NOVA’s Opening Makes Me Feel Optimistic

I love the PBS documentary series, NOVA. The fact that it’s entertaining and informative, oddly enough, is not what makes it stand out for me, though. It’s the introduction. The music is beautiful and uplifting. It inspires, even if only momentarily . . . and it never fails to do so. Here’s the best video I could find of it. Don’t let the title fool you. It’s only the latest version we’re interested in, so here’s the very end of what is a somewhat longer video.

 

There’s another bit of the intro that speaks to me as well. It happens at 1:11 and, unfortunately, it passes way too fast. I don’t expect others will relate to it quite like I do. After all, I spent over two decades working on the Space Shuttle Main Engine and am a lifelong space cadet — in more ways than one. When I see that astronaut floating in space, it almost chokes me up. It’s kind of bittersweet, though, as living down here the majesty of what we’re capable of achieving is somewhat offset by the mayhem we’re creating all too frequently. Nevertheless, at least for a few seconds, this picture — combined with the music — is wonderfully moving. Here’s the pic. I watched the video full screen and grabbed this piece.

Screenshot 2016-07-05 17.22.56

Float like a butterfly, sting like the Borg.


Why I’m Supporting Hillary Clinton

Voting

It Always Matters!


I’ve been struggling with this for a long time and I think it’s time I wrote something about my thinking. My friends and followers on Facebook must have figured it out by now, but I haven’t really come out and stated why I feel the way I do, and why I’m choosing Hillary over Bernie. I don’t believe I’ve ever trashed Bernie, though I don’t care for him. It’s not because of his politics, either. Before stating some of my reasons and reasoning, please allow me to present a few of my bona fides as a “progressive.” Although my real activism was quite some time ago, when I was a young man, I was heavily involved in numerous activities for quite a while. I served my time and, because I only worked to support myself so I could be an activist, I have had to accept certain economic losses from neglecting my own economic development early on in my career.

I am a Marxist, a lifelong socialist, and a veteran of the peace and justice movement of the late sixties and early seventies. I spent over five years organizing and was associated with the Peace Action Council, Vietnam Veterans Against the War, and the Indochina Peace Campaign. In the last couple of years, I was a member of a group of leftist martial arts enthusiasts who provided security (including armed bodyguard work) for numerous “high profile” activists. Here’s why Bernie activates my alarms.

Bernie is a politician. Anyone thinking of him as a hero is being foolish. Turning anyone into a hero is foolish and Bernie supporters certainly aren’t the only ones to do so. I, personally, am of the mind the real heroes are the people whose labor fuels any, and every, economy. The people Howard Zinn writes about in his “A People’s History of the United States.” As a politician, I find him quite disingenuous and, similar to many of the progressives who scorn Hillary as impure, I suppose I hold him (because of his politics) to a higher standard.

I just can’t shake the feeling he’s really an opportunist because everything about him reminds me of a certain group of guys who wanted to lead, and who were against the war, and who were politically progressive, but who were also quietly manipulative and opportunistic. Ultimately, it was their way or the highway and, functionally, no one was “pure” enough for them. He gives me the heebie jeebies.

I also think believing Bernie would beat either Trump or Cruz is wildly unrealistic. The right is currently helping him, sometimes rather overtly. However, once they turn their venom on him, I’d say all bets are off. So he polls good now, but people are comparing him to a woman who has withstood the scorn of the right for well over two decades. The stupid is strong in the US. If Hillary secures the nomination, the really vicious stuff, in part because it really is no different than what the right is throwing at her, will do her much damage among those who will depend on those things that money can buy, i.e. negative ads. It also really bothers me how strong that stupid is in many so-called progressives . . . from both sides.

OTOH – If Bernie does secure the nomination, I will do everything in my power to help him get elected. To do otherwise would be a dereliction of my duty to others in the country. Believe me, I’m well enough off at almost 69 years old. I could just pull up the ladder and go on my merry way, but I don’t think I could live with myself. I consider it the height of white privilege to sit this (or any) election out.

