21 December 2006

Merry Christmas!


Merry Christmas, everyone!

This is probably my last blog post of 2006. I'll be back in the swing of things on January 2nd, and I'll see you there!

I hope you all have a happy, safe, peaceful and joyful Christmas season!

(this painting is by John Howard Sanden)

20 December 2006

Boomers #2!


The second book in the Boomer Sisters series is now complete and ready for purchase! It's titled The Boomer Sisters Meet Champy, and you can get your copy at RoguePress.

In this story, the girls are hunting for Champy, the elusive creature rumored to live in Lake Champlain. They literally get to the bottom of the lake's mysteries (and I do mean literally). Along the way, there's comedy, peril, adventure, mystery, science, gardening, and - of course - the quirky Uncle Q. There's also a computer named Pistachio, an injured loon, and a secret elevator that takes you to a secret laboratory. Who doesn't love that!

Along with being a fun mystery / adventure story, this book is also a commentary on the nature of faith and the value of mystery... but not in a heavy-handed way (I hope).

It's generally aimed at kids in the 2nd through 4th grades, but younger kids (and older!) will probably enjoy it as well.
Enjoy!

18 December 2006

Latest AT&L - Quaid & Ward Profile


Everyone's favorite defense acquisition magazine, Defense AT&L, just posted their latest edition (Jan/Feb 07) online. This month, instead of an article by Quaid & Ward, there's a pretty cool little "Meet The Workforce" profile of us.
Fun!

An Inconvenient Truth


I watched Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth movie last night. I thought it was really good, despite the unnecessary (& incongruous) vignette about Gore losing the 2000 election.

The film certainly simplified some of the science and some of the data, and not entirely in a good way. This oversimplification was probably necessary, of course, given the limitations of the medium and the need to present a story in only 2 hours, but climate dynamics are actually more dynamic and mysterious than the film would indicate (although Mr. Gore did use the word mysterious once, describing climate behavior, which I thought was very good).

But, despite the oversimplification, it's still a good & important movie. The data he presents was compelling. He does have a tendency to make subjective judgments ("this is high" - but compared to what?) and weak comparisons ("Earth's atmosphere is thin" - again, compared to what?), but setting aside these and some other rhetorical flourishes, it's pretty clear we are putting too much pollution into the air. We could & should pollute a lot less. Our pollution is affecting the environment in many bad ways. Those points are hard to argue with.

I would have liked to hear more about the earth's tendency to regulate & stabilize itself. For example, increased CO2 levels & increased temperatures will lead to increased plant growth. And what do plants do? They absorb CO2 from the atmosphere - so more plants equals less CO2, which should have a cooling (& stabilizing) effect. Check out Daisy World for an interesting model that describes the impact of biodiversity on environmental stabilization.

One other point: correlation does not prove causality. That is, just because two things happen at the same time, doesn't mean one caused the other. For example, monkeys eat bananas. Monkeys have tails. Therefore, eating bananas makes you grow a tail. Silly logic, right? I'm not saying Mr. Gore fell into that trap, but in the movie, he didn't fully demonstrate that he'd avoided it. He probably did avoid it - I just would have liked to hear him mention it.

There's a lot more that could be said about the movie, positively and negatively. The bottom line is that it's a good film. You should watch it.

15 December 2006

Blogger Etiquette

I'm still sort of new to this whole blogging thing (aren't we all?). So, I'm coming to understand the still-developing etiquette about blogging, and thought I'd pass along what I've learned. Let me know if I missed anything.

1) If you're a blogger, blog. Don't post something once a month and expect people to keep checking, just in case today is the day. Post something several times a week (daily is best, of course). In other words, go big or go home.

2) If you're a reader, participate. You don't need to leave a comment on every entry of every blog you read, but please do make it a point to leave at least an occasional comment, even if it's just "Good point" (for a clever post) or "LOL" (for a funny post). Nobody likes a lurker. (def lurker: slang term for a person who reads a blog regularly but never leaves a comment").

3) If you're a blogger, reply to the comments people leave - participation works both ways. If someone leaves a comment on your blog, the polite thing to do is acknowledge that comment (Thanks to Trevor Gay for setting a great example of this).

13 December 2006

OODA Loop!



One of John Boyd's better known contributions to the world is the Observe - Orient - Decide - Act loop, also known as the OODA Loop. It's become a pretty important concept, for both business and military strategists. I ran across an actual OODA Loop while driving on Maxwell Air Force Base, in Montgomery, Alabama.

Being the Boyd fan that I am, I naturally had to turn my car around, find a place to park, walked over with my camera phone, and snapped this picture.

Finding this street sign was, hands down, the highlight of this trip.

Peril

I'm reading a book titled "Finding Serenity," about the (now cancelled) tv show Firefly. Great show, great book. One line from the director, Joss Whedon stood out in particular:

"Take characters, give them peril..."

He didn't say to put characters in peril. He said to "give them peril." I love the idea of peril as a gift. It really is. A lack of peril makes you soft, in real life as well as in fiction. Surviving peril puts a spring in your step, and makes you proud & confident. Perils strengthens people and bonds groups together.

My girls are taking ice skating lessons. This past week, they weren't quite off the ice yet when the hockey players (who have the rink after the skaters) came on. To make a long story short, the hockey boys knocked some of the skating girls down. They got pretty close to my girls. Bethany stuck close to her little sister, to help keep her safe. Afterwards, she said she stood up as tall as she could to help protect Jenna. I'm so proud (and so is she).

Yes, I'm pretty peeved at the hockey coach & the boys. Yes, I'm going to talk with the coach (I wasn't there at the time). No, I don't want this sort of thing to happen again. But the fact is, the experience wasn't all bad...

12 December 2006

A thing worth doing...

G.K. Chesterton observed "If a thing is worth doing, it's worth doing poorly." It's one of my favorite (and most often used) GKC quotes.

Today, I heard a new twist on that line: If a thing is not worth doing at all, it is not worth doing well.

I like that. Being good at irrelevant or pointless activities isn't something to be proud of (and yet, we so often are!).

I wonder what other observations or twists you, my faithful & well-groomed readers, might have on these quotes. How else can we finish the sentence "If a thing is / is not worth doing..."?

I await your responses...

DaNoTyMo Finished!

Whew! I've finished typing The Boomer Sisters Meet Champy. I know, I'm cutting it pretty close if I want to get it under the tree in time for Christmas. Doing the final copy editing and typo-hunting now, and plan to place my order in a few days.

I'm sure the Christmas version (for family) will have a typo or two in it... but I plan to get those all figured out before putting it in stores.

More to follow...

10 December 2006

On The Road (again)

Sigh - I'm taking a little trip to Alabama, so my blogging will be light (if at all) for a few days. I've never been to Alabama, so I'm curious to see what it's like, but I really dislike traveling, particularly so close to Christmas.

But, at least it's a short trip.

Peace!

08 December 2006

Movin' On Up...

Got my official assignment notification this morning... I report to the Air Force Institute of Technology on 21 Aug 07, to begin 18 months of full-time student-ness. Very exciting!

(DaNoTyMo Update - I'm into chapter 11 now, approx 15,000 words. The end is almost in sight!)

New version of Blogger

I just transitioned to the new "beta" version of this blog. The only difference most of you will notice is the ability to add tags to the posts - which should make it easier to find stuff. I don't imagine I'll go back and tag all my previous posts (maybe just the Simplicity Cycle ones), but I'll try to add tags from here on out.

07 December 2006

Boomer Update

Book 1: I just received my first copies of the illustrated version of Meet The Boomer Sisters. It looks fantastic! They really did a great job at the printers, and I've already delivered a stack to the local toyshop. The toy store lady said my book has sold faster than any other local author's book she's seen. Cool!

