Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Beach Animals

This is just a cool project. A crazy Dutchman who makes wind-powered PVC pipe 'animals' that he lets loose on the dunes.
If you want to hear more about them, check out his website:

We liked these so much we bought a small version of his beasts from his website. Jack, Liam and I built it last night and got it working. It is so cool! Not having any wind here in our little valley, we had to improvise but we'll bring it to the beach with us this summer to see how it reacts to its natural habitat.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sixth Excerpt from 'Twelve Towers'

Gwilym knelt down on the wet ground and added his tears to his son’s.

“How goes the tower, Gwilym?” were Merlin’s first words.
Gwilym was intimidated by this old man of whom he had heard many stories. His bright eyes sparkled under his bushy eyebrows. His long, grey hair made him seem much older than he was. His hands were strong and showing no signs of age and his well muscled arms handled the reins expertly.
“It goes well, Sir. The wooden structure is almost finished and we now need to face it with stone.” Gwilym remembered yesterday’s confrontation at the quarry and his mind switched to this other problem in his life. “But now the quarryman wants to charge us for stone, even though the quarry belongs to the church.”
“And what will you do to solve this?”
“I’ll get an order from the bishop to make him give up the stone.”
“And will that be your answer to the next problem that arises?”
“What’s that, Sir?”
“What will you do the next time you run into a problem like this with your tower?”
Gwilym felt like a fool. What was he missing? “I can’t guess all the problems that will arise; I just have to deal with them as they come up.”
“What will you do if the men decide to stop working? Or if the priest says he wants the tower to be taller, or if some knight asks that it be made round?”
Gwilym thought about this question. “I need a letter that says what the tower should be and who is to pay for it. And I need it signed by someone everybody respects. Like the king! Even the bishop has to listen to the king. Is that what I need, Merlin?”
Merlin’s eyes twinkled but he said nothing. Gwilym looked at him curiously and said, “You know a lot more about building towers than you let on. Can I ask you other questions later on when I hit new problems?”
“Did I answer your first one?”
“Not with an answer; that’s true; but you asked the questions that let me come up with the right answer. When I run into more problems, shall I shout at the old Willow tree for you?”
“Do I look like a man who comes when shouted at across a lake?”
“No, I suppose not. But I feel I will need your help. I can read, you know. Can you recommend a book that I can use for advice?”
Merlin looked seriously at Gwilym and put one hand on his shoulder. “When you need help, I will be there. I ask for one thing in return. You will do what is asked of you, by Grainne or myself, without question.”
Gwilym felt his eyes held by Merlin’s, and it took him what felt like minutes to break off the stare. “I don’t suppose you’ll be asking me to do anything evil. I’m not superstitious like most of the village folk and I don’t believe it’s witch-craft you’ll be doing. So the answer is yes. I’ll do what’s asked of me and trust you’ll be there when I need help.”
“Now, concerning your wife’s birth; I thought you were going to send for Grainne at first signs. Why did you wait so long?”
Gwilym shook his head, wondering what type of magic or hypnotism had caused him to calmly discuss his tower before speaking of his pressing concerns for Kaitlyn. “Tirion sent her daughter for Grainne right away. Must have been almost a day ago. She asked me to look for any signs of her.”
Merlin looked sharply at Gwilym and then studied the road. “Why don’t we look for those signs as we ride back?”
With added anxiety, Gwilym scanned the road on his side of the cart, and they finished the drive in silence.
On arrival back in the village they met Bleddyn, who led them to the gate of the convent. “They took her in there. Grainne was allowed in an hour ago. I’m scared, Da. Ma looked frightened and she was crying so sadly. She was asking for you.”
Merlin led Gwilym through the gate but they were stopped at the door by the Mother Superior. “No men

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The United States needs to support all democracies

US policy toward the protesters in Muslim countries keeps changing. All we did in Egypt was cheer from the sidelines. In Libya we are bombing government targets. In Bahrain we are allowing the Saudi and Emirates armies crush protests. Is this a case of, 'He may be a dictator, but he's my dictator?'
We can look further back in our past and see how we have interacted with or ignored previous revolutions in the Muslim world. Last year's protests against Iran's fake election elicited no more than a few 'tut tuts' from our current administration.
Hints of weapons of mass destruction and attacks by Al Qaeda encouraged the Bush administration to remove governments in Iraq and Afghanistan and set up 'democracies' there.

