Great Lakes MotorSports

An Aviation Journey…

On the day of the last flying club general meeting I’ll be attending (as I’m dropping out of that club), I’m reviewing my logbook.  Just over 300 hours total time, with just under 300 hours of the in single engine land airplanes.  While the trips/vacations were great fun, the journey to the certificates was the real adventure.  My interest had been there my entire life, but had been deferred for many years for a number of reasons.  Let’s focus on the training portion, joining this journey right at the beginning of the actual training.

A relative had recommended an instructor up at KTTF, so that’s where I started.  I gave them a call and the recommendation was to start with a ground school class that was just forming.  As I recall it wasn’t too terribly long, perhaps a couple weeks, and I was off to that first class full of excitement!  I arrived at the airport and found my way to the classroom.  A couple other students were already there, and several more trickled in as we waited.  Everyone was abuzz with the excitement of finally moving forward on our dreams of flight.  Some students had waited years, saving up money the whole time, others were more like me and had just recently decided to go for it.  Well, we waited.  Then we waited some more.  Finally, we decided to call the instructor and find out what was going on.  It turns out that the class was cancelled!  Not only had no one told us, but the reason was astonishing!  We were told there were not enough students to make it economically worthwhile for him.  How that could be, I did not understand as there were about a dozen of us in a room with perhaps 20 seats at most.  I’ve had much smaller college classes!  We were told that maybe another class might be forming in another couple months.  That right there ended my time with that first instructor as I found the whole situation unacceptable…

On the way home from KTTF that night after deciding that I would not be returning, I was pondering my options.  About halfway home I remembered KDUH was on the way.  Not knowing if they were open or not, I figured I’d take a chance and stop in.  It’s a small place, but they were open and very friendly.  I walked out of there that night signed up for a free ground school, with a Cessna ground school package in hand, and signed up for a flight lesson with what would now be my second instructor (Mark)!  This was the most exciting time, in just a couple short months I made a ton of memories!  Being out of work at the time I had the flexibility of scheduling the training flights in the late mornings that Autumn when the weather was often beautiful.  Flying in a Cessna 172 also gave great views, with the wings not blocking the ground.  However, the airlines conspired to add a new challenge.  After completing ground school, and roughly 15 flight hours in, the airlines came calling and hired away ALL the flight instructors…

A couple months later, KDUH finally managed to line up another instructor for me to fly with.  Instructors were very hard to come by for awhile, and the focus was on getting students done that were closer to checkride time.  Myself being so early in the process had to wait.  While the waiting was a bit annoying, my experience so far had been good, so I waited.  Finally, a new instructor was found, so 15 hours in and on my third instructor!  Unfortunately, I never really meshed with that new instructor.  We did a couple of hours of ground school that didn’t go too well.  Flew one flight, which also didn’t go that great.  Some instructor/student pairings just don’t work out well and you have to know to move on.  The bad news was that there were no other instructors there to move to.

At the recommendation of a friend I then looked into a flying club over at KTDZ.  There were four active flight instructors there at the time, so I looked at the list and started with the one that had the most impressive collection of ratings.  We got together, talked for awhile, discussed my goals, his availability, and decided to move forward.  So, here I am now still under 20 hours and am just signing up with my fourth instructor, Tom!  I also transitioned to a low wing Piper Warrior as I always liked the looks of them (more like the “real” airplanes in the books I read growing up).  By then I was also working again, so had to stick to the evening time slot for training.  Great Lakes region evenings are not the best time to be flying as that’s when the thunderstorms like to roll through.  There was many a cancelled flight.  Despite being on the schedule twice a week there were times I only flew once in a month!  Still, there were also good weeks when I flew twice.  Finally, it was checkride time!

