John’s Recon

January 29, 2009

Great Minds Discuss Ideas

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Prichard @ 4:44 pm

Any who have followed my blog this last year know that I put a lot of labor into a corporate social/business network. I have also strongly favored and tried hard to influence the conversational side over the friending side. The conversational side directly champions ideas head-on. The friending side comes at it a little more indirectly … if a friend recommends/brings up an idea then it lends authenticity to it. I have often felt that good ideas stand on their own merit and don’t need someone else to say it is a good idea for it to be one. The internet itself was founded on independent thinking without the blessing of authorities like medicine, government, encyclopedias, newspapers, and magazines … they jumped on after the general population adopted the internet.

So how is it that the friending concepts are so popular on the internet when the internet used to be about independent thinking and an unbiased crunching of ideas? It didn’t use to be that we needed our friends to give us comfort by believing in the same things. In fact the culture was just the opposite … try to find people who had radically different beliefs from your own, discuss with them, and see why they believed this way … many times changing you a little bit. So instead of choosing people the same as you, choose someone opposite of you.

My guess is that it is youth. If you watch someone go through high school, college and beyond, you see a natural progression of friends that are just like them, to different, to way different, etc.  Anyway this whole line of thinking was brought on when I took down off my wall this great set of sayings from Eleanor Roosevelt. You might say, “What? A president’s wife? What does she know outside of gardening? Who made her an authority on this subject?”. And I would say, “Exactly my point. I rest my case. Her great words stand for themselves.”

Great minds discuss ideas;
Average minds discuss events;
Small minds discuss people.
                Eleanor Roosevelt

January 28, 2009

RIF-tee, RIF-ter, Not Fun for Either

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Prichard @ 9:06 am

When the Dallas Morning News uses its entire front page to talk about a day of RIFs (Reduction In Force), its important to understand it is not fun for anyone. I have had to lay off people and it is painful. There is always a sense of betrayal … that you owed a person a heads-up. It especially hurts when their performance was not lacking … its just there is no work in the future … remember it is the future and not the present environment that determines a RIF.

I remember in the 80’s, the horror stories in Defense, when a manager would lay off his entire group one by one and then at the end of the day his manager would lay him off. They made that guy go through all that pain and then laid him off too. Wow! Talk about inhumane.

Well we have learned some lessons since then. A nice example in such recent carnage is this: Many of the managers of groups were laid off the evening before without their group even knowing. This spared them the pain of their workers grief and contained it to just their own layoff problems. The managers who remained did the dirty work without the sense of betrayal that goes with the job.

A humane touch in an inhumane event.

January 27, 2009


Filed under: Uncategorized — John Prichard @ 12:15 pm

As people retire or are RIF-ed, the workers behind see a whole lot of work that will now fall into their laps. The whole point of course is that the work should have been reduced “theoretically” due to a reduction in business and you are compensating by laying off people. It doesn’t happen that way though since a company wants to be ahead of the problem to survive … so the people go first … in an anticipation of a reduction of business. This puts a strain on the people left … for a while. It takes a while for the people who you render service to, to realize that you no longer have workers to deliver the service and “hopefully” stop asking. And then you re-organize and redistribute the load to the remainder.

I have a fun saying on my wall about reorganizing from the worker end. It doesn’t apply here so much since there will definitely need to be re-balancing but …


“We trained hard — but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form into teams, we would be reorganized. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing.

And what a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency and demoralization.”

— Gaius Petronius Arbiter —

(First Century)

January 23, 2009

Don’t Judge a Person by Their Current Job

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Prichard @ 2:45 pm

Well, today is the day. This is when the decisions to take the offered retirement package needs to be in. I think there will be a lot of “seasoned” people in retail in the near future. So the next time you walk by a Walmart Greeter, don’t judge them by their current position … they probably were someone great at least once before this. No, I’m not considering a Walmart Greeter position … I don’t think I could keep the job … what with me offering helpful suggestions and such … woman with a kid on the arm crying and a kid holding hands nagging and her looking like she was on her last nerve — I pass her a cart and say, “Welcome to Walmart, can I get that adoption paperwork started for you?”.

I was reading a magazine article (a few years back) which was more a tribute/eulogy of my favorite luthier at the time. A Luthier is a guitar (and Lute) maker. The guy had more than 20 years making fine instruments. The article started “I bet you didn’t know that before guitars, Bob retired from 20 years with Hughes Aircraft as a mechanical engineer. And before that …”.

