Sunday, February 22, 2009

Thoughts on the Economy--Not Heard on the News

I just returned from a fun filled family trip to Walt Disney World. I come back with some fresh perspective on life and the economy that you will NOT hear on the news tonight.

We are NOT in a depression. Recession is really bad for some, but really not that bad for many. Airfares and Valet Parking can still charge extra for gas prices from last year. Small pieces of light up novelty plastic command top dollar. Not as much as those Disney pins--but still a good price. $7.99 for Chicken and Fries has to be doing some good down the corporate line. Let's hope that the layoffs at Disney are not the ride operators, cashiers or cooks. The Disney dining plan allowed me to enjoy meals that I would otherwise never elect to enjoy for the prices they are charging. Kind of annoying to overhear everyone's solution to the recession while they ate a $40 plate of food. Most of the guests visiting the park had some form of Designer or Disney based clothing on. I've often wondered why a 10 yr old requires Hurley, Holister or other really expensive clothes designed to look like worn clothes from Target.
Regardless, most kids (myself included) had smiles on their faces.

Ok, maybe I am officially getting old around this new fangled portable technology but really...
1) Watching Mini DVDs and text messaging on rides or while walking through the parks is just plain stupid. Why not sit at home on your couch at home N TOK 2 UR BFF N SAV SUM $. I actually watched two girls sitting next to each other...texting back and forth... LOL.
2) Moms and Dads...YOUR ARE ON VACATION. Get off the cell phone and blackberry. Yes I have a Blackberry, yes I brought it, but didn't scream into it while pushing my tired child through the February vacation crowds.
3) You just spent a LOT of money to enjoy a theme park. Pull the iPod headphones out of your ears. Yes the music and Sound FX are corny--but it adds to the overall escape from your regular world effect.
4) I finally figured out the "Rock-Paper-Scissors" equivalent for navigating crowds. Scowling mom pushing strollers beats Dad carrying sleeping child. Dad carrying sleeping child beats Large Man on Scooter. Large Man on Scooter beats Mom with stroller--makes her scowl even more.

Some parents are convinced that the recession is the cause for more prudent decisions. Dad can grab his $12 beer in a souvenir plastic mug, Mom bought that nifty organic free range cotton grown recycled bag for $10 (and then stuffed it into an extra large plastic bag), but purchasing the stitching on the back of those mouse ears...maybe next year. 3 bucks is 3 bucks...might be a able to share a Powerade later on. And what's the deal with organic shirts anyway. Why spend $36 on a organic shirt? -- you are not helping the environment! Try spending $16.95 on a standard T-Shirt and put the other $20 towards a real about water control valves for showers. I tried to avoid the news and its constant barrage of depressing factoids. Here is what I overheard in the park: 'Looks like that mother did have something to do with her daughter's death'; 'Another child gets killed..'; 'Kenseth won the Daytona'; 'More companies benefitting from TARPA and other stimulus packages are sending executives to resorts', and 'Rihanna should have better standards in men'. So bottom line: Fear not liberal media...even on vacation your constant negativity is still seeping through the masses -- "old-school" style.

All in all, I say the economy is hitting people differently. Let's hope for the best and not hedge all our bets on the new man in the White House. Probably best to not blow all your vacation spending money just in case. My wife and I have a job today. That is no guarantee tomorrow. If it wasn't for the Disney Vacation Club, I would not have been taking that trip this year. Guess it was a wise investment. So ... make that extra mortgage payment and pay off that revolving credit quick. Then, let's all just relax, spend with caution, and rack up those gains in investments again as the recession subsides.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

2009 Recommendations

As we embark upon another year in the advancement of automation for our customers let us keep the following in mind:

  1. The economy will not warrant wasteful spending based on introduction of technologies that add more value to resumes than portfolios.

  2. This is the best time for Innovation. When there is less money and higher pressure, true genius has a chance to emerge. Give problems to fewer people to solve.

