29 June 2007

Who Killed The Electric Car?

Saw a great movie the other night - Who Killed The Electric Car?

It's a fascinating, convoluted story of technology, politics, economics, marketing, statistics and human foibles as well as human potential. It is full of interviews with people who drove (and loved) GM's EV1, and explores the reasons for GM's decision to recall and crush every single one of them (the cars, not the people, although the people did feel crushed to see their cars destroyed).

Obviously, this is a film with a point of view and an opinion to express. The filmmaker wants to see electric cars on the roads, and in my opinion he makes a pretty good case that 1) the technology is mature, 2) the market demand exists (or could exist, if a company would just try a little). I happen to share those opinions, but I think it's important to recognize them for what they are - opinions. The engineer in me would have liked to see a little more hard data, but I also realize a movie isn't the best way to present the kind of deep data I want, so I'll let them off the hook.

The film answers the title question with Guilty verdicts for Oil Companies, Car Companies, the Government and, perhaps surprisingly, Consumers. Who gets the "not guilty" verdict? The batteries. In fact, an engineer explains that recent improvements to battery technologies could extend the EV1's range significantly (to 300 miles, as I recall).

Now, this is not a simple issue by any means. We do need to ask about the environmental impact of generating enough electricity to power these cars. Zero emissions at the tailpipe doesn't mean zero pollution overall, and if we're burning coal to produce electricity, it's the equivalent of coal-burning cars. Sort of defeats the purpose. We also need to look hard at consumer demand, etc. But I sure would love to see us stop buying so much oil (see Post-Oil era post1 and Post 2)

(For another interesting alternative, check out MDI's Air Car, which I blogged about previously)

28 June 2007

Andrew Keen - Comic Genius

Andrew Keen is a comic genius. Andy Kaufman has NOTHING on this guy.

How else can we explain his blog post on Encyclopedia Britannica’s blog (Encyclopedia Britannica has a blog?), railing against the inappropriate liberties and "destructive consequences" of Web 2.0? And he did it with such a straight face, I almost missed the irony (actually, his photo sort of gave it away).

You can also check out his "Against You" manifesto at ChangeThis.com, bemoaning all these new online mechanisms which allow anyone to do an end-run around traditional media outlets and become an author. You know, things like ChangeThis.com. Here are a few quotes, starting with one where he expresses deep concern for the well-being of established media sources:

What about the tradition owners and distributors of culture and information— the mainstream media companies, the Hollywood studios, the big record labels, national newspapers and magazines, book and magazine publishers, and the television and radio networks?

Yes, in contrast with Web 2.0’s Generation Y, my generation is audience. We don’t want to be authors. We want to consume rather than create. My generation is appropriately deferential. We know our place in the cultural order of things. We revere the expert creators of our culture rather than seeking to be those professional artists ourselves. Like Rob in High Fidelity, my generation collects music rather than wanting to make it ourselves.

Taste resides with an elite of cultural critics able to determine, on behalf of the public, the value of a work-of-art. The digital utopia seeks to flatten this elite into an ochlocracy. The danger, therefore, is that the future will be tasteless.

Oh stop, Mr. Keen, stop please, my sides really hurt, you're killing me. Hold on while I catch my breath...

Brilliant stuff. Absolutely brilliant. I'm LOL'ing and ROTF'ing. Gotta go twitter about it now.

(he is joking, right?)

Boomer Sisters update

I got a note from someone at North Country Public Radio (NCPR) saying they want to do a review of The Boomer Sisters Meet Champy, and could I please send them a copy?

Why, yes I can! How exciting!

Fun with Trains

Kim and the girls took a train from Utica to Albany yesterday, where her mom met up with them and drove everyone down to NYC for a few days (I'm driving down on Friday to join them, and then we'll all drive back together). It was the kid's first ever train trip, and they were really looking forward to it. However, it just might be their last.

The train was supposed to leave Utica at 1:20 and arrive at Albany by 3:30. No big deal, right? I drove them to the station, where we found out the train was 2 hours late. The station is 30 minutes from the house, so it didn't make sense to go home to wait, since we'd just have to turn around again (so we thought). As clever readers have probably guessed, there were more delays, and they didn't end up leaving until after 5!

It gets better.

A storm blew through and knocked out the signal (whatever that means). I got a call from Kim around 8 (thank goodness for cellphones!) saying the train was stopped... somewhere. They didn't hit Albany until close to 9, at which point they were very much ready to eat some dinner. They finally got to NYC sometime after 11...

The girls were real troopers, well behaved, and made lots of friends on the train. Kim is amazing and was well prepared with snacks, games, books, and awe-inspiring patience (I'm SUCH a lucky man). All's well that ends well, but I don't imagine we're going to do much rail travel again anytime soon. I'm amazed that Amtrak turned what could have been a 90 minute drive into a 9 hour ordeal. Yikes!

I'm sure Amtrak isn't always this bad, but gosh, it was worse than flying... and not only could they not tell us when the train would arrive, most of the time they couldn't even tell us where the train was (information a cheap GPS receiver and a cellphone would easily provide).

I'm glad we weren't planning for it to be a two-way trip!

Anyone else have any train stories, good or otherwise?

27 June 2007

Alarming Alarms

I found some crazy little alarm clocks over at ThinkGeek. One of them rolls away from you when the alarm goes off, forcing you to chase it around the bedroom to turn it off. The other launches a helicopter, which you have to retrieve and replace before the alarm stops.

Now, even though they made me laugh at first, the more I think about it, the more I can't stand them.

From a systems engineering perspective (or problem solving in general) they are solving the wrong problem, and doing it too late. They address the symptom (oversleeping), not the cause (fatigue). If you consistently sleep through your alarm, it's not because the snooze button is too convenient. It's something deeper, which even an army of mobile alarm clocks can't address. These alarms are clever in a twisted way, but they just can't be good for you.

Now, I realize my own experience with sleep is sort of unusual in America these days. Most of the time, I go to bed rather early (i.e. before 11), fall asleep immediately, and wake up easily. I understand that for chemical, biological, psychological, physiological or family reasons (or a combination of all 5), many people just can't do that. They have my sympathies.

But then there are those who just choose to deprive themselves of sleep, figuring their magic rolling/spinning/flying alarm clock will compensate for their behavior. To them, I say "Hey, here's an idea - how about laying off the caffeine, turning the TV off and going to bed at a decent time? You might have to do that a few nights in a row before you fully catch up, but missing a few episodes of The Daily Show won't kill you (and sleep deprivation just might)." Or better yet - how about taking a day off in the middle of the week and sleeping in or otherwise resting? (you can always watch The Daily Show online, afterall).

26 June 2007

Fun with Lulu!

I finally got around to ordering some clean copies of my own books. Until now, I only had my "author's review draft" for most of them, which were full of typo's, corrections, notes in the margins, etc.

But now I've got a good, readable, updated copy of The Desert, The Radical Elements, The Best of Rogue Project Leader and - most excitingly - The Simplicity Cycle.

Actually, this is the first hardcopy of The Simplicity Cycle I've ordered. I have to say, it looks gorgeous (imnsho). I'm quite proud of it, and at $8.99 (plus shipping) it's a real bargain. Of course, the free PDF version is even more of a bargain, but there's something special about holding an actual book in your hands.

Having a hard time with B3

This third Boomer Sisters book has been harder to write than the first two. I'm sure part of it is that I haven't done any traveling (for work) this month. With the first two, I had long plane trips when I could do some writing (I do a lot of writing at 30,000 feet).

Part of it is that I'm typing it directly in a word processer, instead of spiral notebooks like the first two. That makes it harder to sneak away during lunchtime to do some writing. I'm pretty much limited to the time I have at home in the mornings.

But I think a big part of it is that there is no peril in this book. No underwater adventures, no creepy mind-control books, no flying bicycles... And that lack of peril means it lacks a certain amount of tension. And that makes it harder to write.

I am also starting to suspect this book isn't as good as the second one was. It's too soon to tell, but I think the second one might be better than this will be. That's not necessarily bad, but it's a strange thought.

But the 4th one will be full of tension and peril (it's about pirates). And I think I'm going to write it in a spiral notebook...

(the good news is - I got a new idea for the ending of B3 - and it's very cool!)

25 June 2007

Fun With Blogs...

Recently, I went back through the archives of several of my favorite blogs, to read the first post for each one. Most of these first posts said something along the lines of "Hey, I started a blog!" or "Please be patient - I'm still trying to figure this blog thing out," or simply "Test."

But the coolest first post was Andy Nulman's, which started with the following lines:

Hello and thanks for coming. Chances are that if you're reading this, you are backtracking to see how this whole thing got started, 'cuz during the first couple months of posting, I think NASA's Mars Rover saw more traffic than I did.

That was a cool surprise, and totally cracked me up.

So... if you've got a moment and a few spare mouseclicks, you might want to click the archive link on your favorite blog or two, and see what people were blogging about when they first started posting...

B3 Excerpt

Here's another little excerpt of my current Work-In-Progress: The Boomer Sisters In The City. It's from the end of the first chapter. The girls and their family are going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met) on a hot summer day. I like the way this scene shows their personalities...

At first, BJ and Jekka were distracted by the artists and vendors who lined the sidewalk outside the Met, offering paintings and little sculptures for sale. Then, an unusual color caught BJ’s eye, and she gasped.

“Look!” She grabbed Jekka’s arm. “Someone painted all over the Met!”

Jekka looked up from a painting of a fairy eating french toast, and laughed out loud at the sight. The front of the Met was a wild artsplash of color. It looked like the work of a crazy giant with a dozen cans of spray paint and too much time on his hands. The building was covered with strange symbols, bubble-shaped letters, and pictures of people and animals neither girl recognized.

“It says ‘graffiti’ over there – is that the name of the person who did this?” Jekka asked.

No, kiddo,” Mr. Boomer answered. “Graffiti means writing or drawing on a wall, and this summer, the Met is doing a special exhibit all about graffiti art.”

“Oh, good,” said BJ with a sigh of relief. “I thought it was going to stay like this forever.”

“I wish it would,” Jekka replied. “I like this better.”

“Well, it is cool,” said BJ, tentatively, “But I think I like the building better the way it was.”

“Wait until you see the inside,” Nana added.

22 June 2007

Buy Some Art!

Elena Nazzaro, aka French Toast Girl, is an amazing artist and blogger and one of my favorite daily reads.

She's offering very reasonably priced prints of her artwork, and I just placed my order for a couple - one of a fairy reading a book (for Beth), one of a girl singing (for Jenna), and one of a girl with a unicorn (for Beth & Jenna to share). I can't wait to see them and give them to the girls.

Go check out the French Toast Girl blog, surf through her collection of artwork, and place an order. A 5x7 is only $5, and that includes shipping.

I hope she sells a million!

Exact Science...

"Exact science is not exact science..."
- Tesla (played by David Bowie), in The Prestige.

21 June 2007

Francis Buck Livesey

This is my great-great grandfather, Francis Buck Livesey. They called him "America's Champion Letter Writer" (or maybe that's just what he called himself). A farmer in Maryland, he wrote over 20,000 letters to newspapers across the country, mostly on the topic of education reform (he got a 2-line obit in Time Magazine when he died in 1925 at the age of 80).

He was quite a character. His letters advocated abolishing public schools and radically revising the American educational system. The Baltimore American called him a "strong and rugged character whose pen cleaves like a sword." I really like him.

In 1959, Time Magazine quoted him in an article about educational reform (it's the only quote from him I've found online):
Pamphleteer Francis B. Livesey blamed public schools for "the Negro problem, the servant problem, the labor problem, the tramp problem, the unemployment problem, the divorce problem, the eyesight problem, the juvenile problem, the bribery problem and the pure-food problem.
I can guess what the unemployment, divorce and bribery problems are... not too sure what he meant by the juvenile problem or (sorry!) the Negro problem. From his other writings, it is clear he was concerned about the treatment of African-Americans. In fact, there's a funny story about some KKK members threatening him, in response to something he wrote in a letter to a newspaper. Apparently, he and his sons waited on the front porch, shotguns in hand, and the KKK left him alone.

My mother's mother's mother (my great-grandmother) was his daughter. He named her Lavinia, but let her chose her own name when she was "old enough." She picked Mabel.

I have one of his papers at home somewhere... I'll try to track it down and may post an excerpt one of these days.

Happy Life Photos

I made lemonade...

and the cup was half-full

'cause life is like

20 June 2007

Some Things I've Learned...

Inspired by a posting on Lisa Mikulski's blog, here's a short list of some uncommon bits of wisdom I've picked up over the years.

  • On selecting projects: If it looks like fun and looks like it will make a difference, do it. If it's only one or the other, think hard before doing it. If it's neither, run away.
  • On Action: The "Ready, Fire, Aim" approach is way better than "Ready... Ready... Ready..." It's also better than"Fire! Fire! Fire!" (inspired by Tom Peters).
  • On Work: Networking is working (from my good friend Chris Quaid)
  • On Surviving as an Innovator: If you keep moving around, the bureaucrats who want to fire and/or kill you won't be able to catch you or stop you, because they're slow (also from Quaid).
  • On Trust: People who are trusting tend to also be trustworthy. People who are distrustful tend to not be trustworthy. One way to help people become trustworthy is to trust them.
  • Being tired makes you stupid and cynical. Being stupid and cynical makes you tired. Sleep is not the only way to break that cycle and feel rejuveinated. In fact, it's probably not even the best way. (inspired by Churchill's wonderful essay/book Painting as a Pastime).
  • Conformity is optional (from my dad).
  • Innovation is criticism (from J. Rufus Fears, in a lecture from The Teaching Co. I LOVE their stuff!)
  • Fear is a terrible motivator.
  • There is something profoundly cool about being punished for doing the right thing.
  • God did good when he created everything. He is still doing good today, and He knows what he's doing.
How about you? Any nuggets to pass along?

B3 excerpt

Here's a brief excerpt from "The Boomer Sisters In The City," my current work-in-progress. It is set in NYC, and the main themes are patience and art. The Uncle David character in this scene is a television news reporter (loosely based on my brother-in-law)

“It’s show time!” Uncle David said with a fierce grin. He adjusted his brightly-colored fedora and someone handed him a microphone. Then he stepped in front of the camera, with his back to the workers.

“I’m here at the corner of Chesterton and Lewis Street, where a cleanup crew from the Urban Graffiti Law Enforcement bureau, or UGLE, is about to go to work. The mural behind me was begun in 1991, and has been maintained and updated by the neighborhood residents ever since. Despite attempts by local community leaders to have the mural declared a protected landmark, the UGLE team has determined that it is graffiti and ought to be erased.”

BJ and Jekka held each others hands tight, wincing as the men in gray took their rollers and put huge swaths of white paint over the beautiful dancers. Jekka couldn’t bring herself to take a picture of that.

“Mr. Keith Ott, the UGLE director, has launched an UGLE war against what he calls art crime. The wave of mysterious graffiti across the city which began with the phrase ‘soon it will be’ has now expanded to include paintings of white horses, blue flowers and, most recently, diamond rings, leading some to speculate that a certain cereal-box leprechaun is behind it all.” David laughed at his own joke. “But regardless of who is responsible, Mr Ott and his UGLE team have made it their mission to protect the citizens of this fine city from any criminal decorations.”

Tears were flowing freely down BJ’s cheeks now, as she watched the dancers disappear under the merciless white paint. Jekka whimpered, but neither girl could look away. Somehow, they felt it was important to be here and watch the mural’s last moments, as if they were keeping the dancers company or holding the hand of a dying person.

19 June 2007

I Can Has Cheezburger?

OK, so the internet is full of attempts at humor, some more successful than others. I generally don't pay a whole lot of attention to them, but I'd heard about this "lolcat" thing and had to check it out.

The first few didn't strike me as particularly funny, but as I looked at a few more, I found them funnier and funnier. It's not that any individual image is amazingly funny, but the whole thing, the lolcat gestalt, if you will, had me actually lol'ing.

ICanHasCheezburger.com has a pretty good collection. So does lolcats2.com.

Privacy & Authenticity

I don't play video games much (at all) anymore... partly because I'm 34 and my definition of recreation has changed since I was 20, partly because I'm a dad & husband and would rather spend time with the beautiful ladies in my life than with a computer, and partly because any spare moments (i.e. at 5am) are spent doing productive things like writing books. Also, I can't justify spending the money on these game consoles (although I have to admit, I think the Wii looks crazy cool and part of me really, really wants one).

But even though I'm not a player, I do try to keep up with what's happening in the world of gaming, particularly as it applies to other areas I'm actively interested in. For example, I think the MMORPG World of Warcraft (WoW) is fascinating, at least partly because it reminds me of the metaverse from Snowcrash (yes, SecondLife resembles the metaverse more closely - but that's not the point.

Anyway, I came across an interesting article by Clive Thompson in Wired this morning, about the social dynamics of WoW. Specifically, the use of voice chat among players. The article talked about the challenges of following a leader who has the voice of an 11-year-old boy... and about the fact that text chat allows a certain degree of privacy.

Some (older) players tend to prefer text chat, while others (younger players) are skeptical of those who don't use their voices. Like anonymous bloggers, the text chat users are often trying to maintain privacy while still participating. The younger generation tends to view that approach with suspicion. As Mr. Thompson wrote:

"They regard personal revelation not as an incursion of privacy but a marker of authenticity."

I tend to agree - and as this younger generation grows up, I think we'll see privacy becoming less and less important. What will matter most is authenticity and honesty. What matters is being yourself.

18 June 2007

The Fairytale Project

I have a new writing project on my mind. It's a fairytale... or, rather, a series of fairy tales. Three in all, and I figure they'll fit together nicely into a single book.

I know, I know, Boomer Sisters #3 isn't finished yet, so it's a bit crazy to be thinking about the next project, but I just can't help myself. It's actually something I've been thinking about for a long time now, and the idea is (finally) starting to really take shape. The three stories are titled The Helper In The Sun, The Moon Friend, and The Invisible Giants. The first two are related, and the third is completely independent. I started writing the last one a year or two ago. Same with the first one, come to think of it. The Moon story? Haven't written anything on it yet. But I think they're going to be a lot of fun to do.

I re-read George MacDonald's amazing fairy tale The Golden Key yesterday, and it's just the most perfect story ever. Really got me inspired (and I'll try not to copy it word for word...).

So... I don't know when I'll start this one in earnest, but not until B3 is finished. But I will write these stories. Oh yes, I will. And I've already started sketching out the framework...


My old webzine, Rogue Project Leader.com, is officially off-line. It was a lot of fun, but I've decided blogging makes more sense than a monthly webzine, and am in the process of (slowly) moving that old content onto DanWardOnline, my research/reference page.

Of course, nothing online ever really goes away, and if you google Rogue Project Leader, you can just click the "cached" link in the search results to see the old stuff in it's original glory. Or, you can order the book version of Rogue Project Leader, Year 1 at Rogue Press.

15 June 2007

Stories on Ginkworld

Well this is cool.

I submitted three stories from The Desert to Ginkworld, and hey - there they are!

There aren't any comments or ratings on any of them yet - for that matter, I'm guessing nobody has read them yet either (although one of them shows 39 "views," but I'm not sure what that means exactly).

So... I'd love it if a few of you would check them out and leave a comment or two. The stories are all short (very short), but I think they're cool, and people say they are funny.

If you've got a moment and a few spare mouse clicks...

The Simplicity Cycle

For those who haven't had a chance to flip through The Simplicity Cycle yet, here's a short excerpt:

Software developer Joel Spolsky wrote a fantastic essay on unnecessary complexity, titled Choices=Headaches. He counted a total of 15 different ways to shut down a laptop running Microsoft’s Vista operating system, including sleep, hibernate, Switch User, four different function key combinations, closing the lid, and, of course, the on-off button.

As he explained, there was probably a good reason for adding each method, but no good reason for adding them all. Giving users one more option might sound harmless, or even beneficial, but if it’s the 15th good idea for performing the same function, that’s a sign you are on the complication slope.

This is a key principle. We can often justify adding new parts independently, but each exists within the context of a larger system. As Peter Senge advises in The Fifth Discipline, we need to take a system-level perspective when determining whether a component increases or decreases goodness.

So… designers should examine the design and ruthlessly scrub out redundancy and mediocrity, no matter how well-intentioned. That may sound obvious, but Microsoft’s Vista Power Down Committee apparently skipped that step.

Some might mildly object that extra features don’t really get in the way, but that is the wrong question. We should ask rather if the features provide positive goodness. It’s not enough to be harmless. Components should actually be useful, and as Spolsky pointed out, too many “harmless” additions cause headaches.

You can download the entire PDF version of the book for free at Rogue Press. I'd LOVE it if you would pass the link along to a friend, post it on your blog, or generally help spread the word.

The Photo

I realized I really like it when bloggers post a photo of themselves. Blogs are about conversation, and it's easier to converse when you know what the person looks like. So, I added a picture of myself...

(And for those who liked the red shoe, don't worry - it's still here... just scroll down a bit).

B3 Update

Finished chapter 7 of The Boomer Sisters In The City this morning. I'm up to 11,000 words now.

I tried to find a good, short excerpt to post here this morning, but couldn't. Every scene I considered using was either too long, required too much explanation and setup, or didn't come to a snappy ending.

Is that a bad sign? Maybe it's alright. It is a novel, after all, not a collection of sound bites. The scenes aren't designed to stand alone - they are part of a larger whole. And I haven't gone back through to edit, polish, tweak and tighten the text yet. Maybe I'll find a good excerpt once I've done that. But I'll have plenty of time to do my editing once the first draft is complete - on 30 June!

14 June 2007

Farewell, Mr. Wizard

In case you haven't heard, Don Herbert (Mr. Wizard) passed away on June 12th. He was almost 90. Heard a short obit on the radio yesterday, and I jotted this down:

"Science is not fact. Science is questions."

B3 Update

I LOVE NaNoWriMo, and never would have even contemplated writing the Boomer Sisters novels if not for their encouragement, guidance, prodding, etc. But the one bummer about NaNoWriMo is it's in November. That makes it pretty difficult to be finished in time for Christmas, even though Lulu is amazingly fast.

As many of you know, I've been able to put the Boomer Sister books under the tree for the past two Christmases, but the illustrated (and fully-edited) versions weren't ready until a couple months later. That's one of the reasons I decided to do DaNoWriMo (Dan's Novel Writing Month) this June. Also, I had cool ideas for Boomer Sisters #3 and #4, and didn't want to wait.

So... DaNoWriMo is nearly half over. I finished Chapter 6 this morning, and plan to start Chapter 7 at lunchtime today. The story is taking on a life of it's own, as usual, and I'm having a blast watching it unfold. The early mornings are harder now than they were two weeks ago, and fatigue is starting to set in, but I'm pressing forward. I'm confident it'll be finished by 30 June.

Simplicity Cycle

I believe in redemption, and I love it when an organization shows signs of humanity and intelligence (particularly humanity).

So, I was thrilled to see the following comment on an earlier post about how the British Library was selling copies of my articles from Defense AT&L (and charging a "copyright fee") even though the document is in the public domain and is available for free:

I was very interested to read your post. I'm the coordinator of the British Library Readers Group and many readers are annoyed by the high fees the BL charges for supplying documents and photocopies. I hadn't come across your particular example before but I will bring it up at the next meeting we have with management on 19th June. If you're interested, please join our group. We are entirely independent and our strength comes from the number of readers we represent.
Heather Brooke

Heather, your response is very cool, on several levels. First, I love the fact that you're searching the blogosphere to find out what people are saying about your organization. Then, your note was simple, direct, and offered to do something specific about the situation. I could go on, but I'll just say this: Thank you.

Of course, there's no knowing what will happen at the management meeting, but I'm pretty sure we'll hear about it, either way.

Now, if only Thomas Gale would do something similar. They are selling downloads of my (free!) articles for $6 at Amazon.com (with the illustrations stripped off). I hate the thought that someone might buy an article there, thinking they are helping me out (I don't get any royalties from them, of course). We contacted Thomas Gale as well some time ago, but this is the first time I've blogged about it. Maybe we'll get better results with this approach...

Hey Thomas Gale - we're talking about you. Are you listening?

13 June 2007

Fit, Fast & Relaxed (ahh)

Pardon me while I brag for a moment. I had my annual physical fitness test this morning, and got my Best Score Ever (87 points, out of a possible 100). I ran the 1.5 miles in 11:02, which is about 30 seconds faster than I'd expected.

If I'd shaved off another 7 seconds, I'd have earned another point and a half (bummer!). And I think I could have been a little faster, except for the amazing fact that (get this!) I was in the lead.

Yup, I was the fastest guy on the track this morning. Not the whole time, but for the last lap or so, there was nobody in front of me. Nobody to chase. I even lapped 2 people. So, I'm pretty sure I could have cut 7 seconds if there'd been someone in front of me, but hey, I'll take it.

We've got a pretty great fitness program here, and I'm sure most of the credit goes to our PT leaders. But my secret ingredient is this - I got a massage yesterday, and I'm pretty sure that helped loosen me up and improved my score. From here on out, I'm going to be sure to get a massage any time I need to do one of these tests. But for now, I'm good for another year.

Perception & Reality

Ever wonder about the relationship between perception and reality? I do - quite often, actually. And contrary to the cliche, my assessment is that perception is not reality.

In fact, perception isn't even really perception. It's quite common for people to think we see things that we don't really see (or to fail to see things which are really there).

Examples run from the way our sense of smell stops detecting a strong scent after we're exposed to it for a few minutes (even though the smell is still present), to the wildy varied reports given by witnesses at car accidents or crime scenes.

The reality is, our perceptions are driven by our own mental models, expectations and other internal processes, as much as they are by external stimuli. Perception is what happens in your brain. Reality, on the otherhand, is out there somewhere.

12 June 2007

The Great Ship

This poem originally appeared in RogueProjectLeader #7 (March 2006). I hope you enjoy it (and I'll add a few background notes to the Comments section).

The Great Ship
The great ship went down
on the day it set sail
while the Captain and First Mate
stood fast by the rail.

'Twas an iceberg they hit
and the damage was vast.
Oh, the great ship went down
while the Captain stood fast.

He'd seen the 'berg coming.
He knew it was there.
For the sun, it was shining,
and the sea winds were fair.

But he'd laid his trajectory
and plotted his course.
So the ship shot ahead
like a riderless horse.

Well the iceberg, it shattered
the great ship's port side.
It sliced through the hull
and opened it wide.

"We have a plan,"
said the Captain unblinking.
"And it cannot be changed,"
said the First Mate unthinking.

So the great ship, it sank
while the Captain stood fast.
He believed all his planning
was certain to last.

As the great ship slipped under
the cold ocean blue
The Captain took comfort -
to the plan he'd been true.

11 June 2007

Theological worldview quiz

You scored as Emergent/Postmodern, You are Emergent/Postmodern in your theology. You feel alienated from older forms of church, you don't think they connect to modern culture very well. No one knows the whole truth about God, and we have much to learn from each other, and so learning takes place in dialogue. Evangelism should take place in relationships rather than through crusades and altar-calls. People are interested in spirituality and want to ask questions, so the church should help them to do this.



Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan


Roman Catholic


Classical Liberal


Neo orthodox




Modern Liberal


Reformed Evangelical




What's your theological worldview?
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Found this on Revolution's blog - kinda long, but interesting.


A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects. -Robert Heinlein

09 June 2007

Contentment & Revolution

For a guy who often wears a shirt that says "Change Everything" (actually, I designed that shirt), I'm really quite content (or "extremely gruntled," as Michael Scott from The Office would put it)

I suppose my inherent contentment makes me an unlikely revolutionary, but I don't think contentment and a desire for radical change are mutually exclusive.

I think the world is beautiful, not because it's perfect, but because it's dynamic. Change makes me happy. I love my life, not because it's all exactly as I want it to be in every detail, but because there's always the potential for change and improvement. If there's one thing we can all learn from Paris Hilton, it's that we don't really want everything we want (how miserable must she be, and I'm not just talking about when she's in jail. I mean on a daily basis). I don't have everything I want - and that's a wonderful thing.

I mention all that because so many revolution-minded people, whether in the political, professional or theological spheres, tend to be angry, critical, and generally discontent. In contrast, I tend to be joyful, content, etc... and somehow, that hasn't prevented me from seeking, pursuing and implementing Big Change. I'm sure some of it is just biology/chemistry. Some of it is how I was raised (thanks, mom & dad!). No doubt some of it is connected with the fact that I'm an imperfectionist. But I'm coming more and more to understand that it's possible to be content and to push for change.

As Walt Whitman said, "Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes."

08 June 2007

Blog style

And in case you couldn't tell, I've decided to keep doing this blog the way I've been doing it, filling it up with the assorted bits and pieces of things I think are interesting.

Partly 'cause it's easier that way, and partly 'cause I'm pretty sure there would be a lot of overlap, and I wouldn't know where to put half the things I write.

As someone wise once said, "reality confounds mutually exclusive classification." (dang, I wish I could remember the source of that line!)

Emerging Church

For the past few years, I've been increasingly uncomfortable calling myself an "evangelical." It's not that I don't believe in God or don't read the Bible. I'm not rejecting orthodoxy or anything like that. I'm just so turned off by the smugness and moralizing that seems to characterize evangelicalism, not to mention the disturbing cosiness between evangelicalism and political conservatism.

And I'm not convinced Jesus would vote Republican (gasp!). I'm not convinced evangelical perspectives on theology and moralism are as correct (or important) as some advocates make them out to be. (double gasp!).

Fortunately, the church we've been going to for these past few years is on the same wavelength, and I've recently become aware that we're not exactly alone. There's a movement afoot called "the emerging church," and the more I learn about it, the more I identify with it... even though I think the label "emerging" is sort of dorky...

The Feb 2007 issue of Christianity Today has a great article titled Five Streams of the Emerging Church. It really describes what this Emerging this is all about. And if you're looking for a great example of Emerging Christianity in action, check out this article titled "Maybe it's time to stop bullshitting God," or "My Prosaic Jesus... or Brown Like Shit."

No evangelical would use words like that (and I still don't, to be honest). But authentic honesty - humble, human honesty before God - is what it's all about. It's about loving people. It's about social justice, fighting poverty, showing mercy, blah-blah-blah. It's not about a list of words you're not supposed to say.

It's very cool.

Simplicity in the UK!

As several of you might know, my Simplicity Cycle started it's life as an article for everyone's favorite technology & program managment journal, Defense AT&L.

I later expanded the idea and published it as a manifesto at ChangeThis.com, and then I re-redesigned the whole thing and turned out the book version I've been blathering on about for awhile now.

Turns out the original article is now being sold by "British Library Direct" for "£5.00 copyright fee + service charge (from £7.45)." However, that article is in the public domain, so I was curious how/why a "copyright fee" could be charged on something that isn't copyrighted... and I was a bit miffed that someone would charge £12.45 for something people can download for free. So, the following message was sent to BL Direct:

The article you reference for sale at your
link is a work of the United States government and is not copyrighted in the United States or elsewhere. I would be interested to know what copyright fee you are charging for.

As a public domain document, it is available for download free of charge - as are all articles in Defense AT&L magazine - from the relevant link on the Defense Acquisition University Web site.

In due course, we received a reply from Mr. Brian Sherwood, at the BL Direct Helpdesk

Thank you for your interest in BL Direct.

The amount of the copyright fee is set by the UK CLA (Copyright licensing Agency) and the collected fee itself is passed on to them entirely. If we are not informed of a copyright fee then the CLA flat rate applies which is £5.00 Fees are passed back to registered publishers and in the case of overseas publications the fee is passed to that country's copyright agency (CCC in the states) Undistributed fees tend to be shared out among registered publishers I believe.

BL Direct comprises our most popular 20,000 journals, indexed for the past 5 years. Of course people are not obliged to use us at all, and our service charge reflects our cost recovery rate.
Brian Sherwood
BL Direct Helpdesk

So BL Direct apparently thinks that if people are dumb enough to pay £12.45 for something they could download free at AT&L's website, that's their own fault. BL Direct is perfectly content to collect money from these people (I think the appropriate term is "exploit"), because they "are not obliged to use us at all."

I know there are other companies doing similar things with my AT&L articles, and I think it's pretty lame. I can't imagine they actually make any money doing it - at least, I hope they don't.

07 June 2007

What's In A Blog?

So I've been thinking about this blog, what it's about, what it should be about, etc, etc...

I've got quite a mis-mash of stuff here. A posting about writing a children's novel is followed by one describing the Air Force's latest non-lethal crowd dispersal weapon, followed by a riff on intellectual property rights in the digital era.

Is that good, or is it bad? Any opinions out there?

I could turn this into a single-issue blog. I could focus just on my novels and short stories... or make it a design blog and focus on simplicity, complexity, and stuff like that. Or I could focus on technology. Or theology. Or leadership, management and the Radical Elements.

Maybe I should make six different blogs, one for each topic? Nah - that sounds like it would be a pain. Still, some of my favorite blogs to read tend to be about one thing (art, marketing, etc).

But I'm wondering... what is the common thread through all of these diverse topics? Am I the common thread (my interest, my thoughts)? Or is there something deeper?

Right now it's a general interest blog, talking about things I'm doing and everything that interests me. Does it make sense to put all these things together? Or would the blog be better if it had a more consistent topic, a more coherent focus? And what does "better" mean, when applied to a small blog like this?

Any thoughts?

06 June 2007

Sleeping, Laughing, Not Writing

I apparently failed to turn my alarm clock on last night, and instead of getting up at 5 to write the next chapter of the Boomer Sisters, I unintentionally slept in until 6am. Darn!

The cool part is that I woke up laughing - how often does that happen? Steve Martin was in my dream, and he was holding some sort of sandwich that was a combination of food from KFC, a donut, maybe Subway, and a few other places. It was supposed to be the ultimate "food mashup" - a whole day's supply in one handy package, and it had a hilarious name (which I can no longer recall). Kim was still sleeping, of course, and I tried not to shake the bed too much with my laughing. What a cool way to wake up.

Fortunately, the book is already ahead of schedule, so I've got a little buffer for exactly this sort of situation. Maybe I'll be able to get some writing done over lunch...

05 June 2007

The Value of An Idea

In giving away free PDF's of my Simplicity Cycle, I was reminded of the Exposure book, and the concept that "The value of an idea increases the more people are exposed to it." Long-time readers of this blog might remember my earlier comments on this topic.

Here's another quote from John Perry Barlow:

Good stuff!

Fun With Generators

Oh, yeah!

B3 Wordcount Update

Boomer Sisters book 3 (B3) is coming along at a swell pace.

I'm into Chapter 4 already. Wordcount is over 5,000. It's only June 5th.

Unlike last year's spiral notebooks, this time I'm writing it directly on the computer. We'll see what impact that has on quality, length, speed, etc...

04 June 2007

Should have done this in the first place...

I just converted my Simplicity Cycle book from a "copyrighted work" to a Creative Commons license.

Specifically, a By-Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-Alike license, which basically means you can copy and distribute it as long as you leave my name on it and don't use it for commercial purposes.

Oh, and you can use it to produce "derivative works," as long as you share those with the rest of the world under a similar arrangement.

Not sure why I didn't think of that in the first place. If you've got a copy of the old PDF with the copyright mark, please consider downloading a fresh copy with the Creative Commons markings

The Goodbye Gun

As a general rule of thumb, I think war is a bad idea. I hate it when people kill each other, and so I'm in favor of things like democracy, diplomacy, trade, direct talks, love, and trust. Maybe that makes me sound like a hippy, but I think it's consistent with being a conservative-ish military technologist. Go figure.

At any rate, I really like non-lethal weapons, like the AF's new Active Denial System (ADS), which fires a non-damaging beam of pain. Not just because they're cool (they are!), but because they are at least an attempt at resolving hot situations without bloodshed. Here's what Wired news says about the ADS:

The beam produces what experimenters call the "Goodbye effect," or "prompt and highly motivated escape behavior." In human tests, most subjects reached their pain threshold within 3 seconds, and none of the subjects could endure more than 5 seconds.

And if the initial tests are accurate, the worst damage is a blister or two. Of course, I know some people will object that it is cruel and unusual. Some will question how we dare to inflict a blister on an innocent person, but considering the lethal or chemical options, it doesn't sound bad to me. I'd rather see the ADS used to disperse a rowdy crowd than tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets, whether the crowd is in Iraq or the US.

I know we have to fight and kill sometimes, but we could probably do it a lot less than we actually do (and I'm not just talking about Iraq), and the more non-lethal options we have, the better...

03 June 2007

B3 Progress update

I'd sort of forgotten how many decisions go into writing a novel. Wow - I have to decide every little thing. I don't know how perfectionists do it without going crazy (or maybe they do go crazy!).

For example, I'm at a point now where Chapter 2 could be finished. It's a good length, a good stopping point... I could call it done and move on to chapter 3. But there are a few more things I wanted to say & do before the chapter ends... but maybe they're not really crucial? Or maybe they are. Just call me Hamlet.

So, I don't know - and I'm the one who gets to (has to) decide. The cool thing is, it's my story and I can't really decide wrong, but boy, it sure is a lot of decisions... kind of like playing chess against yourself, and you have to keep thinking of the future implications of decisions you make now.

If I say this now, will I write myself into a corner later? Will it contribute to the story or detract? There's only one way to find out... keep writing!

02 June 2007

Simplicity Works!

" If humans are organized in a huge, complex group, they need complex regulations and procedures to govern them. If their organization is simplified, the way they're managed can be simplified, too. Best of all, they can manage themselves."

- Ricardo Semler, Chief Catalyst of SEMCO

01 June 2007

Simplicity Cycle Shop

So I was playing around with Cafe Press and put together a quick little t-shirt shop, selling Simplicity Cycle gear.

We've got mugs, posters, postcards, a journal and, of course, t-shirts.

Hmmm... Father's Day is coming up soon...

DaNoWriMo Starts Today!

Yes, today is the official launch of Dan's Novel Writing Month (DaNoWriMo), in which I will spend 30 days neglecting sleep, drinking coffee excessively and writing the third book in the Boomer Sisters series. The idea is to have the story finished early this year, so I'll have time to edit & polish it and Mandy will have time to get the illustrations done - all in time for Christmas. Yes, the past two books were also ready for Christmas, but this year it'll be the illustrated version under the tree.

The working title is The Boomer Sisters In The City. It's a book about art, beauty, practice and patience. Much of the action will take place in NY City, and the timeline stretches from August through December. The climax occurs on Christmas. I'm very, very excited (and curious to see how it comes out. These things always surprise me).

I started chapter 1 this morning - and already I've deviated a little from my plot outline. I need to average 1/2 a chapter a day to get through the expected 13-15 chapters... so far, so good.

Ironically, I couldn't wait for National Novel Writing Month (November) to write the book about patience.

(easter egg alert: watch for references to Guns 'n Roses throughout...)