Posted May 13th, 2019 by russfrazierwp and filed in Uncategorized
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This is a classical-style piano piece I’ve been working on and have finished it. It’s on SoundCloud.


Business managers and value creation

Posted March 9th, 2019 by russfrazierwp and filed in Business and Economy, Low Snark Kvetching
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There are certain disparities between what business academics teaches and real-world organizational operations. A particularly fundamental difference relates to the conscious recognition of value creation. An MBA is taught that a firm is like a money-making machine, returning value to stakeholders by generating wealth through the act of value creation. Focusing on value creation should be a goal of organizational planning and strategy.

A desk.
A desk.

That is far from what business managers think day to day, however.

If, for example, an MBA prescribes the use of forecasting based on historical results, why would a business manager ignore the advice and use guesswork or nothing at all?

The first conclusion is that contrary to what MBAs have been taught, business managers are not interested in value creation, per se. They are far more motivated by a drive for self-determination and ego. I think this translates into the frequently expressed but vaguely defined idea of “freedom” in a business context. Value creation is too much of an abstract microeconomic concept, divorced from the everyday struggles of time and resource management, selling, operational control and career ambitions.

When people feel that their independence is being questioned, the first reaction is to resist. They aren’t ready to listen to an involved explanation as to why they should do things a certain way, supported by a significant body of management research and case studies, even if doing so suggests the result would be a higher probability of value creation. People simply don’t like being told what to do. As in other walks of life, the truth is no match for human beliefs.

My opinion is based on my work experiences in over 40 years with over 20 widely different organizations including the military, large public corporations and small privately owned operations. After all that, I can say with confidence that I can tell the difference between good and bad management. All managers have certain things in common. It is a rare one who considers an objective point of view and asks, “What if I did do it that way? Maybe my results would be better.”

Snarky open letter to the US Senate GOP

Posted January 13th, 2019 by russfrazierwp and filed in Opinion, Plain Ol' Snark
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Спасибо вам, товарищи сенаторы, за то, что помогли нам нейтрализовать США и демократию во всем мире.

Наши друзья криминальные олигархи находятся на пути к тотальному доминированию свободных рынков по своему выбору.

С вашим добрым бездействием американская верховенство закона подорвано, ваши государственные служащие деморализованы, а люди отговорены от голосования и участвуют в общем благе.

Мы особенно благодарны за ущерб, нанесенный вашим прекрасным национальным паркам. Приятное прикосновение!

Waves CA

Posted June 3rd, 2018 by russfrazierwp and filed in Music
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This is a classical-styled piece with piano and strings. Written in C and A. Made entirely with the Korg Kronos keyboard and Rosegarden music editing application running on linux. (My Soundcloud channel is RS Frazier if you want to listen to some of my other music)


Waves CA

Waves CA

Here’s the YouTube video

Lessons learned – Architectural sims

Posted September 24th, 2017 by russfrazierwp and filed in Business and Economy
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In 2005 I created an LLC, Synthegenic, that was intended to be a vehicle for commercializing ideas. I had just completed an MBA and was certain that if I worked hard at applying all that business knowledge, I could achieve financial independence – the closest thing to true freedom that I can think of.

I spent a great deal of time developing software, writing business plans and doing a lot of government grant application research. Having gone through the NCSU HiTec program, I was experienced with working on the commercialization aspects of brand-new technology. At that stage of technology development, it isn’t clear whether a technology will ever make any money, or if it is even useful for anything at all.

I created a fuzzy-logic based expert system whereby I could screen ideas very quickly for economic potential. This sort of application is not unheard of in some organizations, as it’s well understood by management researchers that ideas fall like raindrops but only a very few end up being economically feasible. The more quickly an organization can screen the unworkable ideas from the workable ones the better.

Well, one of the ideas that got through my sieve was a sort of architectural design simulator. A 3D application and system that would allow architectural clients and designers to engage in self-directed walk-throughs of designs. Like a First Person Shooter (FPS) game or Second Life, the client would log in to the system, download the “map” and be able to walk or fly themselves around the site. However, unlike an FPS game or Second Life, the site would be limited to just the project design, would be updated as necessary continuously throughout the project design period, would be available to clients only and would have features to alter the design, accurate ephemeris data for sun and moon, lighting, shadows, weather and the surrounding ambient environment, including sound.

The vast bulk of configuration work would be behind the scenes.

