Friday, May 30, 2008

Learning Dutch!

I'm only taking two courses this summer (plus my thesis research), so a buddy and I are planning to do some online Dutch lessons, through Rosetta Stone. He's planning a trip to Europe in September, and wanted to be able to talk with the natives in Amsterdam. My brother-in-law is from Holland, and my sister speaks Dutch as well, so I figured I'd actually be able to use what I learn too. And having a fellow student to talk with will be a big help as well, I'm sure.

I'll keep you posted here on how the Dutch lessons are going... once I get started.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Another Thought On The Future

I wonder - to what extent is our behavior today influenced or directed by the plans (strategic or otherwise) of 20 years ago? And on the off-chance that anyone is following a plan that is 20 or more years old... how's that working out?

I guess that's one of the things about *long term* strategic planning. If we really believe in it, shouldn't we be looking backwards, to see what people from our past were saying about today, then letting those predictions and prescriptions guide our behavior?

I'm pretty sure we don't do that... and since we don't, what makes us think today's projections for 20 years into the future are going to have an impact on people 20 years from now?

Monday, May 26, 2008

Methanococcus Jannaschii & other Black Swans

As The Future Catches You, by Juan Enriquez, is one of the most thought-provoking, stimulating and fascinating books I've ever read. It's one of those books I couldn't put down and, once I finished, couldn't forget. I read it several years ago, and the recent discussions about the future brought it to mind again.

One particularly memorable scene describes the discovery in 1996 of methanococcus jannaschii, a bacteria "first found in Yellowstone's boiling pools, where the liquids are as corrosive as battery acid." They have also been found near underwater volcanoes, where the pressure is 245 atmospheres, and have been around for billions of years.

These life forms, known collectively as Archaea, love CO2 and breathe iron. Oxygen is poisonous to them. They are radically different from other forms of life on earth. In fact, 56% of their genes are unlike any other species (that's a big percentage, genetically speaking). Their discovery "forced biologists to admit there was a third branch on the tree of life" (the other two being prokarya and eukarya). It's a pretty profound discovery.

Once scientists knew what to look for, they found Archaea just about everywhere. Mr. Enriquez explains Archaea "make up one-fifth of the biomass on Planet Earth." And we didn't even know about them until 1996.

Holy cow. It makes me wonder - what other game-changing discovery is just around the corner, waiting to radically transform our understanding of life, the world and everything? How much of what we think we know is actually incomplete or incorrect?

So yeah, I'm skeptical about long-range strategic planning, precisely because Black Swan instances like the discovery of Archaea are responsible for virtually every consequential historical event (that's a pattern I'll sign up for).

Check out Nassim Taleb's book The Black Swan for more on this topic (or read this short article he wrote for to get the basic idea).

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Future (from the Past)

One of the bummers about blogging is the fact that regular readers are likely to miss discussions in the comments section of older posts. Even people who leave comments might miss out on subsequent replies to their comments, since most RSS feeds only distribute posts, not comments (and I do reply to most comments).

I mention this because right now there's a pretty interesting discussion about the future going on in the Comments section of a post I wrote a while ago. I briefly considered posting it all up here, but decided it makes more sense to just link to it. Follow the link above check it out.

I will add this additional thought to my already-posted reply:

Question: How many of today's predictions about the future are correct?
Answer: None (yet). They won't be correct until the future arrives.

(Oh, and when I say that a thing is silly, that's not necessarily a criticism. I am quite fond of silly things. It's only a criticism if we take silly things too seriously.)

Agent Search, Part II

Last time, I mentioned I'm looking for an agent.

Why an agent? Easy - most publishers won't talk to you unless you've got one.

Why do I want to hook up with a big, conventional publisher? Good question. I'm not sure I do... but maybe an agent would help me find a cool, small, fast, creative publisher. I just won't know until I try (and I guess that's the rub, isn't it?).

But here's the tricky thing - I'm a hard writer to categorize. I've got three kids novels (and one more on the way), one design book, a self-help book and a collection of short religious fiction - plus whatever else I come up with. I'd like to find an agent who's interested in representing me & all my books - not just me as a kid's writer or a design writer or (God help me!) a religious writer (yuk!).

And I realize this eclectic collection might come across as sounding like I can't make up my mind... which is probably true, but then again, I've never been one for either/or situations. I much prefer both/and. And hey, if E.B. White can write Charlotte's Web and Elements of Style, why not me? Not that I'm in his league - just following a similar path.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Agent Search

OK, I think I'm going to look for an agent now.

