Friday, October 28, 2005

Ask yourself these questions

The quote of the day is, "Adversity does not build character. It reveals it."

A variation on the theme is found at I-Lead.com's Leadership Journal. The article in question is called "What a Difference a Word Can Make", and it suggests replacing one word in a phrase, to give it new meaning.

For instance:
  • Do you aspire to be the best in your company, or the best for your company?
  • Are you in your job for something to do or to do something?
  • "My project was successful" compared to "my project was significant".
  • "We need to get people to do this," vs. "we need to get people to want to do this".
There are plenty of interesting leadership articles on the web site as well.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Pathway to Prosperity

Ontario's 21 Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology and three College Institutes of Technology and Advanced Learning have created a website called Pathway to Prosperity. It includes a discussion paper and a request for public input about workforce challenges.

In particular, the focus is on the development of a National Skills Strategy to address challenges facing Canada in the next twenty years.

Some of the forces putting Canada at risk:
  • Countries such as India and China are competing with Canada for business, with a number of Canadian jobs being outsourced overseas.
  • Rapidly changing technology is making many of today's work skills obsolete.
  • Canada has an aging population and faces a shortage of skilled workers as more workers retire.
They are asking for public input on three questions:
  1. What are the workforce and skill-requirement needs for you and your sector today and in the next five to 10 years?
  2. What is needed from educational institutions, employers, government and individuals to help resolve our labour and skills shortage?
  3. What should be the priorities for a National Skills Strategy?
Have your say and help Canada build the 21st century workforce.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Cancer bracelets

I was in Ottawa a couple of weeks ago for my cousin's wedding. Instead of having flowers, the couple decided to make a donation to the Canadian Cancer Society, on behalf of the guests. And instead of a chunk of fruitcacke, or a pen, each guest received a cancer bracelet - you know the kind - the rubbery pink and blue ones. What a great idea. I hadn't seen that before, but I really like it.

We came home from the wedding and the kids were playing with the bracelets. Their little arms aren't big enough to hold the bracelet on, so now they're trying to fire them at the dog. The dog is less than impressed. I'm sure the bracelets will go missing one day, and I'll find them in the back yard, the hard way. Here's an idea for a new invention - digestible rubber.

Top 100 Employers

I'm getting around to reading last week's Maclean's magazine's annual story on the Top 100 employers in Canada. In the Before Time, we made the list. Now, not so much. It's interesting to see the mix of small and large companies on the list. The larger companies seem to throw more money at the employees, and the smaller ones do something more personal.

Maclean's suggests that employers need to go out of their way to attract and retain employees these days. If you want to be considered in the top 100, what are you doing to get there? If you're already there, what are you doing to stay there?

Here in the Waterloo area, there are five companies on the list, and I know of two or three more that used to be on list, besides us. Not bad.

Winning the performance war

For some months now, I've been working on boosting the performance of our application. It started very easily - measure, measure, measure. We used perfmon, the CLR Profiler and the DevPartner Profiler Community Edition. Surprise, no silver bullet. No magic here.

There's no silver performance bullet in terms of changes to make either. There's no <ApplicationSpeed> tag in the config file. One of the best changes we made was to switch our calls to the application server to be asynchronous. This web thing was new to most of us, and we were calling methods on the app server just like they were local calls. Unfortunately, this is not the best thing to do when you want a responsive GUI. Ok, big win on this one. Good design would have avoided this in the first place, though.

In the effort to "make things go faster", one of our developers sprinkled a number of threads throughout the application. In some places, the threads were used to initialize some state, and not a whole lot of state at that. Forgetting the guidelines in the performance bible, which tells us that threading is expensive, and best used for long-running background tasks, he jammed in these new threads without really understanding what the consequences would be. We're still cleaning up various hard-to-find crashes and finding places where the code is not quite as thread-safe as we'd like it to be. Threads are not magic. Again, some up-front application design would have helped.

I remember someone heaping praise on the performance team in a meeting a while ago. Being the ray of sunshine that I am, I chimed in with a comment that although we had managed some big performance wins, it was nothing to celebrate. Rather, we should have been focusing on the real reasons for the poor performance in the first place. Namely, little or no design, rushing to implement features without properly understanding where they would be used, and how they would interact with other features, and throwing solutions at problems we didn't understand. Someone called me a negative bugger, and the topic was dropped.

