James O'Neill's Blog

January 3, 2011

Advice, probably wasted …

Filed under: About me,General musings — jamesone111 @ 4:23 pm

Back in 1997 the Chicago Tribune published a column by Mary Schmich. It was entitled
Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young

It has a lot of Parallels with Desiderata, and like desiderata it has been mis-attributed. Baz Luhrmann used it for  “Everyone’s free to Wear Sunscreen” , and if you haven’t come across it before you could use the five minutes in many worse ways than watching the youTube version below.

At the start of a new year I’m probably not alone in wanting to share advice – which  Schmich describes as “Fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.”  I think the two texts are as good as anything I could offer of my own, and offer them here as infographics. You can get them from Skydrive.

June 18, 2009

Fifteen minutes of fame. Not like this, thanks.

Filed under: About me,General musings — jamesone111 @ 2:10 pm

What some people refer to as “Life’s rich tapestry” has had more knots and twists in it than usual for me of late. The biggest of which was the plane crash.

We’re used to the sounds of aircraft: if you extend  the runway line of the former RAF Abingdon it passes through our village, which meant in the 1950s a stricken plane trying to land there crashed here, and in 1989 a plane taking off suffered a bird strike, crashed and skidded to a halt within sight of the same spot. The RAF moved out in the 1990s and the base is now used by the army but the RAF still take helicopters there for exercises: some days it seems like a scene from Apocalypse Now. I’ve always been interested in aviation, these days I read more accident reports than is good for me. I was in the air Cadets at school (by coincidence I did my annual camp at RAF Abingdon, and flew with the air experience flight there) I got my gliding wings; I haven’t been in glider for 20 years but I still have a fondness for them. That made Sunday seem worse.

For me it started with a sound which was somehow wrong. It was a light aircraft, not a jet, but it was here and then gone too quickly. Then there was the crash, I thought for a moment if the plane had startled my children and they’d toppled a cupboard over or something like that, but immediately my wife came in and said what it really was.  Before I could get the emergency services on the phone she was back to say a glider had crashed as well. I had three thoughts. 1. Summon help, 2. See if you can help, 3. Record the scene. I grabbed a map to give the grid reference to the Ambulance service who seemed to be getting calls from everyone in the area but weren’t getting a  clear idea of the location. The Police helicopter must have been nearby because it was on the scene while I was talking to them. There was a parachute in the sky and if I had thought about it I would have got someone to watch where it came down, I didn’t. I grabbed my camera and headed for the glider, which had come down in the field across the road, afraid of what I might find.  One wing was broken off lying beside it, the tail was missing (we assume severed in a collision) and the nose was smashed in as if it had taken the impact. My first aid skills weren’t going to be any use – although thankfully because there was no sign of the pilot –  it seemed that was him on the parachute. I took some pictures: someone was keeping people from disturbing the wreckage, so nothing I shot was going to have much value to an investigator. There was nothing I could do there. The police helicopter had landed over the road, in the field beside my house, fire engines, police cars and ambulances were arriving, the air ambulance landed close to the police helicopter. I crossed back to my house and followed the path that runs along the side of field: there’s an oilseed rape crop growing there and it’s about chest high, and all but top of the tailfin of the powered aircraft had disappeared, at a point about 150meters from my house. At first people thought that the crew had got out of this plane too. Those who’d seen it said it come down almost vertically – hence shortness of the noise – then the realization dawned that only one parachute had been seen and if that was accounted for, it could only mean the worst of all outcomes for whoever was in that plane. With no fire breaking out, and no one to rescue the Fire and Rescue service joined the police in securing the scene. An off duty policeman identified himself and went about getting names of possible witnesses. There was nothing for me to do: working on auto I shot a couple of photos of what could be seen and went indoors.

I thought someone should tell the BBC – as much as anything to tell people the roads were closed. They asked if I had pictures and I sent them one of the police chopper parked with the tailfin of the powered aircraft showing and the fire brigade wading through the crop, and another one of the glider which they used on their web site with a quote from what I had said to them: 3 other news organizations phoned me. (I’m in the phone book: it was no great detective work). I gave them the same photos: in case you’re wondering I didn’t think of asking for money and no-one offered. What I said got re-quoted by people who hadn’t spoken to me. The Mail – who phoned and asked me for the pictures credited (and I guess paid) the news agency who’d got them from me for nothing. Whoever passed the story to The Independent changed my “All you could see was the tip of the tail” to “there was metal wreckage in a field” and by the time it got to The Daily Telegraph I was supposedly describing the metal wreckage which I couldn’t see as "There were two separate heaps of it.". which there weren’t. They also credited me with counting five fire engines which I didn’t*. I feel petty for complaining about such things, given the circumstances. The BBC asked if I’d talk to them, which I did and ended up on the national evening news, and doing two bits for Radio in the morning – the chap who asked me “Are you shocked” live on air deserved withering sarcasm, but didn’t get it.

