Archive for February, 2013

FM frustrates me to no end

Sometimes software programmers get too cute.  Every time I turn around, they exercise a technique called “Information Hiding” where supposedly all those nitty-gritty details that you don’t need to worry about are tucked away in a far away method that you either don’t have access to or will take a week to discover.  The problem is, when I’m debugging, I want access to everything.  I don’t want to have to go read up on your little API and sort through 60 methods to find the one I’m interested and how to use it before I can continue my debugging session.  I want to be able to “see” what’s happening on the other side when I invoke a method.  Such is the case with Java.

I’m using an Open Source Continuous Integration Build tool called Jenkins to deploy some WAR files to Tomcat containers.  All I need to do is setup Jenkins to pull in a dynamic list.  To get my list in true dynamic fashion I have to go through 3 layers of programming interfaces before I can actually think in terms of one of the simplest data structures, a List.

Jenkins employs something called “Scriptler” which is a fancy name for calling a “Groovy” script. Groovy is a dynamic language that is basically a layer on top of Java with some additional features.   Oh, and there are other Java plugins involved just to throw in a few more variables about what could be different between systems.

The problem I’m having is that on Apache Tomcat, with a specific version of Java under the hood, I can get my list to display properly in Jenkins.  For some reason under SpringSource Tomcat, it doesn’t want to work.  This line:

def line = new File(prefix + appServerType + “/” + envType + “/jvms_by_server”).readLines()

On Apache, “line” results in an array of lines snarfed in from my file “jvms_by_server”:

  • mxp1   server1.mycompany.com
  • mxp2   server2.mycompany.com
  • etc.

On SpringSource, “line” results in [big-long-line-of-all-tye-lines-in-my-file-as-a-single-element]

So it doesn’t display right.

In both situations I’m passing the exact same array back to the caller, up through Java, Groovy, Scriptler, and finally back to Jenkins — none of which I can “see”.  So how do you explain how it works?  In Software-speak, we call that “Fucking Magic”, aka FM.

I have no way to trace the flow of execution because everything is just a little too cute.

I miss strcat, strlen, strcmp, and strcpy and being able to visualize every character in an array from main() to the lowest level subroutine with good old fashioned gdb.  Got an extra “\n” in there?  Chop off your char *ptr by a character and be done with it already!

Screw FM, I want me some good old fashioned C code so I can see what the hell I’m doing!

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Are the French Lazy? Or smart?

The following is a guest blog from Robby Toner.

The first thing that went through my head when I read what the CEO of Titan Tire Corporation said about the French and their work ethic was “yep, that’s exactly why the rest of the world thinks we’re such ignorant assholes.”  It’s because we are.  The thing is, it’s not even what Maurice Taylor is saying that’s the issue, it’s how he’s saying it.  He doesn’t qualify his words or make any attempt to show some type of compassion or understanding about French culture before he leads into his objective argument.  He simply tosses cultural differences aside as if his technical college never forced him to take one of those silly “arts and humanities” classes to round out their degrees.

The French aren’t interested in your arguments about work ethic and 40 hour work weeks.  They’ve been there, they know what that reality is like, and they’ve chosen a different path.  What I’d really be interested in is how much Maurice Taylor could be persuaded that the French have got this one right by spending a little time in their country and working by their rules.  I spent nine months in France teaching English to elementary children.  I didn’t work much, about 20 hours per week or so, a bit less than even the French standard (the French work week is actually 35 hours).  The mindset is different there.  They give you extra time for lunch, and people fill up the tables outside local cafes and restaurants since they have adequate time for a sit down meal.  It’s a remarkable act of community engagement that breaks up the work day.

The French believe that you should work to live, not live to work.  That doesn’t mean you can’t be passionate about what you do and make an impact in fewer hours, it just means a slightly different idea of exactly how many hours with and away your family is reasonable.  Once the entire economy is forced to obey by these rules, it levels the playing field in all domestic markets and the population enjoys extra time off.  Is this at a loss in production?  The numbers show no, and that that might be changing, but even if it does, who cares?  Why are we so obsessed with working?  Are we really meant to work ourselves into a state where our bodies no longer function ideally and then see what we’ve got left in us?  Forget that.

