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ohhh, taxonomy, how I love thee… May 14, 2008

Posted by andrea in thinky thinky.
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shall I compare thee to a….okay, enough. But you get the point. I spent a hour with a company doing crazy, CRAZY, text mining in really cool ways. I’m going to their conference, so hopefully more pointy-headed insights will come.

I sometimes think that I would be very happy sitting in some dusty warren of an attic, cataloging and cross-referencing until my fingers bled and my brain simply exploded from the content relationships it wanted to make.

There’s taxonomy, and its revolutionary backlash, the folksonomy. And the pendulum swings back, where a balance between the two seems like it will work. I think though that the Holy Grail of content is something akin to a synaptic firing of electrical impulses to make connections. It will never be completely machine-driven, but moving the humans from task-drudgery (entering imposed naming conventions, say) to the leap-of-mind connections that a machine couldn’t do.

I’m geeked out. I’d love to write and write and write about this, but the aforementioned synaptic firing/cohesion hasn’t happened yet in my own brain…

Calgary thoughts… May 7, 2008

Posted by andrea in ephemera.
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holy mother…there’s a lot of money here.

Seriously, at lunch, going through the +15 mall…I was a schlump. It’s the Mink Mile…but indoors!

Also, apparently, Calgary has the highest % of car ownership where the car value is over $60K, per capita. Did I express that right? I failed (or rather, recused myself) from statistics in university…you know, as a *film* student. 😉

And, interestingly enough, if T.O. wants to be the next Manhattan, but should take a page from Chicago…then Calgary wants to be the next L.A….just ’cause of the cars. Don’t hate me, it’s pretty much a quote from a born-and-bred-Calgarian tonight.

Websites are like cities…oh, I’m not going to go there.

billing…time May 1, 2008

Posted by andrea in working life.
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Yes, yes, yes…time-tracking systems are an anathema to workers. I ripped one apart writing my M.Sc. I was not very popular at work, which was the target of my rippin’.

However, (always a big however with me) the situations I’ve heard described – where someone said “bill 8, so you get paid a full day” is just crazy. Crazy for everyone…client won’t ever pay the 8, contractor won’t see the 8, but agency will absorb the overflow. Weird. There’s a whole sort of black market of billable hours…promised in lieu time (which rarely get realized). In order to meet fixed-cost projects.

Fee for service: I tell my clients outright that if they want a fixed-price cost that’s cool, but I’m also honest enough with them to say that my hourly rate will cost them less at the end of the day. It’s the same with my husband, a carpenter (oh, yeah, thanks to Mike Holmes and Designer Guys everyone thinks a kitchen can be completely drywalled and plastered and painted in a day…plaster and paint don’t dry according to TV schedules, sadly). He tells his clients, up front, that an hourly will cost them less in the long run, but they almost never buy it.

And on the other end: the payment end? Clients who futz about, and don’t pay until the 91st (or later) day? Um, I’m not going to work with you again. Especially when I have to spend 2 hours a week juggling finances because you didn’t pay AGAIN, and have to chase you for it. I may have loved the people I worked with, but I can’t take on that risk again.

May 1, 2008

Posted by andrea in the IA/BA world.
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I wrote this back in June 07, when I was having problems with an Agile dev team… plus a large dose of comments in italic from the present (and grammatical-tense changes…hmm,never realized the double meaning of “tense”…am I mis-spelling it?)….

I’ll use the old “house building” analogy: My role was to be the table saw on a construction crew – use it when you need it, and then turn it off. Worse, I became the tool who needed to anticipate when one of the carpenters blindly threw a piece of wood in the air, and I was expected to catch it, cut it to size, and hand it back…so they continued on the “real” work. Who, honestly, wants to work like that? Could you find someone who’d be happy being THAT disengaged from their end product? (I know, how Marxist of me).

The only bright spot of the project was the client – he and I had wonderful, thought-provoking conversations, and traded ideas, and wrestled with direction, and thinking. I valued his insight, and I like to think he mine. There hasn’t been another person to challenge me in the way I need to be challenged (aside from answering questions on-the-fly and having had to refer people back to my documentation – that’s another story). I grew, and learned, and worked with some amazing people who are open with their ideas, kicked my butt and pushed me further where I need to go. And to go backwards into “just do some wireframes, you” is a situation that isn’t challenging anymore.

business analysis and analysts are not your waitstaff…taking orders of the next piece of technology you think will work. Um, we are business. analysts. We offer an analysis. of your business. We are insane, in our de-construction of concepts and ideas into achievable goals, for a reason. We like matrices (ahhh). We seek connections, and flow. Our favourite question is “why?” We ask it of each other, and ourselves, all the time (it’s a total meta-BA thing when I post). We want a logical conclusion to *everything* we do.

