On Privilege, Power & Perspective

I am a 64 year old Caucasian male. I live in a middle class suburb of Melbourne, Australia. I was educated to a level where I can make informed decisions and understand the implications of my actions. I have access to world leading health care. I can afford to buy food and drink whenever I need to. I have zero debt and unless I make serious errors of judgement I should be able to live the rest of my life in the same way I have so far – safe from famine and hunger, safe from war and bloodshed, safe from suppression and tyranny. I know right from wrong and have a clearly defined set of ethics that guide me whenever I need to make decisions or take action. I make no apology for any of this. It is my context. It is my life. It is my current existence. However, my life has not always been this good and I know what it is to struggle – admittedly, within my own white bread world.

So it is with the perspective (from my brief personal history) that I make the following statement – “I promise unequivocally that whenever I see an abuse of privilege and/or power, within my community, I will act. I will not sit on my hands or be a spectator. I will not look to someone else to take a stand. I will do whatever I can, with whatever means I have at my disposal, to highlight and address this abuse”.I have in the past acted strongly against bullying both in the workplace and my personal life. I have in the past called out and dealt with unethical behavior, personal bias and discrimination. I have resigned from organisations when I have encountered actions that have challenged my personal code of ethics. From today I am going to redouble my efforts and increase my focus on what I consider to be these totally unacceptable behaviors. 

Today I make a promise to all those within my community (who do not possess the same level of privilege and power as I) that I will act on their behalf. This is not from a perspective of being a vigilante, this is about being a decent human being who doesn’t cross the road or close their eyes to avoid an intolerable situation.

When men (and, in my experience, it is men 99% of the time) abuse their privilege and power they are showing weakness. These “men” are morally bankrupt and ethically bereft. These “men” are cowards who pray on those with less privilege and power. These “men” should be shown up for what they are – bullies, tyrants, abusers – some of the ugliest people in our society.

By letting these “men” get away with the behaviors I have described we give them more privilege and more power. We feed their hunger. We protect them. We encourage them. We even support them.

I am no figurehead or leader. I do not possess fortune or fame. I am an “average Joe”, with my own failings (that I try to learn from every day). But I will endeavor to “punch above my weight” in this situation and lead by example.

Today, I am one person standing up and saying “If you cross the line by disrespecting, disempowering or humiliating others less fortunate than yourself I will be there and I will not look the other way. I WILL ACT. I WILL STAND AGAINST YOU. I WILL DO ALL I CAN TO TAKE AWAY THE PRIVILEGE AND POWER YOU ARE ABUSING AND MISUSING.

In the meantime, I am here to provide whatever support I can to those who have been abused and disrespected. I will not pry or judge or meddle. I will respect the privacy of those who approach me. I will honor my promises. I will not wait for others to follow.

None of these self-absorbed, self-indulgent, deluded individuals have power over me and I do not seek to have power over them. I just want everyone in my community to feel safe and respected. I do this from a belief system where LOVE CONQUERS ALL.

Dateline: Sunday October 22;  Page, Arizona

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Diversity Rant Part 2 – Another Facepalm…

A few weeks ago I wrote a short rant about a local conference “TConf 2016” and the lack of diversity in their one-day software testing program. As the conference is scheduled for tomorrow, I thought I’d check out the website for any updates. And guess what? The program has changed. And guess what? They now have a (token) female on the program.

One out of eleven speakers is still a very poor effort though, folks. It also smacks of an afterthought.

But there’s more! The conference also purports to support “WWCode” (Women Who Code). You must be joking folks. One out of eleven speakers is female and you highlight on your website that you support WWCode – get outta town!!

But, I am not giving up on these poor misguided folks. I am hereby offering my extensive involvement in (successful) international conferences and providing an olive branch for this and future events. If you are serious about running the best event you possibly can, call me anytime. I’m based in Melbourne. I have the time and the inclination. I would happily help with a post-event review (which I’m sure you’ll conduct, being quality-focused professionals) and any future event planning.

