Split Once More – Fully Sick

I’m going to give separating the more techy-businessy content from my blog another try. I hear good things about Medium and my employer is going to start a tech-blog on it as well, so this seems as good a time as any to plunge into the depths.

My Medium profile can be found at: https://medium.com/@jerryjvl (no posts yet)

And my “publication” is at https://medium.com/zeroes-and-ones-all-the-way-down (also no posts yet), and will hopefully move into a sub-domain here soon.

I’m feeling half-fine-half-unsettled-half-bored today. The reason I have found time to set up Medium and write this post is my semi-mystery illness.

As I was driving to my scheduled massage yesterday afternoon, I developed a stomach ache. I didn’t think more of it than I might have had too much of the candy from the new bowl I got gifted at work. A good massage is sufficiently painful that I didn’t notice the pain get worse.

Pins and needles and other sharp things in the abdomen are not fun. Abbey quickly drove me to the doctor as a precautionary measure, and as I was sitting in the waiting room the pain mostly subsided again. The doctor didn’t find anything, but did note I had a temperature and suggested flu. It felt like flu by then.

Home again, sweating on the lounge, extra painkillers before bed.

Then I woke up this morning, all flu-symptoms gone again, but the pain in my abdomen back, albeit less severe. Through the day I’ve had two milder recurrences of the pain, and the best guess currently is that I ate something that didn’t agree with me.

Not what I anticipated for my Friday, and it’ll screw with my weekend too.

But maybe I’ll get some more writing done?

Modest XMAS List

Dear Santa,

I know I am a little late with my list this year, so I hope these wishes do not give you too much trouble in the busy lead-up to the day.

  • Firefly – Season 2 through 4, preferably on BluRay
  • A Reddish Green T-Shirt
  • Paul Erdős’ annotated proof for P≠NP
  • Srinivasa Ramanujan’s annotated proof for P=NP
  • A Pet Dodo
  • A functional time-machine (featuring controls to go both back and forward in time)

I look forward so much to the 25th.

Thanks,

Jerry

On Communication

“We need more communication!”

Odds are, if you’re working in any organisation that isn’t small enough for everyone to know everyone, this is a complaint you’ll have heard at least once. Communication is hard. Everyone knows this.

Odds are, once you heard this complaint, you did something about it because you’re trying to be an effective manager and you want everyone to be informed… you added extra presentations, a regular newsletter, you wander the floor and talk to people.

And then the next time you ask, communication is still touted as the biggest problem everyone faces.

The bad news first; communication is always the biggest problem you’ll face in your organisation. And once you address it, communication will still be the biggest problem you face. Always.

The good news; you’ve probably misunderstood what people are trying to tell you. There is one very deceptive word in that first phrase. Okay, maybe two, but one in particular that sent you down the wrong path.

What can “more communication” mean?

  1. You don’t talk to us enough.
  2. You don’t talk to us about the right things.
  3. You talk to us too much.

Yes, really. Even that last one. Stick with me

1. You don’t talk to us enough

It is possible your understanding of what your staff and co-workers need to know about is too narrow.

Are the details of the next project a distraction while we are still finishing our current work? Or could advance knowledge let my staff make some smart decisions about laying foundations for the next thing while finishing the current thing? They’ll get annoyed if they never find out in time they could have done something smarter for the company.

Are competitive pressures just going to worry people about their jobs? Or am I missing an opportunity to engage the creative capacity of my staff to innovate us to the top of the pile? It is very dis-empowering to feel like you’re just sitting in coach while your life is in the hands of the pilot alone.

Is it actually better to not say anything when you have nothing worthwhile to say? Silence lets people imagine all kinds of far-fetched reasons for that silence. Sometimes a trivial or obvious update is less harmful than letting a fear of unspoken horrors fester and grow.

Cast a very critical eye over all the things you don’t tell staff and co-workers. Why don’t you?

But…

Even when there is a genuine lack of communication, be careful how you fill that void, or you’ll be back to re-read this post for points 2 and 3 in no time.

2. You don’t talk to us about the right things

So, how about I talk to everyone about the next big project that is coming up, and how I need to negotiate it past the VPs and legal team of the company we are selling it to…

Bzzzzzt, wrong…

Yes, talking about the next big project is a great idea. But your needs and concerns aren’t that of your audience. What possible use could your developers have for knowing you are locking horns with legal over whether the solutions you develop for their specific problem domain will entitle you to ownership of those solutions… *snore*. None of that can possibly help them do their own jobs better.

