Monday, April 26, 2010

The Chandavkl Inept Organization Award--LAUSD

While there are many incompetent organizations running around, the one that takes the cake is the Los Angeles Unified School District. I was initially alerted to the dysfunctional nature of LAUSD when I once shared a table at a seminar with a senior executive of a major Los Angeles based corporation. In an unsolicited comment, he indicated to me that along with a number of other local business leaders, he had worked with LAUSD to try to improve the organization's structure and performance. However, he sadly concluded that LAUSD was totally beyond repair.

Over the years we have had many glimpses of this organizational train wreck, charitably described by the Los Angeles Times as a civic disgrace. We all know about the payroll system boondoggle that cost the district tens of millions of dollars. Now outdated and inefficient government computer systems is nothing new. But the specifics of the problems with the LAUSD payroll system were truly alarming. So many arcane job and payroll categories that it is no wonder why sophisticated computer consultants could not put together a working system. (An amazing 1,100 pay categories for fewer than 100,000 employees.) No single person at LAUSD in charge of the payroll project. Using an inappropriate software package. And poorly trained clerks trying to crank out the monthly payroll.

Time after time the same message reverberates. Nobody in charge and overlapping responsibilities. Separate departments for elementary school bilingual education and high school bilingual education--and no communication or co-ordination at all between the two groups. Is this any way to run an organization?

Which leads me to the incident that triggered this essay. LAUSD is not only incompetent at the big things, it's also inept when it comes to the little things, too. Mrs. Chandavkl is an employee of LAUSD and as such is entitled to an LAUSD email account. She really doesn't use it, but I do monitor it for her from time to time. Well, visiting the LAUSD email account this weekend, I see a notice that her 80 mb mailbox was at capacity and could not receive any more communications. Well first of all, these days what emailbox is limited to a rinky dink capacity of 80 mb? Even then, remember that Mrs. Chandavkl doesn't use this account. So how did it fill to capacity? Well, it's chock full of communications from Superintendent Cortines and other LAUSD mucky mucks. Well, that's fine, certainly a proper use of the LAUSD email system. But how does it fill up 80 mb? After all, 80 mb is sufficient to support 8,000 messages of 10,000 bytes each. The answer is that LAUSD doesn't send messages to employees in text form. Rather, it sends them as attachments, quite often Acrobat files of 500 kb. (And don't get me started on the fact that these documents cannot be opened out of the email view--they have to be saved to disk, unless you use your browser's "Open new view" option.) Why do they do it this way? From what I can tell, it enables them to message employees on letterhead bearing the colorful LAUSD logo on it. And of course, these messages are important, aren't they? Certainly yes, like the 1 mb color poster informing employees that they need to move their clocks forward for daylight savings time.

The shortcomings of the LAUSD email system may not be significant in and of itself (certainly LAUSD demonstrates higher levels of incompetency on a daily basis), but it demonstrates further that they are incapable of doing anything correctly.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Dream or Reality?

I had a slightly frightening dream last night (well actually about 4am). I dreamed that I was driving on a multilane hillside highway with a slight curve, and that I drove over ivy vines that had grown onto the road. The combination of the ivy and the curve caused my car to spin out and I ended up passing through the other direction of traffic and off the road, doing a 180 and stopping just before going over the edge of a hill. I remember then thinking maybe I was asleep and this was just a dream. Then I remember thinking, no, I'm awake. Then I woke up.

No wonder why as I get older sometimes I have trouble ascertaining whether certain events in my life actually happened, or whether I just dreamed it.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


So Eyjafjallajökull blew its stack after almost 200 years of sitting there just looking like a volcanic glacier. British airports were first closed for a few hours, now it looks like a minimum of 18 hours. Airports are also closing in Scandinavia and France, with effects being felt around the world and here at LAX. Travelers are already assured of a two day delay in their travel plans, and we'll just have to wait and see if that stretches out longer.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Butler Didn't Do It

There are a number of ways to analyze last night's NCAA basketball title game in which Duke nipped Butler 62-60 in one of the best championship games ever. You could say it was a classic game in which one team randomly had to prevail. You could say that Duke was clearly better in light of the huge partisan crowd rooting for Butler that it had to contend with, or the fact that actually Duke was in control because it led the game most of the way. You could also say that Duke's rebounding and defense was more impressive.

However, I'd like to take a different approach. I think that Duke won because the pressure of a long winning streak took its toll on Butler. While winning 25 games in a row may seemingly give you momentum going into a title game, history has shown that winning streaks exert a strong negative influence on a team's performance. Some of the most surprising upsets in sports history were inflicted on apparently dominant teams on a long winning streak, e.g. New England Patriots. Perhaps the best known proponent of this thought is John Wooden, who once shockingly stated that a loss can be good for a team, particularly when it's on a long winning streak, because the stress of maintaining that streak, whether or not consciously, will at some point overshadow the quality of a team's play. However, according to Coach Wooden, once the pressure of the streak is broken, the team can be itself again. Clearly, Butler's play suffered in its two final four contests, particularly in the second half of each game where its offense at times became non-existent. It's a credit to them that they held on against Michigan State and came thisclose to winning it all against Duke. But I have a feeling that if they had lost a game somewhere in the middle of their winning streak, we'd be now celebrating the improbable run of the NCAA champions from Butler.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Will Las Vegas Real Estate Ever Recover?

This is my third visit to Las Vegas since the housing meltdown begin. Our first trip was a little less than two years ago, as we were attracted by falling home prices and the possibility of eventually setting up retirement residence in Las Vegas. A local real estate broker graciously spent over four hours chauffeuring us around various neighborhoods west of the strip to show off bank owned properties. Prices were tantalizingly low, predominantly $120 to $150 a square foot, including brand new construction. At that time I was advised by a local resident to hold off because prices would eventually fall to $100 a square foot. The main impression made on this trip was how much new and recent residential construction there had been in Las Vegas since 2000.

Six months later we came back, this time riding the foreclosure bus tour over an even wider geographic area. If the first trip were an eye opener, this trip was a shock. The magnitude of residential construction was incredible--the number of newly built neighborhoods was beyond imagination, stretching perhaps 20 miles north of town. Certainly nobody who worked on the Strip would contemplate living this far away. Prices out here approached $80 a square foot, while closer in properties fetched $100 a square foot, amazing considering current construction costs of $90 to $100 per square foot.

In the year since the foreclosure bus tour I've seen that prices have dropped further, though they're starting to stabilize. Unfortunately for many property owners, the stabilization point appears to be as low as $60 per square foot in the most extreme cases. And my revelation as to how much inventory had been built continued. Driving around the M Resort Casino, way to the south of the strip, an entire sea of recent construction, this time predominantly condominiums, appeared before us. The quantity of recently built housing we've seen in the past couple of years is overwhelming--and we haven't even set foot in Henderson. I've heard people say that it will take Las Vegas 10 or more years to absorb all of this construction. I believe it.