Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Random Thoughts

I was just out in the kitchen, doing something, when the phrase 'Not in this incarnation, anyway' drifted through my mind. Comes from a book I'd been reading. I had a quick microburst of the angst that I felt a few months ago, contemplating almost nightly about what happens when you die -- do you go out, does your spirit survive, do you get reincarnated -- and then it went away again. Still wonder, though. I'd like to be reincarnated. And not just because my friend said she believed in it, a week before she died. I'd like to see her again, sure, but even if it happens, what's the chances you'll know its him/her when you meet up with them again, if you do? Only in fantasy novels. But the idea that you grow in experience, and with luck in wisdom -- that'd be cool. Of course, I suppose that you also have to accept the downside: your next life might be a function of how you did with this one. I don't think I'll be a worm, next time.....

I have the work laptop up and running next to this one -- I had been doing some things, going through the torrent of email that arrived -- things to do! people to answer! inventories to review! audit stuff to puke at ! -- and right now it's cycling through its screen saver display, which is made up of backgrounds I've put in for wallpaper. There goes an SR-71 -- man, but that is a beautiful flying machine. I got to see one take off, years ago, while they were still operational. Gorgeous. There's Yoda, in an illustration that some one did of him and his glowing Macintosh. A countryside in Vermont. T'pol holding a phaser and looking sexily dangerous. Four colored marbles. I remember seeing the Elgin Marbles at the British Museum. I knew they weren't marbles like the ones you play with, but I didn't know what they were until I saw them. I liked that. There's wallpaper made to look like water droplets. And the Martian landscape -- not someone's idea, but the actual landscape. Man, that's awesome. And there's a suited-up astronaut walking through a corridor on the spaceship from 2001. Open the pod bay doors, HAL. And Jed Bartlett. And two Muppets in a Photoshopped pose, leaning against a fast car, guns casually cradled: Sesame Vice. Darth Vader's helmet. A sketch of the original Batmobile. Cool stuff.

I sent my resume to another manager in the Big Company where I work. She's looking for someone to do what I used to know how to do, about twenty years ago. Probably nothing will come of it, but nothing ventured.... I am seriously ready to stop doing what I'm doing now. The secret, I think, is to keep isolated, not take the audit frenzy personally. But I do, I want to scream that they're letting the damn auditors get away with murder, and worse: they're mutilating themselves on the off chance that maybe thats what an auditor will want. And I do know what the current audit environment is like. But I don't think we should make it easy for the auditors, because auditors don't know the meaning of Enough. But the environment isn't going to change, so I have to, somehow. I have a target date for stopping. If its intolerable, I leave in about six months. If its bearable but not great, one to two years. And if something magical happens, four years and three months. The smart money is betting on the middle range.

Hah, there goes a composite picture of Albert Einstein and Mr. Spock.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Visual information

This morning, we were sitting quietly in the dining room, having a relatively light breakfast, and talking about visualization and information. I have been thinking, without much effect, about this lately. I am now responsible for the creation of a report that's presented electronically once a month. The report is very stark -- these many problem records, details about each of them , all presented in a chart. Three charts in all, followed by a very basic graph. I despise it. I think it's a poor job, and would be a poor job if it were being done by a secondary school student (for someone younger, it might be pretty good); for an information company, its ludicrous. Hence, my desire to do it better. Well, honesty compels me to point out that I also want to do it better because I'm a little bit creative, and this makes it possible for me to show off, just a little.

I told my wife about Edward Tufte's The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, and specifically about a chart that's used as an example for the book. The chart shows the progress of Napoleon's armies as he attempted to conquer Russia. The chart is distance from France along the bottom, years along the left side, and the line looks like a flattened backward capital C. But here's the magic: the thickness of the line shows the available number of French troops as time progressed and as they distanced themselves from France. The line is thick at T=0 and D=0, and gets thinner as time and distance increase. On the way back from Moscow, the line, formerly thick and substantial, is now thin and wavering. Its excellent.

Now, how can I emulate that?

