Tag Archives: Experience

Fix – knife repairs

A few weeks ago a lady brought me two knives that her father had made for her many years ago. She really liked them because they are really nice knives to use. They are similar to cleavers although not as heavy as a traditional cleaver. The problem was that the handles kept coming loose.

It turns out that the handles were fitted by heating the pointed tang of the knives (the bit that goes into the handle) and then forcing the hot steel into the wooden handle. 

I found the problem with both knives was that the tang was not anchored in any way in the handles. In both cases the tangs were very short and unsubstantial – only extending about two centimetres or less into the handles. The leverage effect of using them eventually caused the handles to come loose and they had to continually be forced back into the handles. This went on until they were only good for a minute or two of use before the handles parted company with the blades.

With the first one, the larger of the two, I took the approach of extending the tang with a length of eight millimetre threaded rod that I welded onto it. I then carefully drilled through the length of the handle and slid the handle down over the now extended tang until the threaded rod protruded out of the back of the handle.

The threaded rod was then cut to allow about ten millimetres to protrude through the end of the handle after which a washer was fitted and a domed nut was screwed onto the thread.

The original, handmade, handle was now firmly attached to the blade with no chance of it coming loose.

After sharpening the blade I sprayed the handle with a couple of coats of varnish.

…and then:

The smaller of the two knives was next and I took a slightly different approach with this knife. Instead of extending the tang I cut the blade back about a centimetre effectively giving it a longer tang and a slightly shorter blade. I then made a cut across the width of the handle where the blade was to fit and, after heating the tang I forced it into the handle so that the width of the blade would also extend inside the handle for about a centimetre.

The next step was to drill two five millimetre holes through the handle and the part of the blade seated inside the handle and fit two brass machine screws and nuts. This did not turn out to be as neat an operation as I had hoped but it was a workmanlike solution.

Once again I sharpened the blade (another service that I offer) and varnished the handle.

The owner was very pleased with the results and that she could now use both her knives.

Knowing where…

There is an anecdote about a HUGE SHIP worth perhaps 50 million dollars or more that developed a problem with starting its engines.

After every technician had looked at the engine and much money had been spent on consultants someone suggested a man they had heard of who had an uncanny ability with matters of this kind.

The man was summoned and when he turned up he was seen to be a rather elderly, small man with an old-fashioned tool bag. He reminded the suits of one of those cartoons we see of an old railway engineer in the late 1800s.

He walked around the enormous engines and listened with an old stethoscope.

Eventually he took out a small ballpein hammer and tapped gently in several places, all the while listening intently with his stethoscope.

Finally, as the big bosses were becoming fidgety, he took out a slightly larger hammer and gave a sharp rap with the ball of the hammer.

“Try now,” he suggested.

The engines turned over and ran smoothly even after several tests.

The man packed his tool bag, took out an invoice book and wrote an invoice which he placed in an envelope and handed to the senior manager present and left.

When they opened the invoice they were surprised to find it was for $10,000.00 – ten thousand dollars!

They wrote to the man and asked for an itemised invoice for they had only observed him tap on the engine with a hammer.

In due course the invoice arrived. It had two lines:

Tapping with hammers – $2.00
KNOWING where to tap – $9,998.00

Even at my level – that is nowhere near such desirable numbers – it is my knowledge, my time and my readiness to get my hands dirty that I am charging a very reasonable rate for…

Fixes – vacuum cleaner

I was asked if it was worth keeping an LG vacuum cleaner. It was a good machine so I said I would check it out.

The owner said she had cleaned it and when I opened the machine to check the filters were clean and the machine was empty of dust and rubbish.

I then dismantled the hose ends where they clip into the machine and also the end where the attachments are connected.

I found an interesting mix of hair pins, paper clips, hair, dust, sweet wrappers and post-it notes all mixed up with floor sweepings and food crumbs near the ends of the flexible tube and trapped in the end attachments. The floor/carpet cleaning accessory (sweeper head) was similarly clogged.

Some of the plastic clips and rubber seals that hold the sweeper head together had been broken and lost. When I reassembled this item I sealed the places where the rubbers were missing with duct tape so that air leakage would not affect the vacuum suction.

 I removed all the debris and cleaned the hose and its connections and the sweeping accessory. After reassembly the machine worked like new.

On the subject of vacuum cleaners…
I was asked to attend to a very good Hoover. The owner said it just did not switch on and wanted to know if it was repairable or if a new one might be in order.

I disassembled it and found the fault to be the on / off switch inside the machine (it is activated by the large knob on the top of the machine).

I found HOOVER to be rather unhelpful but was able to source the correct switch in Maroochydore (for those not familiar with the area that is a larger town near where I live in Palmwoods and about 20 kms away) where I had to take the sample for comparison. The switch itself was not expensive but, because of the travelling I was not keen to go home, write a quote and, if it was accepted, have to go BACK to town for the part.

I bought the part and installed it and reassembled the Hoover. I tested it and it worked perfectly.

When I contacted the owner and quoted $45.00 she was a bit miffed suggesting she could have bought a new one for not much more. The equivalent new machine would, of course, have cost over $100.00, perhaps closer to $150.00 so I was a bit aback taken. After a bit of dickering the vacuum was collected and I was paid. If it had not been for the travel and time spent finding the part the cost would have been less but I felt it was not unreasonable under the circumstances.

Reminiscent of the story about KNOWING where to tap? See http://eriktheready.com/knowing-where/

Perhaps I should have suggested that I keep the machine instead of being paid?

Pop-up toaster that doesn’t

This toaster was working. BUT…when you inserted bread if you did not jam the lever down REALLY hard it did not engage and stay down. What this meant was that the toaster elements did not come on and no toasting was happening although the lever appeared to be down.

The pilot light did not light if the mechanism did not actually engage but this was not always noticed – very frustrating.

Once bread was in the toaster and being toasted the end of the toasting would happen but the lever would not come up. One had to hold the toaster cover and pull the lever up to get the toast to emerge from the slots.

If one wanted to STOP the toasting for any reason you similarly had to press the cancel button and push the lever up to disengage it.

I removed the cover from the toaster and examined the electro-mechanical part that controlled the POP-UP part of the device. I found that the shaft on which the mechanical and spring-loaded part of it rode up and down was gummy with quite a lot of old crumbs attached.

I cleaned the shaft and the lock mechanism and put a dab of lubrication in the cam that controls the hold and release of the mechanism.

After re-assembly the toaster latches into the ON state without effort and pressing the eject button works at once whereas it had to be pressed and the lever physically lifted before.

Although toasters are comparatively inexpensive they are often repairable at little cost.

Repurposing 1

A lot is said about finding new uses for things we usually throw away and the buzzword for this is REPURPOSING.

Years ago I started saving plastic bottles such as shampoo and similar. I would cut the top and bottom off and clean them then use the “tubes” so formed to hold my cables together. Depending on the thickness of the cables, I would use larger or smaller tubes as my tidies.

Toilet roll centre tubes, wrapped in packing tape, also make good cable tidies – cheap and easy to replace when they wear out.

 

 

 

I have always hated the fact that people wrap electric cables around appliances (hair dryers for example) or tools (such as electric drills). One reason is that the constant twisting can damage the inner cores of the 

cables as well as the cables outer insulation. The other reason is that often the cables come unwrapped and various other cables tangle with them and people start tugging at this cable bundle – that does none of the cables any good.

Another thing I have noticed is that people coiling up cables that do not have built in storage, start doing so at the END of the cable furthest from the appliance. This also causes twisting and bulging in the cable because the appliance does not let it unwind. Rather, lay the cable out and with the appliance or tool close to you, start to gather the cable in as if coiling a lasso – as seen in western movies…? That way, all the twists are unwound as the cable is gathered; then squash the loops and slip one of your cable tidying tubes over it.

Store awkward items neatly in old plastic bottles that you have washed out.

For my camera cables and the cables for my multimeter, I  use various sizes of toothpaste tubes.

 

 

 

HF Radio-telephone Botswana

It might seem strange that I have included this with my military experiences (it is posted elsewhere too). The reason for doing so is that this anecdote would not have been possible without the training and experience I received in the Rhodesian army. That includes being innovative and a bit of a “McGyver” type of person.