Well, not right this very minute, but over the next several weeks/months, I'm planning to contact some literary agents (aka writer's representatives) and see if I can't bring some of my books to the next level. As in, triple digit sales... maybe even four digit sales (hey, dream big, right?).

I feel sort of mixed about this concept. There is so much I like about the self-publishing approach - the speed, flexibility, control... I also like the fact that nobody is counting on me to run around on a book tour, giving lectures or doing readings at schools & libraries. In other words, I can do the book marketing on my own time (or not do it). And if some real grownups are involved & invested in my books, I'll probably owe them some marketing effort - which I may or may not be able to do, timewise.

Still, I would like to see the books get out there a little more widely. And while I think the quality is already very good, I'm sure they could benefit from some professional editing. The Simplicity Cycle book in particular is pretty great (imho), but imagine if someone who knew what they were doing redid some of the charts, graphs and pictures.

So, I'm looking for an editor agent. Leads and suggestions are welcome.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Bad Writers

I think the world suffers more when bad writers do not write than when they do.

What about you?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Simplicity Cycle on iPaper

And The Simplicity Cycle looks particularly good in Book Mode:

Read this doc on Scribd: simplicity cycle


I just got an invitation to play with Scribd's new iPaper software, and I really like it. Look what it did to my book The Desert:

(click on the little down-arrow button next to the word iPaper, and check it out in Book Mode. Nice!)

Read this doc on Scribd: The Desert

You can also see The Desert at Scribd's website - you get more screen space there than on my little blog.


I don't know why this CASH$LAND sign is so irresistable, or why I like poking fun at it so... but I do confess, it makes me laugh pretty often.

This latest version, offering "NE CUST 2 1DA LOAN" has been up for several weeks. Yes, several weeks! Sure, sign me up for da loan!

**UPDATE** The sign now offers NE CUST 2 DA LOANS" - I didn't have my Handy Dandy Camera Phone turned on when I saw it, but how can I turn down da loan now?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Worst. Billboard. Ever.

Yes, that's a huge black widow spider on a billboard advertising a car dealership. I'm not particularly afraid of spiders - I kind of like them, in fact - but this billboard creeps me out. As if buying a car isn't creepy enough, why be so blatant about the bloodsucking nature of the experience?

You're "Web Friendly" (whatever that means)? Uh, good for you.

How about People Friendly? Sure, you're people friendly... just like a giant black widow spider.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Future

I've been thinking about "The Future" (capital T, capital F) lately, and wanted to consolidate my thoughts a bit:

1) There are no facts about the future. My friend Jeff Wacker, a futurist for EDS, pointed that out to me once and it really stuck in my head.

2) Long-term strategic planning is kind of silly, on several levels. First, there is very little accountability, because the people making the plans generally won't be around to see them come to fruition and won't be exposed to the consequences of being wrong. Second, there is precious little opportunity to learn from experience, particularly for long-range planning, because we don't directly experiences the results of our decisions and predictions - and if we do, it's too late.

3) We tend to overestimate what technology can do in 10 years... and underestimate what it can do in 50 years. I read that somewhere - don't recall the source.

4) When we talk about the future, we are really talking about the past. When we talk about the distant future, we're really talking about the very recent past. (That is, we are extrapolating trends, and the more recent the trend, the further into the future we think it will extend.)

4.5) Futurists don't really believe in change. That is, they think the future will be a certain way IF trends A, B & C continue and the environment/market/threat/etc responds the way it has in the past. These predictions basically rest on the assumption that things will continue, unchanged. This is not necessarily a bad assumption.

5) 20 years is a long time. It might make sense to spend 20 years on a research project, discovering some new knowledge, but a 20 year development project to build a new thing (particularly a large one) tends to deliver some components with obsolete technology while simultaneously relying on / hoping for some new technological breakthrough for other components, which may or may not happen (see #3 above). Never mind that the need/market/mission/threat has probably changed significantly over the 20 year development time (see #1 above). Perhaps that's why the DoD and the GAO both say we shouldn't spend more than 5 years developing something (the key word being "should").

Friday, May 16, 2008

Danger - Gators!

