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Now what will you do?
Thursday, September 12, 2002  permanent URL for this entry

How do I do this, again? Oh, yeah...

The ideal meeting involves at least a dozen people, allowing for the maximum possible density of miscommunication, idle chatter, and distracting crosstalk. But what if you have a meeting involving only a small number of people? By using a few simple tips, you can ensure that even your small meeting is a futile waste of everyone's time.
  • Ensure that for every major continuum of cognitive or working styles, you have one person at each end. So if someone begins speaking from a bottom-up viewpoint, someone else can interrupt to insist that we need to start at the top and work down. If someone begins by making up an empty framework of the group's final product, someone else can object that we shouldn't even think about the final product until we've laid all the groundwork. And vice-versa, and vice-versa. This will render it impossible to make anything even vaguely resembling progress for more than fifty seconds at a time.
  • Have at least two people in the meeting use totally incompatible vocabularies (person A uses "monitoring" to mean what person B means by "metering", and vice-versa). This works best when both parties have strong egos, and are unwilling either to adopt the other's terminology or settle on a compromise third system. When done really well, vast stretches of time can be wasted, and bad feelings produced, when person A pretends that person B has just said something absurd, even though if you reverse the uses of "metering" and "monitoring" in the sentence its meaning is identical to something person A just said.
  • All experienced meeting goers are familiar with the effectiveness of having no agenda; but it's only the pros who realize that it's even better to have multiple agendas! Repeated agenda-duels are reliable time-wasters. "Now if we can go back to my proposed agenda, on the whiteboard over there, it looks like we shouldn't even be starting this activity until the end of the day."
  • Simple but marvelously effective: every time anyone begins to ask a hypothetical question, someone else should interrupt to say "but that's not the right question; what we should be asking is...". This process can of course be repeated ad infinitum; ideally, no one will finish a sentence more than once an hour!
  • In a related principle, every time the meeting threatens to start actually accomplishing something, someone should object that that isn't the thing that's most important right now. Since there is no agenda (or, if you're lucky, multiple incompatible ones), no one will be able to prove him wrong.
  • If possible, have one member of the meeting out of the room at all times (on a "bio break", or getting coffee, or looking for an Ethernet cable). While having one less person in the room does slightly reduce the potential miscommunication in the short term, the long-term effect is to waste additional time, because when that person returns all the group's recent activity will have to be summarized for him, and generally there will be at least two different (and incompatible) summaries presented, which can then be debated. This person can also do an important service by pointing out that whatever the group was doing when he returned isn't the thing that's most important right now.
  • At least one member of the group, preferably a prominent one who cannot simply be ignored, should start every sentence by insulting the previous speaker. Good introductory clauses include: "But look, you're not focusing on the real problem", "Stop, stop, stop, you're missing the point completely", "I'm still waiting for the light to dawn", and the always popular, "Thanks so much for that insight".
  • In a multi-day meeting, always assign "homework" to at least half of the members of the group, and then if anyone is foolish enough to actually bother doing it and sending the result around in email, no one else in the group should look at it, either before or during the next day's meeting. (Experienced meeting goers will of course sign up for "homework" items and then simply not do them, but this method can often be used to waste the between-meeting time of naive technical people, as well as encouraging feelings of uselessness.)

Adopt these simple techniques, and even a meeting as small as five or six people can serve as a source of frustration and futility for many hours, or even days!

Boulder, Colorado is a neat little college town (the University of Colorado is there), with both a scrappy "cheap deli and record store" area and an upscale "chocolate stores and pricey restaurants" area downtown.

It's right at the foot of the (strange raw brown) mountains; looking East all you see is this huge Big Sky plain; looking West (out my hotel room window, for instance), there's this sudden wall of brown dotted with evergreens. I felt like (and maybe it was true) I could have walked toward them a few hundred feet, and found a spot to stand with one foot on the plains and one in the mountains; that's how sudden they looked.

Since I got back (well, since shortly after I left, really), it's been wall-to-wall meetings and complications and interruptions. My goal stack feels overfuller than it has in a long time.

Or maybe it's just the contrast. *8)

Another one of those Obscure Things that I Know has become false: Switzerland has joined the U.N..

Ian attempts to get SlashDotted, with a little "how to" piece on editing the Microsoft EULA.

Thirty Years Later: Lessons from the Multics Security Evaluation. Main lesson: we haven't learned anything about computer security since 1974.

This is very cool: they set an evolutionary automated design system the task of making an oscillator, and it cheated: it produced an oscillating signal by making a radio receiver that picked up the oscillating RF from nearby bits of tech. Narf narf! (Link from AgentNews, another of those things that I can't read too often because they're too full of interesting things and I'd never get anything done.)

Porn as pioneer (as usual): MovieLink and CinemaNow are just getting started; the subtly-named GameLink, with their Video on Demand service, seems to have been around a bit longer.

Ford Testifies to Stop Ride Sharing: "Exxon Mobil and the Asphalt Workers of America also testified on the importance of stopping ride swapping."

Spam Subject Line o' the Day: "3 Free Panties from Frederick's Of Hollywood". Is that new, or used?

Oh, and did I mention I ordered an iBook? I ordered an iBook.   *8)   Thanks for all the advice the other day; I'll presumably print some of it here eventually...

Sunday, September 8, 2002  permanent URL for this entry

(I'll be in somewhat unusual circumstances again for the next few days, unfortunately not involving Maine this time, so updates may be missing for a while. Or not. Depending.)

