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Monday, July 28, 2014

SENATORS AND THE 17TH AMENDMENT

BRYCE ON POLITICS

- No Virginia, senators were not always elected "by the people."

(Click for AUDIO VERSION)
To use this segment in a Radio broadcast or Podcast, send TIM a request.


Most Americans today are unaware U.S. Senators were not always elected by the people. According to the articles of the Constitution, senators were elected by state legislators, not the people or governor. This all changed with the ratification of the 17th Amendment in 1913, just over one hundred years ago. Why the change? Believe it or not, corruption in our electoral process. Sound familiar?

Let's begin by understanding the purpose of the Senate. Our bicameral Congress consists of two chambers, the House of Representatives is intended to represent the people. Their term limit is just two years. The Senate though was modeled after the Senate of Ancient Rome, whereby the elders and affluent citizens would take a more global view of the problems at hand. This is similar to Parliament in the United Kingdom where there is a House of Commons (for the people) and a House of Lords (representing affluence). Senators are elected to six year terms as opposed to two years.

In addition to reviewing and approving the laws as passed by the House, the Senate also reviews and approves treaties, and confirms appointments of the cabinet, ambassadors, judges, and various other federal officials, all as part of the "checks and balances" of our government. They also conduct trials of impeached federal officials, such as the president, with the last being in 1999 with the impeachment of President Clinton.

On paper, the concept of Senators being elected by state legislatures is a good one. As the legislatures changed in political makeup, from Democrat to Republican for example, the senators will inevitably change. In the early days there were a few senators who served multiple terms, but not like today's senators who serve upwards to fifty years (e.g., Byrd and Kennedy). In other words, term limits were not necessary. Further, it was believed senators would be more inclined to serve the best interests of their states as they were elected by their own state assemblies. At least, that was the theory.

Throughout most of the 19th century though, corruption crept into the senate electoral process. Some people tried to buy the office by giving gifts and favors to members of the state legislatures. This included some of the big monopolies of the day who wanted to have "their man" elected, who would be expected to return favors. The 17th Amendment though changed all of this by turning the vote over to the people. By doing so, state legislators were cut out of the money bonanza. It should be noted, the amendment was also used to fill senate vacancies, which is now done by temporary appointment of the governor.

So, what has changed in the last 100 years? Whereas the state legislators were the target for bribery, now it can be argued it is just the senators who are the object of desire by lobbyists, not just at the state level either, but by national and multinational corporations. In other words, not much has really changed with the passing of the 17th Amendment other than a redirection of payola.

Somehow, I still prefer the concept of having the state legislatures electing the Senators, if for no other reason than to assure they will change over time as the state assemblies change, thereby thwarting the concept of professional politicians. As to the corruption issue, this will remain a constant problem until such time as the American people get serious about electoral reform, which will probably be never. At least the payola can be spread around the state as opposed to just one person.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim's columns, see:   timbryce.com

Like the article? TELL A FRIEND.

Copyright © 2014 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

NEXT UP:  40TH ANNIVERSARY OF NIXON'S RESIGNATION - Did Watergate teach us anything?

  - What I discovered on my flight from Asheville.

Listen to Tim on WJTN-AM (News Talk 1240) "The Town Square" with host John Siggins (Mon, Wed, Fri, 12:30-3:00pm Eastern), and KIT-AM 1280 in Yakima, Washington
"The Morning News" with hosts Dave Ettl & Lance Tormey (weekdays. 6:00-9:00am Pacific). Or tune-in to Tim's channel on YouTube.

Friday, July 25, 2014

PERSONAL TECHNOLOGY'S EFFECT ON AIR TRAVEL

BRYCE ON TECHNOLOGY

- What I discovered on my flight from Asheville.

(Click for AUDIO VERSION)
To use this segment in a Radio broadcast or Podcast, send TIM a request.

I recently took a short trip to North Carolina to do a little fly-fishing with an old friend. It was a brief trip and we only had modest success, but it was a wonderful getaway. The mountains were beautiful, the air smelled delicious, and the streams were cold and clear. It was just the tonic I needed.

