Harlekin Exclusive: Artificial Intellisense

You probably missed the short article last week that related how the UK was funding a programme to explore the feasibility of dogs recognizing Covid-19 from its scent. Labradores, Spaniels and other smart-nosed breeds are already deployed to sniff out contraband, drugs, even apples if you dare to smuggle one into the States in your lunch box. They can also spot cancer, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s, though you wonder why bother with the last what with the striking visual clues of the disease.

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The End is Nigh! Or is it? – “Factfulness”

by Hans Rosling et al

It would be easy to fill our blog with just a list of events and topics that depress you. Here’s just a sample: Climate change, populism, the refugee problem and our response, political “leaders”, fake news, hate speech, consumer waste, knife crime, endangered species, insect decimation, locusts in Africa, child abuse, hunger, sex discrimination, obesity, Brexit, plastic in whales’ stomachs, Trump’s inability to put a sentence together without the words “wonderful” or “beautiful”, floods, fires and now a deadly virus. It’s enough to make you want to emigrate – but where to???

If you want a breath of fresh air and the chance to say to yourself, “Pull yourself together!”, then this is the book you need. Hans Rosling (1948-2017), Swedish head of the Division of International Health at Karolinska Institutet and advisor to the WHO and UNESCO, co-founder of Médecins sans Frontières, combines his experience and knowledge of world health with statistics. Sounds dry and boring, doesn’t it!

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Great, I can choose!

The two-part article “Too much bloody choice!” (published on 21st and 28th February 2020) ignited an impassioned discussion in the Harlequin team. We wondered whether it was an issue that affects all sections of the population or just the 50+ generation. Therefore, we were curious to hear the younger generation’s view. We are very happy to post a guest contribution by Ricarda Fillhardt, who looks at the “agony of choice” from a different perspective. Ricarda is a student and currently lives in Edinburgh.

I certainly doubt an excess of choice makes us happy. Just last week I spent so much time trying to decide what to watch on Netflix that it was too late once I had (semi-content) settled on a film and went to bed instead. I also recently decided to treat myself to a wellness day on my birthday and must have spent hours on tripadvisor trying to find the best option in the vast amount of saunas and wellness centres my home town had to offer. However, this rarely occurs to me as a problem. I grew up with choice.

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Too Much Bloody Choice (Part 2)

After spending months digitising my CD’s I decided to go for streaming as Tidal offered lossless sound quality and almost infinite choice of rock, jazz, blues and classical music. They even have stuff I recorded off Radio Luxembourg on AM with the signal fading regularly on a tape recorder! At first it was paradise – listen to virtually anything you want, when you want without the risk of buying a CD (or an LP) for a fair bit of money and discovering you don’t really like it. But after a while I got the “Ben and Jerry’s” again: instead of examining my limited number of discs and deciding on the strength of the cover or the memory of the disc’s contents as I’d played it so often, I was again stumped by the infiniteness of it all.

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Too Much Bloody Choice (part 1)

When I was a kid if you had any choice at all it was “Take it or leave it”. As time progressed, we actually got BBC Home Service (for topical events, Women’s Hour, the original soap “The Archers” and half-hour comedies), the Third Programme (heavy culture) and the Light Programme (for music Dads and Grandads appreciated) on what we called the wireless.

I can first remember being utterly flummoxed by the range of choice when visiting Ben and Jerry’s ice cream factory in Vermont years ago. After an entertaining tour including us having answer questions with “moo” instead of “yes” we queued up to get ice cream. From a distance we could make out the numerous varieties, most of which were new to us then, so we pondered which to choose.

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The Land of the Rising Lid

Recently I was asked for a holiday recommendation, to which I unhesitatingly responded: Asia. ”Ooh, nah, it’s hot and dirty there” was the reaction.

Our recent experiences in Japan proved the exact opposite. The first thing that strikes you as you speed into Tokyo on the high-speed train is how clean the place is. Crowded, yes, what do you expect if you cram 38 million into a city? But the houses are spotless and well-tended, no graffiti is to be seen, and the streets free of litter, chewing gum and dog souvenirs. They say they had to remove all the litter-bins after the sarin attack on the underground, but that alone cannot explain such cleanliness.

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Bear Truth

When I was in Canada one guide gave us an important piece of advice about bears: “Black bite, brown down”. In other words, black bears can be intimidated (unless they’re with their young or cornered), so make lots of noise to repulse them. All you can do with brown – or grizzly – bears is make yourself as small as possible on the ground and pray they may lose interest. Good advice for the workplace? Not all of us are bear whisperers.