Book 2: I'm nearly at 14,000 words (typed) on the second Boomer Sisters book. It's not going as fast as I'd hoped, but I'm confident I'll get it done & edited in time for Christmas (but just barely... and only because Lulu is so dang fast).

Connections...


I'm baaaaaack!

Just returned from a little roadtrip to the Boston area. Had a great time, lots of meetings with fascinating people, but no internet connectivity. All in all, quite worth while.

The first guy I met, at a company called Continuum, turned out to be a Clarkson grad, just like me. He said (among other things), that he would like to do some work with the Army's Soldier Systems Center, in Natick MA.

The second guy I met is a professor at Olin College. Guess where his wife works? Yup - Natick's Soldier Systems Center. So I'm going to introduce the two of them. And the professor used to work at Disney's Imagineering shop - so he knows Danny Hillis and Bran Ferren, the two main dudes at Applied Minds, which is the company doing the development for my Aristotle project. The professor said he's looking for better software development methodologies.

The third group I met with (the next day) mentioned a programming language called Water. It's a new language optimized for rapidly prototyping XML Web services, and apparently you can learn it in about 15 minutes. Don't know for sure if it's what Olin needs, but I'm definitely going to pass it along.

The only way all these connections could have been better would be if I'd done my meetings in reverse order, and been able to establish the connections on the spot.

It's a funny world.

04 December 2006

Fear...

"Fear is a form of incompetence."

True? False? Discuss among yourselves - leave comments here...

Dano's Tymo Update

Dan's Novel Typing Month (Dano Tymo) update: I got into Chapter 7 this morning. Wordcount: 9246 words.

whew, are my fingers tired...

Post-Oil Era, part 2

Based on a comment my earlier posting received, I wanted to clarify that when I talk about the "post-oil era," I'm talking about the demand for oil drying up, not the supply.

We will figure out how to run our cars on something else, whether it's batteries or hydrogen or biodiesel. My prediction is that Western countries will lose interest in oil (at least as a motor fuel) long before the middle eastern wells are empty.

And if we go the electric vehicle route, I wonder what all the gas stations will do? I suppose we could just turn them all into Starbucks...

30 November 2006

Boomers Illustrations

Thought you might like to see some of the illustrations Mandy did for the Boomers book. You can peruse the entire thing by clicking the Preview link at Rogue Press.


Major Book News!


Three exciting developments in the Dan Ward Publishing Empire:

1) I finished The Boomer Sisters Meet Champy. That's right, today is the final day of NaNoWriMo, and this morning at the breakfast table, I wrote those two magic words: The End. My second children's novel is now complete (at least the first draft). And since I did it by hand in a series of spiral notebooks, Dan's Novel Typing Month (DaNoTyMo) begins tomorrow. Not nearly as exciting, no doubt, but fun in its own way. My goal is to have it typed, edited and polished in time to upload it to Lulu and get some copies to put under the Christmas tree.

2) I finished the illustrated version of the first Boomer Sisters book, Meet The Boomer Sisters last night. It's got a new cover (shown here) and a series of amazing illustrations, compliments of the talented and generous Mandy Hoelmer.

3) The local toy shop called last night to say they were all sold out of Meet The Boomer Sisters, and could I please confirm my address so they can mail me a check, and could I please bring by some more copies soon. I told them I'd not only bring some by, but they would be the new, illustrated version. If all goes well, I might even be able to get some copies of Boomers #2 on their shelves before Christmas. We'll see...

So - exciting stuff. I wonder what's going to happen next.

29 November 2006

In Bubble Wrap


How could I leave In Bubble Wrap off my list of Must Visit sites? I get an email from them every day, with an opportunity to win a free book. I've won three or four by now, most notably The Apple Way and More Space. I think I got my copy of Ricardo Semler's The Seven Day Weekend from them too, but I don't recall. It's WAY easy to sign up, and like I said, you have a chance to win a new cool book every day.

It's actually a pretty interesting way to publicize a book. Authors / publishers provide IBW with 20 copies of the book to be given away, and the In Bubble Guy sends an email out to loads of people... generating buzz, awareness, interest, etc.

Also, I just found out that IBW's first offer ever was for Sally Hogshead's Radical Careering. IBW is related to 800 CEO Read, which is another pretty cool site.

Bad Design Kills



A very funny, somewhat informative site about the impact bad design can have - on presentations as well as systems. I mostly like the name: Bad Design Kills. Too true!

28 November 2006

The Middle East in the Post Oil Era


It's going to happen. Some day, sooner or later, we're going to shake free from our dependence on oil. We'll figure out how to run our cars on hydrogen, solar power, electricity, or some other sort of non-petrol fuel.

What happens to the Middle East then?

I wonder how much they're doing to prepare for that day. Maybe they're all over it, and I'm just not in the loop (it's possible). What I do see is Middle Eastern countries spending millions (billions) on gilded hotel lobbies, swimming pools in the desert, and other silly, trivial consumables. If you ask me, they should be building technical universities, learning to write software, design things, build things, etc... Otherwise, once we kick the oil habit, they're stuck (and it's going to happen, sooner than they think).

Why do I care? It's not entirely altruistic, I admit. I care because chaos in that part of the world tends to have an impact over here. And as Tom Peters said in a similar topic, I'd rather have a million well educated, employed people in India (doing "our jobs") than a million starving, angry people in India, looking at us.... Same goes for the Middle East.

27 November 2006

There Must Be 15 Ways To Leave Your Laptop

Joel On Software is a very cool resource for anyone who wants to read intelligent, insightful, memorable articles about software design. Joel is funny, engaging and mercifully brief. His stuff always references software, but I think the design principles he addresses apply across a wide field of work.

His most recent article looks at the 15 - count 'em, 15 - ways to shut down your laptop. His point? That's about 14 ways too many. Here's an excerpt
Inevitably, you are going to think of a long list of intelligent, defensible reasons why each of these options is absolutely, positively essential. Don't bother. I know. Each additional choice makes complete sense until you find yourself explaining to your uncle that he has to choose between 15 different ways to turn off a laptop.

Naturally, this made me think of my Simplicity Cycle. Specifically, it made me think of the Region of the Complicated, and of all the rationalizations we make on our journey to that space. Every additional piece of complication can be justified and defended... but in aggregate, these little decisions lead to confusion, frustration and unhappiness.

Read his article. It's short, easy to grasp, and definitely worth the time.

NaNoWriMo Update

I finished Chapter 15 this morning. The girls were in an experimental sub, looking for Champy (the Lake Champlain monster). Things went wrong, they ended up at the bottom of the lake, the lights went out... etc, etc... but at the end of Chapter 15, they were back on the surface, safe & sound. The story is almost over...

Casualty Count Update: For those who are keeping track, pen #3 bit the dust over the weekend. I sat down and literally wrote the first two letters of a 3-letter word (I believe it was "she"), when the ink just stopped coming out.

21 November 2006

NaNoWriMo Update!

I wrapped up Chapter 12 this morning - left the two main characters in a certain amount of peril (and it's just going to get more perilous before it's over). I estimate there are three more chapters left. I'm cruising along at better than the 1/2 a chapter a day pace I needed to finish all 15 chapters in 30 days. We'll see what sort of impact Thanksgiving has...

BTW, the illustrated version of the original Boomer Sisters book is coming out soon too, probably right around the same time as this second book is finished. So... if you've got elementary school kids on your Christmas list, I know of two books you could pick up, coming soon!

20 November 2006

My Online Life

What did we do before the internet? Who cares. Here's a little peak at some of my favorite internet goodies - the stuff I use every day.

Gmail! It's the first browser window I open each morning. Whoever invented webmail is a genius. Whoever designed Gmail is a double genius.

Bloglines! My second stop is an RSS feed to help me keep on top of a whole set of blogs. My list includes daily updates from The Creative Generalist, Dilbert, and a few of my friend's blogs (i.e. Trevor Gay's Simplicity blog).

