Working Up

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

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All Other Things Being Equal

August 28th, 2014 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Although it is rare that all other things are equal, they can be. This is especially true if there is only one person involved and that one person tries hard.

It is difficult to keep all other things equal. The goal is to change just one thing, and observe what happens in an endeavor. But I can’t change just one thing when there are many people involved. Those other persons won’t freeze their lives for me so I can perform an experiment no matter how wonderful the experiment. And really, those people can’t freeze their lives.

The situation is different when only one person is involved—me. I can keep almost all other things equal. The key is that I try hard, really hard.

Consider losing weight. This is a pretty good example to consider as most people would like to weigh less. At least most people would be healthier if they lost weight.

Here is a weight-loss procedure:

  1. Eat less
  2. Keep other things in your life equal

Many people can do step 1. The trouble is in trying to do step 2 while doing step 1. Exercise just as much. Sleep just as much. Don’t change the type of food you eat, e.g., substitute ice cream for salad.

It is possible to keep all other things equal. It isn’t fun, and that is often the trouble.

→ No CommentsTags: Change

YAGNI and the Common Core

August 25th, 2014 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

You aren’t going to need it should be applied to the Common Core for education.

I now delve into something for which I evidently have no expertise: arithmetic. I also delve into another topic for which I evidently have no expertise: education. Allow me to preface my ignorant rant by writing that I have a PhD in engineering. I had to attend school some twenty years (lots of education) and perform higher mathematics (of which arithmetic was a part).

The Common Core has come under much criticism. Much of the criticism is not founded in reality. Some of it, however, is. I point to the teaching of arithmetic. I link one article on his matter. There are many more.

The creators of the Common Core in the area of early arithmetic, that taught to kids in 1st and 2nd grades, emphasize factoring. The number 123 can be factored into one-each hundred, two-each ten, and three-each one. Our young arithmetic students are encouraged (or is it required? I forget.) to factor these numbers all the time in basic arithmetic problems. The idea is that when the students reach algebra and other mathematics ten years hence, they will be experienced in factoring and will perform better.

Now we bring in the dastardly YAGNI from that dastardly field of agile development. These dastardly things come not from academia but from the practice of making things work in computing.

YAGNI: You Aren’t Going to Need It

The idea behind YAGNI is to stop fretting about all the possibilities of the future and concentrate on what you need now to make something work now. YAGNI is short sighted because sometimes you will need something in the future, so you should do a lot of work now to prepare for it. The supporters of YAGNI, however, have shown that all that fretting about the future helps you in only a small (like 1%) percent of the time.

Now to YAGNI and the Common Core. The developers of Common Core are correct in asserting that all this factoring over and over again at a young age will help a student factor ten years hence. Those well-meaning persons, however, don’t seem to know much about education reform. The chance that Common Core will still be in use ten years hence are, well, let’s say about 1%.

And then there is the practical matter (ooops). The number of students who will be factoring later in life is, gosh again, about 1%. Those 1% students will be factoring because they are majoring in engineering or some other such science that requires a little bit of higher math. Those persons like math or they wouldn’t be in engineering or some other such science that requires a little bit of higher math. Those persons are good at math or they, well, I trust you get the idea.

Common Core has been pushed by well-meaning persons. It is unfortunate that they didn’t consider YAGNI. At least I think so, and I know a little bit about arithmetic and education.

→ No CommentsTags: Education

Change the Training

August 21st, 2014 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

We have a #1 response of any bureaucracy in the 21st century.

Any time a bureaucracy has a flub up (technical term), the response is the same:

We will address this item as we change the training.

This is the #1 response to any situation in the 21st century. Gosh. At least they have training.

This is the hallmark of an organization that has a simple rule #1:

Follow our complex rules to the letter.

This implies simple rule #0:

No individual judgement is allowed on the job.

If an employee does something on the job that embarrasses the organization, that is because the organization did not address that situation in training. (See the US TSA for many examples.) Hence, the organization will change its training to include the unforeseen situation that brought such great embarrassment.

