Wednesday, January 30, 2013

$35 computer

Anybody remember the movie "Computer wore tennis shoes?" In this movie the computer lent to the school for their computer training was a room-sized mainframe. By the time I went to high school, the computer we were lucky enough to have was about the size of a PC but so expensive we all had to share it.

Look at how far we have come. Raspberry Pi makes a credit-card sized computer that costs only $35. They have sold one million of these units to schools for teaching computer science students.

Read this NY Times article for more details. The power is turned on by plugging in the cable. The memory is supplied by a camera-style S card. And most people spring an extra ten bucks for the plastic protective case. But it does its job quite well and, most importantly, can teach kids how to use computers for very little money.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Dear PM Advisor January 28, 2013

Dear PM Advisor,

Is it necessary for me to name all my tasks uniquely? I have a lot of similar deliverables in my project that require the same tasks. Can't I just copy and paste the tasks within my Gantt chart? You can still look up at the name of the deliverable to see what the task is referring to.

Ditto in Kalamazoo, MI. 

Dear Ditto,

The greatest thing about a computer is the ability to copy and paste. For a lousy typist like me, any chance I get to copy and past, I'll take it. And I love copying and pasting tasks along with their resources, dependencies and durations.

But when I'm done with that, I'll copy the deliverable and paste its name at the end of each task name to make each one unique. Why?

As a project manager, I use some of the higher functions of MS-Project. Filtering, setting up custom views, sending out MS-Project e-mails. Some of these functions strip the task from its deliverable so when you performs these functions it becomes difficult to see which task you are actually talking about.

I was recently shown a function where you add a text column that you use to identify certain tasks as milestones. Then you filter on these and all of your milestones of similar type end up lined up together. The next logical step for me would have been to export this to Excel to allow me to determine what percentage of each milestone was complete. I could have done that but I couldn't go the next step and figure out which were complete and which weren't because all the tasks were called the same due to cutting and pasting.

So do yourself a favor and get in the habit of naming each task uniquely. It's a good habit and lets others use your Gantt chart for cool things.

Good luck,

PM Advisor

Send me your questions at

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Fifty-second excerpt from 'Twelve Towers'

All arrows homed in on these men. As they approached, it became clear that they were carrying a large wooden beam from one of the buildings. One, then two of the men fell from the group but that seemed to increase the speed at which the battering ram was being brought to bear. Gwilym hurled a huge rock as the ten remaining raiders passed under the wall and crashed into the gate. The rock crushed the heads of two of the foremost men near the front, causing those behind to trip over their bodies. The ram did crash against the gates but with much less speed. Under the gates the men were drenched with boiling water from the murder holes above, then riddled with arrows. Gwilym tried to lean over the parapet to throw more rocks at them but found the angle too difficult. He realized that moving the tower to project beyond the walls was a good idea. It needed to be done with all the towers. Unfortunately, his new tower looked over the river, not the town, so it couldn’t be used. Gwilym raced down to the courtyard to face the raiders. The ram battered three more times on the gates, each time with less power. The gates gave a little each time but held firm and finally the noise stopped and a cheer arose from the townsfolk.
All was quiet for a few hours as more goods were transferred from the town to the boats. Then a group was seen shuffling towards the gates. When they approached it was seen to be a group of eight residents of the surrounding areas, prodded along by spears from the twenty marauders intermingled with them. Their hands were bound and feet were hobbled. Gwilym’s stomach turned over on recognizing the smith and his young family among the captives. The smith’s face bled from a deep gash.
“Hold your fire or we kill them before your eyes!” warned the man who appeared to be in the lead. “Looks like your folk didn’t all escape! How much ransom will you pay for the life of this old woman?”
He held his knife to the throat of an old lady and the smith’s wife shrieked in terror. “We’re already dead dear, just remember that,” said the old lady to her daughter.
The leader flicked his wrist and, blood spurting from her throat, the woman fell to the ground. “You were right there, you old witch! But you, my dear, are not dead yet.” He pulled the smith’s wife from the crowd and showed her to the stunned townsfolk. The woman couldn’t take her eyes off her dying mother.
“The hag was right. She was dead already. But this girl is not. I’ve taken a fancy to her and I think I’ll use her on the long journey home.”
At these words the smith struggled and was bashed to the ground by the marauders behind him.
“So I have a proposal for you. I’m sure you have a lot of gold and silver hidden in that castle. And since you won’t let us come in and take it, I’ll sell you these people in exchange. The old woman wasn’t going to bring much of a price. But what about this baby?”
He snatched the child out of the hands of the smith’s wife who screamed as he held it by the ankle. The baby, shocked awake by this treatment, set up a loud wail.
“We’ll pay a lot less for it if it’s maltreated!” Gwilym was as surprised as anyone around him as he shouted out these words.
“Ahh!” said the leader, righting the baby and curling it

