Archive for February, 2011


Winning the Global War on Toner (GWOT)

February 25, 2011

In case you haven’t gotten the word, the government’s broke.  Or at least that’s what they’re telling us, and thanks to our new found sense of fiscal responsibility, the Navy is looking for all sorts of ways to lower our overall operating costs.  Thankfully, in true military/government fashion, the bosses have stumbled on a perfect solution that both fails to lower costs in any meaningful way while at the same time greatly inhibiting our ability to do work.  They’re getting rid of color copies.  That’s right – the world’s most powerful (and expensive) Navy is now being told, by direction from the very top of the Navy food chain, that offices shall no longer print anything in color or single sided.  Everything shall be in black and white and double sided.  Unless the copies are for an Admiral.  Or the slides are dependent on color to make sense.  Or you’re a Captain who needs to review the Admiral’s slides before giving them to him.  Or you’re a Commander who needs to build the slides for the Captain so he can then review them and give them to the Admiral.  Or you’re the contractor who actually does the work for the Commander and, well, you get the idea.  The point is, it is now official policy to no longer print in color or single sided.  So let it be written, so let it be done.

Of course, with any new policy such as this one, the ultra anal retentive people who love nothing more than shoving in your face a copy of a regulation you’ve broken (which they’ve printed off, by the way) are now starting to come out of the woodwork.  You can see them hanging by the printers, like buzzards circling a man lost in the desert, just waiting, waiting for that poor sucker who would have the audacity to defy the most sacred of edicts.  It’s gotten so bad that once I was actually told, and this is no joke, to shred a color copy and print it again in black and white because, “We’re trying to save toner!”  I swear by all that is holy, those were the man’s exact words.

The sad thing is the Navy REALLY does want to go paperless.  Back in the ’90s there was this whole ‘paperless Navy’ movement and the belief was that buying a bunch of computers all work would be done electronically and no one would ever have to print anything again.  Remarkably, this failed, and the result is that instead of streamlining workflow and reducing paper usage, computers have actually increased the amount of time it takes to get anything done and uses more paper to do it.  Case in point – it used to be that if a person wanted to take leave they would fill out a leave chit in triplicate using carbon paper, run the chit through the chain of command, and once it was signed they would go on leave.  Simple.  Then computers came along, and with them a program that would fill out your leave chit electronically.  Except the program didn’t include anyway to route the chit electronically, so you ended up having to print off three copies of the chit in order to get it approved.  It’s amazing that no one thought that an electronic version of something is no good unless you have a way of passing it on electronically to the next person in the chain of command.  Fifteen years later the Navy figured it out and decided to develop an entirely electronic leave system, whereby your leave chit would be generated electronically and would also be routed through the chain of command, thereby saving you from having to print.  Perfect!  Unfortunately, because the people at the top of the chain don’t trust those new fangled computers, they still require you to print off a copy and route it manually, effectively doubling the amount of work required!  Simply incredible.

The biggest problem with the Navy trying to go paperless is that until recently there really was no good way to carry around a bunch of electronic documents from one meeting to the next, so people would simply store the docs on their desktops and then print off what they needed for the next meeting.  This is the second part of the paperless revolution.  The Navy has already accomplished the first part, which is getting everyone to generate their work electronically, now they just need a way for people to share that work in a manner other than printing.  What is needed to complete the paperless revolution is some sort of portable device that is small, unobtrusive, easy to use (i.e. long battery life and fast operating system), can be carried back and forth, and can store thousands of documents and access thousands more.  Basically, the Navy needs to get everyone an iPad.  However, since the Navy can’t even afford color copies there’s no way they’re going to buy everyone an iPad, so how about just letting people using their own iPads (or similar devices)?  Unfortunately, Navy networks aren’t allowed to operate with third party applications (hey, Apple, how’s it feel to be called a third party!) so even if I wanted to drop my own cash on an iPad (which would actually be really useful since the majority of my day is spent running back and forth between different meetings in different buildings and I’m never sure exactly what documents I’m going to need) I still wouldn’t be able to use it with the Navy systems.

Navy, if you’re serious about winning the Global War on Toner (GWOT), here’s what you need to do:

1.      Win peoples’ hearts and minds.  Your ‘no color’ policy is alienating the local populace, and until you recognize the reality of the situation on the ground, you’ll never succeed at lowering your printing costs.  This leads into point two, which is:

2.       Learn more about the local culture.  The reason your printing costs aren’t decreasing is because you’ve turned the idea of a color copy into a status symbol.  By limiting who can get color copies, you’ve created a whole new standard of self-importance amongst the rank and file.  “Ooohh…color copies and single sided!  That must be one important brief he’s working on!”

