Tag: opinion

I’d like my news unbiased, and to stick to actual news, please.

As an incredibly nosy person, I’m a big fan of knowing what is going on in the world. As such, I spend an inordinate amount of time reading various news websites. Being UK based, my main reading material used to be that provided by the BBC.

Now, a level of bias is always to be expected here, given that the BBC is a state run corporation. However, their bias over recent months has reached new extremes. More and more, I’ve found myself reading websites from further afield just to try and get an un-jaundiced view on what is actually happening around the world.

The BBC isn’t the only news source guilty of this. I’ve taken to reading news sites from around the world with a pretty even mix of left-wing and right-wing bias, with the theory in mind that if I take on board what both say, I can look at the middle ground and figure out what is actually happening that way. I do not think this is a good thing. You’re left with the feeling that you can’t really trust what is being reported on what should be a respectable outlet of information. It’s even worse when that feeling is proven with minimal internet searching.

It’s a pretty sorry state of affairs that I’ve concluded that the most unbiased source of information is RT.com (Russia Today).

Now, I get why this is the case. With current events as they are, there is a very genuine concern about a backlash happening against certain cultures. That said, I’m not sure that misreporting events, or flat out not reporting events, is the way to prevent this happening. I’m pretty sure that those who would be involved in such a backlash gave up reading media from the likes of the BBC a long time ago *because* of their current style of reporting.

The bias isn’t the only problem I have, though. In a culture where breaking news from across the world can be an instant thing, the ‘on’ switch is glued down. If there is currently nothing happening, interviews are conducted just to gain soundbites that can be misquoted again and again out of context. If there is no one relevant to the event to interview, Random Joe off the street is pulled aside to give his views on the event.

Now, call me whatever you want – but I’m not all too interested in what Random Joe off the street has to say. All I actually want to know is very simple – what happened, why it happened, and what is happening as a result of what happened. Random Joe off the street is unlikely to know this. If I want to know what Random Joe thinks, I can just search the most popular tag on twitter, and find out that way.

While I’m having a bit of a rant about this, I may as well add – I don’t care if a dog can skateboard while performing back flips. This should not be a front page thing unless you are having a *really* slow news day. Stop it.

So, to sum up – it’s pretty much as the title of this post states. I’d like my news unbiased, and to stick to actual news, please.

Bad advice?

I came across an article (3 Key Steps to Building a Powerful Personal Brand)* on Inc.com the other day, which had some – what I think is – rather dubious advice. It made me actually cringe to read it. Here’s the excerpt:

Being self-aware helps a lot here. If you think you might have blind spots, do this:

Write down a list of a list of 10 adjectives that describe you.
Now go have lunch with the five people who know you best.
Ask them to make the same list about you.
Compare the lists and look for common descriptors.

And later …

For further insight, try the same exercise with colleagues and acquaintances that barely know you.

Really? Grab 5 people, and take up their most valuable resource – their time – to write or talk all about *you*?!? That’s kind of self indulgent, really. In addition, depending on the honesty of the people involved, and resulting list would very likely contain the following descriptors: Self obsessed, needy, narcissistic. Maybe I’m reading it wrong. I don’t feel the rest of the advice in the article is bad. But that part about getting people to write a list like that just sets my teeth on edge.

Has anyone actually managed to do this kind of thing seriously? Or been asked to do this kind of thing?

Maybe I’m just taking it for granted that I have people in my life who will often flat out tell me their unvarnished opinion, even if they know I probably won’t like to hear it. I don’t see the need to do the above – which possibly means I actually need to the do the above exercise because I am suffering a self awareness fail. Who knows?

* Guilty pleasure – I occasionally indulge in reading click bait articles along the lines of ’10 things you must do now!!!’. Some of these articles are common sense, whilst many are so off the wall that they make me snigger. The latter are the more entertaining for me, as I enjoy the smug feeling I get from being able to tell my computer screen (and the internet at large) that it is wrong.

Automatic Real Time Systems are Scary.

This is a long post. Bear with me.

We live in an increasingly automated world. And this makes me nervous.

Computers are stupid. They will only do what we tell them to. Which leads to the obvious conclusion that any given computer program is only as good as the person or people who wrote it.

I could focus on any system with this blog post. I’ll talk about the Google Self Driving Car project. It’s one I’ve been watching fairly closely, as I put more thought into how automated our world is becoming.