PS – this is, by no means, a complete listing of my reasons for supporting Ms. Clinton and, if pressed, I’m sure I could go on, but I’ve waited as long as I wish to so I’m putting this up. Comments, whether for or against, are welcome. Attacks, whether directed at me or Hillary, will be laughed at and summarily trashed. 


Beautiful Downtown San Diego

San Diego is a beautiful city by my lights, but I don’t think I’ll ever stay downtown again. I’m not sure I can count the number of sirens we heard in the less than three days we’ve been here on both hands . . . and feet!

When I was in my mid-teens I remember staying in Mission Bay, at the Bahia Resort. Days were filled with water sports and evenings were spent cruising around the bay on the resort’s sternwheeler paddleboat, the Bahia Belle. 

 

The Bahia Belle

The Bahia Belle

 
We always went with another family who had a son my age and, if memory serves, we imagined ourselves riverboat gamblers. I think we mostly, much like my 14-year old daughter, were just thrilled to be away from the scrutiny of our parents for a couple of hours. 

Last summer we came here and stayed in US Navy quarters, thanks to our traveling with a friend who is retired military. I was surprised to see we were almost directly across the highway from the USS Recruit, a landlocked training vessel that is (I believe) the only remaining artifact of Camp Nimitz and Camp Decatur, the Recruit Training Center/United States Naval Training Center where I spent my entire month and twenty-three day naval career fifty years ago. 

There are times I bemoan my short career in the Navy, as I was not in long enough to qualify for veteran’s benefits. On the other hand, having been born with club feet, one of which required surgery when I was five, I failed my enlistment physical and, but for my arguments at the time, by all rights never should have been sworn in. Because I did argue, and was sent to boot camp, I was awarded the National Defense Service Medal, allowing me to somewhat facetiously present myself as a “decorated veteran,” something I actually never do.:)

  

National Defense Service Medal

National Defense Service Medal


Now I sit in the Santa Fe Railroad station, but a few blocks from the hotel we stayed at, waiting to return home. My family got to tour CVA-41, the USS Midway, and spend most of yesterday at the San Diego Zoo, where our 12-year old was plotzing to visit. She got to see the Pandas and she’s a happy camper, which makes me happy too. 

We left our vehicles at home and used rail, busses, and our tired, barking dogs to wend our way through the weekend, but I wouldn’t trade the time we’ve had for anything. The bonus is I’ve walked more both days than I have since I got my Fitbit ChargeHR, and so did the wife and kids. Can’t beat that!


Our Spring Break Denouement

All Aboard

All Aboard

We’re on our way to San Diego, aboard Train 768, from the Simi Valley Amtrak station a few minutes from our house. After a half hour layover at Union Station in Downtown LA, Fullerton is our next stop. I chose this method of travel thinking it would be a bit of a different experience for the girls. Also, the commute in a car is not one of my favorites. Frankly, driving is not one of my passions, even though I’ve done a lot of it. 

It’s the end of Spring break for the girls and I’ve been squirreling away money so we could do something before it’s too late. Our oldest will be 15 in less than three months and she already inhabits a different universe than Linda and I do, and this may be the last time we’ll be able to enjoy a couple of days together for many years.

After we get to San Diego we’re going to head to the hotel and see if we can check in early. If we can’t, we’ll check our bags in, head to lunch, and then to the USS Midway Maritime Museum. 

Tomorrow is reserved for the zoo. Our younger daughter really, really, really wanted to go to the zoo, so she’s very excited. I already purchased our tickets online, though I printed them out, as I wasn’t convinced they would accept the .pdf they sent and I saved to Evernote. The Midway has an app and our tickets are available in it. Amtrak scans everything (as does just about everyone, I suppose) and I just confirmed with the Conductor the .pdf they sent would be just fine off of my phone. I’ll do that on our return. 

