Wednesday, September 30, 2009


This topic came about as I was lamenting my absurdly poor measuring skills. I can never measure anything with any accuracy. My tolerance for measuring with a ruler is +- 1” per 1/2 linear foot. And that’s gracious. I can’t even measure a 2x4 accurately…I keep coming up with 3”x1 1/2”!

When I was in high school, I was a terrible student. It wasn’t that I couldn’t do the work, I just wouldn’t. Thus, it makes even less sense that I refused to take shop class. There would have been minimal homework, and it probably would have been a lot of fun.

The reason I refused to take shop class is that I was an elitist. I refused to “lower” myself to take a preparatory class for people who would enter the skilled trades. Never mind that many of the people who did take shop class graduated with higher grade points than I did.

Fate has a funny sense of humor, though. When I was 19, my friend Gary got me an internship at a tool and die shop. I worked in the computer aided design department. Ironically, once I saw the marriage between computers and shop equipment, I would spend an absurd amount of time trying to learn what I missed out on by not taking shop class in the first place.

Now…the real kick in the gut is that as an adult, shop classes are pretty hard to come by. If I take classes at LCC, I’ve got to take at least one introduction before getting to the “good” class, and then…I doubt we’re going to get to pour molten aluminum!

Monday, September 28, 2009


When I rode my bike to and from the office, I used to pedal as fast as I could down the steepest hill on the route.  The highest speed I was able to achieve was 30.2 MPH, as tucked as I could get on my commuter bike.  It felt less like slicing through the air and more like pushing against a mattress.  The reason can be found in the quadratic drag equation.

The last variable in the equation is velocity.  It might seem sensible that drag at 10 MPH would be double drag at 5 MPH.  In fact, drag at 10 miles per hour is four times drag at 5 miles per hour because velocity is squared in the quadratic drag equation.  In other words, the faster you are going, the more difficult it becomes.

Drag is insidious.  Travelling about in our cars, we easily forget how much energy we expend fighting it.  Drag does not exist only in the realm of physics, it occurs in organizations as well.

Many of us have worked with someone who brings “negative energy” to work sessions.  Some people seem to be capable of only the most direly pessimistic predictions.  Sometimes, drag exists and we don’t even know about it until a key person is absent from a meeting, and the meeting is doubly productive.

Just because we get used to the drag that some people bring to an organization does not mean that the effect is harmless.  Take a look at the product marketing life cycle and decide where you want your organization to sell products.  The second stage (product growth) is the most lucrative, with firms enjoying low competition and high demand, which leads to higher margins.

Firms playing catch-up are likely to find themselves arriving on the scene during product maturity or decline, where margins are lowest.  If your firm, department, or group seems to struggle with offering the high demand products and services at the right time, perhaps you have gotten used to too much drag.

Put a Fence Around That Yard!

Quite a while ago, I was out for a run.  I was about 1 1/2 miles into my run, when I encountered a runners’ nightmare.  My first thought was pretty typical for this sort of situation “If people can’t control the behavior of their minions, why can’t they at least put a fence around their yard?”

The next moment, they were upon me.  Three of them.  I kept my pace, calm and cool, not wanting to provoke them.  The two females made it about a block before they tired out and ran back home.  To his credit, the male lasted two blocks before he turned tail and ran back home.

Ok, to be fair, they did ask if they could join me.  And none of them had shoes on either.  Still, if people can’t keep their teenagers from chasing people down the street they really should put a fence around their yard.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

It takes a village

In the United States, the general populace has the opinion that people should just mind their own business.  In fact, we have an entire political party based on the idea.

On the surface, the logic seems pretty sound.  Live and let live.  I’ve often wondered what social problems result from this attitude later on.  For example, in other countries, it would not be terribly uncommon for someone to scold a stranger’s child.  In the US, this is essentially taboo.

Perhaps my musing on the topic was premature.  Aimee arrived home a few minutes late.  Her delay was caused by a very small boy standing next to a very busy road.  It would have been bad enough if he were just standing at the end of the drive, but he wasn’t.  He was throwing rocks at passing traffic.  The poor creature made mistake of throwing a pebble at Aimee as she passed.  Within seconds, she was speaking to his mother while he spied on the affair from around the corner of the house.  It didn’t sound like the experience ended well for him.

Today I had a more positive experience in the same vein.  A couple of young girls were in line in front of me at a convenience store, buying candy.  The clerk was patiently working through their options and helping them sort through their change.  This is a pretty common site for very small children, but these girls were about thirteen.  She didn’t lose patience or get short with them.  It was probably the best math lesson they have had in years.