Saturday, March 28, 2009

Digression: Shakori Hill Grassroots Festival

Here's an unsolicited plug for my favorite music festival of all time, the Shakori Hills Grassroots Festival. When I first moved to the area in 2006 I went to the festival, and it was just like meeting old friends. Different obligations kept me from going again in 2007 and 2008, but I look forward to going this year. I mean, Ralph Stanley is the headliner. How can you beat that?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Just because you can write VXML...

...doesn't mean you should. That's what the head of an IVR and system integration company has been known to tell people. There's a lot of specific skills and knowledge required to implement speech systems correctly, beyond simply being able to write code.

When you get it wrong, people post amusing videos of your system on YouTube. Didn't I just say the "press or say" construct won't die? Thanks to Phil Shinn for forwarding this.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Social network analysis - a misapplication

I went to an interesting on social network analysis a few weeks ago. An analyst presented a visual graph of the numbers and types of communication between members of three geographically dispersed work units that were working on the same project. The network showed that peers working in the two groups in the US were communicating regularly. However, there was no communication between peers in the US and the overseas unit, where in fact managers had expected to see communication. The analysis had accurately uncovered a previously-unknown issue.

The analyst had stressed the importance of knowing the context in which the analysis was done. The graphs by themselves weren't of value unless you knew who and what was going on in the project. He wrapped numerous caveats around social network analysis, including some privacy issues.

Here's an unfortunate use of social network analysis being touted by a company that, unsurprisingly, sells data mining services that apparently include social network analysis. Dots and circles and lines on a chart represent employee "performance," as captured by this wholly inadequate tool. The employees with the dark colored circles? "On a relative scale, they don't add a hell of a lot," asserts the CEO of said data mining company. Really? Without knowing what the employee's skills are, their productivity level, their opportunities to contribute? HR departments should start cutting based on this company's little graphs of numbers of phone calls and emails sent?

I hope HR departments are smarter than that. Of course, I've complained about the use of personality testing as an HR tool for selection, but that seems to be making some inroads as well.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Gold Star for service: Kroeger pharmacy

Since I notice (and write about) examples of bad service, it's only fair that I should rave about an example of excellent service I received recently. My daughter had been given a prescription for a penicillin-like drug. The pharmacist at Kroeger noticed on my daughter's record that she'd had an allergic reaction to penicillin previously. She called to tell me about the prescription drug's similarity to penicillin. After talking to the doctor we determined that the drug would be OK. The pharmacist didn't have it in stock, but called around town, and found it at a competing store. She then called me with directions to the other store. Wow. Who does that today? The effort was so exceptional I called the Kroeger store manager with my compliments.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Kindle's text-to-speech function

I know I'm a little late on this story, but the Authors Guild objection to Kindle's text-to-speech function is really absurd. If I buy a book I can read it then share it with my (sighted) spouse and no one will complain. If my spouse is visually impaired then I can't share my book--she has to buy a completely new copy. Sorry, but that's just cruel. In any case text to speech has improved in quality in the last three or so years, but it's still painful to listen to after just a short time. It isn't a credible substitute for a well-recorded audio book. The Authors Guild has picked a bad fight.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The rising popularity of working from home

This work-at-home thing seems to go in cycles, depending on how a company is doing financially. This article in BusinessWeek claims that companies are offering incentives for some workers to stay home and phone it in. Great picture, by the way--very apt. I work at home, and I don't miss the daily commute, or the office politics, one bit.

Keeping the others who inhabit the same space out of the office is sometimes an issue, as this Dilbert strip accurately depicts.