I’m at a place now where I think I do have this intangible geek knowledge – experience, insight, and large dose of humility, and goofiness. People seem to want it, or recognize it. I’m really lucky. Not a joiner: not a developer, not a creative, not a PM, not a sales dude – i’m a little of everything. Which explains why I can’t join anything, including a dog-walking group.:-)

holy mama, I’m back… April 13, 2008

Posted by andrea in ephemera.
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Um, the rest of the winter didn’t so great, either: I had to have knee surgery, my mum had her gall bladder removed, and my husband had a major heart attack on March 6. For me, a day that will live in infamy.

On the awesome side, I’m the new aunt to the most beautiful boy in the world!

Okay. It’s spring. Time for new life. Breathe. 🙂

sadness December 23, 2007

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A friend of mine died this morning, after a long, superhumanly courageous battle with leukemia.

Why I’m posting this on my “professional” blog? Um, because Seth Palmer was the absolute kick-in-the-ass that I needed. He challenged me; he was brilliant, and wickedly, wickedly sharp and witty.

I learned so much from him, and truly he’s a huge part of where I am today. Professional, intelligent, knew his shit…and the best project manager I have ever seen. He interviewed me at Organic back in 2004, for a BA position. I had brought some docs as work samples – they were sanitized, of course (that, and the fact that I wouldn’t allow him to keep the docs was the thing he said made him hire me). Seth asked me what was the difference between an assumption and a precondition in a use case. Answer: assumption is a business decision, while a precondition assures that the system has allowed the use case to be triggered (yeah, I know, I said it way better in the interview, but I’m not at my most eloquent). Then he smiled, and we just ended up yapping for an hour about god knows what. Shoes, possibly. Clearly, he knew enough to know what to ask, and I was able to meet his requirements.

And then, the idyllic time I call US Airways. Such a wonderful team on a project has never been seen since. Charlie, Dave, Seth and I – wow, we rocked the house. It was an absolute pleasure to go into work, get on the phone (me: Toronto, them: NY), and yap for the whole day about airline ticketing. And have fun doing it. I’ll always have a fond memory of UC056: Upgrade a ticket. And his now-famous quote: “and here’s where the drama slide in the presentation goes”.

It’s not fair that he’s gone…in fact, it fucking sucks. With his conviction, determination, and will…why couldn’t he be spared? We have too few of those bright stars already.

I miss you, Seth. That we’ll never yap on the phone again, or have a drink, or discuss RUP, and the problems with scrum, or talk about our dogs obsessively…there’s a big hole now. I go by the Soho Met, and I want to cry. Sometimes, I do.

be full of peace. love.

Update: I just talked to Dave on the phone, and he put it best: what are we going to do without you, buddy? Seth was always the guy in charge, giving directions, leading us where we needed to go. We’re all kind of lost now.

Rudderless.

Car Rentals vis-a-vis Customer Service (or, Richard Branson, please help the NA car rental industry!) October 18, 2007

Posted by andrea in ephemera.
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[I know it’s been a long time…much work, much vacation – no excuses]

I was in Atlanta with a client on Sept. 27th (my wedding anniversary), and we were driving back to the ATL airport to return the rental car. We were there in lots of time, at least 2 hours before each of our flights. However, Dollar Rent-a-Car doesn’t have a spot at the airport for returns. I follow the sign pointing to where we should return it. I’ll spare everyone the details, but 1 hour later, and after having been on the phone with the “guy” (from a central call desk) giving us directions, we were no closer to dumping the car. I think I must have seen most of the suburbs around Atlanta at least twice by now (and I’m really good at directions, honest!). Finally, with the clock ticking, we pulled into the Hertz car drop-off, to catch our breath. The “guy” (didn’t give a name – and we were dumb for not getting it) told us to leave the car there, leave the keys under the back-seat mat, with that door unlocked, and he would make sure it got picked up.

Fear was in my soul. Enough that I even swore with the best of them in front of my client (who is Christian – I’m sorry Karen).

We made our flights (and me spontaneously hugging TSA officials at ATL is another story, but a nice one). I made it home, only to leave again this next morning at 4:30am to head to Vancouver.

I decide to follow up with Dollar, to make sure the car was indeed picked up, and that my rental contract is closed. Well, no, and no.

