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Free Like A Puppy

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(Photo credit: animal-medical-clinic.com)

Rodney, I feel like we should give you a car.

Okay, that’s random. Any particular one?

Yeah. We’ve got a Lexus that someone gave to us and we’ve always felt like it really belonged to someone else. You’re the one we feel we should have it.

Any idea why?

Well, you said it’s 80 miles round trip to your new job. The Lexus is going to be much more economical than your Suburban.

Thanks. I appreciate it.

It does need a little work.

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My Dad always said there are two kinds of free: free like a lunch or free like a puppy. This was the puppy. First we did the math. My suburban gets about 15 miles per gallon. If it’s 80 miles to work and back, that’s 5.3 gallons. At $3.30 per gallon it cost me about $17.60 to drive to work each day.

If the Lexus gets 20 MPG, that’s four gallons and $13.20 per day. Over the course of a month, that’s about a hundred bucks saved just on my commute. I’m currently averaging about 3000 total miles per month. Working thought the math, I’d save about $165 per month. Or about $2000 per year.

But, that new car has to be insured. That added $400 per year to my policy. So, now we’re down to $1600 savings. Registration pulls another $100 off that. But still $1500 savings per year is significant.

But remember that “little work”? The car has been sitting since 2009. Well, my neighbors of the “Smack It With A Hammer” story not only gave me the car, they did a bunch of the labor, but it still needed a new battery ($100) and a new antenna ($50). . .And new tires ($500.) My mechanic explained that the chrome wheels that came on the Lexus develop a problem when they got old.

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The chrome started to flake off and it was almost impossible to keep a seal. So, add in new wheels as well ($700.)

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I went to see a glass dealer about a new windshield.

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What kind is it?

It’s a ’96 Lexus.

LOL. Probably $170. . . It’s a Toyota.

I also checked on the missing door panel.

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Yeah, a new one would be $800 . . .its a Lexus!

Actually once the windshield guy got into it he realized the rubber gasket around the windshield would be about $100 extra, because. . .its a Lexus.

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And we needed to repair some rust around the windshield. That’s another few hundred to a body shop.

As I made my way through the “little work,” I was reminded of a Jerry Reed song. Jerry Reed played the truck driver Cletus “Snowman” in the Smokey And The Bandit movies.

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(Photo credit: Reocities.com
He was also a singer/songwriter and has a song called, Lord’ Mr Ford. It includes the line

I added it up and over a period of time,
This four thousand dollar car of mine
Cost fourteen thousand dollars, and ninety-nine cents.

Thinking about the movie, he even owned a puppy.

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(Photo credit: technocratic.com)

Still, it was an incredibly generous gesture on the part of my friend and neighbor. Once we are done, it will hopefully keep returning the yearly savings for many years to come.

Oh. . .and it’s a Lexus!

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife and thirteen children, and across the street from the nicest and most generous neighbors in the world!

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or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

Sometimes It Really Is Life Or Death

Aaron was a light sleeper. It was a result of fibromyalgia, a condition he had developed several years earlier as the result of a high fever. He had to monitor his activity level very carefully. That’s hard enough when you are an adult, but when you are a 13 year old boy on a snow campout it’s especially difficult.

Aaron made sure that he didn’t over exert himself building the snowcave he was sharing with his brother and his friend Carson. He did everything right. He changed his clothes before getting in his sleeping bag. He put on clean dry socks. He put his clothes for the next day in the bottom of his bag. He made sure his bag was on a ledge with a slight slope and resting firmly on his insulated pad.

And then he climbed in and worked on getting warm. His body started to relax and his sleeping bag was soon a toasty warm. He’d been asleep for an hour or so when he woke up to the sounds of Carson moving around.

Carson hadn’t taken the same precautions Aaron had. His sleeping bag was in the bottom of the snow cave where the water collected. It got soaked and he got wet, an uncomfortable experience in a summer camp. A potentially deadly one in a winter camp.

Are you okay, Carson?

Carson?

Carson was on his way out of the snowcave with nothing but soaked pajamas and no socks or shoes.

Aaron didn’t even think about it. He knew that Carson had been too quiet to wake anyone else up. It was only because he was such a light sleeper that Aaron woke up. He quickly got his boots on, grabbed his coat and left his warm, dry bed to follow his disoriented friend out into the snow.

It was clear that Carson didn’t have a plan. He was simply wandering around in his barefeet. Hypothermia was fogging his brain, and frostbite was setting in making his feet numb.

Come on Carson, let’s go find one of the leaders.

He allowed Aaron to guide him to cave where the leaders were sound asleep. They rushed Carson home where his anxious parents gradually warmed his feet and plied him with hot chocolate and blankets.