On my recent trip to Florida, I had a wonderful dinner with an old friend and his family. But before dinner, we walked around his neighborhood a bit, and came across this sign in a small pond (which I captured with my Fuzzy Camera Phone):

And not only is this gator pond in the middle of a very nice neighborhood... but they put a park bench right in front of it, as you can see here:

Sure, be careful of the alligators - but go ahead and sit right here. I wonder if maybe the gators put the bench there as bait.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Isn't This What We're All Looking For?

No word from the local mall security office where enlightenment may be obtained.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Reflections, Part 1

I took this photo using my usual fuzzy camera phone. It is the first in a one-part series of abstract photography, which will undoubtedly not come to a Museum of Modern Art near you. It probably won't make it into a Museum of Postmodern Art either.

What is this photograph, you might ask? How did Dan, the Artistic Genius, create such a striking image with such a primitive cellphone camera? What does the CA$HLand Sign say today? Well, I'll answer the first question - it's the early morning sunlight, shining through the glass panels of my front door and projecting this crazy pattern onto the wall of my entryway.

(I'll try to snag a shot of the CA$HLand sign later...)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

May Garden Shot!

Whee! Things are growing in my garden! We've got zucchinis and squashes and cucumbers. The spinach is coming up slowly, as are the carrots.

But the lettuce - whoa, it's growing like... like... well, like lettuce, I suppose. I ate a small piece. It was yummy!

Monday, May 12, 2008


One of the coolest things about traveling is the opportunity to read, uninterrupted, for several hours. I often say I hate to travel, but oh, how I love the reading time. I managed to read a book start-to-finish on my trip last week, a real rarity. I get to read AND I actually finish a book? Whoa!

Anyway, the book is G.K. Chesterton's Eugenics and Other Evils. [NOTE: eugenics is the study of hereditary "improvement" of the human race by controlled selective breeding. Yes, you read that correctly].

It's a brilliant book (did Chesterton write any other kind?), written in 1922, when eugenics was very popular among scientists, politicians and academia. Naturally, while the rich and powerful liked eugenics, it was less popular among the poor, the marginalized, the outsiders, the oppressed and anyone else in the category of "unfit." But while eugenics was popular in 1922, it wasn't quite national policy... yet. So, GKC was characteristically ahead of his time when he wrote "It is often essential to resist a tyranny before it exists."

A decade after GKC's book, everyone's favorite villain Adolph Hitler took eugenic principles to their twisted, evil, logical conclusion.

As I finished the book, I sighed in relief. "Whew," I thought. "It's actually kind of a good thing for us today that Hitler supported eugenics, because that connection to Nazi's should make it pretty unlikely for anyone today to adopt such a view or talk about things like 'racial hygiene.'"

Yeah, you'd think so, wouldn't you? But a quick google search turned up more than a few pro-eugenics websites, like Future Generations. Yikes! If you can stomach it, Marian Van Court wrote "The Case For Eugenics In A Nutshell," published in 2004. It includes lines like "If the retarded were given sufficient cash or other incentives to adopt permanent birth control, mental retardation could be cut by approximately 1/3 in just one generation..."

Better yet, skip Van Court's stuff, and go right to GKC's book, which you can download for free here. Looks like this tyranny must again be resisted before it exists... again.

Cop On Segway

While I was waiting in the airport in Florida, I saw a police officer zip past on a Segway Personal Transport(tm). Well, zip is probably the wrong word - more like "mosey."

The funny thing is, the airport is TINY. It was so small, in fact, and the Segway seemed so unnecessary, that I actually put my book down and paced off the distance.

From end to end, it took me 107 steps, which I completed at a leisurely pace in less than a minute. Now, I could see patrolling LAX with a Segway, but Ft. Walton Beach Airport? Really? I think the guy spent more time waiting for the elevator (cause he couldn't take the stairs) than he actually saved by riding the device. And yes, if you're wondering, the cop was more-than-slightly on the pudgy side. I wonder why...

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Presidential Oratory

I just finished reading President Eisenhower's farewell speech to the American public, from 1961 (aka the Military-Industrial Complex speech).

It's a remarkable piece of history and oratory. The elevated tone and language is striking, particularly since he was talking to everyone, not just Congress or university professors. This is how he spoke to ordinary citizens. I would love to see today's political leaders (and aspiring leaders) talk to us this way - even though to do so would certainly carry the risk of being labeled "elitist."

