The Time Has Come (the Walrus said) Archives

Not good enough

To recall why this series is here, go to this original post. Or look at any of the others in this series – you’ll find them each Wednesday.

We’ve leapt back to Germany for todays Pole Dancer.

dscn3517

You wondered where Pole Dancing came from – well, we can reveal (geddit?) that todays version is simply a natural evolution of the habit of a couple of hundred years ago of putting women on a pedestal. Naturally, the more money you had, the bigger and more ornate the pedestal. This was a mere 20 metres high, so not only do we have a Pole Dancer on a Pedestal, she has her head in the clouds as well.

Of course, the terrible consequence is that being outdoors and up high, means the Lady in Question is visible to the masses. This leads to Corruption, and their Inevitable Moral Decline. We’d not tolerate this kind of thing here, today.

Pole Dancers. Good enough for Germany. Not good enough for Tea Tree Gully.

Thanks for the memories, Sol

Over the years, having sworn never to have mobile phones, we’ve ended up with three of them in the house. All started their lives with Telstra, and today, finally the last of them has been shifted to another carrier.

For a long time, Telstra made sense. The coverage was the best, the infrastrcuture the biggest, and in many cases the competitors just used their stuff anyhow. We don’t use mobiles much, so we tend to try and go on plans with really long pre-payment periods. A year in advance is good if you can get it. Telstra’s plans seemed to gouge $30 a month, or every couple of months. The credit would accumulate because we didn’t use it. But miss a payment and you forfeit the lot.

So we’ve moved, because the dollars add up.

A week ago, the time had come to move the last phone off Telstra. The Oldest Sons phone. To do that we had to unlock the handset, and this is where the tale of madness and ANGRY began.

To unlock the handset, the Lady Of The House had to log into the web site. Trouble is, we use the web site about once a year, and she’d forgotten the password. No problem you cry, just play the game of answer the Seven Silly Questions From Hell and you get a new password. But with questions like “What is your mothers maiden name”, she was then bamboozled. When the account was set up 2 or 3 years ago – were the answers from HER point of view, or from OLDEST SONS point of view?

After getting the answers to the Seven Silly Questions From Hell wrong, the web account was locked out.

Solution – call the enquiries number. This she duly did, and after much waiting and 17 transfers, she had a nice chat to somebody who ran through the Seven Silly Questions From Hell and pretty much read out the answers. So much for checking identity. But, the web account could not be unlocked by the operator.

“It will automatically unlock in 3-4 hours”, she was informed.

That evening, another try resulting in the account still being locked.

More calls to operators, more transfers, and another half hour on the phone led to illuminating help such as “Oh, I can see you have been trying to log in a lot”.

“Well, yes. Your colleague said it would unlock in 3-4 hours.”

“Oh no, that’s not right, the account will take 3-4 days before it unlocks”, came the reply.

“What? 3-4 days? You have to be joking, right?”

“No. 3-4 days.”

“Well, all I want is to unlock the handset so its not locked to the Telstra network any more, can you help me do that?”

“No. Wait till the web services are unlocked and you can log in again.”

Grrrr. Right. Seething anger and burning resentment lit the room. If we could have harnessed this, we could have sent power back into the grid.

I provided tea and sympathy. She Who Must Be Obeyed would not be comforted:  ”The stupid jerks”, she fumed, “I’ll log a complaint.”

So she found the Telstra web site again, and went to the complaints form. Typed up a detailed description of what had transpired, and asked for a simple statement. Yea, verily, a mere clarification. “How long does it take to unlock the web account so I can log in again?”.

Submitting The Question That Shall Not Be Mentioned, the web system promptly came back with an error. A Parse Error. Clearly, the web system is broken. But who knows – maybe The Question That Shall Not Be Mentioned was submitted anyway?

And thus came back the answer, an email from the gods of Telstra. An email full of waffle cut-n-pasted from the Handbook Of Corporate Waffle, providing Yet Another Phone Number To Call For Customer Service In The Bowels Of Telsra. But not answering the question.

And thus began the email exchange. A reply was duly dispatched, stating that the answer provided by Providence and the Bountiful Gods Of Telstra was somewhat inadequate, seeing as it had not answered the question.

