Working Up

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

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Adults Wouldn’t Do That! Right? Seriously?

May 25th, 2015 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Many of my big, but slow-to-learn, learnings in life occurred because I didn’t think adults would act like that.

It was the early 1980s. A senior manager said, “Whats his name works for another-government-agency. Everyone who works for that-government-agency is stupid. Therefore, whats his name is stupid.”

I couldn’t believe that an adult would say something like that. Surely, some other senior manager would quell such nonsense. No one, however, did. The nonsense stood and became policy.

In the early 2000s, I saw people trimming budgets with no idea what they were trimming. Their well-intentioned efforts killed projects because they trimmed essentials in ignorance. Sure, someone with knowledge of the projects would quell such nonsense. No one, however, did. The nonsense stood and projects died. By the way, this wasted taxpayers’ dollars.

As the summary stated, I have learned too slowly on many occasions that adults will act in ways that adults would never act. It happens—daily.

I need to stretch my imagination.

→ No CommentsTags: Adapting · Learning · People

Best Pencil and Sharpener in the World

May 21st, 2015 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Late in life, I discover the best pencil and sharpener in the world.

This isn’t high tech stuff. It is embarrassing how low tech it is and still be incredibly useful.

Best pencil in the world? Palomino Blackwing 602.

Best pencil sharpener in the world? The Blackwing Long Point Sharpener.

What causes me to smack my forehead with the palm of my hand is the sharpening method. Notice how the sharpener has two sections. One section shaves away the wood of the pencil. The second section sharpens the pencil point.

This two-phase method works a thousand percent better than the one-phase method.

How could I have been doing it all wrong my entire life? Better late than never. Using this pencil and sharpener is one of the pleasures of life. Try it.


→ No CommentsTags: Technology · Writing

How to Build a Secure Computer Voting Machine

May 18th, 2015 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Want computer voting? Want it to be secure? Here is how to do it.

Just about everyone in America today votes on some sort of computer. Now and then, someone writes a story about how someone discovered that their computerized voting machines are insecure and easily subject to election fraud. Here is a story about the machines in the state where I vote—Virginia.

Okay, we’re really smart. Let’s build a secure computer voting machine. Let’s not start with Windows whatever or OS X or even Linux. Let’s start with a blank slate. Too expensive? I think not. Keep reading please.

Let’s write an operating system that does not allow any funny business to be occurring in the background. That is known as a single-tasking operating system. Let’s also write an operating system that doesn’t allow anyone to be logged on in the background where we can’t see them. That is known as a single-user operating system.

Okay, so now we are at single-user, single-tasking operating system. Hmmm, sort of sounds like CP/M (Control Program for Microcomputers) from the 1970s.

So now we need to write a new version of CP/M with voting software that will run on it: one program to allow entering votes and one program to move the voting numbers to a floppy disk, uh, er, or something like that.

Expensive? I doubt it. I estimate that two smart operating system programmers can write this and have it running in two days. Let’s be safe and allow them an entire week. My estimate is based on how long it took me to write a simulated multi-user, multi-tasking operating system in grad school when I had almost no idea what I was doing.

Exciting stuff? Hardly. But then again, all we want to do is count votes that are cast one at a time. Who made this so difficult?



→ No CommentsTags: Competence · Computing · Programming · Technology

Smart People, Worthwhile Problems

May 14th, 2015 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Here are the secrets to success in tech and any other business. (No, there isn’t anything earth-shattering here.)

Okay, here it is, right at the start:

Have smart people work on worthwhile problems.

Sorry, I told you in the summary that this wouldn’t be earth shattering. So, let’s delve into this a bit more.

Consider Amazon Web Services. Amazon is making a lot of money on this. A few years ago, they put a bunch on smart people to work on the problem of how to allocate computing resources to large numbers of people. They had a room full of computers connected to the Internet. They wanted customers to rent the computers. The customers wanted low, low prices. Amazon wanted a way to allocate computers that would be efficient enough so that they would make a profit while charging these low, low prices. IT departments around the world all had this same problem.

It is a worthwhile problem.

After a few years of work, Amazon improved its algorithms to the point where they solved the problem. They could and do rent computers at low, low prices efficiently enough to make big profit$.

Amazon solved the problem that all the IT departments in the world shared. Why did Amazon succeed (first, but not the only one to succeed) when practically everyone else in the world failed?

They put smart people to work (and let them keep working for several years).

This is one example. There are others.

There are far more examples of smart people working on problems that aren’t worth much. These smart people solve these problems and solve a bunch more problems that aren’t worth much. They spend their entire lives working on these okay, but not so hot problems.

Advice: Find the worthwhile problems and put your smarter people to work on them.

→ No CommentsTags: Management · Money

Is Everyone in Mississippi this Nice?

May 7th, 2015 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Recent experiences show me that the nicest people in the world are in Mississippi.

During the past month I spent more time in Mississippi than I ever have before. The time was stressful as we were moving my mother from her home to an assisted living facility. Did I mention that the time was stressful? The time was S T R E S S F U L.

