Monday, May 30, 2011

Obama hopes Tunisia will follow Poland's lead

During his recent European trip, Obama visited Poland and held it up as a model for Arab nations to follow during their political change. Now wouldn't that be wonderful? They could overthrow their oppressors, establish a vibrant democracy, turn around their economy to open capitalism, join the European community, NATO and eventually start using the Euro.

According to yesterday's Times Article Obama was serious in this hope. “It has gone through what so many countries want to now go through,” Mr. Obama said at a news conference with Prime Minister Donald Tusk. “Poland can play an extraordinary role precisely because they have they have traveled so far so rapidly over the last 25 years.”

I'm dubious. Poland has very little in common with Algeria, Tunisia or even Egypt. There has been no history of democracy in any of these countries. While Poland had a strong democracy movement in Solidarity that built its strength under the Soviet dictatorship, the only opposition force in North Africa was the Muslim Brotherhood. This is no democracy movement; life under the 'brotherhood' would resemble life in Iran more than the European West.

Poland also had a strong religious element in the Catholic church which stood as a stabilizing force that demanded democracy and didn't abuse its power once the communists were ousted. Of course, the model of the Catholic Church sharing power in a country evokes scenes of Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa as well as Southern European countries. All we have as an example of a Muslim theocracy is Iran, a frightening thought to most Americans.

But where else can we look for examples to lead the Arab countries to a stable democracy? Turkey? India? Spain? None of these countries have much in common with the North African countries. They have to forge their own path. Let's just hope it looks more like Poland than Iran.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Powerful men think they have immunity

In addition to the usual shenanigans of Berlusconi and others, we have revelations of Arnold fathering an illigetimate child and a high official of the IMF raping a hotel maid. Why is it that men in such positions of power feel that they can get away with anything? It seems to be even worse in France where people are accusing the US of being too harsh on the man. Apparently, in France they would have simply hushed the woman up. Are you serious? This wasn't a grope, he forced her to perform oral sex on him! In the U.S. we call that rape.
So what are the answers? Is it a matter of money and opportunity? Powerful men have the money to buy expensive women, Eliot Spitzer, and they are away from their families for extended periods, (poor lonely babies) so they have the opportunity. But I think it's more than that. They are surrounded by yes-men who laugh at their minor lapses, find women who will do many things for money and soon believe that they can literally get away with anything. They keep pushing the envelope and have powerful people below and around them who hush up their bad behaviour until they finally get caught.
I hope this man doesn't avoid our justice the way Roman Polanski has been doing and spends some time in a US jail to think about the way he treated this poor woman.
And as for Arnold, really? The maid, in your wife's bed, and while your wife was pregnant? Come on!
 At least he waited until his political career was over. Hollywood is a lot more forgiving.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Tenth Excerpt of "Twelve Towers"