The trip is a bit longer than if we had driven but, unless you’re Agoraphobic, it’s far less stressful. I am, after all, writing this as we now head toward Irvine. We’re headed almost due south and will soon be skirting the Pacific Ocean. So far, the urban scenery has been pretty grim. I’m looking forward to seeing some open, less sullied space. I need to give a shoutout to Google Maps, and GPS technology in general, as I no longer have to guess where we are. For someone with a slight bent toward orienteering, it’s a bonus. 

There’s a bunch of guys who, apparently, are on their way to a bachelor party, a fact I just learned after this rather loquacious woman got on and immediately started a boisterous conversation with them. I can barely hear them, but I’m sure most of the car can hear her, and her male companion who chimes in now and again. Unfortunately, Aimee (our oldest) has her ear buds nestled tightly in her music saturated skull and is missing the show. This was one of the reasons I thought the train would be interesting for the girls. Dang!

Just pulled into San Juan Capistrano; not a swallow in sight but, the Pacific is nigh. Surf’s only a couple feet and it’s a bit choppy, but there are some stalwarts out apaddlin’.

 

San Clemente Pier

San Clemente Pier


  
Cliffs

The edge of the continent, slowly eroding


  
San Onofre

San Onofre which, thankfully, has yet to melt down

We’ll be there soon and I have a family to attend to. So far, so good. There’s a bit of a party atmosphere aboard this train. Looking forward to exploring the Midway. Now I have to decide whether or not to punk the girls for April Fools. 😀 
 


A Day With Edward Tufte

 

Graphic of Napolean's March

One of the more iconic images Professor Tufte uses in his presentations. I have a mounted, autographed poster of this one.

 If you create reports, presentations, info graphics, or are in any way involved with presenting data of any sort, I hope you’ve heard of Edward Tufte. Even better if you’ve heard of his work, especially what I believe is his seminal book, “The Visual Display of Quantitative Information.”

As part of my job at Rocketdyne, I was privileged to attend an all-day seminar of his in Los Angeles in the Spring of 2007 or ’08. Upon my return, I wrote down some notes and impressions for my colleague who paid for the day. There’s some really good stuff in here. As a knowledge management professional, I’m a bit chagrined it’s taken me this long to share it. I truly hope someone finds Tufte’s words useful. 

Bill:

Here’s a quick recap of Edward Tufte’s presentation last Thursday. What I did, for the most part, was enter points he made as numbered bullets. Therefore, I’ll do the same here with the addition of some extra comments if I feel they are necessary.

1. Professor Tufte refers to the nature of the work he does as “escaping flatland”. He believes dimensionality is extremely important when using visualization to represent quantitative data.

2. Another aspect of visually presenting data which he emphasizes is data density, i.e. resolution. He repeatedly stressed the need to drive for greater and greater resolution when presenting data.

3. With respect to items such as run charts, histograms, etc., he believes it is far better to label the data directly, avoiding the use of keys, which he feels are distracting.

4. He presented a copy of Euclid’s Elements, which included many “pop-up” graphics used to illustrate his points. The copy of the book he had an assistant bring around (wearing white gloves) for us to view is 432 years old. It was awesome just to see it. He refers to these pop-ups as the “brute force” method of escaping flatland.

5. A key point he stressed is to enforce visual comparisons. The terms he used (should sound familiar) were, “it depends” and “compared to what?”.

6. The visual representation of data should show mechanism, process, or dynamics, i.e. they should present causality as an aide to understanding and clarity.

7. He also stressed the importance of showing more than 1 or 2 variables when preparing a chart.

8. Presentations must be content driven, i.e. they must embody the three elements of quality, relevance, and integrity. Integrity was a big theme of his and one I don’t believe most of us would find fault with.

9. Design can’t rescue failed content, which he referred to as “chart junk”. This is another point which relates to integrity, and one which he continually stressed throughout his presentation.

10. Whether it’s drawing or words, it’s all information. Don’t be afraid to use words to make your point.

11. I’m not entirely certain of what he meant by this point, but what I wrote down was the following: “Better to show info adjacent in space as opposed to stacked in time.”