I came home on a Sunday morning via the Asheville airport. After checking in I proceeded to go through TSA security. It was still relatively early and there weren't too many people in line. I think I caught the TSA agent off-guard by saying, "Good Morning," to her. I observed what a nice day it was, and she responded by asking me how my trip had been. I explained I went fishing and had a great time in the mountains. She then asked me about my fishing pole, which I was carrying, and we chatted a few scant minutes about rainbow trout. She seemed to be pleased that someone had taken the time to talk to her. Maybe it's because people generally do not think of TSA agents as human beings. I suppose they do not put on their pants one leg at a time.

After clearing security, I approached my gate where I found it eerily quiet. As I looked around, the passengers awaiting the flight were all busy either on their smart phones or Kindles. Some were playing games, others were listening to music, reading, or texting. All I saw were people gently tapping or swiping their fingers over the screen. In the corner of the room was a television set featuring a Sunday morning political talk show. The volume was turned down low, but I could hear it clear as a bell from the other side of the room. After all, tapping and swiping doesn't exactly make a lot of racket.

Interestingly, I saw a boy and a girl sitting next to each other in the waiting area, both were teenagers who didn't appear to know each other. Both were attractive, but neither acknowledged the presence of the other. From what I saw, they didn't even exchange glances, they just played with their smart phones instead. What a pity.

When we finally boarded the aircraft, I sat next to a lady just a few years older than myself and an Asheville native. Everyone else continued with their tapping and swiping. As I sat down, I introduced myself to the woman, and we struck up a conversation which ranged over several subjects. She gave me some background information on Asheville, how she had recently attended a High School reunion, what books she was reading, and we even talked a little about moonshine up in the mountains. I described my fishing trip, life in Tampa Bay, the books I was reading, and a few other things.

It was a short flight, but my co-passenger made it interesting and lively. It started when she noticed I was carrying a regular hard covered book, as was she, as opposed to an electronic reader. Although we spoke quietly to maintain our privacy, every now and then another passenger would stop tapping and swiping only to give us a dirty look as if we were loud and boisterous and disturbing the harmony of the flight. At this time I noticed none of the other passengers were talking as they were all transfixed on their electronic devices.

In a way, my conversation with my co-passenger reminded me of air travel of yesteryear where passengers socialized and made new contacts. However, it occurred to me that we were now the oddballs, we were now the ones not using the latest technology, and we were the ones who had to communicate face-to-face. Frankly, we had a great time and became good friends.

The Asheville flight went to Atlanta where I made a connecting flight to Tampa. On this leg, I sat next to a gentleman I judged to be in his 40's. Although I said hello and tried to introduce myself, the man pulled out his Kindle and immersed himself in reading. I pulled out my clunky book and began reading a few pages. After awhile, I looked up to see a woman across the aisle working on a jigsaw puzzle on her tablet computer, two other gentlemen were playing games on their smart phones, and another listened to music on his headphones. Nobody talked and you could hear a pin drop in the cabin.

After the flight, everyone rushed to the luggage carrousel in a spirit of competition, not cooperation or courtesy. Frankly, it was rather ugly. It then occurred to me technology was one of the reasons I no longer enjoy flying, and I suspect others might feel likewise. Bottom-line, it re-enforced my Bryce's Law, "As the use of technology increases, social skills decreases."

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim's columns, see:   timbryce.com

Like the article? TELL A FRIEND.

Copyright © 2014 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

NEXT UP:  SENATORS AND THE 17TH AMENDMENT - No Virginia, senators were not always elected "by the people."

LAST TIME:  THE OBAMA JUKEBOX
  - The president's rhetoric has become rather predictable.

Listen to Tim on WJTN-AM (News Talk 1240) "The Town Square" with host John Siggins (Mon, Wed, Fri, 12:30-3:00pm Eastern), and KIT-AM 1280 in Yakima, Washington
"The Morning News" with hosts Dave Ettl & Lance Tormey (weekdays. 6:00-9:00am Pacific). Or tune-in to Tim's channel on YouTube.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

THE OBAMA JUKEBOX

BRYCE ON POLITICS

- The president's rhetoric has become rather predictable.

