Technology

Food Gulu – update required. Plus spam.

Food Gulu

I understand that apps need to be updated periodically.  But why do you force me to update it before I can use it?  Almost every other app allows you to use the current version and update later (when you have time).  But not FoodGulu, oh no.

Food Gulu is a simple enough app - it allows you to book  tables for restaurants in Hong Kong (including the Maxims group).  Anyone who has had to wait for a table for Dim Sum should appreciate the convenience.  You can make a booking on your way to the restaurant  – and if there’s a long wait you can do something else whilst monitoring the queue.

But recently it seems to need updating every week, and the first you hear of it is when you open it to book a table.

Plus they have started sending me annoying offers for a 20% discount if I pre-order food in a Korean restaurant at the airport.  This can’t be a targeted offer (I’ve never been to this restaurant or used the FoodGulu app at the airport), so it must be spam


Spotify not “scary good”

Spotify continues to get itself into trouble, this time by requesting “data about the speed of your movements, such as whether you are running, walking, or in transit”.  They say it’s for a new feature called Spotify Running.

Me, I’d be happy if their Windows application would just work.  At least now it doesn’t crash (thanks, Spotify techies), but it does take several minutes to start.  What is it doing?

And then I found this: 

Spotify's chief executive apologises after user backlash over new privacy policy

Spotify’s Discover Weekly service was introduced in late July as an attempt to solve the company’s long-standing problems with music discovery. The feature offers up a two-hour playlist based on users’ listening habits, as well as those of similar fans, and is overseen by Matthew Ogle, formerly of music social network This Is My Jam.

“We wanted to make something that felt like your best friend making you a mixtape, labelled ‘music you should check out’, every single week,” Ogle told the Guardian last month. In the month since the feature was launched, it has become a hit with users, with comments on social media calling it “the most fire DJ of 2015” and “scary good”.

Really?  Maybe my musical tastes are too eclectic, but so far I haven’t found much that really interests me.  Yet it does seem that the consensus on Twitter is very favourable, so it must be me.


You want English? Learn Chinese!

If you live in Greater China you will know that stuff (phones, tablets, etc.) often comes with Chinese as the default setting.  And the (pitifully) few Chinese characters I might recognize are nowhere near enough to navigate through the menus to find the option to change to English.  

Yes it’s my own fault for buying a tablet with Chinese Windows.  I was in a hurry and I assumed that it would be easy to switch to English.  Indeed (with some help), I changed the primary language to English. 

Then I downloaded Evernote Touch, and it’s all in Chinese.  What?  I couldn’t find the menu in the application, and it turns out you have to do something in Windows and then all is (reasonably) well.  Anyway, waste of time because it’s rubbish.  Back to the normal (desktop version) of the program, which is fine except that there’s no way to do a right-click.  

This is strange because in Google Chrome you can do a right-click (hold your finger and up pops a menu). 

But back to the point - is it too much to ask that there should always be a button or high-level menu in English, Spanish, or French that takes you to language selection?  


It’s a phone, stupid

Most annoying mobile phone feature?  Some clever person at Blackberry decided that the best way to handle a low battery would be….to terminate your phone call without any prior warning.  Not even a minute or two to scramble for a charger, oh no.  We have to preserve the battery so you can, er, read your emails?

Amazingly, there appear to be people who thing this is a good piece of design, and will tell you that you should check your battery before making a call.  Thanks for the advice.

Fortunately I don’t totally rely on my Blackberry, and I have another phone that doesn’t think it knows what’s best for me,   

In other news, Spotify still doesn’t work on my Windows 7 PC. 


Things that don’t work–Spotify

It’s very kind of them to make Spotify available in Hong Kong, but their stupid software doesn’t work.  I am running Windows 7 (64 bit) and the Spotify application works for anything from 30 seconds to a few minutes before crashing – and it’s impossible to close it and restart it.

The Android app works, but is hardly usable because it drains the battery within a few hours.

Which just leaves the web version, but that only seems to work in Chrome – and requires Flash Player, which I had disabled.

Well, at least Google and Apple aren’t competing with them.  Oh, hang on, yes they are.


How to drive your best employees away

Interesting article in Vanity Fair about Microsoft’s problems. 

What I hadn’t previously realized was that they use the stupid “stack ranking” system. Maybe it worked well at GE in Jack Welch’s days -  it’s possible that firing 10% of employees every year was a smart strategy for them - but whoever thought that was the answer for Microsoft was definitely asking the wrong question.  

It worked real well for Enron as well. 

