Wednesday, December 11, 2013

My Christmas Poem

Twas the week before Christmas,
And all through the house,
Every creature was fretting
And starting to grouse.

Then from UPS
Came a gift flowerpot
From a friendly old colleague
Whose gift I'd forgot.  

But then I remembered:
Don't feel like a schnook
In just a few minutes
I can send a fine book

No wrapping, no breakage,
No address to scrawl,
No trade-ins, no trouble,
'Cause one size fits all.

So boot up your browser,
And don't be a schnook.
In a fistful of keystrokes
You can send an e-book.

Naturally, I recommend one of my novels for a fun read and fitting gift—perfect for smart adults and bright teenagers.

For just $4.99, you can go to and send your friend an engaging, exciting story, one that also carries one or more science/technology themes. 

These novels are my attempts to put the science back in science fiction and the techno back in techno-thrillers.

The Residue Class Mysteries Themes
The Freshman Murders: Computers, Culture, Genealogy
Where There's a Will There's a Murder: Mathematics, Anthropology

The Stringers Series Themes
 First Stringers: Physics, Social Psychology
 Second Stringers: Space Travel, Psychology

The Women of Power Series Themes
Mistress of Molecules: Chemistry, Politics
The Hands of God: Parallel Computing, Neurophysiology, and Prosthetics
Earth’s Endless Effort: Unconventional Computers, Alien Contact

The Aremac Project Series Themes
The Aremac: Software Development, Testing, Security
Aremac Power: Risks and  Rewards of Invention

And, of course, always Computers!

And if you've already gifted everyone on your list, I invite you to try one of my novels for yourself. As always, if it doesn't fit for you, I’ll gladly return your money.

To see the covers of most of my books, look at 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Satir Outstanding Service Award

Of all the work that I do, in my opinion, the most important is bringing Virginia Satir's teachings to the people of the world. For that reason, I'm especially proud of the award I received from the Satir Organization yesterday. Here's what the award looks like. First, the certificate:

And here's the trophy:

Thanks to all the people who contributed to this work.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Who Owns the Zebra?

I collect problem-solving methods. A recent letter from a follower give me the chance to show you another method I often use on the problems that bother me most. It's especially helpful with problems I'm having with other people. Here's the letter and my response:

Who Owns the Zebra? It was the first difficult logic puzzle I solved. I saw it in a Reader’s Digest once when I was waiting for a haircut at a barber shop. And of course it was back when cigarettes were considered cool (but not Kool, what my parents smoked – yuck!). I was around 8 years old at them time.

For your convenience, here's the puzzle from this website:

On a city block there are five houses in a row, numbered from left to right, each of a different color and inhabited by men of different nationalities, with different pets, drinks and cigarettes. You are given the following clues:
  • The Englishman lives in the red house;
  • The Spaniard owns the dog;
  • Coffee is drunk in the green house;
  • The Ukrainian drinks tea;
  • The green house is immediately to the right of the ivory house;
  • The Old Gold smoker owns snails;
  • Kools are smoked in the yellow house;
  • Milk is drunk in house #3;
  • The Norwegian lives in house #1;
  • The man who smokes Chesterfields lives in the house next to the man with the fox;
  • Kools are smoked in the house next to the house where the horse is kept;
  • The Lucky Strike smoker drinks orange juice;
  • The Japanese smokes Parliaments;
  • The Norwegian lives next to the blue house;

Now, who drinks water? And who owns the zebra?
I remember reading this puzzle in the International Edition of Life Magazine, back in 1962.
If you'd like to see an interactive Windows program that can generate thousands of puzzles like this, take a look at Everett Kaser's SHERLOCK program.
I give up, show me the solution.

Since most of the people in the puzzle were smokers in 1962, the zebra puzzle is now easy to solve, using one of my favorite methods--the 50-year approach:

1. Put the puzzle in an envelope. Write on the envelope: "Do not open until [50 years from today]."

2. When the 50 years have passed, open the envelope. Chances are that it will no longer be a problem.

3. If, however, it's still a problem, get another envelope and repeat step 1. 

4. By the time you open envelope #2, the problem will be solved for you. It will no longer be a problem. I guarantee it.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Modeling Programmer Productivity

Continuing where I left off in my previous blog, you may recall that we were discussing the value or otherwise of programming experience in terms of productivity. I had suggested there was an important truth to be learned from the study of productivity models.

