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Archive for November, 2009

STUFFING

Posted by Tim Bryce on November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, probably because it has less to do with the marketing madness of Christmas, and more to do with family. Turkey Day has always been a big event in our household. We would get the kids up early to watch the parade on television, prepare the meal, feast, then close our eyes while watching football. In the last few years, we’ve started to invite friends over to the house at noon, which we call “halftime” before the big meals start, at which time we serve up Bloody Marys and cook up deep-fried turkeys for anyone interested (a southern specialty).

As a kid, I loved the white meat of the turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, and turned my nose up at just about everything else, such as cranberries, string-bean casseroles, pearl onions, beets, sweet potatoes, Brussel sprouts, even stuffing. Now, of course, I’m a sucker for these delicacies, but to me, I’ve found the real trademark of the Thanksgiving dinner is not the bird but the stuffing instead, something that is unique to each family. In fact, unless it comes from a box, I believe no two families fix stuffing exactly the same, there is always some nuance that differentiates it from family to family.

Some people prefer a corn bread type of stuffing, others like stale day-old white bread or sourdough, some like to add oysters or perhaps sausage, ground beef, even venison. There is also wild rice, apples, raisins, cranberries, etc. I understand there is also an excellent recipe involving White Castle hamburgers I would like to try some day. The list is practically endless and is only limited by your imagination.

Despite the many combinations available to us, when it comes to stuffing, we suddenly become pretty picky about what we eat and loyal to the peculiarities of family recipes. Even the slightest suggestion of changing the stuffing recipe is strongly rebuffed by family members. You would think you were preaching heresy. If you really want to try a different stuffing, you have to either go over to a friend’s house, or cook a turkey some other time and away from prying eyes. The only other food item I can think of that commands such loyalty and devotion is the family’s Chili recipe, but that will be the subject of another article.

Yes, we should be giving thanks during Thanksgiving. Thanks for having the family and friends together, and for a bounty of food to share and enjoy. Thanksgiving is definitely a personal thing which is why it is endearing to me.

But I still hate those damn cranberries.

Such is my Pet Peeve of the Week.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim’s columns, see:
http://www.phmainstreet.com/timbryce.htm

Tune into Tim’s new podcast, “The Voice of Palm Harbor,” at:

http://www.phmainstreet.com/voiceph.htm

Copyright © 2009 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

Posted in Family, Food | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

COMPUTER PRINTERS

Posted by Tim Bryce on November 23, 2009

In my 30+ years in the systems industry, I have seen a lot of computer printers; everything from high speed line printers that print 132 characters per line to the early laser printers and plotters, to today’s consumer dot-matrix printers. I even have some of the original print wheels from the first high speed printer for the UNIVAC I. They’re over 50 years old and I’m sure they’re worth something, but I digress.

What bugs me though are today’s consumer printers which can be unusually inexpensive, so much so, the ink cartridges for them are almost as expensive as the whole printer, which turns the printers into disposable commodities. It’s no small wonder that our garbage dumps are filling up with printers as people change printers more frequently than years ago. This implies the real money is not in the printers themselves, but in the ink cartridges which bears a hefty price tag for replacements, be it new or recycled, which, to me, seems odd as ink should be relatively cheap. Then again, I suspect the manufacturers of such products probably have a better grasp of marketing than I do. As a consumer though, I object to paying $25 – $35 for a lousy little black ink cartridge which lasts no more than a month, and much more for color.

I generally don’t have much of a problem installing printers, then again, I have a bit more experience than most people. To the novice consumer though, installing a printer can be a very traumatic experience, primarily because the software is designed by programmer geeks who haven’t got a clue what “user friendly” means. Some of the common mistakes I’ve seen include:

  • Installing a cartridge without first removing the tiny plastic strip under it.
  • Trying to insert the cartridge backwards or upside-down.
  • Inserting the black cartridge into the color cartridge position, and vice versa.
  • Plugging the printer cables into the wrong sockets.
  • For Wi-Fi printers, trying to get them to communicate with your network. Better yet, if something crashes, reestablishing the connection can be a painful experience, even for me.
  • My personal favorite though is fighting with the printer to get the cartridges to reveal themselves in order to change them. You know, watching the cartridges as they zip from side-to-side in the printer thereby keeping them out of the person’s reach, kind of like a game of Tag.

