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I Was Wrong About Gamification: It Works.

What feels like way back in early 2012 I was still dabbling with a little bit of coding from time-to-time and scoffed when Microsoft announced that they were bringing the XBox to their Professional development environment, Visual Studio.

VSAchievmentUnlocked

Visual Studio Achievements, as the plug in for Visual Studio was called, meant that developers could ‘Unlock Achievements’ and take part in leader boards to exhibit their prowess in particular areas of Visual Studio.  They could even share their achievements on social media, their blog and in a public leader board.

This was part of the emerging trend of Gamification – the act of taking game like characteristics such as point collecting, leader boards and the like, and applying them to other areas.  This was (and still is) spilling over from digital marketing, where it’s proved a very effective marketing tool for big and small brands alike.

My background has always been in Line-Of-Business application development, and predominantly for engineering or process-orientated companies: I worked in what I regarded as ‘the grown up world.‘  I didn’t like this approach and didn’t see how it would encourage quality code – although I could see how it would increase quantity.  It seemed like the ‘dumbing down’ of the business world, and where would it end?

Gamification – I Was Wrong & It’s Addictive.

I was wrong, and I may even be a convert. While I don’t use Visual Studio as a daily tool any more, so VS Achievements doesn’t apply to me, I do use a To Do List tool called ToDoIst to help me manage the tasks I have to do and remember those coming up.

I started using ToDoIst because it had some great reviews in some productivity blogs I happened to be reading at the time, it is easy to add tasks to, you can add them to ‘projects’ and it works easily across various devices.  I soon became addicted and it earned its place as a pinned tab in Firefox next to GoogleApps and Trello.

Then I noticed the ‘Karma‘ tab at the top.  It was gamifying my to-do list.  You get karma points for adding tasks to the list, more karma points for completing them and there are even achievement levels for karma. I found myself checking this often – it’s a really handy, easy measure of how productive I am being!

ToDoIstKarma

The real killer for me though, was the ‘Last 7 Days’ and the ‘Streak’ function.  You can set a target number of items to get done each day, tell ToDoIst what days you work and it’ll tell you whether you’re hitting that goal – and it’ll keep a track of how many days in a row you’ve done that.

Once you get on a roll and get a few days in a row when you’ve hit your target, you really don’t want to drop out, and you want a longer streak.  My record is 9 days – but I’m not doing so well this week! DailyStreak

So, I’ll have to admit: When presented well gamification can be great motivation.

It’s just evolution though…

That got me thinking about what was really going on… is gamification really any more than an evolution of the long established industrial / business tool of ‘visualisation’.   In factories and process businesses across the world, output and problem visualisation is a core component of getting the most out of the process – it dates back decades and is linked to The Toyota Production System’s concept of Jidoka.

andonBoard

Jidoka is the second of the two core principles of TPS and relates to the stopping of work as soon as a problem occurs (thus eliminating root cause as early as possible and increasing quality).  In manufacturing environments, Jidoka normally manifests itself as a production board which shows the problem when it occurs, but in normal running those boards (called Andon boards) display output… much like my ToDoIst Karma graphs.  I can see a problem immediately: my graph drops off and I’m not being productive – the root cause is harder to find though!

Could Gamification just be the application of Jidoka and Visualisation to non production / process work?

Return After Hiatus.

It’s been over two years since I posted a blog entry on here and for the bulk of that time the blog itself was taken down from the internet (yes I’m aware nothing really disappears).

I took it down back in 2011 as I engaged in a lengthy legal battle with my former partner over custody of and access to my son.  Everything possible was being dragged up and thrown at me, in a spate of underhand and unnecessary tactics.  It wasn’t a happy period of time – no two reasonable people should resort to what we both did.  I won’t be dwelling too much on my little man, or my personal life, now the blog is back; but I thought I should explain why it went away.

Now I’m Back….

I should probably explain the inspiration for being back, seeing as I’ve explained the rationale for being away.  It is, as described:  Inspiration.  I do some work with the Duracell bunny that is Warwick Tweetup, and his partner in crime Jo’s Correctional Facility – and the energy from both of them is contagious.