You see when you meet a person and even work with a person, it is only a small slice of life for you both. They may have done great things before they met/worked with you and may continue to do great things after they leave … just like you.

So the next time you see a Walmart Greeter, cut them some slack. Heck, they mayhave been a Rocket Scientist or Nuclear Engineer or Brain Surgeon … I know Nasa dumped more than 10,000 Rocket Scientists into society in the ’70s, ever since we stopped building Nuclear Plants those engineers had to go someplace and haven’t we dumped a few Brain Surgeons into society after some unethical practices.

January 21, 2009

Windows Strategy Backfire

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Prichard @ 5:43 pm

I got a new laptop for Birthday and Christmas and because I can no longer share one with the company I work for (I am retiring from them). My criteria started at the user interface or more with the fact I like to take digital pictures and manipulate them sometimes. So I needed a good display so that I can make photographic decisions on the road (good enough to determine a good picture from a bad without having to see it on a big wide-dynamic range monitor). I needed a fast disk drive so that I can use the product Lightzone and Photoshop (they have a lot of interaction with the disk). I also need to plug an SD card straight in. Everything else I was flexible on.

My pick is a Sony Vaio VGN-FW290 with HD Display (1920×1080) with high dynamic range and a good  graphic card, 250 GB 7200 RPM drive, Read/Write BlueRay Disk, N-draft wireless,  4 GB memory and a SD slot. It has a lot of other features and I love it BUT

BUT Windows Vista Home Premium.

I asked Sony Support if I could use my untouched shrink-wrap copy of Windows XP Pro and they told me that they hadn’t tested all the drivers like BlueRay with XP and they cautioned against it. Bummer!! I will have to stay with Vista and learn the where and why on moving and renaming almost every administrative task and tool. I have to use Google often to find where they put something as I configure the Vaio.

One thing they did that has got a lot of people angry with them is put in User Account Control. This “protective” feature moves your permission level down to “user” even though you are an admin so that it protects you from yourself. When you come across a task requiring admin privileges like ALMOST EVERY SINGLE THING YOU DO WHEN MOVING OVER TO A NEW OPERATING SYSTEM, the display dims and the dreaded dialog box lights up in the center of the screen and says, “this task requires admin permission … is it OK for me to give it to you”. You have to click yes when you really want to shout, “Ah No. It was incredibly stupid of me to try and do work today”. Reminds me of the phone answering systems that repeat back what you just told them to do. It seems like every time I open a new window or move something some where, I am accosted by the system. Go ahead and Google “user account control” and you will hear an earful or see an eyeful.

I even read that they made this annoying on purpose. If a user is constantly harassed by a piece of software he will give up and get rid of it or complain to the software writers. This was their way of convincing independent software vendors to quit writing code that requires administrative access. BUT it is Windows Vista that is carrying the message and bothering you all the time. I guess it never occurred to them that the majority of users will be coming from their XP product and wanting to configure Vista and bring other purchased tools with them. MEANING they will be seeing UAC “scolding” a lot and it will appear that Microsoft’s Vista is complaining all the time. The thing that they wanted you to see happen with your other tools is a rather infrequent occurance compared with what the OS complains about. Now that is a Strategy Backfire.

January 16, 2009

IT is mostly logistics: Apple Cobbler for Reunion Arena

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Prichard @ 3:11 pm

People have asked me why does IT take so long to install a product … I can do it in 20 minutes. IT isn’t about computer installs … its about the logistics of having a piece of software available all over the world 24 hours a day. This is when I get out one of my many examples on logistics versus computer installs. I have used many examples but my first favorite is serving “hot apple cobbler with a scoop of ice cream on top” to 17,000 people in Reunion Arena (Dallas) during a 3 hour hockey game.

The problem isn’t about serving up good hot apple cobbler with a scoop of ice cold ice cream to your family or even some neighbors. In fact, it has nothing to do with apple cobbler at all. The problems is about logistical scale. Where are you going to find that many apples in the winter? Where you going to find the people to slice them up and keep them from going brown before they are served? Where are going to find that many commercial ovens/freezers to keep things hot and cold? or sugar and mixing bowls? Where are you going to find truck drivers to deliver stuff (Uh Oh Unions)? Where are you going to find servers that constantly run up/down stairs delivering a portion to each of 17,000 before the ice cream melts and in the 3 hours before the game is over? Its the same thing when someone says “Wow, you make really good cookies. You should sell them.” Yeah, Right!

