Sunday, April 29, 2012

Thirty-fourth excerpt from 'Twelve Towers'

This broke Gwilym’s heart and he gathered all his boys up in his huge arms and cried aloud.
Gwilym and his family rode with Fred back to Huish. They were all looking forward to this for different reasons. Jac and Llawen wanted to see their first mothers; this is what they called Heilin and Heulwen. Bleddyn wanted to visit his mother’s grave and talk to her. Fred wanted to show off his new-found wealth and writing skills to his family. Gwilym was looking forward to talking in some detail to Father Drew.
Fred drove the cart and discussed the last tower project with Gwilym. He sang the saga of the ‘Project Management Guide’ to Gwilym. He had added verses about the Work Breakdown Structure, Defining Activities and Resourcing Activities to it. Gwilym was impressed.
“You could write that song down now that you know your letters, you know, Fred?”
“I only know t’first letters in each word.”
“You have to preserve your knowledge for others to learn from you. Remember that scroll we found in that jar in the cornerstone. I never listened to the man who knew that story but I could learn it hundreds of years later by reading the scroll. You need to do that for people who follow you.”
Fred looked down and Gwilym could tell by the shade of his ears that the man was blushing.
“Did tha put back t’old scroll, Gwilym?”
“Yes. After I had made a copy.”
“Tha copies every scroll tha comes on don’t tha?”
“Aye, Fred. There is much knowledge to gain in this world. I’d love to read every scroll and book there is.”
“How will tha make this next tower better than t’last one?”
Gwilym thought for a while. “It was good to know all the work we needed to do and it helped a lot to know who would do each activity. But men were still stumbling over each other because they wanted to do two different things at one time. Or they were waiting for someone else to finish their job before they could start their own. We need to know WHEN things will happen, in what order. Also, we need to know how long things will take so that people can work around each other. I think if we know how long each task will take and how they are linked to each other, we can figure out exactly when things have to happen.”
“Tha be right there, Gwilym. Will we try that on t’next tower?”

Bleddyn was busy telling the boys all about Huish, the townsfolk, Heilin and Heulwen, their mother, Father Drew and the first tower. Jac and Llawen were wide-eyed with excitement. “Your nurse-mothers are so beautiful!” he was telling them. “But not as beautiful as your real mother,” he hastily added as he caught Gwilym’s eye.
‘Interesting.’ Gwilym thought to himself on hearing Bleddyn’s words. ‘The boy is growing up.’
Fred, too was paying close attention to Bleddyn’s words. “What think tha of Heilin, Gwilym?”
“She’s a beautiful woman, inside and out,” he stated plainly.
“Why do tha not marry her then?” he inquired.
“I’m not ready to replace their mother,” Gwilym replied to Fred. He then noticed that all of his boys were watching him anxiously, eager for an answer to this question that had always seemed taboo to them. The one question they had always felt compelled not to ask.
“Boys. Listen to me carefully. Your mother was one of a kind. She was more than a wife. She was my best friend. We traveled together. We talked about everything together. She understood my mission in life and sacrificed her happiness to help me achieve it. She was a learned woman who I could go to and discuss my struggles and she understood them and helped me work them out. And she was your mother. She gave so much of herself to you. She taught you your letters, Bleddyn. She would have been so proud of you all. It is her beauty and kindness that you have inside you. Her understanding of others. She misses you every day. And I miss her so much.”
The boys were all crying now. Fred wiped away a tear from his eye. Gwilym tried a brave smile.
“So I keep her in my memory. I talk to her at quiet moments, about you boys, about the job, the quest. And that makes my life tolerable.” Gwilym looked at his crying sons. “But what about you three? Have I been selfish by not providing you with another mother? I cannot replace Kaitlyn but perhaps I could give you a permanent mother to always be there for you. Would you like that?”
Jac and Llawen immediately nodded yes but Bleddyn shook his head and said “No, Da.”
His brothers looked between father and son and cried even harder. Jac said, “I want a mother, Da. Bleddyn already had one but I didn’t.” This broke Gwilym’s heart and he gathered all his boys up in his huge arms and cried aloud.

