Saturday, September 27, 2014

Really Good, but not THAT Good

Baseball is a game dominated by vital ghosts; it's a fraternity, like no other we have of the active and the no longer so, the living and the dead. ~Richard Gilman

Much has been written and said about Derek Jeter this year. He seems to be a pretty good guy, and he's had a long and pretty successful career. For those of you who don't follow sports in any way, shape, or form, Mr. Jeter, who has played baseball for the New York Yankees for a long time, is retiring this year. He most likely will make it into the Baseball Hall of Fame, an assessment which I can agree with. But, I cannot agree with this little poll taken by ESPN.
Now, as I intimated, I think Mr. Jeter has been a pretty good player during his career, but I'm sorry: There's no way I can put him into being among the top 25 players of all time. I'm presuming that the people who made up the 73% who thought he is among that elite group fall into one of the following categories:

- Yankees fans
- People under 30 who don't know baseball has been played for over 100 years
- People who would nominate Jeter for the Nobel Prize, sainthood, and immediate assumption into Heaven.

Not to belabor the point, I spent a few minutes thinking about the great players who would be ahead of Mr. Jeter in terms of being one of the 25 greatest baseball players of all time. The list that follows is pretty much the order in which they occurred to me, not an actual ranking. I had no trouble thinking of 25 players greater than Derek Jeter. In fact, I decided to stop at 30 because I didn't want to totally belabor the point. I also avoided people from the steroid era for the most part, and I did include Pete Rose. While he is forever ineligible to enter the HOF, his career numbers are still worthy of being on this informal list.

1. Ty Cobb
2. Babe Ruth
3. Walter Johnson
4. Jackie Robinson
5. Lou Gehrig
6. Warren Spahn
7. Mickey Mantle
8. Rogers Hornsby
9. Tris Speaker
10. Pete Rose
11. Mike Schmidt
12. Johnny Bench
13. Joe Morgan
14. Carl Yastrzemski
15. Ted Williams
16. Ernie Banks
17. Eddie Murray
18. Brooks Robinson
19. Al Kaline
20. Luis Aparicio
21. Ozzie Smith
22. Lou Brock
23. Cy Young
24. Al Simmons
25. Frank Baker
26. Roberto Clemente
27. Larry Doby
28. Duke Snider
29. Hank Aaron
30. Cal Ripken

None of this is intended to put down Derek Jeter, his career, and his accomplishments. It's just to point out that playing in New York for a long time with an above-average career does not put you in the same class as the likes of Cobb, Ruth, Aaron, et. al.
And, I doubt Mr. Jeter is particularly bothered about it, being that he seems to be a sensible person in most respects. Which is more than I can say for the 73% of respondents to the survey.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Credit Where It's Not Due

With lies you may get ahead in the world - but you can never go back. ~Russian proverb

NBC News reports that millenials (people who reached adulthood—whatever that means—in the year 2000), are five times more likely than baby boomers (the post W W II crowd) to take credit for someone else's work. This is on top of earlier studies that show millenials think they're “disproportionately entitled” and more likely to trash their co-workers to get ahead.
I don't know about “disproportionately entitled”, though I guess it's from the business of giving everyone a trophy in any competition or some such, just for showing up. As to the rest, I have my doubts. First of all, the boomers either have made it so they don't need to glom credit, or they've realized they ain't going to make, so who cares anyway. Or, as in my case, they're retired and don't have any co-workers to screw over.
Truth be told, I seriously doubt millenials are any worse than anyone else during the early years of a career. Throughout history, we've seen stories of credit being stolen (science is loaded with instances), work associates being dumped under the bus, and general lying, cheating, and stealing in business, government, science, and education. Yes, education. Professors have made careers out of filching graduate student work as their own. In business, it's supervisory people who are the most likely to claim credit for their underlings' work, and supervisors are generally not the youngest people in the workforce. In government, well, it's just another intramural sport.
There are honest people out there who make it without having to screw over everyone around them. I like to think I'm one of those, but that's a question only co-workers could really answer. By the same token, I can't think of many situations where I really got whacked by a co-worker, especially not be a significantly younger one.
One reason for this is that I spent 20 years in Quality Control. No one tries to steal QC's thunder because QC are the bad guys. That tends to make the QC group kind of tightly knit (and tightly wound, but that's another story). Most people in the profession would like to get out, so they're not in the business of looking better at statistical quality control; they want to look like they would be good production managers or engineers or marketers.
Oh, I recall one guy who tried on occasion to take credit for something he hadn't done. He was so incompetent, though, that he couldn't explain exactly what he did. In a few cases, he tried to take credit for things that really weren't such good ideas. We let him have those.
There was one occasion when someone did try to get credit for one of my ideas, but it was sort of comical. I had recently joined a company as Quality Manager and was appalled at how the inspectors were getting bullied, threatened, and ignored by manufacturing personnel. The result was that too many shipments were going out with defects which generated customer complaints which generated returns which generated making orders twice which is not conducive to making money.
At the end of one particularly frustrating day, I walked into the general manager's office and explained the situation, then said, “I have a way to stop this. I want to arm the inspectors.” That got his attention, but he did allow as how that probably wasn't a real good idea. I had figured that he wouldn't go with it (although he did seem to consider it for a moment), so I sprung plan B. We would pull the inspectors from production and only check product just before shipping. If it failed, it went back to production to make it right. This would not be popular with the Production Manager because it could affect shipping schedules. A little to my surprise, the GM loved the idea and called in the Production Manager, Claude, to break the news.
Claude's reaction made my day. His jaw dropped and his eyes about popped out of his head. “You can't do that!”, he hollered. Oh yes we can, the GM told him, and starting tomorrow we will. Well, to make a long story short, the idea worked. Operators were now fully responsible for what went to final inspection and couldn't blame an inspector for the junk the operators were making.
Flash forward a couple of years. I'm sitting in Claude's office talking about this and that, when the subject of how customer complaints had dropped. Claude leaned back in his chair and said, “Yep, that sure was a good idea I had to pull the inspectors off the production line and put them at the end.” I didn't exactly jump up on his desk, but I came close. “YOUR IDEA?”, I said with murder in my eyes. “You almost had a stroke in the GM's office!”
“Well,” he said, “at least I had the idea to go along with it.”
I do believe he may have been ragging me just a bit. Oh, and by the way, Claude was about 10 years older than I was.
However, I did learn one time that a “colleague” (and I use the term loosely) had been taking some liberties with credit. I had gotten out of QC and into IT as a member of a contracting firm and was one of the sysadmins at a large client. One of the junior admins was George. Now, I don't mean George was junior so much in age; he was a few years younger but was out of what is now considered the millenials age group (19-36). After he had been at this client for some time, he got transferred to another client. Most of us were not upset at his leaving. He was a nice enough guy, but he always needed help to solve any kind of networking problem, which gets old after a while.
One day, not long after he had left, one of the client employees came up to me and said, “Boy, I bet you guys are really missing George.” I said something like “not really” and the client was amazed. “But look at all the things he did.” He then proceeded to list five or six of George's “accomplishments”, most of which were problems I had fixed, while a couple belonged to the other sysadmin. I explained that to the client, and then told him I was actually very glad George had moved on.
After all, with him gone, not only was I not solving problems he couldn't, I didn't have to fix the problems he created when he did try to implement something.
There is a gentle irony that, in my last gig with the City of Birmingham, I kept getting credit for stuff I didn't do.
One thing I instituted was the practice of regularly sending notices to users concerning system changes, potential internet dangers, and general useful information about the systems. I kept trying to get others to occasionally author some of these missives, because I didn't want to be regarded as some guy trying to be Mr. IT for the City. It seemed, though, that the other admins and the boss were more than happy to let me continue. After a while, I realized why. If you put your name out there, you become the person in IT everyone knows. That means you're the person everyone calls with every idiot question they might have.
Getting undeserved credit is not all that it's cracked up to be, in my opinion.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Just for Kicks

