And then there were two…

Earlier, I discussed my New Year’s Resolution to do a track day.  Due to the limited number of racetracks in the area, my only real choice is what I should ride at a track day.  I had three choices: hire a bike, ride my VFR or get a dedicated track-bike. 

Not long after making this resolution, completely unprompted, my friend offered me back my old race bike.  It was a 1991 model Suzuki RGV 250.  I had given it to him when I had gone overseas.  He had planned on making a “super-mono” track bike out of it – replacing the motor with a four stroke single cylinder dirt-bike engine.  When I gave it to him, the bike was showing some serious signs of neglect.  Most rubber parts on the bike had perished from sitting in a hot tin shed for years.  The frame and subframe were not straight.  I had raced and crashed the bike several times – so this was hardly a surprise.  Generally, the bike was run-down.  When I gave the bike to him, it hadn’t turned a wheel in anger in around six years.

Well, now that I have got it back, it has not turned a wheel in anger in ten years!  The intervening years were no more kind to it than the previous ones.

Things (such as the clutch lever) have broken or gone missing

Broken clutch

Fairing damage


Steel bits have rusted…

Rusty chain


Fluids have leaked and oh… the battery has gone flat.

Hardly inspirational

I was briefly tempted to sell it for the price of a handshake, but decided to rise to the challenge of restoring it.    Somewhat simplifying the task is that it will never be a road-bike ever again.  I never owned any of the road-gear for it, and riding a peaky 250 screamer on the roads is not my idea of fun.

Before spending a vast amount of time and money (both of which are in short supply for me) I hooked up the battery from the VFR and with a bit of prep work managed to fire it back into life.   That is all the encouragement I need to start the project!

 Given the fact that I will now spend a reasonable amount on the bike will subsequently rule out the option of hiring a bike to ride at the track day.  So, that leaves me with two options…  Right about now, I reckon the VFR is fearful of its chances of ending up on the track.

Get a web site!

Some professions remain largely ignorant of the potential of the internet.  It is true that not every business has the ability to have an on-line store. Service providers are an obvious example of where the business is constrained to the physical world.  Sometimes a business may need to come to you – as in the case of plumbers, electricians and so forth.  At other times, you may need to travel to them – such as mechanics or engineering works.

Arguably, you could provide an on-line booking system for these service providers, but for most businesses, this is probably not worth the expense or effort.  Traditional service providers can benefit from the advertising potential of their own web site.  For many businesses, a static web site and an e-mail entry form for allowing enquiries will go a long way to providing cost-effective advertising. 

These days most potential customers are far more web-savvy.  A few well-chosen keywords in a search-engine should be enough to find your business.  However, finding a business is rarely enough these days.  Like it or not, there is a percentage of the population that would rather perform enquiries via e-mail.  Responding to these people in a timely manner is important.  Whilst “timely” is difficult to define, 48 hours seems entirely reasonable in most cases.  After all, if the enquiry was not urgent enough for a phone call, it is hardly likely to be “highly time critical”.  

Once you have reached this level of on-line presence, your potential customer base has a commonly accepted means of contacting you.  Theoretically, your web site is advertising.  If it is kept simple (read “fairly static”), then the expense should be well within your advertising budget.   So, if you are a small business service provider without a web-site, what are you waiting for?


A New Year’s Resolution

I am not one for challenging New Year’s resolutions.  Changing long formed habits is difficult and the motivation has to be strong to do so.  But, the notion of having a goal to achieve something and making that a New Year’s resolution has a certain appeal to it.

Last year, my goal was to keep a weekly-updated blog.  I didn’t achieve a one-hundred percent strike-rate with that goal, but came close enough for me to think of it as “fairly successful”.  (Note that my definition for “success” has nothing to do with readership!)

This year, I’m using my blog to publically announcing my goal / NYR: At some point in 2009 I shall be doing a track-day.  (I told you I went for non-challenging goals!)  The last track-day I did was near on five years ago and for me, that was about four and a half years too long ago!  I can tell you now that I am out of practice and will be enrolling in the “slow” group. 

Track days are simply the best way to get the most out of a performance motorcycle.  Unless you are regularly riding them, I cannot believe that you would be getting close to pushing the “performance envelope” of any modern sports-bike.  Those of you who have followed this blog for awhile, or know me personally, will realise that I currently ride a Honda VFR 800.  This bike is not what anyone would call a “modern sports-bike”.  Scour the forums and you can see that people do use this bike for track-days, but it is not ideal.

This leaves me with three options:

I can use my VFR800 and ride it within both the bike’s limitations and my own.  For those of you who aren’t aware, there aren’t many insurance policies that will cover you on a racetrack, so there is a serious possibility of the day ending up being very expensive.  Having said that, this probably is not a bad option for me. Given that I am fairly sensible (even on a track) I am unlikely to get carried away and throw the bike away.  The fact that I have not been on a track for five years also means my “limits” are going to be relatively low.  I am the sort of person who “eases into things” rather than “jumps in fully committed” – so it is unlikely to all end in tears.

I could hire a bike.  One of the local track-day organisers also have “track-day” bikes to hire.  Last time I checked these were “race-prepped” late model CBR 600s.  This is an expensive option and they also take a healthy holding deposit on your credit card in case you decide to end-over-end one of their bikes in the gavel trap at the end of the main straight…    

I could get my own track-bike.  Track bikes take their own special commitment.  Generally, you will want to do most (if not all) of your own maintenance for a track bike to help reduce the cost of ownership.  Using any motor vehicle on a racetrack is very stressful for the vehicle.  The engine tends to run at high speed for extended periods.  Cornering forces are more intense than in normal road operation.  In general, parts wear out far faster and more maintenance is required. 

So far, I have not decided which option I will take to see me meet my 2009 goal.  What path I take and happens next is a story for another time.

A cold hard truth about recruitment

Whether intentional or not, I have noticed a trend recently of some prominent computer industry folks try to spell out to programmers that non-technical skills are important when looking for work. Normally these tend to be along the lines of “improving communication skills” or “try not to look like you have Asperger’s”. 

Then, from Joel Spolsky came the first piece of résumé advice I could believe in: “you may want to highlight the Banging Out Code parts of your experience”.  Over the years I have heard numerous recruiters (both agencies and direct employers) say things like “People skills are important”, “some technical deficiencies can be overlooked for the right candidate”.  Baloney! I have been on both sides of the fence (i.e. looking for work and looking for programmers) and I have never seen any proof of that.  Despite the common-sense that suggests if you put an intelligent eager person into a position that they will succeed, the person with the right set of skills on paper will get the nod. 

I guess this is a sign of risk-minimisation.  If the person has the right skills on paper, then the only risk is whether or not they can apply themselves effectively in the environment a company offers.  This is going to be a risk, no matter who you take on, so why not take the approach of choosing the candidate who ticks the most boxes?

The simple reason this approach is used may lie in the fact that there simply needs to be a fast and effective filter.  Too many candidates apply for any and every IT job.  For this reason a brutal skills filter needs to be used to narrow the search. 

If you are looking for employment, take the time to look for the right job and not apply for every job.    Do not lie to yourself, or a prospective employer and do your homework on determining how aligned an employer is with your own goals.

If you are looking to hire a new programmer, take the time to make sure you spell out the exact needs that you are looking for in a candidate. Make your requirements as clear as possible listing them in order of importance.  If you list a skill as optional, that is what it is.  Just because someone does not have that skill should not put them at a major disadvantage to someone who does.