mm070: Machinist: Web radio stations win a last-minute stay of execution – Salon

July 17, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

From the Machinist blog blogroll2 at Salon.com comes, coming to you slightly late as I work off my backlog, this excellent news:

2007.07.13 • 14:16 PDT

Article removed at the polite request of the copyright holder

Machinist: Tech Blog, Tech News, Technology Articles – Salon

This is wonderful news for those of us who have become addicted to internet radio. Longtime reader may recall that I waxed poetic over Pandora.com early on in this blog’s history (way, way back in May of aught-seven). My love and respect for this service has only increased since then.

You’ll recall that Pandora, part of an organization titled the Music Genome Project, builds “stations” for you based on music that you tell it you like, in an effort to open you up to new or long-lost sounds. It has worked for me, for whom “popular” music has never ranked anywhere near more serious, classical music.

I haven’t had too much luck finding classical music stations on the internet that are decent quality, either artistic (too much “light classics” and short works all too commonly heard), or technical (streams get broken, even with a broadband connection all too frequently). And most suffer from way too many commercials — just what I’m trying to avoid by getting away from over-the-air.

So, Pandora is commercial free (of course there is advertising on the web page itself, but no spoken ads, thank goodness!), the sound quality is exquisite (when I listen via headphones at work, the channel separation and fidelity seem first-rate, at least to these elderly ears), and I’m exposed to popular music I may have only rarely heard, if at all.

When one “station” gets too repetitive, I switch; I must have a lot. Okay, I’ll count them, since I ask… 56! Whew! But plenty of variety, limited by your imagination. Because when you listen to a song you like, you tell the system, and it will play it again sooner. If you indicate you don’t like, they lose it. And you can take a song from one station and build an entire new station around it.

My taste in popular music is strange, and old: Beatles absolutely, and lately Beach Boys, which is where I started. Now I’ve got a Dr. John station, a Herb Alpert station (sorry!), a Walk Like an Egyptian station (now I know you’re doubled up laughing). But there is something very sexy sounding about those girl bands of that era, that’s fun, especially at work.

Anyway, free internet radio was threatened, per the above story, and I for one am thrilled that it lives on. Oh, yes, what am I listening to right now? Pat Benatar’s We Belong, on the Orinoco Flow station. Try Pandora.com before you laugh at me any more!

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE

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mm067.1 Why I love the Internet!

July 14, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

I wasn’t going to post again today, conserving my “bank” of interesting stuff, and responding to the fact that I do have a life outside the ‘sphere.

But, this I could not resist. Found courtesy of Thoof. blogroll2

Imperial History of the Middle East

middleeastmap.jpg

WordPress.com did not let me embed this video; probably due to its size (i.e. it didn’t fit into the column width of the theme I use). Notwithstanding, click the link, please!

The capacity to educate using these pipes is awe inspiring. I don’t know who Maps of War is, or what is their agenda (hoping for the best on this one, I gotta say!), but I’m certainly on the track to discover it, thanks to this example of their work.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE

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mm067: By the way, I do earn a living!

July 14, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

I realize that it has been some time since I broached the topic of my career, and what I do to afford the leisure to pursue this blogging thing. Lot’s of Bloomberg here; just not in this post, sorry!

Faithful reader will remember that what I do is web conferencing, an increasingly useful tool that should be adopted by more and more corporate entities due to its transformative capabilities.

My employer in the Heart of Corporate America (HCA) is a grand old conservative organization, proud of its financial performance measured over generations (a quarterly dividend paid without interruption since before my late father was born!). It seldom moves quickly where infrastructure technology is concerned, rightfully (I admit with admiration and affection that I have come to see it as rightfully) expending whatever fleet instincts it possesses towards the tooth of its tiger, not its tail.

Which is a long explanation for the fact that HCA has only been using web conferencing for a few years, mainly the five-plus years that I have been there. That’s an interesting tale. I found myself “at liberty” after my previous employer, having entered into a “merger of equals” disappeared utterly, as far as most of its human capital is concerned.

I had been part of a vigorous corporate information technology department of 155 people, getting real work done, largely supporting a marketing organization that had just launched a blockbuster product. Our “partners” swept in shortly after the “merger,” and told us there were jobs for each and every one. 1,000 miles away. Five of us took them up on their kind offer; the rest of us took a severance package.

So there I was, with a lengthy résumé, but not much current IT experience, but what was current was useful: Documentum, a complex but growing document management system, and Lotus Notes, the collaboration environment beloved of many large corporations for its rock-solid email system as well as its rapid database development feature.

