Friday, December 31, 2010
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Visits to NYC have always been a difficult thing for me. It’s just a hassle to get in and out and around. Hotel rooms are very expensive and timely transportation can be difficult. Good and reasonable food can be found but you have to look for it and planning a visit is time-consuming and necessary, if you aren’t very familiar with the place.
When a big snow event like this recent one hits during the Christmas holidays the place really goes into tilt because most of its working denizens are gone to somewhere else. So that leaves the second and third stringers scrambling to handle things and as we old footballers know, second and third stringers just aren’t the first string no matter how hard they try nor how good their intentions.
When things in NYC go to hell, the screaming begins, and so it has this week. The picture shows a local newspaper article reflecting the city officials attitude and a lot of lively retorts from locals. It’s amusing. The tow truck video shows one city worker trying to free a snow loader while he demolishes a SUV in the process. BTW, the SUV is a city vehicle, too.
Imagine what your winter visit would be this week if you had gone to the effort to go there. Few of the locals are there to serve, and fewer still want to be there.
Monday, December 27, 2010
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
12 One daymy Boss asked me to submit a status report to him concerning a project I was working on. I asked him if tomorrow would be soon enough. He said, "If I wanted it tomorrow, I would have waited until tomorrow to ask for it!" (New business manager, Hallmark Greeting Cards)
Sunday, December 19, 2010
About 1917, the local DAR erected these 3 markers in a small, very old country cemetery in southwestern Arkansas. One of them is my 3rd great grandfather. He and the other 2 gentlemen honored by the DAR were soldiers of the American Revolution. Years ago, dad purchased a couple of books and did some light research of that family line but had done little more than work out the vitals and draw a crude family tree. What he knew of our great grandfather’s service in the Revolution was limited to the markings on that old stone monument. When Dad died, the books and the project passed to me. It was about the beginning of popular use of the Internet…the late 1990s.
About the first substantial project I undertook online was to dig into my family history, starting with this line. Like most of us, I was a native Texan with early lineage going way back to southern places east of Texas. North Texas stock generally came from Tennessee, Kentucky, and the Carolinas. Migration of that stock occurred over a period of a century or so and several generations.
Advanced genealogists were among the first groups to make good use of the Internet for communications and exchange of information. Working within that group I learned how to protect my privacy, get information I needed, and give others what I could without opening up to some of the lousy parts of dealing with the web.
Finding my roots was a useful and sobering exercise that really illustrated the potential of the web. Beyond dad’s rudimentary work, most of the knowledge I have came from making contacts over the web. There is little that is more boring than someone else’s family history and I won’t bore you with mine. However, I think it useful to show some of the amazing discoveries by way illustrating what is possible with the web.
At age 15, Grandpa Jim was a junior member of the Overmountain Men; frontiersmen, who played an active part in settling early America and were living in settlements in the vicinity of today’s NE point of TN and SW point of VA. Daniel Boone was one of these Overmountain Men. Family lore has long had it that his branch of the Williams family came from Wales to Charleston about 1740. Finding specific Williams ancestors is about as tough as finding Johnson and Smith ancestors…and most males were named John or James in those days.
That Williams line goes kind of murky before about 1770 such that it has been impossible to firmly tie individuals to one another for a couple of generations. However, another bit of information learned in the study is that there is one of the earliest southern maps in a Carolina university that shows names of early settlers on the plantations lining rivers and tributaries…there were so few people on the land in those early days that it was the custom to name the plantation owners on the map itself.
A section of it shows 4 plantation owners named Williams located in the far NE corner of North Carolina, just inside the Outer Banks. Although it is likely that these Williams’ are not direct ancestors, they are most likely the first contingent of Welch Williams’ to immigrate to the New World. Where just 10-years ago I had to send off for a large copy of the map, it is now posted online in HD. A fifth plantation owner shown in the map is Boone.
Other interesting projects have been to flesh out my father’s WWII service in the Air Force and my great grandfather’s service in the Confederate Army. Both studies have led to some amazing discoveries and some wonderful connections with fine, knowledgeable people.