When they arrived in Huish, they were all excited. They were met by the curious children who were always happy to find and announce strangers on the road and were escorted to the center of town amid this laughing, raucous crowd. They dismounted outside the tavern. The whole town gathered around and Gwilym scanned the crowd. Heilin pushed her way through the mass and swept Jac, then Llawen up into her arms and smothered them with kisses.
“Where is your sister, Heilin?” asked Gwilym.
“Heulwen’s a farmwife now, Gwilym. Married farmer Llyr last spring. Come on you!” she motioned forward a shy three year old girl. “Do you remember Iola, Jac? She was your milk sister. Many times she fought you over my breast but you were always the polite one. Say hello to your milk brother, Iola.”
Iola said a quick hello and then turned and buried her face in her mother’s skirts. Heilin laughed and said, “Oh! Now she decides to be shy, does she?”
“It’s wonderful to see you again Heilin,” Gwilym said. “And have you found yourself a nice farmer to marry also?”
Heilin laughed broadly. “No, no! Marriage is not for me just now. This little one may not look it but she is quite the handful.”
Fred bustled into the group and interrupted. “Would tha join us for dinner, then Heilin? We are all famished and we need to decide what to do and where to live and all. And Gwilym was saying that we needed to know what’s happenin’ in Huish now. Tha could tell us.” He blushed, then looked straight at Heilin.
Heilin smiled prettily and agreed. “Then let’s go to the tavern.”

During dinner, Gwilym found lodgings for the few months he would be in town and inquired after all his old friends. Little had changed apart from many marriages and births. Heilin had arranged that she sat next to Gwilym at the table and she took every opportunity to touch his arm when speaking to him or press her breast against him while reaching past him for something at the table. Fred was sitting on her other side, touching her arm and offering to pass her food. Gwilym smiled inwardly at this and took every opportunity to praise Fred for all the problems he had solved, the leadership he was displaying and the Project Management song he was singing.
“Fred knows his letters now!” Bleddyn exclaimed.
“Really?” asked the surprised Heilin and she gazed on Fred with a new respect.
“Aye!” he replied. “Young Bleddyn has been workin’ with me since we started t’last tower in Londinium. And I even know a lot of words, too. Like this is a T A B E L table. And you’re eating B R E A D, bread. What do tha think of that?”
“It’s wonderful, Fred,” she said and started paying more attention to him.
Gwilym winked at Bleddyn and then asked the smith, “Does Father Drew still preach here?”
“Aye,” replied Haearn. “He’ll be happy to have you back in town. He’s been a little starved for intelligent conversation since you left.”

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

Friday, April 27, 2012

Dominique Strauss-Kahn Sexcapades

Now there's a picture of a swinger. Sexy in his own mind at least. When he's not busy raping young female reporters or New York City maids he's running a sex ring in France.

Read this article about the latest discoveries of this degenerate who was the leading candidate to be running France until he was disgraced in New York. While we couldn't get the conviction he deserved, we seem at least to have derailed his political ambitions somewhat.

Hotel Carlton de Lille
It was at the above hotel that DSK is accused of playing a prominent role in the ring running sex parties.

Below is oneof his charming text messages to an acquaintance:
“Do you want to discover a new dirty night club in Madrid with me (and some equipment)?” He means women when he says equipment, an insight into the deviant's brain.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Egyptian Election Shenanigans

Banned from the upcoming election: Omar Suleiman, Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, Khairat el-Shater
Citing narrow technical reasons, the Egyptian Electoral Commission barred from the upcoming elections the three most polarizing candidates: Omar Suleiman, the former spy chief under Hosni Mubarak; Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, an ultraconservative Islamist; and Khairat el-Shater, the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Seems like the military is still firmly in charge of the country.
While this allows me to breathe a sigh of relief, what does it mean to the budding Democracy in this land?

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Instant Bridge

A Bridge in a Day: The Massachusetts Department of Transportation is learning the advantages of a technique known as “accelerated bridge construction” to move a span into place in a day. By  Published: April 17, 2012
This may only work for bridges that cross railway lines but I like it anyway. Rather than taking several years and massive traffic delays to replace a bridge, Boston pre-fabricated it and slid it into place over the course of a weekend.