Big Brother is alive and living in Canada

…or how I learned to stop worrying and love Big Data.

For the last couple of years I have been dabbling with genealogy. My family in England has always been convinced we were related to Jack Cornwell, a 16-year-old Naval recruit who died a heroic death at the Battle of Jutland in the First World War. My mother was German so I was curious about that side of me too. Most of my relatives are dead, so I had just a few recollections of family anecdotes and a handful of old photographs to start with.

Internet to the rescue! Mormons in Salt Lake City, whose mission in life is to find salvation for their forefathers by genealogical research and ordinances performed by proxy for them, run several online sites to help you “discover your family’s story.”  The story goes that before and after the Second World War dozens of Mormon researchers photographed and transcribed huge numbers of church and public records in Europe long before anyone had thoughts about data security. There are now millions of records on their databases.

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The Christmas Project

Last Christmas you might have noticed no one under 20 talked about Christmas any more, just Xmas, so I suppose we Harlequins ought to accept the paradigm shift and refer to the X-Man instead of Santa! As Xmas 2018 is rushing towards us it is high time to get down to Christmas, sorry, Xmas preparation Sprint Planning, and to post a few pre-Xmas tweets. A few likes on Facebook for our favourite Christmas songs will put us in the right Xmas groove and optimise our click level.

The beginning – Xmas Kick-Off

The kick-off meeting for the first sprint (aka first Sunday of Advent) was already held at the end of November. As a result the first come-together of the SCRUM teams which was facilitated by the Xmas Product Owner and one of X Man’s elves as SCRUM Master, had to be held via video link.

Then we moved an agile kick-off to an earlier slot in which we discuss the roles, objectives and ideas for presents discussed and determined in workshops. In this way we shall establish clear roles and responsibilities, a Christmassy performance and optimised present allocations.

Santa Claus/X-Man as the Xmas Product Owner will in future consist of max. 4 weekly sprints, and is planning a PMI certification for agile Xmas Planning. An essential element of this will be regular visits to the Christmas Market (Xmas Stand-Up) to review user stories and groom the backlog/hangover.

Xmas Stand-Up – optionally without alcohol

These meetings will also serve to keep team performance at an optimum level, as well as secure the vulnerable interfaces with the local mulled wine producers. With an eye to globalisation the Christmas Market will also be accessible via the Internet as virtual reality. The accompanying imbibing of virtual mulled wine and virtual Xmas cookies is low in calories and has no impact on your driving abilities. In this way valued partners – virtual service providers (angels, elves and reindeer) will at last be integrated. A whole bundle of incentives and change agent-led team-building events in various virtual locations have been designed to enhance motivation levels and simultaneously help to foster the Christian Corporate Culture within the Xmas Identity.

The proposal to allocate a personal coach to each angel has been provisionally shelved due to budgetary considerations. Instead it was proposed on a Kanban-Board that we should set up a pilot project for an Xmas Facebook account for spontaneous Christmas wishes – a complementary Twitter channel is also in planning.

MIST helps gift planning

Our sophisticated Management Information System (MIST) has enabled benchmark-oriented best-of-breed controlling for gift planning. A burn-down chart consisting of advent wreath and calendar serves to visualise performance data with completed and outstanding work.

Regularly changing chocolate deliverables in addition serve as giveaways and accompanying marketing initiatives. We reached a surprising consensus in the WhatsApp group on our new Mission Statement: “Driving Home for Xmas” will replace the previous”Merry Christmas”. In view of the threat of diesel bans in towns a courageous move.

X-Man (formerly known as Father Christmas) originally had doubts about the historical Corporate Design. After intensive review of corporate learnings (Xmas hit lists of the last 20 years) he finally accepted this loyal step and thus acknowledged the impressive creativity of his elves and harlequins.

Buffers or the Fear for the Unknown

Isn’t  it interesting that in the second decade of the 21st century after yet another CHAOS Report tells us that only 21% of reviewed projects deliver the agreed scope on time and in budget that many of us still cling to the illusion that accurate estimation is merely a question of training, practice and discipline? What amazes me is that I know a handful of people who can consistently correctly guess how long a project will take.

Most of us mortals regard projects as an adventure into the unknown. At the beginning of the journey you have scant information about what you have to deliver and then your sponsor has the nerve to ask you exactly how long it’ll take or imposes an unrealistic deadline.

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