Category Archives: Info Tech

Empathy: The Core of Complex Decisions

Having worked with Dr. Pratt and her company, Quantellia, I have long been convinced their approach to decision making is one of, if not THE, best methodologies I’ve encountered. After what I consider to be one of the most disastrous general elections in my lifetime, it would seem we need help in navigating the complexities of the world and our place in it. Lorien’s work can, I believe, help us understand the consequences of our decisions, before we make them. I urge you to watch this video and become more conversant in the issues Dr. Pratt raises. What follows below the video are some of the “liner notes” that go with her TEDxLivermore talk.

Making decisions based on invisible inputs is like building a skyscraper without a blueprint. Yet that is the norm, even for very complex problems. Contrary to how most of us think about making a decision as being the act of choosing, a decision is the last piece of a long, almost completely invisible, process. The good news: it is possible to make the invisible part of decisions visible.

In working with the Community Justice Advisor Program in Liberia, Africa, Lorien and colleagues helped The Carter Center (founded by Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter) use decision models to increase positive outcomes in the domain of civil justice, by identifying the most effective levers for change.

Using deep learning artificial intelligence, the interconnections between inputs become visible, and unintended consequences can be identified before implementation. Vicious cycles can be reversed, and virtuous cycles of improvement can be built in place and nurtured through intelligent decision metrics.

As co-founder of Quantellia, Dr. Lorien Pratt co-created the decision intelligence methodology and the company’s award-winning World Modeler™ software. She consults and speaks worldwide, and is known for her neural network research and the book Learning to Learn. A former college professor, Pratt is widely known as the former global director of telecommunications research for Stratecast, a division of Frost & Sullivan. A graduate of Dartmouth College and Rutgers University, Pratt holds three degrees in computer science. She received the CAREER award from the National Science Foundation, an innovation award from Microsoft, and is author of dozens of technical papers and articles.

This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at http://ted.com/tedx


Gawker, the open web, Thiel and Zuck

Since I don’t have anywhere near as much time to write as I used to (now that I’m back working) I thought I would start sharing some of my favorite writers and posts. Here’s one from Dave Winer that he posted on the 25th anniversary of the Web. Dave knows of what he speaks, having been one of the earliest bloggers and developers. Here’s a piece from yesterday, August 23, 2016.  

~ Rick

nuttyBars

Perhaps not many people will see the connection between today being the first day Gawker is gone, it being the 25th Anniversary of the Web, and the message all Facebook users were greeted with this morning.

  1. Gawker is gone because Peter Thiel financed its murder-by-lawyer. It’s legal to do this in the US, but until now as far as I know, no one has crossed this line. Now that the line has been crossed, it’s fair to assume it will become standard practice for billionaires like Thiel to finance lawsuits until the publication loses and has to sell itself to pay the judgment.
  2. It’s the 25th Anniversary of the Web because 25 years ago a generous visionary named Tim Berners-Lee invented something that would benefit humanity more than it would benefit him. And many other visionaries saw it, and because it was open, were able to build anything they could imagine using it as a basis. And they did, making something like Facebook possible.
  3. Facebook is a silo for web writing. And while it would be easy for them to create paths for ideas to flow in and out of Facebook, at very low cost, and they have the features already developed, and use them internally, they refuse to share them with users. I suppose we could just explain this as they’re a very large tech company and that’s what tech companies do, but they also have the chutzpah to pretend to support the open web. They have been happy to accept its bounty and have done nothing to return what they’ve taken from the commons to the commons.
  4. And finally, remember Peter Thiel, the guy who thinks his wealth entitles him to shut down publications he doesn’t like, not only did he make billions from Facebook stock, he’s still on the board of Facebook. Zuckerberg has had plenty of time to ask him to leave, or to fire him, and he hasn’t done it. Again, you could just shrug it off and say Zuck is like Thiel, but he’s extra special in that he wants you to believe he appreciates the gift of the open web, as he strangles it.

Source: Gawker, the open web, Thiel and Zuck


Program Management By Ouija Board

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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.


Testing My Universal Mobile Keyboard

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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.