Figure out what they actually need to know, and tell them that instead. And yes, maybe painting a little context is valuable, but do not turn it into an epic about the heroic way you are fighting through your own obstacles… it may be entertaining if you are a good storyteller, but they’ll resent the time they just lost once they realise they had their own jobs to do. To paraphrase Kathy Sierra, “it isn’t about you, it is about your staff”.

Tell them what the VPs want out of the product so they can tell you whether it is even feasible.

Tell them what is going to be non-negotiable so they can start thinking about solutions early and often.

Tell them how to firewall development of features if you are concerned over legal ramifications down the track.

Make sure the information is pitched so it is relevant to your audience, otherwise it’s not communication, it’ll just be talking and listening. And it’ll be a waste of everybody’s time.

And yes, this takes more effort, because you’ll have to think before you speak.

But sadly, that’s going to be unavoidable.

3. You talk to us too much

You’ve been trying to address the communication problem for a while now. You’ve added meetings, newsletters, presentations and extra face-to-face contact till you simply have no more time left in your day for anything else. You’re telling me that was all the wrong thing to do?

Not necessarily.

You may have started with problem 1 – not enough. And you may have wandered through problem 2 – not the right things. You have addressed both of those and there is still a communications problem. What happened?

Everything that isn’t “1” or “2”, is “3”.

Everything you added that wasn’t addressing one of the first two problems has now contributed to obscuring the real information everyone wanted. You’re talking so much that they cannot tell what is important any more. Or they simply cannot find what they care about in the deluge.

Luckily this is the easiest to fix. But it takes courage.

Trust that you’ve worked out what is important, and then ruthlessly discard what was not.

And yes, it may mean that you need to segment your communication. You may need to write a separate update to your staff, and to your boss, and to PR, and to support, etc. And it will take you extra effort to tailor all these messages. One message may feel more efficient, but when one tree falls in the forest and nobody can agree which one it is, does it really matter how quickly you could write it all down?

When “more” isn’t “more”

And by now you have probably worked out the problem with the opening phrase. “More” implies a quantitative problem. It calls for more of something.

But communication isn’t merely the combined acts of talking and listening. It requires relevance to both parties involved. So “more communication” can be either a quantitative or a qualitative problem; either “more talking” or “more relevance” or “more obvious”.

Here endeth the rant.

Sad Display along M7

I had been taking some shots along the M7 for a photo-editing experiment I am planning to do next. Time to learn my new tools (long overdue). I almost didn’t notice this sad bunch sitting along the cycle path.

I have no idea what they are waiting for exactly, but it looks like they have been there for a while without shelter. I hope their ride shows up soon.

It looks like they have been waiting for their ride for some time
It looks like they have been waiting for their ride for some time

My Campaign Monitor Adventure – Update

My new year started with some updates on the job front.

On Sunday I received a very friendly email from the CM OPS team. It’s time for me to pick the hardware I will need for my job.

Well… need … I should say want.

One of the coolest benefits of working here is you get to choose your own computer setup! You are free to choose anything [ed: my highlight] from Dell, Lenovo or Apple.

To give you an idea, the other members of the Development Team are using Dell and Apple laptops, mainly running Windows with some using OS X.

Also, let me know if you have any favorite keyboard or mouse brand so we can order that, too!

I’m too sensible about my needs to see how far “anything” stretches… but based on my experiences so far, I have no doubt that if I make a cogent argument for a Dell Precision M6800 with i7-4940MX, 32GB memory, Nvidia Quadro K5100M, 17″ Multi-Touch screen, 1TB RAID-0 SSD, and dual 24″ monitors, at $6,747.87 it would be there waiting for me on day 1.

Not that I’d want RAID-0 anywhere near a Dev machine, or that I’d feel comfortable with that much power overkill in a laptop. I bet the battery would be flat in the blink of an eye.

And then this afternoon, Niclas (the recruiter) gave me a quick update on the move as well. It sounds like the CBD office will be ready somewhere between mid-to-end February.

I guess that means another 2-4 weeks off if I want… oh… the horror!
I checked to see if they have room for me to commute to Sutherland for a few weeks if I go stir-crazy from my time off, and that was fine too. So I guess I’ll weigh up pros and cons to make a call by February.

