Archive for August 2013

Star Trek, Time Warner Cable and CBS

Recently, the Star Trek site uploaded just about all the episodes up to their site. So now you can watch almost every episode of every series.

Unless you live in Austin, Texas.

I have not seen every episode of every series. I have never owned a TV, so there is a lot of geekdom that I have not seen. Until I watched Enterprise online, I had never seen an episode. There is a lot of Deep Space Nine that I have never seen, and I do not think I have ever watched a whole episode of Voyager.

I know that I could probably watch all of it on Netflix or Hulu, but I hate to spend money. After watching Enterprise, I thought that if I waited, perhaps CBS would put all of it online.

And they did.

But I cannot watch them. CBS and Time Warner cable are having a pricing dispute. Every time I go to watch, I get a message telling me to call Time Warner cable. I think the blackout is also affecting a few other cities.

I am currently working a contract job, so in addition to my usual frugality, I have the specter of another bout of unemployment staring me in the face. It would be really great if Time Warner cable and CBS could patch things up.

I went to the Star Trek web site at work to see if it is blocked there. The video started normally. I did not watch it. I did not think that coming in on the weekends to watch Voyager would go over well. So either my employer is getting broadband from another company, or business broadband is not affected. I don’t think any local coffeeshops would be too pleased with me watching it at any of their establishments either. They generally do not seem to have the fastest networks, and video can be a real hog.

Perhaps it is time to get the Android tablet I have been thinking about.

Image from Memory Alpha, copyright owned by CBS, assumed allowed under Fair Use.

More Fallen Business Idols: Microsoft

It was announced recently that Steve Ballmer will be retiring as CEO of Microsoft. There are a lot of articles on the web-tubes about all the trends that Microsoft missed in the past decade, and all the things he did wrong.

One of them relates to one of my posts about Fallen Business Idols. One of the fallen idols is Jack Welch. The connection here is that one of the things that many people cited that went wrong under Ballmer is what some call “stack ranking“. The idea is that you rank employees. Two get the highest ranking, seven get the good ranking, and one gets the low ranking. The idea is that if someone keeps ranking low, they are eventually fired.

On the surface, it seems to make sense. If someone is not doing well, let them go. But what if everyone is dong well?

The problem is that these numbers are kind of set in stone. When I was at one of the Too Big To Fail banks, they introduced this. Some call it “rank and yank”. I was put in the middle. I know of one guy who told me that his manager told him that he was going to get the low rank because the manager had to put someone in that low rank. The 2/7/1 structure is not a guideline (some companies may use different proportions). It is a requirement. But the idea is that someone must be flagged as an underperformer, even if they are doing well.

I even asked a manager about this. What if you think that nobody deserves to get the boot? He said that someone must get that rank. He was a few levels up in the hierarchy. Drone territory.

What is interesting is that according to the Vanity Fair article linked above is that people would avoid working with the top developers. I have been in technology for about 15 years, and generally technology people like to work with people who are smarter than they are in order to learn more. If you are unintentionally forcing people to scale down their ambitions, then you are doing something wrong. Slate also writes about this rank and yank system.

I also knew someone at a hedge fund in Chicago who said that someone on his team was let go because, well, someone had to be let go. That was the policy. Fire some people every year. Because they are Big Tough Guys, and they aren’t afraid to fire someone. Logic be damned.

What does this have to do with GE? GE pretty much started it. Or at least made it famous. A lot of people did things just because GE did them. A lot of people would point to the earnings and the stock price as proof that GE was right. The Big Picture blog has a few links to articles refuting the infallibility of GE. (A link to a Forbes article was not formatted properly; correct link is here.) Even during Welch’s heyday, many people thought that GE Capital was a magical slush fund. So maybe this accounting fraud hid a lot of dysfunction and bad practices, including this one.

Another reason that GE was able to get away with this was that GE acquires companies all the time, so there will be more churn. But if you are not always buying new companies, then at some point your staff should stabilize. If you are still getting rid of 10% of your staff after four years of this, perhaps you need to look at your hiring process.

Also: GE stopped this practice after Jack Welch left GE. I think that says a lot.

If you want bizarre images of Steve Ballmer, check out the Fake Steve Ballmer blog. Some of them are pretty funny.

Image from Wikimedia, assumed allowed under Fair Use


Thoughts On Crazy Conservatives

I have stated on this site that I think a lot of conservatives are pathological. Nothing is ever conservative enough, and each thinks that THEY are the only TRUE conservative.

