Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Where Have I Been?

I've been working on a number of projects. The XML project is coming along pretty nicely. I have been experimenting with tagging my work notes and working on displaying them with CSS (cascading style sheets). I've learned that you need an XML editor because there is a lot of opportunity for tagging errors, which preclude a well-formed document. I also learned that there is no error reporting on CSS syntax errors, so debugging is a visual task. I do think I'm making progress on the "data structures" needed, but it's going to take a while to smooth this out.

If I reflect on my education in computer science, I might be taken aback by my approach to develop this system somewhat interactively (although iterative design is generally acceptable). The classes that I took would take me to 80% design, 20% implementation. Yet, as I reflect on my experience, developing this system by construction is okay. What ultimately matters are the results -- my improved handling of the information I work with. Initial trend is positive in this direction.

I did an interesting exercise mix tonight. I did half my floor workout, a 45-minute spinning class, then the other half of my floor work. I definitely felt "worked out" tonight. A better outcome would have been to feel energized, or revitalized. It may be getting near time to take a day off.

My piano lesson was moved from Wednesday to Saturday. This is good because I'll get an extra few days to drill on Ravel, and the Saturday lesson will be in the afternoon rather than the evening.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

National Merit Finalist

Yeah, Jenn! (see the CHCCS web site)


PYB: Post Yoga Bliss. This is the feeling that you get after completing a meaningful session of Yoga. You are rewarded with this sensation after you've surrendered gratitude for your practice and rested. This, after you've allowed yourself engage your physical self in ways that you might not have thought possible.

As the wise one, Sage, proclaims: it's about allowing yourself access to the capability (muscles) you already have. Rebecca has found the way to ask for that capability to be brought forward in the practice. I am the beneficiary of the knowledge proffered in both lessons.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Bureaucracy, at it's finest

I do try to maintain an even keel, not getting emotional, thinking through the issues, deep breathing, and all that jazz. However I'm running up against the limits where even my patience is thinning. The solution: take Friday off!

The breakthrough concept for the week is the realization that there is value in collecting the information and storing it, but no value in manually reformatting it and distributing it. Amazingly enough, there is technology that will search, format, sort, display and much more with the data that we come up with. I'm totally psyched with the collect once, use many times model.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

What Day is This?

This week has jammed up pretty tight in the activity department. There has been "additional opportunity" at work to make things better. I am a little off the game, having had to keep my eye on a couple of wild pitches (and swinging at one of them).

Thinking quickly and realizing the need to stay focused, I must not take the wild pitch, and remember to duck if it's coming for my head! Staying in the moment is critical. It's all too easy to get pulled off course by the emotional behavior of others. (The best idea, which just occured, is to ask those being emotional to best support the mission by NOT being emotional -- that now is the time when it's most critical to be focused and professional.)

If you've read through the vagaries thusfar and this makes no sense, don't worry about it -- and also don't worry about me. If you're this far and you completely understand where I'm coming from, I'd like to talk to you about a job.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

More about Jim Collins

Well, actually about his wife, Joanne Ernst. It turns out she won the Hawaii Ironman in 1985. The story about her knowing that she had the opportunity to be the best and knowing it was told in the book "Good to Great."

Senior Slack

Jenn's friend, Alena, was published in the Chapel Hill News. The article, which is an astute and introverted view of the last year of high school, explains the transition from high school to college from the students' perspective.

I bypassed senior slack in high school because I realized in December of my senior year that I had achieved all the qualifications required for graduation. When I verified this with the administration and they confirmed, I cordially invited them to mail my diploma to me -- see ya!

Truth be told, I probably wasn't entitled to Senior Slack as I had already excelled in slacking for the previous three and a half years. Seated in the back of class -- the entitled position for those who are tall -- I found many things more interesting than the information emanating from the front of the classroom. You could easily collaborate with others similarly disinterested in the material until the cadence elicited the penalty flag from the front. And, if quiet collaboration wasn't interesting enough, one could contend for the attention of the class through various disruptive means. I learned some social skills in the back of the classroom, but did not develop my political skills until much later.

I did find my way to the front of the classroom in college, and always try to sit in the front to reduce distractions in all educational forums I now attend. I do this without apology to those sitting behind me -- they should arrive early like I do if they want the best seats.

I do strongly relate to the need to get on with things and advance to life after high school. It is wonderful to see Jenn and her friends blossom into young adults, alive with interest and curiosity, and ready to advance into new and exciting adventures. Life, learning, and opportunity await.

I would just suggest one tiny edit to Alena's article. Rather than having Jenn as a "former over-achiever," I would suggest that she is an over-achiever on sabbatical.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Stockdale Quote

"You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end -- which you can never afford to lose -- with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current realith, whatever they might be." From Good to Great, by Jim Collins.