Friday, January 25, 2013

How's that Arab Spring working out?

Two years ago when I first posted about the Arab Spring, I was dubious of its chances for success. The choices I laid out were a crushing by the dictatorships or a switch-over to the Muslim theocracies like Iran. I had doubts that a true democracy would come to pass.  I think we can see that my prediction was correct. Egypt has converted to a theocracy that is sponsoring Muslim uprisings around the region. They have been implicated in the Benghazi embassy attack, the Algerian oil refinery massacre and the Malian takeover.

Syrians are still fighting off their dictator with mixed success. Algeria and Tunisia are playing with Muslim theocracies. Will there ever be such a thing as an Arab democracy? I don't think I'll see one in my lifetime.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Real people or Screen people

I just recently read two excellent books that dealt with the trend of people spending time on the Internet or texting in preference to real conversations with people.

The first one, Feed, took a fictional approach to the topic with teenagers having the Internet literally fed into their brains at all times and how their lives differed from ours, especially when the feed malfunctioned and they were back to 'normal.'

Lots of great teen speak that the author picked up by eavesdropping on kids in the mall and extrapolating into the future.

The second one, 'Alone Together' was a non-fiction book written by an MIT Artificial Intelligence professor and it showed the types of experiments being performed that showed the trend towards people preferring robot company and moving away from face to face or even phone conversations in preference of texting and other 'controlled' conversations.

In this one the author answered the question I've always struggled with: Why do teenagers prefer to text than call? It always seemed a step backward in technology to the time of the telegraph before the telephone was invented. Her explanation is that teenagers are intimidated by the immediacy and lack of control found in a phone call and prefer to be able to massage their words before sending them. 

The books got me thinking, what should we do, if anything, about these trends? Should we try to head them off? I'm all in favor of the increased efficiency brought to us by mobile technology and the Internet. Being able to complete a business deal while driving to another customer. Finding the restaurant where you want to eat and read reviews by other diners while someone else is driving to town. Then clicking on directions and the menu. These are all great advantages. 

I know there are all kinds of rules about Internet safety and not texting while driving. This post won't deal with those issues. I'm just going to concentrate on social interactions with the presence of screens. What is polite and what is not. I'm thinking about rules we've imposed at home and what rules we should perhaps add to this list. 

The rules are not designed to impose my old-fashioned set of norms on my children. Instead, I am keenly interested in raising my children to fit into future society. If they don’t learn how to have a phone or face-to-face conversation as children, what are they going to do when they go for an interview, try to sell their product to a customer, meet their future in-laws?

Multitasking is a skill that can work in certain situations like when you are using different parts of your brain to accomplish different tasks. All of us can walk while having a conversation, eat while listening to music, even play simple video games like Brickbreaker while listening to a book on tape. But young people think they can multitask with the same area of the brain. This has been tested repeatedly and found to be a fallacy. You cannot effectively text someone while having a conversation with another person. You can’t do your homework efficiently and correctly while maintaining seven different chat sessions and listening to loud music. If you think you are one of these rare exceptions who can do that, submit yourself to testing and you’ll be surprised.

What follows is my first draft of a set of rules. Please comment with your impressions of these rules and any additions you would make.