On the surface of it, the self driving car is something of a success story. The last monthly report shows that over the course of 1,268,108 miles in autonomous mode, no accidents were reported. Which is pretty awesome. It’s only getting better all the time, as the geniuses at Google get on the case.

I get nervous at the thought of giving up control to a system that was programmed by people. I know that in large part is down to my own arrogance – part of me is obviously of the mindset that I am better at driving a car than a piece of software programmed by a fellow human being.

Here’s where my non-arrogant issues with this come in to the equation. Let’s consider the human element in a real-time system. Things happen in real-time. Things that a piece of software may not know how to deal with – only because it’s bloody difficult to anticipate edge case scenarios, and tell the software it may happen – which requires the person or people doing the coding to anticipate this. The likelihood of such events – i.e. a meteor landing in the road, etc – is very small. But the probability is still there.

The reaction speed of a human is slower than that of a machine in a given situation, which could render this whole issue moot. But a human still beats out a machine when it comes to the ability to react. If I was a passenger in a car when the hypothetical meteor crashes into the road in front of me, I’d be hoping that the person driving the car was in full control. Not the computer of the car.

My next issue is the removal of personal and human responsibility in a machine that has often proven capable of killing in worst case scenarios. These scenarios are often down to human stupidity. The solution to this would be to make all cars self-drive. But this then also leads to what Google call in their report the ‘Hands off problem‘. You still have the issue whereby a human ability to react to the unexpected will be necessary in select cases. The ‘Hands off’ problem, and the google report, estimate that it takes between 5 and 8 seconds for a human to regain control. In real-time, this is an absolute age. Even a full second would be too long in many cases of an unexpected event.

Next, let’s talk the bug to code ratio. I only have some books and blog posts published a few years ago to go on here (after a brief google search). Dan Mayer published an interesting blog post back in 2012 which discussed bug to code ratios. It’s worth a read. In it, he quotes a book called Code Complete by Steve McConnell, which states the following:

Industry Average: “about 15 – 50 errors per 1000 lines of delivered code.”

That’s quite a scary number. Now, an error could be something fairly minor. It could be a spelling mistake in the user interface, for instance. It could also be something more serious. Here’s the thing – I suspect that this number may only have gotten larger, even in the face of better coding standards. As we work to improve an older system, for example, the system gets larger, more complex, and more interconnected with its component parts to satisfy an ever-growing demanding market that wants better features.

I’m sure that Google have very stringent code quality processes and guidelines, and as such their code to bug ratio is incredibly low. But I doubt that they can guarantee 100% clean code, without a single error. If any part of their code base meets the above quoted industry average, then I actually find that pretty frightening. And that is feasible, given that in any software development, you will have different people/teams working on different modules. In addition, how much can any published test metrics be trusted when it’s public knowledge that said test metrics can very easily be faked? All it takes is one person to either get it wrong or to abandon scruples to meet a deadline. I’m sure that the people working at Google are all fine and upstanding. Will every person who gets their hands on this kind of software be the same?

Here’s the even bigger issue. People can be clever arseholes, to put in bluntly. Cars relying too much on software have already been hacked. So even if we go with the assumption that everyone working on the software is an awesome and outstanding citizen, that’s not to say that everyone in the world is.

That aside, my conclusion is that automated systems can only work when we all give up all personal responsibility over to the system. Where does this stop? As an adult, I take pride in being responsible for my own welfare. The idea of handing any part of that responsibility over to a system – and therefore, to the people who are in control of that system – sends chills down my spine.

Don’t get me wrong – the technology is cool. It’s one of the reasons I’ve been following the news on it closely. But the ramifications of something like this being adopted worldwide is something that I feel probably hasn’t been thought about fully. Bug ratios, inability to anticipate the random, or malicious intervention aside, just who do you think should be in control of your car? You? Google? Or any governing body that takes over the software at some point in the distant future?

Why do phones have to do everything?

This weekend, the bloke and I were watching TV, and there was an advert that kept coming on – in short, it was a badly dubbed advert with a teenage boy asking his neighbour why his phone can’t control his cars features (because there’s an app for that!!!).

This in turn led to a discussion about why everything has to be controlled by a phone. We both agreed that it’s getting beyond silly now. Your phone can now control your central heating. And probably your fridge. Or your washing machine. But like the bloke said – ‘Hey, phone! Fill my washing machine for me!’.

