Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Burberry, Prada, you know, trendy...

The ubiquitous year-end blog. Many are doing it. More will. Lump me in with the rest of them. The big events of 2008 for me:

1. Job change. Yes, job change not career change. Because I don't know what career I want yet. If I stop being afraid of writing (and the ultimate acceptance or rejection of said writing), I might become an author. But currently, my communications-related track is going along, as the new Communications Coordinator for ACEC Washington. It stretches me everyday. At least I'm forcing it to.

2. Stopped actively working on race cars. After nearly 15 years of working on race cars, sacrificing a lot time and energy, I hung up the stopwatch, so to speak. I got to the point where the effort put in was far greater than the return, and the sport stopped being fun. I've been kicking around defining a new role I want to be challenged in, but I'm sorting out the new job and my more important aspirations.

3. Gaining expertise in social media. I'm not the most technical person, but I feel I have a great ability to understand technical issues and break them down to understandable concepts. I may not know how to do something, but I can likely understand the concepts and pathway to get there. Social media is similar. Everyone "wants" to use it, but they don't know how, or if they should. That's where I shine, I think. I can't write the explicit code, but I can find solutions that will work. The new Internet structure is fitting the skill set of others like me. For a crude illustration, I'll point you towards Office Space. "I deal with the customer so the !@#$#$%%%^ engineers don't have to! I'm a people person! I have valuable people skills!" (okay, that's a stretch on the last part)

4. Segue into... Movie "wealth" is building. I saw more movies this year (dunno if that's a good sign), but I'm a minor movie enthusiast. My DVD collection is over 400 (modest collection to my standards), but I haven't traveled to the classics aisle yet. Mainly because I can't get them for $5-$10 yet. All those DVDs and not one Jimmy Stewart.

5. Played less video games. Yeah, that was great, but the time spent playing games shifted to the Internet and a little site called I don't even have an XBOX 360, so I'm behind on that front. At the beginning of 2008 I had two options: guitar or 360. Good call!

6. Spent more time with the parents, playing cards or dominoes. And they kick my butt most of the time. I enjoy playing games, like when I was little. I remember playing Uno with the family, or Monopoly, Payday, Life, Clue, or any other game.

7. Being more selective in my blogroll. Sure my b-roll has over 100 feeds, but I only read about 10-20 of them. I think if I have some spare time I'll delete the feeds I don't read. Bloglines makes organization a dreadful thing, at least it was last time I did it.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Seth Godin

He has some great posts. I agree with a lot he has to say, but I'm not sure I'd agree with everything. I haven't met the guy. But Seth has a nice post that every manager should be looking at in new employees (since this "recession" isn't going to last forever".

High points of this post:

1) Passion and expertise are required for employees. The level of each is determined by the position.
2) Passion for living and growing in the expertise trumps passion for the mission. For example, the factory worker with a passion for building engines doesn't necessarily need the same passion for all of GM's products.

Seth applies the "core competency" principle to labor, which isn't anything new, but I would venture a guess that some managers still don't get it.

Seth ignores the "skills can be taught" mantra, for good reason. It's misunderstood. You can teach new skills to employees, but if they don't have the passion to learn, they won't perform well. Or at all. But if you teach skills to employees that want to learn, they will be far more productive.

Somebody's fired.

Over at Brand New, which I stumbled through Core77's blog, I came across the post about Pepsi's new branding. Not that I'm against change, it just has to be good change. Pepsi has pulled a "New Coke". And if Pepsi claims they had a deadline to make, let it be known- a great branding, or rebranding, knows no time. When a great mark is created, it could be done in 5 minutes on the back of a napkin, or 4 months, 3 firms, and 2 regime changes later. A great mark is almost a corporate unicorn.

And a reader jab (look at the larger version to get it all):

Don't ask what the US can do for you.

For a while now it's been generally accepted Hollywood is out of new ideas, or seems to be content leveraging recycled ideas. Over and over. Like plastic parsley (for those that remember Alaska Air commercials).

It's reaching throughout the industry as well. Case in point:


Along with the plethora of identity crisis packaging:

I can see the point if there are multiple versions- widescreen, fullscreen, director's cut, anniversary edition, unrated, or a re-release. But a new movie? C'mon.

Friday, December 19, 2008

"I've been working on the chain...gaaa-aa-ing..."

For NW drivers, here's my logic:

Snow chains are for use when you can't see the pavement and there is a base of snow & ice. The coefficient of friction of steel on ice is probably really, really low. Meaning slick.

Snow cables/plastic/lightweight chains are for use with hard pack snow and ice where some pavement is visible- that is, patchy.

When you can clearly see pavement, and no snow or ice is present, do not use either option on the roadway. Pull over and remove them.

