Wednesday, April 30, 2008


I came across a crazy article recently, about the problem of overfishing. It says fishing crews often accidentally catch large amounts of fish such as cod after exceeding their cod quotas (while they're looking for some other kind of fish). They then have "no option but to dump them..." even though the fish are dead.

Ministers are pushing for a quota increase to help solve the problem. But environmentalists have called for a change in practices, such as avoiding areas with large numbers of white fish.

Fish in places where there aren't very many fish... Huh?

Monday, April 28, 2008

The M&M Van

I drive past a construction site every day on the way to work, and almost every day, this M&M van is parked there. I finally remembered to snap a photo of it as I drove past (in my characteristic, gritty/urban/fuzzy-cell-phone-camera style).

Some of the logos have apparently been removed, so I don't think it's an official M&M van anymore. I'd love to know the story behind how a construction worker ended up with a van like this...

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Brian's Book

Brian Brewington is a buddy from high school - he, Matt Kahle, Andrew Figel and I used to hang out and play cards, see movies, and what ever else we did for fun back then (mostly playing cards and the occasional hockey game). Brian and I also ran cross country together... and by "together" I mean he was usually way, way, way in front of me. We were on the same team, not exactly the same league.

Anyway, Brian has a book out, titled September Sojurn. It is "a photo essay of autumn in Colorado," and it's gorgeous. He captured intimate closeups of golden leaves, enormous mountain range vistas, and shots of footpaths through aspen forests - all with equal skill. Certainly makes my fuzzy camera phone shots look even sillier than they already are. September Sojurn is a striking book, and looking at the photos made me miss Colorado a bit. OK, more than a bit.

I hope you'll check it out - you can see a preview at the link above.

Friday, April 25, 2008

All you need is...

This hangs on the wall of the church my parents attend, back in NY. I think it's cool, and always make a point of stopping to admire it every time I'm there..

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Fuzzy Garden Photos

Yes, my fuzzy camera phone strikes again - this time, in the back yard, where my garden seems to be making a comeback. Here's a zucchini seedling poking up through the ground.

And some lettuce seeds (I think... I hope... I'm pretty sure)

And a couple of the raspberry bushes I though were dead are showing some signs of new growth. This gardening thing might work out after all! It's so amazing to see the seeds I planted come to life.

Adventures In Censorship

We're researching a real-life Broken Arrow event in one of my classes. It's an interesting story - back in 1969, a B-52 from Plattsburgh AFB carrying nuclear weapons crashed on Greenland. But that's not what this post is about.

In the course of our research, we came across a document that struck me as so odd I had to take a photo and publish it here. I felt like a spy, using my camera phone to take a picture of a document about nuclear weapons, even tho it's all unclassified. In fact, we found this doc thanks to Google. But take a look at this page and see if you can figure out what word they blacked out...

Hmmm, "the B-52 with four #### Weapons" - what could fit there? I'm thinking, "conventional?"

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Coffee, Local Food, and Seeds (Earth Day)

Coffee isn't coffee.

That is, coffee beans from one part of the world make quite a different cup than beans from another part of the world. Starbucks knows this. Coffee Fool makes a pretty big deal about it. And I can tell from personal experience that yeah, coffee isn't just coffee. Beans from Brazil don't taste the same as beans from Ethiopia... or even from Honduras.

I bet the same is true for lots of other foods. That's one of the things I'm learning from The Omnivore's Dilemma. All beef isn't the same, all chicken isn't the same... you get the picture. The author (Michael Pollan) suggests that local food (as in, food produced in your area) is, well, different, depending on where you live. Pollan suggests it's worth checking out.

So, I'm hoping to pay some visits to local farmers markets this summer. And as I've mentioned earlier, I'm also growing my own veggies (hopefully) in my back yard. Most of the first round died - probably my fault - but there are hopeful signs as I try for round two. Lettuce is popping up, and just tonight I discovered a zucchini seedling poking its way through the earth.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Flower Pot Redux

Longtime readers might remember the adventures of the blue "flower pot" toilet I've mentioned several times. Well, after it cracked, things went downhill. It ended up falling over / getting knocked over, it broke into several pieces, and eventually someone cleaned it up and hauled it away.

And now, as you can see from this photo, it's back! That is, it's been replaced, this time by a pinkish-tan colored toilet.

Who does this?