Clinton watched Somalia degenerate into a failed state.

Bush senior had a legitimate invasion of Iraq into Kuwait to deal with and he drew in a broad coalition to push them back to the previous status quo.
Democracy played no part in the war, though women's voting rights became an issue after the war was over.
Reagan aided the Afghan mujaheddin in their war against the Russians.
Carter was around for the last great push for democracy in Iran but only annoyed the new leaders by siding with the previous dictator.
Why the inconsistency in today's administration? Is it all about oil? Are we so afraid of annoying our favorite Saudi princes that we'll let them use troops against their civilians but not Qaddafi? Or do we still harbor resentments against the colonel from the Pan Am 103 explosion? Oil wasn't an issue in Egypt. Then again it isn't an issue in Syria or Yemen and we're ignoring the revolutions there.

Are we only assisting revolutions when we don't think there will be a religious theocracy put in place? Hard to say, since any of these countries could go in that direction.

I heard some great comments recently from Libyan rebels. All about how much they appreciate the help they're receiving from the U.S. So I have a suggestion for this administration. Let's show the rest of the world that we stand for democracy. Not just the kind of palatable democracy we see in Europe, but the sometimes scary democracies we have seen in the Middle East. Let's support them all. Dictators always fall eventually, corrupt democracies get replaced by good democracies eventually. Let's pledge to support every move towards a stable democracy.

Not with ground troops but with tactical air strikes. When a government attacks a peaceful demonstration that seems to encompass the majority of the country and that majority asks us for help, let's help them. We're doing it in Libya, let's do the same if Iran rises again. Let's do it in Yemen and Syria, let's help the Jordanians, the Lebanese, the Bahranians. Let's show that the light of freedom that they all have seen on our statue of liberty means something to the world after all.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Excellent project management cools nuclear power plants

I received a very interesting e-mail from a Cadence Project Management colleague in Japan tonight. He told a story about the heroic efforts of Tokyo firefighters cooling down the stricken nuclear reactors. He showed how they used good project management techniques to accomplish their goal. He mapped the project to the Cadence project life cycle.
March 12, Think phase:
On the day of the earthquake, they put out 52 fires in Tokyo. On the following day, without being asked, they started to prepare their contribution to the cooling of the reactors. They took the lead on this based on the established fact that they are the top firefighters in Japan.
March 13, Study phase:
They identified several alternatives on how to send a lot of water flowing into the plant.
Their concerns were the following;

  • How do they make a lot of water flow into a building taller than 20 meters?
  • How do they get a continuous flow of one thousand tons of sea water to fire engines?
  • How do they make the fire engines continue to work for long time while unmanned?
  • How do they keep the firefighters safe from radioactivity on site?
March 16, Research phase:
They evaluated alternatives. They performed simulations of three alternatives on river in Tokyo.
They chose two alternatives: One using a fire engine with a 22m long folded pipe. The other using a fire engine with a 40m long extension ladder. They established a way to extend a 350m long hose by a machine without hands. This reduced radioactive exposure to the firefighters.They established a way to work fire engines without firefighters except for breaks to supply fuel.
They confirmed their criteria of radioactivity and way to measure and control exposure to it.
  • Preferred level: 10 units/person per mission.
  • Maximum level: 30 units/person per mission.
  • Maximum level: 100 units/person total.
  • They established roles to measure radioactivity and to alarm of over-exposure.
March 17, Plan phase:
They received an offer to go to the plant. They had to change and refine alternatives on site because the wind was too strong for the extension ladder and there was too much debris and rubble to use the machine to extend the 350m long hose.
They chose the fire engine with the 22m long folded pipe They developed a procedure to extend the 350m long hose by hand and executed it while measuring radioactivity next to the plant. They all confirmed that the plan would succeed.

