Sunday, June 28, 2009

From the phone - Fads

The photo below was taken at the Science Museum in Boston (in the "kiddies" learning centre), I thought it was pretty interesting... ah Rubik's cubes, where did they go...

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Tampa Bay - Mugshot hell

It's bad enough that a search of your name on Google can throw up all sorts of unwanted bits and pieces from your past and present, from dodgy photos on your social network site to silly things you might have written about on your blog... but it can be much worse if you live in Florida. Seems in Tampa Bay, Florida, the St. Petersburg Times have teamed up with the local Sheriffs office to produce a fine website called www.mugshots.tampabay.com , where as the name suggests, they post up mugshots of the most recent criminals booked into their police stations.

Quite humorously you can even browse criminals by all sorts of metrics: weight, eye colour, height and age. The screenshot below shows "Shakara Tabira Waters", who turned up under my "300 pounds or more" search... It becomes even funnier when you realise he crime was... Food stamp fraud.

Great site! and I would say that for some people who would consider undertaking small crimes this may be somewhat of a deterrent

Scientologists running ads on TV now...

As if the whole Scientology cult, sorry, religion thing couldn't get any weirder, it just has. Seems the nice folk as Scientology HQ have decided that in order to spread the good word of their intergalactic deity Xenu they need some flashy ads on US TV to improve how the public views them... here is one of them... its not that bad really, maybe we should all join up?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

10 Business lessons - a presentation

This presentation is one of the best ones I've seen in a very very long time. Entered as part of the Slideshare "Tell a Story" competition, this presentation combines slick design, and some pretty nifty lessons too. Maybe I will be this good some day... (probably not)

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Man has too much of the following - Post-its, Time

I came across this video while going through the many, many unread blogposts that I am going to catch up with today. This rather cool/bored guy has made a very impressive stop motion video with the aid of post-its.
Check it out

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Silly figures from silly men

The recent local elections here in Ireland have brought with them a number of excessively silly figures being quoted from the opposition leaders. The most repeated, and foolish of these comments came from Enda Kenny...

I'm paraphrasing here, but he implied that as Fianna Fail had only secured 25% of the overall vote around the country- that therefore 75% of the population had shown - by their voting for others - that they had no confidence in the current governments ability to do their job...
At a first glance it might be easy to be taken in by this logic, beacuase if only a quarter voted for the incumbent government then the rest must be against them... right?

Well, Enda Kenny's party got a whopping 32% of the public vote, so by his same wonderful logic are 68% of the population against his party? To me this doesn't seem like too much more of a margin to be boasting about... but perhaps thats just me.

What made the situation even more farcical that Eamon Gilmore, leader of the Labour party also decided to use the same statistic, saying that 75% of the public hadn't voted for Fianna Fail, so they should therefore step down... Well Labour received 14% of the vote (4% less than random Independents) - 86% of the population didn't vote for them...

What I don't want deny is that the opposition party have clearly made large gains over the last few year, and probably rightly so, however the excessive usage of this utterly pointless statistic makes me worry for the general intellect of the class of people we have running/potentially running our country.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Friday, June 5, 2009

Taylorism - revisited

Well folks, as a special treat I have decided to revisit the first ever post that went up on this blog all the way back in January of 2007, I have slightly ammended a few sentances here and there but the post is for the most part identical.

I was recently involved in helping design an eCommerce website that is being put forward for a grant proposal. During the process of designing the interface, I noticed that above all - even more than complaining about things - I enjoy looking for the most efficient ways of doing things.