All in all, they have been very flexible and accommodating with my nebulous starting date of “When You Are in the CBD“, which I appreciate greatly.

Now, back to Dell to pick a more sane set-up.

…Thanks for All The Fish

I had a great last day at work today.

I got so many well-wishes from everyone, it was a little overwhelming. And more kudos than I knew what to do with… I may have to keep them in a kennel. It’s funny how little I realised what I was achieving as I was doing; it really took everyone telling me for it to settle in.

Lunch was great and well attended. I was happy to see the HR team present (thanks Barbara); they moved their own gathering from the CBD out West for the express purpose of joining me I believe.

40+ people all up.

And I was late.

I had a meeting till right up to my lunch. I left a few minutes early in hopes of being timely, but XMAS bustle at our lunch venue meant that all the parking was taken. If not for the fortuitous departure of a mother with pram (thanks for noting Hamish) I would have been more than 10 minutes late.

And then there was a gift from my closest friends at work; colleagues, staff, bosses, many I have worked with right from the beginning, 11 years ago. Scott had earlier in the day come to ask me mystifying questions regarding whether a cooler gift in Melbourne, or a not-quite-as-cool-but-still-very-cool gift in Sydney was preferable.

I picked Sydney.
I have no immediate plans to travel to Melbourne at this stage.

The gift was plenty cool regardless…

FerrariDriving

Someone had noted my bucket list on the blog, and remembered seeing something useful on it. A gift I would never have thought to ask for. An amazingly cool gift that I’ll really enjoy experiencing.

So, sometime soon I will be ticking “Driving a Ferrari” off my list.
I will go to the local race circuit, get some instruction, and then race an F430 around the track for 6 laps. And it Will Be Awesome!

I will miss them all. It has been such a pleasure working with them all these years. They have all taught me so much they may not even have realised. Little lessons, large lessons… unintended lessons. And hopefully it has sufficiently prepared me to make the most of my next job.

I am mystified how I managed to teach them as much as they claim I have, but I will take their word for it.

They better invite me for pizza.

Day 354 – #(Yes/Not) All (Women/Men)

12 – The Top 100 Things That Attract Women To Men

The link above is intentionally broken.
It’s not for following; it’s merely the last-100-days pretext for the following.

Also: trigger warning – violence against women is discussed.

I have been putting off this post for fear of writing it wrong. The #yesallwomen twitter-tag has a deep and traumatizing context, and I wasn’t sure I could make my thoughts make enough sense to write something worth saying.

I am gratified to see that #yesallwomen didn’t dissipate despite the trolls, the naysayers and the uninformed. I hope it somehow manages to morph into a periodical campaign to simply remind everyone (=men) of the daily injustices most women continuously experience; the plainly stated facts have had the strongest impact on me.
Continue reading Day 354 – #(Yes/Not) All (Women/Men)

Day 307 – How-To: Be Presentable

59 – 100 Presentation Tips

I added two items to my 100 Things that relate to presenting. Three if you count teaching a class as essentially a form of presentation. I think that means I better start planning out how to brush up on my presentation skills.

Not that I am going in cold.

I have watched many videos on presentation by masters of the art. I have read many blog posts and articles about presenting itself, designing good slides, and how to structure material. I have books on my shelf by Nancy Duarte and Garr Reynolds.

The next step? Presenting. Regularly.
Continue reading Day 307 – How-To: Be Presentable

Day 278 – Life: A Game Review

88 – 100 Dumbest Ways To Die In Video Games

This game is not for the faint-of-heart. Although the scope and complexity of the game-world and storyline are truly awe-inspiring, the game is not without its flaws. What makes it needlessly harder is the missing save/restore feature. There is widespread evidence that the quality of the gaming experience is highly variable. And the sheer number of options presented along the way just leave an uneasy feeling of missing out on many interesting side-quests and possibilities.

The structure of this game is very unconventional. So far I have managed to play 3 chapters, and the rules and character of each is very distinct. The first chapter is a drawn-out introductory game that explores the controls and world-mechanics. The second chapter has a complex levelling / up-skilling system that I have only managed to scratch the surface on. And the third chapter seems to consist of a very free-form MMRPG.

It isn’t clear what other chapters there are, but so far the game is incredibly engrossing… and frustrating. On several occasions I have made really stupid choices leaving me reaching for the non-existent restore. Those moments sometimes linger and haunt as I keep playing.