If you take that and combine it with the fact I feel I have something useful to add these days, and take inspiration in content form from some of the blogs I enjoy reading (particularly Maria Langer’s ‘An Eclectic Mind’ – a great mix of Aviation and real life from the USA!) – I wanted to get back on with blogging.

As you’d expect, an awful lot has changed in the intervening two years; including my life and my little bit of the world.  I’m older, and hopefully a little wiser – I’m certainly a little more reflective before reacting to anything.  One little snippet I learnt along the way:

“Will it matter in a year?  If not, then it probably doesn’t matter now.”

With that mantra in mind, I intend to start blogging again probably on a more professional and business based basis than before; although still with a heavy hint of aviation!

For now I’ve just restored the old site, as was and upgraded WordPress – but over the next month or so I am going to tidy it up (looks and content), and ensure everything is linked properly to my social media bits and pieces, and then try and think of something interesting which you can all read!

It’s good to be back.

Fly Safe… a weird week in Aviation.

This past week I have been on holiday in Dubai with a friend who lives out here, and have been weirdly reminded of just how close to home the dangers of my hobby are.   Although I’m obviously aware of accidents, and indeed know people who were friends with those who have perished in accidents – I am as guilty as the next guy of thinking “it’ll never happen to me.”

Well.. 3 unrelated things have happened this week to remind me just how close it can be…

G-JERS

R22 - My Trainer
G-JERS

So, I pick up a copy of one of the flying magazines at the airport, for something to read on the flight – in the section where they list new registrations I notice G-JERS is listed as “Cancelled – Destroyed.”

I spent quite a lot of time in G-JERS.  It was the 4th aircraft I ever flew, and the first aircraft I flew solo.  A quick look at my log book and it seems I spent around 16 hours in it.

It doesn’t exist anymore… it was rolled during a training sortee at Cumbernauld Airport.  The AAIB report for it is here; and thankfully both student and instructor got out ok.  But that could have been me.  I hope that it doesn’t put the student off.  But it is a shame to see something so instrumental in my flying come to such a sad end.

G-INTC

Which make it even spookier then that when I got the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix this week they had a helicopter simulator made from the cabin and end of a tail of an R22.  I didn’t have a go in it, it looked pretty basic and designed to appease the crowds.

It did occur to me though to have a look at the indestructable metal plate which is attached to the passenger seat on R22’s to see where this hull had originally come from.

Once again, close to home strikes:  it was a local machine, which was sold originally by Sloane Helicopters.  The people I trained with.  It has now ended up in the desert after a less than glamorous end, also involving training.  AAIB report.

Mallorca.

The really big thing… I got home from the Formula 1 qualifying on Saturday to see a tweet about two Britons being killed in a helicopter crash in Mallorca.  My heart quite literally sank.

I did some of my training in Mallorca, and have been back to fly there since.  The company I learnt with, Sloane Helicopters, have a base in Mallorca (which is very handy given the awful winter weather in the UK); so my fears were it was my friends, or a machine I knew, or both.

I was very relieved to find out a little while later it was not a Sloane’s machine.  There aren’t many helicopters on the island; but it turned out this one was a private machine which was hangared with Sloane Helicopters, and other than being friendly with owner the involvement stopped there.  It was an MD500.

There is more on the crash on the BBC, The Telegraph and The Guardian; but it really reminded me how close to home these things can be.  I hope the gentlemen concerned rest in peace…

… and for those of us still earth bound, but longing to be skyward bound:  fly safely friends.  Please.

When CRM Is Used Properly

CRM (Customer Relationship Management) is a fairly generic term which is generally applied to the technology, normally software, used to manage a relationship a company has with a specific customer.  Big vendors include salesforce.com, SAP & Oracle.

Traditionally it is largely used by companies in the lead up to a sale; but I argue that this is wrong and isn’t using it properly.  A relationship with a customer doesn’t stop once they have purchased an item, it get’s more complicated and more important.  Although a business may use a CRM system to get the customer to purchase more items this is usually the start of the relationship, particularly where the products being sold are physical rather than service based.

