Archive of
Kurmudgeon Keith's Critical Comments

Furniture marketers clever by half
Last fall, advertising in the Greater Victoria area trumpeted "the Ashley Furniture Store is closing forever". People who liked Ashley furniture assumed it was no longer available.
Another store advertised that it could order Ashley Furniture.
Later a tiny mention in a newspaper suggested that the former Ashley Furniture Store was still in business but under a different name, and still carrying Ashley product but other manufacturer's product as well. How many people assumed it was one?
(Honourable mention for marketing stupidity went to Standard Furniture, who put a big sign on their store saying it was closing. What they were really doing was moving to a new location with a nicer building, somethng past and potential customers might like to know. How many people noticed that?)
Are furniture stores playing a version of "manipulative marketing", a tactic guaranteed to lose sales in the long term?

Selecting and monitoring your retailers
Hopefully the Sitka company, makers of surfboards and clothing for colder water conditions, selects and monitors retailers for service quality - the behaviour of some retailers is an incentive to shop online.
(Their owners live a self-fulfilling prophecy, little stock and poor service helps ensure the Internet will supplant them - if I have to wait days for a product I might as well order from the Big I, it will be on my doorstep just as soon with no more risk than dealing with the mismanaged retailer.)
The question for business owners is "how do you ensure good performance by your retailers, employees, and suppliers?" Keith his ideas.

Look outward
The book about "why" and loyalty reminds me of a key point I like to make:
While you must keep your house in order, most people fail to "look out there", consider the customer's perspective. Commonly people in organizations go theoretical, which not surprisingly leads to believing reality is in their own thoughts or worse in their own desires.
The classic expression of that is the claimed remark of a computer software specialist at a convention: "This would be a great job if it weren't for users."

Don't leave IT to the techies
(nor I suppose to project managers or sales people: Allied Irish Banks wants 84 million euros from two software companies for botched retail banking system - note the project was the first implementation on a different type of computer, a high risk situation).
How do you prevent such mistakes? Ask Keith.

Why can’t communications companies communicate?
I updated my cellular phone's software over the air, using Telus’ instructions, taking the risk to see if that would help improve connectivity which is poor where I live.
The phone's display said that the update succeeded, and showed good signal – but they had altered the user lock code from what I had set it to, so I could not use the phone. I tried several default and special codes I knew of, to no avail.
So I asked Victoria Mobile Radio, who told me what Telus sets it to instead of a usual Motorola default.
Repeating - why can't communications companies communicate?

Examples of the potential of really trying
Most of us don't want to change. Here are two examples of people who resisted, but finally realized they could.
- The Canadian government kept claiming that their new more challenging application procedures for a passport were necessary. But eventually they made radical changes, such as treating renewal of non-expired passports differently from new applications. In general it looked to me as though they had actually thought about where the risks actually are.
(Unfortunately they have not yet restored the 10-year validity period - the present period is effectively four years because much travel requires at least six months remaining to get an entry visa from another country, and in some cases requires one year remaining.)
- Over on the west coast, Boeing and the largest worker union (IAM) figured out how to make 767s more economically, by re-arranging the production line. Apparently it took the need for space to expand production of 787 airplanes and the pressure of competition for USAF's refuelling tanker purchase to motivate them to think harder and smarter. (Yes, we don't yet know for sure that the re-arrangement will work well, as they only did it recently, but they claim to have included the lower cost in their successful bid for the tanker purchase so have extra incentive to make it work. And for once the union is onside - funny thing how competition with someone who would build the airplanes in another state, one that doesn't encourage unions, focussed their minds.)
How can you enable rapid sound change in your organization? Ask Keith.