Screen rules
  1.  Live people are more important than people communicating to you via screens.
  2. No screens at the dinner table unless your family allowed TV there 20 years ago.
  3. If  something comes up in a conversation where the answer can be found by checking a screen, ask permission first.
  4. When spending time one-on-one with someone and your phone interrupts, answering demotes the real person in importance to the one on the screen. (That’s OK if it’s your mother or your boss, not OK if it’s just another friend.)
  5. If you’re in a group and the conversation can go on without you while you check the screen, that may be OK but be subtle.
  6. No screens while attending religious services, a concert, a show or a movie.  You can always tell people ‘gtg’ for a couple of hours and get back to them when you leave the area.
  7. No screens while attending a lecture unless the lecturer asks you to look something up as part of the class.
  8. Enjoy your time when in a special event. No need to look at it through your camera.
This last one is a personal pet peeve. Remember the opening ceremony of the Olympics? All these athletes were at the pinnacle of their career. They march into the stadium in front of billions of people and what are they mostly doing? Rather than enjoying themselves, they are recording the crowd and fellow athletes on their cell-phone cameras! People! Have your buddy at home record the show and post it on your Facebook page. Enjoy the moment! You deserve it!

What are your thoughts? I'd love to see some additions to this and we can come up with the '10 communication commandments.'

Monday, January 21, 2013

Dear PM Advisor. January 21, 2013

Dear PM Advisor,

A lot of people around me have been getting their PMP certification. Some of them are right out of college. I've been managing projects for 20 years. Is it important to get it and what is it even worth if people with no experience are getting it? 

Old Fogie in Seattle.

Dear Old Fogie,

I studied for and received my PMP certification back in 1999. My number was somewhere around 14,000. My nephew just got his and his number was 2 million something. It has certainly become more popular. When I first received mine, I had to explain to people that PMP was not shorthand for my night job. Now everyone seems to know what it means.

Many jobs are not open to those without the certification. It is also seen as almost like a degree, you need to have it in your tool-kit to be considered a serious Project Manager. So the answer to your first question is: Yes, it is important to get the certification. It is worth getting it, just so that you don't get beaten out for a great PM gig by some kid with a PMP. If you both have it, the sponsor will pick the one with more experience.

But I've also noticed the same trend that people are getting this certification right out of college. I don't like this trend. It cheapens the certification. The pre-requisites are 7500 hours of project management experience but college students are making their coursework and course-projects fit the requirements. Then they pass the test and suddenly they are PMPs. I don't feel that they know what real projects are like yet.

The Project Management Institute gets $500 for everyone who takes the test so they are motivated to make it as accessible as possible. They have also added many other certifications to gain more money here. I haven't seen my dues diminish along with this huge surge of income so I can only assume that the leadership of this 'Not for profit' organization is doing quite well these days.

To answer your second question: It is slowly losing its value as more and more inexperienced people are gaining the certification. PMI better watch out that it doesn't kill the golden goose.

The greatest value I received from taking the test was what I learned while studying for it. I exposed myself to a lot of interesting concepts I knew nothing about. I may never use some of the areas like contract negotiations or formal project closure but it was nice to learn about aspects my team-members typically do.

Good luck,

PM Advisor

Send me your questions at

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Weisel is a weasel

In a previous post I complained about Representative Weiner showing off all but his wiener in text messages. In this one we have a similar problem. Investment banker Weisel is trying to weasel out of any knowledge of Lance Armstrong doping during his Tour de France victories.


Harry Truman was famous for saying 'The buck stops here' and lots of other leaders feel the same way. But this Weisel guy claims to have had no clue that there was any doping going on with the group he funded.

Come on! If I was suspicious and care almost nothing for these cyclists, how could the leader of the group not have heard? And having heard, wouldn't he want to check into it? Pretty hard? A good leader would do so. Maybe some people like to live up to their names. Weiner with his wiener and Weisel being a weasel.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Dear PM Advisor January 14, 2013

Dear PM Advisor,

I have been running a project that was delayed for several months beyond the end date due to contract negotiations. My company's legal team caused most of the delays. Now they have signed off and the vendor is just about to approve it from their end. I expect their signature tomorrow.

