Saturday, April 25, 2009


I grew up in Miami, Florida.

And yes, it is very much semi-tropical. Actually, if you left the place alone for any length of time it would revert to the swamp it rose from with little or no trace of humanity. When I worked as a surveyor's assistant, we had occasion to travel to parts of south Florida that showed us what would happen.

Scientists have theorized what would happen to the Earth if humans suddenly dropped out of the picture. In the Arctic, things would be preserved for a long time. In temperate zones, the breakdown would be faster. In South Florida, things would be faster still. An accidental experiment has demonstrated that. There are cases where developers would bulldoze some land right down to the ground, (that's what they do, it's cheaper) lay down streets and utilities and then lose their funding or have some sort of financial setback. Nature would take over and in ten years, you couldn't tell anyone had ever walked there.

Nature is very resilient. The buildings will rot and fall down. Shoot, they were rotting and falling down around us while we lived in them. Take a look at the buildings in New Orleans that have been abandoned. They won't have to tear them down, they'll tear themselves down. The ownership of the land would revert to the snakes and land crabs and cockroaches that I grew up with.

Boy, those memories stay with you, too. Yesterday, I saw a dried oak leaf skitter across the road in front of me and I swerved to avoid hitting it because it looked so much like a land crab. For those of you who are unfamiliar with them, land crabs are not the good eatin' kind.

No, these are hard shelled, nasty buggers that would bite your toe off given half a chance. Growing up next to a canal as my brother and I did, we fought them constantly growing up. They lived in holes in the ground - yes, crab holes - and they had a natural barometric pressure gauge. When a tropical storm was coming, they would come out and seek higher ground, for example your house. As soon as you opened a door, they would try to run in. What fun! We'd hit them with a stick or a shovel and then fling them into the weeds.

But if you're going to do that, you'd better make it FAR into the weeds, because, my friends, there is nothing on Earth like the smell of a dead land crab. And they look bad, too.

I mean, really! They run sideways, their mouth opens sideways and their body is their head. Give me a break! I'm not pretty, but even I'm better looking than this freakish horror. And the death smell stays with you, good grief, I can smell it now!

So, yeah, it was great growing up in south Florida. No snow. All the species of poisonous snakes in the US, all in one spot. Gators. Humidity in the summer at nearly 200 percent. And land crabs.

But then again, there was no snow, the dry season was very mild, not much pollution, and the puffy white clouds in the piercing blue sky - fabulous! All that other stuff, you got used to. Except the damn crabs.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Secrets to Success

Years ago, I wrote some advice to the people who worked for me.

I happened to dig this old advice out recently when I was scavenging for presentation ideas. It occurred to me that our current economy makes these ideas seem almost relevant.

So, for what it's worth, here are my Secrets to Success.

What Should I Do to Succeed?

Let's get right down to specifics. You want the respect of others? You like your job and you want to keep doing it? You want recognition and a shot at those really cool opportunities? You want the raises and promotions you so richly deserve? There are no real secrets involved; I'm going to tell you exactly how to do it.

