Saturday, January 30, 2021

A tale of corporate bling

It's been really cold lately, so I dug into the back of our front closet to find my parka. I only wear it a few times a year, and it's so ugly, and so outdately branded, that it's almost fashionable again. Not that I know these things. I'm one of the least fashionable people I know. What I care about is that it's warm.

I've been told that because of the brand logo I could sell it on ebay for lots of money. But what are the odds of a guy named Keith wanting an Amoco branded parka? In the meantime I'll wear it a few times a year. I've worn it on some cold night photo shoots, but those reflective stripes complicate things if there are other photographers around.

There were also coveralls, which are filthy, and a summer jacket that I can't find. The hard hat is somewhere, and I wore it during some basement renovations when my head was all too close to some flooring nails coming through between the joists. I think there's a photo of it on the blog somewhere.

There's a joke related to this, but I don't think any of my blog readers will really get the bitterness involved. BP 'merged' with Amoco in 1998. Shortly after, this joke went around. How do you pronounce "BP Amoco"? Answer? BP, the Amoco is silent. And now, it's long gone. 20 some years later, it's still a warm parka. Yes, I wore it on the job.

It was almost a full time job keeping up with oil and gas related acquisitions and divestitures, as they were called in polite society. There were lots of morning coffee conversations about who was working where, or who was taking over who, and what that might mean in terms of people or jobs becoming available. In reality, there were mergers, hostile mergers, fire sales, and other forms of corporate warfare. I had one boss that worked through several major changes of ownership, (HBOG to Dome to Amoco to BP-Amoco to BP) with pension rights that went back to the very first one, where he had started almost on a whim. (As an aside I'd applied for a job at HBOG and came THAT close to getting a field pipeline job, but the 1981 Dome thing happened, and such re-orgs often put the kibosh on new hiring.) The pension people were glad to see him retire, and they could archive a lot of paper. 

One of the spin-offs from the oil and gas industry is branding, signs, and corporate bling. Every oil and gas property from the smallest gas well to the biggest plant has to have a sign at the gate, with the location expressed like 01-02-003-04W4 (which is a specific small plot of land down in the extreme SE of Alberta. I don't think there's an actual facility there.) the owner name, emergency contact info, and other required information. Every corporate change of ownership means changing every one of those signs. Even a re-org that changes a phone number means a sign change. There are people who have made a good living doing nothing but this.

Bling, swag, graft, goodies, call it what you will, there was a healthy interest in corporate bling givaways. If you could put a logo on it, some company would do that and give it away as advertising. I got some of it along the way, and wearing the parka the other day made me think about it. I went around the house looking for it.

It had to be from places I worked, and it had to be reasonably accessible for a photo. So here you go, in no particular order, with a story about each.

This is from Amoco. I'd convinced my boss not to buy a brutally flawed upgrade of their corrosion inspection database. Instead, I could work magic with the existing tables to get what he wanted. It took a bit of convincing for the IT department to let me have write access to those tables, but all involved loved the results. This crystal sculpture was the nicest thing in the swag shop. It's signed and numbered, but I can't read the signature. The sculpture sits on our fireplace mantle.

I was off to the South Caroline gas plant to make sense of the PSV data in my database. They wouldn't let the paperwork leave the office, so I had to go to the plant. It turned out that for every PSV servicing (the plant had about 100 PSV's) they had created a new PSV and service record, rather than just adding a service record to the existing PSV. Plus they were years behind on the data entry. It took me a week, sorting and sifting through a couple decades of fading paperwork. There was some travel mugs that went along with the thermos but they've disappeared. The thermos gets used every day to keep the coffee hot. There are a pair of blue coffee mugs that are the perfect size, from Pike's Pottery. The cutting board is from our last trip to Nova Scotia.

Two bowls. The one on the left is from the SCA in recognition for my service on their Board of Directors. The one on the right was a Christmas basket thingie from BP Amoco. There were lots of yummy goodies in it, and it makes a great fruit bowl on our kitchen counter. That corner is a bit of a junk drawer with some vita-mix attachments, an old food processor, the BBQ oil sprayer thingie, and some patio glasses that haven't been put away yet.

Two mugs from Skystone Engineering. There's also the green and copper small mugs in the dishware pattern from Pike's Pottery that we like. Plus the scale to measure the morning coffee. My one regret about leaving Skystone when I did, is that if I'd hung around a few months longer there'd have been a great leather jacket coming to me. But alas, opportunity was knocking.

The sunflower pattern mug from BP Amoco. There's a couple of them that came with the basket, but I don't know where the other mug is. There's also the stoneware pattern cups and saucers my family gave to us as a wedding present, which included the plates, bowls, and dessert plates. 36 years later, and some pieces of it are still in daily use.

And assortment of mugs. Left to right, a Haliburton rep was in giving a presentation to some people at NOVA, and left a case of mugs. So I guess it didn't come to me personally, but still. This was before I knew about Haliburton's reputation, but I liked the mug. 

The glass beer mug was one of the first things from Amoco. This was shortly after I joined, and there was a bit of a re-org going one, and they were clearing out old swag. I've probably spent half my so-called career working through re-orgs. 

MTL was an inspection company I worked closely with while at Amoco and BP. At one time there was discussion of embedding me in their shop and being contracted back to Amoco, but it didn't work out.

The Keith mug was the one I took to all my offices over the years. Some of the corporate mug selections grossed me out. It lived on my desk and never went in the corporate dishwasher. I'd take to meetings, coffee in the morning, and water or herbal tea during the rest of the day. It was a handy way of reminding people of my name when I was new at a place.

I never actually worked at SI systems, but they were my agency for several contracting jobs. You can see some of the other mugs in the background. I think the mugs breed in the dark. For the kitchen renovation we had to pull all the stuff out of the cupboards, and I think I counted 42 mugs. We gave many of them away to the women in need place. I would not be surprised if we have even more now.

Not sure this one counts, but we were teaching assistants at the U of C ballroom dance club for a number of years. One year they gave out these CD holders. CD's are an obsolete music delivery system. The ribbons just below it are the various race medals.

Down in the basement now, in crappy light. The satellite radio system was me left holding the bag during a secret santa thing at EOS Pipeline. I've never used it, no real idea even if satellite radio is even still a thing. If you want it, drop by and I'll give it to you, in a socially distant way, of course. 

The inukshuk was a BP safety award.

I'm also looking at a little Amoco Canada letter opener sitting on my hard drive. After the BP takeover they opened the swag shop to get rid of it all. 

There's been lots of consumables over the years. There's a pile of bags downstairs. Computer bags, gym bags, and such. I wasn't willing to move all the stuff to get at them, and sort out the ones I got from Linda's. She didn't get as much swag over the years, the City being cheap that way, but did end up with some stuff. I snagged a perfect gym bag, and it took swim gear to (Lindsay Park, Talisman) Repsol pool for many years. It will be used again when the pools reopen.

