I added categories (which function more like tags) to the blog a few days ago, and went through my previous posts, categorizing them as appropriate. You can see the list of categories down on the right-hand side… evidently I’ve been plugging my sites a lot; who knew?
Archive for May, 2007
I just sent some money to Wounded Warriors. If you want to give back something on this Memorial Day, I would recommend them - they seem to be very much focused on getting the money to the people who need it. I’ve sent them money before, and I’ve never gotten any glossy follow-up materials in the mail afterwards.
I just read recently this Wall Street Journal article from about a month ago: Most-Praised Generation Craves Kudos at the Office:
Employers are dishing out kudos to workers for little more than showing up. Corporations including Lands’ End and Bank of America are hiring consultants to teach managers how to compliment employees using email, prize packages and public displays of appreciation. The 1,000-employee Scooter Store Inc., a power-wheelchair and scooter firm in New Braunfels, Texas, has a staff “celebrations assistant” whose job it is to throw confetti — 25 pounds a week — at employees. She also passes out 100 to 500 celebratory helium balloons a week. The Container Store Inc. estimates that one of its 4,000 employees receives praise every 20 seconds, through such efforts as its “Celebration Voice Mailboxes.”
Certainly, there are benefits to building confidence and showing attention. But some researchers suggest that inappropriate kudos are turning too many adults into narcissistic praise-junkies. The upshot: A lot of today’s young adults feel insecure if they’re not regularly complimented.
Well, making fun of the self-esteem culture is always good sport, but, as someone who thrives on praise as much as anyone, I have to take exception here. The big unexplored factor in this article is how much the nature of work has changed in the last 40 years, due to the revolution in information technology. Work used to involve much more rote activity than it does now; activity where it was very easy to tell if you were doing a good job or not. In the 70’s and beforehand, it took a good amount of effort just to produce office documents, handle inter-office communication, and coordinate schedules, so much so that almost every executive needed a secretary to help with these task; now all these things can be done with some office software. And as I found out from the fascinating book “What Goes Up”, Wall Street companies in the 60’s and 70’s had to shut down on Wednesdays just to deal with the huge amount of paperwork needed to record all their trading activity. We don’t even consider such types of data entry real work anymore, because they’re so easy to do, but until fairly recently they were very real, and it was easy for anyone to tell whether you were doing a good job or not - was data being entered, and numbers being tabulated, correctly? It almost didn’t matter what line of work you were in, because if you worked at a corporate job, your day had a large amount of standard administrative work in it. The positive side of that was that, if you liked the satisfaction of a job well done, it was easy to get it, because plenty of the work was of the kind where you could easily tell if it had been well done or not.
Compare that to corporate work today, where much of the “busy work” has been removed, leaving the work that’s more creative, and more focused on inter-personal communication. If that’s the nature of your work, how exactly do you know whether you’ve been doing a good job at any of it? It’s hard to judge based on the success of your work in the real world, because such a thing is very unquantifiable (if a book sells well, and 20 people were involved in producing it in one way or another, who’s responsible for its success?) You can’t compare your work to that of others, because there’s no one around who’s doing work that’s of a comparable nature (that’s certainly been true of most of the programming jobs I’ve had). And there usually aren’t benchmarks to compare against: a good typist can write at 90 words per minute, but how many proposals should an advertising executive produce in a month?
The consequence of all that subjectivity is that the perception one’s boss has become more important than ever. If you’re performing relatively well in a quantifiable way, then, whatever your boss has to say, you can always point back to those numbers to defend yourself. And if it’s not enough to convince the boss, it’s at least enough to justify yourself in your own eyes. But if everything’s a matter of perception, what recourse do you have if your boss doesn’t appreciate your work? Or you suspect that the boss doesn’t appreciate your work? None. Essentially your one source for feedback has gone negative. I’ve been in that situation before, and it can be quite unpleasant.