  3. Let us not treat data's glom of data tucked away in a corner is next year's project to mine it for insight.

  4. Enable process management when the business wants there some shift happening that you can get a win-win from?

  5. The fidelity of investments need to correlate to the level of investment and impact to your bottomline.

  6. Its all about topline, so what are you NOT doing?

  7. Start planning NOW for next years hindsight.

  8. Consider the last 5 years of investment... where are you NOT spending this year?

  9. Adopt a mantra to have teams own the list of next year's to-do's

  10. In the end, its all about people...enable people to get to data, enabling people to get to our systems, enabling faster and cheaper change to the systems, and enabling people to better nurture the systems.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

A Second Chance

Jack Cassada asked about a post where I mentioned I almost died on a whitewater rafting trip. Here's the story Jack (finally). Before you begin, know that I have the video to prove this story is not embellished.

It was July 2000. Another couple, (good friends of ours), my wife and I travelled to Maine once agian to check out the fast water. In 1999, we conquered the Kennebec River. Beyond a couple slips in the water, the last being on purpose. It was a great time. Our confidence through the clouds, we figured we were ready for the big water on this year. The Penobscot is not the most challenging whitewater but when you intentionally schedule your vacation during a big "Release" of water from the dam to the becomes shall we say a "challenging" ride.
So we emerge from our make shift "tarp-cabin" the 2nd morning and made our anxious way down to breakfast and then shuttle to the river. All of us were really amped for a fun ride. We broke into 4 teams of 6 and 5 Raft Guides started suiting up the paddlers.

I did say 6 teams right...oh yeah, about 15mins later, Hangover Harry waddled in. You see, when there is a big "Release", all the Raft Guide nut-jobs take off in the dark and compete to see how has the biggest cojones and braves "White Washer" by night. Should be illegal right? In a perverse way I think if a guide can bounce his/her butt off the rocky bottom of the Penobscot in pitch blackness then daytime should be a breeze... Anyway, they all must of had a great time and Harry (as I will call him --I do know his real name) clearly celebrated his courage by the fire all night long.

Back to the story, so...Harry asks us if any of us 6 (yes 2 strangers joined our shoddy crew) have rafted before. We all bobbed our heads up and down and the natural nerves of thrill morphed into natural nerves of fear as we prepared to be guided down the biggest river by the baddest drunk. Come on now, people pay for the thrill..we wore rafting jackets, if you fall out, you fall out...remember to keep your teeth together (keeps water out) feet up (keeps your foot from being pinned under a boulder or branch by 20,000 lbs of moving water.

So we drift out in a wide sprawl at the bottom half of the river and besides the guide falling in the water early himself. We had a fun morning. I think the splash did him good.

Break for lunch and grab the bus north to hit the Class 5 rapids now that we are warmed up. The guide "prepares" us for what is about to happen while we stare at our BBQ lunch.

Harry: "Ok so this is the real deal...we are gonna hit some big water. When we first put in we gotta get to a perfect 15degree angle to the right. When the big fall comes the water turns the raft and as long as we hit this angle we will be fine. If we miss this angle, we are gonna flip and there's no edge to swim to...sheer walls of rock line the sides and if ya get wet keep your feet up and ride it out. It takes about a 3osecs to clear the whitewater. I will wait for you at the bottom. Two more things...if the raft flips, make sure you get out from underneath not hang on to the raft. If we flip stay to the right. There is nasty pool to the left. Got it? Good, you'll do fine."

My buddy's wife: "Maybe we should skip this and let in at the bottom."

We put in 4th. The first team hit the angle but flipped at the bottom. They all cheered and got back in. The next 2 hit it perfect and had a great ride. Then there was us, the paddling lambs being brought to slaughter by Captain Morgan. We get in and without being told, we start paddling to 15degrees.

Harry: "Whoah guys, not yet. "

Harry: "OK NOW!!! Hard to right."

Crew: "Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!"

