Rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty.

Monday, January 24, 2005

The future's back

While high street retailers were reporting 'disappointing' Christmas sales, online shopping in the UK is going from strength to strength. I was pleased to read, in several papers this weekend, about Asos the online fashion retailer. It's a particularly interesting example because clothes are one of the things that, with post dot bomb hindsight, obviously can't be sold online. I guess they can now. The key selling point of Asos is that their range is based on the clothes that celebrities wear. You see your favourite celeb wearing something you like on TV, and with a few clicks you can find something just like it online. The founders admit that this is not a new idea, it's what fashion magazines do all the time. The difference is that being online Asos can update their catalogue instantly.

Dot com is back, and this time it has a business plan! Old ideas are coming back in new guises. As Alvin Toffler wrote in Future Shock "The future arrives too soon and in the wrong order." I think we're sorting it out now.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Tai chi classes

My tai chi classes started again this week. I much prefer doing tai chi in a group to practicing alone. I'm feeling quite pleased with myself for having kept up practice over the Christmas break. I took special trouble to focus on a sequence that I know I'm weak on, and was quite pleased when we got to that part and I passed through it smoothly.

After warm up and going through the form we tried a new exercise. The purpose of it is to develop a sense of where your partners 'root' is. Your partner stands still with their arms folded, feet shoulder-width apart and sinks their weight down into the ground. You do the same and place your hands on their elbows. Slowly, without pushing, you then sink into their space, sensing where they are rooted and eventually uprooting them, so they have to step back or fall over. The movement is very very subtle. An observer would only see two people standing still. It doesn't feel like pushing either - as I stood there with my arms folded, all I could feel was my centre of gravity shifting slowly backwards, making it harder and harder to keep my balance. On the other side it doesn't feel like pushing either, I just tried to feel where my partner was rooted and expand my root into that space. Very little happened for a long time until suddenly they went.

Having experienced tai chi it's very easy to believe in concepts like chi energy. Some people where quite happy to speak in those terms to describe what they were doing. I'm not ready to believe such a thing exists in an objective measurable sense. It does, however, match my subjective experience, so for the practical purpose of learning tai chi it's the best way to visualise what's going on. Just one more impossible thing to believe before breakfast!

In exercises like this I find that every partner is different, and I'm different with every partner. Some seem heavy, some light, some stiff, some flexible. You don't often get the opportunity to read someone like that.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Tower of Babel

On wednesday night I attended the weekly Brighton freelancers meeting at the Lord Nelson. By random chance many of the conversations highlighted the importance, and difficulty, of effective communication.

Paul Silver related the difficulties he had had explaining to a non-technical client what exactly it is that MySQL is, and why PHP and MySQL are nearly always used together like bread and butter.

Richard praised Sevan's encylopaedic knowledge of windows security and configuration issues, but professed to not always following his detailed explanations of how he fixed his PC. The tables were turned when Richard gave Sevan his wife's PC to fix. "It's all in Chinese!" He navigated the menus by memory, but eventually had to find another way.

As we'd all had very little chance to talk tech over Christmas, there was little room for social chit chat, and conversation narrowed in on quite specialised areas of technology. I bobbed along in the fast moving stream of in-depth hardware and networking talk, occasionally gaining some insight, but finding it hard to contribute much.

All this has made me more aware of how easy it is to mistakenly assume your audience has understood what, to you appears pefectly obvious, but to them may as well have been spoken in Chinese. Intelligence and technical knowledge don't always guarantee understanding either, as even in this group of highly technical people, we each speak a language based on our own knowledge and experience. To get the most out of a conversation, whether in a social, business or technical context, clarity and understanding are vital. I can recall conversations I've had where we've both been talking past each other. Taking a little time to consider, listen and ask questions would have helped a lot.