Missing the Big C
So I want to phone a theatre or three to enquire about a specific movie.
I bop into the commercial listings section of the telephone directory, under M for Movie. I see a cross reference to Video for movie rental, none for Theatre which is my next try. (Rental and theatre being two sources of movies, television, mail order, and Internet being others I can think of.)
Under Theatre I do not see one theatre set I know of, the one with "Silver City" in big letters above the entrance. But I see there is a listing for "Cineplex Entertainment Lp [sic]" on the street on the other side of the centre.
So to check the address I look in the white pages for Safeway, one of which is on that street, and find it is cross-referenced to Canada Safeway (which isn't the name on the store, but at least they pay to cross-reference).
For grins I look in the white pages for Silver City - none, but "Cineplex Entertainment Lp [sic]" is listed.
What are businesses like Silver City missing? Why are they missing it? Keith has ideas.

Sounds like another bureaucracy.
AVwebFlash web newsletter of March 24, 2011 reported that a spokeswoman for the airline Qantas claims “the company has had only positive feedback” about, whereas some Qantas crews are criticizing, their new safety video using John Travolta.
No matter who is right, the PR statement is out of touch with reality. How do you prevent that? Ask Keith.

Re-inventing the wheel
So running applications on the Internet is The Big Future, especially according to Google.
But apparently someone at Google asked "what about when a user is not connected to the Internet? (Which I say could be while hiking or in a small boat somewhere, or when your ISP has problems, for example.)
So now there is "Google Gear", which seems to be intended to store a copy of data and perhaps mini-apps on your own local device.
(Nope, I don't grasp the difference from downloading PDF files etc. and using your traditional apps.)
Am I missing something? Or is this just the computing version of "Future to the Back"? (my comment on automobile designs).

Read carefully and ....
So I am in a grocery store, noticing the Quaker Life type of boxed cereal.
But becoming puzzled as to why the box labeled MultiGrain says it is made with 100% oats.
(Perchance someone copied the printing master for the standard product and neglected to remove the 100% line. But it's been that way for over a year that I've noticed, and I presume the product in a volume grocery store isn't that stale.)
Read twice then think is a good maxim for all of us.

... especially when changing the product.
Then there's the Moonrays solar light from Woods Industries Canada, a good configuration of product.
Complete with very helpful measurement of distance between mounting holes, and explanation of switch position, molded into the housing.
Except the important rubbery moisture guard covering the switch looks the same no matter which position the switch is in.
Clever users will either figure out that they can lightly press the guard to feel where the switch is, or block the solar cell which will turn the light on (but their hand is not enough blockage unless they are in a dark corner, placing the light against their clothed thigh works).
Others will never buy more of that product.

The biggest groups are ill with inefficiency
The article by Luke Johnson, Financial Times of April 5, 2011 suggests reasons why emerging companies often outperform established ones despite few resources. (The article does not cover the many small entities that fail due incompetence and misbehaviour.)
Honest performance is what counts in reality. (Which is "out there", not in your head nor cushy office.)

From one extreme to the other
Some clever person figured out that those gobs of sticky hand soap from washroom dispensers could be replaced by foam.
So that became popular - foam so thin that it is ineffective. Foam that users pile on their hands with repeated squirts, and still wonder if it is going to disinfect their hands.
And when automatic sensing devices slow them down, they put a hand under each of two dispensers.
Do decision-makers every use their schemes themselves?

(What impressed me years ago was the airline switch to pump bottles for soap, but with a bottom that made them difficult to use at home (thus not likely to be stolen). Replaced purpose-built mechanisms (always an expensive thing in airplanes) that had to be cleaned occasionally (at mechanic's wage rates).

Root Cellar store "gets it"
The Root Cellar produce store on McKenzie Ave in Saanich BC has cash register displays that face the customer, with large character size so quite readable.

They get "The Big C".

"You have to change your software to use our web site" ....
.... is common advice from web weenies.

To which the obvious response is "I don't have to use your web site"

What failures in thinking are behind the advice to increase cost, and risk of software update interfering with other applications? Keith knows.