So this had been an old rune-stone? He wondered what the signs meant.
Two months later, Gwilym was escorting Merlin down this same road and they saw the tower rising above the trees, this time dressed in stone with a crenellated top. “You have done well, Gwilym to finish on schedule. How did you manage this?”
“The charter you suggested helped a lot, Merlin. But there were still many problems. I had to do a lot of rework and changes of plans. I had to do a lot of the work myself. And there is still a major problem. The charter calls for a stone roof and you saw the quarryman yourself. He can’t make it.”
“How will you solve these problems next time you build a tower, Gwilym?”
“The biggest problems came from not knowing exactly what we were supposed to build. I’ll have to write it all down next time and make sure we all agree. But right now I want to finish this tower and for that I need a roof. Have you any ideas, Merlin?”
Merlin looked thoughtful and started to sing. He had a fine voice and the words were from long ago: some kind of Druid tongue that Gwilym could not speak. He could make out occasional words and there was some kind of a feeling in there of stone and rock. Gwilym said nothing to interrupt and struggled to understand. He felt sleepy and rested his eyes, letting the words take him on a journey. He left the horse and the road and flew across the sea to the green land beyond. There he saw a ring of giant stones, raised high on a hill.
He felt a sharp slap and scrape on his face and found that he had fallen asleep in the cart and had failed to duck at a low-hanging branch. Merlin was still singing and they were in the tree-lined path that wended through the forest just outside Huish. He must have slept for an hour! But the last month of this project had taken him through many sleepless nights and exhausting days so it was only natural for him to sleep in a cart during this late spring day.
On arrival at the building site, Merlin finished his song and looked pleased with himself. The tower rose majestically out of the ground, close-fitting rocks faced the now-hidden wooden structure and it presented a smooth face to all sides. There were horizontal arrow-slits spread throughout and a strong door one floor above the bottom. A wooden staircase rose from the ground to this door, designed to be destroyed during an attack so that the attackers would be one level below the entrance. The ground surrounding it was now flat since the foundations had been completed and a flagstone path wound from the village to this door. At the very top, stones crenellated the top-most layer. This caused Gwilym to frown.
“Sir Kay comes in two days to inspect the tower. It would have been complete if I could have gotten the roof stone. Damn that useless quarryman! I should have found a more skilled one.”
“Are you perhaps reaching the wrong conclusion?” inquired Merlin. “Perhaps the gods have decided that the roof stone should come from other hands than this quarryman. And they forbid him to complete the job.”
“Then the gods could have been kind enough to provide me with a substitute.” replied Gwilym.
Merlin looked closely at the stone walls, now that they had reached them. “Why have you placed wooden wedges between the stones? They look as though they would meet up perfectly but you have shimmed them away from each other.”
“The wooden structure was built to tighten up to itself as the wood dries out over time and shrinks. If I built the stones on top of each other, the wood would separate from the stone and leave the structure unstable. This way, as the wood inside shrinks, so do these shims and the structure tightens in on itself and becomes one.”
Gwilym spent the rest of the day dealing with a thousand little details in finishing off the inside of the tower. He retired late and forced himself to wake before light to supervise the last day’s work. He was still breaking his fast when Fred came bursting through his doorway with a big smile on his face.
“How did tha do it then Gwilym? It be the perfect capstone for t'tower. Where did tha find it?”
Gwilym followed the man to the tower and stood in bewilderment looking at a large rock, leaning against the tower wall. It was mossy and the edges were rounded, as if it had been dug from the earth. Yet it looked as though the dimensions were perfect to cap off the tower. It was no thicker than a foot and, as Gwilym measured it with his yardstick, was within an inch of what was needed at the top. An eerie chill ran through his spine as he saw that no tracks or drag marks led to this stone which must have weighed several tons.
“Let’s not question good luck the way we question bad. It never helps either way. Get the men together and we’ll lift this to the top.”
The hoisting mechanism was re-assembled and, with all the workers helping, the stone was placed on top of the crenellations, fitting the space perfectly. Gwilym gathered his tools and made his way on top of this and started to clear off all the moss and dirt. Although this rock would never be seen from above, he wanted it to sparkle the way the rest of his tower sparkled for the arrival of Kay.
As he scraped the moss and dirt clean, he noticed deep scratches in the surface of the rock, marking out ancient designs. So this had been an old rune-stone? He wondered what the signs meant. The day grew hot and he removed his tunic to sweat freely and catch some of the ocean breezes in an attempt to cool off.
After cleaning off the stone, he started hammering in his wedges. His calculations fresh in his head, he knew what to add to each connection. Here, the stone underneath would move inwards and down, but the down didn’t matter since the capstone had nothing above it. He just had to ensure that the rock would slide easily over the stones underneath as they each moved a few inches toward the center of the tower. That required something that wouldn’t rot but kept its smoothness over the years. So, after wedging up the rock at a crenellation, he slipped in between the wedges a smooth, thin piece of river jade that Merlin had provided. This semi-precious stone was impossible for the rock or the water to destroy and would allow the rock above to slip freely when time decreed. Then he removed the wedges and moved to the next crenellation. It was a painstaking and meticulous chore but Gwilym reveled in the fact that by tomorrow morning the structure would be absolutely complete.

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

Friday, May 20, 2011

Program Management at Delta/Northwest

Wow! For a Project Manager, seeing a full-color picture of this in the paper is a treat indeed.

What was it? At first I thought it was a Work Breakdown Structure, but then I saw the swim lanes and thought it was a Process Map. Then I read the article and realized that this was a Program Management Plan. Each one of those stickies represented a project that together, resulted in the program to merge two airline. 

Turns out, the effort to merge two airlines is huge. From cultural changes like ringing two or four times on landing to the pilot contracts, there were millions of tasks.

From the Times article: Delta’s chief information officer, Theresa Wise, said the airline had to merge 1,199 computer systems down to about 600, including one — a component within the airline’s reservation system — dating from 1966.

The challenge, she said, was to switch the systems progressively so that passengers would not notice. Ms. Wise, who has a doctorate in applied mathematics, devised a low-tech solution: she set up a timeline of the steps that had to be performed by pinning colored Post-it notes on the wall of a conference room.

A major switch happened when the new airline canceled all Northwest’s bookings and transferred them to newly created Delta flights in January 2010. It required computer engineers to perform 8,856 separate steps stretched out over several days.

One other issue has apparently stumped everyone. Delta and Northwest each used different trash bags in their cabins. Northwest’s was large, held up better and was easy to use. Delta’s was smaller, like a high-end shopping bag. The airline is still working on finding the perfect bag.

“The amount of work is boring beyond belief,” Mr. Wilander said. “It is also critical to the airline.”