My next favorite example is “Strawberry Shortcake for 25,000 People”. It hangs on my wall. BTW, I have used these examples for other things as well since you embellish them to fit the situation at hand … like 500 software people programming a solution. I picked up this one when I was in the software end of Defense.

Strawberry Shortcake for 25,000 People

“Ever wonder why large projects usually run into unforeseen problems, delays, and headaches? Here’s one explanation. Let’s suppose that you have a recipe for strawberry shortcake that serves four people. One day you invite over seven friends to eat this dessert. To make it, you simply double the recipe’s proportions. On another occasion, you invite over one friend for the for this dessert. To make it, all you have to do is halve the proportions in the recipe. Now, let’s suppose that you invite 25,000 of your closest friends over for strawberry shortcake. Now, the most difficult parts of the problem are no longer given in the recipe. These things include doing futures buying of strawberries on the commodities market; making deals with the Teamsters to deliver enough cream; large scale renting of bowls, spoons, tables, and chairs; and traffic flow coordination. The same thing happens in large projects: things come up that weren’t even thought about in the original plans.”

Jack Grimes, Philosoper (adapted from Bob Barton, Computer Architect) from “A Kick In The Seat Of The Pants” by Roger von Oech

January 15, 2009

50% real plus 50% diet

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Prichard @ 1:18 pm

The lady in front of me at the Great Outdoors Sandwich shop asked for 50% Pepsi and 50% Diet Pepsi. I asked does it disguise the taste and she said yes. I’m thinking brilliant, why didn’t I think of this all these countless times that I have been at the soda machine.  I’m going to have to try this right away.

Today I missed all the people that I go to lunch with and my body’s carburetor has made numerous indications that I need carbs. I can think of no quicker place (other than vein introduced) to get carbs back into the body than Taco Bueno’s Bean Burrito. They even mix some interesting extra sauce for taste and maybe so that the body can break it down faster for the full carb rush effect. Many people can go for days on one Bean Burrito, some weeks. But watch out for the 3 pm meeting when the carb rush hits with full effect and your head rolls around on your shoulder while you fight off conciencousness like a fighter in the ten count. Whoops, I am off the subject …

What greater opportunity to try the 50/50 technique. So I put in 50% Diet Coke and then added 50% Regular Coke. I figure the Regular on top will help to mask the taste since I don’t use a straw. You know that “aspartame” taste might as well be called asSPITame because that is almost what I did to the backs of the heads of the next table. It didn’t disguise it one bit. I got up and poured out half and re-filled with Regular and still at 25% Diet that taste was still so strong. So don’t even bother with this … it takes a lot more than Regular Coke to cover its own Diet taste. I had to go back up again and pour the whole thing out and go with some kind of lemon drink that I cut with 30% street water that comes out of the little thing you hold down to get water. Have you ever thought that in some people’s eyes, that having water on this secondary expulsion system relegates water to a second class refresher … not even good enough to rate its own spigot?

January 14, 2009


Filed under: Uncategorized — John Prichard @ 11:22 am

Ahhhh – retirement. The main thing it has always represented to me is that … I don’t work till I die … which is what my father did and his father before him. I want to best him by one. Not work but still live — a simple concept really but in this environment a hard task to accomplish.

You see those little nest eggs that we have socked away have been eaten away by moths or those scary hungry time-eater things on The Langoliers. Like most people at this stage, I am finding the nest egg needs a monetary boost before it can start giving back something to live on.  It is the same as Social Security except that we know who took a big bite out of that one. So that dream of Nirvana sitting on a Caribbean Beach drinking Coronas (or sitting in a hammock drinking margaritas watching people come home from work) is going to have to wait.

So when people say to me, “Congratulations! Enjoy your retirement”, I just say thank-you instead of saying, “What retirement … I am going to work just like you … just I don’t know where and maybe for less pay”. In these financial times, retirement means retiring from a company … it means you don’t have to stop work but you can’t work here.

Of course, if you can convince yourself to live on less then you can look for something you might enjoy doing more … nice idea … I will look into it. OR I could do what someone suggested which is get a low-paying job like McDonalds and the first time some 18 year old kid (your boss) tells you to do something you don’t like — you tell him/her off with extreme prejudice and walk out with a smile on your face. Even with the number of restaurants and department stores in the DFW area this might be short lived because I am sure I would find something on the first day BUT it would be a year of luxury. Then there is the reputation thing that might precede you limiting your number of chances … I guess this is not a wise thing to do but a fun thing to talk about.

