Archive for the ‘ideas’ Category

on-demand, secure, distributed storage – one step closer

In follow-up to a post from 2013, and earlier this year, I’ve been working on a pointy-clicky deployable MooseFS+ownCloud atop encrypted file systems environment you can rent/buy as a service from my company.

I’ve also – potentially – kicked-off a new project from Bitnami to add MooseFS to their apps list.

primary elections should happen at the same time across the country

In Kentucky, this past Tuesday was Primary Day. The day every registered voter, in the appropriate party, could go to the polls and say who we want to run to represent our party in the General Election.

While political parties, as such, need to be abolished, and voting is borked, that every state holds its Primary on a different day is wildly unhelpful.

Because they are not on the same day, you often are presented with candidates who are neither your first nor second, or perhaps even your third choice.

Since the General Election is fixed nationally to happen on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, state-by-state Primary Election days should also be fixed to happen simultaneously across the country.

a simple restructuring of elections

In close follow-up with my desire to see political parties abolished, we also need to rethink how voting is done.

In the United States, you can only vote for a single candidate for most positions (town councils are an exception).

You do not have the opportunity to say anything more than a binary yes|no to a given person for a given office.

You can vote for Bob for mayor. But not voting for Mary, Quentin, and Zoe doesn’t really say anything about what you think of them – just that you liked Bob the best.

And there is the problem. There is an explicit elimination of relative preference when voting: all you can do is vote “yes” for a candidate.

That is very different from voting “no” against a candidate.

What should happen instead is you should vote for your favorite candidates in order of preference, so Bob is number 1, Zoe number 2, Quentin number 3, and Mary number 4.

Then when I vote, and rank them Mary 1, Zoe 2, Quentin 3, and Bob 4, we can get a picture of the relative preference of any given candidate running for the office.

Do this across all voters in a given election, and assign the winner to the person with the lowest score (in the numbering shown above – flip the values to assign the winner to the person with the highest score).

Perhaps even look at the top 3 or 4 after gestalt ranking, then vote again to determine the winner (this would be ideal for a Primary-then-General Election method).

What research shows is that while you and I may wildly disagree on “best” and “worst”, we’ll probably be pretty close on who we think is “good enough”.

In the Bob-Mary-Quentin-Zoe example with two voters, Mary & Bob both got 5 points. Quentin received 6, but Zoe earned 4.

The two voters, therefore, think Zoe is “good enough”, even though they part ways on “best” and “worst” (Bob & Mary).

Combine such a ranking system with a fully-open Primary election (ie you go rank every candidate regardless of “party”), and we would see much more representative-of-the-citizenry candidates appear at final Election.

political parties should be abolished

John Adams and George Washington, among many others, both warned of the dangers of political parties.

There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution. –John Adams

And from George Washington:

The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty

Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind, (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight,) the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.

It serves always to distract the Public Councils, and enfeeble the Public Administration. It agitates the Community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which find a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.

There is an opinion, that parties in free countries are useful checks upon the administration of the Government, and serve to keep alive the spirit of Liberty. This within certain limits is probably true; and in Governments of a Monarchical cast, Patriotism may look with indulgence, if not with favor, upon the spirit of party. But in those of the popular character, in Governments purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged. From their natural tendency, it is certain there will always be enough of that spirit for every salutary purpose. And, there being constant danger of excess, the effort ought to be, by force of public opinion, to mitigate and assuage it. A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.

And yet for the last 200+ years, not only have we had a party-based system, but even with the American public supposedly interested in viable third parties, of which there are myriad, none have come close to appearing in a major election since 1968, when George Wallace won 46 electoral votes, and just shy of 10,000,000 popular votes (Nixon and Humphrey won 301 & 191 electoral votes respectively, and 31.7m & 30.9m popular votes respectively). The major parties have enacted all kinds of de factorules” to prevent competition.

