That was the advice from my office mate after I told him how my car was broken into so some bastards could rip up my dashboard and steal my airbags. I'd never heard the phrase before. It means "Don't let the bastards grind you down".
Has been a hellish few days. I had to miss the IA Retreat because I came down with a sinus infection on Thursday that finally eased up by Monday with the help of my pal, Levaquin. It was the kind of infection that makes you want to die. Then my work laptop fan dies this morning and I get to my car to find a smashed rear window. A resident of the block tells me the car was broken 2 days ago. It's been raining hard for 3 days.
That freakin car has been broken into twice already and it's not even a year old. I have only 4,000 miles on the stupid thing because I only need to take it to NJ to work a few days a week. I hate cars! I seriously started taking backroads from Jersey City to my office in New Providence to see if there was a route I could bike all the way from Brooklyn because I hate having a car. Turns out that's not too safe an option, so now I've started researching parking in my area. Parking runs around $315/month most places. That's more than my car payments.
Don't you love how all of sudden your luck can turn on you? It's been an incredibly dreadful few days. I'm not blogging around here for a while. Sorry for all the bitching. I know things could be worse. I could be in New Orleans or Pakistan right now. I'm just feeling down.
For the life of me, I can't figure out how to get Drupal to show full blog entries on my /blog and /node pages any more since upgrading to 4.6.2.
I'm using PHP Template now rather than straight PHP themes. What do you have to do to get that to happen? No one responded to my inquiries on drupal.org and the support mailing list so I'm wondering if it's no longer possible to show full entries on main pages. That can't be so.
Crap. Every now and then I do something stupid like execute an rm -Rf command and put a space between the directory name and star. For example (and don't try this at home):
rm -Rf somedirectory *
That little line wipes out all of the contents of my current directory until I kill the command with a control x (or is it z?). I can be brain dead like that. I do this about once a year. Usually occurs late at night or early morning. My once a year came a few weeks ago. Thank goodness Pair.com keeps a backup of my files and their support for Urgent trouble tickets is excellent.
Today I overwrote my Drupal theme while editting the Drupal CVS installation I'm playing with so this site was skinless for a few hours. I had enough of waiting and escalated my ticket to Urgent and the theme was replaced within minutes. This was better than maybe making futile threats into the void and cry.
The frustration I expressed at working in a bureaucrazy turned into outright anger today and then into cunning and finally enlightenment. The source of my frustration had to do with a cultural problem I face. The corporate behemoth I work for is stratified with middle managers who work for an upper management whose message is supposed to be upholding company values. Here's one that touches me, personally: We have "a deep respect for the contributions of each person to the success of the team". OK. There's a message from management that probably took someone weeks to get approval for. It sounds nice to me, but so what does this mean? Well, here's the more complete message:
We believe a diversity of people and ideas is a business imperative, and that diversity must be aggressively sought and nurtured. We recognize excellence in each other, and we listen to and value each other's ideas and opinions. No person is alone in his or her pursuit of an objective; we are a team. We are honest and candid in all our dealings with customers, shareholders, suppliers, partners, the communities in which we work and live, and with each other. We encourage constructive contention and confront issues with mutual respect. We treat everyone with dignity and respect. We pro-actively communicate and share information with colleagues throughout the business. We support behavior consistent with our values and speak up when we see behavior that is inconsistent with them.
Right. This all sounds well and good to me. But as they say, "Money talks and bullshit walks." OK, so I'm leaving out major details about the source of my frustration and cynicism. Let me fill in the details.
Being a believer in the ideas expressed in the ClueTrain Manifesto Manifesto and being close to the design and implementation of a web site that serves a large community, I wanted to get more immersed in the conversations that customers were having (or not being able to have) with my organization. Specifically, I wanted a public place (maybe a forum or maybe a knowledge base) where people could express their frustrations and happiness with our information systems, services or our organization as a whole. I wanted to add this as a functionality on our web site that was prominently visible. How about a link that reads something along the lines of, "How are we doing?" and let's people type their frustrations or kudos away. OK, so I made the mistake of saying more. I said, how about utilizing that system feature we have to publish them on the site in bulletin board or guestbook fashion? That's where my inquiry immediately became dung, ready to be pushed aside into that circular file better known as the trash bin.
