Monday, March 30, 2009


I like getting comments on this blog, and I always try to respond to the comments I get.

I also like leaving comments on other people's blogs, and they usually reply to me, which is cool.

So, here's the thing - I use an RSS feed to keep track of several blogs. It's a handy, automated way to stay on top of lots of bloggers. But I don't have a good way to keep track of which blogs I left comments on. So I am forced to rely on my memory (yikes!) as to which blogs I need to revisit, to check and see if my comment got a reply.

I know some blogs let you check a box that says "email me about subsequent responses," but many of those blogs get LOTS of comments, and I don't necessarily need to fill up my email box with all of those. Anyone out there have any suggestions? 

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Cult of Done

I came across this on Dan Pink's blog a while ago and just had to pass it along. 

The Cult of Done Manifesto
(originally from Bre Pettis' blog, apparently written in 20 minutes)
  1. There are three states of being. Not knowing, action and completion.
  2. Accept that everything is a draft. It helps to get it done.
  3. There is no editing stage.
  4. Pretending you know what you're doing is almost the same as knowing what you are doing, so just accept that you know what you're doing even if you don't and do it.
  5. Banish procrastination. If you wait more than a week to get an idea done, abandon it.
  6. The point of being done is not to finish but to get other things done.
  7. Once you're done you can throw it away.
  8. Laugh at perfection. It's boring and keeps you from being done.
  9. People without dirty hands are wrong. Doing something makes you right.
  10. Failure counts as done. So do mistakes.
  11. Destruction is a variant of done.
  12. If you have an idea and publish it on the internet, that counts as a ghost of done.
  13. Done is the engine of more.
I particularly like #2, the first part of #5, #8 and #13. I'm not so sure about several other points (#3 and #7 in particular, and probably #9) and I don't think I understand a few others (#1, #11, #12), but there's something in this list that resonates with me. Whether I agree with the content and tone or not, I like the way this list challenges me to think about what constitutes a good project, a good outcome, a good approach to doing stuff that matters. 

One thing I realized as I read through this list is the link between procrastination and perfectionism. OF COURSE those two go together - how had I not seen that before? And the opposites seem to go together too. Personally, I am the exact opposite of a procrastinator (does that make me a concrastinator?), and am a self-proclaimed imperfectionist. No doubt that combination explains more than half of the trouble I get into and most of my self-induced, avoidable difficulties... but I hadn't really been aware of the link between these personality traits before. Interesting.

Thursday, March 26, 2009


I came across this paper towel dispenser in the restroom of  a local church, and just had to snap a photo with my ever-present fuzzy-little-camera-phone.

The instructions say to push the button, then pull the lever twice. Following these directions dispenses a certain amount of paper towel. At this point, you cannot pull the lever any more (unless you push the button again). I suppose the objective is to limit the amount of paper any given person uses. But all one need do is push the button again and then dispense two more lever-pulls worth of paper. And push the button again... and again...

I suppose the idea is to prevent people from wasting paper, by forcing them to take an extra step and (hopefully) think about what they're doing. But I suspect the press-pull-pull-press-pull-pull process could be just as mindless as the pull-pull-pull-pull approach.

If we want people to not use too much paper, why not just put up a sticker saying "Please don't use too much paper?"

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Purple Cab?

While on a brief trip to Xenia OH the other day, I saw this cab and had to take a photo (with my ever-present, oh-so-handy, fuzzy little camera phone).

Why, you ask, did I take a picture of a cab? What's so special about this particular form of transportation? I just thought it was kind of funny that the "Purple Cab" company uses (drumroll please)... WHITE cabs!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

How Far We've Come...

On my birthday two weeks ago, I found myself wondering how far I've traveled in my 36 years. I don't mean in an earth-centric geographical sense. I mean from a solar perspective. My brain is funny that way.

A little searching on the interweb revealed that at a latitude of 39 degrees North, the earth's diameter is approximately 19,377 miles. That means in a single day, living at that latitude (a rough approximation of my average latitude), I travel 19,377 miles as the Earth spins. In a single year, that's 7,072,605 miles in rotational distance alone! Multiplied by 36 years and we get a distance of 254,613,780 miles, just from the Earth's rotation. Not bad!

Now on to some bigger numbers. One trip around the sun covers approximately 584,014,356 miles - it would take 82.5 years of spinning around on the earth to travel that far, and that's just a single revolution around the sun! Multiply THAT number by 36 and you get 21,024,516,816 miles.

So, by the age of 36, we earthlings have traveled a distance of more than 21 billion miles as we loop around the sun. Kinda makes the 254 million miles of rotational distance seem piddly.