I hope you'll go read the entire speech - it's not long, but it is thought provoking. For those who can't muster the mouseclick necessary to read the entire thing, here's a short excerpt:

Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations.

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence -- economic, political, even spiritual -- is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

On The Road Again

Many years ago, while working working on my first master's degree, I began a little project we now know as "The Radical Elements of Radical Success."

I was studying organizational behavior, reading books by Tom Peters, and generally discovering the grown-up world of work. Over the course of 5 years, I wrote a book which (much to my surprise) continues to sell, for reasons which are entirely mysterious to me.

I also created a Radical Elements briefing. It lasts a little over an hour and it opened a lot of doors for me. I got job offers, I met some cool people, I got to brief some senior members of the intelligence community. I even had a regular gig with my agency's in-house "School of Leadership" for a couple years. I long ago lost track of how many times I've given it (30 times? 50? more?), and I'm sure I'll do it again in the future.

But tomorrow, a new chapter begins. I'm going to Florida to give a new presentation, with a new book. This presentation is titled "FIST: Fast, Inexpensive, Simple and Tiny." I've previously mentioned The FIST Handbook, and I've got a stack of copies to hand out while I'm down there. I've already got my second FIST gig lined up here in Ohio for later in the month.

It will be interesting to see where this leads...

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Dandelions, part II

The previous post got me thinking about dandelions - actually, all the dandelions in my yard got me thinking about them.

Why don't yummy plants, like strawberries, grow as voraciously and successfully as weeds? Why don't weeds taste good? I'm no expert on the biological logic of survival, but it seems to me that irritating humans isn't a great survival strategy - and yet, it seems to work for the hardy dandelion. No matter how many of them we spray, dig or otherwise kill, they keep coming back. It's a successful species, even though it tastes yucky. Wouldn't you think it would do even better if it was scrumptious?

And the plants we want to grow, the delicious ones like strawberries or zucchini, those we have to plant and cultivate and care for. Wouldn't it make sense for either a) humans to develop a taste for dandelions or b) dandelions to develop a tasty flavor?

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Mutant Monster Dandelion!

I came across this 8-headed beast in my yard the other day, and I have to be honest - it scared me. It might be a little difficult to see in this particular shot, but you're looking at a super-wide dandelion flower stalk with a collection of at least 8 buds... all on a single stem!

Here's a better shot of just the stem (after I picked it):

I'd never seen such a thing. I wonder if this is the future of mutant yard weeds.

Monday, May 5, 2008

FIST Handbook Done!

Whew - I'll spare you the long, tedious trials involved with getting this little booklet published, but let's just say, I don't think FedEx/Kinko's actually made any money off this job. There were several reprints, countless phone calls, more visits to their shop than I care to recall - and they ended up giving me a more expensive binding (at the lower price) because they just couldn't get the thing to print right with the binding I'd wanted.

But - it's done, and with two days to spare. I fly to Florida on Thursday to deliver the first FIST presentation and to handout the Handbook. Should be a fun time!

Wrong Way! Wrong Way!

Nathan Bransford is a pretty cool literary agent (even tho he isn't interested in my book at this time). As he mentioned recently, the publishing industry is in a contraction mode, in the midst of overall growth.

Simultaneous contraction and growth? How could that be? My explanation: there is more than one publishing industry - there's the big old dinosaur publishing houses, and the smaller, indie/self-pub companies (like Lulu, or Peachpit Press - also cool, also not interested at this time). Guess which one I'm more interested in, philosophically and practically.

As Nathan writes, "the industry is moving in the direction of a blockbuster model built around fewer, bigger books. Meanwhile self-publishing is getting bigger and bigger and growing at a brisk pace as the mainstream publishing game is open to fewer authors, creating a long tail situation where a bazillion books are selling two copies."

I understand the math behind blockbusters - JK Rowling is richer than the queen (and her publisher probably didn't do too bad either). But chasing after that rare blockbuster doesn't make much sense to me, as a corporate strategy. It's the whole "all your eggs in one basket" scenario. Far wiser, it seems to me, to tap in to that long tail and have a bunch of writers (ala netflix, amazon, etc), selling more (in aggregate) than the blockbuster writer ever could. And this interweb thing is making it faster, cheaper and easier to do most of the traditional tasks done by big publishing houses. My prediction - the indie guys win in the end.

And by the way, Nathan, I'm selling tens of copies, not two's of copies...

Two copies...