1) Prevents unnecessary road damage.
2) When a car/truck looses a chain/cable, the driver never goes back for it. So it's left sitting in the middle of the freeway where drivers have to dodge and weave. Or it gets caught in some cow-catcher and destroys it (not like that would be a bad thing).

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

On the Other Hand...

I was recently asked "What's your favorite management style?" As in, what preferences do I look for, or need, in my manager. I honestly replied that I'm still trying to figure that out.

More often than not, different roles require different management techniques. Depending on my role and responsibilities, I require different management support. And I think it's the same for any position- at any given time, your present role will dictate what type of management you need.

For example, if I'm scheduling work teams for an upcoming project, I don't require a manager to do it and have me communicate it. What I do need is a manager who will back me up when an employee has a problem with the schedule, or I communicate there isn't enough resources. Or if I have a large punch list, I don't need a micro-manager asking every five minutes if project W or V is done.

When job descriptions tend to gravitate to the "Other duties as assigned" territory, management styles should alter to fit the employee role. A production (otherwise known as "Goods") role requires direction and approval management. Relationship-building ("Services") role requires mentorship and policy oversight. Or to use a sports metaphor, production roles are like football plays. X's and O's, everyone knows their part to get the ball across the goal line. Relationship roles are dynamic and fluid, more like an MMPORPG (Massive Mulit-Player Online Role-Playing Game)- a set environment and a few rules. But you do whatever is allowed in the construct to accomplish your goals.

So each role requires different styles, since X's and O's aren't enough when you have Y's, Q's, and AE's (diphthongs).

And looking back at my answer, I think I'll rephrase it to this: Whichever leads me to my next level.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Better Mousetrap

Mark Cuban weighed in on the US auto makers crisis, and asked a simple question. I also have questions about the US Big Three that I've never understood.

1) Why does GM have so many different brands, with only Cadillac and Hummer the clearly "luxury" brand? Chevrolet, Pontiac, GMC, Saturn, and Buick pretty much sell the same level of car. Ford would have clear, definitive lines with the jettisoning of Mercury- Lincoln, Volvo, Mazda. Chrysler has it almost, but that was based on the acquisition of other brands, like Jeep.

If you don't understand this point, look at the current trend on the other side of the pond. VW and Audi. VW ("the people's car") and Audi used to be clear on where they fit on the economic value of it's respective brands. But now VW quality, design, and price are vying for Audi customers.

2) Why fight the Perception vs. Quality argument? If customers expect a cheap, fall-apart car, provide a car that fit (not meet or match) their expectations, with a little extra. If a whiz-bang car comes out from a manufacturer known to build poor quality cars, the new best thing is going to be looked at skeptically and critically. Do you think anyone would buy an XLR if Yugo built it? Hyundai is a prime example. It's taken years (if not decades) to persuade America that it builds quality cars, inexpensively at that.

3) Why do people NOT buy from the US Big Three? My answer is three-part, and I'm avoiding the Labor/Union/Entrenchment points because I don't know anything about working inside an auto builder.

A) The proliferation of cars in the market. I initially thought that the US offered too many vehicle options, which increased the CODB, but manufacturers offer 15-18 different vehicles. But multiply that by at least 10 to get our buffet line going. Anyone can get anything. Options are endless. Problem is that the US Big Three did little to differentiate the similar offerings though the product line. GMC Yukon is the same as the Chevrolet Tahoe/Suburban. Chrysler Town & Country is the same as the Dodge Minivan. Going back- Olds Cutlass, Buick Regal, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, Pontiac Something (Does it really matter at this point?). Virtually the same. Compare to Toyota and Lexus. Nissan and Infiniti seem to be the most US-like of Japan's Big Three.

B) Americans are more "wealthy" and buy more luxurious cars, or "better" cars- Audi, BMW, M-B, Lexus, Acura, Jaguar, and the supercar realm. Customers are more likely to spend another $10,000-20,000 for a European badge rather than a domestic plate. The perceived quality and prestige is more important than the bump in sticker price.

C) Foreigners are dead sexy. Face it, the amount of options allow for design risks and definable looks as a way to seduce buyers. True, majority of the Japan Big Three sales come from products very similar to each other. Compare the Accord to Camry throughout the years on the design side. Then compare the 3 Series to A4. Other than the Viper, Corvette, Camaro, H1, and Saturn Sky, there is not a whole lot that interests me from the US Big Three. And a lot of people feel that way. I would rather have an A4, Q7, M3, Mini Cooper, Skyline, TSX, RL, Jetta, GTI, DB7, Land Rover, Carrera S, or E350, before I get to my top US Big Three pic.