Anyway, add those two numbers together and we get 21,279,130,596 miles. That's roughly how many miles I've traveled so far. Cool, eh?

Monday, March 23, 2009

15 Minutes, Starting Now...

Apparently my proverbial 15 minutes of fame was scheduled for this past week.

First there was the cover story in the ISSA journal. Then the whole thing about getting mentioned in Andy Nulman's book (twice) and on his blog. Now, British blogger Trevor Gay posted an interview with me this past Saturday.

Add to that the previously unreported fact that I am quoted in Dr. Alex Laufer's latest book, Breaking The Code of Program Management (a copy of which I received last week), and I'm feeling a little bit famous. 

Not a lot, mind you, but yeah, a little bit.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Shocking Headline of the Year

My Google CNN feed shows three headlines at any given time. One of those three headlines was so important that I just had to comment on it:

Really? Nice fella like that? Who woulda guessed?

But my real question is: Why would a journalist take the time to tell me this? The guy is in jail and has been for nearly 40 years. I sort of assumed he was alone a lot of the time. And how does that headline get picked as one of the three important headlines of the moment?

My point: as journalists continue to clutch their pearls and get the vapors over the decline of newspapers and the impending death of journalism, I'm going to remind myself that today's cadre of highly trained journalists are providing important announcements like "Charles Manson spends most of his time alone." Whatever would we do without this vital public service?

Of course, there are lots of good journalists out there who do a good job of keeping us all informed... and I'm sure they'll continue to figure out a way to do that, with or without print newspapers. And along the way, maybe we could have a little less of the historical-celebrity-murderer-update kind of journalism and a little more "here's what's happening in the world." 

POW, with Andy Nulman

I continue to be surprised by Andy Nulman's book, POW! Right Between The Eyes, which I mentioned just a few days ago. The latest surprise? He mentiones little old me not once, but twice! There I was, minding my own business and reading his thoroughly entertaining book, only to come across a pair of stories featuring "military technologist Dan Ward."

What a cool surprise.

And speaking of cool surprises, a little birdy tells me that Andy's blog has yet another mention of one of my recent projects. This time it's a presentation about, well, I don't want to spoil the surprise. Go over to Andy's blog and check out what he's saying.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

I (Heart) Yellow Springs

Had a wonderful trip to Yellow Springs, OH yesterday. I've mentioned my fondness for this beautiful little town several times on this blog, and I just don't get tired of marveling at how enchanting the place is.

It probably helps that I'm all done with school and my lovely wife and I were there sans-children (they, unlike me, are NOT done with school yet). So the multi-fasceted sense of freedom was certainly part of the day's charm, but the town itself deserves a lot of the credit.

We had lunch at the Sunrise Cafe - the food was amazing - and even brought home some pie for "lunch dessert." We wandered around Darkstar Used Books (I picked up a copy of The Peter Principle for $1.50) and a jewelry shop whose name escapes me. We bought some fantastic hard rolls from a little bakery whose name I always forget (but whose rolls I never do). 

The weather was gorgeous, the town was its usual quirky self (as we were having lunch, the local Yellow Springs mailman came into the cafe to deliver the mail. I'd never seen a mailman with dreadlocks quite as magnificent as his). All in all, it was a simply fantastic day. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Silly Video of the Day

Holy cow this made me laugh - enjoy!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Toll Roads

I used to dislike toll roads. I felt like I had already paid my taxes and should be allowed to drive on whatever road I wanted to, without having to cough up any more money.

But the more I think about it, the more a toll road makes sense.

The thing is, the tolls are collected from the people who actually use the road, and the distance between using and paying is about as short as it gets. There's something to be said for collective cooperation, where everyone throws money into the pot and it goes to build roads for everyone to use. I'm not saying every road should be a toll road. But I am saying there's no such thing as a free road. It all gets paid for by someone, so why not have it be paid for by the people who directly drive on that road, at the time they drive on it, at a rate based on how much of the road they actually drive on.

Cover Dude!

Yesterday morning, one of my instructors let me know that an article we co-authored had been published in the March issue of the Information Systems Security Association's Journal. I went to the website to check it out, only to discover that it wasn't merely published...


Yup, our little article was the Feature Presentation. The title (Who Shall Defend Us?) filled up the cover quite nicely.

In case you're curious, the article basically points out that when it comes to cyber security, we don't know how to answer the question "Who shall defend us?" That is because, "The modern taxonomy for assigning defensive responsibilities is largely based on geography, scope, and the nature of the threat. When the threat is cyber-based, this taxonomy breaks down.

