Archive for August 2012

Technology is improving


Further to my post yesterday, things weren’t working ship-shape, as I recounted in my postscript. But for now, I think I have the LevelOne wifi adapter working. It led me to remark on how much more quickly tech issues now get fixed.

• Fixing a TelstraClear internet connection that only goes down on a windy day (2002): 2 years
• Being able to use the TelstraClear support pages without a corrupted profile (2011): 1 year
Getting IE9 working (2012): 11 months
Getting Blogger to reinstate a wrongly deleted blog (2010): 6 months
Hooking up my first D-Link router and network (2004): 1½ days
Setting up a wireless network (2011): 26-hour period from beginning to end
• Getting a LevelOne wireless adapter to work (2012): 7 hours over two days

   Of course, they’re still a far cry from the claims that these things take minutes or days, rather than months and years. I admit fully I am taking the extreme cases: there are hundreds of situations where software installation is faultness, and dozens where hardware installation is faultless. I realize there are so many types of computers out there, all with different settings, but to me, it’s still ridiculous that there are quite a few exceptions.
   What is actually remarkable, after 16 years of buying online, is how mainstream online shopping has become. Dealing with Ascent was trouble-free, just as dealing with Amazon was. That’s something I am really grateful for—especially as it helps my work.

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Leaders need to be humble if co-creation is to be effective


I’d been meaning to refer readers to this for a few weeks (it has appeared on my Facebook pages, including the “fan” page—a good place to go if you prefer my musings filtered, without the minutiæ and without clogging up your feeds). My friend and colleague, Dr Nicholas Ind, has been writing about leadership and the need for leaders to show humility—not divisiveness—in an age when we expect co-creation to bring out the best in organizations.
   Nicholas begins, ‘So in spite of the rise of participation in the workplace and the appreciation of emotional intelligence as a virtue, the prevailing way of leading is still more Fordist than Googleist.’ And yet, he argues, it shouldn’t be. We’ve often looked at how responsive flat start-ups are, and how larger organizations seek to capture that sort of energy—and the simple answer lies, often, in their creativity. But those leaders that try to push certain agenda, or a cult of personality, without respecting the capability or mix of their teams, suffer in the 2010s, because the organizations cease to be creative. Layers emerge, sycophants congregate, and institutionalization sets in. Much like in politics.
   Ideally, the best ideas should surface to the top, given the opportunity, and given the right sort of structure. And that the input cannot come exclusively from within the organization: co-creation must involve audiences, notably customers—in politics, it must involve citizens and voters.
   Back to Nick:

The newer argument is that innovation matters more and more. The issue has, therefore, become not only how to engage employees, but also how to get closer to customers and involve them in the development of brands … The upside of involving customers is the creativity and cognitive diversity of the very people who will be buying and using what the company produces. The downside is the threat to the certainty of leadership and the sanctity of the leader.

But, he rightly notes, good leaders should never fear that threat. The best know their weaknesses, and seek help on them through listening to the organization’s audiences—and have good systems through which they can. ‘Leaders can still exercise influence and judgement,’ he writes, ‘but the decision-making process becomes more collective.’ If one has risen to a leadership position, one should have a fairly developed sense of self-awareness. And, one would hope, a sense of dignity and decorum that ties well with humility.
   There’s more in Nicholas’s latest book, written with Clare Fuller and Charles Trevail, Brand Together: How Co-Creation Generates Innovation and Re-energizes Brands, which I’ll be getting once I finish The Organic Organisation.

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A word of thanks to Aseem Kishore at Help Desk Geek


This wouldn’t have been the first time I bought a wifi adapter—the first time was back in NYC, when laptops took PCI cards—so they should be dead simple to install, right? Despite an OAP on saying, in his review, that he had no issue with his Level One WUA-0605, which arrived overnight from Ascent (props to them), naturally, things took four hours here (still an improvement on a day and a half) because, put simply, reading the manual does not work. In fact, it’s a useless manual, which simply rewords what one sees on screen with no attempt to explain the jargon and acronyms—about as helpful as a Macintosh help screen to a layman. Why, oh why, does one need a computer science degree just to deal with basic matters?
   This post, however, is not to complain about the lack of care in manual-writing. It is to publicize the helpfulness of two parties when things got tricky. First, Joe Ruwhiu at Ascent was very helpful in offering to forward any technical issues back to Level One. Secondly, despite a myriad of pages covering the problem of “can connect to my router but not the internet”, offering well meaning advice that was, sadly, ineffective to me (I had a reasonable idea of what I was doing, and that the majority of settings at and to the router, the TCP/IP and security were correct), only one was methodically written and gave step-by-step instructions on what to do. As it turned out, step one was successful. To Aseem Kishore, who wrote his piece in November 2008, I thank you. Now, if only people who wrote manuals did so as clearly as you write your help articles—with an understanding of the regular person.

