Cub Scout popcorn

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2401 days ago

Picture this…

It’s 6am on a Saturday in September, somewhere in Kansas. The sun is coming up, and it promises to be a 90-degree day. Thousands of boys (6-12 years old) from across the country are arriving – by truck, by bicycle, by parachute, by hitchhiking – and gathering together in a warehouse on a giant corn farm. They’re all in Cub Scout uniforms – perfectly pressed and starched – and carrying water bottles and giant backpacks.

A thousand or so of the boys – the ones who are tall enough – go out into the corn fields, and start picking corn. They carry baskets of it back to the warehouse, and shuck it. They cut off the kernels, and put them in giant ovens to dry.

A few hundred or so boys start boiling giant kettles of sugar, reducing it down to caramel. They stir and stir and test and taste, until it is just right.

The smaller boys, the ones with artistic talent, get out sheets of cardboard and start cutting it and coloring it, to make boxes.

A dozen older boys – trusted, reliable, experienced – take a bunch of cash from last year’s sale into town. There they invite the local OSHA inspectors and politicians out to a lavish lunch… so they don’t notice the child labor right down the road.

They spend their day this way, toiling in the hot sun, and over hot ovens, until finally the sun goes down. Then they all come back to the warehouse, and start putting it all together.

They bag the kernels, for microwaves. They pop literal tons of corn, and dip it in caramel, and bag it up. They pour butter, and cheddar, and nuts, and make some of the tastiest popcorn anyone has ever known.

The spend the rest of the night packaging it up.

In the morning, they all walk away, carrying giant backpacks full of fresh popcorn, in all sorts of flavors and styles. They make their way home, across the United States, and begin the process of selling the popcorn to raise money for their Packs.

And now that popcorn is available to you… and when you see the prices on the popcorn, and you question whether any sane person would really spend that much – just remember that it’s American made, with American values, with American labor – and it’s worth it!*

*This popcorn was not actually made this way

Oh hi! Thanks for reading this far! By the way, my 7-year-old is selling popcorn for Cub Scouts this year. If you’d like some, you can order popcorn from his web store and it will ship straight to you, via Amazon.

(And thank you!)

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I picked a bag: Tumi T-Tech Presidio Filbert T-Pass Organizer Laptop Briefcase

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4375 days ago

(See my previous post for context.)

What? Seriously? Tumi T-Tech Presidio Filbert T-Pass Organizer Laptop Briefcase? Let’s break that name down:

  • Tumi: The company who makes the bag. Well known for making quality, well-designed bags.
  • T-Tech: The “collection” (i.e. all the bags in the T-Tech line share key features and styling).
  • Presidio: Uh… an even more narrowly-defined “collection”.
  • Filbert: The model name of the bag. (Really, Filbert? Someone thought that was a good name? As my wife says, this bag is royalty!)
  • T-Pass: The brand name they use for their “checkpoint friendly” feature.
  • Organizer: It has dividers for paper.
  • Laptop: It is designed to hold a laptop.
  • Briefcase: It is carried by handles and/or a shoulder strap, and doesn’t have a flap over the top (in which case it would be called “Messenger”).

So yeah, their marketing department needs to be sacked. What I bought was the Tumi Filbert Laptop Bag. But apparently that wasn’t confusing enough.

On the other hand, their product design department seems quite healthy – this is a great bag. Let’s review the criteria:


Laptop bag 4.0, backlogs, and story form

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4383 days ago

Laptop bag 2.0

Somewhere out there is a laptop bag just waiting for me to find it. But first, I have to spec it out.

Like Rands, I recently got laptop bag religion and I spent an excessive amount of time cogitating about features, price, tradeoffs, where to buy, and features again.

Then I got serious about it.