Talking To Myself . . . Almost

Lately, I’ve been trying to use my iPhone’s voice recognition capabilities while in my car on the way to work. With the latest upgrade to iOS – I’m at 9.1 – you can now talk to your phone if it’s plugged into power, and I always plug mine into my car charger. All you have to do is say “Hey, Siri” and (most times) you’ll get a tone letting you know she’s listening. You can request music, ask for directions, record notes, tweets, and even Facebook posts. I mostly use it for playing music and recording thoughts I would never be able to remember or write down without pulling over to the side of the road. Although I have been known to do that, I don’t have to anymore. It’s not perfect, but it’s far and away a safer and easy-to-use method of remembering some things.

So, today I recorded a note on my way in. The only drawback is you have to speak fairly continuously. As soon as you pause for more than a couple of seconds, at most, Siri ends the task and reads the note back to you. I managed to make it through the thought I had with relative ease – my memory really ain’t what it used to be – and the playback was accurate enough to know I would be able to understand what I was thinking when I recorded it. As many of us are painfully aware, being able to understand what you were thinking when you were thinking of it later on when you read what you wrote about what you were thinking back then, is important to the efficacy of the effort.

On a whim, I said “Hey, Siri” and, upon hearing the familiar tone, “Thank you.” After a moment’s pause, she responded (in her Aussie accent) “You’re welcome.” Her tone was so upbeat it caused me to wonder if they don’t actually have the phrase recorded, or programmed, in several different intonations. I know we’re a long ways away from anything approaching sentient AI, but it was still oddly comforting, as well as a little weird . . . both the exchange and the reality I bothered to do it in the first place.


Déjà Vu All Over Again

I’ve been giving some thought to why I blog, what it is I’m trying to accomplish. As it turns out, I have several motivations that are, in no particular order: Share my observations of the business world; discuss politics; wonder about space, time, and infinity; wax philosophical about religion and spirituality; share my experiences with aging as a point-of-the-spear baby boomer; complain about assholes and assholishness; and blabber on about anything that intrigues me. I guess that pretty much covers everything.

Deja Vu

I could swear I’ve thought about these issues before!

I feel fairly confident in my ability to write about most of these things, but I do have one area in which I’m somewhat reluctant to hold myself out as knowing anything. That subject is business. This isn’t because I haven’t picked up anything useful in the past 52 years since my first “real” job at McDonald’s, but rather because I’ve spent the vast majority of the last three decades working at an organization that is a government contractor and I have a tendency to think we’re very different than other, commercial organizations.

It recently dawned on me or, perhaps after nearly five years of retirement and a return to the organization I retired from, it came back to me the success of the comic strip Dilbert should make it abundantly clear most all reasonably big organizations are very much the same when it comes to bureaucracy, organizational stupidity, and waste. So . . . I’ve now come full-circle I believe and should have no trouble writing about my observations.

Not perzackly. When I first returned to work in mid-January of this year, I ran up against the reality that a large portion of the business, thanks to an acquisition by Aerojet, was now defense and missile related and our work on space exploration was more developmental than production oriented. In fact, I am currently working on what used to be referred to as a “Star Wars” program, a ground-based intercept vehicle designed to “get in the way” of incoming ballistic missiles. As a result, one of the first training modules I was required to take and pass an exam on was regarding Operations Security.

The material wasn’t all that comprehensive, so it requires some real judgment to decide on what I can talk about and what I should not share. It gave me pause – still does, actually. However, I am coming to the conclusion I can speak about any part of normal organizational issues that others (for whom Dilbert continues to resonate with the “truth”) struggle with as well. I think this means issues of communication, knowledge sharing and retention, organizational silos, and cultural constructs that block meaningful progress are probably available targets. Let’s see how good I do.


Why Can’t You Learn, Old Dog?

I am both amazed and highly disappointed at the number of people who believe the ability of colleagues to talk to each other via a tool that is either fairly ephemeral and basic (e.g. MS Communicator) or more persistent and inclusive (e.g. MS Yammer or Cisco Jabber) is a waste of their time. One of my least favorite things to hear is “I’m too busy to learn how to do that” or “I don’t have the time to waste on these things.”

Tin Can Phone

How can I help you?


“These things” are designed to improve our ability to share what we know and to find out what others know; not as a lark or just because, but in support of the work we do every day. How often have you remembered there’s some information that’s available to help you out, but you can’t quite recall where you last saw it or who told you about it? Imagine being able to essentially broadcast a question and have it reach dozens or more people, any one of whom might be able to answer the question for you. How is that a waste and in what way is spending 10 or 15 minutes to learn how to use a tool wasteful given how much time it can save in the long run? Even if you only saved 5 minutes per month, you’d be in the black after only a third of a year.

