Monday, December 28, 2009

The Third Rail

I am concerned about our dependence on oil.  I understand the multiplier efects of tackling the biggest and most inefficient oil users first.  So I support nuclear, wind, solar, and other alternative power solutions.  

The second-biggest use of oil is in mass transportation, specifically big rig interstate transportation.  We are a long way away from a battery technology that can make multi-day tractor-trailer transportation possible by electric power--our batteries are just not big enough and take too long to charge.  Maybe hydrogen technology will get there.  Maybe we will discover a clean cold method of fusion.  Maybe the clowns at Stoern will build a useful perpetual-motion motor to power free transportation.

I would prefer a solution that didn't require waiting and hoping for an invention.  I would prefer a solution that could be built with current technology.  So I propose that we upgrade our roadway system to include a third rail.

The third rail would be an electric power source, like the third rail on electric rail systems.

No new technology has to be invented to take advantage of this.  We just have to let the market do it's thing.  Tractor-trailer manufacturers will start building trucks that can take advantage of the third rail as the road way reaches a critical mass.  Hybrid and electric car manufacturers will add third rail support to their cars immediately, because supporting that infrastructure makes their vehicles more valuable.

This is just the sort of high-tech infrastructure project that the country seems to need right now.  So an engineering company could probably get a huge government grant to begin the building project and make huge strides in fixing many problems at once.

There are a hundred little implementation details.  I've already thought through many of them.  I would love to work with a proposal team to flesh this out.  I'm not sure if I can get together the resources to found that company on my own, though.

The first big problem is the actual rail itself.  It has to provide a significant voltage, in order to actually power/charge the vehicles.  It has to power down when there is no vehicle present, to keep from frying wandering wildlife.  And it has to withstand traffic, rain, snow, and scorching sun for years with little maintenance.

An inductive rail installed beneath the road surface would be safe from the elements and animals.  The contact points could be either in the wheels (already in contact with the road) or in the center of the lane (requiring a new third wheel to be installed that would make contact/keep the vehicle's inductive contact points in close enough proximity.)  The existing wheels have the disadvantage of wear-and-tear that would probably require additional maintenance of the expensive inductive rail.  The new centerline third wheel would not be weight-bearing, and so it would not cause the same level of wear on the road surface.  So I prefer the center-line solution.

I also expect that the third rail would be chopped up into sections.  This would make the system more robust--a single break would not take down the entire roadway.  Also, sections that did not have a vehicle charging on them could be discretely powered down to save energy.  I'll let the engineers figure out how long the sections should be.

The second big problem is billing.  Fortunately, there are a large number of possible solutions.  The GPS and system and cellular networks in the US are well-enough developed that we can rely on them.  We could also use proximity badges with unique identifiers or toll-tag window stickers.  But I prefer the GPS and cellular solution because of the flexibility (you don't have to build and move toll booths) and interactivity (drivers can choose to not charge on this particular road if the electricity price is too high.)

So each vehicle that was equipped with the third wheel would also need a GPS, cell phone, and small computer.  Then as the vehicle approached a third rail-equipped roadway the computer would get notified by the GPS and cellular.  The driver could choose to lower the third wheel and begin charging on the third rail, and the cellular would alert the billing system that they are charging.  The driver could decide to stop charging before they left the third rail-equiipped road (like if she was within battery disatnce of home and a cheaper recharge.)

With those two big problems solved, the rest of the system can develop naturally.  People in different regions can experiment with taxes or subsidies.  The federal government could start the system on the Interstates, and let the states each invest in upgrading their State Highways as they see fit.  Engineering companies, similar to the ones that build toll-roads today, can work with the various governments to build and maintain the roads.  Hopefully many different companies will get in and compete for the contracts to build and maintain these roads.  They would get a large portion of their revenue from the electric charging--a markup that they include in the bill.  In short, there are many good free-market competitive features of the solution.

This system enables a whole new range of vehicles.  Electric-only vehicles could travel cross-country, and become much more feasible.  Eventually all vehicles could be electric-only--the most oil-efficient type of vehicles.  Gas-electric hybrids gain much more range, in the interim.  And hybrid tractor-trailers become much more feasible in the short-term, and the fuel costs for interstate commerce would be reduced.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Monday, December 21, 2009

Nutcracker Buck

I just found out that I know the internet phenomenon known as Nutcracker Buck.  He's an old friend of Connye's.  He found me on facebook, found my blog, and got in touch.

It's a small world, and getting smaller by the minute.  I'm undecided whether or not this is a good thing.  But I'm glad I got to visit a bit with Nutcracker Buck.

Information overload

Frank Childres led the small-group discussion in our Adult Bible Fellowship yesterday.  Frank asked us what standard we were working from in our training of our children.  By way of example he talked about teaching our children how to make decisions.  Making decisions is apparently a topic that Frank has studied extensively in a business context.

Frank said that the volume of information and number of decisions that people are faced with is growing super-fast and has already reached overwhelming proportions in business.  He threw out a lot of examples and technical terminology that I can't remember right now.  I emailed him this morning and asked for pointers to some articles or something to get me started understanding all of this.  In the meantime I wanted to get my initial thoughts out, and this seems as good a place as any.

Information overload is the primary prediction of Future Shock.  (I've referenced it many times.  If you haven't read it then you are behind the curve.  One of these days I'm going to go through it again and write up a cliff note outline for it, but in the meantime you really should go read it.)  So that part of what Frank said really resonated.