Kicking is very important in football. In fact, some of the more enthusiastic players even kick the ball, occasionally. ~ Alfred Hitchcock

Ray Guy, the great punter from the Oakland Raiders, finally made it into the NFL Hall of Fame. It's amazing how long it took for voters to recognize arguably the best punter ever. Guy kicked them long, and he kicked them high, so returners didn't have a lot of luck against him. He also knew how to kick to the “coffin corner”, giving teams the ball inside their own 5-yard line. This last is almost a lost art.
So it's perfectly fitting that he be elected. What is a bit galling though is that everyone, including Guy, are proclaiming him as the “first punter” to make the hall. I suppose they could mean he's the first full-time, didn't-play-another-position punter. Perhaps, but no one is actually saying that. Guy himself said that the “team is complete” now because they have a punter in the hall.
I don't want to rain on anybody's parade, but there was already a pretty damn good punter in the HOF. Here are a few stats: 11 years in the league (not counting two seasons missed for military duty); a career average of 44.3 yards per punt; twice averaged over 48 yards per punt in a season (more than 50 punts). Not bad for a part-time punter who was normally a defensive back. As a DB, he had 50 interceptions and returned 133 punts himself for an average of 6 yards per return. So who was this mystery man? None other than Yale Lary, of the Detroit Lions.
Yeah, you say, but that was then. Well, “then” was from 1952 through 1964 (excluding '54 and '55 spent in the military), which ain't prehistoric times just yet. By then, the specialists were starting to appear, yet the likes of Lary could still outperform them.
The intent here is not to put down Ray Guy. He was arguably the best of all time at booting the ball a long way. But, let's not put down a guy who, had he had as many games as Guy and not played another position, might well have set records that Guy wouldn't have broken. Also let's quit ignoring other guys in the HOF who could did the dirty work of punting when they weren't doing their regular jobs, like Bob Waterfield and Sammy Baugh.
So, Ray, you may well be the best punter in the HOF, but you ain't the only one.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

LeBron Redux

Reputation, reputation, reputation! O, I have lost my reputation! I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial. ~ William Shakespeare, Othello

I swear I've heard this story before. Oh, that's right, I have – 4 years ago. I'm sure, if you're a follower of professional sports, you recall LeBron James spitting in the eye of Cleveland Cavalier fans with his drawn-out self-promoting nonsense that ended with him going to Miami. You know, there was “The Decision” on ESPN, one of the most pathetic pieces of programming brought on by Mr. James keeping his fans hanging onto their pitiful hopes that he would stay in Cleveland, only to announce that he was going to Miami.

Cleveland fans did not take it well.

So anyway, here it is four years later and guess who suddenly tanks in the playoffs. The phenomenal cramps were a clever touch; at least this time he didn't claim he was going to need surgery in the off-season (in 2010 it was a mysterious elbow injury, which equally mysteriously didn't need surgery after all). Then, amazingly he opts out of his remaining contract with the Heat. After flirting with this and that team (and Carmelo Anthony), he suddenly announces via SI.com that he's coming back to Cleveland.

At least this time, he told Miami management about the Decision beforehand. To make up for this, he didn't tell Cleveland's management that he was coming.

Now, we all had to put up with constant LeBron updates through all of this on ESPN. Once he made his decision, they ramped it up to analyze it, I guess. I don't know for sure, because I didn't watch any of it, but there was lots of SportsCenter discussion to the extent that they rescheduled FIFA World Cup and softball World Cup coverage around it. Anyhoo, LeBron announces he wants to be a “mentor” to the team and blah, blah, blah. Meanwhile, articles are coming out (there was one in the local paper from USA Today for example) talking about how good for Cleveland, nay, all of Ohio it is that the great LeBron is returning to the state.

I wasn't planning to write about this, since the glorification of LeBron was everywhere and why add to it, even with criticism?  But, then came the funny bit. Cleveland offers a four-year contract, but LeBron takes only a two-year deal – with an opt-out provision after one year.

So Cleveland is going to get one year of his “mentoring” and he's going to be off again, presumably to the Knicks, since they re-signed Carmelo after LeBron made his announcement.

What's going on here? Well, evidently fans have short memories. Like the deal with Wade and Bosh at Miami, LeBron now wanted to play with Anthony. For whatever reason, no one with a chance for the playoffs wanted to foot the bill for both of them. So, LeBron decides to take a year off fooling Cavaliers fans into thinking he gives a crap about them. At the end of the season, having given New York time to clear some salary cap space, he will, of course, opt-out and start the whole stupid circus again.

