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Archive for December 2008

Hands-on Electronics – Signal tracing a simple transmitter

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Hands-on Electronics – Signal tracing a simple transmitter
Or, How not to be an appliance operator

Is ham radio still about electronics?  If you think so, then this posting is for you.

You may want to read our nearly related article on the Heathkit radios (Collecting Heathkit Models SB-101,102 & HW 100,101 ).  That posting contains a high level conceptual explanation of how  the transmit section of those radios work.  We think that the Heathkit folks missed an opportunity in the education market.

Heathkit had a great platform in the SB and HW series of transceivers to serve as a course in electronics – learn as you build.  But that was not to be.  Perhaps an objection is that there were high voltages in the Heathkits – 800 volts on the plates of the tubes. So, sticking fingers in the wrong place in a Heathkit is going to get you zapped.   So maybe that would undermine ones joy of learning.

A learning strategy

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Written by frrl

December 29, 2008 at 2:53 pm

Building Teams: Prescriptive Advice for Building Great Teams

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Building Teams:

Prescriptive Advice for Building Great Teams

Read the following previous parts to catch up on our journey.
Amateur Radio Clubs: Good to Great; Good to Gone; Lost in Mediocracy
Good To Great Part II: The Gift of Governor Rod Blagojevich
Good to Great Part III: Building the Team


In Collins book  Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t he gives some pretty simplistic advice – First who, then what.

That is, the priority of the right people over starting with direction and building the team around an already determined goal.  Get the right people on the team first and they will figure out the rest – and be able to compensate for changing internal and external circumstances.   In a word, “agility”.

The second part of Collins advice about teams– get the right people on the team,  get the right people in the right roles, and get the wrong people off the team.

Beyond Collins on Teams and Team Dynamics

Collins book is at a high corporate level.  He does not drill down into the more specific questions about how to find the right people or what the characteristics are of those individuals on great teams.  It really does beg the next set of questions.

How do successful teams function?  What are the signs of dysfunction on teams?   If you do find dysfunctions on a team then what are the mitigation strategies and tactics that you can put in place to remedy these dysfunctions?  In building a new team, can you come up with a prescriptive set of guidelines – ground rules – calibrations – on how the team will function given the common pitfalls that a team may encounter?

How can one benefit from what one can learn by studying cases from the success and failure of real teams?  There is no benefit in repeating the mistakes of others.  It’s all in the name of continuous improvement learned from past experience – yours and from other organizations.   “We don’t have time to make other peoples mistakes.”

The above questions are the theme of this posting.

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Written by frrl

December 24, 2008 at 4:39 am

Good to Great Part III: Building the Team

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Good to Great Part III: Building the Team

Read the following previous parts to catch up on our journey.

Amateur Radio Clubs: Good to Great; Good to Gone; Lost in Mediocracy
Good To Great Part II: The Gift of Governor Rod Blagojevich

The Case Study Approach

A compelling aspect of Jim Collins books Good to Great and Built to Last is that they are both based on empirical research of real companies over an extended period of time.  Books based on real companies, real data, and an established methodology certainly have an advantage over theoretical ideas on prescriptive organizational behavior that have not been tested or validated.

This approach of real world analysis of real companies, real people, real events, real data, and so on is one of the defining characteristics of the Harvard Business School case method of learning that has been copied by many other schools.  Such an approach keeps ones feet on the ground and avoids the risk of one propounding elegant idealistic theories that really don’t work in reality.

If you have been following along with our previous parts you know that Jim Collins set out to study the phenomenon of companies that made and sustained the transition for Good to Great.  His books describe what he found.

First Who, Then What

When we began the research project, we expected to find that the first step in taking a company from good to great would be to set a new direction, a new vision and strategy for the company, and then to get people committed an aligned behind that new direction.

We found something quite the opposite.