I haven’t yet found the bag, but in the meantime, I’ve written this blog post, because it provided the excuse I needed to really go batshit insane do a thorough job of my analysis. Not only does this post include a detailed list of requirements for my perfect laptop bag, but it also includes a glance into what I do in my life as a Product Manager. Hopefully one or the other of those is interesting enough to keep your attention :)


For Immediate Release: A. Muck Corporation names Benjamin Arthur as new CEO

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4572 days ago

Cleveland, Ohio, November 16, 2011 – A. Muck Corporation, a pioneer and global leader in disruptive innovation and chaos theory, today announced that it has named Benjamin Arthur as its new CEO. Arthur, well known in Ohio for his expertise in disruption, innovation, and chaos, will be the first official CEO of A. Muck, which previously relied on a “distributed leadership” approach.

Mr. Arthur brings 21 months of experience in areas strongly aligned with A. Muck’s corporate goals, such as increasing entropy and distributing goods as widely and randomly as possible. A. Muck currently has millions of dedicated employees around the world, and hires thousands of new employees each day.

Prior to becoming CEO of A. Muck, Mr. Arthur was a distinguished employee of the Cleveland division, focusing on areas of covert distribution of previously-stable goods. He expressed a strong desire for “more” disruption, especially as it relates to items at or below about 4 feet, and to anything reachable by standing on furniture.

“We feel that Mr. Arthur’s age will help him connect with the majority of our employees, who are in the 12-48 month category,” said Kristina Arthur, the local representative for the A. Muck division in Cleveland, Ohio. “Now that Benjamin is running A. Muck, we expect to see unprecedented levels of chaos and disruption.”

Shareholders have expressed some concerns about appointing such a young CEO, “but that’s probably just because they’re so old,” says an inside source who did not wish to be named.

A. Muck’s stock price rose 10% on the announcement, presumably because investors feel that Mr. Arthur will set a very good example as A. Muck’s new CEO.

Mr. Arthur would not comment on the possible purchase of of the B. Roken supply company, which has been rumored to be seeking a buyout by A. Muck. Mr. Arthur said that A. Muck’s law firm, Fall, Down, and Hurt, would have a press release shortly.

A. Muck corporation is a public, nonprofit organization dedicated to finding new ways to invest in chaos theory and innovative disruption. Since its founding in the days of Cain and Abel, A. Muck has charted relentless growth around the world, and continues to grow at an astonishing pace. A. Muck is an equal opportunity employer, and does not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, or disability.

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Why I switched from Menalto Gallery to SmugMug

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5190 days ago

Two posts ago, I described my struggle to figure out how to fit my Menalto Gallery album structure into SmugMug. In a comment to that post, one of the Gallery developers asked why I switched from Gallery to SmugMug. I started to reply in the comments on that post, but the reply got to be long enough that I thought it deserved its own post instead; this is that post.

Note that it’s fairly mind-boggling (even to me) that saw my post and responded to it in a single day; I wonder how he did that?



Most of my experience is with Gallery 1, although I do have a site using Gallery 2. Back when I first started using Gallery 1, it was really the only choice (this was before Flickr, even!) that had the ability to handle a large gallery like mine, had the key features I wanted, and would preserve all my images in original form. So it was really my only choice.

For a long time it did what I needed, and I was grateful for that. I told people about it, and about why I chose it. I know one or two people who ended up using it because of me, but most of my friends and acquaintances ended up using Flickr or similar sites.

But even though I chose it, and was able to use it, I didn’t like it very much. It was clumsy, hard to modify, and too complex. It was just my only real option, so I stuck with it. About once a year, I would try to find something else, and I never could.

So when Gallery 2 was announced, I liked the redesign philosophy, but I thought you all were nuts to try to rewrite a product from the ground up. I was certain that it would be a year or more before Gallery 2 was even close to ready, and in the meantime Gallery 1 support would wane, so I was pretty sure I’d be forced to choose another product. That didn’t quite happen – you folks kept supporting Gallery 1 – but it took a very long time to get Gallery 2 out.

