Posted by: spacewritinguy | February 5, 2009

Infantile Behavior in the Workplace

When I describe “infantile behavior in the workplace,” I don’t mean temper tantrums, childish humor, or bedwetting, though often you can find enough of all of the above in any office, if you look hard enough. No, what had me in a twist today was a “team building” exercise in which the purpose was to fashion animals out of tinfoil and then share with the other kindergarteners “what this animal says about you.”

Not being terribly artistic, I rolled mine up into something in about two minutes and then started texting a former HR friend. I was on the verge of turning to my manager and saying, “I’m done, can I go play with my Legos now?” But no, the entire HOUR was consumed by this idiotic exercise.

Here are some insights a former HR person and full-time pain in the ass can offer to people who want to do these sorts of exercises:

  • Stop it.
  • You can’t force teamwork.
  • You can’t force people to be friends. You can expect a minimum level of courtesy and respect, neither of which requires your team to be best-pinky-friends-forever. If we want to be friends, we’ll do so on our own time, when we’re not paid to be nice.
  • Forcing people to engage in group therapy can be uncomfortable for some and an exercise in “too much information” for others (do we really need to hear about all the tragedies in your life? No).
  • Putting a group of intelligent professionals into a room and making them sit through cut-and-paste hour might sound fun, but the more serious-minded in the group are thinking:
    • You’re wasting my damned time.
    • You’re insulting my intelligence.
    • You’re trying to infantilize me.
    • Some of us are more interested in getting in touch with our inner adult. Our inner child left us sometime around college.
    • You’re making the unartistic, shy, or inarticulate members of the group feel unnecessarily inadequate.

And here’s another news flash: If you’ve got performance or actual teamwork issues in the workplace–you know, what we get PAID to do–then a one-hour group regression therapy exercise is not going to fix it. 

Competent people don’t demand much from their workplace, but in case the management therapists among you are still looking for “bright ideas to build teamwork,” here are a few deep thoughts from the Spacewritinguy:

  • Hire the best people you can find, and do what you can to keep them happy.
  • Make sure people have the resources they need to do their jobs.
  • Recognize people appropriately for work well done. If it requires a handshake, then give the handshake. If it calls for a bonus check, give folks the check. If it means a promotion or raise, let ’em fly. We don’t need the circus clown, dog, or pony. Treat us like the professional adults we are.
  • Remove barriers to productive work.
  • If there is a problem between groups or individuals, address the matter directly as soon as it interferes with the ability to get productive work done. If it’s just a pissing contest between egos or a seventh-grade case of she-doesn’t-like-me, ignore it. Don’t drag the entire group into the board room for finger paints.
  • If you can’t fix the problems, get rid of the person or persons who are causing them.

That’s really about it.

Posted by: spacewritinguy | January 19, 2009

Pardon Me?

Here’s an interesting set of stats on Bush compared to Clinton:

During his presidency, Bush has granted a total of 189 pardons and 11 commutations. That’s fewer than half as many as Presidents Bill Clinton or Ronald Reagan issued during their two-term tenures. Bush technically has until noon on Tuesday when President-elect Barack Obama is sworn into office to exercise his executive pardon authority, but presidential advisers said no more were forthcoming.

In an earlier high-profile official act of forgiveness, Bush saved Vice President Dick Cheney‘s former chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, from serving prison time in the case of the 2003 leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame’s identity. Libby was convicted of perjury and obstructing justice. Bush could still grant him a full pardon, although Libby has not applied for one.

Clinton issued a total of 457 pardons or commutations in eight years in office. Bush’s father, George H. W. Bush, issued 77 in four years. Reagan issued 406 in eight years, and President Jimmy Carter issued 563 in four years. Since World War II, the largest number of pardons and commutations — 2,031 — came from President Harry Truman, who served 82 days short of eight years.

Here are some more interesting statistics:

January 1933
Unemployment Rate*: 24.9 percent
President: Franklin D. Roosevelt
(* From the FDR Library. All other stats from the Dept. of Labor.)