Wish I could download the video but the Times has it encoded somehow. So check out the article and click on the video at the top to see it being put into place.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Clever invention stops runaway cars

The accelerator assembly of a 2007 Toyota Avalon, which was recalled amid complaints about unintended acceleration.
We've read the stories throughout the years of cars that take off while the drivers are pressing hard on the brakes. Audi had a problem with their 5000 series in the 80's, old folks in Florida have been plagued with this. The latest victim of this problem were Toyotas (right after I bought their stock) with many people complaining about sticking accelerators and one widely publicized case of a family driving 120 miles per hour while on the phone with 911 complaining about the stuck accelerator. Usually the causes are the placement of brake pedals or sticking floor mats. (Another good reason to drive a manual transmission car but I'll save that rant for another time)

What do you do? At the time I didn't understand why these people didn't just put the car into neutral but I guess people freeze in emergencies. And after extensive and expensive testing, Toyota proved that there was no fault with their vehicles. Usually it's just the driver pressing their foot on both pedals simultaneously. I've done that myself though I figured it out a few seconds later.

But now there's a simple solution that federal safety regulators plan to require in all new cars and trucks: It's called a brake-throttle override system. All it does is cut the throttle as soon as the brake is pressed. So, whether it's a floor mat or your own foot pressing the accelerator while you're pushing on the brake, the accelerator will be disabled, allowing the car to come to a stop.

Best of all, the cost of making them mandatory would be close to zero since most vehicles already have the system. Toyota made these standard after the recalls and even retrofitted some earlier models. I guess it's cheaper to do this than continue to fight off lawsuits from bad drivers.

The NY Times has a full article about the system.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Another Kennedy thinks he's above the law

I'm really getting tired of the sense of entitlement within the Kennedy clan since one became President. When they're not getting away with murder for 27 years,
they feel entitled to vacated senator seats

and now feel they can violate hospital policies put in place to protect the theft of newborns.

Listen to this quote by Doug Kennedy when he was stopped while trying to take his newborn from the maternity ward: "My father was taken away from me when I was a baby."

I guess he's still a baby, based on the story the nurses told of him twisting one's arm and kicking the other as they tried to enforce the hospital policies.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Thirty-third excerpt from 'Twelve Towers'

When Gwilym awoke, Grainne was gone again. He was sorry to see this and wondered how long it would be until he saw her again. But meanwhile, he needed to complete some final preparations in advance of Sir Kay’s dedication ceremony. He dressed, went down to the river to perform his ablutions and met his team, who had assembled at the base of the tower.
“Gentlemen!” he addressed them in his usual manner. This used to elicited guffaws, then sniggers but had lately become expected of him. He noticed that it never failed to straighten their shoulders and bring their work to a higher standard. “Today we see the fruits of your labors. The Seneschal of King Arthur, Sir Kay, will come to inspect your work. And he will be impressed!”
The men cheered.
“The bridge and tower are beautiful!  The remains of Belinus are back where they belong, surrounded by the stones that originally entombed them. The bridge is strong; the tower will stand for a thousand years! You did that! I am proud of you!”
Another cheer from the men. They looked around at each other and shook hands, clapped each other on the shoulder, patted backs.
“Today, we clean up the site to look perfect for the ceremony. I don’t need to tell you what to do. You do it. We’ll meet on the bridge at Midday and watch Sir Kay’s reaction when he sees what we accomplished here. See you then!”
The men all scattered and were seen everywhere, picking up trash, placing stones, cleaning the tower, even pulling reeds at its base in the river. They first spruced up their area of focus, then moved to help others who had more work to do, finally ending up on the arch an hour before Midday. Fred and Gwilym appeared with a barrel of ale which they opened and shared amongst the celebrating men.
A cheer rose amongst the men as they saw the procession of Sir Kay wending its way through the streets of the city, leaving the old governor’s villa and heading their way. Gwilym noticed that it was composed of the same three men who had accompanied Sir Kay the last two times.
As before, one looked through the books, another inspected the foundation and construction of the tower and the third paid close attention to the capstone and its placement. The team watched in obvious pride as the men inspected their work. Finally Sir Kay closeted himself with Gwilym and Fred.
“You’ve done good work here again Gwilym. The tower looks great and I’m assured it will stand forever. You finished the job on schedule and the extra money you spent appears to be accounted for. But tell me, man to man, what caused the costs to go over what was planned?”
Gwilym was prepared for this question. “The foundations couldn’t be inspected until we had removed the tower and were much worse than we had planned. We had to sink new piles, then fill the space between the piles with large stones to assure the arch would stand strong. That caused most of the extra costs. Also, a lot of the interior stones were damaged and we couldn’t see these until we removed the outer stones.”
“Couldn’t you have predicted this?” Sir Kay asked.
“We planned for the most likely scenario. Not the most optimistic or pessimistic. So the costs were mostly in line.”
“And yet you come asking me for more money. Next tower I want you to ask for the right amount the first time.”
Gwilym smiled. “So it is to be another tower? Where and when?”
“I have a few in mind but they cannot be started yet. I will contact you at the end of the summer. But this time I want you to figure out exactly how much it will cost before you begin. Where will you spend the summer, Gwilym?”
“I think I will visit Huish again. I’d like to catch up with some old friends.”
“I will send for you there, Gwilym. Now, let’s dedicate this tower.”