Saturday, April 19, 2008


Many years ago, I sat down with a Colonel for an official mentoring session. We didn't work in the same office and didn't really know each other, but I'd been assigned as his mentee. I showed him my career plan, and I'll never forget his advice:

"I don't see a Pentagon assignment here. You really should go to the Pentagon. It would be terrible for your family but great for your career, so you should do it."

I almost got up and walked out right there, Colonel or not. In my opinion, terrible for my family + good for my career = Don't do it.

And that's the day I began to formulate my opinion of what mentoring should be like. I've concluded that a good mentoring relationship is organic, not assigned. It develops naturally, and can't be mandated. Mentoring is about chemistry, mutual respect, listening, and shared values. The guy who I'd been assigned to did not have an appreciation for my values, interests or priorities. He did not ask questions - he tried (and failed) to convince me to conform to his own formula for professional success.

And now, here I am, getting ready to head off to a Pentagon assignment. His observation rang in my ears when I got the offer a few weeks ago. But this particular job seems quite family friendly and flexible, on everything from work hours to my reporting date. So, we'll see...

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Too Much! Too Much!

Oh, there's so much to blog about, I'm missing and dropping things all over the place.

For starters, the latest issue of Defense AT&L also features a fantastic article by my good friend Gabe Mounce, titled Diversity & Freaks. I should have mentioned it two posts ago, and could also have pointed out there's a little discussion on the Letters To The Editor page that you might enjoy.

And I just finished reading a hilarious juvie-fiction book titled Whales on Stilts. Holy cow it was funny - I really should do a whole post just about it, but for now let me just recommend it as a quick read, a fun read, and a laugh-out-loud funny read.

I've also started reading a cyberpunk novel titled Accelerando, by Charles Stross. I think it's going to explode my brain.

My gardening experiment is a big bust so far - the zucchinis and cucumbers I moved outside all died. The new round of seeds I planted directly outside a few weeks back haven't done anything (but I'm still hopeful!). And now my raspberry bushes are looking like they're going to die too - well, five out of six, anyway. But boy, those weeds are sure doing well.

And the book projects, and classes, and construction projects - whew! And the cool thing is, I'm really enjoying it all!

The FIST Handbook

My latest project is titled "The FIST Handbook," and I finished it this morning. It's a 74-page collection of my articles from Defense AT&L, primarily focused on the FIST series (which stands for Fast, Inexpensive, Simple and Tiny).

My review copy is on it's way here, and once I have a chance to check it over and make sure the formatting, etc looks good, I'll let you know it's ready for public consumption. It'll be a free download, and only $6 (plus shipping & handling) for the print version.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Postmodern Program Management

The latest issue of everyone's favorite defense technology journal is posted online, and my humble contribution this time is actually in two parts.

First, there's an article titled Postmodern Program Management. Don't know what postmodern means? Well, read the article and find out. Not interested in Program Management? That's alright too, because the article is really more about theology, philosophy and a better way to live than the dull details of managing a program. I'd love to hear what you think of it - and so would the editor!

And the second contribution is the really exciting one - it's the first comic in our 13 Theta series (13 Theta being "more than twice as good as 6 Sigma"). One of the running themes throughout the 13 Theta comics is "Great Moments in Acquisition History." We've got a big stack of comics, and are hoping to be able to get them out a bit more frequently than Defense AT&L's 6-issues-a-year publishing schedule.

So, check them out if you're so inclined. And look out for the July/Aug and Sept/Oct issues, because our next two articles are real doozies!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Krog's Alternate Ending

My kids saw the illustration for the Krog story, and wanted to know what it was about. So I gave them the 2-minute version.

Both the 8 year old and her 5 year old sister giggled at the thought that anyone would actually build something that doesn't work and isn't needed. "That's silly, Daddy! Why would they do that?"

Why indeed?

And my dramatically inclined 8 year old pointed out that the story would have been better if, after the spaceship program was canceled, an enemy space ship appeared out of nowhere and started shooting.

The kid knows dramatic endings with a twist, what can I say? I can't wait to see what sort of stuff she'll write as she gets older.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Krog Blog!

Wired magazine's "Danger Room" blog is full of all kinds of interesting posts about national security. So, I was pleasantly surprised when I got an email today from my editor, telling me they'd written about Krog's New Weapon, an article I co-wrote with my buddies Quaid & Gabe.