That’s nearly 50 years since a third-party candidate won a state in a Presidential election.

No wonder candidates declare to enter races affiliated with the Big 2 instead of whom they actually feel more closely aligned with.

“Politics exists as soon as two people are in the same room,” was cleverly told to me by a former colleague at a highly-politicized company. And it’s true. As soon as you have two people together, disagreement arises. Priorities are different. Interests are different. Parties can help group together folks with more-or-less similar ideas, but they tend to either be so tightly- or loosely-defined that affiliating with the “party” either makes you look like a kook, or says nothing at all about you.

We all know there are no perfect candidates (though I’m awful darn close!) – and while aligning with a party might tell you something about the person, it often it says little at all.

So I propose to make “official” party affiliation a thing of the past. Remove barriers to entry for candidates. Remove party affiliations when registering to vote.

After all, we’re all just citizens. We shouldn’t be judged by party affiliation.

vision for lexington

Over the past 5 years, I have witnessed some of the growth Lexington KY has started to undergo. From a population in the city proper of about 260,000 in 2000 to 295,000 in 2010 to an estimated 315,000 in 2015,

While there seems to be something of a plan/vision for the downtown area, the majority of Lexington (and its urban area) seems to be more-or-less ignored from an infrastructural perspective (the last update was in 2009, and only for a small part of Lexington).

Public Transit

The public transit system, as hard as I am sure Lextran employees work, is underutilized, poorly routed, and has no means of connecting into it form out of Lexington (full route map (PDF)).

In comparison to where I grew up, the Capital District of New York, the public transit system is both too inwardly-focused, and too poorly-promoted to be useful more most Lexingtonians. CDTA, for example, has connectors to other cities and towns other than just Albany. You can start where I grew up in Cohoes (about 10 miles north of Albany), and get more-or-less anywhere in the greater Capital District by bus. It might take a while, but you can get there (or get close). There are also several Park’n’Ride locations for commuters to take advantage of.

Lextran doesn’t offer anything to connect to Nicholasville, Versailles, or Georgetown. With workers commuting-in from those locales (and more – some come from Richmond or Frankfort (or go in the opposite direction)), one would think urban planners would want to offer alleviations of traffic congestion. But there is nothing visible along those lines.

Lost Neighborhoods

There are large chunks of Lexington where the houses are crumbling, crime rates are higher than the rest of the city, and the citizens living there are being [almost] actively avoided and/or neglected by the city.

Some limited business development has gone into these neighborhoods (like West 6th Brewing), but as a whole they are becoming places “to be avoided”, rather than places where anyone is taking time and effort to improve, promote, and generally line-up with the rest of the city.

Yes, everywhere has regions that folks try to avoid, but the lost and dying neighborhoods in Lexington are saddening.

Walking

Lexington is – in places – a walkable city, but for most of the residential areas, it was/is up to the developers of the subdivisions as to whether or not there are sidewalks. And if they weren’t put in then, getting them done now is like pulling teeth.

Being able to walk to many/most places (or types of places) you might want to go is one of the major hallmarks of a city. One that is only exhibited in pockets in Lexington.

It should even be a hallmark of shopping areas – but look at Hamburg Pavillion. A shopping, housing, and services mini town (apartments, condos, houses, banking, education, restaurants, clothes, etc), Hamburg is one of the regional Meccas for folks who want to do major shopping trips or eat at nice restaurants. The map (PDF), however (which only shows part of the Hamburg complex) demonstrates that while pockets of the center are walkable, getting from one shopping/eating/entertainment pod to another requires walking across large parking lots – impractical if shopping with children, or when carrying more than a couple bags.

Crosswalks and lighted crossings on major roads, in some cases, leave mere seconds to spare before the light changes – if you’re moving at a crisp clip. Add a stroller, collapsible shopping cart, or heavy book bag, and several crossings become “safe” only if drivers see you are already crossing and wait for you. Stories like of pedestrians being hit, like this one, are far too common to read in local news media.