So when it was actually released, I was pleasantly surprised… but then it took an even longer time for Gallery 2 to catch up to some of the basic features from Gallery 1 that I needed. (I forget what they were, now.) So I still didn’t have the replacement for Gallery 1 that I was hoping for.

But eventually Gallery 2 did have the necessary features, so I gave it a try… and it was confusing. Sure, maybe the code was much better this time around, and it was certainly more themeable… but it wasn’t easily themeable, and it was confusing as heck to administer and to teach my users about. So I gave up on Gallery 2, decided to live with Gallery 1, and to search more earnestly for a replacement.

Back then, I had my hopes set on ZenPhoto, but it didn’t quite have everything I needed, either. I certainly liked their “simplicity first” approach, though. It did eventually get to the point where it had all the features I needed, and that was enough for me to install it and start working in earnest to switch over to it.

And then I had a system failure that suddenly forced me to host my gallery on my own local machine, which had me terrified – if my house burned down, with it would go all my pictures. So I had to figure out a better hosting option. I considered renting a virtual server somewhere, but it’s hard to find a low-cost NetBSD host, and I didn’t really want to host on Linux. So I looked around at other gallery options, and found SmugMug.

SmugMug isn’t perfect, but it’s pretty great, and I like that they care (a lot!) about usability, and that they have humans on their support staff, and that they’ll take good care of my pictures. I like that I don’t have to administer the site myself. I like that they are a commercial venture, and are therefore forced to prioritize customer needs first, or fail as a business. I like that the features I find lacking, now, are features that I never even dreamed up, back on Gallery.

So now that Gallery 3 is coming out… it seems somewhat surreal. I first heard about it in an April Fool’s post on ZenPhoto, and when I followed the link to the real announcement of Gallery 3, I really thought it was an elaborate April Fools joke from you folks. I couldn’t believe you’d have the gall to say “when we went back to do it right, we did it wrong, so now we’re going to do it right again!” But it turns out that that’s really what you were saying, and that you really are giving it a third go-round.

Sure, maybe Gallery 3 will be better, and maybe someday I will find a reason to move off SmugMug. If so, I’m sure I’ll look at Gallery 3 (or 5, or 9?) and see if it fits the bill. But my default stance will be wariness – I don’t trust that you’ll ever get it right, or feel that you have gotten it “good enough” to just keep supporting (or evolving) the platform you are already on.

Of course, it now seems ironic that you posted your comment in a post titled Perfectionism, pragmatism, and progress. It looks like we all struggle with the balance between those issues! Perhaps we should both take the lesson from this – that our customers won’t give us many chances to find our balance.

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Giving up on Facebook

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5284 days ago

(I originally tried to post this on Facebook, but apparently Facebook has a secret post-length-limit, so I had to post it here instead.)

I will no longer be monitoring my Facebook wall / news feed / whatever.

Let’s list the problems with facebook:

  • It has five nearly-identical features (News Feed, Live Feed, Profile, Wall, “Nathan Arthur”)
  • The help for those features is unbelievably bad
  • The “Settings” pages are unbelievably complex
  • It has a million oddball features, but a horrible UI that makes you think those features do things that they don’t really do
  • It has a post-length limit that you don’t find out about until you exceed it
  • It has generally insulting advertising
  • It is rife with predatory applications (many disguised as games) that are just trying to steal personal information, or to trick users into spending money
  • And the coup de grâce: there’s no way to get an RSS feed for my news feed.

On that last point: apparently facebook doesn’t want you to be able to get your news feed via an RSS reader. I can get it just fine through a desktop application (and that’s how I’ve been doing it, for a long time), but if I want to switch to a web-based RSS reader instead, I’m just out of luck. And of course, it’s impossible to discover this in their help. (They seem to actively avoid addressing the question, thereby actively wasting a lot of my time.)

So, I’m done spending energy on something that has a net negative value.

But I’m not going to shut off my account. I’ve configured twitter and my blog to both feed into Facebook, so any of my facebook friends who do still want the occasional update from me can still get it via facebook. (Hopefully this blog post shows up there, so they see it!)