The email ping-pong continued for some days, each time new phone numbers being provided, and at no time giving an answer, to a question which had now assumed proportions akin the search by the ancient alchemists for the turning of water into wine, or the ponderings of the meaning of life. Only a number – you might think – only a number! But no, in the annals of Telstra, the Account Lockout Period is a closely guarded secret – transferred from one CEO to another, but only behind locked doors and when there  is a full moon.

And thus, a calm came upon the land, and the Family Of The Dump were silent and mollified, having temporarily given up on trying to tame the Telstra Dragon. Defeated, but not yet deterred, we quitely bided our time. We waited the allotted 3 to 4 days, and then some. Which brings us to today.

Today – The Lady Of The House spent another 2 hours on the phone, trying to report that the web site is broken. On each attempted “I’ll just transfer you”, she would shriek “No… I’ll NOT BE TRANSFERRED. Take down my complaint, you stupid and compliant oaf.” They didn’t like that much.

But today also, Providence and The Gods Of Telstra had deemed that the internet account woudl unlock. Like opening the Great Doors Of The Temple Of Doom, it was now possible to access the holiest of holys, The Telstra Account Site.

And so it was done that the handset could be unlocked from the Network Of the Omnipotent One, for the payment of a small fee. Strangely enough, Yet Another Phone Number In The Maw Of The Telstra Monster had to be called! But at no time did it actually ask for the credit card number, to which The Fee would be charged.

And thus, it came to pass, that by this evening the phone was freed from its tyranny, and transferred to the land of Vodafone, where an accumulation of Free Vodafone Minutes will likely see its cost drop to $50 a year. And have as parent a web site that works. And operators who answer questions , and make things work. All on  single number. Finally. After two weeks of pain and suffering.

————

There’s a bitter lesson for the next Telstra CEO in all this. Mr Sol, the current and outgoing CEO, takes great pride in reducing the number Telstra information systems, from something like 250, to about 20.

Trouble is, Sol, you forgot a couple of really important things. The staff don’t have a clue what’s going on. You changed things so fast you left the people behind. And you have so many toll-free customer service numbers that nobody has a clue which to call, when, and for what.

Oh – and your web site is still stuffed for logging a complaint!

I’ll be selling my Telstra shares. It’s no longer getting with the strength, it’s getting with the organisation that’s been F@#$ed.

Whats this engineering thing anyhow?

Indirectly, I found out what engineers are. How they are educated, what makes them tick. It’s all here:

No user servicable parts inside.

Crazy, crazy prices!

I’ve been going through the filing cabinet and throwing out old receipts and records.

The first PC: with a Pentium 120 processor and 8 MB of RAM, with a 1 GB hard drive cost $2800, back in 1996.

In 1998 I bought a few upgrades: 32 MB of RAM cost $152, and a 4.3 GB hard drive was $360.

Nobody can complain about modern prices when you look back.

Not good enough

To recall why this series is here, go to this original post. Or I”ll just summarise it – The City of Tea Tree Gully banned a few naked images from their 2008 community art exhibition. One was a naked bust. The sort of thing that’s been done and exhibited in public for hundreds of years.

So each Wednesday until I run out of material, we’re getting a picture from somewhere in the world, of something that would be banned in The City of Tea Tree Gully.

Today’s exciting installment comes courtesy of the Tuillerie Gardens, in Paris. That’s in France.

dsc_1753

You’ll notice that the Lady In Question here is not just a bust – Full Frontal Nudity Including All The Rude Bits are on display here.

Worse – there are families present kicking a ball around ! Surely they must be offended. They don’t LOOK offended, but perhaps they hide it well. Following the Bill Henson photo scandal, I’m sure somebody could ask Kevin Rudd what he thinks. His response would, of course, be predictable. Sickened, he’d be, sickened.

This sort of disgusting stuff should not be allowed. Clearly the citizens of Paris are hardened to this kind of depravity, either that or they have become corrupted by the loose morals that such terrible displays of public nudity will inevitably lead to.

Naked Ladies in Public Parks. Good enough for Paris. Not good enough for Tea Tree Gully.

Newspeak and Waffle

Sounds like a slightly shonky Law or Accounting firm:  ”Newspeak and Waffle – Solicitors”. But no, I’m fired up after reading a self-congratulatory article in “The Adelaide Review”.

Back in the days when Christopher Pearson was speech writer for John Howard, and running  ”The Adelaide Review” between long lunch breaks, you would get a regular and balanced diet of long and thought-provoking articles. He’s moved on and “The Adelaide Review” has become a far more lightweight puff-piece. “The Adelaide Purview” might be more appropriate.

