Friday, March 17, 2006

St. Patrick on the Coast!

Today, being St. Patrick's day, was just another ordinary day as far as I was concerned. Now living on the pacific west coast of the USA this was my second St. Patrick's day here - I actually missed the first one because I was travelling this time last year. And in Japan -where I was last year - St. Patrick just ain't big. I assumed it would be fairly low key out here, and I'd do my work, and come home and move on to Saturday tomorrow.

I was wrong.

I got into the car, and the radio is soon blaring to the Afro Celt Sound System with the lead singer pounding away in Irish - think it was Ronan O' Snodaigh, but happy to be told otherwise. That was followed by the Cranberries and then U2. Worse was to come - bleary eyed as I was driving along the interstate - I was soon assaulted by the most appaling Limerick's from people thinking they were funny dialling into the radio station at 6:30 in the morning. Limerick's aren't even Irish.......!!!!

I get into the office and my door has a color picture of shamrock pasted to it. And all day long, at meeting after meeting someone or other would make a wisecrack about "St. Paddy's" day, and encouragement to "Go on - do a jig, sing a song, or have a Guinness". All very well meant, but excruciating nevertheless.

Into the car on the way home and the same radio station is now playing comedian Ed Byrne - who I find only moderately funny - blathering away at some gig he was recorded at. I betcha Ed hams up the Irish accent when he's in north America - certainly it never sounded like that when I saw him in Dublin at the Comedy Club. That place is long gone now isn't it?

Roll on another year!

Monday, March 13, 2006

Visionaries, Implementers and bullshit detectors!

I was at a useful meeting today. A useful meeting counts as one where a simple majority prevails, i.e. the number of people not so interested in constantly hearing their own voices and want to solve problems outnumber those that do! We could actually say some progress had been made at the end of the two hour session, although it was all hanging in the balance for a while......and here is where the ATBAM philosphy comes in.

You see there's always one moron - or at least someone who Appears To Be A Moron (ATBAM). ATBAM often asks a question, and by the time he's finished asking he has everyone confused. When asked to repeat the question he founders. Apart from the palpably incompetent, ATBAM is oftentimes quite intelligient; it's just that ATBAM's find it difficult to parse their questions in a manner that the merely ordinary amongst us can process. Their brains process information much faster than us mere mortals, and by the time they are asked to repeat the question, they have digested another terra flop of information, and have moved on from the thought train of information that prompted the question in the first place. Harnessing such people's capabilities could be a full time job in itself.

ATBAMs can sometimes taken on a different form, and that can be the 'Visionary'. The Visionary, or 'V' is usually someone senior in an organisation who did some great thing or things a long time ago, and struck paydirt with the marginal, or otherwise partially successful fruition of their idea. Management since then hasn't understood a word of 'V's logic, but stick with him or her because they don't have any vision themselves. I am very fortunate to work in an organisation where they are a number of true visionaries but they are cursed with having to deal with mediocre managers. I'm quick to add that I am not a visionary myself . Visionaries usually have one major drawback - the abject inability to explain their vision in a context sufficiently clear for the commerical or other intended exploitation of their idea. And whilst I have no visionary capabilities (handycaps!) I am more what you might call an implementer. I have a minor ability to help the visionary bring his or her idea to some kind of sensible manifestation. When visionaries and implementers understand each other sufficiently well to know the boundaries of what is achievable, the outcome can be marvellous. The Implementer is, in effect, the Visionary's bullshit detector.

I spent half my adult life trying to be a visionary. A number of years ago I decided to leave the corporate dreaming to others, and get on with the real world. And it has kinda worked out well.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

The Ultimate Power Play

It's been an age since I've posted. Time to update - time for a change.

I'm listening to the rubbish going on in Dublin, and in particular the appaling use of my tax euros to provide a third rate health service. I look at the amount of money we pay to a government that has to be one of the most inefficient channels to invest that money that I have ever seen. But then, why shouldn't it be a problem? Distribution of health care was delegated to so many channels through political (not even healthcare) fiefdoms called Health Boards that nothing efficient was being done. What the hell do politicians know about healthcare?? Health care is symptomatic of a broader range of ills in our beautiful, yet badly managed little island.