The Documentum piece got me a 4-month consulting gig at HCA, doomed to frustration as the hiring manager, whose vision had created the opening I filled, cheerfully moved onward and upward (and to another campus) about a week after I reported for duty.

After a two-month interval, I was interviewed for a business analyst position by another team in the same division, and what got me the consulting gig, six months long but renewed several times, was tucked away on page two of the position description: experience with telephone and video conferencing.

I had that experience. Our Documentum team at my previous employer had outposts in several cities in the US and Europe, and, while I didn’t create the bi-weekly telephone conferences (and the occasional video conference) that the head of the corporate team had established, I did a great deal of the heavy lifting there: I published the invitations, agendas, prompt minutes; and led most of the meetings with a relaxed and welcoming style that created esprit de corps among people who had never met. We weathered the Y2K circus with ease, thanks to the cooperation and collaborative successes engendered in those bi-weekly (in 1999, weekly) sessions.

Yes, I could talk the talk about conferencing. And almost immediately after I started, additional to the conventional Lotus Notes business analysis work I had been assigned, I was asked to go see the division’s key contact for a web conferencing pilot then underway, using Lotus’ product called Sametime. The manager in question said, “thanks for coming over. Have a seat at my desk. Here is hard copy of the presentation. We’re about to demonstrate the tool in a web conference. Why don’t you lead it?”

With that sudden immersion, I never looked back. Indeed, I have led countless demonstrations since (with a good deal more assurance than that first, sweaty session). I have taught over 3,000 students the tool, all using the technology to teach the technology, in order to provide tactile, experiential learning, key for adult learners. I have surveys from 130 of the most recent of those classes, going back nearly 18 months, and my composite score is 4+ on a 1-5 scale. I facilitate key meetings, remotely from my desk as well as on location in offices and conference rooms on-site and offsite. And yes, both my corporate email signature, and my business card contain the title, “Mr. Sametime.”

My passion for collaboration created a niche for me in HCA, and by the way, has led to significant cost savings. Using IBM Lotus methodology for an analysis earlier this year, I made a believable case for $5 million in travel avoided last year; a number I think is conservative. HCA has over 60,000 employees in 130 nations around the world. Imagine not having to fly 16 regional managers from Latin America to Miami for training just as effectively delivered and received in one’s office! Just eliminating cross-campus and cross-county travel to meetings large and small in and around Corporate HQ must provide hundreds of hours of productivity savings daily.

Finally, I try to keep my passion pure, as it were. Yesterday, I was asked to participate in a bi-weekly telephone conference with a group of field-based high powered advance-degree technical managers, as there were questions about the web conferencing tool they were concerned about. The upshot? I cheerfully directed them to a third-party outside resource. Yes, a more expensive solution than my in-house one. But in their field application, the outside resource is, I believe, the more effective answer. As I told them, just because I have a (most wonderful) hammer, not every client’s problem is a nail.

Finally, I did apply for my soon to retire manager’s position, as I previously reported I would. And, as is their wont, HR never communicated one word to me beyond the automated receipt of the on-line application (don’t you dare call us — we’ll call you).

I’m not management material at HCA, that is obvious, and of course I’m disappointed, but as I said previously, I do love what I do, and where I do it. Some would ask: why on earth would you screw that up by moving into bean-counting-obsessed management?

Why, indeed.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE

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mm021: Clipjoint 2

June 7, 2007

MUDGE’s Musings

More random clips that I find of continuing interest:

Business Week finds an interesting observation about the changing nature of blogs:

There are dozens of Weblogs that seemingly anyone who is anybody in the technology industry reads regularly. Lisa Hsu’s blog isn’t one of them. A doctoral student in computer science and engineering at the University of Michigan, Hsu occasionally pens a post about topics like “secure shell protocols,” a software standard for protecting data on a computer network. More often than not, however, she’s just musing about mundane things that only her friends would care about: details of a trip to the dentist, random Web discoveries, or maybe a new movie.

Hsu guesses that only five people tune in regularly, while occasional readers may number 25. But she’s far from disappointed about not having the mass following of the blog TechCrunch. “I don’t hope that I meet new people. In fact, a lot of times, if I have a random person comment, I get scared,” says Hsu. “All I really want is for my friends to see it.”