Carson’s feet peeled, but he had no lasting damage. Aaron went back to bed that night, but later was recognized by Carson’s family for the role he played in literally saving the life of his friend.

In business we don’t often have life and death decisions. Sure, some do. Those maintaining hospital systems, or 911 emergency systems can have a direct impact on life and death. But for most of us, no one is going to die if we mess up a report. We are not going to save someone’s life if we get our project done a week early.

These aspects of business are important, of course. Just because it’s not life and death doesn’t mean it’s not important.

But, sometimes it’s good to be reminded that life savers come in all shapes and sizes, and we never know when we go to bed at night if we will have the chance to literally save someone from dying. I’m grateful that Aaron was prepared, and didn’t decide that Carson’s welfare was someone else’s responsibility.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife and thirteen children.

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or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

Nothing Is Truly Random

I don’t believe in intermittent issues.

Okay Jason, I’ll bite. Why not?

If you search enough there is always an explanation.

Jason runs the network team for a large telecommunication company. He’s earned his stripes in the trenches. He’s very good at what he does and what he knows.

In this case, he’s wrong.

I mean MOST of the time he’s completely accurate. IT people are always balancing getting the systems back online and searching for root cause of the outage. However, we don’t get paid to do research. Rebooting a server clears everything that’s in memory and reloads the programs from the hard disk. If your server is having an issue because something in memory is corrupt, often rebooting it will clear the problem and at the same time destroy your best evidence for figuring out what went wrong.

Sure, there are still log files and some other data bits, but often rebooting is an admission that “I’m not going to work on figuring out the issue any more. I’m going to try to get my system back up and running.

And that is what IT engineers get paid to do. . .keep the system online. If you reboot and the problem goes away, but you never figured out what the problem was, you have no way of knowing if the problem will come back. But, customers can once again access your company’s webpage.

That’s what Jason was referring to. If you are willing to take the time and check enough variables you can explain every outage. . .But, not always.

Back when I was supporting WordPerfect Office 3.0, we talked to the programmer one time about how files got named. Every email was a separate file and had long names like

7F851B41

Well, we have an algorithm that runs on the client. It looks at the clock, message length and the information about the Post Office and Domain and then builds it from that.

So, if two people happened to send email at exactly the same time there’s a remote possibility we could end up with duplicate file names?

Sure. . .but you’d never replicate it in testing.

What separates a good engineer from a great engineer is that both of them are good at getting the system back online and keeping it running smoothly. The great engineer has the ability to think outside the box and spot root cause of a problem while still maintaining system integrity.

But they both still have to reboot the server on occasion.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife and thirteen children.

Follow him on
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Facebook (www.facebook.com/rbliss)
LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss)
or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

Management Rules that Make No Sense #8: The Art of the Joke. Why You Shouldn’t Worry About Your Job If I’m Teasing You About Your Job

I really have to figure out how to cut down the length of the management rule titles.

Are you funny? Can you make people laugh? Is it just a polite chuckle, or can you make them shoot milk out their nose?

I love comedy. I have since I was a kid. My mother tells stories about me as a fairly young kid watching old Abbot and Costello movies and just rolling on the floor laughing. As an adult, I enjoy comedy clubs. Stand up comedy is an art form that is not for everyone. And what makes it unique among all performance art forms is that stand up comedy is the only art form that must have an audience to practice.

Over the past several years I’ve seen dozens of comedy shows. I’ve seen Brian Regan in an auditorium with 1000 people. And I’ve seen shows in local bars where the comics outnumber the audience 2:1 or more. I also enjoy youtube clips of comics. This clip by Welsh comedian Rhod Gilbert made me laugh so hard I couldn’t breath.

I especially enjoy open mics. This is where a performer has 3 minutes to be funny or die.

Everyone who gets up at an open mic thinks they are funny. My experience over the past several years is that 80% of them are delusional. They might be able to kid someone and make them laugh, but the ability to stand on a stage and make an audience laugh on cue is hard.

Comics, good comics, have the ability to make virtually anyone laugh and do it on cue. Maybe that is you. Not everyone who is a great comedian is on stage.

So, how do you use humor in the workplace? Joking with peers is typically accepted and expected in most fields and certainly in IT. What about when you are the boss? Can you crack a joke with the staff?

There are a few rules to consider. And the rules are different for managers than for staff. It’s not fair, but get used to it.

1. Never, EVER joke about race, religion or gender. There is no way for a manager to do it in a safe way. Probably throw sexual orientation into that mix as well.

2. Don’t make your employees the butt of jokes.

3. Self deprecating humor is allowed. . sometimes.

4. Never EVER use humor to cover an awkward situation.

If you are concerned with the time someone comes into the office, don’t joke about them “missing the train again.” As a manager, you hold a position of authority. Any joke you make “about” an employee will automatically be interpreted as a joke “at” that employee.

