Sunday, July 31, 2016


Over the past 9 years or so since starting this blog, I have had a goal of publishing at least once post per month. I totally missed July, so I'm posting this with a July date to make up for it. Cheating? Maybe.


I have missed a few months here and there, some at the beginning when I didn't have as firm of a goal of publishing every month, and other times when the time has just gotten away from me. I always make a backdated post a day or two into the next month to make up for it. Other months I have written at least once a week and probably more.

July was just crazy busy, and so was the first half of August. Here's what I was doing in my day or two grace period when I could have been late posting for July:

That's my thinking spot on a cliff overlooking the shore of Shoshone Lake, the largest backcountry lake in the continental US (in Yellowstone), which we accessed with an 11 mile canoe trip in to our camp site. Preparing for and going on the scout trip took precedence.

So did my goal fail? It depends on how you define your goal.

Too often our goals are some massive accomplishment that we have less control over than we like to think. Hint: if your goal requires that someone else do something, it's a bad goal. If you set a goal to climb Mount Everest, is that a bad goal? I'll say that it is. There is too much you don't have control over, even in the best of circumstances. A better goal would relate to physically preparing yourself to be in shape to climb and to learn the skills necessary to pull off such a feat.

Scott Adams talks about goals as being bad and suggests replacing them with systems instead. He tells the story of failing multiple times to climb a certain mountain near his house. When he instead focused on a system of getting in shape, less on the specific goal of hitting that particular summit, he was actually able to achieve the goal.

I tell students all the time in my classes that when they get overly focused on the fact that they are having a hard time learning the concepts they are studying that they need to focus less on memorizing the concepts and more on how they might use or currently do use those concepts in their daily life. I've had students tell me that they don't care about learning - they just need to know what to do so they can pass the test. Thus, as they focus too much on what they need to do to pass the test, they fail the test. When they embrace the concepts and think about how to use what we're talking about and really learn it, the side benefit is that they will be able to pass the test, because they have learned it better than trying to study it out of context.

But I think Scott Adams makes an artificial distinction in contrasting systems and goals. I know why he does it. By branding it as something different, it's easier to accept a different definition than what we traditionally think of. A goal is traditionally always something big at the end, so focusing on the steps along the way needs a different name to make it stick (and to sell books).

Call it a system or whatever you want, but it's still a goal. It's just a good goal instead of an unattainable goal. It's not that climbing a mountain or having all your students pass a class is unattainable in that there is a 0% chance of those things happen. It's that there's not a 100% chance of those things happening, because things out of your control may prevent them. There may be a snowstorm when you plan to summit, or a student may not study as thoroughly as they should have.

The steps along the way are, or should be, the goals in the first place. Providing a study hall session the week before the final exam won't guarantee everyone will pass, since not everyone will attend or do their due diligence. But you can accomplish your goal by providing the session and inviting everyone to it, thus giving the opportunity to others. Scott would call that a system. I just call it an attainable and relevant goal.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Risk TO a Project vs Risk OF a Project

In discussing project risk, particularly the difference between the initial risks that are documented before the project begins and the risks based on events that occur while carrying out the project, an interesting point is often raised. Risks can be anything that have a chance to slow us down, make us spend more money, or cause us to turn out a product that is either poor quality or doesn't do everything it was supposed to do.

The point is a poor one, and it is that as a project manager, it's not my job to muddy the waters with risks OF completing the project in a way that could somehow damage the organization. My job, supposedly, is only to identify things that could keep the project from completing. If I can get done, I've succeeded. If someone else didn't take the time to scope things properly and do their research, then it's not my fault if the project causes the company to lose all their customers and close their doors.

That's great, but if the company has problems due to an ill-advised project that you knew about, should you not have at least mentioned it to someone? As I've said previously, you should be willing to take a stand and cancel a project if it truly will make you better off not to complete it. But it's a different situation if the project itself has just become too expensive compared to its benefits than if the project can finish as you've planned but doing so will cause the organization long term harm.