March 19, Execute phase:
They successfully executed the plan. bThe result follows:
  • More than one thousand tonnes of sea water flowed into the reactor.
  • They achieved a rate of three tonnes of sea water per minute for 13 hours.
  • Radioactivity started decreasing immediately after water starting flowing.
  • Maximum of radioactivity of fire fighters was 27 units and almost of them are less than 10.

 March 20, Close phase:
After their mission, Three commanders were interviewed on TV. They explained the above-mentioned mission.
My colleague was impressed in the answers to reporter's questions after their explanation.
It took three times as long as usual for fire fighters to don their protective clothing since they really understood the danger of radioactivity.
The commander was concerned for the families of the firefighters although the firefighters had high motivation.
The commander apologized to and appreciated his firefighters' families.
One commander said to his wife "I will go to the plant and I shall return," and his wife replied:
"I believe you. Be a savior of Japan."
My colleague and I were both reminded of the movie "Armageddon".
He is proud of them as Japanese.

Below is a link to a newspaper article explaining more about this story:

Friday, March 18, 2011

Impressive Graphics of Tsunami Damage

This post doesn't speak much about Project Management but I wanted to share with you the very impressive graphics that the NY Times has put out showing damage by the recent tsunami. Click on the link below, then grab the scroll bar in the middle of the screen and move it left and right to see how each area was affected.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Thrown under the bus on Celebrity Apprentice

What do you do when finding yourself in this situation? You are coerced into being the Project Manager of a group where there are two factions. One wants to work with you to bring about success. The other group wants to cause you to look bad, even if the project fails due to their efforts. They will be closer to their goals because they believe you will be forced to leave the company when the project fails.

Actually, it sounds quite similar to a situation I faced at my one of my jobs in New Jersey. The previous PM had left the company in disgust at the QA/RA clique whose only contributions to the project appeared to be clamping the brakes on any effort R&D made to develop a new product, refusing to offer constructive solutions around the obstacles they placed in the engineer’s path, and then complaining to management that R&D never came up with any new products.

What I did was spend three weeks fighting my way through the ‘Storming’ phase of team development until we all agreed on a Project Objective that we used to complete the project. I had the benefit of time, a luxury Lisa Rinna lacked in this week’s Celebrity Apprentice.
While the men’s team ran smoothly except for a delivery snafu that seemed to be edited to add drama, the women’s team was another leaderless mess. They fought for the book’s concept, the characters, the basic theme. They violated the originality clause they had been given as a key criteria. Lisa allowed the arguing to escalate, not taking charge until being told to multiple times by her team-mates.
Meanwhile, Star Jones had gathered her cronies and set the stage for the demise of her rival. With NeNe and Dionne on her side, she proceeded to sabotage the project and do everything in her power to make Lisa look bad. She wrote the children’s book but refused to approve it during a tense scene designed to put pressure on Lisa and force her to take the fall if it failed. Then she turned around after the approval to ask that her name appear on the cover as author and Dionne’s as conceiver. The ego of these women! Fortunately Lisa vetoed this and left the team name as author.
Star belittled Lisa during her pep talk before the performance, showing clearly that lines had been drawn. But it wasn’t until the boardroom that the claws came out in force. Lisa was clearly intimidated by the ferocity of the attacks she sustained there and said it all when she admitted that she wasn’t used to fighting this meanly.

