Sunday, February 24, 2013

Yahoo decides this mobile thing is a fad

According to All Things D, Yahoo has made a change to their company policy on working remotely. The new policy is, in a nutshell, don't. Employees who currently work remotely will have to either move so they can work in a Yahoo office or resign. This seems to apply to workers who work 100% remotely as well as those who work from home one or two days a week. Does Yahoo really not understand mobile yet? The entire point of the mobile industry is to allow people to do stuff wherever they happen to be – you don't have to go to your bank to do your banking. You can shop without going to a store. You can send email, surf the web, watch TV and movies, and listen to whatever music you want from anywhere. But Yahoo employees must be physically located in their offices in order to be productive? Really?

The reasoning Yahoo has given for making this decision makes little sense: they had lots of people who worked remotely and weren't productive. So instead of firing the unproductive workers or making them come into the office, they decide to punish all of the productive remote workers as well.

Many tech companies talk about hiring the brightest and the best. Google is notorious for their hiring conservatism; they'd much rather pass on someone good than hire someone who turns out to be a bad fit. Yahoo is obviously not concerned with this. It sounds like they'd rather hire someone who lives physically close to a Yahoo office (or is willing to move) than someone awesome who doesn't (and isn't). Maybe they have great people up the wazoo and have decided they can afford to lose some of them, which they will. Maybe this is a cheap way of getting rid of some employees without having to pay them severance. That strategy would only work if the remote employees are the ones you want to get rid of and you don't mind having some that you'd rather keep quit.

I work from home at least once a week (and more if there's nasty weather), and have for ten years. Even though I don't work for Yahoo, I take it personally when I read stuff like "Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home". I obviously can't speak for everyone who works at home, but it's quite the contrary for me. I frequently get a fair bit done at home – at least partially to avoid this very stereotype. If my manager decides that I don't get as much done at home as in the office, he may decide to revoke this privilege, and that's a privilege I greatly appreciate and don't take for granted. I certainly have the occasional work at home day where I don't get much done, but I also have the occasional work in the office day where I don't get much done. I also have days both at home and in the office where I'm very productive. And this is all ignoring the fact that I work at least two hours longer when I work at home since I'm not driving to Waterloo and back.

I've done work in a number of different rooms in my house. I've brought my laptop and gotten work done in mechanic's waiting rooms, doctor's and dentist's offices, hotel rooms, friends' houses, my parents' and in-laws' places up north, and even a couple of Tim Horton's. Every SAP employee worldwide is given a laptop so that they can work remotely if necessary. If I worked for Yahoo, their company policy would ensure that none of that would ever happen again.

Dear SAP/Sybase: I'd advise against this strategy. The goodwill that you'd lose from your employees would vastly outweigh any potential (and purely theoretical) productivity gains. Not only does it limit the people you can hire in the future, but I know of a few people who'd likely quit. In fact, I know of one brilliant engineer who you'd lose because he lives far away from the office and works from home a lot. And trust me, you really don't want to lose this guy.

Yes, that's right – you'd lose Ivan. Oh, and I'd probably be outta there too.

Disclaimer: I am not speaking for Ivan, nor am I making any kind of ultimatum to SAP/Sybase. Just saying that I disagree with this policy.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Chocolate: the poisonous killer that… ah, never mind

Being a blogger who writes about skepticism can be frustrating. After reading yet another "Never eat <whatever>! It's a poison! THEY don't want you to know!" article, I had this grand plan of writing something similar, but satirical. I was going to write an article that warned about something many people love – chocolate. This was going to be similar to the hilarious "dihydrogen monoxide" hoax from a bunch of years ago. I chose chocolate because it's something that is enjoyed by many people but few know much about what's in it or how it's made. Could there be toxic chemicals used in the manufacture of chocolate? Sure, maybe, I don't know.

I was going to do some research into the chemical make-up of chocolate, the growing and manufacturing process, packaging, marketing, all that kind of stuff. Anything even remotely negative was going to be blown out of proportion. Facts would be exaggerated. I wasn't going to add outright lies, but maybe stretch the truth a little here and there. I'd stress that chocolate contains chemicals and genetically modified foods. I'd point out alternate uses for some of the chemicals in it. The longer the chemical name, the better. I'd point out things in chocolate that were "chemically similar" to some actual toxin, as if that means anything. And I'd make sure to use the word "chemicals" a lot.


Then I'd add some stories about "people I knew" or had heard of. So-and-so got really sick and stopped eating chocolate and got better. Hell, I could even use my own experience – I had some chocolate the morning of my pancreatitis attack (true) and spent the next two months in the hospital (true). But then after two months without chocolate (true), I went home and I'm totally fine today (true)! All of those things marked "true" are true, even if they're completely unrelated. And there you have it – a compelling story that is completely true! Totally misleading, but true!

