John’s Recon

February 28, 2009

Phone Neck

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Prichard @ 9:00 am

We were sitting outside on the patio at our favorite Friday lunch place, Freebirds. I was watching a new BMW driving along the parking lot but the driver’s silhouette looked wrong. The head was almost like no neck and half a head. Then the driver turned into the empty slot in front of us and I could see why. She was implementing her interpretation of hands-free driving.

She was holding the slim Razor phone onto her shoulder using her head. She even got out of the car this way … never missing a beat while she locked the car and walked right past us. We are not talking holding the old carbon-mike rotary-dial phones of yesteryear … we are talking a space of 0.30 inches between your shoulder and your head … now that is a crooked neck and a hunched shoulder.

I turned to my lunch partner and said, “Do you think there will be a new affliction identified like Carpal Tunnel Syndrome but for holding a cell phone between you head and shoulder?”. He promptly quipped, “Phone Neck”.

Ah, phone neck. Exactly! Now the conversation takes a new path as we describe how future chiropractors and doctors specialize and treat the new syndrome, phone neck. How sleek are the future BMWs going to look if you can lower the roof line another 6 inches … may have to have a “righty” and “lefty” position for the rear view mirror. Of course, if this continues for a 1000 years, aren’t babies going to be hard to deliver? Could be a job redesigning forceps … oh yeah, I’ll be dead by then.

February 27, 2009

Taking His Chair

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Prichard @ 3:53 pm

Today I ate lunch with a former colleague. He talked about the technical ladder and getting someone elected. Today the process is “Nominate 10, Expect 3, and Get 1”. But he mentioned something a mutual colleague said that was quite humorous to me … why not challenge for a chair … like you do in band.

This could certainly be more entertaining than some reality shows. You have a huge board and a guy goes and puts his name up and the name of someone he thinks he can beat … maybe you have a traditional gauntlet you can throw down onto his desk or something. Now they, the challenger and challengee, have two weeks to campaign with the technical community. All the technical community has to do is decide between the different challenger pairs who do they want.

I like it. But then I don’t work there anymore and so I don’t have to fight off challengers for my chair. But it could be some real fun to watch until hostilities break out.

NewsFox: Firefox Newsreader Plugin, Thunderbird Clone

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Prichard @ 8:16 am

Normally, I don’t get excited over software, but NewsFox, the Firefox newsreader plugin, is a wonderful implementation of my favorite email/newsreader, Thunderbird.

I like the Thunderbird email/newsreader (rss & atom feeds) because you can put multiple feeds into one folder. This allows you to think of posts as subject matter and not by writer/site. This is most important when I read  things like soccer blogs … all my favorite writer/feeds output into a single folder so that I read news from all the teams/leagues I follow chronologically and don’t have to click around the reader opening each writer/feed separately.

Lately, since I have been using Google Mail exclusively, I have only had the browser open. So, I started looking at readers that work in a web browser including Google’s own reader. I didn’t like them because their hierarchy is designed around the feeds themselves. Of course, there are some feeds I read all at once, but for the most part my feeds are about topics and I have structured Thunderbird’s folder concept accordingly just like I do email. So, I have been searching for a while looking for something web-like that could basically emulate the same thing.

The last few days, I have been enjoying using NewsFox whose design emulates Thunderbird’s folder concepts. Basically, a 3-pane window design, with feeds/folders, article headers, and article content all contained in a single Firefox tab. NewsFox’s implementation is actually a little better than Thunderbird’s when it comes to the feed subscription. There is one default folder “Feeds” devoted to the actual feeds and can be hand-sorted to have most important feeds fetched first. If you highlight this folder then you have a by-feed concept. When you add more topic folders, you tell each feed to also show up in these other folders accordingly. Very similar to Gmail’s own “labeling” concepts with NewsFox’s “Feeds” label similar to Gmail’s “AllMail” label and then you add additional labels to feeds. Folders can also be built from tags or live bookmarks. I will leave this for you to uncover. This plugin is very configurable.

