December 2007 Archives

What Happened to Manners?

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I went to see a movie with my wife tonight, a movie my wife says will be our last to see at a theater. The film was good; Denzel Washington and the entire cast of The Great Debaters were outstanding. The movie was an inspiring story of an underdog coming out on top and demonstrated the importance of family, the need to focus on goals, and included several lessons that we all should heed. One of my favorite quotes is from an exchange between Forest Whitaker and Denzel Whitaker who played the father-son team of James Farmer, Sr. and James Farmer, Jr.: “[W]e do what we have to do so that we can do what we want to do.” Ah, if only people would learn that lesson.

So, what made the movie so bad? Well, first there were only a total of six people in the theater, four others besides us. Two were apparently a mother-daughter team, the other and young, and I mean high school (maybe) couple. The apparent daughter of mother-daughter couldn’t sit still. She made at least six trips from her seat out of the theater. And when she was in the theater she was talking most of the time—talking, not whispering.

As for the teenage romance crew? They are a little tougher to gauge. I still can’t decide which is worse, to be the guy who passed gas LOUDLY several times during the movie, or to be the girl who laughed at him and stayed with him. I’m sure both mothers would have been proud!

I really don’t know why things are this way here. I go to other towns and other movie theaters where people are well-behaved and well-mannered. I went to one in Newport News, Virginia and they actually put a message up on the screen before the movie began asking the patrons to please use the trash cans on their way out of the theater. Guess what? They did. The people actually picked up their trash and dropped in the trash can!

All Eyes on Apple

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"All Eyes on Apple" by Adam L. Penenberg
Fast Company, December 2007/January 2008, p. 83.

Steve Jobs has kept Apple on a “go it alone” path and has relied on quality products, stylish design, and a little novelty in their products. However, the rest of the industry, even the rest of the world, seems to be adopting a more cooperative and collaborative path for the future. This article explores this topic and questions whether Apple will survive. I agree with the article in that Apple will survive, but will it prosper?

For the longest time Apple has held a relatively small portion of the computer market. It has a strong following but those followers tend to be limited to a few professions and the followers also tend to be rabid Apple fans. Most would buy trash bags and pay a premium for them if they only had an Apple logo on them. The question is whether Apple will be able to break into other markets with more collaboration and I doubt they will.

I’m still not very happy with the delay of my new Dell M1530 and have looked at cancelling the order and getting a MacPro laptop but I will probably not do so. One reason, I’m not certain I can get all of the software I use in a format that can be used on the Mac. And there is also the security issue. I agree with the article the Mac’s are not inherently more secure it is simply that they have such a low user-base that it makes more sense for hackers to focus on PC-based computers—“security by obscurity” as stated in the article. That means one focused attack is all that is needed.

SCHOOL RANKINGS THAT MATTER

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ARTICLE: “School Rankings That Matter" By CAMERON STRACHER
Wall Street Journal, Monday, 31 December 2007.

The US News and World Reports rankings have always bothered me. Yes, we all want to be ranked higher because that is what people are looking for. Well, what some people are looking for. Those who are willing to let someone else do the research and tell them how to think find the rankings easy to use. But they do not tell the whole story. The formula used to determine the rankings is suspect and is based on factors that may or may not be important to a particular student.

This WSJ Commentary focuses specifically on law schools and compares the US News and World Report rankings to another based solely on the passage rate of the bar exam. As the article argues, what good is a law school education from a top-ranked law school if you can’t pass the Bar? Good question.

I liken these rankings to rankings of department stores. Ask someone which department is “best” and you’ll get several answers. Some will like Wal-Mart because the prices are low. Others will rank Wal-Mart low and cite employment practices. Some will sat Wal-Mart has a large selection of products while other will say it has little variety. Some will like Sears while others will prefer a specialty store. Some will say it depends on what you want to buy. Others will say one store has low prices but another has better customer service.

I am often asked questions by parents that are of obvious concern to them but I wonder if they have thought much about what they are asking. For example, I am often asked about class sizes and I can give them the answer they are looking for but I usually add that it is more important to have a good teacher than it is to have a small class. One of my best professors taught to a class of 180+; one of my worst was a class of about 18. The parents assume that smaller classes will give their children more access to the professor outside of class but that is not always the case. Besides, I would much rather have a good professor teaching me that I didn’t need to see than to have a bad professor who I had to visit in his office everyday for help.