Despite the frustrations though, it is a very compelling and enjoyable game*. Not quite as tough as Battletoads, but perhaps a little too close for comfort.

I would easily give it an 8/10 at this stage.

Chapter 1: Orientation

When I started the game, my character was almost completely auto-generated. At first this was most definitely a boon, because there are many thousands of attributes that affect the character. It didn’t take long before I started wishing I had some control over a few of the attributes, but on the whole I have a well-rounded character, so I cannot complain.

In this part of the game I was given two other players to show me how the game works. This is a feature of the game; there is no manual or FAQ, all the game mechanics and controls must be discovered in-game and handed down from gamer to gamer. It does leave me with the uncomfortable feeling that there are mechanics built into the game that nobody has uncovered yet.

One of the earliest quests I tried was the “build-with-blocks” quest. It sounds easy now, but it was by no means so at the time. Early on in the game, the controls felt a bit like Octodad; wildly out of control and not responding well to my instructions. Luckily it seemed that the more quests I completed, the more control I gained. Now I don’t even think about it any more.

In retrospect, it seems that there weren’t really any concrete goals in the first chapter. None of the quests were of any consequence to the further unfolding of the game.

Chapter 2: Choose Your Skills

I was sent to “School” early in the second chapter. I gather this is generally what happens, although it seems there is a bug in the game that causes some players to lose out on this extensive quest-line.

This chapter is an interesting, but extremely challenging part of the game.

For one thing, the rules do not seem fixed for this part of the game. The overall world-mechanics are fixed, but the structures and rules surrounding player-interaction seemed to change constantly. Additionally, character-development seems to come with quirks.

As part of the growth process the game throws random challenges your way and my rewards and future opportunities were heavily influenced by how I reacted to these. The “bad skin” quest was in particular challenging since I started the game with a high “fidget” attribute; although the high “fidget” score has been a boon at times, it also means this particular quest left me somewhat scarred.

Another mixed blessing at this stage are high “intelligence” and “insight” attributes. Although it makes most of the quests down the “science” branches of the skills tree very easy, it seems to have the side-effect of making the “social skills” quests harder to reach. I seem to have been lucky not to get incorporated into any “bullying” quests.

This is another interesting and annoying feature of the game. A lot of quests seem to incorporate other players in a variety of roles, meaning that players can actually end up at-odds with each other over quest completions. This is an ongoing feature of the game in the next chapter, and it doesn’t get any easier there.

The only other thing I want to touch on is the awe-inspiring depth of the skills tree. When I reached this chapter there were already many branches to explore, but it would seem that as time progresses the skills tree itself continues to evolve.

Although levelling and up-skilling is a much smaller part in the next chapter, it continues to play a minor role so I am still watching developments in the skill-tree and considering options to train my character a little further.

Chapter 3: Into The Wide-Open

Another major quest-line opens this chapter of the game. It’s called “entering the workforce”, although that’s a bit of a misnomer since it is a continuing line to this moment.

So far I have found the rules and mechanics of this chapter consistent throughout, even if my understanding of them is evolving. There seems to almost be a fractal nature to the game itself here. Every time you study a portion of it to decipher its rules, it is shown having an infinite layering of complex self-referential detail underneath. I have gotten somewhat obsessed with the nature of the game itself during this chapter, and although there are official quests galore, I have invented my own side-quest in which I try to understand not so much the structure of the game, but the very nature of the game and how it folds back on itself. I really have no better way of explaining.

Another interesting aspect of this chapter is that many of the quests on offer get presented as “social conventions”, which means that you are heavily pressured into accepting the quests regardless of whether you have an interest in playing them. Other quests that go counter to these “social conventions” are hidden in the game, but take much more effort to discover and unlock.

What I found increasingly frustrating in this chapter is that many of the choices I made seem to affect my ability to take on certain quests. The quest-lines are much stricter, and start unlocking on attributes you may not have. Although there are still options to further develop my character during this part of the game, it takes more effort because the game is not really structured to accommodate personal development well along the major quest-line.

I’ve heard of characters that have decided to forego the major quest-line with mixed results. For some this has opened up a wider range of possibilities (this seems to coincide to a high degree with high “imagination”, “initiative” and “drive” attributes). For most players this is actually a much harder path though because you become reliant on completing many smaller quests to meet the same goals you can reach much more quickly with the main quest-line.

