fighting the lack of good ideas

things to be thankful for [so far] in 2008

Ignoring politics, the economy, and the world at large, here is my list of what I’m thankful for [so far] this year:

  1. Family – I have cousins, aunt, uncles, a grandparent, parents, and a sister all alive and kicking.
  2. Friends – folks who’ll go out for a night on the town, or sit around and play board games, or watch a movie, or chat for hours on end, etc, etc.
  3. Work – what I do is more-or-less fun, pays the bills, and I get to travel; places I’ve been this year include:
    • Manhattan
    • St Louis
    • Chicago
    • Sunnyvale
    • Atlanta
    • London
  4. Health – no issues this year.
  5. Death – this I know is an odd one, but it’s true. My aunt died this year in August. A lot could be said, but the most important things to me are:
    • I have 0 – zip, zilch, nada – bad memories in nearly 27 years of knowing her
    • She’ll never again feel pain, discomfort, illness, have to take insulin, etc
    • I’ll never have a chance to have a bad memory of her (not that I would’ve expected one, but now I’m assured it can’t happen)
    • It really makes you refocus on what’s important: people
  6. Learning – both what I do for work, and what I do for fun. What I work on is big enough that I can always learn something about it. This year that mostly came in a week-long intensive “bootcamp” training session. And I research, investigate, and surf for new ideas, trends, concepts, etc just to try to keep myself occupied and my mind sharp.
  7. Teaching – at [almost] every customer site I go to, I get to explain to them how the toolset works, and what they can do with it. I’ve also participated in smaller forums where I’ve had the opportunity to teach a class, workshop, or tutor folks in something they were decidedly interested in – which is always better than trying to teach people something they don’t care about.

I’m sure other “major” topics could be added. And hundreds or thousands of individual instances. But these are the highlights of 2008, so far.

nucleation – the secret to maintaining a good head?

I had a Beck’s this evening with dinner.

The special Beck’s glass, like the Samuel Admas Perfect Pint Glass, has a small segment at the bottom that forces the dissolved CO2 to form bubbles, and yields a [near] constant head on the beer.

For those of you that saw the Mythbusters episode dealing with Mentos and Diet Coke, you’ll recall an extensive discussion on nucleation. According to the wikipedia article, “nucleation is the onset of a phase transition in a small region. The phase transition can be the formation of a bubble or of a crystal from a liquid.” Indeed, the SAPPG terms its laser-etched ring at the bottom a ‘nucleation site’. None of the other beer-specific glasses I have seen explicitly use this term.

Certainly, though, watching the bubbles constantly streaming upwards, at differing rates depending on local eddy conditions, is entertaining in itself. But the fact that it helps beers that otherwise appear quite flat to maintain their fizzy head.

I don’t know if it always makes a difference on taste, but it certainly does for Beck’s and Sam Adams.

us urges merchant ships to try steps to foil pirates

“The commander of American and allied naval forces off the coast of Somalia has begun efforts to halt a spike in piracy, urging merchant vessels to sail with armed guards on board and to travel only within lanes now patrolled by warships. The commander, Vice Adm. William E. Gortney of the United States Navy, said crews of merchant ships were being taught measures that did not involve the use of force to prevent pirates from boarding their vessels.”

“The techniques include complicated rudder movements and speed adjustments that make it hard for pirate speedboats to pull alongside, as well as simple steps like pulling up ladders that some ships leave dangling for an entire voyage.”

I understand pulling-up your ladders – if you’re at sea, why have them down? Plus, if the pirates are on a speedboat (5-10 feet of the water) and you’re on a supertanker (50-100 feet off the water), they can’t board if they have no path.

I do not, however, understand why the Navy would be encouraging the merchant vessels to not use force if need-be.

“Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said this week that there were legal and military obstacles to combating piracy. ‘One of the challenges that you have in piracy, clearly, is, if you are intervening and you capture pirates, is there a path to prosecute them?’ he said.”

It used to be that if someone was trying to board your vessel, steal your stuff (and that of the group for which you work), and potentially kill you had not only the right, but the responsibility to defend yourself. I’ve never heard of “prosecuting them” beyond a simple Captain’s Mast at sea. Hanging them from the yardarm is an encouragement to others to think twice (or maybe three or four times) before trying themselves.

more about minesweeper than you ever wanted to know

I knew I wasn’t crazy – Minesweeper is NOT a waste of time!