You can say what you want about the French, but they’re healthier, more educated, more visited, and more devoted to the things in life that really matter than we are.  I find that humbling, and I think it’s sad that our immediate reaction involves cynicism and cultural ignorance.

My favorite part is when people think that the French are doing all of these things at a huge expense to their debt ratio.  Here’s a list of the top countries’ debt to GDP ratioshttp://www.economicshelp.org/blog/774/economics/list-of-national-debt-by-country/

… look who’s higher up than France?  AMERICA.  The French are doing more with less, their country is less in debt than ours is yet they are afforded more time off and more access to quality healthcare and services than just about any other place.

Instead of criticizing the French way of life maybe Maurice Taylor should be asking for tips on how relieve stress of his employees and maintain profitability.  This is America, though, and we don’t ask for help, we lend it.

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Desperately need more PIE charts for clarity

Republicans have a huge problem.  They desperately want to be the party of fiscal restraint, but have no idea how to get there without losing even more of their dwindling piece of the electorate pie.  The latest tactic employed by more senior members of Congress is to publicly go on the warpath for programs that really don’t make any sort of a dent in the budget what-so-ever, just so they can be on the record as “wanting cuts”.  They are also not shy about “wanting cuts” to entitlements yet refuse to get specific about which ones.  Doing so would risk being held accountable by seniors and the poor during the next election cycle.

Case in point.  Eric Cantor recently lamented on twitter a $4M spend on IRS TV.  Mitt Romney went way out on the limb with 100 times this amount, $445M for killing Big Bird and PBS.

Here’s where we need Ross Perot to step in with some PIE charts and explain to the American people what these suggestions actually mean.

Image

Even Mitt’s commitment to defund PBS  amounts to 0.014% of the 17 Trillion dollar federal budget.  Maybe that’s what it is.  Trillion is just too big of a unit to comprehend.  Million, Billion, Trillion.  What’s the diff?

I can’t even show the impact of this on the above chart because it would not be visible to the naked eye.

As the PIE chart shows, 60% of the budget goes towards Medicare, Social Security, and Labor, and 18% to the Pentagon.  This is where the real meat is.

The dilemma they have is getting specific about the meaty parts.  That’s tricky business.  The usual tactic is to offer up vague proposals for spending cuts and then point the finger at the other guy for not having a specific proposal.  Both sides engage in this.

I think the American people would be okay with the labor spend if we could actually have something to show for it.  Where’s our Mt. Rushmore?  Where’s our Timberline Lodge?  Where’s our Hoover dam?  I’m not seeing it or anything close to it.  I understand Obama inherited a leaky ship and QE I and II were just about trying to keep the ship from sinking.  But still, we don’t have much of anything to show for it and that’s unsettling and opens up the door for massive criticism about where did the money go?

I just wanted to take time out this morning and thank Eric and Mitt for their detailed suggestions and then see if I could put them in perspective with an actual PIE chart.  Turns out it’s not possible.

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Top 10 Ass-wipes of Fox News

10.  Laura Ingraham

Laura Ingraham is a watered down version of Ann Coulter.  Not nearly as vitriolic as Ann, but a conservative holier-than-thou ass-wipe just the same.  There’s a definite vibe of “listen to me, I know best” when listening to Laura.

9.  Karl Rove

Rove is the puppet-master that runs the Republican machine.  He’s the one directing where all the money comes from, and where it goes.  The fact that he promised to deliver Mitt Romney and then failed to do so ticked off a lot of rich people.  His waffling on election night was entertainment at its best.

8.  Geraldo Rivera

Geraldo sensationalizes everything and is an attention grabber.  His 15 minutes were over after the pirate treasure debacle.

7.  John Sununu

Sununu hasn’t smiled since 1980.  10 minutes of negativity from John every time.  Count on it.

