28 August 2010

New FIST Comic

For those who haven't already heard, the latest issue of Defense AT&L is now available - online and in a mailbox near you (also often found in HQ waiting rooms & base libraries... so, yeah, mostly online).

In this, the July/Aug 2010 issue, we've got our third installment of the FIST Superhero Comic, in which our heroes go after a baddie called The Incredible Inevitable.

So here's my question - did you know that already, either via my facebook post, my direct email or your own access to the magazine? Anyone finding out about new AT&L developments for the first time via this blog?

I'm asking 'cause the value of blogs seems to be decreasing in some circles. I've seen a few friends stop blogging altogether. I've personally taken to reading fewer blogs than I used to. And even this one has scaled back to a weekly post instead of daily.

I still like writing it... but with other social media outlets & opportunities, perhaps my time & energy should go elsewhere.

24 August 2010

Book Update

Just a quick update on the latest book news from Rogue Press. I've been playing around with Amazon's new Digital Text Platform, which gives self-published authors like yours truly the ability to quickly & easily publish eBooks for the Kindle.

There's a lot to like about DTP - it's quick, easy & free, for starters. The author has full control over the price, and the royalty structure is a generous 70% for the author. Now, Amazon only sends royalty payments 60 days after the end of the month in which sales occur (as opposed to Lulu, which pays royalties monthly), but that's still faster & more frequent than traditional publishers. And I'm not really doing this 'cause it makes any money anyway - it's mostly 'cause it's fun.

So, if you're so inclined, you can pick up The Radical Elements of Radical Success (Not a Major Motion Picutre), Skyler and the Shadows on the Sun and The Boomer Sisters Meet Champy. Each book is just $2.99, delivered virtually instantaneously through the magic of the interweb. I'll probably add a few more titles in coming days.

Happy reading!

17 August 2010

Lean lessons

I've long been a critic of things like six-sigma, business process reengineering and lean. My critiques have ranged from how easy it is to misapply these approaches, flaws in the underlying assumptions & theories, and the well documented lack of results (or the lack of well-documented results). I always tried to be careful not to say these approaches are worthless or never work... just that they're largely oversold, overapplied and overstated.

As previously mentioned, I recently had a chance to attend an in depth 2-week class on Lean (and that other stuff too). I really enjoyed the class and have been pondering the lessons ever since. Here are a few observations:

Business efficiencies allow us to do what we were hired to do in the first place (i.e. be awesome) and not get distracted & dragged down by low-value activities. In a non-efficient place (i.e. just about everywhere) not much happens on any given day even though everyone's busy.

Doing things the right way should be easier than doing them the wrong way.

This stuff has to be strategic if it's going to work. If we get distracted by questions of how many printers to have and where to put them, we might overlook the fundamental question - whether we really need to print things in the first place.

Even when this stuff is taught well, it's still frighteningly easy for a group to wind up labeling all the staplers and cleaning out the supply closet, rather than making truly significant improvements.

More to follow, I'm sure...

13 August 2010


Let me start by saying I don't approve of releasing classified information. Just so we're clear about that. Releasing classified info is a bad idea. People shouldn't do it, unless they're properly authorized to declassify and release it.

But here's the thing: when classified information is released, I'm pretty sure it ceases to be classified (recent objections to the contrary not withstanding). The definition of classified material is information that would cause harm if it were released. As soon as it's released (inadvertently or otherwise) the proverbial genie is out of the bottle and the damage has been done. The released information it can't be re-released any more than it can be un-released (particularly in this digital age), and once it's out, I don't think it can do any further damage by being "more out."

Because of that, I don't understand the recent ban on troops accessing WikiLeaks. Never mind the fact that we're saying the bad guys can look at this stuff but our guys can't, which has its own logical flaws. And it's not as if I really want to go read any of that stuff. I'm just confused because as far as I can tell, the released stuff doesn't qualify as classified anymore - unless I'm missing something. (And just to be clear: I have not personally visited the wikileaks site and have no plans to do so).

The other thing I wanted to point out was that we're talking about digital files. Asking that WikiLeaks return the digital documents sounds kinda funny to me - it's sort of like asking someone to return a fax by faxing it back to you. Yes, the Pentagon also asked that WikiLeaks also delete their files, but the request to "return" them made me laugh a little. Would they like the files to be delivered on a flash drive (which isn't allowed on government computers) or as an email attachment (which would get stripped by the file server because it's too large)? Maybe they could return the stuff by posting it on a website somewhere so the DoD could just retrieve the files... oh, never mind.

As for deleting, the doc's have already been posted online and copied by more than one or two people. So even if WikiLeaks decided to cooperate, that would simply mean they don't have a copy anymore... but it wouldn't exactly take the info out of circulation. Such a move might have merit as a symbolic gesture, but it wouldn't do anything (a-n-y-t-h-i-n-g) to solve the problem.

By all means, let's go after people who break the law. Let's encourage WikiLeaks (and others) to not solicit this sort of thing or repeat this sort of thing. If they've got a stack of unpublished classified stuff, let's encourage them not to expose it. But let's also keep in mind that we're not dealing with paper. Concepts like "return" and "delete" simply don't have the same meaning they used to.