So it seems Amoco and BP were the big swag donors. Skystone gave great Christmas presents, for me they were typically good wine kits. Consumed of course, long since. I don't recall getting any swag from IMS. Our team leader at Talisman sprang for some really good bike jerseys in relation to a ride for cancer thing. I got a Maximo T shirt out of Penn West, as detritus from the great office purge of 2015. By the time I joined them, they were losing money left and right, and didn't have any left over for swag. Keyera gave me a nice welcome bag with consumables, but I was there for only a few months part time. 

Altagas pays me very well, which is the sincerest form of flattery, better than swag any day. 

Of the Day

The periscope plant, as I think of it.

Friday, January 22, 2021

I don't think I can take the days getting any faster

You've all been there. A day doing something fun goes by in an eye blink. Something you don't like, well, it's a slog. You look at the clock, sure that hours have passed and it's time for something else, but no, it's only 5 minutes later.

My eternity time was in school, waiting for class to end. That little backwards motion of the clock hand, before going forward? I constructed entire novel scenes in my head during that time. Mostly I've enjoyed the work I did during my so-called career. Waiting for the first 5pm fax, which I didn't have to deal with, and I could leave after the 4:59pm fax was dealt with, often took the better part of forever.

I know lots of people talk about  being bored in the time of COVID. They can't go out and play with their friends. They need to be around other people. Their routine of self-distraction is disrupted. The placebo of retail therapy to feel better is mostly gone. It will be good for them, in the long run.

Since we got back from New Zealand almost a year ago, I haven't been bored. On the contrary. I can't believe it's almost a year already. Well, I suppose, not quite almost a year. We left here mid Feb, and returned March 22 or so (crossing the Date Line can mess you up), so maybe I'm being premature.

I digress. Not bored. Zoom. Between working about 2/3 to 3/4 time for much of that, plus my own work on photos, and a daily walk, plus regular household routine stuff, and a bit of my novel, and some reading, my days disappear in a blur. 

Even the photography has suffered. It's been almost 2 weeks since I picked up my camera. It's there, right by the door, gently crying to itself about being ignored. I meant to get out last weekend, really I did. And this weekend too, for sure. Here it is Friday, and I've got deadlines. 

One of the things I've ended up doing a lot in my so-called career is dealing with obsolete databases. Custom reporting to extend their life or put off buying expensive new databases. Data integrity improvements. Migration. Dear Lord, the migration activities. Wha's making me nuts about this one is the inconsistent normalization. 

I started with a set of Business Rules. These are high level statements about some particular data element. For example, one gives a table showing what the source status gets mapped to become in the target database. Source status A transforms to target status 1. Next level down is a technical design document that tells people where these data elements are to be found, giving the source database table and column, the UI field name, and the same for the target database. Plus comments about data relationships and anything else relevant. Our QA person is intensely interested in this document as it is foundational to building test procedures.

So far so good. The current task is mapping all that to a load template, and building the query that generates a spreadsheet that is as close to the load template as possible. In an ideal world, the query would exactly match the template. A simple select x,y, z, n from table 1 (plus maybe a join or two) where some condition(s) apply. Copy, paste, load, test, done. It's never that simple. Not ever. There are transformations to be done. I'm pleased I figured out how to bypass some of the controls in the source to be able to create a temporary table there that will manage some of the transformations. This will save doing it manually in Excel. That's almost too simple to mention.

But what I'm being paid to figure out, and my colleagues are glad it's me and not them, is resolving the structural differences in the data. Take a simple thing like planned start and finish dates, and actual start and finish dates. In the target they are attached to the work order. In the source, the planned dates are on the work order, and the actual dates are attached to the individual labor items that are attached to the tasks that make up the work order. There could be many tasks on a work order, and many labor items on each task, each with their own actual start and finish date. My professional data buddies already understand the problem and are pouring a sympathy glass of wine. There are complications even to these data elements, and there are other examples we need not get into.

Once I dive in I'm gone. I only have two medium sized computer screens. I am flicking between:
  • The regular desktop with:
    • My time and notes journal
    • the Business Requirements document
    • the Excel technical design
    • the Excel load file construction 
    • plus a bunch of other helpful files
    • a browser window with the target database user interface
    • A Teams window with connections to work colleagues
    • Outlook for email (which I mostly ignore) and calendar
  • A Remote Desktop with SQL connections to several different versions of the target database
  • A Citrix desktop with the source database user interface and (for my sins) an MS Access interface to the source database tables. It's been a long time since I had to work in Access.
Some of these time out and I have to log back in again. At one job I was one of a few people that had 3 monitors and I loved it. I could use 4 of them here. Even having one humongous screen and having separate windows for each desktop wouldn't work all that well, because I typically want my xl sheet to be as big as possible, and my SQL results to be as wide as possible. Let's just say my life these days involves a lot of logging in, and switching between screens, holding stuff in temporary memory. My old brain is usually very tired at the end of a day, and that's just working on one task. There is a similar migration task between two different versions of that same target database and an earlier version of it. This part is quite straightforward. It would be fun if only I could be left alone to do it. The other one is a higher priority.

That's why I'm not bored, and my blogging has taken a hit as well. If I don't blog first thing in the morning, it's probably not going to happen. Once I dive into work, all the creative energy that would go to writing, or blogging, or photography gets sucked up by work. So, my dear and faithful band of readers, I haven't forgotten you.

Of the Day

Serendipity from 2017 above Dawson City, plus Linda and Celina

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

A Russian Groundhog

And now for something completely different, in the I don't want to bore my readers department.

The other day we watched a Netflix show called Russian Doll. The premise is a woman celebrating her 36th birthday dies. And dies and dies and dies, while things change around her. We thoroughly enjoyed it, living vicariously through a party scene that neither of us would enjoy in real life. All those cigarettes! I started counting how many times she lit one, and then lost count.

There's a cat in it, called Oatmeal, that I had hoped would play a larger role, perhaps being the key to understanding what is going on. I usually enjoy shows with cats, as long as nothing bad happens to them. 

I read about it afterward, mainly to be sure that one of the actors was indeed agent Burke from Elementary. I didn't recognize any of the other actors. Some of the reviews referenced Groundhog Day, the Bill Murray movie from 1993. I had no memory of ever seeing it, but then again, we all know my memory has gaps in it. A few movie clips didn't remind me, so last night while Linda was on a Zoom call with gardening buddies, I watched the movie. Here and I had been thinking the movie had something to do with golf, and a destructive groundhog. I guess that's a different movie.

1993 would have been about the point of my lowest income, working a job that paid the cube root of diddely squat. I probably didn't have the money to splurge on a movie. As far as I can tell, everyone else in the world has seen it, so I won't give you a plot summary. How can Andie MacDowell be more than 60?!

