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Archive for October 2010

Quotable: On the interchangeability of Leaders and Followers

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“There goes the mob, and I must follow them,  for I am their leader”Comte de Mirabeau

What might emerge from the riots in France and the UK over the economic crisis?   (read about it)

Some observations from  Joseph S. Nye, Jr. (Harvard Kennedy School of Government)

In times of social crisis, such as war or economic depression, temporarily overwhelmed followers may hand over power to leaders that they later find difficult to retrieve.  Hitler came to power by elections in Germany in 1933, and then used coercion to consolidate his power.  But he also used the soft power of attraction, constructing narratives that turned Jews into scapegoats, glorified the past, and promised a thousand-year Reich as a vision of the future.  Followers also helped to create Hitler.  As Albert Speer put it, “Of course Goebbels and Hitler know how to penetrate through to the instincts of their audience; but in a deeper sense they derived their whole existence from the audience.  Certainly the masses roared to the beat set by Hitler and Goebbels’ baton; yet they were not the true conductors.  The mob determined the theme.”

One can think of Hitler’s followers in terms of concentric circles, with true believers like Goebbels, Goering, and Speer as an inner core; they are followed by a next circle of “good soldiers” like the Hamburg Reserve Police Battalion 101, who willingly executed Jews and Poles out of “crushing conformity;” an outer circle of complicit bystanders who knowingly acquiesced; and a further circle of passive bystanders who made no effort to know what was behind the myths and propaganda. Beyond them were those who refused to follow and resisted, many of whom were destroyed or coerced into silence.

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Written by frrl

October 22, 2010 at 5:15 pm

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The Political Debate and the Nature of Wicked Problems

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It’s October and the 2010 midterm elections are upon us.  All media is filled with political debate.  Questions and answers.  Questions and answers – and then follow-up questions and more answers.

When I hear the informed electorate asking questions of politicians at these town-hall style debates it seems that the electorate think there is an easy, correct, or definitive answer  to many of these public policy questions.  Are public and social policy problems somehow a different class of problem than what citizens are used to, familiar with, and solve on an everyday basis?

Here is something to consider.  Many, if not the majority of public and social policy problems, are properly in the category of what has been classified as Wicked Problems.  Here is a brief definition from “Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning”

The search for scientific bases for confronting problems of social policy is bound to fail, because of the nature of these problems. They are “wicked” problems, whereas science has developed to deal with “tame” problems. Policy problems cannot be definitively described. Moreover, in a pluralistic society there is nothing like the undisputable public good; there is no objective definition of equity; policies that respond to social problems cannot be meaningfully correct or false; and it makes no sense to talk about “optimal solutions” to social problems unless severe qualifications are imposed first. Even worse, there are no “solutions” in the sense of definitive and objective answers.

Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning
HORST W. J. RITTEL – Professor of the Science of Design, University of California, Berkeley
MELVIN M. WEBBER – Professor of City Planning, University of California, Berkeley


Want an example of a wicked problem?  Should we stop trying to teach the unteachable?

How about this Wicked Problem and candidate solution by Richard A. Cloward and Frances Fox Piven.
The Weight of the Poor: A Strategy to End Poverty

When it comes down to it, these are the 10 characteristics of a Wicked Problem

  1. There is no definitive formulation of a wicked problem
  2. Wicked problems have no stopping rule
  3. Solutions to wicked problems are not true-or-false, but good-or-bad
  4. There is no immediate and no ultimate test of a solution to a wicked problem
  5. Every solution to a wicked problem is a “one-shot operation”; because there is no opportunity to learn by trial-and-error, every attempt counts significantly
  6. Wicked problems do not have an enumerable (or an exhaustively describable) set of potential solutions, nor is there a well-described set of permissible operations that may be incorporated into the plan Read the rest of this entry »

Leading Techie Teams

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This is a follow-up on our posting Four Challenges of Techie Teams.  Those four challenges (among others) came from research done by Rob Goffee & Gareth Jones from London Business School (Wikipedia)

But how does an organization meet these challenges?  How do you lead and manage “Techie Teams” in the face of these challenges?  Do managers and leaders need to learn a different skill set to get the best out of techies?

Here are some suggestions from Gofee and Jones.  In the excerpts below, the techie folks are referred to as “clevers”.

The growing importance of clevers in the knowledge economy poses a huge challenge for organizations. Our research suggests that leading clever people requires a very different style of leadership from that traditionally seen in many organizations. In our experience, getting the best from clevers requires many of the traditional leadership virtues, such as excellent communications skills and authenticity. But it also requires leaders to demonstrate some additional qualities.