The executives who ignited the transformation from good to great did not first figure out where to drive the bus and then get people to take it there.  No, they first got the right people on the bus ( and the wrong people off the bus) and then figured out where to drive it.  They said in essence “Look, I don’t really know where we should take this bus.  But I know this much: if we get the right people on the bus, the right people in the right seats, and the wrong people off the bus, then we’ll figure out how to take it someplace great.

Get the right people ON the Team

Collins argues that it is better to assemble a cohesive team of “A players” with perhaps differing perspectives on organizational direction and strategy than it is to have a predetermined direction and then assemble a team that is (already) committed to that direction.

The reason that the fist approach has an advantage has to to with the obvious reality of uncertainty and change.  If the external circumstances change and you have an executive management team dedicated to a established purpose which is no longer relevant then the organization is at a distict disadvantage – the organization may continue on a losing path due to the dedication of these team members to a specific goal, or the team may not be able to adapt to the new circumstances and direction.

Collins quotes Wells Fargo CEO Dick Cooley

… he and chairman Ernie Arbuckle focused on “injecting an endless stream of talent” directly into the company.  The hired outstanding people whenever and wherever they found them, often without any specific job in mind. “That’s how you build the future”, he said.  “If I’m not smart enough to see the changes that are coming, they will. And they’ll be flexible enough to deal with them.

Get the Wrong People OFF the Team

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Written by frrl

December 21, 2008 at 8:55 am

Uncle Eddy: the black sheep of the family that Amateur Radio does not talk about

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cb_qsl_brucefccIt’s all in the family

If you have seen the movies National Lampoon Vacation or National Lampoon Christmas Vacation then you know the characters Clark Griswold played by Chevy Chase and Uncle Eddy played by Randy Quaid.

If you know who these two characters are then you get an idea of the relationship of Amateur Radio to CB radio.

Clark Griswold is to Uncle Eddy as Amateur Radio is to CB radio.  Or so that is what it would seem from the perspective of Clark Griswold.  How Uncle Eddy feels about this – we don’ t know.  But if CB radio was to exchange Christmas gifts with Amateur Radio, Amateur Radio would be in possession of some fine white shoes.

Amateur Radio seeing CB radio as Uncle Eddy might be the “Pot calling the Kettle Black”.  Don’t forget that the popular media identified Ham Radio as an embarrassing hobby like stamp collecting.

History as objective ?

Those who record and write the history of a cultural phenomenon simply record and write the history and defer judgement to others.  History is supposed to be “objective” – as much as this is possible; history is written by the winners – don’t forget that.  “Just the facts madam” as is the ideal.

CB radio is as much a part of radio (wireless) communication as is any other part of radio – Broadcasting, Pirate Radio, special uses of radio as in the military, and Amateur Radio – to name a few.  To not recognize that CB was a part of the american popular culture in the 1970’s is to miss out on a rich American phenomenon.

Serendipity Strikes Again

As is the case many times, while searching on the Internet for one thing one finds another thing that was not at all what one set out to find.  So was the case when I stumbled upon some CB radio web sites.

The Internet as nearly primary source material for History of CB

cl_qsl_hotpantsSome folks have put up tribute sites to the heyday of CB radio in the 1970s preserving pictures of old radios, recorded conversations from 30 years ago, remembrances to “characters” (CB personalities) from those old days, QSL cards, and various other artifacts.

The work of these folks is almost to create a museum of days gone past of the phenomenon of CB radio.  Without the Internet, the knowledge of this era would be not nearly be as accessible  as it is and would be lost history to the majority of regular people.

The Remnant

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Written by frrl

December 18, 2008 at 7:51 pm

Excuse Me. Your Class is showing

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Excuse Me. Your Class is showing

See our related posting:  Things not going too good?  Maybe you need a Second Life

updating_womanSerendipity. Or, an accident of the Dewey Decimal System

It was an accident of the Dewey Decimal system at the local  library.  I went looking for a book, found it, turned around to leave, and facing me in the stacks on the opposite shelf was 646.77 LOW.

