Seeing is Believing
Ratholes, Or You Will Never Recover This Time
If time is money, getting to The Point is invaluable.
Add “space” to the growing list of vandalized spoken English words.

As in, “We work in the AI space.”

Reminds one of workers beavering away in a corrugated shipping container with the letters “AI” stamped on the outside.

Or, “My career trajectory has symbiotic granularity with the ERP or IT or CRM space.”


Are people who speak like this born this way or did they acquire this skill in school? For what purpose? Contrary evidence above notwithstanding, one must nevertheless cultivate the space between the ears.

Famously there is NASA, which spends its days laboring in the Space space. Or used to. Now commercial interests dare to boldly go where no one went before, spatially. NASA just writes the rules. Billionaires get the accolades.

It’s a strange world. We just live in it. Submitted herewith in evidence thereof is the latest dispatch from the cognitive vacuum that is the Common-Sense-Free Zone of the customer-centric universe:

We would like a quote from you for functional test development and testing of production boards in this project. It’s urgent. We emailed you the specification for this ITAR job free and clear over the weekend to expedite the process.

Everything’s urgent. Try telling that to the ITAR investigators, whose working coat of arms might as well include molasses, January, an upward slope and a downward wind. You know the type: the unsmiling ones wearing dark glasses in the dark SUVs with tinted windows; the same ones wearing dark suits with wires protruding from their lapels. The government agency with the incomprehensible, arduous website that takes your money every year in penance, if for no better reason than a kind of premonition of hell.

Meanwhile, more manufactured crises from the invertebrates at our customer’s sales department.

We need your quote by tomorrow to submit as part of our turnkey bid for this project. We are one of three competitors in the running. Despite the fact that our companies have not done any business in four years, we’d like you to assign priority status to this quote.

We’d like you to get a life. Meanwhile, take a number. Can you spell F.I.F.O.?

Seriously, this project is extremely urgent. The test quote may tip the balance in deciding the award of this contract. We sent it to you on Sunday rather than wait until Monday so you could get a jump on it.

Very considerate of you. Block diagrams beat church on Sunday. When did you receive this spec from your customer?

Not sure. Maybe a month or two ago, when we first received the quote package.

What were you doing, letting it ferment? It’s 285 pages long.

We didn’t think it would be any big deal to review. Can you read and respond to it today? It’s urgent.

We heard a rumor it was urgent. We can read. We rate literacy as one of our core competencies.

Can we get a quote today?

You clearly aced the class in repetitiveness in grade school, not so much the listening class. It will take us many days, possibly several weeks, to read this spec and fully digest its contents. That’s D.I.G.E.S.T. Then we’ll have to provide you with a quote, which will take engineering time to accomplish. Time away from other (revenue-generating) projects.

At first glance, the spec lists several pages of equipment needed to perform the required tests. Will you or your customer provide that equipment, or will we be expected to do so? That will make a big difference in cost.

The OEM has its own in-house setup to do this, but the expected production quantities would overwhelm their staff and equipment. They want to outsource the testing as part of the complete turnkey requirement.

At least until they get our quote.


They’ll be gung-ho to do this until three nanoseconds after seeing the price. Then thoughts will reorganize in patterns like iron filings adjusting to magnetic north. Their schedule will spontaneously reprioritize itself in an instant.

We have another urgent requirement to go along with this requirement. We need to CT scan part of a solar panel that is integral to the system. We need to be onsite when we do it.

To do what? Watch a CT scanning system? That’s like watching paint dry. Depending on the application, it could last an entire day. Tell us what to do, and we’ll do it and send you the images when we’re done.

Can’t do that. The part can’t leave our possession.

Then you have a decision to make. With Covid restrictions, we aren’t allowing visitors on our production floor.

But I’m vaccinated and have the card to prove it.

Asymptomatic transmission can still happen even among those who are vaccinated. Look around and watch the news. We can’t allow that risk to our people. You need to adapt. This is nonnegotiable.

We also want to do an onsite quality survey, under contract from our customer, of your company’s quality management system. Never mind that you just passed an AS9100 audit; we want to do our own survey, using our own proven methods.

