Time != Productivity

Friday, December 5th, 2008

Final (flash flagged, back right fill, top fill, white balance, retouching)What It Takes To Be A Great Technical Lead reminded me to write this long-brewing post; for a long time I’ve seen a false notion in corporate America that the hours you’re physically present at the office reflects your productivity and value. What should be measured is efficiency: productivity divided by time, where value comes from doing more in fewer hours.

In the industrial age, all those variables were fixed: the assembly line produced 4 cars an hour regardless of who worked on it, and more hours produced more cars at a constant rate. In the information age, production rates vary greatly from task to task and person to person. A rested software developer with the right tools and knowledge can produce 10 times more than an ill-equipped beginner burnt out on overtime. I saw this first hand at Code Camp; watching C# experts code with Reshaper is akin to watching Michael Phelps slice through the pool.

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DSLR Video: No Joke

Thursday, September 25th, 2008

The recent announcements that Nikon’s D90 and Canon’s 5d Mark II DSLR cameras would also offer high-definition video seemed like a bit of gimmick, but Vincent Laforet’s Reverie proves it’s no joke (even at only 1/4 resolution). Proving why pro photographers are pros, he used his connections and skills to snag a pre-production model for a weekend, and cranked out a $5,000 movie showing what the camera can do in low light, on the hood of a car, and hanging out of a helicopter.

There’s also a behind the scenes movie, and he’s promised some full-resolution clips soon. In his original post describing the project, he said “It has the potential to change our industry.” A lofty statement, but backed by his reputation, and some pretty impressive proof. Given past statements from David Hobby (The Strobist) about the increase in photojournalism videos and commercial shooters like Jim Talkington and Chase Jarvis providing clients with both photo and video, and it looks like Nikon and Canon are making a serious move in the direction of the future.

How Gen Y Sees Work

Friday, May 16th, 2008

This is so true, I should put it at the top of my resume:

Work Isn’t Their Whole World: Sure, they’re going to go to work, but it had better be fun. For Gen Y, work isn’t their identity. It’s just a place. Gen Y sees no reason why a company can’t be more accommodating, offering benefits like the ability to work from anywhere, flex-time, a culture that supports team communication, and a “fun” work environment. They’re also not going to blindly follow orders just because you’re the boss. Sometimes dubbed “Generation Why?” they need to “buy in” as to why something is being done. Old school bosses may find their questioning insubordinate behavior, but they would be best to just change their management techniques and adapt. Gen Y hasn’t known much unemployment and they’re not going to put up with being treated poorly just for sake of a paycheck.

From Why Gen Y Is Going to Change the Web - ReadWriteWeb.

How To See Better - And Cheaper!

Sunday, February 17th, 2008

My pleasure over not needing new regular glasses this year soon faded when I was hit with sticker shock from prescription sunglasses. The Oakley frames I liked weren’t too bad (for Oakleys), but with all the stores only sending the lens orders to Oakley, the prices got rather steep. Enter the Internet, where manufacturer’s suggested prices and exclusive contracts cease to exist.

Buying glasses online is a bit daunting; it’s tough enough to do in person! Though it turns out once you’ve done that once, you can read the sizing information right off your current frames, or try popular brands locally. To get the prescription right, they also require a faxed copy of your prescription, which was reassuring. To top it all off, I even got a phone call to make sure I really wanted sunglass tint before they started cutting the lenses.

In 10 days, I had new sunglasses, with a perfect prescription - faster than some of local labs I’ve dealt with in the past. The whole package came out about 40% cheaper than at the mall, and all I really gave up was a mirror coating. I’d still be a little wary of ordering a style I hadn’t been able to try out in person, but in this case, Frames Direct really delivered,

Engineer Named One of 2008’s Best Careers

Friday, January 4th, 2008

US News and World Report named being an engineer one of 2008’s best jobs:

If youre an inveterate tinkerer, with enough math and science ability to survive a five-to-six-year bachelors degree, engineering could be your calling. Turnover is very low, although twice as many women as men leave the profession. And theres strong demand for engineers, who are among the highest-paid bachelors-level professionals.

Taking their points in order:

  • It’s certainly a good career for math and science types, though the majority of bachelor’s programs are still four years unless you do an extensive internship or co-op. And at today’s tuition rates, there’s certainly motivation to finish on time and on budget, which is also good future career training!
  • There are a dearth of women in engineering, particularly the hard-core technical specialities, which doesn’t seem to lure many more. If you want a more balanced work environment, you have to find a company whose other jobs do attract women.
  • Demand and pay are quite good for a job without an advanced degree and the associated debt and time. It’s done well for me, particularly once I got past some the initial post graduation debt of school and car loans.

Overall, I’m inclined to agree with their assessment: if you’re into tinkering with hardware and software, there are plenty of opportunities for engineers in the world today.