What else would be the purpose of turning down a four-year contract? In fact, what would be the purpose of opting out of a contract with a team that made the NBA finals four years in a row and won two of them?

Meanwhile Miami fans are burning LeBron jerseys and defacing LeBron posters. This had a faintly familiar ring to it. Oh, year, Cleveland fans did the same thing in 2010.

Guess what they're likely to be doing in 2015?

Monday, June 16, 2014

What if Big Brother isn't all that smart?

Reputation is an idle and most false imposition; oft got without merit, and lost without deserving. William Shakespeare, Othello

Here's a positively frightening statement to consider:

“But so long as everyone knew they were being monitored and understood what for, I don't see why it should be such a terrifying idea - except perhaps for those who bully, shout at or harass others and who have until now been getting away with it.”

I read the article this came from a couple of times hoping to find out it was a satire, but it looks sincere. What we have here is a real financial writer named Lucy Kellaway in the UK saying that constant managerial spying would be a good thing. Apparently she feels this way in part because every time her boss may one of his rare trips to her desk, she was “writing a shopping list or was on the phone to my mum.” Well, there's the possibility that she was unlucky or perhaps she just spent too much time doing shopping lists and making personal calls. Or maybe the boss had a surveillance camera in her cubicle, hmmmm?

The conclusion Ms. Kellaway draws, though, is that had she been monitored full-time, the boss would have detected her “otherwise diligent behaviour” so that would have been just fine. Of course, it would also have detected her trips to the rest room, how many trips she made to the break room (or whatever the British equivalent is) to get her cuppa, how many people she chatted with going to and from her desk, and so on. Come review time, she'd have gotten an itemized list of the time she wasted all day in the rest room and break room, and by making out shopping lists and talking to mum on the phone.

Just to add to the irony, she thinks that such monitoring would stop bullying, shouting, and harassing others. Since these are traits exhibited in the average staff meeting, monitoring is hardly necessary. Besides, those are qualities that get people promoted to upper management.

To give herself some wiggle room, she does admit that for the system to work “you would need some faith in the regime that implemented it.” Seems to beg the question, doesn't it? How on earth could you trust an organization that would stoop to constant monitoring of personnel? Well, in that case, she says, “...you are done for, anyway.”

I'm not sure what “done for” means, but it doesn't sound good.

Strangely, Ms. Kellaway is listed as an author and Financial Times columnist, so she obviously doesn't have to worry about being in this enlightened environment any time soon.

Maybe this sort of thing would be considered acceptable in the UK (I doubt it), but since I've only worked in the USA, but my attitude toward this sort of thing in any form is that any manager or executive who would try it would find him- or herself rather short of good employees. It's not that they wouldn't want to do it, it's just that it doesn't work out in the long run. Companies have been pilloried for monitoring rest room time, recording phone conversations, and various other dirty tricks.

I'm sensitive to this whole thing because of a couple of issues that occurred during my work career. One probably cost me my job. I got a call one day from headquarters where the boss' son had been given control of the company. My boss had made a career out of mocking the young man, mostly because he deserved it, and now that same person was his boss. I got a call from the new supremo one day, advising me that he would be appreciative that if I had any concerns with my immediate boss, I should feel free to call him and report any “problems” I was having. I told him, sure, but obviously I'd tell my boss I was calling his boss because of any disagreement we might have.

That wasn't the right answer. About three months later, I was moved to a new position, and three months after that the new position was determined to no longer be necessary.  Which put me on the street.

At an earlier job, we had gone through a major management upheaval which had led to a lot of reorganizations and general unhappiness in the employee ranks. One day, we were invited in small groups to meetings with the HR people. When we got there, we got a multipage survey which, we were told, was to see what issues might be on the minds of the plebes. The survey was completely confidential, the HR person said, so we should feel free to be candid. Someone spoke up and mentioned that there was a serial number on each survey set. If this was a confidential survey, why would they have an identifier on the forms? The HR guy about herniated himself trying to explain how numbered forms couldn't possibly be traced back to the person who filled them out.

We didn't buy it. Needless to say, the overall survey results were far from “candid.” And the exodus of employees, which had already started, began to really pick up pace.

Now, call me naive, call me irresponsible, call me for dinner, but it seems to me that the very companies that would stoop to full time monitoring are exactly the ones you don't want to work for. Consider this: the organization where I worked the last 10 years, the IT department of the City of Birmingham, didn't require weekly status reports, didn't have weekly (or, ugh, daily) department meetings, didn't require detailed weekly time sheets. (1) Oh, and didn't have monitoring devices attached to every employee. And yet, our supervisors always seemed to know what we were doing, most likely because they talked to us regularly, knew what our jobs entailed, and trusted us to talk to them when we had a problem.

Gee, maybe they were monitoring us. Or just paying attention.

(1) We did have a time sheet, but it showed only hours worked or taken off per day.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Postmortem or postvitam?

I think there needs to be a meeting to set an agenda for more meetings about meetings. ~ Jonah Goldberg

I came across an article recently about how much time is wasted in meetings. I didn't have this problem much in my last job before retiring because I was known to have such a lousy attitude in meetings I generally got notified of a meeting but attendance on my part was voluntary. Now I could get away with this for two reasons. First, I was good at my job, so, while no one is indispensable, it was generally thought that firing me because of my attitude toward meetings would be more of a pain than it was worth. Secondly, when I was dragged into attending a useless meeting, I'd let the meeting organizer know before, during (especially during), and after the event how useless it was.

What this meant was that I generally only went to useful meetings like project status, problem resolution, or potential system change/addition/improvement discussions. It also meant I got a lot of regular work done.

It should be noted I was not alone in this attitude. My fellow system administrator felt the same way. While he was nicer about it, he made it clear he could either sit in meetings or keep the network up. We system administrators get away with a lot of stuff that way.

