Friday, December 2, 2011

Still more Carrier IQ madness

Everything I read about the Carrier IQ bruhaha is way off base.

My big fear is that all the keystrokes are being recorded on the phone and held in a log. Never mind how much is downloaded to Carrier IQ or the cell service provider.

What happens if I loose my phone and someone just plugs in and reads the log? Any websites I log into and my passwords are in that log and the potential thief now has access to my BANK ACCOUNT!

That scares me a lot more than them selling my location at 10 AM Friday morning to some mythical third party.

Once again the media is watching the hole and missing the donut.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Passion for the work

Buffalo Wild Wings CEO Sally Smith: When interviewing job applicants, Smith looks primarily for one thing -- passion, no matter what it's for: "Is it a sport, is it reading?"
This only works when the company is willing to invest in the employee to create a passion for the product/service/customer. If you expect the employee to show up with a full set of skills, expect them to act like a hired gun with a passion for their pay check and if you're very lucky a passion for doing their job very well.
You can’t hire passion for your product, you can only grow it!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Why can't the press report the facts?

Births in the United States in 1985 were 3.760,000. 17 years later in 2002 approximately 2,900,000 students graduated from U.S. high schools. Divide those 2,900,000 students by 12 months and you get 241,666,667 people entering the work force every month.

Some may go to college but the ones graduating in the same year just replace them. There might be some minor variations in the numbers starting and finishing in any given year but that should be such a small number that we can safely ignore it.

Some may not enter the work force at all for a lot of reasons, some may become housewives or house husbands, some may not get a job for health reasons, some because they have independent means and don’t have to work. So lets cut that number to 200,000 new jobs every month.

The point being that any month that we don’t hire roughly 200,000 workers we are loosing ground. While the June 2011 number of new hires (117,000) represents “only” 83,000 first time workers who can’t find a job it’s an increase of exactly that number of people who are out of work.

This number is represented as a gain because more people found jobs in June than in May. That’s always good, but if we accept the June figures as representative then over the course of a year 996,000 more people will be out of work over that 12 months.

And that’s before we even talk about getting jobs for those people who were out of work at the beginning of the year!

We expect politicians to quote only the most favorable numbers so I won’t fault them. But it took me less than an hour on the US government web site to dig up these numbers AND to write this. So how is it that trained professional reporters can’t do the cursory fact checking to put the statements into perspective to show what is really happening?

If I believed in conspiracy theories I’d think the press was in collusion with the government, but my common sense tells me that it’s just too many journalists to ever get them all to “toe the party line”. So I’ll fall back on a quote:

Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence.

Napoleon Bonaparte

Sunday, July 17, 2011

How come?

Quick question: if a 0.3 percent decrease in unemployment in May (2011) was a noteworthy trend, how come a 0.3% increase isn’t equally noteworthy? If a .3% change is noteworthy then the statistics watchers should have caught that one as a leading indicator before the job market crashed.

Had the watchers paid as close attention to that tiny drop way back when, we might have been able to make the necessary changes when it was easy and cheap.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

How do you motivate temp workers?

I like to answer questions at Linked In, the online business-networking site. Today someone asked a question about motivation that sparked an email discussion with the person posing the question.

A few years before I was born, Abraham Maslow posed his “Hierarchy of Needs” pyramid. The issue in today’s discussion was how to best motivate temporary workers. What shocked me was the automatic assumption that the basic need of Maslow’s first and second tier had already been met. That all the workers had established their psychological and safety needs.

In fact in modern society food (part of the psychological needs) and employment (part of the safety needs) are intertwined with our jobs.

Since most temporary workers are still trying to meet the two basic need of Maslow’s hierarchy the rest of the motivators cannot begin to take effect.

The person I was corresponding with, who made the assumption that those needs were already met, referred me to a video by Daniel Pink on The Surprising Science of Motivation. What surprised me was that Mr. Pink, a well-respected motivational speaker and writer, made the same fundamental assumption. In his video he seemed shocked that money only motivated until the most basic needs were met, after that personal satisfaction and growth became the prime motivators.

The big surprise to me was that both Pink and my correspondent forgot that the subject gets to define at what point those basic needs were met. For some, paying the rent on a minimum apartment and cable TV is enough. Others need (or think they need) a 2,500 square foot house, with all the trimmings, and two new cars.

