25 October 2007

New Blog & Email

I originally created this blog as part of a little mentoring experiment I called Project Blue Lynx - thus the name. It turned into more of a personal blog, but there I was, stuck with the name & address.

Similarly, I created a gmail account (RPLeditor) to handle stuff for Rogue Project Leader, my online webzine.

Well, Project Blue Lynx is long since over, and RPL is on permanent hiatus. So, I figured it was just about time to come up with new, more permanent email and blog names. Names that were about me, not about temporary projects.

So, my new email address is The.Dan.Ward (at) gmail.com. My new blog will be at http://thedanward.blogspot.com/

It'll take me a while to get things all set up in the new blog location, but I've got the shell of things there already. (cause apparently I didn't have enough change in my life lately). :)

Come on over and check it out!

- "The" Dan Ward

23 October 2007

New photo

Figured it was time to update my photo...

(I love my Mac's PhotoBooth!)

Dan Pink!

The latest issue of Wired magazine arrived, and the cover article is by Dan Pink. That's very exciting!

"So what?", you might be thinking. Well, let me tell you.

Dan Pink is the author of a very cool book titled A Whole New Mind. It's a great book, and I highly recommend picking it up.

But that's not the real reason I'm mentioning all this.

See, after I read Dan Pink's book, I sent him a copy of my Simplicity Cycle manifesto (the one which was published at ChangeThis.com). He liked it, and suggested that it might be something I'd want to turn into a book someday. Believe it or not, until he suggested it, the thought of doing a Simplicity Cycle book hadn't occurred to me.

As you probably know, I eventually did the book, and the rest is history... and I have Dan Pink to thank for it.

So, don't miss his article in this month's issue of Wired (and pick up his book too!)

Dentists

I like dentists just fine.

Most of the ones I've known have been friendly and helpful. They make uncomfortable things in my mouth go away. That's nice. Very, very nice.

But I hate... dental procedures.

I don't know why, but I have a really tough time dealing with them. It's purely psychological, I know, but there's something about having someone work on my teeth that just makes my skin crawl.

And now I've got a molar that is suddenly sensitive to cold... and feels strange when I bite down. Not painful, really, just pressure. For now. These things have a tendency to get worse, don't they? It's not like a cold, which gets better on it's own. Tooth issues generally require intervention. Darn.

So... off I go, to see a nice, friendly, helpful, highly skilled dental professional, to help make the uncomfortableness in my mouth go away.

(oh, I'm not looking forward to it!)

22 October 2007

All I Want For Christmas...

Since there are only 64 days until Christmas, I thought I'd pass along some stuff I want for Christmas.

I love food, so bake me some brownies, pumpkin bread, zucchini bread, etc.

I love French Toast Girl's artwork - and she's got prints and cards for sale in her little online shop.

Speaking of cards, I love real mail (getting and sending), so you could head over to Cafe Press and have your own cards printed, with what ever sorts of designs and artwork you can think of. Or you can check out the stuff I created in my own little Simplicity Cycle Shop at Cafe Press (more than just cards).

And if you want to do something really cool, buy one of my Boomer Sisters books and donate it to a local library, children's hospital or elementary school. Or pick up a copy of The Desert and donate it to a church library, etc. It's two gifts for the price of one! You can even have it shipped directly there.

Of course, these ideas probably work for giving to other people too, right? And that's sort of the point. I don't need a bunch of stuff (and most people don't either). Home made gifts don't have to be macaroni art - Cafe Press, Lulu, and talented artists like FTG are all sources of home made stuff that's high quality, interesting, etc.

So... what do you want for Christmas this year?

21 October 2007

Having everything...


Hugh McLeod, the guy behind the Gaping Void blog, does some very interesting artwork on the back of business cards. His site is profane almost as often as it's profound (so don't be too shocked if you visit), but I really, really enjoy most of what I find there.

So, in keeping with my previous posts about economics, consumerism, the "enough movement," and the like, I offer up one of my favorite of Hugh's cartoons. Just one more example of the truth that "we don't really want to have everything we want," and the inherent, inevitable failure of materialism as a path to happiness.

19 October 2007

Consumption & Production

Keith Giles has a great post on his Subversive website, about consumerism and personal identity. One line that really stood out to me was this:

Unlike the artisan who could express his or her identity through the things s/he created, we have learned to do so through the things we buy.

Wow. It's one of those things I think I knew, but hadn't seen put quite that way before. Another part of the post reminded me of my favorite definition of leadership (by Kevin Cashman): Leadership is authentic self expression that produces value.

And then there's this great little video on how to make "Mug Eggs" in the microwave in 2 minutes. I made them for Beth the other morning, and she loved them. It's fun to watch eggs cook in the microwave.

17 October 2007

Al Gore's Prize

I'm sure the pundits and commentators have already said all sorts of things about Al Gore's recent Nobel Peace Prize, and no doubt some of what I'm going to write has been said already... but I haven't really been plugged into the media much lately, so I'm not sure what's already out there.

Anyway, as I've said before, I saw Mr. Gore's movie and enjoyed it. I think it's definitely worth seeing. And I have come to deeply respect Mr. Gore's mission, passion, dedication and enthusiasm. I really think he's doing good work, and I was intrigued to see a short clip of him addressing the Senate (Congress?) in 1986, saying much the same thing he's saying today. The big difference is, people are listening now. How's that for persistence!

Having said that, I think he is a strange choice for the Peace Prize. Not a bad choice. Certainly not the wrong choice. Just a strange choice. According to Wikipedia, Nobel's will stipulated that the Peace Prize should be awarded "to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between the nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses."

That's not exactly what Mr. Gore's been doing. Yes, water is very likely to replace oil as the fluid of choice for future generations to fight over (and probably still in the Middle East). And Global Warming is likely to affect the water supply in places where clean drinking water is already terribly limited. So yes, fighting climate change is an indirect blow for peace... but rather indirect, don't you think? I'm not saying it isn't a peace issue - just that it isn't primarily a peace issue. It's been a while since I saw the movie, but I don't recall him talking war & peace very much.

So, I offer my congratulations to Mr. Gore on his award. I'm glad he's getting recognition for what is clearly his life's work. But I still think it was a rather strange selection.

Class at 4

Noted: It's very difficult to like a class that begins at 4pm.

Defense AT&L is Up

The latest issue of Defense AT&L is posted online, and this month, I've got another 2-page superhero comic! Check it out and tell a friend.

The editor also sent me a note yesterday to let me know there was a surprise for me on page 67. Guess what it was - they reprinted Chet Richards' review of my Simplicity Cycle book! What a cool surprise!

I'll post something about Al Gore's Nobel Peace Prize later (maybe tomorrow).

16 October 2007

Roosevelt's Hero Tales

Theodore Roosevelt is my favorite president, hands down. I often describe myself as a "Roosevelt Republican," which is QUITE different from today's variety. Roosevelt was an environmentalist, for starters. He was also a proponent of a strong military (the big stick, ya know), but despite the fact that critics called him militaristic and belligerent, when he was president the US military didn't fire a shot. In fact, TR was the first American to win the Nobel Peace Prize (and he won it for doing something directly peace-related: negotiating for peace in the Russo-Japanese War).

TR was also a prolific writer - and a wonderful writer at that. I'm currently reading "Hero Tales: How Common Lives Reveal The Heroic Spirit of America," which he co-wrote with his friend Henry Cabot Lodge. It's a great series of short historical snapshots and mini bio's of Americans, famous and obscure. Here's a short excerpt I read last night and which I found particularly interesting, from the introduction to a chapter titled "The Death of Stonewall Jackson":

The Civil War has left, as all wars of brother against brother must leave, terrible and heartrending memories; but there remains as an offset the glory that has accrued to the nation by the countless deeds of heroism performed by both sides in the struggle. The captains and the armies that, after long years of dreary campaigning and bloody, stubborn fighting, brought the war to a close, have left us more than a reunited realm. North and South, all Americans, now have a common fund of glorious memories.

We are the richer for valor displayed alike by those who fought so valiantly for the right, and by those who, no less valiantly, fought for what they deemed the right. We have in us nobler capacities for what is great and good because of the infinite woe and suffering, and because of the splendid ultimate triumph.