Communicating with clevers is always a challenge because they are totally absorbed by their own agendas. Engaging with them in a way that means they see the leader as being on their side is vital.

Help them understand their interdependence with others and the big picture

The close association between what they do and who they are also means that clever people often see themselves as not being dependent on others. The leader must, therefore, start by acknowledging their independence and difference.  If leaders do not do this, they fail at first base.  But, and it is an important caveat, the leader’s job is to make them understand their interdependence.  Recognizing the symbiotic nature of the relationship is critical to both the individual and the organization.

It can be a hard sell. Interdependence only goes so far.  Clever people are so focused on their professional passion that the bigger picture can be immaterial to them. Clever people tend to be extraordinarily interested in whatever they are clever in. This can mean that if you try to explain where their part fits into the overall picture—of how the users are going to use it—they say, that’s interesting, but why are you bothering me with it?  The leader can end up constantly checking that people aren’t creating incredibly elegant … [ solutions] … that are of little or no use to the … [ customer ].  With clevers, their own sense of beauty can become a money-consuming beast.  They start off designing a cup, and you end up with a tea set. “Creeping elegance!” snorted one CEO we talked with.

Set Limits, have an iron will to act – for the good of the organization

“Clevers need to know where the limits are,” one leader told us. “Otherwise, there will be anarchy—and that is not good for anyone.” Leaders were also clear that once the line was crossed, they had to take swift and uncompromising action. Not for them the knee-jerk reaction to having their authority challenged. Rather, the iron will to act in the best interests of the organization.

Provide structure, discipline, timescale, and sense of process

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Written by frrl

October 19, 2010 at 4:25 am

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Quotable: On Profit & Pleasing Customers

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Profit is vital to human well-being. Profit is the payment to entrepreneurs just as wages are payments to labor, interest to capital and rent to land.  In order to earn profits in free markets, entrepreneurs must identify and satisfy human wants and do so in a way that economizes on society’s scarce resources.

Here’s a little test. Which entities produce greater customer satisfaction: for-profit enterprises such as supermarkets, computer makers and clothing stores, or nonprofit entities such as public schools, post offices and motor vehicle departments?  I’m guessing you’ll answer the former. Their survival depends on pleasing customers. Nonprofits, such as public schools, post offices and motor vehicle departments, survival depends mostly on pleasing politicians.

When a firm fails to please its customers and thereby fails to earn a profit, it goes bankrupt, making those resources available to another who might do better.  That’s unless government steps in to bail it out.  Bailouts permit a business to continue doing a poor job of pleasing customers and husbanding resources.  Government-owned nonprofit entities are immune to the ruthless market discipline of being forced to please customers.  The same can be said of businesses that receive government handouts.

It’s this ruthlessness of market discipline that forces firms to please customers, economize on resources and thereby earn profits or go out of business and goes a long way toward explaining hostility toward free market capitalism

Walter E. Williams, professor of economics at George Mason University

Written by frrl

October 18, 2010 at 7:37 pm

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Digital Frequency Display for your Collins, Drake, Hammarlund, Swan, Kenwood, Heath, Yaesu, Atlas, and other Radios

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Looking for a digital display for your older radio?

Then check out this site – Almost All Digital Electronics

On that site you will find plug-and-play digital frequency displays for: Collins, Kenwood Hybrid, Drake, Hammarlund, Swan, Yaesu, and Atlas.

Have a radio that you want to add a digital frequency display that is not listed above?  Then get the Universal kit and probe.  This will even work on simple AA5 (All American Five) Air Capacitor Gang-tuned receivers. 

Don’t want to use that method?  Then use the tube shield that goes over the local oscillator / mixer to sample the frequency?  Still not general enough for your exotic radio?  Then use the programmable kit to jigger the calculation to determine the correct frequency for your particular radio based on the location of the sampling probe.  Slick! ( see it here , pictures of specific installations  )

These digital frequency displays are reasonably priced and come as kits to build yourself or pre-built if you want to use OPL (Other Peoples Labor)

For you fans of the Kenwood TS-820S Hybrid that have a failing digital display, well, here you will find a replacement.  If you have a Kenwood TS-520S then its plug-and-play using connections already provided on the back of the radio.