My point that the observer doesn’t get to decide when the minimum needs are met, that the subject does really matters when you are trying to discover the correct motivator for your workers. Each one will have a slightly different key to their “basic” needs just as each one will have different things that give them personal satisfaction.

What you must remember when you are trying to motivate your temp workers is that most of them either haven’t met or are just barely meeting their most basic need for food and shelter. On top of which they are deeply concerned about sustaining or increasing their basic level of food and shelter. After all, you are using temps because it costs less than full time permanent employees and you expect the work to only last for a short time after which you plan to cut them loose.

You can’t expect to invoke Maslow’s higher order needs fulfillment of love/belonging, esteem, or self-actualization unless and until you fulfill the more basic food and security needs first! In the same vain you can’t expect to use Pink’s video as a key since the fundamental assumption that the basics have been met is generally false for most temporary workers.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A surprising find

We have a friend visiting and her mother was born in Winsor, Colorado, so we drove up so she could see the town just for fun.

Since it was lunchtime we decided to try a Mexican restaurant, called the Pueblo Viejo, because it was close to the freeway and on our way back from Windsor. From the highway it looked quite large, but pulling into the parking lot it looked like your typical strip mall storefront and we almost didn’t stop.

When we got in it was a really nice looking place, clean with nice decorations and a wonderful hostess, who we later found was, with her husband, the owner.

My wife, her friend, and I all picked something different from the menu and each of us were very pleased with our choices. I was really surprised to find a Pescado Costeno (a breaded Tilapia topped with jalapenos, cheese and bacon) that was first rate.

I didn’t expect to get a fish dish that outstanding from a strip mall storefront Mexican restaurant!

Pueblo Viejo in Windsor has two other locations in Fort Collins and Colorado Springs, and while I can’t vouch for the food in any other location, based on the food at the Windsor store I’d try any of them when I am in that area.

I can’t recommend them highly enough, so I’m attaching a link to their Fort Collins location for you to follow up if you like.

Sunday, May 22, 2011


On October 3, 1957 I was telling my dad about a science fiction book I had just finished. My father, not being a science fiction fan finally said: “Just shut up until they do it!”

The next morning, October 4, my dad woke me up very early before he went to work and said “That story you were telling me about yesterday, finish telling me.” Then he showed me the newspaper headlines “Russians launch Sputnik satellite”.

While I did learn the not everyone would get as excited by a sify book as I did, it taught me a valuable lesson about keeping an open mind to things I am not immediately interested in or familiar with. Lean whatever you can about everything you bump into.

One big lesson was that to be able to enjoy a science fiction story you must suspend rational disbelief. That is you must accept that faster than light travel (for example) is possible or you just quit reading because FTL is not possible under physics as we understand it.

This ability to not prejudge flowed over into the rest of my thinking and allows me to look at problems and, at least mentally, try on “impossible” solutions. Since I don’t automatically reject it because it doesn’t conform to my preconceived ideas.

People do the same thing in watching movies all the time. We know that it is very unlikely for a librarian to really be mistaken for a spy but we disbelieve that rational knowledge during the movie to enjoy the story and the action.

In the same way to find new solutions to old problems, you must forget the old restrictions and just pose impossible solutions. Try it and you will find that at least one is not as impossible as you might think. The impossibility might just be like flying to Paris – impossible until the Wright brothers figured out the basic principles. Impossible until a host of others figured out how to make stronger airplanes, better engines, and all the necessary inventions to make a flight that long possible.

Impossible to fly to the moon until Neil Armstrong did it!

Those changes may have been taking place in the background leading up to today, unnoticed by you, and those changes may make what was truly impossible last week, possible today!

Monday, May 16, 2011

No Brainer Decisions

Just watching a story on CNN about a man with a 4 cent (yes $0.04) tax bill and since he didn’t pay it for several years they are trying to collect $200 in penalties and late fees.

This kind of obvious craziness happens all the time in a bureaucracy where decision-making authority is held at too high a level. Shouldn’t the lowest level clerk have the discretionary authority to fix this instead of having an IRS agent deliver the tax bill?