Lessening the stress were the people I met and spoke with on the phone. These are the nicest people in the world. They didn’t always know what I needed to know and didn’t always give me the answer I wanted, but darn it, they were nice.

Perhaps there is some grand, over-riding lesson in all this.

→ No CommentsTags: People

How to Breathe

May 4th, 2015 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

A crucial skill to working and working with others is breathing.

Working and working with others can be frustrating. We can replace “frustrating” with just about any word that expresses a feeling that we don’t like. The result is the same. If those fill-in-the-blank people don’t start doing what I want, I will fill-in-the-blank-with-any-action-that-rational-people-won’t-do.

Here are some cliches of what I need to do in these situations:

  • step back
  • count to ten
  • catch my breathe
  • have a moment alone
  • center myself
  • breathe deeply
  • count your blessings

I use the one-word cliche B R E A T H E.

I have seen most people go to their office, gather several persons who are supportive, and commiserate for hours. This works for them, but is quite expensive as it consumes several hours of time for several people. Many people in government hide this waste of resources by calling the commiserating a “meeting.”

Here is the technique I use to breathe. I write a page in my journal. That takes time as writing with pen and paper is a relatively slow physical exercise. That time slows my rate of breathing and heart beating. It also helps me think.

At the end of the journal page I write a list of tasks to do.

There, I have it. I have calmed myself and set a plan of action for the future. Now I just work off each task in order.

This is less painful and more productive than kicking the wall.

→ No CommentsTags: Breathe

Putting Video in HTML—An Excellent Resource

April 30th, 2015 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

I find an excellent resource that helps me put video on a web site in HTML.

Not many people face this “problem.” The world uploads their video to Facebook with a click and drag and such. I am old and still have cases where I want to put a private video in a hidden location on this and that website. Perhaps I don’t understand HTML and browsers as well as I should, but I have struggled with this.

I recently found an excellent resource to help do this. It is called “video for everybody GENERATOR.” It has template HTML and a few blank fields. I type in the file names of the videos and it generates the HTML code that works. I copy the HTML code from the template to the desired website and it all works.

I recommend this tool. If nothing else, it shows working code and that is always a good instructional tool.

→ No CommentsTags: Teaching · Technology


April 27th, 2015 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Sometimes you just want a system to be operating in some usable state. You will come back later and finish the job.

Some 21st century software companies called it “good enough software.” The idea was that you had software that did something useful for the user. Once it reached that state, you shipped it. You continued to work on the software and improve it with regular updates for the user.

Those ignorant of systems development history hailed this as some sort of milestone in the progress of mankind. Sorry, it was just the movement from IOC to FOC. Wikipedia has some good articles on IOC and FOC.

Initial Operational Capability is the good-enough software of general systems. Reach that point, and the users have something useful. Final, or Full, Operational Capability is when the system does just about everything the user wishes.

We recently moved my mother from a house to an apartment. The move was rushed due to several constraints. We reached IOC in a couple of days. We are not at FOC, yet. For example, it is summer time and we didn’t move her winter clothing yet. We will one day.

There are many systems in daily life that can use the IOC and FOC concept. Everyone seems to know that already, and most people seem to use that already.

Sometimes, however, it is good to remind ourselves that these are neither new nor earth shattering. Just formal use of concepts that are common sense, but not in common use.

→ No CommentsTags: General Systems Thinking · Systems

Systems Engineering and System Administration

April 23rd, 2015 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

As a job seeker, I often run into inexplicable confusion between these two job titles.

I am a systems engineer. I do systems engineering. I am not a systems administrator. I do not do systems administration. A quick read of the two Wikipedia articles linked above shows that the two professions are not even close.

At some place at some time in our recent history, someone confused the two professions. Someone decided that it was okay to call system administrators “systems engineers.” I am not sure what no-doubt-well-meaning person decided this, but they did the world of engineering and science and technology a great disservice.

I wish someone in authority would correct his mistake.

→ No CommentsTags: Communication · Employment · Engineering

Efficiency May Not Always be Good

April 20th, 2015 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Efficiency (let’s call it hyper efficiency) is abounding. Maybe it isn’t always good.

Amazon delivers wonderful cloud computing with their Amazon Web Services (AWS). They have found a way to activate virtual computers on demand, run them, deactivate them, and start over again. They have rooms of real computers that they share among millions of users. They start, allocate, reallocate, and so on in microseconds. The efficiency of their operations is amazing. Amazon is not the only company that provides such hyper-efficient cloud computing.

Many companies today are operating at efficiencies that mirror those of the cloud computing providers. They have reduced staff to a minimum while still providing goods and services. Unemployment has grown, so those people who have jobs are faced with either job loss or lower wages. We all choose the lower wages.

Articles about such hyper-efficient businesses abound. One is here and another here.

Perhaps we have become a bit too efficient in business. We have reduced the number of employees to some minimum value. A side affect is that we have reduced the number of consumers for our goods and services. What benefit is there to offering high-profit, low-cost goods and services and there are almost no persons with the jobs and money to be consumers?

→ No CommentsTags: Culture · Employment