(Click for AUDIO VERSION)
To use this segment in a Radio broadcast or Podcast, send TIM a request.

President Obama's speeches have become rather routine and predictable. They remind me of a jukebox, a device from a bygone era, whereby you put in a quarter, press a numbered button, and hear your selected tune. Smart phones, MP3 players and iPods have since replaced the jukebox, but you get the idea.

I do not believe I have heard anything original from the president in a long time, basically recycled talking points written to illicit Pavlovian responses from his audiences. However, I do not believe people are drooling anymore, at least not according to his recent popularity polls.

To prove my point, I have gone back through many of the president's speeches and noted his more popular talking points. I am sure you have heard them all before, but what do they mean or how does he use them?

1. OBAMA - "The American people's hopes and dreams are what matters, not ours. Our obligations are to them. Our regard for them compels us all, Democrats and Republicans, to cooperate, and compromise, and act in the best interests of our nation –- one nation, under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all."
TRANSLATION - "Once I've hooked them, I can have my way with them."

2. OBAMA - "We can't wait for Congress to do its job. So where they won't act, I will. We're going to look every single day to figure out what we can do without Congress."
TRANSLATION - "I refuse to talk to those idiots in the Congress."

3. OBAMA - "I'm happy to get good ideas from across the political spectrum, from Democrats and Republicans. What I won't do is return to the failed theories of the last eight years that got us into this fix in the first place, because those theories have been tested, and they have failed."
TRANSLATION - "It's Bush's fault."

4. OBAMA - "We can't change the way Washington works unless we first change how Congress works."
TRANSLATION - "It's not me, it's them, right?"

5. OBAMA - "Our government should work for us, not against us. It should help us, not hurt us. It should ensure opportunity not just for those with the most money and influence, but for every American who's willing to work. There is the fundamental belief that I am my brother's keeper; I am my sister's keeper."
TRANSLATION - "I'm going to make government so big, it will take years and a truckload of elephant guns to bring it back down."

6. OBAMA - "What our friends on the other side of the aisle do not accept is the overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change."
TRANSLATION - "I am the all-knowing Meteorologist-in-Chief, and don't you forget it."

7. OBAMA - "We live in a culture that discourages empathy. A culture that too often tells us our principle goal in life is to be rich, thin, young, famous, safe, and entertained."
TRANSLATION - "Only I understand the American people, not the evil Republicans."

8. OBAMA - "Let's remember that our leadership is defined not just by our defense against threats, but by the enormous opportunities to do good and promote understanding around the globe."
TRANSLATION - "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain."

9. OBAMA - "I have studied the Constitution as a student; I have taught it as a teacher; I have been bound by it as a lawyer and legislator. America must demonstrate that our values and institutions are more resilient than a hateful ideology."
TRANSLATION - "And I could really screw up the country more if I didn't have this hanging around my neck."

10. OBAMA - "It's not just enough to change the players. We've gotta change the game."
TRANSLATION - "Constitution be damned."

11. OBAMA - "We will seek swift and certain justice for captured terrorists – because living our values doesn’t make us weaker, it makes us safer and it makes us stronger."
TRANSLATION - "Whenever it is politically expedient for me to do so."

12. OBAMA - "I think the American people have a generous instinct. They understand that we're a nation of immigrants. But if those folks are going to live in this country, they have to be put on a pathway to citizenship that involves them paying a fine, making sure that they are at the back of the line and not cutting in front of people who applied legally to come into the country."
TRANSLATION - "Actually, we're just going to open the floodgates and make them all Democratic voters."

13. OBAMA - "I'll be a President who finally brings Democrats and Republicans together to make health care affordable for every single American."
TRANSLATION - "The check is in the mail."

14. OBAMA - "As President, I'll invest in renewable energies like wind power, solar power, and the next generation of homegrown bio fuels."
TRANSLATION - "And neglect our natural resources thereby making us more dependent on external energy resources than ever before."

15. OBAMA - "Any strategy to reduce intergenerational poverty has to be centered on work, not welfare--not only because work provides independence and income but also because work provides order, structure, dignity, and opportunities for growth in people's lives."
TRANSLATION - "I'm going to quadruple the welfare state and let you pay for it."