President: Harry S. Truman
Starting Unemployment Rate (first full term, January 1949): 4.3 percent
High: 7.9 percent
Low: 2.7 percent
Finishing (December 1952): 2.7 percent

President: Dwight D. Eisenhower
Starting Unemployment Rate: 2.9 percent
High: 7.5 percent
Low: 2.5 percent
Finishing: 6.6 percent

President: John F. Kennedy
Starting Unemployment Rate: 6.6 percent
High: 7.1 percent
Low: 5.4 percent
Finishing (November 1963): 5.7 percent

President: Lyndon B. Johnson
Starting Unemployment Rate: 5.5 percent
High: 5.6 percent
Low: 3.4 percent
Finishing: 3.4 percent

President Richard M. Nixon
Starting Unemployment Rate: 3.4 percent
High: 6.1 percent
Low: 3.4 percent
Finishing (August 1974): 5.5 percent

President: Gerald R. Ford
Starting Unemployment Rate: 5.9 percent
High: 9.0 percent
Low: 5.9 percent
Finishing: 7.8 percent

President: James E. Carter
Starting Unemployment Rate: 7.5 percent
High: 7.5 percent
Low: 5.8 percent
Finishing: 7.2 percent

President: Ronald W. Reagan
Starting Unemployment Rate: 7.5 percent
High: 10.8 percent
Low: 5.3 percent
Finishing: 5.3 percent

President: George H. W. Bush
Starting Unemployment Rate: 5.4 percent
High: 7.8 percent
Low: 5.0 percent
Finishing: 7.4 percent

President: William J. B. Clinton
Starting Unemployment Rate: 7.3 percent
High: 7.4 percent
Low: 3.8 percent
Finishing: 3.9 percent

President: George W. Bush
Starting Unemployment Rate: 4.2 percent
High: 7.2 percent
Low: 4.2 percent
Finishing: 7.2 percent

The table looks like this:

Starting 4.3 2.9 6.6 5.5 3.4 5.9 7.5 7.5 5.4 7.3 4.2
High 7.9 7.5 7.1 5.6 6.1 9 7.5 10.8 7.8 7.4 7.2
Low 2.7 2.5 5.4 3.4 3.4 5.9 5.8 5.3 5 3.8 4.2
Finishing 2.7 6.6 5.7 3.4 5.5 7.8 7.2 5.3 7.4 3.9 7.2
Posted by: spacewritinguy | January 13, 2009

More Goodness from Russia

European diplomats are shocked that Russia isn’t following up on its promises to restore gas deliveries to Ukraine while Russia is somehow blaming America for all this. Didn’t we just leave this party–20 years ago?

I repeat my previous assertion: Mike Griffin and others are right to worry about U.S. access to the International Space Station when Russia is willing to perform extortion with a strategic resource to get its way.

Posted by: spacewritinguy | January 11, 2009

In Defense of Disproportionate Force

Ask the black widow spider about disproportionate force.

This is practically standard Israeli doctrine: “Hurt us a little, we’ll hurt you a lot.” The theory being, if you get hurt worse than you hurt them, you won’t be so inclined to hurt them again next time. Sometimes it works. Notice that Egypt, Jordan, and Syria don’t kick sand in the IDF’s face anymore, but non-nation groups like Hamas and Hezbollah need multiple lessons about picking up a very small but highly poisonous spider. Stupid.

Posted by: spacewritinguy | January 6, 2009

Laugh Line of the Century

“We are going to ban all earmarks.”

–President-Elect Barack Obama, January 6, 2008

I’m still laughing.

Posted by: spacewritinguy | January 5, 2009

Ares V RFP Follow-Up

Wow–looks like NASA got their official RFP out for Ares V:

Let the games begin!

Posted by: spacewritinguy | January 4, 2009

Review of NASA’s Altair RFP

Hello, space fans. It’s been awhile since I actually talked space here, so I thought I’d have a look at the draft request for proposal (RFP) that came out for NASA’s Altair Lunar Lander. Comments as I see ’em. Inputs welcome. If you’d like to know why I think myself qualified to do this sort of review, see my review of the Ares V RFP awhile back.

Starting with the synopsis….

The Altair Project Office is looking to build on the knowledge gained through the Broad Area Announcement (BAA) Lunar Lander Study Contracts. The goal of the BAA Lunar Lander Study Contracts was to obtain industry input on the government’s study philosophy, establish a study team capable of working together toward a common government led design, and develop alternative design concepts from a single set of requirements.

Obviously the BAA came out awhile ago. Must’ve missed that one (ah! here it is: Hm.

this contract shall provide the necessary resources to conduct NASA directed engineering tasks in support of evaluating vehicle conceptual designs, maturing the vehicle design, and developing the necessary products for System Requirements Review (SRR) and System Design Review (SDR).