So I see nothing wrong with the streams of praise, and actually I think more workplaces could benefit from more positive feedback; let’s not forget the context in which it happens.21a3
Random videos I’ve seen recently…
A funny comparison of the questions at the Republican debate on MSNBC and the one on Fox News on National Review’s media blog. I don’t think there’s any larger political significance to it, just that someone at MSNBC made a big mistake putting a big personality like Chris Matthews in charge.
Ruby on Rails vs. Java - done in the style of the “Mac vs. PC” ads, by two Rails guys. This is actually the first in a planned series of four, but it’s my favorite. Though the anti-PHP ones are sadly pretty much on the mark too.
The Japanese/British indie band Blonde Redhead go Coldplay style on their latest single, 23. I like the video, though I don’t know if the new sound is an improvement for them. Then again, they might not have had much of a choice…
How big are collaborative, wiki-style databases going to be? Very big, I think. As one of my freelance projects, I just recently created a web-interfaced database for a set of products that someone is selling; the information will be displayed to consumers when they’re considering buying (the details are still a secret for now). The database holds product information on the different products, and the administrators can use the web interface to read, create, edit and delete products and information. It’s basic stuff, the kind of thing that almost always shows up as an example in web programming books.
So I’m watching data get added, through the web page (I’m not personally modifying any of the data, just reading it out of curiosity), and thinking, this tracking would be much easier if I could go to a “recent changes” page and see what’s been added or changed recently, when, and by whom. And it would be great if, when a piece of data was edited, there would be a record of what it looked like beforehand, which would make it much easier to resolve disputes. And, probably most importantly of all, if I or one of the administrators snapped and went around deleting all the data, it would be great if it could all be easily restored. Right now I, or any of the administrators could literally destroy all the data in a matter of minutes.
Granted, that last one could be fixed up if there were nightly database backups (which, come to think of it, maybe there are). But the other issues are real, and it would have been nearly impossible for me to program that kind of versioning into the system, unless I had spent months on the project. But semantic wiki databases give you all that functionality for free.
It’s too bad my Semantic Forms extension didn’t come out a few months ago; if it had been available in time to start on that products-database project, I reallly think I would have suggested it.
The editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette critizes newspapers offering free content in an editorial in the Wall Street Journal (which happens, probably not coincidentally, to be the king of paid content):
The Inland Cost and Revenue Study shows that newspapers will generate between $500 and $900 in revenue per subscriber per year. But a newspaper’s Web site typically generates $5 to $10 per unique visitor per year. It may be that newspaper Web sites as an advertising medium, and free news, just can’t generate the revenue to sustain a valued news operation.
An interesting counterpoint to the usual “put all your information online for free, or risk looking like dinosaurs!” arguments. And those number differences are dramatic; if you need to gain 100 Web readers for every print subscriber you lose, that’s a big challenge.
Personally, I like the approach that a lot of small-to-medium newspapers seem to take, which is: to put all their articles and columns online for a week or two, after which it’s archived and only available to subscribers. That gives enough time for sites like Wikinews and, well, Discourse DB to summarize their contents, essentially those newspapers’ archiving work for them.
Then again, I don’t run a newspaper; it could be that demand for an article or column drops rapidly after the first few days that it runs, so archives wouldn’t get widely read anyway.
Okay, the MediaWiki extension I mentioned before, the one I’ve been working on on and off for the last three and a half months, is finally out: Semantic Forms. It lets people, not just administrators but individual users, create forms for adding and editing pages that hold semantic data (through templates). Forms are represented through a simple markup language, which itself can be generated through a “create form” page. It also features multiple language support, a MediaWiki-like interface, and various other goodies.
If you didn’t understand any of that, the basic goal of Semantic Forms is to allow wikis to be used as databases, with the form-based editing that people have come to expect. It allows for fairly easy creation of a user-edited database, where not just the data but the data structure itself is easily changed by users.
Semantic MediaWiki already allows for the changing of data and data structures, but the Semantic Forms extension allows for the subsequent creation and changing of forms that correspond to those structures, so you have an easily-created user interface around whatever the current state of the data structures is.
Code is available for download at that page. I’m looking forward to seeing what other people have to say.1f43