Friday, April 29, 2011

Why do we care about the British monarchy?

So today the British monarchy increased in size by one. And she seemed like such a nice woman. Why she would choose to join a dysfunctional family like the British royals is beyond me but there's no accounting for taste I guess.
What surprises me more is the worldwide attention such an event generates. When hundreds are dying in Alabama from tornadoes, we hear "Breaking News" that the designer or the bride's gown has been announced.

And here in America, where we threw off the reins of the British monarchy over two hundred years ago, at the cost of tens of thousands of lives, people are glued to their TVs to watch the event. Why? Are people living out their childhood dream of being a princess and being married to a prince? And does it fit our dreams better when they speak practically the same language.

We have a vibrant democracy here and we fight against the corrupt dictatorships of Africa and the Middle East, yet we celebrate the British Monarchy. We even celebrate it to the point that the head of the British state is not the democratically elected Prime Minister, but whoever has inherited the British crown.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Eighth excerpt from 'Twelve Towers'

Arthur paid close attention and played with both models...
The next morning they rode down to the waterfront and Gwilym purchased a ferry ride for them and their horse and cart across the river. All was a-bustle as the tides were slack and everyone wanted to ride at this time. The horse was nervous but the experienced ferry-men calmed it with a few oats and low voices. An hour later they were safe on the further bank and riding up the hills towards their destination.
They met no further adventures on their way other than seeing the bustle of men and knights passing to and from the royal castle of Caerleon. As they approached the gates, Gwilym was shocked at seeing the smirking face of Tarrant, his old supervisor, on his way out of the castle. Neither said a word to the other but Gwilym was unsettled by the man.
Gwilym showed his letter of introduction from Father Drew to a succession of guards, finally being led to the Seneschal of the castle, Sir Kay. He read the letter laboriously and told them, “The king is out hunting right now but will return in a few hours. Come back here after we eat and I’ll introduce you to him.”
Gwilym found a tavern near the entrance and settled himself painfully on a bench. Bleddyn looked solicitously at his father. “You’re in a lot of pain, father. Why don’t you rest here while I look around on my own?” Gwilym hobbled to the window and told his son that he could look around but stay in sight of the window and return when he called. Bleddyn happily ran outside and ran around the bustle of the courtyard, feasting his eyes on the knights, the horses, the men and women working for the castle, coming in and out. Gwilym was surprised at the lack of upkeep here in the king’s castle. Horse dung lay in piles in the courtyard along with every kind of household refuse. Beggars and pick-pockets plied their trade amongst the merchants. Bleddyn wandered around, looking at everything and watching everyone, feasting on the experience.
Eventually the hunting party returned, led by the young King Arthur, surrounded by his favorite knights and followed by the squires and masters of the hunt, bearing two field-dressed stags. Neither Bleddyn nor Gwilym knew which knight was which, except for the famous Sir Launcelot, sitting high in the saddle with his dark, good looks and shaven face.
Bleddyn ran to his father after the party had passed and said breathlessly, “Did you see them, Da? The king’s knights! And the king himself! Will we really go and talk to them?”
“Yes son. In about an hour we’ll go again to Sir Kay and ask leave to visit.”

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Web entrepreneurs building 'Real Stuff'

How many great ideas have you come up with but not known where to go next to make it a reality? So many inventions never become projects or get stalled due to lack of funding. As usual, the Internet has an answer to this problem.

Let me introduce you to a pair of engineering friends, Dave and Dave, who came up with an idea to cool coffee down quicker to drinkable temperature and then leave it at this temperature longer. They invented a stainless steel coffee bean filled with heat absorbing gel that you put in your cup before adding your coffee. They call these 'Coffee Joulies' and they bring the coffee to drinkable temperature three times as fast and leave it at this temperature twice as long. Pretty cool, huh?
So, after trying to make the things themselves, they found that it was too labor-intensive a process to continue by hand. Then, they discovered a web-site called Kickstarter, which allows inventors to place their ideas up in the cloud for people to back. They needed $9,500 to buy their half of the tooling needed by their chosen manufacturer to automate the manufacturing process. So they recorded a video and pitched it to viewers of kickstarter.

You can back their project with $40 which entitles you to a pack of five Joulies when they start production, about 12 weeks from now. So far they have raised over $140,000 so they should have no production delays. I was so impressed with the project, I bought a set for my wife's coffee habit. I hope this Kickstarter website will be a great success. I signed up for their weekly update to see what else is new in their world.
For more details, read the full Times Article.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Greg Mortenson: Entrepreneur, not CEO

I loved reading Greg Mortenson's books: 'Three Cups of Tea' and 'Stones into Schools.'
I took a two hour drive to watch him speak at St. John's University. He gave an inspiring speech followed by at least two hours of book signing where he took the time to speak to everyone in line. When it was my turn, I handed him the above two books to sign. He saw that I looked different from the University crowd and asked if I was a professor. When I told him where I had come from and how long it took to get there he offered to let me crash with him and his aides in the bus. He also gave me a signed children's book for my children. Needless to say, I was charmed.