I will definitely miss the day-to-day updates I get from facebook, but it’s just not worth it for me to keep trying to fight facebook in order to use facebook. Facebook friends: if you do use twitter (and I encourage you to do so!), please follow me, and I’ll follow you in return, and all will be better.

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The misunderstanding of IQ

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5311 days ago

Bloom's Taxonomy

There are many people in my industry who are “smart” but are often unable to actually be effective. I have numerous examples: developers who can’t balance perfection and progress, entrepreneurs who can’t see that their idea is useless, executives who can’t see the inevitable failure of their plan, and people who just can’t figure out how to turn their great idea into something real. I run into such people, in varying degrees, nearly every day.

In fact, I have struggled with this myself. When I first started my career as a developer, I had a hard time balancing the intellectual purity of an idea against the “messy” path to actually bringing that idea to implementation. It’s hard to accept that the perfect idea really isn’t feasible, and instead opt for something less-perfect in order to actually get something done. But I have learned this lesson (repeatedly!), and much of my success in business has come from learning to understand and accept that some progress toward a slightly better place is much better than no progress toward a perfect place. In fact, I’m now more often a proponent of the other side of the coin – I’d much rather just do something (useful) than try to engineer a perfect solution. So long as smart, capable people are involved in the doing, the end product is usually awesome.

So I am very intimately aware that “high IQ” is not the same as “highly effective.” I’ve known it for a long time, but I’ve never been able to clearly understand exactly why that is. Well, Keith Stanovich figured it out for me. He studied this issue, and learned something relatively obvious – that IQ is a measure of intellectual capacity, but capacity is not the same as ability to use it. (Size doesn’t matter, right?) He uses the term “rational thinking” to describe the ability to use intelligence to solve problems, and this article at New Scientist covers the topic very well.

Go read that article. It will hopefully help you understand that IQ is only somewhat related to success, and that rational thinking is more important. And rational thinking can be learned, and improved on, relatively easily. So there’s hope for all of us, to actually learn to be effective!

Having read that article, I am pleased to have sorted out an intellectual conundrum, but I’m also somewhat embarrassed – I’ve been teaching people this idea for years now, and I just didn’t realize it. See, when I teach people what to look for when interviewing, I refer them to Bloom’s Taxonomy, specifically to the six levels of cognitive skills:

  1. Knowledge
  2. Comprehension
  3. Application
  4. Analysis
  5. Synthesis
  6. Evaluation

To be successful in the roles I’m usually hiring for (Analyst, Project Manager, or similar), the person needs to be highly capable in the top three levels – analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. There are good ways to try to evaluate those things in an interview, and I have a very specific set of interview questions and activities that try to draw them out. (This idea has worked very well, by the way – I’ve been very successful at interviewing and hiring, using this approach.)

So it seems to me, now that I’ve thought through the idea of rational thinking, that Bloom’s Taxonomy isn’t really about intelligence at all. Instead, it is focused on the skills required to apply intelligence effectively. That is corroborated by the fact that the Taxonomy is often used in education as a way to judge how well a student is learning fundamental skills, and not as a way to judge their intelligence.

So the embarrassing part is that I’ve been using Bloom’s Taxonomy (and teaching it to others!) as a way to evaluate people’s effectiveness, all the while trying to understand why high-IQ people aren’t always effective. If I had just once put the two ideas next to each other, I probably would have figured out the answer for myself. Huh.

Maybe that’s just proof that I still need to work on both, myself ;)

P.S. – I also owe a big debt of gratitude to the late Mrs. Lilly, the teacher who taught me about Bloom’s Taxonomy in elementary school, and who I know was responsible for accelerating my early development in analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Thank you, Mrs. Lilly!

