Monday, November 1, 2010

Marketing in commercials vs truth in advertising

On one of my lists, we just had a pretty interesting discourse around today's marketing efforts in commercials.

When you watch a commercial, should you believe what you see? Or are you being asked by the product's company to suspend belief and refrain from having your expectations firmly set?

While I love my BMWs, car and bike, BMW has also fallen prey to the existing trend. If you read my red-chip post below, you'll know why it's in their best interests to be one of the pack.

When they're way over the top, it's easy to seperate fact from fiction.

What prompted our discussion was the ad for the S1000RR where it pulls a tablecloth out from under a table, replete with 24 place settings.

Aprilia seems to be a bit threatened by the new S1000RR, and responded with their own video. It is a little snarky and fun to watch. :)

Mythbusters did an episode on it, using a Buell. I think Buells are cool, in general, and I'm sure they're better in corners than my long K1200S. But they're not known for power or acceleration. They feel they proved it couldn't be done.

I generally like Mythbusters until they totally blow trying to prove a myth. I wouldn't say they blew this one, but they could have picked some better hardware. :)

It turns out some Germans figured out how BMW did it. I don't speak German, but I got the point from watching the video. You will too! (I did skip around, I won't lie). But the folks who crafted the BMW commercial definitely knew a few things about pulling the cloth over our eyes... err, out from under place settings!

I didn't see this BMW video until recently. And I'm glad, because it's definitely geared towards people I'm not. Oh, not the burnouts, the hooting and hollering. >:) It's a silly commercial in the end, but at the beginning, the bike doesn't even strain to break that rear tire loose. That speaks volumes.

Back when I was a kid, I used to watch the Jeeps plow through hood-deep mud and couldn't wait to buy one. If you do that today, you can probably expect your warranty to be null and void. If you bought the lifetime drivetrain warranty, it's practically a given.

At the end of the day, don't believe what you see on TV commercials, they're just trying to get you hooked. Or get a great lawyer, buy it, treat it the same, then sue when the company tries to back away from it. After all, it is America where that's the name of the game!

Oracle support... Sev 1 has a one hour response time, you say?

It's 2AM as I write this, and I've been on a support call since around 10AM this morning for one of our systems which is being recalcitrant about quarter-end close.

I may not be very lucid. :) I'm also a bit grumpy as it's Halloween and my team and I had our personal plans significantly disrupted.

Anyone who has worked with Oracle support has experienced what "one hour" response time means. That first contact in less than an hour is to ask you to do some work for them to diagnose the problem.

Some things I've learned is that, for a true Sev 1, escalate it to the Duty Manager (aka Escalation Manager) as soon as you file it.

  1. Escalations are not the same as increasing the severity of an issue.
  2. Call the 800# and ask for the Duty Mgr. 
  3. Specify your Service Request#, and that you would like to speak to and receive a callback from the Escalation Manager. They should call you back in less than 30 minutes. If they do not, call back and escalate again, preferably to a higher level manager (Sr Manager, Director, and so on)
  4. At this point, you want to know the plan to success, who you spoke with, and any timelines. 
  5. Always get timelines and commitments. "Soon" is not a timeline.
  6. Always get the name of whomever you're speaking with
  7. Always take notes and track the timeline of conversations. 
  8. Be polite. Don't confuse nice with polite, though. My business is very serious about meeting our SLAs, and that sometimes means holding someone accountable, and holding their feet to the fire. Just do it politely, but with an iron will. 

This is a good read from an internal Oracle team member on the Oracle Support Escalation Process

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Prisoner's Dilemma. Or, doing the wrong thing to do the right thing.

Some time ago, I went to a management course the company I worked for at the time was holding. This company has extremely high ethical ideals, which made one of the sessions in this course even more interesting.

If you're not familiar with the Prisoner's Dilemma, check it out:'s_dilemma

This was converted into a game the facilitators called "red chip."

The way the game worked is that everyone was given a red chip and 10 white chips. The goal was to accrue more white chips.
1. If each team put in a white chip, the bank (trainer) paid everyone one white chip
2. If any team put in a red chip, each other team paid that team one white chip.
3. Teams were not allowed to collaborate with other teams.

You can see where this is going, right?

Round 1
I'm a collaborator by nature, and I've always felt that working together gets us further than working alone. I managed to convince my team to do the right thing and play white chips, in the hope that other teams would recognize that collaboration was in our best interests, and our altruism would be recognized by the game leaders. While no one would get substantially ahead of others, we would all be profitable at a constant pace.

In retrospect, if we all have the same # of chips, maybe we're not profiting. BUT, if we're all in one company, if every team profits, the company profits.

Teams were not allowed to discuss with each other what they were going to play.

As you can imagine, our team got shut out very quickly. We then learned that the teams with the most chips were being rewarded over and above the other teams. Wow, none of that worked the way I expected! Yep, I must've just fallen from the turnip truck!

Round 2
Lesson soundly learned, soon each and every team was playing red chips, resulting in a no-sum game.

