31 January 2007

Young Muslims & Sharia Law

A recent poll in the UK reports "one in three British Muslims aged between 18 and 24 said they would rather live under Sharia law than under British law."

As far as I can tell, nothing is stopping these young Muslims from following the dictates of Sharia law (just as nothing is stopping the Olin students from finishing early - see previous post). They can wear the headscarves, avoid pork, worship, fast during Ramadan, marry one wife, give to charity, etc, etc. OK, so they can't amputate the hands of theives, but is that the part of Sharia they really miss the most?

My impression is not that these young believers want to live under Sharia law so much as they want the people around them to do so. I suspect they don't want their own hands amputated if they steal something - they want it to happen to someone else.

The bottom line is not so much that they want Sharia law to be applied to themselves, because they can do that already. They actually are expressing a desire to enforce Sharia law on people who do not want it and who do not believe as they do. That's the part that bugs me...

Of course, the other possibility is that we're misunderstanding the poll results. Maybe what they mean by Sharia law is something other than the popular understanding I've described here. Maybe they're just saying they would rather live by God's laws than Man's. As a Christian, I'd be hard pressed to disagree with that sentiment... although in practice they are actually pursuing their own interpretation & understanding of God's law, and placing more trust in human being's ability to govern & judicate than the British legal/political system ever does.

Postscript from "What Is Sharia?" by Dr. Mohammad Omar Farooq:
The Shari'ah is thus nothing less than the divinely ordained way of life for man. To realise the divine will, man must follow the Shari'ah. To live in Islam is to live according to the Shari'ah. To give up the Shari'ah or any part of it knowingly, wilfully or deliberately is to give up Islam. A Muslim must therefore do his utmost to observe and to implement the whole of it, wherever and in whatever situation he finds himself. Hence the Muslim insistence, persistence, commitment and passion for it.

Olin & Finishing Early

When I was at Olin College last week, I talked about the FIST (Fast, Inexpensive, Simple, Tiny) model I developed a while back. We spent most of the time talking about the Simplicity Cycle (the S in FIST), but we also spent a fair amount of time talking about slashing development timelines (the F part).

Specifically, I explained Parkinson's Law (Work expands to fill the time allotted) and Ward's Correllary (Work is compressible). I showed diagrams and survey results which claimed that most DoD projects could actually be done in half the time. Then I asked a question:

"Could you finish your SCOPE project early if you had to?" (SCOPE is a year-long engineering project for seniors). There was some slightly uncomfortable-sounding laughter, and lots of nodding heads. The consensus was "Yes, we could finish early."

One brave student pointed out that even if they finished early, they'd probably just be given more work to do, to fill in the rest of their time. For a moment, the room was gripped by two false beliefs 1) They need permission to finish early and 2) They need to tell the professor if they finish early.

So I asked a few more questions "Could you finish your project a month early if it meant you could do what ever you want with that month? What if you finished early and just didn't tell anyone?" That got a lot of applause, and a big nod from Prof Barrett, the director of the SCOPE program. I pointed out that nobody could stop them from finishing a month ahead of schedule, then goofing off.

I wonder if any of them will do it...

30 January 2007

Correlation & Causality

One thing that bothered me about Al Gore's movie was his assertion of a cause and effect relationship between CO2 and global temperatures. I was reading the Feb issue of Wired over lunch today, and a little article by John Hockenberry shone some light on the issue:

"Studies of ice and seabed cores reveal that temperature rise and fall is heavily correlated with changes in greenhouse-gas concentrations. But it's a chicken-and-egg problem. Are Co2 rises and falls a cause of climate change or an effect?"

Remember, correlation does not prove causality.

I'm not denying that increased levels of CO2 contribute to climate change, nor that we're pumping too much pollution into the atmosphere. I'm just objecting to the fact that the question of causality doesn't seem to be asked. It looks like we see correlation and assume causality. That's bad logic and bad science.

Micromanagement & Complexity

Is there a link between a tendency to micromanagement and a preference for complexity?

My gut says yes, but I haven't been able to craft a solid case for it yet. I'm interested in hearing your opinions, theories, experiences or experiments. Do micromanagers tend to overvalue complexity, or am I off base here?

Here's what I'm thinking so far. Since micromanagement tends to be about trusting one's self more than one's subordinates, micromangers might prefer complexity because their understanding of complex systems / technologies / processes / etc is greater than their subordinate's understanding, which reinforces the perceived need for their involvement ("Here, this is complicated and I know how to do it, so let me just do it for you...").

Other thoughts? Stories?

Simplicity & Genius

Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius -- and a lot of courage -- to move in the opposite direction. - EF Schumacher

29 January 2007

Simplicity Gallery

In his Autobiography, G.K. Chesterton wrote "I once planned a massive and exhaustive sociological work, in several volumes, which was to be called The Two Barbers of Beaconsfield..."

In the same sense, I'm working (to use that phrase loosely) on turning my Simplicity Cycle research into a book. One of the things I would like to include, perhaps as an appendix (most likely swollen) to this "massive and exhaustive work, in several volumes," is a collection I'm calling The Simplicity Gallery.

That's where you come in.

I'm looking for nominations of things that have both a high degree of goodness and a low degree of complexity. I want to highlight some of the very simple, very useful/beautiful/etc tools, ideas, objects, etc that you encounter on a daily basis. Things like "a pencil and paper," or "E=MC2" or "a coffee pot."


26 January 2007

In Praise Of The Harmonica

The harmonica is the perfect instrument for me... and perhaps the most perfect musical instrument ever invented. Here's why:

Unlike the piano, it is small and easy to carry around, yet capable of producing a rich and loud sound.

Unlike drums, woodwinds, piano, stringed intruments, etc... it does not require great dexterity (or ambidexterity), nor difficult techniques in order to produce pleasing sounds.

Unlike the guitar, it doesn't hurt your fingers to play the harmonica (no callouses needed).

Unlike almost every other type of instrument, it is inexpensive.

It can play a wide range of music, from jazz to blues to pop to spiritual. It can sound playful and funny or it can sound mournful and earnest. Serious musicians like Stevie Wonder and Blues Traveler do amazing things with the harmonica.

While mastery of the harmonica (like everything) takes years, amateur-level competence on the harmonica seems well within the grasp of a dabbler willing to invest just a little bit of time.

And unlike the guitar, or even the tambourine, when you're playing the harmonica, nobody expects you to sing along...

25 January 2007

A Poem Using Just One Word (almost) *

coll-AB-o-RA-te (CADABRA)


* Someone once made the off-handed comment that you cannot write a poem just by repeating the same word over and over again. Naturally, I took that as a personal challenge (“Oh yeah? Watch me!”).

Maybe he was right, since I did add a few bits here and there (the O in COOL and the CADABRA in line 5). Still, collaborate is arguably the most important word in program management, so if I had to pick one word to write a program management poem with, that’s what it would be.

Fun With College Students!

Sorry I've been blog-less for a few days... I was out at Olin College (near Boston), where I had the opportunity to share my Simplicity Cycle with 75 seniors.

What a remarkable group of students. They were a lot of fun to hang out with, and their questions were both insightful and mature. I learned a lot, and have a few new tweaks and additions to make to the Simplicity Cycle.

I'm thinking about putting it together as a little book... and at Olin, they're talking about putting it on a t-shirt. How cool is that!

22 January 2007

New Boomer Sisters site!

Over the weekend, I spent a few minutes putting together a new website for the Boomer Sisters books. I used Google's free "Page Creator," which was fairly simple and quick, if not terribly powerful (it's still in beta). Still, it did what I needed it to do... including hosting the pages!

The site has a collection of fun links related to the books, samples of the artwork, and (of course) links to places where you can buy the books. Check it out when you get a chance...

19 January 2007

Adventures In Pediatric Dentistry

Had a little bit of excitement last night. Just as my wife and I were about to go out (and moments before the babysitter arrived), Jenna, our soon-to-be-four-year-old daughter, did a face plant on the kitchen floor and halfway knocked out her front tooth.


So, we called the dentist and he agreed to meet us at his office (it was about 6:30). We called the babysitter and asked her to come a few minutes early. Then off we went to visit the dentist.

After applying some numbing gel to the gum, he gave the tooth a little wiggle and out it came. Jenna said "ow," the dentist said "done," and we were on our way home with the tooth securely held in a little pink treasure box. No tears, no problem. I was impressed.

This adventure wasn't entirely unexpected, in part because Jenna seems to have a knack for banging herself in the mouth. She also has a "special" (i.e. extra) tooth that's been growing in for a while now, pushing the recently departed front tooth to the side (and eroding the root). So, the dentist warned us a month or two ago this sort of thing might happen.

And last night, it did. I think I had a harder time than Jenna did (I don't stomach dental procedures very well - ugh - but I don't think Jenna noticed daddy's weak knees). She was very brave, very cooperative, and very, very excited about the prospect of the Tooth Fairy coming to visit.

This morning, she proudly showed me the quarter she found under her pillow. "The tooth fairy gave this to me because she loves me and thinks I'm beautiful," Jenna said.

That's so true, kiddo. That's so true...

18 January 2007

Crazy search engine

Check out Google's latest competitor: Ms. Dewey.

17 January 2007

Cooking with Rachael Ray

Another favorite, frequently-used Christmas present is a Rachel Ray cookbook. I've never actually seen her show, but after buying one of her cookbooks for someone else, I had to go back to the bookstore and get one for myself (using a Barnes & Noble gift certificate Santa brought me...).

I made spaghetti carbonera last night - haven't had that since I lived in Italy when I was a kid. Tonight I'm planning an Indian chicken dish (chicken tikka, I think?). I've really expanded the range of spices and ingredients I'm buying and using. It's a lot of fun exploring and experimenting with new foods, flavors, etc.


Great Coffee

One of my favorite Christmas presents this year is a cool little italian-style stovetop espresso maker. It's supposedly a "3-cup" size, but I find it's just about right for one smallish serving.

The coffee it produces is dark, rich, hot and tasty. I love it.

I don't use it everyday, 'cause it does take a bit longer and as I said, it makes a smallish serving. But on the weekends in particular, it's a great way to start the morning.

Holy Cow It's Cold!

Wow. My little thermometer in the bathroom window said "-0" when I got up today.

That's right - not just zero. Negative zero.

I think that's where all motion stops, right? Winter apparently decided to make an appearance this year after all...

16 January 2007

Culture Change & Shocks

There's a fairly well established sense that in order for leaders to help bring about meaningful innovation, organizational success, making a difference, etc... they have to start by instituting some sort of culture change.

As I began thinking about this, I came up with 3 categories of things that bring about large scale, enduring culture change:

New Blood
A Shock To The System

But, New Blood is primarily a special case of Time (particularly in the case of a new generation). And both Time and New Blood are basically forms of shocks to the system. Which gets me down to one category.

So... after quite a bit of thought and conversation with lots of smart people, I've come to conclude that cultures change when there is a Shock To The System. Such as:

1) An influx of immigrants (Ellis Island, Irish Potato Famine, etc)
2) The arrival of a new generation
3) The march of time (measured in decades - see #2 above)
4) The discovery of gold, oil, etc
5) A sudden attack (9/11, Pearl Jarbor, etc)
6) A new tech breakthrough (fire, aircraft, iPod, etc)

No doubt there are other types of change-inducing Shocks, but the point isn't to create an all-inclusive list. I wrote all this to ask the following question:

What sort of shocks to the system can a leader introduce, in their attempt to create positive culture change?
I'm still thinking about that one...

12 January 2007

Ambient Findability

Just recieved a copy of a book titled Ambient Findability, by Peter Morville.

It's all about how people find their way through an age of information overload. It looks awesome.

The tag-line is "What We Find Changes Who We Become." I think that's an interesting thought.
Can't wait to dive in!

11 January 2007


A few years back, I taught myself how to draw. My objective was to be able to sketch a face that looks reasonably like the face I was doing the sketch from. It was a lot of fun, and I eventually got fairly decent at it... and once I hit that point, as is my habit, I set the pencils aside and moved on to other things.

I've always wanted to learn to paint - and even went so far as to buy a bunch of brushes, paints, books, etc right around the time I was doing the sketching. I dabbled with the paints for a little while, but not very much (particularly compared to the pencil sketches). Pencils were just so much easier to carry around. Eventually, all my painting stuff all got misplaced or put away and generally forgotten.

In 2007, I'm going to re-engage with the paint. Watercolors, to be precise (and I seldom am). Now that I've got an office with a door that closes, I'm planning to spend at least one lunch-break each week, playing around and seeing what sort of marks I can make on the paper. The above shot is one of my first attempts.

09 January 2007

Blog As Memory

In the past few weeks, I've used this blog as an external memory jogger about half a dozen times. When did I read my book at the kid's school? Where was the book reviewed? Where's the link to... whatever?

It reminds me of something Eric Raymond said in The Cathedral and the Bazaar: "Any tool should be useful in the expected way, but a truly great tool lends itself to uses you never expected.”

Blogs, in my opinion, are truly great tools... and they certainly lend themselves to uses I didn't expect.

Scribd - check it out!

I was recently invited to participate in a beta test for a site called Scribd. It's a site that lets you share and find documents online, and I've uploaded both The Boomer Sisters Meet Champy and Meet The Boomer Sisters.

It would be cool if you click on those links (at least one of 'em) and give me a vote... And maybe even upload a document or two of your own!

08 January 2007

GK Chesterton's autobiography

I'm reading the autobiography of one of my literary heroes, G.K. Chesterton. It's a witty, insightful, amazing book, and I'd like to share a few excerpts with you. Here's the first line:

Bowing down in blind credulity, as is my custom, before mere authority and the tradition of the elders, superstitiously swallowing a story I could not test at the time by experiment or private judgment, I am firmly of the opinion that I was born on the 29th of May, 1874...
Later on, talking about some stories and pictures he created with his brother when they were children, he writes:

"we never thought of doing anything with them, except enjoying them. It has sometimes struck me as not being a bad thing to do with things."
In a chapter titled "How To Be A Lunatic," he wrote a line that I will someday use as the introductory quote to my own autobiography... assuming I ever get around to writing one:

"When I look back on these things, and indeed on my life generally, the thing that strikes me most is my extraordinary luck."
This next quote made me think of my own little writing career, and the entirely unsuitable (& deliberately unsuitable) things I tend to submit for publication:

"What is really the matter, with almost every paper, is that it is much too full of things suitable for the paper."
And finally, here is a little bit of poetry he wrote, which makes me laugh every time I read it. It is actually the refrain to a longer ballad, which was inspired by a dinner party he attended, where he accidentally broke "an ordinary tumbler." The story of the broken glass quickly blossomed into a legend where the glass became "a vessel of inconceivable artistic and monetary value..." I love the fact that he wrote a ballad about a dinner party mishap.

Prince, when I took you goblet tall
And smashed it with inebriate care,
I knew not how from Rome and Gaul
You gained it; I was unaware
It stood by Charlemagne's great chair
And served St. Peter at High Mass.
I'm sorry if the thing was rare;
I like the noise of breaking glass.

05 January 2007

Iraq Question

Can anyone tell me whose interests are served by keeping Iraq as a united country? I'm afraid the answer is the US, not the Iraqi's...

As I understand it, modern Iraq is essentially an artificial state, created in the aftermath of WWI. You don't need to pay much attention to the news to know that the Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis don't like each other very much. I wonder if they might get along better if they each had their own places.

The Kurds basically have a semi-autonomous state already. I realize Turkey might get nervous about an independent Kurdish state on their border, since Turkey currently contains what is arguably Kurdish land.

The Sunni - Shiite balance of power in the region would no doubt be changed if Iraq split into a Sunni state and a Shiite state... somebody would end up allied with Iran, no doubt. Would that be worse (for the US) than what's happening now?

Of course, the big question is how to split the oil revenues. That's the question now, and that would be the question if Iraq became 2 or 3 new countries.

It's all quite messy, to be sure, and it's hard to predict exactly what would happen if they were allowed to split up. Ultimately, it's really too bad so many people in Iraq would rather blow each other up than co-exist. Maybe it's time to send them to their own corners, to cool off a bit. They could leave the reunification option open for the future, but it seems like it might be a bit premature to do it now.

But as I said, figuring out how to share all that oil would be difficult...

04 January 2007

More Photos

Just some more fun photos - I've been playing with my cell phone lately.

My Gaelic Storm t-shirt

A close-up self portrait in the car.

This morning's sunrise, from my driveway

Ice Circles

I saw this partially-frozen puddle in the parking lot and it sort of grabbed my attention. Does anyone have an explanation for these rings? Any theories?
I'm guessing it took a few days for the rings to develop, as the puddle froze overnight, then lost some water during the day(evaporation or ground absorption), then froze again overnight.

In any case, it's cool to look at...

Rogue Leader

I snapped this photo of a page from Wired magazine - I like that it not only says "Rogue Leader," but also "Play games."

03 January 2007

LOAC Training

I recently completed my Law Of Armed Conflict training (it's an annual requirement). One paragraph in particular jumped out at me, and I wanted to pass it along because, as my friend Gabe would say, it's so dang awesome:

What should you do if you think you've been given an illegal order? First, ask for clarification. Maybe the order was unclear, or you didn't understand it.

If you still think the order is illegal, try to get it withdrawn.

If that doesn't work, you must disobey it.

Happy 2007 everyone!

OK, I'm back! There's so much to catch up on, so much to blog about, and so much coffee to drink (I got a lot of coffee this Christmas. A s-s-s-s-s-serious lot of c-c-c-co-ff-ff-ff-ee-ee-ee. Bzzzzzz!).

Just a few quick notes:
  1. Congrat's to my great friends Chris Quaid and Michele Weslander, on their wedding. It was a beautiful ceremony and a fun party afterwards, and I'm so glad I was able to attend!
  2. I am renewing my usual New Years Resolution: Don't Hit The Ground Running. That is, I plan to ease back in to my usual pace, rather than go from zero to 60 in one day (or one week). Wish me luck...
  3. The Gillette Fusion is the best shave I've ever had (got some in my stocking). Now, I'm not particularly picky about razors, or even really interested in them, and I'm not a metrosexual or anything, but doggone, that's a remarkably close shave that lasts all day. Their website is interesting - not sure whether I like it or not, but it's interesting...
  4. G.K. Chesterton's Autobiography is amazing (no surprise there). It's funny, insightful, easy to read, engaging, and everything you would expect a book by GKC to be. Other great reads lately: A Wrinkle In Time, The Starbucks Experience, Finding Serenity, and Beggars In Spain (sorry - you'll have to find your own links).
  5. My second children's novel, The Boomer Sisters Meet Champy, is finished and in stores now. Well, it's in stores in Plattsburgh NY, where most of the action takes place. Getting it into other stores is one of my other goals for 2007.

I hope you all had a great holiday season, and I look forward to continuing this blog conversation in the months to come!