Quite aside from the armies of newly minted future business tycoons spouting CRM, ERP, Six Sigma, or errant daughters exposing themselves with cheap cell phone cameras, and all that other crap, the Web holds fantastic possibilities for anyone to learn just about anything he or she wants to learn.
Friday, December 17, 2010
Thursday, December 16, 2010
Once businessmen broke the 40+ year grip engineers and programmers held over computer technology (since 1939 prox), the flood gates of innovation started opening as fast as technology advancements could be accomplished. Driven by demand identified by businessmen, the techs were funded and tasked to develop the necessary technologies to meet the demand. Engineers might find certain tasks scientifically impossible, but are very good at developing suitable alternatives.
When the Net started opening up to the masses about 1995, we the masses responded in many different ways. Our children quickly gravitated to “chat rooms” where they could readily meet perverts posing as peers. Parents had no clue...nor did teachers…nor did legislatures…nor did law enforcement. The only response we really had then was to keep ourselves informed, keep an eye on the kids and limit access to the net until we could figure out what was going on.
With the subsequent arrival of broadband about 2002-3, which enabled rapid transfer of images and videos, came more issues. Cell phone access to the net compounded those same issues even further. Now our pubescent offspring could recluse themselves and send out x-rated pictures to the world. Probably never before had competent parenting been more important or more lacking.
At work, adults had and still have similar problems with their junior employees. Not only is it a problem concerning competent business communications, it’s also a problem in the always vague arena of common sense, or lack thereof. As I was cautioned so many years ago about taking care with my written communication, or more importantly to think about what I was doing before doing it, those lessons seem to be in a serious decline in the Internet world.
Literally everything that is digitized and posted to the net is potentially forever in the public domain and subject to surfacing at any time in the future whether convenient or not…whether true or not. And that picture your daughter or granddaughter took of her skivvies for some chuckles might rest in hard drives all over the world only to be brought forth later on when she might least wish it to resurface. Good grief.
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Technology company senior management tended to be about 10-years younger than our generation and their engineering staffs were perhaps 10-20 years younger. Initiatives and routines developed by those younger people reflected their own views and experiences which were often much different than ours. In no small degree, our generation tended to be more like Dilbert’s pointy-haired boss than the tech-savvy subordinate staff. Our ages at the time of various significant technology milestones are marked on the Windows timeline above. Note that Gates bailed out about the time we started winding things up ourselves, or about the time the Internet started gaining influence.
It seems that companies and governments led by immature management have forgotten that old saw and/or neglected to teach it to their junior charges.
The arrival of the Internet to our PC world suddenly introduced almost unlimited communications capabilities to our desk top. No longer were we dealing only with how programs worked, we were dealing with how to effectively communicate with others while maintaining our privacy, professionalism, and confidentialities. Suddenly, most of our communications were written and thus subject to the
Not everyone in a “brick & mortar” business organization were authorized to create written business communications with others. The simple truth is, not everyone is a competent writer. Good writers are not always good thinkers and I’ve seen many examples of very smart people who were terrible writers. Combining and controlling those talents and skills was once one of the principal responsibilities of an organization’s managers. If my own observations in the advancing Internet “tidal wave” are common, then I would think that competent communications within large companies are suffering.
Monday, December 13, 2010
Thursday, December 09, 2010
The troubling thing for me has been the realization that the impetus for all this change has been has been pushed hard by the young behind us. That’s probably not unusual within the sweep of history, but it’s troubling nonetheless that we apparently have been neither competent nor aggressive leaders in the revolution, and we should have been. Since about 1995-96 the comic strip, Dilbert, has been chronicling the oppressive ineptitude of the clueless pointy-haired boss and his hapless employees. Whether we are the pointy-haired bosses or those just older than us are, would be a matter of what your particular experience has been.
I noticed the rumble of things to come on the horizon about the same time Scott Young started his Dilbert strip in 1995-96, just as the Internet was becoming widely accessible. It came as the muted noise surrounding Supply Chain Management initiatives and later by ERP, CRM, Six Sigma, and a plethora of other acronyms used to describe, in fuzzy terms, the application of computer control systems to every facet of business processes; those work elements that are relatively common to all businesses—invoicing, receivables, payables, costing, inventories, schedules, business communications, payrolls, insurance, taxes, reporting, follow-up, etc.