Round 3
Teams were allowed to negotiate with each other (remove rule 3). And, sure enough, some of them... lied! Gasp! Soon the game degraded to all red chips again, but some teams were burned. Our team actually did well as we perceived that we were being misled and were able to foresee that other teams were going to play red chips when they assured us they'd play white chips.

Take away

The take-away is that, in a closed environment like a company, playing red chips is a zero-sum game for the organization as a whole and leaders need to be sensitive to this behavior and not just avoid rewarding it, but actively strive to quash it.

In the bigger world, like the stock market, the landscape is so broad that red chippers often get away with their behaviour, at a cost to others. We see that all the time and many hope Karma will catch up with them. 

So what?
The next part of the exercise was to reflect on past work situations to find items where this lesson could have applied.

Surprisingly, I was able to look back over my employment history and clearly SEE situations where I got burned playing WHITE chips! It was a shocking revelation and shook my beliefs around collaboration pretty soundly.

It really took me quite a while to come to grips with the lesson since it goes against the grain of my internal beliefs. Once I got through that, I was able to start to apply it to situations at work.

Playing a red chip against someone else's red chip still feels like I'm fundamentally doing the wrong thing, but the I have to say that the outcomes have been far more positive than any prior alternatives I'd tried.

I'm still quite surprised that people play red chips when white chips would work better for everyone, which probably tells you a lot about what I expect from my fellow man. :)

Sunday, January 10, 2010

500 miles on a bike? Insane? Nope, relaxing...

My company's home office is in San Francisco, while I'm in San Diego. Every once in a while I need to run up to the main office for a variety of excellent reasons. I never mind the travel, it's part of the gig.

If I'm going to be up there more than a day or two, tho, I much prefer to ride my BMW up there. It saves the company money, and it definitely gets me a chance to relax on the bike.

Last Sunday was a madhouse on I5 going up there, however. Keeping a 70mph average was tough with all those holiday-drivers clumping up. 10-12 cars clumped together, and a mile of empty highway ahead of them. Days like that, being on a bike is awesome.

The ride back was much better, except for the 30 or so miles of deep fog. Whee! Otherwise, it was a great ride. Well, as great as 400 miles of slab can be, anyways!!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Duke Nuke'm - cashing it in after 12 years

Wow. I liked Duke Nuke'm, but wouldn't call myself rabid by any means. However I was looking forward to their next release. For years.

I'm not that surprised a project could go 12 years without a release... well, 12 years is a heck of a long time, so yes I was!!

Several companies I've worked for have doubled their original estimates or more. 14 months got another 14-18 months tacked on as the project developed. Often it was feature creep. In some cases, it was just that management didn't believe it was going to take that long and set shorter targets than anyone believed.

I spent almost 3 weeks in 1-3 hour daily meetings on one project while mgmt tried to reconcile the team's 3 month estimate into the 1 month target. Yes, meeting, not working.

Some of the engineers I worked with on that project were some of the best estimators I've ever worked with. Even in my role, I couldn't get any traction with leadership. After that kind of ongoing pressure, the engineers finally caved and rolled with the 1 month estimate. The project took 3 months. Many engineers worked hard on that project, putting in a lot of hours. The project team was generally somber, as you can imagine.

StickyMind's Better Software, Sept 2008 issue has an article on estimating which included some interesting statistics. They compare software to construction, and software does not compare well. They claimed that only 29% of all software projects are successful.

Wow. Less than 1/3 of all software projects are "successful" - whatever that means. I don't like metrics like this since they're very grey. I've been on a few projects which were discontinued. In many cases I was wondering why the project even got off the ground, and had raised my concerns early on. I would call the discontinuation of such projects a "deferred success".

This is in contrast to the UK's plan to rename "failure" to "deferred success":

So, 12 years in, Duke Nuke'm calls it a stop. And then, only because they ran out of funding. I have a feeling we'll see something get released since they can't be that far from being able to release something. Or can they? :)

More Vista woes

So Vista has somehow decided that the Administrator (hidden account) password is no longer the one I set and disabled the account. I know this because it's the same one I use for all my systems, and it's in my password keeper, AND it's the one I set in the backup software I use, which is required to do scheduled backups.

I found this to help, for future use since that's not the top problem I'm chasing now.

Microsoft Vista continues to be the worst OS ever

Last night, SWMBO's laptop started acting up. Unfortunately, it had been a while since it had been backed up. I backed it up immediately, unfortunately well aware of where this was heading.

Sure enough, on the next reboot, it started doing the same thing my last Vista machine did - Failed to start, wanted to run the Restore service. And once you do that, it'll start to boot for several seconds, then crash. If you pull the battery and hold the power switch for a few seconds, then try again, it'll actually bring a screen up before crashing.

F5 - Safe mode - crash.
F8 - pick anything - crash

I know exactly what HP will tell me - reinstall the image that came with it (and then SP1, and then every patch known to mankind, and every app I've installed and then configured... Ergg!!!).

Time to look on the other USB drives and find the latest image, and reinforce the backup message throughout the family since it's my free time that gets eaten when these things crash.

Good grief, do I ever hate Vista.