Sunday, January 20, 2013

Outsource This!

One of the harsh realities of our modern, globally connected society is that organizations no longer have to restrict themselves to hiring locally.  Many jobs, especially in the technology, communications and marketing sectors, are "outsourced" to developing countries, where salaries are lower and labor regulations are often less stringent than they are in North America.  The result: North American workers must compete for jobs with workers in places like India, China or Korea.

Individuals and unions try to combat this trend through protests, government lobbying and demanding job security clauses in their negotiated contracts.  These tactics meet with varying degrees of success but, on the whole, outsourcing appears to be becoming more and more prevalent.  Standard strategies seem too often tried and too seldom true.  The Halmanator has long been a staunch supporter of out-of-the-box thinking, which is why I applaud the nameless hero who followed the old adage, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em".

An article originally posted in the Verizon Business Security Blog, later published by "The Globe and Mail" and, finally, brought to The Halmanator's attention by alert reader George Ninos, tells the story of "Bob" (whose name has been changed to spare him having to shake the hands of 80% of western workers), an employee of an "American Infrastructure company" whose name has not been published to spare them being publicly revealed as the putzes that they are. 

"Bob" was a computer programmer.  Being a computer programmer myself, I can state with some authority that the best programmers share certain characteristics.
  • They are extremely analytical
  • They have excellent diagnostic and problem solving skills
  • They have excellent technical and mathematical skills
  • They are lazy S.O.B.s
You may find that last one to be dubious, but it`s true!  A lazy programmer is a good programmer, because he will devise all kinds of creative and elegant solutions for getting the computer to do as much of the actual "work" as possible, leaving nothing for the "users" but to click the "Go" button.  This is why mouse-based computing and, consequently, the Apple MacIntosh and Microsoft Windows, became so popular and quickly replaced the old command line interface.  Actually typing "Go" and pressing the Enter key was too much work for most users.  But I digress, as always.

Getting back to "Bob", he is described as "...inoffensive and quiet.  Someone you wouldn't look at twice in an elevator"; another important computer programmer attribute.  In fact, he was such a good programmer that the organization for which he worked paid him over $250,000 a year, a salary that's well above average for computer programmers and almost rivals that of an apprentice plumber.  We know, from the Globe and Mail article, that "Bob" had all four of the aforementioned qualifications in spades.  His performance reviews were invariably positive, being laced with adjectives such as "conscientious", "reliable" and "keyboard god".  His programs were clean, well-documented and error free.  And he did absolutely no work whatsoever for at least six months; probably much longer.

You see, "Bob" had decided to use outsourcing to his advantage.  "If corporations can do it, why can't I?" he reasoned (there's that analytical mind at work, folks).  So he hired a developer from northern China to write his programs for him, a service for which he paid $50,000 a year, which still left "Bob" over $200,000 in the black (and there's that keen grasp of mathematics).  If`"Bob" had any accounting knowledge whatsoever, he likely claimed the $50,000 as a business expense on his income tax as well. 

So what did "Bob" himself do at the office each day besides dent a seat cushion?  Well, he did what countless office workers all over North America do; he surfed the web, updated his Facebook page and browsed a disturbing quantity of cat videos (although The Halmanator suspects that "The Globe and Mail" may have made the editorial decision to substitute the word "cat" for "pussy").  The only difference between "Bob" and your average office worker is that:

a) He spent a lot more time doing these things than most office workers
b) He was much better paid for it

And this, my friends, adds the last of those vitally important programmer qualifications to "Bob's" impressive résumé. 

Sadly, Bob's little deception was discovered when an internal computer systems security audit revealed that someone had been logging into the system daily from China using "Bob's" User ID and password and, well, one thing led to another.  Of course, "Bob" was immediately dismissed for "violating company policy".  Which specific company policies "Bob" violated aren't specified but The Halmanator is pretty sure that they had something to do with not making your bosses look like a bunch of idiots.

