Tag: <span>USA</span>

It’s already halfway through the month, my Christmas holiday is within touching distance (I finish up on Friday), and then it’ll be 2013.

As I spent a lot of time last week in airports I did some quick (and very rough) calculations and realised that I’ve logged around 21,500 miles of air travel this year, and visited four different continents on the way.

Holiday in Tunisia, holiday in Singapore, a flight to London, and a work trip to the USA. It’s by far the most air travel I’ve ever had in one year, at a guess I’d say in the past it’d have taken me several years to rack up that many miles but the fates (and monies) aligned this year so whilst I do feel a little bit (carbon) guilty, I know that next year the number won’t even reach half of that, probably much less.

Seriously though, should I plant a tree or something? All those poor carbons I’ve used… burnt? stood on? What should I do!

Life

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I’m currently cruising high in the sky above the USA, on my way from San Francisco to Boston. It’s part of a whistle stop tour of two of our offices here which have teams of software engineers, architects and product managers (no technical writers though) that are building part of the product we will be shipping early next year.
During a chat with a couple of the product managers there was an interesting revelation. In describing the approach the team takes when it comes to writing documentation, the two product managers both smiled with relief when I said that we didn’t really spend much time on simple procedures, instead we try and concentrate on the why, on decision support information. We work with the support team to catch any areas of the product which are causing problems with a view to improving the documentation in that area as well, and overall we understand that the people using the development platform are usually smart, technically minded people, so we ask smart, technical questions of our development team.

The thing is, that’s not really a revelation for me. It’s something we’ve been doing for quite a while now, so much so that I can forget that for a lot of people the term “product documentation” is often seen to be fairly rote task-based, step by step procedures with little in the way of explanation.

Whilst that’s handy when you are still learning a new product, pretty soon that information becomes useless.

Thinking further, the decisions we are making during our current restructure project reflect this thinking as well. One step that was very interesting was asking some of the given audience of our product (our own developers and professional services staff) to do a card sort of some of the topics. They all have a mental model in their heads of how the product (and so the supporting information) is structured. Anything outside of that was a real problem for them to deal with.

It’s that problem area where asking why, and producing supporting information that helps the user understand how something works is far more important than simply telling them which buttons to click.

Since our companies merged we’ve had a lot of discussions and sessions to help the other engineering teams get up to speed with our platform, it’s been a bit of a rude awakening if I’m honest, as there is a lot of knowledge still floating around in the heads of some of our developers.

So it looks like the task next year will be to change that, to make information and the dissemination of it much more a key part of the software engineers thinking. I’m not quite sure how we are going to manage it but I do know that we have to create a new normal where information sharing, product information and an understanding of who is using our product needs to be much more front and centre in our thinking and our working processes.

Work

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obamaeyes

The United States of America has, in case you’ve been hiding under a rock these past couple of months, a new President. Bye bye Bush, hello “Change” and a big dollop of hope.

Like many others I’ve been a little swept up in the general goodwill that President Obama seems to carry with him, and whilst it is obvious that he is an intelligent and charismatic man, I’m not entirely convinced his perceived persona is fair.

It’s easy to forget, as most of us are slap bang in the middle of it, that the way we use the internet has changed in the past four years and whilst the way the Obama campaign used the internet is well documented I think there is a more subtle effect of their “internet aware” campaign that is glossed over. It’s not just about the money that they generated, they were also very smart at getting the word out. Call it soft marketing (I hesitate to use the word ‘viral’ here) but the fact remains that I’ve read and know more about President Obama than any previous President.

That may be partly down to the fact that I share many of his views, partly because he seems closer to my generation, or just because he seems like a smart, reasonable man. But the fact remains that word of mouth, via the myriad of social networks in which we all dip into, has been a driving factor in his campaign.

Given how internet savvy his campaign was, I’m certain I won’t be the only person looking at how his Presidency continues to leverage the benefits of being internet aware.

Bravo to the Obama web/marketing machine, and here’s hoping the man can live up to the hype (anyone else think we are setting him up for a fall already?). Time will tell but for now I’m keen to see what he’s made of, what decisions he takes (he’s off to a great start on that front already) and how patient the USA, and the rest of the world, will be.

And, if proof were needed, the Whitehouse blog is already up and running.

News

Apparently I am a global citizen, indeed we are all global citizens these days.

OK, so my current train of thought is heading down the route largely blazed by Naomi Klein in her book No Logo. Large companies like, say, Starbucks, are able to push smaller local competitors out of business. Which is true and I’m a big supporter of our locally run cafe which, as an aside, makes the best chicken pesto panini EVER, and would hate to see it close down.

That said, Starbucks coffee is generally pretty good and is always reliable, and so we begin the inner conflict.