For example, we are seeing a lot of fast food restaurants, due to minimum wage laws, replacing traditional employee-facing POS machines rotate the screen to create customer-facing order machines. The machines are basically the same, with a few minor changes, just that they are now operated by the customer. Between self-checkout at the grocery store and the Coke machines with the touchscreen for choosing flavors, this has been coming for a long time. But the Coke machine offers a more customized experience since it includes flavor add-ons like cherry and vanilla that some restaurants don't offer. And customers have always had to take their food out of their cart and put it on the conveyor, so it's not much of a stretch to swipe it across the bar code reader instead and bag it how you like things bagged.

That's just an example, but let's say that the switch to a COM (customer ordering machine) instead of a POS (point of sale) machine is in full swing, and the techies that are working on setting things up for the new system hear several people complaining and stating that they won't eat at that restaurant anymore if they have to put in their own order. What do they do? Talk to the customers right then and there? Tell someone higher up that there may be a concern they hadn't recognized? Ignore it and go get a drink out of the fancy Coke machine (extra vanilla, please)?

The thing is, it really isn't their job to deal with the problem directly by confronting those customers right there. But ignoring it completely could mean sales drop and the restaurant folds and the techies lose their jobs along with everyone who works there. The key is to bring it up and add it to the risk register. Let it be passed up the line and assigned to someone to do some additional market research and analysis. Perhaps they continue on as they were planning. Perhaps they modify the system slightly to allow for customers to choose either a real person or to put in their own order on the COM. Or maybe they do something totally different. What they end up deciding to do doesn't really matter, as long as someone looks at the risk and rates it properly and determines the best action to take.

Ignoring it as a not-my-job problem isn't a good way to approach things. There's usually an awkward silence in the discussion when we get to that part of the conversation, and I tell a student that if they ignored something like that as a business problem, not their project problem, and it caused some damage to the company, that I would fire them. Whether or not I actually would doesn't matter, since it's a hypothetical situation anyway, but the point is that if every member of the project team isn't both doing their job on the project itself and also looking at things in the big picture, long term view, then we are going to have a problem.

Fixing the issue or making the decision about what should or shouldn't be done about it may be above project team members' pay grades, but identifying the risk and getting it up in the sight of those who can make those decisions does belong to everyone. It's not just your job as a project team member or manager to identify risks TO the project that could make the project itself fail. It's also your job to identify risks OF the project as currently scoped to the company and that could cause the company to fail. Especially since there's going to be a glut of job seekers on the market soon with all the POS systems replacing people for you to now compete against.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Problem with Facebook

I did a quick count of the most recent 50 items on my wall. It's an interesting look at why Facebook is going to fail, even if they don't know it yet. Now, I'm not a member of as many groups as some people that I know have some significant interactions through that platform. Also, I consistently load my wall with the Most Recent view, not the Top Stories view, to try to do my part to skew the numbers in that direction, since their analysis shows that people who use the Top Stories view spend significantly more time using FB than those who use the Most Recent view. I think it's because it takes so long to find what you're looking for.

Here is what I found:

There's 6 out of 50 that are text-based posts from someone I know, and 3 out of 50 that are images that weren't also posted to Instagram. 4 of the 50 were photos I've already seen on Instagram. Three-fourths of what is on my wall consists of news stories, viral videos, things posted by people I don't know (but by someone who knows someone that I know), celebrity posts, supposedly motivational messages that end up being just sappy, and advertisements.

A colleague of mine described the difference between Twitter and Facebook like this. Twitter is for connecting to random people to talk about specific things. Facebook is for connecting to specific people to talk about random things. The problem, then, is that FB has lost this differentiation in that the majority of what is there is not actually posted by the specific people I know, or even when it is, it's just a re-post of something created by a big news or content company.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

More Disturbing than Donald Trump

Start spreadin' the news
I am leaving today
I want to be a part of it
New York, New York...

Such a great song. I hear it and I'm transported to Yankee stadium and Frank Sinatra playing over the loudspeakers after back to back home runs by Matsui and Posada to come from behind and beat the Blue Jays.

One recent disturbing trend to come out of New York, of course, is Donald Trump, but this is something perhaps even worse than that. This is something that, while it didn't necessarily come from NYC, could have drastically changed the classic New York theme song forever if it had been common a few decades ago.

The song above is correct, and I don't know that I've seen the lyrics themselves written incorrectly, but the error I've been seeing more and more of lately in many different places would change the third line of the song to "I want to be apart of it..." which results in the exact opposite intended meaning, that the singer is leaving old New York.

