THE BRYCE IS RIGHT!

Software for the finest computer – the Mind

  • Tim’s YouTube Channel

  • Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 2,049 other followers


  • "BRYCE's UNCOMMON SENSE SERIES"
    4 New Printed Books & eBooks from Tim on:
    Change/Technology, Management, Politics, and the American Scene
    Click HERE.

  • Categories

  • Fan Page

  • Since 1971:
    "Software for the finest computer - The Mind"

    Follow me on Twitter: @timbryce

    hit counter

     

  • Subscribe

Archive for August, 2010

OUR PERMANENT RECORD

Posted by Tim Bryce on August 31, 2010

One thing young people are not very cognizant of is their personal record, particularly teenagers. Whether or not we ever see it, we all have a record that follows us from birth and well beyond death. It hovers above us like a vulture shadowing its prey. We may not see it, but make no mistake, it is always there tracking our every move, and I believe this is what young people do not comprehend.

As a systems man, I can tell you authoritatively, the government, the medical community, the financial community, and law enforcement have been collecting and maintaining data on us the moment we first entered a doctor’s office (be it in the womb or in person), opened a bank account or credit card, received a social security card, went to school, or received a ticket for jaywalking. Understand this though, there is no single record on any one of us as the data is physically maintained in several different places.

There are actually four parts to our personal record:

* Education – specifying the schools we attended, when we attended, the grades we earned, and if we graduated or failed. Employers pay particular attention to such data.

* Medical – specifies doctor and dentist visits, diseases contracted, procedures, medications, and treatments. Again, employers are interested in such data, particularly in sports and the military.

* Credit – for every financial account you open, your debt is closely followed as well as how well you paid your bills. Any time you miss a payment on a credit card, house payment, or car loan, it is recorded and influences your credit rating, not just now, but for years afterwards.

* Criminal – there is a tendency by young people to misunderstand their criminal record. Even as a juvenile, any and all violations of the law are recorded for years and years. Once again, employers are interested in such data, as well as the military and just about everyone else. Laugh as you may at being arrested in 8th grade, such a snafu may prohibit you from getting the job or opportunity of your dreams later on.

Unfortunately, it is not until we get a little older and wiser do we comprehend the necessity for maintaining a clean record, and usually too late to change it. Some things cannot be changed such as grades. If you try to falsify your academic record, it will inevitably be discovered and your reputation will be ruined, and in all likelihood you will face a serious misdemeanor (thereby updating your record again). It is also next to impossible to alter your medical and credit records, they are what they are.

In some instances, criminal records can be modified depending on the infraction. For example, certain misdemeanors can be esponged from a person’s record by the court providing the person agrees to certain terms, such as performing community service or attending special classes. Nonetheless, it is better not to get an infraction than to try and have it esponged.

It’s actually a little scary how much data there is on all of us, and we hope it is all safe and secure from public consumption. The point is, whether we like it or not, all of our actions are being recorded, and being a juvenile doesn’t mean you are exempt or have an excuse. Just remember, no matter how hard you try, you cannot outrun your record.

Keep the Faith!

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

Tim Bryce is a writer and 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

Like the article? TELL A FRIEND.

Tune into Tim’s THE BRYCE IS RIGHT! podcast Mondays-Fridays, 11:30am (Eastern).

Copyright © 2010 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

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

PLAYING BY THE RULES

Posted by Tim Bryce on August 30, 2010

Whether in business or a nonprofit organization there will be instances where you will inevitably be warned to “play by the rules.” I have heard this in just about every company I’ve consulted with, as well as the many different nonprofit organizations I have participated in over the years. Basically, it is a thinly veiled warning not to disrupt the status quo or face the consequences. It is essentially no different than saying “Do it our way or else.” Interestingly, I have discovered people either don’t know what the rules are, misinterpret them, or know them too well.

Playing by the rules doesn’t necessarily mean following the written rules, policies and procedures as defined in a formal document such as a policy manual or a set of governing docs such as bylaws. More likely it means to conform to the wishes and whims of the current regime. Volunteer organizations in particular can easily become political snake pits. One of the things you discover early on, it’s not a matter what the governing docs say as much as it is about who interprets them. Regardless of the clarity of the language, the rules will be interpreted by those in charge. Not surprising, those who admonish us to play by the rules are the same people who control them thereby turning them into a political football.

It is not uncommon to discover there are probably more unwritten rules than written. The sooner you learn them, the better. This is, of course, all a part of learning and adapting to the corporate culture. The written rules may say one thing, the unwritten rules may mean something entirely different and probably carry more weight. Too many times I have seen procedures clearly written one way, yet when I ask about them, I am told “We haven’t done it that way in years.”