16. OBAMA - "The answers to our problems don’t lie beyond our reach. They exist in our laboratories and universities; in our fields and our factories; in the imaginations of our entrepreneurs and the pride of the hardest-working people on Earth."
TRANSLATION - "I want to tax you to death."

17. OBAMA - "In a world that's more and more interconnected, we all have responsibilities to work together to solve common challenges."
TRANSLATION - "I'm going to let the terrorists have Iraq."

18. OBAMA - "Opponents of health reform warn that this is all some big plot for socialized medicine or government-run health care with long lines and rationed care. That’s not true either. I don’t believe that government can or should run health care."
TRANSLATION - "Thank you, thank you; you're a great audience. Now, did you hear the one about..."

19. OBAMA - "We cannot build the 21st-century military we need, and maintain the fiscal responsibility that America demands, unless we fundamentally reform the way our defense establishment does business."
TRANSLATION - "I love it when they salute me and I don't return it."

20. OBAMA - "It's just plain wrong that millions of middle-class Americans pay a higher share of their income in taxes than some millionaires and billionaires."
TRANSLATION - "There, I've said it; I'm a Socialist."

In addition to being predictable, the president's speeches seem to be saying, "The Congress is a bunch of unreasonable idiots. I am the only one who knows what he is doing. Trust me and I'll take care of all of your problems, you cattle." This says a lot about his powers of negotiation.

The president probably doesn't believe half of what he says, but these are sound bites which have been polished and are easy to remember. The fact they are predictable though, reflects his disregard for the American people. They are also useful as a means to distract people. The only problem is we will likely hear these reruns until the end of his presidency. That's still two years away.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim's columns, see:   timbryce.com

Like the article? TELL A FRIEND.

Copyright © 2014 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

NEXT UP:  PERSONAL TECHNOLOGY'S EFFECT ON AIR TRAVEL - What I discovered on my flight from Asheville.

  - What would happen if we instituted a dress code in school...for the teachers?

Listen to Tim on WJTN-AM (News Talk 1240) "The Town Square" with host John Siggins (Mon, Wed, Fri, 12:30-3:00pm Eastern), and KIT-AM 1280 in Yakima, Washington
"The Morning News" with hosts Dave Ettl & Lance Tormey (weekdays. 6:00-9:00am Pacific). Or tune-in to Tim's channel on YouTube.

Monday, July 21, 2014

DRESS FOR SUCCESS OR FAILURE?

BRYCE ON SOCIETY

- What would happen if we instituted a dress code in school...for the teachers?

(Click for AUDIO VERSION)
To use this segment in a Radio broadcast or Podcast, send TIM a request.

I recently had the opportunity to visit a local elementary school where I attended their assembly for a presentation. I've known the school and principal for a long time. The school is modern in design and impressive to visit. Students there should be proud of it.

As the children filed into the assembly hall, the standard dress appeared to be t-shirts, shorts, socks and gym shoes. The teachers lined the outside perimeter to keep an eye on their respective classes. One of the first things I noticed was how poorly the teachers dressed. I counted only three teachers, out of dozens, who dressed professionally. The remainder looked rather slovenly and didn't seem to care. I saw at least two teachers wearing faded Superman t-shirts and shorts which didn't look particularly clean. Some wore jeans, and there were lots of t-shirts. Aside from the three teachers, the rest looked unprofessional. Frankly, I was surprised how badly they looked. I was expecting, at least, a "business casual" dress with collared shirts and slacks on the men, and something clean and feminine for the ladies. Instead, I got the uneasy feeling nobody really cared how they looked, and it showed. It is pretty bad when the students look better than the teachers.

It has been my experience that teachers are an important role model for our youth. If they say or do something, the kids are likely to follow suit. This caused me to wonder what messages the teachers were sending by their dress. Is it, "To succeed in life, you must look like a slob?"

The school was located in a middle-class neighborhood, certainly not a ghetto. The students represent a cultural diversity consisting of whites, blacks, Latinos, with a few Asians also in the mix. Although some may require food assistance, there didn't appear to be any below the poverty line. The kids seemed to respect the faculty and, as such, the students likely respond to the image the teachers project.