Sunday, May 15, 2011

End of the Benevolent Dictator

Lee Kuan Yew, the man who founded the modern state of Singapore, resigned from the cabinet this week.
Since independence in 1965, he has run the country as a truly modern, benevolent dictatorship. He wiped out corruption by paying his government ministers well and punishing corruption severely. He made sure the streets were clean by imposing heavy fines on litterers and getting his people to enforce the laws. He ensured that laws were obeyed by maintaining a visible and organized police force. I remember having to get a haircut before entering the country in 1975 and not being allowed to wear jeans. While these rules were tough on a kid in the 70's, the country sure looked neat and tidy then.

He ran a dictatorship by limiting the competitive parties to the point of jailing opponents. His son took over as Prime Minister in 2004. But lately he has been allowing more freedoms. And elections have been free and fair lately with his party's majority dropping from 75% in 2001 to 60% this month.

He built one of the richest countries in the world using his benevolent dictatorship form of government. Rather than using his dictatorship to plunder the country like Arab or Russian dictators, he has spent his time enriching his people.

Now, his reaction to the growing democracy movement that started in Egypt and spread to the rest of the world's repressive governments has been to resign his seat on the cabinet. Good for him! Let's see where the country ends up next.

Ninth Excerpt of 'Twelve Towers'

“That’s my tower, son!” he said proudly. “That’s my tower!”

At the second cock crow, they left Caerleon, arriving at the ferry dock in time to see the boat approaching from Brycgstow. While they waited, Bleddyn asked his father about the charter.
“It’s a document that describes the project to everyone who cares about it. That way there can be no arguments about what to do. It’s also a contract between all the people who work on the project and King Arthur. And that includes me. I have to make sure I build it for the amount of silver I promised and as quickly as I promised.”
“Who are all these people who care about the project?”
“The quarryman is one. He’s the one who started this whole thing and caused me to make up the charter. I’ll be looking forward to showing him King Arthur’s signature. But there will be others who argue in the future and I can show them the charter at that time.”
“Why not show them the charter first, Da, before they make any trouble?” Bleddyn questioned. “That might save some time.”
“That’s a grand idea, son! Let’s make a list of everyone we should show it to while we wait. There are all the builders on the site, Father Drew, the quarryman, the bishop, the forester, the masons, the carter, the village chief, the inn-keeper who brings food to the site. Who else?”
“What about Tarrant?”
“Now that’s an interesting point. I should also be thinking of people who want the project to fail. I’ll have to keep them in mind for this list of people who care. Though I may not go out of my way to find him, I’ll keep the charter safe so I can show him if he argues again. It clearly says who’s in charge.”
“What do you call this list of people, Da?”
“They are all people who have a stake in this project, one way or another. I’ll call it a list of ‘stakeholders’ then.”
The ferry arrived and they made their way back to Brycgstow and spent the rest of the day and night there. Gwilym hobbled from square to square, sitting down in each and allowing Bleddyn to explore each place. He was exhausted when they returned to the tavern and immediately fell to sleep. Bleddyn, his mind racing from all he’d seen, lay awake for another hour, and then fell into a contented sleep.
They arose early again and drove the cart as fast as Gwilym was able to the quarry near Huish, finding the quarryman hard at work in the pit. Gwilym hailed him and the man worked his way back up to the road.
“I have a royal charter signed by the High King that authorizes me to use your stone to build the tower.” Gwilym carefully unrolled the charter. He knew instinctively that the man was illiterate but, like most of his kind, held written words in awe akin to magic.
“Where says it how much stone you may take?” he inquired, his eyes scanning the document and lingering long on the seal and red ribbon.
Gwilym showed the man the passage about the stone and circled the amount with his fingers, knowing that the man knew his numbers. “I see you’ve been careful to cut the stone, knowing that this misunderstanding would be resolved soon. I commend you for your foresight, brother.”
The quarryman swelled with pride, forgetting that he had been ordered to cut the stone by Gwilym days ago.
Gwilym showed him another section of the charter. “Notice here that we call for a large, square stone, big enough to cover the whole top of the tower but no more than a foot thick so that it can be hauled to the top and placed there without collapsing the tower. It’s designed to protect it from flaming arrows and thrown rocks. Can you make that?”
“I cannae cut stone that big and thin. But I’ll try.”
“Good! Can you start carting what you’ve made to the site tomorrow?”
The quarryman agreed and Gwilym and Bleddyn rode back to Huish.