Once a customer has one of your products if you then “manage the relationship” through after-sales, technical support and warranty it’s far more likely that they will remain a customer.  Using your CRM wisely will help you with this.

Apple’s CRM.

The prompt for this post was the experience I recently had in The Apple Store in Solihull.  My iPhone was playing up, and I booked an appointment with a “genius” (I hate this term) to see what we could do.  It turned out my phone was water damaged (yes, ok, I may have dropped it); and this was causing it to behave erratically.  In honesty I expected this was the case.

The genius said that obviously this wasn’t covered by warranty.  I asked if I could pay to have it repaired and was told they could exchange it for a refurbished, as good as new, unit for circa £150.  As I was weighing up the pros and cons of this offer the chap said, “just hold on one minute, let me check the warranty.”

He looked up the serial number on Apple’s CRM system and said:  “You’ve not had one replaced before have you; ohh, and I can see you bought a new Mac Book Pro 3 months ago, an iPad about 5 months before that, and a new Apple TV this year too….  it would seem a bit unfair of us to charge a loyal customer for a refurb unit.”

And as a gesture of good will they replaced my damaged and out of warranty phone with a new one; there and then.  Clearly I was very very happy with this.

The Cost Of A Customer.

What this shows is that Apple have adopted a good CRM technology solution which shows the relationship they have with an individual customer instantly in a concise form.  More importantly, they have given their customer facing staff the authority to use that data wisely.  It’s technology + process which equals good CRM.

The employee could see that within the last 12 months I’d spent a considerable amount of money with Apple and that I was a loyal customer; so used this to make a judgement call.  Was it worth £150 to Apple to keep me happy?  Yes, because the likelihood is that I’ll buy more in the future.  I will.

Of course some people will argue that Apple can afford to do this because of the high margin it makes on its hardware; while others will argue that it didn’t cost them £150 as that was the retail price of the refurbed unit, not the cost of it.  But it isn’t about the money, it’s about the acknowledgement of a relationship with Apple.

Like all relationships it’s about give and take.  I’ll pay their higher hardware prices, live in their walled garden of apps etc, but in return I get cheap OS upgrades and a little bit of love when it comes to my mistakes.

If you’ve got a CRM then make sure you are using it fully, and your staff are allowed to use it properly.  If you don’t have one, then get one (don’t be put off by high prices from big boys – small business rarely need all their complexity).

An Aviator Passes.

It’s with a very heavy heart that I read reports this afternoon that one of the Red Arrows has crashed, and the pilot hasn’t survived.  The Red Arrows are a true credit to The Royal Air Force and are nothing short of absolutely awesome to watch — it’s impossible to describe just how skilled these aviators are.

I’m a happy chap if I can keep my airspeed and height within the standards expected of a newly qualified commercial pilot (which I am not, but no harm in aiming high) — these guys and girls fly fast jets at almost 4x my speed, often only inches apart.  It’s a real treat to watch.

I have had the privilege to see this years Red Arrows (part of the team changes every year) twice.  Only earlier this week they overflew my home town and my son had to ring me straight away to say he’d seen them again; and wanted to know why they had no smoke on – I was 150 miles away; but this gives you an idea of how inspirational they are; my 3 year old adores them.  I haven’t the heart to tell him one has crashed.

My thoughts are with the pilots family, friends and his colleagues; it’s always awful when a fellow pilot passes, especially when flying.  Rest In Peace.

Flying West

Capt. Michael J. Larkin 

I hope there’s a place, way up in the sky,
Where pilots can go, when they have to die-
A place where a guy can go and buy a cold beer
For a friend and comrade, whose memory is dear;
A place where no doctor or lawyer can tread,
Nor management type would ere be caught dead;
Just a quaint little place, kinda dark and full of smoke,
Where they like to sing loud, and love a good joke;
The kind of place where a lady could go
And feel safe and protected, by the men she would know.

There must be a place where old pilots go,
When their paining is finished, and their airspeed gets low,
Where the whiskey is old, and the women are young,
And the songs about flying and dying are sung,
Where you’d see all the fellows who’d flown west before.
And they’d call out your name, as you came through the door;
Who would buy you a drink if your thirst should be bad,
And relate to the others, “He was quite a good lad!”