I wasn’t particularly interested finding 646.77 LOW – but it found me.  646.77 LOW was UpDating: How to Date Out of Your League (Paperback) by Leil Lowndes . How could one not pick up a book with a title like that? So I did. Paged through it. Looked interesting. It’s mine for two weeks.

Why do we do what we do?

In a book about the early life about Apple CEO Steve Jobs ( Steve Jobs, the Journey Is the Reward ) the story is told about his relation to his father.  Jobs father was in the used car business -sort of.  His father was a shade tree mechanic that bought cars, fixed them up,and then sold them out of his used car lot which happened to be the the family driveway.

Steves father tried to get him interested in repairing cars. Steve was not interested. Steve was more interested in who would buy cars like this. That difference in focus – a focus not on the car but on the person who would buy the car probably made all the difference in the world for the future of his career.

The “other Steve” – Steve Wozniak co founder of Apple with Steve Jobs – was more like Steves father – interested in the “thing” and not the “person” who would buy the thing. The history of Apple shows the very divergent paths that the two Steves took. One to CEO of Apple, CEO or Pixar, and CEO of NeXT; the other Steve ( Wozniak) remained mostly a technologist.  The divergent paths of esch was based on the fundamental difference in focus of these two Steves.  One with a primary focus on the desires of people; the other with a primary focus on technology.

The point is this. It’s sometimes interesting to ask why people do things.  Why would a person buy one type of car and not another type of car? Why would one spend time in Second Life rather than their First Life? Why would one want to “UpDate” – date a person out of their league?  All this gets to the underlying question that marketing folks ask – what motivates people to desire/consume a specific product or service?  How can this desire be fulfilled?  Or, perhaps, how can one create a desire or demand?  All this comes down to understanding the person and not the thing.

Is the desire to be what we are not, or have what we do not have,  based on Class?  Why do some people want to be of a “Higher Class” or have a mate of a “Higher Class”?

How different classes define Class

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Written by frrl

December 16, 2008 at 7:59 am

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Things not going too good? Maybe you need a Second Life.

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Things not going too good?  Maybe you need a Second Life.

sl_connieUnder the Pixel Sun

by Kris Dibou

In the virtual life you’ve led
You’re neither living, nor are dead
You’ve met them all but met no one
Drifting under the pixel sun.

And as you tire of this place
The sun that doesn’t burn your face
The water that won’t make you wet
The death that never will be met

The wind that cannot touch our faces
Wand’ring through virtual places
What then is there in here for you?
Or should I ask you, perhaps, who?

What is Second Life?

If you don’t know what Second Life is… well, you should.  And we’ll give you a helping hand in that.

From the web site

Second Life® is a 3-D virtual world created by its Residents. Since opening to the public in 2003, it has grown explosively and today is inhabited by millions of Residents from around the globe.

  • From the moment you enter the World you’ll discover a vast digital continent, teeming with people, entertainment, experiences and opportunity. Once you’ve explored a bit, perhaps you’ll find a perfect parcel of land to build your house or business.
  • You’ll also be surrounded by the Creations of your fellow Residents. Because Residents retain intellectual property rights in their digital creations, they can buy, sell and trade with other Residents.
  • The Marketplace currently supports millions of US dollars in monthly transactions. This commerce is handled with the inworld unit of trade, the Linden™ dollar, which can be converted to US dollars at several thriving online Linden dollar exchanges.

Welcome to the Second Life world. We look forward to seeing you inworld.

Immersive world of creation and destruction, fantasy, social networking, commerce, and more…

Note: First, a little about the language.  The aggregate of SecondLife is called the Grid.  Inworld is where you are when you are in second life.  You are reading this in your First Life or RL (“Real” Life)

Second Life is all of the aspects as cited by the Linden Labs quote and more.  It is an immersive virtual world of creation and destruction, fantasy, social networking, and commerce.  It has its own three dimensional space and physics similar to First Life – but not exactly.  The physics of Second Life is believable to a point with a slight suspension of disbelief as you would allow while watching a movie and yet being intellectually and emotionally attached to the plot and characters.   A day in the surreal virtual world of Linden Labs Second Life is only two (2) hours in duration as counted in RL.  Tempus Fugit in Second Life

How big is Second Life?

