The Best of Adam Sharp (Graeme Simsion)

The Best of Adam SharpThe Best of Adam Sharp by Graeme Simsion

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is an intoxicating cocktail of familiar ingredients that smelled spicy, was near impossible to put down once started, and had my tummy turning in places. It is a script in waiting that could be equally imagined on stage or screen. The witty and sharp writing engages, the characters are familiar, the story lines flowing and deftly resolved. It’s an Eternal Triangle of players who neither trust nor care about each other, with a sane onlooker who sweeps up one of the broken pieces.

The three leading characters manage to screw each other into a complex not-so-private tryst in a French farmhouse, with all the accouterments. Like most ménage à trois it ends in tears. Adam comes out relatively undamaged and the other two get what they deserve.

Beyond the characters, the 60s music references and the youthful salacious romping in Melbourne followed by more salacious middle-aged romping in France two decades on, the book initially explores ego in relationships, the tension between giving and receiving, balancing self and the others’ needs. Adam could not cross this line of commitment in either of his relationships. In his youth, he loved but would not commit (resign his consulting gig) to stay with Angela, and he lost her. Later, with the eminently sensible and mature-beyond-her-years Claire, he again holds back, leading to another disengagement.

Adam, in his immaturity, is just being a typical unreconstructed male and in no way to be pitied or pardoned. I think this was an important subtext for the author as it resolves in the obvious fashion in the final chapter — Adam learns to give a bit, and guess what, it all turns out OK. In this, he learns a lesson but still only comes out as the second-most most likable of the four.

In my ‘dislike stakes’ Angelina takes the cake. She bears a feminine name for a predictably pretty leading lady, variously referred to as Angie — forming another (unexplored) Jaggerian musical reference — and Angel. The wistful and carefree way she is drawn in the first half of the book elicited a passing image of Peter Weir’s Miranda, and I thought I’d like her to the end, in a soapie-star kind of way, but we discover she’s no Botticelli Angel. She unselfconsciously allows herself to become Belle de Jour in a scheme concocted by her professional negotiator husband (Charlie) to determine their futures. Adam is up for it, literally and figuratively, despite not knowing what he is getting himself into. I find this relationship premise — that one’s indiscretion can be made up for by granting your partner a free hand to commit their own similar infidelity — dubious, and destructive of trust. Anyone with even a hint of feminist sensibilities will hate this part. I’m sure the author’s departure from a straighter path in this regard was calculated to position the product.

Something else irked me about Angie. Pairing this soap star with the occupation of Equal Opportunity Commissioner stretched credibility, even if she was a product of the leafy-Melbournian privileged class. I could have accepted her character more easily if she’d had no profession at mid-age — a kept woman, an elegant thin-fingered attachment to a sugar-daddy would at least be consistent with the man-eater she had become. And nothing much is made of her lawyer-ish achievements other than to add a varnish of respectability and desirabilty, at least to the two males, neither of whom needed it to stoke their ample fires of passion. On this, the book appeals to a baby-boomer-ish notion of lawyering as the unmistakable marker of the upper class. Ask any young lawyer if this association holds true today in their world.

Charlie… what’s not to love about an affable over-sized Australian who knows his foie gras from his boudin noir. Other than he’s an XXL-sized prat, full of pretentious wine-talk, affectations, and a trader’s mentality on people and relationships. Admittedly he puts a lot of this on in an attempt to keep Angelina, even so, I disliked him considerably, hoped for a second (fatal) heart attack as he walked up the hill carrying his full butter croissants, and wished he’d got less of what he wanted in the end.

The honor of My Favorite Character goes to Claire, who the author deftly uses to model actual depth. When Adam loses his share of their joint house deposit in a dumb investment scheme, she checks the facts, ensures he was not dishonest with her, then forgives him in an instant. She stays home from her demanding job to get the piano tuned for him. Later she accepts Adam’s remote dalliancing with Angelina on the chin and still leaves the door open to him, should he come to his senses. What gold she is! The author has no doubt drawn on observations of a lot of people to write this book — I wonder, did he witness a real-life Claire at any stage?