Keyboard update: I ordered a Manhattan 177528, which appears to be a clone of the Ione Scorpius U2, from Taiwan. It’s not mechanical, but a scissor-switch keyboard, which is the next best thing. I type efficiently on my laptops, which have all had scissor-switch keys, and at US$18 (plus another US$18 for shipping), it seemed too good a price to pass up. My mechanical-keyboard quest, eventually, came up with nothing that fulfilled my requirements, and I wasn’t sure about what type of keys the one Razer that looked right had.
   To top it off, when I emailed Manhattan Products, I actually got a reply from an Emmy Wang in Taiwan, who explained to me the features of he 177528 keyboard. She also noted that if I had a concern over the keys’ noise, there was an alternative. That’s quite a step up from Intopic, to whom I also wrote after buying one of their keyboards, raving about it and suggesting they should look at retailing here in New Zealand. I never received a reply to that, and I was a satisfied customer. How would they treat a dissatisfied one?

PS.: One day later. Aseem’s fix does work—but for me it meant employing it every time that computer rebooted. The adapter would fail each time I started up and required the fix. And since the gadget was for Dad, I didn’t want to subject a man in his 70s to feeding in DOS commands every day. So, after another few hours, I came across the fix at a Microsoft page and downloaded the ‘Fix it’ app. Running that seems to have worked but considering that’s only one of about seven reboots today, the jury’s still out. I still wish these things would work the way the manufacturers claim, but my experience is that there’s always tinkering involved—something I can’t imagine the average user would be bothered doing. Joe at Ascent was willing to give a refund or replacement.—JY

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The UK doesn’t look good as it pursues Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy


I missed Julian Assange’s statement on the day (catching up on work after being out) but who would have thought we would see a situation where Ecuador would be seen to be upholding a foreign national’s press freedoms (never mind what it does at home) and the Vienna Convention, while Britain would be making diplomatic threats?
   I realize the UK has sent Ecuador a letter citing its own law, giving it authority to ‘take action’ against the embassy. Here is some of that letter:

   As we have previously set out, we must meet our legal obligations under the European Arrest Warrant Framework Decision and the Extradition Act 2003, to arrest Mr Assange and extradite him to Sweden. We remain committed to working with you amicably to resolve this matter. But we must be absolutely clear this means that should we receive a request for safe passage for Mr Assange, after granting asylum, this would be refused, in line with our legal obligations …
   We have to reiterate that we consider continued use of diplomatic premises in this way, to be incompatible with the VCDR (Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations) and not sustainable, and that we have already made clear to you the serious implications for our diplomatic relations.
   You should be aware that there is a legal basis in the UK—the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act—which would allow us to take action to arrest Mr Assange in the current premises of the Embassy.
   We very much hope not to get this point, but if you cannot resolve the issue of Mr Assange’s presence on your premises, this route is open to us.

   My memory of the conventions, which the UK has ratified, is that the embassy remains foreign soil. There are provisions under various criminal acts which allow prosecution of diplomatic and consular staff. The Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987 could see the embassy’s consular status revoked, something which the letter hints at.
   This is where the UK has to think twice. If the UK is willing to do revoke the status of the mission, then its desire to be seen as a sovereign nation that respects public international law will be damaged. The DCPA was created for very different purposes: it was developed in the wake of the murder of a police officer, Yvonne Fletcher, during the Libyan Embassy siege, on April 17, 1984, and the attempted abduction of Umaru Dikko on July 5, 1984. The Act was subject to huge scrunity, but it was developed to give the UK the right to go in to the Embassy in extraordinary circumstances, such as the pursuit of suspected murderers if the Fletcher situation recurred, or, as Baroness Young told the House of Lords in 1987, in cases of terrorism.
   This time, the UK wishes to invoke the Act over the breaching of bail conditions—a very different matter altogether.
   In the world of diplomacy, usually veiled with political-speak and niceties, such strongly worded correspondence is rightly construed as a threat, never mind what William Hague says in denying that the letter hints at the UK storming the mission. It also gives the state greater powers in determining how to remove inviolability before it takes action against the premises—but it could also be quickly challenged by Ecuador and it would be up to the courts to decide.
   Where things get muddied is that Assange is an Australian, and he doesn’t fear prosecution from his own country—usually the way through which someone claims asylum. He fears it from another country altogether, and most likely argues that his own country has failed to protect him. Assange has good grounds to believe that, since it has come from the Prime Minister herself:

   It’s within living memory for a lot of people how the international community frowned on Iran during the 1979 revolution and the storming of the US Embassy in Tehran. While one could argue there was no host nation at that point—the Shah had left town, so to speak—it sealed in many people’s memories just how sacrosanct diplomatic missions’ soil is. In Britain, Fletcher’s murder in 1984 again pointed to the inviolability of foreign missions’ soil—and just how extraordinary the circumstances have to be for DCPA provisions over revocation to come into force.
   It’s not hard to see why—if you look at my Facebook feed—the UK is getting criticized on its handling of the affair. It appears to be doing others’ bidding, using an extraordinary piece of legislation to pursue someone who had breached the bail conditions of another European country. It’s not the first time one law has been bent to suit unrelated purposes, and it won’t be the last—but in this case, a lot more people are watching the UK’s conduct.

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Google’s Penguin updates might not always be to blame; and the task of finding a keyboard


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It’s been fixed now, but for a few weeks in July, Lucire’s online-edition hits took a dive. Not in the main part of the website, but the news section. Luckily, because of an abundance of feature stories in the main part of the website during July, thanks to Julia Chu’s design work, our total was never affected that greatly.
   Normally, whenever someone like Lady Gaga or the Duchess of Cambridge gets mentioned, you’d expect a rise. But all that did was take the news section from a lousy day to a normal day, rather than a very good day.
   Various theories went around, mostly surrounding Google’s Penguin updates. Could Lucire have been hit by sploggers, the victim of another site having duplicated our pages and fooled Google to the point of believing that ours was the content mill, and theirs was the original? There was one odd day in June when an article we never expected to rate highly got a lot of hits—as did those linked from it. Was that the entry point of a bot?
   It wouldn’t be the first time that Google’s bots erred and took out a legit site. One upset webmaster noted:
They are penalizing those who have been careful to only follow their terms and conditions and only practice white hat SEO (just like myself … see where I am coming from yet?). But still I was ranking #1 for multiple keywords and almost 90% plus was from actual natural links that people around the globe built (Ie; without my help or any form of payment). Yet what do I get for doing everything in the right way?? A massive ‘bitch slap’ from the “Big G”. I mean seriously I really wonder how much of Matt Cutts Wage that my Adsense campaign’s have payed for him over the years.
   Or was it because of sister sites, Lucire Men and Lucire Home, which occasionally ran the same article—but you don’t see news sites get penalized for doing so, if they syndicate from AP, Reuter or AFP?
   Or was it simply summertime in the other half of the world, which meant that people were out enjoying the sunshine and not surfing?
   Of the three theories, the last could be easily discounted. We have summer dips, but not to that extent. So I tried examining the first.
   It seems Google’s Penguin updates affected a few webmasters, and one piece of advice was to let Google know. A form is available, and we duly filled it out. But the general advice was that Google would only really go after you if you had questionable anchor link text, and Lucire had largely gone about anchor links in the same way for the past 15 years. It seemed unlikely that Google was out to kill the basic idea that the web was founded upon: links.
   To be on the safe side, we cut down the number of duplicate articles on the newer sites, though it did seem a bit silly for Google to permit them for large news organizations but not the little guy.
   Traffic has returned to normal, but we made one other change that was never considered when we first began investigating the issue: we got rid of Wordpress Mobile Pack. And it’s Wordpress that drives the Lucire news section.
   We should have thought of this earlier. If traffic to the non-Wordpress parts of the site were unaffected, then we should have figured out it might have been a Wordpress-related issue. And Wordpress did update during that time, perhaps creating some incompatibility with the way we had set up our installation and the plug-in.
   I had never considered this would be the source of the problem, however. The Mobile Pack had worked without issue for years, but I had found it curious that various people were hitting 304 errors when using their cellphones to access the news section. Maybe it was a temporary technological thing? Or the cellphone carrier?
   I also never spotted any extra entries in Google, but according to this link, the Mobile Pack may have created duplicate pages.
   One webmistress notes:
But last month on 25th of June, my site was hit by the Google Panda Update 3.8. Since then, I am on a cleaning drive to phase out duplicate content from my website.
   And to my surprise, I found that my site has thousands of duplicate pages, just because of this plugin.
   For instance, if I search for inurl:wpmp_switcher=mobile, I find thousands of pages, which are exactly duplicate of the original pages. Google considers them all duplicate pages, since all of them present the same content and accessible through two different URL’s.
   Duplicate pages will definitely do it when it comes to Google giving you a black mark.
   I can’t prove whether it was the Mobile Pack at fault, or Google’s algorithms. The traffic headed north after Mobile Pack was removed, but, it’s hard to know what the cure was since we went about various possible solutions at the time. But I know that the cellphones are no longer getting 304s, even if the display is less than ideal, while for Iphones, we are using another plug-in that seems to work fine. The total traffic also seems normal now, as are the search terms people are using to find the website again.
   Lesson: go beyond the everyday wisdom of what the 99 per cent are talking about (no intent in connecting this post to the Occupy movement). Sometimes, the solution is in the 1 per cent—and in our case, we may have discovered it completely accidentally.
A final technological note: my Intopic keyboard (left) that I bought in Mongkok in 2009 doesn’t sound right. Or, it sounds the same as when it was new, but it doesn’t sound as good as a Genius keyboard I had before, which was subjected to an unplanned science experiment involving Glaceau Vitamin Water. I’ve been learning about the difference between these membrane keyboards (which I initially learned about by taking apart the aforementioned Genius after my experiment) and mechanical ones, and what Cherry MX Blue switches are all about.
   This Adesso keyboard looks (and potentially sounds) right, but can I get one in New Zealand? Not where I checked. And the prices Stateside vary wildly—from the $60 mark to nearly twice that. The places that sell them cheaply won’t ship outside the US.
   I’m happy to find a competing one as long as it has the right switches: I make plenty of errors with the Intopic because the keys are a trifle too sensitive, and I make fewer on my many laptops or the old Genius. I’m also sure I was more accurate on keyboards of old—we are talking about the ones that were around in the 1990s.
   Therefore, I’ve decided that I need a mechanical keyboard, which at least helps with my accuracy. However, New Zealand does not seem to be the country where one can find a mechanical keyboard that is 400 mm wide featuring a numeric keypad at a reasonable price, or, looking around at some of the usual dealers, an unreasonable price. Surely I can’t be the only one who does not want to reach so far for a mouse with a standard-width one, giving myself RSI in the process, and find merit in a narrower one? And if I am not, why on earth are our shops full of those wide ones?
   It all comes back to my mantra about technology: that it is here to serve us, not the other way around. I still see little reason that we must adapt to technology and what it offers when, in fact, we should consider our usage patterns and find things to suit our needs. I’ll keep searching, or I’ll splash out on a very expensive keyboard for productivity’s sake. (It won’t be the Adesso, based on the keys’ placements—Amazon reviewers helped on that front—but it will be something like it.)