Employment

There is no lack of employment opportunities in the Lexington area – there are 15 major employers in Lexington, hundreds of small-to-medium businesses running the gamut of offerings from auto dealers to lawn care, IT to healthcare, equine products, home construction, etc; and hundreds of national chains (retail, restaurants, services, etc) are here, too.

Finding said employment can be difficult, though. There are some services like In2Lex which send newsletters with employment opportunities – but if you don’t know about them, finding work in the area isn’t as easy as one would think a Chamber of Commerce would want. Yes, employers need to advertise their openings, but even finding lists of companies in the area is difficult.

Connectivity to Other Areas

Direct flights into and out of Lexington Bluegrass Airport reach 15 major metro areas across half the country.

Interstates 75 and 64 cross just outside city limits.

The Underlying Problem

The major problem Lexington seems to have is that it doesn’t know it’s become a decent-sized metropolitan area. There are about 500,000 people in MSA, or about 12% the population of the whole state. It’s a little under half the size of the Louisville MSA (which includes a couple counties in Indiana). There are 8 colleges/universities in Lexington alone (PDF), and 15 under an hour from downtown.

To paraphrase Reno NV’s slogan, Lexington is the biggest little town in Kentucky. The last major infrastructural improvement done was Man O’ War Boulevard, completed in 1988 – more than a quarter century past. There were improvements done to New Circle Road in the 1990s, but that ended over 15 years ago. Lexington proper was 30% smaller in 1990 than it is now (225,000 vs 315,000).

Lexington’s 65+ year-old Urban Service Area, while great to maintain the old character of the city and region, hasn’t been reviewed since 1997. A few related changes have been added since, but the last of those was in 2001.

One and a half decades since major infrastructural improvements. Activities like the much-delayed Centre Point (which I agree doesn’t need to be done in the manner originally planned), the begun Summit, and other development projects may, eventually, be good for business and the city as a whole, but there has been little-to-no consideration for what will happen with traffic. Traffic problems and general accessibility is one of the core responsibilities of local government.

The double diamond interchange installed a couple years back on Harrodsburg Rd was a good improvement to that intersection. But it was only good for that intersection. It alleviated some traffic concerns, crashes, and complications, but only on one road.

Lexington needs leadership that sees where the city not only was 10, 25, 50 years ago, but where it is now and where it wants to be in another 10, 20, 50 years.

My Vision

My vision for Lexington, infrastructurally, includes interchange improvements / rebuilds for more New Circle Road exits. Exit 7, Leestown Road, grants access to Coke, FedEx, Masterson Station, the VA hospital, a BCTC campus, and more. Big Ass Fans is between exit 8 from New Circle and  exit 118 of I-75. Exit 9 from New Circle more-or-less exists to provide Lexmark with a way for their employees to arrive. The major employers in the area are great for economic stability. But with traffic congestion, getting into and out of them needs to be as smooth as possible.

West Sixth Brewery and Transylvania University are two of the highlights in an otherwise-aging, -dying, and -lost area of the city. There needs to be a public commitment on the part of both the city and the citizenry to not allow the city to become segregated. Not segregated based on skin tone, but on economic status.

Bryan Station High School has a reputation, deservedly or not, of being one of the worst high schools in the region, because of the dying/lost status of the parts of town it draws from. You can buy a 2 bedroom, 1 bath, 1300 square foot house for under $20,000 near Bryan Station. It needs a little bit of work, but what does that say about the neighborhood?

The leadership of Lexington seems to be ignoring parts of the city that are going downhill, preferring instead to focus on regions that are going up. Ignoring dying parts of the city from an infrastructural perspective isn’t going to make them any better – they will only drag more of the city down with them. As a citizen and a homeowner, I want to see my city do well.

I do not like paying taxes any more than anyone else, but I do like seeing the city taking initiative and working to both heal itself and take steps towards attracting future generations, businesses, and more that we don’t even know are coming.