This was from an interview with Admiral Jim Stockdale, reflecting on how he survived imprisonment in the Vietnam War.

Quote from "Good to Great"

"The executives who ignited the transformations from good to great did not first figure out where to drive the bus and then get people to take it there. No, they first got the right people on the bus (and the wrong people off the bus) and then figured out where to drive it." from Good to Great, by Jim Collins

This is a fascinating point that really indicates the need to have a team before you set strategy and direction. The research that led to the book Good to Great enabled an examination of the key elements of companies that went from average performance to great (and sustained) performance. What may have made this work -- getting the right people in place first -- is that the right people probably contributed to a strategy that was collectively discovered.

Another great point from this book on people is that the key to sustained success is an outstanding succesorship plan.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Personal Responsibility

One of the elements of behavior in the workplace that I find most challenging is to deal with a person who doesn't accept personal responsibility for what they're doing. It's often the case where such a person will highlight to one and many where someone else has fallen short on the task. In one such case today, a PM turned (again) on the team for not completing work as needed. Unfortunately, this was brought to my attention at the last minute.

A PM should be tracking the work all along the way, and should never have last-minute surprises. There is always technical risk in projects, but a task not completed on time and only discovered at the last minute shows the PM wasn't paying attention.

This PM has continued to bring to me cases where work that should be tracked by the PM isn't complete as needed, and that somebody has again let him down. It's troubling because the PM needs to have people complete the work as distributed.

I now have the coaching opportunity to 1) get this person to track the work more effectively; 2) highlight earlier that the work is running late; 3) work on how to get the PM to have the work done without escalation.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

My French Came in Handy!

This morning as I searched for the pulse of my business, I read a note from the Canada team where the origin at the customer was written in French. While we could have asked for translation from the account/support team, I read the note and with help http://www.wordreference.com/fren/ from I was able to quickly translate the note and understand the customer situation.

I felt really good about being able to do this!

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

There is Always Hope

I've learned that one certain path to draining enthusiasm and interest from people is for them to believe there is no road ahead. When people don't see that there is a path to travel and the likelihood of reaching an interesting destination, there is very little motivation to keep on moving.

There is a need to provide an adequate challenge to people such that they have to stretch. Naturally there should never be the expectation that the laws of physics will be changed, and there will be short term limits to what can be accomplished. But, there should always be the stretch goal. There should always be the added challenge. Simply doing what you've always done leads to a decay in learning. Lack of learning -- lack of growth. Lack of growth -- dead end street.

There is always somewhere to go and a way to get there. It may not be on the road you're currently traveling. There are many, many roads. There is always hope.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Practice What I Preach

I started out today with my agenda established and a wide variety of things I wanted to accomplish. One of the first items at work was to perform the obligatory upgrade to the latest e-mail program. Downloading and installing was a cakewalk, but for some strange reason I was no longer able to access my mail. Now as much as I've decided to not be driven by my e-mail -- to otherwise work my agenda -- I find it fairly distressing to be without this tool. More intrusive is the "recovery time" that I needed to apply to remedy the problem. Fortunately, I was able to get to the bottom of the problem with minimal impact to productivity.

One of many highlights today was to attend the meeting of the French club at J's school as one of two judges evaluating homemade French desserts. Talking about tough duty!

I also had the pleasure of returning to the Monday night Yoga class that I've missed for the last several weeks due to business travel.

With time to spare, I'll work on my piano and do some reading on strategic alliances. As dry as the book is, I did find today one practical application of the material (which is why I've persisted) and I was able to identify a potential collaboration/alliance, and quickly think through some of the options that might be created.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Self-paced Spinning

Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to take my iPod and use one of the studio bikes at the health club. It was a lot of fun to pick my own music and set the pace and tempo.

As I've done spinning I've always had ideas about what music and tempo would be good for different paces -- warmup, seated ride, standing climb and something that I normally don't do, which is sprints (not full out, but fast pace).

The fast pace came with a jazz tune by Bruce Barth where the melody was played in a moderate four, but the solo went to double-time, straight four. What was nice was the interlude between solo sections where the opening theme was echoed at the original tempo and this was a short recovery from the sprint.

I was so excited about doing this that I think I ramped up the pace a little quickly, and after the fast wheel work I was just a little cooked. Nevertheless, I got in about 35 minutes and would have continued give more time.


I have always heard about VMWare, but never had the chance to play with it. The new (free) VMWare player enables me to run a VM session in the desktop environment without installing anything other than the VMWare player.