The image of Bloom’s Taxonomy was reused (from Wikimedia Commons) under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 license

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A wedding photographer worthy of note

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5344 days ago

You may not know this about me, but I have investigated wedding photography pretty heavily. As an amateur photographer, my primary interest is in photographing people, but I’m less interested in portraiture and more in showing emotion and reaction, so wedding photography is a perfect specialty for me. It turns out that wedding photography is also one of the harder photographic specialties – the subjects don’t pose, the family is hard to manage, the lighting and weather are out of your control, you only get one chance to get the pictures, you need really expensive equipment to get good shots from a distance in a dark church without a flash, you have to have a backup person and backup equipment, you have very high contrasts (black/white) to deal with, and the profit margins are usually small. And there are many, many wedding photographers, so competition is fierce.

So I didn’t give up my day job to pursue this interest :)

But nonetheless I have read about it a bunch, and I always try new techniques when I attend weddings, and I am always interested to watch wedding photographers at work. I can pretty quickly judge the great ones from the so-so ones, based largely on their equipment and their approach. It’s not how you might think, though: the best photographers have the less-flashy equipment, and the least-noticeable approach. The so-so ones have flashy equipment and big gear bags and are usually either pushy or timid.

So we were at a wedding this past Saturday, and the wedding photographer caught my attention, and then held it. He had a good camera, a minimal gear setup, a good flash (with modest attachments), a good assistant, and nice clothes. He knew how to use his equipment to best effect. He focused more on composing the shot and giving it some creative attention than on “being in charge” or “showing his skill.” He dealt with people naturally. He knew how to quickly handle problems (like the memory card filling up) with minimal fuss. It just seemed like he had all the right elements, and I’ve never seen a wedding photographer before who I really thought had everything right.

At the reception, I asked him for a business card. It turns out he actually had a Mac laptop set up, showing a slideshow of pictures from earlier that day, taken during and after the wedding. The pictures were amazing! I couldn’t believe he had such a good show assembled with little or no time between events to get it ready. So I watched the show, grabbed a card, and made a note to myself to look him up later on.

So yesterday I went to his website and it looks like my intuition was correct. He has a degree in photography, and his focus (per his bio) is similar to mine – to “capture the essence of individual moments and make them memories to last a lifetime”. His sample pictures are great. He has a sample slideshow posted, and it looks great. I always assume those slideshows are assembled from a wedding where the photographer worked extra-hard, but in this case I’ve already seen his work from a “real” wedding and I can attest those pictures were just as good. So it seems that he consistently produces great work.

I didn’t want to pass by something great without encouraging it, so I took the time to post here about him. His name is Chad Moon and the business is named Chad Moon Photography. Check him out, especially if you are looking for a good wedding photographer in the Columbus/Cincinnati/Dayton area.

P.S. – I’ve posted my pictures from the wedding – some of them turned out really well (after a few touch-ups).

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What I do

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5564 days ago

Wow, I think I just found two great articles that finally explain clearly what a Product Manager does. If you ever wonder what I do, see these:

  1. Product Management & Product Marketing – A Definition
  2. Seven Traits of Successful Product Managers

..both from Michael Shrivathsan – thanks, Michael!

Updated 4/30/14: Also this is even better. Much better.

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Timely WSJ article on Atlas Shrugged

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5564 days ago

The article says it all, but to paraphrase: today’s political economic insanity was predicted (and warned against!) fifty years ago, in a great book.

(Thanks, Matt!)

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The final disposition of

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5790 days ago

Well, still looks like it’s just parked. But has something more interesting :) I wonder if they realize that they forgot about the non-www version?

So, I was right, and they were quick – they announced the new company (and the website) on Monday. Here’s a brief article about it, also. It’s strange to see the word “truist” used in a corporate setting, and have it mean something different than “me”. Huh.