Anyhow, I’m just scanning and reading a few articles from editions back in late 2008. Two things struck me.

Firstly, the series of articles by the “Design” fraternity. This encompasses architecture, interior design, furniture design, and so on. This mob have hijacked and devalued the term “design”. Once a wide-ranging verb (design, a creative act, generally associated with engineering and building of structures, including creation, calculation, verification) the word has now become a noun when applied to the softer how-things-look disciplines. For example, you can design a bridge – which is more than drawing a picture, it requires material selection, and a lot of calculation of loads, stresses, and so on. You can design an electronic whatsit, which involves component selection, and a lot of calculation of currents, voltages, waveforms, timing analysis, and so on and on. But now we have “Design” as a collective which make interiors look nice, draw advertising brochures and so on. Yes they are related. No, “Design” is not ONLY limited to the disciplines who plug it so hard as being their profession. Is it any wonder English is so confusing?

Secondly, though, and worse, is an article about the update to the Adelaide Zoo. I had to read this drivel 3 times and interpret it before I could understand what it meant. It started quite well: the Zoo is getting some giant Pandas and doing an upgrade as well as building a suitable enclosure. Then the article descended into bureaucratic Newspeak, before finally coming back to sanity.

Here are a few of the bits in the middle,  some names are removed to protect the innocent.

Aligned with the South Australian Strategic Plan, Adelaide Zoo embraces cross-institutional and cultural fusion, engaging with the wider urban environment through its unique parkland setting and benefiting the community through significant education, research and conservation practices.

The strategic plan bit just sounds like waffle. Oh-oh, we have FUSION. One point earned in bullshit-bingo. Essentially I think this means: “The zoo tries to be inclusive. It’s in the parklands and we think that’s good. It helps with education, research and conservation.”

XXX has partnered with the Zoo to deliver the project , providing an unrivalled zoo experience through its unique design solutions and innovation. With only seven other zoos in the world accommodating giant Pandas, this is a unique opportunity for Adelaide to showcase the best in zoo design, within sustainable parameters.

Partnered? Really? So XXX is sharing the risks? I don’t think so, last I heard they are an firm of architects. You know, the folk you put on a contract. They take the money, deliver the building design and move on. They don’t take a share of the revenues or share in the losses of the enterprise. Not partners. Contractors. That’s two points in bullshit-bingo.

“Unrivalled zoo experience”. Er, what does this mean? And through unique design solutions and innovation? Pardon? Meaningless waffle. That’s three points in bullshit-bingo.

“within sustainable parameters”. What parameters? How is sustainable defined? Sustaining what? Perhaps the pillars have to sustain the roof? That’d work! That’s four points in bullshit-bingo.

… (more stuff) … The Zoo and XXX undertook a study tour to the United States in December 2007, visiting four giant panda exhibits with a focus on animal husbandry, behind the scenes holding facilities and exhibit design requirements. The tour identified that the unique breeding and behavioural habits of the pandas would require a compelling exhibit that would tell an active story. The Adelaide Zoo exhibit aims to deliver an emotional experience that encourages visitors to leave with conservation in mind and with the tools to participate in further conservation action.

Oh for crying out aloud, spare me. I want to poke my eye out with a fork, it’s more fun than reading this drivel.

So, the architect and zoo staff had a jolly, then waffled on about it. What on earth does a “compelling exhibit mean”? Does the compulsion mean that attendance will be mandatory – perhaps a prison sentence for non-attendance ? “Compelling.” That’s five points in bullshit-bingo. But it gets worse. “Tell an active story”. What? Pure padding. Words to fill the page. That’s six points in bullshit-bingo.

But just when you though things could get no worse, we have “an emotional experience” that gives the visitors “tools”. Do they leave with a spanner? Or a screwdriver?

Where is that fork? My eyes are itching to feel it. That’s seven AND eight points in bullshit-bingo.

But wait, there’s more:

A key design principle has been to encourage an emotive connection between humans and animals…

There’s more, but I’m tired of this shit. I’ve now made nine points in bullshit bingo, and this in only a half-column of the article.

The only thing missing is that they didn’t deconstruct the zoo and rebuild it using a paradigm shift, inspired by right-sizing the nuances after getting in touch with their inner feelings.