Compartmenting large packages
I like good packaging.
Sitting in a small room one day, I idly noticed that a huge package of toilet paper rolls contained smaller packages inside.
Great for storage (your cat may have less fun, but.... :-).
And in the kitchen, a jumbo box of dry cereal contained two bags, each the same size as the one in a standard box (a logical way to make a jumbo size product).
But in both cases there was no identification on the inner package - perhaps a missed brand communication opportunity (with the cost of simple printing).
....Pondering Keith (hey! no smart remarks about where I am gazing ;-).

Steve Jobs in Four Easy Steps
is an interesting article on Steve Jobs, a co-founder and for years the leader of Apple computing company.
Of particular interest to me is the notion that specialties should work together to make a system. A rather basic notion so often overlooked.

Jobs was accused of arrogance in Apple’s earlier days, in which it failed to effectively communicate its product advantages to many potential customers. But his insistence on high user value in products seems to have led to business success.

One of my favourite stories is that Apple put the iPod digital music player concept on the shelf because adequate storage capacity in a small enough size to be a truly usable product was not available. Then Hitachi developed a 1.8” hard drive, and the rest is history. (An obscure story I know of only because I own a compact laptop computer with a version of that hard drive, which is too limited for a computer.)

(Let's give some credit to the producer of the Sony Walkman portable cassette tape player, who also was a visionary insisting on quality.)

How to turn away business
A side story to the success of the Bentley family is why they stopped selling Mercedes-Benz cars.
The factory was arrogant, shipping them the wrong colours and refusing to change, and pushing them to sell one DKW and one Uni-Mog for every three M-B cars sold.
While the Bentley's probably knew people who could use the type of vehicle the specialized Unimog was supposed to be (an all-terrain light truck), they were probably very expensive and were under-powered. The DKW was a small car very different from Mercedes cars, probably better sold by others.

So the Bentleys switched to selling M-B's big competitor, very successfully - a lesson in unintended consequences and the power of the free marketplace.

Pubs emphasizing food?
Experiencing a decline in business due to customers' worries about their budgets and getting caught driving after drinking,
pubs in the Victoria BC area are trying to make more money from food.

"Maude Hunter's Pub" is cleverly offering lunch boxes - sandwich, fruit, cookie, etc.
Almost $10. with taxes, with non-alcoholic beverage an extra cost option. They'll even deliver them for a fee.
They deserve credit for trying.

Serve food? What a concept?
(A great change from the wasteland of BC boozing establishments of the past, but isn't that what roadside places used to be - a stop for food?
And it respects staying serious at work - coming out of the airline business, I especially reject booze at lunch.)

Exaggerated, glib, too terse, or extrapolated?
A generally useful booklet on battery selection, use, and maintenance claims that an "AGM" battery is "sealed" so can be mounted in any position.

Reality is that the technology variously known as "Absorbant Glass Mat", "Valve Regulated Sealed Lead Acid", "Recombinant Gas" and other terms has an over-pressure relief valve and liquid electrolyte. If that valve opens, as it might with high charge voltage in hot temperatures, a battery mounted other than upright might spill acid thus cause damage. (Then not work as well, due loss of electrolyte.)

So the notion of mounting flexibility does not properly arise from "sealed", in the case of AGM technology.
("Gel" electrolyte technology, as used in motorcycles and wheelchairs - that are more likely to get sidways in use, is different.)

Folks, ya hafta understand the technology properly, beginning with precise use of words.

Dumb down the phone technology
is a good perspective on communicating with customers.

What values underlay that approach?

The Seven Habits of Spectacularly Unsuccessful Executives
An interesting article.

Some education on evaluating yourself? Easy to lose focus, but Keith asks if it starts with a values shortfall.