We hold that it was vital to the welfare, not only of our people on this continent, but of the whole human race, that the Union should be preserved and slavery abolished; that one flag should fly from the Great Lakes to the Rio Grande; that we should all be free in fact as well as in name, and that the United States should stand as one nation-the greatest nation on the earth. But we recognize gladly that, South as well as North, when the fight was once on, the leaders of the armies, and the soldiers whom they led, displayed the same qualities of daring and steadfast courage, of disinterested loyalty and enthusiasm, and of high devotion to an ideal.

I think his treatment of the South is both respectful and appropriate - recognizing the South was wrong, but in their error, still valiant, skilled and devoted. Similarly, I think his treatment of war is spot-on. It's full of horrors and heartache, but also courage and nobility. It's too easy to simply say war is bad or doesn't solve anything. There's more to it than that.

I'd love to hear what you think.

15 October 2007

Probability is funny

I'm taking a probability class, and I've learned some interesting things. For example:

A "random variable" is not random... and it's not a variable.
An "expected value" is quite often a value which you can't actually achieve (rolling 4.5 on a 6-sided die, for example).
The "compliment of success" sounds like a nice phrase, but it turns out the compliment of success is failure.

So much to learn!

13 October 2007

Chesterton, Simplicity and Happiness

Three of my favorite things: Chesterton, simplicity and happiness, all wrapped up in one sweet little quote:

"When men pause in the pursuit of happiness, seriously to picture happiness, they have always made what may be called a 'primitive' picture. Men rush towards complexity; but they yearn towards simplicity. They try to be kings; but they dream of being shepherds."
- G. K. Chesterton

12 October 2007

Measurements

I took the AF physical fitness test yesterday and scored another 2.5 points higher than last time. My total score was 89.5, so I was just 1/2 a point away from being in the "excellent" category. If I'd shaved 9 seconds off the run, I would have had another 1.5 points (and I think I would have done it too, if there'd been anyone running in front of me, but I was the fastest guy on the track). It's my highest score ever (again), and I'm very happy with the outcome. I maxed the pushups and situps and lost an inch on the "abdominal circumference" measurement.

But my point isn't to brag. I'm actually thinking about how & what we measure, and the decisions we make based on those measurements. See, in addition to doing very well on the test, I also calculated my Body Mass Index (BMI), just out of curiosity. For those who don't know, the BMI is basically a ratio of height and weight. My BMI is 27.6. Anything over 25 is considered "overweight." But here's the thing: the BMI was only intended to classify sedentary individuals with an average body composition (not active, athletic types) - and we're using it for a lot more than that.

In fact, Wikipedia says "BMI has been used by the WHO as the standard for recording obesity statistics since the early 1980s." Yikes! That sort of makes me wonder about the whole obesity thing. If a guy like me falls into the "overweight" category, I wonder how may people in the "obese" category really don't belong there. I have no idea or any data - I'm just skeptical.

Yes, there are a lot of big people around these days, but that's an anecdotal observation, not a statistical or scientific one. It seems to me we should define obesity as having something to do with body fat percentage... but that's a harder thing to measure than a simple height/weight ratio. Do we end up measuring what's easy, rather than what's meaningful?

Am I missing something here?

Humility & Integrity

The more I think about it, the more impressed I am by Barry Boehm's willingness to disavow the "spiral development model" he created - not because he came up with a better theory or found a flaw in the documentation, but because nobody could actually do it correctly.

Some people might have just blamed all those dumb practitioners, those silly program managers who don't know what they're doing and should have listened harder, tried harder, studied harder, and generally done things better. But Mr. Boehm recognized that a smart-sounding theory which can't be implemented isn't actually worth very much.

That's a remarkable demonstration of integrity and humility.

Now, it might be an apocryphal story. A professor has mentioned it in class a few times, but I haven't found any references to it online. I do hope it's true...

11 October 2007

Simplicity

I heard a great definition of simplicity the other day, from the Agile Alliance's "principles behind the Agile Manifesto."

"Simplicity - the art of maximizing the amount of work not done."

Yes!

Pushing Daisies

Just one more plug for the new TV show "Pushing Daisies." It's on Wed's at 8:00, but if you've got a DVR, who cares what day/time it's on, right?

It's gorgeously shot, very colorful, quirky, intriguing and a refreshing change from the Doctor and Lawyer shows which dominate the rest of the television schedule. Don't get me wrong - I really enjoy House and Boston Legal, but I think it's fantastic that the main character in Pushing Daisies is a pie maker (and it doesn't hurt that Kristin Chenowith is in it - she's very talented and has a great character in this show).

And what is it about medical and legal dramas? Aren't there other professions out there which could be turned into shows? It just seems like cops, lawyers and doctors are the easiest route...

Anyway, check out Pushing Daisies when you get a chance.

09 October 2007

Random notes from classes

a) Make sure you're building the right system before you ensure you are building it right (makes me think of the F-22, which is -in my opinion- the wrong system, built well).

b) A guy named Barry Boehm developed something called the Spiral Development model. He no longer endorses the model, because he says nobody does it correctly (i.e. it's an interesting theory that fails in practice). Guess what - we still (try to) use it anyway.

c) Several people have pointed out that cyber-technology today is at approximately the same state as airpower was in the 1930's / 40's (i.e. before the Air Force was an independent service). So some people are wondering if there should be some sort of independent Cyber Force. But just like airpower, I think people (specifically the senior-types) are waiting to see if this internet thing is going to catch on and/or be relevant before endorsing something like an independent Cyber Force (duh!). Even though we know airplane development would have moved along faster/better if the AF had become independent in the 1930's, when people first called for it, rather than waiting until 1947. Plus ca change...

07 October 2007

NaNoWriMo

There are good reasons for not doing National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Like, you don't really want to, you're not interested in writing, you don't have anything to say, or your writing activities are progressing in other ways. NaNoWriMo is not for the faint of heart - it's fun, but it's also exhausting and hard.

My point is, it's OK to not do it (particularly if you've done it before, you have other writing projects you're doing in different ways, etc).

But there are also bad reasons for not doing NaNoWriMo. Like, you're afraid it'll be too hard or too tiring. Or you don't think you'll be able to do it well. Or, you've always wanted to write, but aren't quite sure how to start. I'll tell you how to start: sit down and put words on paper. It really is that easy.

I do hope lots of you will join in with NaNoWriMo this year. I hope you'll have a lot of fun with it! But it's OK to not, of course...

03 October 2007

TV Update

I watched about 8 minutes of the Caveman show, which was a waste of about 4 or 5 minutes. I was really sort of hoping it would be funny, but sadly, after 8 minutes, we'd had enough and moved on. It was just too painful.

But there's some fantastic stuff on TV now. Have you seen Pushing Daisies - wow. Holy cow. It's gorgeous, funny, engaging, poignant and did I say gorgeous?

Also, the Big Bang Theory show makes me laugh out loud, frequently and often. I love geek humor.

Classes update

Day 2 of the Fall quarter is behind me, and Day 3 is today! I'm very, very excited about most of my classes (particularly one on Information Operations). I'm very not excited about my schedule on Tuesdays. I've got two 2-hour classes back to back, with a one hour class right before them and a one hour class at the end of the day (starting at 4pm). Six hours of lecture is quite a lot for one day, and by 5pm, I'm pretty wiped out.

The professors are all fantastic (although it's sort of weird to see a Major teaching the class - the same rank as I am). The course material looks challenging but do-able, and relevant to my future endeavors. It'll definitely be a time management challenge, keeping track of assignments, etc...

It's cool to be in school again.

Models

"All models are wrong. Some are useful."

- from a software class yesterday

02 October 2007

Busted Rim


Many of the streets around here have no shoulder at all. Like, the yellow line is painted right up against the grass, corn or beans. I'm not sure why the streets are so narrow like that, but there you go.

So, the other day my attention wavered for a split second, and my front tire slipped over the yellow line for a moment... right at a point where the non-shoulder was actually a pretty deep little hole. I managed to crack off a significant chunk of my rim.

Got home fine and a few hundred bucks later, the car is good as new (as far as I can tell). And the amazing thing is despite the damage to the wheel, the tire was untouched and didn't need to be replaced!

30 September 2007

Spitfire!

Kate Messner is a wonderful writer who lives across the street from my folks. She just published Spitfire, a great little historical fiction book about a girl who disguises herself as a boy to fight in the Revolutionary War on Lake Champlain. I had the chance to read part of it this summer and it's remarkable (can't wait to get a copy and read the rest).