"There is a perception in some tech circles that older programmers aren’t able to keep pace with rapidly changing technology, and that they are discriminated against in the software field. But a new study from North Carolina State University indicates that the knowledge and skills of programmers actually improve over time—and that older programmers know as much (or more) than their younger peers when it comes to recent software platforms."

This study didn't surprise me. Nor did it surprise many of my programmer friends. Why, then, do so many managers still believe that older programmers are less skilled than their younger co-workers?

The answer lies in fallacious reasoning. Let's see how that works. Pretend we were able to follow the careers of 100 programmer trainees who started together six years ago. Each year, some of them will drop out of programming because they don't like it or can't do it very well.

These dropouts will be high at the beginning, then decline as salaries rise to overcome any residual dislike.

After a year or two, some of the better performers will be offered "promotions" outside of programming. Some will accept. Some will decline, preferring the work they know and do well.
Generally, though, the promotion will be offered principally to those who are the better programmers—whether or not they would be the most qualified to be analysts, managers, database administrators, or what have you.

The following table shows how the allocation of these 100 trainees changes over a six-year period.

The figures are not meant to be exact, but only suggestive of trends.

Now suppose we break down this table into two tables, each starting with 50 of the trainees. First, we have the "least able" 50:

Now consider the most able"50:

In other words, according to this model, after six years, as a result of personnel practices, about 77 percent of the programmers come from the lowest 50 per cent in original ability. The very worst have mostly dropped out early, but not enough to counteract the loss of the better ones.

Most of those better ones have been promoted out to to meet rapidly growing demands for experienced personnel in non-programming jobs. This loss is the result of two fallacious management beliefs:

1. The best programmers will make the best managers, team leaders, etc.

2. There's no point keeping older programmers in the trade because the younger ones are better.

Misled by these two mistaken beliefs, managers keep promoting out their most experienced programmers (except for those few who refuse the promotions).

As an experiment, you might try substituting your own company's personnel policies into this model to create your own tables.
You may find, as many have, that what they are measuring, when they measure "years of experience", is actually combination of "years passed over for promotion" and "years refused to take a promotion.

There's much more to the complex subject of experience, but these simple models are food for thought. Perhaps you'll have them in mind next time you're interviewing a candidate—or even next time you review your personnel policies.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Software Development: Experience vs. Performance

Experience vs. Performance

"Experience is the best teacher."

"Experience is the only teacher."

"Experience keeps a dear school, but fools will learn in no other."

"Experience doesn't necessarily teach anything."

"Experience is the only school in which the test comes before the lesson."

There may be more folk wisdom on the subject of experience than on the subject of love. After all, if we couldn't appeal to experience, how could we old roosters keep control of the henhouse?

When I was young, I was frustrated by lack of "experience" at every turn. No matter how hard I worked, I could gain no more than one year's experience each year. At 19, a year is a lot longer than at year 79.

"Experience" is also proving frustrating to many programming managers, whatever their ages.

"What is the value," I'm often asked, "of one year of programming experience?"

"Does productivity actually increase after the third year of programming experience?" "Don't programmers 'burn out' after five years?"

Quite a few programming managers, if they were asked to plot the productivity value of experience, would produce a graph something like that in Figure 1. They've found that after roughly three years, additional years of experience don't seem to add significantly to a programmer's productivity.

 Figure 1.

Managers who hold this model naturally are unwilling to pay a premium for many years of experience. Usually, they will seek programmers on the job market with one or two years of experience.

One problem with this model is that it may fail to consider problem difficulty. In most shops, the more experienced programmers are given, on the average, more difficult programs to write. If the measures of productivity fail to consider problem difficulty, the more experienced programmers will naturally have their productivity underestimated. In some cases, a more realistic model would be that of Figure 2.

Figure 2.

This slightly less pessimistic curve is supported by the results of a number of studies in the psychology of programming. When programmers of varying experience are asked to perform the same task—coding, finding bugs, developing test data—the average performance versus experience curve frequently looks like that of Figure 2.

Even so, a manager studying Figure 2 may still wish to follow the strategy of hiring programmers with very little experience—in order to take advantage of the steeply rising segment of the curve.

Managers in smaller companies, however, may have more discretion. If they are perceptive, they can profit by noting the difference between each individual programmer and the presumed average.

The same studies of programming support the view that a manager does well by appraising the quality of each candidate's experience. Does the programmer really have "10 years of experience," or is it more accurately characterized as "one year of experience, 10 times?"