I envisioned a technology-based service that would shift the tedious, time-consuming and frustrating computer software work away from architects and onto a dedicated team of Computer Aided Design (CAD) engineers. Architects would find this attractive because it would free them from work that wasn’t design-related and it would improve the way they communicated certain design ideas to their clients.

During the entire phase of a project, the virtual site would be available, first perhaps populated by a simple naked ground site, then with simple sketches and then with increasingly solid structures and landscaping as design elements became more certain. All that is quite possible with modern game development technology. My main development focus was building this application system.

The several people I discussed the idea with were more enthusiastic than I anticipated. Almost all of them thought it was a good idea. But, as indicated above, a good idea does not mean it can drive a viable business model. A lesson I learned in business school and took to hear

My thinking was that I could find a collaborative architectural partner who would be willing to help me work out things like:

  • How to quickly and systematically convey an abstract hand drawing to the CAD engineers so they could make it into an equivalent abstract foreground object for the simulation
  • How to convert Autocad drawings into a format the simulation system could use
  • What kinds of ideas are best conveyed in a simulated environment and which ones don’t carry over.

I badly needed to check the viability of the business model. I created a business plan for the project which included a model showing what the proposed prices would look like for an architectural firm that wanted to use the service. The way I saw it, architects would only be able to justify an additional cost like that if they could cut costs somewhere else. I had no idea if adding the service would result in reduced costs elsewhere for them. I was fairly certain that nobody in the architectural field would pay for an extra service without being able to cut something else out. They were already expensive and adding additional services would only eliminate more potential clients.

The other side of the business model was true cash flow from operations. I could squeeze out a one-digit IRR by increasing the number of projects and having personnel run multiple projects simultaneously. I used a reasonable cost of capital derived from proxy firms, but it was significantly higher than that IRR. I was not willing to assume outsourcing CAD work to a low-wage country or things like harsh and inexpensive work environments. That whole picture made it less and less compelling to investors who might want their 30% in five years.

One warning flag came when I was doing research into similar firms. I did find a software project that embodied the same ideas. It apparently didn’t take off and become a growing business concern. It didn’t look to me like it was ever sold as a stand-alone technology. So there was something going on with the business assumptions around the whole thing. And I was likely to make the same assumptions.

It was clear, after creating these business models, that

  1. The project would be operating on a thinner margin that I hoped and
  2. That there was no guarantee that the architectural firms would buy it.

Those were two key considerations.

Even after all that doubt, I had managed to set up a meeting with a local architect, just to get a reaction. Well, I got a reaction, but it wasn’t what I expected. She interrupted me before I could finish the entire presentation and declared the thing no different than SketchUp. SketchUp is for modeling. My technology is more like a customized FPS game where the modeling is done elsewhere and multiples users can log in…

Anyway, I was not prepared for a negative reaction like that, and did not even know how to respond. I had completely expected at least a courteous response, if not an encouraging one.

One takeaway that I can claim from that experience is that objective truth is no match for human bias. And that my salesmanship was poor. Sales people know that people might react in hostile ways and they know how to respond appropriately.

The other takeaway is related to overcoming barriers to entry. There are understood barriers when a competitive product or service enters an existing market. But when the product or service is brand new and unknown to the potential market, the barriers are completely different. The standard strategic considerations of economies of scale, differentiation, etc. don’t necessarily apply because there isn’t any historical record yet to base any of that on.

I think my initial instinct of finding a development partner within the customer community was correct. It is essential to develop a new unknown technology or service with guidance from the customers. And a brand new product or service that was already being used by an early adopter or thought leader within the customer market would make it easier for others to accept it. However, I overestimated my own ability to sell, my ability to be effective outside my field, and I underestimated human bias.

I did not trust my cost of capital estimate when I should have admitted that it looked prohibitive, given my requirements of fair compensation and realistic expenses.

Finally, my screening tool did not have the necessary additions required to estimate the barriers associated with introducing a novel product or service. It assumed acceptance associated with novelty, not rejection.

Necessary but not sufficient: Control and value creation

Posted September 10th, 2017 by russfrazierwp and filed in Business and Economy
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One of the most common errors in reasoning that managers in business make is that if they are in control of their business processes, then they are creating value.

If I control my business processes, I will create value.
I am controlling my business processes.
Therefore, I am creating value.

After all, it is arguably true that in order to create any sort of lasting or meaningful value, the organization must deliberately take in inputs and convert them somehow to create value.

However, merely controlling the processes may be insufficient if the business model is unworkable. For example, not being able to charge a high enough price for the product or service. Businesses will continue on, carrying out their carefully laid out plans right up to zero net income.