We've been talking about dress codes for several years, only to be rebuffed by parents who believe it stifles the creativity of their children. Instead, maybe the dress code should be devised for the teachers who represent authority figures to the students.

Shortly after visiting the elementary school, I had an occasion to drop a friend off at an auto collision shop. His car had been in an accident and he was taking it in for service. While my friend was inside processing paperwork, I waited outside and observed some of the company's estimators working with customers. This was a standard procedure whereby they prepare estimates for approval by the customers. As the face of the company, and wanting to project a professional image, the estimators were dressed better than the other employees, but not much better. The service technicians worked in clean jumpsuit uniforms. One estimator wore a collared shirt and slacks. However, I noticed the shirt was faded, and the trousers looked like they had been balled up as opposed to hung-up. They certainly were not pressed and cleaned. The other estimator was a woman who wore a rather tight skirt which wasn't exactly flattering. In their mind, they looked presentable; in mine, they looked like bums.

This may come as a news flash to some, but customers want to have confidence in the vendors they are doing business with. It is in the vendor's best interests to project a professional image in order to attain and keep the customer's loyalty. It is just plain good business.

As the one estimator looked to be in his late twenties, I started to consider why he thought he was presentable. Three influences came to mind: his boss, his parents, and his teachers. You could also blame the media, but I was looking at the authority figures in the person's life. Maybe his boss thought the estimator was presentable. If so, this doesn't speak well for the company. Maybe his parents dressed him when he was younger. If so, this doesn't speak well for the parents. Or maybe it was the teachers that influenced his taste in clothes. Hmm...quite possibly.

From what I saw at the school's assembly, a whole generation of poorly clothed workers are in the offing. It could all change if the school's management insisted the teachers clean up their act and display some pride in their appearance, which would then influence the students, and the rest of us.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim's columns, see:   timbryce.com

Like the article? TELL A FRIEND.

Copyright © 2014 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

NEXT UP:  THE OBAMA JUKEBOX - The president's rhetoric has become rather predictable.

  - Beware of the egos involved with big fish.

Listen to Tim on WJTN-AM (News Talk 1240) "The Town Square" with host John Siggins (Mon, Wed, Fri, 12:30-3:00pm Eastern), and KIT-AM 1280 in Yakima, Washington
"The Morning News" with hosts Dave Ettl & Lance Tormey (weekdays. 6:00-9:00am Pacific). Or tune-in to Tim's channel on YouTube.

Friday, July 18, 2014

BIG FISH IN SMALL PONDS

BRYCE ON SOCIETY

- Beware of the egos involved with big fish.

(Click for AUDIO VERSION)
To use this segment in a Radio broadcast or Podcast, send TIM a request.

Do you remember the Dr. Seuss classic, "Yertle the Turtle"? In it, Yertle was the king of the turtles in a pond who demanded his subjects elevate him higher than the moon. The story was intended to make a mockery of ultimate power. There are still a lot of Yertles out there living separately in small ponds and I'm sure we all know a few of them. You can find them in companies, nonprofit groups, schools, even in our neighborhoods. They may not have been officially anointed king, but they very much try to play the role. It is what we commonly refer to as the "Big Fish in a Small Pond" phenomenon.

Titles and material objects are very important to the Big Fish, such as the biggest house in the neighborhood, the sportiest car, the largest boat, or whatever. They flaunt their extravagance as opposed to modestly concealing it. It thereby becomes a game with them to give the illusion they are somehow superior to everyone else. They basically want to be considered some sort of local power broker or social elitist, but in reality, they are essentially no different than anyone else, perhaps even weaker. True, people are impressed with such materialism at first, but I find the Big Fish tend to have serious character flaws and insecurities and, as such, are trying to purchase admiration and prestige as opposed to earning it through simple social skills.

The flaw in the Big Fish concept though is that size is relative. Whereas the fish may be big in one pond, it may very well be small in another wherein it's limitations and insecurities are easily detected. Their ego is quickly deflated when this is brought to their attention. One has to ask if they are truly a big fish, why aren't they living among their own kind? Why do they find it necessary to live among people they admittedly consider their inferiors?

