Thursday, August 27, 2009

A conversation I just had...

"The contents of the dishwasher are dirty."

"Coincidentally, so are most of my thoughts at the moment."

"So you can just stick anything in there."


"Don't even go there."

I've had comments about the dialogue in my books that 'people don't talk like that'. Funny, half of the dialogue in my books is lifted more or less whole from conversations I've had.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

How my mind works...

I'm perverse.

Now, you may all realize this. The folks following my blog probably do. If anyone ever winds up coming here who doesn't know me all that well, they may not get the point, so I'll have to spell it out. For those of you who were already aware, my apologies, I'll at least try to keep it entertaining.

When I say perverse, I mean perverse, not perverted. Not saying the latter is a bad thing, or even that I'm not, but that's not the point of this here diatribe. When I say I'm perverse, I mean that my interest in doing something is inversely proportional to the difficulty. If someone says 'come on, this will be fun, it's easy', I have no real interest in whatever activity they're endorsing, other than a possible basic interest in the scenery or terrain. If someone says 'don't even try that, it's impossible', my interest is peaked.

Now, there are some caveats. While I'm mildly attracted to gambling, I'm not really pulled to things like keno or Powerball (although I'll play the latter if the EV is close to positive). My definition of 'difficult' is not based on artificially generated odds. When I think 'difficult', I'm thinking about something that requires a great deal of skill, endurance, or personal effort to succeed. Marathons intrigue me. Games of skill will forever hold my interest. One of the attractions of writing is that while it's easy to do, it's hard to do right. Anyone can type words (or at least semi-coherent letter groupings) on a page; stringing words together so a reader is intoxicated and enlightened is hard. Doing so on a regular basis is an ongoing challenge that I can't walk away from.

I even know where it comes from, after a fashion. The root has to do with the juxtaposition of being a very bright and literal child and having parents given to particularly bad metaphor and hyperbole.

At any rate, what spawned this whole commentary lies here. Specifically the entry for the 18th, wherein Patrick reports that even the best of handshakes must fall far short of passionate.

Thanks, Patrick. Now I've got an unquenchable desire to write a passionate handshake. And I don't even have a story appropriate for such a thing.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

How I learned to drive, and why it worked

Overall, given the amount of miles I've driven, I've experienced remarkably few real problems. I've had some speeding tickets, and I had a few accidents when I was much younger, but overall, I've had very few problems with operating motor vehicles, getting lost, or running into things. After thinking about it, I realized why. It has to do with where I learned to drive.

Most people have some story about learning to drive from a driving instructor, or more likely a family member. Unfortunately, my dad was sure enough about my mad driving skillz to go to sleep whenever I drove, and my mom never let me drive. By the time I was in driving school, it was more of a formality than anything; the only thing that the instructor taught me was parallel parking and proper use of signals. Shifting, navigation, all that jazz were already second nature.

All of those, the core of making a vehicle go down the road without running into things or leaving the road, I learned from video games. Most notably, the video game Pole Position (the original one). Sounds silly, I know.

However, when going off the road or nicking another vehicle makes your vehicle explode, you learn not to do that.

Bob's Head, episode 4

OK, one of the reasons updates are so infrequent is that I get my ideas at REALLY odd times and have no way to record them. I'm starting to take notepad notes on the computer when I'm there, and putting them in my actual phyiscal notepad when I'm not.

Some of them may be short (like this one) but another thing I'm doing is jotting down starter bits of all of them any time I post, so I'll be able to come on here and start up without trying to remember 'what was that cool idea again?'.

That's the idea anyhow. I need to start practicing my wind sprints. NaNo is coming up, and my personal goal is a 100KWord complete modern / urban fantasy. I might even try to make it YA, but I kinda doubt it will get there.

The ideas at the moment in the bullpen are as follows:

Lobbying, and why the arguments for allowing it are Not Very Convincing.
Salary / Wage caps, with a side order of Risk vs. Reward.
Juxtaposition of Pournelle's Political Axes, Spolsky's Leaky Abstractions, and Boyd's OODA Loop.
Inspiration vs. The Need to Write
and what will likely be a multi-parter (if the Juxtaposition above isn't, I'll be surprised),
Crime, Theft of Time, Theft of Free Will, Liberal societies, defining workable optimal societal states (& Laws), Ivory Tower vs. Crapsack World.

Regarding NaNo this year, I'm trying to put together a playlist. Looking for two things. First, any Guitar Rock which brings to mind (even a little) Arthurian / Celtic legend. More looking for tone and music than lyrics, but those are good too. I know, I'm already going to check Queen and Iron Maiden. Any others? Also, any songs where there are at least two covers after the initial recording, wherein the covers are both distinctive from the original and objectively Do Not Suck (meaning they're technically minimally proficient). One example would be Personal Jesus. Another would be Tide Is High.

Reason being I've got three characters who trade the spotlight for much of the story, and I'm trying to stay coherent (hence the same titles) while still making each section distinctive.

Also, if anyone wants to be Tuckerized, I'm populating a High School in this one. I need teachers, students, maybe even janitors. Coaches and security are already taken care of though. Also, I need a name for the school. I'm looking for something something academy. The school is a very exclusive private high school / prep school, so names might be appropriate. If anyone can suggest anything, thanks will be offered.