Why is this an issue worthy of discussion; more importantly do you have the same kind of silliness costing your business? Driving up costs by diverting necessary assets into spending more in time and effort than the return is worth?

At the hourly rate for the lowest level IRS clerk who has the file on the 4-cent underpayment, the time spent on this file has to be orders of magnitude above the recovery amount. Holding the discretionary authority to just write off the $0.04 above that level wastes the time of both the clerk and the people chasing down that payment.

Is your organization wasting the manager’s time authorizing deviations from regular policies that are so simple that the lowest level clerk should be making that decision? Not only are you wasting time the more senior manger could be spending on other issues, the clerk could be helping someone instead of dealing with this no-brainer issue.

Your customer knows that the four-cent problem should be a no-brainer and the fact that your clerk has to get permission for something that obvious makes them wonder if they really want to do business with you.

Thursday, May 5, 2011


I just read that Alan Shepard, the first American in space flew just 50 years ago and it reminded me of the second time I met him.

The year I turned 16, my parents took me to a friend’s New Years Day open house. I was hanging with their 15-year-old grandson in the “game room”. They had a pinball machine and a few other games to play while the adults did whatever adults did at a New Years Day party.

During the day, my friend’s uncle showed up and we cornered him to talk about his experiences as a Navy test pilot, he was the first to land a Phantom on an aircraft carrier. At one point, my father and the host came to rescue this guy from the kids and let him get back to the adults at the party.

While getting this poor guy away from us, my father happened to see a picture of the host in uniform in front of a world war one biplane and asked about it, The host told us that he had indeed flown in World War I as a fighter pilot.

Were we were in his game room talking to Phil Brewer and his son-in-law Alan Shepard! Image how I felt a few weeks later when Shepard flew the very first space shot!

When we watched the launching in class on live TV, I claimed to have met him and the teacher called my mother (later in the evening) to find out if I was telling the truth. That’s how much celebrity the first astronauts were in their time. Claiming to have just met one was automatically questioned.

What I mostly remember of that brief meeting was how kind and generous Shepard was to two young hero worshipers. As I remember 50 years later, he spent close to 45 minutes talking to us about the astronaut program and his personal experiences. In fact, this many years later, I really only remember that it happened and no details about the conversations, but I still remember his kindness to his nephew and a family friend.

The other thing I remember is being amazed, even at 16, at meeting two men, the older who flew the first fighter planes and the younger the first rocket ship!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Cause and effect

I have had low back pain on and off for years. My doctor’s are not sure what causes it but I dumped one who told me that my back hurt because I had bad posture.

Why did I dump him?

Because any doctor who can’t identify that walking bent over is an effect of back pain not the cause darn sure can’t help me find the cause.

In much the same way we are lingering in the current recession much longer than we really need to because the decision makers are mistaking effect for cause.

The high debt level of American workers was not the cause of the recession. Debt levels were a symptom of wages not keeping up with costs and workers trying to maintain their standard of living! Creative housing loans were not a cause they were a symptom. The salaries of jobs that used to pay enough to support home ownership fell behind costs, so banks developed creative loans to keep those people (whose salaries used to allow them to buy those same houses) as customers for home loans.

This confusion is caused by economists that don’t understand that economics is just money at a national or global scale. Money a medium to exchange and store labor. I do work today and either get goods directly from you in return or I accept money that I exchange for someone else’s goods or hold to exchange in a day, week, or year.

That’s it. All the economists do is track and project that process. Banks aggregate the medium (money) by collecting stored labor (cash deposits) and share it in the form of loans in exactly the same way that a battery stores electricity and delivers it elsewhere later.

If I get paid one quart of milk for chopping a cord of wood or a dollar for the same effort and can trade that dollar for a quart of milk, the rate of labor exchange is equal. When I make a small part that ends up in a larger and more complex product it gets harder to see the relationships, but it is there just the same.

In my wood for milk example, I can clearly see that if I can figure out how to cut more wood in the same time, I would be more productive and I would get the direct benefit of that increase. If I am doing more work in the same time, shouldn’t I get more per hour?

