Wednesday, August 26, 2009

On Leadership, and Ted

Ted Kennedy's death on Tuesday was not something I wanted to write about (see my blog entry on the man, I didn't write much.), but snarky crap I've read elsewhere, written by people who met the man on occasion, inspired me to write about Ted Kennedy. You'd think a good education would include the advice "if you can't say something nice about someone shut up, especially if they died yesterday". I guess my friend who met Ted missed that day at school.

I admired Ted Kennedy. He was a classic leader.

The only thing one can lead is people. Join the military if that statement confounds you. I did. The military will explain leadership to you clearly. It is people that you lead, in the military or anywhere else.

You can run a corporation, but that's not leadership (although you might lead while running that corporation). You can do many things that are important, but that are not leading - you can manage an enterprise, influence legislation, do complicated surgery, invest in real estate, manage securities for a bank, create new ways to exploit credit card holders, or worse, but none of that is leadership.

Leadership requires that you influence other people's behaviors in a positive way. We could argue about what positive might be, but let's give that a pass.

People follow leaders by choice. That's the trouble, if you can't inspire by your deeds, and less, by your words, you can't lead. People will follow you because they see you doing good, and doing good well.

You don't have to be perfect to lead, and that's good, because none of us are perfect.

If you are not a leader, or are the snarky jerk I mentioned  above, this all might mean nothing to you.

So to Ted  Kennedy. Brilliant leader, flawed human being, like us all. Simply put, he worked to make life better for ordinary people, and he succeeded in a dysfunctional environment, by leading.

Why a brilliant leader? His colleages in the Senate chose to follow him. Why? I suspect because they saw him working hard, knowing the issues, and most importantly, compromising with, and respecting them.

He worked in an era of government that is gone - there's no more compromising in the legislature, because there are no more leaders. It's the end of effective government on the legislative side.

RIP Ted Kennedy

Ted Kennedy sailing his Concordia Schooner 'MYA'

Goodbye to a great man.
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Friday, August 21, 2009

The Two Best Days

Boat owners know that the two best days of their boat owning experience are the day they bought their boat, and the day they sold it. If you have owned a boat big enough to sleep comfortably aboard, you know that there are a lot of reasons for this, and that one of them is what I call Boat Units of Currency (BUCs). A BUC is a one hundred dollar bill. Anything you need for your boat, goods or services, will cost you at least one BUC. It's true. Often, it's many BUCs. If you have unlimited money to throw in a hole in the water then I suppose it's not an issue.

Having just quit my job as a car salesman, I can say that a job is just like a boat - the best two days are first and the last.

Onward.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Observations on the Car Sales World

I've bought cars from dealers, and now I'm selling them at a dealer. My friend Doug was curious about what it's like selling cars. Here's what I've learned.

People pay a little more for cars than I think they might have to. Strong negotiators can win, though. We salespeople want to sell you the car NOW, because we know that if you go away to think about the deal there is only a small likelihood you will return later and purchase the vehicle, so if you push back on price we will try to lower it, to a point. Remember, it has to be advantageous for both sides of any deal, so there is level below which a dealer won't go and will let you walk away.

It's like being in combat being a car salesman. Long periods of boredom punctuated by moments of terror. It isn't terror though, it's the occasional customer, or "up" as we call them. You go out and wait on them, try to learn who they are and what they want or need. In the software development world, it's analogous to the Initial Requirements Discovery and Specification phase of that process, only it's about a car instead of business processes and software.

People will lay down on price. We salespeople are good at convincing them that the price is right. At my dealership, the prices actually are about right. I had no idea, and this was the most surprising thing I've seen.

Your credit score matters. How you look matters. Sales guys look at you carefully, and they look at whether you drive up in a shitbox or not. Successful salespeople won't take "ups", or at least not ones that look like they have crappy credit. Look bad, get bad or no service or be relegated to a newbie salesperson like me - I take any and everybody.

