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Goodbye, Samuel.

:[ April 2nd, 2008

Just got a call from my friend Yaniko Palis, saying how sorry he was about the death, Tuesday morning, of Sam Gesser… I did not know! I am …

Well, not good. Not a good kind of surprise.

I’ve known Sam for almost a decade now, first meeting him when I replaced his old Mac classic with a brand new iMac, with all the whistles.

Over the years, a friendship formed, and while I would not claim we were close, we did share many fine luncheons and good conversations.

Sam was keenly aware that he was on borrowed time. Years ago, the doctors only gave him a handful of months. But he fought, and won the prize – time, most precious of all – and was determined to do the best he could of it, for those he loved and those who loved him.

And as with most other challenges of his life, I believe he succeeded.

His casual optimism, keen wit and easy laughter will be missed. Our lives were enriched by his presence, and are now much poorer from his departure.

PC Mall and the Milgram experiment.

:[ February 27th, 2008

In 1963, Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram first described in Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology an experiment held in 1961 on our willingness to obey an authority figure asking us to perform acts that conflicted with personal conscience.

The results of this study were both influential and disturbing: While most tested subjects claimed a strong sense of ethics, in fact a wide majority (65%) ended up following orders to a severe extreme, though many were very uncomfortable doing so.


The moral implication has serious impact: In general, we are quite willing to injure or even kill just as long as a figure of authority orders us to do so.

In their 1981 best seller book, “In Search of Excellence”, Tom Peters and Robert H. Waterman Jr wrote that The Milgram Experiment and the later Zimbardo Experiment at Stanford University were frightening in their implications about the danger lurking in human nature’s dark side.

What does all this has to do with PC Mall? Well, for one, being aware of the above means that I understand how the path to extreme is made of small concessions, and that the simplest way to prevent falling into such a situation is to know where the line is, and not to cross it. To never cross it.

Most of us, setting aside the 5% of the population who are sociopaths and psychopaths, know the difference between right and wrong. When we cross that line, it’s either by mistake, or because a stronger imperative compels us. A thief often knows stealing isn’t a good thing but is driven by need or greed for money and material goods. He may even have strong moral qualms about the action and do it anyway if the forces are strong enough – stealing food when starving is a good example: The drive for survival is strong. Peer pressure and the need to belong. Or low self esteem, envy and the need to outshine.

As any good spy-master will tell you, once you start making small concessions on your ethics and have rationalized your behaviour to preserve your sense of self worth, the next small steps come a lot easier, until little remains of your original intentions to “cheat, just a little bit.”

So I was asked to do something I consider unethical – to cheat to achieve preset goals – and refused. That many coworkers do this is irrelevant to me: it’s up to them to be comfortable with their life choices, and I pass no judgement. Furthermore, there is little doubt that most would avoid doing it if they could; but a higher imperative, the need for security and stability, to keep a job in which they have invested much, is compelling.

That these goal were designed unachievable on purpose, with the expectation that most employees are cheaters, anyway, is both perverse and deplorable, insomuch as it creates the situation and opens the door to a lot worse: Once an organization starts condoning and even encouraging unethical behavior from its staff, there is no way to predict how far this will lead. It is also quite insulting.

But in the end the company does not care to change things. It’s making loads of money. Floor managers got promoted based on meeting these same preset goals in this same old ways. There is little perceived value in making any changes, and much risk perceived in doing so.

In the end I am the odd peg. I received an email from my managers that was quite clear: Meet the goals (which can only be done by cheating, which I will not do, something he already knew); meet another goals (sales $, which is entirely unachievable in the delay granted); or get fired on March 1st.

(He actually did not say get fired: He said he would terminate me, which takes an interesting meaning from a large man prone to loud outbursts.)

I’m not going to start placing blame on anyone; who knows how all this got started, and I expect it was all done wit the best of intentions – at least for shareholders. It is also clear by the length at which HR tried to conciliate that the did value my contributions and potential within the company. They really tried hard an it was appreciated.

But, in the end, that message I got was constructive termination, insomuch as the only possible outcome was termination, no matter how strongly that intention may be denied after the facts. I don’t believe I am being obtuse or obstinate, and altogether I would have loved to remain there, but there are certain thing I will not do, and do willingly act in a way I now is wrong, when I know it is wrong, is simply not an option open to me, this even when a figure of authority orders me to do so.

So, yes, I am an idealist, and shamelessly so; yet, one has only to look back to WWII Germany to get a gruesome idea of where “following orders” may lead.