Tom Peters! I like to read his stuff in full-screen (& leave comments), so I don't have his blog on my Bloglines list. I just go directly to the site. Same with Hugh McLeod's Gaping Void blog.

Pandora! It's an online streaming music feed, and I've created a handful of "stations," depending on the type of music I'm in the mood for. I have it on almost all day.

Rocketboom! The coolest video blog (vlog) out there. Mostly internet / tech trends, but plenty of other cool stuff. The host Joanne Colan has a delightful british accent...

At some point, I usually check some news sites, like CNN or Drudge (though I'm less impressed with both of these sources lately).

Blogger! That's where this blog is hosted.

What's on your list of daily must-reads, must-use, or must-access?

17 November 2006

Timing

I just discovered that if I save a draft post, then finish it a few days later, it is posted to this site under the date it was begun, not the date it was finished.

So if you scroll down a bit, you'll see a new post titled "Why I havent' been fired." I started it two days ago but didn't click "publish" until this morning, and rather than putting it on top of the stack, Blogger hid it below other bits I'd posted over the past few days.

I'm sure there's a way to adjust that (other than deleting it and re-doing it fresh)... but for now, I'll just point it out.

NaNoWriMo Casualty Count


As I wrote the first half of chapter 10 this morning, my pen ran out of ink. That's the second time I've killed a pen while writing The Boomer Sisters Meet Champy during this Novel Writing Month. I think it's some sort of personal record.

The last time this happened was on an airplane two weeks ago. I had to borrow a new pen from the flight attendant so I could write chapter 6. At least this morning I was able to grab another one right away, and didn't have to wait for the drink cart to make it all the way to the back of the plane.

I may not have an accurate word count, but my pen count is up to two now.

16 November 2006

Integrity & Loyalty

Pfc. John J. Jodka III was sentenced to 18 months for his role in the killing of an Iraqi civilian. He was the youngest and lowest-ranking member of a squad, other members of which are facing quite severe penalties.

On the radio this morning, Jodka was described as "feeling torn between loyalty to his squad and his own integrity." In Iraq, he chose loyalty over integrity, with disaterous results. Back in the states, however, he was quoted as saying:
"I decided to plead guilty because in the end it was the right thing to do," Jodka said. "I had to weigh in myself the need for truth as opposed to the loyalty to the squad I had bonded with in Iraq."

I have long contended that loyalty is overrated, and I'm glad to see Pfc Jodka was eventually able to recognize that there are higher virtues. Loyalty is good, but it doesn't trump things like honor, integrity, justice, etc. Loyalty in service of integrity is powerful and positive, but when divorced from integrity, loyalty can be downright evil.

I hope this case gets people thinking about the real meaning and proper role of loyalty. I hope the USMC (and others) will make it clear that moral actions require us to demonstrate loyalty to truth and loyalty to justice, ahead of loyalty to individual people.

Fit Is Go!


We picked up our new car yesterday, and I'm totally loving it. It's a Honda Fit, and I'd never even heard of such a thing until about a month ago. The color is "Nighthawk Black Pearl," which makes me laugh.

It's zippy, roomy and supposedly gets great gas mileage (hard to tell - it's only been two days - but I guess I'll take their word for it).

You can do all kinds of cool things with the seats, including laying the front seats completely flat and turning it into a bed-like interior ("refresh mode").

The 7 year warranty means I'll probably have this car until I'm ready to retire from the AF. That's a strange thought.

NaNoWriMo Update

I had a GREAT time writing this morning. Lots of pieces of the story came together, scenes I hadn't expected, character & story development jumped to the next level, and the whole thing continues to surprise me... I think it's my favorite chapter yet.

I usually wrap up by 0700 and head in to work - today I didn't leave the house until 0730 (gasp!). I'm still writing it by hand in a spiral notebook, so I don't have a word count, but Chapter 9 is now 90% finished (I expect to have somewhere around 16 chapters). I probably won't get around to typing it until this paper draft is finished.

NaNoWriMo rocks!

15 November 2006

Why I Haven't Been Fired...

While I was at Death Valley with the Association of Managers of Innovation, someone asked a wonderful question after my presentation: "Why haven't you been fired yet?" I've been thinking about that one a lot, and I'd like to share my answers - or at least, my best guess at an explanation for how I've managed to avoid getting the axe.

1) Luck. I'm genuinely lucky, and can't take much credit for many of the good things that have happened to me. I seem to have a knack for being in the right place at the right time, meeting the right people, etc. Tom Peters explains the dynamics of getting lucky much better than I can.

2) I've had some really great bosses (you know who you are). I refuse to be badly managed, and when I have a bad boss, I've managed to move on rather quickly. It's my life, so I try to make it a point to hire good bosses and fire bad ones. Which leads to number three...

3) Moving Target Theory. I don't stay in one place very long, partly because of the nature of my business, and partly by design. Moving Target Theory is my buddy Quaid's attempt to quantify and define the mechanism which has saved our butts on more than one occasion.

4) Great customers. When the chain of command is throwing daggers my way, it's helped to have customers who were willing to step in and say "This guy is helping save lives, rescue hostages, etc, etc."

5) The Rogue Program Manager's Art of War. More wisdom from my buddy Quaid, these 8-and-a-half axioms form the basis of our manual of arms for the Global War on Bureaucracy, and they help keep my biscuits out of the fire.

6) The truth is, I have been fired. Well, not really, but I once had an annual performance review significantly downgraded by a powerful dude (my boss's boss's boss's boss...). He was unhappy about the fact that a different division had recruited me away from his division. I am prouder of that review than almost any other. There's something profoundly cool about being punished for doing the right thing, and that review is a professional battle scar I carry gladly.

7) Paradoxically, I can't be fired. Sure, I can be removed from a job, passed over for promotion, kicked out of the service, court-martialed, etc... but short of putting me in jail, I will always be able to continue with my career, regardless of the specifics of my job. To paraphrase Obi Wan, firing me would only make me stronger.

Freedom & Integrity

At a recent meeting (which will remain anonymous), someone said something along the lines of "Well, that would be the smart thing to do, but we'd get in trouble for doing it..."

For the sake of argument, let's grant the validity of that negative fantasy (i.e. we'll be punished for doing something smart). Even in that unlikely case, I think we should still do the smart thing, the right thing, consequences be damned.

The funny thing is, the consensus in the room was that since "we'd get in trouble," the smart option was off the table. The group quickly moved on to the dumb options. It wasn't a question of wanting to chose one's battles carefully. It was more like a desire to avoid all battles in the first place. Nobody questioned what type of trouble, how much trouble, or even whether the trouble was real.

Frankly, it disgusted me. I expected more fearlessness & courage, more creativity & energy from that group than I saw that day. I expected more integrity. Like I said, I was disgusted.

I believe we always have the freedom to do the right thing & the smart thing. We may suffer unfair consequences for doing the right thing. People might think we're fools. But nobody can force me to violate my own convictions. We can ignore corporate pressure if we choose to do so. We can trust our own judgement, if we're willing to pay the price. The alternative is, in my humble opinion, absolutely unacceptable.

The old advice to "pick your battles carefully" has been twisted and misapplied by timid, fearful, cynical bureaucrats. They're not picking battles at all. They are simply protecting their own interests and sacrificing the interests of their customers, subordinates, supervisors and organization. I'm not saying we should fight every battle that comes along... just that we should probably stand up for Truth, Justice and the American Way more often than we do.

The truth is, you probably won't get in trouble for doing the smart thing... and even if you do, at least you've done the smart thing. That's worth something.

If you're working in an organization that punishes people for following their convictions and using their own judgement, I've got one word of advice: Run!

As Sally Hogshead pointed out in her book Radical Careering, "Being in a crap job isn't your fault. Staying in a crap job is." (Radical Truth #19)

Be Kind...