In 1985 I worked for a small radio communications company in Johannesburg.

The owner of the company was something of a wheeler-dealer in the radio industry at the time and he had managed to get in with the owners of the then Tuli Safari Lodge in Botswana (I think it still exists – the pictures are from a google search of the name). It was situated a couple of kilometres inside the most eastern corner of Botswana and, by road from South Africa, was reached by crossing at a tiny police station/combined border post called Pont Drift.

I think it may have been late winter or mid spring in South Africa. On this occasion his advice damned nearly got my wife, Margaret, and I locked up in Botswana. 

When I lived in South Africa I carried a Browning 9mm Hi-Power that I had bought and carried in my Rhodesia days and my boss’ advice was just chuck it under the seat or in your toolbox and you will be fine. I should, in fact, have handed it in for safe-keeping with the police at Pont Drift on the South African side but I took the boss’ advice and it was only when I presented myself on the Botswana side that I realised that this had been a BAD IDEA!

The country was, and is, paranoid about private weapons especially if you bring them across the border with you, undocumented. Only if you have completed the reams of paperwork required as a professional hunter can you bring rifles into the country. Handguns were treated as a great sin.

There were signs everywhere warning of the DIRE consequences of bringing undeclared weapons into the country and I had heard one or two chilling stories of incidents involving weapons and these were brought to front of mind in no uncertain terms.

Too late now, so I brazened it out and we were allowed in and drove up to the lodge.

Why were we there…of course…well a radio tech had been sent up a couple of months previously to sort out the HF radio. This was very important to the operations of the lodge because, in those days, before the advent of cell phones the only telephone link to remote places in Botswana was radio-telephone. It had been thus for many years – if you received a call an operator established communications with you then – using acoustic coupling (basically connecting the telephone to the handset of the radio) – they allowed the call to proceed. Outgoing calls were initiated by radio and the control operator made the phone call and connected the radio subscriber. Callers on phones had to use radio procedure because, unlike a telephone or cell phone, only one person can talk at a time so you HAD TO wait until the other person had stopped speaking before you could take your turn. Of course call quality was variable but if you had a GOOD HF LINK it made a huge difference.

Anyway the technician had gone up there and basically buggered around and made little if any difference to the performance of the radio link. Very shortly after he left call quality dropped off to virtually non-existent other than at some arbitrary times of the day. The owners had paid and they were seriously NOT AMUSED so I had been sent up to sort things out. Because the boss was on good terms with the people at the lodge I was invited to bring my wife up. Margaret took a day or two off and we travelled up – on a Friday I think – arriving very late in the afternoon.

We were allocated a very comfortable room and invited to join the evening game drive which was most enjoyable even though we had been travelling all day. I think we also did the early morning game drive on Saturday.

Meals were taken in a semi-circle, each at your own little table and this worked to get everyone present talking to each other. A great atmosphere and wonderful food (and the worry in the back of my mind about the pistol lying disassembled under a bunch tools and greasy rags in a compartment of my Microbus).

After breakfast I got stuck in and examined the radio. This piece of equipment was located behind the bar which was partly inside and partly under, a large hollow baobab tree.

After I connected my wattmeter to the radio and plugged the antenna lead into it I got the strangest readings. Basically there ought to have been NO COMMUNICATION AT ALL and in fact I felt that it was so badly mismatched that I was surprised that the radio had not blown a final. How strange, I thought, the tech who had been up must have done the same test??

Only thing for it and, getting a ladder, I climbed up into the tree to see where the feeder cable led to thinking that perhaps there was something wrong with the junction of feeder and radiating elements.

Imagine my surprise when I found the radiating elements (made of bare copper wire) had been NAILED TO THE BRANCHES OF THE TREE using metal staples made from wire nails bent into a U shape!!

One of the basic things we were always taught on signals course was that you avoid having any part of the radiating elements touching trees or poles even though our antenna in the army would normally be using insulated wire. I was flabbergasted that someone who was supposedly a radio technician would have done this!!

I had been given the frequencies for the equipment before leaving Johannesburg and had grabbed some petty cash and, using 2.5mm panel wire and some stuff I had lying around, I had made up a two-element HF dipole in my garage at home. I proceeded to erect my antenna – that necessarily had to be spread above the lawn covered beer garden area near the baobab bar.

The owner had been away but when he came back he was rather disconcerted to find the antenna strung above his guest area. He said the previous technician had taken heed of this and made sure that the antenna was unobtrusive to which I retorted that it was so unobtrusive as to be completely ineffective too. Did he want communications that he could rely on or were aesthetics more important? He could not have both. With a bit of a grumble he let me carry on.

By late afternoon I was happy and confident that the equipment would now perform correctly. I had been receiving some flak from the control station in Gaborone because my testing was causing interference on the radio net that served all outlying places in the country. I had apologised for that and explained why and said that if calls came through I would wait for them to be completed. (The duty barman said that was the best comms, while I was still setting up, that he had heard since being there!)

Anyway, after a quick wash I went on the evening game drive. Margaret had already been on the day drive during which they had stopped somewhere to look at a view or while the guide pointed out something of interest.

Margaret had seen some colourful rocks and picked up three or four pieces thinking the pretty colours would look nice with a pot-plant or in a rockery at home. Probably agate (in picture) or quartz which is plentiful in the area.

Sunday morning was spent on another game drive followed by a pleasant breakfast-in-the-round and later we set off back to Johannesburg.

At the Botswana border post we were asked if we had anything to declare. Now I must comment here that the brightest people are probably not going to end up in a backwater like this but that did not make them NOT THOROUGH. So thorough, in fact, that some of the things we were asked were frankly ludicrous but they were asked in absolute seriousness. What plants were we taking out if any, did we have any minerals or diamonds that we had collected and so on and then the dreaded question – “May we look through your vehicle, sir?” as if I was in any position to refuse.

Heart pounding and dry-mouthed I walked out and opened the sliding door and the first thing they noticed on the floor was Margaret’s innocent bits of prettily coloured stones. I could have held the stones in one hand but these boys lit up and all of a sudden they wanted to know if we had any diamonds? What else did we have? Would I open the back? Take out the stuff in the back, open the engine compartment please?

They were poking into everything looking in our bags, in my toolbox and Margaret was nearly in tears explaining about the pieces of stone saying she would throw them out to prove that they were just something she liked and picked up off the ground. To their unsophisticated but officious and suspicious minds no-one just picked up some stones because they were prettily coloured – we had to be up to something.

I suppose the whole episode did not last much longer than what seem like a full day but was probably thirty minutes in reality. The worst bit was the homemade bins I had between the front seats of the bus.

“What is in here?” “Oh my rubbish bag and rags that I use when I work on greasy stuff and probably a couple more tools” I said as nonchalantly as I could.

He was trying to open it as if it was hinged and I slid the lids open one at a time. He poked round in the smaller one that had some grubby stuff in it (I can’t remember where I got it from but it had not come with us). Sliding open the next one I gingerly put two fingers in and picked up a particularly dirty, greasy rag.

“What else is in there?”  “I think there is a spare oil cap (there was) this water pressure cap,” as I fished them out and waved my hand at the bundle of greasy rags now lying in the bin. He looked on as I gingerly started to put my hand in again, as if I did not want to get any dirtier, then said “OK, you can go” and proceeded to lecture us on the sovereignty of Botswana and how they do not appreciate diamond smugglers etc etc. (the nearest diamond mine is about 450 kilometres away in the middle of the country in a very barren area – there are NO DIAMONDS in the Tuli area but I was not going to argue that point).

We went in and got our passports stamped, thanked the officials, got into the car and drove off as sedately as we could – barely breathing and expecting to be called back at any second. Margaret’s stones…did we get to keep them? After all this time I can’t remember.

We crossed back into South Africa – taking several deep, shuddering breaths of relief as we arrived. I told the policeman on duty about our adventure as he stamped our passports and he told us we were very lucky indeed because they could be quite savage on anyone breaking the weapons rules in Botswana.

About a week went by before I got feedback that the radio communications were now the best they had ever been in roughly the twenty years the lodge operators had been there. They thanked us and told my employer that I was welcome there at any time. We never took them up on it though we did discuss it. The remains of the copper antenna wire are probably still there, embedded in the tree I imagine.