She had plenty of ammunition she could have used to defend herself against the condemnation of Star and her cronies. The project failed for three reasons:
  1. The story was unoriginal
  2. The concept was too advanced for the five year-old audience
  3. The font size was too small
All three of these faults could have been laid directly at the feet of the two women who wanted their names on the book. Add that to the fact that their egos had driven them to want to rise above their team and Lisa could have buried either of them. But she didn’t bring it up herself and spent the whole time trying to defend against the attacks. The one time she tried to elicit support from the rest of the team, it only emphasized her weakness. She turned to her team and asked, “Did I run around like a chicken with its head cut off...completely?” Even Don junior picked up on this and criticized her roundly.

There were a couple of funny scenes in the full board-room. In a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black, (can we use that expression on Apprentice, Omarosa?) Trump critiqued Lisa’s lips. And then when Marlee Matlin referred to Dionne Warwick as ‘people tell me she's a legend’, Trump forgot she was deaf and was incredulous that Marlee didn’t think Warwick was indeed a legend. Duh!

Instead of Lisa bringing back with her the two players most responsible for the project’s failure, she brought Star and Dionne back simply because they were being mean to her earlier. And they crucified her. Statements Lisa made like, “This is a learning experience for me,” were pounced on by Star as evidence of her weakness.

As much as I prefer her personality to Star’s, the decision Trump made was correct. Lisa was a weak leader and everyone, including Lisa, knew it. She had to be fired.

Here’s a link to the full episode.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Fifth Excerpt from 'Twelve Towers'

“Help me! Tirion calls for Grainne! My wife needs help in her birthing!”
Every day Gwilym was carried out to the job site in his chair and supervised the men removing the logs and sorting them into four piles of even lengths. While they worked, Gwilym carved twenty wooden templates, each with the same angle.
While some of the crew started work on the foundations, angling them 45 degrees off the North-South axis, the rest used the templates Gwilym had created to cut the ends of each log into the precise shape needed for his design. The men were working cheerily, especially after being shown the beautiful scale models.
After laying down the foundation logs, the men started laying down the side logs, marveling how each fit neatly into place on top of the one below and to right angles with it. With each additional log, the structure pulled tighter together.

Once the men seemed comfortable with the design, Gwilym left Fred in charge and rode his horse and cart to the quarry to see about some new stone to dress the tower’s outside. Some stones had been salvaged from the old tower, but much more needed to be added. The quarry was only around the other side of the hill, but given his painful leg, it still took Gwilym two hours of careful riding to reach there. As usual, he struggled to get the horse to follow his commands. At every turn, the horse tried to go the opposite way Gwilym requested. When being asked to trot, it either stopped or galloped, sending pain searing through Gwilym’s leg. On arriving, he asked to sit down and put his leg up.
The quarryman was a short, barrel-chested old man with sinewy arms and a grizzled beard. “I thought it about time you came to me for stone. How much will ye be wanting?”
“I need a hundred tons for now, cut square about two feet to a side. When can you deliver that much?”
“I can start delivering two tons at a time as soon as I get gold for first shipment.”
Gwilym looked confused and said, “But Father Drew said that the quarry belongs to the church and it is his to use.”
“Aye, church owns it but tower is being built for defense of city. So money must come from king.”
“But Father Drew appointed me the Project Manager. He is the one in charge of the tower. And he is of the church.”
“Father Drew is priest of village church. Quarry belongs to whole church.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Risk Management on Amazing Race

On this last leg of The Amazing Race, the contestants had to fly from Sydney to Tokyo. When arriving at the airport they were faced with a choice of two flights:
  1. Fly direct to Tokyo, arriving at 6:15 AM
  2. Fly via Hong Kong, arriving at 6:00 AM
This generated a lot of discussion with most teams opting for the less risky flight. But then, after more thought, a few teams changed their minds and opted for the flight with a connection. It sounded like a bad idea to take that risk for a possible 15 minute savings on a 12 hour flight. So I had to analyze it using classic Risk Management techniques.

First we need one assumption. Let's make one with what seems to be my luck and about what I've seen watching this show: 20% chance of any flight of that length being 2 hours late.