In the 'there you go bringing reality into it again' department, I've often wondered what happens to all the other people in the movie as each day resets. It seems they don't know what's going on, though Groundhog is a bit ambiguous on that point. How broken things reset. How someone that dies in a fiery explosion is recreated, waking up in their bed, or looking in the mirror of a weird bathroom. The theory is here is that someone or something is resetting them so they have a chance to learn something.

This is a smaller scale version of karma, in some senses. Some religions have the idea that you progress through lifetimes, learning what you need to know to become one with God. Or something. One of the related ideas is that you are rewarded in this life for the good things you did in a previous life, or that you'll be punished in a future life. It all gets really deep if you think about it too much. As a side note this is a great deal for those with no morals about lying to people to grift money instead of doing honest work.

But anyone who has trained a pet or a child knows that you have to relate the misdeed with the consequences, preferably ASAP. The punishment does no good if they don't know why it's happening. So if we don't remember what we did in a previous life (and only a few claim they do, and they are widely regarded as kooks) then we can't relate previous actions to todays circumstances.

So both shows end up in the happily ever after department, and how nice for all involved. How Oatmeal ends up is left unknown, perhaps that's what the proposed season 2 is all about.

Most grownups can relate day to day life with bigger issues. Like how they behave influences if they continue to work at a particular place. The idea is that people gradually grow and become better people throughout their life. There are obvious exceptions, however, and it seems like some of them prosper in spite of being assholes. I remain convinced that mostly the world comes back to bite you in the ass, or reward you, if you deserve it. Which gets deep if you think about it.

Of the Day

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

The daily walk habit

So the IM training thing isn't happening anymore, but that doesn't mean I've become a total slug. During our New Zealand trip we walked several hours each day on a beach. Usually 8 to 10 K, several times over 15K, and I think one was about 20K altogether. There's nothing in the world like it! Since getting home we've been walking almost every day, about 45 minutes to an hour at a brisk pace. For us, that's about 10 minutes per K. A little slower if I'm distracted by photo opportunities, or it's icy.

Last year was a big push to get the nearby section of ring road done, so it was fun to walk along the berm and see the progress. It isn't quite done. The section from near us over to highway 2 is supposed to open in 2021, but I haven't been able to find any more specific dates. The other piece that isn't done is the sound walls. There's some stakes up to show where it's going to go, and I've seen maps. They say it's going to get done in the spring.

Some of our walks might get detoured by sound wall construction, but it will be interesting to watch it get made. I'll probably take photos of it. We might be forced to walk elsewhere, like perhaps down in Fish Creek. Oh, the hardship!

I'm of two minds about the sound wall. The view west from the berm in previous years ranges from so-so to spectacular depending on the weather. Now there's a major road there and a utility corridor with lots of big power poles getting in the way of the view. A Costco blocks part of the view now, and next year construction starts on a mall. They say it will look nice.

Once the sound wall goes in, the view goes away for much of the path. On the other hand, the people living along the road get a quieter home. Except some of the homes most impacted are not getting a sound wall, which makes no sense at all, though they say there will be more noise studies and blah blah blah.

I get that it's a tradeoff, and that other people might feel strongly about it, one way or the other. I could easily be saying that I live far enough from the road that the noise doesn't affect me, so I don't want a sound wall taking away the view when I walk there. Lots of the residents along the ring road have mixed feelings about the road. Some have extremely strong feelings on the topic, and I can't blame them. A few homes have had their resale value dramatically reduced. Reduced as in, who in their right mind would buy that home unless they have a traffic fetish?

But for the rest of us, I'm thinking and lots of other people are thinking, it's going to be good for property values. For decades Woodbine has been on the SW corner of the city. Drive out of the neighbourhood and you're out of the city on the way to the mountains. The downside was that all the amenities were in one direction. We were on an edge. Now there is going to be stuff to our west, and we'll no longer be an edge. That Costco is far busier than I would have expected, and maybe the other new stores will be as well. Some people might even discover a great bakery in Woodbine.

You can see a bit of the view here, complete with part of the Costco (and yes we like having it so close) and one of the power line poles. There was a strong chinook wind blowing, explaining Linda's hair.

This view, such as it is, will go away when the sound wall is installed. This is the exit from Anderson to northbound Tsuut'ina Trail.

As will this view.

And this one.

This one won't, it's from the pedestrian bridge over the highway. Let's just say some careful composition went into this shot.

Of the Day

Monday, January 11, 2021

AMA 7, more photo philosophy

And from Sean. What changed or didn't change in your photography practice last year and are there aspects you would like to change this years?

Well, let me get another cup of coffee and we'll get started.

One thing that changed was races and community association events being cancelled. I like doing these because you have to become a photographer that lives in the moment. You have to immerse yourself in the action, and predict where to be to get a good shot. You have to recognize a good shot as it's happening. I sometimes end up shooting with both eyes open, one through the viewfinder to compose, and the other looking out at the scene looking for the next shot. You don't often get a chance at a do-over, though sometimes the kids are delighted to do so.

For races there is no do over. That finish line shot is a one time thing. That bit of race drama, the look on someones face, will never happen again. The photographer needs to scout things out in advance, thinking about where to be. Then waiting patiently. Hopefully being able to see the racers coming and prepare to shoot, but sometimes not. Some race directors are remarkably inconsiderate of working photographers, though to be fair sometimes the geography of the site doesn't give them any choice. 

Plus, many races start at half past ungodly. The sun is barely up, shining horizontally across the parking lot where people are gathering. The shadows are dark and long. Then the light changes rapidly. You have to know your camera and your settings, and change on the fly. I usually have a sore finger after such events. Then there's the editing of the hundreds of photos.

The nature of the event forces that style of photography, unless you are there to photograph one person and can ignore everyone else. I still remember doing this for my buddy Patricia as she did a half marathon. There I was, waiting for her on the pedestrian bridge under Crowchild trail, trying to get the settings right. Then a guy comes along all show-boating for the camera, and he's pissed that I'm ignoring him. And yes, I got the shots of Patricia I wanted.

Some people approach all their photography like it's a race, snapping everything in sight just in case it's a good shot. This is not likely to lead to a good shot, except completely by accident. I think one of the hallmarks of a good photographer is that they can consistently create good photos, even where other photographers can't see or get the shot. Having better equipment is typically not the explanation. Being smart about the composition, taking best advantage of the scene and the equipment to hand, and most importantly being in the right place at the right time ready to shoot.

I have become more thoughtful about photos, at least trying to think before clicking. Asking myself why I think this is a good shot. What am I capturing, or trying to say. Thinking about composition. Policing the perimeter, as one photographer says. I think my next camera is going to have to have a view finder that is 100% of the photo area. I tend to have all kinds of stuff creeping in around the edges. Sometimes that's just the nature of the shot, but sometimes it's been carelessness. 