If we divide the programmers in each study into two groups—high performance and low performance—we generally find that the experience curves look like Figure 3.

Figure 3.

The curve we see in Figure 1 or Figure 2 is, probably, a mixing of these two curves into a single curve.

Conversely, programmers often tolerate low-paying jobs their first year or two, in order to be in a company that pays well for longevity, rather than for actual output.

Both Figure 1 and Figure 2 represent models of the average programmer in really large companies, employing hundreds or thousands of programmers, personnel policies may force them to follow the averages in hiring and setting wages.

Do these two curves represent anything real, or are they artificial manipulations of data? My own experience with,such studies and on the job tells me that there is an important truth here. In my next blog entry, I'll examine this truth and why so many managers fail to understand it.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Pricing for Non-Profit Organizations

A recent tweet by Harry Tucker raised the question:

Should you work for free?

to which I replied:

No money is okay, as for charity, but they must always pay in some form or they won't value it.

I wrote extensively about pricing in The Secrets of Consulting, much more than I could express in 140 characters. But for those who don't wish to read an entire book, I offer the following essay on the narrow topic of pricing for non-profit organizations:

The First Law of Pricing says:

Pricing has many functions, only one of which is the exchange of money

In addition, The Second Law of Pricing states,

The more they pay you, the more they love you.
The less they pay you, the less they respect you.

If you work with organizations with no possibility of meeting your usual fee scale. You can still help the client respect you by setting the proper price. All you need to remember is The Third Law of Pricing:

The money is usually the smallest part of the price.

There are many costs besides money: the psychological cost of admitting there is a problem; the labor to get approval for your visit; the difficulty of changing schedules; the time and trouble to line up people to see you; plus all the extra work the client must do after you've gone.

By arranging for clients to pay something of value to them, even if it's not paid to you, you have, in effect, raised the price. If they've invested something in bringing you there, they're more likely to listen to you once you arrive. But beware. Even though not much money changes hands you may inadvertently raise the price beyond what the clients are willing to pay.

Knowing that price is more than money, you can increase your compensation in a variety of ways that may not increase the cost to your client. I can sometimes use services such as arranged contacts with prospective clients in the area, computing services, or the use 
of a library.

I often receive free travel to a place I've always wanted to visit. I frequently ask clients to take me sightseeing around their area. Universities are particularly good at this. 

Properly planned, a university visit can be rewarding professionally, far in excess of any fee. Without a plan, you'll just be used, wrung dry of whatever knowledge you have, treated with disrespect or ignored, and then cast aside to find your own way back to the airport.

For me, consulting is a paid education. By arranging visits with brilliant people, I receive the best an organization has to offer, without extra cost to my client—which illustrates The Fourth Law of Pricing:

Pricing is not a zero-sum game.

In short, your gains don't have to be their losses.

* * *
Bio: Gerald Weinberg is author of more than 100 books, including the best-selling The Secrets of Consulting series. He is a principal in the international consulting firm of Weinberg and Weinberg, whose non-profit clients include state and national governments; churches; universities; medical centers; voluntary organizations; and the Library of Congress. The festschrift, The Gift of Time (Fiona Charles, ed.) honors his work for his 75th birthday. His website:

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Meet the Seashores

Roger Ebert, the film critic, died today. I don't know what I can do to replace him in my life, because  for the past 30+ years, he was the one I went to when I didn't know which movie to watch (or not watch).

I will need to replace Roger with another film critic, but I don't know how to replace him because Charlie Seashore died last month, followed a few days later by Edie Seashore. For the past 30+ years, Charlie and Edie were the ones I went to when I didn't know what to do about anything in my life, especially things more important than movies.

Edie and Charlie and I were connected in a plethora of ways. Though we lived thousands of miles apart, we visited each other often. Aside from these personal friendships, we frequently were consultants to each other. I assisted in some of their workshops; they assisted in some of mine. These interactions were always of high intensity and deep learnings, but perhaps the most intense, the most educational, were working on our feedback book, What Did You Say?.

With the perspective of several decades, I'd have to admit that the book was a success. Though we spent not a penny on promotion, What Did You Say? became a word-of-mouth classic, selling tens of thousands of copies and changing a similar number of lives. We probably would have sold even more, but the book was hard to find in the USA–and virtually impossible to obtain overseas.

