07 April 2014

Back on the Facebook Hookah

Well, I had a good run.

I exited Facebook on December 30th 2012 and remained off until 4 April 2014.  Last week, Whitney asked me to dig up some pics from my trip to Cebu in 2012, most of which were on my dead MacBook Air...and on Facebook.

Hmm...quandry.  So, I bit the bullet and dove back in.

It's good and bad.  As one would expect, the "network effect" is wonderful.  Most of my dad's family is active, along with some key people from mom's family.   Instantly, I saw pictures of people I haven't seen in person in 3-5 years.  Likewise, much of my high school class is on there and it's neat to see people grow, change, and rear children of their own.  It also seems they've adopted more of the "limited sharing" tools from Google+ so you can share a story with one "list" but not your entire friend group, or go whole hog and share out to "Public" like Twitter.

The bad is largely Facebook itself.  The UI is an A.D.D. nightmare and the "Top Stories" algorithm is a mystery.  With Twitter (and Tweetdeck specifically), I know I'm getting a chronological list of updates. That can be overwhelming and limits individual streams to ~200 to 300 members practically.  Facebook is trying to encourage much larger networks and has a single conceptual "stream" so I realize they have to show/hide things selectively.

But, so what?   It's a tool and it largely disappears when you're looking at baby pics, or commiserating over shared troubles or whatever.  They've captured 1/7th of the humans on the planet, and that inertia brought me back.

I still prefer twitter for short-form stuff and interacting with my Gearheads and Tech friends.  But for actual friends, coworkers, and family, Facebook is the choice.

Everyone who had April 2014 in the pool, you win.

27 March 2014

Just FYI: Food Allergies Suck

At the risk of sounding like a mommyblogger: It's difficult to hear yet another thing your child's food allergies prevent.  Honestly, at times, it feels like my kids are going to end-up in some Food Allergy ghetto wearing a medical alert bracelet staring out through plexiglass at kids luxuriating with their peanut butter, quiche, and potato salad.

Yeah, I'm sad.  This is part of my process of getting over it, so bear with me.

Grace is 3 years old.  She's active, sensory "enhanced" (let's say), impulsive, and quite intelligent.  Channelled appropriately, those are all great qualities.  As it stands, I'm just glad when I come home and the house hasn't burned down.  She's shown a proclivity for sharp objects, flammable microwaves, and plumbing problems.

Anyway, 2 weeks ago, I got the ball rolling to get her into the new child care center/preschool we have onsite exclusively for employees.   The place is brand new, and it's nothing short of magical.  Seriously, I halfway expected St. Peter to greet us at one door and a choir of angels to suffuse the halls with music.  It's That Nice.

So, we paid the application fee and filled out the paperwork.  Today was supposed to be the final intake, meet the teacher, get a badge, and set a schedule day.  So, we start going over Grace's food allergies.

"So, she can be in the room with eggs, right?"

"No," my wife emphasized, "She breaks out if she's in proximity and swells-up like a balloon if she even touches them."  (The list at the moment is: Eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, milk/dairy, chicken, potatoes, garlic, and daddies with beards.)

[Staff exchange worried glances]

"Uhh...We serve eggs in open bowls in the room 'family style' two or three times a week in lieu of snacks.  Eggs are a great source of protein and we have the kids serve themselves..."  She proceeded to discuss open dishes of eggs, carafes of milk, and quiche prepared onsite.

Whitney got it immediately, but the palaver carried on for about 5 minutes until I finally understood the director and her staff were making sincere apologies, "This doesn't sound like a safe environment for her.  We're just concerned for her safety."  In other words: We can't keep your daughter safe with the way we do things.

So yeah, that awesome, work-subsidized preschool with the great facilities, highly trained teachers, and focus on Montessori learning styles?  My daughter can't go; she probably can't be in the same building.

My mood flopped from mild bemusement at the process (we were in a conference room with like an 'interview panel' of women) to bitter disappointment.  Once the shock wore off, I was sad, disappointed, and angry all at once.  I tried to keep a grip on myself and keep perspective, but I failed.  As we got into the car, Whitney (gently) said: "You know that was super rude, right?"

"Yeah, I'll apologize once I calm down."

I'm disappointed, but it might turn-out to be a blessing.  We've already enrolled her in a summer program in Georgetown and for the Fall term there as well, and Whitney came away with a strong indication that is where she needed to be.  We have bills to pay, and work to do on the house in the interim.

If I take a hard look at it, this whole thing was me trying to control the situation.  I kept insisting on the work preschool, to the point of causing an argument about it last Saturday.  I was forcing the issue, and I was wrong. I also wanted to have a little extra time each day with my (last, quickly growing-up) little girl before she got bigger, to get to see her play at lunch and things like that.  Ultimately, both are just me being selfish.  Maybe God just knew how fractious and distracted Daddy can be on that ride to and from work and kept us both away from it, but I'm still disappointed I don't get to at least try.