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle."—Philo of Alexandria

(found this on Tom Peters' blog this morning & wanted to pass it along)

14 November 2006

Short Downward Flights

I recently acquired a copy of a book titled Progress in Flying Machines, by Octave Chanute.

As you might guess by the guy's first name, he lived a long time ago. He was born in 1832, and came to the US from Paris with his parents at the age of 6.

He published Progress in 1894. The Smithsonian Institute recommended Wilber Wright read it, as he and his brother began their pioneering work.

The US Air Force eventually named Chanute Air Force Base after good old Octave. (My dad was stationed at Chanute for a few years, when I was a kid, and I have many fond memories of that area. The base was closed in 1993).

I mention this because, aside from being a fascinating look at the history of failed attempts at manned flight, there's a very funny line, describing the aviation experiments of a French locksmith named Besnier. He designed the clever contraption pictured here, and Chanute said he "took short downward flights aided by gravity."

Short downward flights aided by gravity? I think there's another name for that: falling.

13 November 2006

The Rules of Jazz


I heard a thing on NPR this morning about jazzman Ornette Coleman. Apparently he's quite the avant-garde musician, and a controversial figure in the jazz community. He's got a new album out called Sound Grammar, and it sounds like it's quite good.

One line from the radio piece stuck out to me - enough that I wrote it down in my notebook while barreling along the interstate:

"He was accused of arbitrarily breaking the rules of jazz."

Wow. That accusation alone makes him my new hero. I aspire to be accused of arbitrarily breaking the rules of jazz. Someday, if I manage to live up to the Pirate-y, Rogue-ish, status-quo-defying standards I'm aiming for, I hope someone says the same thing of me. To "arbitrarily break the rules of jazz" is a remarkable feat.

Someone Keeps Stealing My Letters!


RocketBoom recently mentioned this hilarious website. It's basically a virtual refridgerator door, covered with colored letters which anyone can move around.

The thing is, everyone else on the site can move around the same letters you're moving around. So you might try to spell something, only to have a critical letter swiped by someone trying to leave a message of their own.

Of course, some people write bad words :( but their letters tend to get swiped pretty quickly.

The fun isn't limited to writing your name. I saw an impromptu contest where some people were trying to move all the letters to the right side of the screen, while some other people were trying to move them all to the left side. I assume someone started with one side, and someone else (or more than one someone) started doing the opposite. That made me laugh, 'cause I knew there was no communication between them other than the movement of the letters.

I tried sorting the letters by color, and was immediately countered by people trying to keep it mixed up. You could also try finishing someone else's word, preferably turning it into something other than what they were obviously writing (i.e. if they've got "LOV" and are moving an E into place at the end, add a G to the front and turn their LOVE into GLOVE). Trust me, it's hilarious, but maybe you had to be there.

No doubt there are lots of other games & contests you can play. I just think it's interesting to watch what happens when people come to a shared space like this, with their own agendas and ideas. What would you do?

Giant Monkey Wrench Hits Fan - Outcome Uncertain!


You wouldn't think a weekend would get in the way of writing, but it managed to. We went to New York City to visit my Mother-In-Law. Had a great time - saw the Bronx Zoo, which was fantastic.

But I didn't get much writing done. Like, maybe a page. I did manage to do a little research, but research isn't writing.

And this morning, I overslept a bit. As I've probably mentioned, most of my writing occurs at 5am. So I didn't get any writing done this morning.

I'm sure I'll catch up, but yikes - I've got some real catching up to do!

12 November 2006

Imperfectionism

Last August, I wrote an article about Imperfectionism for Rogue Project Leader. Imperfectionism is a positive, enthusiastic and productive philosophy, and I wanted to pass it along to any of you who didn't catch the original article the first time. Here's a short excerpt to get you started:
It's amazing how much you can get done in a short amount of time if you don't care whether it's perfect or not. No doubt that sentiment will amuse some readers and disturb others, but I've found it to be true.

As several of you have surely noticed, I am quite content to create things with flaws, mostly because I know I'm going to do so whether I want to or not. That is, I am content to create what I can create, and I try not to insist on that which cannot be done. My satisfaction is based on the presence of something good, not the absence of all flaws.

I just feel bad for perfectionists. They deprive themselves of so much happiness by focusing on the bad rather than rejoicing in the good.

I hope you all enjoy the Imperfectionism article, particularly my NaNoWriMo friends out there, who are elbow-deep in highly imperfect novels. Keep writing!

It's a beautiful thing, this imperfectionism.

10 November 2006

Proximity...

It's been said that possession is nine tenths of the law. It hit me the other day that proximity is nine-tenths of leadership.

That is, if you're in a situation that calls for leadership, don't worry about whether or not it's "your job." You're there, so do something.

The other implication is that leadership is nine-tenths proximity. If you're a leader, it's important to be around...

09 November 2006

Boomer Sisters Book Review


I recently got a copy of "Book Banter," a publication of the New York State Reading Association (thanks, Mom!). In the Summer 2006 issue, they've got a very nice review of Meet The Boomer Sisters!

I'll skip their plot summary and just get right to the good stuff:
The moral of the tale is quite clear and will be perceived even by younger readers, but the "lesson" doesn’t overwhelm the entertaining narrative. This is an interesting and well written book, by a promising new author. Meet The Boomer Sisters will be enjoyed particularly by Middle Schoolers and should make a great read-aloud for Second and Third Graders as well.

Not bad for a 30-day project, eh? Sure, I did a few minor edits and tweaks after the month was over, but they were mostly fixing a few typo's. Nothing substantial.

The point? People can produce stuff that's worth reading during NaNoWriMo. (And you can publish them in time for Christmas at Lulu.com). So, to all my fellow NaNoWriMo'ers out there - keep it up! You can TOTALLY do it! And if you're writing a kid's novel, I look forward to reading NYSRA's review of it next summer!

And to those who haven't yet joined in the NaNoWriMo insanity, there's always next year!

Good Writing

A thought for my fellow NaNoWriMo'ers...

"It has often been said, by numerous experts in the fields of writing and communication, that good writers should always endeavor to, when ever possible, omit any and all instances of words which are unnecessary, for the sake of the clarity and quality of their writing projects."

- or -

Omit unnecessary words.
-William Strunk

Simplicity Cycle Update


I recently came across something called The State Explosion Problem. Basically, it says the state space grows exponentially with the number of components.

In other words, adding pieces increases the range of possible "states" very, very quickly...

In the framework of the Simplicity Cycle, this describes life in the Region of the Complicated. Once you hit the critical mass of complexity (found in the Region of the Complex at the center of the chart), any further increases in complexity result in a decrease in goodness - movement up and to the left. I think the State Explosion Problem helps to mathematically explain why that's the case.

07 November 2006

On the road

I'll be on the road for a few days, so I might be blog-less for a day or two. I'm actually working on the illustrated version of the first Boomer Sisters book at the moment, but I'll leve you with this thought for today:

Before answering the question "What would you do for a million dollars?" maybe you should ask yourself "What would you do with a million dollars?" (otherwise, you might end up hitting a target and not knowing why).

My favorite answer to that "with" question comes from G. K. Chesterton (of course). He said something along the lines of eating, drinking, and throwing the rest of the money around. "I don't mean give it to charity. I mean literally throwing it around." (he might have said "tossing" - anyone want to find the actual quote?)

06 November 2006

Pow! Right Between The Eyes!

One of my favorite blogs is The Creative Generalist. Today, he posted a link to Andy Nulman's blog about surprise, titled Pow! Right Between The Eyes!

What's that, you ask? A whole blog dedicated to the experience of surprise? Wow, that's sort of, well, surprising...

Yes! It's wonderful, chock-full of observations like Surprise Shocks Euphorically.