If I could drive GM for a bit, here are some changes I would make (Since it's easy to be a backseat CEO):

Shift the line-up on value. Cadillac-Saab-Chevrolet-Pontiac-Saturn. Hummer/GMC merge to offer SUVs/Pickups as their line of service. And cut the "exclusivity" price gouging that comes with buying the GMC badge. Buick, bye-bye.

Vehicle offering line-up. Cadillac is obviously the marquee luxury brand for GM. Saab is the trendy "we-have-an-import-brand" diversity project. But the cars are nice. It's a weird fit for GM. Chevrolet quits producing pickups and SUVs, as they go to HummerMC. Corvette, Impala, Malibu, Cobalt, Pontiac's G6 and GTO/Camaro, and Buick's LaCrosse get rolled into the car-only line-up. Pontiac has the real quirky brand, with the Vibe, Aveo, Solstice, G3, and anything else that would look good with a NAPA Hat or Pizza chain on top. Think of Pontiac as the US answer to Scion. Saturn keeps the current offerings, as the new-way-of-doing-business brand. Saturn, with the exception of Sky, is not the best, not the most attractive, but the quality is there to get you from point A to point B.

So there it is, my quickly thought plans. What about Ford? With the exception of the GT40 and Mustang, they build trucks. Cars come with the package. Chrysler? Thanks for the mini-van.

Side-jab commentary- Enough with the stupid "cross-over" term. You're either a station wagon or mini-van. Vans have sliding doors. Wagons have swinging. Embrace who you are! People buy what they like, not what it's called.

And SUVs are derived from 4-door pickups with a canopy. If it has 3rd row seats that face backwards, it's a wagon. Forward- SUV. Afraid of parking garages- SUV.

Friday, December 12, 2008


Seeing if there is a remote chance I can move the menus to the left side in Office 2007 (yes, it is that discomforting), I found this- the reason for all my pain:

Jensen Harris' Blog for Office 2007 Users

Summary: Microsoft decided to use a mathematical equation to solve a human intuitive problem. FYI, there are many things determined by equations that don't turn out as expected.

[edit: misspelled Jensen's name]

If You're Going to Change

Make change for the better. Especially design. Case in point- Adobe Photoshop CS4 vs MS Word 2007. Both utilize a set of tools to perform functions of the main program, giving users the ability to alter/edit/change/etc. the content. But each program (even the suite it is part of) goes about displaying the tools differently. Upfront I'll tell you I prefer Adobe's display (or UI for User Interface) over MS's display.

Pics (otherwise it doesn't exist):
Word 2007

Photoshop CS4

So why is Photoshop's UI better? Because I'd venture a guess that the majority of content created on computers is for 8.5x11 paper, usually in the portrait format. Users of Photoshop, however, are not using that format. Most use Photoshop for photos, which are mostly 3x5, 4x6, or some other horizontal layout. Photoshop menus can be "undocked" meaning users can move them where they need to.

In Word, the menus are "Gorilla Glue'd" to the top, and users are forced to use Word this format. I don't know if many users use the 2-up "Reading Layout" for composition, but I'm willing to guess we've all accepted the "Normal" or "Page Layout" view as standard- one sheet at a time.

With the proliferation and acceptance of Widescreen monitors (over the 4:3 ratio. We've always been "widescreen"), it makes sense to provide toolbars and the like similar to Photoshop- along the vertical sides of the screen. It preserves the standard upright content form we're used to and have standardized on. If we ever switch to square paper, or landscape everything, then we'll need horizontal menus.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

"Burning Ring of Fire" (Johnny Cash)

I read a book once, "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff... And It's All Small Stuff" by Richard Carlson (Ph.D.) and he had a saying- you don't have the catch the ball when it's thrown to you. Similarly, I've heard it said you don't have to put out all the fires. Obviously this doesn't apply to real fires. It's a metaphor. Projects are like fires (that's a simile).

With forest fires, Department of Forestry actually does controlled burns to prevent widespread disaster during a real burn. And sometimes the fire gets too large to control, or they know the fire will run out of fuel, and let it go.

Sometimes "fires" need to be let go, and just monitored. Multiple problems can make a fire spiral out of control. The key in all this is to look back at where it went wrong. Learn from decisions made, assumptions made, or if preparation just wasn't there.

Make adjustments to the project plan, considering what needs to be applied from last time. Continual process improvement, just like in manufacturing.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Coming to a Lowe's and Home Depot near you!

Seen over on Core77's blog is this awesome invention. Basically, a minor electrical current runs through you and your handy table saw. When your finger approaches proximity to the blade, the current is cut/completed or whatever, and enacts a stopping mechanism that destroys the blade and mechanism, yet saves your finger. Here's the proof:

While not a substitute for learning proper safety techniques with power tools, every school's woodshop should have these.