The simple sales process they taught me is just a guy trying to get you to like and trust him, believe that the dealership will treat him well, and lastly buy into the vehicle. The really good salespeople go way beyond that and make a plan for you (and they do it quick) that synthesizes who you seem to be with different specific transitional selling techniques they have, like moving you from looking at a new car to a late model used car to pump you up on price. And they are very good at it. More power to them.

At the end of the day, cars get sold at reasonable prices, at least in my experience at my dealership. It's a lot fairer than I thought.

That's what I know about the car business so far.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Wire Tourism

Bodie Broadus's Corner

Like many other people, I'm a huge fan of The Wire. The show, even though it's much more than a show, was filmed in Baltimore. While I was repossessing vehicles, I spent a lot of time in the city. At some point, I started trying to find the filming locations I was seeing in The Wire. Some were easy to find, many were difficult.

I photographed and documented as many locations as I could find. One of the confusing problems was that much of the first season was filmed at locations on the east side, even though the story was about west side drug dealers. Many locations on the east side were in neighborhoods with a lot of drug dealing going on.

I've often wondered if there would be customers for a tour of Baltimore visiting Wire locations. I know there is interest out there, and maybe fans of the show from out of town would pay to take a tour.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

I'm Selling Cars

I took a job with Heritage Auto Group. They are the tenth largest group in the US, with sixty-five dealerships. They dominate the mid-Atlantic region, and they are big enough to understand and implement some best practices. Example: I went through a week of sales training, which no other dealership I interviewed at offers. The small ones just throw you out there, sink or swim.

If I sell the cars at the rate that I should, I'll make about the same money I was making as a SQL Server database analyst, and that's amazing to me. Also, I won't be sitting in a cubicle wrangling data with no human interaction all day long, which I hate. So far, I've sold one car in two days at work, statistically invalid. I need to do a little better than that, three cars a week, but I'm just starting.

Here's what I've learned so far:

My colleagues, the other sales people, are universally nice folks. They are helpful, smart, have good senses of humor, and are good listeners, all qualities that I think make good sales people. People buy from people they like, and these are likable people.

The sales people don't lie to the customers, or mislead them.

Only two of the sales people wear glasses, even though some are older than me. Odd.

The sales managers (the guys who set and negotiate price, among other things) are smart too. They are also hard-hearted men.

Most people are not "car people". They just want to get from place to place in a vehicle they really don't care much about. Car buying for them is a chore.

People don't like car salesmen, but our mission is to get them to like us. If the customer doesn't come to like you, no sale. There is no real product differentiation between Chevrolet, Ford, Toyota, etc. and preferences for one brand over another are essentially fetishes. The customer buys the sales person, then the car.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Equipment Review Panasonic DMC-FX01

I've used a lot of point and shoot cameras over the years, and I'm always looking for a point and shoot, small camera with a great lens and decent control, i.e. manual mode or at least aperture control. I've also used some higher end camera bodies and some good lenses. What I've carried for the past few years in a Panasonic DMC-FX01, and I really like it.

Back in the film days, I had a lot of point and shoot cameras, the two best being a Yashica T4 and a Ricoh Gr1 (here's a good comparison of the two on photo.net) and I loved them both, but the Gr1 was a better camera, albeit for much more money. The T4 had a brilliant lens for little money, but allowed the photographer no control. The Gr1 a brilliant lens at a better focal lenth, 28mm, and manual control, for a lot of money. I made some good negatives with both.

That's the past, and there are a lot of great digital cameras out there now. The Panasonic DMC-FX01, despite having no manual control, just keeps taking great pictures for me. As with all cameras in this class, indoor photography using flash sucks, so I have another camera for that, but for a carry around, have with you all the time, get the shot camera, this thing is very good. Anyone can make good pictures with a camera like this.

Just use it right. For me that means:

Flash off indoors, mostly. Find a way to stabilize the camera. This was taken with no flash at around 1/4 of a second. I like this picture. I stabilized the camera on the table and used the self timer.














Hand held self portrait. This again with the DMC-FX01. Not bad for a hand held self portrait. We're outside, so flash is on. This photo is overexposed by about 1/2 a stop, but it's OK other than that. No one asked you about the goggles or the helmet.


