So I read that there 99.9% of Websites are Obsolete article, by that there Zeldman dude, and not wanting my website to be obsolete I decided to look into all this Modern Shiny XHTML and CSS stuff.

Ripping considerable code from Ian, I started to construct a version of the weblog that did pure CSS layout, with none of this obsolete table abuse.

I failed.

If anyone can figure out how to reproduce this format using pure CSS rather than a table, I'd love to see it; I'll plug your web-design skillz in the log, where at least six people will read it. (Doesn't have to be pel-for-pel, but it does have to (for instance) have the "log" banner across the top all in dark-on-light, and then a light-on-dark navigation column on the left, and the main body in light-on-dark on the right, and I have to be able to put images in the lefthand column so that they line up with particular paragraphs in the righthand column.)

So failing that, I thought I'd at least make something that validated, even if it still used a table for layout. In that, I succeeded; you can see it here. Some notes:

  • It was kind of a fun exercise, in a "making stuff work" sense.
  • It's not quite pel-for-pel. One puzzling difference is that the text above the input box is too small. Making it one CSS size bigger makes it too large. I could probably have given an exact point-size, but that's Evil, and the point of the exercise is to not be Evil.
  • It looks pretty flat and monochrome in old browsers, but it's readable. I even included a little nattering "you're using an old browser" paragraph at the top for those using old browsers (Opera users can ctrl-G to see the CSS-less layout).
  • More importantly, permalinks don't work for those with old browsers, because some rocket scientist at w3c decided that the old "name" element should be renamed "id"; pretty annoying, and as far as I can tell completely uncalled for.
  • I can't even use the permalink format that I'm used to, as in "log.20020906.html#20020906", because someone, probably that same rocket scientist, decided that the value of an "id" tag can't start with a number. Again this seems completely uncalled for.

So you can see the modern-shiny version of the page validating, both its HTML and its CSS. But since as far as I can tell the modern-shiny version has considerable disadvantages in terms of old-browser support, and no advantages at all that I can think of, I don't think I'm going to be switching the whole site over any time soon.

Next I thought I'd try to at least make the table-based non-CSS design validate as old-fashioned HTML 4.0 Transitional. But it turns out that since FONT is an inline tag, you can't (as far as I can tell) make a font-change apply to more than one paragraph and have it still validate (no paragraphs inside FONT elements). So while old-fashioned browsers have no problem with a FONT tag changing the font of a whole bunch of paragraphs, that HTML won't validate as 4.0 Transitional. If anyone knows a way to change the font of a whole bunch of paragraphs in a way that both works under old browsers and validates (and doesn't involve reasserting the FONT tag on every new paragraph!), lemme know.

So for now we shall continue with the same old non-validating HTML we've been using all along, and as far as I can tell the only disadvantage is that it doesn't validate. Neither any user (you), nor any content producer (me) suffers in any way. There's no browser-dependant code, nothing that's especially hostile to text-only browsers or screen readers, and the code's pretty clean. Which makes me sorta wonder how valuable validation as it's currently set up really is.

Friday, September 6, 2002  permanent URL for this entry

Keep that computer-buying advice coming!

So sometimes I think that maybe I'll just gradually stop doing this here weblogging stuff, just do a little less and a little less until it's down to one entry every week or two, and then none at all. After all, there are now thousands and thousands of people doing it, millions of little snippets of life and love and poetry and random spewing out there, and that's good, and it doesn't need me to keep it going.

Then, usually, I remember that anything at all really does mean anything at all, and that anything includes nothing, so sure I could post a long long stream of empty (not even the date, nothing changing at all) weblog entries, as a sort of performance art, and that would count (even with the Eagles?), but that's just one of the infinite number of choices I have, and I might not want to choose that one.

So here are some story ideas about that guy with the box and all (and I've been mining it for Interesting Things for the kids at night).

He starts going to the box (the center compartment) for advice. The first few results are (either obviously or subtly, depending on how cruel the storyteller wants to be) very bad. He realizes he needs to go to it for good advice.

He gets some good advice, perhaps useless or perhaps useful, and starts doing it more and more often, becoming dependant on box advice for all his activities, until he draws out a piece of marble in which is engraved "Stop Asking for Advice". (ref. the episode of "Arthur" with the fortune teller / cootie catcher.)

He's good for awhile, but eventually can't resist and, after a shorter or longer struggle with himself, reaches into the box for something to make him immortal, and draws out a pencil and a pad of paper. (Side remarks about literature and storytelling.)

Unhappy with that sort of immortality (ref. Woody Allen), he eventually goes to the box for "something that will make me immortal, not through words, but through my flesh, my bones, my hair". He pulls out a small blue jewel. The box then stops working.

Eventually they eat all the food in the house, and spend all the money in the house on more food, and the man decides he must sell the jewel. On the way into town, he helps a young woman (sprained ankle, broken bicycle, chased by wolves, whatever fits the setting the story's being told in), and they fall in love. The next time he tries the box, it works again. They marry and have children.

One day (having not thought about the whole jewel and immortality business for years) he's watching his children playing in the yard, and he remembers the jewel, and he has a vision of his children, and their children, and their children, in a long line stretching into the infinite future (ref. perhaps Indra's Net (nice picture), for the visual image and the reference to infinity), and he realizes (or perhaps doesn't realize, or perhaps the storyteller doesn't say whether or not he realizes) that the box did give him what he asked for.

(The rest of that site with the Indra's Net picture is worth poking around on, by the way. Almost makes me want to get out Bryce and fritter away hundreds of hours on it again. Almost.)


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