So, with all of these factors involved in selecting a department store, college, or law school, how is someone supposed to make a decision? The answer is really quite simple? Decide what it is that you want and then do your own research, ask your own questions, make your own decisions, and trust your own judgment. After all you are reading this with help from US News and World Report.

ARTICLE: "Midlevel Officers Show Enterprise, Helping U.S. Reduce Violence in Iraq." By GREG JAFFE.
Wall Street Journal, V. CCL, N. 152, P. A-1, Saturday/Sunday 29-30 December 2007.

This was a nice article on the ability of US military Officers to adapt and implement change, even when it involves bean counters. The article discusses how the officers sought to separate the Sunnis and Shiites to reduce the fighting between them. That is something you do in a fight so it only seems right to do that in Iraq now. Sure, the time will come when the two groups will have to live and work together but let’s keep them apart until they can learn to get along a wee bit better. Of course the officers also set about getting the place functioning again. Opening banks, turning on water, and getting electricity to flow are major factors in establishing peace. This is exactly what I’ve heard from my friends who have been over there. They say the Iraqis are very appreciative when you get them drinking water and get the sewage flowing in the right direction.

But the key to this article is that the officers recognized the need to reach out to the local power brokers and get them involved in the solution. Discussed specifically is a PowerPoint presentation made by Captain Travis Patriquin, 32 at the time, and later killed by a roadside bomb in the Fall of 2006. His PowerPoint slide was simple but effective. It was a stick figure of a soldier sharing tea with a sheik. The caption read, “This is one sheik. They’ve been leading the people of this area for approximately 14,000 years. In spite of many, many conquering armies trying to remove him, this man and his family have been involved in politics here since recorded time began.” Hmmm, makes sense to work with these people, you think?

These officers understand that you need to understand the culture you working in and people you are working with. It is not a matter of who is right and who is wrong, as many people try argue, it is a matter of working together. And yes, the sheiks need to understand us as well so they can work better with us. As I watch the news I seem to see two types of people. On the one side are those Rosie O’Donnell types who are convinced that we are evil incarnate and deserve the attacks of 9/11. On the other side are the ill-informed who believe the Iraqis and Afghanis should be so happy that we are helping them that they simply roll over and do as we say. Fortunately our military officers are able to recognize the truth lies between these two extremes. They realize that it is fine to recognize and work within a culture without having to accept that culture as their own.

NOT HAPPY WITH DELL.

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I’m not very happy with Dell today. Around the first of December I ordered two computers, one for my daughter and one for myself. My daughter’s computer was a pink Inspiron and it had a ship date of 12/26. Low and behold, Dell lived up to the tradition I knew it for and the computer arrived a week or so early. Now my computer, an XPS 1530, was ordered at the same time and was not shipped early. In fact, on the 26th, its original ship date, I got email saying it had been delayed and the new ship date was 01/04/2008. No explanation was given for the delay. I’ve emailed and tried to call to see if there was some component that was holding things up, hoping a slight change in specifications would get an earlier ship date. No joy. No one can tell me what the problem is.

Checking on-line does no good. The only status I get is “In Production”. A few years ago you used to be able to track your computer build on-line. I remember watching an order mover from order verification, to kitting, to assembly, on through to burn-in and shipping. I can’t recall all of the steps involved but there were many steps involved and you could check on-line to see exactly where your computer was. Now, they can’t even tell me what the delay is.

My first thought was that there was a Christmas rush. But I checked the Dell blogs and saw a comment from a guy who ordered his XPS 1530 several days AFTER I ordered mine and he received his in 3 days. No explanation.

I’m not coming down on Dell too hard but it would be nice to have a little more explanation and even a little more notice. Did they just realize on the 26th that there was going to be a delay? I doubt it. And the irony of all of this is that I ordered an XPS simply because the XPS systems have better customer service. I really do not enjoy talking to people at a call center who have little knowledge of what they are doing and use assumed American names. Come on people, we all know you are most likely in India so please use your real name. Your accent tips Americans off that you are not “Allen”, “Jethro”, or “Melissa” so educate the Americans and help those with trouble learn to pronounce your real name.

