The Spam is Getting Really Weird – Part 1

Over the 5 or so years that I’ve had this blog I’ve been quite amazed at how the spammers try to get by your comment filters by writing “seemingly” legitimate replies to posts. Most are caught by the spam filter, but some do manage to fall through the cracks. This of course is a non-issue since I approve all comments myself, but some of them make for some interesting reading. Some on the other hand are so generic that it makes you cringe, while some others are just down right weird. Here’s a sampling of the best examples and my thoughts about what they spammers are actually (not) thinking.

For starters, this one dropped in as a comment on my younited – An in-depth review article by blackhead contact

s not simply an “acne relief” or ” skin-care program”.
In addition, a lot of common substances may be utilized to fight dry
skin. Skin picking has been associated with mood and anxiety disorders, personality disorders (obsessive-compulsive
and borderline personality), impulse-control disorder (Bloch,
Elliott, Thompson, & Koran, 2001), and body dysmorphic disorder (Neziroglu & Mancebo, 2001).

This has to be the first time I see a blog comment with actual references. But, due to the drastic difference in topic (acne control vs. cloud storage?), I gather that this is a novel approach to bypass spam filters by quoting random text found on the web. Either that, or somebody writing high-brow texts about acne confused the comment field on my blog with their open thesis draft.    Continue reading

Microsoft is bringing the Start menu back, for reals this time!

This might seem like old news, because it actually is, since Microsoft said the same thing when releasing Windows 8.1. I remember getting all excited over that release, until I actually researched it a bit and noticed that the new “Start Menu” in Windows 8.1 was actually just a shortcut to the apps menu.
When I read this same promise the second time today, I was very sceptical at first, since last time it was such a huge disappointment, but this time Microsoft might actually deliver.

They are promising an old school start menu in Windows 7 style, but with added active tiles, which in my opinion actually makes this better than just bringing the start menu back. They are also promising to add the option of running Windows 8 apps in windows while in Desktop mode.

Windows 8 Start Menu – Image from The Register

Granted, most power users and myself included have already fixed this with third party application such as Start8 and ModernMix, but for enterprise deployments, applications like these just aren’t feasible, so it’s nice to finally get an official fix from Microsoft.
I myself is looking forward to this new menu, and it might just be the thing to make me migrate my other computers to Windows 8.

One caveat though, don’t expect this to be coming to a computer near you in the near future, Microsoft’s spokesperson cautioned customers that most of the features discussed at Build 2014 are “not coming in the next few days or weeks.”

Nokia Wins Camera Competition, again.

As you might have noticed, Nokia seems to be getting really good at making camera phones these last few years. Now they strike again in a blind comparison between most of the big phones on the market!

And yes, this bnothers me to no end, since I’ve been an Samsung Galaxy S-series user since the S2.

How to properly use your Technivorm Moccamaster (or any drip brewer for that matter)

So, for the last few years two things has really annoyed me when it comes to coffee; nobody seems to know how to make coffee properly, and the abysmal taste of most coffee here in Finland. Now don’t get me wrong, we really like our coffee in a quantitative sense here in Finland (we consume 12 kg of coffee per capita and year here), and most brewed coffee is very drinkable, but it’s nothing to write home about.
And most people doesn’t either know how to make coffee, or does it all wrong for various reasons. The “doing it wrong” is what really bothers me, or more precisely, people who are doing things wrong, and in their own mind have perfectly good reasons for doing so.

water_tank

And here I come, with my little post trying to set the record straight. I’ll go through some common ideas and try to teach what I consider reasonably good technique, i.e. the bare minimum you need to do to get good coffee. There are ways to further improve these methods by additional steps and tricks, but they might be a tad too fussy for most people. And if you’re going to muck about a lot, why not use a press pot instead, the reason for using an automatic drip brewer (aka the garden variety coffee maker) is convenience, not necessarily quality.

Continue reading

How Google avoids waste in management by telling people to be “inefficient”

Most of you have at some point or another encountered the term “lean” in relation to business processes or management. One of the ideas in lean management is that you should focus on flow efficiency (how efficiently something moves through your process) instead of resource efficiency (how much time a person spends actually doing something instead of twiddling their thumbs in a given work day). The idea behind this reasoning is that resource efficiency oriented processes will generate a lot of unnecessary work by their very nature, and due to how they quantify “efficiency”, these processes can’t even tell that they are doing pointless work instead of productive work. I’ll not go into the details of why this is so, but the reasoning behind this argument is very good.
Another law in lean management is called Kingman’s equation, which states that as resource efficiency grows, the process completion time grows exponentially. This means that as you approach 100% efficiency (I.e. no thumb-twiddling whatsoever), the time it takes for an task to be completed goes through the roof. This sounds quite insane, but it’s exactly what happens. The reasons why are a bit too complex and therefore outside the scope of this article (all this lean talk is just to give people a short primer before I jump to my main point), but if you’d like to see a future article about it, tell me in the comments below!

