From Yorkshire To Virginia

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Volvo no more

The Volvo has been deposed... long live the Ford. - 2006 Ford Fusion

Friday, April 28, 2006

Mis-management part 1

With the blatent bad decision making that's been done so publicly by the FA over the appointment/ non-appointment of the next England manager, I though it was time to start something I've been thinking about writing for a while now - examples of bad / amusing management that I've either witnessed in my past or heard about from others. So here's part 1

At one company that I worked at many lifetimes ago, the company had been growing slowly until the decision was made that the company was at just the right place, and had a large enough sales pipeline that a major expansion was needed in order to keep pace with our orders. We doubled the size of the office, and did the same with the number of staff. Unfortunately as this was happening the customers dried up overnight, after a group of them decided to band together and lobby the software manufacturer that we created a plugin for, to create the plugin themselves. We could all see that without money coming in, the company was on rocky ground, and it was only a matter of time before there was some form of 're-alignment'

One Friday in March the entire company was called in to the conference room. The owner gave a speech describing the problem, and said that he hated what he had to do. {At this point you're probably thinking that you can't really blame them for the way this has gone, they made fairly decent decisions based on the available data, and obviously couldn't anticipate the external factors that removed the revenue stream... just wait, it gets better...} His next comment was along the lines of "I can't think of a better way to do this, so if I read your name out please go back to your cubicle, you still have a job". This was a horrible way to handle it, and left those in the room feeling like the fat kid that no-one picked to play sports in school. I was one of those called, and had to walk past all of my co-workers that were still wondering whether they were one of the lucky ones. After the last co-worker filed out, we gathered around while those being let go were having their mass meeting on unemployment / severence / etc, and wondered if there was any significance to the order of the names being called, were those called towards the end in danger for the next round of cuts? Did I stay with them after this? Yes, for about 3 months, the next time I write about this topic I'll talk about the next move that they made that made me really accelerate the interviewing process that began that weekend.

At another place that I worked at, they pulled everyone in for one-on-one talks with the owner and the HR director to discuss on a case by case basis whether or not they were being kept on, and what it meant to them. This was a much classier way of handling the situation, and ended up having a much better effect on morale that carried the company to a point where they could once again start expanding and growing.

Managing Google style

Google has invested heavily in building a highly transparent organization that makes it easy to share ideas, poll peers, recruit volunteers, and build natural constituencies for change. Every project team, and there are hundreds, maintains a Web site that is continuously monitored for peer feedback. In this way, unorthodox ideas have the chance to accumulate peer support -- or not -- before they get pummeled by the higher-ups. It also helps that Google is organized like the Internet itself: tightly connected, flat and meritocratic. Half of its employees -- all those involved in product development -- work in pint-sized teams, with an average of three or four engineers per team. Product managers typically have 50+ direct reports, making it hard for supervisors to micromanage. Critically, control is more peer-to-peer than manager-to-minion.

Management a la Google from the Wall Street Journal April 26th 2006
It's an interesting article that doesn't really say too much new, but it does say it fairly well. One thing I've always found interesting that they do at Google is the 20% rule, whereby every engineer can allocate 20% of their time to fun pet projects, allowing them to work on something that may or may not become a future product for Google. By doing this they've really stimulated a sense of corporate creativity & innovation which, as the article states, has resulted in a large number of new products being released by Google this year. I'm attempting to do something similar at work, by blocking out 10% of my time (Friday afternoons), so that I can work on researching interesting topics, creating tools for use in my department, or automating and improving current processes. From time to time, if something interesting comes out of it, I'll post it here for you to see.

Limiting exposure to increase mystique

Ever since the Apple superbowl commercial, advertisers have realised that you can create more press by having a commercial that runs once, or only a few times, than having the same commercial run continually on all channels. The latest example of this is a coke commercial featuring music by the coke-phile Jack White (of the White Stripes). The commercial itself its fairly 'meh', but because they're only going to play it once in the UK, and have played a cut down version of it once in Australia, there's now an internet buzz about the commercial (it's how I heard about it) that is probably going to get them more publicity, and definitely cheaper publicity, than if they'd gone by the traditional routes.

The value of a blog

I found out today that this blog is valued at a massive $1,693.62, not bad for something that's only been around for a few months, and doesn't really have too much interesting information on it. There's a tool that allows you to type in a website and see how much your blog is valued at. I've got a little bit of work to do to catch up with Ben's blog which is valued at $4,516.32

Thanks to Debra Mastaler for pointing out this tool (even if her site it worth $0) ;)


Yahoo announced that they've now included the Babel Fish translation tool directly on Yahoo. This tool was the only reason that I'd visit Alta Vista (and not that often), now that it's on Yahoo there's no need to ever go there again... and to think it wasn't that long ago that Alta Vista was one of the 'big guns' in the Search Engine space...