Into the new year

:[ January 11th, 2008

End of… Hmmm? Week 6? 7? Depends how you count the Holidays…

So now at last I am “upstairs” and “on the floor”, which mean a great promotion: A desk of my own and a computer that won’t be erased every couple of days. And a clear mandate: Kansas.

Though the way work is divided is by zone, and no longer by state, every exec has a State of focus, and mine is Kansas. I am glad at that, because I actually know people in Kansas, including “immortal” police officer Sean Murphy, whom I met in Ohio a few years ago and saw again last Fall at Syd’s surprise bash in Albany.

And I must admit that if even a small percentage of folks in Kansas as both as cool and hard core as Mr Murphy, it announces well. I already like the place.

I know that liking your territory is not a must or salesmen, but I am no salesman. not in the way must people understand the word. I don’t push boxes, and certainly do not promote products based on my profit margin. Doing that is strictly for people with limited, short-term vision.

Guess I am just stupid that way, but I was raised with a certain sense of ethics, and it’s not for sale. What I do is identify a need, and find a matching solution. THAT kinds of come easy to me, considering I have been eating IT for breakfast for the past decade, and more.

Those who know me know I will only recommend buying the best product the budget allows. If I sell cheap gear – and I do – it will be with a full, shared understanding of the limitations. And if I sell expensive gear, it will be only if the offer value worth the cost.

So far so good. I receive no objection, and expect none as long as my way of building relationships produces the kind of results that pleases the shareholders of PC Mall.

This being said, it applies strictly to workers in PC Mall Gov. My training biddies seems to be having a bit of a harder time in the business part of town, and it makes me glad to be where I am, makes me appreciate the quality of leadership we have and the friendship of my colleagues.

Different strokes, I guess – I like where I am, and A. (#1) read me well when she offered me this position. I fit nicely in Gov.

Of the original 35 trainees, only 25 remain a month later. Some left, some were asked to leave… Those who came with open eyes, and knew what the job was, are doing well: SC, among others. An ace salesman transfuse from the competition, SC and I formed a quick friendship that I believe has so far proven valuable to the both of us. I am at ease wit tech, he is at ease with sales, and information exchanges makes the both of us more successful.

And he has great stories to tell – made the training days go by faster. Though he’s in Biz and I’m in Gov, we keep supporting on another best we can, and move forward faster thanks to that.

Perhaps here lies a small truth: If you can’t build solid and rewarding business relationships with the people you see every day, how can you do so with the folks you only contact via phone and email, a few times a month?

In military doctrine, the concept of a tightly integrated unit, from boot camp to the front, has time and time again been proven to be far more successful than other training methods. In battle, enemies superior in numbers were often rebuffed by the determined, well co-ordinated efforts of much smaller units – just watch “300”, for instance. The story is embellished (Persians were not the monsters depicted!), but the point is there.

There is absolutely no reason why this concept could not translate well to business. If the corporate values and tradition do not include this, then make your own “unit” out of people sharing your values. As you and them move along different career path, this shadow network will remain a great source of strength to its members, and oil whatever rusty processes the official bureaucracy throws in the way of efficiency and performance.

Nothing new here: The “Old boy’s network”, the “Gammick”, and many official and networking organizations and events share this aim, and have for ages. To some extent, religion served that purpose for many years as well, tightening the bonds within a community with church-step conversations and summer picnics.

Problem is that, in today’s large city and with the decline of religious participation, anomie rules. You don’t know your neighbour, and usually don’t want to know. It’s somewhat deflected in small towns and agrarian communities, but remains more the rule than the exception in Occident.

So who’s to watch your back?

Friends – and I mean friends and not acquaintances, friendship implying some form of explicit or implicit covenant – and probably the only true wealth you have in this life.

Vulnerability Numerology – Defective by Design?

:[ December 22nd, 2007

On Slashdot, rdmreader : writes:

“RDM has a point by point disassembly of the security vulnerability story phenomenon. We regularly see these, comparing various vulnerability lists for different operating systems. ZDNet’s George Ou, for example, condemns linux and mac os X by tallying up reported flaws and comparing them against Microsoft’s. What he doesn’t note is that his source, Secunia, only lists what vendors and researchers report. Results selectively include or exclude component software seemingly at random, and backhandedly claims its data is evidence of what it now tells journalists they shouldn’t report. Is Secunia presenting slanted information with the expectation it will be misused?”