In response to seeing his team in a bowl game, a UCF student had this to say, according to Channel 13, Central Florida News: "It’s pretty awesome. Like it's right up there with like, just something awesome that I can't put into words right now because I’m super psyched at this happening right now". I mean like, where do I like go to like to sign this guy up for like a job in something awesome like maybe in like communications. I bet like if he could get super psyched he could like do a real good like job, like.

I hate to come down on the guy so hard but this is “like getting of hand, like”. We have a language loaded with words that could be used but this guy, or should I say “dude”, uses “like” and “right now” twice each in one sentence. When I read such utterances I can’t help but think that there little thinking going on in the brain that is controlling the mouth.

I REALLY DON’T LIKE ESPN

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I really do dislike ESPN. It seems like a few years ago, back when they would televise more Mississippi State football games, there were a little better. But now the announcers certainly appear to be biased. Oh, they love to hear themselves talk.

I watched the Liberty Bowl game on the television last night because my wife agreed that we did need to get tickets about 2 hours after they were all sold. So, I resigned myself to watching it on the tube. Well all the way through the game all I heard was how great UCF was. UCF? Who the heck are they? They play in the friggin’ Conference USA for crying out loud! Most of the game the ESPN bozos talked about Kevin Smith breaking the single-season rushing record set by Barry Sanders in 1988. Even the stats ESPN put on screen should show how stupid this argument is. Counting the Liberty Bowl, Smith’s record would be for 14 games whereas Sanders’ record was for only 11. I can’t remember the number (and don’t care enough to look it up) but the game average was significantly lower for Smith than it was for Sanders as well.

It doesn’t really matter because Smith did not break the record. Something about an SEC team getting in the way and showing the UCF team what defense is all about. As Croom says, it was not a pretty win but it was a win. We also did not play all that well. We really should have scored more points but it looked to me like our offense was not doing well more than it was a case of UCF defense playing well.

Click here to see the press release at JohnMcCain.com or look below. The list is impressivee and there are several Admirals that I personally admire.

Today I made an ethics presentation to the Mississippi Society of Petroleum Engineers. The crowd was around 25 and they had another continuing professional development seminar after mine. I gave the standard one-hour ethics program and got lots of nice compliments afterwards. One member said he had been to several ethics seminars where the slides were read to the audience and he enjoyed the way I engaged the audience and gave them something more than slide after slide. It was nice to hear that and other similar comments.

Now it is time to change things up a bit. I’ve been giving the same show for a while now and I’m about tired of it. I know most of the people who see it are either seeing it for the first time or have forgotten it from when they saw it last. I, on the other hand, know what has changed and what has not. I think I’ll look for some new examples to discuss and maybe some new graphics. Should be fun.

Wall Street Journal, Sat/Sun Dec 8-9, 2007, p. A4

The CIA is once again in hot water with the US Congress. Several years ago the CIA taped some interrogations it conducted and recently destroyed those tapes because they had no additional intelligence value. Keeping the tapes, however, put at risk having the interrogators identified.

Shortly after 11 September 2001 there seemed to be a lot of discussion about who knew what and when about the terrorists. It came out that law enforcement knew some useful information but kept it quite so as to not have the criminal investigation tainted. I thought we had learned from that experience that there were greater goals to be obtained than simply “brining terrorist to justice”. Is not better to prevent acts of terror than to allow them to occur and then put the parties on trial?

Assuming the CIA’s version is correct and that Congress was indeed notified of the destruction, then I think they did the right thing

Fred

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A few days ago I was given the book The Fred Factor: How passion in your work and life can turn the ordinary into the extraordinary to read by a “Fred”. "Fred" called me today to ay she was changing jobs and asked if I could return the book. I told her I hadn’t finished it so she said she would put her address in my mailbox so I could mail it to her. Well, it was a short book so I took a little time and read this afternoon and returned it to her.