If I am chopping that wood with a hand axe and buy a chain saw then I should be able to cut more wood per hour and my income per hour will go up. But what if I work for someone else and they pay for the chainsaw? Who gets the increase? Should we both share in that increase or should the owner of the saw get it all? The chainsaw takes training to operate and I paid for the training and you paid for the chain saw. Shouldn’t we split the increase somehow?

This is close to what has been happening for the last 10 or 15 years. Industry has been investing in improved tools while workers have been investing in improved training. The cause of the recession is that most businesses have not passed on enough of the increase in profits as higher salaries to cover the workers’ investment in their skills and knowledge.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Investing in jobs

I have been reading blogs for a few years now and one post just started me thinking. In the blog post titled Recycling Capital at A VC, by Fred (Wilson of Union Square Ventures), talks about investing in startups at the very beginning. These investors differ from most venture capitalist investors and are usually referred to as early stage investors or angles and usually provide the seed money to create the first iteration of the product.

In the article, Fred describes the American system of investing in startups as the “envy of the world” and I’d bet that’s true. But I’d also bet that it’s pretty limited to computer-based companies like Facebook and Goggle. Right now there doesn’t seem to be a big investment process for hardware.

Most of the companies the investors are funding are developing software and those companies don’t hire large numbers of people to build and ship a product. What this means is that while the investors may make a nice return on the investment and the small core group of programmers may make a nice living, the number of people involved is quite small. The group is also limited to a small number of people with a limited skill set.

Nearly everyone these days gets some programming training in either high school or college and still only a small number of that group end up programming so there is some “self selection” going on that limits the number of people who will end up with jobs in those computer based businesses.

While this is still a good thing since the rest of us benefit from the new capabilities in many ways, it does limit the number of job created directly by those businesses. While the social media now being developed may give us lots of indirect benefits that end up helping our working lives, they won’t create jobs at the rate we need today.

What steps can we take to help develop new or expand existing companies that will directly employ the number of people coming into the work force in future? If we accept the evidence of history, only a few people will continue to move into the software development business leaving a huge number of workers floundering for real jobs.

Where are the investors in business that will eventually employ the large numbers of workers that will end up creating the vast number of jobs we need? No one seriously expects us to find enough jobs to put just the people left unemployed by the recession in “cottage” industries. And that’s what a lot of the new employment is, small business that only have a few workers.

The economic engine of the modern world was not lots of small business owners, it was industrialization. The vast majority of people who ended up in the middle class did so because they were specialized workers in a large industry.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Denver sure has funny weather in April

Yesterday I was out and about in a short-sleeved shirt. This morning it’s snowing! Just a day short of two weeks ago we went to the opening day of the Colorado Rockies baseball team in shorts and short-sleeved shirts. The thermometer hit just over 80 degrees.

Now I know what people meant when they said that “if you don’t like the weather, wait a minute!” Since my wife (born and raised in Southern California) doesn’t drive in the snow, I have to take her to work, a 50-mile round trip on the freeway.

The small suburban town where she works is reporting 2 inches of snow already and we won’t leave for another hour and a half so who knows how much snow I’ll have to deal with.

When I went to take my driving test way back in Pennsylvania it was early February and there was a little over an inch of snow on the ground with more falling. My father didn’t think they would let me take my test because of the snow. The tester told him they would give the test and said “He’ll have to drive on it after he gets it license”.

While everyone prefers clear dry roads, I’ve been driving for exactly 50 years in all kinds of weather and the car has 4-wheel drive so it should be no problem. Especially since most people here know how to drive in snow. My biggest problems has been in places with the rare snowfall where the locals never learn the skills of driving in the snow and then do dumb stuff which gets those of us who know what to do caught in the mess.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Biker Jim’s Gourmet Hot Dogs

Decided to go downtown (Denver) for lunch the other day and got off the bus at 16th and Arapaho. There are lots of restaurants with in a short walk of the bus stop and many have outdoor seating. The weather was one of those great days where it’s cool in the shade but still comfortable to just sit in the sun.

Facing the bus stop was a street cart selling hot dogs. I am always on the lookout for a good dog, ever since I was a kid and my dad took me to a place called Yocco’s in Allentown, Pa.

Since Biker Jim’s Gourmet Hot Dogs was voted Best Dog in Denver by Westword Magazine, I thought I’d try it. Weird dogs on the menu! Elk Cheddar Jalapeño, Alaskan Reindeer, Wild Boar, and more, way down at the bottom was a plain old Kosher dog.