At the time of this writing in Q3 of 2008

  1. There are approxiamtely 16 million residents of Second Life.
  2. Typical number of residents inworld at any one time is about 60,000.
  3. Residents lived inworld for about  100 million hours.
  4. As regards the economy $100 million US dollars of transactions took place.
  5. The amount of land owned by residents is about  65,000 acres.

Here are some very basic highlights of Second Life.  We have provided a number of links in the Resources Section at the end of this posting so you can find out more on your own.

The Act of Creation

Everything in Second Life is created by residents – everything.  Every resident in Second Life has the ability to bring objects into existence (and destroy their own creations).  A resident can create a tree or a flower; a resident can create a building – from a skyscraper to a personal residence; residents can create a horse or a fish…

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Written by frrl

December 13, 2008 at 8:12 am

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Good To Great Part II: The Gift of Governor Rod Blagojevich

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Good To Great Part II:
The Gift of Governor Rod Blagojevich

… I see my work as being about discovering what creates enduring great organizations of any type.  I’m curious to understand the fundamental differences between good and great, between excellence and mediocre.  I just happen to use corporations as a means of getting inside the black box.  I do this because of publicly traded corporations, unlike other types of organizations, have two huge advantages: a widely agreed upon definition of results and a plethora of easily accessible data.

That good is the enemy of great is not just a business problem, It is a human problem.  If we have cracked the code on good on the question of good to great we should have something of value to any type of organization.  Good schools might become great schools. Good newspapers might become great newspapers.  Good churches might become great churches.  Good government agencies might be great agencies.  And good companies might become great companies.

Jim Collins – Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t

Blagojevich – A Christmas Gift to the News Media

blagojevichWe are writing this one day after the arrest of the Illinois Governor Rob Blagojevich on corruption charges.  This event, on a slow news cycle, was a gift to the media.  The corruption charges and the publication of the 78 page list of charges against Blogovich are not a local storyto Chicago or Illinois –  its a national story.

To wrap your mind around what leadership and its affect on organizations and governments, one has to look at the positive attributes of the hoped for (expected) outcomes of individuals in leadership positions but also study closely leaderships failure modes.  For this latter endeavor, Blagojevich is a gift.

Empirical data trumps theoretical ideas

We already wrote one posting on Jim Collins book Good to Great.  We like Good to Great because it’s based on empirical researchof real companies over a long period (30 years) of time.  If one comes up with a model of leadership that can’t be validated with real world data – that is, that it works and this can shown using accepted methodology and data – then its not worth much. 

Collins approach is to start with the data and produce a model of Leadership as opposed to starting with a model and then validating it.  This is like any empirical research in the sciences where one lets the data take you whereever it might lead.  The key is letting the data take you where it’s going to take you – even if it does not validate common wisdom on the subject or preconceived ideas.

Commonly held ideas that were NOT validated

Collins found that these commonly held beliefs did not hold.

  1. Celebrity CEO’s.  Larger-than-life, celebrity leaders who ride in from the outside are negatively correlated with taking a company from good to great.
  2. The structure of executive compensation.  The idea that the structure of executive compensation is a key driver in corporate performance is simply not supported by the data.
  3. Strategy.  All companies had well defined strategies and the there is no evidence that good to great companies spent more time on long-range strategic planning than comparison companies.
  4. Technology.  Technology has nothing to do with good to great transformation.
  5. M&A.  Mergers and Acquisitions play no role in going from good to great.
  6. No launch event.  Good to great companies had no name, tag line, launch event, or program to signify their transformation.
  7. Not industry dependent.  The good to great companies wer not, by and large, in great industries, and some were in terrible industries.