I had a significant personal experience with information overload at Journyx, with our Technical Support queue.  We were receiving many more cases per day than we could respond to.  We had to build a triage process.  And we had to build in time to invest in our capabilities to cope with more cases.  And we had to invest in our capabilities to respond to cases faster.

That was the original impetus for me to read Future Shock--looking for suggestions on how to deal with the fire hose I was drinking from.  I don't remember the specifics I found there.  I only remember the strategy that I devised for coping.  Triage, triage, triage.  Set appropriate expectations.  Document every case, and search that documentation on every new case--never solve the same problem twice.  Watch the process and tweak it for every performance improvement you can find.

My small team dealt with a large number of complex bugs and massive number of usage issues, and we received 5 compliments for every complaint--not something that most Technical Support teams can boast.

I have two library books on my desk right now that both deal directly with this issue.  The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and Getting Things Done both deal with strategies for individuals coping with the high demands of modern life.

I especially appreciate two of  Covey's early points:

  • He talks extensively about guiding principles.  I hear lots of people quote Covey, but this point seems to be often overlooked.  Covey says that we must "be" before we "do".  He also says that we must be conscious of our guiding principles, and act according to those principles.  
  • He talks about balancing productivity with productive capability.  You have to continue to invest in your ability to be productive, as opposed to merely spending all of your time being productive.  Failure to invest in your capabilities leads to burn out--physically, mentally, or spiritually.  Equipment fails without proper maintenance.  Etc.

This leads me to several deeper thoughts about the future shock that we are facing.

1. We are due for a renaissance in focus on maintenance costs.  Equipment that has low maintenance costs can be ignored.  In a civilization where the cost of attention is properly monetized and its scarcity is well understood, equipment that can be ignored will be more valuable.  Eventually this will lead to every piece of equipment being categorized as either disposable or permanent.  There will be no middle ground.  But the definition of permanent will be "zero maintenance through it's expected technological life span."

2. We need to do a better job of learning triage.  This is the proper model for dealing with a fire hose of information and priorities.  Covey and Allen provide good individual models.  We need to develop group triage models.  Emergency rooms have already worked out a model system for us.  We just need to study and apply.  There is a whole new market there, for whomever can become the expert first.

3. One of the other things that Frank said to me (in a different context) was that he was looking for people who had a great "comfort with ambiguity."  I didn't really understand what he was saying at first.  Now I think I get it.  Change happens quickly, and we need to remain very flexible.  Don't nail down anything that doesn't have to be nailed down because we will likely need to move it.

4. This bodes poorly for older workers.  Not just the current group of older workers.  But every generation from here on out will find that they have a harder and harder time keeping up with the pace of change.

5. There is an opportunity for newspapers-like organizations.  They need to focus on "the things you need to know about today" for focused target markets.  They have an engineer edition, and an accountant edition, etc.  Distill all of the secondary information down into the smallest form possible.  And help professionals get their news as quickly as possible.

6. Today's ADD is just the leading edge of tomorrow's successful adaptation to a changing environment.  We're too close to it to see it well--if tree frogs were evolving in front of us we could discuss and understand it.  But we don't have enough perspective to appreciate our own evolution.

7. Every field needs to adapt.  Engineering, teaching, cost accounting, software development, sales, etc.  Each field needs to spend some serious time determining what information overload means to them.

8. More fields needs to formally adopt regimes of continuing education.  (Seems I've said that before.)

9. If you consider the newspaper idea and the continuing education idea together, these are both forms of production capacity investment.  That seems to be a specialization of the future.  How long will it be before we see an MBA degree with a specialization in Production Capacity Investment?  (I would love to spend some time writing the curriculum for that.)

10. As Frank said on Sunday, this is a topic that parents need to add to their radar.  We can't let our adults in training out of the house without teaching them how to deal with information overload as they make decisions.

11. The future will reward specialization more and more.  But the value of each individual specialization will decay faster and faster.  Society will have to adapt by encouraging more retraining and learning new specialties.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Go see Annie!

Christy and I just saw Annie at the Palace Theater in Georgetown.  The Brawners stole the show.  It was great fun, very energetic.  James played 3 or 4 roles, and danced once or twice as an extra.  He was really busy, and he did a great job.  His radio announcer was very funny and perfectly timed.  His butler was attentive and defferential.  And he danced very well.

There were some community theater moments, but they were few and far between.  There were tons of kids in the cast, and they all did great.  Annie was particularly good.

They have more shows through the end of the year.  You should check it out.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

I really HATE Chase bank now

Chase is managing the unemployment benefits card for the State of Texas.  I've documented previous frustrations with them.

Today I logged in to their website to check my account balance.  After entering my login and password I was randomly presented with an additional security question.  This isn't a question with a single right answer, like my mother's maiden name.  I don't remember ever setting up advanced security questions with them, but apparently I did.  This is a pretty memorable question, so I'm really puzzled about this.

I typed in the right answer to the question.  No.  I tried capitalizing the first letter.  No.  I figured I only had one more chance.  I pulled out my files and looked to see if I had written down the answer--I normally do for important stuff.  Nope.  So I guessed what I might have answered if I was feeling funny when I set that up.  No.

Now I'm locked out of the website.  The lock out message simply says to call customer support for access.  There is no phone number provided.  Obnoxious twits.