6.  Herman Cain

Cain is an idiot, plain and simple.  The fact that he garnered support for a run for the White House is downright scary.  Almost as scary as Sarah Palin at the helm.

5.  Charles Krauthammer

Charles is an arrogant intellectual wanna-be.  Points off for chumming up to Bill O’Reilly

4.  Michelle Malkin

Michelle is that little twit that you just want to smack upside the head but can’t.

3.  Bill O’Reilly

O’Reilly occasionally surprises me with some objectivity, but it’s rare.  As of late he likes to intimidate.  He’s a partisan hack like the rest of them and he’s miserable now that Obama has been elected for a second term and I love watching him espouse his strict father approach to everything.  A veritable one-size fits all solution to whatever ails the country.

2.  Sean Hannity

At least Fox isn’t trying to mask the Fair and Balanced charade with Hannity and Colmes anymore since Colmes departed.  But still, Hannity spews vitriol at liberals for 60 solid minutes every day, and is anything but a News man.

1.  Ann Coulter

This one needs very little explanation from anyone who has seen Ann in action.  To see her is to instantly know why she qualifies for the #1 pick.  I’m delighted at the increasing number of youtube.com videos on display that show Ann getting booed off the stage.

Honorable Mention:  

Greg Gutfeld, Monica Crowley, Dennis Miller, William Kristol, Cal Thomas, Britt Hume, Sarah Palin, Dick Morris, and Lou Dobbs

Fox sure can pick ’em eh?  What a staff!

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A Progressive Church that Connects?

E.J. Dionne has a suggestion about how to move the Catholic Church forward in the 21st Century:

The Vatican conclave should elect a nun as the next Bishop of Rome.   Even though Las Vegas odds makers have this probability at 0.00001%, Dionne weighed in with some interesting angles on the idea just for the sake of discussion, and I agree it’s a worthy discussion.

The Church has a numbers problem.  The number of men entering the Priesthood has been on the decline to the point where there are now over 1300 Catholics per Priest in the United States.  And the US is in better position than other parts of the world by an order of magnitude.

I haven’t been a weekly attendee since 1986, so my personal experiences are somewhat dated, but the fundamental reason I applaud Dionne for having the audacity to suggest improbable reform is I sensed parishioners desperately need a tangible way to connect with their leaders, and that’s been missing for decades.  The people I talk with are fascinated by the history of Rome and all its artifacts, but they seldom listen to the messages coming from the hierarchy.

The fact is, when the Priest isn’t looking, the whispers in the coffee and donut area paint a picture of Rome as a bunch of inflexible, out of touch old geezers.  Everyone wonders when someone will do something about the role of women in the Church, and why so much hub-bub about birth control.  Connection with your leaders is important in any organization, as is a shared vision.

Personal experience tells me that most practicing Catholics take little, if any, guidance from Rome when it comes to their personal lives, struggle with the more conservative teachings of the Church, but carry on just the same as practicing the faith with their local local Parish because they can connect at a local level.  This gives their lives additional meaning and purpose in spite of what the Church hierarchy has to say.

There are countless anti-birth control, pro choice, gay marriage supporting, “could care less about celibacy” Catholics attending Mass every week.  That’s got to be a tough pill to swallow for those parishioners when the guy at the pulpit is focusing on those particular messages.  I guess it’s just ignore for now and move on.  Indeed there is even a reform movement amongst Priests to attempt to change the celibacy rules and women’s role, but alas it falls on deaf ears every time.

The fact is, most people have inherited a belief system from our families and in most cases, this decision was made at infancy.  The was no objective choice involved in it.  Along the way we have not taken the effort to fully reconcile their personal, religious, and political beliefs, and the reason there is, it’s nearly impossible to complete the exercise successfully if you’re a practicing Catholic in the modern world.  To complete the exercise might result in the realization that if I get to be honest about it, maybe I’m not really on board with some of the basic tenets of the Church.  It’s certainly not reflected in my voting record, which is sort of where the rubber meets the road.  And then there’s figuring out what to do about that discovery.