Finally, I'd point out that many people know that chocolate is toxic to dogs and cats (and this is completely true), so how can something toxic to them be safe for humans? (Answer: easy, we're not the same.)

The result was going to be an article that would make people think that chocolate was a horrible toxic product, child slavery was used to make it (though this may not be far from the truth, unfortunately), companies that made it were hiding the truth, and the FDA was in on the whole conspiracy. It was going to be fun! Then at the end I'd explain how I'd stretched the truth and exaggerated things and such, thus making the point that when you see articles talking about how toxic aspartame is (or high-fructose corn syrup, or genetically modified foods, or whatever) you should think twice about what you're reading, and realize that these types of articles routinely use misleading wording to scare people.

But I can't write such an article for one simple reason: people already have, and theirs isn't satirical. It's full of the same half-truths and scary-sounding words and stuff that I was going to use, but these people actually believe it.

Skeptical writers have known about this type of situation for years, and even have a law called Poe's Law describing it. Poe's Law states:

Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is impossible to create a parody of Fundamentalism that SOMEONE won't mistake for the real thing.

Poe's Law was originally coined to refer to Creationism, i.e. you can't write a parody of Creationism that someone won't mistake for the real thing. It was then modified to include any other "extreme ideology" like alternative medicines or (especially) conspiracy theories but it applies just the same. No matter how wacky you write your parody or satire, someone believes something that's wackier than that.

Discovering this article scuttled my whole idea, since mine was going to be essentially the same. So not only are these people publishing half-truths and deliberately misleading stuff to try to play on people's fears (not to mention scientific illiteracy), but now they're screwing with my blog. I won't stand for it. I'm going to eat some chocolate right now. That'll show 'em.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Blogging about NOT blogging

Hey! Remember me? I used to blog at this site quite a bit. But in the last year or so, things have really gotten quiet around here. It's not that I've stopped writing, in fact I'm writing more than ever. It just ain't here.

Back in 2008, I wrote 165 articles on this blog, including 20 articles in September alone. In 2009, I dropped to 122, and then dropped by exactly half to 61 in 2010.  But I was sick for half of 2010, and came back a little in 2011 with 82 articles. In August of 2011 I joined In Lax We Trust (now and moved all my lacrosse writing over there. Four months later, I created my own lacrosse blog,,  and a month after that I started writing for I'm actually a pretty big player in the world of indoor lacrosse now. (I can write that here because the lacrosse people who know that that's a total crock don't read this blog and the people who read this blog don't follow lacrosse to know that that's a total crock. Except that I just told you. Crap.)  I still do a lot of writing for those two sites, and as a result my output here has dropped off. I dropped again by over half to only 33 in 2012, and this article (early February) is the first one of 2013.

For those of you who have been disappointed about this apparent drop in productivity (hi Candyce!), you have my sincere apologies. It was not my objective to abandon this site. But in order to stay current on the National Lacrosse League, I have to focus a lot of my spare time there so that I (appear to) know what the heck I'm talking about. Between that and taking the boys to soccer and swimming during the week and spending time with Gail and the boys on weeknights and weekends and visiting relatives all over Ontario and oh yeah, that pesky full-time job, I don't end up with a lot of time for other writing. I do miss it though, and when I look and see that my most recent article was posted six weeks ago, I get kinda sad for my poor neglected little blog.

That said, please understand that I am not under the delusional impression that there are thousands, hundreds, or even dozens of people clamoring for me to write more. I write here because I enjoy writing and the occasional discussion that comes out of it.

There are two other other reasons I don't write here as much as I used to. The first is to stop annoying people. In looking back over my previous non-lacrosse articles, many of them in the last year or two are related to skepticism, eg. why vaccines are good, why legislating some alternative medicines makes no sense, why the 9/11 conspiracy theorists are all nuts, stuff like that. I decided to tone it down a little on that front since I felt like I was starting to become that guy that people stop listening to because he just rants all the time. I still have an article or two in the queue in this vein, so it won't entirely disappear. Natural News aficionados, beware.

The other reason is Facebook. Other than skepticism and lacrosse, most of what I wrote were comments on random articles I read on the web and short funny stories about my kids. These days, I frequently find myself posting these to Facebook instead of writing a whole article about them. This isn't a conscious decision, it's just how things have worked out. If I have a lot to say on a subject I'll write an article about it, but there have been a few times where I've wanted to say something but just didn't have the time to say it all so I just post it on Facebook.

I have at least ten articles in the queue. Most are just ideas that I've had and currently consist of single sentences that I will eventually expand. A few have been started, some are about half done, and at least one has been mostly done for a year but is likely way out of date so I almost have to start it over. There's one I'm having fun with but it involves a lot of creativity and thus is very time-consuming.

So the take-home message here is that I have not abandoned this blog and will still post things from time to time. Some of them might even be entertaining – you know the old bit about the blind squirrel occasionally finding a nut.