New Monkey feature: I know that some of you prefer the short, punchy posts to these wordier ones. For the benefit of that demographic, I’m going to offer a summary of longer posts in the form of a haiku. Here’s today’s:
Monkey wants some fun
And maybe to learn a bit
At taxpayers’ expense
It took an F3 conference for me to realise that I had a problem with my eyebrows. We were on our way back from Tortworth Hall in 2005, me and a since-retired colleague. He was driving because I was feeling very poorly indeed, a result of drinking heavily in good company the night before. I had my head stuck part-way out of the window (‘driving doggy-style’, I call it) and noticed something moving in the side mirror. Closer inspection showed it to be my eyebrows, which were flapping in the slipstream. I remember thinking, with the sunshine-after-the-rain clarity that some hangovers give, that if one’s eyebrows are long enough to flap in the wind then they’re probably out of control. For the rest of the trip home I had the mantra ‘My eyebrows are become death, destroyer of worlds’ ricocheting around my head.
It’s been a long time since I went to a forensics conference. Racking my brains, I think my last one was the Eyebrow F3. Our unit has a poor track record of attending forensics community events - for quite a few years we’d send two people to the F3 and that was it. No E-crime, no ACPO, nothing else. These days we’re a bit more visible, but not by much.
Now I’ll accept that there are a lot of conferences out there, and a lot of them are crap. Often you only have to read the itinerary and speaker list to know instantly that it’s just a platform for those slick-suited hangers-on who get themselves on every board and panel, or for equally slick-suited salespeople.
Many of the conferences, however, are excellent. Speaking to colleagues coming back from the F3, Microsoft LE and others, there’s a lot of knowledge being thrown around and some fantastic networking to be done. This last point can’t be emphasised strongly enough - in a field where barely a month goes by in which you don’t come up against something you haven’t seen before, having a well-filled phonebook is absolutely vital. The forums and mailing lists are good, and can be a wonderful source of support, but being able to put faces to the names and spend a couple of full days in the company of forensics geeks is an essential part of cementing the relationships built up online.
It’s not just the social side either. Amidst all the socialising and heated debate in the bar, I was amazed to find that conferences have presentations and speakers as well – and some of them are very helpful. We all get our own areas of interest and specialism, and it’s good to know who’s doing what.
With all this conferencey goodness going on, I think it’s very short-sighted of management to be so stingy about sending more people, particularly if proper training courses are in short supply. Some places seem to almost empty out for the big events, and there’s a lot of wisdom in doing this: there’s the networking and learning sides that I’ve mentioned, but it’s also a relatively inexpensive team-building exercise – send the team away for a couple of nights, let them mingle and imbibe, and they’ll come back all the better for it. OK, the person who keeps putting digestives in the biscuit tin might end up garrotted in his bed, but that’s just natural selection. For the cost of a few hotel rooms for a couple of nights, it’s a very good deal – you send a unit away and they come back refreshed, re-enthused and full of new ideas. And if we learn a bit about our personal grooming standard, all the better. What’s not to like?
In my last post, I announced that I’d started a Monkey wishlist on Amazon. I was very surprised and rather touched to get a couple of items through my door this week and I’d like to thank the contributors. It’s great to be appreciated.