That good old Rhodesian Army Corps of Signals training and experience had struck again!

For some information on HF antenna go to my earlier post
http://eriktheready.com/about-antennas/

HF Antenna Lesotho

It might seem strange that I have included this with my military experiences (it is posted elsewhere too). The reason for doing so is that this anecdote would not have been possible without the training and experience I received in the Rhodesian army. That includes being innovative and a bit of a “McGyver” type of person.

In the late 1980s I worked for a company called RF Marketing (RFM). My friend Rick Borrett also worked there and was one of the top salesmen (he may have been sales manager by then).

Rick had sold a lot of radio equipment into Lesotho and I was to accompany him on several of his trips to that little country to sort out radio problems. On one trip I had to squat in a small snowbank on a mountaintop while I worked on a VHF repeater and its solar panels. Just to make things more pleasant it was gently snowing.

We had been flown up in a Lesotho Defence Force helicopter (they rented them out for commercial use) and while the pilot sat in the warm aircraft we trudged over to the job and I got stuck in. Of course our clothing was quite inadequate for the cold but, in order to use my tools, I had to remove my gloves. Quite soon Rick remarked that I could not use my gloves, could I? Rhetorical question that it was I grunted in the negative to which he replied “Please can I use them?” and I handed over my nice leather, fur-lined gloves so that he could keep his hands warm.

After about forty minutes I had finished the work and I was so cold that I seriously, just for a moment, thought of abandoning my tools there on the mountaintop and scrambling into the warm helicopter waiting fifty metres away. They were my personal tools and Rick had the good grace to help me chuck them into my toolbox and then take one side of the toolbox to carry it to the helo.

We scrambled in and Rick asked the pilot to get us off the mountain as quickly as possible. He gave me back my gloves. The aircraft heater warmed the cabin and I warmed up a bit as we descended. Twenty minutes later after getting out of the chopper we were removing layers of clothing.

It was on one of these trips that I had the most sincere, if back-handed, compliment from Rick. He was muttering about some bloke approaching us as we waited for a light aircraft at some bush airstrip. In reply to my question he said, “He is a bloody idiot – his pockets are always full of bits of string and stuff and Swiss-army knives and shit like that.”

Somewhat disconcerted I replied “Well that sounds a bit like me with all my McGyver-type stuff.” Rick’s reply was something like “Yeah, but you know what to do with all that fucking shit.” A compliment is a compliment, I suppose! …and I still do – carry a lot of shit with me per the illustration!

Oh, HF, that is what I started with! Lesotho is a tiny land-locked country completely surrounded by South Africa and only measures about 210 x 162 kilometres in extent – about 34,000 square – kilometres and VERY mountainous.

A donor country had decided to build a micro hydroelectric station to provide power to an area way up in the mountains near the area that is the highest point of the famous Roof of Africa rally.

They found a steep mountain stream that made a short hairpin bend and doubled back to flow about 20-30 metres lower down but probably 30 metres or so from the uphill section if measured horizontally. The photo shows an area in Lesotho where the river doubles back on itself similar to what I have described. By diverting the upper part of the river they tunnelled down and through the dividing piece of mountain, installed a small hydro generator and then allowed the river to flow again after partially damming it BELOW the upper entrance to the tunnel. This now became the race for the head of water that would drive the generator. Very clever but not a short-duration project. The company had an HQ in Maseru, the capital, but very poor communications to the construction site.

Rick had sold them HF radios that had been installed by one of the technicians but the radios were not working at all – well the communication was non-existent while there was nothing wrong with the radios. The antenna of course, were another matter and we set off with poles, ropes, pegs, cables, connectors and some HF antennas I had made up in my garage at home.

On arrival I installed an end-fed long wire antenna at the base station because there was no room for any other kind of antenna and next day we got a light aircraft from the airport and were flown in to this VERY high landing strip on top of a mountain. It was a bit windy but early in the day so the air was relatively still. The landing – for the uninitiated – was quite hair-raising on this dirt strip that ended at a cliff drop-off. I think the picture is of that actual airstrip in Lesotho.

Taken up to the camp I proceeded to erect my poles – with help from Rick and a couple of men assigned to help us. I then erected a conventional HF dipole, connected it to the radio and then had to trim it by keying the transmitter, checking my antenna meter, adjust the length of each element of the antenna (calculating the antenna length is not an exact science in the field and it is necessary to let out or take in the ends until the correct reading is obtained). While we were doing this we had to keep telling the people at base to shut up while we worked – they were so chuffed that they could hear us and that we could obviously hear them!!

When this was done I tied off the ends of the antenna, checked the stays on the poles and told them they were set to go. “That antenna is not high enough” one of the local old hands had observed when I started and I had assured him it was. The finished job left the radiating elements of the antenna about three or four metres above the ground (depending on where you stood) but a car or pickup could drive under it. I told them in no uncertain terms, that apart from ensuring that the antenna was safe and secure, to NOT be tempted to move it or change its height from the ground.

“Why is it so low?”, I was asked and I explained about needing to get the signal up and down quickly because, although driving through the mountains took hours the base was only about 50-60 kilometres away in a straight line. The fact that it worked was irrefutable but they were confused and pointed out that the International Red Cross (IRC) down the road (about a couple of hours drive away) had these very precisely arrayed antennas and that they were at least thirty metres off the ground.

I enquired if they knew who they talked to and it turned out that they had wonderful HF communications with Switzerland. And in Lesotho? Oh those radios could not talk to anyone in Lesotho. I surmised that those antennas had probably been professionally erected with the express purpose of very long range communications. (We passed the IRC buildings next day and the antennas were indeed erected with Germanic precision on lattice masts that towered over the place).

Now that we had communications at the site the first message we got was that there would be no aircraft coming for us because the wind had come up and aircraft could not land or take off from the mountaintop!!

Our hosts rounded up some beers, coke and brandy, gave us a good feed and we sat around chatting, drinking and listening to Billy Connolly tapes in the cookhouse. I had chosen to sleep in the manager’s caravan (he was away) and the wind kept me awake most of the night, fearful that it would lift the caravan and chuck it off the mountain with me inside! Rick had chosen to sleep in one of the accommodation containers – it was heavy, dark and quiet and he slept well.

Rick looked rather rough in the morning though, having consumed the best part of a bottle of brandy with coke the previous evening!

Still no aircraft, we learned after a hearty breakfast, so they arranged a four-wheel drive pickup for us with a driver. Rick, who is an excellent driver, had their man in the back seat within the first couple of kilometres – I did not blame him because the driver did NOT instil confidence. There were stretches that were a bit like those horror roads you see in the video clips from South America and, narrow as the roads were, Rick was on the inside closest to the mountain while I looked fearfully at the horrendous drop-offs on my left. After FIVE LONG HOURS we got down on the level and merely had to contend with some rioters throwing stuff at us as we zipped past. My Microbus was still safely standing at the airport – untouched. We handed the pickup over to the company driver, went to our hotel for a shower and a meal and next day started back to Johannesburg.

It was most satisfying to get feedback from the client that they were very happy with their NEW communications – having been ready to box everything up and send it back to us.

For some information on HF antenna go to my earlier post
http://eriktheready.com/about-antennas/

Antenna – it ain’t broke!

Rhodesia is – was, if you prefer to use the name Zimbabwe – a small country measuring roughly 750 kilometres (or 466 miles) north to south and 850 kilometres (529 miles) west to east.

HF (High Frequency) radio is normally accepted as being for long range communications beyond the reach of conventional VHF (Very High Frequency) radio. Long range can be anything from a few hundred kilometres to halfway round the world and the construction, and type, of antenna plays a big part in HF communications.

The most common HF antenna in use – and that was used in the Rhodesian Army – is the half-wave dipole that can be erected either a T or an inverted (upside down) V configuration.

In the early 70s, probably around 1972/1973, JOC Hurricane, the operational field headquarters of Operation Hurricane and HQ 2 Brigade, moved from Centenary to the small town of Bindura.

The camp was just on the edge of the town and there were several very large trees around the grounds that provided shade to mainly the middle of the camp where the ops rooms – and officer’s messes – were located.

