The trouble with blogging

For some people blogging appears to come so naturally. They always have something meaningful to say. For me, despite best intentions my blog in recent years has been neglected. I just made a separate post, that was the first post in over a year (a year and twenty two days or so). There must be a better way. Seinfeld had a method for writing called the “chain method,” he would put an X on a calendar each day never wanting to break the chain. This motivated him to write daily. In the same fashion, the habit of writing tends to lend itself to more writing. This is all about habits, its about curating time in my life to take unproductive time and do something useful like writing (blogging). It is with that, that I must re-evaluate my daily routines and make more time to blog integrating that into my daily habits. 

My Relationship with Books

I have always found it facinating the books that people read. Walking into a co-workers office and admiring their collection of paper based knowledge, always curious what I was missing out on. I have always found it hard to find the time to read everything I want. I sometimes find I have more books than an ability to read them. I have bought books that for years have sat lonely on my shelf, waiting for that right time to crack them open. In one case, a friend mentioned a book I should ready. I returned home, hopped onto Amazon only to find Amazon telling my that I had already bought that book (ten years earlier), at that moment, I rose from my chair and walked straight to where that book was on my shelf. For me books are like a form of delayed experience, a reference when I need it. It is rare for me to read fiction, I mostly find myself reading non-fiction but on occasion I might indulge in some form of exceptional science fiction. Usually though its either something to help improve a skill, myself, or my ability to think. I know books make some people more interesting. In some cases a lifetime of books is the assembled knowledge and hours upon hours of dedicated reading. I even got a book on how to read a book, which at the time felt like an oxymoron as if you did not know how to read a book, how would you read a book on that topic? I bought the audiobook. I actually listen to many audiobooks. I have indulged my one other passion for historical biographies of prominent people. Audiobooks enable me to capitalize on the drive time to and from the office. I find that I feel more productive than from listening to music or talking on the phone. I feel like I am pushing forward and making a difference. When I read a story like Bill Gates sitting on the steps outside a class he was missing reading books. I wonder what those books were. I wondered enough that I emailed him. I got a response from his people, mostly they directed me from his foundation to his blog. On his blog they had a reading list, but this was books that were currently recommended. I still have not figured out the answer to my original question. Perhaps someday. Sometimes I find books that other people find amazing — just don’t speak to me. Other times I recommend books to people who I think would greatly enjoy something only to find they could not get into the book. I tend to annoy friends and family when they ask me how to do something and I recommend one or many books to read. Typically they never follow through and often just wanted an answer not a solution. It has occurred to me that books are mostly going away, being replaced with digital formats. Will there come a time that traditional books no longer exist, only their digital forms? Will our grandchildren even remember books? In the same way that we may not remember 8-track tapes, or how our children do not remember pay phones? Some people have their bookshelves reflect who they are as a person, each book having personal meaning. Others collect books almost as a hobby. For me my books represent the things I know and often many things I have forgotten. Some I remember only the decision to buy the book, others I intend to read (hoping the information is still relevant later), still others I find having a special place both as I bonded with the book somewhere in my history and remember fondly the experience of participating with the words on the page.

The world is really round? Is the Virtual Assistant Dead?

So we have all read books on the topic of outsourcing your life (4HWW, TWIF), and they recommend outsourcing tasks that are frankly a waste of your time. I remember sitting in a senior management meeting of a mid-sized company in 2002, the CEO stood on stage and encouraged all his managers to stop making copies leave that to the administrative staff. The intent was to focus efforts on strategic and higher skill related tasks utilizing resources at lower bill rates to do more administrative tasks. Great in concept but does it really work? I can understand in a larger company setting when you have staff supporting you who gets to know you and work with you, there is a certain learning where they can take over some specific tasks with high level direction, in the case of a short term resource or where language may be an issue it seems to be proving that its easier to just do some tasks yourself. In the spirit of GTD (David Allen) you can save up those tasks for a specific context where you knock all those lesser tasks in a moment most appropriate. When Lee Iacocca started work in the eBike startup he shared how in a large company you have many people surrounding you and in a startup you are the resource and you answer your own phone and make your own copies. 

In today’s advanced world, we find ourselves constantly pursuing efficiency. We seek to outperform our contemporaries and we seek to expand our business and personal lives. With Tim Ferris covering Brickwork India and Your Man In India (YMII) / their business has expanded greatly. But as you see in the past 5 years the quality of these concepts has not increased. Increased demand has actually resulted in poor quality. New competition has entered the market ( and often the skill set has decreased to many smaller tasks. In the time you explain what kind of flowers you wanted and where to send them when you could have done it yourself. Perhaps someone could have helped in finding all the options of where to send flowers from (ftd,, pro flowers, etc) and you could have had them review all your discounts available and search for coupons online.. but in the end the cost is not commiserate with the value. 

So where does that leave us? The world is flat yet round? Is it cheaper to find someone locally for $15/hr part-time through Craigslist? Or someone half way around the world where you may have cultural, cognitive, language, and time zone differences? Is there an opportunity for north and south outsourcing yet un-tapped? Where you can take the time-zone factor out? Or is it better to look for resources in areas where wages might be lower but still be domestic and reduce many of those other issues. 