You still have to deal with a non-matching preposition, since it would make more sense to be apart "from" it, but the point is that there is a huge difference between "a part" and "apart" that no one seems to recognize. To be a part of something means you're a component of the whole, integrated into a well-oiled machine that you can be proud of. Apart means you're separate, distinct, different, non-matching, and otherwise not a part of something.

So next time you want to be a part of something good, remember old New York. Remember Frank. Don't be apart like The Donald. Be a part of what's good in America.

Sunday, March 27, 2016


With everything going on around the world, our country, and even closer,

With wars and rumors of wars, attacks of the physical and verbal kind,

With disagreements, idleness, avarice, and overconsumption,

Isn't it great to know that He lives,

And because He lives so will we?

Monday, February 29, 2016


Every month needs a holiday. Maybe I really mean that I need a holiday every month, but the months themselves need something to keep us all looking forward to.

Each month has its own personality. January is cold, but it's a fresh start. February is the short month. March is basketball tournaments and Spring around the corner. April rains a lot and kind of mushes into May. May is the end of school. June is kind of July's little brother. July is the king of summer with the heat and patriotism and parades, but June is not quite as hot as July, and kids are sometimes still in school, depending on where you live. August is when you realize the summer is almost over and you have to hurry to get in everything you thought you were going to do and then suddenly school is starting again. September is that cool edge to the air and football starting up again. October is leaves falling and having costume parties. November is finding the heavier coat instead of just a light jacket and planning for all the family parties to come. December is snow and presents and all those parties we've been looking forward to.

Many months have a holiday, but not all of them do. Some even have two.
  • January has New Years Day and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
  • February has Presidents Day
  • March sometimes has Easter but not always
  • April rotates with March for Easter, but otherwise not much
  • May has Memorial Day, marking the beginning of summer
  • June has nothing
  • July has Independence Day - the big summer peak
  • August has nothing (but you can go to the beach every day)
  • September has Labor day, marking the end of summer
  • October has nothing
  • November has Thanksgiving
  • December has Christmas
Now, it's not that every month doesn't actually have holidays. March sometimes has Mardi Gras (alternates with February) which is big some places (Louisiana and Brazil) but not most places. March also has St. Patrick's Day, June has Flag Day, August has um...okay still nothing, and October has Columbus Day and Halloween.

But those are second and third tier holidays. The first tier holidays are the ones where everything is closed. Retail stores are always open, but that's a problem with the retail stores, not with the holidays themselves. Easter is in a strange boat, because it changes with the phases of the moon (literally - first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox), but the biggest part is that it's always on Sunday. So while personally I put it as one of the two most important holidays (with Christmas), there's no day off that is associated with it.

Columbus Day is a federal holiday, meaning no one gets it off except banks and the post office, and it's just a reason for a history lesson. Halloween is nice because you can wear a costume to work and there's candy, but it makes the second tier list because you still have to work.

So first tier holidays are ones where businesses close down, second tier holidays are ones where you have to go to work but there are fun parties and activities so no one is really working anyway, and third tier holidays are ones where everyone still goes to work and school and there is some type of educational component (Flag, Columbus). If you want to go fourth tier, it's the honorary days like secretaries day, grandparents day, medieval French literature day, and sushi day, which are more of a footnote than anything.

What we need is to bump up some of the second and third tier holidays to first tier holidays, and a few times a year there should be a platinum tier holiday that everyone gets off, including the retail workers who normally get hosed by having to work. Leap Day is a day salaried employees should not have to work (since you don't get paid extra for it...think about it).

  • January - New Years Day and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
  • February - Presidents Day and Leap Day (every four years)
  • March - Fast Day (Platinum)
  • April - Tax Day
  • May - Memorial Day
  • June - Summer Solstice
  • July - Independence Day (Platinum)
  • August - Hawaii Day
  • September - Labor Day
  • October - Halloween
  • November - Thanksgiving
  • December - Christmas (Platinum)
Fast Day, as part of Lent, would be a day to do service, sacrifice, and donate to the poor. This could be combined with St. Patrick's Day as it fits well with the story of his life in several ways. The only downside would be its reputation as an indulgent holiday so it would need a makeover. It might make sense to have Fast Day in April. I like the connection to Lent, but doing it a little later into April would possibly make it a better day for getting outside and cleaning up neighborhoods. It could be a good connection to Tax Day, for those getting big tax returns if you want to get donations out of it.