“Halfway done, Merlin. Is the spell working?”
“We cannot tell until it is finished.”
“Does Gwilym suspect what we are doing?”
“They both do.”
“And yet they keep working on it?”
“He sees it as protection against what will come, she sees it as protection against the Christians.”
“And Grainne?”
“She is breeding again.”
“Gwilym again?”
“Very interesting. She talks of fostering the first one with Gwilym. What say you to that, Viviane?”
“The sooner, the better. I am becoming too attached to my grandson. Is Mostyn happy with the results of each tower?”
“They are each aligned perfectly and he can feel the power increasing.”
“Where next? It must be Caernarfon.”
Merlin released a quick laugh. “You have been studying your maps, then.”
“He will have his hands full dealing with that mad prince.”
“Gwilym will find a way” Merlin was calm as always.         
“Arthur married that ninny, Gwenevere.”
“She is a nice girl, who was raised at Glastonbury and will treat the king well. She has no ambitions for the kingdom. The alliance strengthens Arthur’s hand in the fight against the Saxons”
“No ambitions for the kingdom? She forces her religion on the king.”         
“He indulges her in this but he is loyal to Avalon.”
“This will not end well. For any of us.”

Next time we start chapter four, Caernarfon.
To read the entire first draft in one shot, click here:

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Leadership at Evernote

 Earl Wilson/The New York Times
Phil Libin, chief executive of Evernote, a provider of note-taking and archiving technology says the company has an unusual culture.
 I read this Corner Office column weekly and its usually a bunch of platitudes but this week's version was pretty amazing. Here's a leader who has used some radical techniques to shake up his companies. It was all the interviewer could do to keep asking him: "What else?"

Let's look at some of the things he has done at Evernote:
  1. No offices
  2. No phones
  3. No lengthy e-mail chains
  4. Institutionalized cross-training
  5. Unlimited vacations and $1,000 in spending money to encourage you to take them
  6. Free housekeeping
  7. Continuous live-streaming video on big screen monitors between the two offices
  8. Laser-shooting robots
I had never heard of Evernote before this but I was curious enough to visit their website. It seems pretty cool so I downloaded it. There are times I have an idea and want to capture it. I'll see if it works. Here's the full NY Times article.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Aussies Invented Wireless

Who knew? The humble CSIRO, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, based in Australia, invented the technology behind all of the three billion wireless devices in use today back in the 1990's. And it has successfully defended this patent, winning another $220 million in royalties this week.

Look at these proud Aussies:
Growing up in Australia, I rode my bike past the local office of the CSIRO and one of my high school friends ended up working for them. They are a government-backed organization, similar to NOAA but with broader scope. Probably closer to the old Bell Labs but run by the government. Check out their website.

I left Australia, partly because I felt research being done there wasn't on the cutting edge. But every once in a while they pull out a coup like this and I'm proud to be an Aussie.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Round number estimates

I've managed a lot of projects in my life and have dealt with people making and then living up to, (more often not) those estimates of duration. I have found some people better at making and living up to estimates and some worse. Usually, those who live up to their estimates are not better at making them, just more dedicated to completing them within the time they estimated.

I once worked with an excellent woman who lived up to all her estimates. This was rare, but what made it rarer was the estimates she provided. She would be in the same room as the rest of the team making their duration estimates but when others would say a task took five, ten or fifteen days, her estimates were always six, twelve or eighteen; always some multiple of six.

I initially suspected that by giving herself an extra day of buffer she was more able to meet her deadlines but, after looking carefully around the room one day, I thought there might be a deeper-seated reason for her strange estimates. It took me a few years before I was able to verify my suspicions but finally, at a company picnic, I caught her unawares with her gloves off.

