I think that talking through the logic really makes it more robust.

Another advantage is that the two of us really understand the apps and code in considerable depth. I trust that Derek can make code changes, and I think he'd let me make mods to the Flash apps.

All considered, I'd definitely recommend pair programming in the case where two experienced developers can complement one another's skills.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Book review: The Consolations of Philosophy by Alain de Botton

Definitely worth reading. I picked this book up last year to read on a long flight, and it kept me completely engaged. I re-read it again recently, and it still speaks to me, which is what I like in a book that I have spent money on buying new.

This book is a collection of 6 extended essays each called "Consolation for" a particular problem. The problems for which the author uses philosophy to give us consolation are: "Unpopularity", "Not having enough money", "Frustration", "Inadequacy", "A broken heart" and the rather generic "Difficulties". It's probably fair to say that every human over a certain age has encountered one or more of this group of obstacles (or the modern idea is to call them "issues", probably in an attempt to diminish their seriousness. Happy clappy crap, lol ).

As an attempt to make philosophy relevant to Everyman, this is a very readable, entertaining, informative and encouraging book. The approach is quite interesting; in each essay de Botton gives an account of a particular philosopher's life and work, and tries to encourage us to take comfort in our own lives.

There is a layered approach to the essays: presenting paintings and photos of the various subjects, landscapes, and people, together with lists of things to be considered on the various topics, lists of counterpoints, with biographical details, extensive quotations and commentaries. This is certainly makes the book interesting and gives a multi-media feel. Apparently it has been turned into a television series - "Philosophy: A guide to Happiness".

The first four essays are very effective. His accounts of Socrates (unpopularity, of course) and Epicurus (not having enough money) are fresh and thought provoking.
Frustration's consolation is illustrated by the life and thought (or mostly the death) of Seneca.
Inadequacy (including sexual, cultural and intellectual) is covered by a survey of the life and work of Michel de Montaigne.
Up to this point everything was going very well and I was fair entranced by the author's arguments.

Things started to fall apart somewhat when his consolation for a broken heart covered the life and work of Schopenhauer and the consolation for difficulties was the life of Nietzsche. The ideas of these two are perhaps more a reason for gloom than a consolation. Interesting though.

De Botton's explanation of Schopenhauer's ideas about the heart are a bit histrionic, in my opinion. I was not convinced at all about the reasons that people fall in love and may or may not be rejected, especially in the light of subsequent biological and psychological research or even my own life experiences. The idea that our subconscious is assessing everyone for fitness as a parent of potential children is surely not sufficient to explain the full range of human sexual response and the wide variety of misery that everyone may encounter when the course of true love runs over a cliff. Every person is different and we all have our hot spots, as it were, but it's not just about reproduction. The mind is the biggest sexual organ, after all; and for a wide range of non-reproducing potential shaggers (elders, same sex lovers, one-night stands and so on) there must be other reasons for attraction. Certainly there is some kind of imprinting that happens in childhood or youthful early sexual experience that appears to determine the kinds of people we find interesting.

The idea that the life of Nietzsche could console anyone for anything, is also bit of a stretch. The Nietzsche essay was, frankly, mealy mouthed. The fact that this fellow spent most of his life miserable and then made his own suffering into a kind of virtue is, well, sad, but it doesn't translate into making me (or anyone I would think) feel better about confronting difficulties. The idea that striving for something makes the achievement sweeter is worth pondering, and the journey can be the reward - especially if one never arrives. However, what about all the people who struggle without achievement, or those who give up in despair? Somewhat harsh to say that they are unworthy weaklings and that the struggle is worth it because it somehow makes one more of a human. At best it may be a totem to keep up the spirits, but is it a real consolation for an intelligent person? Where is the room for compassion, recovery or redemption? Or is it all "Arbeit macht frei"?

Conclusions and quotes:
Unpopularity: "The philosopher offered us a way out of two powerful delusions: that we should always or never listen to the dictates of public opinion" To follow his example, we will be best be rewarded if we strive instead to listen to the dictates of reason."

Not having enough money: "Happiness may be difficult to obtain. The obstacles are not primarily financial."

Frustration: "What need is there to weep over parts of life? The whole of it calls for tears."

A broken heart: "We must, between periods of digging in the dark, endeavour always to transform our tears into knowledge."

Difficulties: "Not everything which makes us feel better is good for us. Not everything which hurts may be bad."

However, in spite of minor quibbles, this is a book worth reading, re-reading and, yes, buying new. Fancy that!

Thursday, February 7, 2008


Looking at Tumblr, which is like a cross between a blog and Twitter. We can embed a link or the entire thing in a web page FWIW:


St Lawrence Rowing

Test content from SLRC