Saturday, August 20, 2011

Need to Stop Listening to the Radio

When Donna and I take the SUV out, she frequently has the station on WTOP. For her, it's just background noise and easily ignored. With my inability to filter, I get stuck listening to each and every story they drone out. Because the programming effects us differently (Donna not at all and me listening), Donna frequently talks over things - with a special nack for being most radio-obliterating right at the critical part of a given news report. Simply put, I hate listening to news radio when Donna's in the car. This is not to say that I'm fond of having the news on, in the first place: generally, all I'm hearing on news programming is "news of the annoyingly stupid".

Today was another exercise in the "news of the annoyingly stupid". The 9/11 commemorartion riders came through DC on their 1800-strong motorcycle convoy. Ok... First, this weekend isn't 9/11 - it's not even September. So, why this weekend (and, no, I don't care enough to Google for it). Secondly: why try to stream an 1800 motorcycle convoy through one of the worst traffic regions in the nation during rushhour???

Yeah, I know I'm a cranky bastard on my best days, but nothing about this debacle made sense. On top of it, it made little sense to me that the ride-supporters were chapped by the locals who had complaints about the timing of the ride (not the ride itself, mind you, just the timing). I get that people like to commemorate major events. I get that DC was tied to 9/11 by the fact that the Pentagon was one of the sites directly impacted by the events of that day. However, I think it's at least as selfish of the riders to time their event as they did as the ride-supporters seem to think people like me are for not liking the inconvenience it caused.

Unfortunately, a lot of people think that just because something is "for a good cause" that makes everything about how it's conducted is justafiable. It's the same effect that powers all the legal abuses and shortcuts because of "think of the children". To the people in the 1800-motorcycle convoy, it's just a ride to commemorate a tragedy. To the people that live here, along the pathway of that convoy it's more than just inconvenience, it's lost time and lost money. The extra time in traffic means wasted gas - and gas, particularly lately, is decidedly not free. The extra time in traffic means time spent in traffic hell that could be better spent with family, friends, etc. Time has value and for the sake of 1800 riders, tends of thousands of locals were compelled to spend their time in a way that they might have otherwise more-constructively spent it. Some people, anticipating the hell that the convoy was going to cause, opted to take off work. That's vacation days that they won't have to spend elsewhere. That's work-productivity lost at what might have been a critical time in their job-cycle.

But, hey, at least 1800 riders got to commemorate 9/11. Fuck everyone else.

Tell me, again, what that commemoration did for the people who died on 9/11? At least the Rolling Thunder folks do their stuff on a holiday.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Delegation and Failure

Honestly, I didn't know whether to post this on this site or my "serious"/work site. Technically, it's about work and would be well-situated there. However, this is more a philosophical post than a technical post. Thus, I opted to put it here...

For the last several jobs I've worked at, I've frequently been in the position where I had to push the tasks I was once responsible for onto groups with less exeperience than I have. This is the nature of an engineering role: you figure the stuff out, then you turn it over to others to manage - usually after simplifying and documenting that "stuff", first. Then, you move on to other things and act as a technical resource for those charged with the day-to-day care and feeding of that "stuff".

Invariably, part of the push-down process is figuring out which things are suitable for push-down and to whom. Part of "to whom" is knowing who's available to do the work and their skills set or prescribing the type of person that should be capable of doing the work and allowing the folks in charge of staffing to find people that meet your prescribed skills set. At the end of the day, it's a process that, if executed correctly by all parties involved, allows the "stuff" to be more widely used and kept healthy, and allows the engineer to mostly divorce himself from that "stuff".

The push-down process is one fraught with challenges and fear. While you, as an engineer, can decide what things can and should be pushed down and who it should be able to be pushed down to, there's always the fear that you won't be able to push it down. You have fear that the people you're pushing to won't be up to the challenge. You fear that the people you're pushing to won't do things the way you had envisioned, ultimately resulting in more work for you (first, by having to fix any breakage that results; and, second, having to undo all the stuff that resulted in the breakage or, worse, having found the unanticipated deviance so pathologically and intractably ingrained that you have to leave it in place and work around it). Further, if your a conscientious sort, you always have the worry that you're setting people up to fail.

It's this last that I hear over and over when it comes time for the push-down: "we might be setting them up to fail."

This is a hard one to argue against. Any time you pass a resposibility on to others, you pass on the possibility of failure. It's the nature of the beast. If you're giving anyone the ability to do anything meaningful, you're also giving them the ability to screw important things up. That said, if you've properly described the expected skills set for the task(s) and/or provided good procedural documentation, you've not only given them the ability to fail, you've also ensured that they have the tools to succeed. The only time you're "setting someone up to fail" is if you give them a tasking that they can't reasonably be expected to handle. If the people responsible for staffing ignore your staffing prescriptions, that's not your fault. If the people handling the passed-down responsibilities ignore the procedures you've tested, documented and passed-down, that's not your fault. The best you can do is to act in good faith and be there to clean up the mess when your efforts weren't enough (oh: and document why the failure occurred so that it might not happen again for the same reasons).

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Way to Be...

"Exceptionally useless" is not a Good Way™ to be exceptional.