I won’t bore you with the details, except to say that the most helpful Dollar Rent-a-Car CSR, Sherry, told me that if I thought I could do her job better than her (i.e. to FIND the car)…well, then. She recited her script, ad nauseum, and kept telling me that really she was the ultimate boss and there was no one else to help me (apparently, in this situation, you threaten to sue, and you’ll suddenly find a supervisor). While I was in Vancouver (3 hours behind Atlanta), between my client and myself (Karen is a fireball of making things happen! I owe everything in this story to her), we managed to find the car (at Hertz); discover it was (seriously) in the process of being hooked up to a tow truck because Hertz kept calling Dollar to come get the car and they wouldn’t pick up the phone; get the tow company’s name/number/address; find out the process to initiate Dollar to go GET the car; and have the contract closed. Also, I had my “people” in Atlanta, who were so wonderfully, willing to drive out to the location of Dollar to help me. Bobby, Ben, Melissa – that’s you.

In those 3 hours? Sherry helpfully supplied me with an “issue number”. Thanks, Sherry.

It took another FIVE days for Sherry to email me that the contract was closed (I’m now in Austria, on vacation). But, since car rental companies take their money first, I’m out $500 US – for 3 days rental, AND the towing charges.

Because one of their people told us that it was okay to make an alternative drop-off. Huh. So “guy” was trying to help us, but didn’t follow through. I blame him for that. But, I believe his heart was in the right place, although he sucks at completing a task.

And the rest of Dollar Rent-a-Car (the new name of Thrifty Rent-a-Car) denied that this ever happened. Okay, I said I’d spare the details (I’m trying). Do I bite the cost? Or follow up? Will “Silverman Helps” help me?

Contrast Austria. Sixt Rentals, a German rental car company. We picked up a minivan on Oct. 10, to drive our family from Vienna to Salzburg. No problems, here you go. When we park the van near our apartment, my dad notices a big scrape on the van. Uh-oh. We’re fretting already. There’s absolutely NO way this scrape could have been ours. Logically.

During the trip, we find out that one of the seat-belts doesn’t work. And, thanks to numerous motorists on the Autobahn, that one of the rear tail-lights doesn’t work. Fretting more. My husband and I deliver the van (after-hours) and I write a big note, saying exactly what we noticed. And that we’ll call to confirm.

I don’t get any sleep that night.

Harald calls Sixt the next morning, to make sure that everything’s cool. They THANK HIM for pointing out the flaws, and they’ve made a note to have those things fixed. He asks if we’re responsible, and they reply quite shocked “of course not! We’re happy you told us about these things. This way, we can make sure that everything is working/fixed for the next renters.”

I checked my Visa statement. Sixt: absolutely the price quoted, no questions asked.

I have ideas about why the experience was so different…in America, the car is king. And people are treated like they’re guilty. And thieves.

In Austria, there’s thing idea of always exceeding expectations. And a trust that people are honest, and smart. When Austrians feel as though they’ve let you down, as a customer, they’re actually ashamed. And have the autonomy to do something about it.

I was kind of kidding when I said bring Richard Branson in to revolutionize the car rental industry in North America, but not really. But, that’s another post.

Don’t treat your customers like they’re stupid, and powerless, and out to cheat you. ‘Cause, most of the time, they’re not. And the trust will pay you back in loyalty, forever.

Sixt.com – use them always. A pleasure.
Dollar Rent-a-Car – sucks to be you, gimme your money. And, by the way, screw yourself while you’re at it.

parents + computers = me, ashamed August 2, 2007

Posted by andrea in ephemera, thinky thinky.
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So, as the “computer” person in the fam, my dad often requests that I help him with his laptop (which I gave him 2 years ago), ’cause it won’t do what he wants. Usually, I spend the weekend archiving everything, wiping the drive, and re-installing Windows XP, then setting everything up again.

This time, I totally lost it on him. Admittedly, he doesn’t understand the nuances of how Microsoft and Google are actual competitor, and so how Google docs really will not work with Outlook (which I’ve told him NEVER to use…and the whole rabbit-hole of CRAP went on from there).

But: me, yelling, trying not to cry out of frustration – totally uncalled for. To those who work in tech support, I bow down, I couldn’t do it, seriously.

So, what do I do? I thought of getting him a Mac (hard to f-up), but he deals with PC-based clients. Maybe he needs an admin service? My lifesaver has been emptytray.com, but they’re focused on accounting and stuff like that. Would they take on someone like him?

I absolutely love my dad, he’s a great person to talk to about strategy and and clients and getting by in business. He just does NOT get the digital world…or organization/categorization, which is basically, what I do.