My task in assisting in the site layout was to create an interface where the most functionality could be fit around minimal and optimal amount of actions, and importantly aiming to reduce the “click distance” from place to place, and also how much space each item is allocated (most used function = most space allocated)

For me, the shining lights of the beauty of efficiency and simplicity have come from the works of Jonathan Ive. Mr Ive has won numerous awards for his product designs, based on their simplicity, beauty and ultimately their levels of efficiency in one regard or another. In the last decade the Englishman has brought you products such as the iMac, iPod and more recently the groundbreaking iPhone. In terms of devices such as the iPod and iPhone, efficiency is measured as the amount of processes it takes to achieve your end product and their simplicity. (E.g. to send a message do I need to press one button of 4 different ones) The modern iPod has five buttons (see this really was written in 2007) that will navigate you through simply laid out menus, which themselves never leave the user more than 4 clicks (click distance) away from the media they want to access.
- Enter Taylor -
We are now in an era where the quest is to create the most efficient way of using our technology, and this pursuit of efficiency can be attributed in a large part to one man. The end of the 19th century saw a push toward increasing the efficiency of industry and manufacturing, and at the forefront of this was a man named Frederick Taylor. Taylor was born in 1856 and was a huge proponent of the industrial efficiency movement, and is widely acknowledged as the “father of scientific management.”
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His theories improved the efficiency, output, profitability and quality of life for workers, and set the basis for the modern day manufacturing processes seen all around us, and the reason why so many of our everyday consumables are relatively much cheaper than before his reforms were introduced. He claimed that all industrial processes should be standardised and based on scientific research rather than more unreliable rules of thumb or anecdotal evidence, by finding this “one right way” efficiency would be increased, this was achieved by bringing in mechanisation and assembly lines in which jobs were broken down into their simplest aspects and standardised. (Taylor was also the inventor of the “time – motion study” which breaks all the processes involved in a product down into seconds and allows accurate estimation of ideal output. I saw in a recent documentary that the modern day masters of this are Nike who measures their processes in terms of thousandths of seconds. 6.6 minutes is assigned to the production of each t-shirt, pay rate in Dominican Republic = 70c an hr = 8 c per t-shirt = 3/10ths of 1% of the retail price is labour costs!)
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It was also of the utmost importance for appropriate worker must be assigned to each task, it would seem that Taylor wasn’t all that interested in being politically correct.
“A man who is fit to handle pig iron as a regular occupation is that he shall be so stupid and so phlegmatic that he more nearly resembles in his mental make-up the ox than any other type. The man who is mentally alert and intelligent is for this very reason entirely unsuited to what would, for him, be the grinding monotony of work of this character. Therefore the workman who is best suited to handling pig iron is unable to understand the real science of doing this class of work."
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Where's the incentive?
Linkage of wages to output was another key foundation on which his theory was based.Taylor observed that people, especially in monotonous jobs, will tend to work at the slowest rate at which they will not be punished, a condition known as “loafing” (I have seen this in action, and I would guess that anyone who has worked in a summer job as a student has either seen this loafing in action, or fully taken part)
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This is due to the fact that people tend to be inherently lazy unless motivated by some factor (not always money) to be otherwise, and, when paid the same people will tend to benchmark their productivity against that of the slowest worker.
I have worked in only one real job so far in my life and that was in Marks and Spencer, and I have witnessed the problem posed by lack of incentives first hand, Taylor from what I can see was entirely correct. For instance in this store we knew that if we just worked a little faster than the mentally dim guy who turned up about only half of his allotted days we’d be safe in our jobs.
Here a condition existed in which striving for to be the best did not exist, instead people strived to be slightly more acceptable than the worst.
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The simple fact is that in absence of an appropriate incentive staff will tend do the least work they can do for the same amount of money.
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Work breaks
Taylor was also one of the first advocators of regular breaks in the working period. Although at first giving workers time off every hour might seem counterproductive it was found that when tested scientifically, a ten minute break for every hour worked would increase productivity and efficiency hugely, and as an added bonus also led to happier workers.
Taylor undertook these studies in the 1930s and these were seen as pioneering findings for the progression of the industrial revolution, and brought with them a new era of critical and scientific thought on how things are done and how they can be improved for mutual benefit of management and employees alike.
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The example that convinced me of the genius of Frederick Taylor was shown to me in a class I had last year and can be quite easily demonstrated by the following chart.
Taylor agreed to pay his staff far above what their peers were earning as long as they would unquestioningly abide by his new techniques, and as you can see the numbers speak for themselves.
I do apologise to have kept you this long and I realise that the chances are that this interests none of you in the slightest, but I do still think its important to know that the products you use and the price you have paid for them are often influenced directly by the theories of Frederick Winslow Taylor and the era of industrial improvement that he introduced over a century ago.
- Well there you go that was my first ever post. I recently received a comment from a reader that said the following: Thanks for your extensive analysis of Taylorism. I do believe that Taylor had a very cynical understanding of human beings and the Battery Hen mode of working is demeaning to workers. Workers cannot being new ideas and fresh insights to their workplace and a this rigid top-down structure throttles innovation and flexible and intelligent approaches to labour.