The radio room and other communications were housed in a long corrugated iron building just inside the boom-guarded entrance to the camp. The back of the building was towards the road and we erected our antennae on three poles in a T configuration between the building and the road.

The centre pole supported the centre point of four antennas (we used four frequencies as a rule – night frequency, day frequency and two intermediate frequencies). The outer poles were where the ends of the dipoles were supported by their halyards. The longest antenna, for the lowest frequency, was highest on the pole and the shortest, for the highest frequency, on the bottom.

The antenna each had their own feeder that ran into the radio room. Instead of having a common feed or some way of combining the feeders we marked the ends of the feeders, near the radio connector, with the relevant frequency number on a piece of tape and when we changed frequency we removed and connected the cables accordingly. 

This unsophisticated, simple but effective, setup gave us excellent communications coverage of our operational area and, had we wanted to, we could have communicated with any part of the country.

One day, probably around the 20th of the month, we had a visit from a warrant officer who was

stationed with the signals technical squadron and;
was a radio amateur and;
was a very self-important and self-opinionated person – and also a genuinely, very clever electronics/radio technician.

Our OC at the time was also a keen radio amateur and this warrant officer swamped the OC with jargon and theory to the point that he gained permission to REORGANISE our antennas to OPTIMISE our communications. He maintained that the antennas were too close to each other – although only one was in use at any one time, not high enough and that they ought to be more spread out and not parallel to each other.

Our interfering warrant officer, having obtained carte blanche from the OC, against my ultimately ineffectual protestations, proceeded to have my men climbing trees and stringing the antennas anything from one and a half to two times as high as our little behind-the-radio-room masts. We now had this spider-web of antennas, feeder cables and halyards in the trees over the headquarters.

On questioning my exhausted operators over the next day or two after the visitor had departed, I determined that the only noticeable difference was that communications were not as good as before the rearranging of the antennas. Also more frequency changes had to be made to maintain communications.

At the end of every month we were issued a list of new frequencies to use and all antennas had to be trimmed to the new dimensions and tuned up. This involved physically changing the length of the antenna elements but now our antennas were tangled in the treetops and endangering the men trying to work with them.

I approached the OC and asked if I might speak frankly. He agreed and I asked him (probably a bit sarcastically – which he took in good part I seem to remember) if he could get Sergeant Major XX from 12 Squadron out with a team to change our antennas for us because, as he was aware, it was changeover time. I also reiterated what I had already told him – that there had been zero HF communication improvement in relation to the effort that had been required to create the spider web above our heads.

With a rueful smile the OC conceded that he had allowed the silver-haired, smooth-tongued warrant officer to mislead him, against his better judgement, in respect of our practical and functional antenna set-up. “Put it back as it was, Staff,” he told me “and apologise to the men for all the trouble”. “Thank you Sir, I replied”.

He was a really decent man, Henton Jaaback, destined to become our last Corps Commander and one of the finest I ever served with. He became a friend after our service – he was lost to us a few years ago.

The men almost cheered with gratitude and, with renewed enthusiasm, they got the antennas back to the good, practical setup we had been using. Afterwards we had rolls and rolls of co-axial feeder cable left over from the loooonnng feeder cables that had been necessary to reach the antennas in the tree canopy over the HQ. A real waste in those troubled times but I think they were recycled and eventually put to good use.

There is always a balance between theory and practical experience and the lesson taken from this is – if it ain’t broke, don’t go FIXING it.

For some information on HF antenna go to my earlier post
http://eriktheready.com/about-antennas/

About HF antennas

This article will, of necessity, be VERY basic…

One of my favourite subjects has always been HF (High Frequency) radio communications. Because it can be fairly demanding I have found, over the years, that people do not want to be bothered with it. The antennas require knowledge to erect and maintain, some knowledge of how frequencies react at certain times of the day and, particularly in the case of mobile installations, some knowledge of the principles of earthing and potential differences. Very few people have believed in HF and if they did not have someone on hand who could look after it the installations that were put in would be neglected and the equipment blamed for all manner of reasons.

I talk about HF in several of my articles and I thought perhaps I should devote a short post to outlining some of the basics of how HF radio works – this is very basic so, all you technical types, please don’t confuse the issue with complex discussion around the subject.

HF (High Frequency) radio is normally accepted as being intended for long range communications beyond the reach of conventional VHF (Very High Frequency) radio. Long range can be anything from a few hundred kilometres to halfway round the world and the construction, and type, of antenna plays a big part in HF communications.

The most common HF antenna in use – and that was used in the Rhodesian Army – is the half-wave dipole that was normally erected in a T configuration (an inverted, upside down, V configuration can be used where a space for a normal dipole is constrained) (see graphics). I know that these antenna work exceptionally well for short and medium distance HF communication – and in some cases, properly erected, around the world.

 

 

One of the VERY BASIC antenna fundamentals we were taught on our operators’ courses was – the greater the distance you want to cover on HF the higher the antenna needs to be. Conversely an antenna that was comparatively low to the ground (as ours generally were), would tend to have a much SHORTER skip distance (bearing in mind that the area covered when the signals came back to earth was not a SPOT but actually a very large (almost) omni-directional footprint. Remember – Rhodesia has a comparatively small land area less than 900 kilometres at its widest point.

So, although with our VHF communications we were always trying to get high ground for our relay stations, the rationale in respect of HF was a bit different.

Skip distance is the distance from where the effective ground coverage (the area of direct communication over the ground from the base to an outlying station) ends and the first radio waves refracted from the ionosphere return to earth (see graphic). This is because a dipole antenna is primarily designed for long range communication and makes use of sending the signal to the ionosphere where it is refracted (bounced if you like) back to earth. The sharper the angle at which the signal reaches the ionosphere the closer to the base station it will return to earth. The reverse is true and is achieved by adjusting the height of the antenna from the ground to control the angle of the radio wave.

Think of looking into a mirror. If two people stand a metre apart in front of a mirror the angle at which they see each other is very small. If they move away from each other so as to still be able to see each other in the mirror, the angle at which they are looking into the mirror becomes greater and greater as they move further apart.

Besides the height of the antenna two other main factors affect how the radio waves react to the ionosphere. The frequency in use and the power of the transmitter. Too much power can be as bad as too little and the wrong frequency for the time of day will result in poor, or no, communications. I will resist going into too much detail and, for those who are interested, much information is available on the web. I know what I was taught by very good instructors a lifetime ago and what I have learned because I so enjoyed the subject – but it is practical stuff that I will post about in other ANTENNA articles – about my experience of the use and misuse of antenna in both the military and as a civilian!

Lost!

In 1968, when you travelled towards the Chirundu border post in the Zambezi valley you took the Lomagundi road out of Salisbury (Harare). After passing through Sinoia (Chinhoyi) and Karoi you arrived at Makuti, 290 kilometres from Salisbury (Harare) which is where the road split and by turning left you would drive down to Kariba. Take out the old names and the exact same directions apply!

Up to 1980 the Makuti motel used to do a roaring trade out of the almost never-ending stream of service people traveling through the area. A great place where many a frosty has been gratefully downed. I gather it is still a welcome watering hole for travellers in the region.

Proceeding on from Makuti towards the Valley one arrived at the Marongora Parks and Wildlife offices.

The start of the section of OLD ROAD into the Valley was near Marongora. This piece of road is a narrow, steep tar/strip road off the new road and it reaches the Valley floor nearly 1000 feet below Marongora at a small stream (usually dry) where there is, or used to be, a large wild fig or similar tree. A lot of army patrols would base up near here and it was about two kilometres distant from where the new road reached the valley floor.

The old road then meanders along for a while but, if you don’t turn off west towards the hunting camps or Nyamoumba, where the Kariba gorge ends, then the old road takes you back onto the new main road twelve kilometres or so further on.

The area described above is roughly diamond shaped, twelve kilometres long by three to four kilometres wide at the widest point. The long sides of the diamond are bounded by the old road to the west and the new road – that still carried a lot of traffic in 1968 – to the east. On a quiet morning you could hear the trucks on the new road as they traversed the escarpment about two kilometres away.

A large stream bisects the area from north to south.

In 1968 I was a L Cpl and attached, from just before Easter to about mid-July, to the first company of SAP (South African Police) to be based at Chirundu. (That is 21 year old me in the picture, posing next to the helicopter).