It really is going a bit far now.

I get the whole temptation to see if something is possible. But central heating control away from home? Why is a thermostat and timer not enough? You don’t need your heating on full blast when you’re not in – so don’t you already have that under control? When I’m in my car, I shouldn’t be pratting around on my phone full stop.

As it is, there are enough apps nagging for my attention on my phone. I try to limit it to the ones I see the point in. A few games, etc. Although I did uninstall a game this weekend, when after playing it once, it started notifying my that I hadn’t played for a few hours. I mean, really? Was the app developer so enamoured of the push notification feature that he just had to play with it? It was a wordsearch game, for goodness sake!

Enough with taking the internet of things to silly places! Enough with having to make everything an app on my phone!

tl;dr: Stop the silliness!

My thoughts on Quotas

In the UK at the moment, there have been rather public criticisms that our Police are ‘too white’. In my internet reading, I also often come across articles about how there aren’t enough women in the board room. And various other quotas for different industries.

On one hand, I can see what is being driven at – equality, and this is all fair enough. However, I get very nervous at the all too predictable demand for ‘quotas’ to be put in to place to address these issues.

Here’s where I stand on it – I beleive in equality. I firmly beleive that every person should have an equal chance at a given oppurtunity. Quotas are, however, a slippery slope to reverse discrimination. Where does it stop?

As things are right now, I sometimes wonder if I have an easier time getting a job in my field due to looking great on a HR check sheet – female, wanting to be a software developer? Awesome! It’s demoralising to wonder if I have received a job offer not through virtue of being good at what I do, but through virtue of possessing lady bits.

So, I’m against quotas. They just reverse the problem to a different demographic. What I’d much rather see is the right person in the job – whatever it may be, and regardless of if the applicant is white, green, alien, etc.

If there is a worry that a minority is not being represented enough, by all means encourage anyone in that minority to apply for the job. Just don’t hire them based upon meeting some quota to show how ‘diverse’ you can be. That’s insanity – especially if the job role is something involving responsiblity. Hire the best person for the job, and see the job get done well.

Radio TV Channels could be more interesting.

When I get home, I’m in the habit of turning on my TV. It will either be on the Dave channel, or one of the numerous Radio channels. Typically, Kerrang! or Magic.

Here’s the thing with radio channels on the TV – they just have a single, boring screen which typically shows the name of the channel and a link to their website. I can’t help but think this is a bit wasteful.

There you have one single, static screen. Now, granted, I’m not listening to a radio channel because I’m watching it. I’m just listening. But there is so much wasted real estate! On one hand, the lack of adverts on the screen is nice.

Still. Why not put something else on there? The next song to play? The radios twitter feed? Frolicking ponies? Subliminal messaging? These are digital radio channels. Would it be that hard?

I am probably over thinking this. My mind does work in strange ways occasionally.

Your call is important to us. Please hold.

Who doesn’t hate call waiting systems? Normally, I would say that BT has the most obnoxious one. But I just went through the call hold system for my doctors surgery.

So – I wanted to book an appointment with a nurse in two weeks time. Unfortunately, the online appointments system only allows you to book appointments with a doctor. Ok, so – lines open at 8:30am. I’ll be at work at that time, but – how long can it take to book an appointment? Bang on 8:30, I phoned the doctors surgery, to be immediately left on hold. Due to a defect in their system, you get a helpful message after being on hold for about a minute informing you ‘Your call is important to us. Your position in the queue is:’, followed up by the hold music. It’s not until you have been on hold for about 5 minutes of your life that the other part of the system kicks in, and actually tells you your position in the queue.

My position was 20. 20!!! So, I decided that I should call back later, since my appointment isn’t urgent, and I don’t need it for 2 weeks.

So, 45 minutes later, I took a coffee break and decided to try again. After 5 minutes, I find I am number 3 in the queue. Great, may as well wait! Another 5 minutes later, and I go through the queue – straight to another answering system that wants me to categorise my call by pressing a number. Ok, 2 is appointments. Great!

I’m then left on hold for another 5 minutes. Another 5 minutes, even though I am apparently through the hold system. Great.

Finally, I get to speak to a real person. Who then informs me that if I want an appointment with a nurse for after my work hours (in this case, any time after 4pm for me), I would have to phone up on the day. Because phoning up 2 weeks in advance to try and secure an appoinmentment outside of my work hours is not possible, it seems.