Which brings me back to the hierarchy in Rome.  There’s a certain mystique about the flow of successors from St. Peter.  Papal visits as recent as Pope John Paul II have drawn enormous crowds in the hundreds of thousands of people, come to be near or touched by the chosen one.  As humans we tend to do that though.  There aren’t many organizations that span the entire world as the Catholic Church does.

So then the question is, what’s the real connection people have with the Pope? Obviously he can’t go on a continuous world tour, be there to say Mass for us every week and we don’t get to invite him over for dinner, so apart from getting himself a new Twitter handle (@pontifex), what is it that he can do to connect with his flock?

I’ve witnessed incredibly strong connections among Parishioners of several Churches and there is also sometimes a connection with the Priest as teacher, mentor, and friend.  To the extent he can deliver messages that touch our personal lives he will be successful in his job.  To the extent that he focuses on the more controversial subjects of our time, he starts to lose that connection.  Thankfully, Catholicism is not usually considered synonymous with fire and brimstone teachings.  I would characterize it as more of an intellectual endeavor for those who see richness in the traditions, find comfort in rote phrases, but not horribly intimate on a personal level as people usually keep to themselves.  It’s more unspoken – the sharing of the common bonds we have in all of our upbringings.  The values passed down from our parents that help us choose personal sacrifice over greed when we are able.

There are two themes of messages that come from the church in my own personal experience.  Quite coincidentally, there is an Old Testament and a New Testament and one can easily get confused about which message should get the most attention or guide us in the modern world.  The confusion comes about because people can’t decide if the focus should be on the the Old Testament God who frequently imposes his wrath on those who disobey his commandments with floods, drought, and pestilence, or his son Jesus who preached about humility, forgiveness, unselfishness, and love thy neighbor.

The Old Testament has many messages in it, but the one people tend to focus on the most is The Ten Commandments.  For those who’ve been indoctrinated, this is where self-discipline comes into play.  Self-discipline is a good thing of course, but the Church over-simplifies the “rules of the game” if you will.  Using the Old Testament as documented proof, they proclaim that a broken commandment will result in eternity in hell.  They are pretty clear about that.  Any questions?  No?  Okay, time for recess.

This is over-simplifying it greatly, but The New Testament is more about Jesus’ life and his message of do unto others.   In the context of the teachings of the Church, it’s much, much easier to connect with the teachings of the New Testament vs. The Old Testament.  When I think about The New Testament and its ideas coming into practice, I think about volunteering down at the Oregon Food Bank.  I think about how I should be donating more money to charity.  About social justice and how criminal it is that we have so many poor among us, especially children live in poverty.  About making personal sacrifices so that others can have a chance.

When I observe Catholics today, I have this tendency to put them into one of these two camps.  There’s the Bill O’Reilly / Sean Hannity / Laura Ingraham “Old Testament” conservative camp who often suggest, as they were taught, that if only we could just get everyone to adhere to the Ten Commandments and exercise more self discipline in our homes and schools, the world’s problems would be solved.  Also known as the “Strict Father” approach.  They often staunchly defend the more arcane teachings of the Church including birth control and abstinence, even though they don’t practice these teachings themselves.

The other camp is those who believe the Old Testament is an interesting collection of historical documents, but do not recognize it as their behavioral compass for the the 21st century.  They recognize the hierarchy in Rome but truth be told, they think it desperately needs change in the modern world. They are more focused on things like social justice and rolling up their sleeves to help the poor and adopting some of the more traits we identify with Jesus’ teachings.  These are the folks I can connect with the most.

It’s sort of baffling to think that these two extremes exist under the same roof, but they do every Sunday.  But it’s no wonder when one week the focus is from the Book of Leviticus and the next it’s the Gospel of Luke, the power of forgiveness and turning the other cheek.