Lexington has great promise – it is growing, expanding, and burgeoning. But if its leadership – political, business, and citizenry – doesn’t take the time, effort, and money to ensure it’s prepared for this growth, it will become a morass to traverse, live in, and do business with.


Some more interesting regional data (PDF)

steam by andrea sutcliffe

Andrea Sutcliffe’s book Steam: The Untold Story of American’s First Great Invention was a pure joy to read. Being the second review I’m writing with my “new” system, I hope you find this book as interesting as I have.

In 1784, James Rumsey designed a boat that could, by purely mechanical means, move its way upstream. What he devised was truly brilliant: imagine a catamaran or pontoon boat with a platform across the two hulls. Anchored to the platform is a waterwheel. The waterwheel dips into the river, and is connected via a linkage to poles that push the boat against the current like a Venetian Gondola.

Why did he develop such a device? Because at the time, shipping by barge etc was incredibly simple downstream – you load-up the barge, give it a small crew, and float downriver. But because there was no way of mechanically returning the vessel upstream (without using sail power, which can be fickle to use, and uses a lot of otherwise-usable cargo area). So barges and shipping vessels tended to be crudely made so they would only ever go downstream – at their destination they’d be turned into building materials. And the crews would have to return on foot. To put this in perspective, it took about 4 weeks to float a barge from Pittsburg down the Ohio to the Mississippi to New Orleans. And it took about 6 months to get home.

Enter the need for reliable mechanical ship propulsion.

Beginning in his teens as a surveyor for the 6th Lord Fairfax, George Washington became enamored with the idea of inland navigation – that is, using streams, canals, rivers, and lakes to transport people and goods instead of the ocean. During his tenure as a surveyor, then an engineer, then a general, he never lost sight of what he viewed as the budding nation’s biggest hurdle to westward expansion – the overwhelmingly high cost of transporting goods from east to west, and vice versa. Along the coast, transport was simple and cheap. But to go far inland made prices exorbitantly high for both consumers and shippers – which made markets hard to tap.

The initial days of the steam wars are proof that ideas are worthless. Stationary steam engines, like those made by Boulton & Watt were too heavy and inefficient to possibly consider putting on a boat – at any scale. So while the idea of steam-powered travel had been running around folks’ minds for 20+ years by the time Rumsey built his simple mechanical boat, there was no way to practically use it.

What was needed were major improvements on steam engine design and implementation before wider applications for their power could be found. This is where the steamboat wars start to become exciting. Independently, Rumsey and a man named John Fitch (with his business partner) developed the pipe boiler which reduced the amount of water needed for operating an engine for the same power output, increased fuel efficiency, cut heating time, and lightened the engine itself. Traditional steam engines used a pot boiler – effectively a massive tank of water that would be heated in gestalt. As anyone who has ever timed how long it takes to start boiling water in a tea kettle vs a stock pot knows, water is very difficult to heat, and lots of energy is needed to move it even a couple degrees.

The fact is, that one new idea leads to another, that to a third, and so on through a course of time until someone, with whom none of these ideas was original, combines all together, and produces what is justly called a new invention. –Thomas Jefferson

Fascinatingly, Thomas Jefferson was against the idea of patents and copyright law, and likely would have campaigned heavily against it in the Constitutional process had he not been Minister to France. From a letter he wrote years after serving on the first Patent Commission Board:

He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature… Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property. Society may give an exclusive right to the profits arising form them, as an encouragement to men to pursue ideas which may produce utility, but this may or may not be done, according to the will and convenience of the society.

Contrast this to the efforts of both Fitch and Rumsey who lobbied for patent boards of some kind (at both the state and federal levels) between the end of the Revolutionary War and the ratification of the Unites States Constitution.

Sutcliffe’s account of the first “steamboat wars” shows that intellectual property litigation is an expensive, time-consuming, and distracting effort – whose end may or may not have any value.