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A triumphant Olympics was helped by a well organized Olympic Delivery Authority—lessons for business


I’m glad to see that the third Foundation Forum’s notes (originally sent to me by Medinge life member Patrick Harris) are now public, which means I can refer to them. The latest one is on the Olympics, at a forum held in June, where the speakers were Olympic medallist Steve Williams, Dr Pete Bonfield, CEO of BRE, and Simon Scott, a former Royal Marine who coaches and advises Olympians and business leaders.
   The triumph of the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) was delivering us a successful Games, which illustrated how an organization of 20 ramped up to 10,000, while maintaining an innovative culture and an ideal of collective purpose. An organization that could have been hampered by politics—as the satire Twenty Twelve showed could be possible—and actually achieved its goals at £500 million under its £9,000 million budget.
   Its lessons are relevant to New Zealand, not just because we are a sporting nation whose teams have succeeded because of collective purpose, but that they remind us that it’s possible to take these ideas into business and even politics. Simon Caulkin at the Foundation summarized the main points as follows:

  • Whether on the track or in the office, Olympic performance requires a whole systems approach in which all the parts are focused on a clear and single aim
  • With science and determination, nurture can trump nature: only ‘deliberate practice’ can hone raw material into sustained performance, as in the Marines
  • What goes on ‘outside the boat’ is as important as what goes on inside. Values are part of performance

but one might go a bit further. The Foundation expands upon them, but what I take away from the session’s notes are:

  • with the right leadership, and a strategy shared at every level, Olympian tasks can be achieved—but it shows that that leadership needs to have the right attitude, charisma and empathy to understand how to make it beneficial to all parties, and all audiences;
  • in sport, that collective purpose is easier to define; in business and in politics, it’s not. The trick is to put everyone on the same side—the One-ness that Stefan Engeseth wrote about in his book and which I cite regularly in my speeches and in my consulting work—so that a business, organizational or political objective is felt strongly by all;
  • that realistic milestones need to be set—which goes without saying in management;
  • and that the vision must be meaningful to all audiences, internal and external—the importance of “outside the boat”.

   The London Games have been a success so far, and the next major event for the general public will be the closing ceremony. While my wish that a Benny Hill tribute with ‘Yakety Sax’ played to complete the London Games with an appropriate level of British culture might not be realized, I have faith in how it will be pulled off. The right ingredients seem to be present in the ODA, and I’m confident that the Organising Committee was similarly inspired.

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