After passing the checkride, I made a point to getting checked out in the rest of the club airplanes and working on cross country hours so I could get started on the instrument rating “upgrade”.  Along the way I met and flew with my fifth instructor (Dave).  The bulk of my instrument training was with Tom, but I did fly with Dave too occasionally.  Notably, Dave was the last person I flew with right before my instrument checkride.  I had gotten signed off by Tom and decided, the evening before checkride day, to get a few extra takeoffs and landings in the airplane (Liberty XL2), since it’s pretty pitch sensitive and I wanted to be at my best.  The airplane failed that night, as the fancy FADEC system decided it did not want the engine to run right.  Dave happened to be at the field and graciously volunteered to go up with me in the trusty ol’ Warrior so I could get the feel for it and take the checkride in it instead the next day.  I hadn’t flow it in awhile, but I did have most of my primary training in it.  Switching airplanes at the last minute like that made me very nervous, but Dave got me through the practice checkride flight, and the DPE seemed to think that the last minute change wouldn’t be more than I could handle.  He made the point that the certificate didn’t say what kind of airplane it was good for and that I very well could be in that one for my first real solo IMC flight (as it turns out, that came to pass…).

That checkride under my belt and I spent the time to get my High Performance Endorsement in the club Cherokee 6.  Definitely a good experience as it requires more planning, and things happen faster.  Many fun trips were had at this point as I finally felt like I could exercise these hard won privileges!

Finally, after not doing much more than keeping up on currency requirements, I decided I needed to do something more.  The Complex endorsement was my choice.  No club airplanes met the requirements, so I started looking around.  Finally over at KUSE I found a couple.  A C172RG and a Piper Twin Comanche…  Not being a fan of the performance of a retractable 172, I signed up with instructor number six, Tijmen “Tim” to get my complex in a twin!  It was such an enjoyable experience flying that Twin Comanche that I went ahead and did the multi-engine checkride!  A bit expensive, but since it doesn’t take that many hours it was reasonable.

Upon reaching this point, there wasn’t a whole lot more to do locally.  There are many more ratings, but either we don’t have the aircraft available locally (think seaplane or airship), or they’re extremely expensive and thereby out of the running (helicopter).  Upgrading from Private Pilot to Commercial is something I also pursued, but only briefly and half-heartedly as it required a lot more dedicated flight hours and retractable gear airplanes.  I didn’t mind driving all the way out to KUSE for the few hours that the Complex and Private AMEL took, but to do that for all the hours I’d need for my Commercial, well, that was just going to be too much.  So, went back to KDUH and flew with instructor number 7, Nick, to get a glass panel checkout.  So, back to the first place I flew, back to a C172, but this time with advanced avionics!  Felt like being back at home and I enjoyed how much closer to home it is than any other place!

Now, back to the beginning where I’m leaving the flying club.  This is not the end of the journey, but simply a change in direction.  I found myself not flying (and not learning/growing) anymore.  KTDZ, where the club airplanes are located, is not convenient for me at this time and the extra drive time really killed my desire to go flying.  I also hate to rent airplanes closer to home when spending the money on monthly dues out at the club.  Despite loving my flying club, I have to leave it in order to be free to fly…

DIGITAL BAND (guide..not official) PLAN FOR VHF/UHF

Courtesy of W8TER:

This is NOT an official band plan but a guide for most “normal” digital activity and areas will vary in different places so please use common courtesy and if you are unsure ask local operators and or listen…..but never run digital on the SSB/CW calling frequencies or the EME subbands

6 Meters CW/SSB/Digital
50.060-50.080 CW Beacons (unattended sub-band)
see: <>
50.080-50.100 CW QSO’s
50.100-50.125 DX Window
50.110 DX Calling Frequency
50.125 North American SSB Calling Frequency
50.133-50.430 Voice Nets see: <>
50.255 FSK441 lower practical limit for most QSO’s
50.260 FSK441 Calling Frequency
50.265 JT-65
50.285 FSK441 upper practical limit for most QSO’s
50.290 PSK31 (USB)
50.291 PropNET (with +1500hz PSK audio)
50.293 WSPR
50.300 or 50.700 RTTY?
50.620 Packet Calling Frequency
6 Meters 
50.680 SSTV 

2 Meters CW/SSB/Digital
144.00-144.05 EME (CW)
144.05-144.06 Propagation beacons (old band plan)
144.06-144.10 General CW and weak signals
144.10-144.20 EME and weak-signal SSB
144.140 WSJT FSK441/JT44 calling frequency
144.110 to 144.160 WSJT FSK441 or JT44 (around this area)
144.131 PropNet +1500hz PSK audio)
144.200 National SSB calling frequency
144.20-144.30 General SSB operation, upper sideband
144.275-144.300 New beacon band
2 Meters FM Digital modes
145.500 SSTV (National SSTV Simplex FM Frequency) 
145.550 FM PSK31, Hellschreiber 