At one point they had a small patrol base, as described above, at the foot of the escarpment on the old road. 

As already mentioned, the area was about twelve kilometres long with the two roads about one and a half to two kilometres apart at the base of the escarpment and at no point did the two roads diverge more than, at most, four kilometres from each other.

Anyway, one of the SAP’s first patrols in the area got lost, well and truly lost, BETWEEN these two roads. They ran out of communications or, most probably had not taken radios (excuse: they are heavy) so when they had not returned from what was to have been a twenty-four hour patrol there was some consternation and eventually we (the Rhodesian Army) were asked to get trackers in.

The trackers quickly found the somewhat wide-eyed, thirsty, and slightly panicky, patrol.

They reported that the patrol had walked to within a few metres of the main road a couple or more times and had actually CROSSED the old road at one or two places. Mostly, though, they had walked in circles although deliberately changing direction sometimes.  All within an area less than nine square kilometres in extent. I think the patrol members reported that they had fired shots a couple of times to attract attention but I cannot remember if that was so. The trackers also reported – again I am uncertain – that the patrol had walked past elephant and, at one point, perhaps either lion or hyena – entirely possible as there were, and are, plenty of these, and other, wild animals in the Valley.

The trackers also felt that the patrol had approached the main road so closely that they should have seen the road and heard, even seen, traffic on it. Presumably so bewildered at being lost they did not register these otherwise plainly noticeable things.

There was considerable teasing and quite a bit of sneering about this but the point is…

These young men were POLICEMEN who had been taken from the beat and been given a short, sharp, paramilitary course. Some (perhaps all) had received some training from the South African Army prior to coming to Rhodesia. Based on the attitude displayed to us Rhodesians, when we did further pre-deployment training with them at Inkomo Garrison, it would be fair to say that the same disdainful attitude to the training would have pertained among many of them and few, if any, lessons had been absorbed or taken seriously by many of the men. (More on this in another post sometime).

It is my opinion that policemen are trained to have a different attitude by virtue of often working alone or in pairs – the army way must have been a bit stifling and bewildering to them. This in charge, almost disdainful-of-authority, attitude really did not work in anti-terrorism patrolling when pretty much each individual felt HE should be in charge making the patrol leader’s task difficult. I am sure there are many other dynamics that could be brought into a discussion around this – that is not my intention.

So, with little training in the way of soldiering and very few of the various skills that a soldier is taught, this patrol was shambling around – lost – and it illustrates how easily one CAN get lost if the basics of navigation and map reading are not learned and observed. It also illustrates how the anxiety of being lost can affect a group’s powers of observation. They came so close to being able to follow a road and they just failed to register what was in front of them.

The calibre of these men was to improve as time passed and lessons were learned. However, they were to suffer a number of casualties before the reality sank in that this was actually a serious situation. It was not, as one South African journalist around that time commented, “…only a bunch of disgruntled cookboys running around in the bush with a few guns…” (or words to that effect), belittling the very real terrorist war that was just getting started.

This satellite image from Google Earth shows the area under discussion.

If you go to Google Earth and enter Rukomeshe research it will find it as Rukomeshe Research Station, Hurungwe, Mashonaland West Province, Zimbabwe. By zooming OUT and scrolling LEFT (or West) from Rukomeshe you will find the area of the attached map. Then, by zooming in you can actually see the old road fairly clearly. The faint blue triangular area is the area that was to be patrolled. The patrol got lost somewhere between the old road and the new main road, a bit west of the prominent river feature I believe.

If anyone reading this remembers the incident or can add more insight I would be glad to hear from them.

Trish, Tish and David

Pay close attention all ye Patricias, Tishes and Trishes and, too, all ye Davids attend.

This is stuff you cannot make up.

I went to GFS in 1959 and my brother David, was born that year in Sinoia.

At the end of 1960 I was made to leave Guinea Fowl School, because my stepfather could not pay my boarding fees, and the following year, 1961, my sister, Patricia was born. She, when she was old enough to decide, became Trish – unequivocally.

Also in 1961, unknown to me at the time, David Brooke-Mee (who was to become my stepson 15 years later – and is today my best friend) was also born. …and in 1964 his younger sister, Patricia, was born and she was to become TISH.

Still with me here?

My brother and sister have (had, in Trish’s case) the surname WILLIAMS. Now pay attention at the back there! This meant, of course, that my mother was Mrs Williams (it IS important).

Tish, remember(?) was to marry, in the 80s, one Spike Williamson (that’s WILLIAMSON) – pay careful attention here.

Come the 1990s and I have been stepfather to the Brooke-Mee children since 1976 and Margaret and I are living in South Africa.

On a visit to South Africa, and staying with us, are Spike and Tish. They have taken Spike’s mother to stay with her sister on the other side of town.

Debbie, a cousin to my brother’s wife, phones to contact MY mother.

Spike:                     (answering the phone): Hello
Debbie:             Hello, is Mrs Williams there. (he is used to the …son being dropped from his surname)
Spike:             No, she’s in Randburg. (forgetting he now has a wife…)
Debbie:                Oh, (slightly puzzled) …er, do you know how I can contact Trish?
Spike:                      Oh, Tish, she’s here, hang on.
Debbie:                  OK…
Tish:                         (coming to the phone) Hello?
Debbie:            (not recognising the voice) Is that Trish (Tish is used to this, see?)
Tish:                        Yes.
Debbie:                 David’s sister?
Tish:                       Yes…..

ORDERS! ORDERS, SHUN!

In 1979 I was posted to 2(Brigade) Signal Squadron (2(Bde)Sig Sqn) as the Squadron Sergeant Major (SSM). 

Among the duties carried out by SSMs and CSMs is bringing members of the unit up on disciplinary charges. (This is the only picture I have of myself as a WO2 – or Sergeant Major – taken on a course in late 1978)

I had carried out this task a few times over the years as SSgt and WO2 and it was not a particularly difficult thing to do. You just had to make sure that your facts were right and that you framed the charges correctly, using the correct sections of the Defence Act (Military Discipline).

On this occasion though, the accused was a member of the RWS (Rhodesian Womens’ Service) who was posted to the squadron in an administrative post.

She had been late for duty on a few occasions, been absent without leave and been insubordinate. Because she was married and had young children (her husband was also an NCO in Signals), she had been verbally cautioned by myself and the admin officer but now the warnings had run out and if nothing had been done it would have set a very bad precedent in the unit.

Accordingly, charges had been framed and I was to march in the orders party to appear in front of Maj George Galbraith, who was OC of the squadron.

Army readers will probably be familiar with the procedure – the accused has an escort and, if there are witnesses who are equal, or junior in rank, to the accused they too are “marched in”. I think there was one witness and they formed up, standing at ease, in the passage outside the OC’s office facing me – escort on the left, accused and then witness.

In my best (and it used to be quite impressive) SSM voice I called them to attention, turned them to their right and marched them in – this is done, as mentioned, in the stentorian tones of the parade ground and FAST…so:

AWWDUUHZ, AWWDUUHZ, SHUN!
ORDERS…RIGHT TURN-BY THE FRONT-QUICK MARCH –
LEFT-RIGHT-LEFT-RIGHT—RIGHT-WHEEYUL (into the office),
RIGHT WHEEL (around the door),
LEFT-RIGHT-LEFT-RIGHT-MARK TIME! LEF, RI, LEF, RI, LEF, RI….
AWWDUUHZ, HALT. ORDERS LEFT TURN. (This last to get them facing the OC’s desk).

As I saluted and opened my mouth to announce the orders party and read the charges to the OC, he held up his hand to stop me – and the office filled with sniffles and snot-swallowing and howling and crying…CRYING! ON ORDERS!

“Sar’ major, I think you had better march them out again and let the accused compose herself” he said drily. As my mouth opened to start the reversal of the process the OC signalled for less volume. I almost choked trying to keep the tradition up at less than half volume but I got them out into the passage. After ordering the escort to take the accused to sort herself out and get back in five minutes, I reported back to the OC.

As I closed the door he was chuckling, obviously trying hard NOT to guffaw out loud and be heard in the passage. “Now what, Erik?” he said to me. “Jesus, Sir,” I replied, “I don’t know. How do we deal with this?” (Actually I may have said FORNICATE and not Jesus…!)

