Saturday, December 24, 2011

Ode to the motorway idiot

I like driving, and although I am living in Madrid with just a vintage Vespa (dated 1999, not so vintage maybe), when I get back to Italy it's lovely to rescue my loyal car and drive throughout the countryside, on a sunny day, probably going to the beach.

But if I happen to drive on the motorway, and take my time to reach the destination, it's quite probable that an idiot will get glued to my back and start flashing headlights to push me out of the lane and pass me.

You know perfectly well the category of imbecile, the typical one with a big car, BMW, Mercedes or Audi; most often a SUV, who thinks he's the master of the road and bother you when you're calmly trying to pass a queue of trucks on the acceleration lane.

So this morning I felt inspired and wrote this ode.

Ode to the motorway idiot

Night-time I drive my car and feel so fine
no need to rush the route is long and dark,
but soon I see two brilliant lights that shine:
they're not two stars, it's just the usual shark.

No matter if I drive polite my way,
there'll always be an idiot stuck behind
who flashes headlights close, he can't avoid.

There's something here to say,
this kind of people makes me hate mankind.
Keep a safe distance, do not get me annoyed.

It's my first ode! Just one stanza, I hope you'll like it!

Presentology: the science of making presents

December: month of presents, holidays and food. And principally a good occasion to spend some relaxed days with family and friends. Playing cards next to your fireplace or shopping around the city center for a last minute struggle to find the perfect present. Or the first that suits, does not matter really, the task is make anybody happy with a good present (not so expensive but effective; new and original but at the same time useful).

Your children, your wife, your parents; your friends, their children; the gramma, grampa and the neighbor. Although the standard recipe is book and perfume, or simply the latest digital device, making of a simple present an original and creative one, it’s a hard mission.

So, think of the presents you are going to buy, then ask yourself: “how much creativity is in my presents”?

Really, here does not matter to be creative. If you think you aren't, don't wander around like a headless chicken trying to buy something to please others. Unless you can afford buying something really expensive and impressive, try with standard present, like a bottle of wine, a typical cheese or a bottle of whisky. These are very good ideas, indeed. The don't pile up among unused things, and disappear as soon as they get consumed.

Listen and pay attention to your family the whole year, sooner or later they will express an unconscious desire or a necessity: this is your moment to demonstrate you're a careful person and not an improvised Santa Claus.

That's wonderful! You don't need to recycle presents and dissimulate the origin of them, and you won't fill your friends' houses with unwanted objects. Unless you can buy a Rolex or diamonds, keep the profile low and simple.

Remember, often the most important secret is "give people gifts you would like to receive" (ok, no, your wife won't probably like a Playstation).

You won't commit the error of spending on:

  • Blackboard for the kitchen (the black one, of course)
  • Obscure and ugly painting
  • Ceramic stuff for the living room (like a doll or a horse)
  • The typical Christmas socks with some elks printed
  • Whatever "Made in China" useless ugly stuff. So uncool

That said, I have one line left for wishing you a Merry Christmas and good luck with your presents!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Ok, Houston, we've had a problem here

For sure you have heard of this mythical exclamation from Jack Swigert during Apolo 13 mission in the seventies. Then this expression has been used and often abused by almost anybody. And if you work in a tech company like I do, even more.

Jokes apart, having problems and struggling to find brilliant solutions to problems is a daily routine in most companies. And when finding a brilliant solution is not that easy, well at least efforts should be made to find a cheap solution. And if money is not a problem, well let’s try to make it work as soon as possible. And if finding a brilliant, cheap and fast idea is not possible at all, the challenge is simply “make it work the way you can”.

What I have seen in some years of experience in different roles and working on different products is that finding a procedure or process to systematize troubleshooting is not so straightforward.
Besides, forecasting problems is an activity often beyond companies' worries.
And last but not least, one of the few certainties is that Murphy’s law is always true: then problems will occur when you are working under pressure or through tight schedules.

Simply, behaviours oriented to problem solving do not exist. Although there is a lot of literature around, the best you can find is a list of steps ranging from sitting down, having coffee and brainstorming altogether, to “let’s add more people and let’s try to improve competence as fast as possible”.

Possibly there is no panacea for troubleshooting. What is socially acceptable is a meeting to find out a solution in a brainstorming session. Of course this is a way, if we manage to solve the issue or at least find out a workaround, then we’re a team, we’re good at meeting and solving stuff.
In case we fail, we’ll fail altogether, therefore any other solution was out of reach and we did the best we could. There’s no responsible, no guilt, but still no solution.

Brainstorming might possibly work when team building is the objective. It also might seem the best tool when stress and pressure move people out of the comfort zone and the brain disconnects channels devoted to finding creative solutions.