In those early days, the SCM ambition was huge, but the capability was miniscule and somewhat laughable, causing the initiative to be slow in gaining footholds in the large companies that were our customers. Existing employee resistance to change was as significant as was the absence of competent technologies, despite the promises screaming from the technology proponents. Older people like us tended to view the technology as a tool, while the younger, true believers, had come to view the new technologies as irreplaceable processes, without which nothing could succeed and everything would fail. In some recent experiences it seems that massive failures have been accelerated by the slavish dependence on the technologies themselves.
More to come...Part 4
Tuesday, December 07, 2010
In my mind, it was these two guys, Jobs and Gates, that came to summarize personal computing in our lives, at least since 1980 or thereabouts. In simple terms, it was their drive and their companies that finally won the operating system wars which would pave the way to standardization of software, a struggle much like the video format wars fought a few years earlier to settle whether we would use VHS vs. Beta format. I had a Tandy computer by 1981, but for 2-years or so had little clue what to do with it. About all I recall about computing in the 1980s was that you could write letters and reports with a word processing program; you could fill a spreadsheet with formulas and do a lot of calculating; and you could waste a ton of time playing some rudimentary games, like Pong or Space Invaders.
By 1986, I had a Tandy laptop that had 48K (yes, K) of memory and a small floppy drive. The 48K internal memory on this Tandy could hold about 4 letters, then you had to dump off to the floppy everything over that. It was running subsets of MS software, which at least provided an introduction of what was to come. Large companies were paying tons of money for higher power systems but that was out of reach for those of us on smaller budgets. What, if anything substantial, those larger companies were accomplishing with that high power equipment I couldn't say with any authority. The lagging piece of the technology puzzle was always we the people not knowing how to make good use of all that stuff. There were "training" courses, but those that I saw were pretty weak with respect to applying the knowledge.
By 1989, we were using some larger Tandy machines, but still mostly as typewriter replacements. There was no linkage between them until sometime in the early 1990s when we added a LAN server. That sure saved a lot of time by not having to save documents to floppies and walking them from one computer to another, or shipping a disk out via FedEx.
After a decade of fussing with incompatible software and no electronic linkage, early versions of Microsoft Office came available about the same time we were able to put in a LAN. Soon all the internal squabbles regarding what software to standardize with, went away. Windows 95 ushered in the Internet age and email for us and Windows XP expanded image handling capability along with the arrival of broadband ISP connections which enabled moving a lot more information around by 2003. Of course upgrading all of our ISP connections was time consuming and expensive.
For us, all this development came in fits and starts, as not only were the computer industry players jockeying with one another for competitive advantage, our company head was a computer illiterate dinosaur who never got beyond thinking of the PCs as typewriter replacements. To him, Internet, email, and other such technologies seemed to be unobtrusive ways for employees to waste time, so he was difficult to prod along toward advancing our communication capabilities beyond fax and phone. Most of us simply bought our own computers for the home and kept up with the racing advancements from 1995 onward.
It's been easy to see so many small businesses and professional practices struggle with incorporating the new communications technologies. Many of those principals are our age and most of them would rather not be bothered with this tedious stuff. Unfortunately dealing with other companies and agencies has rapidly resulted in the need to update everyones' communication capabilities. And Mr. Jobs and Mr. Gates started it all for us.
Monday, December 06, 2010
There were 4 card punchers and 1 computer…for several hundred students. The lectures were unintelligible and the experience was a nightmare. I didn’t care if I ever saw another computer…let the dorks who liked that kind of stuff deal with it. There was one more experience a few years later that was about the same. Again I said to heck with that computer stuff. Sane people simply didn’t waste their lives with that kind of frustration. As it turned out later only dorks like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs put up with that kind of frustration.
Our age group is about the eldest that took some time to become familiar with 1980s desktop computing—there are some exceptions, of course. Some of us stayed clear of it while some older folks took to it with gusto. We were about 35 when the PCs started showing up in the workplace and most of us were far enough along in our careers that we could avoid dealing with the stuff if we wished.