Now we are seeing that the Tea Bagger voters are upset that the guys they sent to Congress are “waffling”, or “not conservative enough”, or, as some might put it: realizing that not everybody in the country agrees with you. One article about this was published in The Guardian.

Another was published in The American Prospect. I think the last paragraph is a nice summary:

As many a Republican politician will tell you (ask Marco Rubio, for one), convincing the Tea Party that you’re sufficiently conservative and that you hate Barack Obama enough isn’t just a full-time job, it’s a game that almost everyone will eventually lose. At some point you’ll take some position or express some opinion that is interpreted as less than maximal anti-Obamaism, and all it takes is one slip to be declared a traitor forevermore.

But I have an issue with the last sentence: So as crazy as Republican politicians sometimes seem, don’t forget that they’re under constant pressure from a base that is even crazier.

I wonder what was going through the author’s head when he wrote that. Are we supposed to have sympathy for these Tea Bagger congressmen? They chose to suck up to the crazies. Some of them bad-mouthed people who did not vote for them, or Democrats/liberals in general. And now they are choosing to not stand up to the Tea Baggers.


A while back I mentioned the Texas Tribune Tribcast. I got through the first half of 2013 about a week ago. They also make the Tea Baggers sound pretty crazy. The TB’s don’t want to spend any money or raise any taxes. Two of the big issues in the past regular session and the special sessions were transportation and water. As I have stated on this site, lower taxes are nice, but they are not the answer to all the world’s problems. Neither is cutting spending. Cutting taxes won’t repair roads, and cutting spending won’t make it rain more.

Usually when you want to deride someone for magical thinking, you say, “XYZ does not just fall from the sky.” In the case of rain, it does fall from the sky. However, you have no way of making it fall when and where you need it to.

Image from Wikimedia, assumed allowed under Fair Use. Because Tea Parties are for little children with imaginary friends.

Ideology does not trump reality.

A Comment About Engineering Schools

I didn’t think anybody paid any attention to this site, but I might be wrong.

I got a comment on my Contact Page about a site called Electrical Engineering Schools. I guess it is a guide to electrical engineering schools. I found a way to move the comment, so I moved it to this post.

I was sent a link to a page called Electricity 101. It has sites about electricity, including some about utilities. I am always looking for more sites about energy.

Image from University of Illinois website, assumed allowed under Fair Use. Plus, as someone who was an Illinois taxpayer for a couple of decades, I did help pay for it.

My Comment on a Post at The Immoral Minority

There was yet another post about atheism at The Immoral Minority recently. Someone (presumably a theist) asked Richard Dawkins, “What if you are wrong?”

He points out that anybody could be wrong, and that most people believe in the religion that is dominant in their culture.

My comment was:

Another good answer to a christian asking this is: What if YOU are wrong? It amazes me that they never consider this possibility. I think you have to be really arrogant to devote your time to getting other people to changing their mind about religion and admitting they are wrong, but at the same time to never consider the possibility that you could change your own mind.

There was another good comment pointing out that if some god created the world, he had to know the consequences of his act of creation, yet did it anyway. A great response to that is that god frequently sees killing sinners as the solution.

I presume the “consequences” that commenter referred to is the fact that according to most christians (and muslims and possibly other religions as well), most of the people who have ever lived will be tortured for all eternity. Yet christians like to think they have a positive, life-affirming view of things.

If 99% (or so) of humanity living in pain forever is their idea of a positive worldview, what is their idea of a negative worldview?

Image from Wikipedia, assumed allowed under Fair Use.


2013-07 Dividend Income Report

It is time for the dividend income report for July, 2013.

The dividend income for the month was $180.57. The dividend income for the year through the end of July was $1673.29.

The dividend income for July, 2012 was $219.72, and the income for 2012 through July was $1794.53. Perhaps selling the stocks that I sold was not a good idea. I have more cash, but I have less income, and a lot of stocks have pretty high PE ratios.

Here are the stocks:

  • Automatic Data Processing: $24.35
  • Coca-Cola Co: $29.42
  • MDU Resources Group Inc.: $9.31
  • Kimberly-Clark: $43.37
  • Chubb Corp: $9.41
  • Illinois Tool Works: $19.85
  • Piedmont Natural Gas Inc: $17.67
  • Sysco Corp: $15.01
  • RPM International Inc.: $12.18

Image from Wikimedia