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Archive for September 2010

Quotable: On Politics

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Some people think that politics is a dirty word, but not me. Politics is simply the art of making decisions in groups. It comes from the Greek word polis, meaning city. Any group working together—whether it has ten people or ten thousand—needs some mechanism to keep everyone aligned: that’s politics. The question is: Is it good politics or is it bad politics? Bad politics is when people put their own self-interest ahead of the group’s goals. To me, this is closely related to hypocrisy. You argue one thing (this is best for the company), but you believe something different (this is best for me). — Dave Hitz, Cofounder & Executive VP of NetApp

Written by frrl

September 30, 2010 at 2:37 pm

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The Wayward Steer

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At Deep Springs, the ranch manager told great stories. He described how they used to drive cattle a thousand miles from Texas to the stockyards in Chicago. In the herd, one steer would take the lead and the others would follow. This alpha steer became recognizable to the cowboys and was a great help if he kept his bearings.  But sometimes this leader had a tendency to veer off to the side, taking the herd with him. Getting the herd back on track was hard work for the cowboys, so if the lead steer swerved too often, there was no choice but to shoot him in the head. Keeping him wasn’t worth the trouble. So many ranching lessons apply in business.  — Dave Hitz co-founder of NetApp

This story was told by Hitz when he and a few others met with the NetApp board of directors after raising $1.5 million dollars from 24 angel investors in chunks of $50K and $100K followed by a Venture Capital seed round of $5 Million.  The CEO was great at fundraising but not a good manager. Given that the initial fundraising rounds were over, and the CEO’s management capability was in question, Hitz worked to oust him.

Two rules for CEO’s of startups

  1. Never keep more in your office than you can fit in a gym bag.
  2. Always keep a gym bag in your office.

After the meeting, the CEO was out.  Replaced with a CEO that could take NetApp beyond preliminary fundraising to product development and marketing.

See the initial NetApp Business Plan Overview from 1992 and “lessons learned” –

Written by frrl

September 29, 2010 at 1:23 pm

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Mont Blanc

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I know there is a recession.  But still, companies need to maintain high standards.
Poor John L.T. of California has suffered greatly.
Upon receiving his $400 Mont Blanc Generation Ballpoint Blue he wrote this review

It is truly very sad indeed to see Mont Blanc lower its superb standards of excellence in an effort to attract the unwashed masses to a name associated with sophistication and success. This writing instrument is hardly worthy of the name Mont Blanc and in reality bears very little resemblance to the authentic experience. One need not even bother to describe this tawdry imitation, a cheap attempt to share the aura of Mont Blanc with the plebian more suited to a Bic. In fact, if not for the Mont Blanc logo itself, this would appear to be something from the Office Max catalogue of Pilot pens boxed by the dozen for mass consumption in cubicles. Mont Blanc has betrayed its own legend by producing something of this sort. I have posted a quite vehement letter of protest to the directors of Mont Blanc in order to voice the dismay of Mont Blanc loyalists who find this creation an abomination and take it as somewhat of a personal insult. Their reply is awaited with anticipation of an apology and one hopes this is a terrible mistake, never to be repeated.

Very disappointing

Originally at here.

Written by frrl

September 29, 2010 at 3:59 am

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Radio Archeology – The Heathkit Broadcast Band Receiver Model BR-2

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Allied Radio and Kits of the Era

When I was a kid my father would take me to the Allied Radio store at 100 North Western Avenue in Chicago, Illinois.  This was a huge warehouse-like building with all sorts of wonderous electronic gear.  At home I would page through the Allied Radio Catalog; I knew everything in the catalog better than the sales people at the store. 

Allied Radio sold radios from Hallicrafters, National, Johnson-Viking, Globe, Ameco, and a bunch more (see).  They also sold kits.  I built a few kits when I was a kid and it was a great adventure to go to Allied on Western avenue which was about 10 miles from my home. (see link below to a great collection of Radio Shack catalogs going back to 1939)

But I missed the whole Heathkit era.  I wonder where I was?  So, anytime I can get my hands on an old Heathkit – at the right price – I usually want to add it to my collection of antique radios.

Heathkit BR-2 (1951 – 1957 )

I recently purchased a working, and in excellent condition, Heathkit BR-2 Broadcast Band Receiver.  This radio was produced between 1951 and 1957.  So, this BR-2 is a survivor of 50+ years.  The radio was all original and included the original Heathkit assembly manual along with all the inserts.

The great thing about buying antique broadcast receivers is that you can use them everyday.  None of my radios sit on the shelf (or floor) for very long.  They all get rotated into service on a regular basis.  My oldest radio is currently an Atwater-Kent from the early 1920’s.

All American Five (AA5)

The Heathkit BR-2 is a very basic 5-tube Superheterodyne.  Or, generically, the “All American Five” (AA5).  The AA5 was the basis of almost every broadcast radio no matter what the manufacturer during the 1930’s-1960’s

The Heathkit BR-2 is a little unique in that it had a couple of different build options.  A single RCA jack in the back could be wired for radio tuner output into an external amplifier.  Or, it could be wired as a phonograph input to use the radios amplifier as an output device.  It also has a switched 110v receptacle in the back.  When an external device, such as an amplifier, was plugged in, it would be powered when the radio was turned on.