Most baffling of all, is the O’Reilly, Hannity, Limbaugh’s of the world and their never ending support for winner take all ‘pure capitalism’.  They seem to have no qualms what-so-ever about billionaires amassing grotesque fortunes while 2/3 of the world’s population goes unfed.  Is that God’s will?  Meanwhile they use their media pulpit to pontificate about the benefits of torture, the latest weapons program, unrestricted access to assault weapons for all, and cry blasphemy whenever cuts to the Defense Department are suggested.  This brand of Catholic, I simply do not get and probably never will.  All I can surmise is, they must have spent 10 weeks on the Old Testament in class, and about 5 minutes on the New Testament.

Circling back to Dionne’s suggestion of a nun as Pope and my main point that the people benefit the most when connected with their leaders, the very idea of having a modern day Mother Theresa as leader of the Church would energize the faithful more than anything else I can possibly imagine.  The connection would be instantaneous and powerful.  People can instantly identify with roll up their sleeves leadership who spend their lives in service to others, focusing more on what’s important today – feeding the world’s poor, ending violence, social justice.  The message would be 100 times more powerful because it’s not coming from someone cloaked in layers of robes and funny looking hats being driven around in a Pope-mobile perceived as someone whose priorities are completely out of whack, focusing on keeping the clergy an old boys club, only celibate men allowed, to the bitter end.

And speaking of the end, here’s my prediction.  The next Pope will indeed not be a nun.  He will instead be a conservative like his predecessor.  The number of Priests will continue to decline, and Churches around the world will adjust using whatever means they figure are reasonable, Rome be damned.

They will still gather, say Mass without a Priest, recite the Creed, give the sign of peace, sing hymns, have a Gospel reading, take communion, and carry on all of the traditions they were taught and pass them on to their children.  A few men in Rome will hold on to “power”, but very few people will care what they say or do.

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Ursula Burns

Full disclosure.  I worked for Xerox for 12 years and for the company it acquired, Tektronix, 6 years before that, as both an Engineer and an Engineering Support Manager of a Tools group.  I left in July of 2012 on my own terms.

From the beginning in 2000 when Xerox acquired Tektronix for 1 Billion dollars, the culture shock of  a large bureaucratic corporation’s management style was a tough pill to swallow for the good folks at the Wilsonville, Oregon site.  But we had faith.  “We hope some of your fast and nimble ways will rub off on our people”, the Sr. Management Team would say.  Those turned out to be pretty shallow words over time.

The acquisition itself was all about trying to regain a presence in the growing Office space.  At first blush, it seemed like a pretty good match of companies.  Xerox had recently decided to exit its Inkjet venture, and was left with a still fairly strong Production Printing business ( big Iron printers for copy centers ), a small but growing Services business, but had holes in its Office product offerings.  This is where Tektronix’s product line could help fill the gap with Color Laser printers and a new technology they seemed to be pretty stoked about, Solid Ink.

Xerox has a rather unusual culture, even for a large corporation, especially after the promotion of Ursula Burns to President of the Office Group.  Ursula didn’t waste any time communicating her values to her minions.  Instantly we all heard about fixing the diversity problem which was followed by a new set of criteria in our hiring practices complete with an extremely elaborate College Recruiting process that would ensure a more diverse work force.  This by far took precedence over running a profitable business.  The Staffing department got a new name.  “Talent Acquisition and Diversity”

Ursula didn’t waste any time communicating who was in charge, either.  She decided all hiring decisions including temps required her approval at a time when the Wilsonville site was ramping up for the biggest project in its history ( or at least trying to ).  Exacerbated by her announcement that she could only be bothered with approving Staffing Requisitions once a month.  It simply didn’t work but she was steadfast in her insistence on being in charge, especially on all things budgetary for a very long time.  I think it drove the VP’s crazy because they were used to being empowered to get projects done and suddenly they have to make a case for every temp hire?  We’re hiring 10 a week, or at least trying to.  But from the get-go, Ursula let everyone know who was in charge and that she means business.

Meanwhile, the CEO at the time, Anne Mulcahy, was busy making sure that the face of Xerox was one where people recognize women and minorities would thrive.  She made Ursula Burns her heir apparent, and it played right into the corporate values message.

