Boy Is it hot outside! OK, it’s the summer and the summer is supposed to be hot, but 2011 looks like it’s going to be a sizzler this year in New York! When the heat goes up, that’s when we usually have the crazy season in America… a time for silly stories and strange happenings. So, I thought we would spend a bit of time today to tap the vein of crazy, after all it’s better than being on the outside today! OK? Here we go!
Politics As Unusual: The financial world is waiting to see if the Politicians in Washington are quite as crazy as we think they are, as the Federal government moves closer and closer to financial default and a downgrading of the government’s credit rating. Too stupid for Words? Maybe, but not too stupid for PowerPoints. America, apparently, has competition for who is the craziest. And top of the list we have… the Swiss. As we continue to unwind the financial crisis of the past few years, one of the hot issues is the tax revenue that is lost to various offshore havens, the granddaddy of which is… Switzerland. While there have been some reforms, especially in the wake of information revealed about money that was still held in secret that dated back to some very unsavory connections with WWII Nazi Germany. This would be a really good time to rethink the last 5 or 6 decades of offshore policy. Instead, one of the financial priorities (at least for a few Swiss) is to move forward the agenda of the APPP… the Anti-Power Point Party. The group is tiny and this is more of a publicity stunt than a serious political party, but their message is the Swiss need to outlaw PowerPoint because the country is losing $2.5 Billion per annum because of slide shows!! How did they come up with this number? First they made a few numerical assumptions: average salary, number of people in a meeting and average number of power point meetings viewed per annum. Then they made just one qualitative assumption: Most PowerPoint meetings are pretty much worthless.
This point was made years ago by Edward Tufte (Princeton and Harvard propfessor, contributor to the NY Times and other national journals, wrote groundbreaking books on graphic design, etc.), and more than a decade ago told us that most PowerPoint presentations are pretty much worthless. He went further and said that by becoming the dominant form of communication in business and (increasingly) in education), it is actually hurting our brains. I’ve been in meetings like that! Yes, this has a touch of
crazy, but when you think about it… in the past it used to take some time to create a presentation, and therefore it took something of value to justify the use of a presentation. PowerPoint changed all that and now the most inconsequential issues can lead to long, boring and poorly developed presentations that we all need to suffer through. I wonder if I can join the APPP?
Spectacular Failures: It’s been awhile since we’re had a City-Wide blackout in New York; the last one was eight years ago in 2003. Every year we have little blackouts that don’t make the national news… unless it’s a slow news day. Every year it seems that the borough of Queens is ALWAYS hit by whatever blackouts we get. Why? Well, the side of Queens that faces Manhattan… Long Island City and Astoria… have been growing massively over the past decade or more. Astoria has some great restaurants and outdoor cafes and Long Island City is closer to the mid-town and Financial district than most
of the rest of Manhattan, and the rent is lower. Small houses are constantly being knocked down to build larger houses, which are now being knocked down to build small apartment buildings, and a few of those have been knocked down to build skyscraper apartment buildings. Rapid building leads to a rapid buildup in power use and an equally rapid buildup in power outages. However, the funny thing is that I have friends in Astoria that come from Brazil who told me, “Back in Brazil we had power outages now and then, after all it’s just Brazil and things go wrong. But this is NEW YORK! How can they have outages here! Right?”
This must be how Amazon and Google service users feel. These are two of the biggest, most advanced Cloud providers in existence. They are selling their services on the basis that they can replace your fragile technology with robust, uninterruptable services. Of course, we believe them, or at least we really want to believe them. Yet in the last year, both services have had outages. In February, Gmail went off-line for a few hours and then 150,000 gmail users lost all of their data. Google eventually got their data back, but it took up to four days for some users. What was the problem? An upgrade went wrong and they then found that there was a bug in the backup software that copied lots of empty folders, or no folders at all. Amazon sells its Amazon Web Service (AWS) as an alternative to maintaining their own data center. They guarantee 100% uptime. Then in April, their east
coast users lost their uninterruptible services. Why? There was a small problem with their redundancy systems (a small error in routing) that created a data storm that made their services inaccessible. Your own IT department has probably had similar problems, and you may have been the manager that had to take (or make) the call about how the backup systems brought down the network.
I said this blog was about the crazy season, and it is. But you need to remember that sometime the guy who is talking is crazy, and sometime the guy who is listening is crazy. When someone tells you that the Cloud is magical, you’re only in trouble if you believe it. Nothing is invulnerable. Nothing is indestructible. The Cloud can provide you with “better”, but no matter what the sales guy tells you, the Cloud doesn’t have any “perfect” for sale.
Crazy vs. Stupid: Back in 2008 in an article in the Atlantic, and just recently in a study in Science, questions have been raised about how Google may be reducing our intelligence. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. By relying on Google, we don’t retain as many things in memory. This is part of an ongoing process. As we get older, we now worry if we have early onset Alzheimer’s every time we forget where we put the car keys. Apparently, this is normal. As we get older we have more things to remember, both historically (more years of life) and tactically (we interact with more people and have more responsibilities every day than when we were 12). Our brain reacts by filtering new data that needs to go into long-term memory. A few hundred years ago, the increase in literacy was accompanied by a decrease in the ability to memorize long poems and stories… except for actors and entertainers who continued to memorize for a living. Google accelerates this long-term trend. Our brains realize that it is easier to look up data rather than remember. How long ago was it that you kept dozens of phone numbers in your head? With speed dial and Google searches, your rain over-rules you and refuses to memorize new numbers. Teens just don’t memorize anyone’s phone number. College students are a little better off; they can remember their parent’s phone number… but only when they need money (sorry,
couldn’t resist). The point is that our brains are becoming more selective and will not store information that can be easily accessed through other means. We’re not necessarily becoming stupider, but if you take away our phones, GPS and computers… we’re in trouble! When you bring on young, new staff you see many little ways that they think differently than older staff. It’s not just a matter of maturity or training; their brains are getting wired differently, and by the time they are adults it may be too late to change this no matter what you do!
Studies have shown that today’s college graduates believe that they function at a much higher level than previous generations, but when they are studied, they appear to be less
capable than they believe. Get ready or more crazy stupid discussions with your workers.
Like Google, the Internet conforms to a user’s needs and preferences. Naturally, if you grew up on the Internet, you will believe that this is how the entire world, including work, should operate. Welcome to a whole new order of crazy. Of course, as the economy continues to improve and the younger work force presses it’s demand for high paying jobs with more time off, maybe we should join the crazies!
It’s the crazy season and there is more craziness on the way, I’m sure! But for today, that’s my Niccolls worth!