The comments readers submitted to that post range from bizarre ramblings (What do you know of Virtual Reality for Real via the Astute NEUKlearer HyperRadioProActive Portal) to the mildly insulting (i think they need to take a creative writing course) to the slightly more insulting, combined with dismissiveness (I think they need to take a course in subtlety too. Like, can you beat me over the head with your point any harder? Whatever happened to "show, don't tell?" Anyway, that's a little harsh. After all, what can you expect from Air Force officers?) to a lengthy non sequitur rant "The modern USAF is a joke. I cannot think of a more parochial, self-serving military service anywhere in the Western world. The USAF constantly seeks to improve upon its relative position..."

Sigh. Fortunately, one commenter, Klebert L. Hall, made a very good point. Kle. wrote:

It's often just as easy to make fun of a good idea, as it is to make fun of a bad one. This is why politics-by-satire isn't such a good plan.

Well said, Kle! Thank you for the thoughtful, insightful comment. Politics (or policy) by satire is probably a bad idea, for the reason you stated. I think satire has an important ability to point out truth, but it shouldn't be used exclusively. Sincerity is important too - and most of my previous articles fall solidly in that category.

Sure, we're sort of lobbing spears at a particular AF system (any guesses?), but in the end Krog is a story (possibly bad/overly obvious) about a high-tech, alien program manager who a) asks the right questions about his project and b) has the courage to face the answers and c) makes a good decision, thanks to his high-tech program management approach (an approach we earthlings have apparently not developed yet). It was a fun, experimental attempt to make a point in an unusual, attention-grabbing way. The jury's still out on whether or not we succeeded.

But our point is, it'd be great if every program manager,military or otherwise, honestly answered Krog's questions: Does this thing work? Do we need it? If the answer to both is no, then the project should be canceled.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Comedy in NYC?

Check out this comedy troupe from NYC - Adventures of Little Men. As the website explains, "New York City can finally claim to have something interesting to see on a Saturday Night. "

One of the performers is my brother-in-law, Dave (he's the one on the right). You can watch videos of their sketches on their website, or catch their broadcast on the Manhattan Neighborhood Network public access channel (also viewable online). (Caution - not suitable for work, or kids, etc...)

Anyway, I caught the show this morning, and it was pretty hilarious.

Glenn - I know you check this blog periodically, and you're in the business, right? Here's your chance to give them a big break, right?

Friday, April 11, 2008

Coffee Talk

Last year, my wife brought back some wonderful coffee from a conference she attended. It was one of those coffees that makes you say "Wow, that's good coffee" after almost every sip. No exaggeration - it's really good stuff.

Since I enjoyed it so much, she ordered me some for Christmas... but it didn't show up. Thinking perhaps there'd been a temporary problem with the website, or perhaps a mistake in the first order, she tried again in Feb, ordering me some for my birthday. Still, nothing showed up.

So, she ended up giving me a gift certificate to Coffee Fool (awesome company, awesome coffee). And two days after receiving my latest Coffee Fool order (one bag of Tanzanian Peaberry and one of a French Roast blend), guess what showed up? BOTH orders from the first company (which shall remain nameless). Yup - the Christmas order and the birthday order, all at once, with no note of apology or recognition of the delay.

Now I'm swimming in coffee. Looks like I'd better increase my coffee consumption, eh?

Bravo, Johnny Bunko!

I finished reading Dan Pink's latest book, Johnny Bunko (check out this WSJ review). I really enjoyed it, perhaps because it all sounded so familiar. In fact, it sounds a lot like my own Radical Elements book, in content and theme and attitude (if I may presume to compare my own work to Mr. Pink's).

Of course, we're both channeling Tom Peters and Dale Cargnegie, and books like this, by definition, almost have to say things like "take chances" and "do stuff that matters." That's what these books are about.

But the thing about Johnny Bunko is the format - a Japanese comic called manga. That's what makes his book really stand out, and I think it really works. Check it out the Johnny Bunko website for a free preview.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Process Zombies On The Soccer Field!!!

The kids are both playing soccer for the first time this spring. Last Saturday was the first "practice," although it was more of a "stand in line" than a practice.

J is in the 3-5 year old group. There were about 100 of them, divided into two groups of 50. The guy in charge had them all get in a line. He then called them forward one at a time to dribble a soccer ball around 4 cones and shoot at a goal. Ever see a 3-year-old dribble a soccer ball around 4 cones? The really fast ones get through it in about 30 seconds - which means it took over 25 minutes to go through the whole group of 50.

