Sunday, April 30, 2017

April 1977

Continuing my irregular series of blogs about events which happened 40 years ago (before I completely forget them), I am going to write about April 1977. This was the beginning of a bad period for me which lasted several months. The seeds had been sown a few months previously, which is where I will start. 

As I have written several times before, my university course was known as a 'sandwich' course: study for a year, work in industry for six months, study for a year, work in industry for six months then study for a final year. In the summer of 1976, the audacious idea came to me that I could spend my second industrial period (due to start in April/May 1977) in a food manufacturing plant in the north of Israel. I had made advances to this plant and the idea seemed feasible - I would probably be researching avocados. Permission to carry this idea out was dependent on my university (situated in London): two visits were to be made by lecturers during the industrial period. For a while, the university considered this, but at some time - maybe February, maybe March - I was told that the university could not afford to send lecturers to visit me in Israel and that I would have to do my second period of industrial training in or around London.

Whilst externally I recognised the wisdom/necessity of this decision, internally I was very upset. I resolved to compensate myself by going to Israel the day after my final exam (we had exams in March that year), returning the day before I was due to start work at an analytical laboratory not far from the university (obviously, the job had been set up fairly quickly and before the exams). I could just squeeze in a month.

That month included both the Passover holiday and Independence Day. I decided to spend two weeks at my 'new' kibbutz, Mishmar David, where I had spent time the previous summer and which was to be my location upon emigrating to Israel in 1978, and two weeks at my 'old' kibbutz, Bet Ha'emek. I don't remember much about the first two weeks; the second two weeks were very emotional. At the end of my time, I returned to Mishmar David for another day, as the kibbutz is close to the airport. 

On the morning of my return flight to London, someone on the kibbutz was deputised to take me to the airport, but it had been raining overnight and the car wouldn't start. When I eventually got to the airport, my flight had already left (or I was too late to board) so I was placed on standby. I was very distraught as I was supposed to be starting my new job the next day. I remember that at one stage, an airline representative gathered all the people who were waiting for a standby flight, asking the people what kind of ticket they held. When it came to my turn, I said that I had a student ticket and that my studies were resuming the next day. I don't know whether this made a difference, but I was allocated a seat on the next plane leaving for London, and so arrived home that evening, able to start work the next day.

My first few weeks in this laboratory were low-key: the company was in the process of moving from one location to a new one (I started in the new one) and so there weren't many people around at first. I spent those weeks in the company of a recent chemistry graduate, checking the mercury content in urine of people who worked in a factory making batteries. I still had my sense of smell then, so some aspects of this work weren't particularly pleasant, but otherwise the work was undemanding. After about a month, the rest of the laboratory staff arrived and I was reassigned to mainly analysing cans of food. The work was fine, but there was a person in the laboratory who greatly annoyed me personally, talking loudly all the time (there's someone like that where I work now). Fortunately, we didn't have any professional contact. It was a great relief when he went on holiday for a few weeks.

I had been having problems with my stomach for some time - there's a story about having a barium meal buried somewhere in this blog - and I began treatment with a new drug whilst working in the laboratory. Part of my memory says it was cimetidine, but another part of my memory says that I started cimetidine the following year and that I was prescribed a different - but also new - drug first. I remember this because I had to eat before taking the pill (several times a day), and once one of the managers found me taking an unofficial break in order to eat something before taking the pill.

Emotionally I was a mess. The disappointment of not spending six months working in Israel, combined with the fact that I hadn't been able to find a girlfriend for a year and a half, and possibly combined with the fact that my closest friends were about to emigrate to Israel and leave me alone for a year, made me a very frail person, emotionally speaking. The stomach medication may have contributed to this as I recall a very definite feeling of relief when I stopped taking the medication (it was prescribed for eight weeks). Another possible cause was that I was less connected to the youth movement than I had been (I had been unable to commit to anything that year because of the intended work period abroad) and so I may well have been missing the emotional support. My musical world was also falling apart, and punk rock was on the rise. I made tentative approaches at getting some psychiatric help, but ironically was diagnosed as insufficiently depressed for treatment. That didn't help much, either.

Out of my emotions came a song which I considered to be one the best I had written at that point; I titled it "Janus' song", because I was looking both backwards and forwards. I remember writing in my mind what was to become the second verse whilst driving home from work one day.