In other news, though, I plan to buy a (used) Kawasaki KLR650 as soon as I can find one for sale nearby :)

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Well, it's gone - and the story of how it went

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5797 days ago

As of this afternoon, is no longer mine. I had it for 8 years, 4 months, and I find that I’m very sad to see it go :-(

But as Drew says: “think of the motorcycles” – and that is helping :)

So now that the sale is actually done, here’s the story:


Stirring things up

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5871 days ago

Four weeks ago, life was pretty simple: I was comfortable (but not really happy) in my job, we had a nice apartment, our expenses were low, we had a fairly stable plan for the future, and I was planning on buying a motorcycle. Now, though, everything is different: today was my last day at NetJets, we just bought a car, we’re looking for a new place to live, the future is very uncertain, and it’s not clear if I’ll be getting a motorcycle.

And yet, still, I think today is better than four weeks ago. Crazy, huh?

The story goes something like this: Five weeks ago (to the day), I finally realized (after much prodding from my wife) what I wanted my next career move to be. I wanted to be a Product Manager for a software company, much like I was back before I left Noteworthy Medical Systems, four years ago. I realized how important it is for me to have my hands on real problems that I get to solve myself, and how important it is for me to be on the front lines rather than in an IT department (“in the business, not serving the business”). Nothing against NetJets – they have a truly amazing IT department! – but having tasted life in a software company, I wanted to get back to that. The problem was (five weeks ago) that it’s extremely difficult to get a job as a product manager in a software company, especially in Ohio, so I essentially put that plan on hold for “someday”.

So then four weeks ago (to the day), an old friend/coworker from Noteworthy called me up and basically said “we need you to come back and be a product manager – are you interested?”. Huh, funny how these things happen. I told her I was maybe interested, and spent the next week talking to her, going to Cleveland for interviews, and trying to figure out what had changed since I left. After about a week of this, I was convinced that Noteworthy was in good shape, and that this was a legitimate opportunity, and that I’d really love going back into the product manager job.

So it was easy for me to say yes to the offer – except that Noteworthy is in Cleveland, and we live in Columbus, and Kristina is very happy as a student at OSU. So I was going to have to travel to Cleveland for this job, leaving her in Columbus, and we both know that we don’t do well with full-time travel. So I managed to work out a deal with Noteworthy to travel half-time, working from home the other half, and after much discussion we decided that we could handle that, and I said yes to the offer.

That was two weeks ago (to the day).

So I put in my notice, and we started making plans for how to make this all work. First, obviously, we needed a second car. We’ve never had a second car – our lifestyle just never demanded it, and a car is a huge expense. The question was, which car?

Well, that gets to the next decision, which was to get a dog. As part of agreeing to the travel, Kristina and I made an agreement with each other that we’d get a dog for her, to help keep her company while I’m gone. Well… she wants a big dog. And I think that it’s always better to have two dogs, because they keep each other happy and healthy. And we happen to know of a breeder who has Great Pyrenees puppies for sale, and that happens to be the particular breed of very large dog that we had our eye on… so the plan is to get two huge puppies. Oh, the changes…

So back to the car. Between the two new dogs, and the fact that Kristina is a horticulture student who regularly carries plant stuff around, we decided that we needed a car with lots of space and that’s easy to clean. Minivans were right out, jeeps weren’t big enough, and SUVs are generally a waste of money, so that left the Honda Element – a perfect car for this situation, and one that we really liked. But then that got tough – we were trying to keep the cost low (so we needed a used car), but we like having convenience features (power mirrors) and a nice stereo, and we both like driving stick-shift cars, and we didn’t want one with a ton of miles on it. It is possible to get an Element that meets all these criteria, but we couldn’t find one in Columbus. So we went to Pittsburgh (Monday night) to buy one that we found there, and so far we love it. It took a lot of work to finally settle on that car, and to get the financing sorted out (without having a used car dealer screw us), and get a price negotiated, but it was worth it.