You may think The Halmanator is out of line for condoning "Bob's" fraudulent activities.  Well, let's examine that for a moment.  Obviously, I don't know the details of "Bob's" employment contract, but we can safely assume that it boiled down to something like this; "Bob" agrees to provide the company with reliable computer software to run their business, in exchange for which the company pays "Bob" approximately $250,000 a year.  From where I'm sitting, "Bob" made good on his side of the bargain.  He did nothing to harm the company.  By all accounts, they were happy with the quality of the work that he provided.  I'm pretty sure that they were just sore at discovering that they could have gotten the same productivity for about 1/5 the amount that they were paying "Bob". 

Also, since "Bob" was considered the company's best programmer, we can conclude that the anonymous Chinese programmer did better work than any of the other programmers in that company's employ who, while they may not have been paid quite as much as "Bob", were most likely paid more than $50,000 per year.  And that, my friends, is why China will own America before this century is out.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The End Of The Smartphone

I recently stumbled upon a headline on-line that proclaimed "The End of the Smartphone Era Is Coming".  This immediately caught my interest, because smartphones are a pet peeve of mine.  I think we've become far too engrossed by them. 

Seems that no matter where you go these days, and no matter what you do, you're surrounded by people whose noses are buried in their smartphones.  A world full of people, and none of them are actually "there".  When poet Hughes Mearns wrote:

Yesterday, upon the stair,
I met a man who wasn’t there
He wasn’t there again today
I wish, I wish he’d go away...

...I`m sure he was talking about a guy with a smartphone, which was pretty forward-thinking of him considering that he wrote those lines in 1899, when smartphones were still in the very early stages of development.  How has a communications device managed to become such a barrier to communication? 

In case you're wondering about my hypocrisy level, I'll say for the record that I don't own a smartphone.  I have a cell phone, and even that doesn't follow me around everywhere.  It stays in my car in case I need assistance while on the road, or in case I come across a fellow motorist who needs assistance and doesn't happen to have a phone of their own (which is practically unheard of these days) or in case my wife needs me to pick up something from the grocery store, or perhaps pick up dinner, on my way home from work (which is heard of practically every other day these days). 

So I was eager to learn more about anything that might finally break this obsession with smartphones and get people actually talking to each other again.  You can imagine my disappointment when I read the prediction that, if smartphones are indeed to become less ubiquitous, it will only be when they're replaced by some other, even more grotesque, distraction, such as computerized eyeglasses.

Seems both Google and Microsoft are working on eyeglasses whose lenses are augmented with computer displays that will have the ability to overlay information on top of whatever you're looking at, sort of like the "Heads Up Displays" or HUDs used by fighter pilots.  For instance, you might be watching a hockey game, and your glasses could display a little computerized tag next to each of the players, showing their names, plus/minus ratings, annual salaries and favourite brand of underarm deodorant, because you just know that the marketers are going to harness this as just another medium through which to constantly bombard people with non-stop advertising pitches.

I have to admit, I can imagine some interesting uses for this type of technology.  When mingling at boring cocktail parties, the glasses could use facial recognition technology to superimpose names over everybody in the room, eliminating the possible embarrassment of being cornered by people to whom we've previously been introduced, but whose names we proceeded to forget almost before they left our peripheral field of vision.  "Bob!" we could say, as we warmly extended our hand for the obligatory greeting, "Bob Finster!  It's great to see you again!"  This could even be augmented with a small database of key factoids about the person such as their age, where and when we met them, and personal interests, allowing us to impress them by continuing with "It's been, what, three months?  I remember you from our encounter at the clinic.  How's that hemorrhoidal swelling of yours?  Any better?"

Maybe those of us who, when verbally insulted or otherwise mistreated, lack the ability to quickly think up clever responses could be presented with a list of witty, snappy comebacks from which to choose, Terminator style.

I can see potential problems too.  Just as smartphones have a way of causing people to stand right in front of you without actually talking to you, these computerized glasses could allow them to stare right at you without actually seeing you.  And if these glasses are really going to replace smartphones, then they have to enable you to talk to people remotely, but how would you hear what's being said, and could any built-in microphone pick up your voice when it`s situated no-where near your mouth?  I suppose the glasses could communicate with one of those bluetooth earpieces.  Then again, that gives rise to another potential problem...