I tried the Elk dog and it turned out to be a really great dog! I like my dogs with just mustard and fresh chopped onion so that’s how I fixed it. Turn out to be about the best dog I’ve ever had. Just the right mix of Jalapeño and Cheddar with a bun that was not too doughy or dried out.

A group of 5 at the next table had gotten several different types of dogs, had then cut, and sampled each. Shamelessly eavesdropping I listened to them compare the Elk and Reindeer dogs with their favorite being the Elk.

Here’s the website so you can check them out the next time your in Downtown Denver. Believe me, if you like dogs, you’ll like Jim’s.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Free markets

The theory holds that within an ideal free market, property rights are voluntarily exchanged at a price arranged solely by the mutual consent of sellers and buyers. They engage in trade simply because they both consent and believe that what they are getting is worth as much or more than what they give up. Market price is the result of buying and selling decisions en masse as described by the theory of supply and demand.

So the prices the unions in the United States were able to negotiate with companies were either “free market” agreements or were the result of the union’s coercing the companies into unsupportable wage agreements.

If, and it’s a big if, the unions created unrealistic wage scales, how come the companies were able to make huge profits during the heydays of unionism in the 60s, 70, and 80s? According to Fortune Magazine, GM made 873 million dollars in profits for 1960. The same source reports GM profits for 1970 at $14,820 million, and for 1980 as $32,215 million. In 1990 $173,297, and in 2000 $273,921,000.

Why is this important? If the unions were really behind the demise of GM in 2009, we should have seen a downward trend in GM profits over the preceding 40 years and in fact the reverse is true as profits went up not down.

Don’t even try to make the case that the “legacy” cost of pension and retiree health care is the problem since those benefits are really deferred compensation. Earned during the workers productive years and banked for their retirement. Seen the article Where Does Your Pension Come From for full details of how pensions really cost GM nothing.

The next time someone who hasn’t bothered to do their home work tries to tell you that the unions are the problem, ask them why the companies that managed to make a lot of money from those union employees now want to blame them for management's failure to manage their deferred costs?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Flying saucers

In the TV show X-Files Molder used the phrase “Absence of proof is not proof of absence”. The idea being that just because you don’t have proof that something exists you still can’t be sure that the thing in question isn’t real.

So, can we now say that flying saucers really don’t exist since almost everyone has a camera on their cell phone and has that with them all the time?

Admittedly cell phones don’t capture lots of detail like film cameras or even low end digital point and shoot cameras do. But, even a lot of second rate, grainy thumbnail photos from the average cell phone should have begun to turn up.

Given the shear number of cell phones with built in cameras out there, we should have huge number of photos of UFOs and we don’t’. Can we reasonably infer that we don’t have that huge number of photos because there is nothing to take pictures of?

The other phrase from X-Files was “I want to believe!” and as a reader of science fiction starting in the early 1950s I do want to believe. Even someone like me has to see proof sometime and those missing photos really go a long way to convince me that unexplained flying objects (UFO) are really unlikely to be “flying saucers”.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Mongolian in Denver

My wife’s daughter is visiting from Las Vegas and we walked downtown for dinner. We decided to try a place that is new to us called DBs Mongolian Barbeque. Good food, good prices, and great staff.

Worth your time to try next time you are in downtown Denver.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Is history repeating itself?

I’m reading Edmond Morris’ book “Colonel Roosevelt”. While Teddy was always a hero of mine, I was surprised by how many of my political opinions were shaped by his actions.

What particularly interested me was that Roosevelt did not consider his positions so much political as ethical. Creating a more level playing field for small business faced with the scale of the emerging corporations and holding businesses accountable for failures to protect their workers from the dangers of the mechanized factories then being build was more about honesty and fairness than a political view.

It’s fascinating to me that we are seeing many of the same complaints about “big business” today that we read about in histories of that time. Are the complaints the cause of the movement to remove many of the “square deal” restrictions on big business that Roosevelt championed or are the complaints the result of the removal of those regulations?

Perhaps we are living through the natural demonstration that those who don’t learn from history are condemned to repeat it.