As a systems man, I learned a long time ago to consult with secretaries and clerks when trying to figure out an existing system. The documentation may say one thing (if any), but the operational people know how things are really run. It kind of makes you wonder why organizations invest in developing policies and procedures if nobody is expected to follow them. In all likelihood it is to create a legal escape hatch in the event of when push comes to shove.

People will pay little attention to rules that are unfairly interpreted. In fact, they will go out of their way to subvert them, and why not? If the current regime demonstrates unethical behavior, their subordinates or constituents in all likelihood will follow suit. Again, this is all part of the corporate culture.

Getting people to conform to the formal written policies and procedures takes an individual with unusual strength of character, who understands the necessity of conformity, and interprets the rules fairly. Such people of integrity are unfortunately becoming few and far between.

Keep the Faith!

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

Tim Bryce is a writer and 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

Like the article? TELL A FRIEND.

Tune into Tim’s THE BRYCE IS RIGHT! podcast Mondays-Fridays, 11:30am (Eastern).

Copyright © 2010 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

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

IT’S IN THE WATER

Posted by Tim Bryce on August 27, 2010

Tranquility is a small town in the northwest corner of Connecticut near the New York and Massachusetts borders. Only 20,000 residents live in the area which enjoys an influx of tourists in the summer who want to escape New York City and enjoy some country air. Nearby lakes and parks in both Connecticut and New York make Tranquility the perfect getaway for a picturesque and affordable vacation.

25 years ago Tranquility was aptly named as it was a quiet and peaceful town. Neighbors watched out for each other, and school kids were well behaved. During the summer, baseball was king, and during the winter hockey ruled on the many ponds in the area. There was no such thing as crime and it was commonplace for residents to leave the front door of their houses open and keys in their cars. Not anymore. Over the years, the town was slowly transformed into a mere shadow of itself. Neighbors no longer trust each other, and local schools are now filled with screwball kids who are regularly in and out of trouble. The attitude of the local citizenry was such that tourists began to stay away which hit their bottom-line and finally got someone’s attention.

As the town elders became concerned about “the change” as it was called, I was contracted to come in to try to determine the cause of the problem. Actually, I got the job because the mayor is an old college friend and, as such, it was hard for me to say no to him. My background is in environmental studies and psychoanalysis, two separate fields which didn’t seem to have anything in common until now.

I began by studying the behavior of the school children. The local principals allowed me access to observe classrooms, playgrounds, and sports fields. I also attended PTA and Booster Club meetings. On the weekends, I attended religious services and interviewed the local clergy and chamber of commerce. I also would drive around keeping general tabs of the community, who was doing what, in an attempt to detect patterns of behavior. The local Sheriff’s department was also cooperative in reviewing crime statistics which revealed that over the years there was a slow yet steady increase in reports of road rage, theft, drunk and disorderly conduct, and drug possession, among other things.

One of my earliest observations I recorded in my journal was that most, if not all parents were working in order to make ends meet, both husband and wife. This meant nobody was home when children returned from school. Without parental supervision, children tended to lack discipline and responsibility. I also observed a marked increase in students with ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). Actually, this wasn’t too different than other communities I have studied.

Teachers also reported students at all levels had a general disrespect for adult authority, lacked academic discipline, and were experimenting with drugs. There was also a noticeable increase in teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. Basically, school officials described their students as social misfits who were irresponsible and held a general disregard for personal property, yet possessed a strong sense of entitlement. At home, there were several reports of domestic violence and it seemed everyone had a story of a wacky relative. I had considerable trouble locating a family who behaved as a close cohesive unit.

Adults were also experiencing problems. Unemployment had reached double-digit proportions. Those who still had a job were somewhat apathetic about their work and were frequently tardy. Reports of depression were not uncommon. While the rate of marriages decreased, separations and divorces increased. Adults also reported a lower sex drive, sperm count, which led to a lower birth rate in the community. One-by-one, civic and community volunteer organizations slowly faded away as nobody offered their services freely anymore. Alcohol and drug abuse was also on the rise. Again, this was not too different than other communities I’ve studied.

In attempt to get my arms around all of this, I created an extensive spreadsheet to compile and plot the data on a graph. Interestingly, I detected a slow but steady increase in the various problem areas. Beginning in 1985, Tranquility’s problems rose steadily 5% each year. It was a slow and steady increase that could almost be plotted with a ruler as the numbers were not erratic. I have never seen such a consistent increase before.