There's a project in mind that will require lots of thought about composition and lighting and posing. I think it will be a great exercise in mindfulness. I'll certainly blog about it as I work through it. 

And that, my dear and faithful readers is it for the AMA feature this year. Thank you so much for participating!

Of the Day

Celina, complaining about how difficult life is for her. We tell her every other cat in the world yearns to suffer her difficulties.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

AMA 6, the tablet

An email from Pete, a reader in the Chicago area:

Hey Keith,
I am a long time reader of your blog and I would like to hear, in the coming months, how that tablet is working out. I also recently retired from full time work ( tax accountant), however I still help out during busy seasons. I use Lightroom for photo editing and really like it, but I recently read about the tablets and almost bought one for Christmas. 

Keep up the great work

Thanks for writing, Pete! I always love to hear from my readers.

As you suggest, the tablet is an ongoing project, and I'll certainly be blogging about it. To sum up, so far, so good. It's tied in with using photoshop for more detailed editing, so there'll probably be some of that as well. 

So far, the trickiest thing has been managing taking the pen off the tablet without it jerking a little in one direction or another. My thinking is there are two possibilities. One is that my fingers haven't learned to pick the pen up straight. Two is there may be settings that help mitigate that problem. It's a bit annoying to move a slider to exactly where I want it, and then it jerks one way or the other as I pick up.

I've been thinking about the whole photo editing thing. Some photo editors never use the global edits. They go in and edit piece by piece, a bit here and a bit there. I don't get that, to be honest. Maybe I'm insufficiently picky about my photos. I generally use the global edits, and tweak where it's necessary. Before the tablet I was rarely happy with the results and lived with the flaws. Now I've fixed a few things and I'm gaining confidence. Maybe they really would look better if I went in bit by bit and brightened that bit of shadow, or increased the contrast over there, or tweaked individual colours. 

Some of the Lightroom or Photoshop 'how to' videos show people making adjustments to specific parts of a photo and where they've done it to illustrate the effect, I get it. It's too much and they say so, because it's done for the video. But then they demonstrate on an actual photo and I don't really see a difference. 

For my photos, I think to myself, how will this be seen? The vast majority of my photos are never seen by anyone but me, since I look at them once and decide they aren't worth editing for whatever reason. Of the remainder, the vast majority are viewed on my blog at a social media resolution. To be honest this hides a multitude of sins. There's no point editing for detail nobody will ever see.

There are a few that are put onto Facebook or Instagram. There are a few that get saved for the cover of our community newsletter, and that's done at 300 dpi, but sized at a medium resolution. Only a very few get printed or viewed in a way that reveals every subtle detail/flaw, and are good enough to warrant a detailed review and tweaking bit by bit.

I suppose I should put a photo of the tablet here, with setup for the keyboard and trackpad, but my desk is a disaster area just now. I can't even see all of the tablet for papers. Instead, there's this. I was considering tweaking this using the tablet to make the blue really pop. Really, really pop. Not just the big bit you can see, but all the bits off to the right where the blue peeks between the leaves. Then I thought about how that would look kind of fake. I'm totally not a fan of fake looking.

Of the Day

Saturday, January 9, 2021

AMA 5, best of 2020

Thanks so much for the great questions so far! I've got a couple more in the pipeline, but it isn't too late for you to get your question in. A comment on the blog, a Facebook post, email, text, whatever works for you.

Janet asks:
Best Lesson of 2020
Best Memory of 2020
Best Buy of 2020
Best Read of 2020 
Your Hope for 2021

And here we go!
A lesson implies learning something you didn't know before, or places what you know in a different context. I think this is the first year that it's really come home to me that getting old isn't for weenies. I'd sort of known in a distant sort of way that I wasn't going to do another triathlon, and wasn't going to achieve my goal of doing a stand alone marathon. 

Last year is when it really came home. No, there wasn't some dramatic event or injury. Just that I didn't want to do it anymore. That's led to several changes in my life. Selling my beloved road bike, Estela. Not trying to push through on running. Still missing swimming though, and once all this COVID stuff is over I'm looking forward to getting back in the pool. 

There is a limited number of hours in my remaining life. I'd like to think that's a big number, but we never know. I'm trying to get better about doing the things I enjoy doing and moving forward on my various projects.

The beaches of New Zealand. We wanted a winter getaway, and weren't interested in the typical 'tourist' stuff. Our first destination was Dunedin. We got off the plane in Auckland, cleared customs and the bio-police, then got on another plane. We'd spent a week there last time as well and wanted to see more of that area. We even stayed in the exact same condo. It was nice knowing where to go for stuff. 

We'd known there was a nice beach within city limits but we didn't get there last time. After getting groceries, a nap, and unpacking a bit, that was the first thing. We loved it, and wanted to do more, and the more we did it, the more we loved it. There is an endless selection of beaches to choose from. In 30 days we hit 44 beaches, mostly strolling from end to end, me taking many photos. I was prepared to deal with my camera failing due to exposure to salt spray, sandy wind, and the general banging around involved in such travel.

Some of my readers live a short drive from the ocean, or even within walking distance depending on exactly how you define ocean. They know the attraction of a beach. Now I'm wondering why I live so far from the ocean. Plus the air here sometimes hurts my face.

I think this is Brighton beach. The tiny figure off in the distance is Linda. You will have noticed that many of my overall beach photos are empty of people. They have not been digitally erased. Outside of a few really popular beaches (the ones in Dunedin itself, Piha, Hot Water, Hahei, and a couple more) we were essentially alone. I loved it.

I suppose the tickets to New Zealand don't count since Linda bought them at just the right moment  of 2019 and scored some serious deals on travel and accommodation. We didn't buy much in New Zealand outside of food and treats. 

In fact, we don't buy much of anything any more, outside of groceries. We do replace things once they've well and truly worn out. The BBQ and hot water heater fell into those categories. The car dealer we bought our last car from was making a big push for us to sell them back the car and buy a new one. I saw it as a desperate attempt to generate more business. And really, if our car (a 2016 Honda Fit) is such a desirable car to have, why would we sell it to someone else? 

My typical plan for cars is to buy a good one new, and drive it till the wheels fall off. The trick is balancing increasing maintenance costs against buying new. Mostly that's worked pretty well. Two Honda Accords and the Fit have taken us about 600,000 Km. I was surprised to learn that the new hybrid Accord gets even better milage than the Fit.

No new camera toys, other than a few SD cards to replace ones that fail. Pro tip kids, when a card fails, try once to get the data off, then throw it away and replace it. This is why I transfer photos from the card to the computer at the end of every photo session. If you MUST get the photos on that card, don't screw around, take it to iCube. 