If you've never heard of Babel Fish, it's a handy tool for translating text from one language to another, although you can get some interesting results by translating from English to another language, then back to English again...

i.e. "It was a dark and stormy night" translated to japanese, then back to English now reads as "That was dark, it was the stormy night"

It's very safe, it just doesn't work...

The volvo will be leaving our possession this weekend. I know that you like them Uncle Peter, but by heck this thing has been such a pain. Here's a list of the maladies that they discovered yesterday: The air pump is bad, the A/C has a leak so they want to refill it with a die, wait 2 weeks use a blacklight, find the leak, then fix it and recharge again, some sensor or other is bad and needs replacing (yep, it's stalling again), and a couple of other things that I can't quite remember, going down to needing a new dipstick... All in all the cost would have been ~$2000 for everything, more than I want to spend on a 8 year old car, especially when we've put that much into it over the last 4 months anyway! So tomorrow it's car shopping time...

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The Bionic Cat

A while ago we noticed that our former 'fat cat' had lost a lot of weight, we took that as a sign of old age (she's 13). It wasn't until we saw her closing her eye a lot that we realised there was an issue. She turned out to have a thyroid problem that requires medication for the rest of her life. The vet gave us eye ointment. Unfortunately the ointment was too late, and yesterday India went to a feline opthamologist (who knew there was such a thing) to have an operation to remove a painful growth on her eye. The cost ended up being almost double the quote that our original vet gave us, so we paid out $1100. In the 10 years we've had her she's never been sick, so really if you average it out over the years it's not so bad. Some people have mentioned that it's a lot to spend on a cat, and I agree that it is, but she's a member of the family, and there's no way that I could have a cat put down for a non-terminal eye problem, nor could I let her go on in pain, so really there was no choice.

Oh, and our diabetic cat is not responding to human insulin, so we're now on the $90 per bottle insulin, but heck if it stops her screaming for food every moment of the day, then it's going to be worth it.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

First day of the season

Saturday was the first game of the Spring U04 soccer season. The weather was a little drizzly, so only 5 showed up for Gwyneth's team, compared to 8 on the other team. Since they do 3-a-side on two fields, there was one full field, and 2 v 3 on Gwyneth's field. She scored 2 goals, then got uppity when the other kids tackled her... then the heavens parted and the rain really fell, thus endeth the first game of the season...


I got back on Friday night from Albany. Thanks to all the guys up there for making me feel so welcome, and I think it went well. I do have to say though that they do have exceedingly large sandwiches up there... Thursday night Mike C, and I went to dinner at Maguire's in downtown Albany, I highly recommend this place if you happen to find yourself up in Albany.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The crazy guy on the plane

Yes it was me. As I mentioned, I downloaded a bunch of SEM podcasts, and one comedy podcast. Feeling in the mood for a laugh, I thought I'd try the comedy one first. I must have received quite a few quizical looks as I shook in my chair with silent laughter, pressing my headphones up against my ears so I didn't miss much. I've got to say that if you're in the mood for a titter, you could do a lot worse than "The Now Show" podcast. BBC Radio 4's topical comedy look at the news. A nice way to start out a trip.

(Bryn, you've got to let me know about these things, rather than letting me find out for myself) ;)

Yes I'm a geek!

So up until Howard Stern left the terrestrial airwaves, I had something to listen to in the morning on the sometimes 90 minute commute to work. Then nothing... DC radio is rubbish, the only semi amusing show has a guy with a laugh like a constipated hyena that just grates on your nerves after about 5 minutes. We did get one Sirius receiver, but that's in Kim's car so of no use to me. So what do I listen to on the way into work now? Well, I actually download the Daily Searchcast to the iPod, and listen to it over the FM transmitter. It keeps me informed on stuff going on in SEM, is mostly amusing, and doesn't go over the commute time. Of course, it's not quite the same material as Howard, but that's probably a good thing ;)

Edit: Since I'm off to Albany this afternoon, I've downloaded a bunch more podcasts from since I'll have some time I'll be able to find out if there are other shows that are worth listening to (although where I'd find to fit them in in the day would be another topic)

Monday, April 17, 2006

Mystery shopper

So I've seen these ads for mystery shoppers, and received the emails which went straight to the deletion pile. Kim was more generous and actually responded to a few. She's been doing the mystery shopper thing for a few months now, and while she doesn't get paid much for doing it, there are some fringe benefits. Last night we went to a local eatery and had to each purchase a mixed drink and share an appetiser, so she could evaluate the bar staff. It'll all be reimbursed, so we basically had some free drinks and a free snack. Not too shabby, and just the right price :)

Exams done

Yep, I've finished my MBA exams for this term. No more school until August (the only summer class that I could take has a pre-req that I'm not taking until next Spring). Kim already has a long list of projects for the house... painting... landscaping... fun ;)

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

So much for my 'new job'

So I took today off work to go do something different. On the way back from our trip the other weekend we stopped at a vineyard and they were looking for help to bottle wine, paying anyone who helped them in wine and food. Thinking it would be a fun thing for us to do, we signed up and I took the day off. We'd planned to go up and work the afternoon shift, and were all ready to head up in about an hour. Naturally we just received a call that they had more people show up in the morning than they expected so they didn't need us. So much for us signing up...

