Friday, September 29, 2006

The Technology of Time

In our wireless world we can communicate with anyone, anywhere and at anytime. This has been a boon to big business, but at the cost of something priceless – time.

The working day used to be from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. These days, even when people get home they are still working – checking email, hammering out reports on their BlackBerry, participating in teleconference calls.

Technology was supposed to make the mammoth amounts of paper we use disappear. Instead, technology has made that fine line between work and home life disappear.

I’ve been out with friends on a Saturday night, coming out from a movie, and I’ve seen people busily typing away on their BlackBerrys.

I’ve been in meetings where others have sat in on a meeting – supposedly to add value to the discussions – but they were distracted by calls on their cell, emails on their BlackBerry, or even pages on their pager.

Where do we draw the line?

I could be taking a much needed bathroom break, only to hear some guy in the next stall talking on his cell phone.

Bathrooms are sacred places. Doing one’s “business” ought to be at the very least, one of the last vestiges of private time left.

When technology invades our time to pee, something is wrong, and it isn’t the technology.

Those who create – no invent – technology, are amazing people. They really are – who would have thought five or even 10-years ago that we’d be able to send and receive messages to someone while they took a crap?

I think the problem lies in those that use technology too much. You shouldn’t be allowed to take calls on your cell phone while pissing, hammer out emails on your BlackBerry while out with friends, or any of the other things people do that are work related in their free time.

When technical writers create documentation about how to use technology, they should also be telling us how NOT to use the technology. Maybe a list of acceptable times and places to use the technology and a list of unacceptable times and places.

Though really we ought to know better. What’s next – holding conference calls while having sex?

“What was that?”

“Ohhhh Ohhhh!”


Yeah. Right.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Why Am I Here – One Word: Myspace

Online communities are the new fad in the ever-changing online world.

Back when I started in the online world, we sat behind big clunky dial-up modems operating at a whopping 300 baud. When they came out with modems that zipped by at 1200 baud and then later 14,400 (14.4K) modems, we thought that was an amazing technological breakthrough.

I even remember a discussion I was having back in the day, with a bunch of other computer geeks, about how nothing will ever go faster than 9600 baud. Standard telephone lines can only send information at 9600 baud or lower – they can’t go any faster. It is physically impossible for a standard analogue telephone line to go beyond the speed limit of 9600 baud.

Naturally, we didn’t know about fiber optics and digital telephone lines, which now make broadband high-speed digital connections possible over telephone lines.

That brings me back to the whole point of this – why am I here?

Online communities are the new method to meet people – for dating, one-night stands, friends, or just to kill some time online while you wait for an email to arrive.

I’ve always been hesitant to join any of these online communities, who has time to spare online? I work on a computer all day, why would I want to spend my free time in front of the computer screen? Aren’t most people online depressed, possibly even deranged and psychologically unstable?

Still, after browsing through some of the online communities, I decided to try it. The profiles I saw weren’t all from nutty characters. Some actually seemed quite intelligent, well rounded and interesting.

So, I went and signed-up with the McDonald’s of online communities – Myspace.

At first, Myspace seemed like an all right online place to be. There were crazy people, and a hell of a lot of young girls just promoting their naked webcams. But there were also a lot of interesting characters, with interesting stories, jokes and experiences to share.

I really started to get into the whole online community through Myspace. I became a Myspace addict even – checking my place on Myspace at least once per day, and often more than that. I’d message back and forth with Myspace friends, post jokes and blogs and enjoyed the feedback I’d get back.

Maybe this isn’t so bad?

Then, just like any addict being weaned off his drug of choice, the shakes came tumbling in.

At first the technical problems with Myspace were minor annoyances. Pages wouldn’t load when you clicked on them, or they would be excessively slow to load. Occasionally I would get server time-out errors such as “Server too busy” messages. Sometimes the errors were actually quite funny – there was one instance when someone placing comments on my profile actually took my profile’s picture and placed it where the person’s was, making it look like I commented on my own profile.