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Super Floopy Day

Some years ago, we made up the holiday known as Sweet Maluma Day. The actual date varies, mostly by whether I remember it, but it's normally known as the day before New Years Eve, and it was created so that that day didn't feel lonely, what with the twin powerhouses of Christmas and New Years Day at either end of the week.

Today, I made up Super Floopy Day. I don't know whether it will achieve the notoriety and reknown of Sweet Maluma Day, but I like it. Super Floopy Day occurs on the same day as Father's Day, and its intended to recognize a day when really floopy things can happen. Today, it is a day when I got a massive Kitchen Aid mitt, suitable for barbecuing or putting out small fires, a collapsible wire mesh sculpture, and a bar of Dagobah chocolate, flavor: Hazelnut. All very cool, and of course all treasured because they come from my family.

My wife and I had a brief discussion (an excessively formal word for a very casual exchange of words) about the state of Social Security. I am in favor of voluntary participation in the privatization of SocSec, she is opposed to it, but we both agree that we do not trust the motives of the president or his cronies. We simply do not trust them, to the point where if they said the sun was shining, we'd carry umbrellas. That's not to say that they're totally without worth. (Well, okay, some are, but not all.) They should get credit for bringing the subject of SocSec's stability to the fore. Others have said that Medicare is in worse financial shape, and perhaps it is. Yet it's been known for years that with the demographics of this country, SocSec could not continue as it has been. Bringing the subject up, even as a political ploy -- and I think part of it is exactly that -- was a good move. Its likely that only a lame duck president could do it.

When they say that people have the responsibility to save for their own retirement, I agree with that. I don't think that I have the right to expect that the government will take care of me in my old age. What I do have the right to expect is that they will return my money to me, suitably compounded. Anything more than that is lagniappe. Desirable, and, from what I read, frequently a requirement to stay above the subsistence line, let alone the poverty line, but lagniappe. A compassionate government would fund that lagniappe. What we have now, though, is a government that wants to govern, but not to care. When it comes to assisting those who are not prepared for retirement, the prevailing Republican view appears to be that the best solution is to toss it all back on the shoulders of the individual, or the community. If as a result some of the needy sink, well, Adam Smith would have understood. After all, it's possible to make sufficient money to retire comfortably - look at George's coterie of supporters - so why doesn't everyone? Must be a failure of character.

I am not looking forward to the next major election -- I think it will be rife with lies and deceit. But I am looking forward to the chance to toss these scoundrels -- yes, even the well-meaning ones -- out on their collective rears. I hope that this time my fellow citizens agree that they've got to go. Its unfortunate that the only way to convince them will be when they see their families sinking because the governmental safety net was withdrawn. .

But it's Super Floopy Day, and thats a good thing. I believe I'll go have some fine chocolate.

Saturday, June 18, 2005


That'd be my daughter, who this evening took her brand new 26 inch bike out for a spin. We were looking for a reason to give it to her -- her knees would routinely come above the handlebars on her old bike -- and her grades at the end of the school year -- 4 As, 2 Bs -- gave us the reason to do it. She graciously allowed us to come along, and so we had a family bike ride, over to the wetlands, around through the housing area, and back. The weather's perfect for that sort of thing -- low humidity, about 70 degrees -- we had a great time.

Tomorrow I get to arise around 3AM to dial into a system upgrade. I'm contributing very little -- there was one thing I had to do, which I did, and some other things that I should have done, which I did, too -- so I don't expect to be on the call all that long. Its an irritant, and I try to remember that I'm doing it from home, and I will be back in bed in about an hour, whereas many others will be up longer, and have serious problems to resolve. I admit that I'm a little nervous about this -- the preparation for the upgrade was more detailed than what we usually do at the account that I primarily support -- so I am a little worried that I might have forgotten something serious. There is one thing that is changing in our software environment -- a table in the linklist that isn't needed any more in the new environment. We got a bad one, and we ended up just pulling it out entirely. I shouldn't be worried about that, but I am. I'll be happier when this is over. I have another thing to do at noon, for another account that I support, and then I need to be available in the afternoon for the local one, though I doubt they'll call me. It won't be so much a busy day as a day of continual requirements.