Interestingly, the Spitfire (one of Benedict Arnold's gunboats) has a little cameo in my book The Boomer Sisters Meet Champy. Small world! Small lake!

Do check out Kate's blog and read about the wonderful success she's having with her books... then pick up a copy of Spitfire. It's good stuff!

I'll read it...

OK, here's one more incentive, for anyone sitting on the fence and not sure if you really want to try to write a novel in 30 days this November: If you join me in NaNoWriMo 2007 and write a novel (drumroll please): Send me a copy and I'll read it and I'll like it! I promise!

In fact, I'll even send you an email afterwards, telling you how much I enjoyed it. I'll be specific and encouraging and tell you you did good (even if the only thing I can think of is that I liked your choice of font).

So, whatta ya think, Kim (both Kim's)? How about you, Deb? Michelle? Tori? Ulla? Elena - aka French Toast Girl? Mandy? (Gosh, are all my blogreaders girls?)? Oh, and Glenn, I know you're out there - but you're already working on a novel, right? Mark - I've seen what you can write - come do this thing. Quaid & Gabe, you're already signed up - so go ask Stacey and Michele to do one too (or would two novelists in one house be just a little too crazy? I mean, who would cook?). How about you, Rhett? Rev? Andy? Eric? Mom? Dad? Come on, it'll be fun!

And any other lurkers out there?

Write a novel in 30 days. At least give it a try. You won't regret it, I promise. (seriously, can you imagine looking back on Dec 1st and thinking "Wow, I really wish I hadn't tried this."?)

29 September 2007

Write a novel with me!

OK, I'm talking myself into doing NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) this year, even though my schedule for Nov is a big unknown. I really have no idea how much homework & studying I'll need to do - but I figure, NaNoWriMo is crazy any year, so why should this year be any different?

I'm pretty sure I'm going to do it. And I'm inviting you to join me. You can get the details at the NaNoWriMo website, but here are a few tips from me:

1) Don't wait for a year or month when you think it'll be easy. It's never easy. It's not supposed to be easy. If this year isn't convenient, there's no reason to believe next year would be any more conveninet.

2) Spend the month of Oct thinking about the plot, characters, etc, and generally getting yourself ready. Collect ideas, names, events, twists, and whatever else you might need (all you really need is an interesting character or two, a starting point and an ending to shoot for. The rest will take care of itself). Decide if you're going to compose on paper (that's my suggestion) or on a computer (yeah, that works too).

3) Commit to writing every day in the month of Nov (I historically gave myself Sunday's off). Good writing is just bad writing rewritten, so give yourself permission to write terribly, knowing you can always go back and fix it later. Shorter sentences are usually better. The word "that" can almost always be deleted.

4) Take an interesting character and put him/her in as much peril as possible. Let nothing work out for him/her (until the end). That's a decent formula for comedy or drama, depending on how you spin it.

5) Have fun with it! Nobody is paying you to do this novel, your livelihood doesn't depend on it, there's no pressure - it's just for fun, so make sure you enjoy yourself. Go overboard! Neglect housework and sleep (you can sleep and clean in December).

Sign up at NaNoWriMo.org, and you'll get motivational messages throughout the month of November from authors like Tom Robbins. Yes, I said Tom Robbins (he's amazing - read "How To Write Like Tom Robbins" for more info on him).

Dylan Movie Generator


If you're my age, you're probably more familiar with INXS's video than Bob Dylan's, but apparently this Bob guy was the original version (heh).

Anyway, now there's a Bob Dylan Video Generator, where you can create your own message on those big white cards (as a way of spreading the word about Mr. Dylan's latest CD).

It's clever, catchy and fun. Give it a try!

28 September 2007

Damn, I'm Glad He Thought Of That...

My Simplicity Cycle got a mention on Andy Sernovitz's blog ("Damn, I Wish I'd Thought Of That!"). He had some very nice things to say about the book, and gave a nice brief description of the crazy little guerilla marketing experiment we're running.

Too fun!

NaNoWriMo 2007 and you?

Follow-up thought to my previous post - if I can't do NaNoWriMo this year, will you do it in my place?

Think about it... It's really a lot of fun!

NaNoWriMo 2007???

National Novel Writing Month is coming soon (November), and I'm not sure yet if I'm going to be able to do it. Not for lack of ideas, to be sure. That's never been the problem. I just don't know what my school life will be like, how intensive the classes, homework, etc will be - and I'm not sure when / whether I'd be able to set aside some time to write 30,000+ words.

In previous NaNoWriMo's, I'd get up around 5 and write for an hour or so each day before getting myself ready for work. Now I'm getting up at 5:30 on a regular day, to grab a quick shower before the kid's wake up... and then I get them both ready for school. So yeah, I could bump it up to a 4:30 wakeup time, but even for me, that's an uncivilized hour.

My new classes start on 1 Oct, so I'll have a few weeks to try and figure out if I can make it work. My daily schedule currently appears to have time during the day when I could write, at least theoretically. But I might need all that time for homework & studying. Or maybe I'll need to take a break from Systems Engineering periodically, and a fairytale novel might be just the thing.

I hope to be able to make a decision by 15 Oct. More to follow.

(I'm just so glad I already finished the third Boomer Sisters novel - the illustrations are currently underway, and the whole thing will be ready by Christmas, if not sooner).

Not dead yet...

Turns out my cold was just a flesh wound. I'm feeling better. I think I'll go for a walk.

I feel happy...

26 September 2007

So This Is Sickness...

I never get sick. I can't actually recall the last time I even had a cold. And when I do get the occasional cough or something, I just lay down for a few hours and then I'm all better.

Not this time.

Oh, I feel terrible. Fever, chills, headache, sore throat, fatigue... holy cow. I've already missed two days of work, and I'm going to miss tomorrow too. I know I'm very fortunate to have good health care (for all we complain about military health care, it's really not bad). I'm also very fortunate to have a beautiful wife here to take care of me and bring me medicine, take care of the kids, etc. And I'm fortunate that I'm able to miss work with no negative impact.

But my body sure doesn't feel very lucky right now. I know I'm not going to die or anything (it's just a cold), and maybe I'm one more example of guys being babies when they get sick, but wow, I feel awful. Back to bed for me now.

25 September 2007

Dan Ward's Day Off

I stayed home from school today, 'cause I was feeling sick. But first I got the kids off to school, 'cause they were feeling better. And once they were gone, I took a nap, then watched Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

What a great movie, and not just because of that snazzy sweater vest Ferris wears. It's a real touchstone film for my generation, and I think we all wanted to be Ferris (at least, I did). It was a perfect thing to watch on a stay-home-from-school sort of day.

I got a real kick out of seeing Ben Stein describe his scene (love those DVD extra's!) - apparently it was all improv'd, he'd never acted before, and to this day, he thinks his lecture about... anyone? anyone? the Depression... is actually interesting. He also commented that when he dies, the commentators won't talk about his 30 books or going to Yale Law, or writing a column for the WS Journal. Nope - they'll just say "Beuller... Beuller..." and that's alright with him.

It was a lot of fun to watch it again, both for the parts I remembered and the parts I'd forgotten. Of course, I would have much rather gone out to a fancy restaurant, caught a ball at a baseball game, looked at priceless works of art and then hopped up onto a parade float and sang some crazy songs, but unlike Ferris, I really was sick today.

24 September 2007

The Little Rock 9


Fifty years ago today, on September 24 1957, President Eisenhower ordered the 101st Airborne Division to Little Rock AR, in order to enforce school integration and protect the nine African American students who had enrolled at Little Rock Central High. Eisenhower also federalized the entire 10,000 member Arkansas National Guard, taking it out of the hands of Governor Faubus (who wasn't exactly cooperating with the whole integration thing). This is a story we should all review and ponder, in my opinion. It's an important historical event.

Instead, the news these days is full of stories about the "Jena 6," a name which seems to be an attempt to draw a comparison to the Little Rock 9. I don't claim to know all the details of either case, but it doesn't seem quite appropriate. The Little Rock 9 were fighting for civil rights. The Jena 6 were just fighting - and in a six-on-one fight, they beat some guy unconscious.