Ah. So, like the Ares V RFP, this is for engineering work and studies, not building hardware. So I would expect a lower price tag. The Apollo Lunar Module (LM) cost around $1.5 billion in 1967 dollars to build, but that price included

Next I moved on to Section C, the Statement of Work (SOW).

Key management resources consist of a Senior System Engineer, a Contractor Project Manager, a Senior Project Integration Engineer and a Senior Vehicle Engineer. 

So: still a small contract. But there is this:

The contractor shall provide resources with the full breadth of disciplines required for the conceptual/preliminary design and milestone review product generation of a Lunar Lander.  Although contractors will be requested to assess requirements documents, NASA retains sole responsibility for their development and content. 

This is where the contractor proposes as many or as few people as they think will be needed to do the job. One could take the “impress them with your knowledge” approach and include everyone on the staff who’s touched a lunar-type program, or you could go for the “quality over quantity” approach and select only a few very smart, key players who could guide the effort. The government is usually looking to strike a balance between capability and price. Usually, but not always, price will win the day.

There will be multiple Altair Conceptual Design Contract (ACDC) contractors. 

Again, interesting. NASA is trying to maximize competition to produce the best inputs/design. However, one wonders how much work the agency has already done–do they already have a concept in mind? Given that there are already conceptual images of Altair on, one can only assume so.

Work areas include Project Management, Vehicle Engineering, Safety, Test & Verification, Technology Integration, Operations Integration, and Project Integration. Thus, the contractor is looking at a minimum of seven people, including a Senior System Engineer, plus support personnel for each of the subspecialties listed as well. The “secret sauce” for any services contractor is its mix of personnel and the labor rates it charges for each.

The list of the subspecialties (2.3.1-16) required just under vehicle engineering gives some idea of the scope involved in building a lunar lander. I do wonder a bit if a commercial RFP would look greatly different from a government one. For instance, if SpaceX were to get into the lunar lander business, how much different would their procurement and design process look from the government’s? I’m willing to bet their reporting requirements would be less, at any rate. Another problem that can arise during RFPs is when the contractor has to work within the government’s structure rather than proposing their own. On the one hand, you’re not playing by their rule (“thinking outside the box” is not nearly as welcome in government as it is in the private sector); but if you have a better way of doing something, should you not propose it? Yep, that’s a puzzler. I’d be curious to know what the RFP for the LM looked like. (Yeah, I’m a nerd, so what?)

Section 2.7, “Encouraging Innovation,” is interesting, as it offers an escalation process if bright ideas for improving the design are not approved at the integrated product team level. One presumes that if the bright idea is rejected at the Program Manager level, that the final answer is “T.S., buddy. We know better, and we’re not doing it your way.” At which point the disgruntled person with the bright idea would most likely drop it, quit, or go to NASAWatch and say how cocked up the program is because they didn’t accept said bright idea. I wonder what John Houbolt would have done if NASA hadn’t accepted lunar orbit rendezvous as the method for landing on the Moon and the internet had been around back then.

Section L, Instructions, Conditions, and Notices to Offerors. The government anticipates this work to be firm fixed price (FFP). Given the engineering-services nature of the contract at this point, that makes sense. The period of performance (POP) runs July 2009-August 2010, with Option 1 POP running October 2009 to July 2011 and Option 2 running March 2010 to January 2013. Must have some overlapping activities there.

The Technical Volume length is 60 pages, Management and Pricing Volume is 30 pages, Past Performance Volume is 20 pages. Sheesh, that’s a lot of writing. While multiple awards are expected, the tricky part for the offerors is deciding how much of their internal bright ideas to share with NASA. After all, the government could just take the bright ideas and run (that’s one reason companies don’t like responding to RFIs (requests for information). Sometimes the government is just on a fishing expedition to see what kinds of ideas they can get for free. In this case, however, I think NASA’s probably more interested in the people each company will bring to the table and how they’ll have them arrayed for battle.

Jeez, they want 7-10 hard copies of each volume! That’s a lot of paper!

Wow, some actual technical requests!

Provide a description of the approach you would follow in conducting the following representative trades and analyses.  This description of each shall include discussion of the analysis steps, design parameters to be analyzed, possible options to be investigated, and the types of expertise to be applied to properly evaluate the trade, in addition to specific discussions listed in the trade descriptions below.  Only the general approach to trade resolution is necessary, specific solutions are not expected: 


(1)                 Lander Scavenging – Discuss lander design features that would enable lander assets left behind on the lunar surface to be more conducive to re-use.  Specifically identify the features or components that would be targeted for investigation.