Ah well, I guess it gives me a chance to work on exams...

Use of the noindex tag

There's a metatag that can be added to web pages to inform the search engines not to index them. At work we recently realised that we'd lost this tag from some pages that we didn't want indexed, but it wasn't a big deal, the pages weren't sensitive, we were able to add the tag in and we were fine.

This morning I was reading the latest edition of Discover magazine (May 2006), and came across an article about the discovery of the alleged 10th planet - Xena. It was really interesting to read that they had planned to make the announcement of the discovery of the planet in October 2004, but because they had released some information about a nearby discovery, and had neglected to put the noindex tag on some sensitive pages they had to rush the announcement out in July, before they were fully prepared...

"We had used K40506A to identify the object in our abstracts, and that was dumb. We should have just used the name Santa. Turns out, unbeknownst to us, that if you went to Google and typed K40506A, you'd find yourself deep down in an inadvertently public archive of where our telescopes had been pointing. We didn't even know this archive existed, much less that you could actually get to it so easily from Google. Once you were there, you could figure out where we'd been looking.
The archive was not meant to be public. There was supposed to be one line of code in it to keep it private, but there was an error in that one line of code, and that made it available for the world to see"
On the plus side, they at least analysed their server logs, and were able to see that a Spanish observatory had viewed those pages that day, which meant that they had until nightfall when the Spanish observatory would be able to take pictures to announce their discoveries...

There's a spring in the air

Warm weather is finally here, the bouncy castle made it up from the basement, and the posing has begun. That's the good part of it, the bad part? Well, the grass needs mowing already...

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Page Rank

For those who aren't aware, Google gives each website a page rank #, which is an indicator of the popularity of the site. I came across this nice new tool that actually allows you to put in a website url and see the page ranks of any other sites that are linked to from that site. For example, when typing in this site I was able to see from my post of yesterday that had a PR of 5, whereas has a PR of 0 (which given that it is a new site for a new company launched only yesterday is to be expected).

Ok, so I can see some numbers, what does that mean to me? Well in order to increase the ranking of your site you want to link with sites that have a higher ranking (which is where the challenge comes in, as they want to do the same), this tool can allow you to analyse multiple sites at one time through links, rather than using the google toolbar and having to visit each site individually.

Monday, April 10, 2006


Today Alltel and Valor announced that their merged company would be know as Windstream Communications, with a home page of I took a look at, and it's the home page of an aviation products company. I would find it interesting to see the effects that the name change of the telco has on this completely unrelated company. I would anticipate a large advertising campaign in the regions served by the new company, and I would also anticipate a large number of people typing in the address of the aviation products company, making their web stats spike. Unfortunately for them they would most likely be people not interested in their products....

Go Google(TM) yourself

It's been a while since I did a vanity / ego search - a search on my name - so I just popped over to Google and typed it in. For the first time this blog is showing up in the #1 spot, right where it should, based on relevency. Here's the list of the rest...
  1. A wiki page from 7 years ago, that I haven't touched, and wish would just go away...
  2. Matt Cutts (Google guru) site - comments that I posted about April Fools day
  3. Jim Boykin's Internet Marketing Blog - comments that I posted about a new tool
  4. A bunch of dead people with the same name as me
  5. A story that I wrote last year / the year before
The interesting thing, is that up until recently most of the results on the first page were for a biographer who shares the same name, I've now pushed him down and off the first page. Now I just have to go out and do that for the dead people too ;)

Saturday, April 08, 2006

24 hours with no internet

So I've just completed 24 hours with no internet access. It wasn't my decision, rather that of my ISP - Gatehouse Networks. They've actually improved over last year, and I can understand that the nasty storm that went through last night probably knocked something out, so I'm not too upset, it gave me a chance to do a few little jobs around the house. Obviously it's back up now...

Hello Doctor

Friday night we went out to DC to see our friend from college - Kim, or these days I should say Dr. Kim-Marie Rapp, since she got her Phd. in December. She's an associate director at Stanford University, and her husband is a professor over there too. This was the first time we'd seen her since she got the doctorate, but she also had some news for us... she's 3 months pregnant. We had a nice meal in Dupont Circle at this mexican place that we found the last time we were in that area - Alero. It's not really a secret that the food's good there, as I noticed today that they were mentioned in the Washington Post magazine.

