Instant and not so instant messaging at work

I’m intrigued by different levels of instant messaging uptake in corporate culture. I acknowledge up front that constant mixed-initiative interruptions to ones workflow can be harmful, but note that many people in low or no-IM work cultures have their pop up mail notifiers enabled to the same effect. In fact despite its fundamentally asynchronous purpose, due to most people’s evolved expectations about instaneous responses to electronic communications, email ends up being overloaded as a poor-man’s IM system, which should never happen. Most emails aren’t important, and anything really urgent should be a phone call, walk-by or IM, because one shouldn’t reasonably expect someone to read your email in the next 5 minutes.

At IBM, where IM is practically the pulse of the company and “pinged” has become a verb meaning to contact via Sametime (due to its annoying ping noise), I used to productively work with people across the country, and even the globe via IM that I never met and only rarely talked to. I would never have thought that there really are companies out there that get by without centralized IM, in which you can reasonably expect to get a hold of anyone in the corporate directory via IM.

Turns out there are – at my current job, which still has its small company culture less than 6 months after being aquired by Oracle, there is no real use of IM ( despite Oracle having a centralized IM system, which I’ve heard is quite busy in “mainline” Oracle, many people on my team don’t bother to sign in there ). – sure there are isolated pockets of instant messaging via Yahoo or AOL, but if you or the person one needs to reach are not there, then its back to email. New hires also incur a cost of gathering up everyones screennames. Or walking to their office, and while I’m all for face to face interaction, an IM can be nice so you at least know person X is going to be in their office when you get there (or just buddy-list awareness if its properly done…)

The differing philosphies behind who one can see as a member of an IM network at IBM vs Oracle are interesting to note. Basically the differences are opt-in vs opt-out. On IBM Sametime, one can see the status of and contact any user who hasn’t specifically chosen to block/hide from you. On Oracle RTC, based on Jabber (which allows any jabber client to connect), one is required to send each person who is not in one’s immediate department a message to request that person allow you to see his or her online status and message him or her. So to accrue one’s O(n2) network effect, you have to exchange n2 messages. That just seems silly in a corporation where everyone should be working towards some version of the same goal, playing by the same rules (and to enforce proper behavior, ultimately accountable to the same HR dept). At least both of these approches enforce reciprocity- if I don’t want you to seem me, I can’t see you. I’m not a fan of the (somewhat) recent “innovation” in AIM of being invisible.

Like most things, I really miss having a “real” IM system available at work. Let’s count the ways:

  • Knowing when someone gets to work without having to walk by their office a gazillion times
  • Leaving messages with people who aren’t in their offices or who are busy at the time a visit is attempted
  • Productive (and often not-so-productive) back channel conversations on meetings in person (also requires laptop/wireless culture)
  • Quick questions that won’t take long to answer
  • The list goes on..

A healthy blend of all kinds of collaboration is a good thing. Given that free servers (like Jabber) are available, I personally couldn’t imagine letting a company grow beyond 10 people without a central directory and IM service.

Yahoo – a tale of two companies?

I suppose there must be a size n where for companies that reach a size greater than n, there is always some part of the company with its head crammed firmly up its ass, in spite of the ground breaking work happening elsewhere. Apparently Yahoo is at least as big as that magical size.
Tonight, I wanted to check out the new weezer video on yahoo music. Only for a mac user, that generates a pop up indicating that Netscape 4.7 is required (screenshot here) That’s a positively pre-historic browser version – it’s eight years old for crying out loud. That would be like steaming down the “information superhighway” with a Victrola on the dashboard of my buggy, whip in hand.

This goes to spite the post I was formulating in my head praising Yahoo Farechase and the new Yahoo Maps Beta (which is arguably better than google maps, for now due to cool hover effects, multiple directions, and route numbers for rural roads in directions).

Then again, since I know Yahoo bought farechase, along with their new beta email (which i doubt beats gmail, because the tired old desktop email metaphor that everyone copies is not better) it may just be that “old” yahoo is stuck in some kind of 1999 time warp, and they have to buy innovation (like Flickr, for example) rather than cook it at home.

Or maybe the Yahoo music team is too busy “innovating” ways to break tools people create to get their content to get around to making it available in contemporary browsers.

Too Much of a Good Thing

Congratulations to Ed and Shana on their marriage – the wedding was beautiful and the reception was great fun. I put some pictures up on flickr. Obviously worth the trip – but I’m pooped after three out of town weekends (New Jersey for Ed’s bachelor party, North Carolina to hang with Frank, and Connecticut for Ed and Shana’s wedding) in a row. Where did the last month go?

I’m totally ready to set my car (not that I need a car to get to the airport) on fire and not leave town for a little bit.

Corporate Blogging, Problems With

There’s much ado about the value of blogging in the corporation – and I like the idea in principle- and miss the blogs inside IBM that let me hear about what is going on all over the company because there’s apparently no such system at {new company}.

I’ll start by saying it’s clear that the First Ammendment doesn’t apply for corporate communications.

A few months ago I had a run in with my old management chain at IBM in which I wrote on an internal blog about a guerilla effort I undertook with a colleague to improve part of the product we worked on, which ultimately succeeded when I showed that a work estimate (apparently attempting to kill our initiative) of a couple weeks was really more like several hours.