12. He stressed that you should use small multiples, i.e. strive for high resolution of the data.

13. Another point which he used to continue driving home the importance of integrity was to show the whole data set. At the same time he stressed that one need not show the zero point, i.e. context is what’s important in making a useful, accurate presentation.

14. Detail does not mean clutter. If you can’t present your data in sufficient enough detail without making it difficult to understand, rethink your design; it’s probably faulty.

15. When presenting data always normalize, adjust, and compensate to provide greater clarity and integrity. The example he gave for this involved a situation where it was impossible to know the real changes in costs of consumer items without taking into consideration the rate of inflation over a period of time. Absent this adjustment, the changes appeared to be far greater than they actually were.

16. Perhaps this next point was specific to financial charts, but it seems appropriate for many others. Don’t trust displays which have no explanatory footnotes. Generally speaking, Tufte believes one should annotate everything. His philosophy appears to be to always err on the side of accuracy and completeness (see integrity).

17. He made a point of explaining the human mind’s tendency to remember only the most recent (recency bias) data it perceives. I don’t remember the exact context in which this statement was made, but I think it is related to Ed Maher’s assertion that we tend to focus on the out-of-family (I can’t remember the exact phrase he used) experiences rather than the steady state.

18. He used a word I thought was interesting to describe people who create fancy charts which don’t actually say much – “chartoonist”.

After going into some detail regarding how the Challenger disaster occurred or, more accurately, how it was allowed to happen, he suggested there were three moral lessons to be learned from the experience. He posed these lessons in the form of three questions one must ask oneself when producing information of this nature.

1. Where is the causality?

2. Is all relevant data included?

3. What do I really need to see if I’m going to decide this?

He guaranteed if these three questions were adequately addressed, the chance of getting the decision right were greatly increased.

He then went on to lay out a list of rules for presentations, as follows:

1. Get their attention (he gave an example of what he called the “stumblebum” technique, where a presenter purposely made a mistake – which the audience was more than happy to point out – in order to insure everyone was paying attention (presumably to see if they could catch him again; which they never did.) He made a point of suggesting this probably wasn’t the best technique, unless you’re really good.

2. Never apologize – don’t tell the audience how you didn’t sleep well the night before, etc.

3. PGP – Start with the particular, move to the general, return to the particular.

4. Give everyone at least one piece of paper; something tangible they can leave the room with.

5. Respect your audience’s intelligence.

6. Don’t just read from your charts.

7. Forget K.I.S.S. – Be thorough and accurate, not simple and vague.

8. He stressed the importance of humor, something he was excellent at. He did caution appropriate use (duh?).

9. If you believe what you’re presenting, make sure the audience knows it.

10. Finish early

His final points to improving one’s presentations were directed to the presenter and the presentation, respectively. The first point was to practice or rehearse so the presentation goes smoothly and you are able to get through it without stumbling or going over your allotted time. The second was to have better, stronger content.

Professor Tufte’s presentation was extremely engaging, from my point of view. He knew his stuff and made it interesting, fun, and funny. I confirmed that most of what he discussed is contained in one or more of the three books I took from the seminar, and I’m looking forward to reading again what I think I learned from him. Much of what he had to say was common sense, which I have encountered previously from the years I’ve spent putting together presentations. Nevertheless, I believe he had a great deal to offer which will ultimately improve my ability to present information, whether in a briefing or on a web site. I really enjoyed seeing and listening to him. Thanks for the opportunity.

Rick


When The World Almost Ended

 

Drop Drill

Drop Drills Were Part of School Life

 The Cuban Missile Crisis came up in a short conversation I had with my 14-year-old daughter yesterday. She knew little about it but was somewhat aware of the Cold War. 

The conversation, however, reminded me of several things that haven’t crossed my mind in a while. The first memory was of walking to a Dale’s supermarket in Panorama City, California where I lived in the 50s and where one of my best friends continued to live. 