It is, to be honest, a little bit of fame I’d be happier not to have. It was the BBC camera man who told me it was an RAF training flight: it was from the same air experience flight that I had flown with all those years ago (now relocated to RAF Benson). The instructor was a local man in RAF reserve having retired from the RAF (RAF Benson has a piece detailing his great experience) and the student was an air cadet from Reading. The police – both local and RAF Police – kept the road closed for a little over 24 hours so those whose job it is could recover the bodies and the wreckage and discover what they could about how the accident unfolded, without having to worry about sight seers and souvenir hunters, and so the area could be combed for smaller bits of debris which fell away from the crash site: it seemed slightly incongruous to see the specialists from the RAF mountain rescue teams come in to do that. Their work is done now; and those of us whose lives are returning to normal will have those who are not so lucky in our minds for some while yet.


As I always say at the end of these non technology posts, I expect normal service to resume shortly. 


* I do wonder what is happening to the so called quality press. If the telegraph cut and paste my name, why not what I said, and if they want to make up a quote why assign it to a real person? I’m glad I don’t have to blog anything secretly; the Times wants to “Out” anonymous bloggers even if the public interest is to hear what they say, rather than to know who they are (see Inspector Gadget is not slow to point out the Hypocrisy of the Times seeing Iranian anonymous bloggers as good. A blogger is not without honour, save in their own country).  

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

May 8, 2006

Save the Planet with a little at a time [part 2]

Filed under: About me,General musings,Mobility — jamesone111 @ 9:53 am

One of the nice things about the new job is I get to walk round and bump into people I haven’t spoken to for ages. Sharon left Microsoft a few months ago, and was sitting in the coffee bar when I walked by on Thursday. Her web-site is called “joining dots” because she brings ideas together to “make sense of emerging trends and understand their potential.“. She has an interesting blog too – this piece on instant messaging is a must read – partly because of the way it brings ideas together. I like to weave themes together as well, this post is an example of that.

My daughter’s school is trying to encourage people NOT to drive right up to the gates, and instead park in a pub car park 400 yards away “to be kind to the environment”. If I driving 3/4 mile to the pub, drop my daughter at school and then drive 40 miles to the office, it makes very little difference if we walking 400 yards or not. It’s walk the full mile from home to school or park at the gates. So on Friday we did the walk, and enjoyed it.

Microsoft is about to build another building here in the UK – part of the information that has been circulated internally  was an energy assessment done on the existing buildings by the Carbon Trust. Although the details of the report are confidential, what amazed me was the heating bill per unit area for these modern buildings is much higher than my house – which was built about 150 years earlier.
I forgot all about it until I read something on Sharon’s site which said 50% of carbon emissions come from the work place, 23% from travel (20% from cars and 3% flights) and the rest from homes.

Wouldn’t it be better to use less office space by working from home more ? It’s good to see the people you work with, but seeing them on 5 days of a week is NOT 25% better than seeing them on 4, or 66% better than seeing them on 3. Having only a proportion of people in the office – and sharing the space among them with compact “Hot desks” is environmentally good, even though I’ve said hot-desking is the only thing I dislike about the working environment at Microsoft. Still, I’m sure that it’s postponed the need for a new building. 
I can save a lot of travel too: my car is 50% more efficient than the one I had 6 years ago but even so, saving one trip per week to the office will save roughly a ton of C02 over a year (and about 2 working weeks worth of time spent in the car).

So I’m, going to try to have a car free day per week – Mondays preferred. I’ll walk my daughter to school, and work from home, and today is the first of these days.
I’ll try to collect ideas together about how technology helps (or hinders), and post them here. Things like the use of Outlook or Communicator without VPNs, Groove and so on. It doesn’t matter where we are if we have good collaboration software. And collaboration software was Sharon’s interest when she worked here. That’s joined a few dots of my own.

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

April 18, 2006

Passion: or "What the hell am I doing here ? "

Filed under: About me,General musings,User Groups — jamesone111 @ 8:00 am

I’ve been on holiday for a few days. Before I went, I met a visiting school group. I was asked to talk for 10 minutes on “Why software is exciting” and – let’s be honest here – not everyone thinks it is exciting. What I could  talk about was why software excites me and why being excited matters.
One of our placement students was also meeting the school, and answering a question about desirable qualifications, he said that when he was interviewed it was more useful to talk about how he’d worked at an orphanage in Ecuador. I jumped in – it’s passion. Top of the Microsoft values list is honesty and integrity; once we’ve established that the person we’re interviewing isn’t a crook, next on the list is passion; if a candidate don’t give a damn, it doesn’t matter how well qualified they are.

