Working Up

Working Up in Project Management, Systems Engineering, Technology, and Writing

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Drones, Remote-Controlled Aircraft, and Reality

November 27th, 2014 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Can we stop the silliness surrounding drones and come back to reality?

This recent story decries coming regulations that may require a pilot’s license to fly a drone. Let’s repeat a bit of reality:

Today’s drones

  1. are not autonomous flying robots
  2. are remote-controlled (RC) flying vehicles

For decades, hobbyists have flow RC aircraft. Some of these aircraft are large—approaching the size of manned aircraft. RC aircraft have always been regulated. Mostly, the FCC regulated the radio frequencies and power levels of the radio controllers. There are also regulations where you can fly RC aircraft as they become larger and can fly at higher altitudes.

Today, we have some  technology advances that permit four-rotor quadcopters to fly easier. The on-board computers and accelerometers provide stability and remove much of the skill needed to fly prior-generation RC helicopters. Advances in batteries allow these newer RC quadcopters to fly farther and higher.

No, you should not be allowed to fly your RC quadcopter near a commercial airport where you can collide with a plane carrying my wife and kids.

No, you should not be allowed to fly your RC quadcopter in Yosemite National Park where you crash land into a pool of super-heated water and spoil it for generations.

Yes, if you are flying a bigger and better RC quadcopter, you should have a license to provide some public safety.

This is not a privacy issue. This is a safety issue. Who wants a 500-pound RC quadcopter crashing onto their roof?

→ No CommentsTags: Government · Technology

Two Unspoken Requirements

November 24th, 2014 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Many projects make no sense. They are driven by two unspoken yet paramount requirements.

I have seen many projects that were driven by two unspoken but paramount requirements:

  1. The project must cost a certain amount of money—no more and no less
  2. You have to look like you are trying to do something

Allow me to elaborate.

  1. The spoken requirements for a system are published.
  2. Analysis shows that a system that will meet the requirements will cost $1,000,000.
  3. The managers of the organization decide to build a system that will cost $100,000.
  4. Analysis of system #3 shows that it will not meet the requirements, i.e., it won’t work.
  5. The organization builds system #3 anyways.

One way to tell if the project is driven by the two unspoken but paramount requirements is to inject a step 3.b. by suggesting:

Let’s build a system that costs $1. It won’t work either, but it will cost even less.

This suggestion is laughed out of the room immediately.

Logic argues for system 3.b. in that it won’t work either, but it will cost much less money. Logic, however, fails the paramount requirements in that the $1 system doesn’t appear like you are trying to do something, other than trying to show the silliness of the entire situation, and doesn’t cost the required amount.

These silly requirements stem from the concept that people are earnest, well intentioned, and want to do something about a need. Reality, a $1,000,000 is needed, bursts the bubble, but still,

there must be something we can do.

→ No CommentsTags: Culture · Expectations · Magic · Management · Requirements

The Smartphone: Today’s Transistor Radio

November 20th, 2014 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Today’s smartphone bears a striking resemblance to yesterday’s transistor radio.

Okay, yell at me. I will wait.

Now that you’ve screamed your lungs out, let’s compare today’s smartphone to yesterdays transistor radio. In case you are young(er) and don’t know what a transistor radio is, see this page.

Attributes that the smartphone and transistor radio share:

  • Fits in your pocket
  • Provides music
  • Provides latest information
  • Uses an ear bud for privacy listening
  • Needs a charged battery
  • Depends on wireless reception
  • Can be inconspicuous
  • Can be obnoxious
  • Has (had) a cool factor

I rest my case.

→ No CommentsTags: Change · Systems · Technology

Science, Politics, Hyperbole, and Trust

November 17th, 2014 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Politics often delves into hyperbole to make a point. Hyperbole could be the death of science.

A recent poll (don’t you love it when someone starts with that phrase?) shows that Americans view scientists as competent but not trustworthy. What’s up with that? Politics.

IMHO, scientists are depending too much on politicians for funding their science. The scientists have to report in ways that bolster the unscientific opinions of the sponsoring politicians.

Associating closely with politicians is fraught with peril. One bad habit of politicians is the use of hyperbole. They take evidence that leans in one direction but needs further study and exaggerate. As a result, the scientists is associated with the exaggerated or hyperbolic claims.

We know what the temperature of the earth was 20,000 years ago to a tenth of a degree!

Really? Perhaps the scientist reported something like:

Given our measurements of arctic ice prevailing theories of gas in ice and temperature of the atmosphere, and the calculations from the most-accepted parametric models, and the limitations of significant digits…

That doesn’t sound so hyperbolic. It also doesn’t sell well on the evening news sound bites. It is, however, what a scientist would say if s/he weren’t depending on a big fat check to continue research and continue feeding a family and making the mortgage payments.

Let’s not just pick on the climate scientists. Other scientists “know” the color of the skin of dinosaurs. Other scientists know how big the dinosaurs were (until someone finds some more bones). Other scientists know… well, you know.

Science is difficult. Finding funds for science is difficult. We make deals with politicians to get funds, then we give them our reports, then we cringe privately when we hear science statements turned to hyperbolic political statements. Then we go back to the source of funds.