I just checked my account at Lulu - and guess who just sold two more copies of The Radical Elements of Radical Success! Hmmm... looks like Nathan was right.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

The Internet Archive

Have you ever tried to visit a website, only to find it isn't there anymore? Or have you ever retired a website, like I did with

Well, there's a good chance it isn't gone forever. I came across The Internet Archive, a cache of old websites, and used their "wayback machine" to find copies of old RogueProjectLeader pages.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Understanding Imperfectionism

I've mentioned my philosophical commitment to imperfectionism a few times before (and I'm proud to point out that if you google "imperfectionism," my blog comes up first!)

Anyway, I saw a short presentation on RocketBoom that helps shed a little more light on why, in this particular point in time, with the rise of the internet and the blogger/YouTube/Wikipedia culture, imperfectionism makes so much sense.

The clip shows a guy named David Weinberger talking about fame. It's a cool little presentation, but the best line (and the reason I'm writing about it) was when he said:

"Perfection is the enemy of credibility."

Yeah. I think that nails it.

Desktops @ Starbucks

I just heard this story of some urban pranksters who brought their desktop computers to Starbucks and filmed the experience. One of them even put the monitor and keyboard on her lap, for extra effect.


Thursday, May 1, 2008

Reading Chesterton in Iraq

While reading a BBC report a while back, I came across this line from an Iraqi blogger:

"Each Iraqi house should be a country and have a flag and its own government. I depend on myself for electricity, water and even security. "

Sounds like someone has been reading The Napoleon of Notting Hill, by G.K. Chesterton, since that's the one of the central ideas...

The FIST Handbook

I just finished a new writing project - well, more of a publishing project, since I didn't actually do much new writing for it. It's titled The FIST Handbook, and it's a collection of my articles from Defense AT&L. Putting them together under one cover is part of my latest phase of a longstanding crusade to improve military technology development efforts. Tilting at windmills, I know, but it's a good fight.

Anyway, publishing the handbook has been a bit of a headache. First, I tried to do it through, but there's some kind of communication problem between my file and their printer, which apparently nobody can figure out. I still love Lulu, but I'm peeved they can't print my frappin' file. So, you can go to Rogue Press and download the PDF for free - but no hard copy for you!

Then I tried to use another company (which shall remain nameless) which took a week longer than it should have, and probably would have been a better experience for someone who was completely unfamiliar with how to use a computer. If Dunder-Mifflin was a real place, I think it would be this company. The people there are very nice (I was probably talking to their version of Jim Halpert), but they get a lot of things backwards, in my opinion.

For example, you can't create your own account online - gotta do that via a phone call. They talk about how intuitive and easy their website is (and it mostly is)... but then they insist on walking you through it over the phone (after they verbally set up your account for you).

Want to print a document as a booklet? Yeah, that's another phone call or email, so they can add the "special instruction" booklet option to your account. Glossy cover? Another phone call (or email), so they can manually add that "special instruction" option. Shipping was super quick, and they gave me a $100 credit towards my first order (nice!)- but dealing with their person-intensive process sort of creeped me out (and slowed things WAY down).

I ended up going with FedEx/Kinkos - but had to do that in person, since the in-store guy offers more options than the website. I can't imagine why, but for some reason printing a 76 page document as a booklet with magazine binding (i.e. 17 x 11, folded, with center staples) requires talking to a person. I like people, don't get me wrong - but for stuff like this, I'm quite content to upload my file directly to a computer.

Even though I had to go there in person, FedEx was helpful, quick, professional and the price was right. But wow, doing all this legwork, researching all the printing options took an ironically long time for a writing project about being Fast, Inexpensive, Simple and Tiny!

New Blog Direction?

I'm thinking about (once again) reorienting my blog. Maybe making it a bit more focused on a single topic, maybe talk more about my books & other writing. Maybe talk about technology or cultural trends, or something like that. Still thinking about it - watch this space for further developments.

I'm sure I'll still include the occasional fuzzy camera phone picture, but if I'm going to keep doing this blog thing, it probably should have more of a point to it.

Back Up Your Files!

I had a scary moment this morning - turned on the computer to see a blue error screen of some sort. Fortunately, I was able to get things working correctly without much effort, but it reminded me that I hadn't backed up my files in a while.

So, I figured I'd take a moment to remind you all to back up your files too, before the Blue Screen Of Death comes knocking on your door...