I had graphed the symptoms, but what was causing the problem? Was it a social problem? Economics? I wasn’t sure. This caused me to study the physical environment. I began to check on the foods consumed and clothes worn by the natives. I could find nothing unusual there. I then checked all forms of electronic signals in the area and encountered a handful of unusual low-frequencies signals canvassing the area. They were the type of signals distinguishable by animals, such as dogs, and young people. I also took samples of soil and air for laboratory analysis and found nothing. Then I started to sample the water which is when I met Mike Gilmore, the superintendent of the town’s water supply.

Gilmore is a strange looking duck. About 6′ in height, 200 pounds, gray hair, black glasses, and insists on walking around with a white medical lab coat. I thought this was a bit strange as his job wasn’t too complicated; it was more of a matter of studying the water tables, routinely taking water samples, and regulating the water supply. The water ultimately originates from Gridley Lake, a rather large body of water that is spring fed and collects rain runoff from the hills nearby. There is no industry nearby to pollute the water and the county established a sewer and sanitation system years ago.

When I asked Gilmore for a tour of the water treatment plant, he was somewhat tightlipped about the operation and watched my every move when I took samples. I collected water from different spots around the lake, the preprocessing area, filter, and post processing. My initial tests didn’t detect anything except some strange residue which technicians didn’t recognize. True, the water was properly filtered and fit for human consumption, but something seemed strange. They were finally able to detect a compound in the water which was odorless, tasteless, and colorless. After taking numerous samples, they were able to replicate the results but were uncertain as to what it was.

After consulting with the lab techs, I began to dig into the background of Mike Gilmore who grew up in the area. Although he attended the local high school, he only had an Associates degree in chemistry from the nearby community college. I ran a criminal background check on him which produced nothing noticeable. I then went back to his high school and checked his record. It was here that I noticed he excelled in chemistry. Fortunately, his chemistry teacher still taught at the school and so I took it upon myself to interview him. According to the teacher, Gilmore did fine in the classroom, but was always considered a strange outcast who nobody wanted to partner with during lab work. Gilmore seemed to have a strange intuitive sense of chemicals. He put this knowledge to work when he began to experiment with drugs. This led him into a drug culture where he began manufacturing his own products, fortunately on a small scale. When his lab was discovered, he was suspended from high school and he finally graduated with a GED certificate. He never forgave the school for suspending him which hurt his chances for winning an academic scholarship to an out of state university. Surprisingly, he elected to stay in the area and took the job at the water treatment plant after graduating with his associate’s degree. The year? 1985.

This was too much of a coincidence for me. Working with the police, we obtained a court order and strategically hid video cameras around the water treatment plant, particularly places where Gilmore was likely to work. We then began to follow his movements during the work day and started to document his patterns. As it turned out, he was a slave to routine. He would dutifully check gauges and perform water tests like clockwork. On the surface everything looked proper until I noticed his plastic water testing kit was not empty when he took samples. It was only two ounces, but I observed some liquid was always emptied from the container before he dipped it into the water to collect his next sample. Based on this evidence, we obtained a warrant to search the facility, much to the chagrin of Gilmore.

Among all of Gilmore’s other belongings, the police found a small yet powerful radio transmitter which turned out to be the source of the strange frequencies I detected in the area. They also uncovered an aluminum canister containing a clear liquid. The police asked me to take samples and have it tested while they took Gilmore down to the station for questioning. My lab techs put the samples through a battery of tests. It was an interesting combination of saltpeter, caffeine, nicotine, Barbituric acid, and a touch of Mescaline for good measure, all in a concentrated dosage making it powerful if consumed all at once. Such a concoction though fed regularly into a water system in diluted doses could slip by undetected. Interestingly, I discovered a correlation between the radio signals and the chemicals. Somehow the signals accentuated the effects of the chemicals. There was evidently some synergy when the two were used in tandem thereby causing the various neuroses experienced by the town.

Gilmore refused to crack under pressure. Regardless, he was prosecuted for contaminating the town’s water supply with mind-altering drugs. Shortly after the transmitter was disabled and the concentrate eliminated from the water supply, there were numerous reports of headaches, indicative of withdrawal. Nonetheless, the town slowly returned to normal. Within 120 days I observed cell phone traffic had diminished considerably, there was a marked decline in petty crimes, volunteer organizations and the clergy reported increases in attendance and membership, and unemployment dropped radically as did the divorce rate. In the schools, the principals reported students were more subdued and attentive which resulted in a noticeable increase in grade point averages. In other words, everything was returning back to normal and the town of Tranquility was just that, tranquil. Tourists took notice and began to return to the area where they were made to feel welcome.

Gilmore never revealed where he got the transmitter or formula from or who he shared it with, if anyone. There were a couple of things that disturbed me about this episode though, there was no identification mark on the canister containing the concentrate other than a seven digit serial number. This led me to believe there is more than one canister out there. More disturbing though, both the transmitter and the canister obtained by the police, were mysteriously stolen from the property department without a trace. While police continue their search for it, authorities are keeping an eye on the water supply and monitoring radio frequencies.