I recieved not one, but two, shoot from the hip emails (one sentence each, like 40 minutes apart) from a certain second line manager critical of a minor detail of the post I made which were just splitting hairs. I invited him to point out clearly where by post violated the corporate blogging guidelines, and recieved a response of indirect pressure through a friend who worked there that “hr was reading my blog” and I “could be terminated for my post” or just that “.” Ultimately I took the post down rather than have to hear about it anymore. *(Note this was against the backdrop of being in the process of being laid off)*

Then I hear about some folks who were scolded by their management chains for posting critiques of corporate initiatives.

It’s clear that people are most sensitive to information that comes the closest to the truth. If one reports manager X has three hands, he or she won’t be all that bothered, but if one puts up thoughtful (emperor has no clothes-style) critique of some straw-man corporate effort with executive-attracting glitter and little substance, then suddenly the claws come out.

Now that’s its easy to make public knowledge of ridiculous management antics, or critique weak proposals, one of two things could happen – a) don’t do or propose dumb things (or accept thoughtful criticism gracefully) b) come down hard on people who criticize those things.

Which one do you think will happen?

Orange Juice Adulteration: An Investigative Report

The other day I’m drinking a Tropicana “100% Juice” Orange Juice, and happened to glance at the Ingredients:

100% Pure orange juice from concentrate (filtered water and concentrated orange juice) and Natural flavors*.
*Ingredient not found in regular orange juice

Now I’m wondering – what are these “natural flavors” that are different than “orange juice flavor” – luckily for all of us there’s a helpful 1800 number on the label! So I call, and ask, what’s with these extra flavors? The helpful woman asks if I have any food allergies that I’m worried about. I say no, I just want to know if some natural “dirt”, “asphalt” or “squirrel” flavor was lurking in my OJ. I authenticate as a non-prank caller by reading her my UPC Code, and then the answer is revealed:

The “natural flavors” are oils extracted from the orange peel/rind and added back to the juice.

Just today it occurs to me a followup question: if these flavors are “not found in regular orange juice”, how can they call it 100% juice?

Wasted days – ugh!

I’d rather be programming than trying to make an application work – I hate losing days to trying to figure out why some fairly opaque application (or worse a group of them trying to interact) is not working – shutdown the server, change a config file, start up again and see if that mattered. Repeat until my brain feels squishy and I want to just curl up and take a nap. I’d feel better after programming for 20 hours than i do after having issues making something work that i need to test.

Truth in Advertising: A Tale of Two Bags

What does resealable mean to you? To me, it means a container that has some mechanism for resealing the container – for a jar, that might be a lid, and for a bag, I’d go with some zip-lock mechanism. Perhaps even a little patch of adhesive could make a bag pass as faux-resealable.

The box of Sunmaid raisins on my desk at work has neither, yet the box proudly boasts of “resealable bag inside”. The bag is no more resealable than any other zipper less bag – that is to say it isn’t. Kristi points out this is a step in resealability from the previous “raisins loose in a cardboard box” configuration, but I’m not buying it.

On the other hand, I bought a 6-pack of champion socks in a bag that boasts of its resealability, and comes with a ziplock!

So I can have my socks never lose that new-sock smell, and stale, maggoty raisins. Because no one likes stale socks.

You can’t make this stuff up.

IBM Five Year Service Award on Ebay

Apparently news of this ebay action for a IBM 5-years of service award is flying around the IBMer and ex-IBMer ranks.
I apparently got shafted on my 5-years of service award which I should have received right about 2 weeks before I got my proverbial pink slip (which was really a half-inch stack of paper, a “memorandum”). Just another thing my totally inadequate Lotus mis-management chain didn’t do right.
One of these days I have to enumerate the ways in which getting laid off from working on IBM Workplace Client is the best thing to ever happen to me…

Expensive car keys

Ugh, I lost my keys the other day, including my car key, remote, and house keys. Cost to replace house key, twice – $3 (including labor). Cost to replace car key, because it has a “chip” in it: $24 for the key, $44 for the labor to cut the key and hook a computer up to the car to tell it to start when it sees the new master key. I’m at least as much for progress as the next guy, but seriously, this shouldn’t cost this much.
Anyways, in the hopes that my keys will reappear (I lost them somewhere between my car and kickball, no more than a couple hundred yards) I went ahead and postered the immediate neighborhood So we’ll see if anything comes of that.
Lost Keys Flyer

Lying “Homeless” People

Now let me start by saying I’m not opposed to the impecunious members of society asking for money – I’m sure people can legitimately get into a situation where it becomes neccessary to ask strangers for money. What does bother me, and perhaps this is a thin line to cross, is those who lie to get money. For example: There’s a woman who I’ve seen riding the red line, moving from car to car – her story is that she had her bag stolen and needs $11 to get the bus home. That’s all well and good, but I saw her three times in two weeks with the same story. I would argue that it is highly improbable for one person to be that unfortunate with their bag – but people fork over money. Would it violate some implied social contract to stand up and point out that this woman did the same thing two days ago? In fact the man next to me last time I saw her whispered “She does this all the time…”. Too true.