morning smiles

It was an early morning session of reviewing emails, plans and commissions in the cogbots offices today- and then from across the table I heard  “oh cool-  might want to build one of those.….” I love it when our customers send in ideas and plans asking for design assistance or parts consults and they send in something that gets the creative juices flying.  Smile inducing- keep them coming in…

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On being a bit of a control freak

We talk disparagingly about “control freaks”- how annoying they are, how difficult to work with, how….controlling.

But the real truth is that when you have a vision, you have to be a bit of a control freak. In moments of exhaustion or desperation, turning ideas over to the masses to be “implemented” or “improved” may seem like a good choice- but it is very rarely the case.  Seth Godin’s blog post summed it up nicely this morning:

Left to its own devices, the mob will augment, accessorize, spam, degrade and noisify 
whatever they have access to, until it loses beauty and function and becomes something else.

The tragedy of the design commons. .........  It seems democratic and non-elitist to set it and forget it 
and let the users take over.  But the tools we use (Wikipedia) and the brands we covet (Nike or Ducati) 
resolutely refuse to become democracies.

 

If you have a vision, you have to grow it wisely, pruning the sucker branches that would distract or weaken it.

Journalist’s Twitter account suspended without warning for tweeting too much about #NDAA and Occupy Wall Street.

Journalist’s Twitter account suspended without warning for tweeting too much about #NDAA and Occupy Wall Street.

The importance of business rule #1

I work in IT.
I am getting sick, watching our field grow a reputation slightly better than shifty used car salesmen. This is spreading like wildfire because people are forgetting business rule number one: Listen.

Here is a recent great example.
I got a call last night from my mom, who is about 700 miles away.
She was frustrated, exasperated and nearly ready to cry.
She was absolutely ready to throw her Roku box out the window.

My parents  are NOT technologically savvy.  Since my Dad’s vision is worse, he can not see wires and connectors to help.
My mom is usually a little scared she is going to break something and less than confident when it comes to technology. If you have done any tech support, you know the type. If you have not done tech support, you probably have a Dad or an Aunt or a Cousin like this.  Just like not everyone is comfortable playing softball, not everyone is comfortable with technology.

We got my parents a Roku two years ago because we loved it so much, and they have loved it too.
My dad is sight impaired, and they love that they can connect Flick.r and then my dad can see photos on the TV where they are large.  They do Netflix streaming ( at least for now) and a few other things on it.

So, what caused her to want to pitch the Roku they have loved? Tech Support who wanted to sell them things instead of solving a problem. And not just Roku Tech Support, Linksys and Verizon got in the game as well.

They wanted to show a friend some pictures from a recent trip. When they went to open Flic.kr, they got an error message that the network settings were not correct and it could not connect.

They called Roku support. Roku support ( who they could barely understand speaking), had them read them the error message and said- it must be your router call them.   They called the Linksys customer service people and Linksys customer support (who talked mostly jargon and tech terms, rather than simple english)  told them that they probably needed to reset a code in their Verizon DSL Router, when they got a storm it can cause problems. They tried to rest the code, but did not have access in the Verizon hardware. So, they called Verizon DSL, Verizon DSL told them it would cost 29.95 to have that code reset. At this point, my mother thought every time they got a storm, they were going to have to pay 29.95 to get a code rest to make their Roku work. The Verizon people assured her she could pay 59.99 and get 6 months of support instead.
Luckily, she looked at my dad and said ” we can buy a whole new Roku for only 79.99, I don’t know what to do- let’s eat dinner”. Then called me , very upset.

I LISTENED. Actually, when she got to “my Roku gets an error message trying to connect to the network”, I knew what to ask next- but I let her vent the whole painful story to get it out.
Then I asked ” Have you tried to reconnect the Roku in the Roku settings?”
She stopped in her tracks. They had had this working seamlessly for 2 years and had completely forgotten that there were any settings there.
I booted up my Roku quickly, so I could look while I talked, walked her through the menu selections to get there ( about 3 clicks) and the built in wizard took over, found their router and connected.  Less than 3 minutes and her Roku was fixed, no expense.

I have no problem with the fact that people need to make money.
But this is the second instance in less than a week that we have crossed paths with tech support that was more anxious to collect cash for things other than a needed fix, instead of listening to the customer and fixing the problem and creating a happy customer who would come back for more sales in the long term.

Granted,  my parent’s Roku is out of warranty. But if Roku had asked them “have you tried reconnecting from the settings menu ?” instead of pawning them off on Linksys, it would have short circuited 90 minutes of frustration. I would have been OK if when she said ” How do I do that?” they said, we are sorry you are out of warranty, that support costs. Then she would have called me and asked and we would have had it fixed.

If Linksys had said ” we do not support Roku, but let’s check your router” and taken her through standard troubleshooting ( the fact that the other two computers attached to the Linksys router still talked to the Verizon DSL and got on the internet fine should have indicated that there was no communication problem between the Linksys and Verizon), then politely sent her away, rather than sending her into DSL reconfigurations would have been fine.

Verizon had in their records that they had a tech at her house a couple of weeks ago, who adjusted their network. If they had said- we had a tech there recently disrupting your network, you might have to reconnect devices to make them work correctly. They do not have to be able to tell her how to do that, it is not their responsibility.  But immediately telling her the DSL could have issues in a storm and trying scare tactics to get subscription support pisses me off.