Strategy Guide

I recently read the excellent Strategy Guide that is now available for this game. It has given me a few new insights into the game, but sadly also has confirmed some suspicions I had about the game.

I found the explanation of how various stats interact very insightful, albeit a bit high-level. I would have loved to see the Strategy Guide explore the skills tree and attributes in more detail.

It also confirmed my suspicions that certain skills are dead ends, while others open up many varied possibilities. I hadn’t realised the value of “Psychology” until reading the guide.

I seem to have accidentally stumbled on a few good early choices without realising it. And from what it explains I have been blessed with character traits and skills that have massively simplified my game-play. On the other hand that makes me wonder if I should have taken a gamble on a few of the higher-risk-higher-reward quests earlier in the game.

And this is where the absence of a save/restore feature is most annoying. There are some alternate paths I’d love to try, but the access quests have now been locked off forever by my attributes unless I find a bug/feature/glitch in the game that allows me to get around the primary access quest. Also, there are a few decisions I’ve made that I would really like to change, even if I had to re-play some portions leading up to them.

Overall this is only a minor gripe though, because the infinite fractal nature of the game leads me to believe that there are probably variants on the quests I have missed out on that I can still reach later in the game if I wished.

And every once in a while, stories circulate that other players have found ways to reverse some of the attribute changes that have locked off quests… as well as a persistent rumour of a chapter they will release later that will allow players to move between chapters and infinitely access earlier quests turning it into a truly open-ended game.

I’m not bored with the game-play yet.

I recommend you give it a try.


* – As I alluded to, there are wide-spread indications that the quality of the game experience is highly variable. This seems tied to certain racial, gender and personality traits that are locked early in the game. More-over, it seems there is no way to freely choose these traits; the Strategy Guide seems to confirm this. As a result, there are large groups of players that are simply grinding through the game waiting for a chapter that is more balanced, or others that simply close the game and un-install. Again, I think some more play-testing and a more balanced rule-set could make this a more universally enjoyable game.

XMAS Loot

All The Cats
All The Cats

A double-walled tea mug with All The Cats on it. I hope Obie and Amber do not take this as license to use it.

A Mix of Scrabble and Boggle (I think?)
A Mix of Scrabble and Boggle (I think?)

I’ve never played this before, but a cursory glance tells me this looks like a mix of Scrabble and Boggle. This will go into the Wednesdays rotation, although I know Ken will win already.

Personalised Chocolates
Personalised Chocolates

I’m glad to see that Lindt has realised my importance to this season and release special chocolates in my honour.

Books, two authors I know, one I do not
Books, two authors I know, one I do not

The latest Pratchett, the latest Reilly… the latest… I dunno this one. Much reading on my horizon. But I have some time off in January, so these’ll come in handy.

Ice Cubes that don't melt
Ice Cubes that don’t melt

Ice cubes, officially for Whiskey I think, but I’m sure I’ll find other non-sanctioned uses for them.

Sexy Sexy Underwear
Sexy Sexy Underwear

I wonder if my family is trying to make me homesick, but if so, it’s not working. I’m sure the ladies will love these(?!)

Chocolate Wine
Chocolate Wine

Chocolate wine sounds both delicious and a little scary. I’m afraid it might not be to my taste, but I want it to be so badly. I’ll have to set up the perfect tasting environment to avoid jinxing it.

Evil Maze
Evil Maze

Evil mazes all around… it’s a 3D roll-the-ball-around style puzzle, but with moving parts inside and narrow ledges. It’s Mission Impossible, where the lead character has no personality… so, exactly like Mission Impossible in every way.

Pictionary with Legos
Pictionary with Legos

This is another fun one for Wednesdays. Pictionary with Legos. You get a challenge, and then you have to build it with the Lego in the box, and everyone else guesses. A skill I need to master.

Chilli Sauces
Chilli Sauces

A dare in a bottle I think. 15/10 heat rating on the chilli sauce with a warning to never taste it directly. We all know how this is going to end, right?

Cool Sweater
Cool Sweater

And no Christmas could ever be complete without a sweater. A very cool sweater, which will have to wait a few more months for the right season to arrive here. Somehow my mum manages to buy me cool clothing that fits perfectly over a distance of 20,000km. She’s got magic powers, I’m sure.