All that being said, there was one kind of meeting that was necessary but often not real useful, the postmortem. You know the situation. A project has flopped, or something bad happened that wasn't supposed to happen, so there's a meeting to try to figure out what went wrong and how not to do it again. These meetings all tend to be the same. If you try to fix responsibility for the problem, someone, usually the person who called the meeting, says we're not here to blame anyone, just to figure out what went wrong and prevent it from happening. Well, if Joe screwed up because he didn't follow procedures, what needs to happen is to agree that the procedures would work if followed. However, since we can't “blame” Joe, we end up changing perfectly good procedures into bloated messes – which Joe won't follow next time, either.

Seriously, this business of not affixing responsibility (rather than “blame”) frequently gets in the way of getting anything done. I've even tried to take responsibility for a failure myself and been told that we're not here to blame anyone. Fine, don't blame me, but realize I made a mistake and I know it and will try to avoid doing so in the future. We're done here, so let's go back to work.

Postmortems have a history of not really fixing anything. Would you care to estimate how many postmortem meetings have occurred at the various auto makers after recalls? I would bet whole bunches, but the recalls still happen because someone decided to go ahead and use a bad design or questionable parts, usually to save money.

NASA showed how successful postmortems can be by following the Challenger disaster with the Columbia disaster. One of the findings of the Columbia investigation is that NASA was still making the same mistakes they made that led to the Challenger debacle.

History shows that organizations simply don't learn from their mistakes. There are exceptions, but they are few and far between. So, since we aren't getting any benefit from postmortems maybe it's time to consider an alternative.

NASA has had many notable successes. The ones that come quickly to mind are the moon landings (which was not without it's stumbles along the way), the Voyager 1 and 2 missions, and the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity. Spirit finally gave up the ghost some time ago, but Opportunity continues chugging along several years past it's 90-day expiration date. So, the question is, does NASA have meetings to discuss what they did right on those missions?

I've had the good fortune to be part of few very successful major projects. None of them had a “success postmortem” to figure out why they did so well. Oh, there's often a wrapup meeting with goodies to eat and much patting on the back, but no one asks, “How come you guys got this done on time and on budget when so many IT projects fall on their face?”

Now you might say the answers to the question are obvious. The project has sufficient resources, well-defined requirements which didn't constantly change, and it was given the appropriate priority by the managers. In addition, the schedule was well-defined, any variations from the schedule were addressed quickly, and any problems that came up were also addressed quickly. Obvious stuff.

Well, if it's that obvious, why is it that the same organizations where the successes happened had projects that were dismal failures? Because one or more of the elements of success were ignored. And why was that? Because managers didn't pay attention to what those elements were.

Now, I can guarantee that some or all of the success factors came up during the postmortem, but they were brought up as failure factors and given alibis. Someone brought up the constant changes to requirements, but someone else excused these as needed. The real problem, of course, is that the project wasn't defined correctly to begin with. Someone brought up a lack of resources, but no one mentioned the real problem of a lack of commitment by managers to provide those resources or that the needs were underestimated at the start. Because of those problems the project went over budget, but the reasoning is that the budget wasn't big enough.

Now, if instead of focusing on the disasters, we would focus on successes, we would learn the factors for succeeding and make them the basis for future decisions in projects. So, we should have post-success meetings to drive these things home. Maybe if the factors that made things go right would be pounded into everyone's heads, there would be more successful projects. And, since going over success factors is quicker than slogging through all the reasons things flopped, those meetings would be shorter. Which would mean less time wasted in meetings.

A win-win situation if ever there was one.

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Good, the Bad, and the Disliked

In time we hate that which we often fear. ~ William Shakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra

Sports Illustrated did a little slideshow on the most disliked people in sports, and it makes for an interesting collection. Generally speaking, it breaks down into some standard categories (with examples provided):

Team owners: Donald Sterling, Clippers; Jerry Jones, Cowboys; James Dolan, Knicks and Rangers.
Heads of leagues/sports organizations: NBA, NHL, FIFA
Jerks: See owners above, and add Lane Kiffen, and Julie Herrman, AD at Rutgers.
Fallen Heroes: Alex Rodriguez, Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods
Major Successes: Sebastian Vettel, Tiger Woods (once upon a time), John Calipari (who could also fall into jerks), Bill Belichick, Nick Saban

Some of these are easy to understand. Team owners have a history of arrogance because, well, they're loaded, it's their money and their team. It's the taxpayers' stadium, but that's another story. At any rate, barring the occasional Art Rooney of Pittsburgh, nice guy owners are hard to find.

Heads of sports leagues are easy pickings. No matter what they do they make somebody unhappy. In some cases, it's the fans, sometimes it's the players. Seldom is it the team owners because that's how they keep their jobs.

Jerks? Well, that's self-explanatory, and, let's face it, they're everywhere.

It's the last two categories that intrigue me. These days, fallen heroes tend to be guys caught with the fingers in the drug cookie jar, although there are other causes. Generally, these are people that were once admired for their skills and success. When we find out that they have feet of clay (or steroids) we are monumentally disappointed. Alex Rodriguez was the great hope to go after Barry Bonds' home run record until it was found that he was imbibing. He didn't help matters by trying to avoid his suspension by trying to sue everyone in sight including the players union.

Lance Armstrong is a slightly different matter. He participated in a sport that is so dominated by performance enhancing drugs and blood doping that when his championships were taken away, they couldn't take a chance on giving them to runners-up because many of them had been caught doing the same things Armstrong did. Perhaps that's why we wanted to believe Armstrong's denials. He was a clean athlete in a sea of dopers. When he turned out to be just like the rest of them, it hurt. Still, I don't know if “dislike” is the term for these people. “Disappointed” or “let down” would seem more appropriate.

But it's the last group that fascinates me, especially Bill Belichick and Nick Saban. Now, neither of these guys has what I would call a charming personality. In fact, in Belichick's case it is doubtful whether he has any personality at all. But if we went by those who can't win Mr. or Ms. Congeniality contests, the list would have contained the likes of Bud Selig, Mack Brown, Urban Meyer, or Kimi Raikkonnen (the F1 racing king of no-personality). But, the thing about Belichick and Saban is not just that they've been successful; they've been dominators. And they're lousy interviews. Neither one cares for the stupid questions reporters ask over and over again; they're disciplinarians; and they know every trick in the book.

There was an attempt to crucify Belichick a while back over his taping of opposing teams signals. I've had my say on that, but the main point is that if you're going to do semaphore signals or hold up rebus cards, what do you expect? That the opposing team will turn around until you're done?