Full context is important.
Media reports suggest that Boeing will lose money on the aerial refuelling tanker for USAF. Readers may assume that is on the total program, especially since Boeing won it on price.
But is that so?
Media reports on the testing concern suggest it is only during the test program, because Boeing's work schedule exceeds the progress payment schedule. But that is not losing money, only having to fund more "work in progress" out of own funds. (Which costs the time value of money, but may have downstream benefits such as earlier detection of shortcomings thus earlier correction - which is less costly.)
Of course all theory at this point.

Worth checking before deciding on investing.

PS: GAO report 12-366 does show an overlap of testing and "low rate initial production" of several aircraft, but much less than with the 787 program. US military practice is prototypes then LRIP then full rate production beginning after operational test and evaluation. (The 787 had a large numbers of built airplanes needing extensive rework. That was the result of not doing thorough enough work much earlier, and some suppliers shipping product that did not meet normal industry standards for quality.)
The GAO's largest concern seems to be the overlap in the context of the amount of coordination required for testing and FAA certification. Weight and some new systems are also of concern. It seems to be largely a risk highlighting excercise, which is highly dependent on judgement.
Risk identification is only part of what management can do - it must have the sense and will to ensure that all areas of the enterprise are motivated to do their job efficently, quickly, and well. That takes leadership.

But it's not point-and-shoot.
Today's thousands of digital camera models have many useful features.
But are any as quick to use as the old basic film cameras?

With the simpler of film cameras you could aim and press to take a picture. Very handy to capture an image of chance phenomenon.
(No need to press the power-on button and wait for the zoom lense to extend.)

Is complexity and "specmanship" getting in the way of function for some tasks? Why?

The economy is slow, so we have to raise our prices.
A friend observed that local 7-11 and McDonald's food outlets had raised the price of a cup of coffee.

With people being more mindful of their money as they are concerned about the effect of the economy on them, why would a business think raising prices is a good idea?

(Ask Keith what the thinking error is based on.)

A business example of the spurious correlation I referred to under NEWS
is the frequent complaint that there is a shortage of good employees in the marketplace.

But many companies are able to get all they need. Why the difference?

Likely reasons include:
- some prospective employees avoid troubled employers (word gets around).
- turnover rate is high at a troubled employer.
- employees of a good company brag to friends and good relatives, recruit them, and recommend them to their employer.
- smart companies develop good employees with on-the-job training.

(Ask Keith what the underlying factor is.)

Examples from a culture
One company that doesn't have difficulty finding employees is Southwest Airlines.

They have a positive culture, and defend their employees against abuse, but expect performance.

I tell the story of two bursts of booking airline travel for myself.
Only one airline website of those I had reason to look at was easy to use: Southwest's.

A few years later I looked at most of the same websites again.
Many had been revamped, but guess which one was up and away the most useable.
(With honourable mention to Alaska Airlines.)

Is anyone surprised that SWA is perennially profitable, in contrast to their competition?

A Useful Product
I compliment designers of the Jet Blast toilet blockage-freeing plunger.

Not only is is a good shape at the working end, unscrewing the other end of the handle provides a useful "snake" to probe.

(Unfortunately I can't find it on the Internet, the product line was transferred to Cobra Products, I can't find it on their web site..)

In the sea of me-too products, there's one that stands out thus should have sold well.

While I'm on about waste handling...
Have you ever seen a toilet paper dispenser that was easy to use, in a public washroom?

The best I've seen looked like it was made by the welder of a highways maintenance company. Simple, rugged, usable.

Points for really trying go to Cascade's design with a turn knob.

It's a start.
(I wonder how much more paper is used from awkward designs, as people throw too-small pieces on the floor or even end up with more than they need, thus countering expected savings.)

Consistency is overlooked....
A challenge for organizations, indeed probably for individuals, is how to consistently do the job right.

Many people have learned the hard way that the fact that you've done something well before does not guarantee you'll do it right the next time.

This month's very high profile example is the established security company who botched preparing to fulfill their contractual obligations for security at the Olympic games in London UK.
Despite repeated assurances, they revealed only a few weeks before events began that they did not have enough staff to do the job. (Besides their inability to hire and train, there is the question of why they avoided telling the customer.)