70 Centimeters CW/SSB/Digital
420.00-426.00 ATV repeater or simplex with 421.25 MHz video carrier control links and experimental
426.00-432.00 ATV simplex with 427.250 MHz video carrier frequency
432.00-432.07 EME (Earth-Moon-Earth)
432.07-432.08 Propagation beacons (old band plan)
432.08-432.10 Weak-signal CW
432.100 70 cm calling frequency
432.11-432.20 WSJT JT44/FSK441 ?
432.150 SSB PSK
432.10-433.00 Mixed-mode and weak-signal work
432.30-432.40 New beacon band
441.000 Packet Calling Frequency

Where to work?

I’ve been staying on the fringes of the tele-work vs. office working conversation so far, just offering up a couple instances of tele-work usage.  Now it’s time to dip a little further into some of the issues.  No need to panic, this will NOT be an exhaustive survey of issues, just a rambling of thoughts in regards to recent headlines.

Yahoo’s current argument is to bring tele-workers back into the office environment.  I can go along with that at least part way.  I do gain personal benefit from chance encounters in the office.  However, there are 2 major problems (conceptual, rather than the location/talent reasons that everyone and their brother has already trotted out) that result from doing this as an all or nothing shift.

1) While it’s all fine and good to have these chance encounters, they come about due to distraction and interruption.  Distraction and interruption are the enemy of completing projects!  So, in essence, you can come up with a lot more ideas of things to do, but then you can’t actually get any of them done.

2) The typical role of management is to prevent people from wandering away from their desks.  That makes it pretty hard to have all those great chance encounters.  Furthermore, preventing them is done by continually observing and interrupting people.  So, you’re both actively preventing people from gaining the benefit of interaction while still supplying the damaging interruptions.  Result: If management is doing the (typically defined) job, office workers are both not going to get new idea AND not be able to implement anything.

Certainly not all management is bad.  Quite the opposite, there’s a definite need for management in nearly all organizations.  Having been on both the manager and the maker schedule myself, I’m very aware of how easy it is to get sucked into the classical management discipline though.  As having been a Vice President myself in the past, I still get all kinds of management oriented mailings.  It’s very distressing to read them now that I’m working back on the maker side of things again.  These mailings are chock full of tips and seminars on how to do the very things that destroy productivity and damage morale.  People that really want to become good managers will seek out these papers and events, only to be turned into bad managers (with slightly emptier wallets).  Nobody wants to be THAT person, but the system is setup (because people make money off of it) to do exactly that…

On Local Groups…

No, nothing to do with a cluster of galaxies. Instead, everything to do with clubs/geographic specific web forums/localized groups of people.

There’s one main thing you need to know. Timing is everything. That’s it. Just because you tried and failed 10 times before doesn’t mean anything about now. You (or somebody else) could possibly suddenly be successful with even less effort than was exerted in any previous attempt.

Now, how do you know the timing is right? Well, you can’t ever know for sure. It’s really just dumb luck. Except that once again this dumb luck is disguised as hard work. Do the hard work of continuing to push whatever your group may be. Don’t be afraid to make incremental changes names/styles/designs though. Keeping it fresh gives people new reasons to check in periodically and can increase your chance of success some. However, the primary influence on your success rate still comes down to the community being in the same place (idea-wise) at the same time you are. Make sure you’re there all the time, but don’t kill yourself doing it, you need an effort that can be sustained over the long haul…

LED lighting upgrade, the first light!

I’m really disappointed in LED lighting so far. The issue I have is availability still. Some of the best fixtures to convert (as far as being directional vs. omnidirectional) are the hardest to get bulbs for.

For example, my clip-on desk light that takes R14 bulbs (which are a very common bulb for such uses). Seems like a no-brainer LED conversion. Directional light. Low(ish) power (40w from the stock R14). Direct replacement LED bulbs available? Of course not! That’d be too easy! I’d even settle for a PAR14 (tighter beam) design LED bulb, that should be easier to make, for that fixture. The larger PAR bulbs are readily available in LED. Notably anything with the standard screw base… Just so happens that the common R14 uses the smaller “E17” screw base. So, we’ve got our major stumbling point identified.

