the only certainty is change

24 02 2014

hello world.  long time no blog, eh?  yeah.

i was reminded on the weekend of how much has changed, and that at least a few distant friends don’t have any other mechanism to keep up with my dizzying lifestyle, than this blog.

so, what’s been happening?  well, quite a lot, but over an excruciatingly long period, so on average, not much!

18 months ago I had a chance encounter with a dear friend in Melbourne who had just returned from a week-long NLP course.  she was casually flipping through the supplied course notes, and began an exercise on me, related to ‘what makes you happy’ or some such topic.  i was required to answer the questions with minimum thought and as quickly as possible (which is not my normal mental stance ;).  what came out of my mouth surprised even me!  to cut a 10+ minute Q&A session story short, basically I made the realisation that I’d never been so happy in my work/career as when I was designing electronics & small computer systems – my original first career throughout the 1990s!  WTF?  where did that come from!??

that realisation came just months after I lost my #1 client.  so in a lackadaisical manner, I began poking my head back into the career I’d left behind, curious to see what had happened in my absence.  the answer to that turns out to be both a lot, and no much.  not much, in that virtually all of the principles of electronics engineering haven’t changed a bit, even many of the same electronics components I was using back then not only still exist, but are still in common use to this day.  microcontrollers (small microprocessors with a bunch of ‘peripherals’ all on the same chip, forerunners to the modern ‘SoC’ – System On A Chip – that are used in all manner of mobile devices these days) are more or less the same, just  better, faster, etc.  it’s far more common to write code in C rather than assembler for these microcontrollers now – a new challenge for me.

and of course two other things happened in the 00s:  “wireless communications” and “the internet”, both of which have had a huge impact on the industry and the kinds of products / solutions now possible.  the kids these days have a name for the latter – IoT, the “internet of things” – gadgets given an internet connection and the ability to be controlled remotely and to ‘collaborate’ amongst themselves, via the internet.  zowee!

at the same time, as a kind of knee-jerk reaction to the loss of client # 1, I designed myself a website (the first proper website I’ve had other than mere place-holders), got business cards, and all done with a decent, consistent branding, colour scheme, artwork, etc.  and I attended “breakfast networking” many times over the ensuing year, to try to drum up new business.

regular readers might remember how I’ve said before I never had to lift a finger to acquire the clients I had in Melbourne – they literally fell in my lap from a variety of circumstances, and sometimes I felt a little guilty for that.  well, surprise surprise, that ‘dream run’ in Melbourne didn’t exactly prepare me for the hard slog of recreating a new stable of clients in cold hard Sydney.  i also think the market has evolved somewhat throughout the 00’s & into the 10s, and the expectations that small-businesses have of their IT support provider has risen.  being a one-man-band is now somewhat less appealing to a large & growing number of small businesses, no matter how much cheaper they can be.  ultimately that year long effort came to all-but-nothing.

throughout 2013 I was also spending a lot of time getting my head back into my old career of electronics design, my “first love”, using to take on a select few jobs to push my limits in new areas of technology whilst leveraging what I already knew for the bulk of it, to come back up to speed in the industry in a relatively low-risk way.  although it’s been wildly unprofitable (and I could rabbit on somewhat about the pros & cons of the ‘global marketplace’ unleashed by sites like and others), it IS serving its intended purpose.

with that as a back-drop, and the awkward cross-over of careers, the small-biz IT consulting side of things was dealt the final nail in its coffin with the loss of client # 2 in mid-2013.  since then i’ve been living on dregs, the smell of an oily rag, etc, and surviving only with the gracious generosity of J and my parents, whose been very patient in supporting me through this period.

so much for the new remote-working lifestyle I dreamed of a couple of years ago, especially when, for a short while, it seemed I was closer to it than I’d first expected!  gone.  poof.  financially dependent on others – a very new, unprecedented and uncomfortable reality.  and an old dark doggy friend has made an unwelcome return; not as much as years past, but definitely present.

but you know what?  it couldn’t have happened that way anyway.  my heart wasn’t in IT any more, & client # 2 were right to walk away (even if the way they did it – to suddenly lock me out overnight with no warning, no organised change-over – was not in their best interests, but rather the actions of a bean-counter who seems to think everyone else in the world operates as deceitfully and subversively as she does).  the mere thought of working in IT now is energy-sapping.  i’ve done it to death since 2000, and I’m now heartily sick of trying to bridge the ‘digital divide’ (between the ‘knows’ and the ‘know-nots’) that is inherent in a world of tech that’s forever advancing, but with clients whose notions are still too often stuck in 1999 (it’s not that it can’t be done, but it’s a tiresome endless slog against ordinary computer user’s desire to keep doing things the way they’ve always done them).  i’m tired of trying to hold back the tide of IT security threats and keep my clients safe, and the responsibility that comes with it, when there really is there’s no such thing as security when it comes to any sufficiently motivated intruder, where by just about any measure the IT industry is losing the battle of keeping their systems secure.  and I’m tired of spending most of my time reacting to problems, and too little of it being creative.  I walked away from creativity when I put electronics design aside to move into IT consulting.  it was fun for a while, but i’m just not up to the challenge any more.  someone else can do it now.  bye bye IT.  :)