These bugs were annoying, even funny, but the Myspace technical wizards fixed them all within a couple of hours. I was actually quite impressed, because Myspace – as most online communities are – is a free service. There is no cost to join, so in theory, the Myspace technical wizards can take as long as they want to fix something.

And that is exactly why I am here.

One of those little, annoying bugs became a big bug – one which made it impossible for me to continue to use Myspace.

I would receive and send messages to my friends all the time. That was something I really enjoyed doing on Myspace. Then, all of a sudden and for no apparent reason, I could receive messages, but anything I responded too, anything I sent out, was not getting to its destination.

My friends on Myspace would send me a message, and I’d respond. Only they would never see the response. The last message anyone received from me was Sept. 16. I reported the bug to the Myspace technical wizards. Within a couple of hours, I got an email back, telling me they were aware of the problem and working on it “please be patient,” it said.

I was relieved – they knew about the bug and were working on resolving the issue. Soon, I’d be back to happy Myspacing. . .

Nope. Nadda. Not going to happen. Not in my lifetime.

Days went by, which I thought unusual, as most bugs were fixed within hours. So, I sent another message to the Myspace technical wizards, and they sent me the exact same message they sent before, telling me that they were aware of the problem and working on it and to “please be patient.”

I tried being patient, I really did. It is hard to go to your online community, see your buddies sending messages, and knowing that no matter what you do, you can’t participate in this dialogue.

More time passed, days became weeks, but I was still unable to send messages. My friends seemed unaffected – they could send and receive messages no problem. It must be something to do with my account or a handful of accounts. I reported the problem to the Myspace technical wizards again, mentioning that I had reported this problem weeks ago and still was unable to send messages.

Shock, horror and disappointment. Nope, I didn’t get back the same response I had the last two contacts. This time, I didn’t get back anything from the Myspace technical wizards. Nothing at all. Not even a standard carbon copy of the previous responses – no messages whatsoever.

I was still receiving messages on Myspace from my friends, but as I couldn’t respond, I didn’t even bother to read those messages. I felt bad, but I was more frustrated than anything else. I felt left out of the very online community which I had joined to be a part of.

It wasn’t fair – why was my profile not working but everyone else’s seemingly unaffected? Why was Myspace not doing anything to help? Why me?

Life is often unfair, but in our battles to make it more to our own liking, we often solve our own problems.

For me, to solve this problem was quite easy – leave Myspace and take my blogs somewhere else. I’ll miss my friends on Myspace – though to be honest, if they were true friends they’d be in my life in more places than online.

I learned two valuable lessons out of this whole mess. The first one, your real friends are there with you, in real-time in the real world. There is more to friendship than hammering out your thoughts on your computer. To be a real friend, you have to be able to lend a shoulder to someone when they are sad, be able to go to the movies, coffee houses, bars, and other places in the real world, to really enjoy each other’s company. Real friends are really there for you – not just some artificially created online persona you may know as “Tickles.”

The second lesson I learned is the power of exclusion. When I was able to send and receive messages on Myspace, I was included in a virtual online world. As soon as I was unable to send messages, I was excluded from that world, and it made me feel like an outcast.

So, be gone shitty little fake online world of Myspace. You excluded me from your world, and so I have created my own online forum without you.

Myspace – where friends wonder why nothing ever works.

Good riddance to Myspace.

Test This!

As a consultant, often I go to potential client sites, selling my services. Usually these potential clients have a real need for a writer, so the only thing I’m selling is why I’m better than the rest.

Usually this “sell” job is much like a job interview. It consists of them reviewing my work, checking references of past clients, and meeting to discuss the project. Once they have chosen the consultant they want, there is a final meeting to discuss terms.

Today, I had a meeting to discuss a project with a potential client. The potential client had reviewed my work samples and was ready to meet to discuss their needs. This is where I go in, and wow them with my expertise and show them how I can solve their writing problems.