Summer Solstice makes more sense than Flag Day in June, since Flag Day is just like Independence Day Lite. July 4 is flags but also cookouts and parades and fireworks - a super-sized Flag Day. We also beat the aliens that day. That said, Summer Solstice could be seen as Memorial Day Lite as well, since it's the start of summer, but usually Memorial Day is the de facto start of summer (a few weeks early). I don't know. June is a tough one. Perhaps Take A Hike Day, where people would participate in outdoor activities, races, walks, etc.

Hawaii's statehood day is in August, and I think it's a good one to expand to the whole country. Who doesn't like Hawaii? Being in August right before school starts, it would be a good day to go to the beach. It could also be expanded to a First Nations or Indigenous Peoples or Native Americans Day. With some controversy around how Native Hawaiians and other Native Americans have been marginalized, it would be a good day to celebrate those who were here before we were. There are movements to turn Columbus Day into such a day, but tying it to that to me sounds more like a slam against Columbus than a true celebration of native peoples, so it should be established independently to avoid that baggage.

Halloween gets its official bump up to tier one from tier two, where it belongs.

What am I missing? What other platinum tier holidays should we give to the retail workers? What do we do with June?

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Qualification for Not Governing

The major problem—one of the major problems, for there are several—one of the many major problems with governing people is that of whom you get to do it, or rather of who manages to get people to let them do it to them.

To summarize: it is a well-known fact that those people who must want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it. To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job. To summarize the summary of the summary: people are a problem.

And so this is the situation we find: a succession of Galactic Presidents who so much enjoy the fun and palaver of being in power that they very rarely notice that they're not.

And somewhere in the shadows behind them—who?

Who can possibly rule if no one who wants to do it can be allowed to?

—Douglas Adams, Chapter 28, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

Thursday, December 31, 2015

This Year

It's always fun to see how people access the blog, what they are looking for, and what they find. Or what they don't find.

Unfortunately, looking back at the past year, 90% of the hits to my blog show up as "not provided" which basically means Google isn't going to tell me what people were looking for unless I pay for advanced analytics instead of the free tools.

For the 10% of hits over this past year that I can see, some interesting patterns emerge.

A significant number of people found my blog searching for information about minimum password ages. It's the most popular post for the last three years since it's been there.

I have several posts about andragogy, and they come up quite regularly. A lot of people search for things like the difference between pedagogy and andragogy, how constructivism plays into andragogy, how to be a facilitator using an andragogical approach, and many different combinations of similar things. Oh, and a lot of people searching for information about andragogy are really, really bad spellers.

Interesting random things that people searched for and which ended up on my blog somewhere, which I may never understand include:
  • beat with a shovel the weak
  • ghost spam is free from the politics, we dancing like a paralytics
  • rob barton brain
  • syllabus is crap
  • (^ᴗ^)丿¯\_(ツ)_/¯(•ิ_•ิ)(ಠ益ಠ)(ಥ‿ಥ)(ʘ‿ʘ)ლ(ಠ_ಠლ)( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)ヽ(゚д゚)ノʕ•̫͡•ʔᶘ ᵒᴥᵒᶅ(=^. .^=)
I think I like the one with all the faces the best. The little rhyming search thing was kind of neat as well. I choose to take the brain one as a compliment.

Of the items I posted during this year, the top ones were:
My personal favorite was the Haiku post.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Becoming a professional starts with attitude

Something I really like about Seth Godin's posts is that they are generally short but packed with meaning. The coolest thing, though, is that if you watch for a while and rearrange things a bit, they actually fit together to form a larger narrative. For example:

It's not your fault

...but it might be your responsibility.

That's a fork in the road on the way to becoming a professional.

When did you give up?

The bureaucracy is no longer your enemy. The bureaucracy is you.

And it's easy to blame your boss, or the dolt who set up all these systems, or the one who depersonalizes everything. The policies and the oversight and the structure almost force you to merely show up. And to leave as early as you can.

