The Top Ten Generic Things

I’m in a bit of a ranting mood right now. That just happens sometimes. Usually it’s on a specific subject, but today, I seem to have mini-rants about a whole bunch of  things. Well, maybe ten things. So here they are, not necessarily in any particular order, ten generic things that bug me:

#4:    Not listening to customers enough. It’s nice when a company has a good idea and wants to build it, but if they don’t get outside of their own heads for a bit, we consumers end up with UI’s that don’t make any sense, features that we’ll never use or products never tested under real-world conditions (see #4).

#4:    Test cycles that are too short. “Beta test the world” or “Ship it and fix it later” may get something to market sooner, but at what cost. So many companies seem to think that since “they” do that on the web, everyone should go ahead and operate that way. But what happens when the not fully tested design has a hardware problem? Where’s your field upgrade then? Or what happens when the product is mission critical? Oops. Too late…

#4:    Listening too much to customers. What??? Yes. That’s what I said. Most customers want way more than they need for way less than you can afford to build. You need to listen to customers a lot and very carefully, but you need to translate for them. You can’t just take raw comments and try to directly put them in as product features.

so_it_has_come_to_this#4:   “Half-gallon” containers that aren’t a half gallon any more. It really annoys me to buy a Half gallon of Ice cream knowing that it’s only 3/8th of a gallon.

#4:    Not considering the whole story. This is where the law of unintended consequences comes in. Okay, we want to reduce our consumption of fossil fuel so we subsidize corn ethanol. Fine except by doing so, we tie a major food staple in developing nations to the volatile price of filling giant SUVs. People go hungry because of it.

#4:    More science and less hype. No one can really tell if global warming is man-caused or not. I’m sure the real data is floating around somewhere, but everyone talking about it has a personal agenda. There’s so much pseudo-science and political ranting thrown about that anything that an interested citizen might use to come to an informed conclusion is obscured by all of the exaggerated and faked material.

#4:   How about some electronics-targeted legislation that actually makes sense from a technical and social perspective. As with things like global warming in #4, there’s too much hype, too much cash-based lobbying and not enough actual understanding going into some of these laws that affect all of us in the electronics industry.

#4:    Allocation. It really annoys me. Related into this is the proliferation of specialized chips. There are a seriously larger number of varieties of every form of chip you might imagine. That’s great for design, You can pick the microcontroller that pretty meets your exact specifications, or just the right buck/boost controller. That’s cool, but I think it also makes forecasting and the allocation of foundry time simply crazy. That can only exacerbate the supply issues that cause parts to go into allocation mode.

#4:   Missed opportunities due to personal-agenda based hype. So many people want to replace fossil fuel so they bend reality and call the electric car the green replacement to gas cars. Then everyone is disappointed that they can’t drive 600 miles with just one or two five-minute fill-up stops. They focus on far too far into the future and make everyone dismiss as hype what is otherwise a perfectly viable technology. Market electrics as a second car. It’s not the main car for trips and the ultimate in convenience. It’s the run to get a gallon of milk car, the back and forth to Jr.College car, the “I’m going to a friend’s house” car. Market electric cars like that and they are 100% viable right now.

I’m not sure which of these things bug me more or less than any other, so they all tie at Number 4.

Cromemco, where are you?

Seattle Computer Products placed a quarter page black and white advertisement for RAM chips on page 224 of the September 1979 BYTE Magazine. The ad promoted type 4044 chips: 4K by 1 [bits], 18-pin, 5 Volt, 5% supply. 250 nanosecond chips sold for $7.50 in quantities of 1 to 31. You could buy the slower 450 nanosecond chips for a dollar less apiece. These were the same chips used in their “premium quality” RAM boards.

For every Andrew Carnegie or Bill Gates, there is an Alvah Roebuck, a story of a miss of almost unimaginable proportions. Richard Sears and Mr. Roebuck started a small business selling, at first, surplus pocket watches and eventually virtually anything needed by the fast expanding nation of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Sears kept at it while Roebuck left to do more important things. Many years later, Mr. Sears’ former business partner finished his life nearly penniless and working in the mailroom of the company he co-founded. Sears went on to become Americana.

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In 1975, the federal government passed the Magnuson-Moss Act. Ask the next 100 people you see, what this law is and why it made the explosive growth of the computer industry possible, and you will likely get somewhere between 98 and 100 blank stares.

WarrenGMagnusonBack in the 1960’s and 70’s, IBM sold mainframe computers, and sold a lot of them. IBM also sold service, accessories and upgrades for those systems. What IBM did not do was allow anyone else to poke around in those machines – even after the sale. IBM did not allow the machine purchasers to add in accessories from other manufacturers. IBM kept it all and kept it all as trade secret. Hence, when, in 1981, IBM introduced its take on the personal computer, the world marveled at its open architecture. The IBM PC was open. Anyone could, and did, build and sell accessories and replacement parts. IBM copied the Apple II in that respect. The infant industry had already learned from the success of Apple II, that open is best.

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What’s it like to be a real writer? And how do you become one?