Oh yeah, and good luck tomorrow.

Dateline: Melbourne, Thursday November 17 2016

Not All Cows Moo, Two

A couple of weeks ago, I posted “Not all Cows Moo“. Fundamentally it was about being cognisant of our own personality traits, beliefs and ethics. I listed 20 attributes that currently define me. Authenticity (or WYSIWYG – what you see is what you get) is one of my core beliefs. This time around I’m flipping the focus 180 degrees to talk about the authenticity (or lack thereof) of others.

WYSIWYG is one of my favourite acronyms. I first came across it many years ago when it was used to describe software that showed instantly how your coding was impacting the GUI (graphic user interface). In a technology sense, this is very powerful, as it can provide early insights into how an application will display stuff. From a human perspective, it is also significant, as we live in an age where accessing clear and meaningful information is becoming even more crucial.

Where I’m going with this today is down the road of misinformation and misdemeanours. What we have today is a landscape where people hide behind the multitude of communication channels in order to mislead and misdirect each other. A very prominent example of this is the way politicians present information – in “sound bites” that have been scripted to within an inch of their lives. We even have the situation in Australian politics, currently, where we are informed that (electoral) promises are not really promises unless they are core promises…. what’s a promise if it is not a promise? I’ll tell you what it is – it’s a lie. A big fat LIE.

This same situation goes on constantly in the professional (sic) world, where we are fed information that is deemed acceptable or politically-correct. Aaron Sorkin has a lot to answer for with his excellent depiction of the West Wing, but years before he also delivered his famous line from A Few Good Men – “The truth, you can’t handle the truth”.

Who says we can’t handle the truth? Who says we have to live in a “white bread world”, where embedded journos only report the news the politicians want us to hear? Who says we have to live in a nanny-state? Why can’t we all be authentic? Why can’t we all say it like it is? If only Peter Capaldi’s character (Malcolm Tucker) had been a figment of someone’s imagination instead of the all-too-realistic incarnation of a spin-doctor. In my opinion, a spin-doctor is just a (far too) well paid liar who is employed to out-lie the opposition’s well paid liar. What is really sad about this situation is that majority of the population don’t even realise they are being lied to!

During my professional career I’ve wasted far too much time breaking down misinformation and translating misleading (so-called) politically-correct messages. Many a Project Office is a hotbed for cleansed status reports and massaged progress indicators. Then there’s the problem of defining requirements while failing to provide any context. There’s coding software and failing to augment it with meaningful comments that describe WHY, not just WHAT the code is setting out to achieve. There’s also the issue of debugging software and failing to identify the root cause.

When we work for a business we assume that we are being kept in the loop (back to Malcolm Tucker), with respect to the goals and targets of the future of the business. If a business has shareholders we expect them to be kept appraised of how things are and how they are expected to be in the future. Accountability and visibility are terms (mis)used all too frequently today.

There are macro and micro implications to these disingenuous behaviours that affect our everyday lives. Paul Weller once annunciated it impressively when he wrote – the public wants what the public gets. More than 30 years later this is truer than ever!

What I’d really like to see in 2015 is a movement towards a true WYSIWYG culture and the consignment of misinformation and deception to the toilet, where it can join the rest of the bull****.

Ooh, Wow, Stop the Presses! The Prime Minister of Australia has pulled off the impossible today and made himself look even more stupid than we all thought he was already. In what parallel universe does someone anoint the husband of his boss with a knighthood? I just love it when an idea explodes into life.

Dateline: Monday January 26 2015, Bagshot, England

Employees are People Too

What is this obsession that (far too many) businesses have with pushing their employees to the point of mental and physical exhaustion?

What sort of society have we created where people are encouraged to work 18 hours straight, without a break, just so the company we work for can turn a profit?

What sort of culture promotes profit over people?