Here’s how I handled it. I told my staff that I would never use humor to cover an awkward situation. If I was teasing them about something, it meant that I really wasn’t worried about it.

Wait. Does that mean if you are NOT teasing us about something that you ARE worried about it?

That would be one of the red flags. Yes.

I once had an employee who screwed up really badly. (He Deserved To Be Fired.) But, he was a good employee and I really wanted to keep him. We worked through a 90 day Performance Improvement Plan. During that time, I never once teased him about the quality of his work, or anything that related to his job. He was fearing for his position. It would have been extremely cruel to laugh at his expense.

Once I set the rule that I won’t tease about serious issues, I’m free to engage in joking with the staff. (While keeping in mind the rules above.) So, you don’t need to completely suppress your personality when you become a manager. But, you should realize that when you take that manager role, the rules change. You give up some of your freedom of expression.

No joke.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife and thirteen children.

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Chuck Went To Hawaii

Rodney, Allstate is having an email issue and they need you onsite.

When?

Whenever the next plane can get you there. Preferably a flight today, if not, first thing tomorrow. You’re going to be be there until it’s resolved!

This was our life. We were the ultimate WordPerfect road warriors. (How I Saved the EPA, Don’t Tell Pete.) Each member of the WordPerfect SWAT team had their own speciality. I was an email expert. We had experts in networks, printers, database. . .if WordPerfect had a product they sold to corporate customers, we had someone on the SWAT team that dealt with it.

And we could be sent on a moments notice. These were pre-9/11 days. It was not uncommon to arrive at the airport 15 minutes prior to your plane leaving. I once ran from one end of Salt Lake City International airport to the other and literally had to make them open the door and let me on the plane.

But, the job was fun. We thought we were making a lot of money, and we knew we were making a big difference to our customers.

The SWAT Team had two managers, Chuck and Cary. I never really figured out why the team had two. It was rare to interact with them. We were all experienced engineers, and long time WordPerfect employees. We didn’t need a lot of management coaching or direction.

The managers were not always the most aware of how their actions affected the team. Every Friday on www.rodneymbliss.com I explain one of my management rules. Generally, I’ve developed the rules from experiences that I’ve had. I’ve seen what worked and what didn’t. I’m not sure that Chuck and Cary had a set of management rules. They were very happy being in charge. That attitude showed up in multiple ways, but two instances stand out.

I’ve talked before about the beautiful landscapes here in Utah. And even talked about the view from WordPerfect’s offices like this picture of Building G where support lived.

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Ironically, despite the gorgeous vistas, or perhaps because of them, the support cubicles on the 2nd floor, had six foot high walls, even next to the windows. Getting a seat by the window wasn’t necessarily a perk since the partition walls gave you the same drab view as everyone else.

After the team had been up and running for few months, C&C got booted out of their office and moved to cubicles. This isn’t uncommon and wasn’t a demotion for them. Although, like anyone they were disappointed to not have an office.

Imagine our surprise then when we came in the next week and found C&C in window cubicles with 3 foot partition walls. They had a gorgeous view and didn’t even need to stand up for it.

So, how’d you score a half-height wall?

We’re managers.

And that was their entire explanation. They had no concept of what effect it would have on their team. We had all been sitting in these exact same cubes for months without a window. We were told that company policy prevented lower walls. It pretty much soured us all on our managers. They weren’t looking out for us, but they were certainly looking out for themselves!

And that brings me to the second example of terrible leadership. As SWAT team members we went wherever the customers were. Sometimes, it was Nutley, NJ, or the suburbs of Chicago or Detroit. Other times it was downtown Washington DC or Seattle or LA. You pretty much had the luck of the draw when it came to locations.

So, imagine our excitement when a company in Hawaii started to have a network issue. We weren’t sure if it was really a network issue and Edward would go or if it was an email issue and I’d go. Either way, the prospect of a trip to Hawaii on the customer dime was pretty exciting and the entire team followed the developments closely.

Finally the decision was announced: Chuck was going.

Huh? Chuck NEVER went out on calls. And the absolute worst part of our job was the uncertainty. You were flying into a screwed up system and were expected to fix it. The fact that you might get a nice dinner afterwards, and get a chance to see some of the sights was almost an afterthought.

But, Hawaii. We were talking about maybe taking a vacation day or two after solving the issue and before flying back. Who knew when we’d get to Hawaii again, if ever?

And now, we were informed that management would take care of the Hawaii client. It was one more example of inexperienced managers not thinking about how their actions would impact the team.

In a few weeks I’ll address the management rule: Tell Them It’s All About You, Make It All About Them. If you treat your team well, they will move heaven and earth to live up to your expectations. I’ve had teams that literally created miracles because I asked them to. Doesn’t mean I’m a great manager, but I’ve always tried to make it about the team and not about me, the manager.