I’m sorry, I have more ambitions than this! But, my ambitions are so far unmatched by requisite deep thoughts. I want the world, and I have you, whomever you happen to be. But, I’m cool…

___________________________

Same issue of BW has its quarterly special focus on its latest theme: innovation. The lead story is a bracing look at a company that was once respected everywhere for its successes in innovation: 3M. Look what’s happened lately:

McNerney was the first outsider to lead the insular St. Paul (Minn.) company in its 100-year history. He had barely stepped off the plane before he announced he would change the DNA of the place. His playbook was vintage GE. McNerney axed 8,000 workers (about 11% of the workforce), intensified the performance-review process, and tightened the purse strings at a company that had become a profligate spender. He also imported GE’s vaunted Six Sigma program—a series of management techniques designed to decrease production defects and increase efficiency. Thousands of staffers became trained as Six Sigma “black belts.” The plan appeared to work: McNerney jolted 3M’s moribund stock back to life and won accolades for bringing discipline to an organization that had become unwieldy, erratic, and sluggish.

Then, four and a half years after arriving, McNerney abruptly left for a bigger opportunity, the top job at Boeing (BA ). Now his successors face a challenging question: whether the relentless emphasis on efficiency had made 3M a less creative company. That’s a vitally important issue for a company whose very identity is built on innovation. After all, 3M is the birthplace of masking tape, Thinsulate, and the Post-it note. It is the invention machine whose methods were consecrated in the influential 1994 best-seller Built to Last by Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras. But those old hits have become distant memories. It has been a long time since the debut of 3M’s last game-changing technology: the multilayered optical films that coat liquid-crystal display screens. At the company that has always prided itself on drawing at least one-third of sales from products released in the past five years, today that fraction has slipped to only one-quarter….

Indeed, the very factors that make Six Sigma effective in one context can make it ineffective in another. Traditionally, it uses rigorous statistical analysis to produce unambiguous data that help produce better quality, lower costs, and more efficiency. That all sounds great when you know what outcomes you’d like to control. But what about when there are few facts to go on—or you don’t even know the nature of the problem you’re trying to define? “New things look very bad on this scale,” says MITSloan School of Management professor Eric von Hippel, who has worked with 3M on innovation projects that he says “took a backseat” once Six Sigma settled in. “The more you hardwire a company on total quality management, [the more] it is going to hurt breakthrough innovation,” adds Vijay Govindarajan, a management professor at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business. “The mindset that is needed, the capabilities that are needed, the metrics that are needed, the whole culture that is needed for discontinuous innovation, are fundamentally different.”

There’s a lot of Six Sigma activity at the Heart of Corporate America where I toil, and it’s a good thing when applied to the manufacturing side of the business. I get concerned though that, as our top management seems to want to become middle America’s version of GE in every significant management way, that the same spirit crushing impulse to SixSigmatize the entire operation may lead to the type of angst that 3M has experienced.

Home Depot and now 3M have now been shown to be the victims of GE alumni — what is the attraction, people?

___________________________

Back to the subject of blogging. Tim O’Reilly has recently published a proposed Code of Conduct for bloggers. Here’s an excerpt of the story, and the code:

When I wrote my Call for a Blogging Code of Conduct last week, I suggested some ideas of what such a code might contain, but didn’t actually put forth a draft that people could subscribe to. We’re not quite there yet, but we have a plan.

We’ve drafted a code of conduct that will eventually be posted on bloggingcode.org, and created a badge that sites can display if they want to link to that code of conduct.

Here’s the first draft:

We celebrate the blogosphere because it embraces frank and open conversation. But frankness does not have to mean lack of civility. We present this Blogger Code of Conduct in hopes that it helps create a culture that encourages both personal expression and constructive conversation.

1. We take responsibility for our own words and for the comments we allow on our blog.

We are committed to the “Civility Enforced” standard: we will not post unacceptable content, and we’ll delete comments that contain it.

We define unacceptable content as anything included or linked to that:
– is being used to abuse, harass, stalk, or threaten others
– is libelous, knowingly false, ad-hominem, or misrepresents another person,
– infringes upon a copyright or trademark
– violates an obligation of confidentiality
– violates the privacy of others

We define and determine what is “unacceptable content” on a case-by-case basis, and our definitions are not limited to this list. If we delete a comment or link, we will say so and explain why. [We reserve the right to change these standards at any time with no notice.]

2. We won’t say anything online that we wouldn’t say in person.

3. We connect privately before we respond publicly.

When we encounter conflicts and misrepresentation in the blogosphere, we make every effort to talk privately and directly to the person(s) involved–or find an intermediary who can do so–before we publish any posts or comments about the issue.

4. When we believe someone is unfairly attacking another, we take action.

When someone who is publishing comments or blog postings that are offensive, we’ll tell them so (privately, if possible–see above) and ask them to publicly make amends.
If those published comments could be construed as a threat, and the perpetrator doesn’t withdraw them and apologize, we will cooperate with law enforcement to protect the target of the threat.