what now?  that’s an open question.  i’m redesigning my website to put myself up as a designer of bespoke electronic & microcontroller systems.  i’m open to collaboration with person(s) skilled in the ‘I’ of “IoT” (Internet Of Things).  but of course ‘networking’ and getting known / a reputation & getting in front of people remains a challenge.  stay tuned…


Misquoting Einstein and the FUD that follows every new technology

14 10 2013

Got an email from Mum today, another meme that I just couldn’t help debunking.

It starts with a series of pictures (see below), showing youngsters with their heads buried in smartphones, followed by a quote attributed to Einstein:

“I fear the day that our technology will surpass our human interaction.  The world will have a generation of idiots.”

The near meaninglessness of the quote immediately raised my suspicion that it wasn’t a quote of his at all, so I spent 30 seconds googling and discovered I wasn’t the first one to question this attribution.  This one neatly sums up the situation.

This is what I replied to Mum:

Einstein actually never said that, or in fact anything like it.

It is an “internet meme” concocted by people who hold the view along the lines “this is what we [or at least some of us] are, so this is all we can be”, and I think it’s rubbish.

fear, uncertainty and doubt – FUD – have followed on the coat tails of EVERY technological advance.

Fearmongers claimed that the gramophone would put an end to public performance of music; that movies & cinema would end live theatre; that TV would make our eyes square; that computers would make us dumber.  and that’s just some of the relatively rational claims…


live music is alive and well.

theatre lives on, aided in many ways by technology.

eyes continue to be round, and countless billions educated, informed, and entertained by it every hour of every day.  no one claims now that all TV is bad because of what people choose to watch, any more than they claimed with any credibility that all books were bad because of what some people choose to read; remember, Mills and Boon was a product of YOUR generation! ;)

computers give us, among many things, the ability to type a few words into Google and find out if Einstein really did say those words, and discover in a matter of seconds that in fact he didn’t, and then pause to wonder at the mind(s) and intent/motivation behind those who claim that he did.

Einstein and his peers discovered and invented something that still threatens our survival as a species on this planet even now.  but that’s not all that opening that door of inquiry did; many secrets of our physical world are still unfolding since crossing that threshold, and many tangible benefits have come from it that out-number the deleterious risk of its original application in just about every way you care to measure it; and we continue to have the option, if we are sufficiently motivated, to cease using that original application of nuclear technology.

each step of the way, our collective culture has to take each of these new technologies and experiment with them, learn what they’re good for and not-so-good for, and adapt it to human needs and wants.

having “the internet in your pocket” (or in your hands while seated at a cafe table with your closest friends) is so utterly new and novel and empowering that our culture hasn’t yet settled on new norms and etiquettes for dealing with the social ramifications of these new tools.

prior to 7 years ago when business executives or True Geeks pulled out an internet-connected smart-phone and tapped away at it while in the company of Normal People, they were looked upon with a bit of disdain, but it was mostly tolerated; “their interests are specialised” the ignorant folk conceded.  back then smartphones were an insignificant blip on our collective radar.

then Apple showed us how to make proper smartphones and tablets, and everyone else (manufacturers) followed.

now everyone wants one and wants to use it in all sorts of ways and places and situations that were never possible or practical before.

some other people want society to jump to some imagined conclusion point, some “this is how and when and where smartphones should be used in public, BUT NO FURTHER!”.

well, they can keep wanting, because it will simply take time, not withstanding that there will never be one universal etiquette on the who/what/when/where/how of their use, any more than we can agree on a pan-cultural, universally acceptable use of, and behaviour within, a public toilet.

i’d like to think that Einstein would just shake his crazy-haired head at these pictures and accept that technology is a continuum, and say that people will sooner or later rediscover what’s most important, and re-define the limits of what is acceptable and not acceptable for the use of each technology for themselves, and leave others to do as they wish.

but then, Einstein probably never said anything of the sort ;)



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there are no coincidences in toilets

15 09 2012

“The concept of randomness and coincidence will be obsolete when people can finally define a formulation of patterned interaction between all things within the universe.” 