You see when I venture into Starbucks (I do wish my fingers would stop typing Satrbucks) I immediately know that the environment I’m in is manufactured, and yet despite that knowledge I do quite enjoy it. I’m sure there is a phrase for this effect, and no it’s not “gullible fool syndrome”, but whatever it is, it works. I enjoy the Starbucks experience, the sofas, the gentle music, the calmness that seems to ooze from the walls. And while I’m guessing the latter is just down to the seating arrangement, I certainly rarely feel that I have to shout over other peoples conversations… but that’s all beside the point.

Generally, if I hear someone saying something negative about the Starbucks experience I get quite defensive.

Yet when they challenge Starbucks the ‘global company’ I tend to agree.

See, inner conflict. My desire to be seen as a valid person within my demographic fighting against … ummm… something that I know isn’t right but largely doesn’t impact me all that much.

This is a bad thing. Or at least so I’m told.

Fast forward a decade or two and the only coffee house in town will be Starbucks, all local economy disappears into their vast coffers and the realisation that we need to change things arrives just a little too late. You know, like that whole global warming thing, we’ll REALLY get it as the rising oceans lap at our doorsteps. And no, not an ocean of coffee, that would be silly as it would just taste of fish.

Everyday the internet opens up the entire world, although admittedly most of it is skewed towards the USA. However it’s easy to convince yourself that you are part of a global community, should such a thing exist, and, after all, sharing the simple experience of ordering a coffee is part of being in a community.

Admittedly most of this makes me feel slightly uneasy but, as time marches on, that feeling is squashed underneath a Lemon and Poppy seed Muffin, and washed away with a Venti Skinny Latte, hold the sprinkles.

Globalisation is bad and evil. I’ve read it in numerous blogs so it must be true but the thing is, it doesn’t seem to be happening. Whilst there are numerous Starbucks in Glasgow, they seem to have sprouted competitors with the number of cafes suddenly, visibily, increasing. Even that crap sandwich place now has an expensive coffee machine, and I’m pretty sure the staff don’t get trained as barristas.

I guess my point is this, for every large global company, there is a smaller, more dynamic, competitor and it seems like they are multiplying. I could be wrong of course… on the other hand, only a few years ago, Internet Explorer was about the only browser anyone used. That isn’t the case now.

The internet, whilst aiding globalisation on some terms (I can relate to Jose in Brazil as he sits typing on his MacBook in his local Subway) can also hinder it. The realisation that I have more choice is but a click away and as far as I can see, people are still clicking.

Personal Musings

In a desperate effort to gain some weird form of validation, I stole an idea for a blog post and begged my readers to ask me a question. And they did. The buggers. Now I have to answer them.

Question 8: Jane asks, quite simply, for “The ideal jogging route”.

The ideal jogging route
This is pretty straightforward really. The ideal jogging route:

  1. is flat.
  2. is somewhere of temperate climate, not too hot, not too cold, a little drizzle on an early autumn day for example.
  3. has a gaggle of gorgeous cheerleaders lining the route.

There you go. Simple.

But. Well… The thing is…

  1. If it’s flat you don’t get the sense of achievement that comes when you reach the top of a big steep hill. Yes your legs burn, yes it’s bloody hard, but yes, you DO feel like Rocky and have to stop yourself from shadow boxing when you reach the top (ok, that might just be me).
  2. A nice day is all well and good but it’s the days when the wind is smashing the rain into your face, you’re soaked to the bone, and yet you still turn up to go for a run. THOSE are the days that really count. Honest.
  3. Ummm yeah that whole sexist.. degrading wummin… adolescent fantasies are sick.. thing… so ummm… yeah, cheerleaders would be ba… well.. ok, let’s just say they’d put me off my stride.

I guess the ideal jogging route would be somewhere that’s busy enough for things to be happening, but not too busy that you are running into people. Our club meets at Strathclyde Park, which has a large watersports centre at one end. The park is well used but big enough that you aren’t constantly avoiding people, or dogs or geese, but busy enough that there is always something going on, be it boats sailing on the water, people canoeing or fishing, or just other joggers or walkers zipping past.

Although I have to admit that some grand scenery would be nice, something like the scene in Forrest Gump where he jogs across the USA. In the middle of that montage there is a crystal clear lake, reflecting the snow-tipped mountains that lie beyond. That looks like a pretty damn nice place to run to me, and I’m sure Scotland can offer the same, I just need to find it.

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Yesterday marked the 15th anniversary of when some bloke, sorry SIR some bloke, published some files on an international network. Since then a lot has changed. Some of it good, some of it bad, some of it mediocre, some of it, er, unmediocre.