Finally to the ever-present fifth character in the story, the music. Popular music is a sharp-edged weapon, one man’s meat is another’s poison. Adam knows this from making up mix-tapes of his friend’s life-changing songs, finding them to be pedestrian because their meaning is rooted in the hearer’s context. Adam calls up boomer classics with the reverence and fervor of a Vietnam Vet. Wasn’t it a bit odd that Adam lived to the soundtrack of his dad’s era? Don’t young people adopt the music of their generation? Silverchair anyone? Adam’s musical taste was un-synched with that of his peers by two decades. Here, the author’s personal taste overrides the integrity of his lead character.

I appreciated rather than liked this book. Good writing, facts checked, strong interplay, all threads resolved. Accurate memories of Melbourne in the 1980s. It’s been a long time since I rearranged my day so as to be able to finish a book, but it was out of a desire to see how this train-wreck resolved rather than any sense of amusement or pleasure. I’m pretty sure I was grimacing and/or biting my lip as I read. I hope the author writes more in this style, if he can get a complex plot and characters together as he has done here with the whimsy and humor of Rosie and Don he might write an Australian classic.

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Enterprise Architects should just get over being precious about software

Software is the fabric of the information age. It is eating the machine age. In the end it might even eat itself.   Software is so successful, so pervasive, so adaptable that code, and the ability to code,  are devaluing. Software is the commodity of our age and software development the occupation of the new working class.

Enterprise Architects should just get over being precious about software… and architecture, enterprise architecture, strategic planning etc.

Architecture is a metaphor that had relevance when software could be funded and managed like other capital investments.  Software — unlike concrete, the fabric of capital investments — never ‘sets’.  It is mostly open and freely shared.  Software to do just about anything is a few clicks away for everyone with an internet connection.

Software never goes to the presses, to be set in hot metal, to be printed on paper, for all time.  When software made large capital investments, Architects were needed to do the ‘town planning’, quality assurance and gate-keeping.  Because software was an expensive, proprietary commodity.

Software written today is not quite the same as the software of the big capital projects era.  It manipulates components, in frameworks, on platforms, and is just disciplined, structured writing.  Like poets, we try hard to write less of it, not more.  We no longer measure our worth by ‘Lines of Code per Day’. And if we throw bits away from time to time, we don’t fret. Like all good writers, we should be prepared to ‘Kill our Darlings’.

Now that software is a commodity — open, and everywhere, people formerly known as ‘Architects’ (Enterprise or other kinds) have a new role.  Enterprise Architects should support Agilists to deliver services at a rapid rate. The Agilists will accumulate a bit of technical debt in the process. But relentless business demand and change will preserve the Agile capability. Paying down the kind of technical debt that matters will happen.

Enterprise Architects should work out how to influence the demand side (The Business) to drive Agile delivery capabilities to deliver outcomes for clients and customers first.  Then indirect customer benefits second (such as business efficiency).  Technical debt minimization is important but it is not Enterprise Architecture’s raison d’être.

Enterprise Architects should adopt one or more general managers in lines of business and dedicate themselves totally to raising the best possible business technology to build, sustain and optimise these business units.  Then, in light of some early successes, all of the enterprise architecture methods, frameworks, maturity models and KPIs will fall into place.

A suburban repair story

My mower broke last time I used it. Payback for all the times I have mistreated it, yanked its handle, tilted it on 2 wheels over a gutter, or banged it roughly into a tree stump. The chassis rusted out where the handle attaches, so much so that the handle on the left side pulled off, taking with it a nicely rectangular chunk of rusted mower.  So I did what any self respecting man would do. I left it in the shed and ignored it.

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‘Shadow’ technology needs a Shadow Architect

shadow_mangleShadow IT‘ is a term used to describe information systems and solutions built and used inside organisations without explicit organisational approval.  Cloud services, mobility and ‘Bring Your Own Device’ are driving an explosion in Shadow IT.  Shadow IT, like shadow finance and shadow economy suggests noncompliance and illegality.  Unlike the black market, shadow technology notionally unleashes immediate benefits but harbours a latent potential to damage its host.  Quantifying the risk, and getting sufficient attention to do something about it, is the issue.

