31 October 2006
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).
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
22 October 2006
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
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
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).
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
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
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.
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:
I'd like to encourage you all to do something amazing this November. Write a novel. You won't regret it.
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.
11 October 2006
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
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).
- More than 20,000 US personnel have been wounded in combat and 2,700 killed in the Iraq war. (Washington Post article)
- World War I: 116,708
- World War II: 408,306
- Vietnam War: 58,219
- Persian Gulf, Op Desert Shield/Storm: 363
- Heart attacks: 300,000 die annually
- Traffic fatalities in 2005: 43,443
- Stalin: 20 million
- Iraqi Secret Police under Saddam are suspected of killing 200,000
- Genocide in Darfur: 400,000
- Genocide in Rwanda: 1,000,000
- Nazi genocide: 11,000,000
- Government info about US Homicide rates are available here
- And of course, on 9/11, 2,973 were killed (plus 24 missing, presumed dead)
06 October 2006
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
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...
03 October 2006
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
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.