I had an offer from a personal trainer to help my fitness training…

LogoGreat! I had an offer from a personal fitness trainer to help me get over my broken foot and fitter than I ever was before! Unfortunately Todd (www.thefitnesselement.com.au) is on the wrong side of the planet from me. For those that don’t read all of this blog on their visit (which is all of you) I ought to explain that Todd is my brother in law. Aussie born and bred, it’s no surprise when he and my sister married they decided to live on the Sunshine coast rather than “rainy but mild Boughton under Blean”. Todd is a fitness trainer and has told me just 5 minutes a day in the sun will help my body process vitamin D. Vitamin D helps the body carry calcium around the body which in turn will help my foot heal and prevent osteoo….. something or other. Yeah, I’ll leave the technical bits to the expert and stick with elevating my foot in front of the double glazing.

Unfortunately he’s only a personal fitness trainer. While my sister views him like a god (and I have to admit his body is far better toned than mine), the weather systems don’t view him as a god so he can’t help the rays of sunshine get through the UK’s overcast cloudy days.

I have a feeling there will be a training plan in my email box as soon as this plaster cast comes off…. I wonder if will include any running? 😉

Sharpes Waterloo (Bernard Cornwell)

This battle has a special meaning to me as it took place on my birthday. No, I’m not almost 200 years old – the day and month match that’s all. I only discovered that fact this year and simply for that reason I’ve been delaying reading this book until I’d read as many other Sharpe books as I could. It’s also the reason I would like to go and see the battlefield and learn more about what happened. War is vile, may it never be repeated now or in the future.

Sharpe arrives at Waterloo in the service of the Prince of Orange. He had retired from the last war with his wife into France and Napoleon’s return has put him into conflict with people he knew from his new home village. He is gallant as always, resourceful, take vengeance on his enemies (despite all you learn of Sharpe you learn never to become his enemy) and leaving the Prince of Oranges incompetence rescues his old regiment from definite destruction to turn the tide of the elite French troops about to end the redcoats time on earth.

Utterly well researched (I do like the historical detail Bernard Cornwell includes at the end of all his novels to separate fact from fiction) it still remains a tragic story of a time when tens of thousands of men killed tens of thousands of men. Superbly told, another high rootie rating book.

Sharpe's Regiment (Bernard Cornwell)

Just as I thought my interest in the Sharpe series was waning, I read this magnificent story. How can an adventurous military action be made from a period in time where Sharpe is sent back to England to find and return to Spain with his regiments reinforcements?

The story is the reinforcements don’t exist according to the War office and a corrupt politician. Sharpe doesn’t know the politician is corrupt and doesn’t care, all he wants are the reinforcements without which his regiments will be dissolved into other fighting units. Finding them leads him from Spain to the places of his childhood in London and into the stinking marshes of foulness in the 1800’s. It also links into the first chronological Sharpe adventure in how he is reunited with his Eagle Superbly written, one of my favourite Sharpe books so far.

webERP Virtual Machine

I’ve been investigating ways of improving our business systems to keep up with our growth.

One system I’ve been investigating is the open source “Web ERP” which is a system using PHP and MySQL. It looks good and I’m now at the stage of deeply investigating how it works and how moving onto it would affect our processes. In order to do this I needed to install it on a server. I really don’t like installing things on our production server so VMWare comes to the rescue once more. VMWare is a piece of software that lets you have a virtual computer running on top of your regular operating system (Windows XP for my laptop). So, to test weberp I installed my favourite Trustix Linux operating system.

As Web ERP is open source, I’ve shared my Virtual Machine to save others the time of creating their own server to test on.

If you’re here to get the Virtual Machine, here is the current link:
weberp.zip (84Mb)
The zip file includes some important instructions you should read before you virtually power on the server. Remember, you’ll need VMWare player or equivalent from http://www.vmware.com (about 30Mb) in order to run the machine.

Let me know any feedback or questions. If demand is high I’ll set up the FTP server, otherwise I expect the http service will suffice.

I should also warn you that the normal free software caveats apply (use at your own risk, no warranty etc).

Best foot forward

It’s been a week since I broke my foot and today is the first day I feel I can concentrate enough to get some work done. It seems my broken foot addled my brain slightly. I went back to the hospital this morning so they could have another look. They decided to put the foot in a plaster cast and have told me that in the next few days I should be able to walk short distances on it.
They modern cast is fibreglass rather than plaster of paris. When the roll of fibreglass is made wet it starts an exothermic reaction. The heat drys the fibreglass in minutes so a short push on my foot by Paul the technician and my foot is set in the best angle.
Now I’ve had both my wrists in plaster and one foot, I guess I can look forward to breaking the other foot one day in the future.