So, starting with some lyrics from Nena's 1984 smash hit 99 Red Balloons, we basically conclude that we need to seriously figure out a way for the military, law enforcement and the commercial sector to cooperate... 'cause we're all in this together, brother.

It's a bit of a departure from my usual topic of radical approaches to technology development and project leadership, but many of the usual principles are still present - transparency, cooperation and the violation of useless/inappropriate/counterproductive boundaries. And I still can't believe it's the cover story!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Latest Article

The Mar/Apr issue of Defense AT&L is posted online, and as usual, I've made my own little contribution. This time it's an article about Systems Engineering, which also happens to be what I've spent the last 18 months majoring in. I figured after all that time, I should probably write something about it. :)

But even if you're not interested in Systems Engineering, you still might enjoy scanning through it and looking for the Jimmy Buffet references - and I have to say, the artwork is pretty fun too. I'll be interested to see what the INCOSE (International Council on Systems Engineering) crowd thinks of it (the article, not the artwork)...

There's also a new 13 Theta comic!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Answers To Famous Questions

After extensive research, I am pretty sure of the following:

Schrodinger's cat is dead.
The irresistable force wins.
Yes, it makes a noise even if nobody is there to hear it.
The egg did.

Any other questions?

Thursday, March 12, 2009


I'm continuing to devour Andy Nulman's latest book, titled Pow! Right Between The Eyes! It's quite an experience, and I highly recommend picking up a copy. For more details and reasons,  here's the review I wrote on Amazon:

Little is what it seems to be in Andy Nulman's latest book - he doesn't just write about surprise, he actually Surprises! This is no mean feat, considering that most readers EXPECT a book about surprise to Surprise... but he pulls it off. 

POW! Right Between The Eyes! is a fascinating, entertaining and thoroughly engaging riff on the power and importance (indeed, the centrality) of Surprise in today's market. I physically couldn't read it fast enough, and kept jumping ahead to see what was around the corner, then doubling back to catch what I'd missed. I'm sure Mr. Nulman would approve of this approach to reading his book. 

If you don't enjoy this book, you probably didn't read it close enough. It's chock full of easter eggs (hint: follow me to...), mindwarping artwork in unexpected places, and stories that will have you laughing and thinking at the same time. 

Andy Nulman is really on to something - he didn't invent Surprise, but I am convinced he understands it and communicates it better than anyone else. 

Buy his book or, as John Cleese points out in the foreward, you will die.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Process, part III

A process can be described as a series of steps designed to achieve a particular outcome.
A journey can also be described as a series of steps, designed to achieve a particular outcome.

A process is predictable, pre-defined, repeatable and mechanical.
A journey is adventurous, undefined, surprising, unique and organic.

A process is generally defined and imposed by one person, to be performed by someone else.
A journey is generally undertaken by a person for his or her own reasons.

I would love to see business adopt a journey metaphor instead of a process metaphor, when describing what we do around here.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Process, Part II

I'm not a big fan of process-based approaches to work, as several of my published articles will attest. 

But I'm not against process entirely. I'm just against the tendency to overapply and overvalue a process-based worldview.

The problem with process advocates is not that they seek to control, predict and optimize. It's that they can't stop. They take something that has a limited use and benefit, and set it loose to gobble up the entire world. They end up creating a monster of stunted growth and apathy, not to mention poor outcomes. Should we judge a process by the good it is supposed to do, or by the evit it actually does?

Process advocates may object that their scientific theory and mathematical calculations indicate that Process Enterprises are full of freedeom, creativity and personal empowerment, along with increased efficiencies. They do indeed point out that the boundaries they draw are quite roomy, spacious even. But these claims must be countered by the observed outcomes.

There are alternatives. More tomorrow...

Monday, March 9, 2009

Process, Part 1

I recently came across a quote by Edward Deming. He said "If you can't describe what you are doing as a process, you don't know what you're doing." I'm sure he's correct (who am I to disagree with Deming?), but I think we tend to go too far in applying the wisdom of his observation.

If you can't describe what you are doing as a process, you don't know what you're doing. Fine. That does not mean you aren't doing it well. It just means you don't "know" what you're doing.

And by "know," of course, Deming meant something very specific, a modernist, positivist type of explicit knowledge. And as long as we restrict knowledge to that category, then Deming is correct. But I humbly suggest there are other kinds of knowing, which are just as rigorous, dependable and correct as the academic, statistical, word-and-number-based knowledge. Donald Schon, for example, talks about "knowledge-in-action."

