Thursday, February 10, 2011

Change is Easy - Transitions are Tough

When I was a young boy and the phone rang for my mother, I was told to say that she was indisposed if she could not come to the phone. “Indisposed” was polite for - in the bathroom. Polite children do not speak of bathrooms. Today, I am disposed to speak of being indisposed.

Recently, I found it necessary to make a brief visit to the necessary room for men. Guys, boys, dudes, and gentlemen do not commonly speak in public “facilities.” Head-bobs are considered formal conversation. So... as I was headed for a sink and I heard the questioning word “flush?” I was taken back, looked in the mirror, observed my normative pale complexion and replied, “No, I’m fine thank you.”

“No”, the contextual assailant replied, “Are you going to flush?” I hadn’t given it any thought. It just kind of happens automatically, right? Wait - this is an older building, maybe, just maybe.... Yes. A manual system. How quaint. I returned to the scene of the omission and pressed the magic lever.

As I returned to the sink I began to ponder the state of transition we’re in, where some of the “facilities” have introduced sensors and others have not - and how this yields (the very definition of) thoughtlessness. Not as a result of cruelty, but the literal “I didn’t think about it” kind of thoughtlessness.

By now I was wondering when the water would begin to flow. I lifted my hands a little, then lowered them, then began waving them in all manner of random directions. I began to wonder if Alan Funt was having a good day. Oh! this is a manual restroom. How quaint. Turn the knob, wash the hands, look for the towels.

Wait! Walk back to the sink and turn the water off. Quaint. Return to the paper towel dispenser and reach for the crank on the right side. No crank. Lever? No lever. Maybe I just have to grab the towel in front and pull. No towel. Grrrrrr.

A line of impatient soggy hands has begun to form behind this usually competent enterprise architect. “Just wave your hand in front of the dispenser... it’s like Magic” someone quips. I hate him. I truly hope I get the last towel. I leave the restroom feeling like Star Trek’s Chief Engineer, Scotty, talking to a mouse to generate the plans for transparent aluminum.

Fortunately I reach the elevator just as someone is getting off, and it’s empty. Alas a few moments to collect my thoughts after three harrowing moments of indispose. Transitioning from manual- to sensor-driven automation is going to screw me up.

So, why hasn’t the elevator moved? Did I forget to push the button. As a inside joke, I confidently announce “Bridge!” Nothing happens. I reach for the floor buttons. My choices are Close Door (already closed), Fire Alarm (seems rash), Help (no way given my recent bathroom trauma), or Open Door (sigh). No line of floor numbers, no color-coded buttons, just four equally useless options. This is one of those elevators where you have to select the floor before you get in.

Transitions. We live in a world that is in a constant state of transition, which wouldn’t be an issue if we didn’t also have a brain that relished autopilot. I used to work in an office building that installed motion detectors in half the conference rooms in order to save on electricity. The electric bill went up because everybody forgot to turn off the lights in the rooms that didn’t have sensors.

Transitions. If you are transitioning a system - you need to make it crystal clear to the users exactly when and where the “New” is - in such a manner that the old is equally obvious. I see this when reviewing application code when old and new paradigms / object models / architectures need to coexist for some period of time. Without absolute unmistakable clarity, it is so easy for Developer ‘X’ to perpetuate the old without ever thinking about it.

Transitions. I don’t think most of us mind change - in fact our industry almost demands appreciation for it. But transition and change are two different things. I will love the changes to automation and sensors, once we get through this half-in, half-out time of transition.

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