OK, that's enough for now. Off I go. More soon (tomorrow, maybe Saturday).

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Attention Employers...

A very good executive once said to me 'The job of leadership is to get the right people on the right bus to the right destination.' The right people. If you don't have the right people looking for people, you're done right there. If they're not using all the resources at their disposal correctly to find those people, it's fail time again.

I'm writing this because over the past few years, I've heard quite a few comments about how there is a talent shortage. At the same time, I've been hearing from talented individuals that they can't find positions which utilize their talents; instead they wind up in positions that 'pay well', or 'have a good atmosphere'. When I combine those two observations with the first hand experience of technology being misused badly at the very start of an employee search, I begin to have an inkling of where the problem lies.

An example I have seen very frequently recently is the online manual resume breakdown. This would be where a potential employee uploads a resume (fine so far), fills out some standardized contact information (ought to be on the resume, but maybe it's not easily parsed) and then fills out more or less entire content of the resume, line by line, in an online form which often doesn't accept copy/paste from the resume itself.

The information is on the resume. If it's not, there's really no need to consider that applicant any further. If there's some questionable item, forcing them to retype the contents of the resume is not going to present the data any more clearly; they will probably retype the same data from the resume. Use some judgement as to whether the applicant has enough other qualities to bring them in for an interview or not, then move on. If the person reviewing the resumes has no ability to determine if the person is a good fit for the position by looking at a resume, why are they the one reviewing resumes in the first place?

There is a problem here. There are probably a plethora of causes, none of which matter. We're talking about business, and we're talking about something with a very simple solution, part technical, part operational.

First, the technical part. Instead of spending the IT budget on a number of web forms, spend it on a document converter and / or search tool. There are tools built into most OS's that will do either or both, but if you want a bit more speed, you might want something more specialized. The alternate would be to hire more technically capable people in the department that does first review of resumes, but that might not be possible or desirable depending on your field.

Second, the operational part. Have HR use the aforementioned tools to do simple keyword searches with a keyword list created by the new employee's future supervisor, coworkers, and direct reports. They probably know the job better than anyone else in the company, and can let the HR person know what to look for. Once the keyword searches narrow the field enough, send the resumes to those same groups. Expect some to be shot down. Call the remaining folks in for interviews, and make sure one of each of those groups previously mentioned is represented during the interviews. Give each group's input equal weight in the final decision.

I know that last sounds a bit odd; having prospective direct reports interview a potential supervisor. However, if someone is already a valued member of your team, it's important that the new person you're adding isn't going to be completely incompatible with them, no matter the relationship between the two. That's all part of the 'right people'. The direct reports can also tell you if the person they'll be reporting to is going to have any clue whether the prospect has enough technical expertise to tell if the employee is doing a good job or not.

Remember, right people is step one. Without it, you're opening a big can of fail. With that in mind, odd but workable solutions beat conventional but non-functional ones any day, hands down.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Advice for companies hurting in this economy...

In times of economic stress, companies tend to make cutbacks. That's understandable, it's both difficult and risky to grow in a depressed economy. Also understandable is the general strategy of making cutbacks in cost centers and maintaining revenue centers as undisturbed as possible.

The definition of a cost center and a revenue center is the point of this advice. Common wisdom is that Sales is a revenue center, and everything else is a cost. This is based on the thought that if you get a sale, you can find a way to fulfill the order, somewhow.

The trouble is that paradigm requires uninformed consumers. In hard economic times, consumers begin informing themselves to a greater degree. In other words, the harder the times, the more likely a consumer is to see that you've maintained Sales at the cost of Operations. In simpler terms, if you have a product with value, it may not require active selling at all. I can't, for example, recall the last time an advertisement for basic staple foods (meat, fruit, veggies, bread) made the slightest difference to my decision to buy. Price does, but sales does not. The same holds true on entertainment; where costs are equal, I go with the greatest value, no matter the sales efforts made; where costs are inequal, I go with the less expensive option.

The point is fairly straightforward; despite years, even decades of salesmen selling the idea that Sales is the only Revenue center, it's not. Operations is. The revenue center are the folks who Get The Job Done. Sales, Management, HR, Admin are all Overhead.

That said, I'm not actually anti-Overhead. Most of those things are actually multipliers for the revenue generating portions of a business. HR can find the right Operations people and arrange training to make them more effective. Management can ensure that the right people are on the right jobs, and deal with obstacles that aren't within the ability of the Operations folks to deal with. Sales and Marketing can make sure that everyone in your target market is aware of your product, facilitate purchases, and even find entirely new markets for you to enter.

All of those, however, are multipliers. Not additive. If you start with a zero in Ops, it doesn't matter how much you lay on. You still wind up with zero. If you start with too small an Ops division, you wind up with a very brittle organization, where Ops is overloaded; not only will individuals be more prone to failure, but when they fail the effect will be felt far more than in an organization where Ops has enough depth.

Really, the point isn't exactly that Ops is a Revenue center and everything else is a Cost. My point is that everything in an organization costs money, and everything in a for-profit organization should be ultimately directed toward producing revenue. If companies cut back during tough economic times, which can be just as risky as trying to grow during those same times, they need to be very careful to make cuts across the board; ensuring that no portion of the company is cut disproportionately to the others.