I bought him a whole bunch of the peanuts from the St. Lawrence Market that he really likes, as a peace offering. I wish I could include a person to manhandle his computer in with them. 🙂

slowly percolating epiphany July 3, 2007

Posted by andrea in the IA/BA world.
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After a very lovely and fruitful conversation with one of my Collective Leaders (uh, don’t know what else to call them, actually), it dawned on me that maybe, maybe, the way I need to work is not to massively drag myself through the documentation process, and make it all pretty, and readable and such is that I let it trickle out…dribs and drabs at a time, when it’s relevant. Of course, I need to do all the thinking, and planning beforehand, but maybe I don’t need to have it all “finished” when the features get into development. Only the features that the dev team is going to be working on in the next two weeks, maybe that’s enough. Huh – total head shake.

Caveat: only for teams trying to do a weird-ass version of Agile, but trying to have some direction when they plan their sprints, I guess.

Truism (from what I know): developers typically don’t read documentation beforehand (or, um, ever). Why should they? Do I? (um, yes, but I’m weird that way).

Me (with newthinkTM): next week, when we start discussing a pretty big concept, I will stay at the big level, talk about the overall site and user and business goals, and NOT walk through tons of wireframes, which everyone is only half-listening to at any rate. Then prepare the minutiae (sp?) for what I think/hope will be scheduled in the next two weeks, to work on. Like the boring wireframes (don’t get me wrong, I KNOW they’re boring, and I wish to god they came with singing and dancing and a lighting spectacle, but they don’t) and the business rules, and the constraints and all that stuff.

Context is king: if I can provide what the developers need (after all, they are my first users, of the docs), in context, then maybe the docs will be more meaningful.

It’s quite a change for me, going from “here’s everything” to “here’s a digestible piece”, but I am going to do my best to respond.

It might even help our clients, to see the progression from discussion to wireframe to live functionality, quickly.

It’s a bumpy road, but I think that I serve three sets of users: end-users, business owners who want to see project progression, and developer users who need just-in-time docs (and even, not too many of them…just enough).

Wish me luck. 🙂

being entitled…to a “brain dump” June 20, 2007

Posted by andrea in ephemera.
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So, I was out with some long-lost-back-in-the-nefarious-days friends this evening (from high school, no less). And all three of us are a) raising kids; b) working successfully; c) happy that we scraped in under the insane TO housing prices; and d) wondering where the process of having to work to achieve something went, given the new brood we encounter every day.

D – who has had a thriving design firm for about 20 years, says he wants no part of trying to offer web sites, since it’s way too hard to find people who will show up on time, or deliver on time, or just generally be responsible. K – says that the process of learning-failing-trying again has been lost.

I agree with them both. And to D, I apologize for all the shiftless dudes that he’s had to deal with. And I totally understand K’s thing when the bakery she’s been going to for two years to buy baguettes to serve along with the organic soup program she does at her daughter’s school…yeah, the staff roll their eyes, and tell her “no, those baguettes are for customers”. Um, she’s a customer! With money! Gaaaaaah.

Remember the days, when you got out of school, and were glad to start at the bottom, and learn the ropes, wherever? Well, now, apparently, the ropes start at being managing director, or VP, or what-have-you. Um, why? Where’s your passport? Not just about the skill, but all the stuff that you (I believe) cannot learn or read, only by actually doing.

I had a similar conversation earlier today, with another friend who was tutoring someone’s daughter. She found the class too hard, so she never went. A week before her final paper was due (the one that would determine whether she graduated or not), she called him. And he helped her. He did not write the paper, that is for sure. But there was much weeping, and drama…”it was TOO hard”.

Um, school is called that for a reason…it’s not supposed to be something you swan through, unencumbered by effort, or worry. If it’s too easy, stretch yourself further, and find something where you ARE (reasonably) concerned, or worried, or stressed enough to actually care about what you do, and the outcome it produces.

My husband (the inimitable H) has a renovation company. No matter how many times he explains things to his guys, they never get it until they experience the “uh oh” themselves. Cheesily, (considering I went to a school called School of Experiential Education) I said well, until you’re the one standing under the plumbing when it all goes to literal shit, then you don’t get it. Life gives good lessons. Sometimes they suck. But they always teach…something.

My biggest “mantra” (I guess) is that life will continually hand your ass to you, on a plate…what you choose to do with that potential knowledge is your own decision. Learn, and reflect, and keep learning. Or don’t learn, and blame, and keep blaming.

Mistakes are good…and time spent in the trenches is good.

this post didn’t actually go the way I planned, but went sideways…I take responsibility for that. It’s just me, yappin’. 🙂