I had my file out, so I called the number there.  It's an automated attendant.  There is no option for resetting my website access.  There is no option for speaking to a human.  Nothing.  Dead end.

I want to scream at someone, but there are no humans available.  No one at the local branch knows anything about the unemployment cards, so there is no point harassing them.

Someone at Chase needs to be told in no uncertain terms that this level of incompetence and customer dissatisfaction is not helping the bank.  When I have a work income again I will be leaving Chase bank.  I can't be the only person.

Update on 1/4/10:  I just spent 20 minutes dialing in to Chase's automated phone system and hitting numbers at random until I found one that led to a human.  The secret is that you have to press the option that says you want to dispute a transaction.  That appears to be the only option that lets you talk to a human.

The guy who answered spoke perfect English and helped me out in a few seconds.  So something works.  I'm now back in to the website.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

IronMan 2

The second trailer is up and looks great.

Prayer with Friends - a facebook application idea

Prayer with Friends

I had an idea for a facebook application.  I would like your feedback.  One of my developer friends thinks that I can code well enough to write a simple facebook application.  Or I could find someone to write it...

Short description:
You install this application that lets you enter praises and prayer requests.  Your facebook friends can also enter their own praises and prayer requests.  You can hit a link that says 'Pray', and get a page with random praises and prayer requests--from your own list and your friends' lists.  You check them off as you pray, and when you hit 'Amen' at the bottom your friends get a post on their wall saying that you prayed for them.  And you can easily send them a private note of encouragement.

Long description:
Each person has to install the application, like any facebook application.  Once installed, you get a new tab in your profile labeled 'Prayer'.  The first page would be the 'Concerns' page.

The Concerns page would have a list of list of the praises and prayer requests that you had entered.  Probably all items would be listed in one column, with the newest items on top.  Requests and Praises would have different icons or colors--so you can visually distinguish them easily.  You can edit any of them.  You can change a request into a praise.  You can add as many new requests or praises as you want.  There would be a link on the Concerns page to the "Pray!" page.

The Pray! page would be laid out according to the ACTS model: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication.  The idea would be to read the page and pray as you go.  The bottom of the page would have a button labeled 'Amen'.

The Adoration section would have a number of qualities of God that you could worship Him for.  I would hard-code this list into the application.  I'd get some solid believer friends to help me brainstorm the list and edit it.  Then you would get some random items from that list.  Maybe these would all have scripture references.  Or maybe they would all just be scripture verses.

I'm not entirely sure what to do with the Confession section.  Should there be a list of generic things that might remind you of things you might need to confess?  Should there be a big blank text field for you to type out a confession?  Should there be a generic sample confession prayer?  Maybe a list of questions like:

  • Who have I disappointed today?
  • Who have I hurt today?
  • Did I sin against You today, Father?
  • Did I compromise my morals today?

The Thanksgiving section would have a random (or semi-random) set of praises, taken from your list and from the lists of your facebook friends.  Each praise item from a friend would have a check-box by it, so the idea would be for you to check each item as you prayed about it--giving thanks.

The Supplication section would have a random (or semi-random) set of requests, taken from your list and from the lists of your facebook friends.  Each request item from a friend would have a check-box by it, so the idea would be for you to check each item as you prayed about it--making the request.

When you were done you would hit the 'Amen' button at the bottom of the page.  When you clicked that the application would make a wall post on each of the friends you had prayed for.  I'm not sure if those wall posts should include the details of what they prayed for, or simply that "So-and-so prayed for you today."  It would also make a post on your wall saying "I prayed for my friends today.  Click here if you would like to pray and be prayed for."  That link would go to the installation page for the application.

After you click Amen you get a final page called "Encourage".  This page would have a section for you to type a short private message to each of the people that you prayed for.  Each person would have a separate box--and would get only the message that you type for them.  I think the message subject would be hard-coded, something like "I prayed for you and I would like to encourage you".  The message would contain the list of praises and requests from them that you had prayed for, along with whatever encouraging message you type in.  If you don't type in anything then they don't get a private message at all.

When someone else views your Profile and clicks the 'Prayer' tab they would not see the full list of praises and requests.  Maybe they could see the entire list, if they have the Pray with Friends application installed.  If they don't have the Pray with Friends application installed then they would only see a generic note that says "So-and-so prays for his/her friends, and lets his/her friends pray for him/her.  Click here to install the Pray with Friends application and get in on the praying."

Questions:
1. On the Concerns page, would it be important to show some feedback on how often each item has been prayed for?  Or who prayed for it?

2. Would it be important to keep the edit history for the praises and requests?  (So you could look at a praise and maybe click to expand it to see the original request and any edits/updates that you entered over time.)

3. I think that there should always be the same number of Adorations, Praises, and Requests on the Pray! page.  What do you think?

4. Do you think that the number of Adorations, Praises, and Requests should be configurable?  If not, then how many (of each) should there be?

5. What should the Confession section look like?

6. Do you think that the subject line of the Encouragement messages needs to be change-able?

7. Do you think that you need some sort of reminder to pray?  If so, what kind of reminder?  A notification, maybe (if that is possible)?