What’s it like to be a real writer? By many definitions, I’d have to say “I don’t know.” I don’t have a published book. I’ve written a pair of screenplays, but no one has read them, nor are they particularly worth reading. I don’t write every day, like “real writers” say they do. I’m not disciplined in my approach, I’m not formally trained as a writer, and I don’t make my living solely (or even mostly) via the written word.

By who’s definition?

But, the reality is that I do know what it’s like to be a real writer; just not a theoretical “ideal” writer. I’ve been published, in print and online, for a decade. I’ve been paid for some it, and not for other parts. I’ve had my own paid column on three different occasions. I’ve written volumes of content for my day job. I think that gives me the justification to say that I’m a “real writer.” Continue reading “What’s it like to be a real writer? And how do you become one?”

Decisions, Decisions…

We all make decisions. It’s a part of life, and more specifically, a part of our jobs. We make so many, that you’d think we’d all be pretty good at decision making by now.

Unfortunately, that’s often not the case; even for confident people. Well, actually, most of us are pretty good at making those decisions, but we like to refuse to accept that we are good at it. Our brains play tricks and convince us that we might mess things up, get fired, not be accepted, be put down, be rebuked, or be presented any number of an endless string of negative reactions.

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How to succeed in marketing without really trying

If you’re old enough, you might remember the 1967 movie, “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.” Well… you don’t really need to be old enough. The movie’s before my time and I’ve watched it.

vertical_marketsIn the movie, window washer J. Pierpont Finch, reads a book titled the same as the movie, and takes it to heart. Shortly after starting to read the book, he talks his way into a mailroom job. Within hours, he’s manipulated and bumbled his way upstairs and eventually lands a coveted corner office without, as the title suggests, really trying. At least, he didn’t really try working for his success. He did try a lot of manipulation, fast talking, and subversion.

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Run Your Own Race

High School was a long time ago for me. It wasn’t a particularly bad time for me, nor was it anything close to the highlight of my life. I don’t have “moments of glory” from my high school days to reflect back at. It was, however, a time and place of defining moments, and one of those moments came one hot and dry day, while on a training run for my high school cross-country team.

I was a back of the pack runner out on a stretch of the dike alongside of the Coweeman river (near Kelso, Washington); a regular training route for the Kelso High School cross-country team. I had run the dike many times before, and been near the back on most of those runs. What differed on this particular fall afternoon would stick with me to this day.

It was my senior year, and we had a new coach in the mix. He was a former Kelso graduate that had set records in college, and could run in the company of world-class distance runners. I didn’t know more than that about him; just that he was really fast.

It wasn’t my experience that coaches, especially coaches that were world-class in their own right, would spend much individual time with the kids that wouldn’t be helping to win tournaments. Joe Stewart wasn’t like that. On that training run, he came up to me from behind, and matched my pace. As we ran together, he gave me feedback on my form, advice on how to improve it, and words of encouragement. After running together for a bit, he sped up and met up with the next runner in the pack.

It was clear that I wasn’t going to take a top place in any meet, nor, as a senior, was I material to build on for the future. That didn’t seem to matter to him. What I suspect mattered to him, was that I was out there. I was doing it despite trailing the pack. Instead of berating me for running slow, or telling me to “suck it up”, he encouraged me to run my own race. He told me that running my own race, that bettering myself, and measuring myself against my own goals and my own performance, was the most important competition I would ever have. I’ve kept that with me through my life and career.

Running your own race isn’t just about athletics. It’s a metaphor for a philosophy of life. It’s a way of thinking, a defense mechanism against anything and everything that life can throw your way.

Now, some people live to overtly compete with others. These folks are largely extroverts. They have to look around them for motivation and measure. The way of competition – of external motivation –  isn’t better, nor worse than the way of running your own race. It’s just different. Competing against others is always an option. It’s easy to do. If that’s you, go for it. But know that it’s not necessary.

Measuring against others can limit your potential. If you stretch and gain a lead against your competitor, once ahead, your motivation diminishes significantly. It goes from offense to defense, from “playing to win” to “playing not to lose.” It becomes more difficult to think in terms of improvement. You can quickly fall into the trap of looking backwards, not forwards.

If you think in terms of competing with others, it’s easier for judgmental people to hold you back. People sneering at you or jabbing at you can have a tremendous negative effect on you if you’re living to compete. Yes, it can trigger an “I’ll show you” response, but again, once you’ve “shown them”, you go back to defense. You become vulnerable again.

Certainly, it is possible that your best is only just a little bit more than your competition’s best. That could happen, but it’s much more likely that you have a lot more to give beyond what competition is doing. By living for external competition, you put all of that extra potential at risk.

On the other side, if your best really is slightly less than that of your competitor, and your motivation is to beat that competitor, you may never be good enough. You’ll put what motivation you do have at risk. You put yourself at risk of switching from motivation as your driver to desperation as your driver. That rarely helps.

Run your own race. Let the others, individuals or organizations, compete with you. Let them see you as a threat. Let them live defensively. Set your own goals based on what you can or would like to achieve, not based on what others are doing. When you pick your own definition of success, you can’t be beaten.