Category Archives: ideas

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?

apps on the network

{This started as a Disqus reply to Eric’s post. Then I realized blog comments shouldn’t be longer than the original post 🙂 }

The app-on-network concept is fascinating: and one I think I’ve thought about previously, too.

Hypothetically, all “social networks” should have the same connections: yet there’s dozens upon dozens (I use at least 4 – probably more, but I don’t realize it). And some folks push the same content to all of them, while others (including, generally, myself) try to target our shares and such to specific locations (perhaps driving some items to multiple places with tools like IFTTT).

Google’s mistake with Google+ was thinking they needed to “beat” Facebook: that’s not going to happen. As Paul Graham notes:

“If you want to take on a problem as big as the ones I’ve discussed, don’t make a direct frontal attack on it. Don’t say, for example, that you’re going to replace email. If you do that you raise too many expectations…Maybe it’s a bad idea to have really big ambitions initially, because the bigger your ambition, the longer it’s going to take, and the further you project into the future, the more likely you’ll get it wrong…the way to use these big ideas is not to try to identify a precise point in the future and then ask yourself how to get from here to there, like the popular image of a visionary.”

That’s where folks who get called things like The Idea Guy™ go awry: instead of asking questions, you try to come up with ideas – like these 999. And if you can’t/don’t, you think you’ve failed.

Social networks should be places where our actual social interactions can be modeled effectively. Yet they turn into popularity contests. And bitch fests. And rant centers. Since they tend towards the asymmetric end of communication, they become fire-and-forget locales, or places where we feel the incessant need to be right. All the time. (Add services like Klout and Kred, and it gets even worse.)

I would love to see a universal, portable, open network like the one Eric describes. All the applications we think run on social networks (like Farmville) don’t. They run on top of another app which runs on “the network”.

Layers on layers leads to the age-old problem of too many standards, and crazy amounts of abstraction. Peeling-back the layers of the apps atop the network could instead give us the chance to have a singular network where types of connections could be tagged (work, fun, school, family, etc, etc – the aspect of G+ that everyone likes most: “circles”). Then the app takes you to the right subset of your network.

Of course – this all leads to a massive problem: security.

If there is only One True Social Network, we all end up entrusting everything we put there to be “safe”. And while some of still follow the old internet mantra, “if you wouldn’t put it on a billboard, don’t put it on a website,” the vast majority of people – seemingly especially those raised coincident to technology’s ubiquitization – think that if they put it somewhere “safe” (like Facebook), that it should be “private”.

After all, the One True Social Network would also be a social engineer’s or identity thief’s Holy Grail – the subversive access to all  of someone’s personal information would be their nirvana.

And that, I think, is the crux of the matter: regardless of what network (or, to use Eric’s terminology, what app-atop-the-network) we use, privacy, safety, and security are all forefront problems.

Solve THAT, and you solve everything.

Or maybe you just decide privacy/security doesn’t matter, and make it all public.

a public – or white-labelable – rfe service a la uservoice, but easier to use

I’ve seen some services that utilize uservoice to handle requests for features, functionality, etc.

And I have seen companies have formal Request For Enhancement / Enhancement Request / etc processes (generally culminating from support cases (hopefully from good ones)).

What I don’t see, though, is a way to either limit who can submit requests (uservoice, for example, allows anyone to register and submit ideas to different groups, so far as I can tell), or focus requestors into contributing / voting-for / etc previous RFEs (the way the SE family tries to prevent duplicate questions).

Corporate RFE systems tend to be completely blind from a requestor/submitter viewpoint to see whether something similar (or identical) has already been asked for.

The wide-open option uservoice provides has its own pitfalls: finding previously-asked items is hard (unless they’re already highly voted); getting a previously-refused request reconsidered is difficult (or impossible); the interface is less than desirable.

There needs to be a consistent RFE tool made and used so that filing RFEs for a VMware product becomes more-or-less identical to filing one for WebSphere, or Chef, or AutoZone, or Amazon, etc.

programming your home by mike riley

Mike Riley’s entry in The Pragmatic Programmers series, Programming Your Home – automating with Arduino, Android, and your computer – was a lot of fun.

While I am not really in a position to do many of the mini projects given in the book (wrong type of house plus we rent), reading some of the project ideas did give me some inspiration for other activities. One of those is a Buffer-like tool I’m now writing to queue tweets over-and-above what the free level of Buffer will allow (and on a different schedule from my Buffer-fed queue). In conjunction with python-twitter, cron, and simple email messages, I’ve got a system started to which I can email things I would like to be posted, and they will go out when the cron job runs.

The Arduino is an impressive embedded platform – one that has also rekindled another long-time interest I’ve had in robotics. Years back, I recall seeing Sally Struthers advertising for one of those learn-at-home groups, and one of the options was robotics. (By “years back”, I mean 20+ years ago – probably more like 25 years ago, at this point.) I used to own a copy of Robot Builder’s Bonanza – and read it cover-to-cover a couple times. I loved watching Battlebots on TV. I’ve always wanted to buy/use LEGO Mindstorms.

Using robots to automate daily activities (and, of course, for fun) has been a fascination since I first saw Lost In Space and myriad other scifi shows and movies.

Riley does a great job of not demanding you be an expert programmer (or even a programmer at all) with the fully-implemented code examples in the book. He also does a good job of indicating what you’ll likely have to tweak on your own – and what you can probably just leave alone in the examples. Add to this the “extra credit challenges”, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in home automation, embedded development, robotics, or just general programming/scripting.

There are some other interesting Python snippets throughout the book – that don’t have to be used in the context of an Arduino (like using Google’s SMTP server (via authentication)).