AAARRRRGGGHHH.

Come on self-congratulators, you can do better than drivel like this. Oh, sorry. Come on “Designers” – you can do better. Can’t you?

Not good enough

To recall why this series is here, go to this original post.

It’s pretty tough being the ruler of a fine empire. So tough that the only way to handle it is to surround yourself with gold, fine gardens, mighty vistas, and of course a bunch of flunkies.

Such was the life of the rulers of old – who then further depraved themselves by decorating the wee iddle biddle tiny summer house and retreat with a few boobs, just to add to the excitement.

dsc_0996

Things like this really do LOWER the tone of the neighbourhood. Whatever would the newspapers say if such things were done today? The horrors! The shame of it!

We can’t have things like this. It must be time to bring back coverings for chair legs, in the City of Tea Tree Gully! Modesty is required, and most becoming it is too!

Gold and boobs. Good enough for Germany. Not good enough for Tea Tree Gully.

Where has all the productivity growth gone?

Over on the Value Investing blog, James Carlisle asks “Where has all the productivity growth gone?”

Over the last 20 years or more we’ve been told that employee productivity – that is, us workers, has grown by something like 3% or more a year. Part of this has been due to productivity aids like automation, IT systems, removal of beaurocracy, less layers of management, and so on and on.

The commonly accepted wisdom is that IT systems (the PC on every desk, fuelled up with software from Mr Gates and others) have driven most of the gains.

I posted a long comment, which I reproduce below in slightly edited form, in which I argue that most of the gains are either illusory, delusional, or one-off in nature.

————-

I expect a great deal of the claimed productivity growth to be illusory – the product of the fevered imagings of managers, economists, and the salesmen for IT companies.

We can split an analysis into 3 main activities in the broader economy:
- Administration, support and services
- Design and development
- Manufacturing

Administration, support & services

In general, jobs like waiting tables, doing tax, purchasing paper clips for the office and so on have not changed a great deal. A waiter can only walk so fast, doing tax gets more complex not less (though spreadsheets help to even the score a bit here), and purchasing is still purchasing.

The methods of doing these things might have changed a little: waiters have point of sale computer systems – but these primarily remove error, they don’t get orders in a kitchen faster, they don’t get meals cooked faster. A purchase order is still a purchase order. The typing pools for those disappeared in the 1980s, so IT systems have done the work for over 20 years. Some suppliers now allow on-line orders – but hasn’t this just replaced the phone call?

So in all these parts of the economy, which I collectively lump together as “services”, productivity gains have been pretty small. There may have been some one-off gains back in the 1980’s, but since then there is not really a lot more left to wring out.

Product Design and development

Once upon a time, before the days of the PC on every desk – in other words prior to about 1990 for you young ‘uns, things got done. Smart folk designed washing machines and bits of electronics, and bridges and buildings. Sure it was all done on drawing boards with ink, and the clever guys stood around a blackboard arguing the merits of their ideas. Paper based design documents were slow and painful to produce, and kept to the bare essentials.

Now we have computer systems that make it easier and faster to write software, design electronics, and design bridges, buildings, widgets and what-not. We have CAD packages and software source management systems, electronic circuits can be designed using software that’s free on a $1000 PC instead of needing a mainframe in a room full of white coated keepers.

At the same time, though, the complexity has increased (compare a car or washing machine of today and 20 years ago). In addition, the ligitious nature of our society means that more needs to be taken into account, more documentation produced and archived in case of legal action.

So there have been huge productivity gains in all the product design activities, across all the disciplines, but these are again mainly one-off in nature and are counterbalanced by demands for the thingies being designed to do more.

Then there are the costs – you need systems and processes in place to backup the data, run the IT systems, archive documents, repair breakdowns, install data lines, service the UPS, and so on. There are now a whole range of essential service provision jobs that did not even exist 20 years ago, and they need to be paid for from something.

Let’s also mention email – something that didn’t exist years ago. Sure, it replaced the inter-office memo. But you generally only ever made a couple of copies, you didn’t send then to 10 or 20 people including the big boss fellas just to make the recipient look bad. Modern managers can receive 20 to 200 emails a day, and it’s very easy to spend 2, 3 or 4 hours every single day just reading and responding to email. The modern miracle of email with instant delivery has been one of the biggest productivity-destroyers in the history of the universe!