Maybe the best buy was the enclosure to replace the old one that failed, since it gave me back many thousands of photos. I bought two more drives and have two other backups on the go, using Carbon Copy Cloner. Another pro tip here, if what's on your computer is important enough to have put it there in the first place, photos, document scans, text or spreadsheet documents, videos, whatever, then get a back up system going. That hard drive will fail. There are any number of ways of doing that, and it need not be expensive. Just do it. Today.

There's been lots of new cameras come out recently, and my photo buddies have been picking some up, but I'm taking the same strategy as with cars. Get a good one and run it till it fails. The 6DMii is up to about 90,000 photos, and I suppose in a few years I'll have to see what camera technology is doing then.

In fact, I'm struggling there. I even logged into my bank account. I knew I could get an entire year's worth of deposits and stuff, which I do for my business so as to tell my accountant how much money the corporation made, and how it spent it. Naturally enough I thought I could do that for the Visa card, but no, you can only look month by month going back 6 months. Sigh. 

I've documented 28 books by taking photos of them in case I wanted to blog about them. Lets just say that some of them are totally forgotten. One I'm still working on, several I didn't finish. One of them I personally know the author, and very much enjoyed it. That was Porchraits by Neil Zeller. 

The biggest disappointment was The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern. I had loved her first book and dived into this one. Then I got lost and tried again and didn't do any better. I might try again, taking notes, since a buddy really enjoyed it and said it was worth it, but don't hold your breath waiting for me to blog it.

In some ways the best read is much like the best photo question. It depends on your mood and how you define best. But this is the one I remember most enjoying reading. I just love Hans Rosling's approach to problems, asking, what is the data? What does that mean? To often our news is twisted around a narrative and the facts are ignored, so much so that our view of the world is severely skewed.

Hope for 2021
That I retire from formal work for the last time and make serious progress on photography and writing goals. 

Of the Day
This is kind of an odd photo. Many of the 'rules' say to reduce clutter so the viewer can focus on what you want them to focus on. I suppose I could have cleared out some of the branches on the top left, and centre right. But that's not me. This is the way it was, the way I found it. 

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

AMA 4, black and white, but not what you think

Heather asks, maybe something for the AMA. What is it that makes the sand on this particular beach look greyish? Is there black sand in amongst the lighter sand?

She was referring to the beach photo here. Here's another view of Wharariki Beach, at the very north end of the South Island.

There are in fact grains of dark black sand in with the white sand. The black sand is of volcanic origin and also contains iron oxide. There's a steel industry based on it. 

That's probably the shortest, most accurate, and factual answer in all my AMA post. 

The white and black are slightly different densities, and I think slightly different shapes, and they behave differently. What you sometimes end up with is patterns in the sand, formed by the action of water and wind. Some of them are amazingly photogenic. You can see a small version of one of them in yesterday's image of 2020. There were any number of times I stopped during a beach walk to admire the patterns and think about how to get a photo of it. Sometimes it worked, sometimes not. 

In this case, Wharariki is quite windy, and there's lots of sand, so there's actual big dunes. The black provides some interest and definition to the sand. Sometimes it forms a crust on top, and you'll see white footprints in the black sand. There are always footprints and paths in the sand, since you have to walk about a kilometre to get to the start of the beach, and then slog further over the sand to get to the water.

Not far from there, on the inland side of the spit, is Golden Bay. The sand there is a lovely tan and gold colour. Sometimes there's a bit of black as well. The beaches there are great for kids, although for photo purposes they're a little bland. On the family friendly front, you can usually park the car mere feet from the beach, and there's a bunch of beaches to choose from. Lots of restaurants and other tourist stuff not far away. Have I mentioned that the food in New Zealand is awesome? 

I would be remiss in pointing out that to get to any of these beaches you either take a boat or go over Takaka Hill. Up being the operative word. Very up. And up more. About 800 m of twisty turny up, and then down. Carefully. How long does it take? If you had coffee with breakfast you'll be looking urgently for a bathroom on the other side, and they aren't as close as you'd like. Worth it, though.

You could easily plan to go up and over and stay a week or two on the other side. There's lots to see and do, and then you'd only have to do the road twice. Keep in mind there's lots of twisty turny roads to even get to the start of that road.

Of the Day
I think I posted a slightly different version of this. But since I was talking about sand, this is another view of sand on a different beach. 

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Image of 2020

I've been looking at the year's photographic output for several weeks now, thinking about star ratings, and which images I might want to re-edit.

2020 was a slow photographic year, by my standards. only 18145 images taken, and that includes a month in New Zealand wandering many beaches. However, it does not include any number of races, community association events, and private client shoots that were cancelled. We all know why, so no need to get into that.

Of that, I ended up with:
3521 (19.4%) 3 star or edited images. (Note there are another 400 some community association images, even with the cancelled events. I use a different rating system for them.)
322 (1.77%) 4 star images. These are striking in some way, better than most, but aren't quite 5 stars. These are my prime hunting ground for re-editing with new tools. Perhaps I can fix some flaws and promote them.
50 (0.27%) 5 star images. These make me perk up and say "Wow!" for one reason or another.

It's all terribly subjective. There's times I wonder why I didn't give something a higher rating, or wonder why I gave one such a high rating. There's times I've gone back and forth. Even now, I look at some of the 3 star and wonder if I should nudge them up. There's times I wish there was a 3.5 star rating.

So here's the 50 choices.

Decisions, decisions. I continue to think that publishing an image of the month, and an image of the year is a good exercise for me. It helps keep me accountable to be seeking or creating better images. I like getting the feedback on what other people think are good images, or are not. 

I'm going to continue with the winner and two runner up images. One year I went with an honorary mention because it was taken so late in the year I hadn't had time to sit with it. I just went back and looked at it again and I'm pleased with that choice, but it won't happen this year.

I remain firmly convinced that one does not need to travel to the ends of the earth to get good photos. Yes, some of these really are from the other side of the world, but many are not just within Calgary city limits, they are within our own yard. Photographic beauty is where you find or create it.

Give me a beer and I could probably tell you a story about any of these. Here's a few, while I'm looking at them. Number 48 the bee, is probably the luckiest shot of the year. Getting a good photo of a bee perched on something is tough enough because they move so quickly, and they're so fuzzy it's easy to tell if you blow the focus. Plus whatever they're on is probably moving as well. It usually involves hundreds of rejected photos in any one session. Good thing I don't keep track of rejected photos. Catching them in flight is even more difficult. I don't normally get into camera settings, but this one is at 1/4,000 of a second, which is the fastest my camera can go, and there's still a bit of motion blur in the wings. An eye blink is about 1/10 of a second. Bees flap their wings at about 230 beats per second, or .00434 seconds per beat. 