Everyone's a kid at Disneyland. Duh, I know, but he builds it into an insightful perspective on the importance, effect, and value of surprise.

Check him out...

03 November 2006

Intimidating

I'm chugging along on my NaNoWriMo project, and still making good progress... but this morning, I began to realize how much larger this novel is going to be than what I'd originally imagined... and how inadequate & incomplete my plot outline is. There's a lot of stuff happening in the story which didn't make it into my thin little outline... and I imagine I'll have to redo the outline entirely before too long.

Or maybe I won't. Maybe I'll just write.

In any case, overwhelming & intimidating tho it might be, it's still a lot of fun. A lot of work, yes, but a lot of fun.

02 November 2006

NaNoWriMo Update

Finished the first draft of Chapter 2 this morning. No word count yet - it's all still in a notebook.

I'm really enjoying it, and the story is surprising me already. I'm working off an outline I put together a few weeks ago, and am already diverging a bit from it. Specifically, some action I planned to include in Chapter 2 has been pushed back to Ch 3... and some new stuff has been introduced that I'll have to work in somehow.

Very exciting! Very fun! More to follow!

Clap Hands!

I'm really digging Beck's new song Clap Hands, after seeing him perform on SNL last week. Sadly, the YouTube clip of the SNL performance was removed (doggone copyright law!), but this clip is pretty good too. The SNL one was better, 'cause it occasionally replaced the performers with marionettes of the performers, ala Team America. Enjoy!

01 November 2006

NaNoWriMo starts!

It's November, and National Novel Writing Month has begun!

At some point in November, I'm sure I'll blog about a different topic, but today I just want to say: Chapter 1, draft 1, is complete!

Chapter two, draft 1, begins at lunchtime...

31 October 2006

No Feet...


When I was at RPI last week, I stopped into the restroom to, ahem, have a rest. Upon completion of said rest, I noticed a sign posted above the sink. It said: "Please Do Not Wash Feet In The Sink." Some joker had penciled in "You are not at Union College," but as far as I can tell, the ban on feet washing was serious.

Even setting intercollegiate rivalries aside, I think it's a darn funny sign. I'm thinking of posting a few around here, in a similar vein. Maybe one near the water fountain (Please Do Not Wash Your Hair In The Water Fountain). Maybe one inside the locker room door at the gym (Pants are mandatory beyond this point).

There's so much potential for humor here... I'd love to hear your ideas (or better yet, I'd love to see photos of signs you've created and posted in your place of work, community, etc).

Happy Halloween!

NaNoWriMo Starts Tomorrow!


Ladies & Gentlemen, start your writing engines!

Tomorrow, November 1st, is the start of National Novel Writing Month. I plan to spend as many waking moments as possible working on my next Boomer Sisters novel (The Boomer Sisters Meet Champy). The plot is laid, the pencils are sharp, the notebook is waiting... and I'm very, very excited.

I'll probably blog less during November. I'll probably be slower in responding to emails. I'll probably sleep way too little and drink coffee way too much. We all have to make sacrifices for our art, eh?

Novel #2, here I come!

30 October 2006

Time

You can't save time
(where would you keep it?)

You can't make time
(from what would you craft it?)

You can't find time
(where would you look for it?)

You can't steal time
(from whom would you take it?)

You can only spend time
You can only spend time.
- Dan Ward

If in doubt...


I read Hugh MacLeod's Gaping Void blog every day. I link to it less frequently, because he is profane as often as he's profound. His main claim to fame is drawing little cartoons on the back of business cards, and he's also written two essays which I find particularly insightful: The Hughtrain Mainfesto and How To Be Creative.

Every once in a while, he creates something that really grabs my brain. Today's words-only cartoon (above) sort of jumped out at me, so I figured I'd pass it along. This cartoon is another of my favorites:

27 October 2006

Cats & Meat


Sheikh Hilaly, Australia's top Muslim cleric, got a lot of attention recently for comparing women who dress immodestly to "uncovered meat." He apparently got a bit of criticism two years ago when he apparently glorified martyrdom and called the 9/11 attacks "the work of God." Sounds like a real nice fella.
Now, I'm all for giving people the benefit of the doubt, and I understand the news media isn't perfect. Maybe it's all just a big misunderstanding and his comments are all out of context. Maybe. Plus, he supposedly apologized for the comments, and has been suspended from preaching for 3 months. That sounds too short to me, but I'll take it...

I'm a little bit curious why nobody is complaining about his comparison of men to cats, as if we are all driven simply by our appetites. I think that's more than a little insulting, and I think it has something to do with the fact that Islam isn't about redemption & re-creation, but instead is theologically focused on repression. At its core, Islam's perspective on humanity is that we need to be controlled, rather than set free. I think that's pretty awful.

The whole hijab thing seems more rooted in a (negative) belief that men can't control themselves than in a positive appreciation for modesty. I'm all for modesty, and I believe there's something wrong with dressing like the cover of Cosmo. But the head-to-toe black covering isn't about modesty. It's about externally-imposed control (on both women and men), because self-control is basically impossible (according to Islam). Thus the restrictions on men and women socializing, women driving, etc. It all says people can't be trusted, and that says a lot about Islam.

In a Ramadan sermon last month, Hilaly said sexual assaults might not happen if women wore a hijab and stayed at home.

"If you take out uncovered meat and place it outside on the street, or in the garden or in the park, or in the backyard without a cover, and the cats come and eat it ... whose fault is it, the cats or the uncovered meat? The uncovered meat is the problem," Hilaly said, according to a newspaper translation.

26 October 2006

Ohio - Here We Come!


I just found out that I was selected to go to the Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT) for something called Intermediate Developmental Education (IDE). It's a 12 month program where I'll get a masters in Air & Space Systems Engineering. Whoo-hoo!

It's an exciting opportunity, and I'm glad the AF thinks I'm worth the investment. The only bummer is the report date is 21 May... and our kids school year doesn't end until late June. So, we'll have to see what we can do about that. I would be a lot more excited if the report date was August, but we'll make it work, I'm sure.

So, it'll be interesting to be back in school again, and doubly-interesting to be at a large base for the first time in... well, for the first time ever. More to follow, I'm sure!

25 October 2006

New addition to Simplicity Cycle



I recently came across the phrase "premature optimization" in an article about design and programming, and I realized the concept is reflected in my Simplicity Cycle, albeit unconsciously and not explicitly.

Those who aren't familiar with it might want to check out The Simplicity Cycle Manifesto at ChangeThis.com. Or just read this post and maybe you'll pick it up as we go along. Or maybe the diagram above will suffice.

Here's what I've learned: The journey along the Complexity Slope, from the region of the simplistic to the region of the complex, involves increases in both complexity and goodness (now don't you wish you'd read the manifesto?). At some point in your design (or learning, creation, etc), you reach a critical mass of complexity, where any additional increase in complexity lead to a decrease in goodness. At that point, the optimal path forward along the goodness axis requires decreases in complexity - the Simplification Slope.

But what if you peak too soon? What if you begin doing synthesis too soon, before you've generated a sufficient foundation of complexity? Premature optimization... and less goodness than if you'd have achieved if you'd increased the complexity sufficiently.

Of course, those who were already familiar with the Simplicity Cycle's concepts probably understood this as soon as they saw the diagram. The rest of you might need to "increase the complexity of your understanding" first, by reading the Manifesto, and then you'll be able to put it all together into something simple and elegant.

24 October 2006

AFROTC @ RPI


I'm posting this entry from the Air Force ROTC detachment at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) - Det 550. I just finished presenting my Radical Elements briefing to 45 cadets (of which nearly half were freshmen!). I love being on a college campus again, and any opportunity to interact with cadets is always a blast! Haven't done the briefing in a while, so it was nice to have a chance to do it again.