Harry: "Whoah not too hard...DAMN WE MISSED IT!"
Pause. So, at this point the raft was spun too far to the right and we went over at an angle. The boat spun and flipped back to front at a 45 degree angle (details are impressive--clearly the experience branded a memory eh?)
So up until this point my wife and tell the story the same...this is where we part in our recollection. First, her side...the boat flipped...she was the right...dunked by the falls, lost her water shoe, and bounced her a$$ down the right fork at the bottom of the river.

Now my side...the boat flipped, I went in and the boat landed on top of me and my buddies wife.

Pause...didn't Harry say something about that being bad....hmmm....

After being dunked into the falls my helmet pushed up underneath the the cross-member of the raft. Fear. Instinct taking over... swim like you've never swam before. My knee bashes a rock and I am thrown down to the left into that nasty pool I mentioned earlier. This is the point were the seriousness of the situation grabs me like a cold hand around my neck. I proceeded to be bounced like a corky up and down in the eddies. Pause...I hate opening my eyes under water. So at one point I am sucked down like Davy Jones sat on my shoulders and open my eyes. Underwater cyclones of bubbles spun around me like a the movie Tornado. It's so beautiful. Wait a freakn minute. I am not dying down here, I push off the bottom and gasp a full mouthful of water on the way out. All of a sudden a pair of angelic hands grabs my vest and pulls me over his kayak like a dead deer.

JT: (gasp...choke...)

Anonymous Kayaker: "Gotcha...You okay man?"

JT: "Hoo-ahhhh, Hooo-ahhhh (nasty sound of water exiting your lungs)"

At this point I proceeded to scream my wife's name like Rocky Balboa calling "Adriannnnne" at the end of his big fight. A few but painfully long moments later I see her waving and shouting for my buddies wife. A few moments later she comes over to me bruised and coughing water too. After we all calmed down. Big decision we continue down the remaining 30mins ride with a new boat or head back in the bus that was called to pick up ourt busted (yes, I said busted) raft. My buddies wife and I both say "no way". We are cut, bruised, exhausted and tired of screaming swears at Hangover Harry. My wife and buddy (remember they went right...) are bruised but convinced that they paid to come up here...they are finishing the river. Sounds admirable. My buddy's wife and I didn't care one bit. I did try to talk my wife out of it but since it was with another guide I held my breath and didn't stop her.
In case your wondering...somehow Captain Morgan ended up on top of the upside down raft. Which to add more reality ... was actually broken. The mid-section blew out. Aren't those rafts supposed to be more durable?

Morals of my story:
  • Don't raft with a cocky guide whose hung over

  • When that near death sensation hits...fight it

  • If your pride is hurt, brave the river. If you're body is hurt by the river, brave your pride.

We laugh about the story to this day. My buddy and wife want to go again. I will go if she goes but I think I will work the Class 4 whitewater a couple more times before I brave the Class 5 with a sober guide again.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

The Future Risks of Knowledge Acquisition

Anyone who knows me realizes that the ever-present knowledge crisis are key to my messages. Today I want to take a completely different approach...

I want to provide the rationale for NOT developing solutions to address knowledge management. I will address this from two angles: knowledge completeness and knowledge behaviors.


If every person since The Enlightenment (post 18th century...I will not go off on a John Locke, Socrates or Newtonian diatribe) uploaded all their ideas, facts and beliefs into a master database we might have an interesting body of knowledge to work with. I have discussed in previous posts the 4 C's of the knowledge management problem: completeness, currency (temporal), credibility and correctness (Note: I wanted to add semantics but that only had a "C" sound and failed marketing approval. So, how shall we resolve differences of belief and fact? We all know two witnesses to an event (1) perceive things differently (2) retell the facts inconsistently. Do we take the democratic approach and 51% belief = TRUTH? Or perhaps we take a more Madisonian approach and filter out the riff-Raff and only analyze the leaders and people with PhD's? Perhaps survival of the fittest, trust knowledge from people that had least number of car accidents, medical bills and lived to be 100. I let you mull on that later... The key message is that no matter how much knowledge gets captured it will be incomplete, stale the moment its recorded and subject to influence of perception and the inherent human ERORR factor. So the problem we need to tackle is how to get a realistic amount of knowledge captured and readily make it available at the right time and with the right context. The imagery of some blending of the Star Trek Borg with a Stargate SG-1 and Mr. Smith from The Matrix. (I know some Sci-Fi junky out there actually gets what I just said...) come to mind.