A wonderful implementation, surpassing its beau idéal in execution.

February 24, 2009

The Masters of Spin Missed One

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Prichard @ 10:55 am

Reading this post in Rondo’s blog, I’ve been alerted to another juicy tidbit from Microsoft. They apparently sent a letter to 25 people they laid off telling them they overpaid their severance by a few thousand and would they please send the money back.

At first glance this is just a level of immaturity in decision making we come to expect from their engineering department now spreading to their HR department. How could their marketing department (masters of spin) not have rubbed off a little on the HR department? How could their HR department not know how this would look? They had to know it would get out since they sent the letter to newly created hostiles (laid off employees).

But second glance has me believing conspiracy and masters of spin involvement. If someone came to you and said we overpaid some severance and we will look like idiots when this gets out. You might think how do we spin this to not look so bad. How about we send a letter asking for the money back and a little while later saying forget it, keep it. People will remember the last act which was to give them the money which makes them forget how absurd the mistake was in the first place and makes them remember that in the end we did the right thing.

Masters of spin missed this one? Maybe not.

It Never Existed In The First Place

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Prichard @ 8:23 am

My early Sunday morning ritual includes a cup of coffee and the weekly insert in the Dallas Morning News, Parade Magazine. Sometimes I read the main article … this week’s was very good (and inspiring) … Now I Can Stand Up For Myself. I always read Marilyn vos Savant’s, Ask Marilyn. My brain isn’t in full gear on Sundays so I don’t always try all the problem solving but I do read all the questions.

One of the questions this week, “Investors recently lost a large amount of money … where did the money go” was interesting for two reasons: the fact that she published this question and her answer that it never existed in the first place. She likes to teach so her publishing this question suggests that there a lot of us that don’t know the answer. My first mental picture of the stock market is that there are always buyers and sellers. But because the stock market trades in future possibilities and not real physical items, it is built on a human belief system.

The idea that the whole stock system was based on human beliefs and less on fact became apparent to me in November of 2001 when the settlement of Microsoft “Monopoly” case was announced. Microsoft’s stock had been depressed since 1999 when the government had filed it’s anti-trust case. Now in the aftermath of the settlement good news Microsoft’s stock went up 18%. Many thousands of the people traded away a now valuable holding almost instantly. Why? Only the last people selling after the stock started to rise made a little money. What made those first people sell after they heard such good news? My guess is they lost faith in the value of their holding. They no longer believed this holding was worth their time. Even if it was.

Unfortunately I didn’t learn much from this. So I was further stung by people everywhere losing faith in the whole system as widespread pessimism turned the market into Bear. Now Marilyn is saying the money never existed in the first place. She is suggesting that the money in my 401K never existed in the first place. I suppose she is saying that the only real money that was there was the equivalent of my contribution (and my employer’s matching contribution) and what I could get percentage-wise if this were direct deposited in a protected savings account. Everything else doesn’t really exist … until you claim it … much later in life. Her answer and simple perspective brought a little ease to my mind. Because my 401K is a little bigger than if I had direct deposited into a bank … all that extra money didn’t exist … that’s what I will believe.

There is a direct parallel to Las Vegas here. You buy $100 worth of chips. You gamble and win $20,000. You are now treated as a winner. People look at you different. You feel different. They bring you food. Maybe you have a girl on each arm like those Las Vegas movies show. The positive belief system is working strong.  Then you lose it all and walk out of the Casino with a $100. If you average your life over the last few days then you realize you didn’t lose a thing … you understand “easy come, easy go” … and you realize for the most part, What’s MADE in Vegas STAYS in Vegas.

February 23, 2009

Boom Town

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Prichard @ 9:00 am

I like analogies. A good one can convey information on several levels. I think an example of healing a “Boom” town gone “Bust” is a good illustration of the complexities I have been talking about.  By healing, I mean making it sustainable which doesn’t mean restoring it to its previous glory.