RPI is about two hours away from my house, and the class started at 0800 (I showed up at 0730 to set up & meet some people). So, it was a very early morning, followed by a long, dark drive (in the rain, no less), and worth every minute. I'm heading off to grab some pizza with some of the cadets in a little while too, for a more interactive discussion about the AF & technology. Too fun! Wish I could do this sort of thing every day.

23 October 2006

Boomers on Lulu Frontpage!


The nice people at Lulu encourage writers to submit photos of themselves with their Lulu books, which then get displayed on the Lulu front page (on a rotating basis - it's a different shot every time you go there).

Well, I sent one in, and they used it! That was a nice surprise. If you want to see it in the original setting, go to Lulu.com and keep hitting the refresh button on your browser until this shot pops up.

Enjoy!

22 October 2006

Subversive Children's Lit Week!

I am proud to announce that this week is Dan's Official Subversive Children's Literature Week (not to be confused with National Subversive Children's Lit Week, the existence of which I'm too lazy to confirm by googling it).

Here's how it works - acquire some subversive children's literature (see the list below for examples) and make it available to children of your choosing. For maximum benefit, you might want to consider donating it to a library (school, public, etc), but this is also a good time to do some early Christmas shopping for the kids on your list. It's really that simple, and I hope you'll really do it (and at these prices, maybe even buy more than one)!

Some books you might want to consider (complete with links to Amazon's page):

The War Between The Pitiful Teachers and Splendid Kids, by Stanley Kiesel. $3.45 used at Amazon

Frindle, by Andrew Clements. $0.83 used at Amazon.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain. $1.38 used at Amazon

The Wonderful Flight To The Mushroom Planet, by Eleanor Cameron. $0.49 used at Amazon

The White Mountains, by John Christopher. $1.69 used at Amazon

And of course, I'll include Meet The Boomer Sisters, by yours truly. Sadly, it's not available on the used market yet, but for this week, I'm marking it down from $13.95 to $11.95.

One or two of you might be asking "What's so subversive about these books? And what's so great about subversive literature?" I'm glad you asked. These books are all designed to make people think. They encourage questioning of the status quo. They are great stories, well told, of people who dare to be themselves and who help other people on the journey. They are full of love, self-sacrifice, creativity and imagination. They do wonderful things to people who read them.

Tell a friend... (and leave a comment!)

21 October 2006

Death Valley Photos

Some shots of my recent trip to Death Valley, CA



Editing RPL Year 1

This is a little embarrasing (but not really). I was flipping through a copy of RPL Year 1 the other day, and discovered a dozen or so editorial flaws. Nothing huge - just stuff like a missing tab here and there, a missing blank line between paragraphs... that sort of thing. Like I said, nothing huge, but enough of them to be irritating.

So I just fixed as many as I could find, and sent the updated file along to Lulu. Anyone who buys it from here on out will get the corrected version. Unfortunately, I just sold a handful of copies at the AMI workshop, so they all got the version with the flaws (sorry, guys!). I'm sure they'll all be collectors items in the future, like that upside-down airplane stamp. Yeah, right.

Anyway, the one saving grace in all of this (aside from the book's future value) is that one of the first articles in the book is the one about Imperfectionism, where I explain that I am content to create things with flaws. Whew - got myself off the hook there, right? And of course, this is one more reason I love publishing at Lulu - the ability to correct flaws (large or small) quickly, easily and immediately.

20 October 2006

A Beautiful Tolerance For Incomprehension


On recently re-reading Meet The Boomer Sisters to my girls, I found myself worrying a little about the vocabulary. Did I use too many big words? Was this something kids can really understand? Did I inadvertently go over their heads (I mean, accidentally go over their heads - inadvertently being perhaps a too-big word).

Today, though, I read a fantastic article in the online version of Good magazine, which put my fears to rest. The author, Michael Silverblatt, explained
"The art (as opposed to the technology) of reading requires that you develop a beautiful tolerance for incomprehension. The greatest books are the books that you come to understand more deeply with time, with age, with rereading."

He goes on to explain that it's good to read stuff you don't understand at first blush... and to stick with it, continue reading & re-reading it over the years. That's the path to deeper understanding, and incomprehension is a big part of it (so is perseverance, of course). He writes:
The clearing of the fog of incomprehension is the yardstick of growth, every kind of growth...
This left me quite comfortable with what I wrote & how I wrote it. It also emboldened me for the second Boomer Sisters book, which is in the works. I'm going to go ahead and use the best words I can find, even if they are unfamiliar to the average 2nd grader, trusting in the power of a child's imagination to beautifully accept the incomprehensible bits (if any).

Association of Managers of Innovation


I had a pretty amazing time at Death Valley this week (anyone miss me?). It was for a meeting of the Association of Managers of Innovation (AMI), which is associated with the Center for Creative Leadership.

There wer loads of interesting presentaitons (including one by yours truly). Dr. Rodrigo Jordan Fuchs, a remarkably accomplished mountaineer from Chile, talked about summiting Everest and leading the first expedition to traverse the Ellsworth Mountains in Antarctica. Prof Bobby Bradford spoke, sang and played the history of jazz. We even got a tour of an inactive Borax mine, and yes, it all connected back to innovation and management. The weather was perfect, the views amazing, and the food... well, the food was just OK, but nothing to complain about.

The best part, hands down, was meeting all the people. They were from a bewilderingly diverse set of industries, from building supply companies to cheese companies, from defense to innovation consulting. The were, without exception, warm, generous, enthusiastic and fun to talk with. The group included a large percentage of women, and we even had some international participants, so it wasn't just the usual group of "old white guys." Saying good bye took nearly half an hour and involved way more hugs than I've ever received at a conference or workshop... and this was my first time meeting these people.

To top it all off, I got to see my old friends Gabe, Joe and Bridget in Vegas on my way home. I'll share some of the stuff I learned at AMI later (and maybe some photos). For now, I'm just reveling in all these new friends.

13 October 2006

Travel Schedule

I thought I should mention I'll be on the road next week (16-19 Oct) and probably won't be able to post anything new until next Friday (20 Oct). I'm sure both my readers will manage to survive a few days without me... :)

Joyful Jubilant Learning

I've got a post at the new Joyful Jubilant Learning blog - sort of recycling some of my Simplicity Cycle material, to be honest (call it "rebranding" maybe?).

I signed up to participate with the Joyful Jubilant Learning Network (JJLN) a while back, and agreed to do a posting today, in part because it was one of the latest available dates and I wanted to give myself as much time as I could. As it turns out, coming up with this post was even harder than I thought it would be. Maybe because there are so many things going on (blogs, books, etc), maybe 'cause I'm watching too much TV and turning my brains to mush, or maybe some other mystery reason.

What ever the cause, I'm not complaining - I actually enjoyed the fact that it was hard. It was a stretch. It's been a while since I tried to write something that didn't come easy. I'm not sure it was my best work ever, but I suspect I'm better for it... and hopefully readers will find it useful (if only because it'll point them to some of my better stuff).

12 October 2006

Yeah Toast!


On the way into work this morning, I heard a hilarious song by Haywood Banks. It's titled Toast, and as soon as I got to my desk I did a quick google search.

Eventually (quickly) I found myself at YouTube, where I discovered 20+ videos for "Yeah Toast," many (all?) apparently made by fans.

The audio quality varies, as does the visual content. One vid shows the man himself, singing the song, accompanying himself by banging forks on a toaster. Others show a series of still images, while some are full motion videos.

Great song, but I like what people have done with it even better. Interaction, amateur / fan creativity & creation... all good stuff, and all part of this Web 2.0 world we're entering.

NaNoWriMo 2006 is coming!

I'm so excited!!!!

This morning, I got my first email from the wonderful, beautiful people at the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) organization, announcing that NaNoWriMo is officially opening for its 8th season.