What are the problems with brainstorming? Probably expectation. It’s good to have high expectations on one tool, but brainstorming is simply not a tool.
Besides structural weaknesses of brainstorming such as productivity loss, lack of direction and free riding there may be personal factors like fearing the risk, competition among the participants and undermining others’ proposals.

Brainstorming does not seem to be the solution to discover systematically solid steps for problem solving. There are also some techniques and patterns that might provide help at the time of finding a creative alternative, in a structured way. Yes, it sounds weird, I am saying providing a structure to creativity, but there is something else beyond brainstorming.

"As usual, for these co-written things, John often had just the first verse, which was always enough: it was the direction, it was the signpost and it was the inspiration for the whole song. I hate the word but it was the template." Paul McCartney

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

On the obsolescence of news

Today I want to write down some considerations about what happened some days ago in Spain to an article from the online newspaper "El Pais".
In a few hours an article dated 2005 on pseudo-homophobic declarations from a Spanish conservative senator ranked to the top of the most read online news ever for that newspaper.

How did that happen? General elections on 20th of November 2011 saw the conservatives win by absolute majority, so it's likely that indignant opponents started sharing the news either reading just the headline, or maybe passing through the article without checking the date of publication.

So, after some hours, the online edition of the newspaper highlighted just below the original headline that the article was dated 2005 and that networks virality had just ranked it to the top.

I read some opinions from readers about what had happened, in Spanish here for who's interested. I read a bit of everything, very different opinions one from another and maybe I would expect a more objective analysis (although a blog comments section is probably not the most propitious place for that).

Anyway, people's observations apart, I think that this is quite interesting and worth spending some reflections.

I read this is not the first time an event like this takes place, therefore this makes me think that in terms of innovation in communications and media we have moved a big step forward in these last few years, but I think there is something missing when considering organization and structure of news both in content and cronology.

Readers' opinions are very different, and I cannot but think they are often right, in a certain way.
I don't fell that rejecting old news for the mere fact of being old is the proper thing to do. I mean, old news don't come with freshness and immediate interest, but that's not a reason why they should not be considered information.
And old information should be part of anyone's cultural wealth at the time of extrapolating coherent opinions.

A personal opinion should be based on information integrity, development and evolution. I think this is very reasonable, but I don't think that amplifying and highlighting specific events cut off from a more detailed context is good.
Similarly, it would be an error to consider an information dissociated from backgrounds and consequences. This is what I call manipulation. The worst thing is that virality of manipulation reaches nowadays enormous proportions through the Internet channel.

Who's responsible for that? Nobody. Or everybody; that's pretty the same. With tools currently available, this is the perception of the world we are living. Asserting that current media manipulate news on purpose and in any situation it's kind of a dumb generalization.
Similarly, declaring that social networks' users that are used to share news (often emotionally) aim to manipulate reality, it's far too simplistic.

By the way, anyone should be responsible for anything is provoked by a simple click. On the other side, media and social networks will have to concentrate efforts towards improving presentation and aggregation of contents.

What's clear is that a better comprehension of our world is subordinated to both having good critical education and to a bold typeface date of publication beside any news.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Tension and conscience cannot coexist

A couple of days ago I was assisting to my yoga class, and during relaxation phase, that comes at the end of any class, my attention got focused on the words of the master. He uses to suggest techniques to obtain muscles relaxation in a better and faster way, so he drives our thoughts to better understand the body and the possibilities to have good mental and physical balance.

This is a very grateful moment, yoga training can be quite intense, so it's lovely to have such a 15 minutes long prize at the end of  the session. During this final part of the session, he suggested to focus attention on any part of the body; then he started mentioning muscles one by one, speaking slowly and softly. This one technique is good to relax the single muscle, because according to him:

"When there is conscience, there cannot be tension. Where you can find tension, there is no conscience."

It simply means that if you project the attention to a specific part of your body and simply observe it, it will get relaxed. No action or active movement is needed, on the contrary, all unintentional tensions and contractions will abandon the muscle at the time that perception is moved to it, immediately and automatically.

According to me this is a very simple and effective method that should be applied the whole day long. I, as much people, work sitting the whole day in front of a computer; then I realize that as time in front of the pc passes by, my shoulders start to stiffen up unconsciously while they should stay away from the neck, released and relaxed.

Try to think about it and move your attention to your shoulders, I am sure you will notice that they are rigid and provoke your chest get more contracted and your back leaning towards the screen. The result of contraction is that you will get tired more easily and you'll feel your head heavier. Then try to concentrate on different parts of your body. Try it in your bed.

Does this concept apply to thoughts in your mind too? Does conscience and observation of your thoughts help release nervousness?
Yes it does, I'll write down some idea soon.