Sunday, February 27, 2011

Fourth Excerpt from 'Twelve Towers'

Gwilym showed the other model and Father Drew gasped at its intricacy.

A few days later, Father Drew was visiting Gwilym in his home and saw his son sitting by the bedside, talking with his father and playing with the two puzzles he was holding on the day of the collapse. The dinner board was between them, resting on Bleddyn's knees and Gwilym's bed. “What are these two wooden toys you play with, son?” he inquired.
“They’re two different ways to build a tower. My father made them. Look how they work.”
Bleddyn soaked them in water and pulled them apart. They were miniature logs with notches cut out; very well fashioned.
“Now this first one is like the way the tower was being built,” Bleddyn explained while his father looked on indulgently. “Watch what happens when we put it together and the wood shrinks. All wood will shrink over time.”
Bleddyn expertly stacked the logs on top of each other, the notches just providing enough room for the logs above and below to snugly fit. He placed this in the doorway where the sun could dry it.
“And while that dries, we’ll build the other one.”
In this model, notches were angled in both logs so that the building was a little more complex. Once again it came together snugly and Bleddyn placed it next to the other in the doorway.
“They’ll be dry in an hour and you’ll see why my father is so smart.”
Father Drew smiled and turned to Gwilym. “How are you today, son? Is the pain any better?”
“Grainne gave Kaitlyn some tea for me that eases the pain a little. She also says that we are to have twin sons! How do you like that?”
“She is wise in the healing arts but I believe that only God knows what kind of children you are to have. But I think she can tell if you are to have two. That is dangerous for Kaitlyn. Will you bring her to the convent for the birth? A midwife may not be enough.”
Gwilym hesitated and stammered out a response, “Well, I have high respect for your nuns and all, but I heard what Grainne did for my leg and I’d like to have her at the birthing. Didn’t you say she is a skilled healer?”
“I did say so, and from what I saw her do, she is skilled. But I have asked about her and she is unreliable, coming and going at her whim. Are you sure she will be in the village when you need her?”
“The village midwife said she will send for her when the time is right. Tirion says she always comes when called.”
Father Drew smiled kindly on the man. “Be it as you wish. I have another matter to discuss with you Gwilym. The tower must be built before the summer and I need a new foreman. All the men say they will follow you. I can double your wages and pay you for the time you will lie in bed. What do you say to that?”
Gwilym grimaced as he twisted in bed, then looked with interest into the face of the priest. “The people of this village think there is a curse on the tower. It has been rebuilt many times.”
Father Drew met Gwilym’s gaze and replied, “Yet, you do not believe in the superstitions. Why has it fallen so many times?”
“The tower was built in Vortigern’s time

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

I love my team!

I've been managing a project for one of my clients for the last six months. We are validating the upgrade of one of their computer systems. We started early, planned the activities well and have been executing against this plan since. Like any project, there were changes in scope and delays caused by low project priorities. But right now, at the home stretch, we are cooking!

We've resolved the scope and budget issues, the protocols are almost all approved, the client is executing the Performance Qualification Protocol and we are ready to put the latest data into the summary report and give the green light to go-live.

What were some of the elements of this success?
  1. First of all, I wasn't alone trying to manage the project. I had the assistance of an excellent client-side project manager, Michael, who kept things moving on his end. Whenever I needed to escalate something on his side, I could rely on him.
  2. I had a great internal team who knew their jobs inside out, and were able to handle any technical issues the client had with the system.
  3. The team was super-responsive to reviewing and approving documents when the timeline became tight. My typical response time with clients is one to two weeks to review a document. When this project was a low priority at the client, reviews sometimes stretched beyond that. But now that we are struggling to meet this March date, they are turning documents around in a matter of hours, not weeks.
  4. My people worked long hours over the weekend to execute a protocol that started three days late so that it finished on time after all.
Look at this Gantt chart to see what has been happening lately:

You'll notice right away that the current dates are months behind the baseline dates. But look more closely to see how we are catching up.
  1. Task 56, the OQ execution, originally scheduled to take three weeks over the end of the year, was finished over a weekend by adding people and working hard.
  2. Addressing Deviations took one day instead of four.
  3. Reviews of the PQ protocol were taking one day instead of a week.
  4. PQ execution is halfway done and we expect to do it in two days instead of two weeks.
As of today we are scheduled to finish up the project just in time to make the go-live the first weekend in March.

Congratulations to my wonderful team for all the hard work!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Leadership on 'Survivor'

Leadership within the game 'Survivor' has its special challenges. Since it is a zero-sum game that results in one person winning a million dollars, establishing yourself as a dominant leader early in the game has proven to be a strategy that gets you voted off early. But leading a secret alliance that only a few people know about has proven to be a successful strategy.

This season looks to be very interesting with two of the more experienced players who use the second strategy, Russell and Boston Rob, rejoining the game with a cast of newbies. Do the new players get rid of them quickly or do they use their experience? I guess we'll find out over the course of the next few weeks.