I can tell you categorically, from very personal experience, that a business that puts profits before it’s people and encourages self-sacrifice is a business that will not last very long. Creating a business that truly supports it’s people, by mandating a balanced lifestyle of work, leisure and family, is a business that will thrive and remain successful. The true value of any business is it’s people, not it’s image or product. You can have a fantastic product, but if you treat your people like cannon fodder then you will have a short-lived business.

I’ve seen far too many people reduced to shrivelling wrecks because they have been put under unnecessary levels of pressure to produce an outcome (at all costs). How does the culture within a business get to a point where “toughness” is encouraged and “sensitivity” and “humility” are frowned upon? I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard and/or seen the words “sensitive” and “emotional” used as negatives when describing someone’s personality. Since when did showing empathy become a negative?

As a Business and Technology Consultant for most of my life, I’ve been inside hundreds of organisations (from mega-businesses like IBM and CapGemini to small high street shops) and I can assure you that if you mistreat your people you will struggle to maintain a viable business. A simple gesture like an arm around a shoulder is very welcome in a good business, but is seen as harassment in a poor one. A word of encouragement is seen as supportive in a good business, but unnecessary in a poor one.

We need to encourage everyone to speak up (not put up) when they need support. We need to highlight and shame those businesses that encourage ugly and demeaning behaviour. We need to ensure that empathic businesses are recognised for what they are.

Humanity is supposed to set us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. Unfortunately, I see far too little humanity and far to much animal cunning in today’s business world. I, for one, am going to start highlighting and shaming businesses that lack humanity and discourage a balanced lifestyle. I may not change the world today, but maybe I can start a movement towards true caring and understanding throughout the business world.

If you work for a company that treats you inhumanely, LEAVE. If you are subjected to unnecessary pressure, seek support and guidance, THEN LEAVE. If you are harassed or bullied, write to the CEO, THEN LEAVE. Don’t rationalise. Don’t toughen up. Don’t support their ideology. There are millions of good businesses out there, you don’t have to work for a bad one.

“You may call me a dreamer, but I’m not the only one” (Lennon).

Dateline: Melbourne, Thursday January 8, 2015

Room Meat or Dead Meat?

During more than 20 years of pursuing a software testing career I’ve seen hundreds of project-based decisions that defied logic or basic reasoning. It is not unusual to be asked to reduce the amount of Testing to be performed due to time and/or budget constraints (even though it was seen as not being enough verification and validation in the first place). It is not unusual to be asked to prioritise specific tests, so that the “safer” bits of the solution give an overall impression that progress is going better than expected. It is not unusual to be asked to attend a meeting with customers and/or business representatives, but to withhold or generalise specific issues. It is not unusual to feel compromised and/or alienated by any or all of these scenarios. But software testers are not alone in the universe with these predicaments.

Room Meat is a concept I first came across during the movie In the Loop. In the Loop was a spin off from one of my fave TV shows of all time – The Thick of It. For the uninitiated, The Thick of It is a British comedy series that’s a bit like Yes, Minister on steroids and with the added bonus that there is absolutely zero political correctness on display during any episode. Which is even more ironic when you consider it’s a program ostensibly about politics. The main reason I love The Thick of It is the irreverence and complete lack of logic – hence my rationale in likening it to my Software Testing experiences.

In every episode of The Thick of It, policies evolve based upon the latest accepted ideology (instead of being developed/utilised strategically). Priorities change continuously, because every day brings a new (usually perceived) disaster. Everyone confuses a risk with an issue (and vice verse). Standards and procedures are never adhered to because they are seen to hamper real progress…. Sound familiar? Nudge, nudge, wink, wink, say no more.