Toba Beta, Betelgeuse Incident

actually coincidences happen all the time.  technically, mathematically, in an open system of overwhelming variables for which it’s impractical to quantify all those variables, coincidences are normal.  we refer to it as randomness, and humans are notoriously bad a misattributing meaning or cause to them.  whilst we can think we’re smart by saying things like Toba did quoted above, that one day we will be able to ‘know everything’, that day isn’t today.

but there’s a multitude of pockets of knowableness (i just invented that word) in the world, relatively closed systems whose variables are knowable and whose behaviour can be predicted to high accuracy.  it’s been a driving force in human evolution to create them everywhere we go and in everything we do.

like plumbing.

when our toilet started gurgling with air bubbles coming out the other night, clearly something was wrong.  one of the first thoughts to cross my mind was “I wonder if the neighbour’s bathroom renovations have anything to do with this?” (we share a common wall & set of plumbing).

the problem got worse, the plumber attended, and after cutting out a foot of 6″ black water plumbing somewhere downstream from our toilets to clear the blockage, he informed me that it was a piece of tile – presumably fallen into the system from the neighbour’s renovations.

there’s are no coincidences, just lots of situations where we don’t have enough information.  and now a bathroom & laundry floor to clean.

Surviving Progress?

18 08 2012

Surviving Progress – A HowTo?

last Wednesday we went to watch Surviving Progress, shown as part of the Possible Worlds Canadian Film Festival, at Dendy (Opera House).  it’s apparently based on a best-selling book A Short History Of Progress, by Ronald Wright.

Possible Worlds billed it “From the makers of The Corporation and executive producer Martin Scorsese comes an absorbing, multi-faceted documentary on evolution, progress and social change”, which immediately got my attention.  The Corporation is a documentary I credit with triggering (not causing) my 5+ year plunge into dysthymic depression after watching it in 2005.  However there is no such reference to The Corporation on Surviving Progress’s website, and from a cursory glance at at their respective producers, only Mark Achbar appears to be common among twelve key creators.

i’m happy to report i’m not drowning in my own blood this time!  unfortunately for Surviving Progress, that might not be a good sign.  The Corporation struck me light lightning, a true epiphany, albeit one in which my path (of the three likely) after seeing it was to become totally overwhelmed & motivationally impotent (the other two likely options being: sticking one’s head back in the sand, or doing something).  Surviving Progress gave me nothing new, taught me nothing I didn’t already know.

even the film’s name, Surviving Progress, is, being generous, enigmatic.  does it mean “this documentary will offer a path of hope, a parable on how to survive Progress”, or merely tread old ground and pessimistically ask “how can humanity survive progress?”.  perhaps i was naive (nice to know it can still happen!), but the former was my interpretation.  unfortunately there are few if any answers on offer in Surviving Progress.

The Corporation was comparatively epic, a roller-coaster that dive-bombed into and out of a selection of topics that left one with the sense that this documentary barely scratched the surface of the myriad issues that face us.  but it was also more than that.  there were rays of hope that shone out, people making a difference and prevailing against The Machine.  even its closing credits had a laundry list of organisations and websites of those who are trying to Do Something.

Surviving Progress had no message of hope, no heroes, no call to action.  and yet, despite it’s depressing lack of hope, it washed over me and barely left a mark.  what gives?

J & I both commented afterwards that the audience was full of lefty alternative types.  that might seem like the likely target audience for such a doco, but really it’s just preaching to the converted – and in Surviving Progress‘s case, doing so with little to contribute to those of us who are already ‘tuned in’ to ‘issues’ (at least some of them).  to a small degree i feel like a senseless consumer, sucked in by the heritage alluded in its promotion and 2 cinema tickets poorer.

i remember thinking after watching The Corporation “OMG!  more people need to see this!  Important people who normally wouldn’t intersect such media need to see this!  the Prime Minister needs to see this!”.  i know, so naive.  to be fair to Surviving Progress, whilst it’s not an uplifting documentary, perhaps it could still impact others who haven’t yet had the wool covering their eyes removed, and effect transformation.  but how do you reach such people?  one at a time, organically, slowly, doesn’t seem to be cutting it against the overwhelming power of The Machine.

and then i look at myself, and think “WTF am I doing about it?”


just another fucking hypocrite.

how not to win friends and influence people

2 08 2012

recently @ozdj blocked me on Twitter – not just unfollowed, but blocked.  neither of us can see each other’s tweets now.

blocking someone on twitter is something usually reserved for someone who really pisses you off, or for ‘trolls’. oh dear :-(

his blocking came fairly shortly after this ‘exchange’ (from bottom up):

Twitter OzDJ 1

context:  the link @ozdj refers to is this post by Malcolm Turnbull (Federal MP for Wentworth, shadow minister for communications & broadband), bemoaning how the ACCC has “abandoned competition in favour of government monopoly” in relation to the NBN and the payments to Telstra and Optus by the NBN (aka Fed Gov’t, aka tax payers) to shut down their copper last-mile networks to make way for NBN fibre as the primary delivery of broadband.