Then there are the printers that talk to you, such as “Printing started” and “Printing complete.” Then it begins to get insolent with you when something goes awry, “Please fill paper in the auto sheet feeder” or “Your ink is low, time to replace the cartridge.” These statements are all based on small sound bites that are assembled and broadcast as required. Interestingly, one of my computers suffered a crash which distorted the sequence of the sound bites. Now I get things like, “Problem started” and “Please fill your ink in the auto sheet feeder and replace the cartridge with paper.” Frankly, if I’m going to be insulted in this manner, they could at least do it with a sexy voice.

The geeks may think this is funny. The rest of us do not.

Such is my Pet Peeve of the Week.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim’s columns, see:
http://www.phmainstreet.com/timbryce.htm

Tune into Tim’s new podcast, “The Voice of Palm Harbor,” at:

http://www.phmainstreet.com/voiceph.htm

Copyright © 2009 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

Posted in Computers | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

HOW ARE YOU (REALLY)?

Posted by Tim Bryce on November 20, 2009

“How are you?” is a greeting we’ve been using for a long time and has spawned several mutations, such as the famous, “How ya doin?” The response is usually something like, “Fine, thank you.” Over the years though, we’ve changed our response to indicate elation, such as “Great!”, “Fabulous!”, “Super!”, “Wonderful!”, etc., or to denote depression, such as “Lousy,” “Horrible,” or “I could kill someone!”

You can learn a lot about someone simply by how they answer the question and govern yourself accordingly. I used to hear a lot of people say things were “Terrific” or other such positive exclamations, but I haven’t heard it in awhile. Instead, I tend to hear more negative responses which I interpret as a sign of the times.

I used to know a guy who thought everything was “Super!” and appeared to be very upbeat. Time and again, you can count on him saying everything was “Super!” He was quite a salesman. He moved out of our area years ago and I understand he did quite well for himself in land development. Then the recession came along which clobbered his company into bankruptcy. This snowballed into losing his house, his family, everything. Last I heard, he was sitting in jail somewhere. All his bravado had come crashing down on him. He may have been a positive type of guy, but he didn’t know how to manage his business and overextended himself.

Shortly after learning of this story, I bumped into another friend and when I asked how she was, she looked directly at me and replied, “I’m okay.” Simple, yet sincere. I smiled as I knew it was more of an honest appraisal of her condition than the other guy who said everything was unquestioningly “Super!”

Some people might think the response, “Okay,” as a mediocre answer, if not rather negative. I tend to see it more as a sign of candor and honesty. I would much rather hear a person say they are “Okay” rather than “Super!” any day of the week. As a matter of fact, anyone saying they’re “Great” I tend to treat suspiciously these days. To me, “Okay” is positive, everything else is negative.

Now all I have to do is figure out how to respond to, “Wha’zup?”

Such is my Pet Peeve of the Week.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim’s columns, see:
http://www.phmainstreet.com/timbryce.htm

Tune into Tim’s new podcast, “The Voice of Palm Harbor,” at:

http://www.phmainstreet.com/voiceph.htm

Copyright © 2009 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

Posted in Society | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

FORM & SCREEN DESIGN

Posted by Tim Bryce on November 17, 2009

I’ve been working with a new web site that offers some pretty powerful features for multimedia, I don’t want to say which one. Fortunately, I have been around the Information Technology industry for a long time now and can find my way through just about anything. Although this particular web site offers some pretty sophisticated capabilities, it is painful to navigate around and has pitiful Help facilities. Basically, it’s as intuitive to use as a dead slug. Although I have found my way around the software, mostly through trial and error, I wonder how many people simply gave up due to the frustration factor involved. I suspect a lot.

You see this same phenomenon in nonprofit organizations that rely on paper forms which are confusing to read with no effective way of cross-checking the data being recorded. Consequently, erroneous data is entered which permeates and corrupts the rest of the system, thereby causing considerable expense to correct errors and eliminate redundancies.

Both forms and screens serve the same purpose, as an input device to collect data. The only difference between the two is the media used. Aside from this, both should be designed according to some basic principles:

1. They need to be “clean” and inviting to use. Consideration should be given to the types of people intended to use the form or screen and their intellectual capacity to work with it. If it is perceived as difficult to use, it will be rebuffed, and people will avoid using them, thereby defeating not only the form or screen, but the entire system as well.