Suppose we had a town with dairies, libraries,  schools, car garages, gas stations, farms, local government and clothing, hardware, and department stores. Basically a self sufficient town with little need to import. Then, for some reason a factory moves into town (maybe the location is good). This factory makes Earth Shoes, which is a very hot commodity. The factory is paying top dollar and even attracts more people in from elsewhere to live and work.

If the factory goes belly up after a year or so, then there would be a quick recovery as the ecosystem hasn’t fully adapted and the new people would just move out leaving the town mostly intact. There would be a lot of extra buildings that are now empty as the “extra” stores close but the town still thrives … you can see this in many places if you drive through the rural US. However, for our example the earth shoe factory works at maximum for 10 years allowing the entire ecosystem to adapt. Not only is there another clothing store or two but they have raised their prices because they have to pay their employees more competitive wages and to also share in the new found wealth. Now the nation is having its fill of Earth Shoes … the factory is scaling way back and it is threatening to close. This is where you, the benefactor, step in with a ton of cash … maybe you fondly remember the town from your childhood days and it was a great place to grow up … now you want to heal the town.

The easy short lived thing to do is bail the factory out. It has by this time been the single biggest employer. Even the clothing stores, the doctor offices and car garages in town have raised their prices by now … to share in the town’s good fortunes … in fact, there are a few more of everything including 2-3 more law offices. So if you can just keep the factory workers employed … but should you. Like towns built around the automotive business, the steel business, the coal business, the copper business, the turquoise business, the oil business, the whatever, shoring up a business whose brand has played out is just extending the inevitable. No one likes your cars anymore and no one likes your style of shoes anymore … you continue to keep everyone in denial if you continue to keep this factory alive. If you put the money into the old roads, bridges, and old utilities … much better … a real long lasting benefit … but no one will thank you for putting food on the table and it will take years for this to be appreciated.

The bottom line is that there is no real answer here. It takes study and very controlled injections of cash to get this small example back to a slim and self-sufficient state it once was. More importantly is the mindset of the people. People have to be optimistic and believe that they and the town are moving forward. To do this, the factory workers have to overcome their denial that the best job they may ever have needs to go away and that there are other things they can do. People and their mindset and why they want to live there are the town. People need the mindset of re-filling old buildings with new purpose rather than abandoning and building anew in another place. In the end, money is only a small (but important) reason a community exists. To scale this reality up to the size of our nation with more than 25,000 towns requires more than our government redistributing our money … more than a term or two by someone who is hampered by constituents who think they have even better ideas … more than a society filled with people who think I got mine now you go get yours.

It will take an entire nation to sit down and think about what values they want to retain and what they are willing to do to get them … and yes it will require sacrifice for most of us and a great deal of patience from all of us. But just like the great depression and just like smaller examples repeated every year by areas devastated by mother nature, we can do it if we set our minds to it and are somewhat unified in our thinking.

February 18, 2009

Stimulus Prolongs Denial

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Prichard @ 8:08 am

When you look at the economy you should look at the people end. We always get wrapped up in the science/technology of a thing and ignore the people effects … the closest we get to studying the people is companies … a collection of people. Our economy is made of people … our economy is our people. That was never so apparent as 2000 when even bad announcements stirred people to invest more. Attitude is everything when it involves people which most things do.

As a people based thing, our economy has to go through the Kübler-Ross behavior cycle … this cycle applies to almost any strong negative event involving people. We all go through each particular stage at a different speed and we all go through the cycle at different speeds but we all go through it.  The entire United States has to travel through this cycle as a people before we rebuild to something stronger. I believe we shortcut this cycle after the economic crash of 2000 instead of going through it properly and now we repeat it.

As a strategist, I am always looking for indicators. Since housing and land ownership are the root of our people, I think we should look at the housing market. Until 90% of our banks accept the loss and re-evaluate and re-loan the homes that they are holding on their books for a more realistic value … a price that a person who now has a job at half his/her salary can afford, we as a nation cannot get past the denial stage.