I haven't had much new to read lately, so I dipped into a book I've had for several years - Moving Mountains: Lessons in Leadership and Logistics from the Gulf War. It's written by William G. Pagonis, who was the primary logistics officer for the Army in Desert Storm. The writing style is a bit stilted, but the content of the book is good. I went back through it a couple of years ago, highlighting key points. Here's one:

"Organizations must be flexible enough to adjust and conform when their environments change. But flexibility can degenerate into chaos in the absence of well-established goals. In my terminology, a goal is something that is nonquantifiable, purposely broad, and overarching. Once everyone in the organization understands the goals of the organization, then each person sets out several objectives by which to attain those goals at that given time, within his or her own sphere of activity."

I've written about my company's 'Personal Business Committment', which I originally took to mean a methodology that would guide me in furthering the goals of the organization, but which was in practice a series of complex statements listing a series of desirable things, without any guidance or assistance about how to bring them to fruition. I used to beat myself up because I couldn't think of how to help make them happen, but I stopped when I realized that the people running the organization, whose job it was to promulgate those statements, apparently couldn't figure it out, either. I limited myself to saying that I should do what I do as best I could...and hope that that helped the organization.

But I still think about it on occasion.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Just Below The Horizon

Somewhere out there....

Below the horizon....

Off the radar....

Virtually unnoticed...

is the person who's going to run for President in 2007.

Two of them, in fact.

Cherish these moments of relative political sanity. The drum beats of fanaticism are not far in our future.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Bill Frist, Dancing While Sitting Down

From the Washington Post:

Frist Stands by Statements on Schiavo

By CONNIE CASS The Associated PressThursday, June 16, 2005; 12:46 PM

WASHINGTON -- Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said Thursday he doesn't regret using his standing as a doctor to question Terri Schiavo's diagnosis from afar during the intense national debate over whether to remove her feeding tube.
Frist said he accepted the results of Schiavo's autopsy released Wednesday, showing severe, irreversible brain damage. But he stood by his statements on the Senate floor last March, when he argued that on videotape Schiavo appeared to respond to her family and doctors.
"Would I do it over again? Yes, I would do it over again," the senator told reporters. Frist, R-Tenn., said he had only sought to make sure the most up-to-date testing was performed to determine whether Schiavo was truly in a persistent vegetative state, the diagnosis accepted by state courts.
"I never made the diagnosis, I wouldn't even attempt to make a diagnosis from a videotape," said Frist, a heart surgeon.
Frist and other Republicans pushed through unprecedented emergency legislation, signed by President Bush, aimed at prolonging Schiavo's life by allowing the case to be reviewed by federal courts. But federal courts rejected the parents' request to have her feeding tube reinserted.
Debating the emergency legislation, Frist questioned the diagnosis of doctors who said Schiavo's smiles and eye movements were automatic responses and not evidence of consciousness.
"I question it based on a review of the video footage. ... And that footage, to me, depicted something very different than persistent vegetative state," Frist said at the time. He also said that "she certainly seems to respond to visual stimuli."
In fact, Schiavo's brain damage left her blind, according to the autopsy in Pinellas County, Fla., where she lived in a hospice.
The medical examiner said the results were consistent with a persistent vegetative state _ the diagnosis husband Michael Schiavo used to argue Schiavo wouldn't won't to be kept alive in her condition.
Polls have found a majority of Americans opposed federal involvement and the issue contributed to a drop in approval ratings for the Republican-controlled Congress.
Frist said the autopsy should mark the close of a divisive chapter.
"The diagnosis they made is exactly right. It's the pathology, I'll respect that. I think it's time to move on," Frist said earlier Thursday on CBS' "The Early Show."

Yes, I suppose he would think that.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005


I know that being a Chief Information Officer is a demanding job. I'm sure I couldn't do it.

Nevertheless, I do wonder how deeply some of these folks think when the latest issue of CIO magazine points out that the way to win friends in the business side is to deliver on a few quick, useful projects, keeping the hypercomplex world-spanning efforts for later ...and an older issue points out that the IRS's CIO found that they were more likely to succeed in IT projects when they did fewer, simpler projects and hired people to run them who'd done it before.