During my working years I noticed another discriminator between computer literate people and those who were not. That was whether they had touch typing skills or not. If they did not, then interacting with a PC was much more difficult. I’ve seen remarkably fine professionals who were really handicapped in doing much with a computer by their inability to type rapidly. Some of them are still writing their things out in long-hand for a secretary to type for them.
In the early 1970s I saw the first remote terminal installed in a large company engineering office. There were 30-40 engineers in the office and one computer terminal that none of them knew how to operate. One guy, the weakest of them, was assigned to learn how to use it and he spent weeks and months in front of that screen. He got very good at playing games on that old computer. In manufacturing plants large mainframe computers were used to log and report process data points. PCs came along about 6-7 years later and everything started to change.
For most of the 1980s we used computers as expensive typewriter replacements that had some additional capability to store documents. A few made some rudimentary use of the spreadsheet programs; there was no Internet then, nor it seemed, did any of the programs people chose to use have the ability to be read and acted on by other programs…nothing was compatible with much of anything else. Industrial plants started using PC based controllers to replace the old analog devices. Operators seemed overwhelmed by excessive data reporting…it was hard to tell for sure because no one wanted to be seen as lagging behind the technology.
The 1990s brought software standardization with Microsoft’s Office, Local Area Networks, and the Internet for the masses about 1995, only 15-years ago. Software began to expand and improve permitting computers to be used for more than typewriter replacements and simple spreadsheets.
In my opinion the most significant milestones in the useful application of PCs was the 1990 Windows 3.0, their first GUI program, followed by Windows 95 in 1995 which opened up the Internet along with more user friendly software. In 2003, broadband was replacing phone lines as ISPs and data transfer sped up by orders of magnitude. Windows XP was introduced that same year and was, in my opinion, the first real improvement since Windows 95.
Development of the PC operating environment has been a constant balance of processor speed with memory capacity, operating system improvement, band-width growth, and the availability of competent software programs. Thrown in the mix has always been the noise from wireless vendors which have, to my mind, added quite a bit of confusion to understanding the PC environment. It’s simply a phone company vs. cable company battle for providing ISP services. I think the confusion added by this and many other noise makers has significantly hampered moving the entire science forward. More in the next posting.
Saturday, December 04, 2010
I am about to start a multi-part computer technology rant in which I hope to clarify for those of us senior citizens who have an interest in the subject, why so much of it seems shrouded in foolishness, accompanied by breathless blather, and while useful, seldom lives up to expectations. And why I, and I suspect many of us, have felt prodded by this stuff for the past 20-30 years.
I learned long ago be very wary about installing "critical updates" to various software programs I'm running when the update notices popped up on my screen. It's not so much a matter of distrusting 3rd party meddling as it is distrusting the software supplier itself. I'm aware that "beta" simply means that the work is not complete but is being thrown out there anyway...a bit like a manufacturer shipping known defective products in order to meet his company management's periodic quota demands.
In an odd sense, it has become accepted practice in the software world to "roll out" a beta version of their product and invite "developers" or even their customers to find the bugs and report them to the vendor for "patches" to be developed. While a certain amount of that kind of thing has always been done by producers of first one thing or another, it seems particularly irritating in the world of software to be an end user having to deal with this stuff. In a sense, it is the transfer of QC responsibility from the vendor to the customer.
Let me aks you sum questions...why does my email client not operate properly after I installed their latest "updated" version of the program?
Why would a software vendor who provided the operating software for an automated parking garage to a town in New Jersey be permitted to turn that software off, trapping dozens of citizen's cars in the parking garage when the town opted out of the ongoing "service" contract?
Why would several Federal agencies and countless corporations simply scrap hundreds of millions of dollars of software development that ultimately did not do the job it was advertised to do?
Why did most Microsoft "critical updates" to my own computer operating system routinely cause other programs to malfunction? Why does my system continue to operate well now that I ceased, years ago, installing updates from that company?
These are some of the things I've been thinking about.