My “Fred” was actually Shelly. Shelly works at the counter of the Mississippi State Post Office and tomorrow is her last day before she moves to another post office. One day when things were very slow I went to the post office and when I walked up to the counter Shelly put Fred down to help me. I asked her about the book and if she enjoyed it. She then asked if I would like to borrow it. I said yes and she said she had one other person lined up to read it before me.

Fred is a book about doing a little extra to make someone’s day special. It is about giving that little bit of extra of customer service. In the book, Fred really is a postal worker; a “street walker” as my former Master Chief referred himself in is civilian job as a mailman. When I got the book I noticed that someone had given it to Shelly because they recognized her as a Fred. And a Fred she is indeed. I’ll miss seeing her every day when I walk in to check my mail.

Shelly is not the first Fred I have met; I’ve met several. One was an international worker, Indian I think, who was working at Sbarro’s in Washington. I was staying at the Crystal City Marriott and Sbarro’s was in the mall next to the hotel. I had some work to do in the room so I decided to gt a slice of pizza to take to the room. All of the pizza looked good and I asked about some of them. Then I narrowed my choice down to two and couldn’t decide. I almost got both but finally decided to only get one.

I had paid for the pizza and was sprinkling it with cheese and red pepper when the guy called to me and was handing me another piece of pizza. It was a slice of the other pizza I wanted. His English was not very good and I thought he thought I wanted both pieces. Then I thought about it and realized I had only paid for one slice. I told him this and said thank you but I have my pizza. He kept insisting that I take the pizza and I kept telling him I had my pizza. Finally he said, “here, me, you, friends.” I was astonished that this perfect stranger, in a large city, was given me a slice of pizza. I took the pizza and thanked him several times before I left.

Now, I do realize that the restaurant was closing in about 15 minutes and there would have been several pieces of pizza to throw out. But this guy did not have to give it to me. He could have kept for himself, but he didn’t. I honestly doubt that guy remembers that night because I was just one of thousands people he sold pizza to. But I remember that incident and remember his word. I also never pass up eating at Sbarro’s when I’m hungry and near one. His small gesture, his slice of free pizza won the company a loyal customer. He was a Fred, long before Fred was ever written.

I want more Fred’s!

I received my Naval Order of the United States membership today. I have wanted to join this organization for a while and found someone to take my application and submit it for membership. I wish my grandfather had been a member given he was also a Navy guy.

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Day One Leadership

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We had the final Day One Leadership Program luncheon for the Action Team Leaders. We all got certificates, an umbrella, door prizes, and an item from the grocery store picked by our teams to describe us. I got a bottle of V8 Splash because I “add a splash to the traditional”. It was a fun event but I’m sad it is the end of Day One for year.

One of my team members won the Day One Leadership Idol award from the pod and it was presented to her at the Air Force ROTC Dining In last week. She could not stay for the presentation following their presentation but it all worked out well.

I had a great team and I look forward to doing it again next year.

I passed. It wasn’t pretty and it was certainly not my best performance, but I passed my oral comprehensive exam. I am not the kind of person who typically gets nervous; In fact there are only two times in my life that I recall truly being nervous and this was one of them. The other was a similar situation—when I was going in for Engineering Duty Officer Qualification exam.

My committee was helpful, they were not intimidating, but I was still nervous. Even the simple things that I know did not come easily. But I was able to satisfy them, apparently.

The problem, I think, is that I was not the expert in the room then. Usually in situations like that I am the most knowledgeable person on the subject matter at hand. Either I’ve written it, designed it, or worked on it so long that I know it better than anyone. When someone asks me a question I know I can answer it and I know they want to know the answer. In my orals I was not the expert, my committee members were. And they did not ask questions so that I could educate them; they were asking to see if I could give them the answer they wanted.

Once the Q & A was over, we discussed my dissertation topic. It still has some issues and I still have my concerns. Their comments were helpful but I was not surprised by what they said. I share their concerns and I feel better knowing that they see anything out there that might trip me up that I didn’t see myself or that I have not spoken with them about previously.

Feels good to be on this side of the exam.

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This page is an archive of entries from December 2007 listed from newest to oldest.

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