Yes, I know about the nooses and the "white's only" tree - that situation obviously wasn't handled well by anyone involved. Yes, the charges filed against these kids seem excessive, but it's worth noting that the only one who was actually tried had his conviction overturned. I agree, the justice system didn't work the way it should. It certainly seems like these kids were treated badly because of the color of their skin - and we can't sit back and let that happen. But is it really wise to hold up the Jena 6 as a civil rights rally point? They got a raw deal, yes, and we shouldn't tolerate or excuse it. But these six kids aren't exactly civil rights heroes. Not like the Little Rock 9. Not by a long shot.

Welcome home!

My lovely wife just returned from 5 days at the Mothers of PreSchoolers (MOPS) convention in Orlando, FL. We try to make sure Kim gets a getaway like this a few times a year, and while the MOPS convention isn't exactly a vacation (she's a Council Coordinator, so she had work to do at the convention), it's a nice change of pace from normal life.

Naturally, both kids came down with colds while she was gone, so all three of us missed school ('cause I had to stay home with them). We had a good time anyway, but weren't able to go out and do some of the things I'd had planned. Oh well!

And the funniest thing happened when Kim got home. The kids were tucked in bed, Kim and I were talking, and all of a sudden I got very, very tired. Like, bone tired - out of nowhere. It was like my body was saying "OK, she's home now, so we can shut down." After 5 days of constant care for two sick kids, where I was on alert 24X7 (well, 24X5)... I guess I was more wound up than I thought, and now that Kim was back, all that tension could go away.

I know this is something that moms experience all the time (I've been known to have an occasional business trip of my own), but it was interesting to go through it first hand myself.

Oh, and now I have the kid's cold... :)

23 September 2007

Very cool music


I've always been a fan of obscure, alternative music (back when "alternative" meant outside the mainstream). So I was thrilled to find WYSO's radio show Excursions. They play a remarkably eclectic variety of really good music I've never heard before, along with some stuff I'm familiar with...

One of the bands I've recently discovered is The Real Tuesday Weld, described as "oddball electronica meets Tin Pan Alley." Check them out on MySpace, and don't miss the song Bathtime In Clerkenwell. Holy cow it's catchy, fun, stick-in-your-head kind of music (and my kids like it too, even though none of us can make out a single lyric - which I think is sort of the point).

Anyway, it's cool to find this music out here in Ohio, of all places.

Farming Questions

When we first moved here a month ago, I loved driving past all the vibrant green cornfields and beanfields. It's cool to be in the middle of agriculture - sort of helps me remember where the food comes from, ya know?

But now I'm driving past bone-dry, yellow fields of corn and beans. It sure looks like the plants are dead (but I'm not a farmer, so I could be mistaken). And I know my own lawn isn't exactly growing much, which is cool because I don't have to mow it very often (and I don't need to eat the grass).

But the dry yellow crops leave me with many questions. Are the crops really as dead as they look, or is this what it's supposed to look like this time of year? And if they really did dry up and die, is irrigation really that expensive, difficult, etc (i.e. more expensive than losing the whole crop)? Or is this an area where irrigation is normally not needed, but Global Warming came along this summer and that extra two degrees dried up all the crops? Or is this just a normal part of farm life - some years, the crops get all dried up, so you try again next year? How does the economics of this work?

Any thoughts?

21 September 2007

Fighters

I saw a pair of F-16 fighter jets flying yesterday, and my girls asked where they were going to fight. I said they weren't going to fight anyone today - they were probably just going to practice. And then it hit me that being a fighter pilot is sort of like having a blackbelt in karate.

It's an admirable accomplishment, achieved by only a few. It's the result of a lot of work and training. It's impressive, teaches valuable skills like strength, patience, teamwork, etc, etc... but from a combat perspective it's also sort of irrelevant, because nobody really fights that way these days.

Yes, fighter pilots do engage in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, but not of the air-to-air variety. Their mission is almost 100% air-to-ground, and while that has its own challenges and dangers, it's not the same as an old-fashioned dogfight. I'm probably oversimplifying things a bit... but only a bit.

Feed the bees...

Our hummingbird feeder has become a bee-and-ant feeder. Bummer! We've seen the bee's chase the hummingbirds away, and haven't seen any birds lately at all.

We've tried a few tricks, like taking the feeder down for a while. We keep a spraybottle full of water near the window to spray bees when they're on the feeder. But still, it's been a while since I've seen any birds there... until this morning, when I saw one for a few seconds.

I'm glad to see the birds haven't given up on the feeder entirely. And I wonder why I'd rather feed the hummingbirds than the bees. I think I know why, but it is a bit funny...

20 September 2007

More photos

I don't have a "before" picture, but here's the after:

And here's the pile of brush:

The Joy of Saws


The front of our house was covered by a row of large cedar bushes. They blocked the front windows (and looked terrible from inside), so we decided to cut them down.

So I spent a good chunk of yesterday afternoon with a saw, cutting the bushes down. After spending most of the morning in front of the computer, it was great to go outside and do some sweaty, hard physical work. I really enjoyed doing it, in part because it was actually accomplishing something.

Some neighbors stopped by with an electric chainsaw, but fortunately I'd already cut down all but one of the bushes. To be polite (and out of curiosity), I used the chainsaw on the last bush. It was faster, yes, but not nearly as satisfying. It was noisy, and then the chain slipped off the gear as I was making the last cut (user error, I'm sure).

The guys who are installing our fence are going to haul away the brush and cut the stumps down (pretty sure they're going to use a chainsaw).

19 September 2007

The Problem Of The Rich

It's funny how often we (I!) would rather accept the spiritual dangers of physical wealth rather than accept the physical dangers of spiritual wealth... as if the physical world was somehow more real, more important or more lasting than the spiritual. I know, I know, it sure seems like it's more real, important, etc... I can hardly blame those who have that world view (that's me letting myself off the hook).

However, wise people across the entire spectrum of human history, geography and theology seem to concur that physical prosperity comes with some significant risk and an attachment to riches is not a good thing. Yeah, I know about the "prosperity gospel" types who say wealth is a sign of God's blessing... but I wouldn't put them in the "wise people" category.

Along those lines here are some interesting ideas from the Apr/May 2007 issue of Gilbert Magazine (please, go get a subscription if you haven't already!):

Why should not the poor visit the rich...? Chesterton was not concerned with their visiting the rich to learn how to be rich and how not to be poor. He though rather that the poor could teach the rich the dangers of being rich, something rather often mentioned in the New Testament...

The great "need" of the age of "philanthropy," Chestertson thinks, is a series of "missions to the rich," not to the poor. After close observance of the rich and their actual lives, "their gloomy, cynical, and lawless lives," one may still catch glimmers of hope in the lives of the rich. The great problem is to concentrate on the problems of the rich, not the poor.

The real problem of the poor is not primarily how to become rich. The problem of the rich is not necessarily how to become poor but how to become virtuous, whether rich or poor. The poor have something to teach the rich about the danger of riches. Chesterton says someplace else that the New Testament teaches that the worst environment for a man's soul is the environment of the rich.

Someday maybe I'll write a story about a convocation of poor people, having a conference to decide how to help address the needs of the rich... I'll probably write it, because I think I'd like to read that story.

18 September 2007

It's 11:30....

Saw a show the other week about SNL - sort of a retrospective, with lots of interviews with previous cast members, etc. It was a fun show (I love hearing creative people talk about their projects, processes, etc), but one line in particular jumped out at me.

Lorne Michaels , creator of SNL, said "We don't go on because it's ready. We go on because it's 11:30." He also said something about television with mistakes (i.e. live television) being more interesting than the polished, "perfect" recorded stuff...

I love the idea of moving out, doing something, doing your thing, just because it's time and the show must go on, not because you think it's all perfect and ready. There's something magic about that kind of pressure.

(and speaking of live television, remember when shows used to say "This show was filmed before a studio audience," as the opening credits rolled? Why did they feel compelled to tell us that, and why/when did they stop?)

16 September 2007

Much better!

Whew - church this morning was great. The usual pastor was back, and I do mean B-A-C-K! He hit so many of the Emerging Church touchpoints, it was almost like we were back in NY. Stuff like "we're not here to play church," and "the problem isn't a lack of knowledge, it's a lack of action." And we're supposed to be loving and serving people - that's what loving and serving God looks like.

