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Archive for February, 2009

An Overreaction: the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008

February 28, 2009 Leave a comment

Lead is dangerous. Phthalates probably not so much. But in 2008 both lead in children’s toys from China and phthalates found in most plastics we’ve been using since the 1920s caused a scare like the saccharin scare that peaked in 1977.

At the height of this new scare and while the U.S. economy was already slipping into turmoil, President Bush passed into law the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (summary). The result: thousands if not millions of children’s toys, clothing, and furniture were pulled from resellers like Goodwill and the YMCA. These items can’t even be sold at garage sales.

So with people carefully watching their own budgets when demand for used toys and clothing is higher, there will be no supply. At least, not until mandatory and expensive testing must be done. Manufacturers for a variety of reasons cannot meet the dates and its far too expensive for resellers to test. According to WDBJ7, their local YMCA generates only $800 to $1,000 a month from their used toy selection and testing would cost about $100,000. so logically, they pulled all toys. While they hopefully derive a sustainable amount of revenue from other sales, the consumer is who is affected.

Manufacturers are complaining that the Act fails to take U.S. manufacturing practices already carefully controlled into account – practices that are hardly regulated in China obviously. So it seems rational to cut off the supply of toys from China. Haven’t we bolstered other countries’ economies enough already? This should also contribute higher internal revenue since that money is not leaving the country.

And phthalates? One would have to be exposed to incredible amounts to possibly be affected. The greatest potential for harm, a study shows, comes from exposure during pregnancy. So add that to the list of things to avoid when women are pregnant.

Personal responsibility is key here. So many people – especially in the U.S. it seems – want to blame someone else. If a baby chokes on a toy, is the toy manufacturer at fault or the parents for letting that baby play with the toy? Some level of responsibility from marketing is required to avoid labeling such toys for smaller children, but the buck stops at the parents.

And until people learn personal reasonability, organizations such as the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission will continue tell us what we can and cannot use regardless of the expense to consumers, retailers, and U.S. manufacturers.

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Categories: Rants

Joined the Dark Side

February 13, 2009 Leave a comment

When I joined Microsoft I joined as a Software Design Engineer, aka a developer. I had been programming since around 8 and paid professionally since around 17 and loved it. I still do. But for the last couple of years my focus has been diverted to directing, consulting, and writing specifications for features for a important subject few people understand.

In the last few months – not counting personal development projects – I’ve literally written more specifications than lines of code. And they are thorough specifications combing the functional requirements as well as technical designs, some of which I’ve received compliments on.

But even before this, it was appearing like a change was eminent. I was doing more and more management tasks to the point where I barely fit the description of an individual contributor (IC) developer (i.e., not a lead developer with people reports). As I grew I contemplated switching to what I always referred to ask the “Dark Side”: program management – not that I’m the only one that jokes it’s the “Dark Side”.

I met with management over several months and discussed my concerns, my ambitions, and what I can and had been delivering, and as of 2/9/2009 my conversion to the “Dark Side” is complete: I’m a program manager (PM).

Will I still make jokes about PMs? I certainly have no problems with self-deprecating humor. I couldn’t – not after all these years. But I will continue to provide all I can and still write code on the side for the popular Windows Installer XML project and my own project, the Windows Installer PowerShell Snap-in.

All roles are important and now I have a better opportunity to help drive focus between all those roles while filling my chosen role to its fullest. My day to day activities won’t change much, but I shall fulfill them in more of an official capacity conducive of a PM and less so for an IC developer. I believe it’s a better fit, but it’s still shocking to believe I’ve actually switched sides.

Categories: Work