What we do in this simple analysis is run both scenarios and total up the arrival times. 6:15 plus 20% of an extra 120 minutes = 6:39 AM arrival time.
Now let's compare this to the flight with a connection scenario.
When you add another flight to this equation you get slightly more complicated math but still doable. Arrival time is 6:00 plus a 32% chance of adding 120 minutes plus a 4% chance of adding 240 minutes = 6:48 AM

So, if my 20% assumption was correct, the smart move was to take the direct flight.
How did it work out for our teams? Check it out below at about minute 10.
One of the flights ends up being delayed by an hour and twenty minutes. It's fun to use risk management in real life.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Celebrity Apprentice Project Management

The Celebrity Apprentice has all the project management elements of the original Apprentice show: teams must initiate, plan, execute, control and close out a project during a two hour show, but with one added wild card. The celebrities can call in favors from their rich friends and fans on the outside to add money to any project and make it 'win'. And that is usually the definition of winning, raising more money for charity than the competing team.

Let's examine last night's show. The challenge was to run a pizzeria for four hours. That meant learning how to run the various stations from preparing the dough, to making and cutting up the pizza, to selling and marketing the pizza. The project manager's job was to organize this chaos to make it a success. In addition to all their tasks, the team members needed to raise money from their rich friends. The project manager needed to give the team members time to do this, and had to encourage this fund-raising behaviour but couldn't do the actual fund-raising for them.  Early in the planning session we saw Hatch urging his team to get on the phones and solicit the donations rather than think about the pizzas yet.

The women's team was a disaster in getting the pizzeria running efficiently. Star, the women's PM, delegated some of the women to the hard work of preparing the ingredients while she created a useless piece of graphic art. Then she placed Dionne Warwick on the credit card machine where she seemed to spend her entire time slowly dialing up the Psychic Hotline.

Richard Hatch, the men's PM, delegated everyone to working and made sure everything was in place, though he alienated his team by doing none of the hard work himself. He also 'pushed' David Cassidy out of the way to stop him from distracting the entire team.
You can see the awful 'physical abuse' of poor David Cassidy at about minute 21 on this clip:

Once the task got going, the men were running like a well-oiled machine. Gary Busey was out with Lil Jon and John Rich drumming up sales and donations. Jose Canseco was making the pies with minimal help from David Cassidy, who needed multiple smoke breaks. The rest of the team was cutting up and selling the pies and making big deals about donations in order drum up bigger ones. Hatch made the decision to limit the delivery area in order to bring in the most money in the four hours.

The women's team, with Dionne Warwick holding up the cash register was a disaster. At least Niki Taylor could make pies without raising a sweat. The delivery team was a wreck, not taking into account Manhattan traffic. (Did they know about the subway sytem that ran under the streets?) The $35,000 pies that were supposed to be delivered to Chelsea didn't even make it there. And Star closed the shop to street traffic to concentrate on the deliveries! At least Dionne caught up on the register once they stopped accepting new customers.

But who won? Thanks to a lot of huge donations by rich people, the women raised $115k compared to the men's $54k. Then someone had to be fired. Amazingly, almost the entire men's team wanted Hatch to be fired. And Hatch defended himself not by focusing on how well he managed the project but by undermining Cassidy. I think he could have easily shown that the project was successful in every way except for the collection of additional donations which was not under his control.

Watch the clip starting at about minute 60 to see how he cleverly undermines Cassidy's manliness during the boardroom session with his use of repetition in words like 'little', 'delicate', 'underdog', 'star'. It's very clever and it worked with Ivanka and both Donalds. Bringing Canseco in with him and deliberately sitting Cassidy between the two emphasized that the latter really is a little man. Cassidy didn't do himself any favors by looking to Canseco to protect him against Hatch's bullying and ended up being fired for looking weak.