some people who knows me might have some idea of my underlying thoughts on this matter, and the original sale (privatisation) of Telstra that started in 1997.  i hinted at it in this post a few years ago.  regardless, that’s not what this post is about.

whilst i stand by the rationale behind my little outburst, i regret the tone of it.  a random person would have no idea of my thoughts behind that series of tweets.  i regret firing off a one-way unengaged missive, it’s not how Twitter works best.  as frustrating as short 140char tweets can be in trying to convey thoughts of substance, patience is necessary.  if i’m to be completely honest, i do sometimes have a tendency to make brash declarative statements or outbursts, rather than engaging in a two-way dialogue.  and i know it’s sometimes not particularly endearing :-(

it’s not how you win friends or influence people.  i’m sorry, Derek.

it’s not me, it’s you two.

13 07 2012

for the first time in my life i’m unemployed.

well, maybe not technically unemployed – i think the government would categorise me as “under-employed”, which looks better in their stats.

you’d better go get a triple venti with a pre-warmed mug for this one…

but before i start:  why am i writing all this?  “it’s just a former client, move on!”, some of you might say.  sure, they are, and i am.  but there’s also a tale i feel like telling, part history, part drama, part bitchfest, but above all about how my views of two people have changed so dramatically over the last year, not just during this recent Final Cut.  generally i choose to stay isolated from most of the internal machinations of my clients.  it took the collapse of REDgroup last year (and a loss of $4.2k) to spark my curiosity, starting with my ‘Seeing REDgroup’ posts over a year ago, and gathering more perspective from various people involved since then.  it’s been quite an eye-opener.  this post alone has been two months in the drafting.  so without further ado…

when i moved to Melbourne 12 years ago, i had some casual work lined up with my just-become-former Sydney employer, and another client, both for electronics design stuff.  it would be enough to get by until i worked out something more permanent in Melbourne.  however within a month of arriving, my best friend Tony invited me to his employer to meet and discuss helping them through some difficult times the company was encountering with their IT setup.  i spent a few months doing that, and figured that would be it.  small business IT was something i was apparently capable of, though until then i’d had no intention of becoming self-employed in it!

12 years later, last May, that client called to say that my services would no longer be required, thank you very much.  it was a big and mostly unexpected gut punch.  as they unfortunately still make up two thirds of my income, it’s also a major OH FUCK moment, and has indefinitely postponed our European trip planned for September this year (thankfully we hadn’t quite booked flights that probably would’ve been non-refundable).

i say mostly unexpected, because although i’d just spent the previous two months making a raft of proposals to revamp various aspects of their IT (which they described as “excellent”), things had then gone very quiet.  a date for the next conference call to discuss timeline & costs came and went without a phone call.  a couple of my emails to the MD had gone unanswered.  i proceeded with preliminary planning regardless.  i should have picked up the phone, but in retrospect my suspicion is that moves were already afoot to choose a new IT provider.

Darth Maul and his apprentice Jeronimo are the new part-owners, directors and top level hands-on managers of the business, snatching it from the jaws of Administration last year following the appalling collapse of REDgroup Retail.

some background:  Darth Maul brought the business’s retail concept to Australia in ’95, and then sold his interest in 2004.  After Maul’s departure, Jeronimo was co-GM alongside my friend Tony, however both moved out of those roles after a couple of years, though headed in entirely different directions.  Jeronimo moved up and up into the Angus & Robertson owner, and thence into the newly formed REDgroup Retail, encompassing Angus & Robertson, Borders, & Whitcoulls book retail giants, as well as this business, my “Client # 1”.

in fact Jeronimo’s rise was quite impressive, reaching the level of Managing Director through to late 2010, and encompassing other director roles including Group Commercial Director prior.  I’m guessing one of the primary concerns of “Group Commercial Director” is to come up with answers to questions like “How do we make more money?” and “What do we do about sagging book sales?” and “WTF are we gonna do about these damn eBook things?” (A&R and Borders didn’t get eBook/eReader religion until early 2010, by licensing the ready-made Kobo system).  As Darth Maul himself once stated in his weekly wisdom email missives, it takes a certain kind of person and skills to not just survive, but thrive in that environment.

Jeronimo resigned from REDgroup a month or three before it went into Administration in February 2011.