Gee, you think?

Sunday, June 12, 2005

I'd be Free Now

Man's sitting at the kitchen table, reading the paper. Wife says to him 'Do you realize? This is our thirtieth anniversary!" He doesn't respond. She tugs the paper down to find tears running from the man's eyes. Whats wrong? she asks. Sobbing, he says, I was just thinking about the night we got married. Your father said we either got married or I was going to jail for thirty years. The woman said, yes, so? Well, the man wailed, I'd have been out by now!

Thirty years is a long time. Its about the amount of time I'd have to live from when I retired, if I do it when I am thinking of doing it, and assuming I live to the average. Thats a lot of long walks, good meals, pleasant reading. But its a lot of what-the-hell-do-I-do-today time, too. Thirty years can be a life sentence, if you don't know what you want to do with it. For every one person who has plans for a post-work future, I'd bet a dozen haven't even a clue. To paraphrase something I heard once: Many people want to retire early who don't know what to do with themselves on a rainy afternoon.

Shuffleboard, anyone?


I need a hotspot.

I promised that I would bring my daughter and a friend to a local pool this afternoon. What the heck, I thought; I'll bring a book, they'll have a good time, sounds like fun. And then I remembered: I promised that I would be available today in case a system upgrade required some help. Sure, I'd said, give me a call if you need to. I'll be at home. I'll keep the beeper on. What could go wrong?


The YMCA pool is about fifteen minutes from home, and about twenty minutes from the office. And while I could bring a laptop -- ours, not the heavy work one -- without any way to connect to the net, that won't do me much good. So I'd have to find some place that I could connect, or evict two dripping girls from their aquatic revels before they were really ready to go.

The local Borders, about five minutes from the Y, advertises that they have T-Mobile connectivity-- I think thats the name -- available. We tried it once, and found out that while they do, they neglected to mention that theres a fee. I don't recall what it was, but when my wife and I found out the cost, that one time that we thought we'd join the cognoscienti and try it out, I remember our reaction: How much?

I need a hotspot.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

In Dutch

I baked some cookies this morning from a recipe that called for 'Dutch Process cocoa'. Not having any idea if what I had (Hershey's) was, I used it. They turned out okay, leading me to wonder what the different was.

From, of all places, a site dedicated to labor law: (reformatted slightly)

Cocoa powder:
There are two types of unsweetened baking cocoa available: natural cocoa (like the sort produced by Hershey's and Nestle) and Dutch-process cocoa (such as the Hershey's European Style Cocoa and the Droste brand). Both are made by pulverizing, partially defatted chocolate liquor (unsweetened chocolate) removing nearly all their cocoa butter. Natural cocoa is light in color and somewhat acidic with a strong chocolate flavor.

In baking use natural cocoa in recipes which call for baking soda (because it's an alkali). Combining the two creates a leavening action that allows the batter to rise during baking.

Dutch-process cocoa has been processed with alkali to neutralize its natural acidity so it's darker often with a reddish cast. Dutch cocoa is slightly milder in taste and deeper in color than natural cocoa. Use Dutch cocoa in recipes that call for baking powder as its leavener.

Canny folks, those labor law people.

Friday, June 10, 2005


One of my favorite science fiction series is the Vorkosigan novels by Lois McMaster Bujold. Its the style that is usually described as 'space opera', not at all the type that I tend to say that I like when I mention what I read, but there's something about it that has captivated me.

In one novel, a character who has suffered catastrophic failure of a memory chip implanted in his brain, which has up to that point given him eidetic memory capabilities, discovers the usefulness of a portable 'audiofiler', a sort of Personal Digital Assistant that records and files what its given, categorizing and creating keywords automatically. There isn't too much description in the book about that technology, though you can assume that underlying it is a calendar, reminder function, and at least a little bit of artificial intelligence. It sounds like a terrific tool. I've tried on occasion to use tape recorders as a memory aid, but I've never gotten past the point of feeling dopey as I pull it out and talk into it. I rationalize my lack of use by saying oh, its too slow; oh, I hate having to skip items to get to what I was trying to remember, but the real problem is that it isn't an audiofiler, and thats actually what I want. I want to be augmented.