How much will that failure cost them in future business?
(In my experience some of the employees who had to deal with the problem caused by a supplier's failure will remember the problems as they progress to be supervisors and managers, and so will use their greater influence to avoid the supplier who let them down.)

There's hope for....
A fast food chain I won't identify in case the employee is hassled.

I observed an employee of a fast food chain buying spoons in a dollar store at the other end of the mall. I presume they were for the restaurant.

I noted that because on several occasions I've encountered a business that could not provide a product or service it normally could, because it ran out of something it could buy from the grocery store down the block.
In one case a restaurant whose advertised attraction was its light fare could not go buy lettuce from one of the many good produce markets in the city (who were open Sunday unlike its regular suppliers).

Why are businesses so unable to do the simplest things in non-normal situations?
(You won't be surprised to hear that Keith claims to have perspective on that. :-)

Where is your data sleeping tonight?

No backups, loose security - he and his service providers knew better.

I suppose life takes constant vigilance, today and yesterday.

Someone didn't ensure complete test coverage....

.... should be a simple case in the automatic-contact module?

Did I say it isn't easy but you have to work at it? ;-)

Like I said, think it through...

"Here's one storm prediction you can take to the bank: More stories of poor IT contingency management will soon appear. The lessons to be learned from them will be written and soon then forgotten, at least until after the next disaster strikes."

OK Keith, do you have a plan for The Big One? (The inevitable earthquake near Victoria BC.)

Palm languished, Apple produced - more

Perhaps what Apple did more than anything else was push themselves to make a great product, not just an adequate one.

There are lessons out there in the marketplace.

People miss the simplest things?

Here's the directional sign
and what is actually down the corridor.

The big boat has been in service for a few years, during that time millions of passengers have looked for a washroom. (The washroom for females is in a similar corridor on the other side of the ship. (The directional sign is in a cross -corridor pointing down the side corridor.)

Apparently either no one in the company noticed the mismatch - or no one did anything about it.

In the north, it is beneficial to be prepared.

And that's only Ontario - think of the High Arctic.

A simple web site.

Guess who is profitable?

Leaders need principles.

About a stable profitable bank that avoided the US government's 2008 debacle, by looking hard at what was best for customers and the bank. (See my Enterprise Resources page for a link to BBandT Bank's principles).

Is your CEO job at risk?

The departure of Target stores' CEO highlights the question of responsibility for administrative quality.

In dealing with current big problems, some of us overlook emphasizing administrative effectiveness, but Target's failure to segregate customer's information from building maintenance functions cost Gregg Steinhafel his job.

(A hacker got into a contractor's computer system then used its energy monitoring access to snoop around Target's computer system. It is alleged that some employees ignored warnings from security software.)

The board likely was also unhappy about the poor startup of Target stores in Canada. Despite great promises from the head of Canadian operations, stores there are badly laid out, uncommunicative, and poorly merchandised - they lost a billion dollars. Yet people blame competition for low sales.

How to ensure administrative quality? Enunciate sound values and check they are being practised.
Good employees take proper care of things themselves and tell managers of substantive problems, good managers listen to them.

We've seen this before...

Cases comparable to American Apparel and the cupcake outfit have been seen before:
- a phenomenon in "dotCom" failures, in which new companies take on far more office space than they will need in the near future, to keep the team together/look fancy ("successful" to shallow people)/etc... but don't have the cash flow to pay for it. (Often don't even have a fully developed product in the market place of reality, thus cannot even roughly estimate needs.)

- 45 years ago, the Minnie Pearl's Fried Chicken fiasco in Vancouver BC.
(That restaurant chain was a buzz in media and investing hype circles in the US.
A local university perfessor headed an effort to open several outlets in the Vancouver BC area, with many millions of dollars financing.
It failed, because they didn't get a few restaurants open and selling chicken, early enough.)

