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April 16, 2006

Faking it

It's probably stating the bleeding obvious that having children makes you more domestic. You tend to spend more time at home than perhaps previously, and are up odd hours of the day and night. You also tend to be somewhat more exhausted than often before. You cannot begin to describe the state of exhaustion you can get into.

All this is by way of offering an excuse for talking about television - I didn't even have a television until about 3 years ago.

Anyway, enough excuses. One of the shows which has rather taken our fancy over here is "Faking It", a British reality sort of show. The premise is simple - can a group of experts take a person and skill them in a field they have no experience in, so that within a month they can fool a group of expert judges into believing the candidate is not the fake among a group of possible fakes.

It's interesting for a number of reasons. One is that the expert judges often objectively score the performance of the candidate highly, yet, when asked who the fake is, go against their objective judgement and single out the correct person. But not all the time though. Interestingly, it's often harder to acquire the right attitude than it is the skill. The skills don't give people away, their confidence, their "style", and their attitude do.

What interests me above all is the issue of what can be faked? When I first hear the challenge, I like to try and work out whether that particular profession or skill can be faked by someone in a month. I'm not always right, by a long shot.

I sailed a lot when I was young, and really thought the idea of someone who had never sailed faking it as the skipper of a reasonably competitive yacht was essentially impossible, against professional sailors who had been sailing all their lives. Wrong.

So, what can be faked? I suspect there are some areas which require some objective physical quality - like marathon running, body building and the like would simply be impossible. I suspect mathematics, and other areas requiring huge bodies of reasonably arcane knowledge would also be impossible. But what are the boundaries?

I'd like to take a person who can use a computer, and see whether I could turn them into a standards based web developer in a month. I suspect that would be possible.

What do you think? What could be faked with a month's hard work? And what simply couldn't be?

April 16, 2006 | Permalink


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hm, doesn't that really, really depend on the situation the faker gets tested in? e.g. you could fake being a good programmer in an interview, but not in a large and complex project.

The show sounds interesting though – wish we had stuff like that here in Germany (or maybe we do, I don't own a TV ;))

Posted by: Hauke Rehfeld | Apr 16, 2006 6:23:27 PM


it does very much depend on the context of how they test the faker. Usually there are several people, all except the faker reasonably to very expereinced at what they do. There are usually a couple of components to the test, a tet of their skills, and some kind of interview. So both their ability, and their attitude/knowledge are tested.

With programming, you are right, but I think it works both ways. I know there are a lot of brilliant developers who would perform very badly in an interview, particularly when (as most often is the case) the interviewer doesn't rally know much about the field.

So it's both easy to fake most job interviews (not just in development) if you have the right attitude, confidence and communication skills, and hard to convince the interviewer regardless of your skills if you don't

This is why most expenditure on HR is totally wasted.


Posted by: john Allsopp | Apr 17, 2006 8:45:06 AM

I think the show I'm on is one where they take someone with a small baby at home and have them try to fake doing a job they already know how to do perfectly well...

But seriously? I think a lot of jobs, you can teach the broad, basic skills pretty well in a short time, if the person's motivated -- but most of the time, it's knowing hundreds and hundreds of little wrinkles and provisos and edge cases and exceptions that make you effective.

I'd definitely be interested in you doing the experiment though!

Posted by: john | Apr 17, 2006 12:08:01 PM

I hate that show.

At the end of every episode, the faker attempts to fool a panel of experts who must choose the faker from four people -- three of whom are not faking it. Now, if the faker succeeds, that means that some poor bugger who has spent his or her professional life perfecting his or her skills has just been called a faker by his or her peers. It's depressing!

But to answer your question...

I do recall the episode where they had a classical cellist attempt to fake being a DJ. Notice that they didn't have a DJ attempt to fake being a classical cellist.

Posted by: Jeremy Keith | Apr 17, 2006 9:21:35 PM


they did have one where a punk musician who could not read music was an orchestral conductor.
He didn't quite get away with it, but he did very well.

As a general rule, when the faker gets away with it there is usually not a strong consensus for one of the others, so they aren't really being identified as fakers.

The other interesting thing is that generally, the judges don't know that one is a fake until after the event. Usually there is some pretext for judging them, and only after they've made an objective decision as to who was the best, are they told one is a fake.

The interesting part here is it's the stuff other than the persons objective performance which generally gives them away if they are caught out.

Like all such stuff, it needs to be taken with a large grain of salt, but nonetheless, I found it fascinating food for thought


Posted by: john Allsopp | Apr 18, 2006 8:11:22 AM

I don't care how much training I do, I know I could never fake being a good hairdresser.

Posted by: Cheryl | Apr 18, 2006 2:10:47 PM

You could never ever fake being a classical musician - there are too many years of physical training involved, much like your sport theory John. The only one they could even try would be conducting because conductors are never actually heard (except their voice when speaking to the orchestra during rehearsal). Hence a conductor who makes a mistake during performance will often glare at an innocent musician to distract the audience. Did they make the punk rocker take a rehearsal or just conduct a one-off performance? And did the orchestra get to judge?