AKA lets think about the future, we have no need for:

  • Books...because we will download information on demand from chips hooked into our brains.

  • Writing...because everything will come with some form of keyboard. Cursive will have become a interesting fad of the past.

  • Independent thought...because if information was good enough for the 789.9 trillion people before us.

  • Creativity...because without independent thought we have no new ideas. Ideas are bad, conformance to standard is good.

  • Progress...Walt Disney would have been the most disappointed. There is no "great big beautiful tomorrow..." "it can't any better than this."

  • Competition...the guy next to you and the business across town have access to the same ideas, so by now people and businesses have carved out there unique niche in the world and capitalism was retired with the mini-Ice Age in 90 years.

  • Emails, Blogging, Wikis and newspapers. I mean really, how old school can you get.

  • My favorite: Making mistakes. Humans are presented with knowledge across all there senses. Yes, young children will be told not to touch the stove...and at age 9 they look around and see how quickly they can rebel against their parents to see if they were right...Yeow! Fact is that most people learn the best from mistakes. Me too. I know that if I push too hard on a pencil the tip snaps. I also know we made a big mistake with that whole asbestos as a great insulation idea. Thomas Edison got this one. Making mistakes gets us closer to invention and teachs what to avoid next time. 1 + 1=3. As its been said before me, there is a fine line between genius and stewpid and its only by risking the illogical that we uncover the "new" or the last of my sacrifice list...

  • Innovation. Then again we can always hire consultants.


In the future we will wipe ourselves off the face of the planet. After going through an era of incredibly boring sets of generations becoming of overly logical Vulcans suffering from severe depression and exhausting the capability of the pharmaceutical industry to keep up... one major change in the Earth will wipe us out. We will encounter aliens, a super virus, super addictive drug, experience climate change or get smacked by a N.E.O. and because it wasn't in the forecast models...we did not change, we did not learn, we failed to evolve. The human species will disappear. Some alien race will fool us into helping us by jacking into out central systems, suck out the goodness and leave us like a planet of deflated human balloons reminiscent of Pink Floyd The Wall movie. The sad thing is most will never see it coming. Its a gradual shift every 3-5 years and not a big bang things. If only we had a John Connor or Neo to send forward to save us! Then again, perhap one has been sent...

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Brotherly Love, Pure Communism, John Lennon and... OSS?

This article is worth amplifying...

A Matter of Focus...

I read an interesting article in New Scientist magazine recently.

The topic is MULTI-TASKING. I found some recognizable behavior in the article--both my own and others that I know. The article begins telling a story about talking on a cell phone while driving--not an unfamiliar topic to most. But I keyed in on some key messages. As we evolve technology so aren't we devolving patience and FOCUS.

Ever attend a Webinar and find yourself distracted by Email?
Ever attend a meeting and find yourself distracted by Blackberry?
Ever skim a document on your laptop while having a conversation with a colleague?
Ever meet with a peer or stakeholder and you find yourself :
(1) daydreaming?
(2) crafting your next dialogue in your head?
(3) wondering when this person will get to the point or mention the key phrase or position that they could have just TXTD U B4?
(4) Ever ask a employee to summarize a month's worth of work in a one-pager?
You know who you are...

The article in the zine indicated a human needs to repeat multitasked behavior 2000 time before we are productive (Remember the I Love Lucy with the conveyor belt of chocolate?) But there is a key difference...the behavior of corporate America is seldom repetitive and manufacturing oriented. We may need to build web screens, databases and develop log file solutiosn-- but rarely for the same customer spec with the same 4GL and version.

