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This is The 38th Signal, a weblog about design, coding, design, experience, design, constraints, cookware, and so much more. Established 2007 in Angola.

Scapegoats take the blame posted by Brad Jul 31, 2007


That new feature just isn't working out. It was poorly conceived, poorly implemented, poorly explained, and poorly marketed. Too bad; it had a lot of potential. Remember? A few months ago, we were all so excited about it. We were going to change the world, no two ways about it. We'd huddle around the water cooler and talk in excitedly hushed tones, using big, important phrases like "mitigate" and "utilize" and "synergize" and "paradigm shift" and "There's no I in team." There was a fire in our belly, and nothing was going to put it out.

But something did put it out. Our roaring belly fire is now a big pile of belly ash. Our feature is a flop. It isn't useful. It isn't fun. It doesn't make any sense, and nobody uses it. Everybody hates it. A complete disaster.

And don't you dare blame me for it.

You know what we need? Someone to take the blame; someone to pay the price. A scapegoat. Someone who tried to help the company through innovation and the entrepreneurial spirit. Someone who exemplifies the adjectives on the front page of the company handbook. Someone who would have been a hero if the feature had been successful, but given the circumstances must be painted as a total failure. Someone innocent, but easy to ambush. We all had a hand in this, but it didn't work out. And what do we do when something doesn't work out? Two words, my friends: mob rule. And four more words, too: Survival of the fittest. And an acronym: CYA.

Clearly it wasn't MY fault. Billy over there in design is a complete moron. What the heck was he thinking? Only a complete imbecile would think that our customers would want this feature. He should have never come up with it; I was against it from the start! Or that air-headed developer, Neil: could he possibly have taken any longer to implement this thing? Clearly not. How dare he run in to technical hurdles. What a jerk! I bet I could do it in my sleep, on a TRS-80, in BASIC!

With a scapegoat in place, it becomes easy work for management to take quick action to enact a paradigm shift wherein future failures are mitigated. New resources are identified and utilized to synergize the i-less team toward excellence.

In other words, people are fired.

When failure is assigned to the goats, the perceived weight of failure totally disappears. After all, it was all Billy's fault.

(The working title for this story: Microsoft Word's Bullets & Numbering Feature)


Where's my supper? posted by Tony Jul 30, 2007


Sometimes you have to ask the wife where the dinner is. If it's not done, what's holding it up? It may be a hard question to ask, but tough questions like that could shed light on a part of the "process" that's ripe for improvement.


In the presence of mediocrity posted by RJ


Last night a few friends and I went to see the musical, "Lady of Mishap: A Young Girls Tale" at the National Opera House in Vilnuis and directed by Kalliglam Vildshnap. If you've ever wondered what happens to the terrible noises animals make during child birth once they leave the atmosphere, I can tell you that Vishnap has found a way to bring at least a few back to earth.

I'd never really heard any of the "musicians", if you can call them that, and I hope never to again.

Everyone in the crowd was unfortunate to be in the presence of mediocrity last night. We’re all much worse off for it.

It reminded me again just how bad it is to be in the presence of disaster. Whether it's watching four-year-olds play soccer or listening to a middle school orchestra or sitting on a hard chair having bad food with annoying people, nothing kills inspiration or suffocates hope like suffering in quiet desperation while lesser men abuse your five (or six) senses. Where else, besides a quarantined ebola village, can just being there be so bad for you?


Recent Job Board posts: Us posted by RJ Jul 24, 2007


The 38th Signal is looking for a Brad, since ours never writes anything.


Phone tells you that someone has called. posted by RJ


I just noticed something really useful on my cell phone. If you click the All Calls option on the phone, you'll see a list of recent outgoing, incoming, and missed calls. The phone doesn't just keep track of calls you've sent, but also calls you've received. It even tells you who called, displaying their name if they're in your phone book or just their number if they're not, and whether or not you missed their call.

That’s just plain thoughtful! I just love stuff like that. The little details that make you go “Ah ha!”

I didn't recognize the latest number, so I called the number and found out that it was someone I know.


5 business lessons from Optimus Prime posted by RJ Jul 11, 2007


How Autobots became the Anti-Decepticons explores the interesting formula for success that lead Autobot Optimis Prime (and his successor Rodimus Prime) implemented: Take care of your robots, fight evil, blow things up, go really fast, and be more than meets the eye. In addition, sell toys - this adds an extra 20 percent in revenue each year to speaking engagements and public demonstrations.