Three days ago 60 minutes aired an investigation into his charity. At first glance, it's pretty damning. Some of the revelations:
  1. He was never rescued on his descent from K2 by the villagers of Korphe
  2. He was never kidnapped by the Taliban
  3. Half the schools he claims to have built were not built by his charity
  4. He takes money from the charity rather than adding to it
If you want more details, click below for the video and transcript of the 60 minutes episode

My belief is that Greg is a good man who has the vision and energy and good heart to dedicate his life to building schools for poor Pakistani and Afghan girls. But he is not a CEO or a CFO and is naive about finances. He is out there either raising money or building schools, neglecting his family and risking his health. I wouldn't want his life. Greg is not stealing money for his own gratification. He does not live some lavish life like a corrupt politician or preacher.

So what is the truth? I think some of the schools were built in the wrong places and are not being used. I think the Taliban is keeping others away from more schools. I think there could be people who don't like Greg, taking 60 Minutes investigators to the wrong places or to the schools at the wrong time. And I also think that Greg might be exaggerating some of his successes.

But let's not forget what he has accomplished. He raised money and built schools in extremely rural parts of the world and educated girls. Whether he built 160 schools or 50 schools, he is making educated women in a place that really needs it. He also is teaching us how to accomplish projects in this part of the world. That is why his book is still considered required reading for the US military in the region.

He still has my support.

For another article supporting Greg, read the below editorial from today's Times

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Personality cult on Survivor

Countries have seen cults of personalities take over, where the leader sets the culture and prevents a change in leadership until it is often too late. Sometimes this just disrupts the country when the leader dies, like in the cases of Roosevelt and Trudeau.
Other times it causes the country to become subject to the leader, resulting in a repressive dictatorship. Kim Jong Il, and Qadaffi are just two of the latest in a long line of these.
On a much smaller scale, we are seeing a cult of personality developing on Survivor. When two teams of new players were forced to take two veterans on as leaders: Rob Mariano and Russell Hantz, the stage was set.
Russell immediately got into his comfort zone, allying himself with, in his words, his dumb girls. The rest of his team saw this happening and rebelled, conducting a coup by blowing a challenge and getting rid of him and his cronies.
There was no such luck on the other team. Rob was seen as a benefit to his team and they embraced his leadership. They used his skills to help with the building of the shelter and to succeed in challenges. His team still lost challenges until the Zapatera crew purposely blew a challenge to get rid of Russell. (In the history of Survivor, this strategy has never worked. It always seems to result in a string of lost challenges and a bad merge.)

Going into the merge, up 6 to 4, seemed like a strong situation until Matt rejoined the crew from Redemption Island. But Rob convinced his team to get rid of their old team-member, even though the man was willing to forgive the prior treachery.
After winning the next two immunity challenges, Rob called the shots and started eliminating the other team one at a time. Not a bad strategy, except that the members of his 6-person alliance haven't been looking far enough into the future to see that only one person wins this game. Which members of the alliance are numbers six, five and four and which two does Rob plan to take with him to the final tribal council? Most players figure that the time to make a move is early in the merge but no-one is doing that.

No-one on his alliance has been looking for clues to the hidden immunity idol, even though they have seen clues appear in every reward in the past and in previous shows. Worse than that is the iron grip Rob has on his alliance. He sleeps them in a separate shelter from the former Zapatera team. He instituted a 'buddy system' where no member of his alliance is allowed to go anywhere alone. And, in the most egregious example of tyranny I've ever seen on Survivor, he demanded that his alliance stay away from the fish the other tribe caught, regardless of how hungry they were. Only Grant seemed to object to this rule but he was quickly recalled by his leader.

So now we have a tribe blindly following their charismatic leader into a situation that only three will survive.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Seventh Exerpt from 'Twelve Towers'