The organization will never, ever, ever (did I mention never?) resort to hiring competent people who can exercise good judgement in the face of such unforeseen circumstances. The organization will never issue policies that guide employees in unforeseen circumstances. The organization’s senior managers are brilliant enough to foresee all possible unforeseen circumstances. That is until one tiny unforeseen circumstance sneaks out of some hidden crack and occurs in public to great embarrassment.

Oh, well. Let’s all be a bit more forgiving of organizations. It is difficult to train non-thinking persons for every circumstance.

Then again, maybe organizations should attempt to hire thinking persons who can judge what to do.

Here is a policy to try:

Treat people with dignity.

The earth will not stop spinning if you do so.

→ No CommentsTags: Change · Education · Employment · Thinking

Resistance as a Resource

August 18th, 2014 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

When people resist me, they are telling me something. Am I listening?

Dale Emery is an acquaintance of mine. I owe the topic of this blog post to him. See here and here.

When people resist me, they are telling me something. That something is valuable information. I can ignore the information or use it. I can be ignorant or informed.

Why would I choose to be ignorant?

Oooops, there is information there as well. Sometimes I do choose to be ignorant. I don’t want to know (1) that other people disagree with me and (2) there is a reason why other people disagree with me. I want to wander down the road believing I am right and there is no other way but mine. Oh foolish me.

Back to the topic at hand. People resist me for a reason. There is something they value that my direction is threatening or lessening. What is that? Why is that important to them? What can I learn from that? How can I combine what I wish with what they value?

Those are a few valuable questions that I can ask. If I can find the answers, well, I would be more knowledgeable and maybe improve my little corner of the world.

→ No CommentsTags: Communication

Mental Concentration and Awkwardness

August 14th, 2014 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Looks are often deceiving. Especially how you look when you are concentrating.

Many years ago, a college professor told a calculus class I was in something like, “People think you are wandering the campus absentmindedly when the opposite is true. You are in deep concentration.”

I often find myself standing to walk away from my computer unable to do what I intend. My muscle ache and are stiff.

I have been sitting still too long. I have been concentrating my  mental faculties on something too long for my physical muscles.

Sometimes, not often enough, I set a timer next to the computer. The timer pings me after 25 minutes. I then spend five minutes standing, walking, and stretching, a.k.a., reactivating my body.

When you see someone stand and freeze in pain, they have probably been concentrating. Ask them the subject of their concentration. The answers could be enlightening.


→ No CommentsTags: Breathe · Thinking

The Perfect Time to Write: When I Don’t Feel Like It

August 11th, 2014 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

The perfect time to write is one of the less expected.

I write a lot, everyday, day after day. I am writing now.

There are times when people like me don’t feel like writing. Those are the perfect times to write. Here is why.

I write a lot because I like to write a lot (makes sense, right?). When I don’t feel like writing, I am in an unusual mood, in an unusual state. I am off kilter (what does kilter mean anyway?).

If I were to write when in an unusual mood, state, or kilter, I am apt to write something completely new and completely different.

When I don’t feel like writing, I am apt to write something new and wonderful.

→ No CommentsTags: Writing

Searching for the Digital Assistant

August 7th, 2014 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

A social robot is the last in a long line of attempts at building a digital assistant. Maybe we should just hire people to be personal assistants?

I stumbled across this little “social robot.” It talks to you when you talk to it. It makes phone calls for you. It takes pictures for you. It keeps your calendar for you. Isn’t it wonderful? Maybe it is wonderful. I’ve never seen one in person or used one.

It is, however, not a new idea. It is yet another attempt at the digital assistant. That magic thing that helps you do all the things that you do or want to do.

At work, the digital assistant will do something when I say:

  • Arrange a meeting of all the people interested in project ABC.
  • Collate all my notes from last week into a report.
  • Categorize that pile of receipts on my desk.
  • Find John Jones and get him in my office right now.

At home, the digital assistant will do something when I say:

  • Find out what three-year-old girls want for their birthday and order one for my granddaughter.
  • See what’s in the fridge and what dish can I make of it.
  • Tell everyone on the soccer team that practice is cancelled today.
  • See if I have enough clean clothes for the week.

Is the new social robot in the above link the answer? I doubt it. Perhaps it is a step closer.