Anyway, it was nice to get to spend a little bit of time with Kim, with her being out in Wisconsin, and then California, we don't get to see each other too much. There aren't that many friends that stand the test of time, and she's one of them.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The ultimate DIY project

Ever wanted to build your own Dalek? If only I had some spare time

Sunday, April 02, 2006

The end of Christmas?

Heading home from our weekend away we came down route 50 E, stopping off at a vineyard on the way down to pick up a bottle for later, this place is actually looking for volunteers to help bottle their wine, should you do that for a morning, or afternoon, you get some free wine (not sure how much, but since it's during the week, I'm not going to be able to do it, Kim may...).

Anyway, after leaving there we turned down route 15 south, intending to go through Haymarket. We noticed that the Haymarket exit had lots of flashing blue lights by it, and a long line of traffic, so we quickly shot off down an alternate route. Coming out at the other end, we saw at least 5 fire trucks sitting there. We figured that it must be a parade of some kind. Then we came to the corner of the road and saw that the xmas show , which has a lumber yard behind it and a petrol station next to it, had burnt down. I guess they sent
everything they could to it, just so they could stop it from getting to either of those businesses, causing a real problem (plus the main rail goods line goes just behind it). We never actually made it into the store, thinking that it looked a bit tacky (indeed the air stank of burnt plastic), but it was someone's livelihood that's gone, hopefully they were well insured...

Peace, quiet and air raid sirens...

As I mentioned before, this weekend we went away to a B&B in Berryville, VA. The place we stayed at is called The Lost Dog and is run by a nice couple Sandy & Jim.

We arrived a little late on Friday, and when we got there they showed us to the room and invited us down to share a glass of wine and chat. We talked for about 90 minutes, then we decided to go out to eat. Warning, don't go to Mario's Pizza in Berryville, the pizza was very bland, no taste to it whatsoever.
That night we found out about the Berryville volunteer fire department. In this age of computers, instant messaging and cell phones, when there's an emergency they blow an air raid siren 3 times. This happened 4 times between 11 and 1am, which we were told the next morning is very unusual for Berryville.
The next day we got up to a very filling breakfast - freshly home baked cranberry muffins, waffles, and eggs. Then we headed up to West Virginia for the white water rafting (see previous post). Last night we went to a seafood place that was having a live blues band at 9pm, since it was only 7pm we decided to go back to the lost dog and rest up for a little while... by the time 9pm rolled around the white water rafting had caught up with us, so we just stayed in the room and relaxed.
This morning I found out that when the clocks change, the time on my Verizon cell phone doesn't, until I either turn it on an off, or make or receive a call. The alarm went off at 7.30, looking at the clock I saw it was 8.30, which is when breakfast is served. 5 minutes later we were sitting downstairs for a nice cup of tea, a mini-quiche, and bisuits (fluffy scones) with award winning blueberry jam... mmm lovely. At 11 am we bade Sandy and Sirius (the labradoodle) farewell, and headed home. All in all a nice relaxing weekend away.

The real news

Kim & I actually went white water rafting down the Shenandoah and the Potomac yesterday. The river was nice and gentle, with only a few rapids (of course at the first one kim lost her paddle, grabbed hold of me and tried to pull us both out, but we managed to stay in, and even get her paddle back). It was a nice ride that went through 3 states. Starting off in West Virginia we went into Maryland (anywhere on the Potomac is Maryland) and into Virginia. The ride itself was only 7 miles, but it took us about 3 hours start to finish, the two of us really enjoyed it. Last night was not fun though, since the 2 of us were on the left hand side of the raft we were using our left arms for strength, by the time we were ready for bed our left arms felt like they were on fire.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

The big news

So it's now 12 hours until Kim & I try something that's scaring the heck out of us, but we've decided that it's something that we've got to do. We're going to try plane bungee jumping. Since we've never jumped before we'll be tethered to an instructor, we jump out of the plane attached to a bungee, the cord pulls us back up, then when we get to the apex the instructor cuts the cord and it turns into a sky dive, where we parachute down to the ground. It's more extreme than anything that we've ever done, but we figure that it'll be a lot of fun (asuming that we don't have heart attacks on the way down), and it'll prove that we're still, at least slightly, young. We've looked into this activity, and this company has been doing this for a year now, with no injuries. We have to get there at 12.30 for an hour of instruction and safety demonstrations, then the plane takes off at 1.30... If everything goes well we'll be back at the B&B by 5.30, most likely looking for a stiff drink to stop our shaking.