5. We do not allow anonymous comments.

We require commenters to supply a valid email address before they can post, though we allow commenters to identify themselves with an alias, rather than their real name.

6. We ignore the trolls.

We prefer not to respond to nasty comments about us or our blog, as long as they don’t veer into abuse or libel. We believe that feeding the trolls only encourages them–“Never wrestle with a pig. You both get dirty, but the pig likes it.” Ignoring public attacks is often the best way to contain them.

We also decided we needed an “anything goes” badge for sites that want to warn possible commenters that they are entering a free-for-all zone. The text to accompany that badge might go something like this:

This is an open, uncensored forum. We are not responsible for the comments of any poster, and when discussions get heated, crude language, insults and other “off color” comments may be encountered. Participate in this site at your own risk.

Works for me! But, read the full story, together with its responses, and think it out for yourself.

___________________________

Well, enough clips for a couple of days, at least!

It’s it for now.

Thanks,
–MUDGE

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mm008: Working

May 14, 2007

MUDGE’s Musings

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Telecommuting

I have a friend who for years has commuted 50 feet to work and back. Self-employed in the best sense of the word (on purpose and would have it no other way) his work week is seven days long, but he has flexible hours. He works long and hard because he loves what he does, but also can stop and grocery shop in the quiet middle of a week, away from the weekend crush that devils mortal man, and as what he does is very high quality and fairly unique he knows that if we wants to take a couple of weeks of vacation in Europe or China he can, because his clients will be there on his return.

That’s him. Here’s me: a 30-mile one-way commute, made bearable for those two hours a day only because an otherwise contemptible employer some years ago introduced me to books on tape. (Now I read and stay connected in several media: audio books, real bound paper books, and this newfangled Internet thingy I’ve heard so much about. I’m so flexible.)

A few years ago, I made the leap from hourly contractor to salaried employee at the Heart of Corporate America (remember? HCA — not the name of a real place I really work!) I call my home away from home. Honestly, un-curmudgeonly, an excellent place to be. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it forever: far and away the best place I’ve ever worked.

But the commute is a killer, book on tape or not. Unfortunately, or not, with employee status came a couple of things: a pay cut, of course, since overtime is now on me; and the opportunity to participate in the golden treasure of the white collar working stiff in HCA – Working from Home, WfH for delicious short.

For a day or so every couple of weeks, I get to enjoy the 50-foot commute I have long envied in my entrepreneurial buddy. In fact, this is one area I can trump even him: I have a much smaller house; the commute is about 20 feet. It’s a beautiful thing. Due to the nature of my work I take home a laptop computer every evening, and on those lovely days that I can eschew the highway, I pull it out, plug it in, connect to my home wireless network and in short order I’m connected to the corporate world only slightly less directly than had I invested the nonreturnable two daily hours of my all too short life in my mobile library, dodging the clichéd but all too real coffee drinkers, cell phone gabbers and makeup applyers all the while. My auto insurance company should send me a valentine!

And here’s the deep dark secret: I’m a better employee for it. I’m sure that for some, “Working from Home” is code for “goofing off on company time.” In fact, the first time that I heard the expression regarding a former colleague at a former company (and I do mean former – 9,000 employees swallowed up and spit out in a typical episode of corporate bulimia), my boss illustrated it with the sardonic two-handed quote mark gesture.

I’m connected – on line I do everything I do at work, including conducting on line classes and providing high level technical support on the on line tool for which I’m the local champion. I religiously check office voice mail for my two lines every 30-40 minutes, and I’m always available via the corporate instant messaging tool.

And it’s quiet when I WfH. No unwanted intrusions from the cube dwellers all around me at the office. I respect your single-parenthood but I can only tune out so much for so long. And I respect the management work you do, but I wish I learned about it in smaller doses at times of my choosing. And your analyses of last Sunday’s game is fascinating, BUT I HAVE WORK TO DO!!!

And I know it reciprocates. If I had laryngitis, I can name several candidates who I’m sure, through osmosis and sheer repetitiveness could fill in for me in one of my classes.

Dilbert is an optimist.

Or, maybe it’s not quiet WfH. When I’m not on the phone, likely as not I’ll be enjoying Pandora.com, as marvelous a construct as I’ve seen recently in webland. Check it out while you can, as the riaa-monsters are preparing to pounce.

But, it’s my choice – quiet or not so, and if not, I choose the content. Tell me that doesn’t make me more productive.

But, don’t get me wrong – I like the people I work among, and I really don’t have a problem spending most of my employment on the man’s premises. But he (and I’ll bet he does), and now you, should know what a blessing it is to have the opportunity to telecommute occasionally.

Thanks!
–MUDGE

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