Working Up

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

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Lenovo Reinvents the Portable Computer – part 0.1

October 20th, 2016 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

A look at the Lenovo Yoga Book. This look concentrates on typing on the Halo Keyboard. Next up, let’s try writing with a pen.

Lenovo may have reinvented the portable computer. We’ve come a long way since the days of the KayPro CPM lug-able computer. Lenovo’s Yoga book is thin. See the first photo showing the thickness compared to an Apple MacBook Air and a paper Moleskin notebook (sorry for the orientation).

The Lenovo Yoga Book between an Apple MacBook Air and a Moleskine notebook

The Lenovo Yoga Book between an Apple MacBook Air and a Moleskine notebook

The key to the thin computer is the keyboard. Lenovo calls it their Halo Keyboard. It is a flat black piece of material. When activated, keys illuminate. (see second photo).

The Lenovo Yoga Book showing the illuminated Halo Keyboard

The Lenovo Yoga Book showing the illuminated Halo Keyboard

This is a fascinating piece of hardware. There are no ridges on the edges of the “keys” or any physical features to let you know that your fingers are on or off the keys.

Flat. Thin. Great.

But can you type on it? Because if you can’t type on it, you might as well toss it away and use the basic tablet virtual keyboard, which I despise as a writer.

Typing Test: Out of the box, I went online and did one of those typing speed tests. I scored 35 words per minute. I then took a test on the same web site on my usual Apple keyboard and scored 65 words per minute. The Halo Keyboard fails out of the box.

Let’s practice a little. After a couple of days of a few practice sessions (about an hour total), I increased my typing score to 50 words per minute on the Lenovo Yoga Book. I have to pay attention, especially to the pinky finger on the left hand (where is the “a”?).

The Halo Keyboard provides good feedback. The obvious feedback is sound. You can be quite annoying to everyone else in the coffee shop by adjusting the sound to 11 and hearing a beep on every touch of the keyboard. The ingenious feature of the Halo Keyboard is the tactile feedback—the entire flat panel vibrates to let you know you have pressed it with enough force to register a keystroke. That works well for me.

Conclusion part 0.1: The Lenovo Yoga Book is the smallest, thinnest, adequate writing machine I have ever touched. The iPad and other tablets work, but with a separate bluetooth keyboard.

The Yoga Book works, and it is practically thin as opposed to thin and theory and thick in practice.

All the Lenovo details are on their web site.

→ No CommentsTags: Computing · Technology

Don’t Joke at Work—It May Become a Policy

October 17th, 2016 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Take care with jokes at work. A “manager” may hear the joke, take it seriously, and make it a policy.

This isn’t a Dilbert cartoon; it is a true story that happened to me some 20 years ago.

I found a little book of performance appraisal phrases. I found it to be hilarious. Who could possibly use these phrases in an actual, written performance appraisal? We tossed it around the back room at work and had lots of fun with it.

I made the grave mistake of leaving it on my desk one evening. A senior manager happened to walk through my work area after I had left for the evening. He saw the little book, took it seriously, ordered several dozen copies, and thereafter required all performance appraisers to use it in their performance appraisals.

A joke became an official policy.

To all those who came after me in that organization, I extend my sincerest apology. I thought it was funny. I never thought you would be punished with the joke.

To all those senior managers who can’t tell when a joke is a joke, well, I don’t know what to say.

→ No CommentsTags: Work

College Professors Beware—MOOCs are not College

October 13th, 2016 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

If you are a successful college professor, and someone asks you to turn your course into a MOOC, proceed with great care. These things are not the same.

I am currently taking a series of online courses or MOOCs (Massive Open Online Course or is it Massive Online Open Course or is it Massive Opportunity to make Outrageous amounts of Cash?). I am not having a good experience. There are opportunities to learn, and I am learning. There is also, however, great disappointment.

The lectures are sloppy. Some lectures are difficult to understand as the speakers are not native English speakers. Many visuals shown are fuzzy and illegible. The lecturers don’t answer questions.

I caution successful college professors from doing a MOOC. I feel that these persons who come across poorly in the MOOCs are excellent professors and succeed at both research and teaching—in a campus environment.