So, I can juggle. I can't necessarily describe my juggling as a process. Does that mean I don't know what I'm doing? Sure, if we limit the word "know" to only describe explicit, conscious awareness. But there's a type of muscle memory involved in things like juggling. There is a sort of knowledge in my hands and arms (and eyes, etc) that results in doing things for which I have no process-based explanation.

I'm not a fan of the process-based worldview, which only acknowledges a single kind of knowledge. I find it unnecessarily limiting and self-destructively arrogant. That approach does have a track record of increasing efficiency in repetitive tasks, but as I've written elsewhere, there's a cost associated with this approach.

More tomorrow...

Friday, March 6, 2009


In the president's recent "Non-State of the Union" address, one line jumped out at me. President Obama said we would "Reform our defense budget so that we're not paying for Cold War-era weapons systems we don't use."

Seems like a good idea to me.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Thesis Defense Update

This morning's thesis defense was sort of like running the 1/2 marathon last September.

When I finished, I was sweaty, thirsty, exhausted and a little dizzy. I had a slight headache, a strong sense of accomplishment and relief, a confused appetite (hungry? no? yes?) and a moderately impaired decision making ability. I enjoyed having done it, even though it was painful and difficult at some spots, and I very much liked how it felt to be done. Both the 1/2 marathon and the thesis defense were harder than I expected... and in both cases, I was able to finish with my head up.

Also in both cases, my satisfaction came from having run/worked well, not from the time/grade I received (I didn't actually get a grade on the thesis yet - it'll be interesting to see what grade I get. It could totally go either way).

In the end, it was a lot of fun. The thesis committee asked some very pointed, tough questions, and all I can say is "Dang, I like a good fight." I enjoy being challenged and pressed and forced to explain my position. 

And holy cow, I'm so glad to be done.

Thesis Defense Day

At 8:30 this morning, I will present my thesis defense. I'm very much looking forward to it! 

I'm presenting it my way - which means humor, energy and lots of pictures

I'm proud to say there's not a single bullet point in the entire presentation. There are over 50 charts, but I blow through them in less than 30 minutes (not counting time for questions). Some charts don't stay on screen for more than a few seconds. Oh, and I made some stickers to hand out afterwards, just for fun.

So, it's not your typical military/academic approach to giving a presentation. There's a very real possibility it will bomb, at least with some members of the audience. But I can't force myself to do a boring, standardized, bullet-point-ized presentation... not on a topic that's so important to me, which I've been researching and working on since at least 2003. It's my show, baby. It's my story. I gotta tell it my way.

I still have some course work to finish up for my one last class, and two final projects in that class to turn in by March 16th, so I won't be all done with school today... but a big milestone will have been passed (I hope!), and a big chunk of my work over the last year has finally come to fruition.

On with the show!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

How much?

Nathan Bransford, Literary Agent (and blogger) once asked aspiring authors "Would you still write even if you didn't get paid?"

Of course, 99% of the commenters gave a loud YES, partly because 99% of them probably are already writing without getting paid. Writers write, and as much as we'd like to sell books and make some money, that's not why most of us do it. We do it because it's fun, it's challenging, and we can't really help ourselves.

A more interesting question, to my mind, is whether someone would be willing to stop writing if they were paid a million dollars (to pick a random number).

I don't think I would take the money. I'm sure there are ways to game the question such that I could still write something, but to stay within the question's intent, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't give up writing for a million bucks. 

How about you? Is there anything you'd still do even if you didn't get paid for doing it... and would you stop for a million dollars?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Trust Me

You know what's a good show? Trust Me (on TNT, Tuesdays at 10pm).

It's got the guy from Will & Grace and the guy from Ed. They're best friends and partners in an advertising agency. Their relationship and creative tension is really fun to watch - check it out.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Something versus This

There seems to be a widespread amount of confusion about the difference between the words "something" and "this."

Whether it's the economic stimulus bill, the auto industry bailout or the latest military weapon system, I keep coming across an argument that says "The situation is dire so we need to do this," followed by an apparent expectation that the argument is over.

What they mean is "The situation is dire so we need to do something."

Maybe the various this's are indeed the best solution to the various dire situations. But they are not the only option. We didn't necessarily have to do this. We only needed to do something, and the something could have been quite different than this.

I'm not commenting here on the specific merits of any spending bill, bailout package or weapon system development project. I'm just saying that the defenders and advocates of such endeavors really need to avoid "We had to do this, it was our only option" when explaining why their selected course of action is appropriate. 

There's always another option.