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Saturday, November 12, 2011

Piling On

Okay I get it. Society has made it clear that the PSU officials dropped the ball. But there seems to be a deaf to competition going on with commentators and the public to be the most morally outraged. Folks are using this as a means to feel good about themselves. With so many lapses, maybe in the situation it wasn't such a no brainier on how to act. Yes they blew it but I wonder really if everyone else would have been the hero without the benefit of hindsight.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Kindergarteners, Names, and Resume's

So, at the office, we’re reviewing resumes for an engineer position.   We’ll select a limited number, from a pretty limited number of qualified applicants for an interview.  I read the other day how a study suggested a first name associated with minorities can lead to a reduced chance for an interview.  That would be subtle racism, right? 


Back on the home front, as it happens, Our daughter Sarah is starting kindergarten.  My third kid to go to this school, and the experiences have been generally positive.  The school has some kids bused in from the city – about 25% of kids receiving free or reduced lunches.  This is how parents can judge how racially mixed a school is without having to admit that they might not be completely colorblind.  Shhh – these are sensitive code words and that’s a secret.

I was a little surprised that my daughter couldn’t name any new classmates the first couple times I asked her.  It made more sense after I saw the class birthday list with the student’s names.  Well I use the term ‘names’ loosely because the class list read more like the contents of a medicine cabinet that should be kept locked.  How could one not raise a few eyebrows when Sarah’s name was buried among some real jewels like Jaquellen, Neosporin, CinSere, and my personal favorite – Tampaxia.   Now Sarah’s mom flung some highly disappointed looks in my direction at my allegedly racially tinged reaction, but come on, is that fair?   

It’s not that such names are racially identifying; it’s that these are idiotic non-names and the parents who give their kids idiotic non-names like this are – well, at the least ‘flighty’  and genetically speaking, are statistically likely to produce offspring that will find a home left of center on the class bell curve of performance.  So  my reaction is not in fact related to racism but is merely educated insight unmasked by secret politically acceptable code words.  My attitude is no different than the parents who seek homes in certain school districts with low free lunch percentages, just a little less palatable apparently.    

Now kindergarten is about making friends which is pretty easy at that age so who cares – it’s not time to worry about the academic pace of the class.  But, if I get a resume from an applicant with a name like Tampaxia, it’s going to be pretty hard not to associate it with a higher probability of underperformance, statistically speaking.    

Thursday, September 8, 2011

WWSD (What Would Spock Do)

It’s morning and mornings are good; a Hersheys and Diet Coke set the day off right.  Wondering how office workers filled down time before everyone had computers.  I guess everybody spent their day selling, purchasing, building, or designing stuff.  Offices must have been really productive.  No, now I remember, people used to park it in someone else’s cube and drone on and on until a saving phone call would come to the rescue. 

 Anyway, in the on-line news, the big anniversary of 9/11 is upon us.  A very historic and sad day, blah blah blah.  But here’s my politically incorrect contribution:  The 9/11 victims are dead.  Why did the nation feel the need to redirect so much financial charity to the relatives?  Fraudulent collections aside (which the AP has documented here
), between what the government gave and people gave it worked out to millions of dollars per victim.  Many of the people that died were well insured and even wealthy to begin with.  Is a financial windfall supposed to make the survivors feel better?  Why is this different than other losses – is anything sadder than the parent who loses a child to cancer?  Why isn’t society providing a financial windfall for people who take a statistical bullet for the rest of us like this person.

I don’t get it.  Can’t logic and emotion co-exist?  If there is a world-wide tragedy of such a scope that you can text in your donation, think about it.  If you feel like giving, it won’t be hard to find a cause that’s being neglected by the millions watching TV who are imagining their impromptu contributions alleviating the pain they are seeing.  

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Outside of the Box Thinking for College Sports

Okay.  Concepts from the office can also extend to national problem  solving.  Bold solutions like this guy proposes. Husbands  are natural problem solvers.  Wives don’t want to hear them. 

We all know about thinking outside the box.  A well worn office buzzword from the past.   Everybody can fake it but really, very few can do it and when public acceptance is required for an idea very few can recognize the hidden value in an out of the box idea.  After all, by definition such ideas are against accepted conventions and hard to recognize- impossible for most.  Private companies with bold CEO's sometimes demonstrate this.  Steve Jobs didn’t have to sell the idea of mobile computing up front.  It was against conventional thinking. 