Specific cautions:

You can’t show slides and just talk as if you were in a classroom. That comes across as sloppy, and the grammar, once transcribed and shown on the screen next to the video, is embarrassing.

Don’t let the production company show your presentation without your final, absolute approval. They will put up any out-of-focus  junk to save time and money.

Have a firm agreement on who will answer questions from paying customers. You may need to spend 28 hours a day answering questions. You can’t do that. Hence, you ignore most questions and give poor answers to the rest. You come across as (hmmm, how to say this?) a jerk.

MOOC is not college. MOOC deals with professionals in the workforce. They invest time and money and expect excellence. They are not 18-year-old freshmen who need to be “weeded out” with quips and suggestions to ask another student. And you don’t have a staff of grad students to take care of these things.

Excellent material can be presented in an excellent manner in a MOOC. The MOOC can also present an excellent professor as a bungling, heartless hack. Proceed with caution and feel no fear in marking up the contract.

→ No CommentsTags: Education · Learning · MOOC

What was My Question? What is Yours?

October 10th, 2016 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

I am not a reporter asking a political candidate a question. I actually expect the other person to hear and answer the question I ask. What is wrong with me?

I am currently taking a series on online classes. I ask questions in these classes. I am paying for these classes. I expect someone to answer me. The key point is:

I expect someone to answer the question I asked. Not some other question.

I suppose there is something wrong with me. I strongly suspect there is something wrong with my expectations. After a dozen tries, no one has answered any question I asked.

Let’s step outside the online classes and move back into some semblance of real life. I am on some sort of losing streak in my life when it comes to asking questions. I think long and hard on how to word my question. I ask it as plainly as I can. The other person comes back with a discussion of how to make yogurt or some other off-the-wall subject.

Tip: ask the other person to repeat back what question they heard.

Most other persons find this quite annoying and often huff and walk away.

Other tips are welcome. First tip, “Change my expectations.”

Now to the other side. What question did the other person ask me? Something inside me screams that I should pay attention and try to answer the question instead of changing the subject to making yogurt.

→ No CommentsTags: Communication · Questions

Where’s the Supercomputer?

October 6th, 2016 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

While I sip my morning coffee, I’m using a computer that is somewhere else, run by someone else, and paid for my someone else.

I am taking a data science course online. As part of the course, I have some weeks of limited, free time on a machine leaning platform that is “in the cloud,” i.e., in a data center somewhere.

I sit in front of my puny 11″ screen adjusting the coefficients on a machine learning algorithm (sounds much more impressive than it is). I hit the enter key, and viola, magic happens somewhere.

I’m not paying for this computing time. Someone is, someone has to be, someone must be, but it isn’t me. What is happening here in the 21st century?

Oh, by the way. One of the limitations is that I can only submit three runs per day. That takes me back to the days of punch cards, computing I/O rooms, and turnaround that is so slow that I could only run three programs a day.

Well, maybe this clouded supercomputing century isn’t all that it is made to be?

→ No CommentsTags: Computing

Bad Design—Instructions Required (lots of instructions)

October 3rd, 2016 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

One indication of a bad design are lots of instructions on how to do a simple task.

I live in Reston, Virginia. We have an (somewhat or other) urban core or something called the Reston Town Center. It has parking garages. The management company, to the consternation or many locals, has decided to charge for parking in all the parking garages.

Paid parking garages have existed in the US for decades. I thought the companies had it all figured out. I was wrong.

I came into the Reston Town Center as I usually do on a Saturday morning to drink coffee, view the Internet, and write some blog posts. I was confronted with a dozen signs instructing me how to park my car.

Parking a car is pretty simple. People have been parking cars since cars were invented over a hundred years ago. Yes, some people park poorly, but the vast majority of the time the vast majority of people park their cars adequately.

Question: Why do I need a dozen signs telling me how to park my car?

Answer: Bad design.

One of the best little books on design I have ever read is that by Don Norman. One of his chapters discusses how some designs are so bad that the implementers have to put signs everywhere telling users how to do something simple. Examples include doors that have instructions on how to open them and faucets that have instructions on how to make water flow.