What to do? Well, there’s plenty of LED bulbs in similar sizes to the R/PAR14, if you can accept the fact that they use some wonky 2 pin connector (technically the “GU10”). Not terribly helpful for me. I spent a good chunk of time trying to figure out a way to adapt a GUI10 to an E17. Rejoice as it is possible! Thanks to Bulborama (the ONLY place I’ve managed to find one), you can do that adaptation. There is the downside that completed assembly is taller. In my particular case, that’s acceptable though.

In the end, it took a tremendous amount of work (and way too much money) for what it is, but I finally have a working LED desk light!

Telecommuting AAR (After Action Report)

Here’s a few quick notes from some more recent experiences with some telecommuting. One case involves a remote location connected via a fast connection (50 or 100 Mib/s?). Not a lot to say about that as it worked really well as one would expect. The other is the opposite case, a DSL circuit of 1.2 Kib/s using a VPN back to multiple remote boxes.

On the High speed connection, some servers actually feel more responsive. Screen updates nearly as fast as sitting at my desktop. Videos are laggy, but usable.

Now, over to the low speed connection, screen refresh noticeable on full screen draws.
Typing/moving text has only the slightest hint of latency, which I got used to after about 15 minutes. Unable to test VNC connection as my Macbook Pro blew up and was a guest at the MacCafe that day. No Machine client works really well for Linux.

Wasn’t planning on doing home work that particular day (but ended up doing so due to impending snow storm), so had to make a space to work. Shoved all my soldering gear to the side of my secondary office desk so I had room for the computer. Moved to the couch for awhile later on. Ultimately ended up back at the desk.

If you build up a static charge and grab this Lenovo by the side (by the VGA connector), you’ll zap it and it’ll reboot.

A SIP softphone might be handy. Or, perhaps the professional version of Skype for group meetings over the web (free version is limited in that regard). Skype seemed to work real well even with this pretty limited bandwidth (about the slowest we’d see at any residence in the area).

Didn’t have to worry about weather conditions throughout the day while I was working. Was more focused.

Wunderlist is the one major performance exception as it’s horrible over RD.

Only having 1 screen makes some things harder, such as trying to configure a full screen server from a PDF document. However, it’s easier to avoid distraction with only 1 screen too…

I can see working from home being employed as a standard 20% operation, as well as a precaution on bad weather days. Overall productivity goes up, but availability to others is down (despite all our remote options… There’s something to be said for a physical presence, so you would not want to be offsite all the time).

Only major performance issues were Wunderlist (which is terribly slow as a desktop app and website) and certain websites which are slow to bring back via remote desktop. In the case of the websites, those can easily be done locally instead of via the RD session. Wunderlist can be done as a website locally as well instead of dragging it back over RD. All the applications that I wanted to avoid installing multiple places worked just fine over RD, so the basic “terminal” concept is good even with minimal bandwidth (however, zero bandwidth would be a deal breaker).

On making football work on TV

I’ve got 2 proposals to make American football less annoying for TV viewers. We need to solve the problems of games running over (resulting in missing end of games, start of next games, etc.). The current situation is completely unacceptable and needs to change. It’s not the 1920’s anymore…

First off, overtime needs to go. As in gone, completely. None of those weird rules that nobody understands anymore, just no more OT. If you have 2 teams that can play a full game without gaining an advantage, too bad, they both lose. No “half wins”, nothing. You’re done, you’re both losers, and you failed to secure a win, just like the real world. No exceptions for playoffs and championships. Tie a playoff, guess what, the next rung up somebody gets a free day as nobody moved up to play against them. Doesn’t count as a “win” for them as they didn’t have to play, but they move up anyways since they didn’t lose. If the championship ends up with only one team, well, they just won by default by making it to the top without losing. If the championship ends in a tie, well, they’re both losers, nobody gets the championship that year. Try again next year.

Secondly, it’s time to take a cue from some of the more forward thinking automotive racing series where events are hard time limited. It’s a 2 hour race, that’s all you get. Red flag for 1.5 hours, too bad. You still end at the same time. Make the football games 3 real time hours long. Replace “quarters” with 15 minute periods. Play as many as you can fit. Last period probably is NOT going to fit. Hit the hard total time limit, you’re done at the end of the play (if you’re in one, otherwise you’re done right then).