But wait, there’s another consequence to getting these dogs: our current apartment doesn’t let us have pets. (And I wouldn’t put two huge dogs into our place anyway.) So we have to find a new place, preferably a house with a large fenced yard. And we need to rent it because we’ll probably move in two years when Kristina graduates. And our current rent is quite low, and we don’t pay our gas bill, so our housing expenses are about to go way up. And we’re probably not going to find something close to campus with a large fenced yard in a safe neighborhood that’s not too expensive. So that search will continue :)

And finally, all these increased expenses may mean that I can’t get a motorcycle. I have my license (took the class last fall) and a helmet (birthday present, a week ago) and a riding jacket (another birthday present), but no motorcycle. More on this as events unfold.

So, to summarize: new job, new travel lifestyle, new car, new house, new dogs, maybe no motorcycle. Oh, and Kristina’s 30th birthday is in June, so I need to plan that. So yeah, things are a little stirred up around here :) But they’re good.

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The Nerd Handbook

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5982 days ago

From The Nerd Handbook:

For any given piece of incoming information, your nerd is making a lightning fast assessment: relevant or not relevant? Relevance means that the incoming information fits into the system of things your nerd currently cares about. Expect active involvement from your nerd when you trip the relevance flag. If you trip the irrelevance flag, look for verbal punctuation announcing his judgment of irrelevance. It’s the word your nerd says when he’s not listening and it’s always the same. My word is “Cool”, and when you hear “Cool”, I’m not listening.

I received Managing Humans as a Christmas present, and it’s a fantastic book. It lead me to (back) to Rands in Repose which is now at the top of my list of great places to spend time on the internet. Enjoy :)

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Massive (paid-for!) update to tru_tags

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6522 days ago

I’m pleased to announce the public release of tru_tags v1.8, sponsored by Simon Finch, a consultant / web developer in the U.K.

This release of tru_tags contains two new features: a new type of tag cloud and the ability for article tags to render as a mini-cloud. I also massively refactored and condensed the code, making it much easier to read/understand and hopefully much easier to maintain.

The first new feature can be seen by clicking one of the links in my tag cloud (over in the sidebar). On the resulting page, you’ll see that a second cloud appears (in the sidebar) under the heading “Related Tags”. It is showing you all the tags that are related to the tag you clicked on.

I mentioned that this version was sponsored by Simon Finch, and it’s true – he paid for these specific features, because he needed them for a consulting project he was working on. That has me excited in all sorts of ways:

  1. My plugin is being used in the real world (in an online store!)
  2. Work that I originally did for my own benefit is now helping others
  3. I’m earning income that is derived from that original work
  4. I’m earning income from open-source software!

As usual, you can download this version from the announcement page and you can find out how to use it on the instructions page.

(For those of you waiting for other features, they’ll be coming soon in a v1.9. I wanted to get v1.8 out the door with just the features for Simon, so I’ve had to delay the rest of these.)

Thanks, Simon!

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Agile for Managers

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6603 days ago

At minimum, my career at ThoughtWorks was a full-tilt education in “how to make Agile methodologies work.” I’ve experienced the best and worst of agile processes, and I have a very strong sense of what works, what doesn’t, and what’s irrelevant.

(For you non-geeks out there, “agile” is the name for a family of processes used to develop software. If you’re curious, you should follow the link below.)

When I came to NetJets I wanted to get all that knowledge out of my head and codify it somewhere, because my head is a notoriously bad place to store details. So I set about writing up “Agile for Managers” – an introduction to the spectrum of agile methodologies, with detailed notes about every major issue I could think of. Obviously, the target audience is the manager of a software shop; someone familiar with software development realities, but not necessarily familiar with agile methodologies.

I didn’t record all the deep insights and little details that really make it work – that would be found in “Agile for Analysts” and “Agile for Project Managers” and “Agile for Developers.” Instead, this is a roadmap to the core ideas, and a memory trigger (to me) for those details.

I wrote it all down as a TiddlyWiki, with the intent that I’d give a talk about it at NetJets. I never gave that talk, but the presentation still stands on its own. I’ve published it on this site, now, and hopefully the world will find it, and find it useful.