Workplace people

Workplace people

A situation like that becomes even more precarious if the business is small because they often just have the one model and limited resources to deal with changes such as a cash flow crisis. A larger business with several reasonably decoupled projects can cut a failed project before it causes further losses and reassign personnel and possibly capital.

It is often only by force of economic reality that the organization takes corrective action. Then, because of the business’s debt or equity structure (i.e. leverage, investors) the action is catastrophic, resulting in personnel terminations, loss of capital or very unsound decisions.

Part of the problem has to do with the desire for managers to maintain control on a personal level. The need for control overrides the rationale for focusing on creating value.

When people become so focused on the challenges of control, whether it be the technical minutia of software development, the complexities of raising adequate funds for continuation or dealing with people, they lose track of the fundamental determining fact of profitability contained in, or insufficiently represented in, the business model.

As an exacerbating effect on this tendency, I offer you fad organizational structures that increase the silo effect between departments and reduce transparency and communication between key decision makers.

Sunken ship

Sunken ship

When this happens business managers put their energies into control, and not into value creation. The result is animated and engaged managers busy with the current crisis while the organization sinks further into trouble.


Posted July 15th, 2017 by russfrazierwp and filed in Personal
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March 21, 2001–July 12, 2017

March 21, 2001–July 12, 2017

Our adopted dog George passed away recently. He had become lame in his hind legs and could no longer walk without dragging one or both feet behind him.

George loved chasing the soccer ball on the field at York Elementary. He would tear up the field no matter how tired and winded he was. When he got to the point of complete exhaustion, he would lie down and trap the ball between his paws and bark. I don’t know what he was saying, but he sure was happy.

He loved to sniff. Everything. Since he was never trained on a leash when he was younger, he would just try and pull as hard as he could on walks until he started using the Easy Walk harness. If he could sniff all the pee, poop, discarded food, grass, flowers and whatnot, we would never finish any walk. Before he was neutered, he would lift his leg and try to pee on everything he found the least bit interesting.

And that was what he loved the most, those walks. When I first started walking him, we would go for long walks – through the neighborhood, around the lakes, through the nature park. Eventually he figured out a trick to prolong the walks. When we got near the end of the walk, he would stall by walking slower and finding more things to investigate. In the end, he actually dragged himself to the gate because he wanted to go for a walk.

Going somewhere, anywhere.

Going somewhere, anywhere.

When he was still over at Elaine’s house, he could still hear very well. He would bark at damn near anything and howl. He would start howling at sirens before we could hear them. It was like a one-minute warning. The howls would start out soft and low and rise to a coyote-like pitch then trail off, finally stopping when the siren became too faint to hear.

If it weren’t for George, I would not have found Dude. To me, it was like a supernatural event, and to this day I wonder about how this happened and what it meant. It was just about two weeks after we had lost one of our beloved cats, and I was feeling very sad and empty. I was taking George through the nature park, and as we came over a ridge I saw a black and white streak run across the creek and disappear into the embankment. As it ran, it cried out several times. Well, it was Dude, and he was about 5 or 6 weeks old, abandoned or living there, in the park, hiding in a small, dirt cave. To make a long story short, we have Dude now.

In his second yard.

In his second yard.

George would come into the garage during particularly bad or extreme weather. I would call for Dude to come to the door leading from the kitchen to the garage, and then they would look at each other. They sniffed the air. One time they actually touched noses. George would not know what to do and stood there still as a statue, not wanting to look directly at the cat but slowly moving his head so as not to alarm him. His self-control was amazing.

Once we had a scare when we suddenly heard him calling out in pain. My wife and I both ran down to where he was under the porch to find him on his side, unable to get up and writhing on the ground. Thinking he had broken a hip or his back, we rushed him to the emergency hospital. We carried him in on a blanket and waited with dread for horrible news as the veterinarian treated George in the back room. Next thing, here he comes walking out like nothing happened. We were happy and incredulous. “He’s walking!” we cried with elation. “What was it?” we asked. “He had his foot caught in his collar.” We felt ridiculous.

He had some dogs come by from time to time when he lived in his first yard, but when I started walking with him in the nature park he made his best dog friend of all, Tramp. Tramp was a white mixed breed little guy about the size and build of a boxer. We would only see him and his person (a local filmmaker) by chance. When they got together, the dogs would thrash around and roll on the ground, tangling their leashes and embarrassing the people with their amorous antics.