As for me, the success I experienced at Tranquility earned me considerable notoriety and I was quickly contacted by several municipalities to investigate “the change” in their communities. How about your community, have you experienced a change over the last 25 years? Just remember, it’s in the water.

NOTE: This is a work of fiction. All events and characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Keep the Faith!

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

Tim Bryce is a writer and 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

Like the article? TELL A FRIEND.

Tune into Tim’s THE BRYCE IS RIGHT! podcast Mondays-Fridays, 11:30am (Eastern).

Copyright © 2010 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

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

ATTACKING SYMPTOMS

Posted by Tim Bryce on August 26, 2010

Have you ever observed someone driving in an automobile to a destination with only a slight idea of where he/she is going? Inevitably they become lost and instead of stopping to ask for directions they keep pushing forward. Maybe, if they’re lucky, they’ll eventually get to their destination. More likely though, they will become lost. Perhaps you have done this yourself. I tend to believe this is more common among younger people who are more impetuous than their elders who have committed this mistake in the past. Before someone knows where they are going with any certainty, they tend to jump in the car and drive off, a sort of “leap before we look” mentality. Only much later do they admit is was a mistake and they wasted a lot of time going nowhere fast.

This can all be traced back to our temptation to attack symptoms as opposed to addressing true problems. It is analogous to taking an aspirin when we may really need to perform an MRI or Cat scan to diagnose the cause of a headache. Too often in business we tend to attack symptoms as opposed to problems. I see a lot of this in the systems world. To illustrate, whenever a company begins to complain that I.T. projects are taking too long or are too costly, the first knee-jerk reaction is to improve their project management skills and tools. In reality, the culprit is not project management but the methodology they use to execute the project. Think of an assembly line operation; project management simply represents the dials and gauges monitoring the assembly line, it tells us if we are going too fast or too slow and we adjust accordingly. However, if the assembly line itself is fundamentally flawed, project management cannot do anything to correct the problem. Instead of addressing the dials and gauges, we should be reexamining our assembly lines (our methodologies).

I see other examples of this in the systems world where programmers tend to spend an inordinate amount of time patching and rewriting the same software over and over again. Instead of designing software to be reusable, they would rather rewrite it. Another indicator is when you see a ratio of four or five programmers to every systems analyst. This means systems are not being properly designed and the programmers are being given superficial requirements which they must waste a lot of time second-guessing what is needed. They may be fast at writing software but are they truly addressing the correct business problems? Probably not.

A more notable example includes the Health Insurance Bill passed earlier this year by Congress. I don’t think there is anybody on either side of the aisle who truly believes this was properly thought out. As for me, I believe they overlooked the fundamental cause of the problem, namely frivolous lawsuits which haunt the medical, pharmaceutical and insurance communities. This glaring omission will inevitably come back to haunt us.

Our temptation to attack symptoms and not problems is an indication why productivity is dropping in this country. As I have written on numerous occasions, there are two aspects to productivity, effectiveness and efficiency, and the two are certainly not synonymous. Whereas efficiency concentrates on speed of execution, effectiveness questions the necessity of the task itself. For example, robotics provides efficiency on an assembly line for executing certain tasks, such as welding, but if the weld is performed at the wrong time or place no amount of speed will improve productivity. The best way to differentiate the two is: effectiveness asks “are we doing the right things?” and efficiency asks “are we doing things right?”

In Japan, it is still important to define the effectiveness of the business, then focusing on efficiency issues. However, this is not the case in the United States who is obsessed with efficiency and committing several errors in the process. Whereas Japan believes in “Ready-Aim-Fire,” the Americans tend to practice “Fire-Aim-Ready.”

Perhaps the best way to appreciate this symptom/problem phenomenon is to remember the Bryce’s Law – “Do not try to apply a Band-Aid when a tourniquet is required to stop the bleeding.”

Keep the Faith!

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

Tim Bryce is a writer and 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

Like the article? TELL A FRIEND.

Tune into Tim’s THE BRYCE IS RIGHT! podcast Mondays-Fridays, 11:30am (Eastern).

Copyright © 2010 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

Posted in Business, Life, Management, Project Management | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

WHERE IS ISLAM GROWING?

Posted by Tim Bryce on August 25, 2010

Everywhere. In case you haven’t been paying attention, the Muslim world has been growing by leaps and bounds simply through immigration and obnoxious birth rates. The Catholic Church recently admitted the number of Muslims has surpassed their own numbers. It has been reported there are now over 9 million Muslims in the European Union alone which will likely double by 2020. In the United States it is estimated there are now approximately 8 million Muslims, which is up substantially since 2000 when there was just 1.5 million reported. Such an influx would normally go unnoticed, but due to the War on Terror and the role played by Islamic extremists, alarms have been sounded and there is growing concern about the impact of the expanding Muslim world.