Sharpe's Devil (Bernard Cornwell)

It’s taken me a month or so to add this to my recent reading list. I didn’t enjoy it as much as the other sharpe books. It is the last in the series, bringing Sharpe and his Sergeant out of retirement to search for a friend who is missing. En route they meet Napoleon, survive a sea battle, capture some fortresses adn beat a tyrant. All in a books work for our not so young sharpe, he deserves that retirement after this.

How much email?

i-314d0292a08131f8dd18ce88e273d483-lotsofemail.PNG Look at that, 12,345 emails in my gmail in-box. Had to screen shot it, 1-2-3-4-5 has a nice ring to it. 12,345 represents 60% of the near 3GB allowed in a googlemail box and the 5,909 spam messages are only those from the last 30 days. I guess i’ll have to start deleting the some old email soon.

Running – not always good for your health

One of the good things about starting the business studies/French course at the local university is that it’s only 5 miles from home. It’s easy to get someone to drop me off there so that I can run home at the end each lesson.

I’ve been relatively good at running home since the course started (that is I’ve made the effort and run) and I’ve already noticed my times improving along with my French. However, for the rest of the course I’ll be being driven. Running home on Wednesday night ‘je suis tombe’, that’s french for “I fell”. I thought I’d sprained my ankle and decided it would be best to call Rhonda and get picked up. 6 hours later the pain hadn’t diminished so I went to hospital. A few x-rays and some prodding by the doctor confirmed I have broken a bone within my foot.

I guess I won’t be running for a while…maybe using the crutches will improve my upper body strength though 🙂

A Fine Night for Dying (Jack Higgins, a.k.a "Martin Fallon")

Rhonda bought this for me because it was cheap at the supermarket. Cheaper than some of the second hand books I’ve been buying at just 1.
It’s a James Bond type thriller, secret agent (Paul Chavasse) has to find out who was behind the death of a man washed up on the shores of England. He sets off to catch and kill the culprits through the channel islands to the most southern parts of France. Some vivid descriptions made the scenery come alive even if the eventual outcome was a little predictable. Worth reading, and I may pick up another of his books should I see them on bookstore shelf.

Root Objective Theory

I have a theory on how tasks are best approached. I can guess what you are thinking, there are a lot of theories out there and this may also be one of them. I can’t recall having read it anywhere even thought this approach always seems like common sense to me. However, I was talking with someone about it the other day and they’d never heard of it or considered it this way. Maybe it is unique. Either way, it’s free to share. One thing though, I’m not saying this is the solution to world hunger or that following it will make you a millionaire, it’s just a tool I find useful.

Root Objective Theory – a method for deciding which action to take in order to achieve your goals

In order to achieve your goals, you have to have a clear and unambiguous goal.
With that goal defined, you can work out methods to achieve that goal. Those methods in themselves may be objectives, requiring further methods & objectives to achieve them. If you find a way of scoring each method/objective then you have a way of choosing the most effective method to achieve your primary goal. The cost could be measured in money, time, use of a particular set of limited resources or any other cost definition that works for you.

Example:

Business X would like to make 100 profit over a defined period of time this is OBJECTIVE 1

Business X already makes 50 profit with it’s current sales of 500. This is information to help decisions

Business X has a number of methods at its disposal to increase it’s profit by 50.
Sell more This is METHOD 11

Make the product for lessThis is METHOD 12

“Sell more” (METHOD 11) is really a new objective, so we call it OBJECTIVE 12. We can “sell more” by using other methods like:
Reduce the selling price This is METHOD 111
Increase the advertising to put the product in front of more customers This is METHOD 112. As you probably have guessed, 111 and 112 are also just new objectives, so we further refine them.

Let’s take OBJECTIVE 112 and say that we can advertise in paper Z for 25 and expect an increase in sales to 100 at a reduced profit margin, let’s say the new profit will be 55. This is METHOD 1121. It remains a method as we have now reached a point where we know how much an action will cost and what it’s benefit will be. We can then compare all methods in our table to decide the best route of action. This makes more sense when you use a spreadsheet to make notes.

