Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Things that go click

Here's the thing about me and technology: I've been hooked since I wrote my first computer program in high school, in BASIC and stored it on punched paper tape (yes, I am THAT old!).

The whole idea of getting a machine to do stuff for me appeals enormously. Especially if it's something boring and repetitive that I have to do lots of times. I'd much rather spend 3 hours teaching the computer how to do a 3 minute task than have to do it myself 60 times. Does that make me lazy, or just efficient?

Anyway I've been mucking around with computers ever since that first program when the computers were BIG and the programs were small. Now I get excited as the programs get BIGGER and the computers get smaller. I fully intend to have a whole handbag full of computers by the end of the year: iPhone, netbook, camera and any other small sexy gadget that comes out between now and then.

Computers have become so ubiquitous that people take them for granted. The news recently focussed on yet another multi-million dollar system that doesn't quite, you know,work!

The tax-paying public are cross about this. My reaction is more along the lines of "thank goodness it wasn't my project". It is incredibly difficult to design and implement a new system. Ones that focus on the software and not on the people and processes that surround the system are doomed to fail. And there are a lot of those.

But it's really, really hard to find out exactly what ALL the things are that people do and why they do them, and what are all the things that they might conceivably do in the future, and what the system should do for each one of those.

Mostly the people writing the programs are really good at making the computer do what they've been asked to make it do. The problem is often that we've asked them to do the wrong thing.

A bit like getting the answer 42. A perfectly valid answer given all the information. It was just that it was the wrong information.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

And here is the news...

I've been a bit disturbed by the news lately, in particular, the lack of actual news in the newspaper, and the tendency of commercial newsreaders to present the news like a bedtime story with all the appropriate voices for sad, happy, scary.

Only a week ago we had a State Election with a strong likelihood of a change of government. Newsworthy indeed. But within 6 days, the headlines of the local newspaper had reverted to the more usual "scoop" of an armful of playful puppies. The next day it was a cuddly alpaca. Today it was what the political leaders' wives wore on election night.

I note this week that the UK Times (now there's a proper paper) is planning to charge for its online news coverage. Of course I already pay for the local paper and wade through the drivel to sometimes find some half-decent coverage round about page 5. Maybe I could pay per article and make a saving.

At least when I read a newspaper I get to choose my own emotions. The current weekend newsreader on the commercial station likes to do that for me, in case I'm not sure how I should react to a story. I was brought up in a culture where newsreading was a profession with strict guidelines including delivery, pronunciation and presentation. Oh and decent journalists writing the content.

Even if the presenter was reading about an event that had deep personal significance the tone should still be neutral.

Last night I heard the newsreader say "In what can only be described as heart-breaking.." with a slight catch in her voice. What could this be? A terrible tragedy befalling a child? The destruction of a work of art that had taken hundreds of hours to create?

No, it was a bunch of water skiers failing to make a world record. Well boo hoo. And they succeeded today so it was hardly a life or death matter.

So here's my plea to newspaper editors: Can I have some news with my newspaper, please?

Friday, March 26, 2010

Easter Haiku

At work we have a Haiku word of the week. Of the regular contributors, two are lawyers and two have science degrees.

Poetry and Justice? A theme for another day.

In the meantime, here's my haiku for the word "Balance":

Two short working weeks
With chocolate in between
Good work-life balance!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Easter Cometh

The chocoholic's favourite time of year is fast approaching.
My nephew who's a philosopher-in-training, reckons we should just get over the whole religious thing and recognise it for what it is: Chocolate Weekend.

Last week I was at a seminar where the presenter said "What does YOUR Easter Bunny look like?" When we looked a little confused, she clarified: "Is it a small furry Easter Bunny or a large man in a rabbit suit? Everyone's Easter Bunny is different isn't it?"

Well duh, my Easter Bunny is chocolate. With maybe the ears missing. But the foil carefully rewrapped to try to hide the fact.

And the man in the rabbit suit is just creepy anyway.

But back to my point about Easter: at the last count 19% of Australians specified that they were non-religious and that's up from the previous census. If you then look at all the people who specify a religion but haven't been near a church since baptism, I'm sure it would be a lot higher.

But if you asked how many people believe in chocolate....

I rest my case.

Introducing Chocolate Before Breakfast

A good friend once said to me: "When I get up in the morning, I eat chocolate, and then if I'm still hungry I have breakfast."
This works for me.

This philosophy has inspired the title of my blog, and while I can't promise there'll always be mention of chocolate, I think the likelihood is high.

I should say up front that I'm a bit of a cheap date when it comes to chocolate. Cadbury Dairy Milk (from the Tasmania, Australia factory, not the UK) works just fine for me. I can take or leave dark chocolate unless there's no other type of chocolate in the house, and I'm with Sandra Boynton regarding white chocolate. Looks like paper, smells like paper, tastes like paper.

I've had some traumatic chocolate experiences that caused me to develop a close personal relationship with Swiss chocolate, but I'll tell you about that later.