For example:  There is almost a national recognition  that a paradigm shift is needed with regard to college athletics.  Too many scandals at too many revered institutions like Ohio State and UNC.  Miami – well, probably no big surprise. 

But the voices of authority are sports pundits and University Presidents.  They all have their visions of solutions.  Sports guys say things like ‘pay the players’ or ‘punish the coaches and administrators’.  Presidents float ideas like ‘stricter punishment’,  or ‘increasing academic emphasis’.   These ideas don’t solve anything.  They are either economically or academically unrealistic and just preserve the status quo and add some bureaucracy.

My solution is far simpler, effective, inexpensive, and inherently fair.  Eliminate rules regarding impermissible benefits from external forces like boosters.  If you consider athletes adults, why would you try to have a rule about one adult buying another adult dinner, or inviting them to a party?  It’s not fair and it’s impossible to monitor and enforce.    Will boosters pay student athletes to go to a certain school?  Maybe the top players but so what, they’re adults.  Nobody would call foul if I paid my favorite sports DJ not to leave town.  Let the market work.  This has the affect of paying the stars that create the value but not costing athletic departments money they don’t have. 

 Their parents should worry about what parties they go to, not the NCAA.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Turning Less into More

I had only been on the job about a month when Louis came into my cube with some advice.  “Hey, you’re working too fast, slow down”.  He went on to explain that if our mechanical group gets too caught up we might get more work or we won’t look busy or some other dire consequence, I don’t remember exactly.  This was only state government after all.  I felt like I was in the scene in the movie ‘Big’ where that guy tells Tom Hanks to slow down before he makes everyone else look bad.  Except I wasn’t twelve.    
It becomes apparent that if you’re spending your time being productive, you are not maximizing your exposure to management; you’re not pumping up and drawing attention to an insignificant and easily solvable issue and capturing the benefits of everyone appreciating your ability to analyze, research, and rectify this imagined impending tragedy.   They need to teach this stuff in college, maybe graduate school; we can’t have too many people employing these tricks or nothing would ever get done.

I was reading about Michelle Bachmann in New Yorker Magazine I think.  She used to work for the IRS for a while.  Go figure.  They tracked down some of her old co-workers who were pretty clear that she didn’t do much in the way of work.  She seemed to get the job so she could be out on maternity leave as  much as humanly possible.  This demonstrates a high level of expertise in how to work the government.  Now she’s one of four or so remaining contenders for leader of the entire government and the free world; and the guys who picked up the slack for her back in the day are still laboring away at the IRS.  Suckers!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Understand the Empire

As I walk into the monthly staff meeting among thirty or so other gathering professionals, I face a difficult decision for a Monday; what kind of donut.   Finishing the once a month morning snack, the din of background conversation is replaced with silence as our director starts his address to the troops.  This usually amounts to a few notifications like start of health care open season is upon us, or a reminder to put in for your summer leave early so supervisors can plan how to manage in your absense; pretty much a few sentences about nothing followed by the end to the meeting. 

This time our leader states with satisfaction that we are now allowed to fill the jobs that have been vacant so long.   The long job freeze has ended and all vacant positions are being filled.  The fact that there were no adverse affects from these positions being vacant, and that the incoming workload has slowed, are immaterial. State spending is down, state projects are down, and thusly our workload has waned so much so that our milking projects that should take less time than a tour with Gilligan and the Skipper are now nearly week long undertakings.   But maybe I don't see the big picture so management may be operating on a more enlightened plane than I can imagine.   Maybe we need the extra time to handle how efficient communication has become.  Maybe I'm not accounting for the time demands of social media - who knows.
Now there are a few truths that are consistent among government offices that are not intuitively obvious.  These methods only make sense when you understand that the most important goal of your operation is not in the mission statement that your group worked on so painstakingly.  These truths are, in part:

1.   In government, it's all about the empire.   It never -ever - matters how many people you actually need.  If you build it, you will prosper.
2.  When hiring, we go for the deepest resume - somebody that already knows everything.  Therefore, we rarely hire young people.  Young people have energy, may work efficiently, may be capable of learning, and may make others look bad.  So we often favor already retired people that are looking to work enough years so they can vest in the retirement program and add another income stream.  This has the added bonus of spending state money without even helping the unemployment rate.
 3.   In government, money disappears at the end of the fiscal year.  It really does.  All agencies spend money just for the sake of spending it because it will simply up and vanish.  Worse than just going away is the fear that if someone discovers you didn't need your budgeted amount you may get less next year.