Let’s get this done, no excuses!

MPG – You’re doing it wrong…

I’m getting real tired of hearing people whining about the MPG ratings of cars.  I repeatedly hear that they’re unrealistic, supposedly nobody can get that good of gas mileage out of these vehicles.  Those ratings have been recently redone to be more realistic than they used to be (with realistic meaning “pessimistic” in this context).

Well, guess what whiny people, I *always* get better gas mileage than the sticker suggests.  Typically 25% better in normal city/commuting driving across all our cars, even on the oldest car in our fleet (now 22 years old, from back when the estimates were less in my favor), without doing any fancy hypermiling tricks!  This suggests to me that perhaps it’s not the cars that have the issue.  Observations of others while out and about as well as a few conversations seems to confirm those suspicions.

–          If it’s really cold out, yes it’s bad to just jump in the car and take off at full power immediately.  This does NOT mean that you need to use a remote starter and let it run for 15 minutes before getting in it.  Start your car, brush the snow off, and listen to the engine to make sure it’s not still at some obscenely high RPM, then put it in gear and start driving gently until it’s warmed up.  Keep the RPMs reasonable and the load low (as much as is practicable, do whatever’s necessary in the case of an emergency).  The engine will warm up just fine that way and you won’t be wasting tons of gas sitting still.

–          If you find yourself swerving in and out of traffic while alternately punching the gas and brakes, you’re doing it wrong…  Most likely you are trying to force a speed that traffic is not able to maintain.  You may make small gains in position, but at great costs in gas mileage (as well as frustration).  Often you’ll see that the vehicles that do NOT do all this extra effort end up catching you or even passing you by later on anyways.

–          If you’re using the brakes very much, you’re failing to plan ahead.  Brakes take all that energy that you paid for (in gas) to get going and turn it into waste heat (and the need for new brakes eventually).  Brakes are critical for emergencies and for making it to a stop without running a light/sign.  If you’re using them at times other than this, you’re likely to just be wasting energy.  In the case of obvious stops, most times you should be able to only use them lightly.  If you find yourself roaring up to stop lights and jamming on the brakes, you’re failing at both looking ahead and planning.  The penalty you will pay is in MPG and other mechanical costs.

–          Speed in excess of the speed limit costs you more as well.  Plan your trips with realistic enroute times.  The drive won’t take but a small percentage longer, yet it’ll be much calmer, fun, and less expensive (in MPG, general operating costs, and tickets).

–          Learn to use entrance/exit ramps and merge properly.  It’s supposed to be a smooth flowing operation where you join in with other traffic.  If brakes or heavy acceleration are involved, you’ve failed at planning ahead.  This is a busy time, definitely not the time to be chatting on a cellphone.  People that are way better drivers than you know to put the phone down, so you should too (no, you are NOT special in that regard, get over yourself).

At this point you should be catching on to a theme here…  Plan ahead and avoid unnecessary distractions to minimize wasting energy.  There’s certainly more little tricks available (you *are* properly maintaining your vehicle already, right?), but the bulk of the savings is right there in those 2 simple items.

My Software Toolsets

There’s really 3 major software stack categories that I find myself working in these days (well, more like 2.1 really, as it’s special as you’ll see). Thought I’d do a quick rundown on them after a couple recent discussions on development software. I’ve also read a number of articles and many forum questions from people that can’t possibly imagine the need for more than one (which is, of course, their favorite).

I’m currently spending most of my days in Java. That’s to be expected when working at Java shops! It’s a good solid language, with great libraries, and great (well, other than Apple’s, which is finally getting better now) virtual machines for cross-platform compatibility. The cross-platform stuff really does work. It’s an exceptionally rare occasion when I do something that isn’t cross-platform compatible. Even then, the majority of the time I find a way to make it compatible eventually (as in “I finally find a library routine that does what I originally wrote myself to call to the OS”). Most of the development time is in the Swing arena, since it’s primarily desktop apps and I dislike adding third party utilities unless necessary. Web side it’s in JSF, for the same reason as Swing on the desktop side. It’s all solid, reliable stuff. Not flashy perhaps, but gets the job done without the drama of going to a full-blown JEE app. Being able to drag and drop libraries/code between desktop and web side is also great. No real ugly surprises anywhere. One place where I have stepped outside of the pure Sun/Oracle environment is to add Clojure to my standard bag of tricks. It’s a really well done language, and running on the JVM makes it very useful. I’m not one to rewrite all kinds of crazy stuff in it though, I keep it to things that really make sense. In this case, it’s some occasional experimentation with ideas via the REPL and doing some of my more complex mathematical code. Really good IDEs are available as well. Eclipse is a bit bloated these days, but is still a good choice. Overall I prefer Netbeans right now as it’s still pretty fast and supports nearly everything I’ve ever wanted. All in all, a very good stack for common business use, especially where the OS may not be standard across desktops.