The fancy words (which he didn't use) are orthopraxy and orthodoxy. The Emerging Church says orthopraxy (right living) is just as important as ortodoxy (right doctrine)... while traditional Evangelicalism has a tendency to emphasize the doctrine a wee-bit too much (occasionally to the point of questioning whether or not a person like Mother Theresa, for example, is "really saved," because we're not sure if she's "prayed the prayer." Yikes!). The thing is, we can make a mental assent to all sorts of doctrines and theological statements, but whether we actually believe it or not is proven by our lives and our interactions with the people around us.

Anyway, the pastor talked about Mother Theresa and Gandhi as examples of leaders who really put their beliefs into action, put others first, did not rely on positions of power, formal education, money, etc. He made me a bit nervous when he described leadership as being "influence," (without quoting my second-least-favorite-writer-in-the-world John Maxwell by name, thank goodness), but then went on to explain leadership in terms that lined up nicely with Kevin Cashman's definition of leadership: authentic self expression that creates value (best definition of leadership ever! Read my Punk Rock article from two years ago for more details).

Bottom line -I think we're going to stay with this place. The kid's program is great, the community is warm and active, and I think it's where we're supposed to be.

That's a beautiful thing.

15 September 2007

Learning Turkish

Two guys in my section are exchange officers from Turkey, so I'm picking up a few Turkish phrases. So far, I can say Hello, Good Morning, How are you?, I don't understand, That's all, I live in Istanbul, What is your name, Yes, and I would like some batteries. It's a real kick.

But the really fun part is seeing English through their eyes. In conversation with them, I'm forcefully aware of how many figures of speech and colloquialisms we use. "You're twisting my arm," for example. So I'm becoming more aware of what I say and how I say it. I can't imagine how difficult it must be for them to sit in classrooms, particularly when the instructors handwriting on the whiteboard is illegible. Thank goodness for powerpoint charts (never thought I'd write that phrase!).

14 September 2007

Changing Plans

When we moved to Ohio, we signed up for Vonage for our phone service. Sounded like a good idea at the time.

We're changing our phone service today, because, in a nutshell, Vonage wasn't working. Like, people would call and get a "that number is not in service" message (instead of going to voicemail). Or we'd be in the middle of a call and it would get dropped, because someone in the house opened up a new window of IE Explorer. It's not supposed to work that way.

Ciao, Vonage.

Change of plans...

So I've been thinking about writing a swords & sorcery novel (Rogue Swords) for a while. I've mentioned it here once or twice, and did a little initial work on it (characters, parts of the plot, etc).

But I think I'm going to put it (back) on the back burner, and writing something else instead.

We went to see Stardust last night - what a cool movie! And afterwards, I sort of got some inspiration for the fairytale I've been thinking about, The Helper In The Sun.

The funny thing is, the fairytale started out with the title. Last night I finally figured out what the title means. I discovered who the Helper is, so it's starting to come together. Most significantly, I figured out why I'm writing the story.

One of the things slowing me down on the Rogue Swords book was that I didn't know why I was writing it (other than that it might be fun), or who I was writing it for. With the Helper story, I know I've got at least two readers automatically (my kids). I know what the point is and I know my motivation. Maybe I'll have a reason to write the Rogue Swords book someday, but not just yet...

More to follow!

13 September 2007

Happy Birthday!

Happy birthday to my lovely wife!

12 September 2007

Oh No!

One of the hardest things about moving is leaving behind our church and trying to find a new one in the new location (and hooking up the drier vent is a close second).

We loved our church in NY, and as I've mentioned, it was an "emerging church" sort of place. This whole emerging thing is still sort of new and rare and small, making it a bit more difficult than ususal to find a place.

Two Sundays ago we went to a church and it felt like a really good fit. It's fairly evangelical in a lot of ways, but had many emerging-ish attributes. And then this past Sunday we went back and it wasn't good. Not good at all. Like, it made my skin crawl and made me want to get up and leave. There was a guest preacher, a good-ole-boy football coach with an old-time-religion sort of approach. I'm sure he's a nice guy and he loves Jesus and all that, but yikes.

I hope this coming week is better...

10 September 2007

Decisiveness, Writing & Leadership

I'm starting to do some layout work for the sword & sorcery novel idea I've been kicking around. So far, I'm sketching out the characters, the world and starting the plot. I think I've mentioned it before, but I'm struck by how many decisions are required when you write a novel.

The author has to bring a lot to the table, and has to decide everything. What's the weather like? What's the geography? What are the names of the main characters, the minor characters? Which ones don't get names? What weather doesn't get mentioned? How much detail do you provide, how much do you not include?

And then you get to live with the consequences of your decisions. The early decisions become building blocks for later decisions... and you have to know when to go back and revisit / undo some of those decisions.

So it struck me that writing a novel has a real parallel to leadership. I generally dislike talking about Capital-L Leadership (because so much that's written about it is junk)... but just this once, I'll say that if you want to hone your leadership skills, consider writing a novel.

08 September 2007

Fun With Java

One of the "refresher" courses I'm taking this month is on Object Oriented Design. I put refresher in quotes, because I've never done anything with Java before, so it's more of an introduction than a refresher. I mention it because our textbook is O'Reilly's "Head First Java."

It's the best text book I've ever had.

It's funny, snarky, engaging and wonderfully illustrated. In fact, I'm even taking a quick break from reading it to blog about it.

Here's an example of why I love the book. They're explaining that "methods can return values," and the example they provide looks like this:

int theSecret=life. giveSecret() ;
int giveSecret() {
return 42;

This example is hilarious in a geeky, rather subtle & obscure way. Do you see the humor there? If not, you probably haven't read Douglas Adam's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. That book reveals that the secret to life is 42...

Little things like that really make me pay attention to the examples, looking for more hidden reference to geek pop culture, etc. It's a remarkably effective approach to this whole thing. It's a great design.

OK, back to studying now.

06 September 2007

New Mornings

Now that school has started for everyone (me and both kids), I'm getting used to the new morning schedule. I'm struck by how early I have to get up and how late my morning actually starts.

That is, I'm struck by how late *my* morning starts... I'm up by 5:30 (or a bit later), and after a quick shower, shave, etc, I go make sure B is up and dressed (by around 6:15)... J gets up a lot easier. Then it's time to get the kids dressed, fed, combed, make lunches, etc, and get out the door by 7 to put B on the bus... back inside for a quick look at email while J watches Mr. Rogers, and around 7:50 we head out to J's school... then I finally get to my own campus by 8:30, for a 9am class...

So there's a lot going on before I'm able to really start doing my stuff... Whew!

Death By Bullets

The latest issue of Defense At&L is posted online, and my "Death By Bullets" film-noir-style story is in it. I wasn't able to grab the link to the actual article -just the link to the list of articles, so you'll have to scroll down a bit...

I just re-read it, and it still makes me laugh. I hope you enjoy it!

05 September 2007

Rediscovering Mr. Rogers

http://sandrsingingtelegram.tripod.com/sitebuildercontent/sitebuilderpictures/.pond/mrrogers.jpg.w300h295.jpg

My 4 year old has recently started watching Mr. Rogers in the mornings. She talks about him being her neighbor, etc. The other afternoon, we were talking about Mr. Rogers and she said "He told me he was going to have some new ideas for me." (from the ending song).

I've been able to watch it with her lately too, which is great. I'm struck by how good and relevant and engaging the show still is. I've also noticed that Mr. Rogers had an interesting physicality - he often looks sort of awkward... child-like, even. The way he handles materials and objects, the way he interacts with his world - I wonder if that's just the way he was naturally, or if he was intentionally moving around the way a kid moves.

Anyway, it's a heck of a show. If you haven't watched it lately, I recommend checking it out, for old time's sake.

01 September 2007

Fractal Simplicity

The boundary of the Mandelbrot set is a famous example of a fractal.


I've been thinking about something Terry Bleizeffer wrote in the review of my Simplicity Cycle. Actually, it's two things, but they're basically revolving around a single idea.

"...different parts of a product are probably following their own paths - some in simplify mode and some in add feature mode, so a single line doesn't really represent a whole product."

and

"The place where complexity becomes too much is different for different users (and sometimes radically different). So the graph is really representing the perspective of one user group.
"

These are very insightful observations, and I rather agree with both of them. But, here's the missing piece, which I should probably add if/when I do a revised version of the book: The Simplicity Cycle is sort of like a fractal. (Ironically, Wikipedia says fractals are "infinitely complex").