I am normally a very tolerant person when it comes to religion. Back in the 1990’s I conducted an extended consulting assignment in Saudi Arabia. I cannot say I was mistreated, nor was I considered an infidel. In fact, I was warmly received and frequently engaged in long discussions about politics and religion, among other things. There was considerable interest in what was going on in the rest of the world. The only subject which seemed taboo was Saudi/Israeli relations which they dismissed out of hand. Other than that, we openly talked about everything else. It was a very enlightening experience for me and I hope for them as well.

Many believe Muslims are fanatics. This was not my experience. They respected my religion and I respected theirs. Regardless, the belief in the western world is that all followers of Islam are extremists commanded to kill all nonbelievers. It’s no small wonder why Westerners cast a suspicious eye on those devoted to Islam.

If the Muslims conquer the world it will likely be through infiltration as opposed to violence. Western governments are alarmed by their growing Islamic citizenry, and frankly are at a loss as to what to do about it. This presents an interesting conundrum for the west, particularly the United States who believes in freedom of speech and religion. It is not at all unreasonable to assume the Muslims will eventually surpass the Christian majority and take over state governments, both houses of Congress, the Presidency, and finally the Supreme Court. For a moment, let’s assume they are successful under this scenario. Now the question becomes, would they abrogate the American Constitution? Obviously, this would mean a change to the America we know today.

Currently, America is most definitely not a religious state. It respects and allows all religions assuming they conform to the laws of the land, e.g., no sacrifices or polygamy. However, the followers of Islam believe their’s is the only true religion and therein lies the rub. Would a U.S. government dominated by Muslims uphold the Constitution or change it thereby aligning their loyalties to their religion? If they did, one has to wonder who would then be establishing policy for the country, ourselves or someone from the Middle East. If the latter, this would be viewed as an intolerable situation and the Christian minority would revolt (assuming they were still in possession of their weapons). As an aside, this is a key reason why the framers of the Constitution gave the citizens the right to bear arms, for just such an occasion.

For now, Muslims understand public opinion is against them and their chances of gaining any substantial control over the government is unlikely. They’re not worried though and are just biding their time. If left unchecked, their numbers will grow and will eventually gain political influence. In all likelihood, this will not happen in my lifetime, but 2050 isn’t that far away, the date when their numbers will have finally risen to a point where they can exercise political clout. Let’s hope cooler heads prevail before then.

This is why our mission in Iraq is so important. It is very strategic we plant the seeds of democracy and freedom in the Middle East now because it will not be allowed to happen later when the Muslims have taken over in this country. If freedom and democracy takes hold, this will undoubtedly influence other Islamic countries who may very well want to follow suit.

Keep the Faith!

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

Tim Bryce is a writer and 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

Like the article? TELL A FRIEND.

Tune into Tim’s THE BRYCE IS RIGHT! podcast Mondays-Fridays, 11:30am (Eastern).

Copyright © 2010 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

Posted in Religion, Social Issues | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

WHY I HATE COMPUTERS

Posted by Tim Bryce on August 24, 2010

I hate computers. There, I’ve said it, the cat is out of the bag and I feel better for publicly admitting it. I’ve quietly shared this sentiment with many people over the years who look at me puzzled as they know I have been in the computer industry for over 30 years now. Some have even suggested I’m a bit of a masochist staying in a field I do not respect. It’s not that I am not proficient in the use of computers, I am actually better than most. As an aside, you’ll notice I didn’t say “computer literate” which is an expression I detest as it typifies the sloppy thinking permeating this business.

Nine times out of ten my frustration is not with the physical hardware but with the software instead. Maybe it’s because I know how computers are programmed which can hardly be called an exact science. In fact, it is downright scary how programs are slapped together and superficially tested before being released to the public. Considerable time is wasted determining what a program is intended to do and how to best design it. There is also a lot of redundancy in work effort whereby the same code is rewritten over and over again. Rarely is there concern for producing programs that will be compatible with others, and standards are avoided at all cost. If the average person truly understood the organization and mechanics by which programmers practice their trade, they would be astonished as to how anything is accomplished and would probably never trust a computer again.

In their defense, programmers live in a world of complexity where they must juggle many variables even in a simple program. However, I am highly critical of how they manage complexity which is typically inscribed in the programmer’s head and not on paper. The average programmer loathes documentation of any kind. Without proper documentation programs are difficult if not impossible to maintain or modify by others. But I digress.