In recent years, with the changing technology in publishing, we began talking about, then working on, an electronic (ebook) version of What Did You Say?. We corrected numerous small errors and added two entirely new chapter. The work went slowly because all three of us were immersed in our other work, especially visiting clients and leading workshops. And then they died.

Because Edie and Charlie were two of the world's greatest consultants and trainers, they were always incredibly busy–and that busyness created the one flaw in their work: They seldom had the time to sit down and write about the magical things they were doing with their students and clients. Without a massive collection of written words, only a relatively few of us lucky ones had a chance to share their magic.

In my shock, my first reaction was to drop the entire project, but clients kept asking about how the book was coming along. It took me weeks just to face filing away all our drafts. The filing was so painful and slow, I just knew I could never finish the book without the rest of my team. As I filed, though, I realized that, except for some final polishing and formatting, we had already finished.

I knew then that I had to do that polishing and formatting. The ebook could be the way for thousands of people to come to know Charlie and Edie, if only in a partial way. So, I put almost everything else aside and turned my editorial crank–grinding out what became the Revised Second Edition of What Did You Say?. I invite you to get yourself a copy and get to know the Seashores. (And learn a few things about feedback.)

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Special Questions

Note: The following tale is adapted from my book, Rethinking Systems Analysis and Design. What's the moral of this tale? After you make your own suggestions, take a look at the original tale and see what the book has to say.

Harlan Mills predicted that some day programmers will make so few errors that they'll remember every one they ever made in their entire career. I've had a long career and I've made rather more than the one error per year that Harlan predicted. One a day might be more like it. But some errors were so gross or so costly that they stand out among the thousands.

Over forty years ago, I was analyst/programmer for a service bureau studying a job that involved processing a million cards through the IBM 650 computer. Because of limitations on the 650's ability to read cards, the only punches allowed in the cards were alphabetics and numerics. Special characters could not be read at all.

When questioning the client in our very first meeting,I asked, "Are there any spetial characters in the cards?"

"No," he replied, "none whatsoever."

"Good," I said, "but I have to be sure. Are you certain that there are no special characters at all?"

"I'm quite certain. I know the data very well, and there are no special characters."

On that assurance, we went ahead with designing and programming the application, only to discover on our first production run that the system was hanging up on cards like this:
About sixty-five percent of the cards contained special characters, but when I confronted the client with this figure, he appeared genuinely puzzled, "But there are no special characters," he pleaded.

"Oh, no," I said triumphantly, "then what about this dash, slash, quote, and number .sign?"

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Nothing New Ever Works

The best "review" of one of my books is a testimonial about how the book has been useful. Here's a letter from Jon Jagger about how a law from The Secrets of Consulting helped him help his son, Patrick, who was ill.

Hi Jerry,
I just had a moment of enlightenment about the New Law I wanted to share with you...

I was giving Patrick, my son, some calpol (liquid paracetamol - he's ill off school today).
The bottle had a new plastic widget in the top.
With the bottle there was a new small syringe with a new plunger.
This was a new design - instead of simply pouring the calpol onto a teaspoon you clearly had to fill up the syringe.
Try as I might I could not get the syringe through the hole in the plastic widget in the neck of the bottle. 

So was it The New Law - Nothing new ever works? 

My beautiful wife Natalie came to my rescue.
It did work and she showed me how.

I just re-read The New Law from your book.
I noticed that all the examples, the coffee maker, the pills, the car-battery, the car, the hospital procedure were examples where the new thing was genuinely not working. But in my case the new thing WAS working.  It was ME that was not working!

From this I have realized that

1) It's easy to think the emphasis in "Nothing New Ever Works" is on the word "new" but it's equally on the work "works"!

2) Something being new is a relationship

3) Something working is a relationship

4) When I say "it's not working" what I always mean is "I can't get it working"

Also, it might give some insight into the question you pose at the end of the New Law...

"Everyone knows that new things never work."
"Then why is everyone obsessed with changing everything for something new?"
"If you answer that, you'll have something worth writing about"

Well, when things go wrong we can look for the cause outside of ourselves, or we can look for the cause inside of ourselves. 
But, looking for the cause inside of ourselves would mean WE had failed. Which is unthinkable.
Therefore the cause must be outside of ourselves. 
Viz, if it's a choice between changing the world around us, or changing the world inside us, outside wins. 
And that's one reason why we create new things! 