That is, if you zoom in on a product, experience, design, system, etc, you'll find the sub-parts go through a similar cycle, perhaps on their own somewhat-independent timeline. A single chart actually does represent a whole product - but it doesn't necessarily represent each sub system, because the sub-systems have their own cycles. As Terry pointed out, the graph certainly represents the perspective of one user or one user group - but it can also scale up to represent the perspective of a very large user group.

My point is this: it's not an either-or situation. In a large-scale design effort, the Simplicity Cycle describes what happens to the entire system, the larger "system of systems" and the smaller sub-systems... not that they all go through the cycle at the same time or in the same way, just that they all go through it.

As a general rule, I'm pretty skeptical of bivalent logic and the "law of the excluded middle." I guess it's my post-modern roots showing through, but it seems to me that life is seldom an either-or proposition.

31 August 2007

Oh Yeah!

Watched a somewhat goofy "World's Funniest Commercials" show last night, and one really stood out: It's about some kids and a train - watch it here.

Definitely worth the time!

30 August 2007

It's a Flat World?

One of the first things that struck us about Ohio is how flat it is around here, particularly when we flew in. Our house in NY was on a big hill - so steep, in fact, that the kids weren't really able to ride their bikes. And of course we've been around the Adirondacks for quite a while.

So our house here is on a much flatter place. At least, that's what I thought until I went for a run through the neighborhood.

Turns out "flat" isn't quite the correct word. We're at the top of a bit of a hill after all - and the last few minutes of my run can be pretty rough...

No pain, no gain, right? Whew!

29 August 2007

Starting School Again

I spent 12 years getting ready to go to college. By the time I got there, I was pretty much at the top of my game, academically speaking.

It's been 13 years since I graduated, and now I'm back in the class room again. Yes, I picked up my first master's degree doing the night school thing - but even that was 7 years ago.

This will be interesting.

I took a "math assessment" test today, trying to demonstrate how much calculus I remember. There were 50 multiple choice questions, worth 2 points each. By the end, there were 5 questions that I knew I definitely got right... so when I found out I got 18 right and my final score was 36, that meant I "guessed real good" on 13 questions.

Most of the material looked familiar - it's things I'm pretty sure I used to know. But there were a few questions on topics I'd never seen before. There were even a couple questions I wouldn't have been able to read out loud (yikes!). Fortunately, we'll spend the month of September doing refresher courses, before the real stuff starts on 1 Oct.

Like I said, this will be interesting.

Simplicity Cycle Review!

the User Experience Soapbox blog wrote a very nice review of my Simplicity Cycle book. Here's a short excerpt:

I also like that it helps answer the question, "Hey, my product is complex AND successful, so why should I worry about design?" There's a limit to how many features you can add to a product before they become self-defeating. When your customers start to request features that are already in your product, it's a safe bet that adding even more features is going to be trouble.

28 August 2007

NaNoWriMo 2007?????

I'm not sure how I'll be able to do NaNoWriMo 2007.

They say the academics are pretty intense around here, but that's not the main obstacle. Rather, it's the fact that I have to get B up at 6 to get her ready for the bus, which comes a little after 7. That means I'm up by 0530 on a regular day, just to make sure I have enough time for a shower, shave, etc before I start rounding up the youngsters...

I could try getting up at 0430 to write, but I'm not sure that's going to work.

Yes, I've already completed one Boomer Sisters novel this year (The Boomer Sisters In The City), during DaNoWriMo. It's being illustrated as we speak. But I was sort of thinking I'd do NaNoWriMo again anyway, either to do the 4th Boomer Sister book (final BS book?) OR... to do the sword & sorcery novel I've been thinking about for the past year or so.

I'll have a better idea what my schedule will be like by October, when classes start for real and life settles down a bit. But I should really have a plot outline before November. And that means I should pick which book to write. And as I said, at this point, I'm not sure if I'll get to do it at all... (at least not in November...)

Watch this space.

27 August 2007

Sam Adams

I'm sitting here enjoying a delicious Samuel Adams Octoberfest brew, after mowing my new lawn for the first time. I mention this because 1) I don't drink beer very often and 2) There's a reason I'm drinking Sam Adams and not some other kind.

Why did I pass over "Rogue Brew" (!), in favor of Sam? Frankly, it's the commercials.

The commercials are honest, informative, human and engaging. They show the actual brewers, and they talk about how and why they make the beer. Why do they use brown bottles for every brew? Why don't they use screw-top caps? And did you notice the carton for holding the bottles is tall? There's a reason for it all - and I learned it in a 30 second spot.

It doesn't hurt that the beer lives up to the ads. It's good stuff...

26 August 2007

85 Copies!


I signed 85 copies of my Simplicity Cycle book last night, and boxed them up to mail to Olin College on Monday. It was fun to see so many copies in one place, and even more fun to know that each one was paid for and destined for a student might actually read it!

I hope they find it useful on their journeys of design...

Hummingbirds!


We've got a family of hummingbirds living in our backyard. I know a group of crows is called a murder and a group of finches is called a charm. What do you call a group of hummingbirds? A chorus? A choir? Anyway, I've seen as many as 3 at once - guess it's a trio of hummingbirds.

I haven't figured out how to edit photos on my Mac yet, but I figured I'd post this shot anyway. It's through a screen, so sorry for the fuzziness.

At any rate, I'm really enjoying watching these little guys.

Code Monkey

I just heard a song titled Code Monkey by Jonathan Coulton on the radio the other day, and it's a lot of fun. Found a few different videos on YouTube, but my favorite is this one (so bad, it's good).

Do check it out... I'm not even a coder and I love it. :)

25 August 2007

Polymaths

I tend to agree with Heinlein when he said "Specialization is for insects," and I think I even mentioned that concept already.

So, I was delighted to learn a little more about the diverse skills and accomplishments of a true polymath whose work I have admired for years. I'm talking, of course, about the remarkable John Lithgow. I still remember seeing him receive an Emmy for his work on Third Rock From The Sun - with great joy and enthusiasm, he noted that he would never be taken seriously as a dramatic actor ever again, a fact which did not seem to disturb him in the slightest. I recently found out he actually has four Emmy's, two Tony's, etc, etc. And in addition to movies, plays and television, he's also a musician and a writer. His books for children are fantastic - I'm particularly fond of The Remarkable Farkle McBride. He's got a new book of poetry coming out soon. Wow!

Check out the Q&A on Lithgow's website.

I'd put Mr. Lithgow right up there with the multi-talented Will Smith, who does comedy, drama and action, television and movies, music... and for all I know has written a book or two...

And of course, my admiration for these men is in line with my admiration for a couple of other, much older polymaths - G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis. While their accomplishments were primarily literary, Chesterton was actually a fantastic artist in addition to a writer, and both wrote in a bewilderingly diverse range of genres, from theology to children's stories, fiction and mysteries and travellogues and academic tomes.

Yeah, that's the kind of stuff I want to do.

Books, part 1

Got a big-ish shipment of copies of my Simplicity Cycle book, to send around to a bunch of people (Andy - they're coming your way). Still waiting for the remaining 81 to show up, so I can autograph them all before sending them off to my first "big" customer!

Whee!

Look, Ma - No Wires!

After a somewhat-longer-than-expected delay, our wireless router showed up, and after somewhat-more-work-than-expected, I got it hooked up last night, so we're wireless!

I still need to go pick up a receiver/wireless card or something to get our PC online (It's way upstairs, and the cable doesn't reach that far), but at least we're not limited to working at the kitchen counter anymore (I'm on the couch in the TV room now - whew!).

One of the reasons for the delay is we went with Vonage for our phone service, so I couldn't monkey with the modem and wireless router while the phone was being used...

But we got it done. So, for those of you keeping track at home, that's 382 tasks completed, only 2,542,345,927 left to do!

24 August 2007

Comment Spam

For some reason, a company named Gateways International Movers offered to help me move - by leaving a comment on a blog post that talked about the fact that we'd already moved (Dan Is In The House). They wrote:

Gateways International Movers will guide your relocation effectively.

At Gateways International, we understand that shipping your belongings is one of the most complex and sensitive concerns, while moving worldwide...

blah, blah, blah.

What Gateways International Movers apparently doesn't understand is when I write "I'm in the house," that means I've already moved, so I don't need their services. Also, as a general rule, I tend to think a blog's comments section is a lousy place for a commercial advertisement, but if you're going to do it, at least read the post...