So, what has this got to do with Google’s ideas on HR policy? As most of you probably know, Google is sort of famous for allowing their employees to spend a large chunk of their workday on pet projects, i.e. stuff that interests the individual employee but might be a complete waste of time in the eyes of the employer. The common argument given for this strange concept is that the pet projects might turn into a major product for the employer at some point, and the unorthodox practice basically creates mini-skunkworks that can operate small projects without managerial interference. PostIt notes are actually a very good example for such a hobby-project-turned-major-product.
Another argument is that it allows employees to take a break from routine work while still doing something productive, and thus keeping their brains in the right headspace to easily continue with “real” work when the break is over.

And these reasons are very legitimate in my opinion, and are probably some of the core ideas behind Google’s move in this direction. But I’d like to argue that there’s another reason behind this that might not be very obvious, until you look at the concept from a lean perspective.
Remember Kingman’s equation that I talked about earlier? The one that stated that if you always have stuff to do, you’ll get nothing done? Well, some clever boffin at Google might have thought about this, and decided that if you by design only demand 80% of your employees, this problem becomes an impossibility! But hold on, won’t that just lower the maximum efficiency point to 80% and you’d have all the same problems but even less is getting done (how you calculate 80% of nothing will be left as an home exercise in futility)?
Well, that would be a reality if all your workers were perfect and did exactly what you told them, but luckily, humans are wonderfully bad at doing anything exactly. What do you guys think happens, if a worker at Google starts to feel overworked? Do you actually think that she would take a 2 hour break to play with a new cool micro controller when she has a lot of stuff she needs to get done before that big meeting tomorrow? Of course not! So what Google has designed is basically an overflow buffer to make sure that sudden peaks in demand doesn’t cripple their workforce until somebody higher up can be arsed to get some more warm bodies to the department, while formatting it in such a way that they a) get their employees to see it as a perk, b) get additional exotic skill sets to spontaneously materialize inside the company at no extra cost and finally c) get a long shot at somebody developing something truly revolutionary that they can late sell for huge profits!
This is nothing short of pure brilliance when it comes to HR management, and in my opinion it also sounds a bit too good to be just happy chance. But then again, that wouldn’t be the first, or even the 57th, time that Google did something that people thought was completely bonkers that later turned out to be extremely smart.
What a shame that Google wasn’t the first to think of this. At least not the underlaying concept. Kenneth E. Knight introduced the term “bootlegging” in 1967, which in business administration means projects that your boss might not actually know about. The practice is quite old infact, the Germans did this already 100 years ago, and even have a term for it, U-Boot-Forschung (which translates to “submarine research”). But it was first in the states during the ’60s that Hewlett-Packard and 3M started the concept of “permitted bootlegging”, with clear cut policy that you could spend x percent of your workday on said bootleg projects. Google just took if further with allotting a whooping 20% to bootlegging, as long as it has something to do with the company’s interests.
But nowhere can I find any reference to how this idea makes your employees more efficient. This might be due to the fact that bootlegging is an age old concept, while lean management is an 90′s idea.

So, there you have it, the conclusion is that Germans are a lot smarter than the rest of the world combined, and we should just do as they say all the time. If you have any ideas for new articles, or think that I’m completely off my rocker, put it in the comments below!

(I’ll be adding pictures and links and all sorts of other goodies soon, so watch this space)

How to sharpen pencils – an instructional video

Check out this very accurate guide on the subject of pencil sharpening, a truly necessary skill in modern life.

(Though our resident master of blade sharpening and other frustrating pursuits notes that the technique demonstrated in the video for turning the blade on the leather strop is faulty, the blade should be turned on its spine to minimize the risk for cutting the leather, and the stropping should last at least 2 minutes to have any considerable effect on the keenness of the edge)

Thanks to the laughingsquid.com for posting about this gem!

Vacancy – Memo Writer for Senior Management at Yahoo

Yahoo Neon Sign by Scott Beale / Laughing Squid

So, if you’ve missed it, Yahoo has recently revamped their Yahoo Mail interface, and while some like it, and some don’t, Yahoo’s senior management seems to think that now everybody at Yahoo should start using it. To get the point across properly, they did what most companies do, i.e. release an memo. While this story isn’t very interesting at this point, and wouldn’t have evolved from there in almost any other company, Yahoo’s managers decided that they’d make the whole thing a lot more interesting to read by using puns and, oh yes, cultural references. And not only that, but something that can only be described as a “layered pun”. Here’s a fun little example;

…a time when NT Server terrorized the data center landscape with the confidence of a T-Rex born to yuppie dinosaur parents who fully bought into the illusion of their son’s utter uniqueness because the big-mouthed, tiny-armed monster infant could mimic the gestures of The Itsy-Bitsy Pterodactyl.