After a couple of minutes’ discussion, we came to the conclusion that the relatively mild-mannered SSM she thought she knew, had given her such a fright with the parade voice that she had almost wet herself.

I was compelled to complete the orders parade using what could only be described as a hoarse stage whisper. Expecting the earlier grand performance she cringed at first! There were still some tears and I don’t remember what the OC’s sentence was (probably a fine) but I had to make a point of not catching his eye (or he mine) as we were both trying REALLY HARD not to laugh out loud at the absurdity of it.

I think the only deterrent that worked that day though, was the accused’s fear of being subjected to full volume on orders parade – again!!

If George Galbraith ever reads this, I would be interested in his recollection of it.

Nursery school wisdom

A bit of whimsy…


Most of what I really need to know about how to live, and what to do, and how to be, I learnt in Nursery School. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain but there, in the sandbox, at nursery school.

These are the things I learned:

  • Share everything.
  • Play fair.
  • Don’t hit people.
  • Put things back where you found them.
  • Clean up your own mess.
  • Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
  • Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
  • Wash your hands before you eat. Flush.
  • Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
  • Live a balanced life.
  • Learn some and think some and draw and paint and dance and play and work some every day.
  • Take a nap every afternoon.
  • When you go out into the world, watch for traffic, hold hands and stick together.
  • Be aware of wonder – and never stop wondering.

Remember the little seed in the plastic cup.

The roots go down and the plants go up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.

Goldfish, hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the plastic cup – they all die. So do we.

And then remember the book about Dick and Jane and the first word you learned, the biggest word of all:

LOOK.

Everything you need to know is in there somewhere – the Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation, ecology and politics and sane living.

Think of what a better world it would be if we all – the whole world – had cookies and milk about three ‘o clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankets for a nap. Or if we had a basic policy in our nation and other nations to always put things back where we found them and clean up our own messes.

And it is still true no matter how old you are: when you go out into the world it is best to hold hands and stick together.

Even sea otters hold hands…!

 

Tent pegs and storms

I used to do a lot of camping.

One year when it was very stormy and several people were putting storm straps on their tents I decided I had better try to do something or run the risk of my tent and belongings being scattered around the camp and the adjacent areas of the Kruger National Park.

Not having a storm strap I became aware that the wind was acting like air flow across a wing – when the airflow creates an area of low pressure above the wing there is lift and it is this lifting effect that was causing the tentage – read fly sheet and shade net – to billow out and snatch at the tent pegs.

I had to find a way to stop the tent pegs from being pulled out and came up with the idea that I have shown in the (rather amateurish) sketches.

I had spare tent pegs and a lot of rope so I drove in extra pegs between the tent and the pegs already in place and faced to take the strain in the opposite direction. I then made up loops that I could adjust the tension on and looped them over the outside pegs and the inner (new) pegs.

The result was that as the wind BELLED the tent up and out and the ropes tried to pull “their” pegs out the INNER pegs attached to them with the short rope loops would not let them move outwards.

I found that I needed to go around a few times and re-tension my opposing loops but we survived the storm and I noticed a tent that HAD had a storm strap had been blown away.

When I camped after that if there was the slightest sign of a storm I would put in my innovation and have few, if any, problems.

Another wheeze that someone came up with was a drill and, using an 8 or 6 mm extra long masonry bit, when the ground is like iron – pre-drill the tent peg holes. Saved me some broken pegs, some sore arms from rebounding hammers and the neighbours’ ears from the blue language that resulted!!!

Bureaucracy

I was still living in South Africa when I found an 87th Precinct book that I had not read. In it I came across this passage that I thought was just so apt in relation to the drama I had recently gone through in order to have some plans registered at my local municipality.

While I did not have to purchase a postal order I DID have to go to the lift, down three floors, go out of that building and through security then walk around the civic centre offices to the rates hall – several hundred metres. There I had to stand in a queue to make my payment and make sure I got a receipt to take back to where I had started. I then had to go down the passage for the second part of this procedure and lo and behold they ALSO needed a payment, and they ALSO were unable to take payment.  I am sure we have all had experiences that this scenario might fit. 


In this city, ten people were necessary to do the job of one person.

What this city did was hire high school dropouts, put them in suits and then teach them how to greet the public with blank stares on their faces.

In this city, if you needed a copy of, say, your birth certificate or your driver’s licence, you stood in line for an hour and half while some nitwit pretended to be operating a computer. When he or she finally located what you were there for, you had to go over to the post office and stand in line for another hour and a half to purchase a money order to pay for it.

That was because in this city, municipal employees weren’t allowed to accept cash, personal cheques or credit cards. This was because the city fathers knew the calibre of the people who were featherbedding throughout the entire system, knew that cash would disappear in a wink, knew that credit cards would be cloned, knew that personal cheques would somehow end up in private bank accounts hither and yon.

That’s why all those people behind municipal counters gave you such hostile stares.

They were angry at the system because they couldn’t steal from it. Or maybe they were pissed off because they couldn’t qualify for more lucrative jobs like security officers at any of the city’s jails, where an ambitious man could earn a goodly amount of unreportable cash by smuggling in dope to the inmates.

Quoted from The Last Dance by Ed McBain – an 87th Precinct novel
Ed McBain is a pen name used by Evan Hunter (The Blackboard Jungle, Privileged Conversation)

Proofing and Editing

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A service that will enable small and large businesses to have confidence that all published matter is relevant, accurate and easily readable.

Poor grammar, punctuation and spelling, which is not everyone’s particular strength, can damage the credibility of any offering. Generally unnoticed by many there will be those for whom such inaccuracies will be important when deciding on the credibility of what is being offered.  

EriktheReady also writes, proofreads and edits INSTRUCTIONS.
The great majority of instructions appear to be written by the creators of the product. Products with which they are intimately involved and that they use intuitively. In-house jargon, and the assumption that the buyer knows things (…everyone knows that…?) can be seriously confusing to the purchaser using the product for the first time.

Good examples are:
•Electronics – when the instructions assume the user KNOWS to save each step and the instructions do not clearly state how to do this (press MENU, for example).
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ABOUT EriktheReady’s
    …proof reading, editing and instructional experience.

I have always enjoyed writing and have an eye for detail.

During my time as proof reader for a typesetting company my accuracy and careful work was rated excellent and it was something I enjoyed doing.  I, and the company, received many compliments from clients after I spotted errors and suggested rewrites.

As part of my military service I was taught to instruct and compile instructions in an environment where peoples’ lives could depend on the accuracy of the instructions.

As a civilian I have been required to do proofing and editing for my employers and write instructions on equipment supplied to our customers. This was in addition to delivering lectures on the equipment we supplied – both in-house and to clients.

The EriktheReady focus is be on the use of simple, expressive phrasing that can be understood and appreciated by anyone who uses the English language. I am confident that a top notch service is always provided.

Here are two reviews posted to my FaceBook page by two of my clients – the first, Anita, is in Santiago, Chile.

13 March

Thank you for your patience and engagement to my projects as if they were your own. 

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Masaya Nagayasu reviewed Erik The Ready5 star

13 June at 10:39

For more information, contact erik@eriktheready.com

Antenna – the mid-60s

In my recent post about Exercise Long Drag I made mention of the G5RV dipole antenna.

A simple dipole in the field. The earth stake would to earth the RADIO

This antenna was invented by Louis Varney in 1942. He was a British amateur and his call sign was G5RV. There is a brief resume here  http://www.msars.org.uk/fa1.html and a Google search will find more of the same. (take care not to get confused by the composer with the same name!)

There are several variants of the antenna and with some variants it is suggested that an antenna tuner should/can be used.

Without getting too technical – I will leave that to the boffins – the variant that we used had the standard 51 foot (15.5m) radiating elements and the feeder was a 34 foot (10.3m) 300 ohm TV tape tail with a further 5m x 72 ohm tail to the radio equipment. Because the 72 ohm was usually twin ripcord with no connector one had to be fairly creative to make the connection to the radio equipment. We did not use a balun at the junction of feeder and radiating elements.