And then through the mist, you’d spot an old guy
You had not seen for years, though he taught you how to fly.
He’d nod his old head, and grin ear to ear,
And say, “Welcome, my son, I’m pleased that you’re here.
“For this is the place where true flyers come,
“When the journey is over, and the war has been won
“They’ve come here to at last to be safe and alone
From the government clerk and the management clone,
“Politicians and lawyers, the Feds and the noise
Where the hours are happy, and these good ol’boys
“Can relax with a cool one, and a well-deserved rest;
“This is Heaven, my son — you’ve passed your last test!”

Adderbury 10k

Recently I’ve sort of taken up running… it all started last year when I voluntered to do a 5k run in aid of Warwickshire & Northamptonshire Air Ambulance.  Prior to this the furthest I would run is to the bar, or the car.    This year I upgraded it to a 10k and took part again in the Heroes Run.

It turns out it’s actually not a bad form of exercise this running lark – so I have vowed to keep it up.  My friend Matt joined me on the WNAA 10k, and vowed the same.  In order to ensure we actually did this I entered us into the Adderbury 10k run, which is organised by Adderbury Running Club; and took place on Saturday 9th July 2011.

Whoops.

I’d been out running a fair bit in preparation for this, but had totally failed to take into account the increase in difficulty posed with it being a cross country run!!  We were up and down hills, over styles and through kissing gates like nobodies business – we were only 3k in and absolutely shattered…. it felt like we’d already ran the same distance as the WNAA run.  Just look at the profile graph from my run logging app (MapMyRun):

Addebury 10k Height Profile
Addebury 10k Height Profile

We ploded on, and after a couple of spells of walking made it well past the 5k marker, but it felt further.

When 10k isn’t…

Adderbury 10km Route
Adderbury 10km Route

It turned out when we finally got to the end and I looked at my mapping app it was in fact 11.8k we’d just ran and not 10 at all.  Doesn’t sound a lot, but it’s almost a  20% increase on a course which was at least 50% harder than any other we’d attempted to date.

It turns out that some of the route markers had gone missing so our “following the crowd” plan had led to the course being longer.

That said, we had made it – despite more walking than we had wanted.  We were both sweaty and had muddy legs from the off road running.   It took us so long (1:30) that some of the half marathon runners were over taking us on the last kilometre and finishing their 13 miles across the same terrain in less time than it took us pair to do 6!

They were brilliant encouraging though… every one of them who over took us said something nice: “Well done lads, nearly there.” etc.  Was really nice.

It turns out today that we didn’t quite come last – 1 person finished the 10k after us.

As we finished the heavens opened, so we made a swift exit after collecting out t-shirts and having some water!

It was a good challenging morning though, and at least we did it.  Thanks to Adderbury Running Club for organising it – but we’ll probably just be sticking to more road-runs in future…  like perhaps the Summer Sun 10km at Moreton Morrell in August.

NTFS on a Mac

Seagate 500Gb USB Hard Drive
Seagate 500Gb USB Hard Drive

I recently bought a 500Gb external hard disc drive for the purpose of backing up my iTunes collection, which isn’t covered by TimeMachine.  I also hoped to use it with my Windows 7 laptop so I could take it away with me and have all my films to watch (albeit not in iTunes).

That being the case I opted for a mobile disc which doesn’t require power.  It’s been a long time since I bought one of these, and the last time I did the biggest you could get was 160Gb – now you can get 1Tb +.  I paid a little over the odds by shopping locally rather than ordering on line, because I wanted it quickly before I went away for a week skiing – I was hoping to take my films with me.

Without thinking I just plugged the disc into the Mac and started copying across everything from the disc which my iTunes is on, and downloaded an app to keep these two volumes in sync whenever I plugged the portable external disc in.  Super!

File System

What I had totally forgotten to consider was the file system which the disc would use.  MacOSX formatted the drive as HFS+ which is a system which isn’t readable in Windows 7.  So all the files I had copied (about 300Gb) were useless on my PC.