Because the programmer lives in a world of complexity, they insist on sharing it with the rest of us, a kind of “misery loves company” phenomenon. Instead of simplicity, they tend to force us to learn their convoluted approaches to life. To illustrate, remote controls for televisions used to have buttons for power, volume, and station selection. Today, it is not uncommon to have upwards of fifty buttons on remote controls, most of which are not used by the consumer. It should be no small wonder that most devices today are under utilized, including cell phones, computers, and the electronic trinket du jour. Simplicity has been superseded by complexity, not because it has to be that way, but because programmers make it that way.

As consumers we patiently try to adapt to our computer, but we grow frustrated with such things as computer freezes (an endless hour glass), software downloads requiring the computer to be rebooted at the most inconvenient time to do so, and the legendary “blue screen of death” (a complete computer lockup). Nobody likes to execute the same task twice on the computer, yet due to programming snafus, such activity is commonplace. I don’t have an exact figure, but a substantial amount of time during the business day is lost simply due to the peculiarities of the computer. Programmers make computers functional; they do not make them idiot-proof.

Recently I was involved in a writer’s discussion group on the Internet whereby the question was asked, “Do computers now make better decisions than humans?” Actually, this is an old question and goes back to the 1950’s when computers were first being introduced. Since the computer only executes the instructions as programmed by the human being, it will only be as smart as the person programming it. It’s not so much a question of making “better” decisions, it’s a matter of being able to execute instructions faster (processing speed). A computer offers invaluable assistance in terms of executing complicated calculations, then again, the answer would not be any different than that arrived at by the human-being. It’s a matter of speed. Let us also not forget that if the formulas or algorithms are programmed incorrectly, the computer will produce an incorrect answer at an incredibly fast speed. As an example, there have been various calculation errors reported over the years in various software products, such as calculators, financial software, spreadsheets, etc. Here is one applicable to the MS Calculator:

3,600,523 divided by 6,000,000,000

Returns with: 6.0008716666666666666666666666667e-4

In other words, there is a problem expressing decimal fractions (the answer should be .000600087).

This number may seem innocuous on the surface but suppose it served a mission critical purpose, such as directing military operations, space trajectory, or patient health care? The number becomes very important in such situations where it leads to erroneous decisions or actions. The next question becomes: who is liable for the miscalculation, the computer hardware manufacturer or the person who programmed it incorrectly? Ultimately, it is a PEOPLE problem.

“If the mind really is the finest computer, then there are a lot of people out there who need to be rebooted” – Bryce’s Law

Keep the Faith!

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

Tim Bryce is a writer and 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

Like the article? TELL A FRIEND.

Tune into Tim’s THE BRYCE IS RIGHT! podcast Mondays-Fridays, 11:30am (Eastern).

Copyright © 2010 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

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

YOUNGER SENIORS

Posted by Tim Bryce on August 23, 2010

It strikes me there is a generational changing of the guard underfoot which I am only now beginning to realize. I certainly am not against youth having its day, but some strange things seem to be happening. For example, Newsweek magazine created a bit of a hubbub recently when it allowed a 23 year old reporter to cover a major story on the New Black Panther Party. Regardless of which side you take on this particular issue (left or right), you can’t help but wonder why Newsweek, who is struggling at the newsstand, would assign a junior reporter to cover this controversial topic. Perhaps a more seasoned reporter would have handled it differently.

There was a time when seniority meant something in this country, such as having experienced the trials and tribulations of a particular job. Becoming a senior anything usually meant you had a minimum of 10+ years of experience and a proven track record. However, I don’t think that’s the case anymore. Now people are relying on academic knowledge as opposed to practical experience. I’m not sure why, but I see a lot of this in the computer industry. In my field, the gurus of yesteryear started out in their 40’s and had plenty of real-world experience under their belts. Today it seems youthful spin and showmanship takes precedence over experience. Self-proclaimed “senior” experts now start in their mid to late 20’s.

I believe part of the reason for this disparity is because there is a major disconnect between the Baby Boomers (of which I am a member) and Generations X/Y/Z. This is probably due to the fact we failed to mentor our successors properly as our predecessors had mentored us. For quite some time, mentoring was considered a waste of time and money and, consequently, such programs were abandoned during the 1980’s and 1990’s. Only now is mentoring programs beginning to make a comeback in the workplace. Such programs are vital to assist young people find their way in their chosen profession.

Another reason for the rise of “younger seniors” (an oxymoron if I ever heard one) is perhaps simple economics. In these troubling times, many companies, not just those in the computer field, are cutting back and opting for younger workers who are less expensive. What they lack in experience, they make up for in youthful enthusiasm and energy. Regardless, they are still bound to commit the same costly mistakes their elders did, except without the benefit of a veteran whispering guidance in their ear.