8. What else?  What did I not think of?

9. Do you know anyone who would want to code this?

10. Could you help fund coding this?

Prepare your moral outrage

I don't know Senator Mitch McConnell at all.  He's a republican.  He's a politician, so he must be at least a little corrupt, self-serving, and duplicitous.  So maybe he is completely lying.
‘And here’s the most outrageous part: at the end of this rush, they want us to vote on a bill that no one outside the Majority Leader’s conference room has even seen. That’s right. The final bill we’ll vote on isn’t even the one we’ve had on the floor. It’s the deal Democrat leaders have been trying to work out in private’
Our congress is making a mockery out of the process.  How can any of them think that they won't end up with horrible results?  How can any of them think that they won't be alone in bearing the blame for this--the small circle of folks who have been allowed to read the final bill?

This is why I want to design Democracy 2.0.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Go big John McCain!

Barry at the Big Picture points to this Newsweek article saying that John McCain (R Ari.) and Maria Cantwell (D Was.) have introduced a bill in the Senate to reinstate Glass-Steagall.  There's not much chance of it passing, because of the lack of White House support and the massive lobby spending of the financial services industry.

I feel a little vindicated for my support of McCain in the last election (for the record I voted for him in the 2000 republican primaries, also.)  He botched the response to the financial crisis, and that cost him the White House.  But now his reformer instincts appear to be kicking in now.

I've always thought of McCain as a new Teddy Roosevelt.  He's a centrist and isn't afraid to confront his own party.  I think he would have made a great president--certainly better than either Bush II or Bush III.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Naming a company - need your input

I have to form a company.  This company will have multiple purposes:

  1. Publish my books and articles
  2. Sponsor/whatever my other random projects, like the hiring survey and national day of confession
  3. Serve as my "consulting company" for any consulting projects that I might take on
  4. Act as a super-resume for me, if/when/as I look for another regular job

With all of that in mind, I did lots of brainstorming and thinking about what type of brand I wanted this company to have.  At its root this is a "communication" company.  Research, listening, and telling stories.  I'm not a "marketing" communications company, though I can help with branding and such.  I'm a guy who helps you understand who you are, where you are going, and what you offer; and then helps you form a coherent story.  That may involve deep research and market analysis.  That might involve product planning (requirements gathering and feature design.)  It might involve user testing.  It might involve writing fictional stories featuring your company or product.  Also, I'm not the guy you call if you plan to fake-it-until-you-make-it.  I'm the guy you call when you want to get honest, and when you want to innovate.

With all of that basically decided, I took a clean piece of paper and tried to come up with a name.  The best I could do is "Be First Communications".  "Be First" has a double meaning.  You must be before you can do.  And you need to innovate.

Then I needed to get a domain name.  "befirst-communication.com" is available.  But it's long.  No shorter versions are available, unless I want to go to a .info or other unusual extension.  I'm really sick of typing out my whole name for this site and my email address.  Thehiringsurvey.com is also pretty long.  And I'm not excited about the exotic extensions.  So I decided to look for short domain names that I might could make a company name out of (like "Journyx", which is just a made up word.)

What do you think of:
Remorg
Myote
Areon (.org)
Dirlis
Gwim (.org)
Unshu
Marasm
Zonasm
Birst (.org)

Aeron is the name of the fancy Herman Miller geek chairs that everyone loved ten years ago.  Birst.com is a software company, but I made "birst" from "Be First".  None of the rest of those words come up with any significant google hits.

Dirlis is apparently some people's real last name.  GWIM is an abbreviation for "Global Warming Impact Model" and "Global Wave Internet Marketing" (the latter of which is a marketing firm that exists at the .net site.)  Unshu is the name of a location in Japan, but it doesn't look like anything dirty.  Marasm is a Russian death metal rock band.  There is a Spanish text-only page talking about erotic subjects using the word 'zonasm', apparently in reference to erogenous zones--translating it to English is quite funny and well-nigh unreadable.

If I'm going to go with a brand new word then it needs to pass the spoken-spelling test.  After having to spell Journyx for the last 10+ years, I do not want to have to spell this over and over for the next 10 years.

I also realized that with a made-up name like this I can pivot and change the company in a year, if I want to.  That is hard to do with "befirst-communications.com".

So, what do you think?  Long domain name or made-up word?

If you like the made-up word, which one(s) do you like or not like?

I, for one, welcome our octopi overlords

Octopi have apparently joined the tool-using club.  In the process they have earned the distinction of being the first animal without a backbone to join the club.

And, yes, I did have to look up the plural form of octopus.

A good car diagnostics guy

My Mustang has been acting up for several months.  I thought I had it fixed, but it continued to mess up.  I asked around among my friends for a name of a mechanic who is good at troubleshooting and figuring out complicated or difficult problems.  Mike Burns gave me the name of a mechanic who had been recommended to him.

Greg Potts.  His shop is called Red Lion Motors.  (512) 267-7330.  His shop is off in the woods, down a gravel road.  Take 1431 west from 183.  It's the second u-turn after the new New Hope stoplight, about the time you think you are leaving Cedar Park.

He's a former IBM guy with a degree in Electrical Engineering from Drexel.  Nice guy.  Ask to see his Corvette project car while you are there.

He figured out that I had trash of some sort in my power steering fluid that was jamming up my power steering pump at random times.  That's why my power steering pump would lock up and kill the engine if I was at idle.  I thought it was the power steering pump--I replaced it 3 times in 6 months.  Greg also figured out that Ford recently suggested flushing all of the power steering fluid and switching to a certain automatic transmission fluid in my model of Mustang.  Ford won't say why, but I'm betting it is related.