Drifting along in the wind-driven tide
A rainy day, the lookout never cried
The ship ran aground
On the bank that no one knew was there.
The crew ran amok
And the captain turned over and cried
"Help me, help me"

Drifting along as the months they recede
I've taken all the pain I could ever receive
The sun winds its path
There's still half of my song to come
Of course I miss you
But I'm late on my cue to atone
A step forward

I've been drifting away but my back isn't turned
The map still exists, the bridge isn't burned
Now onwards I stare
But I'm keeping aware of my past
The people still call
But your words could never fall from their place
"My friend, remember me".
(16-17 May 1977)

A rather cryptic lyric, with a few influences from Sandy Denny.

In a few hours, sirens will sound across Israel, marking the beginning of Memorial Day; tomorrow evening will be the start of Independence Day.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Jerry Lee Lewis rides again

Whenever our grand-daughter comes to visit, there will come a time when she starts crawling towards the music room. From there, it is only a small step to having a piano lesson, or as I call it, emulating Jerry Lee Lewis.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Donating blood (2)

I haven't had a good history with blood donation over the past few years. The 'bloodmobile' usually comes to the kibbutz once every six months (one is able to donate once every three months), so on this basis, a year ago, my services were declined as my haemoglobin level was slightly too low. The minimum is 13.0 grams of hemoglobin per deciliter, whereas my level was 12.9.

I successfully donated on 05/10/16, with a level of about 13.6, if I remember correctly (see here). As I wrote then, I've been eating a spoonful of sesame seeds in the morning;  I drink a herbal infusion at the same time, thus hopefully ensuring that the iron in the sesame seeds is absorbed.

Yesterday the bloodmobile came again (it was delayed because of the Passover holiday) and again, my services were politely refused when it transpired that my haemoglobin level had decreased to 12.1 (or maybe 12.7 - it was difficult to see from where I was sitting). I wasn't too surprised at this although obviously I'm not too happy. I don't feel anaemic.

My doctor too is not happy; he doesn't know about the current result, but bases his opinion on the comprehensive blood test which I did at the beginning of the year. There have always been a few anomalous results in my 'blood work', something to do with the size of the red blood cells. One possible cause of the problem is that I have been taking every day for years a pill of Omepradex, which prevents GERD (gastro-esophageal reflux disease), but is also implicated in iron malabsorption (this may be my problem). To rule out other problems, in a month's time I will be having an endoscopy (or more correctly, a gastroscopy). 

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Return to Kaizen

Today being Saturday, my morning walk with the dog is a much longer affair than during the week; I let her off the leash when we are just outside of the kibbutz so that she can run free, allowing me to think. Almost every week, my thoughts turn to my thesis, and today was no exception. I'm not sure what I was thinking about at first - maybe it was change management as described in the thesis which I mentioned the other day - but suddenly the name of a book which I once valued highly popped into my head: 'What you can change, what you can't change", by Dr Martin Seligman.

After thinking about this for a few minutes, I realised that I was really thinking about another book which I own, whose name escaped me at first. I remembered that I so much enjoyed the book, I bought a copy in Hebrew for my wife. When I came home, I found the Hebrew copy, but it took me a few hours to find the English book, which ironically was right by my computer chair - on a shelf which is rarely disturbed. The book is called "One small step can change your life" (aka "The Kaizen Way"), by Dr Robert Maurer, and I see that I have written twice before about this book: once in general terms, and once about ERP enhancements. The second blog was written eight years ago almost to the day: plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

The 2004 edition which I own opens with the following statements: Most of psychology and medicine is devoted to studying why people get sick or don’t function well in life. But throughout my career as a psychologist, I’ve always been intrigued by the opposite of failure. When a dieter loses ten pounds and keeps it off, I want to know why. Reading those words now, I am tempted to paraphrase them as most academic research into Information Systems in general, and ERP systems specifically, is devoted to studying why companies implementing such systems never extract the value that they had expected. But throughout my career as a systems implementer, I've always been intrigued by the opposite of failure: when a company extracts full value (or more) from its ERP system, I want to know why. Maybe I can add this to the introduction of the thesis somewhere.

I thought that my second kaizen blog would mention something about how small enhancements to the ERP system get adopted almost immediately whereas large ones don't always succeed, possibly because of user resistance (reconstructing my thought processes from this morning, I was considering user resistance to large changes, when I remembered small changes and kaizen). Looking back on what I wrote eight years ago, it seems that I was mistaken to some extent when I wrote unfortunately, changes in usage of ERP programs require that everything is changed at once; if one changes only a little bit, it can be worse than not changing. That's certainly true about inventory maintenance, but not necessarily true about other things. This is another element which has to be added to my analysis of case studies: was the enhancement a 'small' one (localised to one process) or did it apply to several processes?