Saban has been criticized for signing more than the maximum number of players allowed, which means some of them are left out in the cold. True, I don't care for the practice, but he's hardly alone in doing this.

No, what people don't like is that these very no-nonsense characters keep winning, and they do it by running tight ships.

Lest you get the wrong idea, I don't mind seeing these guys lose at times, usually when they're playing a team I prefer over New England or Alabama. But, I don't dislike them. Heck, I've never met either one. In person, they might be downright lovable. Probably not, but they could be.

No, when it comes to success, we are a strange bunch. We love to see someone come along and set the world on fire, but we don't like to face the fact that the person might have human failings. Or that he/she might continue setting their part of the world on fire until it gets downright dull. We are fickle.

Me, I prefer to reserve my dislikes for the jerks. It's easier and almost never involves disappointment because jerks are so consistent.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Sick of the NFL Draft

Anyone else other than me ready for this draft to be over??? I mean why doesn't the baseball draft get any hype?? ~ Tweet from Carmen Rupp, catcher in the Phillies organization

Why, yes, Mr. Rupp. I've been ready for them to stop talking about the NFL draft. I'm tired of hearing about Johnny Football. In fact, I have the TV muted right now so I don't have to listen to the rap mix extolling what a fantastic superhero he is. This bit of tripe is part of the filler between games of the SEC softball tournament, which is one heck of a lot more entertaining. The next game can't start soon enough.

In fact, I'm pretty sick of hearing about the guy because he's beginning to remind me of Ryan Leaf or any of the recent USC quarterback flops.

I'm sick of hearing about a South Carolina linebacker who looked liked like crap in his opening game last year, apparently because he hadn't bothered to get into shape. Basically, you have another defense that funnels plays to this guy, sort of like Notre Dame did for a certain linebacker that got humiliated in the BCS Championship game.

Or maybe he's more like Brian Bosworth whose NFL career pretty much went in the dumpster when Bo Jackson ran through him for a touchdown in Jackson's first NFL appearance.

I am sick of mock drafts which seem to contradict one another until the last day or two when suddenly they all agree.

I'm tired of opening up the sports section in the local paper only to see speculations about where this or that Alabama, Auburn, Troy, Alabama State, or whatever state school hotshot is going to be drafted.

While I'm on the subject of the NFL, I'm pretty fed up with owners who think they know more than the football people they hired to make picks.

I'm downright ill with teams that don't really bother to improve themselves because they've already turned a profit from TV money.

I didn't watch a single NFL game last year (Super Bowl included) because the NFL is a crashing bore. The draft is a sad attempt to use the popularity of college football to somehow show that the NFL will be more interesting this year.

Yeah, yeah, the ratings for NFL games are through the roof (I guess; I haven't checked, but the networks sure pay them enough). Take away gambling and the NFL would have a viewer rating lower than NASCAR.

I guess the draft is on tonight and tomorrow. It would be so nice if that was the end of it. Unfortunately, after the self-celebratory orgy that the draft presentation has become, Mr. Rupp and I will be assaulted by the post-draft analyses that will fill up the sports pages and sports web sites. Fortunately, I can skip those and just check on the baseball scores and follow the softball league and national championships.

In fact, one great thing about listening to softball is the fact that there's no real “next step.” Oh, there's a pro league, and there's international play, but for the vast majority of these players, this is it. So, we don't have to hear the announcers constantly talking about how these players will do on the “next level” as they do for football, basketball, and even baseball.

So, for those who must, go watch your NFL draft. I'll be watching actual sports.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Equal pay? Equal to whom?

The lady doth protest too much, methinks ~ William Shakespeare, Hamlet

Let's get something straight up front: Women, in general, get paid less than male counterparts. This is the way it's been for as long as I can remember, and, apparently, it hasn't gotten a lot better. Oh, I suppose that the gap isn't as large as it once was, say in the 1950's, but it's there and that's a bad thing.

That being said, Francine Katz, formerly a vice president at Anheuser-Busch, isn't going to garner any sympathy from me or much of anyone else any time soon.

Seems Ms. Katz is suing the beer boys because she found out that her predecessor, John E. Jacob, was making $4 million a year when he left the company while she only got a paltry $1 million when she moved into the position. Notice that she is comparing her starting salary to his finishing salary. Mr. Jacob reached that salary in two years (1989 to 1991); Ms. Katz's finishing salary after 6 years on the job was $14 million.

Say what? That's over three times what the other guy made. The article points out that part of here compensation her last year was due to stock options, but surely Mr. Jacob also made use of any options he had when he left. And there's no mention of any annual bonuses she may have been pulling down during those six years.

Oh, and ironically enough, Mr. Jacob is an African American, a group that's been on the wrong side of the salary divide many times.

August Busch III testified that Mr. Jacob had impressive credentials that far outstripped those of Ms. Katz. Well, let's see. He was head of the National Urban League, is chairman emeritus of the Board of Trustees at Howard University, and has 19 honorary doctorates. He is well known for his work in civil rights. In other words, he's a heavy hitter.

Which, frankly, looks pretty damn good to me.

That's not to say Ms. Katz is not worthy of a vice president's salary. The question is was her salary in line with her qualifications and the responsibilities of the job. Apparently, the beer company lawyers are spending a lot of time describing the policies and procedures involved in determining her pay range and pointing out that Mr. Jacob's position involved more responsibilities.

Interestingly, there's no mention anywhere in the story that she felt underpaid compared to her current colleagues, which would be a much more telling argument. She did claim that she had to fly on separate flights from other executives and was excluded from “corporate golf tournaments and other functions.” The airplane business doesn't shock me. Many companies make it a policy that executives will not fly together to avoid all of them being taken out by a plane crash. As to the exclusion from corporate playtime, well, perhaps, just perhaps, she had indicated she wasn't interested. From experience, I know that all you only have to beg off once to be excluded forever.

Which never bothered me, but I wasn't making $14 million a year.

What's really wrong here is that there are people dedicated to fighting equal pay for equal work or, for that matter, just a decent working wage for everyone. When you get a complaint that looks like a naked greed play, these fine folks will be the first to use it as an excuse to say that the pay gaps don't really exist.