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Written by frrl

October 14, 2010 at 4:46 am

Four Challenges of Techie Teams

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Some insights from a couple of guys (Rob Goffee & Gareth Jones) from London Business School based on research of numerous companies.  Read our related set of articles – (here)


Once the preserve of high-tech companies, today techie teams are everywhere. They include computer game designers at Electronic Arts, software programmers at Microsoft, and the inevitable Googlets. But techie teams also occur in financial services companies, such as ING and Deutsche Bank, where technology increasingly resides in the organizational engine room. Indeed, IT and operations have moved from being support services in global banks to being at the heart of the business. For example, Deutsche Bank’s expertise at processing foreign exchange has given the bank a real competitive advantage.

Techie teams are prone to four distinct challenges.

First, clever techies have a tendency to be overly specialized. They are recognized as experts in their own field, and their clever status often rests on this. They have no wish to be led elsewhere.

Here is the consultant Paul Glen, drawing directly on his own work experience:

In general, geeks are rather ambivalent about joining groups. As introverts, they’re most comfortable working alone, concentrating on problems small enough to be attacked by only one person . . . The most common problem is the team that’s comprised solely of people who are strong at individual task skills and lack even a basic awareness of the other (relationship, team-work, process) skills.

Jonathan Neale acutely observes the following about the technically skilled engineers at the core of McLaren’s success. He describes the tension between shared mission and freedom to act:

The engineers like to be led by people who are authentic and gifted. The challenges are being able to give the technical team a sense of ownership about the mission. This has to be articulated in a language that describes their degrees of freedom to act and, simultaneously, the constraint or obligation to come back and report on it. So, they all want light-touch management, and they all want more funds and say, just trust us, it will be all right on the night. We don’t work like that. They’re accountable too.

This leads to a second, related problem: individual team members are typically obsessed by their own particular specialty, which can work to the detriment of the overall team objective.

If each team member focuses on their particular part of the jigsaw puzzle, they may never put all the pieces together to see the bigger picture. Two plus two does not necessarily add up.

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Written by frrl

October 13, 2010 at 5:56 am

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Radio Archeology: The Story of Bill Halligan and Hallicrafters

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What’s around in the basement?  There they are – my Hallicrafters radios.  An S-38, S-40B, and a SX-130.  The SX-130 is loose and making the rounds in the main part of my home.  The other radios in the basement are waiting their moment of glory.  The radio above is an SX-130 that I picked up, in excellent working condition, for $80.

Note: When I look around the internet, it seems that my basement full of radios is nothing compared to some other folks that I stumbled upon.  So, its good that folks are keeping these radios, repairing them, learning from them, using them, and keeping them alive to pass on to future generations.  Don’t forget to check out the links at the end of this posting.

We have a few postings on this site dedicated to older Heathkits (here) and Kenwood Ham Radios (here).  This one is on Hallicrafters.

The history of people, not things

Hallicrafters, like other radio manufacturers, has a story.  And please realize, that the story of radio is really the story of the people who made this all possible.  It’s about people who have a passion, take risks, build companies, and make something for the world.

The story of Hallicrafters is the story of Bill Halligan –

Hallicrafters – Young Engineer does good…

William (Bill) J. Halligan, founder of Hallicrafters, was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1899.  He got his first ham license as a teenager.  Even at that age he considered himself a radio experimenter and built an early spark-gap transmitter.  Bill’s first job, at age 16, was as a wireless operator on excursion ships between Boston and other coastal cities.  

When World War I began, he put his skills to good use by serving his country as a wireless radio operator on the battleship Illinois.  After the war was over he attended engineering school at Tufts College and West Point, but left when he married in 1922.  He took a job as a newspaper reporter, and then left journalism in 1924 to sell radio parts.  In 1928 he decided to start his own company, and moved to Chicago, Illinois.  This salesman had ideas for improving the short-wave radios he had been selling. It was a brave venture, with almost no capital, manufacturing license problems and then the depression, but in 1933 Bill founded the Hallicrafters company that made him a legend. 

Hallicrafters built handcrafted receivers with state-of-the-art features at an affordable price.  By 1938, Hallicrafters was considered one of the “Big Three” manufacturers of amateur receivers (Hallicrafters, National and Hammarlund) and was selling not only in the U.S. but 89 other countries.  He had 23 different models of transceivers and was ready to start producing transmitters, beginning with the HT-1.  Instead of putting a lot into expensive cabinets, Halligan believed in providing every nickel’s worth into the performance of the chassis and the latest in circuit design.  His greatest salesmen were those who used his equipment and praised it to others over the air.

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Written by frrl

October 9, 2010 at 4:05 am

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