Well, let’s add paid parking at the Reston Town Center. We need a dozen signs so we know how to park a car.

→ No CommentsTags: Design

Vin Scully, Neighbor

September 29th, 2016 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

I won’t hear my old neighbor’s voice anymore. Vin Scully retires.

It was 40-something years ago. I was a kid playing in the back yard in southern California. I played to the music of Vin Scully describing Dodger baseball games.

I never saw our neighbor—Mr. Garcia. He had erected some sort of bamboo curtain along the fence so that we couldn’t see him as he toiled on this and that in his backyard. I always heard him. He had his AM radio blasting the Dodgers games six months a year. His radio was too loud as you could hear it several backyards away. No one complained about the noise because it wasn’t noise. It was Vin Scully.

Vin Scully was the sound of baseball. This was the 1970s, and America’s youth—all of it— played baseball. Vin Scully floated through the neighborhood.

As a kid, I thought all baseball announcers sounded like Vin Scully. It was one of the terrible disappointments of the transition from youth to adult that I learned how Vin Scully was the exception to the rule. How did the rest of America grow up without his voice?

Our neighbor, Mr. Garcia, treated the neighborhood to Vin Scully. Our neighbors shared the sound of a distant neighbor chatting at a baseball game. Vin Scully was our neighborhood even though he was a Chavez Ravine some hundred miles away.

Vin Scully retired. The world will be a little less neighborly.

→ No CommentsTags: Communication

Cloud-Based Development and Risk

September 26th, 2016 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

What could possibly go wrong with moving all your development to the cloud? At least ask the question.

Programmers are running to cloud-based integrated development environments (IDEs). Once again, consumers run away from bad services, in this case the IT department, and towards better services, in this case cloud providers.

This comes with risks, and I don’t see many people acknowledging those risks.

Recently, I was taking a cloud-based course, a.k.a., online learning or MOOC. I was completing a graded, you-need-to-pass-this-to-get-your-money’s-worth test. My Internet connection failed (thanks Xfinity). I was fortunate in that I eventually recovered and didn’t lose my tuition fee. It was only $49. Programmers, and their employers, are often at risk for much more than $49.

Moving to cloud-based development? Good for you. I hope it all works fine. Still, do some risk management and ask,

What could possibly go wrong?

→ No CommentsTags: Programming · Risk

They Want You to Fail

September 22nd, 2016 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Sometimes people give you a task they know you will fail. That is because they want you to fail.

Sometimes we are all dysfunctional. In government and business and everything else, sometimes, some persons give tasks to other persons while wanting them to fail.

The giver of the impossible task puts the failure of the worker in their back pocket. Sometime in the future, the giver of the impossible task pulls this failure out of their back pocket and proclaims, “Oh, you’re so good? What about that time you failed me? Let me remind you!”

Of course this is immature and childish. I could use many more negative adjectives to describe this behavior. It exist. Recognize it.

What do you do if you are the recipient of the impossible task? Several options:

1 Play along with the gag.

2 Quit the relationship

3 Be candid and say something like, “Excuse me. Do you expect me to be able to do the impossible? Is there something happening here that you want me to know? Let’s remove the veils and have an open discussion.”

I like #3, but it often leads to, “You’re fired.”

→ No CommentsTags: Communication · Customer · Failure · Fear

A Numbers Game

September 19th, 2016 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

This is simple. Have more people working with you, and success is much more likely to come your way.

This one cannot be overstated. Linus Torvalds is famous for stating it, but many others have also stated it many times over many years.

Anything that increases the number of people working a problem is good. This is how hackers break into unbreakable systems, they have more people working on breaking the system than the builders had making the system.

This is the “secret” of open-source software and the new news media and so on.

  • Everyone is a sensor.
  • Everyone is a photographer.
  • Everyone is a writer.
  • Everyone is a public speaker.
  • Everyone is a publisher.
  • Everyone is a programmer.
  • Everyone is a hacker.
  • Everyone is in the game.

Fighting everyone? Good luck. The numbers are against you.

→ No CommentsTags: Communication · Culture · Freelance · Group