A financial stimulus (I don’t blame a group of folks whose success cycle is based on 4 years and whose collective genius is reset every 4 – 8 years) only tricks our senses into believing that we are getting better and prolongs the stage of denial. No shot of adrenaline is going to help us with a bad heart … we need to eat right and exercise … we need to truly re-evaluate, as a people, what everything is truly worth and re-build our lives accordingly. Those of us who still have jobs should look to 1996 as an indicator of what their services are worth to people.

Lets start with the lawyers … they should start at half of what they charge now to sue a person out of their savings. And medical … those doctors and hospitals sure charge a lot more to let about the same amount of people die. Of course, doctors and lawyers have to pay back their student loans since it costs so much more for them to get their education. This is why they charge so much. And on an on it goes … the circle of over-pricing, the circle of pointing to reasons why. We as a nation … Wall Street Broker to Taxi Cab Driver, Hollywood Movie Mogul to Forest Ranger … need to back off slowly and re-assess our services … need to start thinking hard work for a reasonable profit rather than get rich quick … then we will be moving forward. Look for those signs. Ignore the signs of a rapidly beating heart due to a stimulus shot and look for the change in behavior that shows hard work and exercise is the true road to a strong life.

February 15, 2009


Filed under: Uncategorized — John Prichard @ 11:41 am

This is my favorite statement on requirements. Everyone gathering and writing requirements has a mental filter.  The most important thing to requirements gathering is to strip your mind of your filters and get into the head of the real user using and understanding their language … of course this has to be done up front or you are just playing the game of Chinese Whispers. Having also worked in site installation where the rubber meets the road (no time to think … just do) I especially enjoy the “installed”  frame. I think this was a 20 generation copy when I got it over 20 years ago. I have never found an original so I have scanned mine in.


February 14, 2009

The Thirtieth Valentine: a match of the 3rd kind

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Prichard @ 9:40 am

Of course we have had a few more than 30 since this is the one in our thirtieth year of marriage. A remarkable accomplishment … only partially mine. I wonder how we were such geniuses so early in our lives to make such long-seeing picks. How in the world did we say I do and yes and expect it to go on forever. If you were advising someone today what would you tell them to use for criteria to make as great a pick as we did.

The Mattel Magic 8-Ball was involved but it was a lot harder than this. Even when you mentally make your list of Pros and Cons and the Pros win out (hopefully), you still don’t have a clue. You have no idea what you will be or what you will feel like in 30 years, much less, your partner. Although love is heavily involved in the decision process (probably influencing your judgment), it can’t be the only criteria for a decision.

I think it may be as simple as a willingness to forge a relationship to an end game that you both agree with. As life throws you curve balls, you not only react but together plan for the next one so that you will be better at hitting them. You constantly refine your relationship and goals to accommodate life and the changes in your own selves. This suggests a partnership of respected equals. This is not a tree and a vine growing up together but two equal trees willing to intertwine their trunks so that both can have their leaves share the sunlight in a dense canopy. This suggests communication of feelings so deep that you are scarcely aware that they exist and hopefully before they boil out of you like a hot volcano.

And you have to be Best Friends for Life. Sure your friends have iritating faults but you like being around them in spite of this … you wouldn’t mention a friends faults unless you thought it was doing serious harm to the relationship. So should a forever partnership be … each their own space but eye-to-eye on the future goals and longevity. The arguments should be about the future of yourselves and your family and the forging of resolution and goals to accommodate each new wrinkle in strategy … not about petty things (I know we are human and can’t help ourselves). It doesn’t matter how you got to a particular situation … only how you are going to resolve it.

Now if it sounds like me giving this wisdom it is only because I am writing it down … it was my partner who taught me most of this … she complements our partnership in the people wisdom category. It you find a person you are willing to go the distance with (it is a distance) and they are willing to go the distance with you then you have a match (of the first kind). If you have been dating a while and been thrown some curve balls and you like how you forged some strengths with your partner … then you have a match of the second kind. To have a match of the third kind … well you have to go the distance to see … I don’t think you can predict this … too many variables.