That's right - fifty 3-5 year olds, spending 25 minutes standing in line, for the chance to kick the ball once.

In the organizer's defense, the turnout was much larger than they'd expected. But the guy should have done something different. He should have adjusted his plans when he realized his predictions of the situation were off (way off!). Instead, he stuck to the plan. Stupid. Looks like the Inflexible Process Mindset even extends to youth sports organizers. But the worst part was the way the parents were completely complicit in the snafu. Over and over, I heard parents telling their kids "Stay in line... Johnny, stay in line..."

Not this kid! While the organizer continued to run the kids through those 4 doggone cones, I found a stray soccer ball (there were several laying around, completely unkicked). I went up to the section of the line where J was patiently waiting. I kicked it to her. She kicked it back. I kicked it to the kid standing next to her. He kicked it back. Up and down the line I went, for 25 minutes - the kids kicked and jumped and laughed and played (and, interestingly, stayed in line).

Well, one kid got out of line. That would be my daughter - she came out to stand next to me. She kicked the ball to the kids in line, and they kicked back to her. When a kick went wild, she chased it.

That's my girl.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Johnny Bunko

I loved Dan Pink's book A Whole New Mind. It really got me thinking differently about a whole bunch of stuff. He and I corresponded briefly after I read the book, and he suggested I turn my Simplicity Cycle into a book.

Anyway, I'm 1/2 way through his new book, Johnny Bunko. It's a manga-style career guide, and not only is it an interesting physical approach (the artwork is fantastic), it's also an insightful, stimulating read. I'd call it postmodern - and I mean that as a compliment. I'll post more later, after I've finished reading it. For now, I'll leave you with this preview:

Johnny Bunko trailer from Daniel Pink on Vimeo.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Bitstrips #1

My blog friend Saul Colt, aka The Smartest Man In The World, introduced me to this amazing website called Bitstrips. It's sort of a YouTube for comics (and if you're reading this on an RSS reader, you'll have to click over and actually view my blog). Anyway, I put this one together, featuring my buddies Quaid and Gabe.

E.B. White

Did you know that the guy who wrote Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little also wrote Elements of Style, the definitive English style writing guide? Yup, it's the same E.B. White in both cases. He was also a staff writer at The New Yorker magazine for six decades.

I love that. I love that one guy can write some of the most powerful, important children's literature in the world, and also write a popular/academic style guide / textbook (a popular-academic-style-textbook? Wow). Probably because my own writings don't exactly fit into a pigeonhole - am I a children's author? A self-help writer? A technical guy? My writing genres are all over the map. I've done adventure/mystery books for kids, a collection of short spiritual fiction, a self-help guide to "doing stuff that matters," and a design book about complexity & simplicity... what kind of writer does that make me?

From one perspective, one might look at my books (questions of quality aside) and conclude I haven't figured out what kind of writer I want to be. But the opposite is true. I know exactly what kind of writer I want to be - an eclectic, varied writer, like E.B. White.

Monday, April 7, 2008


For those who haven't heard, I've been offered a job in DC, at the Pentagon. We'll move in June 2009.

It was quite a surprise - we'd been planning to stay in Ohio after graduation next March. Instead, we'll be heading back east. The job sounds amazing, and we're excited to be closer to family, etc. We like the DC area - so much to do, so much history, etc. But the prospect of moving again after less than 2 years on station is a bit tiring.

And we got the offer mere days after we'd signed contracts to have our master bathroom remodeled... and to have the back stairs outside removed/replace and a deck added. We didn't really plan to do both the same week, but that's how it ended up working out. We probably would have made different decisions if we'd known we only have a year left in the house. Hopefully these projects will help make the house more attractive to buyers next spring. At the moment, it's just a few more bits of expensive chaos as we mentally begin preparing to move.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Farmer Dan

Last fall I decided I wanted to have a little vegetable garden this summer. I've been thinking about it and planning it for several months now (and probably driving my lovely and patient wife crazy with all the garden talk). I got one of those indoor greenhouses and got things started (see above). From left to right, it's zucchini, carrots, broccoli and cucumbers.

Last week, I moved the larger plants (zuke's and cuke's) outside. I must have been too early or too rough or something, 'cause the cucumbers all died - but many of the cucumber leaves looked like they'd been eaten by bugs, so maybe it wasn't anything I did. The zukes look a little limp, but are hanging in there (I think). So far, the bugs haven't chomped them. And whoa, between the digging and raking and bending over to plant the seedlings, I gained a whole new appreciation for the physical rigors of growing food.