I knew things were off to a bad start when the person I was supposed to meet wasn’t even in the office during the time when we were scheduled to meet. “Maybe he’s still at lunch,” said the receptionist.

I said I could wait a bit, but that I had other meetings to get to later in the day.

Eventually this bozo shows up, about 10-minutes late. He’s lucky – he came within my fifteen-minute rule. I have a rule I use when meeting clients, friends, pretty much anyone. If you are late, fine, happens to all of us. I’ll wait fifteen-minutes, and if you’re still a no-show, I’m outta there. Gone, quick as lightening.

Luckily, this person arrived within my fifteen-minute rule, so I was still there. A little less enthused about this client, but hey, these meetings are for both parties to decide if there is a fit, so I gave him the benefit of doubt.

He quickly introduces himself, shakes my hand and leads me to the back. Pure and utter awkward silence. I try to make small talk.

“Nice office you have here,” I say, as their offices are in the distillery district, a historic area of town with lots of quaint shops and eateries.

“Um,” he says.

“How long have you been at these offices?” I ask, attempting to make small talk again.

“A while,” he mumbles.

Finally we arrive at a computer workstation – though I had my laptop with me. I always take it to client meetings.

“Here is a test I want you to do,” he finally opens up.



What test?

I’m a professional, I have an extensive portfolio of work, I have presentations, I have exceptional references from current and past clients – no body said anything about a test.

Tests are great for kids coming out of school and looking for their first gig. Tests are good for paranoid employers looking to weed out those that have nothing to prove they are who they say they are.

But a test to someone with my experiences, my portfolio, my references, a test to someone like me is an insult.

Not to mention we haven’t even met to discuss what exactly they need or want, and whether or not I’d be just the person to provide those services.

I look at my watch – I’ve set aside an hour-and-a-half for this meeting. He says this test won’t take more than 30 minutes – still leaves us an hour to talk shop.

Begrudgingly, I take his silly little test. They have given me two scenarios and want me to write a quick sample to show how I’d tackle these two scenarios.

Okay, so I write their test. It takes me 45 minutes.

I go and get Mr. Untalkative and show him my test. He prints it out and we go to a boardroom to finally talk about what I came here to discuss – my writing services.

Mr. Untalkative finally starts to talk, he goes over my test like a school teacher grading an exam. He tells me I did well, but asks me why I chose this and that, and few other things.

Time is ticking away. I don’t have all day – unlike Mr. Untalkative, I work for a living.

I mention to him that I do have other meetings to attend to, and if he’s got any other questions for me, he had better get to them.

Taken back, he tells me he’s booked off the whole afternoon, the least I could do is the same. Yeah, right – book off a whole afternoon to talk to some potential, non-paying client when I can be working at some current client making real money?

Yeah, right, this meeting is toast.

We do talk about his needs, and I whip out my laptop and go over things that I have done, which he is in need of. He seems happy, though he’s got a lot of questions, and time continues to tick away.

As he’s asking a few more questions, I see the time, and I start to pack up. He asks me what I am doing. I tell him that although I enjoy this discussion, I do have to be somewhere.

I think he is annoyed, but I think – I THINK – he realizes that the world doesn’t revolve around him, and he understands.

He tells me they will make a decision by Thursday.

“Of this week!?!?” I exclaim, partly because usually companies take a couple of weeks to make a decision, and partly because of his lazy-ass attitude, I couldn’t believe they’d make any decisions that fast.

He says, “we aren’t as big as some of your other clients,” which is true. I’ve got a few big names under my belt.

I thank him for his time, and he shows me out. He shakes my hand and tells me it was nice meeting me. I say the same, not quite sure what to make of this experience.

First he was late, then he was silent as all doom and gloom, then he springs a test on me without evening figuring out if we are in the same ballpark.

Did I mention, I hate tests?