Ms. Katz is asking for $9.4 mil plus the good ol' punitive damages. If she wins, perhaps she'll take some of that dosh and go to work to strengthen laws regarding pay equity.

But I doubt it.


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A much needed alibi

It is impossible to discourage the real writers - they don't give a damn what you say, they're going to write. ~Sinclair Lewis

Like a lot of people, I have always wanted to be a writer. Like most of that “lot of people”, I have invented all manner of excuses why I haven't done so. Among them are the standard ones:
  • Too busy working

  • Need a better typewriter

  • Need a better computer

  • Too nice outside today
And so on.

Yes, these are truly lame reasons, but author Lynn Shepherd has come up with one that's hard to top: It's JK Rowling's fault.

For those of you living under a rock the last 10 years or so, Ms. Rowling wrote a rather popular series of novels involving a kid named Harry Potter. I've only read one of the books, for reasons I've explained before, but I can see why the books were so popular. Well, Ms. Rowling made her pile of dough (despite some fundamentalist parents deciding that witchcraft is so evil, the books should be banned), and finally announced that she was done with writing the series.

Now, Ms. Rowling has decided to start writing for adults and has recently published The Casual Vacancy . I have no idea if the book is any good or not, but Ms. Shepherd sees it as a threat to authors everywhere. "Rowling has no need of either the shelf space or the column inches, but other writers desperately do," she wrote. So, if I understand the logic, a successful author will drive other authors to ruin.

Does the worried author of “literary mysteries” set in 1800's England think people only read one book a year or something? Is she worried that online book sellers will not list her books because they only have so much space on their servers for listings? Or does she think Ms. Rowling's eloquent prose will make hers look bad by comparison, causing critics to denigrate her work, thereby causing readers to avoid her like the plague?

If that last was her thinking, Shakespeare would have emptied the bookstore shelves years ago.

Of course, the article goes on to say that other people think Ms. Shepherd has harvested a large crop of sour grapes. Ultimately, what can it matter to other authors if JK Rowling produces another best seller or a bomb? Maybe that's really what bothers Ms. Shepherd. If Ms. Rowling figuratively lays an egg with her latest, perhaps she feels that readers will be so turned off they'll stop reading altogether. Or maybe she should just keep quiet and work on her own books.

As to me, since my failure to produce the Great American Novel goes back a long way, I can't really blame JK Rowling. I'd have to lean on someone who's gone on even longer, like Stephen King. I mean this guy's been taking up shelf space at book stores back when book stores were where you went to buy books. Obviously, I couldn't complete with such a juggernaut of authorship.

It doesn't matter that I never gave a thought to what other authors were doing when I was making excuses to myself. It's the principle of the thing. Subconsciously I must have realized that my efforts were doomed from the start because of the writing monolith that is Stephen King. I never had a chance.

I wonder if Ms. Shepherd fears Stephen King? Probably not. After all, he couldn't keep JK Rowling off the shelves.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Slowdown

The superior man blames himself. The inferior man blames others. ~ Don Shula

The NCAA Rules Committee, or as they are also known, the Spoil Sports, have proposed a rule to slow down no-huddle offenses, mostly because of a few coaches who apparently can't deal with it. What they are proposing is that, exclusive of the last two minutes of a half, the offense must wait at least 10 seconds after the start of the 40 second clock to run a play. Supposedly this is to allow the defense to make substitutions because they want to avoid injury to the fragile defensive players.

Or maybe it's because big-name coaches like Nick Saban and Brett Bielema don't like the no-huddle, which neither of them uses.

What this is really about is coaches keeping their control of every element of the game on the field. If the offense snaps the ball too quickly, then the coach of the team on defense can't get his signals in to tell his defensive players where to stand, whom to cover, when to breath, and so on.

The irony is that no-huddle offensives are generally slower than molasses in January. They give the defense forever to look at their formation while the entire offensive team looks at the bench to get the play call from the coaches. If the defense adjusts, the offensive team looks to the sidelines again for the check-off play. No-huddle teams use as much of the clock as a team that huddles, and they give the defense longer to study the formation.

How slow is a no-huddle offense? According to the article, Air Force, which hasn't used a huddle in seven years ranked 104th in the BCS division in number of plays run per game. That's out of 119, which means darn near last.

The thing is that a few teams will occasionally run a true no-huddle “hurry-up” offense, which means they come running up to the ball and snap it quickly. This sort of thing used to be done only in the last two minutes of a half (hence the rule still allowing it in this case) to conserve time. Somewhere along the line, teams realized if you mixed in this sort of offense at other times during the game, they could get an advantage over the overly-complex defensive schemes that take forever to get organized.

Unfortunately, that didn't last long. The hurry-up requires that the offense run with minimal input from the sidelines. Coaches don't like that. Modern coaches have come to think that they are what they game is about, not the players. A lot of this is the fault of Paul Brown and Vince Lombardi, who were the first I can recall to shuttle players in on every play with play calls from the bench. Since they were successful, everyone started copying this, as coaches are wont to do.

At any rate, coaches like Saban seem to be terrified of a no-huddle offense so slow that it occasionally gets called for delay of game because they can't substitute players for their “situational” defenses unless the offense substitutes first.

Of course, Saban moans about potential injury to his fragile players for having to be out on the field for play after play (apparently, this doesn't occur to the offensive players on the field for play after play). He also feels that the offense somehow debases the game. “Is this what we want football to be?” he wails.

Funny thing, though. Way back in 1992, in Super Bowl XXVI, the Washington Redskins played the Buffalo Bills. The Bills had a no-huddle offense, and people wondered how the Redskins would fare without being able to substitute players on defense. Washington coach Joe Gibbs decided that, since the offense still had to get to the line of scrimmage, he had time while the ball was being spotted to send in players. After each play, defensive players were ready to rush in and take their positions while Buffalo was forming up. This had the added advantage of forcing their quarterback Jim Kelly to actually look to see what sort of defense was set up.

The Redskins won 37-24.

So, maybe if Saban would quit moaning and groaning about how his snowflakes are going to be hurt running two plays in a row and found ways to run in subs while the offense was staring at the bench getting the next play, he might just find he can confuse the offense rather than the other way around.

