Musings, Rants, and Random Thoughts

The frustration of the 360 eval

Recently, I was asked to completed a 360 degree eval of a colleague.  I’m sure most either know what this type of evaluation is or can make a pretty good guess, but the idea is that everyone around the individual – superiors, peers, subordinates, outside and inside the organization – are asked to evaluate that person.

For the most part, it’s all numbers.  1 = never, 10 = always, and everything in between.  Anonymity is very safe.

However, in this case there were also written responses.  These were optional, but I feel that, if someone is seeking feedback in order to become a better leader, then something more than just number is necessary.  But once I put my own words down…I rather think it is easy to spot when I’m writing versus someone else.  Not that I’m Dickensian or anything, but I speak and write a certain way when I’m doing so formally (which I don’t always do in this blog, btw) and I fear that it’ll be obvious which responses are mine.

And thus the problem of the 360 – no one wants to be honest lest that honesty comes back to haunt him or her.  I took my chances.  But I’m worried, sure.  Don’t ask questions if you aren’t ready for what types of answers you’ll get back, but that doesn’t stop people from getting upset anyway…

Joe Torre makes the playoffs. The Yankees don’t.

The LA Dodgers, managed by Joe Torre, just completed their sweep of the Chicago Cubs, their first postseason series win since they went all the way in 1988.  The Yankees missed the postseason for the first time since 1993 (which sounds longer than it really is – 1994 was the strike year).  Since the last couple of years of Torre’s time in NY were a bit rough with The Boss, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and he was rather dramatically let go, it is…ironic that Torre has managed the Dodgers to the playoffs, and the Yankees have missed it.

If there is such a headline – suggesting that it’s the departure of Joe Torre that caused the Yankees to miss the playoffs – then it’s sensationlism and complety missing the point.

I’m incredibly sad that the Yankees didn’t make it.  I routinely zone out on the playoffs when the Yankees get bounced (as they have each year since 2003, when they lost to the Marlins in the World Series).  But Torre isn’t the reason the Yankees didn’t make it, or the reason why the Dodgers did.  I’m no baseball analyst, just a fan, but, for instance:

  • Asking 2 rookies (Hughes and Kennedy) to be aces rather than just rookies
  • Not making up their mind about Joba
  • When dealing with the offensive problems, not dealing with the biggest issue – Robinson Cano.  With that hole in the lineup it made things really tough.
  • I really like Melky Cabrera, but he isn’t ever really going to hit more than about .270 or so.  If we have the production elsewhere, then great.  But otherwise he’s an offensive liability.
  • Losing a little bit of focus on how the Yankees should go about their offense, especially killing the base-stealing side of things.

And as for the Dodgers?

  • Manny Ramirez.  ’nuff said

Do I have some thoughts on next year?  Sure…


Where did my Robin Weigert go?

One of my favorite shows from last year was Life, starring Damien Lewis and, among others, Robin Weigert.  The show is back this year, but Weigert is not.  Donal Logue has taken her place.  Usually I very much like Donal Logue.

But so far, having seen the first episode, he is terrible.  Bring back Weigert.  Holy cow he’s terrible as this sweaty, attitude-filled, dorky, sketchy New Yorker.

First the market falls apart, now they start messing up one of my favorite shows…

Lessons from “Good to Great,” part 2

Now that I definitely have a second thought on Jim Collins’ book Good to Great, this is now part 2.  No more question mark.

I’m a bit farther into the book now and I am getting the kind of feeling I got with Design for Six Sigma when I was learning about that process management technique.  Sure, it’s great if you can either start off from the get-go with Six Sigma, or, in the Good to Great example, come on board and fire all the wrong people and hire all the right people, but what about if you are not at the top (a “Level 5 Leader”) or in an organization that has a tremendous legacy of a slower pace?

I begin to wonder whether my only option is to start my own company in order to apply these principles.

Lessons from “Good to Great” (part 1?)

For one of my current MBA classes (IDIS 612, with Professor Kevin Walsh, to be reviewed later, surely), I am reading the bestselling book Good to Great by Jim Collins.  This is a nice breakdown of how companies managed to become great (based on a standard of beating the overall market by a factor of 3 or more over at least 15 years) while others stayed, at best, good and at worst dissolved entirely.