Then this week, Rico reminds me of this sordid mess.

Where did I put my cape, anyway?

Friday, October 21, 2005

No question - the little guy DOES win

Curling fan Neil Marriott got irate when the Canadian Curling Association decided to forget its goal of promoting curling, and switched the television broadcasting to the CBC's "cow channel", Country Canada.

Neil started a petition, which quickly attracted the attention of the CCA's sponsors. After a summer of worrying whether or not the Olympic Trials would be broadcast on TV at all, curling fans without digital cable or a satellite dish can once again tune into some great curling.

Well done, Neil. Can I get you do something about gas prices?

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The Top 10 Design Mistakes in Weblogs

Jakob Nielsen weighs in on ten more design mistakes. Does anyone else find his website horrible to look at? Definitely lowers my opinion of the guy. Anyway...

1. No Author Biographies
2. No Author Photo
3. Nondescript Posting Titles
4. Links Don't Say Where They Go
5. Classic Hits are Buried
6. The Calendar is the Only Navigation
7. Irregular Publishing Frequency
8. Mixing Topics
9. Forgetting That You Write for Your Future Boss
10. Having a Domain Name Owned by a Weblog Service

How did I do?

1. Got it. Click the profile link above.
2. I'm doing you all a favour by not showing a photo.
3. The meat is not in the headline.
4. Scoble will hate this one.
5. If I ever get a hit, I'll make sure I can find it later.
6. I voted for categories here. Damn, there's #4 again.
7. I won't commit to anything regular, but I try to get here three to five times a week.
8. I don't have enough to say without mixing topics!
9. If my future boss reads this, I'm available anytime. :)
10. If you're blogging for hobby, this is ok. If you're doing it for work, I agree.

Ottawa

I spent the past weekend in Ottawa, attending my cousin's wedding. Great party, great to see lots of family I don't get the chance to see very often.

We had some time Saturday morning to walk around downtown Ottawa, so we went around the grounds on Parliament Hill, and took the guided tour of the building. The view from the top of the Peace Tower is very impressive. I was quite surprised to hear where the other groups on the tour were from. We were one of the few Canadian couples. There were folks from Holland, Switzerland, and several U.S. states. I don't know why that was a surprise to me, but I expected more locals.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

How to get a good review

In light of stack ranking, there are some ways you can out-curve your teammates.

1) Shut up, get along, and have some sort of high visible successes.

2) Send your boss a comment about a teammate that the teammate will be unable to defend against.

3) Write a very detailed self-review. Your boss hates writing reviews, and has no idea what you do every day, so the better you make yourself sound the farther up the curve you're going to land.

If this fails, you can fall back on these tips.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Ice is supposed to be frozen, no?

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I was going to try out a new pair of curling shoes this year. I had a chance Wednesday night to throw some rocks at the club. It was [thinking of a nice way to say this] not the best ice conditions. To be fair, it was 26 degrees and humid yesterday, but when there's thick fog hanging over the curling sheet, it can't be good. On the plus side, I think this was the second time in 11 years that I've worn shorts and sandals to the curling club.

I took a few slides (the first couple were a little wobbly - hey, it's been a few months) and then grabbed a rock. I turned it on its side to clean it, and wiped off an assload of slush. Hmmm... ok, so I toss it halfway down the sheet. A little slow, so let's try again with hack-ish weight. This one stopped near the hog line. One more time, with regular takeout weight. This one stopped halfway to the house. Now I'm getting irritated. One more time, with "nearly as hard as I can throw it" weight. Hey look, a tight guard! Oh man... By this time I'm sweating - it was moister in there than Madonna watching the fleet sail in. We'll see if this gets better by next week when the leagues start.

Anyway, back to the shoes. I'm very impressed with the stability. I'll give them an A+ for that. As far as the speed goes, well, I'll reserve judgment until I can try them on ice that's a little closer to frozen. I'm expecting to be quite happy though.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Sounds like Harvard could use a stack ranking system...

Malcolm Gladwell (an Elmira native, by the way) has an interesting article on the admissions procedure at Harvard and some other Ivy League schools. It sounds a little like a stack rank system to me.