For those who don't know, November is National Novel Writing Month. Last November, I wrote Meet The Boomer Sisters. This November, I'm going to write a sequel (tentatively titled The Boomer Sisters Meet Champy).

I can scarcely contain my excitement. Writing a novel in a month is fascinating, exhausting, challenging, and monkey-barrels of fun. I can't recommend it highly enough.

Here's a little blurb from the FAQ page on NaNoWriMo's site:

The other reason we do NaNoWriMo is because the glow from making big, messy art, and watching others make big, messy art, lasts for a long, long time. The act of sustained creation does bizarre, wonderful things to you. It changes the way you read. And changes, a little bit, your sense of self. We like that.

I'd like to encourage you all to do something amazing this November. Write a novel. You won't regret it.

11 October 2006

Permanence & Transience


Newspapers and magazines are inherently temporary - today they are worth reading, tomorrow they are covering the bottom of the birdcage or wrapped around a fish. It's been that was for as long as there have been newspapers, and for most of what's written in newspapers and magazines, that's not a bad thing.

Blogs have a lot in common with a daily paper. They are short, timely, and basically disposable. The funny thing is, being digital, they stick around.

There are a couple sides to this issue, which I'm still sorting out in my head. First, when there's a really, really good post, it slips on down the page and disappears into the archive just like the ordinary posts. The content is still available to anyone who wants it, but it tends to get lost in the shuffle.

I could create a list of "Best Posts"along the right side of the blog, adding to the clutter that's already there. Not sure I want to...

Then, the stuff that isn't worth keeping tends to stick around too. All this data gets the same treatment. One of the attributes of a Web 2.0 paradigm is that people are able to filter data & give greater weight to the good stuff... but this blog, at least, isn't there quite yet.

10 October 2006

Statistics

Mark Twain is reported to have said "There are three kinds of lies: Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics." He was probably right.

So, when I hear statistics about casualties in the war on Iraq, I find myself saying "OK, but what does that mean?" It's not clear that a single number, or even a series of them, indicates much of anything about how the GWOT is going. And don't get me started about our fascination with round numbers...

So I did a little research about other fatality statistics. I'm not saying any of these numbers are context for any other numbers (except for the fact that they all happened on the same planet). I'm not even commenting on how accurate they are (although I did seek out authoritative sources as much as possible and only used Wikipedia once). I just think they are interesting.

They might provide a little perspective, or they might be entirely irrelevant. I compiled them mostly because I was curious about them, and I'm not drawing any conclusions or implying anything. (each link takes you to the source of the data).

06 October 2006

Latest AT&L article


The Nov/Dec 06 issue of Defense AT&L is now available online (subscribers will get their copies in the mail in a few weeks).

As usual, Quaid and I have a politically incorrect article, specifically designed to push people's buttons, rattle cages and shine lights into dark places. The title is "It's All In The Talent,"and it features (among other things), a criticism of Jean Claude VanDamme, a drawing of a lady holding a monkey (shown here), and a transcript of an actual telephone call between Quaid and a talent scout from a leading New York City modeling agency (he called her, if you're wondering).

Here's a short excerpt for your reading pleasure:

The DoD’s Business Management Modernization Program and various similar efforts have had little measurable effect, perhaps because of their focus on revamping the system rather than reforming the people. Similarly, some leaders in Congress, out of an admirably generous desire to help make things better, are moving to assert more control over the defense acquisition system, an endeavor that even its supporters admit is likely to have mixed results.

In the same altruistic spirit of helpfulness, Norman R. Augustine, former chief executive of Lockheed Martin and a former Army under secretary, said, in the same New York Times article, that “what is needed most is to make it extremely difficult to start a new program,” which should not be until “the need is clear, the technology is there, and there is money to do the job.”

We think cutting off a person’s fingers is a strange way to get him or her to do better work. It’s not clear how additional controls will address the underlying problem. For that matter, we (and others) aren’t sure those particular actions will even address the symptoms.

04 October 2006

The Generator Blog



Today's entry from the cutting edge of Web 2.0 is The Generator Blog. It's a fascinating daily tour of some truly outstanding interactive web experiences.

I've got to say, the Tattoo Generator made me a little nervous for a moment - and I wasn't expecting it to present the customized tattoo via a video. Color me impressed.

The Lightning Generator is pretty cool too. Loads of fun stuff to explore...

Enjoy!

03 October 2006

Rocketboom @ Nextfest

Gonna be out of comms for a couple of days (Wed and Thurs), so I figured I'd do tomorrow's blog entry today...

Video Blogging is still relatively new, but RocketBoom is one of the early success stories. They offer short film clips of tech-focused news, and if you don't already watch them on a regular basis, I suggest giving them a look.

Check out this short film about RocketBoom's visit to NextFest, a futuristic technology expo. Very cool!

02 October 2006

Youth Rebellion & Punk


Funny thing about writing, particularly in the early 21st century. The words we craft tend to take on a life of their own, and in a digital era, writers have relatively little control over what happens to their words after they are written. I think that's a good thing, but I'll skip re-debating Gary Larson for now.

The point is, I am always curious about what happens to the stuff I write. So, I periodically google the titles of my favorite articles. The one which seems to have spread the widest (thanks in large part to the fact that Harpers magazine reprinted it) is "Everything We Know About Program Management We Learned From Punk Rock."

Today, it turned up on the syllabus for a University of Texas class called RHE 309K - Youth Rebellion and the Rhetoric of American Identity. There it is, on Week 13 (22 Nov) - the article to read for that day's class. Too cool! Sadly, they ended up canceling class for that day (it's right before Thanksgiving, so I can't blame them), and now it doesn't appear on the updated syllabus, but thanks to the magic of Google's cache's, I was directed to the original syllabus, with the Punk link.

Hmmm... I'll comment on the permanent & ephermeral nature of digital data some other time.

29 September 2006

Death Penalty Insanity

California is re-evaluating their approach to the death penalty. Not whether criminals should be executed, oh no. The focus is on the method. It's just one more example of a mentally bankrupt worldview that values process over results, methods over meaning.

Here's what I heard: On one side, people are arguing (with a straight face), that when California executes people (via lethal injection), it causes "excessive pain," and we really shouldn't do that. On the other side, people (also with a straight face) are responding "No, when we execute people, it is perfectly humane." One guy on the radio actually used the word "safe" in describing the lethal injection methods they use.

Safe? Really? As Inigo Montoya said in The Princess Bride, "I do not think that word means what you think it means."

I should admit I'm completely against the death penalty, for a variety of reasons which I won't go into here. But I mention this debate because both sides seem completely insane. One side says "It's Ok to kill people, as long as ya don't hurt 'em too much." (US District Judge Fogel says "The question is whether the degree of pain is so severe that it raises constitutional issues under the Eighth Amendment.") The other side says "Don't you worry none - we're just killin' em. We ain't hurtin' em at all."

Does either position make any sense? Let's set aside the question of the morality of the death penalty (as if it hasn't been set aside already, right?)... I'm just talking about internal logical consistency here.

In the end, it seems to me they're arguing over the wrong thing, and this sort of insanity is what you get when Process and Methods become more important than the actual mission or meaning.

28 September 2006

Wisdom from Max Headroom


"There are no experimental failures.There's only more data."

- Bryce Lynch (Network 23's resident teenage genius, responsible for creating Max Headroom in the TV show Max Headroom).

Lumalive


Remember my comment yesterday about mass customization and how nobody will wear the same stuff in the future? Well, I heard about something called "Lumalive" fabric from Philips on the radio yesterday, then my brother left a comment about it this morning. Here's what Philips' website says:

Lumalive fabrics feature flexible arrays of colored light-emitting diodes (LEDs) fully integrated into the fabric - without compromising the softness or flexibility of the cloth. These light emitting textiles make it possible to create materials that can carry dynamic messages, graphics or multicolored surfaces.