The New Zealand beaches are amazing. Every time I look at the photos I'm brought back to them, and remember what it was like to walk along them. Every time. I'd hoped to get the Southern aurora and while I couldn't see it with my eyes, the camera caught it. Yay! If it was legal I'd seriously consider becoming a New Zealand beach bum for my next career.

Oddly enough, although I took many photos of the white peony, not many of them ended up at the top of the list. I'm not sure why. Number 40, with the ant waving it's antenna and getting up the courage to cross to the next petal did it for me. I'm not normally a black and white shooter, but 42 was so striking, even better than the colour version. 

The tulips though, they really put on a show. I was catching them in nice light, with water drops on them, and that makes for a great photo. 34 in particular could be printed big and put up on a wall to cheer up people in the middle of winter.

49, the lily took me a couple passes to notice.  Compared to others in the sequence it looked out of focus, and there was a splotch on the stem that looked terrible. Then I realized I could fix that and it would look more like a painting, which is one of the things I work on periodically. 

There's all kinds of cloud drama in Alberta. I normally don't count cloudscapes in my 'best of' photo lists for a variety of reasons, but 46 and 47 are pretty spectacular. Still, I already know they won't be image of the year.

50 looks almost like a constructed image. Some might suspect photoshop trickery, or a double exposure, but I assure you, that is a single exposure, edited normally in Lightroom.

I'm down to 12 now, thinking about intentions. Often when I'm out with the camera I'm an opportunist. I go looking for something interesting, and I take a photo if I find it. There's an element of luck there, but there's work involved. The photographer has to think about where to go to find an interesting scene, actually get out there with the gear, with the skills to compose and capture the image. 

But for many photographers there's more to it. They have an image in their brain, and they create the circumstances where they can capture that image. That could involve a model or models and everything they'll need to look right, the proper lighting, maybe some props, a fog or smoke machine, and who knows what else? If I think of which of my images come closest to capturing an intended image, that cuts it down considerably. Even so, it's still tough.

Second Runner Up
Feb 24 on Brighton Beach. I was trying to capture the reflection of the cloud in the water, then realized Linda was walking into it, then realized I might be able to get a walking on cloud shot. There was a bit of scurrying to get in exactly the right place, and compose for the faint footprints. As soon as I saw it on screen, I knew it would be image of the month for February, and would in the final running for image of the year. If nothing else had worked all year I'd have been happy to go with this one.

First Runner Up
October 23 at home. I'd looked out the window wondering if there was enough snow to make it worth going out to get snowy shots. At first I was looking past the reflections at the cone of lighted snow beneath the streetlights. Then I saw the reflection, and started thinking about how to capture it, wondering if I could get everything lined up, and maybe even get a nice tail light trail from a passing car. This is one where moving the camera even an inch, or tilting it up or down, radically changed the image. It's been growing on me more and more every time I look at it.

Image of 2020
May 13. Michelle and I worked together to plan a photoshoot in conjunction with Melanoma Awareness day. The idea was to get a shot of her with the yellow and blue lights on the tower behind her. That part didn't quite work out as well as we had hoped, but the many other wonderful shots more than made up for it. 

The other shot we discussed was a quiet cancer survivor contemplation shot, letting the light of a candle be reflected in her eyes. It isn't a candle, but a string of LED lights and you have to look carefully to see it, but that's a trivial detail. It's the best example so far of having an idea for a portrait seen through to fruition.

Michelle says, I’m grateful that it mattered to you to take the time to mark the occasion with me. I love the result not only of that shot but of a number of photos that capture the “essence of me” that I have made my profile pics over the past decade! I love working with you!

Monday, January 4, 2021

AMA 3, the internet

As a followup from yesterday, there's this. 

Which also brought up the internet connectivity and the pendulum thing. It's swung hard toward everything internet all the time. It is useful, but where is the balance? How does it serve us, rather than drain us?

We as a society don't seem to be very good at sorting out what is a fad, and what is actually good. Something comes along and boom, it's everywhere all the time, and then it's gone. There's nothing as dated as a movie, or a book, or a music album that came out a few months too late.

For several decades the airline industry made decisions assuming that bigger and faster was automatically better. Thus the Concorde and it's one of the regrets of my life that I never took a flight on it, even if it would be grossly uncomfortable for someone my size. Then the bean counters took over. Airplanes fly a bit slower now than they used to, but are ever so much more efficient. Route planning is a science now, with all sorts of factors deciding which aircraft are used on which route. Don't get me started on the seat pricing algorithms. 

Similar assumptions governed the auto industry. Then the price of fuel drove similar adjustments to automotive design, creating a world where all cars essentially look alike, and almost all of them are too small, except for the big ass pickups, which are too big. It used to be that one could buy a completely customized car, right down to individual options. Now one has a choice of several tiers, each one giving more stuff than the last. What kills me is that I like, and would buy many of the options in the highest tier, but the inclusion of a sunroof is a complete deal breaker. 

The internet was not even a dreamed of thing when I was a kid. I read stories about computers, and space flight, and flying cars, and a wrist watch video phone, and automatic sliding doors, and much else. Not the internet. It was invented and turned loose on the world, and before we knew it, Google and Facebook captured it. They turned it into a surveillance tool that makes Orwell's world look like a bunch of penny-ante amateurs. 

At first Facebook was almost a competition to see who could accumulate the most "friends". I passed on it for years, but finally signed up in 2012. It's mostly been ok, but it sure pisses me off a lot. I hear that from many people. How hard can it be to show me what my friends post in reverse chronological order, and notify me when my friends post a comment? It isn't, unless the goal is to extract money from advertisers by selling your information to them, which they do. Thus the growing number of people taking a vacation from it. A surprising number of those vacations turn out to be permanent.

Everything these days seems to be designed to capture your attention by any means at all, and get your blood pressure up on some issue, in a way designed to benefit a politician or a corporation, and divide you from actual people. Click bait. Spam. Aggressive wording. Slanted news. It's what cults do to separate you from your friends and family.

It works. There's 70 some million people that believe anything Trump says, and what really kills me is that these are some of the stupidest and most transparent lies ever told. He knows how to tap into people's brains and push their buttons. If he had been just smart enough to know when to shut up and not say anything, he might well have won a second term, and that would have been the end of the USA as a democracy. As it is, it will hobble along for a while yet, but I'd take bets that it won't last the rest of my life.

Nobody at the time knew when the Roman Empire had fallen. It took historians to follow the events and draw a line. Well, to be honest there are several lines, but they're all late 5th century AD for the western empire, after many years of decline. We've got a better grip on things now, and it's clear the American Empire is in decline.

