Sunday, July 27, 2014

Ninety-first excerpt from 'Twelve Towers'

          That afternoon, after packing up their dinner, Gwilym asked Grainne how long it would be before they left the forest.
          “Probably tomorrow morning,” was her reply. “Unless the path stays this wide and we can keep up this pace.”
          Her words were prophetic as the path seemed to open around them and the trees thinned out, leaving them with great visibility. The picked up their pace. The horses seemed to have lifted spirits and pulled eagerly.
          After five hours of fast traveling, they saw the forest thicken ahead. Grainne strained to find the path. She steered toward a likely path. Before long they were winding their way along a deer path similar to the one they had been traveling along through most of the forest. Gwilym looked at Grainne. She said, “It can’t be more than a few more hours. We’ll sleep tonight outside the forest.” Gwilym breathed a sigh of relief.
           “What do you have against forests?” she asked.
          “I love forests when I’m wandering with a beautiful woman or playing with my children. But not when I’m being hunted by murderous knights and preyed on by bandits. That is when I prefer the open ground where I can see.”
          “That is when I prefer forests. I can always hear them first as long as we stay quiet.”
          An hour later she stiffened and signaled to the boys behind to halt and be quiet. Gwilym had noticed nothing. She signaled to Bleddyn to bring his cart right behind her. She led Gwilym to the boys’ cart and whispered to them her orders. “You are going to hear a terrible noise soon, like the barking of thirty pair of dogs. Don’t be afraid. I’m making that noise. But the horses will be scared. The sound will be coming from directly behind us so they will want to run forward. Stay right behind me, Bleddyn. We have to be close together for the illusion to work and it won’t last long.”
          Grainne returned to the lead cart and shook the reins to start the horse. She drank a long draught of water. She then held the reins in her knees as she reached behind her for her traveling bag. She pulled out some herbs and powders and spread these on her horses and cart while murmuring some ancient words. Then she lifted her head to the sky, opened her throat and, even though Gwilym was expecting it, scared him half to death with the sound she made.
          Gwilym had heard packs of wild dogs before, terrorizing sheep in the hills. But this was worse, closer, frightening! His skin crawled, his hair stood on end and his heart leaped in his chest. How did her small body produce such a tremendous noise? Magic again, he supposed. The horses bolted, held onto the path by Grainne, who still looked up at the sky, her throat convulsing with the sounds she made. Gwilym, wide-eyed, looked from her to the path, not understanding how she managed to steer the horses while looking straight up. He looked behind and was relieved to see Bleddyn following right behind her while the other boys were holding their ears and looking terrified.
          They burst into a clearing at full gallop and Gwilym saw two men running off into the woods, dropping their bows in their haste. One of them glanced behind him right at Gwilym, then tripped and fell. The man screamed, scrambled up and bolted into the cover of the trees.
          Grainne kept up the spell for 10 minutes, while the horses galloped along the path. Then the noise she was making faded away. She lowered her head and spoke some comforting words to the horse that slowed to a trot. Both horses’ sides were bathed in sweat and their skin was quivering with fright. She smiled at Gwilym.
          “What was that?” he asked.
          “The Questing Beast,” she croaked.
          “And what did that man see; the one who looked back?”
          She replied in a hoarse voice, “A large, spotted, leopard with the head of a snake.”

          Gwilym shook his head and gave her a draught of water, which she gulped down. “That’s going to cost me,” she said, then fell into a swoon.

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

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Smart Bus Service in Boston

It only makes sense that the home of MIT and Harvard should host the world's smartest bus service. A new company, Bridj, is rolling out a bus service that takes millions of bits of information from people's smart phones to figure out where they are and where they want to go. Then it runs routes accordingly.

The user's smart phones will give them up-to-date information on when the buses will arrive. But the smart element is that the routes will evolve as more users provide more information. The buses stop when needed, not on a standard schedule resulting in faster commutes in one of America's toughest traffic cities.

Read more about it in this article.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Pharmaceutical companies do not gouge their patients

The pharmaceutical industry gets a bad rap for charging so much for its drugs. A recent Op-ed criticized the $300,000 cost for a cytic fibrosis drug. But reading further in the article we see that this drug, while a miracle at combatting this disease, only works for a population of 2,000 people.

I can do the math and see that Vertex can, at most, gross $600,000,000 for this drug if everyone in this group buys it at full price. Given that a typical drug costs between $1-$2 billion to bring to market, this is still a loss leader. The drug is currently in Phase III clinical trials which mean the company has already spent about half the money.

The FDA and other worldwide regulatory agencies have forced thousands of regulations on pharmaceutical companies to ensure that drugs that reach patients are safe and effective. The work involved in meeting these regulations require thousands of people working full-time to bring new drugs to the market. That costs money. Who else is going to pay for it if not the final customers of the product.