It took longer than I hoped, and cost a little more.  But it worked.  And I didn't have to spend any more money or time changing things and hoping to fix it.

If you have a tough problem that needs a really good diagnostic guy, call Greg.

Friday, December 11, 2009

I'm excited and scared

The MIT wizards are at it again.  I don't really want my television watching me.  But the possibilities for interactive infotainment are crazy cool.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Facebook versus MySpace

I joined both yesterday.  I spent the day today on Facebook.  I've found tons of people on Facebook.  I found only a handful of people on MySpace.

I'm trying to get an application working in Facebook to display my blog posts there.

This is even a bigger productivity drain than I had feared.  Hopefully I will get caught up, and then be able to get back to doing some work.  :-)

National Day of Confession, update

I feel that confession is overlooked and under-valued.  We ask God for His blessings, but we rarely confess and repent from our sins.  Confession must precede forgiveness and restoration; between a man and his God and among men.  Confession opens the door to redemption and growth.

As individuals, we hurt the people closest to us, and then pretend that nothing happened.

As families, we take family members for granted, without ever saying "thank you."

As groups of friends, we exclude and hurt outsiders to entertain ourselves.

As businesses, we cover our mistakes unjustly push costs off to our customers and employees.

As churches, we condemn both sin and sinners instead of loving sinners as Jesus did.

As denominations, we argue amongst ourselves without seeing how our arguments embarrass God in front of unbelievers and keep them away from Him.

As the Body of Christ, we ignore the hurts and pains of sinners as if they deserve their fates but we deserve better.

As a nation, we push our own agenda with lawyers, guns, and bribes; rarely acting for the betterment of anyone but ourselves.

And we wonder why God simply allows the natural consequences of our sins and doesn't takes supernatural action to bless us in this life.  How different would our lives be if we learned to confess our sins to one another and genuinely sought forgiveness from the people we have wronged?

Desmond Tutu and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa vividly taught us how powerful forgiveness is in cleansing victims' hearts.  But we ignore the miracle of the bloodbath that didn't take place, and we fail to appropriate the wonderful lessons they taught us.

Abraham Lincoln declared a National Day of Fasting, Confession, and Prayer on April 30, 1863.  This is how he described it in his official proclamation:
"It behooves us then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness."
Lincoln was hoping that the Creator of the Universe would interrupt the horrible Civil War with peace and blessings:
"All this being done, in sincerity and truth, let us then rest humbly in the hope authorized by the Divine teachings, that the united cry of the Nation will be heard on high, and answered with blessings, no less than the pardon of our national sins, and the restoration of our now divided and suffering Country, to its former happy condition of unity and peace."
The struggles we face today are less bloody than the Civil War, but the diversity and depth of our problems signals that we are deeply out of touch with our Creator.

  • War in Iraq
  • War in Afghanistan
  • War against drugs
  • More than 15 million unemployed people in the US
  • Between 800 million and 1 billion people are hungry right now
  • Thousands of traders have gained fabulous wealth while millions of people lost much of their life savings
  • 30 million to 40 million people are sick with AIDS
  • Nearly 3% of the US population is either in jail, probation, or parole
  • Half of all marriages in the US end in divorce
  • About 30% of children in the US live in single-parent homes
  • 40 million people in the US lack healthcare
  • About 1 million people commit suicide every year, worldwide

So, I'm launching a campaign to begin holding an annual National Day of Confession.  I'm targeting April 30, 2010 for the first NDoC.  I'll be working on a website and marketing campaign soon.

My idea is to encourage people to confess their wrongs to the people whom they have hurt, and to commit to improve their behavior in the future.  Believers should confess to their God and beg for His forgiveness.  But I want to focus on confessing and apologizing to other people.

I do not believe it was for no reason that Jesus taught us to leave our offering and seek forgiveness from our brother before seeking forgiveness from our God.  He taught us to confess our sins to one another, and to forgive one another.

Warm-mongers

And so finally we have named both sides.  The fight over global warming is between the warm-mongers and the skeptics.

Well played, Mr. Bolt.

When all else fails, lie big

As Climategate blogs along out of sight of the mainstream media, Al Gore was finally put to the question.  Unfortunately, the question was soft-balled by a journalist who apparently didn't know the facts or who didn't intend to hold Al's feet to the fire.

Little lies are hard to get away with.  Big lies polarize and can take on a life of their own.  This is not the last we will see of these particular lies--that the emails were very old and that the emails didn't contain anything damning.

It's the end of the world as we know it

It must be exciting to live so close to Russia's favorite rocket testing area.  But I'll bet that quite a few people really thought that the end had come.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Miller family update

I just joined Facebook and MySpace, because the job search books tell me that I am supposed to.  I decided that I needed to try them both out, at least, before I finished those questions on theHiringSurvey.

I didn't really think this through, though.  It turns out that once you join you start reconnecting with old friends.  It's not that I don't want to reconnect.  I just didn't work that into my writing schedule, which is already behind.

So here's a short catch-up on the Miller family, for all of my old friends from Graham, ETBU, NOBTS, New Orleans, and beyond.

Funny TED talk on design

I don't know this guy beyond the bio on this page. But I really enjoyed his TED talk.

His last two questions/points really jumped out at me.  I don't want to spoil the video for you, so I'll hide my thoughts below the 'more' link.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Monty Python Job Interview skit


National Day of Confession

Bible study this morning was Psalm 79.  I was struck by how little confession and repentance there was in this psalm calling on God to remove his judgement from the land.  As I thought about that I began to think that we would be well served with some public confession and repentance, both as a church and as a nation.