As most of the machines I encounter are generally PCs I decided I’d rather have the disk as NTFS.  However this is only readable on a Mac, you can’t write to it as standard.  A bit of research revealed various blogs (here & here) which suggested installing something called MacFUSE and then NTFS-3g.  However it seemed these were a bit of an “effort” by a Google employee and weren’t supported anymore and a little hard to get hold of.  Not really ideal to trust your data to.

The websites where NTFS-3G should have been in turn pointed me to Tuxera – a commercial offering. It is priced at a very reasonable €25 per person (IE if you have 3 macs you can install it on 3), but had a trial offering which was fully featured but time limited.  This is surely the best approach to trialware, as I like to check something really does work before paying for.  It does!

All I can see is that after a reboot (which the installer suggested might not actually be needed) this software works a treat and is very quick.  Can’t recommend it enough…  Tuxera NTFS For Mac.

Banks: Their Own Worst Enemies.

The Big 4
The Big 4

This is a real tale of just how stupid banks can be.  It involves one of the “Big 4” high street retails banks in the UK and me.

Winding Up.

I had a limited company which I had wound up, it had a loan with ‘BigBank’ – which was paid by means of a standing order in to the company current account with BigBank. The only reason that the current account existed was for the payment of this loan, because BigBank refused to take the money by Direct Debit from anywhere else and wouldn’t allow a standing order direct into the loan.  Stupid.

So, every month £175 went into this account and £175 went out automatically; to the point I had almost forgotten about it except for the money going out of my account every month.  As the company had been dormant for so long I asked my accountants to wind it up – which they did.

Bouncy.

Obviously BigBank has an electronic link to Companies House, and as such froze the account.  So the £175 standing order in to the current account was returned to me.  Yet they still paid the loan, leaving the account £175 overdrawn with no agreement.  Which they charged £30 for.

I immediately rang my bank manager and explained what I thought had happened, and he concurred.  As there was a few months left on the loan I offered to repay it immediately, and the £175 balance on the current account; but no fee’s.   He said he’d get that sorted, and thanked me for calling.

He rang back later that day and said that he couldn’t do it because the system wouldn’t allow him – the account was frozen.  I asked how I could repay the banks £1,100 – “you can’t” was his reply.  What??  I was told I would have to wait for their recoveries team to get in touch, but he would ask them to do that promptly.

Waiting.

Another month went by and they took the £175 again, and added another £30 charge on; before I finally got a flurry of letters from BigBank.  One of the letters was a formal demand for repayment of £11,000 – the full amount of the loan which now only had a little over £1000 left to repay.  Two of the letters referred to my personal guarantee on the loans of a company I had never even heard of.  Total and complete system failure.  Remember I just want to repay what’s owed.

I replied to their letters with a complaint stating that I was very unhappy at having to wait for letters rather than just repay what I didn’t contend was owed, then I received letters demanding repayment of £11,000 in 21 days, and then letters demanding repayment of someone else’s loan.  They just weren’t organised at all.

Settling.

I got a letter back apologising and asking me to call to arrange repayment of £1010 (they’d taken the fees and extra interest off) within 21 days else they would instruct solicitors.  They were now threatening me!! I rang them and explained what had happened, they seemed to think this was normal.  I told them under the circumstances I was prepared to offer them £750 to settle the account.

To my surprise they accepted.  So, instead of having £1100 three months ago they have accepted £750 – they have done themselves out of £350.

No wonder they are state owned – if I let people who wanted to pay, pay only 68% of what they owed me, 90 days after it was due I would be out of business sharpish too.

Security: No Longer OS Dependant.

Windows… it’s a virus ridden security nightmare.  Apparently.

The server on which this blog is hosted (along with a number of client web sites, email accounts and services) experienced some very short but unexpected unavailability on Sunday.  Without giving too much away about this server, it is a dedicated Windows 2008 server, in a professionally ran hosting data centre… it’s patched and anti-virus’d (and kept that way), and sits behind a Cisco Firewall appliance with strict rules.