Today I want to focus on a different person, though. Former Special Agent Philip. Here we meet him for the first time:
Did you get the same first impression I got? "Methinks he doth protest too much." My first question is: What kind of special agent? Department of Agriculture? Was he the guy visiting the slaughterhouses giving out the USDA Grade A stamp? Because I cannot believe this nut was let anywhere near the FBI other than as a groundskeeper. But let's see how he interacts with others.

All...righty then. Notice some things about him. He completely alienates others but he has no clue. You can

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Computer beats man in Jeopardy

IBM recently completed an exciting project. Build a computer that can think like a human being. While computers have been used for their raw computing power for decades and can crunch the billions of combinations required to excel at chess, this was a new challenge: How can you get computers to comprehend the nuances involved with human speech? Things like humor, puns, and drawing lines between two completely different sets of information. The computer was named Watson after IBM's founder. The medium chosen was the game show: Jeopardy. The human opponents: the top two Jeopardy winners in history.

IBM took 100 Power 7 computers, linked them together and added 200 million pages of structured and unstructured content consuming 4 terabytes of hard disk storage and complex programming to enable it to draw conclusions from the data presented in the Jeopardy answer to derive the correct question. The computer was, just like the human contestants, not hooked up to the Internet. To make it interesting for the viewer, we were presented with a bar graph showing the top three questions the computer came up with, along with their confidence level and a line representing the computer's buzz-in threshold.

The game was set up like all Jeopardy tournaments with the winnings from two consecutive games totalling up to the winner of the tournament. The first half of the first game of Jeopardy was pretty even with the computer making some interesting mistakes and seeming to lose confidence while the humans picked up confidence and finished in a tie with Watson. But Double Jeoparady was a different matter when the computer almost ran the board, finishing with over $36,000 compared to the five and ten thousand won by the humans.

Watson made an interesting mistake on final Jeopardy, naming Toronto as a U.S. City, thrilling the Candaian host but only losing $947 from its total winnings. The second game went similar to the first with Jeopardy being pretty even but the Double Jeopardy round being a blowout by the computer. They all guessed the final Jeopardy question right and the computer won convincingly. Several interesting points came out of the show:
  • Reaction time favored the computer. You can see both humans trying to buzz in as they both knew the answers to the questions but mostly being beat out by the computer's faster reaction time.
  • Wrong answers by Watson were often bizarre, showing the weird way computers draw lines between clues. So were the second and third choices offered.
  • Brad needs to stop weaving around his upper body when on stage. It is distracting.
  • Watson made some strange bets on his Daily Double, probably using his computing power to run all the probablities involved.
  • The computer should listen to his opponent's answers before repeating the same wrong answer.
All in all it was quite enjoyable and shows the way forward to the day when we can talk to our computers and get answers rather than the complicated way we now have to search.

My only sorrow was in the name. 'Watson' rather than 'HAL'.

Watch the video from the IBM site below:

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Third Excerpt from 'Twelve Towers'

"It were like he had a death-grip on it and were determined to choke t’log before it killed us.”
Father Drew watched her skill with admiration and, after she tied up the last two lengths of cloth, they both looked up at the surrounding crowd. Standing in front, with his arms crossed and a sour look on his beetled brow, stood Tarrant, the supervisor of the works. Next to him stood the Mother Superior, looking aghast. Tarrant spoke while the nun nodded her head in agreement, “I know you like to try new things, Father, but practicing witchcraft at the foot of the altar is going too far.”
Father Drew stood up. “Can you not see the difference between healing and witchcraft, son?”
 “I’d say any craft done by a witch is witchcraft, Father. And this one has been a thorn in the side of our fine nuns since she was an infant, isn’t that right, Mother Superior?”
The nuns all nodded this time. Mother Superior added, “Witchcraft was the reason for this tower falling in the first place. This tower was haunted even in Uther’s time. Merlin removed two dragon eggs from a lake below it when I was a child and the new tower lasted for some years but again it falls.”
 “It looked to me,” said Father Drew, staring at Tarrant, “that the cross-brace you forced into the tower pushed out the sides and caused the collapse. What were you and Gwilym arguing about before you placed it?”
 “The Saxon didn’t want to put it there so he must have sabotaged it. I bet he caused it to slip and that made the tower collapse.”
 “No! If his end had slipped, the whole log would have fallen into the pit. Because his end held, the top of the log pushed out the tower. Is that what he predicted, Tarrant?”
Tarrant, his eyes shifting left and right, scratched his pockmarked cheek and denied this. He was a medium height man with thick, dark hair and two thick eyebrows that almost met above his hooked nose. His lips were thin and his chin weak.
Fred came forth and stated to the priest, “That’s a damn lie! I were right under them and I heard it all. If we’d listened to Gwilym we’d all be fine right now. This man,” he pointed to Tarrant, “will kill us all with his foolishness!”
 “You’re fired!” screamed Tarrant at Fred, who gasped and looked at his priest.
 “No Tarrant,” sighed Father Drew, “it is you that must go. Take your wages for the week and be on your way. This work is not for you.”
 “You’ll regret this!” he screamed at the priest. Then he scanned the room and addressed them all, “You’ll all regret this! I promise you!”
As Tarrant left the church, he shoved his way through a throng of women who were flooding into the church from the village. They all spread out, weeping over wounds or crying in relief at finding their men untouched. Bleddyn stood and ran to his mother, heavily pregnant and panting. He hugged her fiercely and led her to his father. She knelt awkwardly and stroked her husband’s face while Bleddyn told the story of the collapse and the healing. When the story was over she asked Bleddyn to show her the healer.
Bleddyn ran to Grainne and brought her over to his mother. “Miss Grainne, this is my mother, Kaitlyn.”
 “Thank you so much for saving my husband’s leg. He’d make a lousy beggar.”
 “He’s not safe yet, Ma’am. He’ll need to stay off that leg for a month at least and then use it sparingly. The bones must knit together, you see. And you are heavy with child. Can I see?”
A collective gasp was heard