Darth Maul, as his pseudonym here might suggest, has somewhat of a reputation as a lion or bull when it comes to business.  nevertheless, I found him quite straight forward, pleasant and fair to deal with most of the time. however it was the staff who truly bore the brunt of Maul’s management style.  according to some reports, staff would be bullied, belittled or berated mercilessly, often in front of other staff to the point of tears, until they complied with Maul’s Way.  it was almost always the stick, rarely the carrot, whether he was right or wrong.  no one enjoys working for a bastard.  the offices of Client # 1 became a far nicer place to be after his departure in 2004, and again in 2006 when Jeronimo moved up in the world.  that’s not just my opinion.  and the business continued to be profitable without their hands-on management.

Darth Maul sends out a weekly email (also published on an associate’s website) to chosen disciples, containing a distillation of his business wisdom.  He paints himself as honest, straight forward, hard-nosed but humane, and always striving to operate with the highest of integrity.  he even does a bit of volunteer community work.  it’s impossible not to think highly of Darth Maul if one judges him purely through these emails.  one presumes that he also tries to inspire these qualities in those he mentors.

Tony died in 2007 in palpable, inconsolable fear that when he returned from his long vacation, Maul was rumoured to become involved in the business once again (and eventually did, at a distance at least).  in previous years i would often have to endure long sessions of Tony debriefing/destressing from the torment he felt in that business at Maul’s hands.  clearly it takes two to tango, and if you’re desperately unhappy in a job then you should leave, but alas he didn’t, and the stress he endured over six years consumed most of his day-to-day life, with ramifications way beyond just his work-life, even after a year or two of professional psychological help.  the difference in the perspective they held of each other, and the lack of genuine communication of grievances, is instructive – Tony died nursing major psychological wounds at the hands of Maul, whereas Maul actually demonstrated he was human in his heart-felt eulogy at Tony’s funeral / memorial service, oblivious to the fear and loathing Tony harboured for him in his last few years.  if Tony had his way, Maul wouldn’t have been allowed that opportunity to speak – we deliberated this in planning his memorial service, but felt it wasn’t our place to deny his request; after all, such events are largely for the benefit of those left behind rather than the deceased.

anyway, in mid-2011 Maul & Jeronimo ride in to save the day.  they discarded the GM that Jeronimo himself selected several years earlier who had continued to keep the business profitable and who’d worked hard to rescue the business from Administration.  at the same time the staff were denied any stake in the new business entity – they’d gone to considerable lengths and cost to arrange themselves as co-buyers of the business in an earlier failed attempt to buy the business out of Administration.  lovely.

it didn’t go unnoticed by some staff that they were now under the management of one of the key personalities at the highest levels of hands-on management to preside over REDgroup’s demise.  gone too a few months later was the IT Manager, who’d served the business as long as I had, and served it above & beyond the call of duty.  he received his Dear John phone call on his birthday while on extended and serious sick leave.  arguably the business didn’t need him any more, but if you take one look at the dysfunctionally over-worked stress-ball who already shared and was about to assume the remainder of his responsibilities for their ERP system, i’d re-think that decision.

at a Sunday lunch with most of the staff (minus Maul, Jeronimo, the Bitch Buyer, and the StressBall) a few months ago, i’d never seen their morale so low, despite their retail season just completed being entirely successful.  they were distressed by the treatment of the former GM and IT Manager, denied equity in the new business despite being ready to sign, and resented being micro-managed by REDgroup’s failed chief head-kicker.  micro-managing the staff of a business that was one of only two profitable entities in the entire REDgroup  was a major slap in the face – these were the people who made the business worth buying out of Administration in the first place.  Maul & Jeronimo weren’t the saviours they might wish to paint themselves, at least not in the sense that the business needed them specifically.  credit where credit is due for pulling together the deal that ultimately did bring the business out of Administration, but frankly anyone could have stepped up to buy the business, and it would’ve resumed being just as profitable.  being charitable, it smacks of the knee-jerk reaction of a guilty conscience not wanting to ever re-live the agony of a business in death throes, by “trying harder next time”.

perhaps sensing the low morale, or simply being reminded after a successful season that his old comrades weren’t stupid, this year Jeronimo embarked on an inspiring process of consultation, re-thinking and streamlining of the entire business’s processes, and I was included in that to the degree possible for an outside entity.

however the flip-side of all this warm fuzzy consultation were re-worked position descriptions and annual employment contracts.  i’m told that demands and responsibilities placed upon staff had never been higher, the conditions that defined “Success” higher, and only token if any pay rise (bear in mind there probably won’t have been any pay rises since at least Q2-2010, a year before entering Administration, now over 2 years ago.)

so it probably won’t come as a shock that the exodus continued, only lately it’s those choosing to jump, rather than those of us who were pushed.  the warehouse manager and the bitch buyer, both staff members since the late 90s, have given notice, preceded by the NZ manager in February.  just this week another staff member gave notice.  they won’t be the last.  so far, and including me, 10 staff (or long term consultants like myself) are now gone.  besides Maul & Jeronimo there’s only about six left.  that’s two thirds of the business’s Experience Bank gone in less than a year.  the success of this doggedly profitable business is now under serious threat as it enters its second year.