In the television series House, the lead character is a grumpy doctor with incredible diagnostic abilities. Each week he is presented with people who have different complaints, and who almost invariably are suffering from diseases and inflictions that normally only appear in the Center for Disease Control's wilder speculations. From across a hospital room he tells an attending to cease CPR; the patient is clearly simply having a panic attack -- see the delta wave? -- and he suspects the only actual symptom is sweaty palms. The patient's wife, holding his hand as this occurs, nods in mute amazement. He scans a videotape of an exploratory surgery and notes the single spasm of tissue which clearly indicates that nerves are dying in the patients brain. To paraphrase the medical axiom, when he hears hoofbeats, its almost always zebras.

Of course, House has the benefit of teams of writers to research and present his information, just as the Vorkosigan series character has the advantage of marvelously advanced technology. In the real world, most people don't have that kind of augmented mental ability. We make do with scraps of paper or the latest Palm Pilot; we see a problem and try to remember something we might have read about that sort of thing, years ago. We rely on rules of thumb. We simply can't remember everything we want to remember, or know everything we want to do, and we don't have teams to organize and supplement our data. We do the best we can, on our own.

Reading fictional accounts of augmented capabilities, I mull over what it will take to get us to that level of achievement. Whatever it takes, I think we're getting closer. When I read of computer systems that offer differential diagnoses and find relevant data in archived journals, I'm delighted. When I see people using computer-based tools without even thinking about what it takes to make them functional, I'm delighted. I like the idea that I can sign onto the net and look for information about restaurants in Cairo with no more effort than flicking on the overhead light. I don't have to know how it works. I just have to know what I want. I have no compelling vision of information utopia, but this is close. The easy availability of information is a generally good thing.

I'm glad I'm here to experience it.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Visualization -- Can You See It?

I read an article on CNN's web site about people who've married the mapping function available from Google with data from other sources to create vastly useful web sites that go far beyond the dry display of data. I am seriously impressed.

There's a guy who's tied data from the Chicago Police Department's web site to Google's mapping ability to create a map that shows, by type, what kinds of crimes are prevalent where. Another tied data from the state of Florida's Sexual Predator database to that same mapping ability to create a clickable map showing who might be living in your neighborhood, including mug shot. Another ties data from Craigslist on available housing with Google to create a display of any area (any known to Craigslist, that is) showing where the housing is and details about it.

And then there's this, just to pull a single reference from a Snap search.

I like to mull over how data can be presented more effectively. I am rarely able to come up with anything dramtic, though -- stacked boxes in Excel Chart are more my speed. To see the ingenuity displayed in that article -- it awes me.

Monday, June 06, 2005

We Will Fight Them On The Beaches...

Someone -- I think it was PJ O'Rourke, but I'm not sure -- observed several years ago that since the wealthy own a vast amount of the shoreline property of the mainland United States, if we're ever attacked by a conventional force, they'd be the primary line of defense.

Having read of the lavish homes of ten to twelve thousand square feet being built on the shorelines of Nantucket, and similar pleasure domes being vigorously defended against plebian access in southern California (My God, Buffy, Those People Don't Even Wear Designer Labels!) , I think that the image of those palaces by the sea being blasted to smithereens a charming one. I'm for just about anything that'd eradicate those symbols of greed and excess. I know that the chances of politicians doing anything about them are slender (Are You Insane? They're Major Political Contributors! ), and the idea of a spontaneous populist uprising to tear down the edifices and replace them with a public greensward to be most unlikely too. Perhaps a seaborne assault force of ex-Greenpeace and Sierra Club members, demolishing them and sowing trees and beaches in their place, would be the ticket. Though the question of insurance bothers me. If somehow the force could arrange so that the mansion's greedy owners couldn't just take the money and run (Oh, sorry, Mr. Bigbux, but look here, the policy explicitly denies payment if attacked by Mongols, and golly if those guys aren't wearing Mongol gear), I think I could really go for the idea.