1. Choose your role models carefully.
Watch who is succeeding, who has respect, who is getting recognition and then emulate them. You can also learn a great deal from avoiding the stupid things done by those you do not wish to emulate.
2. Be friendly.
Arrogance is annoying, sullenness is tiring, being mean gets meanness right back - usually to an elevated degree. Hey, people like to help their friends. Build a network of contacts throughout the company and industry, and nurture that network by being friendly.
3. Take responsibility for your actions.
Have some insight into what you can and cannot do. Be honest with yourself and forgive yourself if you make a mistake. But if it's your mistake, acknowledge it, learn from it and work hard to prevent repeating it.
4. If someone else makes a mistake, forgive them.
It's not as if we've never made one!
5. Take pride in your work.
Your work has your name on it, my friend, it's as much 'you' as anything can get! Review what you've done before you send it out. Take some time with it; make certain that it is a quality product. Get people to think of quality when they see your name.
6. Watch out for surprises.
The only good surprise is when the news is good. Don't surprise anyone with bad news; convey the informational message as soon as you're sure of what's happening.
7. Whatever you can do yourself. . . do yourself.
Don't try to get others to do the nasty work or the boring work, if it's your work, then do it, nasty or boring as it might be.
8. Be loyal.
Be loyal even if it seems at the moment not to be in your best interest. Always be loyal, it gets noticed, it gets remembered and it gets repaid.
9. Follow up.
And then follow up again. A phone call today may save eighty hours of rework later. Think of it as an investment.
10. Watch for patterns.
Wake up! Heighten your awareness. Watch what's going on around you. There are patterns in the events at work, patterns in what people do, in the whole atmosphere around you. Watch and learn from all of it and react accordingly. Wake up!
11. Fix it and then fix it for good.
When something is broken, fix it and forget about doing any blaming. Then fix the process or whatever it was that allowed the mistake to occur in the first place. Shame on us if we have to fix the same mistake twice. Shame!
12. Do more than what is expected.
Whoa! Did I say 'more'? Oh, yes! You have a due date for your project? Beat it! Beat it by a mile! Do the documentation early. Follow up with the team leader. Automate the tool. Figure out a way to do it faster. Improve communication. Suggest new ways of doing things. Surprise your project leader in that positive way I mentioned earlier. Surprise your manager. Surprise yourself! When you finish your work early, go ask for more! Do whatever you can to stand out from the crowd. Strive for people to associate you with terms like "exceptional", "professional", "high quality" and "energetic"? Good heavens. . . think of the alternative!
13. Volunteer for the tough ones.
You want to stand out from the crowd? Then stand out! Go in to your manager and ask for trouble!
14. Act like it's your company.
Make your decisions based on the presumption that everything you do affects your bottom line. Guess what? It does!
15. Never give up.
So you do all this and things don't move as quickly as you want. That's right, they probably won't. You have to build a track record that's different than your previous modus operandi. People need to see consistency. That takes time, but don't give up! Following these rules will work.

Are There Any Things I Shouldn't Do?

Of course, and you already know what they are. Here are a few examples.

1. Don't abuse the flextime privilege.
You made a deal with your manager to start work at seven AM? So be in at seven AM! Even if nobody else is in at seven, don't be late.
2. Don't abuse your working hours.
Don't come in on time and then go down and have breakfast. Have your breakfast at home or come in early to have breakfast. Work during working hours.
3. I finished my work for today, so I'm going home.
You finished your work? Excellent! Go ask for more! See numbers 3, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13 and 14 listed above.
4. Don't abuse the lunch break.
Long lunch? Have some errands to run? Make up the time; it's your company!
5. Take care of serious issues that run late.
Serious issues sometimes extend past the end of the work shift. You know when you need to stay and complete the task, but when it's 'iffy', then ask for guidance. If you have commitments that require you to leave, make sure you provide turnover to someone qualified. Don't abandon a problem.
6. Provide warnings for things that will be late.
Don't keep it to yourself. Provide early warning, the earlier the better. The earlier the warning, the more chance for forgiveness.
7. Don't get defensive.
If someone provides you feedback, suggestions or council, listen to them. Honest feedback is a treasured gift.
8. Don't hold back that great idea.
If you have an idea for a technical improvement, process change or new invention - anything - bring it up. Submit it as a company suggestion. There's no down side to making suggestions. Even if they aren't accepted today, their time may come tomorrow.
9. Don't hold back comments to your peers.
If you see someone harming their own career by their actions or inactions, tell them. And hope like crazy that they would do the same for you.
10. Don't fool yourself into thinking nobody notices.
Everything gets noticed! Everything: extra effort, lateness, loyalty, long lunches, high energy, laziness, professionalism and unprofessionalism. You can tell yourself nobody notices, but they do! Everything gets noticed!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Dreaming Dreams

I have very vivid dreams.

No, not every night, but frequently enough that it's a little odd. Not unlike myself. Some might call them lucid dreams, but I describe them as 'vivid' because they are detailed, colorful, intense, well sequenced and sometimes I can remember them very well. If they were lucid, I probably wouldn't be having them.

I've spoken to friends who say they 'never dream', but I'm pretty sure everyone dreams even if they can't remember them. I've read that people have three to five dreams per night, others say eight to ten. For sure no one knows why we do it. Personally, I think we're just sorting through stuff and filing new stuff accordingly. We get a lot of input all day from our senses, so we have to clean out our temp files and cookies and junk like that. But if that were true, where would new ideas in dreams come from?

So, in this dream, my wife Deb and I were driving west on Route 202 North. Right away, you might think, "Obviously, it must be a dream, you can't drive west on a North-South road". Ah, but you have to remember, I live in the Philadelphia area and the way roads are laid out here makes NO SENSE to ANYONE. Some roads circle aimlessly or loop over themselves. It probably would have startled me awake if I saw myself driving north on Route 202 North although there are places where you can do that.