In theory, each generation is to pass the torch on to the next who will then add their enhancements and make the light brighter. It is certainly not the intention for each generation to reinvent the wheel. We would make little progress at that rate. The generation gap though is indicative there is no sense of history, particularly in our industries, thereby disrupting continuity. Allow me to illustrate, in computer programming there aren’t too many people who remember what the first and second generation languages (1GL, 2GL) were, or why it was necessary to create the third generation language (3GL) and how it was devised. Nor are there people who remember the various data base models, such as hierarchical and CODASYL standard network. Without an understanding of the past, I’m afraid we’re doomed to repeat it, particularly in business.

If the 20-somethings end up leading, regardless of their academic knowledge, not only is it likely they will reinvent the wheel at considerable expense, but they will persuade others to follow them. I refer to this as “the blind leading the blind” phenomenon. As for me, if I am going to be sent on a dangerous mission, I want the guide to have a little gray hair to assure me he has already been down this path and knows where he is going.

Keep the Faith!

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

Tim Bryce is a writer and 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

Like the article? TELL A FRIEND.

Tune into Tim’s THE BRYCE IS RIGHT! podcast Mondays-Fridays, 11:30am (Eastern).

Copyright © 2010 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

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

TRUE SYSTEMS ANALYSIS?

Posted by Tim Bryce on August 20, 2010

I recently came across some job postings under the title, “Systems Analyst,” and it occurred to me people still do not know what it means. In the postings I saw things like:

“seeking a Systems Analyst with 4 – 6 years experience in defining system requirements, systems design specifications and implementation of major applications systems. Candidate must have experience with JAVA and the ATG application framework.”

“Utilizes data modeling techniques to document business process and data flows.”

“Strong SQL skills are required.”

Sadly, Systems Analysts are still perceived as nothing more than glorified programmers, a misconception that hasn’t changed in many years. This means people still have trouble differentiating between systems and software, the two are certainly not synonymous, yet one is often used to implement the other. The fact we can implement systems without automated support (a manual system) should be indicative of the separation of the two, but since we commonly implement today’s systems via computer, the distinction becomes indiscernible to a lot of people. Nonetheless, the misinterpretation of “Systems Analyst” is typical of the sloppy thinking permeating our society.

A true Systems Analyst studies the business, defines the information requirements needed to support the business, and designs and/or modifies a system to implement the requirements. The system design consists of separate work flows, complete with inputs and outputs, that are connected through a shared data base. This then becomes the specifications for programmers to design, develop and implement software. When the programming is complete, the Systems Analyst is responsible for testing and implementation of the system.

This means a Systems Analyst needs to know:

* How the business works.

* How to specify the information requirements of the business (to support the actions and/or decisions of the business).

* How to design a system into sub-systems (work flows).

* How to design inputs and outputs; e.g., screens and reports.

* How to design the logical data base (not physical).

* How to write for people.

* How to develop and execute a test plan.

* How to prepare specifications for software.

If the Systems Analyst does his/her job properly, it eliminates the guesswork in programming thereby expediting the software development process. In other words, Systems Analysis is a precursor to programming. In the absence of a true Systems Analysis function, the programmer must try to deduce what is needed, a talent they are not necessarily suited.

Whereas a Systems Analyst is more of a generalist who is in tune with business and people, and tends to be somewhat extroverted in nature, the programmer is more in tune with technology and is very detail oriented as he/she must try to manage complexity. Because of this, the programmer tends to be more introverted. Whereas the Systems Analyst must look at the big picture, the programmer must focus on his/her piece of the puzzle. The two functions are totally different. To try to merge the two functions together does a disservice to both.

In my travels through the business world, I no longer see many companies trying to build major systems. Instead, I tend to see numerous programming assignments being developed with no overall system architecture. That is like trying to build a product without a set of blueprints. It’s simply counterproductive.

When I hear people say, “We don’t have time to do the upfront work (we don’t have time to do it right).” I interpret this as, “We have plenty of time to hack away at the problem until we either wear out ourselves or the user (we have plenty of time to do things wrong).”

So how do we know when a company doesn’t truly understand the Systems Analysis function? That’s easy. When you see programming languages included in the job description.

Keep the Faith!

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

Tim Bryce is a writer and 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

Like the article? TELL A FRIEND.