2. There must be a means to validate or cross-check the data collected. For screens, there should be no reason why certain editing checks cannot be added to obtain the results desired, such as checking basic math, upshifting/downshifting certain text characters, and enforcing the use of valid entries such as state mailing codes; e.g., FL, OH, NY, CA, etc. (thereby prohibiting invalid entries). On-line help should, of course, be provided, not just for the screen, but for each entry. For paper forms, preparation instructions should be included (such as on the back of the form), sample entries should be provided, and a simple means should be provided to check math, such as tabulating columns and rows in a table.

3. They should be designed according to standards thereby making it easy to learn and use which, in turn, means improved user acceptance (since they are already familiar with similar screens and forms) thereby promoting system success. Besides, why should designers reinvent the wheel with each development project? Standards for form and screen design are certainly not new. Such standards have been available for a long time, but is anyone using them? If the web pages found on the Internet represent any indication, the answer is “No.”

Forms and screens are usually designed by people who, despite their good intentions, fail due to their obsession with the technical implementation as opposed to concentrating on the human dynamics involved. I’ve seen some beautiful web pages that are graphically alluring but fail miserably simple due to horrible navigation, cryptic commands, microscopic lettering, and poor editing checks. They may look beautiful, but they fail due to the elements mentioned earlier.

Just remember, forms and screens are the portals to our systems. Systems begin with people and end with people; systems are for people.

For more information, see my paper on “Effective Screen Design.”

Such is my Pet Peeve of the Week.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim’s columns, see:
http://www.phmainstreet.com/timbryce.htm

Tune into Tim’s new podcast, “The Voice of Palm Harbor,” at:

http://www.phmainstreet.com/voiceph.htm

Copyright © 2009 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

Posted in Business, Web | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

ADAPTING TO CHANGE

Posted by Tim Bryce on November 13, 2009

Not long ago I wrote an article entitled, “Why we get peeved,” wherein I made the observation that there is a tendency by people to fail to notice changes as they occur, that it only becomes apparent over time. Coping with change has been an underlying part of my writings for a long time now, both in my management papers and in these columns. One of our most fundamental Bryce’s Laws is, “If anything in life is constant, it is change.” Throughout my walk through life, be it in companies, schools, nonprofit groups, neighborhoods, or wherever, it has always amazed me how people steadfastly refuse to recognize change and oppose adapting to it. Some actually become downright belligerent about it, unnecessarily I might add.

In an earlier paper, “Why We Resist Change,” I noted the causes of change and why we resist it which, in a nutshell, is because we are creatures of habit, we tend to fear the unknown, and due to simple human emotion. The fact remains though, change is all around us, mostly small subtle changes that may not be noticeable to the human senses, but they are there nevertheless. Radical change is not very common, but it is perhaps the most offensive to us as it represents a significant variance to the status quo.

When we are presented with a change, large or small, we will either embrace it as something good for us, tolerate it, or reject it out of hand. When we reject a change, it is not necessarily because we truly understand the impact of the change, as much as it is based on our perceptions of it, right or wrong. In other words, despite the logical necessity of the change, it will not be embraced if it is perceived as something bad. This means some good old-fashioned salesmanship is necessary to make the change palatable to the consumer.

Before you can accept or reject a change, you must first be able to recognize it. As mentioned, most changes are not discernible to the human senses. If it is not detected it will be implemented unchallenged. However, if it is detected, we must apply our intellect and endeavor to understand it. If we recognize a change, apply our intellect, and come to a logical conclusion whether it is good or bad, then we should be comfortable with our decision. The problem though is that most people do not take the time to apply their intellect, and rely either on just their perceptions or the judgment of others whose opinion they trust, and this is where salesmanship or “spin doctors” come in handy. In other words, people are either too lazy or preoccupied to properly study a change.

If a change is substantial in size or complexity, it may be difficult for people to come to a logical conclusion regarding it, at which time the agent of change should reconsider how it is presented, such as breaking it down into smaller and more easier to digest pieces.

When it comes to implementing a change to the status quo, you must either change with the change, or the change must change with you. This means you must adapt and learn to cope with the change, or bend the rules to suit your needs. On more than one occasion I have seen changes to corporate information systems either readily embraced, fought and dismissed, or have had the change itself changed to suit a particular environment.

Despite all of the changes around us, be it cultural, technological, political, or whatever, change ultimately involves a personal change to the individual, and the question remains, “Do I really want to change?” Change can be made voluntarily, with a little persuasion, or jammed down our throats. Interestingly, this correlates to the degree of resistance to a change, from no resistance, to suspicion, to outright rebellion. This suggests resistance correlates to how it is presented to us.