Early this morning I went out and did some more digging and raking. I planted a new set of seeds for the 4 veggies I mentioned, plus some lettuce, spinach and marigolds (apparently marigolds help keep bugs away?). I've got some raspberry bushes too, but they're still inside. I hope to get them planted outside soon - just gotta pick a spot.

Who knows if I'll manage to grow anything at all... I know it's not a given. But whether anything actually comes up or not, I'm fascinated by the journey. I'm paying so much more attention now to rainfall, sunshine, temperatures (highs and lows). There's something very cool about it all, and I feel more connected to the world.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Stratemeyer Syndicate, Part II

Whoa - I didn't realize Mr. Stratemeyer had a fanboy out there, but it's nice to meet you, Keeline. Rather than reply in the comments section of the earlier post, I figured I'd hit the topic here, so it won't be overlooked.

My comments about "syndicate" sounding evil was clearly an error on my part. I probably meant "Syndrome" from the movie The Incredibles. Those two words sound the same to me. My bad.

Let's talk about Wikipedia for a moment. I explicitly cited it as a source, although it wasn't the only one I used. I do that because it (like any other source) could be wrong, although Wikipedia's quality is remarkably high. But if it's wrong, I'm curious why Keeline hasn't fixed it. I checked 5 minutes ago and the page is not locked, so you don't even need to log in to Wikipedia to make changes to that page (although Wikipedia would prefer that you do log in and identify yourself).

More to the heart of my posting, however, is the production approach used by the Syndrome (I mean Syndicate). Perhaps the contracts and payments were all first-rate. Perhaps the secrecy wasn't as widespread as Wikipedia made it sound. But there is something downright industrial about the way the books were written - formulaic plots, lengths, etc... even down to making references to the latest technology of the day. This approach continues, and the new series has frequent references to things like websites and email. VERY frequent. Annoyingly and artificially frequent. As in, "Look how modern and up to date we are" frequent. So I had some suspicions before I found the Wikipedia article.

Now, the industrial model of production does convey a certain type of efficiency and even a type of success. Nancy Drew is a successful series, in the sense that Twinkies are a successful product. And yeah, I don't buy Twinkies for my kids. I'd rather see them eat grapes.

Similarly, I personally know there are a lot of "organic" writers out there, producing excellent childrens' books that are genuine works of love. The quality of their storytelling is high, although their "market penetration" is low because they don't have an industrial marketing machine behind them. I'd rather have my kids read those kinds of books, both as a matter of principle and as a statement of my belief in the quality of small-scale indie publishers.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

With Friends Like These...

Our friends at Cash$Land changed their sign again - now they're offering $10 if you "refer a friend."

But what kind of friend would refer their buddy for ID Theft? "You know, my buddy Mike has an ID. You could steal it from him..."

I wonder what the sign will say next?

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Stratemeyer Syndicate

My youngest daughter recently discovered Nancy Drew - specifically, the "Nancy Drew and the Clue Crew" series, a re-launch of the Nancy Drew Notebooks series, both of which are aimed at a younger set (Nancy is 8 in these books). I noticed that the author was Carolyn Keene, just as in the original series, and I was impressed that Ms. Keene was still writing new books after all these years. So I decided to check her out, figuring it must be a Dear Abby sort of thing, with the new books being done by Carolyn Keene Jr or something like that.

If only...

It turns out Carolyn Keene isn't a person, and never was. It's a pseudonym used by the Stratemeyer Syndicate (I'm not making that name up). Mr. Stratemeyer died in 1930, after launching a mechanical book writing empire which produced Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, among many, many others. And according to Wikipedia, the Syndicate hid its existence until 1980. Yikes!

The books were written according to a strict formula, and the ghostwriters were paid $125-250 for each manuscript, signing away all authorship rights to future royalties, etc.

It makes me want to not let her read these books. I would much rather pay money for a book written by a real person than by a committee. I want the author to be identified and paid royalties. I'm not so interested in books pumped out by a secretive syndicate that treated authors like cogs in a wheel. Maybe it's because I write kid's books. Maybe it's because I have friends who write kids books. Maybe it's because the word "Syndicate" sounds evil. But something about this whole Nancy Drew / Hardy Boys thing just doesn't seem right...