Room Meat is a reference to those in the room that are there to make up the numbers, possibly to provide comfort to others of a nervous disposition. In my experience, on far too many occasions, the Test Team are regularly treated as Room Meat, so that the Project Manager can tick a box. The PM doesn’t want a Test Team that asks difficult questions or wants to make a difference, the PM wants his/her project delivered with the least possible fuss from the cheap seats. This usually results in consigning the Test Team to futile tasks like documenting and counting test cases (and their associated expected outcomes), finding an acceptable number of software bugs and producing daily cover my (that’s the PM’s) arse reports.

Occasionally, an enlightened PM is encountered and the Test Team is engaged early enough in the SDLC to engage in Risk Assessments and/or SWAT Analyses and possibly providing feedback on feasibility and usability. Occasionally, a Test Manager may be asked to present a worst case scenario to the Steering Committee, in order that they may make an informed decision. Occasionally, critical thinking breaks through where follow-my-lead policies once ruled. But these are mere aberrations in most quarters of my universe.

Unfortunately, in my experience, the Test Team is (more often than not) undervalued and under-utilised. Software Testing is an incredibly diverse and complex discipline, which explains why after 20+ years of being a practitioner I have only scratched the surface of the majority of techniques and technologies. I have spent hundreds of days on self-development and networking with some of the biggest Testing brains on the planet, but I am still a small cog in the expanding world of software development. I have been unpopular on projects just because I called out the real risks and issues. I have been called “Eeyore” for walking around with my own cloud hanging over me!! I have not, however, ever compromised my ethics or morals and have never shirked my responsibility in providing essentially quantitative feedback.

From my perspective, there is only one situation worse than being Room Meat and that is being Dead Meat – the poor saps getting the finger pointed at them because “Testing” didn’t find Bug XYZ…

Dateline: Melbourne, Tuesday November 11, 2014

The Worst 5-Star Hotel in Amsterdam

This is the second in a series of stories about the passions in my life and how they have been influenced by technology. My passions are my family, travel, sport, music and the movies. My stories reflect my life since the day I met my first computer (an IBM 360 mainframe) on Monday April 19 1971.

My initial story (in this series) told of my first encounter with “wearable tech” – the Fitbit Flex wristband (no happy ending here, I’m afraid!!). My second story has a very different focus. It recounts my recent search for a “bedroom with a canal view” in downtown Amsterdam.

I’ve always loved to travel and when I say travel I mean the actual travel bit and not the staying somewhere bit. Which is why, upon discovering sea cruises last year, it’s become my latest favourite thing. Sea cruises are all about going somewhere, not staying somewhere.

We cruised around the Med for 12 days last September and stopped at several locations along the way. My personal fave was Mykanos, which was a bit of a surprise, given all I read about it led me to believe that I wouldn’t find it very special. In fact, another Greek Island – Santorini – was the destination I was most looking forward to and it ended up being the biggest let down of all – far too crowded and “over-touristified”.

As with all travel Lin and I undertake nowadays, we spend serious amounts of time preparing. I’ve always enjoyed this aspect of travel, as it appeals to the inner-planner in me. I love pouring over maps, deconstructing airline schedules, checking out hotel locations, even hiring cars. I know, this sounds like boresville USA to most of you, but it literally floats my boat.

So this leads me to the crux of this Blog – where to stay in Amsterdam? According to Tripadvisor, there are 344 hotels, 301 B&Bs and 171 “other” accommodation options in Amsterdam and we have to decide where to spend our two nights. 816 options to be reduced down to The One!! The one place where we will enjoy a couple of nights uninterrupted and peaceful sleep, a good healthy breakfast, free wi-fi and friendly/efficient (but not too stuffy) service. You see, we have our wish-list, but how do we plug that into a search engine or travel advice website?

Personal Note: Travel Agents want you to make reservations with them so that they can make reservations for you – I have reservations about that!!

Tripadvisor, and other websites of it’s ilk, are very useful, but they can also be very misleading. For example, I booked “the No. 1 rated hotel on the East Coast of Lake Como” last year and ended up having a major argument with the owner, because he felt I were being harsh in my assessment of his rooms – or should I say dungeons and broom cupboards.

