Monday, July 13, 2015

2014 BMW 328i - 10000 Mile Review

2014 BMW 328i - 10000 Mile Review

My current BMW, Elle, finally rolled over the 10,000 mile mark. Lessons from previous reviews remain (mostly) intact. I had the chance to drive a couple other cars - an older Pontiac G6 and  and new Jetta SE, while on vacation. This helped sharpen my opinion. 

First, the other cars: The G6 was one of the last, best Pontiacs. The seats were firm and deeply bolstered. The G6 has a smooth, strong engine, efficient transmission, and sporty suspension. On the curvy roads in PA it was a pretty good ride. 

The second car was a Jetta SE. The VW driving experience was tight, but the small engine always seemed to be hunting for the correct gear. On the freeways of PA, NJ, NY and MA the Jetta was much quieter than the Pontiac, and the VW handled the expansion seems much better. The Pontiac delivered a strong report at each seam. As a long-time VW driver I know that I have my bias, so add a grain of salt to my preference for the VW.

As an aside: Texas toll roads make sense - fully automated, wide-open, 80 MPH limits. Toll roads back east are crowded, poorly maintained, and have people in booths to collect $1.70 tolls(?). Advantage - Texas.  

Alex - my first BMW. 

The Good

The first 10,000 miles were totally uneventful. Elle notified me when her oil needed to be changed (about 8500 miles). Acceleration is still great, gas mileage is still great, and overall ride is still smooth and luxurious. Sport mode is fun. In fact, BMW should only ship cars with Sport Mode. 

2014 BMW 328i - previous posts: 

The Bad

Two features just need to be dropped from future versions. ECO mode isn't worth the savings. In one of my previous posts I called it "Corolla-esque", which might be disparaging to the Toyota. Much like the Jetta, ECO mode forces low RPM and a lot of shifting in heavy traffic. The second feature that should be dropped in the rotation of the passenger side mirror when backing up. It seems logical to want to see the curb, but most of my backing is not into curbside spaces.

When the seats are compared to the Pontiac and VW the BMW seats seem a bit flat and un-supportive. The seats in the 2011 328i were better. 

The Ugly

While Elle gets a clean review, Austin BMW does not. A basic oil change led to preemptive windshield wiper replacement ($100+). And the only part that I actually requested, the small circular sticker that holds the floor mat in place, is still outstanding -- 2 months later. 

Redmond BMW has their stuff together, Austin BMW still needs work. 

Bottom Line

Elle is a nice car. But I miss Alex. 

I'm not even a full year into the lease and I'm lusting after the new 340ix.


Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Consensus Fail

 Quakers, Occupy Wall Street, and Consensus

A few days ago I noticed that one of my favorite economics blogs " NakedCapitalism added an "I Support the Occupy Movement" banner. I blinked twice, reloaded the page, and checked to see if some misaligned advertisement or other glitch was responsible.

No, (sigh) and certainly confirmed after reading "Why the Consensus Process Has a Poor Track Record in Activist Movements".  Yves Smith posts an article by L. A. Kauffman from the Berkeley Journal of Sociology - The Theology of Consensus

Disclaimer: I attended U. C. Berkeley for 1 month in 1979, before transferring to a school run by "liberal" Jesuits, the University of San Francisco - one of my few great decisions of my youth. 

The Jesuits did a great job instilling my lifelong pursuit of learning, and the appreciation of different perspectives. I do not place NakedCapitalism outside of what I consider mainstream economic blogs, - it's on my Feedly "A" list. But the addition of the banner, and lack of any disclaimer in front of this article, has adjusted my understanding of their point of view.

That being said, the collision of the banner, the article, my previous blogs on Occupy Wall Street (OWS), along with the completion of a class "Converting Strategy into Action" from the Stanford SAPM program created context for this post. I will be pulling many quotes from the article - linked above - and will mark all in italics, my comments will be in bold. I have included links to many of my posts from the OWS period - it was a very productive time for my writing (ranting).

Consensus Fail

Kauffman provides historical context, and identifies the problem, but seems to stop short after recommending "apostasy" or renunciation of religious or political belief.  I would point out that the religious belief (revelation of God's Will) has been stripped from the activist playbook - Kauffman provides examples. So, are the activists to give up the political belief - which seems to be their more closely held "religious" tenant? 

Maybe there is another prescription.