(2)                 Ascent Module / Airlock Configuration – The sortie mission habitation, transfer between pressurized and unpressurized environments, and “flight deck” functions may be combined in multiple configurations.  Discuss the process for identifying, and analyzing these options.


(3)                 Manufacturability and Operability – Discuss the steps needed to assess spacecraft design manufacturability and operational considerations that will enable more cost effective or streamlined spacecraft production and operations.  Include in your discussion design areas that may reduce life cycle costs in the areas of manufacturing and assembly, integration and testing, handling and transportation, and ground and flight operations.  Discuss how the results of this analysis could be incorporated into the  lander design.


(4)                 Landing Gear Design – Discuss the variables that apply to the design of the lander’s landing gear.


(5)                 CG Management Mitigation – Discuss the variables that contribute to the determination, perturbance, and control of the lander’s center of gravity during powered flight.

Otherwise, as expected, most of the “technical” section is asking about management and small business planning.

And that’s all I have time for at the moment. It will be interesting to see if NASA gets to award this before Obama takes office.

Posted by: spacewritinguy | January 3, 2009

Russian Extortion

Remember this story when the space shuttle is no longer flying and the U.S. has no other way to access space.

Russia, facing financial problems, is cutting off gas shipments to Ukraine because Ukraine resisted paying higher prices for their gas. Think it won’t happen with flights to the International Space Station?

Wait for it.

Posted by: spacewritinguy | December 18, 2008

Death by Heat or Cold?

Some interesting stats from the Center for Disease Control on the number of deaths sustained due to hypothermia vs. extreme heat. Neither set of stats is too encouraging, but you’ve got about a 25% better chance of dying of freezing to death than overheating.

Figure 1

During 1999–2002, a total of 4,607 death certificates in the United States had hypothermia-related diagnoses listed as the underlying cause of death or nature of injury leading to the underlying cause of death (annual incidence: four per 1,000,000 population). Exposure to excessive natural cold (International Classification of Diseases, Tenth Revision [ICD-10] code X31) was the underlying cause in 2,622 deaths. Hypothermia (ICD-10 code T68) was the nature of injury in 1,985 deaths with underlying causes of death other than exposure to excessive natural cold (e.g. falls, atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, or drowning).

During 1999–2003, a total of 3,442 deaths resulting from exposure to extreme heat were reported (annual mean: 688). For 2,239 (65%) of these deaths, the underlying cause of death was recorded as exposure to excessive heat; for the remaining 1,203 (35%), hyperthermia was recorded as a contributing factor. Deaths among males accounted for 66% of deaths and outnumbered deaths among females in all age groups (Figure). Of the 3,401 decedents for whom age information was available, 228 (7%) were aged <15 years, 1,810 (53%) were aged 15–64 years, and 1,363 (40%) were aged >65 years. The state with the highest average annual hyperthermia-related death rate during 1999–2003 was Arizona (1.7 deaths per 100,000 population), followed by Nevada (0.8) and Missouri (0.6).

I’m calling Heat Mizer. His odds are better.

Posted by: spacewritinguy | December 8, 2008

Crisis of Conscience for a Space Conservative

So I’m in the process of writing a white paper to submit to Obama’s web site, with the purpose of said paper being to offer advice/input on what he should do with regard to space. About 1/3 of the way through the document, I found myself having a crisis of conscience. The fear ran something like this:

  1. Suppose he takes the advice.
  2. Suppose the advice works.
  3. Suppose, as a result of the advice, the nation’s adventures in space become greater than anything done under Apollo.
  4. Suppose, as a result of those accomplishments, liberals and liberalism control the government for the next 40 years, as they did from 1952 to 1994.

It’s not like I have an exceedingly lofty view of my abilities–there are others in his administration holding similar pro-space views anyway–but jeez, what the hell would become of conservatism if this paper actually worked and had some impact???

One of the disadvantages of being trained in Sophistry (the ability to argue both sides of an issue with equal passion and ability) is that I occasionally end up in the uncomfortable position of undermining the beliefs I actually do have. Ouch. I guess it all comes down to whether I’m more loyal to my country than my party. And if I were to be fundamentally honest with myself, I’m an American first.

So I guess if it comes down to it, I’d rather see America succeed in space under a liberal than go nowhere under a conservative. So it goes.

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