The downtime was caused by a hack of a known 0 day exploit.  But not in this server.  Or on any other Windows server on the same multi-gigabit LAN that this server is on.  No, this was an exploit inside Apache web-server on the Unix boxes on the same lan; which allowed arbitrary code the be ran on the unix servers.  The arbitrary code in this case manifested itself by using 100% of the available LAN bandwidth on the infected machines…. effectively peforming a DOS attack on the network.

Thankfully our hosting partner, Register 1 (who really are excellent) noticed this very promptly and immediately disabled the affected ports so that traffic to unaffected servers was restored promptly.  They then patched their other customers machines and brought them back on line.  Once again an excellent and very timely response.

Not the norm.

The point I am trying to make is that when you say “hack”, “exploit” or “virus” people instantly think of Windows.  That may be the norm, but just because you aren’t running Windows don’t get lazy with your patching and security.  Windows has become the de-facto target for security exploits for 2 main reasons.

  • It’s prevalence.  It’s everywhere, therefore exploiting it hurts more.
  • Historically it was easier to exploit, early versions of Windows just weren’t as secure as Unix.

Those days are gone. Hackers and exploiters will take what they can get now: be that a BSD box, Mac, Linux or any other flavour of OS or application which sits on it.  So complacency is the killer here, not the OS.

Are all of your servers and their apps all up to date?

30 Seconds to Impact

A book review & warning to chat room commentators.

30 seconds To Impact
Click to Buy @ Amazon

While I was stuck at Oslo (Rygge) airport earlier this week (another story to come in another post!), I managed to use the 7 hour delay productively by finally getting around to reading 30 Seconds To Impact, by Peter Burkill.    For those who don’t know, Peter Burkill was the Captain of the ill-fated British Airways Flight 038 from Beijing to London Heathrow in Jan 2008 which crash landed short of the runway following a double engine failure at 500′; with no loss of life and only 1 serious injury.

The book doesn’t really go in to any great detail about the cause of the crash, or the actions of the pilots (it was actually the Senior First Officer who was Pilot Flying at the time of the crash), but it doesn’t need to – the Air Accidents Investigation Branch does a good job of that, showing that it was a build up of ice in the fuel system that caused the crash.  Instead it concentrates on the human aspects of the crash, its aftermath, and the way it was dealt with by British Airways and the British media.

Maria too.

The book is written as a recollection of events after the crash by both Capt. Burkill and his wife, Maria.  They often alternate passages in the book, and in doing so they provide a brilliant insight into both sides of the story.  It is an absolutely enthralling tale, and I’ll try not to retell the book here – buy a copy, and support The Burkills.

BA038 G-YMMM at LHR
BA038 after crash landing.

I think its probably fair to say that the Burkill’s felt let down by British Airways because of the way they handled the media circus which ensued after the accident; Peter was banned from speaking to the media, and no-one from within BA or his union were about to publicly support him.  In the absence of proper solid information the media (especially the tabloid press) reverted to type and went dredging!

Couple this with gossip and tittle tattle, and you have a proud man almost broken; and because of being off work, almost broke too.  I won’t say more; but it really captures you.  I read nearly the whole book in one sitting!

Aviators.

I think the reason the book was literally “un-put-down-able” was that it detailed the side of an accident that I, and other pilots, never think about – the people.  When an accident occurs we’re all keen to find the root cause as quickly, but as accurately, as possible so that if possible a re-occurrence can be prevented.  To that end the various investigative & safety agencies (AAIB, NTSB, CAA, EASA, etc) do an excellent job of producing technical reports… but none of them ever say what happened afterwards!   Normally, they don’t even mention the pilot’s name – in this case Capt. Burkill is just described as Male, aged 43, 12,700hrs experience.

Peter Burkill
Peter Burkill

This book tells that tale – the personal details.  The thing which has struck me most was that Captain Burkill cited a couple of times that he didn’t get support from his colleagues, and that comments in some forums really really affected him.  This disappoints me because as pilots we should look out for each other – especially in moments of need.  But the message I have taken away is this if you are an aviator and want to comment on an accident, please don’t do so in a public forum without facts. It has untold effects you won’t realise!

Any landing you can walk away from, is a successful landing.