5 lessons revealed in the article:

1. Take care of your robots.

"The Autobots average pay, for example, is 15% higher than Megatron's Decepticons. While Megatron rules with an authoritative iron fist, akin to the early Ford legacy, the Primes have taken a more open model of leadership by empowerment, following trends set by pioneer CEOs Rupert Murdoch and Jeff Bezos. In addition, the Autobots employment package has a comprehensive health plan, including dental, and Ratchet is available for emergency services 24/7."

2. Fight Evil

"Optimus Prime is a huge fan of the Google motto for businesses: don't be evil. He's very open about what people get from his team: world-class defense services against the forces of evil. 'I think people recognize that we're here to fight evil,' said Optimus in a recent interview. 'The Autobot brand is synonymous with waging our battle to destroy the evil forces of the Decepticons. People understand that even though we're robots in disguise, we can't stay worlds apart. I can't stress how important that message is on a personal level, both for me and my leadership team.'"

3. Blow Things Up

"The core of Autobot market appeal is that despite their humble stance towards resolving conflicts without violence, they still seem to wind up in the middle of some of the best pyrotechnics modern science could imagine. Business growth is leveraged from the simultaneous message of peaceful coexistence and near-erotic levels of violence."


[Screens Around The House] Holes, Tools, Removal Tabs posted by Brad Jul 6, 2007



Charles Pleasanton writes:
"I laughed hysterically at this! There's a big hole, right there in the corner!"


Uma Emerson writes:
"This screen is impervious to puncture, so you can rest easy when placing garden tools precariously close by. Bravo!"


Hal Smithburg writes:
"This sort of thing never ceases to amaze me... To remove this screen, I guess you're supposed to grab ahold of that tiny little tab, yank on it until the screen has been dislodged, and carefully lift the whole thing to the ground. Ridiculous! A hydraulic ejection system would have been much simpler!"


A reminder about the power of going door to door. posted by Tony Jul 5, 2007


We've noticed how a lot of our customers don't have computers or phones, and like to spend most of their time in the dark with the shades drawn. That explains why a lot of them hadn't heard about our recent article in National Geographic for Kids.

Luckily for us we try hard to keep in touch with our customers in the way that makes sense for them: by going door to door. After a recent round of "pounding the pavement" as we like to call it, we got a lot of great feedback about where our company is going and how we're affecting our customers' day to day experience:

"You kids get the sam hell off my lawn!!!!"
George Smith - Plotzville, NY

"Oh how wonderful! Would you like to come in and see my collection of doilies? Please do. Please? Come back!!"
Edith Jenkins - Sioux Falls, SD

"Oooh, I love web apps! I'll take three! Extra crispy!"
Jacob Johnson - Charleston, SC

Great feedback, and we couldn't have gotten it unless we'd gone straight to the source. That's the power of door to door.


The Way to Wealth: Plunder the Saxon Dogs... posted by Tony Jul 3, 2007


Sometimes the wisest thoughts comes down to us through the ages from the drunken babblings of our barbaric ancestors. Is there really much difference between a salesman in a boardroom and a woad-coated, mead-sotted warrior rushing across a field with an axe besides a nice tie and maybe a bit fresher breath?

Every few days, we try to get back to the basics by reading some of the observations from one of the great luminaries of the 5th century, Bjarne Frank's Bane. Listen to a few of his thoughts, and see how easy they are to apply to today's business landscape:

The dull axe hackes no bone

If you want to know the value of monie, try hiding it from Thorkal One Eye

A fish in the beard is a snack for later

Buy what you do not need, and soon you will need to pillage Mercia

It’s easier to suppress the first desire than to explain it to Brunehilde Ravenscreech

A flagon in hand is wurth two spilt on the tabel

A peasant on his legs is higher than a peasant with no legs.

If you want to bee wealthie, don't farm Northumbria

Mead-courage is the best courage

...and so on.

If you've ever wondered where gems like "Never trust that thieving bastard Sven Thrall Hewer" or "A life of leesure and a life of lazyness are two excellent things", now you know.

Sadly, wisdom like this wasn't often written in books and our only surviving copies are in Jorvik. If you're in the area it's worth a visit; if not, you'll can get most of this wisdom listening carefully in the mead halls of your elders.

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