The business world is changing; grudgingly – at least in many places – but nevertheless changing. A long time ago one of my colleagues who had been a student of Deming’s and who was deeply involved in the understanding of systems, offered his belief that the main reason we survived as a company wasn’t so much because of how good we were at what we do. Rather, it was in large part due to the reality that everyone else was much worse. He wasn’t talking about our organization’s technical skills, but rather about our systems and procedures, most all of which exude bureaucracy from every corner.

I believed him then, and I’ve seen nothing to dissuade me from believing it still – even after a nearly five year hiatus and having been back for over six months now. I’m not sure how much longer any organization can continue doing business the way they’ve always done. I can’t possibly predict when it will be too late to change; when another business will match our technical skills and outperform our organizational skills, leaving us – eventually – in the dust.

It will undoubtedly take longer in aerospace than it would in, say consumer electronics, but even with long-term contracts and government funding there has to come a time when failure to learn and modify how things get done, especially those things that rely on people talking to and working with one another, will mark the end of an organization’s viability. I don’t dwell on it, but I do find myself occasionally listening for that other shoe to drop. You?


Why I’ve Seldom Written On Paper

I work in an engineering company and engineers like to write things down, as well as illustrate their points when describing why they did something or how a component/tool/machine works. To that end, just about every one of them carries around a hardcover journal. I, on the other hand, have seldom written things down. In my entire school career, which includes two postgraduate degrees (but no undergrad school), I may have taken a few pages of notes, but that would be it.

White boards are also the domain of engineers and scientists, and every conference room generally has numerous illustrations and equations written on the boards on their walls. As a southpaw who writes backhanded, I’ve never been comfortable writing on a chalkboard or whiteboard. I just end up smearing everything. In fact, even on paper I’ve been known to fill out a form from the bottom up, just so I wouldn’t smear the ink before it had time to dry.

Folio

It’s so elegant, it almost feels like a crime to write anything in it. Weird, huh?

Still, just recently I decided to carry around one of the ubiquitous journals the company provides for everyone to use. Not only that, I purchased a really nice Moleskine Folio Professional Notebook, a leather pencil/pen case, and am seriously thinking about some high-quality pens. I did this in an effort to force myself to write more frequently. Unfortunately, I still have a problem getting anything down.

It’s really been bothering me as, at 68 years of age, I’m not sure how much time I have left, either in my life or in my ability to write coherently . . . and to remember what it is I’m doing. I have managed to write a few things down and, especially at work, I’ve found it helpful to keep notes about what I need to do in a journal, rather than on separate sheets of paper, which is what I’ve been doing for a while.

The problem for me is multi-faceted. As a leftie, I’ve never had terribly legible handwriting. Since I had no intention of becoming a physician, a profession where legible handwriting doesn’t seem to be a prerequisite, I gave up years ago and only print, in CAPS. When I actually write something down, that is. I learned to type in the seventh grade and during my second year of law school I got a job as a legal secretary, where my typing speed steadily improved until I was at about 85 wpm. Not blazing, but much faster than I can write/print. The attorney I worked for got an IBM memory typewriter, for which I spent a full day in class at one of their offices. I was enamored of word processing and, shortly afterward, he got a somewhat more sophisticated computer called an Artec Display 2000. It used 8″ floppies and I assembled wills, trusts, pleadings, and interrogatories with it. Keep in mind, this was in 1974 or 75 — forty years ago.

Since that time I have worked with quite a few word processing tools: Wordstar, with which I wrote many a module in dBase II; WordPerfect, which I learned on-the-fly when I answered the call for a temp job at a law office and again at an insurance agency; Lotus Word Pro and a homegrown (Rockwell International) competitor, with which I wrote reports at Rocketdyne, my alma mater and current place of employment (though it’s now Aerojet Rocketdyne – after being Boeing and UTC’s Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne); and, Scrivener, with which I hope to write my memoirs soon, providing I can remember anything clearly.