There has to be a better way. There doesn't seem to be anyone with the balls to challenge the way things are being done. Politics can and should be an interesting role for energetic ambitious types. Yet is seems to attract a population of inward looking and short sighted twits. Even the younger members of the Dail seem to be cursed with that 1950's retro Tom Murphy type conservatism. It's not dancing at cross-roads - that was their parents vision, but it isn't far from the showband era of the 1970's!!! Why in God's name do we elect them? It probably has something to do with the type of people on the ballot paper. Entrepreneurial, charismatic and driven people aren't attracted to politics because, on their own, they wonder what's the point of spending years on some equally ineffective city or county council before one of the ridiculously policied parties decides it might add them to a ballot paper. Voters soon got turned off the political process because it was like a making bad bet, paying over good money on long odds that never came home! Once you get burned on those kind of bets you don't make the same mistake again!

So, to change things you need a new angle, a new play. Corporate takeovers seem to be all the rage in Ireland. How about the ultimate power play? I would bet that an investment of twenty million euro led by an energetic, charismatic youngish (40's) candidate with a modern centrist (or even slightly right of centre) vision for the country could change the entire electoral scene. Working with a carefully selected number of independent candidates running for election in all 42 constituencies the entire political balance in the country could be upset at the next election. I use the term 'upset' carefully. The policies should be aimed at bringing simple business efficiency to the management of government responsibility. It should be utterly transparent and founded on the simple principal that cause and effect have to apply; simply put, lots of honesty and no brown envelopes.

There are many, many people who have made lots and lots of money in Ireland in the last 20 years. The figures are staggering. Contrary to the 'begrudgery' view, a lot of these people are very proud of their Irishness, and their desire to see their country progress is strong. In many cases they achieved their success in spite of poor government, not receiving any help along the way. Raising twenty million would be very easy if the right individual came up the right message. Forty or more seats after the next general election would give that party a real mandate to change things.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

A short weekend.....

Weekends are short at the best of times but this one was even shorter. Work dinners on Friday nights aren’t my idea of fun, but with an all day offsite as well it made for a very long day. I bugged out after the main course – I like the guys but I really wanted to get home before the kids went to bed. And to cap it all off I have to travel again today – Sunday. On my way to China now……..

As I type we’re flying over the Sea of Okhotsk traveling at 777 kilometres per hour, which is kind of co-incidental, because we’re flying in a Boeing 777! “Sea of Where?” I hear you ask. The Sea of Okhotsk is off the east coast of Russia – Siberia to be exact. We’ve taken the great circle route out of north America, flying up over Alaska, across the international date line and the Aleutian Islands, and down the east coast of Russia. Sad stuff, I know, but when your Sunday’s been scratched there’s not much else to do but look at the moving map thingy on the airplane. It strikes me that the little airplane symbol of the map makes steady enough progress for the first three to four hours of the flight, but the last three hours or so always seem to take an eternity!!!

Soon we’ll come up on the Sakalin Islands – the ones that Japan claimed to own forever, but Russia pitched up with a number of troops after World War II, and suggested they leave. I don’t think there’s anything particularly pretty about the islands; it’s just that whatever country controls them has rights to all the fishing and oil……and everything else up around here. Reminds me of the article I read in the Economist recently about another island – this time singular – lying 200 miles south of Japan. The word “island” is a bit of a stretch because they are in fact some rocks that are only exposed above the water (by about a metre) for the few hours each day at low tide. If Japan loses ‘sovereignty’ to these rocks then all the fishing and other natural mineral rights in 200,000 square miles of sea go with them. The rocks have been taking a pounding from storms and forces of nature over time, and the Japanese were concerned that they might disappear below the waves for ever. So, what did they do? They spent 30 million dollars bolstering them with imported rocks, to make a kind of protective breakwater. Sounds absurd – you can always trust the Economist to see the more surreal side of life.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Laptops and their uses!

One particular run of good luck ended recently when the back-up laptop that the I.T guys had given me a year ago for an extended trip abroad suddenly surfaced on their AWOL list. I had been happily using the second lap top at home since then as my personal surfing machine – and a very sorry person I was when I got the dreaded call. It started with a relatively benign call from Sam in I.T. Now Sam is a decent chap – usually very helpful when things go wrong – like password resets, new anti-virus software and the like. For Sam to call me is somewhat unusual.
So when the phone rang and I recognised his voice I was a little wary!