25 March 2014

Secret Sauce: Managing Performance

Methodology Doesn't Matter; People Do

I've been in industry for 15 years, as unbelievable as that seems.  I just want to shake people when all they can talk about is Process this and Methodology that and Tool this other.


Okay, it does matter, but only when you have the people end of things sorted out first.  Assuming an equally talented group, those with a better system will (generally) perform better over time.  However, no methodology in the world is going to make disengaged, sloppy employees perform well.  (It's tempting to draw a parallel to the Auto Industry, but I'll spare you.)

So, let's postulate that it's the people that matter.  So what?

Well, if you take that as true, there are conclusions to draw:
  1. You must attract top-performing people.
  2. You must retain a large percentage of those people.
  3. You must eliminate those who don't perform.
It's really that simple. 

Okay, item #3 is non-obvious:  Can't the top-performers just take-up the slack for the also-rans, since they produce 5x to 10x their output?  Yes they can, but they'll end up getting frustrated and leaving, for two reasons.  First, they're going to understand they're pulling someone else's weight, and nobody likes that.  Next, talent likes to be surrounded by talent.  Say it however you like: "A's hire A's," etc.   

The harsh reality of #3, though, is it's difficult, both from human and legal perspective.  But let's leave those aside and examine what you get when you miss just one of the above.

1 + 2 + X: You can't fire people.

For whatever reason, you lack the processes and/or will to cull the herd.  Okay:
  • Accountability will disappear.
  • Top performers will become mediocre in absolute terms.  Why kill yourself?  You're lightyears ahead of Bob over there, and he barely shows up to work.
  • You'll have no real success at #2, for the reasons described above.  You'll continue to retain mediocre people who think they're superstars because they're still better than the freeloaders you retain.

1 + x + 3: You can't retain people

Okay, you're managing performance--good for you!--but people are leaving.  Tough luck; it happens.  What's that look like?
  • Everyone is super young and energetic.  Accountability and work-ethic remain.
  • Your organization has zero wisdom or identity.  Basically, you're a Frat:  The membership turns over every 4 years, and you might cycle among competence, superstardom, and doldrums.  Exciting, but not what the business wants.
  • You end-up reinventing the wheel, because no one has the seasoning and wisdom to understand when things inter-relate, and it's easier and more l337 to rewrite that crappy code from 6 months ago for the 3rd time, anyway.  Pass the Red Bull!

x + 2 + 3: You Can't Attract Top People

For whatever reason, the spigot of top talent isn't flowing your way.  Maybe you're in a crappy location.  Maybe you're making electronic buggy-whips.  You're retaining the talent you have, but attrition will still occur--People don't live forever, they retire, etc.  You are, at least, dealing with issues when they arise.  What's that look like?
  • It's pretty grim, let's face it.  You'll see shrinking groups, more responsibility on fewer shoulders, and a general feeling of holding on by your fingernails.
  • Like any organization--churches, clubs, etc.--in these circumstances, you're getting older and more defensive.   Fresh blood brings new ideas and practices--some good, some bad--and your COBOL/C/Java wizard doesn't have anyone new keeping him honest.  You'll hear, "We've always done it ____ way." Alot.
  • Free flow of ideas?   Why would I want to do that?  Everyone has 10+ years of experience, so why write anything down?
  • People have a false sense of job security based upon what they know.  Or, what they knew 10 years ago that still (magically) works.


In their own way, each of the above scenarios can work.  They're just not foundations upon which you can build a vibrant organizations.

11 March 2014

My Superego Presents: Best Excuses Ever

Sorry I was unable to ___ because....
  • the Loyal Order of White Castle was meeting at the same time.
  • I was playing ping-pong.
  • I was playing XBox.
  • I didn't get to work until 11am.
  • I couldn't find the indicated conference room with a map, sextant, compass, GPS, diving rod, and several readings of appropriate entrails.
  • I was busy juggling.
  • I was at lunch 'til 2pm.
  • I chose not to go to bed until 3am, and a nuclear explosion couldn't wake me at 7, let alone my 20 year old Sony clock radio

09 March 2014

Orange Card Certification (Psst....It's Free. And Fun.)

Five-year-old Joey:  "Harold, when are we going hunting?"

My step-son is a canonical boy:  Around age 1, his mother reported him fashioning pistols and shooting her with his toast.  He likes taking things apart.  He loves archery, and he's fascinated by firearms.  We live in Kentucky, so most consider this not Neanderthal DNA expressing itself, but the natural order of things.

So yeah, hunting.

As with many things in my life, I found myself in the 1.5 day Kentucky Orange Card certification class this past Friday and Saturday through an odd chain of events:  We actually read the 4-H letter from our local Ag Extension office.  (We get the 4-H letter because we signed-up for a community garden plot last year, but I dropped the ball and we never planted it.)  In the newsletter was a blurb about Scott County 4-H Shooting sports:  Archery, air rifle, air pistol, .22 rifle, .22 pistol, and trap.  It appeared this was all free.  There was an additional blurb:  In order to participate in the things that go boom, you needed your orange card certification.