I downloaded Debian, Puppy, SLES10 with KDE and a browser package to play with. It's so easy to start another operating system. Simply start the VMWare player, point to the virtual machine config file, and the o/s boot up.

While you run the virtual machine as packaged, it's an extraordinarily fast path to explore new images and distros. The longest part of the whole process is downloading the VM image.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Work Week

It was a very busy week at work, following a very busy week prior. I travelled to and from Houston safely and met many interesting people. The office environment seemed a little off (the team) on Thursday, but I "made the rounds" today and checked the pulse. Things seemed to be going well.

This weekend, I'm going to try (for the third time) to read the book "Alliance Advantage." I suspect it won't be any easier, though I would like to absorb the perspective and concepts. The subtitle, "The Art of Creating Value through Partnering" exposes the content as well as my business interest. I view the complementary book, "Real Options" as the accompanyment to evalutate and assign value to the options created through collaboration.

I just wish that business books weren't so dry!

Yeah again for Jenn!

National Merit Finalist!

Thursday, February 09, 2006

How Some People Spend Time

I do not think it is ever appropriate to cast judgement on others. One article I read on this subject -- probably from the DailyOM -- suggested that we like in others the same things that we like in ourselves, and dislike in others that which we dislike in ourself. That said, if I thought that somebody was wasting their time, or doing something seemingly without cause I would possible be projecting my own values onto another's behavior. There are times, though, that projection and possibly correction are a good thing.

It is easier to see how others use their time than to see how we use our own time. While there is ample opportunity to do nothing (which really could be considered doing something) we should use our time to do whatever it is well, and should look for enjoyment in our activity.

This brings me to a question about aggravation. If what one is doing either is aggravating or causes aggravation (if there is a difference) then why would you continue this activity? Even though hard problems can be tiring and challenging situations (should) take us into deeper thought, aggravation is often a side-effect.

To bridge the thoughts about using time wisely and aggravation, the test becomes the desired outcome -- do you know what it is, and are you working toward it. Engaging in activities with a desired outcome in mind is often easy and natural. I eat because I'm hungry, I sleep because I'm tired. I express anger because somebody made a statement I disagree with. Whoa, that's the odd man out!

I will stop here because even though the thoughts are occuring and I'm writing to help sort them out, it's more like a leaky faucet than a fountain. I must be tired, so I will rest with a purpose -- to recharge so that I might write again soon.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Living Life to the Fullest

I'm very happy to be home tonight after waking up in Houston, travelling home, working this afternoon, going to Yoga, going to Piano, and doing some more stuff at home. I found so many ups and downs in the folks around me. Often I think about the day as swimming to the other side of the lake. Along the way, you can pick up a swimmer or two in trouble, but if too many start tugging on you at the same time, you're going under!

+ I made it to the airport on time
+ I got onto the plane, although Continental rolled the dice with an oversold flight
- I sat in a narrow seat beside a broad person who fidgeted laterally, and behind a person who fidgeted longitudinally
+ I had lunch with a close colleague
- My colleague told me what's been happening at work
+ Fabulous product announcements today
+ Had coffee with J
+ Went to Yoga
+ Positive feedback on Yoga article
+ Positive feedback on podcast (it's a hit!)
- Sad news from my family
+ Piano lesson
+ Introduced two people who are both close to me to each other

Looks like the pluses have it!

Over the next few days, I realize there are some situations on many fronts that may need special handling. As these events unfold, it will be important to stick to the fundamentals -- the rules of engagement, so to speak.

* expend energy at the point in time where you can positively influence the outcome
* express any emotions such that they may be understood as well as shared
* empower others to lead in solving problems by asking for their help
* breathe, and be

If the water is too rough for swimming, it's okay to take the boat across. You may be more productive in the rescue operation.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Last Night in Houston

This was a very productive day and involved good technical interchange with a key customer -- including a fabulous dinner -- and a technical deep dive with a like-minded colleague.

Even though I have to get up at 0:dark_early in morning, I'll be in RTP by lunch -- and I'll get to coffee and Yoga for sure. Also get to go to piano.

The people here are very nice. Houston, at 65 F and low humidity is a nice place to be. I did hear of someone who has a system to chill the pool water in the summer. Talk about conspicuous consumption!

Monday, February 06, 2006

Long Day and Complex Roads

I know that many people successfully drove all over before satellite navigation systems were deployed in automobiles. Yet while driving around Houston today, I'm left wondering just how a stranger could successfully navigate the islands of intertwined interchanges without very careful planning in advance. It really is convenient to hop in the car, enter the address into the console, and be guided to your destination.

The customer meetings today were very successful and, as always, were a learning experience. It is always enlightening to hear how people seek to get their missions accomplished, and the variance of responses one receives when floating new ideas and technology.