The chicken outfit should have paused with a few stores, to see if the local market, already served by two fried chicken chains, would respond to it. (Few people in the Vancouver urban area knew who Minnie Pearl was - an old darling of country music in some areas of the US.)

Whitewash turns black

The CEO of Seattle's electric power utility hired a "branding" firm to improve public image of the utility and especially himself.

But - their efforts had the unforeseen effect of an old negative article being distributed much more widely.

Yah think that mebbe, just mebbe, managing sensibly and well, with integrity, is the best route to a good public reputation? (As supposedly simple folk might advise.)

Seeing what isn't there:

Thinking we see something....that isn't really there.

Optimism versus reality - how to tell the difference?

What’s blocking your message?

Increasingly, people run tight security. So if you:
- Are intrusive (try to get info from or place something into my computer).
- Inappropriately code a link to an external service (one good lady put a link to paypal instead of just an icon for people to click if they wanted to, that really slowed her site down).

Your desired communication will not occur.

Keep Your Old Stuff?

Sony Entertainment had to shut down its entire computing network in response to attack by hackers.

Then they dug out old communications devices and check printers to get some business done, including paying employees.

Whee! NOT

What do organizations want in software updates?

" 'Long-term speed' is what organizations want. They want stuff to get fixed, but they don't want changes that muck up the works."

Keith says they also want better quality up front.

A binary error is easy to make.

I recently experienced an example of that in communications/semantics.
I asked a store clerk where the large packages of peanuts were. He asked "shelled or unshelled". I responded "unshelled".
20 seconds of confusion followed because I meant taken out of their shell ("shelling" being a common term for that action) whereas he interpreted my statement as meaning not taken out of the shell, that is "not shelled".

Precision in wording is helpful.

(And of course measurements may be "nominal".
Moen defines the length of a u-shaped wall grab bar by useable grabbing length, which is good in one sense, but a critical factor is needed space for installation, which is about six inches longer due to the bends, diameter of bar, and mounting flanges. Even 12" usable length is enough for two hands to grab)

Those village grandmothers did not have the sheepskins that IHR bureaucrats here insist on.

Indeed, they could be classed as "illiterate".

So how could they succeed?

They were intelligent, versatile, and dedicated.

You could lose your business....another edition.

It's another example of the maxim that if you want to be dishonest you have to be very good at it - the franchisor tried to block the practice but missed one cash register, where the franchisee continued the practice. The franchisor should instead have terminated the contract for dishonesty (they waited until they found a repeat offense).

History keeps repeating.

You could lose your business....another edition.

It's another example of the maxim that if you want to be dishonest you have to be very good at it - the franchisor tried to block the practice but missed one cash register, where the franchisee continued the practice. The franchisor should instead have terminated the contract for dishonesty (they waited until they found a repeat offense).

History keeps repeating.

A key reason for job descriptions is so that people will know what they are responsible for.

Defining on the fly takes skill and trust.

Keith knows the foundations of how to do that.

It can see ghosts !?

Hype for an infrared viewing device.

I thought ghosts would be cold thus not emitting infrared.

New immigrant happy with opportunity

From Jamaica to northern Alberta, she has the drive to do it.

A real person doing real things, not bureaucracy nor protesting.

Pushing people to make unrealistic forecasts has consequences

UTC aerospace was unrealistic so fell short on income compared to forecasts, investors don't like that.

I guess they didn't pick up on the lesson from Boeing's wildly unrealistic schedules for the 787 program, which UTC is a supplier to - those came from pushing people and not listening. (How to prevent that? Ask Keith.)

Advice for communicating

Not easy, but important.

He said often times people tend to overcomplicate business.
- Business person Jackson Wagner, quoted in the Goldsream Gazette newspaper of May 25, 2016 regarding his experience helping a class in a Junior Achievement day at a school.

Wagner then looked at his own business from that viewpoint.

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