What's an orange card?   Basically, it's like a driver's license:  You've gone through enough theory and practical training you might possibly not kill yourself or others in the process of trying to kill something and eat it.  Once you have one, you're eligible to hunt anywhere in the US, Mexico, or Canada, once you purchase a license.  I signed-up the now 13-year-old Joey through a painless electronic form, charted it on my calendar for a month hence, and did what everyone else did in February 2014: I watched it snow.

Last Friday night rolled around, and Joey and I piled into my Dad's old chevy truck and headed to the Extension office.  Inside we found a group ranging from ~10 years old through their 50's sitting on some folding metal chairs.  Many family groups attended, and I was proud to be there with Joey.  At the front was a 30-ish gentleman, and girl who looked college age, and a heavyset guy with a badge, and open-carry semi-auto pistol and a contagious grin.

And a projector.  And some powerpoint slides.  And a corny video that was like Driver's Ed. "Blood on the Highway," but for stupid ill-advised hunting behaviors.  Great, I thought to myself, this is gonna be just as 'fun' as the CCDW class.

In short, I was wrong.  The room was overheated, but the guy running it--Jamie Cook--was just a joy.  He eventually propped open an outside door and the temp dropped, just as everyone's attention focused-in.  He interacted constantly:  "What kind of animal is this?"  "Who can name this thing?"  There were enough young kids participating that it infected the adjacent adults and by the close of the session, I found myself joining-in.  It helped that there was an array of (unloaded) weaponry on display at a table at the front, everything from a KY Flintlock to bolt-action rifles and various pistols.   We ended the night and got home energized.  Joey barely slept, and I was up past 11 doing dishes.

Saturday was half classroom and half range-day.  We began in the classroom with archery, and Joey was rapt.  He's loved bows since he was 8, and that love hasn't really wavered.  He looked particularly smug around the admonition to "NEVER DRY-FIRE YOUR BOW."  Then we progressed through ammunition, firearms and trapping.  Tidbit I didn't know: It's illegal to hunt in KY with more than 3 shells in your shotgun.  Many guns have a block to make sure you can't load more than 3.

Next exam time: Joey missed 3 and I missed 2 out of 50.  Passing is 80%, so we were gold.  After scarfing some breakfast buffet at Big Boy, we went out to the range.

There, we learned we'd be doing a skeet station, and a practical hunt simulation.   We had ~100 participants at the range, so it looked like a long afternoon.  Our group drew the skeet portion first, and so we headed over, squishing through the mud.   Becky ran the skeet thrower, and the other trainee fellow handled the firearms.  Participants could choose between a 12-gauge pump-action or a 20 gauge single shot breach loader.  Mostly the adults and bigger kids went for the 12 gauge, and the kids went for the 20 gauge.

Joe and I took our place in line, mid-pack.  He looked pretty pale when the first 12 gauge blasts went off, but I didn't question him on it.  He seemed determined to go through with it.  Myself, I'd never fired a shotgun, either.   Today would be the day for both of us, it seemed.

(Image by Kevin Kelly, posted to Twitter)

Each shooter could take up to three shots.  Most were obviously enjoying themselves--free ammo and free targets--so they took all three.  The first shooters were kids without parent participants, and many did surprisingly well, hitting 1 or 2 clays.  The son/father team right in front of us went and the son rang up all 3 targets with the 12 gauge and dad missed all three.   Yikes, is that gonna be us?

Joey went up and selected the 20 gauge.  As often when he's really nervous, he was quiet, almost shut-down.  But, he did fine with the gun.  Missed all the targets, but he carried through with all 3 shots where some kids bailed after #1.

My turn.  The guy gave you one shell at a time.  Okay, safety off...close the action (wow that pump is satisfying...)..."PULL!"  Orange clay goes arcing from my right towards the distance.  BAM.  Miss.  Rack, eject, load, rack....breathe..."PULL!" Same trajectory, better arc with the gun, squeeze, BAM!

"You got a little bit of 'er that time," the fellow encouraged.  The kick was, well, there but not unpleasant and not the mule-hit I was expecting.

Last time.  Load.  Breathe.  "PULL!"  see it...see it...don't stop your arc...BAM.  Disintegrated.

I was giddy.  First autocross run giddy.  Five year old and I got a train for Christmas giddy.  I remember thanking the gal running the thrower for providing this program for free.

The second rotation was less interesting: Simulating a hunt with air rifles in groups of 3.  It took a long time, and I talked with a fellow taking the class, a former reporter for the Cincinnati Enquirer named Kevin.  Turns out he used to cover the Cincinnati Reds for the Enquirer, and we compared notes about working as a reporter in an industry in transition compared to working for a multinational corporation (in an industry in transition).  I love conversations like this, learning about a whole different life than my own.

We wrapped-up about 4:30 and headed home.  Our orange cards should be here in ~2 weeks, and I'm compulsively shopping shotguns.