Progress is an illusion, it happens, but it is slow and invariably disappointing. –George Orwell

Thornton’s condenser is undoubtedly one of the best calculated to condense without a jet of water, but I conceive the difficulty of getting rid of the air insurmountable .. when [the air] is drove back again by the steam to the cold condenser, it becomes nearly equal to common air in density, and skulks into the bottom of the condenser for security. –John Fitch (describing a new condenser design in 1790)

Based upon the extensive research Ms Sutcliffe has done into the early history and designs of steam engines and their associated mechanical conveyances, an old idea of mine has newly gained plausible validity: that of a steam-powered tank. Back in high school I postulated that both the power-to-weight and power-to-size ratio of steam engines had advanced sufficiently by the late 1850s that, in conjunction with a primitive form of caterpillar track design (which Fitch would have called an “endless chain of feet” (vs an early idea of his to use an “endless chain of paddles”)), that the first fully-mechanized war machines could have been built and sent into battle not in WWI, as the first tanks actually were, but instead during the Civil War – 50 years sooner. Leonardo Da Vinci has designed a human-powered armored car in the late 15th century. Replacing man power with steam power could have been a logical thing to have done – but no one ever did.

In the availability of men willing to persevere with a possibly “ridiculous” idea, America had an advantage. –Frank D Pager on the early successes of the Industrial Revolution in America.

Fitch and Rumsey took their war to the people in a series of “pamphlets” published over the course of many months. From Sutcliffe’s description of a “pamphlet” in this context, it seems they were the late 18th century version of a sourced blog or op-ed. Ranging from 20 to 50 (or more) pages in length, with affidavits, letters, and histories presented, the pamphlet was the common man’s research or position paper. I suppose they may have been used by others, too – but the context given in Steam shows them used as marketing and propaganda pieces.

He that studies and writes on the improvements of the arts and sciences labours to benefit generations unborn, for it is impossible that his contemporaries will pay any attention to him. –Oliver Evans

It’s the same each time with progress. First they ignore you, then they say you’re mad, then dangerous, then there’s a pause and then you can’t find anyone who disagrees with you. –Tony Benn (British Labour politician)

Seems that’s where Ghandi may have gotten the inspiration for this famous quotation:

First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.

Or perhaps it was Benn who was inspired by Ghandi. Or maybe they just realized the same thing independently.

columnar “email”

There needs to be a better way of handling group conversations. IRC uses the constant scroll mentality. Email has reply-at-top, reply-at-bottom, and reply-inline.

Forums, reddit, Google+, Facebook, Twitter, and the like have a scroll-like view – every new post is merely sequentially listed after the last.

This can all lead to highly confusing digital conversations.

Somebody should make a parallel (maybe columnar) discussion/chat/email system where every participant can get their own space to reply, they can reply to specific things from different people, and everything can be viewed in an identified manner. Similar to how Track Changes works in Microsoft Word.

Surely it should be That Difficult™ to do this, should it?

fix ibm – hire me as your ceo

Robert Cringely has written myriad times on IBM. His most recent post was titled, “How to fix IBM”.

His solution is simple and easy: “Go back to customers being a corporate priority.”

But IBM, as it stands today, will never get there.

And all the “leadership” they’ve brought in over the years has only compounded their errors faster – they’ve never done anything to even try to fix them. Why? Because they keep bringing-in stodgy old-thinking people who have no concept about what customer service means.

Ginni Rometty, and the rest of the senior leadership at IBM, needs to go. Absolutely. But when IBM brings-in new leadership, it truly needs to be, well, “new”. You need the same kind of leadership sea change Jack Ryan championed in Tom Clancy’s Executive Orders – you don’t need career managers and “senior” leadership: you need people with ideas who are will to try something new. Who are willing to fail, but to fail fast. Who will learn from failure, and keep iterating until there’s something that works.