I wondered if there was any precedence for this.  It turns out that there is.  Abraham Lincoln declared April 30, 1863 a national day of confession and fasting.  I'm even more impressed with Lincoln, as a man and a president, after reading the declaration he wrote.  This is during the middle of the Civil War.

I suggest that pastors around the nation should teach on confession (including repentance and forgiveness) leading up to the day.  I suggest that individuals, congregations, denominations, and the ecumenical Body of Christ should discuss our sins leading up to the day.  And on that day I want to see all of us confessing our sins (both individually and in our various groups) and asking forgiveness.

I could put on my Amos hat and tell you which sins I would like to see confessed (bonus points for you if you thought of this article.)  But I don't feel like God is wanting me to guide that part of the process.
"Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift." - Matthew 5:23-24
We have a National Day of Prayer (May 6, 2010.)  I propose that we should have a separate National Day of Confession.  April 30 worked for Lincoln.  That date seems good to me, too.  If anything, our prayers on May 6th would be more likely to be heard shortly after a good dose of confession.

April 30th is also:  National Honesty Day,  National Oatmeal cookie day,  Mr. Potato Head Day, and Raisin Day.  But May 6 is also National Hoagie Day, National Beverage Day, National Teacher's Day, National River Clean Up Day, American Lung Association Birthday, School Family Day, Beverage Day, Willie May's Birthday, International No Diet Day , and National Nurse's Day.  So that doesn't bother me at all.

What do you think?

Jesus has AIDS

I love the provocative title.  I can't argue with where Dr. Moore, of Southern Seminary, takes this.  But I wish he had been more pointed.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The problem with Cap & Trade

I disagree with Annie Leonard about man-made global warming.  But I agree with her on the problems with the Cap & Trade solution.  Her video is definitely worth a watch.

I am against pollution, and I think that something like what Annie proposes would help with reducing pollution.  I just don't think it will affect the planet's temperature.

I am envious of her presentation medium.  I would love to be able to do these sorts of animation plus video presentations.  I wouldn't imitate her animation or presentation style, but I would love to be able to do the mixed-medium presentations.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The future of higher education

Higher education is dying. Colleges and universities may not realize it yet, but their days are numbered. Their costs are too high and their value-add for workforce success is too low.

I don't remember if this is something that Toffler explicitly predicted in Future Shock, but I remember having this insight while reading it. Future Shock is sitting on the shelf above me, but it isn't indexed well. So I'm not going to spend an hour shuffling through it to see if it is in there. Regardless, this is a Future Shock idea.

Society is changing. The pace of change is accelerating. The things that a person needs to know in order to be successful in the workplace is one of the aspects of society that is changing fastest--new tools, and rules, and innovations. (The only aspect of society that I can think of that is changing faster than the workplace is parenting.)

Higher education is one of the slowest changing parts of our society. The hard sciences and research fields change and adapt just fine. But the vast majority of fields are not hard science or research. Tenured professors in accounting, business management, literature, and even applied science fields like medicine hang on too tightly to the things that they learned when they wrote their doctoral dissertations. But the pace of change is now less than a lifetime. That knowledge is just too old.

Higher education also gives the least qualified person (an eighteen year-old student) a great deal of latitude in choosing what to study. Too many students choose fields that are ill-suited for them or too crowded for them to earn a good living later. The fact that the student gets to choose so much of their field of study is a tremendous inefficiency.

Institutes of higher education have a tremendously hands-off attitude towards students' behavior. Students experiment with drinking and drugs. Many students pay little attention to their studies. They have lots of fun, but they are not well prepared to excel in their fields.

There are other deficiencies in the existing system that I won't bore you with right now. If you've been through college recently you probably already know.

I believe that it is only a matter of time before a new form of higher education emerges. I expect this to be a new period of experimentation, with different types of higher education alternatives springing up and competing with the establishment. I have several ideas about what types of experiments will get tried. And I have several ideas about what the triumphant new system will look like:

1. There will be no cost to incoming students. The new student contract will include a pledge to give a certain percentage of post-graduation earnings for a number of years, in lieu of up-front payments. This payment structure correctly aligns the institution's incentives with the students. The best schools will earn tremendously more money than the worst schools, and will expand accordingly. This contract change will probably be the first major innovation, and it will drive all of the rest of the innovations.

2. The competition to get in will be much more fierce than it is today. Incoming students will be joining a family, and the family will be much more guarded about who gets let in. More interviews. More focus on references from graduates. More focus on experience. More focus on character quality.

3. Incoming students will be tested and evaluated much more thoroughly to find good vocational fits for them. The students will still have some limited choices. But the new schools' testing and evaluation systems will be a large part of their competition. Schools that do a better job of guiding students into careers that they succeed at will win over those that fail to properly guide their students.

4. New schools will be much more clique-ish, and engage "graduates" much more than existing institutions. This includes an increased focus on continuing education in every field. This includes more focused networking among graduates to find jobs. And it includes tapping successful graduates to come back and teach or mentor for a few years between corporate gigs.

5. Students will be more closely monitored and taught in what are currently regarded as "personal" subjects. Every student will have in-depth training on budgeting, purchasing, making friends, making good personal decisions with regards to drugs and alcohol, dieting, pre-marriage counseling, and a variety of other fields. New schools that fail to fully prepare students will be at a significant disadvantage against their competitors.