So as we spend this thirtieth married valentine together, I like our chances for a match of the third kind … we have really built some things … giving me confidence that we can take this thing all the way.

Happy Valentines Day … Mon Amie

February 11, 2009

Disgusting Dogs

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Prichard @ 8:06 am

Still in keeping with my normal weekday ritual I get up at 4:30 am (keeps me at the top of the shower/hot water food chain)  to let the dogs out. I do this, make coffee, sit on the sofa listening to soothing music, and drink said coffee all in the dark. This way I can think of myself as not getting up at all for this 45 minutes. As I’m going to the living room sofa I see grandson has left something on the floor to trip over. Wait, it is more than one thing. STOP! Backup! lightly stepping in previous footprints. Turn on light. OMG. An accident of humongous proportions of type 2 (see exhibit A).

We have an old dog that obviously didn’t want to go out in the yard to finish business last night at 10 pm (still a little rain). So instead the business finished us this morning.

I let the dogs out as late as I can (we have 3 … my daughter brought one) so that I maximize their chances of holding it for the night. The problems is I need to watch them do their business to maximize my chance of success. Basically I don’t want to waste time watching them and it is also complicated by a previous standing policy (see Dog Policy B).

Note to Self: Use infrared camera to watch back porch and yard. Write centroid tracking software to track moving centroid. When centroid moves off porch area determine if new stationary hot spots have been created. If yes then set flag Ok_to_come_in. Times three. Send alert to PDA when flags set equal 3. Clear flags. Reset.


Exhibit A: You didn’t really think I was going to show a picture here did you. It was too disgusting to photograph. I don’t know how it is in other cultures like England, China, India, but here in the US (or at least mid west, south and west) there is a universal code set up. Waste product originating from urinary track is labeled #1 and product originating from another end is labeled #2. I guess waste product originating from oral cavity is self evident and needs no further coding. This code is used from potty training age downward. It keeps the use of more embarrassing descriptors to a minimum in public even though like I said … the code is universally understood. I guess it also allows the young one to set expectations and work effort required of the waste removal crew. Dogs using their paws to tap twice for #2 cannot be trusted because it is clear that they have no clear concept of the code.

Dog Policy B: During the summer months, I have better uses for my time than to stand at the door letting flies in waiting for the dogs to lallygag in on their own sweet time.  So I have instituted a policy of leaving the door open for 10 seconds and if you didn’t make it you stay out. This has resulted in a nice rush for the door and reaching full speed as they cross the threshold. Fortunately the design of our house has two deceleration tracks, a long one and short one. So as they hit the kitchen door, they have to have four paws on the ground working overtime for traction pulling sidways to re-align themselves for kitchen exit on the slick tile. (when newly waxed it is amusing to watch them not prepared for reduced traction and dogs of greater mass hit the kitchen cabinets … similar to SUV’s on ice). At the kitchen exit, they are rewarded with a deep pile rug where they can try for the sharp turn to the right or if they are carrying too much momentum continue onward into the bigger loop toward the front door. In either case, both paths carry them through a portion of the pool room, then the family room, and back into the kitchen from another direction. The arrival of my daughter’s family has brought 2 modifications. If grandson is in deceleration path then lead dog must stop cold. Since the other two dogs are not obeying the 2-second rule there is usually a pile up similar to those seen in Hollywood movies. The other is my daughter’s dog is a bull dog who is trying to climb the pecking order. She has caused a pile-up at the kitchen door due to her not waiting her turn. A few times of closing said door if she is out of order has corrected this anomally. Now when I look out the door she rearranges herself to arrive third. Me looking out the back door is a problem. I wouldn’t be able to see them do their business even if I wanted to because as soon as my head shows … they stop in their tracks waiting for door opening trigger. Even when I have stood there for 5 minutes they don’t move, bodies poised in instant acceleration mode when they hear/see the trigger.

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