Fabrics like drapes, cushions or sofa coverings become active when they illuminate in order to enhance the observer’s mood and positively influence his/her behavior.

So it's a completely unique shirt because it's constantly changing. No doubt wearers will eventually be able to program their own "dynamic messages and graphics." I imagine it's pretty expensive stuff right now, but can commoditization be far away?

You can see it in action on YouTube.

The Future...


It's funny how many science fiction writers & movie-makers envisioned the future. Stuff like 1984 and 2001 portrayed societies where everyone wears matching collarless coveralls, watches the Big Head on the one TV channel, listens to bad classical music and, if they're lucky, drinks Coca-Cola. Fortunately for us all, it hasn't turned out that way yet (even though 1984 and 2001 are both behind us). And I don't think it's going to go that way.

I envision a future where no two people ever wear quite the same thing, or watch the same show, or even listen to the same song, because everything will be tweakable and hackable. I imagine there will be no such thing as a "tv channel" in the future, at least in the current sense of the term. Or maybe there will be as many channels as there are people. Sort of like the "internet channel," which is already serving up whatever video and audio content YOU want, in addition to the text it's provided for the past decade.

I envision a future of nearly complete individuality and a bewilderingly diverse stream of possible inputs... partly because I think we're most of the way there already. I think mass customization will come to virtually every realm of American life, and every single beverage, vehicle and pair of shoes will be tailored to an individual's personal taste, style and bodyshape. (Note: this will benefit manufacturers by limiting the market for used stuff, because reselling used stuff is harder if it's been customized... and new stuff is more appealing if it's made "especially for you).

You want a regular Coke with 1/2 the sugar? No problem - it won't taste like regular coke, but that's sort of the point, isn't it? And you want it in Grape flavor, and the can should be purple, with your name on it? Why not!

Location will also become increasingly irrelevant. As soon as we figure out how to deliver pizzas and take-out Chinese food over long distances using high-speed UAV's (and maybe cook it as it flies), people will leave cities in droves. They'll still want to meet in MeatSpace, for obvious reasons, so some sort of personalized, faster-than-cars transport will be necessary (maybe we'll get our flying cars afterall!).

Of course, predicting the future is notoriously tricky. No doubt I'm wrong on some parts of this (like the flying cars - sigh). But mass customization & exponential growth of consumer content is here already, and it's only going to spread.

What will this do to community? What will it do to culture and a sense of national identity? All sorts of things, no doubt. Some good, some bad. I suspect the US's melting pot culture is better postured to embrace, absorb and survive this trend than many of the older, less dynamic cultures around the world.

We'll see.

27 September 2006

Bewildering Architecture Redux


I was chatting with a local security officer this afternoon and discovered the story behind two of the items from my "Bewildering Architecture" series - the pointless arch and the incongruous wall stub. Turns out my assessment was correct - neither structure has a purpose.

I'll spare you the entire story, but it has something to do with a requirement to build structures "as designed," even when circumstances have changed and the structures are no longer needed. It's a perfect example of the foolishness caused by building a fortress instead of a firefight.

A little flexibility and commonsense could have saved a lot of time, money and effort... but since the arch and the wall were part of the original design, they "had to be built" (i.e. they'd already been paid for), even though the need for them had long since passed.

Sort of like designing a fighter jet to counter the Soviet Air Force, and delivering it in 2005... not that we'd ever do anything as foolish as that, of course.

26 September 2006

Beemer(tm)


I went to high school with a guy named Glenn Gaslin. He was (& still is) very funny and very smart, and is one of the few people from high school who I've been able to (occasionally) keep track of.

He wrote a great novel titled Beemer, and you can get it at Amazon for $5.99, which is 74% off the cover price (I don't pretend to understand the book industry). What a deal!

I won't attempt a plot summary (but will offer a warning that there is some salty language and several instances of what some reviewers coyly refer to as "adult situations"), but I really, really enjoyed it, and not just 'cause I know the guy who wrote it.

A blurb on the back describes it as "A Super Big Gulp of clever vidpop prose," and another says "If America were an aerosol product, Beemer is what you'd get when you sprayed it into a paper bag and inhaled. A fast, heady, sick, yet satisfying trip."

Here's a little excerpt, from a scene where the main character/narrator has started a job:
My experiment with the working life begins slowly. On most days, as in most offices in most of the world, nothing happens. Or, at least, nothing Big, nothing Breakthrough, nothing worth my attention. As I learn quickly, work is simply being and not doing. Be here for eight hours and we'll call it a job. This is new to me. It is the purpose of the office to remain steady, through anything, so that the few creative minds within have somewhere to stand while they reinvent the toaster or spark a revolution or whatever.
If you're interested in '80's inspired Americana pop culture, hyperconsumerism or the cult of fame, particularly as viewed through an over-caffeinated, surreal lens, then you'll love Beemer. I sure did.

Speaking of Fun...


A friend of mine just created a very cool card game called Stymied. You can order your own set online, for the low, low price of $14.95.

The game was partly inspired by another very cool, very fun game called Fluxx, which is available from Looney Labs. They recently released a "Holy Fluxx" expansion set, in both Christian and Jewish versions. There's also an Eco-Fluxx, which is environmentally themed, and Family Fluxx, for the little ones.

Both are fantastic examples of creative thinking that results in an experience which is funny, stimulating and thought-provoking.

I thinky you'll enjoy them!

25 September 2006

Schluss mit Lustig (End The Fun)


The CEO of "Meir and Others," a German advertising and web-design company, just came out with a book titled Schluss mit Lustig (End the Fun). As Dave Barry would say, I'm not making this up.

Company rules include mandatory uniforms, a rigid 9am to 6pm working day and five-day week, no private telephone calls and no chatting about private matters. Personal decorations on office walls are also verbotten.

She wasn't always a tyrant, however. She describes the early days at the company:

"When we started out we ran the company according to the so-called 'cool'
approach adopted by most of our competitors. This meant that we started work at around midday and drank beer in the office. We ended up working most weekends and half of most nights. In the end we were all exhausted and ended up with a lousy product," Miss Mair said.

Um, maybe the problem was the beer and lack of focus, rather than the fun? Just because a company's implementation of a flexible, humane workplace was poorly done doesn't mean the solution is to throw the concept of fun and comfort out entirely. In my experience, attempts at establishing strict controls only serve to create the illusion of strict control (and have very little impact on quality).

I much prefer the worldview (and practical success) documented in Ricardo Semler's amazing books Maverick and The Seven Day Weekend. Or check out Hugh MacLeod's latest Gaping Void post, titled Meaningful Work or Death.

Up with fun!

23 September 2006

New Organizational Storytelling Book!

I just received a letter in the mail from Jossey-Bass, a business publisher.

Strange, I thought. I haven't sent them a manuscript or book proposal in quite a while. Why would they be sending me a rejection letter? Either they're r-e-a-l-l-y slow in responding to something I sent them a year ago, or it's pre-emptive (Dear Aspiring Author, please don't send us your next book proposal...).

Imagine my surprise when I opened the envelope and saw that it was not a rejection letter after all! What a nice change of pace. Now, don't get too excited - it wasn't a contract either... It was actually an announcement that a book I contributed to was about to be published.

The book is titled Wake Me Up When The Data Is Over: How Organizations Use Stories to Drive Results. I was invited to contribute a story from my Radical Elements book, and I think I wrote some new stuff as well. It was almost a year ago, so to be honest I don't recall exactly what I sent them. My buddy Gabe Mounce sent something too, as I recall.

At any rate, I'm pretty excited to see the finished product. It's due to be released on 29 Sept, and I should have a copy by mid October. Of course, you can all pre-order your own copy at Amazon for the low, low price of $19.77.

Stories rock!