My session contained 3 quotes: one was the give-a-damn meter I’ve quoted before. One was from the cover of Robert Townsend’s book “Up the Organization” my favourite book on business which I first read 25 years ago.
“If you’re not in business for fun or for profit, what the hell are you doing here ?”
Actually this is from the book’s section on excellence. “Things should be done excellently. Otherwise they won’t be profitable or fun. And if you’re not in business for fun or profit what the hell are you doing here”. But what do you need for excellence ? Passion ! If you don’t give a damn why go beyond OK ? [I must talk about Honda’s “OK factory” advert some time].
Of course we want profit and fun – you can’t really enjoy something you don’t care about – even if it is done excellently. I wanted to show how passion, fun and excellence are all linked.

My last quote was from Hugh Macleod’s “Hughtrain
“Merit can be bought. Passion can’t.
The only people who can change the world are people who want to. And not everybody does.”

This matters to Microsoft. We have the resources that would let us hire everyone who got a first class honours degree in computer science. That’s buying merit. We have to select for passion. It makes business sense: if you care about you’re work you’ll do it better and for less money than someone who doesn’t.

Hugh Macleod is interesting – he draws great little thumbnail cartoons and is pretty free in his use of the “f” word, but a lot of what he has to say turns on the idea that people don’t want to buy a product based on cost and benefit alone. They also want to believe in brands. That means companies have to know what they believe in, and articulate it. Like Microsoft’s current  “Potential” ads compared with the old “Agility” ones (both made for us by the same people). Like Microsoft giving some of its people (like me) time to talk about it in blogs, to schools and so on.

Macleod has got something to say on one of my other interests – why people write drivel; either they don’t have passion for what they are talking about or they can’t express it.

“Being creative” is not the hardest thing in advertising. That’s easy. Being able to write about the client’s product with conviction, with passion, with genuine humanity is far harder. Most copywriters can’t do it. If you can do it, there’s always going to be a market for it. Be excited.
Most copywriters “can’t do it” for one of three reasons:

  1. They’re hacks. Hacks cannot write. Not really write. They can futz around, make it look fancy and professional, but they cannot inject it with any resonant human spirit, for they lost all that themselves years ago.
  2. Their clients are idiots and won’t let them write properly. Any time they try to write like a human being (as opposed to a whipping-boy-for-cash) their client kills what they do and sends him back to his cube for a re-write.
  3. Fear. Also commonly known as “practicality.” It’s a competitive world out there, so to minimize risk and avoid conflict with their paymasters, they pre-emptively rid their work of any human quality, and replace it with dry, blathering, meaningless corporate-speak instead. If you do this often enough, it starts to feel normal.

I’m kind of hardcore about this. I think if you’re writing meaningless drivel, it’s your fault. You chose to work for this guy, you took his money, you cashed the check. It’s not his problem, It’s your problem. All writers are responsible for their own experience. “The client won’t let me” doesn’t cut it.
The thing to do is only work with people whose vision and character excite you.

This last sentence hadn’t registered when I spoke to the school group, I told them the same thing in my own words. “Seek outlets for Passion and work with people who share it”. That’s what I’m doing here.

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

March 27, 2006

A new blog: who am I, and what am doing here?

Filed under: About me,General musings — jamesone111 @ 1:44 pm

If you want demographic information: I’m English, male, married (2 small children), born in the 1960s and university educated. I prefer cricket to football and Formula one to either of them (27 years a Williams fan). My main interests outside work and home are Scuba diving and photography. I hope to cover some things to do with digital photography here, I might even talk about things IT can learn from accident-prevention in Scuba.

Career history: I’ve spent my working life in the computer industry; today is my first day as an IT pro evangelist in Microsoft, after 6 years for Microsoft Consulting Services. Before that I ran a Microsoft Certified Technical Education Centre, and prior to that I worked for a computer manufacturer. So I’ve had a number of views of Microsoft, and seen its positives and negatives. I hope to talk about both, we can be reticent about some of the good we do; and if you spend long enough in a big company you see stuff that looks like it came from Dilbert. There are limits to what one can say in a company sponsored blog, but I hope to shed the occasional ray of light on what Microsoft is like from the inside.

I’ve worked mainly round Networking, Operating Systems and different kinds of Messaging. In my new job I’m concentrating on the Windows Platform, Virtualization and Real Time Collaboration, so all of those will get covered here in the future. I’m sure I will stray into some other areas, like Office, RSS and Mobility even some coding.

I’ve got an interest in how we communicate – and how sometimes we say a lot without getting a message across, so I might ridicule the occasional bit of gobbledegook here. I hope to be readable and worth reading. To adapt something Hilare Belloc said: When I am dead, I hope it may be said: “His sins were scarlet, but his blog was read”

Comments are turned on so please feel free use them.

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

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