i’m hearing in my head Henry Rosenbloom’s words “bovver boy managers” and “brutalist regime” in relation to the tactics REDgroup used to postpone its death in its final years.  “condescending prick” is another term that’s been used to describe Jeronimo, by someone I know is able to get along professionally with almost anyone.

but lets not reserve all the booting for Jeronimo.  this business leases a second warehouse, which they’ve been intending to sub-let to “a friend of the business” (‘FotB’ henceforth).  an unexpectedly wise temporary staff member from this FotB inspected this second warehouse, and identified a potentially significant workplace health issue.  it’s probably also the case that when some staff members from FotB laid eyes on this proposed new home, said “bugger this, it’s a dump and we won’t work there!”.  either way, it was significant enough for the MD of FotB to wish to retract his Letter Of Intent to lease the warehouse/office.  in immediate response, Darth Maul – who’s been a close friend of the MD of FotB for probably close to two decades – threatened to sue if he didn’t proceed to sign a rental contract.  unless Maul slipped in some sticky clauses, both surely would have known a LoI wouldn’t have been legally enforcable, but bizarrely the MD of FotB decided it was better to keep a “friend” who was willing to sue him to enforce the LoI, and then split his own business into a separate warehouse and office, rather than stand up for himself, legally if necessary, and say goodbye to a total arsehole of a “friend”.

it would seem Jeronimo has learned all the worst lessons from his mentor Darth Maul, too few of the positive ones, and despite whatever part he had (or didn’t have, but would surely have observed & had to approve of) in REDgroup’s demise, continues not to realise that being a head-kicker and condescending prick is neither attractive nor guaranteed to be profitable.

it’s like they view Doing Business as a mathematical equation with a bunch of variables that can be tweaked, in order to achieve a maximum result, but without any consideration of how those variables are known to interact.  10 out of 16 staff/partners gone.  how’s that approach working out for you, guys?

anyway, back to me.

i don’t have any specific knowledge of what lead Maul & Jeronimo to make this decision, despite asking.  Jeronimo says it wasn’t an easy decision to make.  presumably he’s referring to the number of years i’ve served them and the common departed friend who brought us together originally.  so lets run through some obvious possibilities…

i doubt my distance from Melbourne really has much to do with it.  in the 3 instances in 6 months where on-site attendance was necessary, they received it from the organisation i’d arranged to provide it, and received it as promptly as it takes to drop everything and drive out to their outer backwater suburban location.

maybe it’s about business risk, or professional indemnity insurance, or IT staffing redundancy, and all that good stuff you theoretically get from a larger IT consultancy, or maybe they just see themselves as being in a league deserving of IT support from a larger organisation, rather than the perceived risk of what would happen if i were run over by the proverbial bus?  i say perceived, because i’ve been providing service to them for 12 years so i think i’ve demonstrated some solidity, reliability, and wise navigation through myriad IT issues, and the organisation i’d arranged to provide onsite support would easily be able to step in.

in response to Jeronimo’s curiously vague question (as part of the comprehensive review of the business & its processes, & answered in my proposal) “Who should provide IT support to us?”, i acknowledged the obvious vested interest I had in answering the question, and stated my ability and commitment to continue doing so for at least the next 2 years, and that i was looking to make a career adjustment after a coupe of years along with a relocation to the NSW Northern Rivers; which to me seemed suited to the minimum period of time he’d indicated after which they might wish to sell the business.  when I expressed my disappointment that they’d not discussed or negotiated on any of the issues that obviously lead to their decision, Jeronimo’s response was characteristically vague and self-contradictory:

“The decision we have made is based on our assessment of the challenges we face and how we think we are best served to deliver them. I did not take into account your “palm tree” , I long for the same thing and it was never an issue. I gave this long and considered thought and summed up your proposals which were excellent as well as the opportunities elsewhere. I did not see the need to re-engage as i had the information i needed to decide. We have no intention to sell the business but we’d like to be able to sell  if it came up and therefore want our infrastructure and support ready for that time.”