The Famous Heathkit Manuals

The Heathkit build manual is the standard style allowing just about anyone to build this radio – as long a you knew some basic soldering techniques.  In general, no knowledge of electronics was required.  I was able to get all the inserts with the manual which also included a pink slip of paper warning you not to use acid core solder.

Manual inserts also included three larger-than-life parts layout diagrams – impossible to make a mistake.

The Goods

Below are a few pictures.  The radio is all orignal.  Plays great.  All stations can be tuned end-to-end across the band.  Alignment seems good.  The slide rule dial is on frequency. No slippage of the tuning dial. Cabinet in great shape.  The speaker grill could use a replacement as well as a few capacitors.  Not bad for a 50+ year survivor.  (Click on any image to enlarge) 

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Written by frrl

September 28, 2010 at 3:14 pm

Quandary: Career Advancement of Technical Engineers Part III

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Read the previous posting – Quandary: Career Advancement of Technical Engineers Part II

This is part Three – Quandary: Career Advancement of Technical Engineers

It all started in part one where I was able to hear an extraordinary question asked by a technical engineer to a vice president at a divisional “all hands” meeting: “What does this [ direction, goals, reorganization of the company ] have to do with me?”.

The question was unscreened, heard by nearly 1,000 people who were present in person, listening on a conference call, or watching via a multi-stream from the company website.  The particular division of which this engineer was employed was responsible for 1/4 of the corporate $20B in annual revenue.  To some ears, this was an extraordinary question.  Perhaps to others, there was nothing wrong with asking this.

Part One cited an academic study on why certain employees turn down offers of advancement.

Part Two was an attempt to say why.  Fundamentally,that the goals of a technical engineer per se would not be aligned with that of an organization.  That is, a technical engineer and a corporation are on different paths and have different goals.  The result is disengagement of employees with the company.  Part Two had some advice from Eric Schmidt on how some companies can keep these engineers on an career path without promoting them to a management or leadership position.  Eric Schmidt is currently CEO of Google, former CEO of Novel, and an engineer himself.  So maybe he has some valid advice based on personal experience – his own as an electrical engineer and as CEO of two companies.

A Different Perspective

Here is a different way of looking at it.

The academic research on why engineers turn down offers of advancement was necessarily limited.  It was about a particular company and a particular group of engineers.  One could extend the insights from this single company and this single group of engineers to other companies – with the necessary cautions.  Every company is a little different; every social group of engineers in those companies are a little different. 

“Success is not really on the engineers’ minds”

This is an extraordinary statement in the research.  Here is the full quote:

Success is not really on the engineers’ minds, but when prompted they say they do feel successful. However, they tie their success more to family, happiness, and personal accomplishments. They view internal ideas of success as more important than social, or external, measures of success.

Really, success is not on these engineers’ minds.  But what about “other minds” – the minds of other engineers?

The mistake would be to classify all engineers together and say, “Engineers are not really interested in success”.  Or, to put it differently, to say that,  “Because you are an engineer, you are not interested in success”.  Or more boldly, that there is something fundamental to the profession of engineering that it allows individual engineers to easily ask what the corporate direction has anything to with them.  Specifically, “What does this [ direction, goals, reorganization of the company ] have to do with me?”

The Story of Bill and Dave

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Written by frrl

September 27, 2010 at 1:57 am

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Quotable: On the Future

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The future is not a gift: it is an achievement. Every generation helps make its own future. This is the essential challenge of the present.

The future does not belong to those who are content with today, apathetic toward common problems and their fellow man alike, timid and fearful in the face of bold projects and new ideas. Rather, it will belong to those who can blend passion, reason and courage in a personal commitment to the great enterprises and ideals of American society.

Robert F. Kennedy

Written by frrl

September 23, 2010 at 2:11 am

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Quotable: On Vision

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Vision is the lifeblood of any organization. It is what keeps it moving forward. It provides meaning to the day-to-day challenges and setbacks that make up the rumble and tumble of real life.

In a down economy—particularly one that has taken most of us by surprise—things get very tactical. We are just trying to survive. What worked yesterday does not necessarily work today. What works today may not necessarily work tomorrow. Decisions become pragmatic.

But after a while this wears on people. They don’t know why their efforts matter. They cannot connect their actions to a larger story. Their work becomes a matter of just going through the motions, living from weekend to weekend, paycheck to paycheck.

This is where great leadership makes all the difference. Leadership is more than influence. It is about reminding people of what it is we are trying to build—and why it matters. It is about painting a picture of a better future. It comes down to pointing the way and saying, “C’mon. We can do this!”

When times are tough, vision is the first casualty. Before conditions can improve, it is the first thing we must recover.

Michael Hyatt – CEO of Tomas Nelson Publishers

Written by frrl

September 22, 2010 at 5:33 am

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