In Elaine's yard.

In Elaine’s yard.

Daun would mow the back yard and find that George would frequently be standing exactly where she was about to be next. After a while, she realized that he was herding – predicting the future position of the thing being herded and standing in that spot.

He had always been a sweet dog and never lashed out at anyone or anything the whole time I knew him. The only time he growled was when off-leash aggressive dogs in the nature park spotted him from way off and came running up to him barking and growling. (I lost track of the times I had to tell people that their dogs were required to have a leash.)

There were so many other high points (starting regular walks), funny things (constant interruptions around people, when he could still hear) and low points (being attacked by a neighborhood dog) but I will remember him as a highly intelligent working dog who would look at us as we watched him through the window, his eyes saying, “When are you coming out?”

Two new music pieces

Posted November 12th, 2016 by russfrazierwp and filed in Music
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These are a couple of songs I wrote that are intended to be for a  marketing video background music track. The video is a short, 30 second shot of a small machine with someone’s hands using the machine. They are meant to be edited as the video editor sees fit for the purpose.

Demo A (A is for ARCA)

Demo B (El Timbalero Aburrido)

Demo A took much longer to make than I’m willing to admit, partly due to the learning process of using the sequencer on my keyboard. Demo B didn’t take as long, but it turned out sounding sillier than I thought so I gave it a whimsical name.

My SoundCloud channel is RS Frazier as well as my YouTube channel. If you haven’t checked out my videos on YouTube there are more songs as well as a funny video about an engineer asking his boss about getting an MBA. That one has generated a lot of comments.


The Usurper of Complacency: Knowledge

Posted May 5th, 2015 by russfrazierwp and filed in Opinion
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Isn’t is a great feeling? You’ve struggled at length to grasp something and then finally, “Ah-ha!” you have it nailed and you’re sure you’ve got it wrapped up inside your head, all neat and tidy. Clear, complete understanding. The feeling can happen, for example, by conquering a difficult math problem or trying to figure out how a piece of machinery works. How long does that feeling last?


The Thinker In The Gates of  Hell

The Thinker In The Gates of Hell. Source: Wikipedia

Well, if it had to do with understanding that the Earth was at the center of the universe with the sun, moon, planets and stars all rotating around it, that particular feeling lasted over 2,200 years. That is a lot of warm, comforting knowledge of complete comprehension. Never mind that it was completely wrong1)Not to conflate large scale paradigms and smaller scaled thinking.

When we have achieved that happy level of comprehension we sit back, sip on a refreshing beverage and review the rocky path to our contentment. We smile. We’re self-assured, relaxed and, admittedly, perhaps a bit smug. But we deserve to have our reward for hard work, don’t we? We need to take time to savor the moment. Yes, yes, of course….


Rest on campus

Ah, time to rest now that complete understanding has been achieved

Then after some indeterminate amount of time, we begin to go about our business, temporarily forgetting the vanquished foe of confusion. Yes, those enemies of good feelings: confusion and doubt. We don’t like them. We must drive all befuddlement and hazy murkiness away from the mind.

If a challenge to our solution appears we crush it or ignore it because it is obviously wrong. Why is it wrong? It is wrong because we already fought and won that war. Immediately after winning we were rewarded with that good, comfortable feeling of understanding, thus deepening our conviction. Now it is like an old pair of house slippers, molded perfectly to our feet, cozy and snug. So why go back and make more effort? We’ve fought the battle, we’ve had our victory, end of story.

No, not end of story. And if history is any guide, not even close to the end of story. Why?

Because our understanding of things is built on flimsy, wobbly scaffolds we call our paradigms. Those paradigms are constantly shifting, constantly moving and cannot be taken for granted nor can they be trusted. Our multiple paradigms are constantly growing, to match an increasing number of different endeavors and fields. But almost all of them are subject to alteration, vulnerable to movement and change.


A model

A model

Just like the geocentric paradigm of the cosmos which was certainly correct according to Ptolemy but later shown to be complete nonsense by Copernicus. The same paradigm changes occurred for the spontaneous generation theory, the emission theory of vision, humoral medicine and goose trees.2)Thanks to YANSS 046



Rickety building

Something’s not right here…


Paradigms – those models of reality or constructs that we base our thinking on – are interesting just for that reason. They are never really stable, but we treat them as if they were. We need stable paradigms to run our thoughts through, to formulate hypothesis around. When we are able to use a paradigm to solve a problem, we declare it as good. No need to go questioning something that works. Are they then all nothing but delusions?