It upsets me both because they jerked around my mom, but also because it makes IT look bad. Pretty soon, being in IT will be a little like being a lawyer. That is a horrible shame. We have the opportunity to make things that make people’s lives fun, interesting, and even amazing.  Let’s not lose this to make a few 29.95 fees that don’t fix anything.

Peculiar Preztelmen- the cure for Mondays

Over the weekend, I got turned on to The Peculiar Pretzelmen by Ms.Pat Kight. My life has not been the same since.

Their music is an amazing and complex blend of old fashioned gritty jazz/blues, chaos and the experimental joy of making music with everything around you. The rhythms are infectious, make me want to move and even their darkest topics made me smile.

Close your eyes and you are transported back to dustbowls, a hard scrabble life and simple pleasures and joys. The gravel in the lead singer’s voice makes him somehow more grounded and real- someone you expect to look up and see banging on a banjo on your front porch.

With a philosophy of renovating, recreating and restoring old instruments, they fit well in the Maker ethos, bringing a modern beat and exploration of sound to life on musical history itself.

If a song like “Wash the Ground” does not turn around your Monday, nothing can. A slow start of melodic rhythms that eases into gravelly vocals backed by instruments that sing the harmonies, this song had my toes tapping, then my legs bouncing, then me up out of my chair and dancing inn the office. So come on down…. time to get infected by the Peculiar Pretzelmen.

If streaming music is more your thing, you can also find them on last.fm, myspace, or check out the Pandora Station I created. If you fall in love with them, check them out on CD Baby and help support some great music.

I have not had the privilege of seeing them live, but will be watching their tour listings for something close by. Do you have Peculiar Pretzelmen stories to share?

edit note: updated to correct the amazing person who originally turned me to the Peculiar Side– I apologize for the confusion. Mary Mactavish still has an awesome blog ya’ll should check out if you love geography.



Computing Power leading to a decline in thought power?

I recently attended an Industry workshop for High Performance Computing at Purdue University. This was industry’s chance to give feedback to the university types on what we need, what we don’t and what we can’t use, no matter how cool. It was a chance for us to get a peek into some of the up and coming research and development in HPC, so we can mull over the possibilities in the next couple of years. It was also a chance for us to network and chat with each other. I had a chance to talk to people supporting HPC activities at about a half dozen major companies and the consensus was immediately clear.

People are relying on the brute computing power of today’s computers, rather than thinking carefully. We are apparently not the only ones to notice. Yesterday, Tim Walker posted a thoughtful piece on the usefulness of thinking as well. Don’t misunderstand- I am not a luddite. There is no doubt that today’s hardest questions require incredible computing power to answer. The power of the computer on my desktop and in my lap right now mean that I can process music and video in ways not possible with paper and pencil. But to think that because you have seemingly endless computing power at your fingers tips you do not have to take time to think before typing is not only wrong, it is wasteful.

Let me give you an example. This is a completely made up example based off of real life stories. The names, products, companies are all changed.. but the thinking ( or lack thereof) remains the same. The impact to the bottom line of the companies has been experienced more than once.

John Smith works for WingsRUs -an up and coming wing company. They are a aiming at becoming the leading supplier of wings to the global wing market, so they want a brand new design that is more efficient, more economical to make and helps the craft it is attached to use less fuel. All great goals. WingsRUs is technologically savvy and uses the latest modeling and simulation methods to test all of their designs before building prototypes. They have a large supercomputer cluster they use to run simulations for fast turn around of ideas. These are all great practices. John has the germ of an idea for a wing that will revolutionize flight. He is sure it will be the next breakthrough product. But there are 3 variables that vary by 4 cm each which could impact his design and he is not quite sure which combinations will give the best results. John can easily submit groups or batches of simulations to the supercomputer cluster at his company, so he decides to parametrize those variables, varying each by a millimeter at a time and running the simulation for each possible combination to find the best solution. Although each simulation runs in 4 hours, this results in thousands of simulations and the analysis of each- adding weeks to the overall design cycle and consuming large amounts of the company computing resources. John consumes so many cycles, that other engineers have trouble getting their jobs through the queue and their managers put together a project with real ROI to expand the cluster and add more computing power to the company resrouces. It has computable ROI because they are in a situation where their engineers ability to work is impacted and with the additional compute power, they can achieve more. However, the same end result could have been achieved without any cash outlay at all, if our friendly engineer John had taken the time to think carefully, done a reasonable design of experiment and run fewer simulations in the first place.

The insanity of this is that every single corporate IT person I have talked to in the last year has at least one of these stories. Sometimes many. Sometimes it is caught before new compute power is purchased, but not always.

You can make the same arguments for something like storage. Yes, storage is fairly cheap right now.. But just because it is cheap, should you fill it up with junk emails and multiple versions of 5 year old files that you never would have kept back when storage was expensive? Wouldn’t it make more sense to take time to think for a moment, make reasonable choices and save the money on extra storage?

There are concerns other than costs savings involved as well. An unused brain does not reinforce neural connections and soon becomes “flabby” like an unused muscle. The end result is not just a loss of money for companies, but a loss of the national brain trust and the ability to think an innovate.

I love my computer- sometimes in ways that are probably not healthy. Some people would say I am addicted to the connectivity it provides for me. But I refuse to go one step further and let it think for me. What about you?