But really, this is a place for people to have a conversation. If your only contribution is "Moving? Did someone say moving? At Gateways International, we understand that shipping your belongings..." then you're not really part of the conversation, are you? If you're not listening/reading and understanding, with all due respect, please butt out.

I might have responded more positively if they'd 1) found a post that said "I'm moving in a few months," and 2) Posted something along the lines of "Hi, I'm Bob from Gateway Movers. We're a new/established/big/small/whatever moving company, and we'd love to help you move..."

That's what the blogosphere is about.

23 August 2007

Bad Designs!

I really like the new area, love the house, and am thrilled with the assignment (getting paid to learn? Are you kidding me? Does it get any better?)

But my house is haunted by several instances of Bad Design.

The built-in microwave, for example. I have to push the "cook time" button, then turn a knob (?!?!) which advances the time in 15 second increments. Apparently I'm not allowed to cook something for 10 seconds. Nope, it's gotta be 15 seconds. Then I push the knob to "select" the cook time. Then I push the start button. Figures the microwave is built-in...

I needed to adjust the hot water heater temperature. That meant cutting the power to the water heater, then unscrewing two different panels, both of which were held in place by phillips head screws. Underneath the panels, apparently next to high voltage lines, was a flathead screw I could turn to adjust the temp. At our old place, there was just a knob... Oh, and it's not like it's an old heater. It was installed in 2005.

There are others, but the Colbert Report is on...

Good news!

The drier is all set! The coffee maker is set! We found the toaster (in a box labeled "toyes")!

Oh, and we figured out why the washing machine always seemed so hot. Turns out the blue knobbed faucet is the hot water, and the red knob is cold water. Of course it is!

Get 'er done...

I imagine I'll be unpacking boxes, repairing/replacing household things, attending briefings & classes, etc for many more days to come.

That means I won't be sitting down at a computer very regularly, often, or for very long.

That also means I'm not sure when my blogging will get back to normal. But as things get settled I'll find a new pattern and will pick up the blog thing again like before. No worries.

For now I'll just mention that I'm a section leader here at AFIT, responsible for watching over 15 other students, including two from Turkey. I've also met officers from Argentina and Australia. I'm having a great time, and am looking forward to the real work beginning.

As my lovely wife put it, things are going slowly, very fast. :)

21 August 2007

Mental Bandwidth

I'd forgotten how much mental bandwidth is eaten up by moving, settling in, etc. My brain is full of Things To Do, like fix the #$%^$# drier vent (again and again), install/replace window shades, change the addresses on everything (credit cards, magazines, utilities), find schools, pizza joints and figure out how to get from A to B when the main road is closed down... whew! You'd think I didn't know anything at all about simplicity.

I know I'll do some serious writing again some day, and I know it only feels like it's been forever, but wow, I suddenly realize I didn't really appreciate my job in NY and how much mental freedom I had...

But we'll get the boxes empty and the routine established again sometime soon. Well, maybe not soon, but sometime.

20 August 2007

Signs, Signs, Everywhere Signs...

I didn't plan it, but I seem to have taken a series of photos of signs, which I now present for your viewing pleasure:

"Wait for green light?" Um, isn't that always the rule?

Saw this one in a little coffee shop - it made me laugh.


Mmmmmm, warm soda! (Did they really think that sign makes sense?) And what's even funnier, the sign is right above jugs of juice!

Found these three signs in a shop, arranged just like this. They sort of sum up my life philosophy.

Moving Is Like War

It struck me the other day that moving is a bit like war.

It's exhausting.
It's destructive and expensive. We've thrown away, left behind and otherwise had to replace a LOT of stuff that was perfectly good (trashcan, pooper-scooper, salad dressings, propane tank, etc)
It should not be done lightly, and should be avoided if at all possible.
It's sometimes absolutely necessary and unavoidable.
It's an adventure.
It involves painful losses and opportunities for heroics.
Even when it's over, there's a lot of cleaning up to do.
You feel so much better when it's over.

Next week: How Moving Is Like Hitting Yourself In the Head With A Hammer

Firsts...

I cooked our first dinner-in-the-house last night (chicken, tortellini and broccoli with pesto - even the kids like it!). This morning I went for my first run (in a long time). Tomorrow is B's first day of school. Wed is my first day of real inprocessing.

We've got chairs, a coffee maker, silverware and (just in time for dinner last night) real plates!

Now if I could only find the toaster...

18 August 2007

Progress...


We've got sheets on the beds, chairs around the table, and both kids' rooms are all finished and ready to play!

Next up - find the coffee maker! Get the kitchen put together so I can (finally) start cooking again. Oh, and finish hooking up the !@##$%^& drier vent (spent all day on it yesterday - and it's not finished yet).

Oh, and I've got firefox now too!

So much to do - why am I blogging? 'Cause everyone else is still asleep, and I don't want to make any noise...

Simplicity Cycle & MAKE magazine

In all the craziness with the move, I never got around to mentioning that the Simplicity Cycle was featured in MAKE Magazine's "Tip's N Tools" (TNT) eNewsletter. It starts out like this

Dear Readers,

Ah, the dog days of summer...days where it truly is "dolce far niente," sweet to do nothing. I'm talking about RSS (Really Simple Stuff) here. None of these reviews are particularly dramatic or about complicated things; they're about simple stuff done well. Like a flight tracker that actually works, or a site that lets you skip out on pesky email registrations for online stores. The Simplicity Cycle, by Dan Ward, takes simplicity even more seriously; it's a whole book about elegance in design (as a result of, well, uncomplicatedness). The other reviews are about using the things around you in new ways to make your life easier (heck, you don't even have to go to the store since you probably have a spice rack and some grey tape lying around the house or garage). If cleanliness is next to godliness, then simplicity must be next to sweetness. With heat waves in most of the country, doing "nothing" seems like a pretty good idea right now.

Cheers,
Arwen O'Reilly
Staff Editor, Make Magazine
http://makezine.com

And then goes on to give a little review of the book, written by none other than my good buddy Gabe! You can read his review here.

16 August 2007

Mac Blogging

I like my mac, but I've noticed some strange things when I'm online. For example, Blogger doesn't show the text editing options (bold, italic, colors, etc). All I've got is a spell check button and a photo insert button. There's a preview link, but no "edit HTML" link.

Similarly, in Gmail, the "reply" button is only at the bottom of the message - using IE there was a reply button at the top of the message too...

Oh well, I'll have my PC back soon.

Dan is In The House!

I'm officially in my new house, and on "casual status" until 22 Aug. The movers were supposed to be here between 8 and 9, so I got the kiddo's up very early, fed them breakfast and drove here from the hotel... then got a call saying the truck would be here around 10... ugh!

But, it's good practice, because it looks like Beth's bus will pick her up around 7:10 each morning... wow! In NY, she'd still be in bed at that time! Mornings around here will be very different than they used to be. Will be interesting to see how NaNoWriMo goes!

The drive from NY to OH was fine - but don't let me ever do that again, ok? Google said 9.5 hours - which translated into 12 for us, once we added in food and potty breaks. So, we got here at 9pm Monday night, horribly tired and a bit dizzy... The kids were fantastic troopers throughout. We're very, very blessed parents.

Got a tour of AFIT yesterday - I felt like Hermione on her first day at Hogwarts (yes, in Harry Potter, I'd be Hermione). Pardon my geekiness, but I'm SO EXCITED to start classes, even if I probably won't learn the petronus charm. Technical refresher classes begin in Sept, and real class begins 1 Oct. Did I mention that I'm SO EXCITED?

Went to the commissary yesterday - first time in 7+ years we got to do that! Prices were great, but we still managed to spend quite a lot. We're moving some serious coin around these days, between selling and buying a house, eating in restaurants, moving, gas, etc. I'm really looking forward being able to cook again.

And I saw a little girl across the street yesterday, looked to be around the same age as my two... so hopefully we'll be able to swing over and say hello later.

So here I am, with the kids in an empty house - but fortunately we've got an internet connection. Oh, and we went with Vonage for the phone service. I like it so far. Ask me again in a month or so.

And what do I miss the most? Chairs. Definitely chairs. Or really, anything to sit on...

11 August 2007

Whew...


Here I am in the Red Roof Inn, after a crazy, exhausting week, finally making my first post with the new mac laptop... so many stories to be told, so many funny photos to take... but it's late and I haven't had internet connectivity for a while, so I'll just post a quick photo and go to bed.