January 9, 2009

Cats, Orgs, and Ops

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Prichard @ 2:21 pm

I have a paper on my wall that a colleague gave me about 8 years ago called Cats, Orgs, and Ops. It describes workers that have these tendencies/styles/comfort zones. This is similar to the Myers Briggs Personality/Behavior model and probably related to the Whole Brain Model by Herrmann.

But this sheet makes an important point … every good team needs all three types to be a dynamic full-functioning team. Depending on how we rank the importance of people who are Cats, Orgs, and Ops, there will be a tendency to migrate one way or another to “move up” the food chain. So, if there is a “talent” directive from HR that focuses people toward Orgs, then it will serve to unbalance teams when no one appreciates or rewards the Ops people any more. Also in this “era of layoffs” there will be one or more groups hit harder just because of the sense of corporate worth. To return things back to normal it will be important to “re-balance” teams with a little of each so that we can have dynamic full-functioning teams.

In case you haven’t figured it out, I am mainly a Cat with a lot of  Org. I am a fresh snow kind of guy. I like it when something is just a cloud of ideas so that I can formulate it into a thing … a service, a product, whatever. I enjoy an environment where the rules of thumb haven’t been developed yet. I also like the big picture. It is the reason that I moved from being a designer (analog, RF & microwave) to a systems engineer and retained something similar (Solutions Architect) when I changed careers into IT.

Here is the actual chart:

Catalyzers (Cats) Organizers (Orgs) Operators (Ops)
Can start a project or organization from scratch, attracting people and resources Can take a jumble of pieces and design an orderly result or organization, maximizing resource utilization Can keep a system or organization going if main assumptions, design, and philosophy are not changed
Tends to become frustrated with increasing time and energy spent on organization and maintenance Tends to lose challenge when original disorder is under control Tends to become frustrated when disorder goes beyond normal levels
As they mature, they may leave, or may recruit Cats and Ops, or drop out from frustration As they mature, may opt for benefits of the operator style As they mature, tend to become unaware of how change occurs and become defensive in the presence of Cats
Valued and compensated highly as entrepreneurial types Usually advance by changing jobs, often building upon the work of Cats Operators tend to gain control of ongoing systems and if not aware of value of Cats and Orgs, will over-value Ops to the extent of discrediting Cats and Orgs. When such attitudes prevail, catalyzers and organizers exit to build new organizations
They are rare enough to be in scarce supply but too many on a team is disruptive anyway Also in scarce supply Typically the bulk of a high functioning team

Some people have dominant attributes of both catalyzer and organizer, or organizer and operator. It is very rare to find dominant operator and catalyzer attributes in one person

January 8, 2009

Limited Exposure but not Restricted Exposure

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Prichard @ 6:08 pm

I was on a phone call today that talked about “restricting” exposure/roll-out on a communications platform. I was in a similar discussion a year and a half earlier when we were talking about rolling out Instant Messenger (IM). The problem is that you have a limited support team to field problems that come up. This isn’t unique. We had the same problems when we rolled out email and Domino and other products so many years ago.

This is a hard problem but I have seen it handled most successfully by limiting exposure but not restricting access. If it was email or IM you can’t restrict access for fear of impacting the reputation of your product. If I give you email or IM and tell you that you can only email or IM certain people then you will think it is dumb and you won’t even want to play until it is “ready”. So instead I tell only a very few of you to use the product and wait for the fallout as you tell your friends. This way I watch and learn. I let this all settle for a couple of weeks to field all the problems and maybe I automate some canned responses to certain common questions. Then I can tell another batch of people and do the same thing. What I find is that with this phased approach, each cycle gets faster and faster as I learn more. This is how my teams and other teams have handled such a daunting task with limited resources … limit who we tell but don’t limit them to tell others … hope that we have chosen wisely at the start so that we can contain the support … and get better with each phase. This is a time tested tradition in worldwide IT groups.

There is one thing that is even more promising this time with this particular platform. It is a social networking platform. After you tell a limited group about it and wait for the fallout, you can build up a knowledge base online that will assist you because the next limited group can reference it. You do this with no restrictions since that would impact the reputation of the product. There is even one more benefit in your favor … social network platforms are about people helping people. This is why they scale so well with so little support. When people realize that IT resources are limited and can’t help users right away, they get involved and help their colleagues at least with the easy/common questions.

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