I was 15 and he had turned 16 that year, so we may have driven, though I doubt it. What I do remember is the empty shelves, most all of the food having been scooped up by people expecting the end of the world. It was eerie. 

The other thing that popped into my mind was the frequent drop drills, which I suspect is similar to how kids today are trained to react in case of an earthquake. In retrospect, I find it amusing we were taught that crawling under our desks could protect us from a thermonuclear detonation nearby. Back then, there were lots of targets nearby, not the least of which was Rocketdyne, where I have worked most of the last three decades. 

Finally, I had long forgotten the monthly air raid siren drills. Once a month – as I recall, it was on the third Thursday – at 10:00 am, the sirens would blast for about a minute. Not sure when it ended, but it had to be a long time ago. At this point I’m pretty sure most of my friends have no recollection of these drills, as they never experienced them. 


Program Management By Ouija Board

image

Going back to work after nearly five years of “retirement” has been both interesting and instructive. When I was asked if I would be willing to do scheduling, which is something I had done many years ago, I happily said “yes”. I would have probably agreed to almost anything they wanted me to do, as I was anxious to supplement my meager retirement income. Actually, I first learned scheduling software using a mainframe tool called Artemis. Shortly afterward, we were introduced to a PC version of Artemis which, if memory serves, was called Schedule Publisher and, within another very short period, it was spun off into a product from Advanced Management Solutions, called AMS REALTIME Projects.

This was somewhere around 1994 and, at the time, Microsoft Project was comparatively bare bones and nowhere near as useful (in my opinion at the time) as REALTIME Projects. Having long been very much a visual person, I find the visualization provided by Gantt charts to be particularly useful when looking to see how the logic in a schedule affects downstream activities as time, and the work contemplated in the schedule, moves forward. Until Project introduced the Timeline view, which allows quick zooming and panning, I was not terribly happy with it compared to the AMS product, which offered a useful timeline capability.

So . . . since I had done scheduling for a few years during the 90s, I readily accepted the challenge and, upon my return on January 19, 2015, I was amused to see the company was still using Project 2002 which, although newer than the version I had struggled with, was still well over a decade old. The main reason for this, I was told, was because a set of macros had been developed over the years that allowed schedules to be matched up with the organization’s earned value management system, which is Deltek MPM.

Unfortunately, using such an old piece of software presented some interesting problems. One of the most egregious, from my point of view, was its inability to run in any of the conference rooms in my building. This was — and still is — due to an IT rule put in place that won’t run software in conference rooms if it’s more than two versions older than the most current one available. In the case of MS Project, the latest version available when I returned was 2013. Also, MS had released a 2007 and a 2010 version, which put the one in widespread use more than two versions behind and, as a result, clicking on the tool (which was installed in all the conference rooms) invoked Project but, instead of seeing the tabular data alongside a Gantt chart, all one got was an empty box with a small red “x” in the upper lefthand corner.

In my experience, scheduling is an activity that absolutely must be done collaboratively. A good, useful schedule requires (at the very least) a great deal of understanding of not only the work to be done, but the ways in which the logic of its progression needs to be modeled in order to accurately reflect how downstream activities are impacted by small changes as work progresses . . . and changes are absolutely unavoidable, especially in large, complex projects such as rocket engine design, manufacture, and test.

Since it was impossible to use the tool in a conference room, where I could sit with the Program Manager, one or more Control Account Managers, and various Engineers (Design, Quality, Manufacturing, etc.) developing schedules became somewhat difficult and inordinately iterative, requiring dozens of communications back and forth between me and the Program Manager, as well as others who we needed input from. As work progressed, I was able to get IT to agree to allow me to log into my computer remotely from any one of the conference rooms, which made working on the schedule much easier. However, the resolution in the conference rooms was far less than that available to me on my Dell all-in-one. Its screen is 23″ diagonally, plus I have an extension display that gives me another 19″ off to the side. What I see on screen in conference rooms is not as inclusive as what I normally work with and it takes a bit of adjusting, which cuts into the speed with which I can get things done.