This isn't a screed against acheivement, and earning what you have, and enjoying the fruits of your labors. It isn't even a screed against your right to be over the top. Its a screed against unrestrained greed.

I know, I know. Greed. Its what makes America great.

Well, almost. Upon reflection, its more like 'its what will make the late, great America'.

Bring on the troops.

Sunday, June 05, 2005


I was thinking about documentation a little while ago. I was not happy.

Here's the deal. I support a product for one of our customers. My support is limited to getting new releases of it and installing it. On occasion, when they have a problem using it, I'll call the vendor, get an answer, translate if needed from geekspeek to realtalk, and pass it on. A few weeks ago, I was asked to join a group that's doing a customer conversion from a competing product to this one. It took quite some time to get an id on this customer's system (I get to do three different signons to get in; everything but jumping up, twirling my chair, and sitting down again), and so it wasn't until this week that I actually saw what they wanted us to do. At first I was stunned: I had no idea how this other product worked, so converting it seemed to be impossible. But I spent several hours reading their online documentation, and after a while I began to get the idea, at least for the two reports that I was working on. The concept turned out to be pretty simple, and I thought there would not be much difficulty in creating a clone for these reports in the new product.

Ho, ho, ho.

I just spent about three hours trying to figure out how to do something relatively simple (I don't want to say exactly what it is, but its roughly of the level of complexity of this: "For the biggest room in your house, count the number of places that someone could sit, and for each one, list whether its a chair, couch, or something else, and tell what color it is.") I could write code to do this function in less time than that. (Well, actually, probably not. The actual productive time would be less than that, but I would spend more time flailing around and cursing my stupidity in coruscating terms.) I pored through the documentation for the new product, but I couldn’t find a thing that told me what I wanted to know. The problem? The format.

The doc is a PDF, which is good if you just want to read but not so good if you're not exactly sure where to find what you're looking for, or what format it might take. To use the example from before, am I looking for 'room' or 'living room'? Am I looking for 'seat', or 'seating'? Is seat a verb or a noun? If this were paper, I could flip through it and eventually -- probably -- find what I want. Or at least find what looks like which I want. But when I'm using the PDF search function, which is not all that powerful, I'm limited to guessing, a lot. To make life more fun, the search function apparently doesn't care about the formatting of words. If I'm looking for the phrase 'seat cushion', it thinks that "This is the seat cushion." and "This is the seat. Cushion it well." are both valid items to return from its search. As problems go, this isn’t a really big deal, but it is irritating. Its not the way things ought to work.

Am I the first person to come up with this question? Probably not. So why can't I go find out if anyone else has asked this question before, and what answer they got? And why doesn't the documentation reflect that answer? Well, a big part of that is because this documentation is static. Someone wrote it, someone else formatted it, and someone else put it into a PDF document. If thirteen microseconds after the PDF was made they found an egregious error somewhere in the doc, they can't change it without going through the process again. Which raises the question: why is it static? Why doesn't this company (which is kind-of a computer company, though not as much of one as mine, the Biggest Little Software House in the World) use dynamic documents, all HTMLed to within an inch of its life? Why can’t the customers update the documation, showing how the product is actually viewed in the real world - ie, the wiki idea?

I am willing to believe that there are people who spend their lives trying to devise useful, flexible documentation that speaks to both the power user and the neophyte, that answers the question that everyone asks and the question that only the geek asks, that satisfies the desire for the Big Picture and for the Nitty Gritty. Documentation that’s elegant and responsive is hard to come by, and people don’t buy software for the documentation. But the increase in functionality of products doesn’t count for much if you don’t know that it’s there.

A little Strunk and White, anyone?

Friday, June 03, 2005

The Light Side of the Dark Side

You think Batman has it tough?

Imagine being dressed all in black.

A grotesque mask hides your face.

Wearing a cape in all kinds of weather.

And you're seven feet tall.

Better yet, read about it.

A Million Here, A Million There

Two senators exiting the Capitol, talking about the federal budget. One exclaims: "A million here, a million there -- pretty soon, you're talking real money!"