Friday, December 03, 2010
I’ve also known a lawyer with a prestigious national law firm, a graduate of one of the nation’s top tier law schools who used duct tape to secure a Christmas tree to the roof of his car only to discover after the fact, that he had taped his doors shut in the process.
The CEOs I’ve known have ranged from very good to very bad people. Frankly, I wouldn’t trust any of them that I’ve met. Seems to me that the days of the cream rising to the top are no more…at least on the paths I’ve traveled. And even the very good ones tend to be working to one kind of private agenda or another.
One of the most memorable characters was a construction superintendent I met when I was quite young. As we drove a locomotive onto the site he told me the story of Lever “A” and Lever “B” as an illustration of the value of using caution. The locomotive was operated using several levers; he said that given the choice between Lever A and Lever B, always choose leave ‘er be…his message was don’t screw around with something you don’t understand.
Thursday, December 02, 2010
However, if you put only 2 candidates out and forced a choice of one of them, you had accomplished something. First, your customer has made a choice of one of your wares…a step in the right direction; and second, opened a spot up for you to bring out another potential choice. Bringing out choice 3 and putting it alongside your customer’s first choice set up another choice of 2 scenario. Walking a customer through this straight-line decision process resulted in a high probability of closing a sale, simply because the customer was not confused and always had their first choice in front of them, no matter how many decision cycles they had completed.
Businesses discovered years ago that one-on-one selling is expensive and sought to develop cheaper selling methods. First, they withdrew their support to only the largest wholesale customers leaving the mom & pops to fend for themselves and ultimately disappear; next, they sought to circumvent the retailers altogether with the outlet mall approach where the manufacturers would sell direct from their own stores. There, they discovered how difficult it is to deal directly with a mass market; then, they sought to sell through the mass marketers via a self-selling, bullet point card approach. This method required that neither the seller nor the buyer have any particular knowledge of the product, regardless of how complex it was. This latter method is what we still see today and has worked fairly well.
Manufacturers are entirely motivated to sell in large quantities with minimal selling costs. It’s just cheaper to deliver pallets of goods to as few retailers as possible. The last thing they want to do is deal directly with we the people…we are a large pain-in-the-ass. We demand value and performance at a cheap cost. And we will go to great lengths to achieve this goal…and we are resourceful in that quest.
Now, we have online links directly to manufacturer websites. Even then, the manufacturers have motivation to deal with we the people through third party intermediaries. It’s cheaper for them that way…and, we remain a pain-in-the-ass.
Yes, I know the game is to gain shelf space and visibility in that retailer’s store. However, hot-shot…if you piss me off, I am old enough to have identified alternatives and will choose another manufacturer’s product if your display wastes much of my time looking for the product I want.
Crest in original or mint is good enough…I do not believe claims of greater things coming from Crest that costs twice as much. A six or twelve pack of Coke in original is good enough…I don’t need decaf, decaf diet, vanilla, cherry, diet, or zero in several different packages and sizes. Pepsi will do, and some of the house brands will also do.
So much for this week’s marketing rant. However, when you have one product to sell and the boss wants to sell more, about all you have to work with is gaming your customers. I got frustrated with my wife some years ago when it seemed that she was eternally adrift when trying to settle on an acceptable shampoo. I raged, “dammit, at your age why have you not picked a shampoo?” More recently, as I watched that topic more closely I saw what was going on…the shampoo manufacturers are constantly changing the names, the packaging, and dropping the familiar brands altogether. It’s an outrage. Folks, it’s perfumed soap...period.
Wednesday, December 01, 2010
If you've spent some of your life in a larger corporation, you may have seen something like these illustrations of how various groups (teams, they call them today) interact with one another. The top panels are very similar to a hand drawn production I saw in circulation almost 40-years ago. No telling how old these things really are.
Below is a present day adaptation I found online. Same song, different verse.
And here is another contemporary treatment of a hand-drawn sketch I recall seeing in the early 1970s. The old version was not as elaborate as this one and had just the word "defiance" as its message. It hit a chord with a young lad trapped in the bowels of a monster corporation charged with doing dumb stuff for not much money.