Danger danger!

Dangerous Risk Adrenaline Suicide by Fear of F...

Dangerous Risk Adrenaline Suicide by Fear of Falling (Photo credit: epSos.de)

There once was a monastery in perched high on a cliff several hundred feet in the air. The only way to reach the monastery was to be suspended in a basket which was pulled to the top by several monks who pulled and tugged with all their strength. Obviously the ride up the steep cliff in that basket was terrifying. One tourist got exceedingly nervous about half-way up as he noticed that the rope by which he was suspended was old and frayed.

With a trembling voice he asked the monk who was riding with him in the basket how often they changed the rope. The monk thought for a moment and answered brusquely, “Whenever it breaks.”

Being scared of heights, I’m not sure I would get in that basket, even if the rope was brand new and 6 inches thick. No-one in their right mind would get into that basket if there was visible wear and tear on the rope. It would be a good idea to inspect the rope regularly and replace it at the first sign of damage. For the really paranoid, you might even replace it every so often with a new rope just in case.

But when it comes to the world of software, it’s a little bit different. People are very risk averse. Even if the software they are running has a known serious defect, they sometimes perceive the risk of taking a fix to be higher than living with the status quo. So let me get this straight, in software terms, you are dangling in a basket hundreds of feet up suspended by a dangerously frayed rope. I’m offering to fit you a new rope, but you don’t want to take it in case there’s a manufacturing defect. Or maybe it might cause a problem with the basket. Why did you even report the problem if you don’t want to take a fix?

It’s not a fair analogy because software is much more complex than a simple basket suspended by a rope. There are many interdependencies. But even so, the risk of doing something always needs to be compared with the risk of doing nothing.  Yes, something might go wrong, but you are in a situation where something is absolutely definitely wrong right now and causing you lots of pain.

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2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 9,400 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 3 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Bad news should travel FAST


ablaze (Photo credit: zachstern)

One of the biggest man-made disasters I can remember is Chernobyl. I once read a book called “Ablaze” which told the story of the meltdown. The thing that shocked me to my core was how eager the protagonists were to cover things up. You’d think that when an alarm sounds at one of your biggest nuclear power stations, the temptation would be to err on the side of caution.

Instead, they called out the local fire brigade. They were equipped as you might imagine a 1980s Soviet fire crew would be. They had little or nothing in the way of protective clothing and the equivalent of a large tank of water on wheels. When they arrived, they did what they could. They pulled out their hoses and sprayed water on the exposed radioactive core. It was only when the brave firemen started keeling over that the men in charge thought to escalate things.

They called in helicopters to drop water and sand on the exposed core. Again, only when they started dropping like flies did the men in charge raise the alert level. I fully believe that they would have covered the whole thing up. It was only when a Scandinavian monitoring station picked up the elevated levels of radioactivity in the atmosphere did the Soviet authorities reluctantly come clean.

The temptation with any bad news is to suppress it. The fact is that bad news needs to be handled very carefully. You need to act F.A.S.T.

Firstly, get the (F)acts straight. What has gone wrong? Why did it go wrong? How will it be fixed? How long will it take? How can we be sure it won’t happen again?

Secondly, think about the (A)udience. Who are you going to tell about the situation? If you fart in church, you apologise to the man next door. You don’t stand up and announce it to the entire congregation. Nor do you take out an advert in the local paper.

The first person I would include in the audience is  your boss. Many would instinctively shy away from this, but the chances are, he’s either going to smell the shit on the fan or someone is going to point it out to him. The news is better coming from you. The other people I would include in the audience are any stakeholders who are about to be affected by the bad news.

Thirdly, (S)it down and take a deep breath. Things are going to get ugly. There will be a lot of emotion flying around. The best thing to do is make sure you keep coming back to the facts.

Lastly, (T)ell people what’s going on. Tell them early and tell them often. No communication is much, much worse than a short note to say we realise how serious things are and we are still working hard on the problem. They want to know you are treating it seriously and that they are in safe hands. Keep encouraging your team. They will be facing the pressure too. As much as possible, shield them from it. They will be the ones that get you through it.

And when it’s all over, take a moment to relax. You’ve earned it.

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Cherub (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We were born in exactly the same place by exactly the same parents almost exactly three years apart and yet you’d never know by observation that we are brothers. We don’t share the same temperament, the same mannerisms or the same taste in clothes or music. He considers himself Irish whereas I consider myself English. We have completely different vocations. Most people’s reaction when they find out we are siblings is surprise.

You’d never guess my nieces were siblings either. Sophie is Maisie’s younger sister. Whereas Sophie has blonde hair and fair skin, Maisie has a Mediterranean look to her with olive skin and dark hair. Maisie is the eldest so it’s no surprise that her vocal skills came to her earlier in life, but as much as Maisie found her voice early, Sophie struggles to find her words. Because she struggles to make herself understood, she gets frustrated. Maisie had her moments but was in general well-behaved. Sophie’s frustration boils over into naughtiness.

She has her moments of cuteness. She will give you this cherubic smile usually a split second before you realise that her finger is reaching for an electrical socket or just as she has your car keys dangled over the toilet bowl. She is good at getting her own way and when she does, she shoots off this look of utter smugness that would make a saint swear.

They say that little girls are made of sugar and spice and all things nice. I’m not sure they followed the recipe to the letter with Sophie. She’s more a dash of rock and roll with one part toad to two parts imp. I get the impression that she’s going to lead an exciting life. In the very rare moments when she’s not terrorising the cat or deleting the entire contents of my iTunes library, I contemplate examining her scalp for demonic markings.

She still has the power to melt my heart. When she arrives and comes running towards me arms outstretched shouting “Mart Mart”, all is forgiven.

A few days ago, Maisie and Sophie were joined by another sibling. Eva Louisa was born shortly after Christmas and although she is supposedly the largest at birth of the three, it’s hard to believe. She’s doll-like in size. On first inspection, she seems to be a carbon copy of Maisie. So it seems that the larder has been successfully restocked with sugar and spice and all things nice. Time will tell…

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