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Auld Lang Syne
by Gerald M. Weinberg

Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind ?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and old lang syne?
The Good Old Days
Ain't it great being an old-timer? I've been around the computer business for so long I don't have to compute any more–I can make my living telling stories. Telling stories is a lot more fun than computing. I know, because in 1952, I actually was a computer. That was my job title: "computer.". I was paid 90 cents an hour for inverting 10 by 10 matrices with pencil and paper–and lots of erasers. I used a huge mechanical Friden (they were the big name in computation back then) which I thought was the last word in computational equipment. It had all the processing ability of a four-function calculator (no memory) in a box about the size and weight of a dozen of today's laptops It could do a single multiplication in under 15 seconds, while making about the same sounds as a Cuisinart.
Back in 1952, the cost of a computer (me) was 90 cents an hour plus a few hundred for the Friden. The minimum wage was about 50 cents, so computing was rather expensive. You didn't hire a computer without giving it a lot of thought. Four years later, in 1956, I was working for IBM, programming a computer. I was being paid $450 a month–about $2.50 an hour. I worked with two different computers (by then, computers were machines). The IBM 650 rented for $80 an hour–32 times my wage. The IBM 704–at that time the biggest commercial computer in the world–rented for $685 an hour–274 times my wage!

By my current definition, the 650 and the 704 were personal computers, because my relationship to the 650 was almost precisely that of most of today's PC owners. I worked on-line, one on one with the machine. I had control of all the machine's resources, but I had to know hundreds of mysterious details to use them effectively. And most of the time, I had the machine all to myself––because nobody else knew how to use it.
On the 704, the situation was similar–except you were never alone with the 704. 704s were in short supply. To use the closest one, we had to fly from California to New York and share Machine #1 with everyone else. Not only didn't we have remote computing, we didn't have jet airplanes. So any time we used the 704, we had to add about two days of travel to the cost. Even so, the travel was cheap compared with an hour or two of machine time.
Of course, nobody got "an hour or two of machine time" just like that. Time on the machine had to be scheduled weeks in advance, and was parcelled out in precious 15-minute nuggets. When you worked with the 704, you really knew your place in the universe was minuscule. You moved fast, and you didn't make any mistakes. Mistakes would waste the 704's valuable time.
The 704 scheduling rules had one exception: the FORTRAN development team. This elite team could get seemingly endless hours of time while the rest of us could only watch helplessly from behind the glass walls of the computer room. It was bad enough being unable to do my work, but for some cockamanie idea about "automatic programming," it was intolerable. Those of us who had to wait behind the glass knew that FORTRAN would never fly. There was simply no way a computer could generate code as efficient as the code we expert programmers could write.

Buy or Build?

We were right. FORTRAN never did achieve the ability to generate code to equal the efficiency of a master programmer. In a few years, however, nobody cared. Machine time kept getting cheaper, while people time grew more expensive. In 1984, I can own a computer with much more power than the 704 for less than what I earn for one hour of consulting. And, if this cheap laptop didn't work, I could throw it away and have a new one delivered. Off the shelf, too, not after waiting a year to have a new one built by hand.

I still don't use FORTRAN. Why not? Because it's inefficient with machine time? No, because it's inefficient with my time. If I must write a program, I prefer APL, which may allow me to produce the same program in one-fifth the time. But if I can possibly manage it, I'll buy a program rather than write one myself. I can't always manage that, however. Even though I now consider my time to be very valuable, the economics don't always in favor a purchase. For instance, I recently needed a system to make cash flow projections. A lot of terrific spreadsheet programs can do that job, so choosing one ought to have been better than writing one of my own. But it wasn't. Let me sketch my decision process.

First of all, I had to decide what I wanted. A general purpose program like a spreadsheet represents a much bigger investment than the purchase price, so I wouldn't want to make such a decision without meticulous consideration of all my future needs. On the other hand, if I am simply going to write one special purpose program for myself, I don't have to be so careful. I figured I could develop such a program in under 2 hours, so if I didn't like it, I could modify it or scrap it with no big loss.

Once I knew the features I wanted in a spreadsheet program, I'd have to select one. If I wanted to do that intelligently, I'd have to survey the field to narrow down a hundred candidates to a short list of five or six. Then I'd have to gather the information on each of these, hopefully getting a demonstration and reading a couple of unbiased reviews. By the time I was finished, I could easily have spent three days on the selection process.