So what? you might think. It’s one trip. And it’s a trip to HAWAII!! The employees will get over it! Won’t they?

Think about this, it’s been more than 20 years since Chuck snagged that plum assignment to Hawaii rather than let it go to one of his employees. Did they get over it? Sure. Did they ever forget it? Not so far.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife and thirteen children.

Follow him on
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LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss)
or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

Flirting With Disaster (Writing Streaks)

Thank you for reading www.rodneymbliss.com. Whether you are here for the first time, or you have been with me from the beginning, I appreciate everyone who takes a few minutes out of their day to come read my ramblings on leadership, teams, business, computers and the occasional sidetrack into canning or horticulture.

I typically don’t write about writing. There are many wonderful blogs and books about the art and science of putting words on a page, this isn’t one of them.

Today I’m making an exception. Hopefully you are reading this on Wednesday April 16th, starting at 7:00am Mountain Time. That’s when it’s been scheduled for. I’m writing it on Sunday April 13th at 8:30am.

Why is this significant? And why am I risking driving away the few readers who didn’t bail when I said I was going to talk about writing? Because there’s a chance that WordPress will screw up the posting and I’ll break a streak that is very important to me.

This blog started on November 26th, 2012 with Back Where It All Began. But, I was sporadic. I posted a couple of times per week. Starting on March 28th, 2013 I started writing every weekday with (Mom Always Said To Take a Coat).

Since then I have managed to post something every Monday – Friday for 56 weeks in a row. That’s not a hugely impressive streak when I compare it to my friend Howard Tayler. He’s been writing Schlock Mercenary every day since June 12th, 2000, over 13 years. Howard typically has a buffer of about 30 days of comics that are already complete. If he gets down to two weeks, he starts to panic and pushes other stuff aside to get his buffer back up.

But, I am terrible at keeping a buffer. Not traveling for the past year made it easy to be lazy, if you can call writing 500 to 1000 words every day lazy. I’m currently on a trip to San Antonio. I’m not sure if I’ll have internet access. So, I’m writing this buffer.

If you got this Wednesday morning at 7:00am, then my streak is intact. If not, I apologize for messing up my schedule and we’ll start a new streak when I get back on Thursday.

Again, I typically don’t find writing about writing very interesting and I appreciate you reading to the end of this post. But mostly, I appreciate you showing up every day to see what crazy thoughts on management and leadership I came up with.

See you tomorrow.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife and thirteen children.

Follow him on
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LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss)
or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

What’s Next? (Not What I thought)

Bruce’s facebook post seemed simple enough. It was a pattern puzzle. Bruce is a friend from high school and absolutely brilliant, so I enjoyed the prospect of challenging myself on a puzzle he created.

Given the following sequence, what comes next???
Blue
Red
Yellow
Blue
Green
Red
???

Stop reading now if you want to try to figure it out yourself. I’ll wait.

. . .

. . .

Did you find the pattern? Post your solution in the comments. Here’s what I came up with

Purple

My thinking went like this:

Primary colors
Blue
Red
Yellow

Primary color with “opposite” secondary color
Blue -
Green – combine primary color above and primary not below
Red -
Purple – combine primary above (red) and not primary below (yellow, assumed since it’s the one not yet listed.)

In addition I assumed that after purple would be yellow, the next primary color and then orange, the third secondary color. After orange I assumed he would go back to blue and possibly go to tertiary colors, but I wasn’t sure I could keep the pattern straight.

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The correct answer?

Blue

That really threw me. I went back over my logic, and couldn’t find anyway that blue would be next. Finally, I admitted I was stumped and asked Bruce for the logic behind an answer of blue.

Here‘s where he pointed me.

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Google’s 1997 logo.

Sometimes I tend to overthink things. . .by a lot.

Here’s the business tie-in. We make assumptions everyday. I’m in the middle of a very big, very stressful project at work. We are working to launch a service for a very important client. The client wants us to run everything past them. We are defining what programs phone agents will have on their desktop. The client wants to approve every.single.program.

More than once we have assumed that we knew what they wanted, or knew what they would approve. And when we check with them, we discover their answer is “blue.” Not, purple followed by yellow and then probably orange. No, just blue.

And to us, to me, it sometimes makes no sense. Why blue? Why do it this way when I think I’ve figured out a way that makes sense, that follows a pattern, that is logical?

Because the customer can see the Google logo from last century and they are basing their requirements on criteria that I don’t even understand exist.

Definitely illustrates why it makes sense to ask about everything. . .and sometimes Google the answer.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife and thirteen children.

Follow him on
Twitter (@rodneymbliss)
Facebook (www.facebook.com/rbliss)
LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss)
or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

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