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).


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


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!

Reading Boomer Sisters

I recently had the rare pleasure of visiting both my daughters classrooms during the school day, to read some chapters of my kid's novel, Meet The Boomer Sisters. The kids seemed to have a great time, and I know I sure did.

I think this shot really captures the spirit of the moment. As you can see, Bethany was kind enough to help act out some of the scenes.

21 September 2006

The Risk of Risk

I'm on leave for a few days, and took the opportunity to return a bunch of bottles and cans to the grocery story this morning. Three dollars and twenty-five cents richer, I paused to read the small print on the redemption machine.

As you can see in the photo above, it says "Caution: Do not insert flammable or toxic materials as they may result in a risk of fire or personal injury."

Might result in a risk? How about "might result in a fire" or "might hurt someone"? Sadly, it seems the Timid Good (see the Boomer Sisters book) has struck again, warning people about the possibility of risk, as if risk is the issue.

I mention this because I've come across this upside-down perspective on risk all too often. Process-oriented modernist progam managers, leaders and technologists look at risk as something inherently bad, to be avoided at all costs (and apparently believe risk can be avoided). Don't do X, or there might be a risk, they say. Before long, I'm sure someone will write a book about "the risk of risk." Ugh!

(I love my new camera phone, btw!)


I was at a conference in Denver last month, and came across this word carved in the side of a building: Superincumbent. Naturally, I needed to record the phenomenon in digital pixels, and I finally got around to posting it here.

Obviously, the word was part of a larger sentence, and I'm sure whoever wrote it originally meant well. But it seemed like overkill to me. Was there no other way to convey the concept? Why not use a word people actually understand? Unless of course the intent was to decorate rather than communicate. I suspect that was the case.

The other funny thing about this word is, when you google it, you get a list of pages with titles like "definition of superincumbent" as if the only thing you can do with this word is define it (and in case you're curious, it means "lying or resting on and exerting pressure on something else").

The point? Architecture is not only bewildering, it's also funny sometimes... particularly when people use words to do things other than share ideas and information.

19 September 2006

Fire-Flower Lamp

Hanabi is a Japanese word that means fireworks or "flower and fire," which is a perfect name for this lamp. It starts out closed, but when you turn it on, the heat from the bulb makes the petals open.

I just think that's pretty cool.

18 September 2006

Podcast Interview

This weekend, I was interviewed by Wayne Turmel (aka The Cranky Middle Manager) for his podcast. The topic was Risk Management for project leaders, but we talked about everything from cynicism to Rogueness to Orbiting The Giant Hairball.

The podcast runs about 28 minutes, but it seemed like 10 when we were actually recording it.

I hope you'll go check it out and leave a comment on his page.

Bewildering Architecture, Part IV

Here is the fourth-and-final entry in the Bewildering Architecture series. I figured it would be appropriate to end this series on a whimper, and thus I saved the lamest for the last.

It's just a wall, built along the side of a building. It's got a passage way cut in it, so it doesn't block anyone's path. The top of the wall extends well above the roof of the building... and for the life of me, I can't figure out why it's there!

Is it a windblock? It's awfully small for that. Some sort of structural support for the building (I can't imagine how). Decoration? Part of a larger, as-yet-unfinished plan? Or is it just a cheap place to store a bunch of extra bricks?

I'd love to hear your ideas.

15 September 2006

Bewildering Architecture, Part III

Today's entry is truly Bewildering. It's a rather large arch which obviously serves a mysterous purpose beyond the ken of mere mortals.

Protection from the elements? Nope - it's up too high, and there are no walls, so the wind blows snow and rain right through. Shade? Maybe, but only for a very small area. Security? Um, I don't think so. Decoration? Ah, maybe that's it!

14 September 2006

Bewildering Architecture, part II

The Cement Stairs to Nowhere - I chuckle almost every time I walk past these steps. They're quite heavy looking and I imagine are basically immobile. They don't seem to have a purpose or get much (any) use. And they're way too short to reach up to the Doors To Nowhere from yesterday's post.

Maybe it's a caveman's exercise machine, an early StairStepper(tm)?

13 September 2006

Bewildering Architecture

This is the first of 4 photo posts on the topic of Bewildering Architecture.

All four are along the same little strip, in between two building near my office. I'm having a tough time understanding why anyone spent the time & money to create these things. I'm sure there was a reason for each...

This building actually has two sets of doors like this - on the second floor, but leading to nowhere (as far as I can tell). The really funny thing is, the building doesn't have a second floor!

11 September 2006

Understanding Al Quaida

I watched part 1 of "The Path to 9/11" last night on ABC. I'll let other people comment on any political agendas, historical inaccuracies or the show's artistic merits. This post is about a missing piece, not just in the movie but (maybe) in our general approach to the Global War on Terror.

In the show, the terrorists were portrayed as constantly angry and murderous (when they weren't shaking-what-Allah-gave-them in Phillipino nightclubs, that is). Why are they so angry? American "policies," of course. Several times, the terrorists talked about the terrible "American policies."

Which policies would that be? Ah, they didn't say, and that's the problem.

My experience with idealistically angry people is that they LOVE to spout off lists of their specific greivances (think partisan politicians or commentators criticizing their opponents, i.e. Ann Coulter or Michael Moore). I expected them to say "The USA did this and that and this again..." But apparently, the people who made the film didn't think it was worth while to have the terrorists actually spell out much in the way of specific greivances, aside from the fact that the US supports Israel.

My fear is that we really think the terrorists are simply angry. They hate Israel, we support Israel, therefore they hate us.

I'm not sure it's that simple, and I'd hate to think we have such a simplistic understanding of the situation or the enemy.

Clausewitz explained that wars are won in the enemy commander's mind. The battle may be over when the other side stops shooting at you, but the war doesn't end until the other side agrees it's over. That means we need to get into their heads and get them thinking differently.

So when I say we need to understand Al Quaida (and islamofacists in general), it's not because I think they are poor, misunderstood people who just need a hug. It's because we can't beat them unless we really grasp their motives, priorities and worldview. I don't propose accepting, tolerating or respecting their worldview (I'd like to eradicate it, frankly). I propose understanding it enough to figure out what it will take to convince them that the killing needs to stop.

83 and going strong

Shortly after Sept 11, 2001, my grandfather (who was 78 at the time) found his way onto a Coast Guard boat and helped patrol NY Harbor.

He then managed to get transferred to the CG Auxiliary's Air Flotilla. Now, two or three times a week, he boards a privately owned Cessna and runs patrols up and down Lake Champlain (where my mom & dad live). His job is to be the "spotter," using binoculars to look for bad guys.

Not a bad way to spend one's golden years, I'd say! The local Plattsburgh NY newspaper recently did an article about him (that's him with my dad in the photo). I hope that when I'm 83 I'll be as active and as able to contribute to the world.

04 September 2006

Steve Irwin - RIP

It was so sad to hear that Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin was killed by a stingray. Wow.

I never thought he'd die of something like high cholesterol, of course (not that I'd ever really thought about it), and I suppose he did die doing what he loved. But he's got two kids (ages 8 and 3), not to mention his wife. It's such a loss.

Talking Story - Lively Learning!

I was recently invited to participate in a group blogging event, by a wonderful lady from Hawaii named Rosa Say. She is hosting a month-long discussion of joyful, jubilant learning, and today (Sept 4th) I had the honor of being the featured guest blogger.

I used a brief excerpt from my Boomer Sisters book, which happened to coincide perfectly with Rosa's theme. You can read the whole post here.