And here is a new idea:

Instead of digital assistants, how about we hire all the unemployed as personal assistants?

→ No CommentsTags: Technology

Watching Competence Evaporate

August 4th, 2014 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Competence evaporates when we are upset. There are some things we can do to work our way back to competence, but they are not easy.

I recently watched a group of otherwise competent people behave in a most incompetent manner. They had an excellent excuse as they were under great emotional stress.

Hmm, is this a coincidence? Emotional stress and evaporating competence? No, it isn’t a coincidence. I have seen it happen often on projects and especially with project managers.

The project is late, over budget, under staffed, etc. People are yelling. Smart people act like they were stupid. I’ve seen it too many times.

Calm down.

That is simple advice, but it just doesn’t seem to apply to people who are hurting, angry, and any other number of stressful situations.

Let’s try something more complicated.

  1. Recognize that you are upset.
  2. Find a checklist to follow.
  3. Follow the checklist.

Of course this means that you have created a checklist when you were not upset. That is usually not the case, but if you are having a calm day, make a checklist. Still, the biggest problem is step 1.

Try this one.

  1. Have a good friend.
  2. Ask your friend if you are upset.
  3. If the answer is yes, ask them to be your checklist.

Again, step 1. is the most difficult, but it is a start.

→ No CommentsTags: Breathe · Competence · Health · Judgment

Writing with My Eyes Shut

July 31st, 2014 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

I relearn that with hands on the keys, I can shut my eyes and still write.

Several years ago, I was trying to write in the evening after a long day at work of reading and reading and reading and a little writing. My eyes hurt. I had to shut them.

So I did. (I shut my eyes)

Then I kept writing. (with my eyes shut)

Funny it works, but I can write with my eyes shut. Yes, I make more typo errors than with my eyes open, but it is a computer editor and fixing typos is pretty easy.

I carried this trick to a seminar I attended. I learned that I could type notes while looking up at the different people who were talking. I couldn’t do that when I was trying to take notes with pencil and paper.

Just a few weeks ago, I re-tried this old trick. It still works. I am typing this blog post while looking at a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup commercial on television. I learned something new:

I type a little faster when my eyes are shut or when I am looking away from the computer screen. I can’t explain that, but that is my experience.

→ No CommentsTags: Adapting · Writing

Cloud Computing Thoughts

July 28th, 2014 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

After several recent experiences, I know a little about cloud computing.

I have been experimenting in several ways recently with cloud computing. The basic sales pitch from a cloud computing provider is:

We’ll buy and maintain the computers.

You rent them from us.

This takes us forward to the past to a day when people couldn’t afford to buy their own computer. Let’s go way back to time-sharing of computers (anyone remember that?). Even in the late 1970s, I would go to an I/O room (not Google I/O but simply the “input-output” room) and send my software to a computer that was somewhere else. I would have a couple seconds of that computer’s time after my “job” waited in line for a day or so. I was somewhat happy in that I didn’t have to try to buy my own computer. I shared a computer with a few thousand of my closest friends.

So here we are now. People still find computing problems for which they can not afford to buy a computer that is powerful enough. The answer: rent a computer from a cloud computing provider.

The difference today is that several companies, e.g., Amazon and Google, but they are not the only ones, have figured out how to be more efficient than anyone else was in the past. They have software that configures virtual computers, runs jobs, tracks time, sends bills to users, etc. with little or no (expensive) human intervention.

It appears to me that the vast majority of human employees in the cloud industry are in sales, but that is another blog post for another day.

And still, the cloud computer user needs a computer, albeit a relatively inexpensive computer—$200 may suffice. But, and this is the big but, the cloud computer user needs a relatively expensive link to the Internet. Yes, you can sit in your car in the parking lot near the Starbucks, but that wears thin quickly as a lot of those formerly nice free Internet access providers have smart software that kicks you off after an hour with little or no (expensive) human intervention.

Once we move past all these factors…yes, it is cheaper to rent a thousand servers for an hour or a week than it is to buy them. Jump in, try something, fail, jump out. If you have what may be the next great idea, this is a great time to be alive.

→ No CommentsTags: Broadband · Communication · Computing · Technology