So, that my commitment is not rock solid beyond 2 years wasn’t a problem, but it was.  Ah huh…  This is from a person who would probably describe himself as a “straight shooter”.  i think that’s what politicians call a Non-Answer Answer.  obviously the real reason lies elsewhere.

btw, that email conversation was also CC’d to Darth Maul, who despite our long history together, has not said or written a single word to me on this matter – no “look, here’s how it is” or “mate, we love what you’ve done for the business for so long, but we just need to go in another direction”, or even “Anthony, we’ve had issues with XYZ and just don’t think you’re meeting our needs any more”.  nothing.

nothing, except for Maul’s next weekly wisdom email titled “Kill those sacred cows”.  ouch.

but if I know Maul & Jeronimo, it’ll almost certainly be about money – *everything* they do, or don’t do, comes back to money, and they’ll proudly claim that to be a virtue no matter what the circumstances.  one can’t help but be attracted to the “managed services” IT consultancies that have proliferated in the last several years, one of whom they’ve now chosen over me.  many of these larger consultancies offer unlimited support on a per-seat/computer rate per month, often on a long contract period.  that deal typically includes reactive support for when things go wrong, preventative maintenance, and automated monitoring of systems.

however it usually leaves out an entire category of IT support, which I call the “Giving a shit” category:

  • when a staff member joins an organisation, or simply moves to a new/different PC, there’s a bunch of guff that one must go through – all that ‘first fun’ crap setting up a new user profile that Windows and its apps typically throw at you.  my clients rarely have to face that, because I do it for them, because I learned long ago that it’s 50/50 whether “normal people” get totally freaked out when they see that unexpected barrage at the start – they usually forget they once had to go through it on their own home PC 3 years ago (or had their teenager do it for them).
  • it goes without saying that i pre-emptively take care of Windows & software updates, largely as part of sound security policy, and because staff too often don’t notice that so many software updates cunningly install unwanted crapware if you’re not paying attention.
  • when someone moves a computer to a new desk, I’m the one who comes along afterward and makes all the cables tidy.
  • when servers need updating and rebooting, i always wait until after hours, so as to minimise the impact on the client’s business.
  • when i notice something not quite right in the look or feel of anything i’m doing, it usually triggers a brief investigation or a mental note, in case it’s a symptom of some unrevealed or unreported problem.

when you’re working to a money-clock with calls from other clients mounting up, this level of service or vigilance is too easily ignored.  unlike previous management, Darth Maul & Jeronimo have decided that’s not worth paying for, whether they realise they were getting it or not.

maybe it’s because i don’t send invoices regularly enough?

maybe it’s because i’m not a rabid Collingwood supporter who likes to schmooze with my clients after hours?

maybe it’s because i didn’t pull any punches in my ‘Seeing REDgroup‘ blog posts?  ( which were necessarily based on publicly available information & personal observation – it’s not like any of the smartest minds in the room are talking )  i’ve no idea if Jeronimo ever read them, but Darth Maul probably did – i emailed him a link to my ‘The Future Of Calendars’ blog post which directly followed the ‘Seeing REDgroup’ 4-parter (asking for his thoughts, which he kindly provided, dismissing the whole idea of software calendars & seemed content with a business model that’s as sure to dwindle as the years roll on as books have already).  late last year he made at least a couple of half-joking references to me being a ‘anarchistic troublemaker’, or words to that effect, and the likely source of that opinion would surely be this blog.  in retrospect, when Maul “half-jokingly” refers to you as an anarchistic troublemaker, it seems you’re pretty much screwed, even if it doesn’t impact at all on the service you provide.

or maybe it was my quip to Jeronimo last year (before I was fully aware of his position in REDgroup!) about “men in suits 20km away proving to be a greater risk to the business than a gap in their data backup regime”.  oops ;)

the most disappointing thing is that despite asking for more tangible reasons for their decision, i’ll probably never know for sure, because they just didn’t have the balls to say so.

so what have i learned from all this?

clients / customers never last forever, and i knew from the get-go last October that having all my eggs in 2 baskets (clients) after leaving Melbourne was a risk, and I should’ve applied myself much more to that task.  one tantalising and substantial lead here in Sydney came up, then went dead, then resurrected itself but then died again just as suddenly, all of it being a big waste of time waiting for something to happen, before eventually moving on.

another reason i held myself back from diversifying my client base was that in all honestly i’d not seriously considered / recognised the possibility that they were looking elsewhere for IT support.  with 20/20 hindsight i ignored or discounted warning signs as to what was going on.  i assumed i’d get the work as i had for the previous 12 years, and that for the next 6-9 months i’d be busy to capacity implementing this once-in-5-years refresh of their IT infrastructure.  such are the decisions / risks of the self-employed.

put these two together, and in my own mind at least it seemed like a reasonable excuse for procrastination.  bugga.

although i helped out Maul with some trivial IT stuff in the year or two that followed his departure from the business in 2004, it didn’t lead to any recommendations / referrals (me ditching his numpty business partner-at-the-time for being such a PITA probably didn’t help).  at any rate it’s another reason not to care about burning this bridge here now.