Begs the question: What do your methods prove that AS9100 audits don’t?

We want to verify you have a Six Sigma process.

Your order is for 10 boards, with 225 parts on each board. Not even close to a million defects. What’s the point? Anyway, we’re just the test guys pointing out the mistakes your EMS company made.

Corporate edict.

Leave your
pitches and spin
at home.
What exactly do you want:
speed, security or price?
Choose two.
Just like Jack Welch and GE. How’s that working out for them? Did you short their stock on the way down in between checking boxes on your clipboard?

As noted, we’ve just sent you a 285-page test specification. Can you do everything it specifies, and at what cost? Are you prepared to pay us $5,000 for an engineering review to answer that question? We also sent you a quality management survey to complete. Do not skip any sections. There are no exemptions for vendors with ISO9001 or AS9100 certification.

Additionally, we need you to share information with our conformal coating supplier. They will be coating our boards after you finish testing them. They need to program their machines and will be asking you for board-specific information to do so. Please give them free reign among our boards you are working on to gather that information, and coordinate your test cycle with their coating cycle.

Do they have an NDA with you?

Yes, they have an NDA with us. Please hurry. This project is late.

There is much talk now of inflation. There is much evidence of renewed inflation. (See the prices of used cars compared to those same prices a year ago.) Memo to economists: Why doesn’t “core inflation” include food and fuel? Ever tried living without food? Ever tried driving sans fuel? It seems to me that those elements make up some of the core of living. And yes, I know it’s a convention you’ve set up with a long tradition. Don’t evade the question: Why did you set it up? Traditions can change. Costs remain costs, no matter which bucket one dumps them into.

Stupidity seems to be on the rise as well. Witness the daily ratholes we waste time in. Pity you can’t quantify stupidity. Perhaps some lonely graduate student is working on it as a possible thesis topic. Time and knowledge march on.

I’m 62 years old. Leave your pitches and your spin at home. Get to the point. The rest is worthless. What exactly do you want: speed, security or price? Choose two. And for God’s sake, show some backbone to your customer. They might find the truth refreshing.

Your hesitancy suggests you can’t do this. We need to chat.

Okay, I’m available. Personally, I need to barf.

We also need you to certify compliance to the Giant Squid HAL9000 Specification, especially section 8, Clause B, Subparagraph IV, Line 228, requiring all employees touching our boards submit to an eye examination.

Save the expense. I can attest, here and now, that each and every one of our dedicated staff have eyes. In the majority of cases two per person, for redundancy’s sake and disaster preparedness. It pays to have backups. Anyway, I’ll happily sign something to that effect that you can notarize.

Random thought: What makes someone sophisticated?

Sophisticated (Merriam Webster): having a refined knowledge of the ways of the world cultivated especially through wide experience. Ex: a sophisticated lady.

Finely experienced and aware, as in a sophisticated columnist
Intellectually appealing, as in a sophisticated novel

Baroque, byzantine, complex, complicate, complicated, convoluted, daedal, elaborate, intricate, involute, involved, knotty, labyrinthian, labyrinthine, tangled

Guileless, ingenuous, innocent, naïve, unsophisticated, untutored, unworldly, wide-eyed

In plain English and personalized: eminently more qualified and, therefore, better than you.

You want our business? Give us what we want. Skip the scruples and the tired old ethics.

Not that badly. We thought you just wanted us to quote. You sound like consultants. Arrogant ones, too. Who the hell do you think you are?

Arrogant consultants.

That’s a relief. To think we originally guessed you were naïve jerks. In reality you are sophisticated jerks.

Thanks for the compliment. We have the certifications to prove it. What was the cost of this project?

It will probably begin at $350,000. Plus the $5,000 we need up front to endure your begging and review your 285-page spec. And our standard 100% PITA (Pain In The A–) premium for the likes of you. Micromanaging is unbecoming of sophisticated end-users like you.

We’ll get back to you.

Sure, you will.

Robert Boguski headshot
Robert Boguski
is president of Datest Corp. (; His column runs bimonthly.