Wikipedia page

black carrot and hibiscus?

Today for lunch I popped out to M&S, which is a supermarket in the UK.

With my combo meal I got an M&S Cola. Right on the front it claims “no artificial colours”. And based on the ingredient list, I’ll go along with agreeing.

However, near the end of the ingredient list is ‘fruit and vegetable concentrate (black carrot and hibiscus)”. I never would have thought of putting either into a Cola, but it doesn’t taste bad. I’ve heard of both being in teas, but never a soda.

Who knew such a variety of sources can be utilized for flavoring?

al qaeda greets obama victory with an insult


“In Al Qaeda’s first response to the American election, Osama bin Laden’s top deputy condemned President-elect Barack Obama as a “house Negro” who will continue a campaign against Islam begun by President George W. Bush.”

“American officials dismissed the new video as spin control and a desperate tactic by a terror group that suffered a defeat in the global war of ideas when the United States elected a black president with a Muslim name.”

“And in a blunt personal attack on the new president, Zawahiri painted Obama as a hypocrite and traitor to his race, unfavorably comparing him to ‘honorable black Americans’ like Malcolm X, the 1960s black Muslim leader. The Qaeda video drew extensively on archival footage of Malcolm X, and much of the message juxtaposes a still picture of Obama wearing a yarmulke during a visit to the Western Wall in Jerusalem with a photo of Malcolm X kneeling in prayer at a mosque.”

You all know I don’t especially like our new President-elect, but I’d point to this as a case-in-point that we’re still hated by extremists the world over. Personally, I think it’s a Good Thingâ„¢ that we are – if we weren’t, we’d be either a bunch of wishy-washy assholes who don’t believe in anything, or we’d be just as fanatical; neither of those appeal to me.

kelly johnson’s 14 rules of management

Johnson’s famed ‘down-to-brass-tacks’ management style was summed up by his motto, “Be quick, be quiet, and be on time.” He ran Lockheed’s Skunk Works by these 14 rules.

Kelly’s 14 Rules:

  1. The Skunk Works manager must be delegated practically complete control of his program in all aspects. He should report to a division president or higher.
  2. Strong but small project offices must be provided both by the military and industry.
  3. The number of people having any connection with the project must be restricted in an almost vicious manner. Use a small number of good people (10% to 25% compared to the so-called normal systems).
  4. A very simple drawing and drawing release system with great flexibility for making changes must be provided.
  5. There must be a minimum number of reports required, but important work must be recorded thoroughly.
  6. There must be a monthly cost review covering not only what has been spent and committed but also projected costs to the conclusion of the program. Don’t have the books 90 days late, and don’t surprise the customer with sudden overruns.
  7. The contractor must be delegated and must assume more than normal responsibility to get good vendor bids for subcontract on the project. Commercial bid procedures are very often better than military ones.
  8. The inspection system as currently used by the Skunk Works, which has been approved by both the Air Force and Navy, meets the intent of existing military requirements and should be used on new projects. Push more basic inspection responsibility back to subcontractors and vendors. Don’t duplicate so much inspection.
  9. The contractor must be delegated the authority to test his final product in flight. He can and must test it in the initial stages. If he doesn’t, he rapidly loses his competency to design other vehicles.
  10. The specifications applying to the hardware must be agreed to well in advance of contracting. The Skunk Works practice of having a specification section stating clearly which important military specification items will not knowingly be complied with and reasons therefore is highly recommended.
  11. Funding a program must be timely so that the contractor doesn’t have to keep running to the bank to support government projects.
  12. There must be mutual trust between the military project organization and the contractor with very close cooperation and liaison on a day-to-day basis. This cuts down misunderstanding and correspondence to an absolute minimum.
  13. Access by outsiders to the project and its personnel must be strictly controlled by appropriate security measures.
  14. Because only a few people will be used in engineering and most other areas, ways must be provided to reward good performance by pay not based on the number of personnel supervised.

Note that Kelly had a 15th rule that he passed on by word of mouth. According to Ben Rich’s book Skunkworks, the 15th rule is: “Starve before doing business with the damned Navy. They don’t know what the hell they want and will drive you up a wall before they break either your heart or a more exposed part of your anatomy.”