All in all, I have lost 25 minutes of my life today, to book an appointment with a nurse in 2 weeks time, at a time that isn’t actually too convenient for me, because any appointment times after 3:40pm are blocked off for people phoning up on the morning that they need an appointment.

It’s no wonder I was 20 in the queue when I first phoned. This system is horrendous. Why not have people who need a same day appointment be able to have an appointment in the day, and let those of us who have a non-urgent medical need arrange an appointment for a future date at a time that is more convenient? Or would that make too much sense in this day and age? Should the assumption not be that someone needing a same day appointment may have a more urgent need that means they aren’t actually working that day, and could thus easily get to an appointment between 9-5?

I think I am going to develop an app that allows me to reach through a phone line and strangle whoever decided this system was in any way sensible.

Either Political Correctness gone mad, or there is an ugly truth here.

Throughout the news today, it’s been difficult to not stumble across an article about Charlotte Proudman – a lawyer who has publicly named and shamed a LinkedIn member who sent her a message that she deemed inappropriate on that platform. Here’s just one of the articles for those who haven’t seen it yet.

Now, I’ve never received a message like this myself on LinkedIn. Given that she mentions that she has received a number of messages along the same line though, I can see how it would be wearing thin to the point of her choosing to do what she has done – which is take it public. This has resulted in people telling her to not use a profile picture. Or to change it. The picture itself reveals no body parts, and is professionally done. I feel this misses the point. Her looks should be having no bearing here – this is happening on LinkedIn, for goodness sake! What’s she supposed to do here, leave a message at the top of her profile saying ‘Please do not comment on my looks’? She shouldn’t need to! That strikes me as similar to messages I’ve seen on dating profiles – ‘Please send no naked pictures or requests for one night stands’. From my own forays into the online dating world, I can say two things – first, it doesn’t work. You still get silly requests. Second, it also results in abusive messages pointing out you’re not good enough for a one night stand anyway.

You really cannot win. Not even on LinkedIn, it seems.

Personally, I would have just ignored a message like the one Charlotte Proudman received, out of fear for the kind of backlash she is currently getting over this. It’s like she says – ‘My voice hasn’t been heard – instead, what has become the content of the messaging is again my body.’ Just reading some of the comments on these news sites proves her point. She’s getting a lot of comments along the lines of ‘Perhaps she would be happier to be called an ugly cow.’ and ‘I’m sure she chose the picture that made her look the most attractive….attention seeking or what ????’.

So, as for the offending comment that started all this. Here’s a very small excerpt of it:

‘I appreciate that this is probably horrendously politically incorrect but that is a stunning picture !!!’

A compliment? Yes. However, a compliment sent on what is billed as a professional connections website. Which does make the above, however well intentioned by the sender, inappropriate, especially given the context of being a new connection. In addition – the man who sent this compliment even acknowledged, right in this quote, that he knew he probably shouldn’t be sending it.

All sorts of mud can be slung over this whole thing, rightly or wrongly. I’m not going to join in on that. What I do have to say on this whole sorry thing is as follows:

Keep your messages to the appropriate platform. Like Charlotte Proudman says, LinkedIn is not a dating site.

If you feel the need to preface a message to someone you don’t know with any variation of ‘I appreciate that this is probably horrendously politically incorrect but…’, you’d be better off not sending it.

As much as I’m all for not taking offence for the sake of it, just watching the backlash leaves my sympathies firmly with Charlotte Proudman on this. Was she supposed to be honoured by a compliment on her personal appearance, from someone she doesn’t know, on a professional connections website, without getting irritated that her professional skills are being overlooked? If nothing else, this news item is shining a light on what is still an ugly truth, it seems, across various apparently modern, westernised and *cultured* work industries. Which seems to be that you’re only worth as much as your looks if you dare to attempt to present yourself professionally. Or not.

As for the man who sent Charlotte Proudman this message – at his age, and working in the industry he does, he should know by now how easy it is for words to be misconstrued in written form.

Professionalism

Merriam-Webster defines professionalism as ‘the skill, good judgment, and polite behavior that is expected from a person who is trained to do a job well’. It goes on with a further definition of ‘the conduct, aims, or qualities that characterize or mark a profession or a professional person’.