Copyright © 2010 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

Posted in Business, Systems, Technology | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

THE DANGERS OF MAKING A REFERRAL

Posted by Tim Bryce on August 18, 2010

Years ago it was commonplace to give job referrals for employees or professional acquaintances. For example, 25 years ago when we moved from Cincinnati to Tampa, for those employees who elected to stay behind and not make the move, we openly helped them locate new jobs. We had several contacts in the systems industry and were able to help our people find work. This was not unusual at the time, but I’m afraid you do not see such practices anymore, nor do I recommend giving such referrals as this has become a potentially litigious problem. For example, if you give a positive endorsement, and the worker doesn’t perform to the satisfaction of the new employer, the company may elect to sue you for misrepresenting the worker. On the other hand, if you give a negative endorsement, the individual in question may sue you over defamation of character. In other words, it’s a “lose-lose” proposition no matter what you do.

The best thing is to say as little as possible. In fact, Human Resource departments generally frown on any form of endorsement and most companies today have written policies prohibiting employees from giving referrals. However, if by chance you are put in a position to talk about someone, particularly a former employee, there are two things you are allowed to discuss as a general rule:

1. Employment verification – the specific job held by the person and the dates of their employment.

2. Is the person eligible to be rehired? (Yes/No).

Do not elaborate beyond this. Do not articulate any opinion. Just stick to the facts. If pressed for additional detail, say, “I’m sorry but it is not our company’s policy to divulge any other background information on employees.” Nor should you provide anything in writing. Believe me, the person making the request, usually someone from Human Resources, will know the drill and will be surprised if you deviate from the script. The only exception might be if the company signs a waiver to hold you harmless from any comments you make. Even then I would think twice about volunteering anything.

Regrettably, such a position on referrals makes it difficult for an employer to know what they are getting in terms of a worker’s true skills and character. This forces the employer to depend upon the candidate’s resume and interview, with no way of substantiating the candidate’s claims.

Then there is the matter of making referrals on the Internet, which is popular among employment services and social networking services such as LinkedIn. These facilities provide the means to make recommendations, but again, you should exercise caution for the same reasons mentioned above. Just because it is on the Internet doesn’t mean you are somehow protected from litigation. Again, companies have formal policies for making referrals.

The biggest difference in this regard between now and thirty years ago is that although you may be better protected from law suits, companies are more inclined to buy a “pig in a polk,” thereby complicating the process of finding the right person for the right job.

Keep the Faith!

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

Tim Bryce is a writer and 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

Like the article? TELL A FRIEND.

Copyright © 2010 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

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

POLITICANS – ARE WE ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTIONS?

Posted by Tim Bryce on August 17, 2010

I’ve been making the rounds through local political meetings lately and have met a lot of candidates for the November elections, everything from congressman, to senator, to county commissioner, to school board representative, to dog catcher. There’s a lot of new faces running for office, probably because they realize the citizens are fed up with the status quo. Interestingly, I noticed a lot of the new faces are not much better than the old faces.

I don’t care what party you’re in, there’s a certain level of “smarminess” associated with a politician running for office. Maybe it’s because the candidate is trying to appease everyone. You have to smile a lot, shake a lot of hands, and be a “Jolly Wally.” I don’t take these type of politicians seriously and I tend to wash my hands afterwards. They’re just plain “smarmy” if you ask me.

I’m generally disappointed in the types of questions we ask candidates. People tend to ask about their position of the catastrophe du jour. I tend to believe it’s rather easy to answer such a question in retrospect. It’s a lot harder to get them to give their opinion on what they would do in a future calamity; you tend to get vague generalities in this situation.

I don’t believe we are asking the candidates the right questions. As for me, I see this as an interview for a job (which it is). Consequently, we should ask questions about their skills, experience, and why they believe they are qualified for the job. For example, here are the typical questions I like to ask politicians:

* “What is the biggest job you’ve ever had?”

* “How many people have reported to you?”

* “What kind of performance reviews have you had?”

* “How do you accept criticism?”

* “What is the biggest decision you have had to make in your professional career? How did you come to your decision?”

* “What was the largest project you worked on in terms of money and people? What was your specific role in the project? What was the outcome (was it successful or a failure)?”

* “How do you prepare a Feasibility Study? What steps do you go through?”

* “What business skills do you possess? e.g., speaking, writing, negotiations, cost/benefit analysis, return on investment, etc.”

Again, if this sounds like a job interview, it is.

In a Republic, the masses elect people to serve office and in the process make their own decisions. Although they should listen to their constituents, they are not bound to follow popular opinion (which would be a pure Democracy). I therefore want to know if the candidate knows how to make a rational decision and has the proper character for the job.

I would much rather know the answer to these questions, then the latest public relations spin. We need more government officials with character than we need smarminess.

Keep the Faith!

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

Tim Bryce is a writer and 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

Like the article? TELL A FRIEND.

Copyright © 2010 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

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

 
%d bloggers like this: