Friday, February 29, 2008

Well, maybe just this one...

At a rally in Dallas last week, Hillary Clinton made the following statement, which I overheard as I was walking up the stairs to tuck the kids in bed:

"I don't make predictions. I never have, I never will."

Am I the only one who thinks that's funny?

If We Can Keep It

I just got a copy of Chet Richards' new book, "If We Can Keep It" (thanks, Chet!). The subtitle is "A national security manifesto for the next administration."

I've only just started it, but it's pretty fantastic already. Here's a snippet from the introduction:

A better path, argued here, is to refashion our entire approach to foreign policy, and in particular, our use of force to solve problems in the developing world. As a first principle, the temptation to invade and occupy other countries should not arise...

[we should] first base our conduct of international affairs around a robust grand strategy. Grand strategy is the art of making more friends and allies than enemies. Grand strategy is why Hitler lost World War II - many more people were willing to fight him than wanted to join him.

Chet goes on to advocate dismantling the DoD and creating a new structure to fund and train a military force consistent with this grand strategy. He points out the DoD spends three-quarters of a trillion dollars every year, "yet there is no military threat to speak of." He also observes the current DoD structure has evolved into a system which is "immune to reform."

I think I'm really going to enjoy this book!

User Interface Design

I got a book on user interface design for Christmas.

It's 600 pages long, with tiny font and relatively few pictures.

What I want to know is how an expert in user interface design could possibly write a book like that - so long, so tiny, so text-intensive. Didn't they read the book?

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Who Knew?

I never knew I could write a novel in 30 days - until National Novel Writing Month came along and suggested I give it a try. I liked it so much, I've done it 3 times now.

In a similar vein, some colleagues and I were recently invited to create a single-panel cartoon (ala Far Side) for everyone's favorite technology journal, Defense AT&L. We didn't know we could do it until we were asked - and then we came up with over 30 comic ideas in about 2 weeks (they only publish 6 issues a year, so that's like a 5 year supply... except some of the ideas probably aren't funny, so maybe it's just a 2 year supply).

I wonder what else I'm not doing, not creating, simply because I didn't think of it.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Movie Recco's?

Kim and I have been watching a series of masterpiece theater movies based on Jane Austen novels lately. I actually enjoyed them immensely - very funny, engaging, and all together lovely. Ms Austen was quite a writer (and I'm hoping to read at least one of her books this year). But I'm ready to change gears a little.

And as it happens, this weekend my lovely and amazing wife is heading out of town for her annual "mommy's weekend away" with a girlfriend from college. The kids and I have a fun weekend planned too, of course.

I always take advantage of these weekends to watch movies Kim isn't interested in - usually dumb comedies or action flicks. Previous years I've watched Batman Beginnings, Idiocracy, V for Vendetta, etc. I'm very fortunate that Kim does go for things like Stargate, The Sarah Connor Chronicles and the Simpson's movie. So finding a movie I'm interested in that she doesn't want to see can be tricky (and yet, I somehow manage to do it).

This year, I'm planning to watch Beowulf, and maybe Transformers. But I thought I'd ask if any of you have movie suggestions. I'd love to hear them!


I recently mistyped the word "identification," and accidentally coined a new word: idnetification.

I think it means the "netification" of our identity. That is, id-netification would mean the ability to confirm a person is who they say they are by using a net-centric ID confirmation system.

Hmmm... someone should build that.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Me Too...

I get up every morning determined to both change the world and have one hell of a good time. Sometimes this makes planning my day difficult.
- EB White

Writer's Forums

I stopped by to check out the discussions at some online writer's forums (I don't / won't recall the specific site names) and found the experience quite off-putting. The funny thing is, I can't quite put my finger on why.

Maybe it was the jargon - so many people talking about their YA chapter books and slushpiles and other writerly lingo. I know all those terms and short hands. I just don't use them, and it felt alien to see so much of it in one place.

Maybe it was the heavy scent of insecurity, desperation and flop sweat, as people try to figure out ways to break out of the pack and achieve even a modest success as a writer. I don't want to get that on me.

Maybe it was the often-expressed conviction that participation in these forums was the key to finding the secrets of getting published. I tend to dislike that sort of clubby, we've-got-the-all-the-answers point of view.

Maybe it's that most of the posters were female, and I felt strangely outnumbered, or maybe it's that most of them were writing romance novels and my stuff felt out of place.

Maybe I just didn't find the right forum.

Or maybe it was something else entirely. I really don't know. But for what ever reason, I didn't like it.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Ze Frank's "The Show"

I recently discovered Ze Frank's hilarious web show, named "The Show." I guess I'm a bit late to the game, since he did it in 2006, but wow - it's quite something.

It's occasionally not suitable for work, since he sometimes uses profanity, but it's just about the funniest and smartest thing I've seen online.

Check out this episode, which starts out as a critique of ugly MySpace pages, and ends up as a fascinating commentary on user-generated content and the whole Web 2.0 phenomenon. Or this one, about complexity, learning and playing.

Again, NSFW, but doggone funny.

Friday, February 22, 2008

George C. Scott as Patton


I recently watched a brief clip of George C. Scott as Patton, giving his famous speech in front of a huge American flag. While I have great admiration for the power of his oratory and the historical value of the speech (which was based on an actual event!), one thought kept running through my head:

"This is a strange way for a grown man to dress."

(I have the same thought when I see modern-day Generals testifying before congress...)

Thursday, February 21, 2008


I was speaking with an officer from the Turkish Air Force the other day, and the discussion turned to history. He used the words "us" and "we" to describe Turks ("We were strong") and things Turks had done ("We controlled this region")... and it hit me, he was talking about the 11th Century.

That sort of blew my mind.

He used the word "us" as if he were discussing a soccer (excuse me, football) team that he was personally on. The degree to which he explicitly identified with things that happened almost a thousand years ago is so alien to my way of thinking (and, I think, to American culture). We don't even talk about the American Revolution that way (do we?), and it was less than 250 years ago. Maybe it's just me, but I don't think of the American Revolutionaries or Pioneers as "we." The Founding Fathers did stuff, the settlers went out west, the North fought the South in the civil war (OK, maybe some Southerners talk about the Civil War in terms of we & us - but that wasn't very long ago). But I wouldn't say "We fought the British, and then we moved out west to settle Kansas..."

Anyway, I'm not saying one way is right or better than the other. Just that it's two very different ways of looking at the world and at history. And I think it's important to understand how deeply, consistently, personally and unconsciously people from that part of the world identify with the events of history.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Let's Play Hide The Gate!

I apologize for the fuzzy quality of the photo, but have several handy excuses:
a) I was sort of late for my flight so I didn't have time to set up a tripod
b) I didn't have a tripod
c) I was using my little cellphone camera, so even if I'd had both time and a tripod, it wouldn't have helped
d) I always get nervous taking photos in an airport, particularly when a security person is standing near by asking "Why are you taking a picture?" so I snapped it quickly (see also "a")
e) Airport lighting isn't exactly photo friendly.

But despite these obstacles, I had to take this shot, because it was just too crazy. See, there I was, minding my own business and looking for a specific gate. But, some Safety Minded Individual (SMI), in the interest of Airport Security, had placed the Exit sign ever-so-helpfully... RIGHT IN FRONT OF THE GATE SIGN! I had to practically stand right underneath it to read the gate numbers.

Holy cow. And yes, the Exit sign really is as close to the Gate sign as it looks.

Here's what I want to know:

1) Why did anyone think this was a good idea? Why did nobody stop the SMI?
2) Why didn't they just put an indication of the exit on the same sign as the Gate & Food Court? (is it because the exit sign has to be illuminated, and they couldn't figure out a way to make the Gate & Food sign meet the spec's?)
3) Does anyone actually Exit the airport? Don't they go to places (like Gates, Food Courts and Baggage Claim)?

(PS - I'm giving 10,000 bonus points to anyone who correctly guesses which airport I was in)

Monday, February 18, 2008

One Second...

This year, as I often do, I managed to watch the last 5 minutes of the Super Bowl. The fact that it's taken this long for me to write anything about it is evidence of how important the game is to me. But there's one particular scene from this year's game that really stuck in my head. It's about the closest I ever hope to come to using a sports metaphor for organizations.

Right at the end, NY scored the winning points. Everyone (including me!) knew NY had won and the game was over. People streamed onto the field, the New England coach left (I think), and someone dumped gatorade on someone else. Let the celebration/mourning begin. Whee/Sob (depending on your preference).

But wait!

A ref decided there was really one second left on the clock! The game wasn't over! Of course, you can't do anything in 1 second. Nothing about that second could affect the outcome of the game at all - not even theoretically. Not even if NY just handed the ball over to the fastest guy in New England. But the field had to be cleared. The players had to be brought back out. And in a magnificent example of meaningless ritual and valuing Process over Results, the QB said Hike, received the ball, and the clock ran out.

*Now* the game was really over. Whew, good thing they played that last second, don't you think?

And it hit me, we do the same thing in our organizations, when we value process over results, when rules become more important than they are useful. We clear the field, bring the players back and go through the motions of "required" activities, even though nothing can change the outcome - not even theoretically. And then we congratulate ourselves on our "due diligence." Sheesh!

Of course, it's a lot easier to excuse a football team for doing something pointless...

The Pirates Who Do Star Wars

Went to see the new VeggieTales movie - The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything - for J's birthday. Very fun show.

I had no idea the movie would be based on Star Wars! OK, it's not a perfect one-to-one match, but the number of similarities (plot, characters, etc) is remarkable. Oh, and I'm talking about the real Star Wars (episode IV, specifically), not the prequels that came later (ugh!).

In Pirates, the bad guy is clearly inspired by Darth Vader, the man/machine (he's a vegetable that built himself a mechanical body). The princess in trouble sends a distress signal via a small, round "helper finder" that goes to an unlikely place and locates an unlikely set of heroes. There's a tall, skinny, C3PO-ish character. They have a rickety mode of transportation, ala the Millennium Falcon. I could go on and on. Anyone else notice this?

Fun movie. I liked it. The kids liked it. The "Rock Monster" video at the end was a blast too.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Stories & Points

"If you reduce a story to a point, you miss the story." - Pastor Leon Hayduchok

I've been writing stories lately. I mentioned Krog's New Weapon already, which has started to generate a little buzz among my fighter pilot friends. I'm also working on one titled Socrates in DC, also for publication in Defense AT&L. It's one of the most ambitious stories I've written - and I'm not sure I've pulled it off (yet). But one of the questions that keeps coming up in discussions about both stories is: What is the story about?

Well, the story is about what it's about. Sure, there are layers of meaning and intention, but ultimately, Krog is about an alien (a Torrapian, to be precise) who is the program manager of a new spacecraft development program. He asks some important questions and makes a good-but-difficult decision. The Socrates story is about some people having an off the wall conversation with a Cajun Socrates as they wander through DC and admire the various monuments.

There are metaphorical elements (deliberate or not) in just about any story, and these two are no exception. But as my dear friend Leon often pointed out, if we take a story and reduce it to a point, however well supported that point may be by the story, we've missed the story. And from the writer's perspective, I'm not trying to write allegories. I'm trying to write stories. I hope they entertain and amuse, and perhaps make people think. But if I hit the reader over the head with THE POINT, then I haven't really told a very good story.

So as I write these crazy little stories (which do indeed have a point in mind, or more than one point, or different points to different people), I try to focus on telling the story - not on making a specific point. And I suspect the stories will mean different things to different people. Some will see things in the story I never imagined, while others won't see the things I intended for them to see. And it's possible my writing abilities aren't up to the challenge - but it sure is fun to try.

But in the end, I think the only question that really matters is - Did you like the story?

Thursday, February 14, 2008

J's To Do List

I try not to fill this blog with "aren't my kids cute?" stories (as much fun as they are), but this one was just too fun to pass up. My 5 yr old daughter recently showed me this list of "Things To Do Tmoro" that she'd written for herself. In case you can't quite read it, it says (slightly translated):

Play with Hannah.
Play with Bethany.
Cuddle with Mom.

Sounds like a perfect day.

Juggling & Brain Growth

I was reading a manifesto at (a very cool website, btw), and came across this interesting bit of news:

In January 2004, the science journal Nature pointed out an intriguing study by Dr Bogdan Draganski at the university of Regensburg in Germany. using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), his team found that when participants learned to juggle, their mid-temporal lobes—the part of the brain that stores and processes moving objects—had grown by 3%.

How cool is that? Juggling makes you brain grow? Even for adults? As a moderately accomplished juggler myself, I think this is quite something...

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Ingrid Michaelson

One of the things I love about living in Dayton is WYSO, the local public radio station. They have this crazy music show called Excursions, which has introduced me to all kinds of cool music, including current fav The Real Tuesday Weld.

I recently heard "The Way I Am," by Ingrid Michaelson and was quite taken. It's a catchy little tune, and the line about "I'll buy you rogaine when you start losing all your hair" totally cracked me up (and made me think of my lovely wife who, ahem, made me a similar offer).

Apparently the song (or a part of it) was used in an Old Navy commercial this past fall, but since I never watch tv commercials, I missed it Seriously, Kim & I always mute the commercials and talk to each other when we're watching tv, unless it's a recording, in which case we speed past them... unless it's Jeeves & Wooster or Masterpiece Theater from PBS, which doesn't have commercials... so yeah, I never see commercials. Well, except for those "I'm a Mac/ I'm a PC" commercials - we'll go off mute for those.

But back to Ingrid Michaelson. If you're looking for catchy, well-written indie-pop with clever lyrics, check her out.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


At school, we're using the new 2007 version of MS Office products (Word, PowerPoint, etc). At home, I've got older versions. No big deal most of the time, except for when I save something at school and want to work on it at home. I'd better be sure to watch the format, 'cause the old software can't open files in the new format. What a headache, to get home with my file only to realize it's the wrong format and I can't read it!

But now I've discovered Zamzar.

It's a free file conversion service. Upload your file in Format A, and it'll convert it to Format B for ya, then send you an email when the conversion is done. How cool is that!

Obviously privacy is a concern for certain files, but if it's just a homework assignment for my Organizational Behavior class, um, I don't mind if someone reads it.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Fierce Invalids

As previously mentioned, I recently finished reading Tom Robbin's book Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates. It's actually my second time reading it- another unusual feat for me. My To Read stack is usually way too large to accommodate a re-read. But for Tom Robbins, I make an exception.

So, to say I like this book is a serious understatement. It's got a crazy jumbled plot, an interesting mix of philosophy, religion and anarchy, and a bit more sex *blush* than the books I usually read... probably because I usually read books about design, business and leadership (Richard Branson's business autobiography "Losing My Virginity" being the notable exception - a business memoir that mentions the boudoir).

Moving on! The value & importance of having a lively sense of humor is a key theme throughout Fierce Invalids. That's one of the things I love about it. I want to share a scene where Switters (the main character) is remembering a discussion he had with his grandmother (whom he calls Maestra). I don't know how much validity there is to the idea he presents, but it does make a certain amount of sense to me and it really got into my head. Maestra says:

"All depression has its roots in self-pity, and all self-pity is rooted in people taking themselves too seriously."

Switters had disputed her assertion. Even at seventeen, he was aware that depression could have chemical causes.

"The key word here is
roots," Maestra had countered. "The roots of depression... [she then talks about early adolescence & development, and concludes] unless someone stronger and wiser - a friend, a parent, a novelist, filmmaker, teacher or musician - can josh us out of it, can elevate us and show us how petty and pompous and monumentally useless it is to take ourselves seriously, then depression can become a habit, which, in turn, can produce a neurological imprint... Gradually, our brain chemistry becomes conditioned to react to negative stimuli in a particular, predictable way... Once depression has become electrochemically integrated, it can be extremely difficult to philosophically or psychologically override it; by then it's playing by physical rules, a whole different ball game.

Here's to not taking ourselves too seriously!

Friday, February 8, 2008

Krog's New Weapon

Changing topics a bit, I wanted to announce that my latest "article" (entitled Krog's New Weapon) is posted on the Defense AT&L website, along with the rest of the Mar/Apr 2008 issue. Don't miss the lively exchange in the From Our Readers section (hoo-boy, that was fun!). All you subscribers out there will receive your hardcopy in the mail in a few weeks.

There's a reason I referred to it as an "article," because this time, it's actually a science fiction story. So even if you're not a highly-decorated, often certified and fully trained defense technologist or acquisition professional like myself, you might still enjoy the story (it helps if you're a sci-fi fan).

I do this sort of thing periodically - writing fiction instead of a more traditional article. The first time it was a fairy tale, and there was the film noir spoof. And of course, there were the FIST comics (here's Part II). Now there's this sci-fi bit, and coming up in a few months is a modern fiction story, featuring none other than Socrates (assuming the editor like it).

Happy reading!

(UPDATE: The file they posted at the link above is missing page 3 (of 4) - so go here and scroll down to page 24 to read the whole thing. I'll let them know on Monday and it should be fixed soon.)

Rural Poverty -vs- Urban Sweatshops

My friend and fellow blogger Keith Giles clued me in to an interesting article about the positive impact of Walmart on world poverty and world peace.

It's a thought-provoking, well-written, well-researched (as far as I can tell) and clearly provocative piece. I hope you'll check it out, whatever your opinion might be of Walmart. One section sort of jumped out at me:

China is the most populous country, with 1.3 billion people, most still poor enough to willingly move hundreds of miles from home for jobs that would be shunned by anyone with better prospects.

If we care about alleviating global poverty we need to take this fact seriously. Without Wal-Mart, about half a million of these people each year would be stuck in rural poverty that is, for most of them, far worse than sweatshop labor.

It's that last part that sort of jumped out at me. Is rural poverty really worse than sweatshop labor? Maybe it is - I don't know anything about either, to be honest. I can only speculate, and I'm reluctant to even do that. But it seems to me the author makes an unproven assertion, that a sweatshop worker is better off than a farm laborer, because the sweatshop worker makes twice as much money. Is that really the way to assess the situation - in dollars (or Yuan)?

Maybe that is indeed the case, and 100M Chinese people who left farms for cities seem to indicate it's true. Maybe sweatshop labor is better than rural poverty. I realize subsistence farming isn't all idyllic and lovely. But I'm not convinced sweatshop labor is really a step up. Maybe it's because I'm desperately hoping for a third alternative. Maybe it's because I don't know enough about either situation. I just have a hunch there's something missing in this equation.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Economic Stimulation, Part II

Some great discussions going on in the Comments section of my previous post - click on over and check them out if you get a chance. They got me thinking about a few other things on this topic.

Maybe this makes me a communist, but I'm not sure economic stimulation (i.e. government intervention) is all it's cracked up to be. That is, I think economies work best when they're left alone, and allowed to self-correct. That includes allowing the occasional downturn.

That probably makes me a free market capitalist, doesn't it?

(I'm actually a distributist, if you're really interested in what sort of economic -ist I am).

Anyway, this situation reminds me of a recent Newsweek article about the value of sadness. Healthy people have a variety of emotions, and get sad when sad things happen. Being happy all the time isn't all it's cracked up to be, but the psychiatric community has a tendency to view sadness as pathological and in need of medical intervention. Divorcing? Here, have some Zoloft. But there's a growing backlash against treating sorrow as a disorder (and a number of new books out, making that case). I wonder if perhaps economies should be allowed to get the blues periodically. Maybe that's a sign of health? Maybe the economy is doing what it's supposed to be doing. Maybe it's a market correction?

In any case, if we really think economic stimulation by the government is good and necessary, what's more economically stimulating than helping those at the bottom of the spectrum?

More to the point, I think serving the poor, hungry and needy is more important than boosting middle class economic fortunes, no matter how much my master bathroom needs to be refurbished.

I hope others will join in...

Economic Stimulation

The government is talking about sending us checks as a means of stimulating the economy. The last figure I heard was $600 per adult, plus $300 per kid, so a family of four ends up with $1800... unless you're on the upper or lower end of the economic range, in which case you probably won't get anything.

At the risk of sounding un-American, I don't need that money. I hope that doesn't sound like bragging. It's not that I'm so rich - we just live within our means, we're comfortable and not in debt and not itching to go out and buy $1800 worth of anything. Sure, we're planning to remodel our tiny master bathroom, and the money would help there, but we were planning to do that long before anyone started talking about these checks.

So yeah, I don't really need the money. The more I think about it, the more I'm coming to conclude that I don't really want that money. At the same time, I'd rather the government not have it either, so I guess giving it to me is better than not, but I'm thinking there must be a meaningful, creative way to put that money to use, serving the community rather than just myself.

Wouldn't it be cool if a big group of us all banded together and decided to use the money for real "economic stimulation," giving it to people and causes that really need it? All those people who used to wear WWJD bracelets should seriously consider this course of action. And for what it's worth, I think it would be a relatively easy $600 (or $1800) to give away, because we weren't expecting it, weren't counting on it, hadn't budgeted for it...

How about you? Do you really need that money, or are there people around us who need it more?

LOTR Video Game

I'm a sucker for medieval fantasy strategy games like Total Annihilation: Kingdoms. Give me a chance to build some farms and archery towers, train up an army and march out against a mob of goblins and orcs, and I'm good to go for quite a while (yeah, I know it's not exactly consistent with my "in favor of living" thing... heh).

Anyway, my latest game is Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle Earth II (no, I haven't played part I). I'm not a hard-core gamer, and haven't gone in for the multi-player online mode, but I definitely enjoy spending the occasional hour building up big armies of elven archers (love the archers!) and doing battle against the forces of Mordor.

(I think it's because, in my head, I'm still 12 years old...)

(And speaking of ages, happy birthday to Jenna, who turns 5 today!)

Tuesday, February 5, 2008


My favorite used book store in the world (Cornerstone Book Shop, in Plattsburgh NY) has this sign hanging near the register. I think it's an interesting combination of gift certificates - very relaxing in either case...

Monday, February 4, 2008

Ze Frank on the Superbowl

Ze Frank speaks for me too (thanks to Andy Sernovitz for posting this on his blog).

My favorite line? "Football is a game you play with a ball... and your hands."

the show with zefrank

I Finished A Book!

I got a huge stack of books for Christmas, and on Friday as I flew home from Boston, I finished the first of them (Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates). This is an unusual feat for me, and if not for the pair of 4+ hour flights, who knows how long it would have taken me to finish the book.

See, I read a lot of books, but usually 5 at a time, so finishing one is a rare accomplishment. My wife is the opposite -she reads one at a time, and blows through them 10 times faster than me. She's so fast that she occasionally runs out of books to read. I never find myself wondering "What will I read next?" 'cause my stack of unread/unfinished books is perpetually growing. But since Christmas, Kim has read all of Jane Austin's novels, plus two books based on the tv show Monk, plus some other stuff I'm sure... and like I said, I just finished my first. Yay me! :)

I'm still in the middle of a few others. There's The Birth of the Chaordic Age, by Dee Hock. There's two design books by Don Norman (Emotional Design and The Design of Everyday Things), a collection of steampunk stories (The Steampunk Trilogy) and The Best of Isaac Asimov. Oh, and I'm planning to start Un Lun Dun (by China Mieville) sometime soon...

How about you? What's on your list?

Sunday, February 3, 2008

A Cracked Pot

I'd previously posted a shot of this funny flower pot... and am sad to report that it recently broke.

My theory - water collected in the basin, then froze and expanded, cracking the bowl. I think that's the best explanation for how the bowl could be broken but the seat is intact. Interestingly, nobody has cleaned up the pieces (it's been broken for a while now)...