ID Objective Method Cost Benefit
1 (this is our ROOT OBJECTIVE) Increase profit £100 per month
11 Sell more
111 Reduce price £0.00 20% increase in sales but reduction in contribution per sale, overall no increase in profit.
112 Advertise to new markets £50.00 10% increase in sales, increase in contribution of £100 for 1 month only
12 Reduce cost
121 Reduce direct cost
1211 Change to supplier X who offers similar raw material at cheaper price. Saving £10% direct cost, increasing overhead by £40 due to more faulty product returns £40 increase in overhead £80 at current sales level
1212 Change to supplier W who offers similar product at higher quality. Increasing direct raw material cost but reducing faulty product claims £50 at current sales level £40 reduction in overhead
122 Reduce overhead
1221 Update business software to speed up quoting to customers, saving X amount of time per quote, allowing X% increase in staff productivity £50.00 £10 per month for 12 months

I’ll explain the table. Firstly the ID column is NOT a number, in your spreadsheet you force it to be CHARACTERS (in many spreadsheets put the ‘ character in front of the number, like ‘1111 or ‘242). This means that when you sort the spreadsheet, the sort will work in number order reading from the left. So 1111 will be above 242. The first objective is given number 1. If you have more than one core goal, give the second objective number 2. Methods (or sub objectives) for objective number 1 get an additional number, so 11 and 12 are sub objectives of objective 1. If you later add objective 13 at the end of your spreadsheet, it can be sorted easily to come below 12 and before objective 2.

Let’s work through the example and see what the best decision is for this business. Row 1 is the objective, nice and specific. Row 11 gives as away of reaching that objective (sell more). How do we sell more, Row 111 and 112 give two ways we know we can increase sales. Row 111 says we will reduce the price. We then work our what implications that has. This itself may be quite an in depth study, but here we have summarised the result. Reducing price will increase sales but it will also reduce the amount of profit per item sold. In this case we discover reducing price will not earn any more profit for us. Good job we did the calculations on that one.
Row 112 says we should spend some money on advertising. Spending 50 will increase our contribution by 100, a net gain of 50 (contribution is the business term given to the difference between your products direct costs and it’s selling price. That bit of money “Contributes” to your overhead and hopefully profit). Once again this line could be split out further, would different advertising methods lead to different sales performance? Would this advert work again for the same increase next month?.. Ah, hang on – our objective doesn’t include next month to think about next month we need to change our corps objective, or have a second corps objective. That’s the nice thing about working to specific objectives, you can avoid researching the wrong way (sometimes). Of course, nothing will help you if you have a bad Root Objective!

Enough about selling more, Row 12 had the thought we could reduce our costs to make more profit. How? Row 121 looked at our direct costs and row 1211 said we could use a cheaper supplier and row 1212 said we could use a more expensive supplier. In fact, this covers in part our indirect costs of warranty. If a product fails we have to repair it and that cost is seen by our company as an overhead. Using better quality raw materials may increase our direct cost but reduce our overhead. Here we discover that row 1211 says we could make more money using a cheaper raw material even though we increase our costs of warranty. I wonder if this things of any loss of repeat business in month 2? Oh, hang on, this is a short term chart so I can think about that…. Sure about that primary objective still?
Row 1212 shows buying a more expensive raw material just isn’t going to help us make more money.

Finally we look at row 122 and 1221, reducing the overhead by improving our business systems. This has a very high cost of 50 for a return of just 10 this month. However, it also shows that once again if we plan for the long term it will earn us more money.

This table has shown us that we need to take the method on row 112 to best achieve our goals.
In an ideal world, we’d probably want to do row 1221 as well but you haven’t always got the time or the budget to do everything.

This example is also very simplistic, normally the decisions have to take a mixed approach to best use the resources available. For example doing row 122 this month to have the extra resource (cash) to do row 1221 next month for a longer term gain. There’s also an element of risk in all of these options, the advert may not work in the same way the new system may not work as planned. This choice of decisions is often called the “opportunity cost”, both decisions may lead to profit but which will lead to the most? Assuming profit is your goal of course, if you made it your Root Objective. Your Root Objective needn’t be profit of course, it could be market share, in the ATC squadron I help at our Root Objective is to deliver the “Aims of the Air Training Corps”, those 3 aims are also objectives. Another sub objective is to recruit more cadets (no cadets = no one to deliver the aims too!). So there you have it, “Root Objectives”, my little system on achieving goals.