I’m in a chapter about strategy right now – right in the middle of it – and the point is being made that while both good and bad companies have strategies, the ones that ended up as “great” had simple, clear ones, that accepted the sometimes brutal truth, and then pursued those strategies doggedly.

I am currently wondering whether my own strategy at work is sufficiently simple.  This is not the right venue in which to write about that, at least not now, anyway, but it’s intriguing.  It’s not just about strategy or vision – everyone has a vision.  But is that vision clear?  Is the strategy simple and easily pursued?

* – FWIW, I’m finding some interesting parallels between the case studies in this book at those in Collapse, by Jared Diamond.  Collapse is about how civilizations basically choose, at some point, whether they will continue to exist or not.  Those such as the one on Easter Island that carved those amazing statues (moai) or the Anasazi Native-American tribe that built adobe dwellings in places such as Chaco Canyon then vanished long before anyone even knew who they were (“Anasazi” stands for “vanished ones” in the language of those that followed).  Kind of strange that I’d see connections between such seemingly different books, eh?

The case against dual-boot labs

Caveat – I haven’t managed a lab in about 2 years so this is mostly my ponderings and thoughts rather than a state-of-the-art analysis of the setup of dual-boot labs.

Since Macs started supporting Windows via Bootcamp (not even bothering with a link here), everyone at all kinds of schools have been thinking about going all Mac with a Windows boot option.  I have not been a proponent of this idea for a number of reasons.

First, as many articles have mentioned, the OS is becoming increasingly irrelevant.  Throw a browser on some kind of OS, and then run all web apps.  Now, we’re not there yet, but I am comfortable saying that we’re getting there.  I’m also not saying that google apps or something specific is the answer – I have nothing specific in mind.  But there’s a lot of stuff out there that offer options.

My problem with dual-booting is two-fold.  Read on for more of my quasi-diatribe.

The first is that, in my opinion, students themselves generally don’t care about OS, either.  If all the macs are in use, they sit at a PC to use Word.  If the PC’s are in use, they sit at a Mac.  In a few surveys which I have read in relatively large computer lab installations, the primary reason why the labs are used, actually, is because there is software that is only available on those machines, and 99% of the time its a PC-based software (most developers will develop for the PC first, let’s be honest).  So, if you’re going to go one way or the other, then PC’s actually do make more sense.

* By the way – I refuse to get into the whole ‘but PC’s get infected all the time and are harder to manage’ argument.  I was involved (tangentially) in managing something like 400 PC’s spread across probably 90 locations and I know that a logical and simple combination of basic tools and methods kept the machines secured and safe.  And we weren’t in full lockdown mode as is the case at some schools (using DeepFreeze or something like that).

The second issue is boot time.  Right now, you walk up to a machine, possibly wake it up from the screen saver (a 1 second mouse wiggle) and have a login window.  Loading of all the scripts and whatnot that are inevitably utilized as part of large lab management probably gets you to a usable desktop on either OS in about’30-45 seconds on the very long end.  Probably more like 10-15.  I think that is a fair number.

But getting to that login window can take maybe a minute or more.

So now, while it’s great that you can buy all Macs for all your labs and give students the option of booting into one or the other, they have to wait 1.5 minutes or more to get to a usable desktop.  Or one has to start trying to speed up the boot process which is not an easy task.  If Apple continues its long-held habit of hiding changes to just about anything with their OS then any streamlining for Leopard (10.5.x) might not work for the next version.  Or maybe for a particular version of Leopard.

So.  To me, it actually makes the most sense to go one platform, and that all the management efforts go into that one platform.  And, in all honesty, Windows on PC’s seems to be that platform.


I am not, therefore I am

Just a random observation and thought – a while ago, while discussing exactly what ‘being bad at making coffee meant,’ I made that statement that ‘I am not a coffee snob, but I really do prefer…”

Before I could finish the sentence, a comment was made that if I say ‘I’m not a coffee snob’ then I therefore am a coffee snob.  I found the comment neither offensive nor accusatory, though I was a bit befuddled at the specific moment.

Maybe I am a snob.  But at least I’d like to think that there are degrees of snobbery, then.  Like, I enjoy a good Kona roast, and I can tell the difference between, say, Peet’s Reserve Kona (which I drink black to truly enjoy the flavor, which is so smooth) and a Safeway Kona.  I can also tell you that Kauai coffee is quite nice, too, with a lot of flavor but a tad bit bitter at the end with the two roasts I’ve had.