But I digress. The internet, and the ease of communication it brings is one factor in the decline of the Western world. When people mainly lived in small towns you learned to go along to get along. Flying your freak flag could get you ostracized at the least, and perhaps even killed. Now the freaks can find each other, organize groups, and lobby for their point of view. If it's stamp collectors nobody cares. If you're gay, or black, or native, or other repressed minorities, it's a good thing. (Unless you're a bigot or a racist, and want to see those people continue to be repressed, then the internet is a bad thing.) But it also lets child molesters and other criminals organize their affairs. How much free speech is too much free speech is a topic for another day.

Does my stove really need to be hooked up to the internet? No, although it can be. Perhaps our appliances are starting a movement to free themselves from human tyranny. But only an idiot would remotely turn on a stove in an empty house. The appliance is designed to be safe, but things can go wrong. You can't correct them if you're not home to notice. If I'm home I can walk into the kitchen to turn it on for whatever purpose is at hand. I don't need to use a smart phone from the next room.

Does Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and Zoom and I don't know what all else really replace meeting up with a buddy for coffee? Just now we have to make do with them, but that won't last long. Somehow we got along without those apps before, and I'm starting to think seriously about doing without them again, or cutting way back. By hiding behind our screens we lock ourselves away from human contact. We forget what other people are like, how to hold an actual conversation. I'm thinking that a bit more going along and a little less freak flag flying would be a good thing.

Which as another digression, just kills me about many Zoom-like conversations. Two people start talking at the same time, realize it and stop, then both start again. Or they try to hold multiple conversations at the same time, just like they do during an actual meeting. All of which makes me nuts and I want to leave the meeting with extreme hostility.

I suspect the pendulum is swinging back from all internet all the time. We're going to wonder what we were thinking. We'll use it where it's appropriate, and ignore it the rest of the time. People will create apps that are less invasive than Facebook and Google but provide the valuable parts of the experience. Perhaps they exist already and are looking for that critical mass. There are new chips coming that will dramatically change encryption, so private conversations may be possible. Right now one has to assume that the American intelligence services can read anything on line, on any platform. That's sad.

Once upon a time on most Saturday mornings one of us would walk over to get the newspapers, and we'd have a quiet morning reading them and drinking coffee and chatting about the state of the world. Then the paper delivery starting getting unreliable, and we stopped buying them. We started looking at the news on the internet. I'm not sure when that happened. 

That was ok for a while, but it's turned into a brutal experience. There's been so much consolidation I'm not even sure who owns what any more. Post Media seems to own all the newspapers, and they're all the same. Lots of 'the news' are behind pay walls, and provide so little value it's not worth buying. In an earlier era they would be called yellow journalism, and that's being polite.

Advertising used to support the papers, but nobody has figured out how to make advertising work on the internet. As far as I'm concerned it's a complete blight. If I ever meet someone from Grammarly, I'm going to give them an explicit piece of my mind. Watching pop up advertising pollute the screen I'm trying to read annoys me no end, and having the screen move things around as it loads, and particularly just as I'm about to click the button is even worse.

And browsers! Most of the time I use one browser. It's where my bookmarks are and I'm mostly used to how it behaves, though the different versions of it on different computers is a bit annoying. Except some sites we have to switch to a different browser, mainly for financial stuff. To load photos onto my blog I have to use a third browser. For work, there's one particular application I have to use if I want to get paid, and it only runs on IE, which I didn't think existed any more. 

But there's no completely escaping the internet now. Even my photography hobby requires the internet, at least periodically, because Lightroom needs to talk to the mother-ship to be assured it's ok to operate. The internet is baked into our cell phones, and they're the most useful device invented in my lifetime. We just need our phones and the internet to be serving the people that use it, not some giant corporation only seeking profits. I'm not sure how to make that happen, but not using the services of abusive corporations is a start. Pardon me a moment while I post a link to this blog on Facebook...

Of the Day

Sunday, January 3, 2021

AMA 2, are you learning?

 There's been several AMA questions, thank you so much! You can still send your question in, and resolve that burning feeling keeping you awake at night. I guarantee an answer.

This one comes from a friend asking about the learning culture in her organization. I want to respect her privacy, and that of her organization. Slightly paraphrased, she asked:
1 - What should teaching and learning look like at XXX?
2 - What are the top tools that we don't provide enough training and learning time for
3 - What would an ideal service desk do for you

Everybody spends the early part of their life learning. Fundamental things like how to use cutlery to eat without dribbling food all over the place, how to cross the street without getting killed, how to use a clock to tell time, the list is endless. Right from birth, a baby is learning how to manipulate the people around them to get fed. Even cats do it.

Some people have disabilities that prevent them from learning some things. People with Dyslexia have difficulty learning to read. Some people can't 'read' facial emotions and have trouble telling how other people are feeling. Some have problems so serious they can't learn to function on their own and will need care all their lives. These all need to be taken into account.

Generally, parents and family start the education process. Then school happens. Some kids love going to school and the system works for them. Others, well, not so much. I was one of them, I spent much of my school years afraid of the teachers and other kids. Part of the reason was that I was extremely nearsighted, and we only learned that in grade 3, after some incidents we need not go into now. This was in a time when it was not routine to get your kids eyes and hearing, and everything else checked early on.

School is a system invented to provide a mass education experience to prepare kids for the work world. The theory was that with universal education, the corporations would get literate and thus more productive workers. School turned into an assembly line, with certain topics taught at certain ages. You've probably heard the saying "The nail that sticks out gets hammered down" and that describes the education system to a T.

Then there's the formal post-secondary world, which I know little of, and the semi-formal world after that, of which I know a thing or two. I spent a number of years training adults to use software. On a training day the most important thing was to watch my students after I gave them the paper with their user name and password. Watching them type it told me everything I needed to know about how my day was going to go.  We aren't talking the esoteric strings of random character gibberish that get generated for passwords these days, we're talking about their name and a common word like baseball. 

So, now that the preamble is over (you know a preamble is the mark of a high quality blog) lets move onto question 1. One of things that people should learn is how they best learn. Do they absorb material best through reading, listening to it, or watching a video, or person to person practical demonstration? Of course, to some extent the subject drives the style of teaching, but people should know which they are best at. The system should be flexible enough to accommodate those styles as much as possible.

Somehow the system needs to track and document what a person has learned so they can move on to more advanced topics. There are many learning systems that do this now, and the ones I've used are a horror show. There's a voice track with a pompous fake hearty overly pronounced voice putting more words to the text that's being displayed practically a word at a time on screen, above a cartoon graphic. Personally, I hate learning by listening to someone talk, or watching a video. I want text. With text I can zero in on the space where what I already know ends, and start connecting the dots to get to where I want to go. I can skip over the irrelevant material. With a video, you're forced to slog through all the detours and possibilities and exceptions that the narrator thinks are important.