 We pulled these out for special attention

  1.  What not to do and stop doing. The good to great companies, in addition to focusing on what to do equally  focused on what not to do and what to stop doing.
  2. Commitment, alignment, motivation.  For good to great companies, unlike no so great companies, these area do not need much attention – they take care of themselves.
  3. Greatness is largely a matter of conscious choice.

Consistent finding of Good to Great companies – Level 5 Leaders

Collins book, Good to Great, goes on to outline what he found out about the transformation of good to great in the companies that he studied.  But he first devotes a chapter to  writing about what kind of leadership was at the executive level of a company that made and sustained a transformation from good to great.

Since we have the Christmas gift of Rod Blagojevich we will take a look at this contrast.

Collins provides a simplistic view of the levels of leadership.  A more comprehensive model of leadership created by Walt Malher when he was at General Electric, called the Crossroads model, can be found in The Leadership Pipeline: How to Build the Leadership Powered Company (Hardcover)

This is Collins (simplistic) model

1 Highly Capable Individual (Individual Contributor)
2 Contributing team member
3 Competent Manager
4 Effective Leader
5 Executive

The real value of Collins work is what he found as Level 5 leadership for those companies that made the good to great transition and sustained it for at least 15 years.

We were not looking for Level 5 leadership in our research, or anything like it, but the data was overwhelming and convincing.  It is an empirical, not an ideological, finding.

Good to Great Level 5 leaders…

  1. Embodies a paradoxical mix of personal humility and professional will. They are ambitious first and foremost for the company, not for themselves.
  2. They set up their successors for success.  Leaders at other levels set their successors up for failure.
  3. They displayed a compelling modesty, are often self-effacing and understated.  In contrast, two thirds of the comparison companies had leaders with gargantuan personal egos that contributed to the demise or continued mediocrity of the company.
  4. Fanatically driven with an incurable need to produce sustained results.  They are resolved to do whatever it takes to make the company great, no matter how big or hard the decisions.
  5. They show workman like diligence – more plow horse than show horse.
  6. They attribute success to factors other than themselveswhen things go wrong they blame themselves, taking full responsibility.  The comparison CEO’s often did just the opposite – they took the credit for success and assigned blame for disappointing results.
  7. They attribute the success to luck and not personal greatness

“All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up”

blagojevichWith the work of Collins in mind, lets look at what happended in Chicago on December 9,2008 with the arrest of Rob Blagojevich.

Read the full blagojevich CRIMINAL COMPLAINT.
If you don’t want to read the whole complaint then read a Summary of the Criminal Complaint

 And the bottom line is here

Here is a summary as widely reported in the news.

  • conspiring to obtain personal financial benefits by leveraging his sole authority to appoint a US Senator;
  • threatening to withhold state assistance to the Tribune Company in its bid to sell Wrigley Field so as to induce the firing of editorial board members critical of the governor;
  • and to obtain campaign contributions in exchange for official actions — both historically and recently.

And reported in the media

Meanwhile, a spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, has taken to questioning the governor’s sanity. Spokesman Steve Brown recently twice referred to Blagojevich as “the madman.” And when asked about Blagojevich’s plans for a special session, Brown encouraged reporters to look up the definition of “sociopath.”

A Blagojevich spokeswoman responded to the Chicago Tribune: “He’s not a sociopath.

Eric Zorn of the Chicago Tribune has suggested that Blagojevich may be a Sociopath.

In a profile of Blagojevich in last February’s Chicago Magazine, writer David Bernstein reported: “Privately, a few people who know the governor describe him as a ‘sociopath,’ and they insist they’re not using hyperbole. State Rep. Joe Lyons, a fellow Democrat from Chicago, told reporters that Blagojevich was a ‘madman’ and ‘insane.’ ”

That struck me at the time as over the top. Today it strikes me as brave and prescient.