Here I'm just banging away, and accepting the camera's exposure. It's fine, a decent compromise that works for the subject matter. Again, this is just amateur documentary photography and a photo like this works just fine for me.

If you are like me and you want a camera you can carry nearly all the time, but you want good results, the DMC-FX01 or something like it is wonderful. There are great posh point and shoots that offer more control if you want to spend a lot more money. But my point is that if you think even a little bit about how to use your cheaper point and shoot camera, you can get good results. You don't need an expensive rig to make some fine, useable photos.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Eggs

Sometimes you want eggs for dinner.

I remember when I was a boy struggling at St. George's school in Newport, RI my dad would come out from the cape and take me to lunch. We often went to the Black Pearl and it was always great.

Once, we had our Sunday lunch at a French place in town called La Petite Auberge. Typical French fare and they had eggs benedict, which I ordered. Dad ordered it too, and it was good.

I make eggs benedict sometimes, and poach the eggs in my brilliant Williams Sonoma egg poacher, but it's a pain in the ass, and sometimes more than I want to do. So how about eggs on corned beef hash? It was a staple on my boat in my cruising days, and it's easy and good.

I cook the hash (Hormel, never Libby's which is awful) the way Julia Child says to, so it forms a nice crisp crust. Flip it however you can, like a pancake, and do the other side. Reserve.

You can fry the eggs, but I poach them at low heat in vegetable oil. I get perfect whites and perfectly raw yolks. It's the yolks mixing with the hash that makes this dish a good thing.

I did mention that this blog can have a bit of a mundane bent.

Eggs, poaching gently in oil

What about the eggs benedict? Simple. I do it this way:

  • Perfectly poached eggs ( I use the Williams-Sonoma poacher for this dish)
  • White toast
  • Perfect Hollandaise Sauce. Recipes are everywhere, and it's simple to make.
  • Smoked Salmon
Assemble as usual substituting the toast (cut off the crust) for the traditional english muffins, and the salmon for the canadian bacon. It's a much more elegant eggs benedict.

First, Do No Harm

Primum non nocere is Latin for "First, do no harm". It's part of the Hippocratic Oath, which all doctors in the USA swear.

Clearly, the Republicans don't swear an oath like that one. There are 48 million or so Americans without health insurance, and the Republicans remain the bought and paid for party, or, as they put it, the party of business. They and their surrogates are doing everything they can to make sure that there will never be any competition for their real constituency, the insurance and pharmaceutical industries (and the rest of corporate America), and that those 48 million people will remain uninsured. All that while the corporate gatekeepers to our medical care work hard to deny treatment to you and me.

The insurance companies claim to add all manner of value to the delivery of health care to justify their profits (up over 400% over the past 5 years). OK, prove it. Let's have a public option and we'll see just how much real and perceived value they do add when people have a choice. The reason the insurance industry is fighting this is because they already know what the outcome will be - mass defection of their "customers" to the government run plan.

We all know these insurance companies don't have our best interests at heart - they can't, because they are legally obligated to their shareholders above all else.


So the Republicans line up, lie to us, and worse.

Their strategy is to spread fear, as usual. Their tactics are more despicable than usual. This time it's just plain shouting down any reasoned debate or refusing to join a real discussion.

We've entered into a new era in America - the era of attempted mob rule by an increasingly marginalized party of the fringe. Our very own Taliban, the Republicans.

(Note: I wrote this back in August 09 but did not post it because of my work situation, which thankfully is over now)

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Police Interceptor?

This is the problem with photography at 70 miles per hour, kind of like the "spray and pray" technique of gunfighting, a style I ascribe to.

I do like this photo, as accidental as it is. It juxtaposes the tiny, charming and completely functional Miata cockpit with a giant car from yesteryear. Henri Cartier-Bresson, a great photographer, might have looked at this photo for a second or two. Like Henri was famous for, I didn't crop or edit this image, it's what got shot..

Don't know yet what this car is, but there is a spotlight on the drivers side A pillar. Some kind of police car?