Links 7/31/15

Things I learned from TED: there was a frog that incubated its eggs in its stomach and drop crocs are real. And we’re trying to bring them back

My favorite comment from the Hacker News thread on my open office post:

…[S]omeone mentioned that because they happened to overhear a conversation between two engineers they were able to save weeks of them working on the wrong thing.

Anecdotes like that aren’t signs that open offices are successful or result in “having good communication” – it means you have horrible communication and you got lucky.

I think one’s response to “I overheard a thing and it saved us weeks” stories might be a really good test of attitude towards open offices in general.  Do you see the serendipitous successes, or the implied failures?  The work you didn’t have to do because you learned something, or the work you had to do to process all of the information that wasn’t useful to you?

Speaking of things in the office that are great for some and horrible for others: Ask a Manager talks about dogs in the office.  One woman has deathly allergies and the ADA on her side, but nothing can shield her from the social consequences of being The Lady That Made Them Ban Dogs From the Office.  I’m actually pretty sympathetic to the dog owners on this; they made plans based on promises from the company and losing them could be really disruptive.  Not as disruptive as dying of course, but it’s not necessarily a small thing.  The real problem is an office set up that makes the choices “abandon your dogs” or “kill co-worker”, which is an esoteric example of the general problem of open offices making environmental settings communal.

The obvious side effect is that everyone is operating farther from their optimum on things like light and temperature, but it also reduces maneuverability.  Even if everyone in the room would like dimmer lights it’s a whole thing to poll them and talk to facilities and then repoll to see if you should adjust more.  G-d forbid anyone have different preferences over time.  Where a person with migraines and their own office could just turn the bloody light off when they feel one coming on, they now have to go through some entire thing with HR to set up a response ahead of time and then invoke it, or leave work and get a migraine on the way home anyway.  The company could give them their own office, but that will cause resentment, and they’ll miss information because everything is still built around the idea that information is distributed via the ether.  People talk about how open offices are so dynamic but there’s a lot of ways they make things less flexible.

Some number of hydrocephalics (people with fluid replacing up to 95% of their brain) are completely unaffected and in fact undetected until they get head scanned for other reasons.  Leading explanations include “isolation makes remaining area strong” and “souls”.