My task, then, for the next few days, is to read the book once again, and consider how its lessons can be applied to my thesis. An alternative way to state my task with business speak is to view ERP enhancements through the lens of Kaizen. Don't laugh: for a few minutes' entertainment, I considered how I can write a Marxist view of enhancements, in which how the proletariat (i.e. workers) empower themselves against management by self-improvement, suggesting enhancements which ease their labour. Instead, management depresses the workers by insisting on practices which improve management's view of the business whilst making the workers' job harder.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

April thesis update

My last post concerning my thesis concluded with these words "So now, I'm going to cease work for the time being in anticipation of a favourable message from the university". As luck would have it, that day I received a note from my new supervisor, who has finally understood that I am not just changing my methodology but also changing the subject being researched. As the thesis had reached the objectives which I had set myself a few weeks previously, I was able to send it to him there and then. The only response which I have received since is that the supervisor is very busy marking exam papers (presumably the March "diet" of MBA Organisational Behaviour, which I did myself six years ago); now it is the Easter/Passover holidays so again I expect a delay.

I hadn't intended to do very much in the period following the sending of the thesis; I was awaiting the arrival of a textbook about qualitative research which my advisor had recommended, and I was also suffering from a streak of painful headaches which crippled my ability to do any constructive thinking in the evenings. My GP prescribed a strong, non-specific, pain killer to be taken daily for ten days; at first this didn't have much of an effect, but about halfway through the period, the daily headaches vanished. I have been headache free now for about two weeks.

The textbook arrived in time to be read during the Passover holiday; I found the opening chapters very illuminating. I don't see that I have mentioned this here, but I developed an instrument (rather a grandiose phrase) which I am calling a 'programming change order' via which I intend to analyse data collected from interviews. I discovered from reading the textbook that this PCO is a 'limiting device' which helps focus the research and is not necessarily a bad thing. Whilst reading those opening chapters, a few new questions popped into my head:
  1. Who requested the enhancement? (I already noticed that I need to ask how the requests for the enhancements were approved)
  2. Are the enhancements adopted? (Already noted in the thesis that there is no easy way of measuring this automatically)
  3. How are users trained to utilise the enhancements?
Disappointingly, I find the rest of the textbook less applicable to my needs. The book devotes a chapter to discussing the use of computer software in analysing the raw material collected from interviews; as the edition of this book which I have is from 1994, this material is somewhat dated. Nevertheless, I discovered that there is a type of software called Computer Assisted/Aided Qualitative Data Analysis, or CAQDAS for short, and that doctoral students at my university are able to download a recent version of one of these programs (NVivo). These programs store text and enable the user to mark portions of the text with codes; later, these codes can be analysed. As I don't have any raw data yet, I have only glanced at this program and have yet to download it. 

I'm not sure that I will be in need of this program, as the PCO focuses the data sufficiently for my needs; I included in my thesis an example of a PCO and of the analysis which I intend to perform on the PCOs. I intend to collect these analyses and perform some descriptive statistics on them.

I thought that I would try to read again the DBA thesis which I mentioned previously about CRM usage, but found this as hard going as before. I then turned to the same source (British Library EthOS - the e-theses online search) and found another, even more interesting, thesis, entitled "Impact analysis of enterprise resource planning post-implementation modifications", which was completed in 2016. I am trying to read this now; whilst it has great relevance for me, it is also written in exceeding bad English, which makes it hard to understand. My supervisors demand a high level of English (and I am constantly copy-editing) so I find it hard to understand how this thesis - which was for a PhD at a London university - escaped the same fate.

Whilst there is a certain amount of overlap between this thesis and mine, there are also huge differences. This one perpetuates the train of thought which says "many studies advocate that the change in ERP systems should be implemented with minimal modification to the application", a position which is repeated several times throughout the thesis. Of course, one of the strong points of originality in my thesis is that the opposite seems to be true when talking about Priority: I contend that companies are able to strengthen the gains achieved from the ERP program by enhancing it.

Two good things have come out from the parts which I have read: firstly, I need to devote a section to change management - this connects with the points about how enhancements are approved and how users are trained to use them. The second good thing is this research used a methodology called design science research which seems to be applicable to my needs; I have downloaded the original paper on this subject which I will read as opposed as to trying to understand what the doctoral thesis mangles.