Meanwhile, my company's purchasing department has looked at the contract and is starting to nitpick it. They want to add boilerplate things about non-compete clauses and change when payment must be made from 30 to 45 days. 

I'm ready to go live with this project and have people lined up to fly to foreign countries to perform work. I'm afraid that monkeying with the contract at this late date for trivial reasons will cause more months of delays. What should I do?

Talking Turkey in Mahwah, NJ

Dear Turkey,

If the contract changes your purchasing department wants are truly trivial, and what you mentioned above do appear so, do what I recommend below. If, however, there are some real sticking points that could cost your company serious money or put them at risk for quality issues, do what purchasing suggests and delay the project until the contract is modified and approved.

It does sound nit-picky from your description so here is my recommendation. You are only waiting on the vendor's signature. Don't tell them yet that your company is making changes. Get their signature and keep your go-live date on track. Meanwhile, make the modifications your company is requesting. When your company has approved the changes present it to the vendor as a revised version of the contract. The changes are small and they should agree to them and won't feel like you hit them with a bait and switch.

With any luck, your go-live will be preserved and the revised contract will be approved by both parties sometime later.

Good luck,

PM Advisor

Send me your questions at

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Fifty-first excerpt from 'Twelve Towers'

Spring this year was mild with light rain falling most days but warm enough weather to keep the progress going. The tower was completed on the outside except for the cap-stone. Gwilym and some of his crew were retrieving from the top of the hill. The walls had been repaired, completing the castle’s defenses. On the way back with the cap-stone, one of the horses threw a shoe and Fred and Gwilym took him to a smith who assisted the horse-breeders in these hills.
Padarn was a short, barrel-chested man with long, muscular arms and short legs. Gwilym caught glimpses of a young wife with a baby on her hip through the open door of the house. The man rushed about preparing and then hammering in the new horseshoe. It was rare to see a smith who didn’t walk with a limp. Bleddyn asked him about it.
“I’m not a town smith. I’m free to move where I like.”
Bleddyn looked confused.
“Don’t you know that town smiths are intentionally crippled by the lord to make them stay in that town? That’s the price they pay for their training from the old smith and that keeps them from leaving town when they get skilled.”
Mouth wide open, Bleddyn looked at his father for confirmation and received a grim nod.

Two days later, horns were blowing from the older, shorter tower in the castle. Gwilym climbed to the top of his tower and saw two boats approaching from the west. He ran to the Weary Pilgrim and brought Jac and Llawen, along with the other people in the tavern back to the castle gates. Bleddyn had insisted they carry their gifts from King Arthur with them. Gwilym carried Bleddyn’s heavy tool chest while Bleddyn brought his own scroll box plus his father’s books and scrolls. A throng of villagers was pushing though the gates to reach the safety of the castle walls. The town militia was passing out bows and arrows to those who could shoot and buckets to those who couldn’t. “Fill them with rocks and bring them to the top of the walls!” they shouted to the townsfolk.
Gwilym saw a faster way to accomplish this so he gathered his crew and sent the weaker half of them up to the top of the walls while the stronger half threw rocks up to them to catch and stack. Meanwhile watchmen on top of both towers were giving out reports.
“They’re landing!”
“They’re armed and looking for battle!”
“Close the gates! They’re here!”
The townsfolk were all safe within the castle walls by this time; only the farmers in outlying areas were in immediate danger. Gwilym hoped they had their own hiding places in the hills.
The marauders, armed with swords, hammers, and pikes, stormed the castle gates. Soldiers and townsfolk fired arrows and threw rocks down upon them, thinning their ranks. The raiders broke away and ran into the town. About ten of them lay dead or dying outside the castle walls. Two soldiers took careful aim and finished off the dying with well-placed arrows. Gwilym felt sick at watching these men die, even though they would have killed his own children moments earlier had there been no castle walls before them.
The marauders could be heard looting the town. Gwilym wasn’t worried about his own possessions. All that remained were some clothes and eating implements; unlikely to be taken and easily replaced. From the castle walls facing the town, the townsfolk saw the raiders moving from buildings to their ships carrying goods. Cries of dismay greeted each new recognized item. The people inside became more and more indignant with the king’s soldiers as more of them saw their own goods being taken away.
“You are armed soldiers! They are untrained pirates! Go get them!”
The captain of the guards refused to abandon his defensive position. “If we’re killed out there, who will remain to protect you?”
One of the more belligerent women stepped up. “You’re not protecting us now!”
“I’m protecting you very well right now. I’m just not protecting your ale. Would you rather I only protect your ale?”
They stopped bickering when a cry arose from the townsfolk. All eyes focused on a group of marauders running down the main street in a tight group. “Bring them down!” cried the captain.