Some paradigms are more obviously shaky and unstable so we naturally mock these and their adherents, being of superior intellect. Some of the business organizational paradigms (fads) that arguably exploded during the last 60 years come to mind.

When it comes to technology, we’re on only slightly firmer ground, but the paradigms still shift when we’re not looking. Sometimes it seems as though technology paradigms shift just as fast or faster than business paradigms. For example, just look at the idea of cloud computing. Before 2006 there was no Amazon cloud computing service. That is a whole new technology platform, a new paradigm for selling goods and services.

Scientific paradigms move a bit slower, as they themselves are built upon paradigms of empirical knowledge. And here is where the nonsense is supposed to stop. Testing assumptions through reproducible experimentation is part of the foundation of the scientific method.


Experimental beakers

Scientific methodology at work

What is it about these models we are so fond of creating that make us start treating them as if they were sacrosanct? Is it because if we start to pick at them, to examine their weaknesses and point out their flaws, our hard work begins to vanish and evaporate, like rainwater rising from a hot pavement as mist?

Every new technology paradigm that comes along seems as if it’s accompanied by a midwife announcing a new baby. A bundle of joy to be admired and adored. Why? Because it’s new. The especially good ones have a pedigree, as well, because they’ve been fathered by academic superstars or industrial demigods.

If this topic interests you, consider learning about the work of Thomas Kuhn and Michael Polanyi.

Notes   [ + ]

1. Not to conflate large scale paradigms and smaller scaled thinking
2. Thanks to YANSS 046

Brookhaven Nature Park Hit by Mad Spray Painter

Posted December 27th, 2013 by russfrazierwp and filed in Low Snark Kvetching
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Does that sound a little hyperbolic? The Brookhaven Nature Park (Junior Women’s Club Nature Park) in Raleigh in the Brookhaven neighborhood near Crabtree is a nice place to take a walk.

Entrance signage

Entrance signage for BrookHaven Nature Park

Being a nature park, it doesn’t have the cars, buildings, concrete and ubiquitous poles and electrical equipment with all the cables and wires you encounter on the streets. It is deliberately undeveloped, having low-profile foot bridges and some narrow asphalt foot paths near the entrance. There are only two places in the Nature park with large man-made structures: the entrance and a low deck over a drainage pond.

I walk here regularly and find that it’s unadorned beauty is a welcome change from the hard-edged and unnaturally-colored man made world I spend most of my time in. So one might understand my astonishment, disappointment and anger when I went for my walk (Oh, back in October, I think) and saw that somebody had spray painted the main trail and a couple of smaller trails.

Green tree roots and a green plutonic rock.

Green tree roots and a green plutonic rock.

Bright, DayGlo green, red and blue. About as unnatural as you can get. If you follow the main trail around, you can see several places where not only roots and rocks were sprayed, but little happy faces on rocks and unsightly, runny spots on trees were added as well. The “work” doesn’t even have a hint of the artistic flair you might see in urban graffiti. Obviously, somebody went around with several cans of paint and went crazy.

I often puzzle over the motivations behind things like this. What were they thinking? If not thought, then what drugs in particular were they on? Did some of the women from the Junior Women’s Club do this, and if so, how many were there? Did they discuss this before they did it? Was this the result of some addled person threatening a law suit after having attempted, unsuccessfully, to text and walk simultaneously? There is Magnolia Glen (A Kisco Senior Living Community) nearby. Was this done for the benefit of elderly people? The sprayer(s) did have purpose, however. It’s apparent that the main trail is green, the trail near the pond going to York Elementary is blue and a shortcut is red.

Blue roots

Blue roots

So we know for sure what the different trails are, in case you wandered 25 yards away from where you were, which is the point of being in a nature park. Now, there are places where a person could trip on a tree root or a rock if they weren’t paying attention. That’s a natural hazard, much like natural hazards one might encounter on a US National Park trail. I have never seen a park trail, national or otherwise, with spray painted trees and rocks. Were the people who did this trying to mark trip hazards? If so, I have news for them. The actual hazards are not the roots and rocks.

The true hazards are the wooden foot bridges, made of fir. Since I go walking in the rain sometimes, I am very, extremely, painfully aware that those bridges become very slick when they are wet. You can slip while walking at a normal pace, while paying attention to the natural beauty around you. If they are concerned about hazards, then why not do something to make those bridges safe?

Slippery when wet footbridge

Slippery when wet footbridge