This is all well and good if your business is doing well and growing.  We were not.  We were under constant cost pressures to get the price of the hardware down, to add new features to differentiate and truly compete in this market space.  But rarely did Ursula communicate to the worker-bees the need for innovation.  She was quite content with mediocrity, as long as it was achieved with a diverse workforce and Xerox’s Senior Managers made the cover of Diversity Inc.  Truth be told, there were a lot of us who truly wanted her to succeed.  We wanted to be a part of this great story of an African-American woman who rose from the ranks to be Chairman of a Fortune 100 Company, and would be proud to be a part of a company that values diversity.  But we kept searching for what else she brought to the table besides her minority status and assertive style.

At the height of the lunacy, our division President, Jim Miller died suddenly.  Ursula had a big decision to make on who would succeed him.  Not being able to make up her mind apparently, and wanting to push her ever-important diversity agenda, she came up with the brilliant idea of co-Presidents.  One Sr. guy from Wilsonville, and another Sr. Manager from Rochester, an African-American.  Both very fine gentlemen.  One a technology guy, one not.  The problem was, the guy from Rochester didn’t pan out.  A more senior manager confided in me that at an analysts meeting he simply did not know the products and made some embarrassing statements.  He got promoted for the wrong reasons.  I’m sure this was a tough one for Ursula.  She desperately wanted to make a statement with this appointment but her best minority candidate wasn’t ready for the job and it was too risky to put him in there without some help.

The College Hire process crossed the line for me in about 2006.  Prior to that I had volunteered to help out with College Recruiting which meant doing a campus visit or two per year and talking to College kids to get the best ones into our design groups.  We were looking for Mechanical Engineers primarily, but also some Software Engineers.

For awhile the College Recruiting experience was pretty rewarding.  It meant getting to meet some really bright kids and some very prestigious schools and hear about their internships and what they’d been working on and what they thought they wanted to do with their careers.  I remember thinking it’s a good thing I’m not applying for my own job a few times.  There seemed to be no shortage of excellent candidates everywhere we went.

The irony of it all, is that most years, we had significant budget constraints for the business.  But we never take shortcuts on the College Recruiting process, even if we didn’t really have very many positions to fill.  Some years we would send a contingent of 5 or 6 people on these trips as far as the East Coast and only have a 3 or 4 open requisitions to fill.  Having seen the long lines at the Oregon State college fair, and plethora of qualified candidates for college hire positions (and a reasonably diverse population to choose from), I never understood why we would have such an elaborate process in place to fill so few positions.  And then it dawned on me.  It’s because they need to have a story to tell when Diversity, Inc comes calling.  Nothing shall get in the way of us being in the top 10 list in those rankings.

The initial process as explained to me seemed to make sense.  The idea was that if we made certain our recruiting trips were targeted for Colleges and Universities with a diverse student population, then it would follow that a diverse workforce would flow out of that.  Okay.  I get it.  I’m on board.  No issues.

I only went on a few trips but given the strategy above, it was never clear to me that the sites picked for college recruiting would really accomplish the goal of a diverse workforce.  Stanford.  UCLA, Washington, Purdue, MIT.  I would have thought we’d be headed down to Tuskegee University or Auburn, but what do I know?

Anyway, it was a great experience talking to the kids and evaluating candidates and even hiring a few but you definitely got the sense from the “Talent Acquisition and Diversity” team that women and minorities who were qualified, would get extra consideration.  It felt a little bit like we might be brow-beat into hiring the #2 or #3 person on our list if their skin was the right color.  Hmmmm…  Definitely a vibe there.  This isn’t reverse discrimination, is it?