If I lived in a less remote place, I might be able to accomplish all this in a full day by visiting a computer store, but we don't have one of those in Tererro, New Mexico. As it is, once I decided which app I wanted, I would still have to wait a few days then drive to Albuquerque to pick up the mail. (We don't have mail delivery in Tererro, nor do we have internet access.) Then I would be stuck installing it on my own, which from past experience would require at least half a day, plus a couple of frustrating long distance phone calls.

Once I had the spreadsheet installed, I would turn to the job of converting my existing files to fit the requirements of the app. I could perhaps write a program to do this, but because the file formats of apps usually aren't well documented, I'd have to estimate at least a couple of days to get it working, if I were lucky. When writing my own program, of course, I simply use the file formats I already have.

Next I'd have to learn to use the spreadsheet. I would have to estimate about 4 hours to learn to do the first simple task–it takes at least 4 hours to learn to use any app, if you don't have a tutor at your side. The second task would probably be much easier, and I would start to regain my investment in the software.

How big is that investment? Writing my own program–deciding what I want, writing the code, and testing–might take 3 hours. Buying a package–deciding what I want, selecting the best package, installing, file conversion, and learning to use–might take more than 50 hours. In addition, the off-the-shelf program could cost me as much as $500, but if my time is worth more than minimum wage, the cash will be the smaller part of my investment. 

The Real World

Of course, nobody actually buys software this way. Most of the time, I call up a friend who says that ClunkyCalc is the greatest spread since butter. I run down to the closest computer store and buy one–no time deciding what I want, no time selecting the package, and a friend to help me install it and teach me to use it while we share a bottle of our favorite beverage.
This way is not only cheaper, it's more fun. But there's still the question of converting those files. We begin to see why the software industry is moving away from isolated packages to integrated suites. Once you get hooked into one vendor's file formats, your decision on the next package is terribly skewed in favor of that vendor. For instance, after two years of using a new word processor, I had a large-folder filled with text–six or eight book manuscripts, a hundred articles, and several hundred miscellaneous pieces of text, including financial reports.

When I became dissatisfied with that word processor, it was almost impossible for me to consider a substitute that couldn't handle the old file formats.
In today's world, the choice of hardware or software is determined by tradeoffs involving a variety of issues, such as,
• How much are you paid for your time, or how much do you value it?
• How much do you have invested in your current system, and how much would it cost you to convert out of it?
• How much cash or credit do you have?
• What skills do you already have, such as programming, typing, or using a particular package?
• Who do you know, and how much can you count on them?

The Time Dimension
If you examine these questions, you'll see that each of them has an implicit time dimension. The older you are, the more likely you are to be paid higher wages, have lots of data stored in file cabinets or on magnetic media, have money in the bank, know a variety of skills on older systems, and maintain a network of people who can be called upon for advice.

Being an old-timer has a lot of advantages, but there's another side to the coin. Your higher wages may mean you can't afford to play with new ideas. Your vast store of data may lock you in to old systems which are less efficient than what you could buy today. Your money in the bank may convince you that it's better to buy solutions than work them out yourself, so you lose the opportunity to learn new things. Your old skills are another barrier to new learning, and your old friends may not, in fact, be reliable guides to today's technology.

When you've been in computing for half a century, you have wrestled with these tendencies for a long time. FORTRAN was only the first of many innovative ideas I scorned. Most of the new ideas did turn out to be useless, as I predicted, but there were a few that made me eat crow. If I hadn't been ready to humble myself–to drop some of my old success–and start back at square one with the beginners–I would have washed out of the computer business a half-century ago. I know because many of my colleagues did.

But in this business, you don't have to be around as long as I have to start suffering from technological senility. The system you bought two years ago is totally obsolete, but you're locked in by your huge investment in files and old skills. In fact, the clumsier the system is, the more you had to invest to make it workable–so the more you're locked in. If you want to try something new, your old buddies are threatened, and if you want to keep their friendship, you'll slip back into the good old ways, scoffing at the young whippersnappers who "don't really appreciate the good old days of computing, when we pioneers all had arrows in our backs."

How do you beat this tendency to become an old fogey before your time? I believe you must plan to invest at least 10% of your time and money investigating new things, and 20% would be better. You have to be ready and willing to take a total loss on your investigations. If you never read a stupid article, never go to a useless conference, and never buy a crippled piece of software, you're playing it too safe. You have to be willing to risk making a fool of yourself, otherwise you're sure to make a fool of yourself.