And with the PC and internet on every desk, now it’s very easy for people spend their day at work playing solitaire and reading the news sites. I personally don’t think design and development productivity has increased, overall, AT ALL in the last 20 years. The combination of easy goofing off, tools to remove drudgery, greater support costs, and greater demands all balance out.

Finally, and fundamentally, you can’t make people think or innovate faster in spite of books by Bill Gates. Ideas come about at the rate and times that ideas come about.

Manufacturing

There have been numerous gains over the years, with automation robots, and moving it all to low labour-cost countries. Sometimes the gains there are illusory too: for example, transport can eat up all the gains you made from a lower labour cost. And if that doesn’t stiff you, exchange rates can bite you instead.

But especially in manufacturing, any savings due to productivity drive competition. Competition allows one maker to offer a lower price and increase market share – and all manufacturers are forced to play a game descending the ever-decreasing spiral of  lower prices.

Here’s an example. I bought a dishwasher 20 years ago, and it cost me $1000 on discount. It died 2 years ago so I bought a replacement, which cost me $600 on discount. They both do exactly the same job, they are both base models without frills. In real terms the price paid for that dishwasher has more than halved in a period of about 15 to 17 years.

So any productivity gains in manufacture didn’t end up with the manufacturer, or their shareholders. Those gains materialised as lower prices and consumers took the benefit.

Conclusion

There have been big productivity gains in manufacture that go to consumers, small if any gains in design and development, and little or no real gains anywhere else.

I’m also deeply suspicious of those who claim general long term productivity gains, especially over the last 20 years. I get that Mandy Rice-Davies feeling: “well, he would say that, wouldn’t he”.

The Geek Songbook (Part 2)

(Sort of start with “Oh Carol”, and then let it drift and wander a bit from there)

Ohhhh Ada
You make me sad
You took Pascal,
And made it bet-er-er-er

Now you have grown up
But got so dowdy…
Whatever happened
to object meth-o-o-ods?

You’re obsolete now
And big and bloated
Used in defence now
Surpassed by Rubie-ie-ie…

(make up the rest for yourselves here to suit… mentions of Algol, Fortran, Delphi, Cobol and BASIC don’t count. Mentions of Java might earn points. PHP earns negative points.)

Not Good Enough

To recall why this series is here, go to this original post.

Today’s disgusting, deranged, and disturbingly immoral public art work comes to you courtesy of the Sanssouci Park, surrounding the Sanssouci Palace at Potsdam in Germany.

dscn3518

Whilst under the care and protection of the East German Democratic Republic (cough, splutter), not many of the great unwashed could get in to be corrupted by the immoral and degrading statues and images on display. The City of Tea Tree Gully and the elected members would have been proud!

Perhaps they aspire to the Tea Tree Gully Democratic Republic. Will we soon have paid spies and informers? Perhaps dobbing in the neighbours for unseemly landscapes glimpsed hanging on lounge-room walls. And god forbid the consequences if you should have a still-life. Don’t even dream of the exile to the gulags if you have a clandestine nude.

Today anybody can go to Sanssouci and wander through the park (nearly) free of charge, to be corrupted by the evil works of art on display.

Today’s Strumpet With Trumpet – good enough for Germany – not good enough for Tea Tree Gully.

Ah, Warren

I’m reading the most recent Berkshire Hathaway letter to shareholders.

For anybody, anyopdy at all, even those without financial savvy, READ THIS. It’s 22 pages of sheer common sense from one of the most rational, down-to-earth, and richest men in the world.

Just read it.  Once you’ve read it, trawl their web site and read the last letters as well. Everything is presented in terms an idiot can understand. Read this and you pick up a total distrust of financial spivs using terms like “rebalancing your portfolio”, and “leveraging your assets.”

Want to know about housing finance, utilities, and what the heck those “monoline insurers” are about?

You can’t go past this:

The cause of their problems was captured long ago by Mae West: “I was Snow White, but I drifted.”

And this:

The present housing debacle should teach home buyers, lenders, brokers and government some simple lessons that will ensure stability in the future. Home purchases should involve an honest-to-God down payment of at least 10% and monthly payments that can be comfortably handled by the borrower’s income. That income should be carefully verified.

And this:

Our advice: Beware of geeks bearing formulas.

Just read it.

Powered by WordPress 2.8    Rendered in 23 queries and 0.280 seconds.    CleanBreeze Theme