My Two Cents

"A 1943 “Guide to Quaker Practice” explained, “The principle of corporate guidance, according to which the Spirit can inspire the group as a whole, is central. Since there is but one Truth, its Spirit, if followed will produce unity.” Consensus process will eventually yield a decision, in other words, because discussing, listening, and waiting will ultimately reveal God’s will. Patience will lead to Truth."

Linking Quaker leadership practices to the Occupy Wall Street movement is almost too hard for me to comprehend… but, there it is, and Kauffman provides examples to other activist movements. I was not a fan of OWS, in part because of their agenda, and a lot because of their execution. The blog posts linked below are from 2001, but provide a great summary of my position.

My Occupy Wall Street Blogs (Oct and Nov 2011)

Theory and Practice - Reality Gets in the Way

"In practice, the process [Consensus] often worked well in small-group settings, including within the affinity groups that often formed the building blocks for large actions. At the scale of a significant mobilization, though, the process was fraught with difficulty from the start. "

"A similar dynamic played out in Occupy Wall Street almost a quarter century later, where the general assembly proved ill-equipped to address the day-to-day needs of the encampment. Though On Conflict and Consensus assured organizers that “Formal Consensus is not inherently time-consuming,” experience suggested otherwise. The process favored those with the most time, as meetings tended to drag out for hours; in theory, consensus might include everyone in all deliberations, but in practice, the process greatly favored those who could devote limitless time to the movement — and made full participation difficult for those with ordinary life commitments outside of their activism."

The irony, that some people would "devote limitless time" (read: limitless resources) to a movement that decried people with, well, limitless resources. In "theory"… resources are always limited, why would time be excluded? Irony #2 - those with the most resources tended to push their agenda on the OWS movement. Wow. Amazing.  

Sometimes, that forced groups to reckon with important issues that the majority might otherwise ignore, which could indeed be powerful and transformative. But it also consistently empowered cranks, malcontents, and even provocateurs to lay claim to a group’s attention and gum up the works, even when groups adopted modifications to strict consensus that allowed super-majorities to override blocks.

"Great decisions, great ideas, great innovation, always come from a mob." ~Ever, Noone

The prime appeal of consensus process for 40 years has been its promise to be more profoundly democratic than other methods. This promise has been repeated again and again like dogma. But let’s face it: the real-world evidence is shaky at best. Perhaps the reason why it has endured so long in activist circles despite its evident practical shortcomings has something to do with the theological character it carried over from Quaker religious practice, the way it addresses a deep desire for transcendent group unity and “higher truth.”
Profound democracy as dogma? Sorry, that really needs an edit. Socialism as dogma. Ah, much better. Image a perfect world where every single decision about every single thing was decided by every single person coming together to discuss, negotiate, come to consensus and move forward. What a perfect… disaster. So, we need a committee! People who are smart, empathetic, able to make decisions that everyone else will like… no, not like --- LOVE!
 Perfection does not sit well on a scale. 
If the forty-year persistence of consensus has been a matter of faith, surely the time has now come for apostasy. Piety and habit are bad reasons to keep using a process whose benefits are more notional than real. Outside of small-group settings, consensus process is unwieldy, off-putting, tiresome, and ineffective. Many inclusive, accountable alternative methods are available for making decisions democratically. If we want to change the world, let’s pick ones that work.
Oh, so close… admitting a problem is the first step, but Kauffman doesn't go any further.

A New Prescription

Step 1 - Pile a group of activists into a Nissan Leaf (it will be a small, but environmentally friendly  group)

Step 2 - Drive the 50 miles from U. C. Berkeley to Stanford University (don’t forget bridge tolls for "the man")

Step 3 - Pony up the money for "Converting Strategy into Action", take the class, study the concepts, and adopt new practices

Step 4 - Create a business plan (you know, hierarchy, roles, responsibilities) using the Strategic Execution Framework

Step 5 - Use the Strategic Execution Map to align Customer wants with your project based work.  (You do know what your customer wants - right? You may be surprised if it is not exactly the same thing that you want.)

Step 6 - Make sure your leaders have talent, your followers share a common vision, and take your best shot. (No worries, the failure rate is brutal, good effort is sometimes the best reward)

Bottom Line - Bitter Pill

Consensus and "Pure Democracy" might work just fine in a group of Late Cycle (See Moore's Adoption Cycle), religiously aligned Quakers. The Quakers have the discipline to wait for for their answers to be revealed. Revealed in the religious sense.

Applying that same process to a group trying to "Change The World" has proved, well, not efficacious. Being wrong on execution for 40 years is no way to advance your agenda, and may even be alienating potential "customers". Discipline is rare because political alignment is a myth.