The antithesis to this phenomenon is someone like Warren Buffett, one of the richest men in the world (and a very BIG fish), yet lives in the same house in Omaha, Nebraska he bought in 1958 for $31,500 (although some modification/improvements have certainly been made over the years). Nonetheless, I'm led to believe he has tried to lead a peaceful and unassuming life in his neighborhood for over 50 years.

I tend to be suspicious of Big Fish in Little Ponds. To me, they are trying to divert attention away from some other weakness they are hiding or have some ulterior motive. Eventually they are unmasked for what they truly are and their kingdom comes crumbling down. Just remember, Yertle the turtle may have been king for a while, but his subjects ultimately did him in.

Originally published: August 7, 2009

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim's columns, see:   timbryce.com

Like the article? TELL A FRIEND.

Copyright © 2014 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

NEXT UP:  DRESS FOR SUCCESS OR FAILURE? - What would happen if we instituted a dress code in school...for the teachers?

LAST TIME:  OBAMA'S SCORECARD
  - An excellent representation of the president's record.

Listen to Tim on WJTN-AM (News Talk 1240) "The Town Square" with host John Siggins (Mon, Wed, Fri, 12:30-3:00pm Eastern), and KIT-AM 1280 in Yakima, Washington
"The Morning News" with hosts Dave Ettl & Lance Tormey (weekdays. 6:00-9:00am Pacific). Or tune-in to Tim's channel on YouTube.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

OBAMA'S SCORECARD

BRYCE ON POLITICS

- An excellent representation of the president's record.

(Click for AUDIO VERSION)
To use this segment in a Radio broadcast or Podcast, send TIM a request.

As you may remember, I spent many years in Little League, coaching boys baseball and girls softball. I also served as an umpire and on the local board of directors. My emphasis was to teach the mechanics of the game, teamwork, and the general love of the game. Most of the time, I kept score of the game myself, but I also taught several of my kids to do so. Keeping score is actually not too difficult and is good for keeping the game fair and the other team honest. It is also helpful to track where the batter has hitting the ball in prior innings.

Every game requires a good scorekeeper, including American politics. Using my scoring capabilities I decided to develop a baseball scorecard to record Mr. Obama's play while in office. It is a true record of his performance. Those of you baseball aficionados who understand a scorecard will quickly figure it out. For the rest of you, consider this a lesson.


The only other item I might add to the scorecard is the president's relationship with the main street media, for which he would obviously get an "Intentional Walk."

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim's columns, see:   timbryce.com

Like the article? TELL A FRIEND.

Copyright © 2014 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

NEXT UP:  BIG FISH IN SMALL PONDS - Beware of the egos involved with big fish.

  - Hopefully not your programmers.

Listen to Tim on WJTN-AM (News Talk 1240) "The Town Square" with host John Siggins (Mon, Wed, Fri, 12:30-3:00pm Eastern), and KIT-AM 1280 in Yakima, Washington
"The Morning News" with hosts Dave Ettl & Lance Tormey (weekdays. 6:00-9:00am Pacific). Or tune-in to Tim's channel on YouTube.

Monday, July 14, 2014

WHO IS DESIGNING YOUR SYSTEMS?

BRYCE ON SYSTEMS

- Hopefully not your programmers.

(Click for AUDIO VERSION)
To use this segment in a Radio broadcast or Podcast, send TIM a request.

I have seen a lot of Information Systems in my lifetime. Most are rather simple if you take the time to study the problem, and create the logical design, then determine the most suitable physical implementation and develop the specifications for the software and manual steps. It's actually a rather simple process, regardless of the intricacies of the data involved.

Problems arise though when the critical front-end work is performed by programmers who are more in tune with technology than business. From their perspective, they see everything in terms of zeroes and ones, not in dollars and cents. Not surprising, they only think in terms of elegant technical solutions, not necessarily what is practical from a business perspective. Let me give you two stories to illustrate my point.