So, IBM, I have a simple solution for you: hire me as your CEO. Give me 36 months to fix your problems. If I haven’t, let me go back to whence I came. But when I have, Wall Street will love you, and you’ll be on track to stay relevant for the next hundred years. Or, at least the next 30 (since I’ll want to retire some day). I’ve got a team of people already in mind who can do more for you in 18 months than the entire executive team has done in the last 180.

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7 things employees wish they could tell their boss about salaries

LinkedIn had an interesting article Friday whose title I snagged for this blog post.

The 7 items are:

  1. We don’t care about pay scales
  2. Forget policies. We talk.
  3. We think about our pay a lot.
  4. We will sometimes let you take advantage.
  5. When we have to negotiate … we both lose.
  6. No matter how much we earn, it’s not enough.
  7. Still, reasonable pay is ok.

Several of the points resonated with me – especially in light of things I have written previously.

“If the company can’t afford to pay an employee more, smart bosses say so. If they think a certain percentage raise is fair, they explain why. Smart bosses use pay scales to build their budgets, and use reason and logic – and empathy – to explain pay decisions to employees.”

Can’t agree more: if you don’t treat your employees like rational, smart human beings, but rather like mere resources – you create and/or perpetuate a culture of dehumanization.

“Many companies actively discourage staff from talking to each other about their salaries. I know a few companies that require employees to sign agreements stipulating they won’t disclose pay, benefits, etc to other employees.

Doesn’t matter. Employees talk. I did, both when I was “labor” and when I was “management.” Generally speaking, the only employees who don’t share details about their pay are the ones who are embarrassed by how much or how little they make.”

Yes, yes, a million times yes! In my blog post “publicizing compensation – why not?“, I point-out that forcing people to not talk about their compensation makes folks more likely to try to find out, and can lead to discontent.

“Employees think about pay all the time. Every time they deposit their paychecks they think about their pay. To a boss their pay is a line item; to employees, pay is the most important number in their family’s budget.”

Funny thing is: managers get paid, too – but rarely think about that when it comes to their employees.

“Occasionally the job market is a seller’s market, but many new employees are just really happy to land a new job. And since business owners are born cost cutters, it’s natural to hire every new employee for as low a wage as possible.”

This is related to the next point …

“Great employees are worth a lot more than their pay. You get what you pay for, so smart bosses pay whatever they can to get and keep the best employees they can.

When smart bosses find great employees they always make their best offer, knowing that if their best offer is too low, there is nothing they could have done.”

If you want to be the best possible employer ever, you need to start with your best offer to candidates. If you start with anything less than your best, you’re implying that you don’t really value their time, expertise, or potential contributions to your organization. It has been said that “everything is negotiable” – but if you don’t start with your best offer, you’re telling your current/future employee they have to make you want them more. It may turn out that your “best offer” is $120,000 per year with 3 weeks of vacation. And maybe that employee really wants 4 weeks of vacation – and is willing to accept a somewhat lower salary for that perk. Start with your best, and then massage it into what is best for both of you.

“We all want more. It’s natural. Unfortunately no boss can always give more. And that’s okay.”

Wanting more is not inherently wrong (though wanting more for merely the sake of more is probably unhealthy) – and that’s why the last point in this article is so smart:

“People are smart. They understand market conditions, financial constraints, revenue shortfalls, and increased competition. They understand when a company can’t pay top-of-market salaries. What they don’t understand is when they don’t feel fairly compensated compared to other employees in similar positions, both inside and outside the company.”

“Fair is a concept that only exists in economic theories not based on effort.”* When you look at services like Glassdoor, you can quickly see that salary is only a single facet of employee compensation (and important one, and [generally] a large one, but only one). And it’s easy to get caught-up in the mindset of keeping up with the Joneses. While it is nice to have “more”, it’s important that honesty and transparency flow from management to employees as well as the other way around.


* publicizing compensation – why not?