07 August 2007

The Packers are coming! The packers are coming!

As the title of this post suggests, the packers are coming to Chez Ward tomorrow morning. They're going to put an enormous quantity of my prized possessions into countless cardboard boxes. The computer will go too.

So, I'm guessing I won't be blogging much for the next week or so...

I'll write again when I get to Ohio.

Frenchtoast Fun!

And lest this blog turns into all serious economic discussions and stuff, let me say what a fantastic post French Toast Girl had on her blog today. Yeah, it's about living well, but with a very fun, artsy, lively bent.

Forget distributism. Go read French Toast Girl, then walk around outside in your PJ's!

The Enough Movement

"I have enough. I will keep striving, because to strive is an essential part of being human, but I am not going to strive for more."

I've been thinking and blogging (not necessarily in that order) about economics, distributism and related topics for a while now. In the back of my mind a crazy little idea has been taking shape, influenced by guys like E.F. Schumacher and G.K. Chesterton. I'm calling it "The Enough Movement," and in the relatively near future I'm hoping to put it together in some sort of coherent, comprehensive-ish form. Maybe a manifesto on ChangeThis. For now, I'll just post a few bits and pieces here and there.

This Enough idea is fundamentally about three things: contentment, gratitude and generosity. It's about doing what you can, producing a manageable amount - enough for me/my family and some to share, either by selling at a fair price or giving it away, so that others can have enough too. It's about having good priorities.

As I previously mentioned, I don't want to be rich - I want to be happy, and from what I've seen, riches tend to decrease happiness, not increase it.

The funny thing is, I'm not sure I'd really want to be part of this "Enough Movement." On some level, I still associate more with better, more with happier. Previous posts notwithstanding, I sort of do want to be rich. Also, I've got a family to provide for, and I still think they'll be happier if I can give them more (and I'll be happier too). So I'm still working this out, in my own head and my own life. I think I'd like to take some sort of vow of poverty, if I could do so without subjecting my family to it... but maybe that's just a convenient excuse for not doing it. Who knows?

Schumacher wrote "The aim should be to obtain the maximum well being with the minimum consumption." I suspect the link between well being and consumption is indeed inversely proportional (after a point).

He also wrote "the essence of civilization [is] not in a multiplication of wants but in the purification of character," and he bemoans the way "our fathers luxuries become our necessities."

So, I'm wondering - what am I going to do about it. We'll see.

06 August 2007

I'm a Mac...

I just got my very first Mac. It's a MacBook, and I'm in love.

All I've done so far is turn it on and poked around for about 10 minutes. I took some silly pictures of myself (yes, you'll probably see them later). I opened Garage Band and ComicLife, but haven't even connected it to the internet yet.

It's a beautiful machine. Even plugging it in was fun.

I'm so excited!

Freeways Aren't Free

I've never really thought much about roads (have you?). Even though I drive on them all the time, I never spent much mental energy thinking about how much it costs to build and maintain them, who pays for it, etc. I sort of assumed freeways were some kind of divine right, without giving it much thought. If I thought of them at all, I guess I thought of them as some sort of community commons, benefiting everyone equally. It turns out I was probably wrong.

The Distributist Review has a fascinating entry today about free markets and freeways. It begins by asking for a definition of "free market," then explores one example of a government subsidy: freeways.

"Of course the government should build the roads; that's what governments do." Yet, gentle reader, would you not be surprized if we shifted the focus just slightly, and spoke of "free railways" or free airlines"? Any yet, why should one form of transportation be so privileged over these others? The point here is not that the government shouldn't be involved in the road-building business; that may be the most convenient way to do it. Rather the point is to determine who should pay for them, and how. Three-fourths of all "social justice" issues are simply a matter of accurate cost-accounting; that is, of allocating costs back to those who cause the costs.

He concludes with the following thought:

As it turns out, nothing is quite as expensive as a freeway. But on the other hand, nothing is more conducive to self-respect than paying your own way. One measure of a free market is that each person pays for what he or she consumes.

It's a provocative position, this assertion that people should pay for what they consume, or that the poor should not be taxed in order to support the rich, or that economists should think about thinks like morality, self-respect or social justice.

He's blowing my mind. I hope you'll surf over to The Distributist Review and read that posting.

05 August 2007

A Few Comments on Comments

Like most bloggers, I love getting comments. It lets me know that someone is out there and gives me an opportunity for this to be a discussion, rather than just a series of short monologues. Comments are very good.

If you leave a comment, I usually post a reply, so be sure to check back. I definitely hope John from Australia read my response to his comment about my Crazy Horse post, for example.

It's also OK to not leave comments. You're welcome to just stop by occasionally, check out the posts, and then move on. Don't feel bad if you don't have the time, etc to leave a note. It's ok - really!

03 August 2007

Total Annihilation: Kingdoms

This morning, rather than blogging or writing (as I should be), I've decided to play Total Annihilation: Kingdoms, a crazy little epic medieval warfare video game...

One last chance before the kiddo's come home and the move starts in earnest.

See ya later.

02 August 2007

One more Schumacher quote

In Small Is Beautiful, Schumacher writes about giving "a new direction to technology development, a direction that shall lead it back to the real needs of man, and that also means: to the actual size of man. Man is small, and therefore, small is beautiful. To go for giantism is to go for self-destruction."

Small Is Beautiful

I'm about 1/2 way through E.F. Schumacher's wonderful book Small Is Beautiful. I'm really, really, really enjoying it. It's not so much that he's a genius or an amazing writer as much as that he is a genuine human, and he writes with real warmth, insight and relevance.

The book is about macroeconomics, and it's downright engaging. He talks about things like courage, romance, faith and hope... but not in an irritating, wishy-washy, touchy-feely way. In a regular human way. Without using the word "distributist," he lays out a very strong case for distributism.

And, imagine my satisfaction when I read the following line:

"Any third rate engineer or researcher can increase complexity; but it takes a certain flair of real insight to make things simple again."

Hmmm... where have I read that concept before? In my own Simplicity Cycle book, perhaps?

01 August 2007

BJ's Dream

An excerpt from The Boomer Sisters In The City, the third volume in the Boomer Sisters series. It's almost ready to be sent to the illustrator... and the finished book should be ready by Christmas (if not sooner).

In this scene, the older sister (BJ) has a dream. Jekka is her younger sister. The imagery probably makes more sense if you've read the first 1/2 of the book, but I think you'll get the general sense...

That night, BJ dreamed she was riding a silver unicorn through the streets of New York City. Jekka was with her, dressed like Tonto and singing Silver Bells over and over again. They came around a corner and found a tall, skinny, bald man in a gray suit. He had huge paint brushes instead of hands, and they were dripping with white paint. He moved his arms up and down, laying wide strips of white paint on every building he could reach. The paint made the buildings disappear, and BJ somehow knew that if he painted the whole city, Jekka wouldn’t be able to sing.

A tiny man in a brown robe appeared. He was carrying a bell, and he winked at BJ, then began running towards the paint brush-handed man, waving his bell over his head and ringing it loudly. The little man rang his bell louder and louder, but BJ’s alarm clock woke her up before she found out what he was going to do.

Thoughts on "The Simplicity Cycle "

All my books are basically experiments. They are attempts to understand something, to make something, and to communicate at least some of that something to the world outside my own head. I write them for my own amazement and my own amusement, and am always thrilled to hear that other people find them worthwhile.

Chet Richards' recent review of The Simplicity Cycle got me thinking about that book in particular. His review really captured what the book was about and what I was trying to do with it. A positive review is nice to have, but a positive review that praises the book for all the right reasons - that's priceless.

The Simplicity Cycle, as Dr. Richards pointed out, is not a cookbook. I wasn't trying to instruct and inform so much as to guide and stimulate. The "examples" are really provocations intended to plant seeds of ideas which can flourish if given time and thought. I was aiming to remind more than to instruct, and, in the original sense of the word educate, to draw-out ideas and concepts from within people's minds. I was aiming to lead people forward, to the next step of design wisdom.

The book is theory, not practice, but it's practical theory. It is, in a sense, metaphysical, or at the very least philosophical. It is about subjective judgments, opinions, and shoulds, rather than objective analyses of mechanical optimization.

And it was a ton of fun to write!