Technology in a business context is special in that it is a race with no finish line. You can lead, follow, get trampled or get out. But, you can't win and you can be sure that any interesting race will attract aggressive competitors. For me, I like leading!

Made it to Houston

It's somewhat quiet in downtown Houston tonight. The downtowns of some cities are always hopping, but I don't see that here. Of course, I have been pretty much tethered to my room and preparing for this week's business. There will be some fun Monday and Tuesday night as we have our customer meetings.

I'm heartened by the existence of a reasonably equipped fitness center in the hotel. Just not sure when I'm going to get to use it!

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Travelling Sunday

I'm happy that I got a chance to do Yoga this morning, and had the experience of learning from another teacher. There was focus on "position and hold" with emphasis on form and "getting the juice" out of the position.

The weather is nice and it seems a good day -- as good a day as any -- to travel to Houston for biz. I'll get time to think, read, listen, review, plan and organize on the flight.

Saturday, February 04, 2006


I found a lot of interesting things to do today on what's mostly a day off. There were so many things to read about in the RSS section of my mail, and I may catch up by the end of the weekend. There are some live CD images that I hadn't heard about before that I'll play with. I'm looking at the Open Office (hoping to get closer to my XML/personal notes and database system. Also got to do Yoga (very good session), piano, have dinner out with old and new friends, and do a little bit of work-work.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Yeah for Jenn!

Jenn received her first college application response today, and was accepted to Brandeis -- one of six schools she applied for! We also found that Jenn is back in the running for a Watson scholarship after a most distressing incident with the incorrect reporting of her class rank.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

A New View

Have you ever had the experience where you found yourself answering questions that just don't seem to make sense? I found myself responding to a line of questioning today where the questions seemed to indicate a difference of opinion about a direction I was taking. It was as though the questions about why I was doing something was the easiest way for this person to disagree with the course of action.

Given that I believe strongly in reversion to the mean in human behavior (in this case my normal response in this case would be irritation) I had to hold an even temperament. More importantly, I had to maintain my position. Even more importantly, I needed to maintain the enthusiasm for the subject, even though there is a point where you ask yourself "why even bother."

The new view is that responding to this type of questioning could be an educational opportunity for the person doing the (insipid) questioning. Over and over again you get the opportunity to explain and re-explain in terms that ultimately affirm your position many many different ways.

There comes a point in time where the person will either see the light, get tired of asking, or have someone else to bother.

The new view reminds me to take the opportunity to not just be profound, but to be convincing as well.

Fabulous Quote from Book

"People grow through challenging experiences that stretch them, that force them to explore new things, that call on them to cultivate yet another fantastical quality. Most people lead lives in which they find themselves in such experiences while on their way to somewhere else -- as a result of accident, fate, or some force outside themselves. It often takes an act of real courage to deliberately put ourselves in situations that force us to change, to learn something new. Yet that is where our potential lies: one step beyond where we thought we could go."

from "High Flyers -- Developing the Next Generation of Leaders" by Morgan W. McCall, Jr.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Home again -- for now

I'm always happy to return home safely from travel and I'm comfortably ensconced in my home office. My trip to Austin went smoothly from a travel and logistics perspective, and I had three days of very successful meetings and interactions with the teams there. As things progressed, I was quite busy for all waking hours (about 19hrs/day)and didn't have a chance to explore or find out if there is Yoga in Texas.

While I miss my routine when I travel, I am glad to have the opportunity to do new things, meet new people, and learn something different. There is something reassuring about a routine, yet the minor disruption that occurs with travel gently nudges us to see things a little differently and to remind ourselves of a/the bigger picture.

On the routine front at home, I was happy to have a very good piano lesson. The work I've been doing on the Ravel -- paying very close attention to the voicing -- is paying off. My teacher would never pull a punch and is a very critical listener. When he's happy with the sound, it's a genuine accomplishment.

What was interesting to me is that I'm intently focused on the mechanical delivery of the music. My teacher asked me if it felt right and sounded right to me. I explained that my playing is very deliberate with a lot of attention to the production of the sound. He suggested I record myself so that I can get the listener's perspective. Sounds like a good idea.

I did finish reading the book on development and growth while on the plane. One very interesting point was made, which I can't quote because the book is not at hand. It basically stated that the goal of an organization is to maximize the growth of the entire organization so that the full potential of each person is realized. Certainly this is much more contemporary than the relatively primitive concepts of measuring worker productivity with a stopwatch and clipboard. The book was well-written structurally with good chapter intros, tables of key points to be made, narrative, and summary. There are some good templates for guidance in the appendices.