As I both refamiliarize myself with the scheduling process and learn how the tools have advanced, I’m learning a lot about how best to do it. Perhaps more importantly, I’m also learning how little most people know of the power of a good piece of scheduling software. There are people here who still use Excel spreadsheets and date functions to create schedules. Maybe I’m missing something, but MS Project and other similar tools provide not only calendaring functionality, but also the kind of logic necessary to accurately model the interplay between design, quality, procurement, operations, testing, and numerous other ancillary and important processes that make up the entirety of a program.

Inasmuch as Project also provides for highly detailed resource loading (quite literally down to the gnat’s ass, if one is so inclined), I’m unclear as to why we don’t use it for at least first cut proposal activity. Were we to do so, I’m convinced it would not only speed up the initial process of pricing a decent proposal but, when completed, there would be no need to then create a schedule from scratch, which is generally the way it’s done now. I suspect there are some people out there who actually do what I’m suggesting but, for all I know at this point, my perception could be wildly innacurate.

So . . . I’m kind of hedging my bets and, while I’m agitating for people to consider using MS Project more widely and for deeper resource planning, I’m mostly looking to understand the tool a little more each day. It, like many tools available to organizations of all kinds and sizes, is far more powerful than most individuals understand or are interested in learning. I’m constantly finding myself believing we are crippling ourselves by not using it far more extensively but, as many have pointed out, changing direction in a reasonably large organization, especially one which depends largely on government contracts and oversight, is like turning an aircraft carrier with a canoe paddle. On the bright side, it could keep me working for another decade, the prospect of which does not bother me in the slightest.


Donald J. Drumpf – Your Drunk Neighbor

Based on recordings of things Teh Donald™ has actually allowed to plummet out of his fabulously wealthy piehole, this video pretty much sums up many (not all, but many) of my feelings about the man and his followers. I understand the fear some white people feel, though I think it’s ridiculous of them to do so. I’m pretty sure what really scares them is the realization of how terrible people of color have been treated and, since they’re so good at projection, they’re assuming white people are now going to get as good as they gave.

As a straight, white male I really do understand what many of them feel. However, as one who works hard to understand others, and who believes empathy is an important tool for anyone who wishes to live in a reasonably civilized, respectful, and well-adjusted society, I am of the opinion they’re making things worse for everyone, including themselves.

So . . . here it is folks. I can hardly think of a better way to characterize the blatherings of our first reality show presidential candidate. This is YUGE!!


Testing My Universal Mobile Keyboard

image

I took my 12-year-old to check out computers the other day and, after we looked at a few, I decided what to get her. Then I made a kind of an impulse buy and got myself a Samsung Galaxy Tab4 which, at the price they were charging, was almost free. Anyway, I got it yesterday (they didn’t have any in stock, so they had to ship me one) and spent a bit of time figuring it out and loading a few apps from the Play Store.

When I got to work today, I realized I had my universal mobile keyboard, which was designed to be used with phones and notepads. I had installed the WordPress app, so I thought I would give it a try and post this short note to see how it felt. I’m loving the Galaxy Tab4 and intend on using it to watch Netflix, which I also installed, post to my blog (tada), and probably read with the Kindle app, which I’ve yet to install. Think I’ll do that after I post this. I also need to get a sim card, as there’s only about 8Gb of addressable memory in this thing. Amazon Prime, here I come.


Cinnamon and Coconut Glazed Donuts!

Sure look good, donut they?

Staying reasonably faithful to a diet that’s both fulfilling and healthful is made difficult here at work. Whenever there’s an event that involves food – and there are lots of them – it is set out on a group of lateral filing cabinets that are just a few feet from me. In fact, of the one hundred or so people on the floor, I’m the closest to the food.

Today, someone brought in at least five dozen donuts. I resisted successfully, but I would prefer avoiding the “near occasion of sin” where possible. Still, I cleared the hurdle, and I’m continuing my quest to drop down to 165 lbs. by my 69th birthday in early June.


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