My .Net usage has been fairly limited, mostly just some quick updates on web sites that others have done, plus a couple mobile apps back the bad old days of CE, and a handful of small desktop apps over the years (including some recently). I’ve run into some weird library issues over the years, but other than that it’s also a very solid platform. C# is my favorite generic language in the family, but I’ve worked with the VB side as well. F# is also handy (for the same reasons as Clojure on the JVM), but just doesn’t fit me quite as well. Desktop, CLI, and web apps are all well supported here. The Visual Studio IDE is certainly usable, but I find it a bit clunky compared to Netbeans. With the current rate of improvement though, it may well surpass Netbeans in a couple years. I’m expecting to be doing more work in this stack in the future.

– Other (ADW Modula-2, MASM32, project specific & domain specific (SQL, etc))
Then, of course is my “random stack”. Actually just a collection of other pieces of development software that I still find myself using occasionally. C++ (via gcc) falls into this category even though my usage is pretty rare these days. I really haven’t had any time to work on the C++ based open source project that I’m involved with. About all I get the time to do is update, compile, and test! MASM32 has come in handy a couple times now recently (again, I used MASM a lot back in the day). Great for knocking out some quick code where you really need to see how the hardware/software calls are going. Combine it with OllyDbg and you’ve got a great setup for that kind of thing. I also went back to another language from the past, Modula-2. Needed to knock out a couple of quick 64-bit (so MASM32 would’nt work) Windows apps and didn’t have money to spend. After searching around for awhile, I ran across the (recently released as freeware) ADW Modula-2 compiler. Hey, I know (and like) that language! So, that became part of my toolkit as well. Obviously there also domains specific languages which fall into here (and also support above stacks as well). SQL, javascript, etc don’t need their own whole discussion, you know where they fit.

So, that’s it, just a quick rundown on the major toolset divisions I look at when I’m working with a project. What’s yours?

Thoughts on Telecommuting

Having gained some experience with telecommuting over the last few years I thought I’d put a few of my observations out on the web for discussion. In addition to quite a bit of reading about other’s experiences, I’ve gradually transitioned from always being on-site to being mixed on-site/telecommuting at DoX Systems over the past 4+ years. I’ve reached the point of being primarily remote as far as number of times I “go to work”, but my actual hours spent “at work” tend to run about equal on-site vs. remote. Over at Service Spring Corporation, I’ve been almost completely on-site. However, with multiple locations now, we’ve been forced to build some of the telecommuting infrastructure. While not a true telecommuting situation I do get a lot of benefit from being able to go out to someplace other than my office. I can directly observe the work being done while still having full (well, not quite, but getting closer) access to the resources of the office.

Some of the “pros” of telecommuting that I’ve observed are:

– Company cost savings from space, heat, and power usage reductions. Space savings can come through hoteling or shared workspaces, but this is a difficult concept to implement without just re-enacting the tradgedy of the commons. Group work areas are a way to ease into this. If you’ve got the right set of people, it can be made to work. I’m not entirely convinced that full-blown hoteling can ever work though. Making distinctly individual work areas, but not allowing customization just goes against how people function. If the area is designed as a purely group area it’s more natural and doesn’t bring up all the same territorial issues.

– Despite the “home office” costs, there can be a personal cost savings as well. Consider the fact that a simple office building move that I’m involved with now will cut my drive in half and save me 6,000 miles a year (or $3,000 a year at $0.50 a mile). Add in all the extra hours of commuting time that you save and there’s a lot of time/opportunity gains to be had personally as well (6 full DAYS worth of time for me!). Telecommuting 100% of the time would double my savings.