3.      Develop an infrastructure so the people can support themselves.  If you allow people to upload documents to their personal tablet computers they won’t have to carry all that paper back and forth to meetings, meaning your overhead will immediately begin to drop.  People don’t print because they love the smell of freshly pressed toner, they print because they have no other way of carrying their docs with them.  Think about how many pages are printed for the purpose of a meeting, only to be immediately thrown into the burn bag as soon as the meeting is over.  You could cut all of that waste if you just allowed people to upload docs to their tablets.

Winning the Global War on Toner won’t be easy, it will take time, energy, and money, but you’re already half way there and if you provide people with an alternative to growing poppies (sorry, I mean printing) you’ll find that people are eager to make the switch, and before you know it, your printing costs will have dropped, your productivity will be up, and the defense budget will be balanced!  Now, go print off ten copies of this post and show it to your boss so he can run it up the chain for approval!


Things I should care about but just don’t…

February 24, 2011

Here’s a quick synopsis of all that’s apparently wrong with the world and why I just can’t bring myself to care:

1.  The Middle East:  For a very long time, the Middle East was my thing.  I lived there for a few months, I studied it in college and grad school, I deployed their twice, and I avidly followed the latest doings and shenanigans of whoever happened to be threatening to destroy the world on that particular day.  Simply put, in every job I’ve ever had, I’ve been the Middle East guy.  Now, with what appears to be a chance to genuinely change the face of the Arab world, which will undoubtedly have far reaching effects on Israel and the United States, I just don’t care.  It’s kind of like your friend who swears he’ll never drink and drive again – after the fifth broken promise, you just stop paying attention, and even when he actually appears to be clearing up his act, you still barely get excited.  It also doesn’t help that, so far, the countries involved are ones I really don’t care about.  Tunisia?  Unless Dizzy Gillespie is leading the revolt, I don’t care.  Algeria?  I’ll give you five bucks if you can find it on a map.  Libya?  What is this, 1989?  Wake me when the fires reach Saudi Arabia or Iran, and then only if it causes the price of gas to go up (which it will).

2.  The budget:  OK, this one I really should care about, what with being a defense contractor and all, but again, I am so sick of listening to the fantastically hypocritical Republicans wail against the evils of government spending, all while the limp noodle (I’m cleaning up my language for Nat) Democrats just lie there, taking the beating like they just switched from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense and didn’t bother to find a decent nose tackle and are now thinking about drafting a quarterback…(sorry, different post).  Seriously, Democrats, what on earth is wrong with you!?  Are you afraid of appearing to drop to the level of Republicans so you refrain from engaging with them on a baser level?  If that’s the case, then you might as well not even bother fundraising for 2012 because, guess what, this is America, where the quality of your argument means nothing compared to the volume at which you shout it.  Example:  The vast majority of our projected deficits are caused by the money that is going into Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.  And when I say the vast majority, I mean, the vast majority!  Like, 75%!  (speaking of which, how is it that Republicans are so good at getting people to care about such arcane issues?  First it was health care reimbursement premiums, now it’s the deficit?  Every Republican is now a policy wonk, which is funny because Republicans love nothing more than making fun of policy wonks, anyways…) So what do they focus on?  Funding for the arts, student loan programs, and urban renewal projects, some of which have a total yearly expenditure of $2,000,000.  Two million?  My office spends more than that on post it notes!  Let’s say we cut that entire program and gave the money back to the taxpayers – they would each receive .005 cents.  Yay!  The American dream is now within my grasp!  Democrats, why on earth aren’t you calling the Republicans out on this crap?  Why am I not seeing you guys running through the streets with your hair on fire screaming at the top of your lungs all the fantastic examples of Republican hypocrisy?  I remember thinking during the presidential debates of 2008 that Obama, for all his charm and charisma, simply didn’t know how to throw a knockout punch, which is why the democratic primary dragged on to the point of absurdity.  When people are getting excited about how the Puerto Rico vote will influence the outcome, it’s gone on too long.  Well, guess what, here we are two years later, and instead of knockout punches we’re getting a bunch of feints and jabs.  Meanwhile, the Republican’s have decided to quit boxing altogether and are simply bull rushing everyone in their way.

3.  Glee:  I’m really getting tired of this show.  Even the music is starting to suck.  I was willing to put up with the horrible plot / dialogue / character development so long as they kept belting out Bon Jovi and Journey, but apparently 80’s classic rock is no longer cool, as evidenced by how the cast now appears contractually obligated to make fun of the very songs that made them famous in the first place.   Now, their big thing is they are going to write their own song for Regionals.  I should be excited, but I simply don’t care.