I guess I do mostly agree with what the reader says, Taylor did have a rather cynical view of workers, and the do as I say method does indeed throttle innovation. Firstly I suppose I am trying to express the business value of what his theories brought about, NOT whether his theories left a warm fuzzy feeling in the hearts of the workers. I suppose it is worth noting that when Taylor came up with these theories England was a major manufacturing nation, and of course in more recent time the more developed countries have seen their manufacturing industries move to the likes of China etc.

Taylorism in its raw form is obviously not applicable to some of the new more creative industries in operation in the western world – However as unpalatable as it may be, for manufacturing jobs this approach is probably as close to perfect as you are going to get. Mining, sewing pieces of fabric together, operations robots that make cars, packaging things etc etc do not require high levels of innovation from staff, Taylorism offered staff much higher wages than competitors could offer, and much better working conditions than competitors could offer, while making much greater profits than the competitors. And although his methods do not result in a workers paradise, all things are relative.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Natural Disasters - are we doomed? No

Among the numerous "nerdy" sites I visit on quite a regular basis is a gem named "Swivel", a site where users upload data captured from various databases and share it with Joe public. The more interesting charts tend to generate conversations as to the relevance of the data, and people often point out simple factors which might explain trends which at face value seem astonishing and miraculous. Imagine if we had this sort of analysis going on in mass media... (I wont get started on this right now)

One of the graphs featured on the website yesterday that I found to be very interesting is a bar chart showing the "the number of natural disasters by decade since 1900"... take a look and see what you can make of it.

So on first glance you might come to the conclusion that we are all doomed, and for the next few decades we will be incurring increasingly more natural disasters, after all that is what the trend on the graph is showing.

Now, while this may indeed be true, and there is evidence to show that tropical storms may increase with global warming, it is important to consider if there are any other factors at play.

A very valid, and often ignored, argument to bring up is that technological advancements have allowed us to increase our ability to detect hurricanes, earthquakes etc *to clarify, by detection I do not mean forecasting, or prevention, rather I mean recognition of past or current events* . On the weather website "Epicdisaster.com" one writer put it well when they said: "In 1931, there were only about 350 earthquake detecting seismograph stations in the world. Today, there are 8,000 stations. It only stands to reason that 8,000 stations are going to detect more seismic events. Further, our equipment now is more sensitive. Quakes that were undetectable—either because of intensity or distance—now are recorded"

Examples like this demonstrate aptly the importance of examining charts and data at more than face value, and to delay jumping to conclusions before you have considered all related factors.

It all shows the importance of visiting the site... which you should do now... by clicking here.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Canada logo - too boring for comfort

If you know me to any extent at all I am sure you know that I am a huge fan of all things Canadian. Having been there several times over the past few years I have a real liking for the place and I most certainly intend on returning to Canada in the near future.

However I do have one, albeit petty, gripe with the Canada, one thing I cant get out of my mind is how poor the Canada "logo" is, this "wordmark" accompanies all government documents, buildings etc. and is just... well... very boring. Behold the Canada logo in all its boringness:
According to Wikipedia: "Established in 1980, the Canada wordmark is essentially a logo for the government of Canada: it consists of the word "Canada" written in a serif font, a modified version of Baskerville, with a Canadian flag over the final 'a'"

I have to say, if first impressions are worth anything, this logo does not do a whole lot to allay the false conceptions that peoples have about Canada, primarily that it is the boring version of the USA, which it is most certainly not.

I suppose its a silly complaint to have, but the Canadian government should consider coming up with a logo that represents their country in a more exciting light than "we are slightly more exciting than times new roman".