I first stumbled across the internet in my first job. After being introduced to Windows for Workgroups, my first ever experience of Windows after years of Macs, I was shown an application called Netscape, a search engine called Yahoo!, and six months later I created my first web site. Email was still limited to a handful of people, mostly in the same company, and spam was something you didn’t buy at the supermarket. I quickly found newsgroups and websites that followed my interests, and struck up some email friendships with people across the globe. OK, so mainly with people in the USA.

Since that day the internet has grown to be an integral part of my life. On Thursday last week I lost my broadband connection for a couple of hours and I was stumped. I couldn’t look anything up, I couldn’t email or MSN anyone to ask a question, I couldn’t surf the web idly, and it was all a little disconcerting.

Now I take some care not to rely completely on my computer or the internet. I’m aware that my computer may die, and the internet might not always be there, but it was a stark reminder of just how it influences my personal and professional life. Startling.

Work

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The internet brings us many things, many of which have been listed before and it should be said that most of the things are joyous and good, although some of them are nasty and bad. I really like the good things, the people, the ability to lose three hours and not realise it, and the way I can sculpt information to how I want it delivered and stored. I really don’t like the bad stuff like spam, viruses and the rampant globalised information.

I guess I should qualify that last one, huh.

Most of you know that the USA and the UK are connected. Physically by miles and miles of cables, geographically by an ocean, and socially by the ever increasing influence of American culture. Whilst I’m not blaming the internet for this shift in culture, not entirely at least, I do think it has to take its share of the blame. Of course it’s not all bad. Yes, there are some good things to come out of the US of A – Starbucks, McDonalds… ohh calm down, I’m kidding – I’m talking about the TV programmes.

There is a lot of good TV made in the UK, but most of the stuff I’ve enjoyed recently is one-off or short-run series, the natural history stuff that only Sir David can do (again, how WONDERFUL is Planet Earth!?), or quirky comedies. However, it seems that the USA is able to reliably produce good quality, long-run series and I’ll happily admit that I’m hooked on Grey’s Anatomy, House and 24. Admittedly my interest in Lost, Desperate Housewives, and The Sopranos has waned, and I never got into Six Feet Under or West Wing but they are, by all accounts, further good examples (and yes, I’m aware that we also receive some real dross from our American cousins. Swings and roundabouts).

For various reasons, none of which I’m au fait with but most of which I’d guess are due to monetary influences, we only receive these TV series after they have aired over in the States. Shouldn’t be a problem, should it?

And it’s not. The problems start when you stumble across a website only to have a plot twist thrust unexpectedly into your view. A plot twist that is months away in the UK schedules and which renders everything that lay before it pointless and misleading. My poor brain just can’t cope:

  • I click onto an American website/blog
  • A part of my brain instantly spots the text “Grey’s Anatomy”
  • Another part of my brain starts reading the surrounding text
  • The fast thinking part of my brain, which has now processed the fact that I’m reading about an upcoming plot twist, starts screaming at the reading part of my brain to STOP READING YOU IDIOT!!
  • The reading part of my brain pauses, glances around as if it’s heard something, then continues reading
  • Yet another part of my brain slowly awakens, stretches, grabs a cup of coffee and ambles over to the reading part of my brain, taps it on the shoulder and says “You shouldn’t be reading that mate”
  • The reading part of my brain stops reading, looks up and says “Ohh OK”
  • By which point the fast thinking part of my brain is a spluttering, gibbering wreck, rolling around my cranii interna

All of this takes place in about 1.4 seconds. I’m powerless to stop it (mainly because I can’t find where that damn coffee machine is plugged in).

Thing is, it’s completely ruining my TV watching and I’m beginning to get a bit pissed off. Yet I can see no solution. I don’t seek these websites out, and I spot these things on entertainment sites, gossip sites, blogs, every and any where.

It’s a bit like the eyes of a portrait following you around the room, except the eyes are a bomb inside a patient, and the room is a helicopter dropping Jack Bauer over a ‘target’ in downtown L.A.

Or something.

We can’t broadcast episodes at the same time because of the time difference, and even then the TV schedule in America lacks the formulaic rigidity of it’s UK counterpart, and that’s not to mention the mid-season breaks that crop up stateside. So what’s the answer?

Why our dear old friend the internet, of course!

Ohh I do love a good paradox, the very thing that is causing the problem offers the solution. Sort of.

For whilst it is possible to download episodes of your favourite TV series mere hours after they have been broadcast in the America, I’m not entirely sure it’s legal. It’s a worry, let me tell you.

Anyway, enough of this, I’m off to watch the next episode of 24… think I’m up to thirteen. It’s the one after the episode where Jack gets run over… ohh sorry…

Media Work

Anyone for a game of basketball then? Just a quick game in the World Championships, aww c’mon, it’s not like the competition is going to be up to much… ahem…

Team USA Photo Roster

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