Apply business principles, a bit of entrepreneurial leadership, account for future organizational growth… and create customers by drawing them to an attractive product. 

Yes, I know, a bitter, bitter pill.


Friday, May 29, 2015


The Crowdfire App (Formerly JustUnfollow)

My Twitter Feed was feeling a lot like Facebook. Sure, I was following a lot of people, most for very good reasons, but the noise level was finally drowning out the signal. Promoted Tweets were not helping, and I had reached the "why am I doing this moment". I needed a Twitter reset.

How can an application change from "JustUnfollow" to an application to grow your engagement? Crowdfire makes the transition, and here are the steps to leverage their tool. 

 Opening the Kimono - My Twitter Stats

Click for larger image.
Twitter provides a unique platform for communication. But when the communication channel gets crammed with noise, it start to fail. Ever have a conversation in a noisy restaurant? Well, my feed was like having a conversation at the Indy 500. It was either give up, or make significant changes. 


The JustUnfollow app on a tablet provided the ability to see "inactive" users. Click to discover if someone had not posted a Tweet in 30+, 60+ or 90+ days. This was reasonably handy, but it was limited to the people that you follow. This is a great place to start - with a simple premise: if someone has not posted in more than a month, they are not really communicating. 

Spring Cleaning Process

My goal on Twitter is not to have a million followers. That would be nice, but communicating with impact to a million people is not where I want to be. Reading Tweets from celebrities and other media types is boring - a total time sink. 

Even the mainstream news people on Twitter are boring. They are unlikely to break news via Twitter - when they are paid to break news on their broadcast or cable channel. "Catch my show at 9:00", "My Special Guest is Joe Expert", "What did you think of the XYZ package?" Yes, I want to see the conversations, but they do not need to be in my normal feed. (Texas people: ever go to a BBQ place and have them hand you a full loaf of white bread with your order? Same thing - a slice or two is nice, but an entire loaf just distracts from the main course.)

Politicians are also pretty boring on Twitter. Inability to speak from the heart on a platform with a microphone, becomes dyslexic, tongue-twisted torture in 140 characters (or less). A mistake at a gathering in South Carolina will hit the airwaves for 2 minutes, on Twitter it echos... and takes on a life of it's own. 

Action Item: Move all Media People and Politicians to Lists, then Unfollow.

Twitter Fans on Crowdfire

I follow plenty of people that do not follow me back. [Hello: @CondoleezzaRice. Follow me, maybe?] I scrub new followers to remove the "Buy Followers", "Please Fund Me", "Check Out My New Photos" Twitter-trolls. Crowdfire provides a quick list of "Fans" - people that follow me, that I do not follow back. The count was surprising (356!), some had dropped from Twitter, they would not be in the Inactive User List, some were doppelganger accounts (yeah, some of my favorite accounts end up in Twitmo on occasion), some accounts were just odd. 

Action Item: Scrub the "Fans" list 

Manually reviewing 350+ profiles forces the tough decision making process. Why are they following me? Do we have followers in common (is that enough to keep a fan)? Review their stream, are they posting stuff that is important to me? Are they posting original thoughts, or just re-tweeting noise? Verdict -- 356 fans reduced to 52. Some were moved to lists, some were followed, but the vast majority Blocked. Twitter does not have a elegant way to force people to unfollow. (Sorry)

Action Item: Scrub the Followers list

This is a total pain. Not only is the list longer, but the clicks required to block any follower is monotonous. First - remove inactive accounts. Crowdfire includes a small data element showing when the account last posted. If you haven't posted in the last 30 days, you're off my list. Second - if your posts are in a foreign language, and only occasionally in English, sorry. Finally, if you are solely on Twitter to promote a business (of any kind) and are not providing content that I need, bye-bye. 

Question: How many times can I read the "10 Ways to Improve your LinkedIn Profile" without seeing anything new. The Tweep that has supporting content stays on my list. 

270 of the 1570 followers were cut. Pretty close to 80/20 Pareto Perfection.

Bottom Line: 

My feed is much more focused, signal to noise has been improved dramatically, and Tweeps that I really care about are getting more of my attention. I added a couple of items to my Twitter task list:
  1. Review Lists (Politicians, Media, etc.), as needed, for content
  2. Build Lists in specific areas (Central TX, Technology and OneNote, Education) 
  3. Build Community (Writers, Authors, Publishers)
Crowdfire changed their product offering from JustUnfollow - it really helped me to prune my Twitter account. Now, onto building my community.