I’ve made that point multiple times in the past: Always look at what’s behind statistics. Look at sample size, look at methodology. It looks as if 64.83% of all statistics are invented on the spot; as for the rest, a surprising number of so-called “results” are in fact barely disguised PR efforts made out of half- and full – lies.

I am truly getting sick and tired of folks lying to me ” for my own good.”

Intuit offers free data recovery software to QuickBooks users who lost data – MacFixIt

:[ December 21st, 2007

Read the full article HERE

In an effort to make amends for a serious blunder that caused users who applied a recent QuickBooks 2006/2007 update to lose personal data (all contents of the Desktop), Intuit is offering said users a copy of Data Rescue II from Prosoft Engineering, which retails at $99.00. Afflicted customers must first purchase the application, after which Intuit will provide reimbursement.

In order to receive reimbursement, users are to obtain a fax number (which we won’t reprint here) by emailing machelp[at]intuit.com with their full name, street address, phone number, email address, and a copy of invoice/receipt for the purchased Data Rescue II software.

PC Mall Diary – End of Week Three

:[ December 20th, 2007

End of week three! Whoopee! Only 153 weeks to go on my three years plan.

My reflection is on how sometimes, first impression can be utterly wrong.

So – this week we had sales training, given to us by A. , whom we had met briefly in a random shotgun pattern over the previous two training weeks. (No, not the same A as before. A different A. Heck – 400 employees here and only 26 letters, we WILL have some duplication by the time 153 weeks go by!)

And to be honest, I must admit that during that time I had taken a profound dislike to A. To me eyes, she came cross as abrupt and profoundly patronizing. And, here it comes – mea culpa: I was utterly wrong.

1/16th of a second. That’s what studies say is the average time we take to form a first impression and decide if we want to have anything to do with someone new. The rest of that first encounter is spent unconsciously justifying the decision. Probably so fast because any of our ancestors that took longer pondering “Gee – do I want to have a conversation with this sabre-tooth tiger?” didn’t live long enough to pass down his or her genes…

But I digress: I came to discover A. under new lights this week and learned that she is a deeply intelligent person, respectful, quick of mind and bright of wit. Did I say she also comes across as fiercely loyal? All rare qualities I truly respect.

Perhaps then the previous actions were nothing but a foil. I have no illusion about what is going on in this training session: Part of it is indeed training. However, another aspect of it is that we are all being evaluated and judged, by every member of the training staff we meet, and will in time be accountable for how we behave ourselves.

I am glad that with age came a certain amount of wisdom, especially in the art of shutting my big mouth. Works – well, works most of the time.

In any case: You will understand that I had a certain amount of apprehension in spending a week with A, as trainer. Good that another thing I picked up is only worrying about bridges as I cross them.

Sure glad now, since while others in our class will possibly disagree, this has been some of the best and most productive training so far.

You see, A, truly shines when she talks about sales. Unlike so many so called “trainers” in the field, she displays a rare mastery, founded on solid facts and painfully acquired knowledge. She EARNED what she knows, though hard work, through attention to details, through analysis of gathered data. None of this came easy to her, I am sure.

And yet… And YET she still has such a burning fire for it. She loves it, or at least talks about it as if she does, which in the end has the same effect.

I know that a large part of what others students see as spontaneous is actually calculated, but I don’t mind: If the wine is sweet, damn the vintage. I am not so corrupted by pseudo-intellectualism as not to simply enjoy the moment.

She puts on a great show. And that I am also learning an extremely efficient sales methodology proven to work in this industry is icing on the cake.

The hardest part so far is forgetting all the stuff I know, or thought I knew, because it should not simply be discarded en vrac – after all part of the reason I was hired is my industry expertise. But even that is going fairly well, since with age, and wisdom, also comes a sometimes involuntary ability to forget a bit easier.

So – anyway. I think I’ve picked up a serious case of the like for A. And I can only wish it to be somewhat contagious…

Now – Looking back on why I first disliked her: Sales remains an intensely male field of endeavour, though that is changing. And the same applies to technology. Also, I also encountered some pretty outrageous behaviour by women in business, who were forced into them simply to be able to gain credibility, be taken seriously in a chauvinistic environment.

Obviously A. is extremely successful in this business. So now I am wondering about this: What can of mask, what kind of protective behaviour would a bright and talented young woman be forced to adopt to simply be allowed to compete on a level playing field in an industry where males would still have an inherent advantage otherwise?

Just a thought. A pretty sad one at that, in 2007…