But it’s not like I will refuse to drink other coffee, nor am I a diehard, French-Press, dark roast guy, which is apparently what ‘real coffee drinkers’ prefer.

I do wonder whether caring about and having preferences about stuff like that make one a snob – that there is a very broad definition of what a snob is.  If one notices the differences between a Kendall Jackson Reisling and a Fetzer one – is that person a wine snob, even just a little bit’

Okay I get it – law students are evil

This is another one of those difficult posts, as it has to do with work, and with another group on campus.  As always, I preface by saying the following:

  • Administration at a school is hard
  • Dealing with students is hard
  • Students always take advantage of everything and will abuse the system until you stop them

I see and deal with this, too, and one should not read the following as a criticism without qualification. Really.  These jobs are hard, between dealing with difficult students and even more difficult faculty.  I know that.

A new building opened up on campus recently.  One of the services implemented was a self-scheduling system for the whopping 29 (or so) small study rooms in the building.  The problem is that the system is designed for highly-controlled environments or situations where groups, such as a team at a company looking to do a phone conference, need a space for a fixed amount of time and will then leave.  The software system has no limits on the length of the reservation or how many rooms a user can book simultaneously.  It even allows one user to delete the reservation of another if password-protection is not used.  Several people acknowledge the flaws in the software.

However, the group of students that abused the system most severely – and it was BAD – was students at the School of Law.  Where I work.  I swear, every time I am even in the presence of someone talking about the rooms, reservation system, the building, or even the world in general, the fact that it was law students who abused the system comes up.  The subtext is super-text.  It’s above the surface, plain and obvious.

I just don’t get it.  The way I see it is:

  • Students have always and will always find and exploit every loophole you give them.  I did it when I was a student.  Why wouldn’t they do so?  Seriously.
  • If the system has a flaw, then it’s the system that has the flaw, not the students abusing it.
  • If the law students hadn’t been the first to abuse it, then someone else would have.  But perhaps that would not have been such a clear-cut population and not as targeted by the remarks.
  • In reality, it’s probably just a handful of students abusing the system disproportionately
  • Can’t we just get over it?

I was chatting with some colleagues at another university, where they work at the business school, which is also separate from the main university as our law school is.  Their first response when I told even half of the story is that the law students were probably being blamed for all the problems.  They’ve had it happen to them all the time.  This notion that their students consider themselves ‘special’ and ‘above the law’ (no pun intended).


The Conundrum of Protected Left Turns

The SF Bay Area (which includes all the way down to San Jose, yes), is the land of protected left turns.  Everywhere you go, there is a left turn lane, and a signal just for that lane.  People get used to it.

There are two problems with this.  First, it’s not really ‘everywhere.”  There are a couple of intersections here and there that don’t have it.  One in particular, Oak Grove and Middlefield in Menlo Park, is surrounded by protected left signals but does not have one itself.  The result is that everyone presumes they can blast through when they see a yellow, but that is precisely when someone trying to make that unprotected left has to try and zoom through.  Not a good combination.  I’ve been on the wrong end of that a few times, though have escaped unscathed thus far.

The other problem is when a light didn’t used to be protected, they’ve made it so, and done the related multiple-lane changes required.  For instance, at Washington and Lafayette here in Santa Clara, heading east-west, there was an unprotected left, and two straight lanes in either direction.  So you have just the one light that went for east-west, and those turning left just fended for themselves.  It worked just fine, I almost never missed making a left, though sometimes I had to wait a bit and yes, I used the yellow sometimes.

In particular, since I cross there when walking to work, the timing was very good and I never waited for long.

Now, however, they have made the right most lane right-turn only, the other straight lane straight only, and provided a protected left.  People aren’t running into each other like the Oak Grove example, but it takes forever to cycle through all the lights now.  Now it’s southbound-protected, then northbound-protected (this was as before), then westbound protected, then eastbound protected.  I want to cross on eastbound protected.  And I have to wait for the people turning on the protected left to turn first, then it says I can cross.  I seriously waited for 4 minutes the other day, and that is a long time at an intersection if you actually sit and watch the time.  The link above actually shows the new version of the intersection, by the way.