But the thing is, the next job, like the last one, is going to be like this. If this is the job you're seeking, if this is the level of responsibility you take, perhaps it's not just your boss.

How long ago did you decide to settle for this? How long ago did you start building the cocoon that insulates you from the work you do all day?

Years ago, the spark was still there. The dreams. And most of all, the willingness to take it personally.

You can take it personally again.

Attitude is a skill

You can learn math. French. Bowling.

You can learn Javascript, too.

But you can also learn to be more empathetic, passionate, focused, consistent, persistent and twenty-seven other attitudes.

If you can learn to be better at something, it's a skill.

And if it's a skill, it's yours if you want it.

Which is great news, isn't it?

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Online Communication

I had an interesting comment from a student in an online course message board. Basically, the note was that face to face communication is always better. I agree with the student's premise that technology is not always the answer, but that doesn't mean that it isn't often an answer. I do disagree that a face to face classroom is always better than a technology based classroom. I've been in a lot of ineffective classrooms. My response to the meta-challenge that the discussion of how effective technology is to communicate would be proved by the fact that no one would respond to the post positing such:

I don't know that I'd totally agree with the statement that the authors believe that technology is always the answer. If used correctly and implemented well, it often can be. But it's not always. A large piece of the SDLC which the course covers deals with the need to analyze what the problem is before making a choice of how to fix it. And the course starts with several chapters related to understanding how businesses function before it gets into an substantive discussion of technology.

Even your example of the discussion we might have F2F, while true in just the right set of circumstances, doesn't necessarily work for a couple reasons. One is that how likely would it be that you would be able to get a group of people who are enrolled in the course together? Not likely, due to geography and differing schedules, which is why most of you are taking online courses to begin with.

And two is how often do you actually get a substantial conversation in a group? Does everyone actually get to participate? In many classes in a F2F environment, 90% of the students sit there and don't actually participate. Only a small handful will often dominate the conversation because not everyone can talk at the same time and the introverts like actually thinking about what they're going to say before they say it and by the time they decide what to say the conversation has moved on.

Technology levels the playing field a bit. Not everyone who uses Wikipedia contributes to it by writing or fixing articles, but enough do that it has become an invaluable resource which is comprehensive enough and accurate enough to put print encyclopedias out of business. I will fully agree that technology is often used ineffectively, inefficiently, sometimes just for the sake of using technology and not for a real business need, or using the wrong tool (a hammer when a miter saw is called for).

That, I hope, is the point of the course. If you don't have the right tool or can't speak the right language to get what you need from the IT department, you will have problems. Flip it around. It's not that technology is a hammer and actually talking to each other are the other tools but rather what are the various technology tools that can help us in a variety of situations? Thanks for the conversation starter. I'm glad that the asynchronous post you made allowed me to make an answer later since I was busy at the time you were making your initial post. How about anyone else? Examples of using technology effectively or not effectively at work or other places you spend your time?

The student's eyes were opened a bit, I think, recognizing how common it is for some people to dominate the conversation in a live group. We didn't really talk about this specifically, but as I think back on it later, I wonder how often it leads to bad, extreme ideas, simply because the extroverts who like to blurt things out without thinking about them end up directing most of the conversation. This seems particularly relevant as we are in the middle of election season. The follow-up comment by the student that the younger generation is overly involved in technology and do not know how to communicate face to face is sadly true. It isn't a reason to get rid of technology but rather a reason to focus on when and how to communicate effectively in a variety of situations.

I definitely agree with you there regarding upcoming generations who only know how to communicate through technology, even to people who are in the same room as them. Or who communicate electronically only to people who are far away and ignore the people close by them. Just look at a group of teenagers in practically any environment, and you'll see very little live interaction among them, which is sad to see. I went to Europe a couple years ago, and I was happy to turn off my cell phone for two weeks and just enjoy what was there in front of me rather than trying to stay up on the latest FB gossip. I enjoy the same when heading up to the mountains for some hiking or backpacking. Some literally go through physical symptoms of withdrawal if removed from an always-connected environment. That doesn't mean the technology is bad, just that the person hasn't learned to use other options or is bad at selecting which tool to use when.