Just as I'd always suspected. People will estimate task durations based less on the complexity of the tasks and more on the numbers of fingers on their hands.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Tappan Zee Bridge Park

The Tappan Zee bridge across the Hudson has reached the end of its life and will be replaced soon. A few groups have sprung up to turn it into a park. Just like those who have created other walking trails and parks out of abandoned railroad lines and bridges, this ambitious plan envisions a park stretching over three miles across the Hudson with magnificent views of the Palisades, Manhattan and the mansions lining the river.

Se the full slide show in much greater detail in the website for this group.

This all sounds lovely but I hope it becomes a reality. In this Times article, the author explains all the difficulties facing the project: The bridge needs $50 million in maintenance annually and has serious long-term structural and seismic concerns, including the threat of marine borers eating into the underwater wooden pilings that support the bridge.

What do you think of the plan? Will you walk it when it's done? I will.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

There's no 'I' in 'Team'

This week's Celebrity Apprentice showed an example of how a selfish player can cause much conflict within a team. The men vs. women format was broken up and Arsenio was stuck with Aubrey and Teresa. Aubrey had previous experiences with the women's team that showed her selfishness but it became quite apparent in this episode.

Arsenio was right about the way she handled the box. Watch this brief video below to see how he catches the box, then immediately places it on the table in front of the rest of the team. Aubrey picks it up, looks it over and tosses it aside. The two men to her right, who had been eager to look at the box themselves and sat back while she examined it, looked shocked when she tossed it aside, not giving them a view.

Pretty soon, Arsenio called her out for not being a team player and the rest of the team backed him up. Watch her dig herself further into a hole.

Finally, she reveals how little of a team player she is when, after her team wins the challenge, she stalks off by herself rather than trying to console herself amongst the rest of her winning team.

Her last words were telling: "I just don't know if this is the right place for me." Yes! A team is NOT the right place for you. You need to be on your own. 

Oh, and I found the 'I' in team here.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Thirty-second excerpt from 'Twelve Towers'

From the almost finished tower, Gwilym could see the few Beltane fires glowing in the distant fields across the river but could make out nothing going on nearby. Londinium was a city and the folk there thought little about fertile fields. Life in the large town seemed to go on as any other evening. It was a warm night and Gwilym worked shirtless, the sweat cooling him off in the warm breeze. As he hammered in and out the wedges that allowed accurate placement of the river-jade, he kept an eye and ear out for Grainne’s arrival. He wondered how he was going to approach this evening.
The first time, two years ago, he had been overwhelmed by pure, animal lust. The lovemaking had been selfish and savage on his part. The second time she had set the tone and the lovemaking was more mutual. Afterward he had attempted to talk with her about this but Grainne had used her priestess powers to cast some kind of enchantment over him, forcing him to lose control and to sleep.
This time he wanted something different. The conversation they had held earlier today needed to continue. She had given birth to a son of his, a thought that filled him with joy and longing to see the boy, brother to Bleddyn, Jac and Llawen. When would he get to foster the child? And this enchantment she was casting, with his towers and their lovemaking and the Beltane timing as key elements; what was the meaning of it?
They certainly differed on their approaches to religion. She thought of Christianity as an evil, opposed to her Druidic teachings, something which must be fought. He saw it as another, similar religion that was being used cruelly now but had at its core the same basic tenets of the older religion, with some added concepts that made it beautiful. How did this spell help him in his own research? Did it go against the life-course he had set for himself when his father died, or did it move him forward? He must talk further with Grainne.
Merlin would give him no answers, but he might ask the right questions if he could get the old man into another conversation. That would have to take place tomorrow. Tonight, he must stay awake and learn more from Grainne.
Grainne- who was, even now, standing in the center of the rune on top of this capstone, barely visible in the new moon. Once again he hadn’t heard or seen her climb onto the top of this tower, yet here she stood, barefoot, wearing a simple white shift. Again he couldn’t see the color of her hair in the starlight; all were shades of grey.
This time he knelt before her, his head at the level of her breasts, and wrapped his arms around her. He moved his hands down her back and rear and caressed the backs of her legs. On reaching her feet, he slipped his hands under the hem of her shift and then caressed his way back up her calves, the backs of her thighs and buttocks, then up her back to her shoulders. By spreading his arms to their full extent, he was able to pull her shift off her completely and place it on the stone next to them. His hands then caressed their way down her neck, shoulders, breasts, belly and privates, parting her hair to perform his own ministrations, the way he had been taught long ago in Jerusalem.
Grainne threw one leg over his shoulder and enjoyed the treatment,