So, it got me thinking this time around. What if we set out to stay in the worst possible accommodation in Amsterdam!!

The (collective) reviewers of Tripadvisor attest that the worst 5-Star hotel in Amsterdam is the NH Barbizon Palace – rated No. 75 (out of 91) Luxury Hotels – as at June 28 2014. This is based upon 1396 reviews. Surely it can’t be that bad, after all 333 reviewers rate it as Excellent and another 549 reviewers rate is as Very Good, while 69 folk rate the hotel as Terrible. That’s 69 (out of 1396 reviewers) who felt compelled to report their experience.

According to a recent article in the (UK based) Daily Mail there are over 100 million reviews at any one time on Tripadvisor. 100 million!! While 230 million people visit Tripadvisor every month. If only my Blog had just 1% of that traffic every month….

So why do I take notice of these reviews? Personally? Because it’s better than not taking any information on board at all. Do I trust every piece of information as if it were an unmitigated fact? Of course not. So, how do I sift through the information provided and make my own judgement?

Firstly, I use my own selection criteria to sift out the negative comments (there’s always at least one negative comment – and if there isn’t, I have an issue with that). If someone says that the stairs are steep and there’s no lift I may request a ground floor room. If someone says the staff are grumpy I may choose to put this down to someone having a bad day – unless it’s recurring theme. Secondly, I look at the percentages. I expect there’ll always be a few negative reviews, but how many is too many? Probably, under 5% is ok – maybe!!

My point here is that we all have different thresholds when it comes to what’s good enough and what’s intolerable. Personally, I’m seen as fussy by most people who know me well, so I probably have a filter that is more stringent than most. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to write about it on Tripadvisor!! In fact the owner of the place on Lake Como (who I argued with) asked me NOT to write about my experience on Tripadvisor – in case it affected his customer base. His wishes had nothing to do with my decision not to write it up. I just didn’t feel strongly enough about my experience at the end of the day. After all, I should have been more careful in my selection – we’d changed our plans at the last minute and ended up being less stringent in our selection policy than for the rest of the trip. My fault, not his.

I also ask my followers on Twitter to recommend places to go and things to do when we get there, this time around I got a response from Accor Hotels (not a Follower of mine, I might add) and they offered up the option of staying at the The Convent Hotel (MGallery Collection). I cross-checked this with Tripadvisor and got some very mixed reviews. I responded to Accor with the Tripadvisor feedback and they are currently being very nice to me with respect to possible future bookings at any of their hotels. Incidentally, during my research for this article, I also learnt that a manager of an Accor Group hotel in Sydney is currently suspended from his job for falsifying Tripadvisor (rave) reviews for other Accor Group establishments while also trashing the efforts of competitors!!

So, what conclusions do I draw from my Tripadvisor experiences to date?

Even though less that 0.1% of people who stay at the establishments contribute their thoughts while over 230 million of us a month hang on their every word! I will continue to use Tripadvisor as one of my travel tools, but I will also continue to verify the information. Travel Agents need not apply!!

Dateline: Monday June 30 2014; Melbourne, Australia

Fitbit Flex – A Usability Test

Equipment: Fitbit Flex with Firmware version 64 and associated IOS App

Background and Context:
If you’re ever considering buying me a present combining my interests of sport and technology will ensure a rapturous response from yours truly. Therefore when I was presented with a Fitbit Flex wristband just over a week ago I was more than a little overjoyed. The wristband is made of a very flexible rubbery-type material with a small rigid area that houses the “processor and data pack”. It is lighter than a watch and could easily pass as one, which makes me wonder why they didn’t include a basic digital read out.

I stopped wearing a watch several years ago, so there is no space contention on my left wrist; however, I suspect watch wearers would simply wear it on their other wrist. As part of the initial setup I selected my non-preferred wrist for placement. Setup also entailed entering my age, height, weight and sex. Technical/help data is available on the product website – this will be tested at a later date.