If that’s not a layered pun, I don’t know what is. And to have come from someone in senior management (the memo is signed by Jeff Bonforte, SVP Communications Products and Randy Roumillat, CIO), in a company wide memo, is something I find utterly ridiculous. I’m not of course familiar with Yahoo’s corporate culture, and some companies might have a quite loose and casual way of handling internal communication, but this is a completely different ballpark, if not a different game entirely. And adding to the fact that they basically plead to their employees to use their own web mail instead of Outlook for corporate email out of solidarity is laughable as well. I mean, come on, either you dictate it company wide policy or let people choose what they want to use. After that it just gets sad when they start to talk about some of the missing features and the fact that no mobile device ever made supports it.

Anyhow, read the original article for more poking fun at Yahoo’s use of language, or read the memo down below, reproduced, probably verbatim, for your reading pleasure. And if this turns out to be a clever “leak” to discredit Yahoo’s management, remember that you read it here first and the rest of the article was just a test.

Hello Yahoos,
Earlier this year we asked you to move to Yahoo Mail for your corporate email account. 25% of you made the switch (thank you). But even if we used the most generous of grading curves (say, the one from organic chemistry), we have clearly failed in our goal to move our co-workers to Yahoo Mail.
It’s time for the remaining 75% to make the switch. Beyond the practical benefits of giving feedback to your colleagues on the Mail team, as a company it’s a matter of principle to use the products we make. (BTW, same for Search.)
For some reading this email, you are saying, “Jeff, shut up, you had me at hello.” *hug* Jump over to yo/dogfood, click “Corp Mail/Cal/ Messenger” and you are ready to join our brave new world at yo/corpmail or https://mail.yahoo-inc.com.
For others, you might now be running in your head to a well worn path of justified resistance, phoning up the ol’ gang, circling the hippocampian wagons of amygdalian resistance. Hold on a sec, pilgrim.
First, it doesn’t feel like we are asking you to abandon some glorious place of communications nirvana. At this point in your life, Outlook may be familiar, which we can often confuse with productive or well designed. Certainly, we can admire the application for its survival, an anachronism of the now defunct 90s PC era, a pre-web program written at a time when NT Server terrorized the data center landscape with the confidence of a T-Rex born to yuppie dinosaur parents who fully bought into the illusion of their son’s utter uniqueness because the big-mouthed, tiny-armed monster infant could mimic the gestures of The Itsy-Bitsy Pterodactyl. There was a similar outcry when we moved away from Outlook’s suite-mates in the Microsoft Office dreadnaught. But whether it’s familiarity, laziness or simple stubbornness dressed in a cloak of Ayn Randian Objectivism, the time has come to move on, commrade.
Using corp mail from the Y Mail web interface is remarkably feature rich. It supports booking conference rooms, folders, calendar, filters and global address book. Plus, you get built-in Messenger, smart conversation threading, powerful keyboard shortcuts, the new quick actions, attachment preview and our beautiful new rich themes. In the rare case you do need Outlook, like adding a delegate for your calendar, you can still fire up Outlook for 30 seconds.
But wait there’s more. By using corporate Mail, you’ll automatically get to dogfood our new features first. I’m especially excited about a new feature premiering in just a few more days: smart auto-suggest, powered by a platform from the still-have-that-new-acquisition-smell Xobni team. We have been testing this feature with select users in and out of the company and the response has been fantastic: “Whoa!”, “Amazing”, “Already in love with it. Woot!” and, my favorite, “So nicely integrated that it appears as if it’s always been there. I already can’t imagine it not being there again.”
Feeling that little tingle? Take a deep breath, you can do this. We want you on board, sailor!
Please note, on the mobile side, corp mail is not yet supported in our Mail app for Android or iOS, but that will change (PB&J!). And, like all dogfood offerings, there is a feedback link in the product. Use it generously so we can make the improvements to make Yahoo Mail the unquestioned inbox champion of the world. I pitty [sic] the fool who resists.
Thanks for your support. It really does matter and we appreciate it.
Jeff Bonforte, SVP Communications Products
Randy Roumillat, CIO

New look

How do you guys like the new look? I’ve been thinking about doing something to the design and layout of the site, and this new theme is a lot clearer than the previous one in my opinion. Also, I at least think it’s a lot more readable, and since my posts tend to be quite lengthy, that’s always a nice thing. Tell me what you think in the comments below!