Technology departments have tried to ‘reign in’ these rogues using the frameworks and processes of Enterprise Architecture, without much success.  One reason for the partial failure is that Enterprise Architects have a propensity to focus on risk management, standards compliance and centralised governance. This narrow ‘old-school’ focus locks them to the core, not the edge of the business where innovation happens. Meanwhile, the business units, driven by digital demand and unaided by their IT counterparts, have initiated their own innovation platforms.  That’s the line taken by Dean Gardiner from Dell Australia in his paper at the Australian Enterprise Architecture Conference (Sydney, October 2015).

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Why is the perfectly sensible reuse and repurposing of everyday things stigmatised?

On a crowded loop station this morning I notice a regular looking middle-class man in his late thirties, standing to the side of the crowd on the station platform, tentatively reaching into the yellow recycle bin to retrieve a mint condition daily newspaper, probably discarded by a fellow traveler minutes earlier. No regular scavenger, his down-turned eyes and the furtiveness of his stance convey a sense of the stigma that society holds for what should be a perfectly rational and sensible act — reusing something that is at hand rather than buying his own.

Commuters on a train, 1955, before smartphones (Getty images).

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Review: Turning Over Turnover: Thinking Systemically about Worker Retention in Texas’ Child Protective Services

Child protection

For a method that purports to tackle real-world problems, practical examples of systems thinking in action are elusive. Refreshing, then, to read a special edition of the Cornell Policy Review on systems thinking, which presents accounts of the systems thinking craft in a readable and digestible form.  In the interests of better policy, Cornell Institute for Public Affairs Fellow Harrison Speck makes some headway in understanding the question of why child protection case workers in Texas do not always stay long in their jobs (paper and video).

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How do you penetrate the Systems Thinking morass?


Systems thinking is on to something.  There’s something there.  It harbors truths that conventional business and organisational perspectives miss. It is easy to get this impression from the volumes of social media, literature and management debate it continues to sustain after three decades.  But systems thinking as a discipline or body of knowledge does not make it easy to get to those insights and truths.  Ways to penetrate the systems thinking morass are neither obvious or accessible.

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The ‘Systems-Thinking’ Enterprise Architect

Even with the best and most complete of models and frameworks, the practice of Enterprise Architecture (EA) in organisations isn’t always effective. Analysis does not always explain everything that happens, and changes that Enterprise Architects (EAs) make do not always deliver the expected benefits.  When EA does not deliver value as expected, or when it cannot be represented as a transparent cause and effect relationship, some EA defenders draw our attention to long delays in the enterprise’s adoption of information technology.  In light of this, EA should be thought of as an investment against things that might otherwise go wrong — kind of like a ‘flu shot for 2025.  Other apologists blame flaws in the EA frameworks and methods used, or in the way that they are used.

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‘Nounification’ catches up with Systems Thinking

It seems that certain verbs are becoming nouns, for no particular reason that I can see based in grammar, semantics or the logic of language.  This appears to be a recent phenomena, and in a few cases, nounification has propelled these lucky  innocuous verbs into the noun stratosphere.  The first is the innocent little doer-word ‘reveal’.

make (previously unknown or secret information) known to others.

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Designing in the post-consumer age

Christmas is coming, again.  Last year, Australians reportedly spent $A32B at an average of $A1,200 per person during the silly season.  Nearly twenty million of these gifts with a value of around $A1B were unwanted and were sold, re-gifted, stored or dumped.  For myself, a distinctive marker of post-consumerism came when a ten year-old family member declared a few weeks out from Christmas that he didn’t know what to ask for this year because he couldn’t think of anything he particularly wanted. It seems that between Christmas, birthdays, special days and rewards for good behavior the number of buying opportunities outstrips some family member’s needs or even desires.  So it seems we are now living in an age of post-consumerism, even for ten year-olds.  We are beyond some western models of growth, in uncharted territory.

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