6. First year will be much more like boot camp. Students will be forced to learn discipline and teamwork early. Later years will be more free, but probably never as free as our current schools.

7. Most students will have on-campus jobs and/or internships working for graduates. These jobs won't pay much, but they will get real-world experience. Students will have less free time. They will have planned school activities nearly all the time. More like an intensive camp experience than the current system.

8. Students will get dismissed into the workforce faster. New schools will focus on getting students ready to be productive, and then send them out as soon as they are ready. Three or four years is entirely too long. One to two years is a better guess.

9. Graduates will come back to class full time several times over the course of their lives. The first planned trip back will be to cover management topics and gain more leadership experience. The second trip back will probably involve retraining for a new career or industry as the economy shifts and changes. Each trip back involves a new contract to commit a certain portion of your future income to the school. And each trip back will include an on-campus job, often mentoring and teaching younger students.

10. There will be more alternative types of education happening. Ropes courses, work-study programs, volunteer projects, internships, mentoring relationships, accountability partnerships. Students will expect to spend months away from their homes performing volunteer work, like teaching or nursing in Africa.

11. Students will rarely change schools. The only time this will happen is when someone truly flunks out of a good school and has to move to a lesser school.

12. No tenure for professors. The best schools will have higher turnover among the professors. Professors will be encouraged to jump in and out of the workforce--keeping their experience as fresh as possible. There will be a more permanent class of teacher assistants who stay at the school and administer things like grading and record-keeping.

13. Professors will take more control of the curriculum, and will intervene earlier with students who are not getting the work done. Student counseling services will take more control of student social life, and will intervene earlier with students in trouble. The new schools will be more like the extended parents that help the students land on their feet as adults.

14. The curriculum will be both more broad and more focused. There will be a wider range of required courses, including computer literacy, cultural literacy, logic, social networking, etc. Outside of a student's field of focus there will be mostly memory work and discussion groups. Inside of a student's field of focus there will be more independent research, creativity, and self-directed projects. Today's grad-level and doctoral level work will continue to slide down hill towards the younger students.

15. Doctorate-level degrees will go out of fashion and cease to be handed out. Some people will still spend years focusing their studies on narrow fields of study. But they will have to demonstrate their expertise with tangible results--papers, inventions, innovations. What we currently confer with a doctorate degree will eventually fade away into more robust resumes.

16. There will still be big time sports, but sports that do not have professional leagues will slide out to intramural. Football, baseball, and basketball teams will be filled with students who have a legitimate chance of going pro. At first, while there are still way too many teams, students with no chance of going pro will still get to play some. But the number of schools that can field competitive teams will dwindle, and eventually students who have no chance of going pro will not remain on the teams. Getting drafted equals graduating and getting a job in your field. The athletes who fail to get into the pro leagues will (contractually) have to pick a different field of study and graduate into the regular work world like everyone else.

17. If lawmakers don't intervene to limit the influence of these new schools--either in size or revenue streams--then they could grow to dominate the companies that their graduates join. New schools would focus on teaching the software produced by graduates' companies. Each school would become siloed and insulated from each other. This insulation is the biggest long-term threat to these new schools. They will have a hard time finding the right balance between investing in the business of graduates and ensuring students get a broad enough education to get jobs at other companies.

Overall I think that this system is better suited to the coming centuries.

I worry about the cliquishness--children will go to the schools of their parents and companies will be staffed exclusively by people from one school. I'm afraid that once the new schools are firmly established that this is unavoidable. I also think that I'll be long dead, and so it won't be my problem.

The first new schools will be capital intensive. Maybe there will be a "New Harvard" that works like this, founded and run by the trustees of the old Harvard. But I rather think that wealthy investors, like Buffet, Gates, and Soros, will build the first new schools.

This is exactly the sort of project that I would love to spend a few years building.

New tool: Notepad++

I've been using UltraEdit for about 6 years, and I love it. I bought a 10-user license at Journyx and several people there used it.  Massive files.   Search and replace through multiple files or a whole directory.  Compare multiple files.  Macros.  HTML markup.  And it works great at stripping out non-printable characters that often caused problems for Timesheet.

When I left Journyx I had to format my drives and reinstall OSes and other software that I owned licenses for--my laptop was owned by Journyx and I was using some Journyx-owned software on my home desktop PC, too.  Now I am free of Journyx-owned licenses (buying Windows 7 and Office was painful.)  I still have a copy of Journyx's Ultra-Edit license, but I decided not to use it.

Ultra-Edit is $50.  I just can't swing that right now.  I've been using Notepad for all of my blog posts and HTML editing for thehiringsurvey.com.  That has gotten very old very fast.

Today I searched around for Ultra-Edit competitors, hoping to find something cheaper.  I found Notepad++. It doesn't have all of the bells and whistles of UltraEdit.  But it seems to work very well.  The HTML markup is very pretty and easy to read.  And it's free.  It seems to be clean of scumware and adware--big problems for free software.

Whoo-hoo!  Yeah Internet!

Chase bank rip-off update

Chase replied to me this morning. Now they are saying that there is a flat $0.50 fee for each bill pay transaction. They apologized and said that their previous messages explaining the reason for the transaction being denied were simply incorrect: The fee was not because the merchant held more than the amount of the transaction or because the transaction came from a non-Chase bank.