First, we had a large manufacturing customer who designed a new “state-of-the-art” shop-floor control system whereby they wanted to spot errors along the assembly line and then quickly correct the hiccup. From a software perspective, it was a well thought-out and elegant solution coupled with an integrated data base. There was just one problem; it didn’t work. Consequently, we were called in on a consulting basis to try and determine what was wrong. We carefully examined the architecture of the system overall, not just the software components, and quickly found the problem; Whenever an error occurred on the shop-floor, an error message was displayed on a computer screen for the shop-floor supervisor to act on. Unfortunately, nobody instructed the supervisor about the computer screen, the messages, or procedurally how to respond to them. We wrote a simple administrative procedure for the supervisor who then read and responded to the errors properly and the system ran perfectly.

The programmers of the system were thunderstruck as to how quickly we found the problem and devised such a simple solution. They were convinced something was wrong with the logic of the software and focused their energies there to find the problem. In contrast, we stepped back and looked at the overall system architecture and found the problem in the basic design of the system.

Then there is the story of how simple data calculations can upset systems. Les Matthies, the legendary Dean of Systems, was fond of telling this story:

According to Les, a widow one day received a bill in the mail that read:

FIRST NOTICE - You are in arrears in the amount of $0.00, please make restitution as soon as possible. Have a nice day.

"This is stupid," she thought to herself, and discarded the bill.

One month later, she received another bill from the same company:

SECOND NOTICE - You are in arrears in the amount of $0.00; to avoid problems, please make restitution as soon as possible.

Again, she thought this was silly and discarded the bill.

One month later, she received yet another bill from the same company:

THIRD AND FINAL NOTICE - You are in arrears in the amount of $0.00. If you do not make restitution as soon as possible, we will be forced to turn this matter over to our bill collectors.

Although she still thought it was ridiculous, the widow didn't want any trouble, nor did she want a blemish on her credit report. Consequently, she wrote a check to the company in the amount of $0.00.

"There, that should take care of the problem," or so she thought.

One month later, she received a form letter from the company:

Thank you for your recent payment of $0.00. However, you failed to pay the interest penalty of $0.00 ...

Although Les loved to tell this as a system parable, there are many instances of such miscalculations in corporate systems which ultimately drive end-users bananas, for two reasons; lack of adequate system testing, and because of the focus on programming as opposed to systems.

Whenever systems are designed by programmers, you will likely see:

* Poorly defined information requirements as programmers are not trained in how to study the actions and decisions of the business, only computing requirements.

* Superficial data definitions thereby resulting in erroneous information, not to mention considerable data redundancy.

* Lack of documentation defining the overall system architecture, just basic programming specifications.

* Insufficient design reviews and testing which leads to product defects thereby causing problems in quality.

* Project Management delays and cost overruns as many parts of the system have to be redeveloped due to the lack of the other elements mentioned herein.

To prove my point, ask your systems people to design a manually implemented system. If they cannot, they are programmers and should not be serving as a systems analyst. As I keep insisting, it is not that system design projects are complicated, it's because we have the wrong people trying to perform the task. As a perfect example, consider the recent Obamacare system which was delivered late, was fraught with bugs, and cost the taxpayers well over $600 million, an outrageous amount of money.

What this points out is there are significant differences between systems analysts and programmers. Their emphasis and interests are simply different. Whereas the analyst is more of a generalist who understands business, the programmer is rightfully more in tune with technical detail. One tends to be an extrovert, the other is an introvert. The interests and skill sets are simply different. It is difficult, if not impossible to do one, when you are a master of the other; they are that different.

To illustrate, we have always subscribed to the following formula:

Good Systems Design + Good Programming = Great Systems

Good Systems Design + Bad Programming = Good Systems (it may not be elegant, but it serves the business needs)

Bad Systems Design + Good Programming = Bad Systems

Bad Systems Design + Bad Programming = Chaos

The common denominator for success is "Good Systems Design" which happens to be an area most companies neglect. Consequently, programmers are asked to compensate for poor specifications.

"If we built bridges the same way we build systems in this country, this would be a nation run by ferryboats." - Bryce's Law

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim's columns, see:   timbryce.com

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Copyright © 2014 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

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