Sam: “Would you still happen to have a back-up laptop we think we loaned you a year ago?

Me: “Er…..yes!”

Sam: “ It’s being recalled – end of its warrantied service life. We need to put it into surplus sales. Can you bring it back tomorrow?”

Me: “Er…yes!”

No recriminations, no queries as to what the hell I was doing with an extra laptop for over a year! Sam's my kind of I.T. guy. In some respects I was very grateful. In others it was surprising that they weren’t more aware of their equipment loaners…….but this is a big company. And, anyway, I should have returned it asap after I was finished with it. So their system works, kind of!

So I needed another machine for home. Mixing work and personal stuff on computers is not particularly smart. I headed off to our company surplus store and bought a new (old) laptop for $200. I wanted to buy back the laptop that they had originally given to me, and I had given back to them. But there are all sorts of rules about that kind of thing and it was a lot of hassle. Don't want any potential for favouritism etc. In any event the Windows 2K re-load cost only $20. Good as new.

Conscience salved!

Monday, February 28, 2005

Closer to Infinity

5 miles high!

Now sitting on a SAS flight on my way back to the U.S. They’ve recently introduced a new product which allows wireless broadband to my seat. E-mail, internet and all other net access available at my seat. Marvellous stuff. Flying at 39,000 feet and listening to Des Cahill on Sportscall and John Kelly's 'Mystery Train'. All very surreal. I hadn’t planned to be in Ireland at the weekend, but ended up there for a variety of reasons and even got a ticket to the Ireland – England rugby match. Someone even higher than me right now must have been looking after me!

The flight is ten hours long and electronic access for the whole trip costs $29. Pretty good value. Am able to tunnel into my corporate network, edit some charts for a presentation I will be giving tomorrow and submit them in advance of the deadline in one hour’s time. All the while we’re flying over Greenland!!! No views of the glaciers today. Sometimes, when you fly up around here, the clouds clear and you have the most stunning views of the clearest water and ice. A pretty inhospitable environment to be sure, but captivating.

Another four hours to go! This is the slow time. Going westbound is an all daylight flight. Coming eastbound offers the notion of night time and the need to sleep. Neither does much at the end of the day to ease the jetlag. I haven't been travelling much in recent months and, in some respects, it's good to get back into it. I do miss my family, although they're coping well without me!

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Football and Frankfurt

Thursday, February 24th

So I am sitting on another airplane. This time, flying between London and Frankfurt. On a British Airways Airbus 319. Comfortable airplane…..but the engines are noisey!

Three day trip to Europe to see customers and to try to progress a very difficult financing project I am working on. The project has huge potential, but I don’t have a lot of time or resources to put it together. We are still at the stage where the potential is visible to many, but when we try to progress the vision into the meaty details their enthusiasm wanes. The practicalities of the project raises many challenges to the conventional way things have been done for so long in our industry. In some respects we are probably ahead of the time when such initiatives will be seen as regular and normal. Boy, this is hard work!!!

So a busy but useful day yesterday – arrived into Heathrow at 6:30 a.m. – then off to the hotel for a shower and a change. My room wasn’t ready but they helpfully allowed me to use another one to get cleaned up. 10:00 a.m. meeting, 1:00 p.m. meeting, 4:30 p.m. meeting and followed by dinner in Langans on Picadilly. Good food and conversation, but a long day. When I got back to the hotel I caught the highlights (if you can call them that) of the Arsenal v Bayern Munich game. Arsenal didn’t do very well – beaten 3 -1. Living in the U.S. I do miss not seeing the Premiership and the Champions League. I think I can get it on cable, but with the time zones to the Pacific I don’t like watching football hours after the fact, and I don’t fancy getting up as early on the weekends as I do during the week to watch.

Other than that I didn’t sleep a wink last night. Hot hotel room, body clock out of sorts. I love long haul travel!!!

London was cold and snowy. The heaviest snowfall they’ve had this winter. Don’t know how Frankfurt is shaping up. At this time of year it’s a foggy place a lot of the time….. after Frankfurt it's off to Irleand before heading back to the USA.