Tool manufactures, if not already done so, need to license it and add it as a feature on their saws. Looking at the web site, it seems as if SawStop is going about doing business differently. I think it's not always building the better mousetrap, it's building components that enhance the mousetrap. Apple made the iPhone. Thousands of developers make iPhone applications. They don't remake the iPhone. Same with Google Gadgets (Go, go, Google Gadgets!), FaceBook, etc.

I would like to see another test, this one using a hot dog that is flicked into the blade. Something a little faster to test the reaction mechanism. I don't think a majority of saw accidents are done by normal operating procedures.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Things I like (Rebuttal)

So here's my (short) list of things I like:

1) Typography. Or in basic terms, I LIKE FONTS! I love the new trend in fonts going to Gotham family fonts. Like Starbucks moving to a Rockwell style to Gotham. Yes, I know Gotham family fonts look eerily similar to eye charts, but they just look awesome. It's kinda like watching Bob Ross. Mesmerizing.

2) Sharing knowledge. Participating in message board convos/blogs/twitter where I can share my experience and expertise (real or imagined) to those who ask for it. They may not always listen, but someone else might.

3) Rain. In select circumstances. Really cool to see powerful (yet non-dangerous) weather happening. Like at the ocean.

4) Thinking about things that have so much inertia, would I really be able to change it? Or other's perspective of "it"? Shifting paradigms is kinda cool if you think about it. Pun not intended.

5) Great TV shows. Studio 60 was one of them. I prefer smart and witty dialogue, with quick retorts. The writing that makes you do a double take or go back and view it again, because you missed it the first time.

6) The Interwebs. Intertubes. Al Gore's Ultimate Behemoth. WOPR. It's the access to information. I've become dependent on looking for additional information, even if it has no profound affect on what I'm doing. It's just too easy to find the right answer or information. Fail Whale. Rick Roll'd. Jump the shark. l337. ROFL copter. Note: I only used one wikipedia reference.

7) 'Nuff said.

8) Being productive with tangible items. I like being able to see what I did. There is some sort of mechanism in me that gains satisfaction when something is actually done; I can see the result of my effort. I like the occasional retreat/tradeshow/corporate party, but constantly having long meetings that impact my production end up not on this list. But note they didn't fall on my other list, either.

9) Being honest with my knowledge. If I don't know the answer, or know I don't have all the information/skills/tools, I like to think that I divulge my level of knowledge in the particular arena. One, it provides a clear understanding of my own current knowledge and where I need to focus learning. Two, it prevents down-the-line problems like "You said you could do this." Three, I don't spout off something I think is right, someone Googles it and finds the right answer.

10) Bismark doughnuts. The ones with custard filling. Mmmm. Wish I could eat them everyday without penalties. That's why they still remain a treat.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Things I dislike

Here's a good list of things I dislike, or depending upon the mood I'm in, hate.

1) Forgetting to get out the shower towel.

2) Dial-up ISPs. Worst. Programs. Evar.

3) Fanbois. You all know the one's I'm talking about. "OMG It's SOOO much better than the iPhone" or "SRT-4 kicks butt over any ricer!" Where is the :banghead: smiley when you need it?

4) Related to Fanbois- Brand Snobbery. With the amount of information available, choosing consumer items based solely on brand is pretty ridiculous. Plasma TVs, for example, are all sourced from the following: NEC/Pioneer, Samsung, Fujistu/Hitachi (w/NEC), Sony (w/Hitachi or NEC), LG/Zenith, or Panasonic.

5) Websites that look like they are from 1998-1999 (or actually ARE), the "critical mass" period of the Internet. Along that line, sites that are created in the 800x600 or smaller pixel box. A pass to some companies who use that format with actual creative action in the sites. Look no further than many government or city websites.

6) Dead spots with Cell phones. Especially when talking on them. And the ensuing instant call back from both parties. "I called you back and got your voicemail." "I was calling you back."

7) People who don't try to learn anything. Take a stab at something (metaphorically) first. If you succeed, congrats, you have a new skill. If you don't, you'll have a good starting point to determine if you really want it, or if it's better to find someone who can.

8) Books, as in their current format. I have a lot of books, some I'll read again. But I'd rather have them in multiple formats that allow better portability. Also, the fact they are different sizes. My OCD wants an even bookshelf. That's why I like the standard video cases. Everything looks orderly. In softcopy format, it's easier to search (ctrl + F), highlight & quote relevant sections, and doesn't require a bunch of trees. Bunch of oil and chemicals for the plastics and whatnot, but look at what we're not using!