Profile of a Sociopath

We took the time to see exactly how to define a sociopath.  Read the Profile of a Sociopath

 Here are some highlighs

  1. Contemptuous of those who seek to understand them
  2. Does not perceive that anything is wrong with them
  3. Authoritarian
  4. Secretive
  5. Paranoid
  6. Only rarely in difficulty with the law, but seeks out situations where their tyrannical behavior will be tolerated, condoned, or admired
  7. Conventional appearance
  8. Goal of enslavement of their victim(s)
  9. Exercises despotic control over every aspect of the victim’s life
  10. Has an emotional need to justify their crimes and therefore needs their victim’s affirmation (respect, gratitude and love)
  11. Ultimate goal is the creation of a willing victim
  12. Incapable of real human attachment to another
  13. Unable to feel remorse or guilt
  14. Extreme narcissism and grandiose
  15. May state readily that their goal is to rule the world

 (The above traits are based on the psychopathy checklists of H. Cleckley and R. Hare.)

 “I did nothing wong”

 Now this is the icing on the cake

On December 10, this was widely reported in the media

Rod Blagojevich’s lawyer says the Illinois governor doesn’t have immediate plans to resign and doesn’t think he did anything wrong. 

Attorney Sheldon Sorosky says Blagojevich is asking Illinois residents to have faith in him.

One wonders if Illinois has not delivered a “text book case”

It’s all about “me”

We’ll end up with a quote from Jim Collins who, we believe, hit the mark

My hypothesis is that there are two categories of people: those that do not have the seed of Level 5 and those that do.  The first category consists of people who could never in a million years bring themselves to subjugate their egoistic needs to the greater ambition of of building something larger and more lasting than themselves.  For these people, work will always be first and foremost about what they get – fame, fortune, adulation, power, whatever – not what they build, create, or contribute.

Level 5 Leaders channel their ego needs away from themselves and into the larger goal of building a great company.  It’s not that Level 5 leaders have no ego or self-interest.  Indeed, they are incredibly ambitious – but their ambition is first and foremost for the institution, not themselves.

And here we have the antithesis as charged in the criminal complaint

  • conspiring to obtain personal financial benefits by leveraging his sole authority to appoint a US Senator;
  • threatening to withhold state assistance to the Tribune Company in its bid to sell Wrigley Field so as to induce the firing of editorial board members critical of the governor;
  • and to obtain campaign contributions in exchange for official actions — both historically and recently.

For some people in a leadership position in an organizations, it all about “me” – what can  I get?  How can I benefit – no matter what the impact on the constituencies or the reputation of the office.  And best of all, “I did nothing wrong”.  It’s an interesting issue of ethical standards.  In a sense, if you have no ethical standards, you can violate no ethical standards.

Back to Amateur Radio Clubs:
Good to Great; Good to Gone; Lost in Mediocracy

We wonder – do any of the 2,000 ARRL affiliated clubs have Level 5 leadership?   And if not, why not?

On the continuum between Level 5 leadership and leadership as exemplified by Rod Blagojevich where does the leadership of your Amateur Radio club lay? 

Starting in January 2009 we’ll start telling some stories of Amateur Radio clubs in Chicago and see what path they are on – good to great; good to gone; or lost in mediocrity – and why they are on this path.


Read the full blagojevich CRIMINAL COMPLAINT
Read a Summary of the Criminal Complaint
Read an article by Eric Zorn of the Chicago Tribune
Read the Profile of a Sociopath
Read an article on Blago shakedown on Jesse Jackson Jr for wifes job
Read an article from the Chicago Tribune on The Power of Power
The story and evolution of the Crossroads model of Leadership and Leadership development at General Electric can be found in this book:  The Leadership Pipeline: How to Build the Leadership Powered Company (Hardcover)
Jim Collins – Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t

“Blogo” in one minute

Written by frrl

December 11, 2008 at 4:58 am

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