It was night and it was clear and the full moon was hanging at about 3 o'clock. We noticed two other bright lights approaching the moon from the right. The larger one, about one quarter the size of the moon and about the same brightness was coming down from the right and a bright pinpoint of light was coming up from the right converging toward the moon. The other cars were slowing down and stopping because of this little show so I did as well until we were stopped right in the roadway.

I thought to myself that due to the laws of perspective, if the lights were close enough, I was seeing an illusion that someone even a short distance away could not see in the same way. But while the show was going on, I heard the announcer on the radio say that we were experiencing a very unusual weather event. There were no storms, no clouds, just calm weather all over the Earth. That's impossible, of course, that's not the way the world works.

Meanwhile, the two lights had begun to circle the moon, chasing one another about a half-moon-diameter away from the disk of the moon. So, I'm thinking furiously, "This must be extra-terrestrial, and THIS is how they choose to get our attention?" But then, I thought, "Well, what would YOU do, knucklehead?"

Then the voice on the radio changes, "We're going to select someone to speak for us, you should pay very close attention to this person." (The actual quote was '...close attention to him' but if you think I would post such a sexist alien remark in this blog, well, you have another think coming.) But I recall thinking, "No preamble? No 'Hello, Earthlings'? No 'So, how's it going?' Boy, these guys are terse!" It could be they had a lot of places to cover, you know? They were too busy for pleasantries. And I thought to myself, "This is the night side of the Earth, what's going on over on the day side?" But I never found out.

Now my dream does a quick cut, a scene shift just like in a movie, and a very relaxed, unassuming guy is addressing a room full of very important people. He's sitting in a chair on the stage, with his fingers laced together behind his neck and he's got the ankle of his right leg crossed over on the knee of his left leg (what they call 'four square'). This guy hasn't got a care in the world, he feels safe.

And he's talking to these VERY important people, religious leaders, politicians, money people, you know the type. And he's telling them the straight scoop. He's telling the religious guys, "Hey, some of you had some good ideas but you're all wrong. Some of you wronger than others and some of you really wrong. So, stop abusing the people and stop taking advantage of them." And then he told off the money people and he told off the political leaders and everybody else in the room. Everybody. And the end of the movie was that he turned to me (the camera) and smiled.

Now, I ask you, where did this stuff come from? Do I have a little tumor growing and pushing this stuff out. Or is it just random delusions created by synapses cleaning up their loose connections? But then, why the symmetry? Why the beginning and end, the (sort of) plot? Boy, I wish I knew what dreams were all about.

I can tell you that when I woke up after this dream, the image of one of my photographs popped into my head. It was in the park called Craters of the Moon in Idaho. It's a desolate, rocky place with precious little vegetation, but if you look really closely in the foreground, you'll see that even in a landscape like this one, there is the chance for rebirth.

Maybe the economy will pick up after all.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

A Sense of Smell

It's remarkable how smells can be so evocative.

As we walked the garbage out to the curb this evening, our hyacinths were blooming and when I bent to smell them - bang - there I was on my grandmother's farm fifty years ago smelling them for the first time.

I'm sure this has happened to you as well. Not about my grandmother's farm, perhaps, but you know what I meant. How easily all the other senses and memories are brought out by just the right smell. I passed someone a few years ago who was wearing English Leather cologne for heaven's sake.

Where did he get it? Do they still make that stuff or has he kept it in his drawer under his socks for fifty years and brought it out for a special occasion? Whatever it was, it took me right back to my senior year of high school when my friends and I would put on a sport jacket and tie and go down to the upscale hotels like the Eden Roc and Fontainebleau on Miami Beach and scout out the young ladies who had been dragged down there by their parents. We were more than happy to serve as their entertainment directors and we had to at least smell like we bathed regularly, hence the English Leather.

The first few warm days of Spring warm up the earth and you get that earthy smell that makes you want to go stick your hands in it and plant something and get dirt under your nails and kneel down in it and I would, too, if I still had knees. And speaking of my grandmother's farm - actually it was my grandfather's farm, too. Hmm, I wonder why we say that? "I'm going to my grandmother's farm." "I'll be over at my mom's house." What? The men are chopped liver?

OK, at my grandparent's farm, they had a dairy barn - that's it up there on the left - that had a smell I had never experienced growing up in Miami. It was cow manure and hay and milk and cows and dirt and feral cats and chickens all mixed together and it was great. It was like life itself in one smell. I would recognize it instantly if I could smell it again, and believe me, I would drive a long way for the privilege.