Not every drug is suited for millions of patients so the cost of these specialty drugs must be borne by the small population of patients who need it.

As for pharmaceutical companies raking in incredible profits, do what I do and buy their stock. I haven't noticed any great increases in my stock values.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Dear PM Advisor. Jul 14, 2014

Dear PM Advisor,

I attended your class in New Jersey and have a follow-up question. As a teacher we are often subject to decisions made by higher-level administration. They decide which  projects are run and these projects often result in additional or even nonsensical work for us lowly teachers.

What is your advice for us?

Peeved in Pequannock

Dear Peeved,

These are projects for which you are not a team member I assume. But since you are affected by the outcome of these projects, you are, by definition, a stakeholder. You and the other 100,000 teachers affected by some of these high level projects.  It’s almost as if you share a common core.

Stakeholders should always be considered during proper project management. Those running the project should place you on a Power/Interest grid and deal with you appropriately. Your level of Interest should be rated as extremely high but your Power, unfortunately, would be rated as low. What can you really do about these demands pushed down from above?

Your union, however, should also be on this grid and their Power is high. If you and your fellow teachers ensure that their Interest level on new projects is high also, new projects will be forced to deal with them.

I suggest you ask your union to require that a representative teacher be involved at the earliest stages of any new project. This way a high Power, high Interest stakeholder can be fully informed about what is going on and can gather comments from teachers and ensure that their interests are being met on future projects.

Good luck,

PM Advisor

Send your questions to


Sunday, July 13, 2014

Ninetieth excerpt from 'Twelve Towers'

          They made their way through the winding forest path, sometimes having to make large detours to get the carts around narrow passages. Grainne was an excellent guide. She could see the path they must take long before Gwilym knew why she was directing the horses there.
          That night, after Grainne had cast her protection spells and they had eaten their cold food, they lay together and both took grateful pleasure in each other’s body. They snuggled together after, spooning their bodies and murmuring soft words.
          “What will we do if we come across bandits?” Gwilym asked. “They won’t be so obvious to come galloping down the path after us. They use stealth and will try to kill us before we even see them.”
“I’ll hear them first; you can depend on that. And I will use the spell we always use against them. Have you never heard of ‘The Questing Beast’?”
          “Aye. King Pellinore’s quest. Few have ever seen it. It makes the noise of a hundred dogs. You must be granted the quest or born to it like Pellinore.”
          Gwilym, who was stroking Grainne’s face, felt her smile as she said, “Tomorrow you may meet the great beast.” She sighed and fell asleep. Gwilym followed her soon after, wondering about her statement.

          The next day, the boys were up and Gwilym watched them horsing around outside the pavilion. Bleddyn was showing them tricks he had earlier taught his twin brothers and they were all looking up at him with shining faces. They lined up in turn to ‘walk up the tree’. Here Bleddyn would hold their backs, supporting their weight, as they walked up the trunk of a tree and then, while he grasped them by the shoulders and belts, they walked along the underside of a large bough. They squealed in delight, asking for turn after turn until Bleddyn was exhausted.
          Gwilym sliced some bread and mushrooms to make breakfast for the family. Bleddyn switched to another trick. He demonstrated first on Llawen, then the others lined up to try it. He would stand behind them while they stood with spread legs and their hands touching the ground in between their feet. Bleddyn would reach down and grasp their hands, then with a mighty heave, lift up. The boys’ bodies would do a complete flip and land back on their feet. As Gwilym called them for breakfast, he smiled in remembrance of when he used to do that with Bleddyn.
          The boys ate and packed up the carts again, saving the sleeping Grainne for last. Gwilym carried her to the cart and lifted her into the seat. Mumbling protests, she took the reins and off they went, into the forest. As he thought about this he realized he was wrong. He turned and shouted to his boys, “How far can a dog run into a forest?”
          Bleddyn and the twins groaned but Madoc looked confused and asked Bleddyn what his father meant. “Da always asks us questions to make us think. They’re usually stupid jokes that play on words. Try to answer.”
          “A mile!” said Madoc.
          “Forty miles!” tried Bleddyn.
          “Depends on the size of the forest!” said Jac.
          “You’re getting closer!” said Gwilym.
          The boys thought about it for a while, tried some more guesses then gave up and begged for the answer.
          “Halfway!” replied Gwilym to the boys’ astonished faces. “After that, he’s running out of the forest!”

          “Ohh!” said Llawen. The rest of them groaned. Gwilym laughed and then felt an acorn hit him in the back of the head, followed by the raucous laughter of the boys in the cart behind. 

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