i’d not seen these two characters in a larger context until I sat down and laid it all out here, and accumulated other first-hand accounts, and combined it with the exodus currently in progress.  in that light, i’m actually happy to have nothing more to do with them, because i no longer have any respect for either of them.  Jeronimo appears to be incapable of reflecting on his own actions to see what part he might have played in the staff exodus in progress in his new venture, nor on the demise of REDgroup (at least not evidenced by the way he’s conducting himself so far).  all his fingers point outwards.  and Darth Maul, well, there’s Darth Maul, and there’s the picture he paints of himself every week – about all i will say is there’s some overlap.

it’s also given me a kick up the arse to get my website & other social media presences up to scratch, with a matching business card, and above all, a renewed commitment to stoking some new fire into my self-employment / business.

i’ve always felt a little guilty that i’ve never had to lift a finger to acquire my clients, most of whom i’ve served for many years.  its also been an extremely rare event to lose a client – client “churn” is a foreign concept to me, and I can recall losing only two clients in 12 years.  alas, now i will have to become accustomed to “breakfast networking” and other self-promotion for which i’m not well suited!

‘The Iconic’ & the changing face of online retail – stage 2

6 07 2012

this article in Business Insider by Alan Kohler covers the new (6 month old) start-up Australian online retailer The Iconic.


The Iconic is a full price, premium service online-only retailer of clothes & shoes for men & women, with prompt and FREE overnight delivery, focussing on Australian brands, and they’re also gradually developing international brands, and have a generous returns policy.


this is a significant development – most online retailers target discounted prices but charge shipping.  it’s a major challenge to incumbent bricks-n-mortar retailers, especially Myer & DJs, who now can’t whinge that those mean and nasty overseas online retailers aren’t charging GST.


supposedly The Iconic is doing well.  time will tell if they’ll continue to thrive, or if they’ll need to compete on price against newer discount online retailers (the new retail arena will be online).  but doing a deal with Australia Post, who are desperate to stay relevant and profitable in a world of plummeting snailmail, is a master stroke of business acumen.


“the internet” isn’t just challenging bricks-n-mortar retailer’s cost model, it’s fundamentally altering what we consider to be The Retail Experience. there’s so much shit we just don’t need to physically walk into a shop & see with our own eyes any more before deciding to buy it. an increasing amount of stuff that we used to consider as “retail” will be relegated to “warehoused” status & bought online – we’ll make our decisions to purchase, or not, NOT based on the physical experience, but on personal recommendations from friends, social networks, 3rd-party reviews, and good old fashioned “virtual retailing”. taking up space in a shop, with minimum-wage humans trying to flog it is just becoming less necessary for more stuff.


the pain of transition has only just begun for bricks-n-mortar retailers.  they have almost nowhere to go (other than shrinking), and they’re paying top rent in massive shopping centres.  the retail landlords are also going to be whipped here.  i hope you don’t have shares in Westfields, Gandel, AMP Capital Shopping Centres, Mirvac, Centro, Stockland and the like – the writing’s already on the wall for them.


certainly there’ll be a continuing need for bricks-n-mortar retailers, after all everyone needs to educate themselves as to what size they are :p, and there’ll probably always be a market for the hands-on retail experience, as well as certain niches where hands-on buying is still desirable.  but i think it’s fair to say we’re moving out of the first phase and into the second phase of online retail.  the first was books, media, gadgets, some clothing & shoe brands, and niche products, growing from insignificance to significance & making bricks-n-mortar retailers whinge but do little to adapt or compete.


the second phase is the likes of The Iconic (and the overseas equivalents they’ve modelled themselves on) squarely aiming at bricks-n-mortar retailers on their own national ground, with the incumbents pissing into the wind trying to maintain both bricks-n-mortar and online presence.  the bricks-n-mortar retail scene will shrink, it’s inevitable.  there will be howls of pain and Special Pleading from the usual suspects, and they should be dismissed just as for blacksmiths, shoe repairers, milkmen and door-to-door insurance salesmen.  also during this second phase certain technologies will emerge that facilitate online retail to fill in the gaps and uncertainties of buying without first touching – high resolution monitors, laser biometric scanning, hand-held projectors, global size scales, and $deity knows what else.  i give it less than 10 years.


the third phase is where bricks-n-mortar retailers shrink to niche markets, up-market, bargain-basement, and to cater to those who insist on dragging their bestie or significant other to the mall for some good old fashioned retail therapy just like it was “back in the day”.  everything else will be a Star Trek-esque materialisation of goods at the front door within a day of a few points at a screen (not clicks, not touches), and this whole retail ecosystem battle will start afresh – online.


and that’s without considering the impact of 3D printers, which will wreak a whole new flavour of havock all on their own.


i guess it poses some interesting questions for urban culture.  what will the masses do instead of trudging up & down shopping malls as much as they do now?