Microsoft’s Lost Decade

[..] At the center of the cultural problems was a management system called “stack ranking.” Every current and former Microsoft employee I interviewed—every one—cited stack ranking as the most destructive process inside of Microsoft, something that drove out untold numbers of employees. The system—also referred to as “the performance model,” “the bell curve,” or just “the employee review”—has, with certain variations over the years, worked like this: every unit was forced to declare a certain percentage of employees as top performers, then good performers, then average, then below average, then poor.

“If you were on a team of 10 people, you walked in the first day knowing that, no matter how good everyone was, two people were going to get a great review, seven were going to get mediocre reviews, and one was going to get a terrible review,” said a former software developer. “It leads to employees focusing on competing with each other rather than competing with other companies.”

Supposing Microsoft had managed to hire technology’s top players into a single unit before they made their names elsewhere—Steve Jobs of Apple, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Larry Page of Google, Larry Ellison of Oracle, and Jeff Bezos of Amazon—regardless of performance, under one of the iterations of stack ranking, two of them would have to be rated as below average, with one deemed disastrous.

For that reason, executives said, a lot of Microsoft superstars did everything they could to avoid working alongside other top-notch developers, out of fear that they would be hurt in the rankings. And the reviews had real-world consequences: those at the top received bonuses and promotions; those at the bottom usually received no cash or were shown the door.

Outcomes from the process were never predictable. Employees in certain divisions were given what were known as M.B.O.’s—management business objectives—which were essentially the expectations for what they would accomplish in a particular year. But even achieving every M.B.O. was no guarantee of receiving a high ranking, since some other employee could exceed the assigned performance. As a result, Microsoft employees not only tried to do a good job but also worked hard to make sure their colleagues did not.

“The behavior this engenders, people do everything they can to stay out of the bottom bucket,” one Microsoft engineer said. “People responsible for features will openly sabotage other people’s efforts. One of the most valuable things I learned was to give the appearance of being courteous while withholding just enough information from colleagues to ensure they didn’t get ahead of me on the rankings.”

Worse, because the reviews came every six months, employees and their supervisors—who were also ranked—focused on their short-term performance, rather than on longer efforts to innovate.

“The six-month reviews forced a lot of bad decision-making,” one software designer said. “People planned their days and their years around the review, rather than around products. You really had to focus on the six-month performance, rather than on doing what was right for the company.”

There was some room for bending the numbers a bit. Each team would be within a larger Microsoft group. The supervisors of the teams could have slightly more of their employees in the higher ranks so long as the full group met the required percentages. So, every six months, all of the supervisors in a single group met for a few days of horse trading.

On the first day, the supervisors—as many as 30—gather in a single conference room. Blinds are drawn; doors are closed. A grid containing possible rankings is put up—sometimes on a whiteboard, sometimes on a poster board tacked to the wall—and everyone breaks out Post-it notes. Names of team members are scribbled on the notes, then each manager takes a turn placing the slips of paper into the grid boxes. Usually, though, the numbers don’t work on the first go-round. That’s when the haggling begins.

“There are some pretty impassioned debates and the Post-it notes end up being shuffled around for days so that we can meet the bell curve,” said one Microsoft manager who has participated in a number of the sessions. “It doesn’t always work out well. I myself have had to give rankings to people that they didn’t deserve because of this forced curve.”

The best way to guarantee a higher ranking, executives said, is to keep in mind the realities of those behind-the-scenes debates—every employee has to impress not only his or her boss but bosses from other teams as well. And that means schmoozing and brown-nosing as many supervisors as possible.

“I was told in almost every review that the political game was always important for my career development,” said Brian Cody, a former Microsoft engineer. “It was always much more on ‘Let’s work on the political game’ than on improving my actual performance.”

Like other employees I interviewed, Cody said that the reality of the corporate culture slowed everything down. “It got to the point where I was second-guessing everything I was doing,” he said. “Whenever I had a question for some other team, instead of going to the developer who had the answer, I would first touch base with that developer’s manager, so that he knew what I was working on. That was the only way to be visible to other managers, which you needed for the review.”

I asked Cody whether his review was ever based on the quality of his work. He paused for a very long time. “It was always much less about how I could become a better engineer and much more about my need to improve my visibility among other managers.”

In the end, the stack-ranking system crippled the ability to innovate at Microsoft, executives said. “I wanted to build a team of people who would work together and whose only focus would be on making great software,” said Bill Hill, the former manager. “But you can’t do that at Microsoft.”