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Social Networks Fueling Protests

When I first read about flash mobs back in 2003 I was amused. But hidden in the article was a question of whether this technology could be used for protests. Seattle's anti-globalization protests were one of the first to use it. I'm sure lots of repressive governments saw the potential at the same time and started preparing. NY Times 2003 flash mob article
But the biggest show of using social networks to protest a dictatorship is still going on in Egypt.

Wael Ghonim, a Google marketing man, just got out of an Egyptian jail after 10 days of blindfolded imprisonment. He admitted to being one of the people who set up the Facebook page protesting the death of Khaled Said, who was beaten to death by Egptian police while in custody. No wonder Egypt has shut down Facebook and Twitter.

There is a new type of leader emerging. Reluctant, perhaps, but still powerful. Let's see how this works out.

Video of Wael Ghonim discussing the protests:

Watch him here addressing the crowds. Not much of a rabble-rouser but he brought the crowd together. To what end?

Here's an article about Wael Ghonim setting up the facebook page: NY Times article about facebook page

And here are some of my favorite flash mobs. Enjoy!
Hallelujah Chorus:
Grand Central Freeze:

Saturday, February 5, 2011

To dig or not to dig

We have an interesting situation going on here in New Jersey. The Federal Government had promised $3 Billion to assist in building a rail tunnel to connect New Jersey to Manhattan, relieving pressure on the existing tunnel that New Jersey Transit shares with Amtrak. That sounded fine when the total tunnel cost was projected to cost $8 Billion but when new estimates came in at $11 Billion and growing, our Governor did a remarkable thing. He cancelled the project. People were up in arms about the $300 Million already spent, land purchased, jobs promised, etc. but Governor Christie held his ground. He wasn't about to saddle New Jersey taxpayers with some home-grown 'Big Dig' boondoggle if he could avoid it. His mandate is to lower taxes and reduce government spending and he saw here a great chance to save some money.

Read the full article from the New York Times here: TYtimes article from 2010/10/08

Five weeks later, the Bloomberg Administration came up with a good second option: Extending the #7 subway train under the Hudson to connect with the Secaucus, NJ train station. Cost of this option $5 Billion.

Take the No. 7 to Secaucus? That’s a Plan

Unlike the old project, the new plan does not require costly condemnation proceedings or extensive tunneling in Manhattan, because the city is already building a No. 7 station at 34th Street and 11th Avenue, roughly one block from the waterfront. In July, a massive 110-ton tunnel boring machine completed drilling for the city’s $2.1 billion extension of the No. 7 line from Times Square to the new station.

Read the full article from the New York Times here: NYTimes article from 2010/11/17

It takes guts to cancel big projects but this must always be considered. Even when a project has been approved, if the cost, scope or schedule has gone beyond the parameters set by management, the project needs to be re-evaluated. And if it looks like the costs no longer make sense, throwing good money after bad is not an option. By cancelling this project, better options can be considered. As a New Jersey taxpayer currently paying over $13,000 in property taxes, I'm hoping my Governor is always looking for more efficient ways to spend my money.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Lee Iacocca on Leadership

I've been a big fan of Lee Iacocca since I watched him pull Chrysler out of bankruptcy in the late 1970s. I teach about him in my Project Management class and I've referred to him in this blog as an example of a great leader. Some may not know him that well. For those who want all the details, here is the link to his Wikipedia entry:
Lee Iacocca's Wikipedia entry
For those who want the short version: He gained renown as the Project Manager for the Mustang, rose to prominence and leadership and eventually was named president of Ford. He argued with Henry Ford about the minivan and was demoted to Warehouse Manager. The next day he was hired at Chrysler. He turned this company around using some excellent leadership and sales skills: influencing banks, members of congress and the President of the U.S. to make his turnaround project a success.

He has written a few books full of excellent advice on leadership, some shown below:

Product DetailsProduct DetailsProduct Details

A couple of years back he gained new prominence with a speech about leadership that went along with his latest book. Here is a short excerpt that shows his 'Nine C's of leadership.' It's worth a look.