Then 2006 rolled around and the rules changed.  Xerox played host to college hires with an evening soiree to meet the managers and learn more about the company.  While being contacted about this year’s recruiting events I learned that the strategy this year was to make a trip to the University of Washington in Seattle, and come back with a bus-load of minorities, and only minorities, for the evening soiree.  That’s when I checked out.  I simply could not participate in an exercise that was clearly reverse discrimination.  These kids wait in line for a long time to talk to us at times.  Each and every one of them thinks they might have a shot at an interview if they say the right thing or impress in some way.  I simply could not play the game of looking at non-minority candidates and feeding them a line of shit as if they had a chance for a job with us, knowing full well that the screening process included filtering out Caucasians, no matter how qualified they were.  Now it truly is only about skin color.  I’m out.  I don’t know that Ursula made this particular edict herself, but clearly someone in HR was trying to impress Ursula with how well we are towing the line on her diversity priority.

Meanwhile, Ursula fulfilled Anne’s vision of heir apparent and became President of the entire company followed by CEO and Chairman of the Board.

Ursula had a pretty tough task from the start, inheriting a technology business where printing was becoming less popular, but once the iPads came out, it was over for printing.  To her credit, I think she recognized that fairly early on and changed the focus from trying to have printing and technology be the main revenue stream, to services.

That actually makes some sense from a business standpoint.  She acquired a company called ACS with a strong services track record and decided to try to marry the Xerox brand name with a progressive Services Company.  So far it looks like a decent play.  The challenge she has is that the margins are lower in the Services business so while it’s growing, it’s not as profitable as the technology business once was.

Ursula’s made two huge mistakes along the way though that are going to put major dents in her legacy.  The first one was retaining an incredibly dysfunctional staff with no clue how to grow a technology business.  Xerox invests millions if not billions of dollars in R&D and has virtually nothing to show for it.  The stories are legendary and date back to the 70’s, but virtually nothing has changed about Xerox’s inability to bring innovative ideas to market despite their enormous investments in R&D.  They are however, very good at promoting the fact that their CTO, Sophie Vandebroek, is of the female variety.  Diversity accomplished I guess.  I met Sophie Vandebroek back in about 2004 before she became CTO.  She’s a very smart lady and didn’t get her PhD from MIT for nothing.  There were some politics in play over the project I was trying to get budget for and it ended in a stalemate because the senior managers couldn’t agree on how to proceed.  Ultimately the project was canceled.  My only criticism of Sophie isn’t personal at all and it’s not just directed at Sophie, it’s all the CTO’s before her.  Where are the products?  Why isn’t Ursula holding the CTO and the overseer’s of the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) accountable for inventing the new office?  I’ve never understood that and I think that’s a huge oversight by Ursula as CEO and Chairman of the Board, to not have a steady flow of new products coming out of the company’s so-called innovation engine.

The other observation I have about the Sr. Staff and its dysfunctional ways was its inability to make a decision.  When Xerox bought Tektronix in 2000, we met shortly thereafter and compared tool-sets.  As manager of the Tools group I was involved in that process.  The match could not have been worse.  They used NX and we used ProE.  They used Mentor and we used Cadence.  They used TeamCenter and we used a home grown PLM Tool.  They used ClearCase UCM and we used base ClearCase.  Xerox had ( and still has ) about 5 different bug tracking systems.  These issues never got resolved in 12 years because the Sr. Staff couldn’t and wouldn’t make a decision.  Not a single staff member had the kahones to step in and say “enough”.   We spent millions talking about change and filling in comparison spreadsheets but nothing ever got done about it.  Not to mention engineering process differences at the sites went unaddressed for nearly a decade.  Politics ruled and it wasn’t pretty.  Senior manager indecision set in motion a bunch of site process wars that did not need to happen and were a huge drag on productivity and morale.  They always took the chicken way out and left it to the squirrels in the cage to solve their own problems.  The problem is, the management teams all the way up couldn’t agree.  So it was the engineers and front line managers who suffered, forever trying to convince the other sites of a common process to put the issue to rest.  Despite our best efforts, we never reached agreement, mainly due to obstinate management chains at other sites.  Total lack of Senior leadership to let this go on for as long as it did.

The most egregious mistake Ursula made was throwing in the towel on American Workers and the technology business and reasoning that she could bet the future of the Xerox Technology business on an Indian partner.  In 2010, Xerox signed an outsourcing deal with an Indian firm named HCL Technologies.  HCL markets themselves as an Outsourcing Partner with top-notch engineering talent.  This is bullshit.