Each of us handles change in our own way, but to flatly refuse to recognize and cope with change is called “denial” and an unrealistic approach for walking through life.

Such is my Pet Peeve of the Week.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim’s columns, see:
http://www.phmainstreet.com/timbryce.htm

Tune into Tim’s new podcast, “The Voice of Palm Harbor,” at:

http://www.phmainstreet.com/voiceph.htm

Copyright © 2009 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

Posted in Business, Life, Management, Society | Leave a Comment »

PROJECT MANAGEMENT

Posted by Tim Bryce on November 10, 2009

I was talking to a consultant in the Philadelphia area recently who was lamenting about the state of Project Management in this country. He had been employed for over thirty years as a Project Manager in plant construction, was certified in his craft, yet found the state of project management to be quite primitive, which is surprising when you consider all of the tools available for managing projects these days. This led to a dialog as to why the state of project management had deteriorated. I contended this was nothing new and should not come as a surprise. I then cited four reasons for the problem:

First, as my friend suggested, people tend to take a tool oriented approach to project management as opposed to thinking the problem through themselves. Here is another area where we have created a dependency on technology and come down with a bad case of the stupids when it fails us. The scope of project management is large and consists of a variety of concepts and techniques, most of which are not complicated and can be easily taught, but are not. Consequently, college students graduate knowing how to use certain tools, but lack insight into basic concepts which hinders their ability to solve problems and work with others.

Second, executive management does not have an appreciation of project management and does not understand its scope, nor the integration of concepts. For example, project planning is required prior to developing an estimate, which then fuels scheduling, all of which is a precursor for effective project reporting. Some executives naively believe project management is nothing more than producing a schedule or buying computer software to record worker time. Some even think project management is cheap and refuse to invest in proper training for their people or acquiring an integrated set of tools for them to use.

Third, project management is necessary when you need to control multiple people on multiple projects with complicated work breakdown structures. However, it falls flat in this age of short term thinking where there is a tendency to attack smaller bite-size project assignments in a “quick and dirty” manner (aka “agile”).

Last but not least, it must be remembered that project management is a people oriented function, not administrative, clerical or technical. In other words, Project management is a philosophy of management, not a specific tool or technique. It is getting people to complete project assignments on time, on schedule, within budget, and in a particular sequence. If the truth were known, there is nothing complicated about Project Management; it just requires discipline, organization, and accountability; three ugly words in today’s business vernacular.

At the end of the phone call, my friend thanked me for being a sounding board and said he felt better after talking with me. I replied I wasn’t surprised, after all, misery loves company.

Such is my Pet Peeve of the Week.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim’s columns, see:
http://www.phmainstreet.com/timbryce.htm

Tune into Tim’s new podcast, “The Voice of Palm Harbor,” at:

http://www.phmainstreet.com/voiceph.htm

Copyright © 2009 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

Posted in Business, Management | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

GOOD NIGHT CHET

Posted by Tim Bryce on November 6, 2009

For over 40 years I have been a loyal follower of NBC news. It began in the 1960’s with the Huntley-Brinkley report which I still consider the preeminent newscast of all time, better than both Walter Cronkite (CBS) and Howard K. Smith (ABC), although I had a lot of respect for Smith as a no-nonsense newsman. Chet Huntley reported from New York and his delivery was both authoritative and unbiased. David Brinkley reported from Washington, DC and possessed a slight yet charming North Carolina accent. He would also deliver quips that were both humorous and thought-provoking. The correspondents on the show followed Huntley-Brinkley’s lead and helped turn the show into the most credible and trustworthy news program of the day.

Huntley retired in 1970 to his beloved Montana, leaving Nightly News in the capable hands of Frank McGee, John Chancellor, and Brinkley. When McGee passed away prematurely due to cancer, the mantel fell to Chancellor with Brinkley offering commentary. Chancellor did a capable job until his retirement in the early 1980’s and Brinkley moved on to other projects. It was during this period that NBC News underwent a transformation as executives worried about ratings, and a new generation of news people began to emerge, which lead to Tom Brokaw and Brian Williams. Similar changes were also being enacted by CBS and ABC at this time, probably due to the advent of 24/7 news reporting as introduced by Ted Turner’s CNN. Whereas news had once been the exclusive domain of the networks, cable news turned it into a whole new ball game. Executives became obsessed with ratings and started changing the format and content of network news, and in my opinion, not for the better.