I guess that my own confusion in terms of being seen as a professional is that unfortunately (or maybe fortunately?), such expectations as defined in this context are not actually down to the person who wishes to be seen as professional.

I have been called unprofessional a few times in the past. Usually when I have disagreed with someone about something. Strange, that.

A comment once made to me did actually cause me to reflect slightly on *how* I disagree with people:

‘You always argue your point strongly, even when you’re wrong.’

Did the person who said this to me have a point? Possibly. I was raised to speak my mind, and engage in debate. While I acknowledge that I can be *very* stubborn, I can be argued around to a different way of thinking – because when all is said and done, I wouldn’t be arguing any point if I thought it was actually wrong. I have no patience to play devils advocate. That said, some people see any kind of headlong disagreement as an intimidating confrontation. I honestly still have no idea how to deal with that. Should I sugar coat my thoughts? Tip toe around an issue? I don’t know.

This does bring me to the point of this post, though. Which is more professional – giving (and occasionally arguing) an opinion in a professional capacity, or keeping your mouth shut for the sake of not disagreeing with someone higher up the food chain?

I guess the answer to that depends on who’s answering the question. I know where I stand on it.

So, for me, I guess showing professionalism comes down to the following:

  • Don’t be afraid to speak up. *
  • Share your knowledge.
  • Don’t bite off more than you can chew.
  • Always do what you say you will do, when you say you will do it.
  • Don’t play the blame game.
  • Get on with the job.

I freely acknowledge here that my list may seem incomplete to some. I’ll quite happily argue/debate the points and amend said list if I can be talked around. I’m not right about everything. On the flip side – I don’t think I’m often wrong, either.

* Though try and be tactful about it. My brain to mouth filter is malfunctional. Announcing to an entire room that something is stupid does not win you friends. Trust me on this.

The most aggravating compliment

Sorry folks. This is a dreaded women in STEM post. It’s sad that #ILookLikeAnEngineer is a thing. People still do not get it.

So, a true story.

A long time ago, in a job in my past, there was a week of BIG MEETINGS. It was a huge deal, with very important clients who we *had* to impress. The culture of the office was lax, and the usual code was ‘get in for some time, do all your work, and wear what you want’. For this week, we were asked to be in well on time for the BIG MEETINGS, come in suited and booted, and above all, behave.

So, I spent a week turning up to the office, wearing a nice skirt, blouse, and killer heels. Literally, killer. When the clients had gone for the day, I’d kick off said heels and start sticking plasters on all the bleeding bits, longing for my comfy trainers or boots. I kept my mouth shut, and smiled when spoken to. I didn’t really achieve much of my own programming work that week, in-spite of only having to attend a couple of the meetings, as the entire team was on tenterhooks with how said BIG MEETINGS were going. Things were going on that made it too difficult to concentrate.

I received three compliments that week. Take a guess which one infuriated me.

  1. Please don’t take this as harassment or anything, but you look stunning like that. I wish we could see it every day!
  2. I won’t sit next to you in meetings when you wear a skirt any more, as your legs are too distracting.
  3. I’ve been really impressed with your professionalism this week. Great work!

If you haven’t already guessed that the third compliment was the one that annoyed me, you still don’t get IT. So, I’ll explain further.

The week where I can honestly say that all I did was turn up, look pretty, and not share my professional opinion, is the one where I got complimented on being ‘professional’. This sent the message that I am only valued as a professional when I’m making an effort to look nice and keep my mouth shut. So for what reason had I been turning up and busting my arse all those years before?

I didn’t say anything, of course. I really do, even now, still get that the compliment was meant as just that – a compliment. It wouldn’t be right to give the complimenter a hard time over it. I do not believe that anything bad or insidious was meant by it. It was genuine, and not meant as a put down in any way. Normally, I’d be happy to hear it. But as a woman working in a male dominated field, where I have often felt that I’ve *needed* to shout out and dress down to be taken seriously, it really stung. It still does.

I subscribe to the saying ‘You don’t give offence, you *take* offence’. But before anyone shouts me down for this post, maybe try wearing those killer heels for a week in a similar situation, only to be hit with the reality of what counts higher up as ‘professional’, and tell me you wouldn’t be spitting fire about it to. This really does tie back to my earlier post. As much as I can look back on this incident, and know that logically, I took this in a way that was not intended, it just underscores that perception is an absolute bitch.