Before I give you the link, a warning: TiddlyWikis have issues with Internet Explorer, and with Greasemonkey. If you’re using either, please switch to Firefox and/or turn Greasemonkey off. (If you must use Internet Explorer, go ahead – it will probably work.)

With that, here it is: Agile for Managers. I hope you enjoy it – I put a lot of work into it.

If you have questions or issues or comments, please post them as comments in this article.

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6611 days ago

I recently realized that I never made a link from this blog to my rant about airlines.

I came to this realization when I actually had a fantastic experience with American Airlines. They’ve reaffirmed their place in my head as “least crappy airline” and maybe even moved up to something like “good” – a first for any airline.

The condensed version of the story: I needed tickets on a specific set of flights (that my wife was already booked on) which were sold out online. I called American directly and got a very nice woman who sat on the phone with me for 20 minutes or so, working through all the possible options with me. In the end, she came up with an option that got me onto the flights I needed, at a lower price than regular retail, and in exit row seats (both of us!) for 3 of the 4 legs. Amazing.

I haven’t had that kind of customer service, on the phone with a big company, ever. Thanks, American.

P.S. – yes, this means I’m going to Hawaii for Holly’s wedding.

Update – they screwed it up

A few weeks later I was at to check into another flight, and I discovered that my flight was cancelled. Apparently they didn’t finalize the reservation, and it eventually cancelled itself. I called them, seething mad, and they told me that the return legs were full and that my choices were to return one day later at a cost of $250 or two days later for no additional charge. They refused to actually fix it, or give us a discount, or waive the $250.

We took the “two days later” option. Funny thing is, the hotel for those two extra nights is going to cost us about $250.

The only upside to it is that we’re now in the exit row for all four legs.

Net result: ignore all the nice things I said above, please. All airlines are crap.

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Twenty questions for making things happen

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6633 days ago

About six weeks ago my brain caused my body to write down a list of roughly-categorized questions, all vaguely related to “optimizing my ability to make things happen.” I’ve been sitting on those questions since then, trying to figure out where they came from and what they’re for. I’ve puzzled over it multiple times and not gotten any clue at all.

It’s fairly obvious to me that they all have a theme. They’re all questions about issues that I focus on all the time, and they are all a part of what makes me good at what I do. I just don’t know why I wrote them down.

So I’ve decided to post them here and see if any of you, my dear readers, have any ideas about them. Maybe this is the seed for some grand idea that will change the world someday, and I’ll later come back to here and realize that this was the beginning of it. Or maybe this is just what it seems: a list of questions that will help you focus on the right issues, so you can make things happen.

Here they are:

  • audience: who needs this information, and what for? what are their key issues? who else will eventually use this information?
  • effort: is it worth putting this much effort in, at this point?
  • perception: how will the audience perceive this? what will they think? how will it affect their attitude? what questions will they probably ask?
  • purpose: what is it that I’m trying to accomplish? does what I’m writing accomplish that?
  • core issues: who feels the pain / wants this done / cares about this? are they the ones driving the solution / issue / work? are they getting what they want? is the work that I’m doing going to help resolve the core issues?
  • image: does my audience trust me? how do I get them to trust me more? will this help our trust? do they think they can rely on me? do they think I have their best interests in mind? am I doing work that doesn’t have any value except to my image?
  • understanding: how well do I understand my customer? do I know what is relevant, and what is irrelevant, to the decision/direction/solution I am trying to make?
  • value: what do I bring to the table – why am I needed? does my audience understand that value? am I maximizing that value? am I letting others give their value? am I doing work that doesn’t support me adding that value?
  • listening: does my customer feel like he has been heard? have I made sure to give them time to explain their needs/issues/wants?
  • focus: does what I’m writing solve the core problems? does it also try to solve other problems? is there content that doesn’t lead to solving any particular problem?
  • knowledge: do I know what I don’t know? have I asked for help / more information whenever I needed it? do I have enough information to solve my problem? have I identified which information I need, and which information I don’t need?

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