The reason why America had a competitive advantage was the fact that our innovation improved our quality of life at a lower cost, our labor was cheaper, and our ability to do more work for less money increased. Today as India and China have growing educated workforces they have had a cheaper workforce especially in the manufacturing center. Today they also seek to expand that into knowledge work and in many cases this proves to but more cost effective. 

In my experience working on a variety of large and small projects with a variety of regions from the baltics and asia. I have found that most require excessive documentation, hand holding, and extra support. In some cases it takes more resources to get less work. 

In some cases this is the result of using under qualified resources that were over  sold. In other cases its a context issue where you inability to directly manage the resources results in time sharing on the backend where a resource may be working multiple projects and yours may not get the appropriate attention it deserves. In the case of larger companies they may be able to bankroll these resources for staff augmentation and keeping them on longer engagements. This enables a greater focus on the work and organizational knowledge over time. 

As an independent practitioner looking for a part time resource this still leaves a gap. While some have had very good experiences with virtual assistants, many do not and abandon the concept or change companies within a few months. 

So how do you find quality part time resources that are cost effective, reliable, trustable, and well useful? I think the jury is still out, but its definitely an area for someone to emerge to fix that problem. 

Mountain Lion Dictation

Are you getting the AssistantServices.framework bouncing in your dashboard when trying to use dictation in OS X Mountain Lion? This simple fix will get the framework to stop bouncing and for you to see the cool dictation box popup properly.

Edit :  

sudo vi /System/Library/PrivateFrameworks/AssistantServices.framework/Versions/A/Resources/Info.plist

Insert the following between row 4 and 5 (right after <dict>)  : 


Save the file down and you’re all set; double click your fn button and dictate away. 

… and Wegman’s came to town …

The grand opening of the new Wegman’s grocery store near the house opened yesterday. The anticipation had been growing as the store had been under construction for some time… and early November was always far far away. The opening day finally arrived, November 8, 2009. It was mostly a non-event, until I realized Sunday morning that I needed to run out. The normal trek would have led me to a local grocery store if I was in a hurry (Giant or Harris Teeter), but more typically Target or Costco. Then I remembered; Wegman’s opened today, why not go check it out.

I arrived to the surpise of massive traffic jams getting into the parking lot. The first entrance was blocked by police. Routed around the corner I had what appeared to be angry Loudoun County Police officers very authoritatively pointing to move into alternate lanes. This took me around the back of the shopping center to the public parking… (this is where I would park if I was going anywhere but Wegman’s.. still the mini-town center is vacant at the moment). This is where things got interesting… despite the police and traffic routing… I found a parking place fairly quickly… as I walked toward the store I followed the loose line headed for the front. On my way I noticed a courtesey shuttle taking some of the older customers by van.. but it was a beautiful day — I opted to walk.

Approaching the door I passed a builder collecting personal data for a lead list offering up a chance to win a $500 gift card, I almost took my chances till they accosted me with questions like how much does my household make, and what price range of a home do I want to buy… i kept my partially completed entry form and worked my way to the door. At the door I was greeted by a couple of wireless terminals where the store employees happily scanned my Virginia license apparently getting enough information to allow me to "easily" cash checks in their store.. I declined on this feature and instead took my new customer affinity card and headed into the main entrance.

Simply put, it was a zoo. People packed in like sardines. That said this is the biggest store of it’s kind I think I have ever seen. Even more impressive than the Wegman’s on the other end of town. I grabbed the super small cart and found it easy to navigate through traffic, since I had to carry what I bought back to the car… I was on the light load… but I did have my Wegman’s coupon mailer that had free butter and flour… and figured that would be my first items to track down.

So the store was packed, but it was still interesting figuring the layout. This layout was sort of backwards from the other Wegman’s in the area which made it confusing at first to figure out. The people didnt help with the navigation either. Passing through the fresh produce… the auto-watering shelves were cool. The wine and seafood bar was pretty cool… especially as it was packed with people drinking white wine as their seafood was prepared. The indoor and outdoor seating was huge. I found the wine section to be more impressive …

I also noticed the price comparisons. Now there is something to note, I could not go five feet without hearing other customers on the phone saying how great all the prices were. I assume this was promotional and by design to establish a new customer relationship. Regardless, 12-pack soda was $2… they couldnt keep the shelves full. I also started to notice price comparison tags on select products… this product is cheaper than the same product at Costco, Harris Teeter, etc..

The the cheesy jazz band started to play behind the wine bar.. all in all it was an adventure. I spent two hours roaming the store… (and working through the crowds) … check out was seamless other than my new affinity card was not tied to my phone number yet..

All in all it was a great experience, and I will go back. What was most impressive was the attention to every detail and the preparations to drive people into the store and how hard they worked to establish that initial relationship… I applaud Wegman’s for the effort and wish them the best… which from overhearing some employees talking… the numbers for Sunday’s launch were well above projections…

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