Last night I skimmed The Not So Big House. I started by reading and looking at the pictures... and after about half an hour was looking at the pictures and reading.... and then was looking at the pictures... which segued into looking just at the really cool pictures. Which occasionally were so cool as to force me to drop to sublight so that I could read the associated text. Finally, gorged, I put the book aside... picking it up on occasion just to nosh, to use a phrase from my childhood, poring over the pictures, reading the words with renewed feelings of delight and satisfaction.

I realized two things, both points made in this excellent book:

One: Small doesn't mean tiny, it means 'not large'. I had thought the book focused on houses that were in the 1800 square foot range. In fact, it doesn't focus on size per se at all, but where it does mention it, the size is up to about 2400 square feet. At the end, it's talking about gihugic megaultramansions, but for the most part, its in the range I mentioned. The focus is not on the size of the house, its on the use of the space. Although the author doesn't say it, I think that she'd agree that you can have a four thousand square foot house that fits the precepts of the NSB house if all of it is used all of the time.

Two: Small doesn't mean inexpensive. She says that the cost of a small, well thought out and well-detailed NSB house can easily be 80 or 90 percent of the cost of a conventionally larger house. The reason is that a lot of thought and care go into the smaller house, with finer accents, significantly more precision in layout and execution, and generally better materials. What you end up with is a high quality house that you use all of, all the time, but not one that is lighter on the wallet.

In my case, I was thinking about 'gee, we could do that' about a half dozen things in the book -- an elegant bathing pool (sorry, but I don't think there is a better way to put it), a charming library nook, a good piece of cabinetry -- and realized that not a one of those things would come from the local WalMart or Bobs Quicky House Builders. Some of it could, yes, but not most of it. Those costs add up. Pretty soon, you're talking real money.

This is not a reason not to do it. We're still tickled by the idea. And the book gives some suggestions that will help us to decide if this is the way we want to go. But if we do, we have to understand that it's a substantial financial commitment. Quality's rarely cheap.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Is the PC on?

Interesting site:

Organizational Flux

I've been watching with a certain amount of detached interest the actions of my company as it attempts to resolve its current financial problems. The stock isn't doing that well, which of course affects both the financial reserves of the organization as well as the perception of the investment community regarding our essential worth. The less you're worth, the less you're... worth.

There hasn't been any buzz regarding these actions at my level. We do what we do, and we're not asked, let alone enouraged, to change the environment or how we do what we do. That's clearly Not Our Job. This is a very patriarchal organization, and fixing the problem is Management's Job. Not all of them get to play in the decision making pool, though. Some just get to be the people that do the scut work. Our group's manager has at the moment the task of preparing to terminate some people as a cost-saving measure. It pains him, and the situation's not his fault, nor something that he can control. He's just the point of a sword being wielded by people far up the organizational food chain. (I considered pointing out that he could terminate me if he'd give me my pension now, but he would have thought that I was joking, and he's already shown that although he's a more people-sensitive manager than his peers (it doesn't take much to get the rep of being more people-sensitive in that crowd, a particularly cheerless group), he's strictly old line in some regards. Humor is frowned upon unless Approved By Management. I found this out during an earlier episode of cost-cutting, when I got stomped on for an admittedly tacky bit of humor.)

A web page on our internal system says that the best thing to do in this situation is to let the people who do the selling for the organization be free to do it. Don't tie them down with unnecessary calls, meetings, and so forth. (I almost wrote 'and so froth', which oddly enough would also make sense. Well, sort of.) Thats good advice. But it does make me wonder why it is that we only feel it necessary to limit it to that group, and only at this time. Because by not making that a global standard, one thats encouraged all the time, we're saying that we do have actions, meetings, and procedures that are unnecessary to the success of the business. Some of them are done for the purpose of running the structure of the business, while others are done to meet regulatory and audit requirements. (Upon the latter, a hideous pox should descend.) We just accept them as part of being here, and after a while they're as important as the actual reason that we're here.

Its only when the house is burning that we think about whats key to our existence.