It was in the shape of a circle, flanked by two crescent moons.
One morning Bleddyn woke up to see his father writing on a new sheet of sheepskin. He loved to see his father’s neat script so he looked over his shoulder to see what he was writing. The sheepskin gave many details about the tower, why it was being built, who had to do the work, who was in charge of what, where the materials would come from. “What are you writing, Da?”
“It’s a letter that I’ll get the king’s signature on so that no-one argues with me any more about what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.”
“Ooh! Like a royal charter?”
“Aye. That’s what it is, son.” Gwilym wrote carefully at the top of the skin: Royal Charter for the Huish Tower. “Will you come with me to Caerleon?” he asked casually, knowing full well the prospect of this adventure would have on his son.
Bleddyn was overjoyed and started packing immediately. He was full of questions: “How many days travel? Where will we sleep? How should we dress? Will we meet the king? Will we meet Sir Launcelot? How do you bow to a Knight? a King?”
Gwilym smiled at the boy and did his best to indulge his questions. He organized the tower workers to continue the project in his absence and made sure his newborns would be taken care of at the smith’s. Bleddyn and he rode off together in the cart, Bleddyn handling the reins.
They followed the banks of the Siger to the salt water and then followed this northeast toward Brycgstow, keeping the water on their left. Bleddyn was curious about the land they could see across the water. “That, son, is not the sea, merely the mouth of a great river, the Severn, which feeds the sea from the inland of this country. Across there you see where we are going. Cardiff is the large settlement. Caerleon is further Northeast and on higher land. We follow the river to where it narrows. We’ll take a ferry at Brycgstow tomorrow morning.”
They arrived at the outskirts of Brycgstow around supper-time. Bleddyn was goggling in every direction, seeing sights for the first time. They ate a hearty meal at a tavern where they stabled their horse and Gwilym negotiated a place for them to sleep. He was tired from the painful journey but Bleddyn wanted to explore. Gwilym indulged the boy, taking up his crutch and hobbling down the street to show his son parts of the town. They went in and out of a few buildings, some selling stuff for sailing, some food, some clothing. One was a store that sold pretty trinkets for women. Gwilym was heading out when he stopped in his tracks. He asked the proprietor about a particular brooch. It was in the shape of a circle, flanked by two crescent moons.
“Aah, that’s a beautiful piece isn’t it? Just came in from France, it did. I paid a pretty penny for it and I’m thinking about keeping it for my wife. But I might part with it for 15 silver.”
Gwilym looked furious and, keeping his voice steady, asked the man, “Do you buy a lot of stolen goods here? Is that the place you are running?”
The man sputtered his innocence but Gwilym pressed on. “I know the owner of that piece and she’d never sell it. We haven’t seen her for two weeks now. Tell me who sold it to you and what he looked like!”
“It was only two days before. He was my height, dark hair, beady eyes. I didn’t catch a name. He said he’d bought it in France but lost his sweetheart to another man.”
Gwilym took the piece and declared, “I’ll take this back to the poor girl’s mother. We think she might have been killed by this man. And you’d better be more careful about who you buy from.”
“I may not be able to prove the stories about my merchandise, son, but I can prove it is mine now. And if you steal it, I can have you imprisoned for a thief. So don’t go running off with my jewelry without buying it.”
“Prove it, then!” challenged Gwilym.
The shop-owner turned and pulled a sheet of vellum from the shelf behind him and unrolled it. He pointed to a line two from the bottom that described the piece and the 4 silver he’d paid for it.
“Here’s your money back, then, and be glad I’ve not the time to send you to prison for buying stolen goods.” He took the man’s quill, dipped it in ink and quickly wrote under the last line: ‘Sold to Gwilym of Huish for 4 silver to be returned to its rightful owner’.
The man whined but shut up when Gwilym rose to his full height and crutched his way out of the door. They returned to the tavern and drank a cup of ale in the common room before heading to the sleeping room to rest. “Is that Lowri’s brooch, Da?” Bleddyn inquired.
“I’m pretty sure it is, son. This is the brooch of a priestess of Avalon. It shows the three phases of the goddess. You see,” he pointed out the features of the brooch, “the first crescent moon is waxing, showing the maiden just entering womanhood; the circle represents the mother, in full bloom; the third is a waning moon, representing the death-crone. No priestess would ever allow this to be sold. It is a sacred relic. I’ll return it to Tirion. I’m afraid this means that Lowri did not meet a good end. She may be dead.”
“Why did you threaten to steal the brooch?”
“So the fool would show me what he paid. That’s a pretty good bargaining position don’t you think, lad?”

To read the entire first draft in one shot, click here:

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Dur-A-Flex welcomes Cadence

I was training Dur-A-Flex in Project Management last week and was impressed with the company. From the moment I walked in... the fact that the company President and CEO sat through the entire three days of class... the pictures of the employees' (they call them owners) families on the factory walls to the Dur-A-Flex University...
...and work-out room.

The whole place was designed to retain good employees and I was very impressed. No wonder the employees stay there for years and it's rated as one of the best places to work.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Wasting Team Member's Time on Celebrity Apprentice

One of my cardinal rules of Project Management is "Never Waste Team Members' Time!" I constantly preach that a good Project Manager should monitor meetings and, if they see team members are not needed for the rest of the meeting, send them out to be productive.

In last week's Celebrity Apprentice Nene, the Project Manager, was faced with an interesting situation. The team had worked together to create and film a video and the last task was the editing of this video. This task required two people but she chose to involve her entire team. Most of the team was excited by seeing the project through to the end and wanted to be there with her. But Dionne Warwick, the oldest member of the team, wanted to go home and get some sleep.

At this point several mistakes were made in a row.
  1. Nene should have offered to let team members off the hook. Instead she asked that all attend.
  2. Dionne should have been clear about her needs and ask to go home. Instead she just hinted.
  3. Dionne, after seeing she was not needed, should have asked to be excused. Instead she simply declared she was going home.
When it came time for the board-room and someone to be fired, Dionne became an obvious choice. But rather than call Nene on the carpet for neglecting her team members, Dionne lied about asking to go home and was roundly criticized. Then she made the fatal mistake of daring Donald to fire her. Big mistake.