The single worst example is corporate ethics. A lawyer wrote it. The text is only marginally favourably compared to the standard software user agreement. It goes on and on, and much of it is not applicable to most of the people taking it. The video experience is abysmal. I chant to myself, "I'm getting paid by the minute to do this."

Teaching and learning should be customized to the individual, with a blend of context, demonstrate the skill, walk them through the skill, do the skill, practice the skill, demonstrate competence. Sometimes having a person involved is best, sometimes having a computer doing it.

The recent COVID epidemic has demonstrated the shortcomings of jamming many kids into a class supervised by an overwhelmed adult. We've proved that kids can learn at home, that adults can work from home, and managers can cope with remote workers. We need to learn from the experience, and modify our systems. The things that can be done via computer should be done that way. Practicing arithmetic comes to mind. The computer will never get bored reminding little Johnny that 3+2=5. 

The top tools? I don't know. Generally when people say tools now, they mean software tools. Learning systems or applications to do something, like Word or Excel. It used to be that corporate training was all about sending someone to take a course on Excel, which was a dreadful experience for all involved. The instructor demonstrated some canned problems, walked people through, and that was it. There was typically very little understanding of what the student needed to actually learn to do their job better. Both of those applications, and many others, are now so complex that nobody knows everything they can do. Even worse, what you know about one can mess you up in another. 

I used to say that the top skill that should be taught to people was typing. Keyboarding. Whatever you want to call it. The problem was the connotation of typing as a low skill task preformed by women in the typing pool. Most of the younger adults now seem to have picked up typing as a skill the way they learned how to use cutlery. Many older adults still struggle. It wasn't so long ago that I watched a guy that was about the age I am now, try to convince his co-worker to log him in, and then upon being forced to log in himself, had to hunt and peck at the keys. I found out later he bribed one of the office staff to do his timesheet, and would rather pay for something himself than fill out an expense report. I will grant you, filing an expense report at that job was a brutal experience, one that left emotional scars on all involved. He was hoping to coast through his last few years before retirement without using a computer. He didn't make it; he was bridged to pension, as the saying goes.

One of the things that got me where I am, was investing the time to learn how to do specific things, usually in Excel, or in database query software, that would get me through my job faster. I could then leverage that time to learn to do other things faster, or with more confidence so I wouldn't have to spend time checking the results. I'd like to see corporations allow more time for their staff to do this. In school, they need to allow more time for structured play.

Service desk. Oh boy. The hardest thing about being on the service desk is trying to troubleshoot a user's problem, when you can't see their screen, and you don't know what they did to get where they are. Most of the time they're so flustered they don't even know what they did anymore. Which isn't a knock against them, it's actually difficult to teach someone to document their steps, so that when the software fails, you can tell the developer what steps will reproduce the problem, as a first step to fixing it.

I typically blame the application. Many of them are badly designed. A rule that works in one part of it, is not the rule in other parts. They let you take actions that have catastrophic results with no undo. They warnings are cryptic, sometimes framed in a double negative way. The auto-save feature is enraging when you work on a large document. You're in the groove, doing something complicated, and the system stalls while it saves, and sometimes even gives you an error message because what you're in the middle of isn't correct at that exact step. And people wonder why I swear at the computer a lot.

To the ordinary user, the service desk is a unitary thing. You finally get hold of an actual person, and you start to tell them all about your problem. But the service desk person is all about the service ticket, and making sure it's all filled out correctly so they get the credit for closing the ticket, I mean, solving the problem. All too often the user will find the person they're talking to isn't the right one, or they don't know the problem application. 

In some places the help desk person can take over the user's screen, which is pretty slick, actually. It doesn't help figure out how they got there, but it does get them past the 'do you see xyz on your screen, good, click that' stage.

I firmly believe that computer systems know when the human knows what should happen. If the human knows what happens when a button is clicked, the computer will go and do it. But if the human isn't sure, look out. I could tell you stories. I've been the victim, and I've walked people away from being the victim. 

As a user I want the service desk to respond promptly, and fix the problem. The end. But I get that there is no limit to the number of issues that will prompt someone to call the service desk. Many someones typically at the same time, and that's before there are actual computer or network problems. There has to be a system to deal with it, and document it. Going through the steps in an orderly way to understand the problem can be annoying to the person who already understands the problem, or worse, only thinks that they do. 

Somehow the service desk people need to ask fundamental questions without appearing to patronize the user. To ask "is it plugged in" is patronizing. To ask them to make sure the computer (or whatever) is off, then pull the plug out to check it for signs of an electrical problem, and plug it back in again, helps involve the user in solving the problem, and eliminates a potential cause without insulting the user. It's a real skill. All too often going through these steps sounds like the help desk person is reading a script.

I don't know how to say this without being accused of racism. Many organizations outsource their help desks. When a user calls, they have no way of knowing who the help desk person actually works for, or where they're sitting. It might be in a bullpen on the IT floor in the same building as you, or it could be anywhere in the world. And yes, sometimes the language skills aren't adequate. We gamed the system at one job. One of the people on our team spoke the first language for the help desk staff, so we had her make the calls, and do so in that language. That was better, and buying her lunch everyday was a small price to pay.

Taking a step back and looking at the whole system, it's clear that over the last few decades we've moved into a new world. Computers. Networks. Video conferencing. Databases. Cell phones. Mrs Google. A never ending explosion of knowledge that's important to function in today's world. We all know the one room school-house with multiple grades taught by a young woman is long gone. The model of an adult being the authority figure teaching a class of kids is gone too. In some cases the kids know more than the adult. In my day calculators were the new thing, along with arguments about if students should be allowed to use them. How quaint that seems now.

The model of a boss closely supervising a gang of workers in person and knowing all their jobs is gone as well. Throughout my so-called career, I've only had one boss that I could explain in detail what I do, and not have their eyeballs spin. I've often been the only person doing what I do, and sometimes it's difficult to explain to a boss who knows nothing of database complexities. In many organizations, when you get right down to the details, each person's skill set is unique. They don't need or want hour by hour supervision. Mostly they want to be left alone to do their assigned work. Meetings, emails, phone calls, all are distractions.

We need to figure out better ways of educating our kids, and continuing the education as adults. The world isn't going to stop changing. We are going to be creating better tools, and we need to learn to take advantage. I remember email being a new thing, a marvellous tool for communication. Now email is being phased out of organizations, kind of like fax machines. Which is good for most people because they hate dealing with email, and bad for me, because I sort of like dealing with email. I'm good at it. Pity that so many others are so bad at it.

Which sort of makes me a bit of a Luddite, I guess. Not one to be creating systems to deal with this new world. But at least I recognize we need those new systems. Some people my age are all about the school room of their youth, thinking all we need to do is the three R's. Bah! Reading, yes, a thousand times yes! But I'd almost rather teach a kid how to do information analysis to pick out political and corporate lies, than teach them arithmetic. 

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