“Have you had a good adventure, Bleddyn?” asked Gwilym after a long silence. He looked over to his son and was surprised to see tears of genuine sadness flowing over his son’s cheeks. “What’s wrong, son?”
It took a while for Bleddyn to compose himself enough to speak. “I was thinking of all the adventures I had and was bursting to tell them all to…to Ma.”
“Aye son, aye. I miss her too. And I talk to her all the time…in my head. It helps me. She was my friend and help-mate for ten years. I loved her so much. Sometimes I think I cannot go on, but I talk to her and we talk about you, and Jac and Llawen, and the tower. Then I get the strength to go on. We live for you. I’ll always be here to protect you and help to make you a strong man.”
“But you’ve changed since she died, Da. You used to let me do anything. Now you’re more careful with me. Are you now scared I’ll die too?”
“No son. When your mother was alive we worked together to raise you. I encouraged you to spread your wings, she made sure you were careful. Now she’s gone, I have to play both roles. I can’t just let you run wild. You need a mother and a father.”
“Will you marry again, Da?”
“I don’t think so, Bleddyn. I loved your mother so much, and I love you and your brothers; I don’t think there is love enough left in me for another woman.”
“What about Heilin or Heulwen? They are mothering Jac and Llawen. Could you marry one of them?”
Gwilym burst out laughing. “They’re good girls and they are excellent wet-nurses for your brothers. But they are simple and like simple things. Going to the Beltane fires and getting big with child for one. They’d not be the kind of mother you need. Remember how your Ma would help you with your writing and figuring? How she told you stories from long ago? The songs she sang you and the meals she cooked? Could you be satisfied with Heilin or Heulwen after a mother like yours?”
“No, Da.” Bleddyn admitted and they rode on again in thoughtful silence.
“What’s that, Da?” Bleddyn pointed ahead of them to something looming over the trees.
It took Gwilym a few moments to realize that the wooden tower was at its full height and could be visible now from the road. “That’s my tower, son!” he said proudly. “That’s my tower!”

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

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Obama vs. Trump

It was hilarious seeing Trump being skewered by Obama at the correspondent's dinner last weekend. If you missed it, watch this:

But the egotist couldn't handle it. Watch his reaction. Notice how he makes it all about him.

Can you imagine this man leading our country? Here he is getting riled up by his supporters.

I might have to vote Democrat if this guy somehow wins the nomination.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Poor negotiation on Celebrity Apprentice

Last night I finally picked up one of the Celebrity Apprentice episodes I had missed: the one where Niki Taylor was fired. In the previous episodes she had stood out on the women's team as a great team player who rose above the back-stabbing and cliques that had doomed every challenge undertaken by them.

Watching the episode I saw how she lost. My first surprise was the naivete she showed when negotiating for the camper set. She recognized immediately that the men's team would choose the $200,000 bus while she wanted the other set. But rather than using this knowledge to her benefit, she simply told the men, 'No problem, I wanted the other camper.' Why didn't she use this knowledge to actually negotiate, as asked, and get some money from the men? She could have used this to buy more equipment or decorations for her set.

She was not a tough leader and allowed her team to shirk an important task: buying greenery for her set, which really hurt the impression her team made on the judges. The one time she got tough was when Dionne was looking for LaToya and this was one case when Dionne was in the right.

She also seemed to be confused about which century she was in, constantly referring to this as the Twentieth century. Seeing her chatting with Hope was like listening to air hissing rapidly out of a pair of heads.

I will say this for her, and Trump was also impressed: she took the fall gracefully and refused to throw any of her team-mates under the bus for her team's failure.

Watch the full episode here if you wish. Full episode: unhappy-campers

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Osama Bin Laden's body

It was wonderful news to hear that the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks was discovered on Sunday but a little disconcerting to hear that he had been killed and 'buried at sea' rather than brought to justice. But the more I thought about it the more sense it all made.
What if he had surrendered and was brought back to the U.S. alive to face justice? Then we would have had to deal with the spectacle Slobodan Milosavic gave us in The Hague but multiplied by a thousand. Plus we would have had an excuse for hundreds of hostages taken in exchange for him or terrorist attacks performed in his name.
Why didn't we keep his body? Clearly we didn't want a burial plot for him that could become a gathering point for his followers; the same philosophy we used with Hitler's body.
Then we washed his body and wrapped it in a white sheet to comply with Muslim traditions. That should satisfy the mainstream Muslims. Burying him at sea was clearly not within their traditions but it solves the problem described in the paragraph above. They even said a prayer over him which was translated into Arabic. I wonder what was said.

But now we have the conspiracy theorists to deal with who will claim he was never discovered, never killed and/or wasn't even him. People will see him walking around with Elvis in the next few years.
At least I got a picture of the virgins awaiting him in paradise:
Now we are supposed to be concerned about heightened threats of terrorist attacks in retaliation for his death. Really? Do you suppose there were terrorists who had plans for attacks and were holding off these plans for some reason, but decided to conduct the attacks now because they lost their leader? I predict the opposite: terrorists who had plans, deciding to forget about it since their leader is gone now.