My initial tests focus on the Usability of the wristband; I have also assigned a score to each feature, so that I have a benchmark for future tests. These initial tests have been conducted both indoors and outdoors (under warm/sunny and rainy/cold conditions). The following tests were conducted on an ad-hoc basis.

Usability Test 1: Fixing the wristband onto my non-preferred (left) wrist
In short, it’s a real pain… The clasp is metallic and quite stiff, requiring my left wrist to perform several contortions and my right-hand fingers to slip between the device and my wrist in order to secure it. On the plus side – it won’t accidentally fall off!! There is definitely room for improvement in the clasp design and attachment/detachment operation.

Score: 3/10

Usability Test 2: The Step Tracker
The Step Tracker counts how many steps I take each day – or does it? To date, I have noticed one significant anomaly – I was playing a card game the other night and my Step Count increased by almost a thousand during this time – even though I remained seated for the entire game. A similar game the following night also caused my Step Count to increase, but not so significantly – maybe I was dealing slower or perhaps my cards weren’t as good and my heart rate was lower – more Testing is definitely required for this feature…..

Score: 4/10

Usability Test 3: The Activity Monitor
Since I first wore the wristband I have played tennis (twice), badminton, golf and been on a fairly tough bike ride. NONE of these activities registered (consistently) as “active minutes” – some of the time (approximately 5%) was identified as active but that’s all. Now, I can accept that golf is not too strenuous on my body but the tennis, badminton and (especially) the bike ride were at times quite strenuous. I have a separate App to monitor my bike rides and based upon an average speed of 25kph for a very hilly course I’d say I was definitely active.

The free App that accompanies the wristband interprets all the data collected and syncs whenever the App is open. In fact, the most impressive feature I’ve witnessed so far is the simultaneous interaction between the wristband and my iPhone, with the App logging my steps in real-time as I walked through a shopping centre the other day. The Bluetooth connectivity is certainly effective.

My current assessment of the Activity Monitor is that it needs further detailed analysis and possibly some tweeking on my part.

Score: 4/10

Usability Test 4: The Sleep Analyser
I have slept for 8 nights since first wearing the wristband overnight and without fail it seems to know when I am sleeping – even if I drop off in front of the TV (while still in the sitting position). It also knows when I have woken up in the morning – probably because I’ve changed from a prone to sitting position. Either way, the sensor to identify whether I am awake or asleep seems to be functioning without a problem.

The second part of this test is reviewing my sleep quality. The App converts the data from the wristband into sleep, restlessness and wakefulness. To date I cannot dispute this data; however, I was expecting a little more detailed analysis as I have been trialling another (stand-alone) App called Sleep Time and this also captures the quality of my sleep. I have performed a one night comparison check of the two Apps and the data does seem to be consistent; however, more analysis is required.

Score: 5/10

All the other features (Calorie burn rate, calories eaten, weight tracker and liquid intake monitor) rely significantly on human intervention and therefore have not been included in this initial test.

Summary
I am still getting to know this shining new addition to my wellbeing kitbag. Even though my scores are quite low I am very happy with the wristband from the perspective of the information it is capturing – even if it is sometimes optimistic on the Step Tracker front!! I am certainly going to continue to use the wristband for the foreseeable future. I plan to perform and report another series of tests in about 6 to 8 weeks.

Overall Score: 5/10

Addendum:
On Sunday May 4 my Fitbit Flex stopped logging my activity and to date I have not been able to resolve the issue(s). After an extensive search I found no phone number to call for HELP and therefore I took the device back to where my wife bought it. The sales guy told me that he had sold around 50 of these devices and roughly 40 had been returned with issues!! No contest – give it up. What did he recommend?

I have replaced my Fitbit Flex with a Jawbone UP 24. I am already far more comfortable with my new lifestyle tracker – formal Testing to follow soon….

Updated: Thursday May 8 2014