Freeze Your Cake and Eat it Too

Thursday, December 20th, 2007

An op-ed this week in the Wall Street Journal argued that The Next Sexual Revolution is better technology for freezing eggs and later pregnancies. The new plan for ambitious, career-oriented women is apparently to freeze your young eggs, throw yourself into your career, and then have a child alone at 50.

I have a tough time seeing that actually work. My younger friends who are having kids find it’s an exhausting enterprise even with two parents, and I can’t imagine it gets easier with age or while you’re trying to maintain a career and a family on your own. There’s also an important distinction between “having a child” and “raising a family”.

Overall, it seems like a lot of people have forgotten that life is a balance and its different phases have different priorities. As the author notes, compromises are possible, even in more competitive fields like medicine.

The younger generation (Gen X, Y, and the Millenials) are supposedly more focused on this balance, though the self-described passions of my online and offline dates are more split. About half are passionate about their careers, the other half their family and friends, and ostensibly starting families of their own. My own passions are still listed as travel and photography, though in practice I devote more time to looking for the right person to start that next phase of life - and a family.

Why Engineers Make the Best Patients

Sunday, November 11th, 2007

From When the Patient Is a Googler :

Susan got me thinking about patients. Nurses are my favorites — they know our language and they’re used to putting their trust in doctors. And they laugh at my jokes. But engineers, as a class, are possibly the best patients. They’re logical and they’re accustomed to the concept of consultation — they’re interested in how the doctor thinks about their problem. They know how to use experts. If your orthopedist thinks about arthritis, for instance, in terms of friction between roughened joint surfaces, you should try to think about it, generally, in the same way. There is little use coming to him or her for help if you insist your arthritis is due to an imbalance between yin and yang, an interruption of some imaginary force field or a dietary deficiency of molybdenum.

Not only that, we can fix your broken diagnostic equipment:

(One of our keynote speakers at the MCES conference played this to a very receptive crowd of engineers.)

One Bump in the NetBank-ING Transition

Sunday, November 11th, 2007

I previously wrote how pleased I had been with ING’s purchase of NetBank after FDIC Shuts Down NetBank Due to Defaults. One hurdle I was waiting to see them clear was transferring all my online bill payment information.

They decided to punt on that one, and just convert NetBank Checking accounts into ING Savings accounts. Which is bit lame, given ING has a paperless checking account they claim lets you pay anyone. I created one of those on my own, and moved the few repeating payments I had setup; the rest I’ll add as the bills come in. It’s a minor inconvenience, though not bad considering my bank did go belly up. The new account is actually pretty slick: send anyone a paper check, an electronic funds transfer, or pay a bill.

Limited Warranties That Actually Deliver

Wednesday, September 19th, 2007

My trust of warranties has long evaporated to a mandate of caveat emptor; many have shrunk to just under the statistical breaking point in reliability & obsolescence and things are so tightly integrated or poorly constructed that repairs are a losing proposition. With that mindset, I was happy to have been proven wrong on a few occasions recently.

As luck would have it, I broke both of my pairs of glasses in one weekend. First, my Rudy Project sunglasses, which have survived almost three years of harrowing mountain biking, fell from their perch atop my head on Saturday and broke where the temple attaches to the frame.

I went to their website to email them about buying replacement parts and was surprised to find a three year frame warranty that actually still covered my glasses, for a $20 fee. They also have a great lens replacement guarantee; $20 gets you $50 replacement lenses if yours become scratched. The turnaround was fantastic: 15 days door-to-door, including shipping time, got me a completely new frame and two sets of lenses for just $40! You can bet Rudy will be at the top of my list next time I’m looking for sport glasses.

My everyday glasses were defeated after four years by an overly-friendly dog, who managed to chip the supposedly high-strength polycarbonate lenses where they attach to the frame. Sterling Optical in the mall is the one local place that grinds and drills them same day, and I haven’t been overly impressed by them in the past. But after I showed them the damage and asked about warranty coverage for my eight-month old lenses, they ground me a replacement the same day, free of charge.

It’s been a very nice change from the typical “throw it away and take out your wallet” experiences I’ve had with most other items, and goes a long way towards forging customer loyalty.

Lessons in Inefficiency

Tuesday, September 4th, 2007

I went to the post office today to mail a package, since I’ve found them to be the most economical for smaller items. I tend to ship much more with UPS or FedEx, and this was a good reminder why. With UPS and FedEx, I can go to their website, type in addresses and options, print one label, and make a quick drop at one of their locations well into the evening.

The Post Office keeps slightly shorter hours, so I have to make post-lunch runs instead of working. There’s always a line, even if you’re just dropping off a prepared package. Every service you want requires you to fill out a separate form with duplicate information, which are then added to the multitude of stickers being manually affixed to your package.  Those services cost nearly as much as the base postage, so in total I only saved a few dollars over a commercial service, though that savings was quickly eaten by the extra time spent standing in line and filling out extra forms.