As a company, HCL is a huckster.  A pretender.  An impostor.  A swindler of the highest order.  They promise quality talent and deliver individuals from diploma mills who can barely speak-a-da English  They map out services they will deliver and then go missing for weeks at a time.  They “take over” areas of responsibility and then when the bills for maintenance come due they forgot their checkbook.  I know several people who approached the ‘partnership’ with an open mind, willing to  give the Indian firm a chance.  They were disappointed.  While we were promised that supported would be a “mixture” of on-site personnel and some offshore, in no time at all it was 100% offshore and it sucked.   I had two employees get denied their severance packages for opting out of the HCL experiment.  Disappointing to watch good employees get treated so poorly by a VP on a power trip.

The HCL deal and watching it go down was the last straw for me.  The Wilsonville site used to proudly boast that it employed about 1500 people who mainly focused on Solid Ink technology and were very proud of the products they produced.  Pre-Ursula, on Saturdays, the parking lots used to be reasonably full.  People wanted to come to work and put in extra hours for the company.  These were some of the finest engineers in the world.  But Ursula ushered in an era that changed all of that.   Suddenly there was no incentive to work hard or innovate.  As the bumper sticker says, the beatings will continue until morale improves.  The whole thing is a lost opportunity to leverage the engineering talent you have, incentivize them to innovate your way to high growth.  I believe this is what companies with a Technology person at the top actually do when faced with this same situation.  When will the Xerox Board figure this out?

As of a few months ago, Ursula has essentially killed the Solid Ink product line.  So she and her peers, along with Anne, invested a cool billion in a printer division, put another billion into it developing an A3 size engine for solid ink, and then just recently decided to throw the whole thing down the shitter.

Apparently the new model for printer development is to have the Xerox value-add be its brand name and to project manage the development process from afar.  Xerox won’t really do any more of its own Engineering or development.  That may be over-stated somewhat, but basically the new model is to slap an engine from an Asian partner on a controller board from who knows where, top it off with some software written primarily in India and you’ve got yourself a printer.  Call me skeptical but I don’t think this will work and I truly pity the poor bastards left behind to do project management.  I’d rather collect aluminum cans than be on the phone coordinating crappy deliverables from third-party companies who couldn’t care less.

So it’ll be interesting to see what Ursula’s legacy will be.  The big question is, can the low margin services side of the business grow fast enough to cover up for the tanking technology side?  If it can, she might get away with the madness and salvage her legacy.  If not, look for another unflattering book on Xerox’s inability to take its innovations to market, with pictures of Ursula in the final chapters.

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Loving the whining

I can’t stop watching the O’Reilly factor.  In the past I’ve had the opposite problem — I couldn’t watch for more than 5 minutes without becoming extremely irritated at the right wing bias, segment after segment.  But now, I’m irritated if I miss the Talking Points.  So what’s the diff?

The difference is I look forward to watching O’Reilly pound sand.  He complains about the left and the hypocrisy of the drones.  He complains the main stream media is in bed with Obama.  He whines that the country has gone to hell in a hand-basket and I’m loving every minute of it.  And it’s only just beginning.  As long as the Dems hold the white house, the whining will continue ad-nauseum.

The biggest challenge I have now is keeping from grabbing the remote when Dennis Miller comes on.  I’ve always wondered if O’Reilly realized just how not funny Miller is.  He reckons himself the king of the witty analogy.  The producers at the show however overlooked the necessity for a laugh-track to go along with his commentary.  The guy is simply … not funny.  That part’s a challenge, but today I endured.

But I’m a rank amateur at pointing out the hypocrisy of O’Reilly.  If you want high entertainment, I highly recommend any of Al Franken’s books, especially The Truth, with Jokes and Lies and the Lying Liars who Tell Them.  He goes off on O’Reilly with the kid gloves off and it’s hysterical.

O’Reilly can’t hold a candle to exposing hypocrisy like Al Franken does in his books.

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