We backed and forthed about how we would/could never allow personal flames, questions about how our pricing model works, etc. appear on the site. It would never happen. Why not? I asked. Why can't we let people air them out and address them in the open. I'm naive I guess, or idealistic. But remember, that my information systems are inside the firewall -- my customers are employees. We won't get spam. You can't even get into the site without logging in with your company ID, so people's names are are always attached to their comments. Yes, the majority of questions will be specific requests, e.g. "How do I find this Pyramid Report". That's not a bad thing. If a lot of people are asking the same questions -- if patterns of information seeking problems emerge -- then we have some clues about where to focus some attention. The point is to watch for patterns of information seeking behavior and see where users are having trouble and where we can improve. In surveys we've given (we do them every year) people have always given us feedback about what they like and don't like, what we should improve. Someone has suggested to me that this kind of genuine feedback might make up 1% of what we get. To me that's acceptable. That 1% would be as valuable as the rest of the questions about finding specific items. The point is to surface the conversations. To let people know that a human being is here to respond to their questions out in the open. That we're accountable for the product we produce and that we care about helping them use it.
In the end, I lost the battle and was told to go pursue the person who gets feedback/problem email from the site and consider turning that into an FAQ. I gave up and agreed.
I initiated my email to the nice colleague that is the gateway for this stuff. Then I went to talk to my sysadmin about getting copied on the emails and responses. I found out that years ago, a database was created to capture these conversations. At the time he proposed that this database could somehow be used so that our staff could use it to track feedback and questions and find answers without having to research them each time. Wow. That's what I recommended a few years ago too in relation to a different system created for tracking research requests. Both of our pleas were shot down by the powers that be, for whatever reason. Well, actually, I could probably guess the reason. It's probably because our management lives in fear of being too visible as a cost center and spends more time protecting itself than enabling its people to find ways to improve its products and services.
Now, I know that to some, I may sound a little too idealistic and borderline naive when it comes to corporate politics. I know that my management works hard to protect our organization because the value of information services is hard to quantify to upper management. Our impact on the bottom line is hard to value in numbers because what we provide is information that people use to turn into knowledge. Indirectly this affects productivity, creation, and at some point, dollars. But if some people in your upper management don't get that -- and it's hard to know who gets what when upper management is constantly changing -- then you're in the position of constantly having to justify your existence. That's a scary position to be in day to day and is the ugly reality for my managers, I know. But as a colleague told me today, unfortunately the only way to change things for yourself -- to get around the cultural patterns and politics existent in this entrenched management -- is probably to leave the company. Why, I even left the company and came back during one of these periods.
Maybe she's right to some extent. But I think there is another way. You can affect change globally by acting locally, through experience and through one on one interactions. I believe that, anyway. And today I found that there are progbably other ways you can serve your users as well without having to navigate your political bureaucracy -- without seeking approval. What's that saying? "To ask permission is to seek denial". You can fly under the radar. So that's where I am today. I've found this massive database of user feedback -- some of which may be relevant, some of which may be trivial -- but all are direct interactions with people who have come to us mainly in moments of frustration. They've come to us when they have spent time seeking but haven't found. Wow. That's great data to have. So now I'm going to start watching patterns and sifting backwards through the records ... under the radar. Is this guerrilla IA? Am I undermining management by doing this? I'm doing what every good IA should be doing -- finding ways to understand my users and believing that their voices are really damned important to listen to and can/should potentially be surfaced in many contexts. And by this I mean that they don't need to only exist in your deliverables -- user research, personas, etc. -- but that their voices can/should exist for others like them to hear. For now, I'm going to be using them for guiding some redesign discussions, but I really wish all of their voices could be exposed out in front for all to see. In some way, I hope that I will be able to speak for them in these discussions.
Well it took me a few days to see what all the Janet Jackson fuss was about. This just confirms to me that America is really as Puritanical as it was in the 18th century. Well, maybe not that much, but still quite prudish. The fact that the exposing of a female breast creates such a huge amount of anger and shame in this country is sad. We've sexualized and objectified the human body so much that the mere glance or view of a body part creates tons of furor and attention. Yet, we're barely bothered by the violence we're fed in the media every day. Imagine if we spent as much energy on communicating essential things like needs and feelings with each other as much as we did on telling each other what's wrong and shameful about our bodies. Now that would be something.
I've been getting tons of junk mail because of the stupid W32/Sobig.f@MM virus. The virus is propogated through email and infects Windows PCs. The messages have one of these subjects:
Re: Thank you!
Re: Re: My details
Re: Your application
Re: Wicked screensaver
Re: That movie
Come on you PC users. Get McAffee or something, for christ's sake.