– So far the couple of studies I’ve read claim measurable productivity enhancements. Interesting as most other supposed productivity enhancing plans actually show a decrease for office/knowledge workers (examples: overtime, 4 – 10’s, “Summer hours”). Conventional wisdom for telecommuting increasing productivity is that it’s due to being able to set up the work environment exactly as needed, rather than as corporate policy (and budget) dictates. I suspect it’s mostly due to the ability to self-structure time into blocks. Our tasks are not in the same discrete bock size as piece/part operators. I may need 2 hours solid to code something. During that time, any interruption is a severe setback and at the end I may need a break. Or, it could be a 45 minute block that’s needed. Either way, the random interruption of the office setting not only disturbs the process in motion but it discourages one from even starting longer blocks. Also, being able to walk away when “brainfried” and do something else is a big benefit. You can come back in an hour or two ready to go again instead of sitting there struggling (which just makes things worse) and wasting the rest of the day.

– Attracting new talent becomes easier. While a full-blown telecommuting arrangement is not required, both the hot experienced talent out there and the fresh talent coming out of school expect it. There’s an expectation among the best of the workforce that not just are the hours flexible, but that the location must be as well. If you want to capture and/or retain talent, that’s the path that must be taken. It also opens up the talent pool much wider as you no longer have to recruit locally or try to convince a distant recruit to pack up and move close (often with the company shouldering the burder of the move costs). Furthermore it avoids the possibility of paying for the recruit’s move, only to have them become discontent. If discontent, they may quit costing you all the hiring expenses. If locked into a contract, they’ll just continue working unhappily. Unhappy employees are not typically among the best performers…

– It’s easy to do quick pop-in and fix jobs. Instead of work piling up into large piles that are harder to tackle, all while the customers are kept waiting, it can be handled in small chunks from whereever, whenever. This makes the worker feel better at the same time as providing better service to the customer. The company looks better as well making it a win-win-win.

On the other hand, there are some negatives to the telecommuting arrangement that need to addressed:

– Lack of face time with co-workers can impede collaboration. Sometimes works is just best done face to face. There’s also a risk of being forgotten. Mostly just an issue if you’re the only one that’s telecommuting. If it’s part of the culture and everyone does it, it’s less of a problem.

– Managing by tracking results rather than purely time in seat is a hard problem. Time in seat is not a good metric to begin with for knowledge workers, but at least it’s easily measured at the office. There are applications being put forth to do the same thing remotely, typically by keeping track of open applications or web sites surfed. It certainly will weed out a few, but doesn’t solve the root cause. Ultimately better metrics and decision making processes must be integrated into the business, and that’s both tricky and time consuming.

– Controlling equipment is another challenging problem. There’s always a tug of war between accessibility and security. Even in the office “Bring Your Own Device” is running up against corporate policies. Moving outside the corporate walls also brings up problems of who owns the equipment, who verifies it’s secure, what happens when damage occurs/who carries the insurance, how is access restricted/equipment recovered in the event of a separation of employment that goes bad. How’s the personal/corporate data split handled? Corporate data on home PCs is risky. Separate machines for home/business are inconvenient. Personal data on corporate PCs has problems as well. It may just require a better HR screening process than the standard office environment needs.

Some of the ideas I’ve been working with in regards to handling the challenges of the modern work environment include:

– Still maintain some office hours. This gives people a predictable time and location to find you for when they just really have to see you. This doesn’t mean the hours can’t be flexible. Publish a calendar with blocks of time and locations if you can’t commit to a regular schedule.

– Out of office meetups, in locations you’d normally have/want to go anyways. Meet up places for lunch/work sessions to keep some face time. Keep it local most of the time/small groups of people that live in the same general area. Occasionally go out of the nearby area so as not to lose track of those further away. Mix it in with errands that take you across town anyways.

– Video conferencing instead of phone calls to maintain contact. Video calls are much more personal than audio only. The phone is a very cold, distant device. A cheap webcam on the computer can enable much richer communication. Online whiteboarding/screen sharing is even better, but just adding video is the biggest gain.

Hopefully I’ve given you something to chew on as the world continues to move towards a better way to work for all!


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