We never used the G5RV with an antenna tuner and only used it for a while with the C14 radios. I believe some units used the antenna for quite a while though because it was fairly broad band. I can’t help thinking we should have learned more about the antenna and persevered with it.

How it came about was that (then WO2) Bob Jones, Tp SM of K Troop, 2 Brigade, was a radio amateur (Callsign ZE1BF) and he learned about the antenna through his radio amateur contacts and the radio amateur literature of the day. (I seem to recall that originally the story fed to us was that it was a Zambian amateur who invented it but it may have been that the Zambian connection was merely a member of the amateur radio fraternity).

Bob suggested to our Troop Comd, who was a WO1, that we try the antenna as a quick and convenient ready-made solution to deploying our new C14 radios. The idea was put forward to Army HQ (Signals) who gave them the nod.

The antenna were a great success although, of course, some puritans disdained them. Bob Jones (and Louis Varney) never got any recognition from Army HQ…someone did – but not them!

I will touch on antenna – which we learned about in considerable detail on our signals operators courses – in other posts.

 

Leadership, Authority and Responsibility

These are qualities that can, to quite a large extent be taught to those with the correct attitude.

Responsibility is really the first and underlying quality – together with integrity. Anyone who wants or demands authority and is not prepared to accept the attendant responsibility is not fit to lead.

Many people do not appreciate that responsibility is a two-way street. A less senior person might be responsible to their superiors but their superiors have an equal and possibly more important responsibility for and to their employees or juniors.

In the military the responsibility is to see that men are prepared through training – both physical and in the area of skills in arms and in their specialties. Officers need to ensure that their men are prepared mentally and they need to learn to trust those men to carry out their duties.

The leader earns the men’s trust by showing that he trusts them and takes seriously his responsibility for them, at the same time being firm and impartial in matters of discipline and adherence to the army’s rules.

The men under the command of the officer or NCO learn to respect not only those qualities of fairness and firmness but also the person – not just the authority of the rank or position.

The good leader, already granted the authority with his rank or position, has taken the time to earn the respect of those under his command without throwing his weight around or allowing anyone else to do so. He does not have to demand the men’s obedience or respect. The loyalty he has shown to those men has in its turn, earned their loyalty. They will behave and carry out their assigned work responsibly and be accountable for their performance. They will be a team.

A leader displays loyalty to staff in several ways. He ensures that they know and understand what is required of them. When they make a mistake he takes the time to establish what happened and why. He does not allow others to attack his people. He will stop such attacks and will sort out matters of discipline, training or other problems, internally.

If censure is required, he will ensure that it is administered firmly and fairly and he will do it himself. He will not abdicate this unpleasant task nor will he allow his superiors or peers to attack and demean his staff or censure them even if it is deserved. He will stop such moves and be responsible for sorting out the problem and, if needed, report his resolution of the problem to his own superiors. He will be RESPONSIBLE.

He does not allow his staff to be embarrassed in front of their peers, their seniors nor, and most importantly, in front of any junior staff.

The leader is firstly an individual who accepts authority knowing that with it goes great responsibility. Learning to handle all those things and thriving in a supportive environment some people become good supervisors and managers. Some among them become leaders and some become really good leaders.

All these things only happen in an environment that is conducive to such a culture. In order to function efficiently the military must have a responsible leadership culture. It is why they train and train and re-train their members. Those that have the aptitude will work their way up the ladder. Some individuals will find a level that suits their abilities while others will remain among the rank and file. Systems are not infallible and from time to time talent will be overlooked and fall through the cracks but, for the most part, it is a system that works.

The military systems are built on training and excellence but the driving force is not commercial. Rather it is a strange mix of loyalty, camaraderie, discipline and pride – a hard to define esprit-de-corps.

Many of those in charge of large civilian/commercial enterprises are heard paying lip service to training and developing leaders. With the main driver being the bottom line it becomes easy to lose sight of the people who make it all work. How often is the phrase “Our people are our most vital asset” heard by surprised staff who would swear it was not so.

Brash, commercially successful individuals are often promoted to management positions over really competent people. Such people will frequently be insensitive to others and, when in charge, become a bully. This is tacitly allowed because of the person’s success rate. No one notices the decline in morale and performance and perceived shortcomings are simply punished.

Staff reporting to such managers may become afraid and anxious and, not wanting to lose their jobs, they scramble to please, to be seen as acquiescent and helpful. The fact that productivity slips, errors occur and inefficiencies creep in is lost in the clamour.

It is often acknowledged that the best sportsman in any particular discipline will not necessarily be the best captain, coach or manager. So it is with management and leadership.

That rather loud individual who can sell lots of anything, or fix anything or excel in many other ways, should be allowed and encouraged to follow his core competency. He should be made to realise, through discussion or even blatant flattery, that he is hugely important to the company. Emphasise that a manager and support staff are in place to help him continue his successful career. He needs to see it as removing obstacles to his success, such as the need to be in the office and being responsible for the performance and success of others when he is much better at being successful HIMSELF.

Train the people with the right skills in responsibility and the exercise of authority. There is always a need for individuals with these competencies. The good ones will thrive and become supervisors, managers and leaders according to their abilities.

A person who is willing to accept responsibility and at the same time behave with integrity is a rare person indeed and all too often is not recognised by the very people who need them – business bosses. Business LEADERS however will recognise the need and ensure such people are not only hired but supported and encouraged in every way.

Responsible people take things seriously and tend not to let others down. They are thorough and hard-working and usually bright and intelligent. Frequently these people are creative and love to contribute but are seldom, if ever, encouraged and their voices are lost in the noise around big sales, big conferences, big ideas – and big egos.

People who WANT to be IN CHARGE and who, if promoted, take every opportunity to tell anyone who will listen how important they are should be kept under strict control and never be allowed much, if any, authority over staff. Selfishly they do not want to be responsible for anything but themselves and what is theirs which is what makes that kind of person a great salesman and marketer and even a tradesman but, more often than not, a poor manager of people.

About instructions…

Being reasonably logical and literal in my approach to instructions I get confused when something I understand to mean one thing actually means something rather different or when part of an instruction is omitted because everyone knows that.

Let me digress for a moment to better illustrate my point:

Many years ago when I was in the military (the Corps of Signals to be precise) I was sent on a course-cum-seminar to learn how to write user manuals for soldiers. Bear in mind that these manuals had to be quite unambiguous and therefore had to be written so that an untrained or semi-trained individual could, by following the instructions, make effective use of the equipment. Effective that is because LIVES may depend on the user getting it RIGHT.

All of us had a number of years experience in the job and had previously been on instructor courses and I clearly remember that on my course we often presented the SAME LECTURE over and over only to be told several time that we had failed before we got it right.

What, you might ask, did we fail on. It was not the actual USE of the equipment once it was working it was the SETUP.

For example, we would fail because we did not TELL THE STUDENTS to connect the power source. We then failed again for not precisely describing HOW to connect the power, such as ensuring battery polarity was correct. Again we would fail – “You did not tell them to SWITCH THE EQUIPMENT ON

As you may imagine we would respond to these criticisms with a rejoinder along the lines of “…but everyone KNOWS that”. The reply would be “YOU CANNOT RELY ON THAT – LIVES MAY DEPEND ON EACH STEP BEING LOGICAL AND LITERAL AND UNAMBIGUOUS”.

An example: – think about using remote controls to programme televisions, decoders or recording devices.

At one time I found that after following –  TO THE LETTER – the instructions in my remote programming manual – and those for front panel programming –the programmes did not STICK. My younger neighbour came over one day and programmed the recorder for me. I followed each step as he went through the instructions but I noticed him doing something that I could not relate to a step in the booklet.

When I asked him about it he said he was pressing MENU at the end of each step but, when asked, he could not show me where it gave that instruction in the booklet. I then learned that to SAVE steps there is often no key marked SAVE and it may be menu or enter or something similar – and that that step – that INSTRUCTION rather – is, more often than not, omitted because the designer/inventor (not user, note) ASSUMED that EVERYONE would know to do that.

The INSTRUCTIONS just DID NOT reference how to SAVE each step.

Many user instructions exist, not only for electronic equipment, where the writer and/or developer of the item does TWO THINGS that create confusion:

1. Assumes knowledge – everyone knows THAT – on the part of the user/buyer.
2. Uses in-house jargon so that the words used in the description do not match what the user/buyer is looking at.