I should mention that morning news programs also started to change at this same time. Barbara Walters, Hugh Downs, and Frank Blair anchored a Today Show in the 1960’s with impeccable trust, but as they eventually moved on to other projects, their replacements lacked their authority and credibility.

Then along comes Fox News in the 1990’s which, to me as a loyal NBC News viewer, was meaningless. I rarely watched it, but over the years I started to hear my friends and relatives mention they were watching Fox as they preferred its format and content. Again, as a loyal NBC News viewer, I stayed the course. Then, during this decade, I started to hear the “Big Three” snipe at Fox News, which began to pique my curiosity about the upstart. It was also at this time when I lost confidence in NBC’s ability to report news fairly. All of the news seemed slanted towards a political ideology. To me, it was no longer fair and balanced and, as such, they lost my trust and pushed me into the arms of Fox News which I now watch with regularity.

It is a sad day for journalism when we begin to think of television news as organs of a political party. Both Huntley and Brinkley would be spinning in their graves if they could see the state of network news today. I took great comfort in how they reported the news. I trusted and respected them. If they had something to say, I listened, and I miss this generation of newscasters greatly. I no longer trust network news, least of all NBC, not only have they lost credibility with me, I am now suspicious of the news they report. As a long time NBC viewer, this saddens me.

“Good night Chet. Good night David. And goodbye to NBC News.”

Such is my Pet Peeve of the Week.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim’s columns, see:
http://www.phmainstreet.com/timbryce.htm

Tune into Tim’s new podcast, “The Voice of Palm Harbor,” at:http://www.phmainstreet.com/voiceph.htm

Copyright © 2009 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

Posted in Media, Society | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

TAKING QUALITY FOR GRANTED

Posted by Tim Bryce on November 3, 2009

Back in the early 1980’s there was a big push for “quality” in the work place. The sudden interest came about after it was discovered the Japanese were overtaking the Americans in building superior products. Interestingly, the works of quality pioneers such as W. Edwards Deming and Joseph M. Juran, who enjoyed success in Japan, were rediscovered. Books couldn’t be written fast enough on the subject, seminars overflowed with attendees, and Deming and Juran became overnight sensations in their home country which, for many years, ignored their contributions. The International Standards Organization (ISO) introduced the ISO 9000 Series of standards for quality which were quickly adopted by Europe and grudgingly by the United States. Although there was a general raising of consciousness in the 20th century, interest in quality began to fizzle in the 21st. So much so, that you don’t hear too much about it anymore and I fear “quality” is something we again take for granted.

In the Information Technology industry alone, I don’t see any evidence to suggest that quality has improved. If anything, it is worse, particularly in software where bugs are still common, probably because vendors avoid structured testing and, allow customers to beta-test their products instead (a concept I still can’t fathom).

Even to this day, the general work force still suffers with misconceptions about quality. For example, it is generally believed quality is a matter of “class” as in different “classes” of automobiles; e.g., compact, midsize, luxury), which is like mixing apples with oranges. No, it’s not about “class” but rather, producing a product as specified with zero-defects. In other words, producing a product in accordance with its specifications. To do so, quality must be built into the product during its development, not inspected in afterwards. This means the entire development process must be well defined in terms of Who, What, When, Where, Why and How the work is to be performed. Perhaps the best way to think of it is as an assembly line with several stations of work to perform different tasks. Instead of waiting to inspect the product after it rolls off of the assembly line, where it can be difficult and expensive to correct problems, every step in the assembly process checks the quality of the product before it proceeds to the next work station, thereby assuring a quality product comes off of the assembly line.

Maybe this is why there are so many quality problems in computer software, since programmers typically have a problem relating to this analogy and insist on testing their work afterwards as opposed to performing rigorous design reviews earlier on.

Beyond the mechanics of quality though, people must learn to care about the work products they are charged to produce. This is an area once referred to as “pride in workmanship” or “craftsmanship.” Without this spirit of caring about one’s work, nothing can guarantee a quality product, regardless of the number of rules the ISO writes. Quality requires both discipline and a conscientious work force. You can’t have one without the other.

Such is my Pet Peeve of the Week.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim’s columns, see:
http://www.phmainstreet.com/timbryce.htm

Tune into Tim’s new podcast, “The Voice of Palm Harbor,” at:

http://www.phmainstreet.com/voiceph.htm

Copyright © 2009 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

Posted in Business, Society | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

 
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