The point of this post is that there is clear behavior shift happening. I am not willing to stretch to the ADD debate but clearly cultural norms are shifting. We need repeatable process with customize results. (What does that mean?) We have access to and consume gobs more information than our grandparents did. We also need to react in seconds and not days. Gone are the times when we prepared proposals...met at the end of the week and a memo got distributed from a VP with the lightening speed of Inner Office Snail Mail. Decisions are expected at near real-time. Our new systems specs call for that behavior. Production = $, Production requires Thinking, therefore Think less=Produce More. We gain a breadth of information at varying levels of expertise and yet control with authority over less.

The modern day architect must be proficient in the Top 10 list of all the systems they support, know the customer and respond with a persona and tone that is customized to the audience, know and influence the IT strategy and roadmap, break ties in design debates and later justify the decision to the CIO with powerpoint not UML, and in a pinch debug a log file for a critical system with a memory leak.

And we wonder why its so difficult to hire good architects!
Take a breather, FOCUS, and skip that non-critical meeting to have a seat next to your developer and understand her perspective and insight.

Ask yourself when the last time you spoke and LISTENED to a system's REAL end-user?

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Sowing the Seeds...

Check out this post by world famous "charpentier de logique" James Mcgovern on UML and Software Engineering where he suggests that I am neither:

  • "architect nor engineer but more of an ecologist and gardener"

As is common for the artfully succinct yet loquacious Mcgovern. I initally read this as a back-handed compliment and took pause before responding.

I do not what credentials, James accepts for being architect, but I am one. I can state that in confidence because the results of the majority of my architecture has been positive. Where it wasn't I will admit it was "due in part at least to my inability to make untractable clients see the truth in matters of design." (-Walter Hall to Frank Lloyd Wright regarding concerns for Fallingwater in1936) .

Lets get the point though...the words "architect", "software architect", "systems engineer" are all job descriptions/roles in Coporate America. I appreciate the observation of me as an ecologist, but that is probably a reflection of HOW I AM when I write and speak--think of style. Calling me a gardener is suggestive of my PHILOSOPHIES of organic growth, being a Johnny Appleseed of ideas when working with stakeholders (yes a few have sprouted) and being able to see a system as a garden and flourishing even though it has weeds and a couple bad plants - think of this as technique.

I like the similarities in the metaphor of architects and gardeners.

  • You can read books in both but never "get it" until you actually do it
  • You can get hung up on understanding the big latin words/technical terms or focus on requirements to achieve a result
  • There is no ONE book...but a Farmers' Almanac for IT seems like a future post idea
  • Successful gardeners do not just worry about there own gardens. They volunteer for others and always teach in order to learn themselves.
  • Few gardeners worry just about tulips (this ain't Holland) . We have many plants which like languages have different needs and problems.
  • We both worry about bugs--its just that the gardeners figured out how to work with like worms, honeybees and ladybugs (the good bugs)
  • We both are sensitive to "light"

Friday, April 13, 2007

Why Architects may be better than Engineers...

James McGovern has an interesting post on Software ENGINEERING.
Here's a contrarian view James:

Perhaps Software Engineers were NOT enough about people which is why they are mostly found (1) hidden away in silicon valley behind Software Vendors or (2) in their Star Wars t-shirt and sandals working wireless from home.

The people side needs to be focused on 3 things:
- usability and making business automation better for users
- not overengineering UMLs to forward engineer the best and fewest lines of codes which does not directly impact the end user 9 times out of 10.
- leading developers and stakeholders through the quagmire of multiple technology implementations.

Perhaps, the term architect refers to software types that care equally about "software application" as well as the ability to delivery complex solutions to complicated organizations effectively. You will not find us in a five person non-IT start up, you will find many in an F500 organization. Maybe there's a metric hidden in there somewhere...
Number of architects divided by (gross revenue divided by number of employees).

Don't mistake my respect for the quality and brilliance of a well honed engineer.
Bring it!