Funny thing about all this concern about injuries. Time was players actually played an entire game without getting subbed. Even today, offensive linemen generally play every offensive play. Why are Saban's defensive players so much more delicate?

Saban has won multiple national championships. He is the epitome of the successful coach. It's a little hard to understand why he feels he's at such a disadvantage. Unless, of course, it has to do with why he didn't play in this year's championship game. Seems he got beat by Auburn, which was running Gus Malzahn's no-huddle offense.

Nah, couldn't be.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Twits in government

The Lord's Prayer is 66 words, the Gettysburg Address is 286 words, there are 1,322 words in the Declaration of Independence, but government regulations on the sale of cabbage total 26,911 words. ~National Review

And yet, apparently governments think they can say important things in 140 characters.  

I used to live in northern Ohio, where we used to watch a lot of Canadian TV. On the whole, it seemed that our northern neighbors were a pretty sensible bunch, with the exception of Quebec always wanting to secede and become part of France. Well, it turns out that either we weren't all that observant or they kept their foibles a good secret.

What brought this to mind was an article that said that the Canadian Government had created a monstrously complicated system for creating tweets on Twitter. Now I freely admit that, being the Luddite that I am, I don't do Twitter, so I didn't even know that Canada had a Twitter feed. Evidently they do, and they seem to be having a very difficult time rolling out little 140-character gems on a regular basis. One bureaucrat (1) complained that the government was “imposing structure on a form of communication that inherently rejects structure.” The person went on to say that “We don't really know what we're supposed to be on Twitter.”

Frankly, Canada, if that's your biggest problem, you're in heaven.

Anyway, this got me to wondering the obvious, and sure enough, the US Government also has a Twitter feed. I don't how much bureaucracy it takes the US to figure out what to tweet, but they certainly manage to turn them out. It looks like a veritable fountain of what we used to call public service announcements back in the day, complete with links to helpful government publications that will surely put you to sleep.

But, hey, even Russia has a feed! Now if the Russians, who have as much bureaucracy as any country in the world can manage to crank out the occasional bon mot, surely the more laid-back Canadians should manage.

Actually, what I'm waiting for is for one of these government Twitter accounts to get hacked. It happens to news agencies all the time, and my experience with government employees and security would suggest that the person in charge of the Twitter feed could be had as easily. However (and, like most times, I could be wrong), despite the number of government web sites that have been hacked, I can't recall a government Twitter feed being had.

It could be that the lack of followers has something to do with it. The US site has 190,000 followers which is a pittance compared to the most entertainment celebrity. The Russians are even more pitiful, garnering a mere 23,800 regular readers. One would think that it would be mandatory for at least all Russian government employees to be followers. I guess things really have eased up since the fall of Communism.

At least President Obama has a following of 41 million, mostly, I presume, people waiting for him to put his foot in his mouth (a trait US Presidents all seem to have). By comparison, Russian oligarch -er-President Putin has a paltry 146,000 – and he's the guy who likes to get all the bare-chested photo opps.

Of course, the silly part is that it's unlikely that either one of these hotshots does his own tweets. Oh, President Obama might say, “Hey, let's toss off something clever for President's day” or some such, but I'd like to think he's got better things to do than stare at his cell phone all day. Unfortunately, he has admitted to being addicted to the stupid thing, so anything is possible.

I have frequently said I don't see the need to constantly be connected to the world. I seen even less reason to be hung up on Twitter, which has demonstrated itself to be a marvelous source of misinformation, stupid comments from celebrities, and general waste of time. Oh, occasionally, something will pop up in a feed that's an important news item, but if you're that hung up on knowing about every plane crash, political event, and misbehaving teen celebrity, just check CNN once an hour.

If the Canadians are smart, they'll realize the amount of time they're squandering on Today's Tweet and just drop the whole thing. If you check a search engine, you'll see that there are endless Twitter feeds from the country's various departments. If all these take the amount of time described in the article, the amount of taxpayer dollars to be saved by just shutting down the accounts could be astronomical.

Maybe Presidents Obama and Putin would take the hint, and find better uses for their time.

(1) Just to set the record straight, I just retired from being a bureaucrat for the City of Birmingham for around 11 years, so I'm not necessarily criticizing.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Would that it was a trend

We'd all like to vote for the best man, but he's never a candidate. ~Frank McKinney "Kin" Hubbard

David Waddell was a city councilman in a little town called Indian Trail, North Carolina. His fifteen megabytes of Internet fame is due to the fact that he decided to resign his position and did so by turning in a resignation letter in Klingon.

Dwell for a moment on just how stupid that is. If that isn't bad enough, Mr. Clever's resignation letter was written in bad Klingon. I mean, if you're going to do something juvenile, at least do it with correct grammar.

Mr. Waddell evidently decided to resign because he was “frustrated with what he saw as runaway development in the town as well as concerns with how requests for public information were being handled.” In other words, he didn't agree with what the mayor and council were doing, so, rather than do what he could within the system, he quit.

We have to assume that he was duly elected to council in Indian Trail, not appointed or carried to City Hall by a mob determined he should be forced to sit in city council meetings. So not only did he act like a childish dolt with his Klingon resignation, he spit in the eye of everyone who voted for him.

There is something about local government that seems to bring these sorts of people out of the woodwork. I've seen a lot of city councils and at one time or another, they have a member who is simply against everything unless it helps his/her district directly. And, in towns like my old home town and possibly Indian Trail which are small, councilmen are often elected at large, so they don't even have a district to make happy. That allows them to be against everything.

All these people generally do is extend meetings by making tiresome speeches or raising endless points of order (I can recall more than one that used to carry a copy of Roberts Rules of Order in his pocket). Fortunately, there's generally only one per council, so business carries on.

The funny thing is that these sorts of people often get re-elected. The primary reason is that they get stuff for the voters in their district; one would think at-large elected-officials would have a tougher time staying in office without doing something useful. The problem is that people tend to vote for incumbents which saves them the trouble of thinking. It's also a case of the devil-you-know versus the devil-you-don't-know.

There is a flip side to this incident in that, luckily for Indian Trail, Mr. Waddell is resigning so they're not being penalized for their mistake. They don't have to wait for another election to correct their lapse in judgment, and he won't be in the list of incumbents. He'll actually be gone.