They say that the $0.50 fee is in the separate terms and conditions statement for the bill pay feature.

I just re-read the Terms and Conditions for the bill pay feature. I found where it says there is a fee, but the amount of the fee is not listed. It refers to a link entitled 'Bill Pay Fee'.

I dug around and found that link on the 'Self Service' page, and when you click it you get a pop-up window that says:
"There is no fee for enrolling in the Bill Pay service. You will be charged a fee of $0.50 for each payment that we process on your behalf. When we attempt to process your payment, your account must have a sufficient balance to satisfy the total of both the amount of the payment and the fee or the payment will be rejected."

The main bill pay page does now have this notice, which I am pretty sure was not there the other day:
"Note: You may be assessed a Fee for using the Bill Pay Service. Please refer to the Bill Pay Fee section in the Self Service Menu to review your Bill Pay Service Fee. "

My regular old Chase checking account has no fees for bill-pay transactions.

I can't prove that they edited the Terms and Conditions or the links on the website, but I think that they did. At least they are being honest now, even if the amount of the fee is hard to find. And even though it took them three tries to figure it out themselves.

Global warming scandal update

If you are not following this story, it's getting ugly.  The main stream media is still mostly ignoring it.  But the roar from the outsider media is getting pretty loud.  These two articles provide good coverage of the current state of affairs:

Summary of the fall-out and repercussions in the Telegraph.

A good summary of the arguments of Dr. Ian Pilmer, mentioned in the above article.

Oddly enough, Dr. Pilmer's arguments sound significantly like my own.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

What do you do?

I was thinking about how to explain what I do.  If you know me, let me know what you think of this description:
I'm the expert at aiming before we fire.
I feel like I excel at digesting massive amounts of data and coming up to speed on any topic very quickly--even when there isn't a known source for the data I need.  And then I work through the actual process of how we go about implementing our strategy.  That includes project planning and contingency planning.  That includes short, medium, and long term strategy.

I had one more associated thought.  I need to work in a company that is small enough, or where I am high up enough, so that I can talk with the CEO.  Part of the reason why I could never pull myself away from Journyx was that from day one I always had direct access to Curt.  I don't have to be the final decision maker (although that wouldn't be so bad), but I need to be able to speak to the decision maker directly.  Deep politics and organizational structure would stifle me too much.

Beautiful toy for seeing planetary orbits

http://www.gunn.co.nz/astrotour/ has a beautiful toy for visualizing the orbits of the planets.

Make sure to watch the tour that demonstrates retrograde orbits. I've understood that for a long time. But I've never seen a better demonstration/explanation.

From the retrograde demo/tour I turned on long trails for each planet as observed from Earth.  And then I put Earth in the center of the observation.  And then I turned down the speed to 1 frame = 1 day.  Years snap by pretty quickly on my computer, but not too fast.  It's a beautiful spirograph, with each planet dipping towards earth on a regular pattern.

 No wonder early astronomers had such a hard time figuring out what was going on.  Until you make the conceptual leap of putting the Sun in the center of the universe the other planetary orbits make such a beautiful and consistent pattern.  Seeing that I would have been tempted to search for an explanation that left Earth in the center.

Which way is the market headed?

Barry Ritholtz at the Big Picture is carrying an article called 'Reckless Myopia' written by John P. Hussman Hussman Funds.

Go read the article if you have any interest in investing or the economy.  I'm going to have to add Mr. Hussman to my media watch list.

What does it mean to be an introvert?

I'm an introvert.  Introvert/extrovert is one of the attributes tested by the Meyers-Briggs test.  On the version of the test I have taken each pair of attributes is scored on a number scale from +83 to -83.  +83 is 100% introvert.  -83 is 100% extrovert.  I scored a +78.  I am very much an introvert.

And yet I did speech and drama for 4 years in high school.  I get up and preach sometimes, including headlining a week-long revival at an inner-city church in Trinidad.  I attend Sunday School  and worship most weeks (when all of the kids are healthy.)  I have friends.  So in my case "introvert" does not mean hermit or simply dislikes being around people.

It is something I have thought about quite a bit, for several reasons.  I'm trying to puzzle out my strengths and weaknesses for future work/projects.  I'm trying to figure out how to describe my strengths and weaknesses to potential employers and new friends.  And, as I study the whole job search and hiring issue I have developed a theory that introverts have a harder time getting hired--because I think that many of the job search activities were designed by extroverts (salespeople) for extroverts (salespeople.)

I have only broad theories for the world at large.  I have specific theories for myself.

The definition for introvert that I have been using for years is "recharges their batteries by being alone."  For myself, I think that the definition needs to be expanded.

My new definition has 3 components:

  1. Recharges their batteries by being alone.
  2. Prefers smaller groups to larger ones.
  3. Prefers structured activities with groups over unstructured ones.
I don't mind large groups, so long as there is a structure to what the group will be doing.  Worship services are very structured.  Bible studies are very structured.  Plays are very structured.  Play practice is even very structured.

If you took the same group that I was perfectly comfortable with in one of those settings, and put us in a new setting with little or no structure then I'm going to react in one of two ways.  If anyone else steps up to lead the group and impose structure then I will gladly let them do it--I will fade into the background and participate in the structured activity.  If no one else steps up to lead the group then I will either step up and impose structure or leave.

I will not participate in a large group for an unstructured time.  That is a form of chaos that I stresses me out tremendously.