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

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Leadership on Social Security

We've all heard about the time-bomb called Social Security. When all the baby-boomers are retired, there won't be enough Generation X and Y people paying taxes to cover their Social Security payments. We've seen the issue come up again and again but nobody seems to want to deal with the issue. Because older people vote in high percentages it is a political hot potato that leaders prefer to ignore and hope their successor will deal with.

A recent article in the Times shed some interesting light on the issue that I wasn't aware of. The government's forecasting methods have barely changed since the program was set up in 1935! Their actuarial tables are significantly different from reality. The Times did a great job exposing some of these errors. I'll try to summarize for you some of the more egregious ones.

How about the number of smokers? Do you think that might have changed since 1935? You bet it has which means what? People are living longer. Of course some of that gain is reversed by increasing obesity though the link between that and lifespan is being questioned lately.

The study the Times conducted showed weirder results. Like the stoke graph below where the projections going into the future have different curves so that the lines cross when they shouldn't.
The data becomes more ridiculous when you add up the deaths from all causes to end up with death rate charts. Look at this one where everyone who is between the ages of 55 and 59 will die in 2028. What's this, the Incan calendar end date?
So, come on Obama. I understand why you wanted to avoid the political hot potato but how about getting someone within the administration to look at the data and statistics behind these models and get them up to date and accurate. If insurance companies can do it, so can the Social Security Administration. 

Great graphics by the way NY Times!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Jillian Michael's poor leadership dooms her Biggest Loser team

Episode One of every Biggest Loser season follows the same basic script. Once the contestants are chosen, they show up at the gym for a grueling workout. For some reason, the trainers put these people who have barely walked in years on a treadmill for two hours at speeds they cannot maintain. I think the producers just love to see obese people falling off the end of a treadmill.

One of these days there will be serious consequences to this behavior. We already have seen people pulled off to the hospital with cardiac events torn ligaments, fractured joints. Last night we saw two of Jillian's team sitting outside, after being thrown out for being lazy, with iced up knees.

Jillian came back last night with a vengeance after a two year hiatus. The problem was that it was all about her. She seems far less interested in helping her contestants than proving how tough she was. She yelled and screamed at her team, then threw them out of the gym when they proved incapable of living up to her demands.

The other two trainers even remarked on the utter chaos of the gym under her leadership. Bob and Dolvett worked their team up carefully. They also had some people throwing up but nobody complained. And the net result? Even with a five pound advantage on the scales, Jillian's team lost the weigh-in and one of her members had to leave the ranch. Unfortunately it was the one with the most heart-wrenching story.

But this is not my biggest complaint about  her last night's performance. She was so hard on her team, berating and belittling them, that one of them quit. To me, that was not a failure of the contestant, that was a failure in leadership.

Biggest Loser ties up their videos pretty well so I can't insert one but you can catch the episode here.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

China bullet train project

The Chinese aren't messing around with their infrastructure projects. They are spending $640 Billion on a bullet train network that will link the country with trains moving at speeds of up to 300 kilometers per hour! (190 mph for Americans)
Compare this to the US vision, none of which is a reality and the few existing trains barely reaching 160 kph, (100 mph)
I guess it helps when you are China and have a budget surplus rather than a deficit and you can throw this kind of money at infrastructure projects to keep your people working during a downturn in the global economy. $640 billion is some serious money, that's over 40 big digs to put it in perspective.

Let's just hope the Chinese solve the quality issues they've had with early tests on the system that have cost time, money and 40 lives so far. I'll also be interested to see how much the project costs when it is over.