I'm pretty sure I couldn't fake neurosurgery after a month!

Posted by: Deb Lander | Apr 18, 2006 9:04:10 PM

In no particular order, my suggestions for endeavours which could easily be faked are:

1. porn star
2. prime minister
3. conference organiser

(on only one of these counts do I speak from personal experience). Those first two are accounted for by the fact that just about anyone can fake insincerity (ouch, think about that for too long and your head starts to hurt.....)

What can't be faked? Strongly agree with Deb's suggestion re brain surgeons, and would throw in most medical professionals: the required knowledge is just too intricate and complex to learn in a month. Web designer/developer? Tough call. Yes, there is a lot of arcane knowledge here as well, but.........a month is a long time. I reckon given a month of hard core study I could almost certainly fake being a web developer. So could you!

Posted by: Maxine Sherrin | Apr 24, 2006 9:08:35 PM

Boy Maxine, now you've got me thinking! As we are all saying, there are some things which you couldn't "fake" after a month because of the knowledge/skill factor. Even the musos they picked to fake had some sort of musical training, just not in the particular area required.

I was thinking I could fake being a chef after a month, but that's because I already have some cooking practice and knowledge, just not the professional "touches" (of which there would be a lot!)

But that makes me think - are you really faking if you have knowledge? If you are taught to do something for a month, are you faking or are you using the skills and knowledge you have learnt? Surely genuine faking would be being thrown in with no knowledge and seeing if you can bluff? Or is the show looking at what jobs could actually be learned in a month...

Posted by: Deb Lander | Apr 26, 2006 3:00:28 PM

Ah Deb, now you are starting to see the mind bending beauty of the show!

Posted by: john Allsopp | Apr 26, 2006 3:06:55 PM

Yes well I am suddenly reminded of the famous Paris Opera trombonist who used to send his concierge in to performances when he didn't feel like going, with instructions to "hold it up when the other trombones do but don't blow!" They got away with it for some time (the other musos knew, just not the conductors which says a lot about conductors in general). Charlie Mackerras was the one who eventually caught them out.

Posted by: Deb Lander | Apr 26, 2006 5:24:48 PM


this reminds me of the amusing but sadly apocryphal story of Einstein and his driver.



Posted by: john Allsopp | Apr 26, 2006 5:47:41 PM

John and I have actually discussed this in the past and decided that our preferred tasks - were we to be selected to be on the show - would be to fake being:

Sara: General Practitioner (reckon I could do it standing on my head in terms of fooling the public, not so sure a panel of doctors if they were asking tricky questions.)

John: Professional Snowboarder

Posted by: Sara Lander | May 2, 2006 6:16:00 PM

I of course would have zero chance as a pro snowboarder, but wouldn't half mind 4 weks training to give it a go


Posted by: john Allsopp | May 2, 2006 6:21:30 PM

HelIo folks,

I just read the interesting blog entries about the British program, "Faking It". I believe there was an American version also, but somewhat short lived.

What I found most interesting was a comment by "Permalink" (the Blog host?) wherein he says he'd like to see if he would "like to take a person who can use a computer, and see whether I could turn them into a standards based web developer in a month." Actually, I may be the person who proves his point, if my studies don't get interrupted by life.

I have been a graphic designer since the early '70s, way before anyone thought of using a computer to create a layout. I finally got into the computer age with my first computer, an old Apple with an amazing 2 megs of RAM, and 128 megs of hard drive! (Awesome!)

Then, about 6 years ago or so, I created my first web site for a client of the advertising agency I worked for, using Adobe GoLive, version 3 or 4, not sure which. Time has passed, and I've used every version since then. But during that entire time, I put off learning anything about code, and in fact found that when I tried to study it, it put me to sleep.

Then came GoLive CS2, which is totally CSS based, and does, quite frankly, a lousy job of previewing the final product. And, I've run into some serious trouble on my first project with that product, to where the site has taken me literally months to accomplish, and it's still in a rut. Everything works fine on Mac, and is quite bad on PC's...especially AOL browsers.


GL has a terrible glitch; you put together what appears to be a fine page, shut down the program, and then when you open that page again, everything you've carefully positioned has appeared on "anonymous layers", and nothing is where it's supposed to be.

So now, I'm in my second frantic week of studying XHTML and CSS. This weekend, I discovered the Zen of CSS web site, and I was awe struck and now know the possibilities of the technology.

Well, that's my long story. Hope this old guy didn't bore you too much!

Posted by: Dave Pierce | May 3, 2006 8:40:35 AM

oops...John Allsopp posted the comment in question.

Posted by: Dave Pierce | May 3, 2006 8:43:00 AM

Don't worry Dave, John's friends all call him "Permalink" - or "Permy" for shot.

Posted by: Adster | May 3, 2006 6:34:11 PM