Bottom line. I wish the tasks depended more on project management and less on calling in favors from your rich friends. I'll continue to judge the projects by my own criteria and I say the men won this task by a count of two to one.

Sunday, March 6, 2011


Cast of Rent
I remember when my wife took me to the Broadway play 'Rent' and I sat there stewing in my seat. The only character I could connect with the 'evil' landlord who wanted to kick out all the low-lifes and drug users squatting rent-free in the building he OWNED so that he could sell it.

I'm getting deja vu now with the popularity of 'The Social Network'. Am I really supposed to root for the slimy thief who stole the Winklevosses idea while pretending to work for them? Just because they are tall, great-looking, aryan, olympic athletes with rich parents? Sorry but I can't.

Reading the story in the Times reveals that the Winklevosses have a legitmate claim to a settlement, especially since they sold their competing site to Facebook as part of the settlement. But Zuckerberg screwed them again during the settlement by lying about the company's valuation when converting their settlement dollars into shares.

Here's an excerpt from the article:
...according to court documents, the parties agreed to settle for a sum of $65 million. The Winklevosses then asked whether they could receive part of it in Facebook shares and agreed to a price of $35.90 for each share, based on an investment Microsoft made nearly five months earlier that pegged Facebook’s total value at $15 billion. Under that valuation, they received 1.25 million shares, putting the stock portion of the agreement at $45 million.
Yet days before the settlement, Facebook’s board signed off on an expert’s valuation that put a price of $8.88 on its shares. Facebook did not disclose that valuation, which would have given the shares a worth of $11 million. The ConnectU founders contend that Facebook’s omission was deceptive and amounted to securities fraud.
Read the whole article here:

Watching the movie made me sicker and sicker as I saw this jerk screwing people over, one after the other. I know that the story about the Winklevosses was true from the articles I read and the interviews I've seen. The co-founder, Eduardo Saverin seems to own a 5% stake in the company now, down from the 30% he owned at the founding. That story hurt the most, watching Zuckerberg screw over his only friend for money. I don't know if his motivation was jealousy over the popularity of his friend as the movie suggests.

Fro those who want to see more, here is a video of the Winklevosses explaining their argument with Zuckerberg:
And here is a video of the creep himself. Notice how he almost never blinks his eyes? That must be a true sign of an evil heart.
Finally, for a lighter view on the story, here is Saturday Night Live's spoof of Zuckerberg:

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Can Arabic countries embrace democracy?

The unrest in the Arab world is growing. It seems like almost every country from Morocco to Oman has seen some form of protests against their repressive governments.
Click on the above map to read the latest about what is happening in each Middle Eastern country today.

Governments are falling, Tunisia and Egypt lost their presidents, Libya is almost completely controlled by rebels, Bin Laden's former mentor is urging an Islamic state in Yemen, protests are growing in Oman and Bahrain, Iran's people are massing again and even the Saudi Arabian elite are calling for a reduction in corruption.

Where will this all lead? The last time this region was convulsed this bad was the end of World War One and the splitting of the region between the British and French. What resulted was Arab nationalism and struggling over a series of artificially drawn countries. Clan loyalties won over religious and language barriers. Coups brought some to power, assasinations brought others in.

The world has changed a lot since then so we need to look to other, more recent upheavals to help predict what will happen next. The Iranian revolution showed us what happens when a popular uprising is allowed to be co-opted by religious fanatics.

Even more recently, the collapse of the Soviet Union showed what happens to different groups of people when a central dictator is removed from power. Almost immediately, the Warsaw Pact countries, Ukraine and the Baltic countries became free democracies, embracing the West, open trade and the rule of law. The next line in, closer to the heart of the Soviet Union became partially free, holding disputed elections and maintaining control over their economies. But, with the notable exception of Kyrgyzstan, the Central Asian Muslim countries became ruthless dictatorships. And even Kyrgyzstan is only considered 'partly free'.

What is likely to happen in the Middle East? Let's see.