Now, you may not have noticed, but the U.S. Congress has become essentially useless. It has a lower approval rating than used-car salesmen. One reason would appear to be that Congress is chock-full of Waddells who are against everything and refusing to work with others to come up with solutions. Aren't these people frustrated? They're not getting their way, just like Mr. Waddell didn't get his. Wouldn't they prefer to just sit on the sidelines and complain, like Mr. Waddell wants to do in the future? I'm sure we can all think of Representatives and Senators, Republicans and Democrats, who would improve Congress just be resigning (at least a half dozen come to mind immediately; given some time, I'm sure I could do better). So obstructionist legislators, we hope you will come to realize the wisdom of David Waddell and will follow his -um- courageous lead and quit.

Heck, I'm sure there's plenty of folks who'll help you with the Klingon translation for your resignation letter.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Under the influence of burgers

People seem to get nostalgic about a lot of things they weren't so crazy about the first time around. ~Author Unknown

Someone over at Time Magazine, having nothing better to do, has compiled a list of the 17 most influential burgers of all time. Most have been a terribly slow week for news. At any rate, I bit on it and clicked the link to see a list consisting mostly of burgers I had never heard of. Of the ones I knew, I had a tough time deciding what made most of them “influential.”

Now, I don't pretend to be a hamburger gourmet, nor am I an expert on the gastronomic history of ground beef (or whatever) on a bun. But I have eaten a lot of hamburgers over the last 60 years or so, so I think I have the right to flip a comment out there. And, even if I don't, it's my blog and I can do what I want within the bounds of not screaming “FIRE!” in a crowded theater.

The first one I recognized was the Varsity Burger. The Varsity is what was once an old-style drive-in in Atlanta, complete with girls on roller skates delivering your order. People rave about this place, especially those who haven't been there or haven't been there for a long time. Some years ago, I was in Atlanta with a three other guys attending one of the technology shows they used to have before everything moved to Vegas and New York City. As we were getting ready to head out, one guy insisted that we stop at the Varsity. Since he was our boss, we decided it was a wonderful idea.

What I got from this wonderful place was a cold burger served up by people so surly they made your average McDonald's worker seem like a solicitous concierge by comparison. Even the guy who insisted we go there had to admit it wasn't like the olden days. Maybe that's when they were “influential” because they sure aren't now.

The Quadruple Bypass Burger is a nightmare. To make your own, take about seven thick burgers, cover each with cheese and bacon, and slather on every unhealthy condiment you can think of. It's ridiculous and hardly can be considered to have influenced anyone in the burger biz. Oh, I'm sure that some of the other outlandish murderous burgers that have come along since were inspired by this mess, but really now, can anyone consider this a “hamburger.”

Finally, we get to one that actually has some chops: The Burger King Whopper. While it's not what it once was, it definitely got a lot of burger places to realize that a “cheese burger all the way” was a pale shadow compared to a Whopper with cheese. I could be wrong, but I thing Hardee's and McDonald's had to come up with offerings to match these guys. But, they couldn't match the “make it my way” approach Burger King had.

Number 2 on the list was the McDonald's burger. We're not talking about the Big Mac here. We're talking about that mass-produced soggy little pathetic burger, whose greatest claim to fame was to cost 15 cents for a long time. This was at a time when a decent burger could be had at a drug store counter (yes, drug stores used to have soda fountains and grills) for 25 cents. But McDonald's also served up cheap shakes and drinks and pretty decent fries. Most of those drug stores had mediocre fries if they had any at all.

McDonald's really kickstarted the whole fast food thing because another problem with the drug store is they made the stuff to order, so you had to wait a few minutes. The reward was that you got a nice hot-off-the-grill burger. At McDonald's, you got (and still get, I imagine) a recently-removed-from-the-heat-lamp burger that is cooling rapidly. But, you got it quick. Also, McDonald's was a hang-out. Drug stores didn't like people loitering around. At McDonald's, you could get a bag of food and sit out in the car and eat. This was particularly nice for families with small kids (although not so nice for the upholstery).

Number 1 is the White Castle Slider, or as we called it, the bun-burger. For those of you who may not know, the slider is a teeny burger on a glorified brown-and-serve roll. Generally, you bought them by the dozen. It took at least three just to begin to fill you up. Down here, the slider lives on at Krystal's and it's just as miserable as the White Castle variety. I think what the slider influenced most was to get people to go to McDonald's to get something that at least looked like a real burger.

What I find amazing is that they don't have what I think is the most influential burger of all time: The Big Boy. Long before McDonald's and Burger King, Big Boy brought the original two all-beef patties, cheese, condiments, and an extra slice of bun. But it was great. In our neck of the woods back when in Ohio, the chain was Manners Big Boy and they were always packed with customers. Big Mac was basically a rip-off of the Big Boy (and was really what got McDonald's on the burger map).

Ironically, it was the Big Boy that convinced me as a kid that cheese was pretty good. When I was around five or so, I had no use for cheese. I thought it smelled bad and tasted worse. My folks ran a tavern, which in that bygone era was the sort of place where you could sit a bar and get sloshed or sit at a table and have dinner with the wife and kiddies (and then get sloshed at the bar). At any rate, we went out one night and stopped at a Big Boy and I had one, not knowing what was on it. I thought it was the best thing I had ever eaten on a bun.

A week or so later, I'm sitting in the kitchen where my mother was cooking up orders when she asked me if I wanted a cheeseburger. I immediately turned up my nose and reminded her that I hated cheese. She pulled out the trump card. She said, “You know, there was cheese on that Big Boy you had.” I couldn't believe it! Cheese on something that good? Well, fry me up one of those cheeseburgers already! I was thoroughly hooked and have remained a cheeseburger fanatic ever since.

By the way, if you're ever in the Southeast and want a good burger, there's a secret place to get a great one: Sneaky Pete's. Oh, sure, they're best known for hot dogs, and, according to my wife, they're pretty good. But, a Sneaky Pete burger with cheese all the way is a bun-covered bit of heaven. And if you ever stop in at the one in Birmingham across the street from City Hall's parking garage, tell Verlonda and Cindy that John says, “Hi!”

They'll know who you're talking about.