Aligning science with political movements is a bad idea.

→ No CommentsTags: Science · Systems

Hello World

November 13th, 2014 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Yet again, we have a less expensive way to broadcast live to the entire world.

Recently, GoPro (makers of those neat little action cams) announced that if you wince just right and combine GoPro with LiveStream with a smartphone with the Internet with some imagination…you can show the world what your GoPro camera sees L I V E, a.k.a., real time.

All this costs less than $500. I remember as a kid, here we go again with some old guy writing about the way things used to be and how far we have come, how it was a big deal for a television network to show us video live from Europe using those new-fangled communications relay satellites. No one, not even the television network, could afford to do that for more than a few minutes.

And here we are today with almost anybody able to do this. The question is:

Now what happens?

Who knows?

→ No CommentsTags: Communication · Culture · Technology

Unpaid Overtime and Undertime

November 10th, 2014 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Unpaid overtime is almost always followed by undertime, i.e., people not working.

Unpaid overtime is a fact. It is not just a recent occurrence as it has occurred for, oh, let’s say, centuries. People work extra hard for a period of time (hopefully a short period of time).

Then what happens?

People “make up” for the unpaid hours by taking longer lunches, arriving late in the morning, leaving early in the evening, or (more likely) all three. These activities are undertime.

This has something to do with human nature I suppose. People can’t sprint forever. That is why it is called a sprint. Unpaid overtime is a sprint. People rest after sprinting.

If you ask people to sprint, i.e., work overtime without any extra pay, expect them to rest afterwards. If you cannot afford to have them rest, pay them for the overtime.

This is, yet another, example of the adage:

there is no free lunch

If you thought there was a free lunch, sorry to disappoint you.

→ No CommentsTags: Management

It’s Not the Event, It’s the Reaction

November 6th, 2014 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

We don’t choose what happens in life. We do choose how we react.

The title of this post is something that I’ve heard numerous times from consultant and author Jerry Weinberg. It seems that almost every day I trip over yet another example of this.

The phone rings at 2 AM. Something bad has happened to someone I know. I didn’t choose that event—far from it. I do, however, react to the event. I choose how I react.

This is real life.

Emotions are also real. The phone call brings disappointment or horror or angst. If I cry or laugh or become depressed is my reaction that I choose.

Perhaps other posts with examples will follow.

→ No CommentsTags: Choose · Reaction

Hyperventilation, Hysteria, and Commitment

November 3rd, 2014 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Hyperventilation and hysteria are shows of emotion, not commitment.

A recent post from Seth Godin reminded me of the above. I have been the victim of the “why aren’t you going berserk?” syndrome over the years. I was once reprimanded for concentrating on performing the work instead of yelling and screaming at the walls.

Let me state this:

I have never seen electrons in a circuit change direction as a result of screaming.

Believe me, if I had seen evidence that screaming would change how a circuit behaves or how electrons on a disk drive arrange themselves, I would scream a lot and often. Since I have never seen such evidence, I just concentrate on the task at hand and attempt to accomplish the work.

That concentrate-on-the-work habit bothers some people to a great extent. Perhaps, one day, I will understand that response.

→ No CommentsTags: Choose · Communication · Differences · General Systems Thinking · Reaction

Forward to the Past, Yet Another Time

October 30th, 2014 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Google, Adobe, Chromebooks, and Creative Cloud take us yet again forward to a day long ago.

Google and Adobe have just announced that we can run Adobe’s Creative Cloud on a Chromebook. Wow. I am not trying to be flippant. This is a big deal. You buy a $200 or $100 Chromebook and run Adobe’s software.

Of course you are not running the software on the Chromebook. It would take hours to load a video and do the simplest, smallest edit to it. All the software is running in the cloud on an Adobe computer. The video or whatever is sitting on a Google disk drive or one that Google and Adobe shares.

Once again we go back to days gone by (wasn’t that the title of a Walking Dead episode? But I digress.). In decades past I would sit in front of a relatively inexpensive computer and run software on a relatively expensive computer. The computer in front of me, we called it a “terminal” back then, would merely display things to me and take input from me via the keyboard.

The Chromebook today is the terminal of old. I think people call this “thin client” or something like that now. “Thin client” sounds so much better than “terminal.” Well, I don’t think so. I like the term “terminal,” but, then again, I am old.

→ No CommentsTags: Computing · Technology

Too Close for Comfort

October 27th, 2014 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

For many of us, being close shows us the details, and those details make us sick.

I give to several non-profit organizations. One of them is based ten thousand miles away. Another is based five miles away. I see many details of the one that is five miles away. I don’t like what I see. I see few details of the one ten thousand miles away. I am happy with the situation in that one.

I guess this is part of my temperament. Details cause me to think, rearrange, imagine, and make things perfect in my mind. Details cause me to notice all the intricate problems and how they might be worked better. Sigh.

In many ways, I am happier when I am ignorant. I try to use this; I try to be more ignorant about the non-profit that is five miles from my home. I find myself less critical and more happy.

Such is one of the odd things about life.

→ No CommentsTags: Competence · Expectations · General Systems Thinking · Problems