You know what I do care about?  Poopy diapers.  Poopy diapers and spit up.  I guess most of my caring energy is going towards my son these days.  Wait a second…all this turmoil in the Middle East might somehow affect the security of the United States, and my son lives in the United States…uh oh…I had better start following the Middle East again.  Wait another second, the budget battles will severely affect the role of government and how tax money is spent, which will affect college costs, and since I want my son to go to college (and not all on my dime) I had better start following the budget battles more closely…and Glee…they say it’s good for a baby’s development if he listens to music at an early age, and my son is developing…and…screw it, Glee, you still suck.


Reasons to resist eReaders

February 21, 2011

The demise of Borders, a store I vividly recall frequenting in my youth, appears to be one more indicator that the future of the printed word lies with eReaders and not physical books, or at least that’s what the articles describing the reasons for Border’s demise appear to be arguing.  Personally, I don’t get the whole eReader thing.  As with most modern pieces of technology, the eReader doesn’t appear to do anything to actually enhance the reading experience, it simply makes it more convenient.  Of course, with that convenience comes a whole new set of problems that the reader previously did not have to worry about.  Here’s my top five reasons I think eReaders are a scam:

5.  You can carry around your entire library on one device.  Really?  Who cares?  Are you that fast a reader that you are constantly worried you’ll finish a novel halfway through your morning commute and will be stuck without something for your 45 minute trip home?  I can understand if you’re going on vacation and you don’t want to schlep a bunch of books with you, but all in all this seems like a marketing attempt to play off the ability of an mp3 player to store your entire music collection.

4.  You can buy and download a book instantly.  Yay!  Now I don’t have to wait those unbearable three days to get my new book!  I mean, it’s not like you could order your next book when you were on the last hundred pages or so of your current read, thereby assuring it would arrive at your doorstop the moment you were finishing up the previous one.  I think this is an attempt to tap into the impulsive buying nature of Americans – just think, you’re there watching your favorite tv host hawk some new book and you think to yourself, “Hmmm…that sounds interesting…I’ll go ahead and buy that!”  Boom.  Impulse purchase acted on, something that might have been avoided had you known you would have to wait a few days before actually getting the book.  Now you’re stuck with yet another book by Malcom Gladwell that will sit deep in the memory files collecting digital dust.

3.  They enhance the reading experience.  Thank god!  It’s high time someone took those boring old books and made them more interactive!  Honestly, I don’t know how those crummy old books ever became popular, what with being constrained by the limits of people’s imaginations and all.

2. eBooks are cheaper.  No, not really.  Maybe some are, but it costs $10 to buy a digital version of a book and unless you absolutely have to have that brand new Tom Clancy hardcover release, you can probably find the same book used on Amazon for cheaper, and you don’t have to purchase the eReader either.  Plus, this whole idea that the eReader is a one time cost is bogus – when was the last time anyone in American was satisfied with their current generation of flat screen tv/smartphone/computer/any piece of electronics.  We’ve been conditioned to constantly upgrade our hardware, and eReaders are no different.

1.  They’re so much easier to carry around.  I know, I know, books are heavy.  But you know what, just about every single person I see using an eReader on the metro pulls them out of a bag or briefcase.  It’s not like buying an eReader will suddenly free you up from having to carry all that other stuff around with you, such as your lunch, organizer, work papers, etc.  You’re still going to have a bag with you to carry all these things, and unless you’re lugging around the complete works of Shakespeare, your book probably doesn’t take up that much room in your bag.

All of that said, I can still see some value in eReaders.  School textbooks seem like an area that could benefit from a quality eReader.  If you travel a lot, and I mean, a lot, they might proof useful.  But all in all, I don’t like ’em, and my main reason is this:  They can fail.  I have enough stuff in my life that fails more often than not, and the last thing I want to have to worry about when I pick up my book is whether or not it’s going to work.  My digital camera needs fresh batteries, my laptop always needs to be updated and rebooted, the dvds I get from netflix are often scratched, and when I stream them sometimes my router cuts out halfway through.  Hell, even my ice maker doesn’t work half the time!  The point is, this ain’t StarTrek:  Our technology is full of bugs, and the last thing I want is to add one more thing into my life that I can’t guarantee will work when I pick it up.  For the sake of knowing that every time I pick up my book the words will still be on the page, I’m willing to lug around an extra pound or two.