…anybody looking to hire an instructions writer…?

 

How to NOT mismanage your managers

This is a subject close to my heart and when I found this article in the newspaper in 1980 it immediately appealed to me. It comprehensively addresses many of the problems around Management and Leadership.

I intend coming back to it from time to time to expand on some of the points made and perhaps add the odd anecdote.

How not to mismanage your managers – (this is the original headline)(By Stephen Orpen in the Sunday Times, Business Times, September 14, 1980)

PERHAPS, UNCONSCIOUSLY, YOU ARE DOING THINGS CERTAIN TO UNDERMINE YOUR MANAGERS AND YOUR COMPANY. HERE ARE KEY STEPS TO HELP YOU AVOID THE DANGERS.

Good managers are hard to find, hard to develop and hard to keep. The modern manager sits at the centre of the maelstrom. His desk is the final destination of the briskly passing buck.
He has his job cut out just trying to keep track of what’s happening and trying to control it. Conditions that once could be relied on to remain substantially unchanged for ten years are now often transformed beyond recognition in ten months.
Every day, he is given the unwelcome opportunity of becoming an industrial hero by making decisions fraught with personal risk and responsibility.
To do all this, to enjoy doing it and to do it well requires special qualities such as courage, kindness, intelligence, judgement, nervous stability, optimism, patience, drive, perseverance, the constitution of an ox and a marked degree of masochism.
There have never been a great number of people with these qualities – and one can safely assume the shortage will continue. Consequently, it is useful to ask: “How do I make the most of what I’ve got?”
Managers have two functions: (a) to make decisions, and (b) to control people.
To make decisions, they need judgement and confidence.
The ability to make decisions is like a muscle. It develops best with regular exercise that is steadily increased. The earlier the exercise begins, the more impressive the results.
To control people, managers need both respect and self-respect. Self-respect develops from knowing what one has personally contributed to the job.
Respect is won when other people know it too. Responsibility and recognition are, therefore, the prime prerequisites of the effective manager.
You need good managers if you are going to run, not ruin, your business. Yet often the bosses who think they are most aware of this unconsciously do things that are certain to undermine their managers.
Here are some of the easiest ways to mismanage a manager:

(1)          Make him responsible for too little and force him to justify his existence at every turn.
(2)          Make him responsible for too much so he’s forever apologising for everything he’s left undone.
(3)          Never define his responsibilities. Then he can get all the blame when things go wrong and none of the praise when they turn out right.
(4)          Make him responsible without giving him authority. Put him in charge of operations over which he has no budgetary or disciplinary control. Don’t give him the power to hire staff to get the work done, nor to fire staff whose incompetence impedes progress.
(5)          Set unrealistic targets for his achievement. Now that you’ve cut the promotion budget and introduced a hefty price increase and your competitors have just launched a better product, tell your sales manager that you expect him to increase your market share by 10%/ this is guaranteed to improve his sales incentive – in selling his services elsewhere!
(6)          Assume that everything is always his fault. Call him in, look at him accusingly and treat his every remark as a damaging admission. He’ll soon be defending himself before he even discovers what he’s guilty of. Then point out, more in anger than in sorrow, that “who excuses himself accuses himself”.
(7)           Be intolerant when it really is his fault. Our own shortcomings are lovable idiosyncrasies. Those of others are intolerable incompetency. Forget that the more a manager does for you, the more he runs the risk of making a mistake.
(8)          Set out to KEEP HIM ON HIS TOES. The standard way to do this is to ask questions about trivial details at unexpected and inopportune moments. When management experts say that every manager has large areas of ignorance; that he can’t and shouldn’t know everything; that he must save time by knowing only what it is necessary for him to know so long as he knows where to find out the rest; in your mind they’re clearly talking about you, not the managers who report to you.
(9)          Give unsought assistance. Treat managers as if they were personal assistants. Mould them into extensions of yourself. Don’t stop at telling them what is to be done, give them a detailed description of how it is to be done. This destroys a manager’s capacity to think and act for himself, inhibits his learning processes and produces worse results than he could have achieved unaided.
(10)        When he does seek help, make sure he doesn’t like the help he gets. This discourages him from taking up your time – and from doing anything else. One way to close down communications is to SOLVE some problem that has worried him for weeks in five minutes OFF THE TOP OF YOUR HEAD and wave him out with a benign smile. He now has two worries instead of one – a problem he can’t solve and a solution he can’t use.
(11)        Start doing his job for him. Brief him on a task that will involve tricky conversations with difficult people. Ring them all up just to tell them:
                “I’ve asked Joe to talk to you about so and so”. Then, when he gets round to them, they can tell him, “It’s already taken care of with the boss”. This not only makes him feel useless but it makes him look useless to the people he’s supposed to manage.
(12)        Keep checking up on him. Once he learns that you never seriously expect him to get anything done on his own, he’ll give you exactly what you expect: nothing new and nothing original.
(13)        Have cosy chats with his staff about him. This will prove that it’s better to be popular than productive. Encourage him to forego all pretence of managing and spend his time in currying favour with his staff in the hope that a few of the kindly ones will put in a good word for him with you.
(14)        Let him tell the bad news – give the good news yourself. Let each manager handle matters of firing, retiring, lateral promotions, demotions, inquisitions and admonitions. You hand out raises, promotions, bonuses and general bonhomie. Tell the managers after you have told the recipients, so that the staff will do anything for you and nothing for your supposedly chosen representatives.
(15)        Criticise a manager in front of his staff. Or, better still, ridicule him. This will show everyone that you have a sense of humour, or alternatively that you don’t mind employing buffoons. It will also give you a chance later to complain with perfect truth that all your managers are pretty useless at getting things done and that all the drive has to come from you.
(16)        Have too many levels of sub-managers. That’s how to get an organisation where everybody’s an architect and nobody lays bricks, within an atmosphere of real management democracy where everybody feels he’s as good as everybody else and spends all his time proving it.
(17)        Re-organise your managers often. Do enough of it and you’ll defeat even the most devoted apostle of order.  As your managers ROLL WITH THE PUNCHES the whole business will roll with them.
(18)        Divide and rule. If they’re worrying about blocking each other’s advancement, they’re not worrying you – nor worrying about your business.

Perhaps you are not guilty of any of these mistakes in handling your managers. But if any of them thinks you are, the effects may be just as harmful.
In any case, you’ve doubtless observed some of these shortcomings in other executives. Plain truth is the boss who allows himself to indulge in these entirely human failings, even briefly, can expect certain consequences. Some managers will turn into those pale creatures who approach you in terror and leave you with relief.
Others will become lackeys who mouth their approval before you’ve finished telling them what to approve of. Others will turn sour and silent. Others will give up the struggle altogether and go elsewhere.
Management without misery
Once you have accepted what NOT to do, the rules for success are very simple.
First, remind yourself that there are necessary limits to what the boss should do himself. The final responsibility for four main tasks must always rest with him. These are:

  1. To assemble the right managerial group,
  2. To organise the group properly,
  3. To set the right goals for it,
  4. To see that it stays on course and moves at the optimum speed.

Coping with these four crucial areas is labour enough for any man. If they’re done properly, the boss won’t need to spread his influence any further.
If they are not done properly, he won’t be able to spread his influence further, save in a totally destructive way.
The only real trouble with managers arises when, having failed to do his own task, the boss sets out to do theirs for them.
Concentrate on telling your managers what to do, not how to do it. Then trust them. Be approachable. Let them feel free to seek your advice without regarding it as an admission of failure on their part.
If your managers do fail, be charitable. The first failure was yours. You picked them. Let them feel valued; otherwise they will tend to become valueless.
When, under this wise leadership, they grow in stature and begin to stand firmly on their own feet, resist the temptation to CUT THEM DOWN TO SIZE, unless the interests of the company are truly threatened by their arrogance.
Finally, if they presume to disagree with you, don’t react like a wounded buffalo. If they are not actually insolent, they are paying you the compliment of trusting you to be fair.
To disagree with the boss is always an act requiring courage. If it requires downright insanity, then sane men will seek a better boss in a saner company.