11 August 2010

Boyd on CyberWar

The hacking (cracking) attack on Google et al has caused a phenomenon that actually puts those companies and even countries at risk. Over the last year, the response by companies and countries to these cracking episodes has been to lock down their intranet/internet systems, filtering content and making access more restrictive. As an example, the Air Force Material Command, even after relenting on bans with certain types of social media, still enacts a robust filtering policy that continues to restrict blogs, wikis, and the like. Australia is even considering filtering incoming internet traffic echoing China and other totalitarian countries.

The giant risk of this fortress mentality is that it actually makes the organization less secure because it makes the organization less nimble. By enacting more security, an organization inevitably enacts more bureaucracy which creates friction and slows reaction ability to a grinding halt. This phenomenon is captured well in the Starfish and the Spider (I synopsize it here) and was a central tenet in John Boyd’s discussions on how armies win wars. I propose that rather than locking down access to the internet, organizations relinquish control and let employees, partners, and other supporter’s route crackers and malcontents via an organic set of decentralized tactics (this may already be taking place). Twitter is indeed mission critical. In cyber operations, observing, orienting, and acting faster than the adversary is the only way win.

10 August 2010

Speeding Dolphins

In a recent visit to the National Aquarium in Baltimore, we saw a dolphin show. I really enjoyed it 'cause dolphins are awesome, but there's one thing the announcer said that really bugged me: "Dolphins swim faster than they should be able to."

It's sort of like the old myth that according to the laws of aerodynamics, bumblebees can't fly. The basic concept here is that people have a complete understanding of laws of motion (flight, swimming, etc), and these doggone animals are violating our laws.

The truth is, the animals have it right and we've got it wrong. When our math indicates one thing and observation reveals something else, um, that means our math is wrong. Rather than saying things like "Bumblebees shouldn't be able to fly" or "dolphins shouldn't be able to swim that fast," we should go with something like "Our understanding of physics is wrong / incomplete / etc." But let's not blame the animals when their behavior doesn't comply with our "laws."

In the case of dolphins' speed, the discrepancy is known as Gray's Paradox, posed in 1936 by biologist James Gray. He basically thought dolphins couldn't be strong enough to overcome the force of drag as they swim through the water. He was wrong, but that wasn't proven until 2008.

So, when there's a mismatch between our model and reality, don't criticize reality. Fix the model. When a theory is "mathematically correct but operationally wrong," it's wrong and needs to be modified... no matter how rigorous the math appears to be.

And yeah, this has something to do with project leadership. It's all well and good to have theories and guesses about how much a project should cost, how long it should take or how people should behave in certain situations. But when reality diverges from expectations, it's time to adjust the expectations.

04 August 2010

Special Bonus Post: Beth & Jenna Explain Comedy

As part of my ongoing effort to be a producer and not just a consumer, here's a little comedy video my kids and I did (with some script assistance from my comedian brother-in-law).

Aside from the fact that this was way fun to do and a nice way to spend time with the kiddo's, there's something really cool about making something and sharing it with the world. It's also a nice stretch to go beyond written text and branch out into video.

And if I do say so myself, the result is pretty darn funny. Enjoy!

03 August 2010

Bad Design - Hotel Internet Box

As promised, in this edition of Bad Design we're moving out of the bathroom and into... the sleeping area.

Specifically, we're in a hotel room somewhere in Tennessee. The photo below shows a small electronic box mounted on the wall. This box provides internet connectivity to any traveler fortunate enough to get a room at this fine establishment. As an added convenience, the Magic Box Of Wall-Mounted Electronics has a pair of LED which flash in a Very Helpful And Informative manner, providing all sorts of useful information to anyone who speaks LED.

What's wrong with this design, you ask? Well, the soft white object in the lower left corner of the shot is a pillow, resting on the bed. If perchance a weary traveler places their head upon that pillow and attempts to sleep on their left side, they are treated to a magical light show as they drift gently off to sleep... and who doesn't enjoy having blinking lights flashing at them as they try to sleep?

OK, the obvious fix here is to reposition the box - it could have been placed lower on the wall or on some other wall. It could have been reoriented so the LED's were pointing down or away. But mounting it in perfect alignment with the level of the bed is absolutely inexcusable. I can only conclude it was installed by either a blind person, someone who believes that nobody sleeps on their left, or by a misanthropic insomniac.

But issues of location aside, I have to wonder why the blinking LED's are there in the first place. As far as I can tell, they only communicate one thing: your internet is working (or not). And I can tell that by the fact that I'm  online (or not). Those blinking LED's are largely unnecessary and communicate very little 99% of the time. There's no reason for them to blink 100% of the time.

The main point here is that most bad design decisions aren't inevitable. Doing the right thing generally doesn't cost more. In this case they could have mounted the box a-n-y-w-h-e-r-e else in the room for the same cost and got better results. But the more subtle lesson has to do with signals and indicators. If we're going to make a light blink, it should do so for a reason, to indicate something meaningful. As Shakespeare wrote, blinking all the time is just "a sound and fury, signifying nothing."