The thing is, when you write something down on paper it’s very difficult to do much editing whereas with a computer (or even a phone or tablet) editing is essentially a piece of cake. Hence, the problem I have with physically writing anything down is my belief that if it’s anything useful, I’m going to want to save it electronically so I can both edit and post it (if it’s worthy and, frankly, maybe even if it isn’t). That will require a duplication of effort my experience in knowledge management makes it very difficult for me to contemplate. Yet, I will try and find those circumstances where writing something on paper makes sense. So far I’ve put about a hundred words in to my Moleskine.

How about you? Do you take notes? Do you ever write anything down except the occasional phone number when you’re hurriedly listening to your voicemail?


In Honor of Working Out Loud Week

First off, let me say I’ve been a proponent of “working out loud” since long before it was called working out loud, even before it was “observable work“, though I didn’t actually have a name for it back then. Since I’m mostly retired, it wasn’t until the end of this week I became aware it was “Working Out Loud Week” and, as a result, decided to look back at the history of the concept. That’s how I came to the two links I’ve shared above. I also know both authors, had encountered their work many years ago, and was not surprised to find them listed among the seminal documents describing either phrase.

I have no desire at this point to write a comprehensive history of the idea and how it’s developed, as well as any prognostication on its future, so I won’t be getting into that. Besides, there are others who are still far more deeply engaged in the day-to-day effort than I, so I think — at least at this point — I can leave that up to them.  I will offer, however, I’m a little disappointed at the idea of setting aside one week in which to suggest people all over the world give it a go; believing instead, it’s a concept worthy of continuous admonition and support. Nevertheless, I understand the forces we’re struggling to overcome and the resistance and inertia standing in the way of progress. It’s often necessary to encourage people to take baby steps, get their feet wet as it were. My disappointment doesn’t run terribly deep.

Actually, due to a chance encounter on the interwebs as I was doing this looking back, I mostly wanted to ask a question. To wit:

If last week was “Working Out Loud Week” (#WOLWeek), then what the hell was this? Color me cornfuzzled although, as I have noted, I’m all for #WOLForever. It’s also good to see Ms. Hart provides links to John Stepper’s, Harold Jarche’s, and Luis Suarez’s efforts, but I’m a bit surprised the author is so unfamiliar with Luis she calls him Luis Elsua! :/ That, I suppose, is another story.

PS – I looked a little further and discovered a post of Harold’s that refers to the post of Jane Hart’s I refer to in the paragraph above. So . . . now that I’m dizzy and, really, a bit delighted at the cross-referrals, I’ll leave my original question. I remain curious as to how we got two #WOLWeeks, but I haven’t the time now to do the research to understand. Maybe someone will actually comment on this post and help me out. In the meantime, I’m glad the concepts of observable and narrated work are getting the attention they deserve. It is a very important aspect of knowledge management and essential to building and maintaining high performing communities, IMO.


Making Sense of All That Data

Deep Data

Transforming Big Data Information into Deep Data Insights

Yesterday I posted a question to several of the groups I belong to on LinkedIn. It was related to several of the things I’m interested and involved in: Systems Thinking, Knowledge Management, and Decision Modeling. It was somewhat informed, as well, by an article appearing in the Huffington Post, where Otto Scharmer, a Senior Lecturer at MIT and founder of the Presencing Institute, talks about the need to make sense of the huge and growing amounts of data we have available to us. He argues the importance of turning from “Big” data, where we mainly look outward in our attempt to understand what it is telling us about markets and our external influence, to “Deep” data, where we begin looking inward to understand what it’s telling us about ourselves and our organizations and how we get things done.

The question I asked was designed to seek out capabilities and functionality that people would like to have, but that is currently unavailable. My interests include working with others to understand and provide for those needs, if possible. I thought I would present the question here as well, where it will remain a part of my online presence and, hopefully, might elicit some useful responses. Here it is:

With the growing proliferation and importance of data — a development at least one author and MIT Lecturer has suggested is moving us from the information technology era to the data technology era — what tools would you like to see become available for handling, understanding, and sharing the new types of information and knowledge this development will bring?

In other words, what would you need that you don’t have today? What types of technology do you think would offer you, your colleagues, and your organizations a greater ability to make use of data to bring about a transformation from primarily siloed, outward looking data to collaborative, inward looking data as well?

I would love to hear of any ideas you might have regarding the kinds of tools or apps you could use to better deal with data by turning it into useful information and knowledge . . . perhaps even a smidgen of understanding and wisdom.


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