Smell also contributes a lot to taste and I carry the burden of being a supertaster. Oh, haven't heard of that one, huh? Well, a supertaster has more than their share of tastebuds. And it is a burden. People have looked at me funny all my life because I'm such a 'picky' eater. It turns out I'm picky because I taste things differently than most people. By differently, I mean overpowering, overly bitter or just plain bad.

An example would be hot peppers that people use to 'bring out the flavor of the food'. All that stuff does for me is mask any real food flavor because all I taste is the hot pepper. Nowadays, I please myself, you guys don't know what I'm tasting.

Which brings out the universal sense question. How do we know the color blue looks the same to everyone (for example). We know some people are color blind and that proven variation demonstrates the possibility that there may be ranges of 'blue' for different people just as there are ranges of taste for different people. We're all different or as the poster says "We are all unique, just like everyone else."

So, don't get upset if your child is a 'picky' eater. You don't know what they're tasting. And furthermore, you don't know how you appear to them either. What do you think of that?

But I bet my grandparent's farm looked good to everyone.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Rich's Four Rules

I had the opportunity to guest lecture at a university in downtown Philadelphia the other day.

It was very interesting for me and quite revealing about the nature of our college students today. Some of them are pretty darn smart. The class was a microcosm of all of humanity. Some people are just dragging their way though, some are so smart they don't really have to try, some have specific goals, some can write very well and some can't. And they were all ridiculously young.

I spoke to them about my company, Siemens, and my data center but I also provided some advice about how to succeed in the business world. And that seems to have had more of an impact than any of the technical crap I had heaped upon them. They appear to have appreciated the advice. Wow, that was a little unexpected.

How about that! I guess advice is a scarce commodity nowadays. Well, it turns out I've got plenty of that. Hey, I'm old, I've been around, this is not my first hayride. Wanna see my scars?

So, I gave them some specifics about what to do under certain circumstances and how to approach relationships with their future boss. These are all things I've learned under years of pressure and duress and attempted intimidation and distress and hated. You know, the usual.

And at the end I told them my Four Rules which I developed over the years by watching patterns. It used to be Three Rules but I noticed over time that there were some outliers when I tried to make everything fit. These four pretty much cover business and life in general.

Rich's Four Rules

1. Take care of the people who take care of you

Build relationships that last. If you're twenty years old, you may begin a relationship that lasts for sixty years or more. Try to keep your family relationships positive or at least civil even if your relatives are insane. It's hard to argue the thickness of blood especially in tough times. Don't abuse friendships or ignore an outstretched hand. Watch for the signs of an appreciative word, support during a discussion, or someone willing to do more than the usual and then reciprocate.

2. You never know today who you'll be working for tomorrow

If you're getting a promotion or leaving a job or leaving a relationship, suppress the urge to gloat, catcall, ignore, tell off, berate, humiliate or do any other such things to those you are leaving behind. No matter how good you may think it will feel, use a little self control. Because things change. Companies are bought and sold, departments reorganize, friends get better looking and before you know it, the whole structure of the universe is topsy-turvey. And that ex-girl-friend is your new boss.

3. Know your audience

Try to wake up every now and again and look around. See what's happening around you. Notice things. And then do something about what you noticed. If you're talking to someone and they keep looking down and away from you or at their watch, they're NOT LISTENING. STOP TALKING! Pay attention to the reaction of people you're speaking to and if you're not getting the reaction you wanted, do something about it. Geez. Wake up!

4. Know the nature of the beast you are hunting

You want a new job? Well what does the job want from you? Find out what the job expects, do your research, do your analysis. Got a real problem going on? Tough, nasty little bugger, huh? Before diving into the possible solutions, take the problem apart, discover what's at the core. You may be trying to solve a symptom and the real issue is still undiscovered. It might appear to be slowing you down, but that first step back to actually see what's going on helps EVERY TIME.

Sounds simplistic, huh, but the next time you've got something going on apply the applicable rule and the rule will get you though it. Bluto used these rules and he ended up a United States Senator. And so can you. If that's what you want.


Rich's Four Rules
are for educational and enlightenment purposes only. Don't come bitching to me if they don't work for you, you probably used them wrong. Besides, I didn't charge you anything, did I? Well, DID I? So just take your complaint down the hall and remember Rule Number 1.