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Category Archives: Professional

I Forgot Shadows!

The Simi Valley Democratic Club—of which I am a member, as well as the duly elected Corresponding Secretary and Chair of the Social Media Committee—had its 3rd annual Independence Day picnic this past Saturday. It is held in conjunction with our brothers and sisters in the Moorpark Democratic Club and we alternate between their City’s locations and ours. We’re right next to each other IRL.

As Corresponding Secretary, my duties range from publishing (which means writing, editing, and finding—or creating—graphics for) the club’s monthly newsletter, posting to our Facebook page and group, conducting meetings of the Social Media Committee, and a few other ancillary activities.

One of those ancillary activities is taking pictures at events I attend and, in the case of this picnic, putting together one or more useful posts for our FB page/group. Since I had taken a picture of all the elected officials who had addressed us (save for State Senator Henry Stern, who showed up late enough that I had already taken my 15-year-old, very bored, daughter home and, therefore, couldn’t take a photo) I decided to work on my Photoshop selection and layering skills. This is the result, which I posted to our page/group.

With the exception of the aforementioned State Senator (who I ghosted into the shot), these are the officials who joined us for a meal of hot dogs, chips, macaroni salad, and soft drinks/lemonade/iced tea. From left to right, they are:

Nathan Sweet – Moorpark Unified School District
Brian Dennert – Rancho Simi Recreation & Parks District
Roseann Mikos – Moorpark City Council
David Pollock – Moorpark City Council
Christy Smith – State Assembly – D-38
Kevin de León – Former President Pro Tempore, CA State Senate
Julia Brownley – US Representative CA-26
Ruth Luevanos – Simi Valley City Council
Bernardo Perez – VCCC Trustee
Rob Collins – Ventura County Board of Education
Henry Stern – CA State Senator – 27th District

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Preserving My Past

The time has come for me to simplify . . . to apply some feng shui to my collection of old (ancient?) paperwork, some of which is more than several decades old. Paper is the one thing I seem to be a bit of a hoarder with; that and old clothing, I guess.

I am coming across papers, letters, and notes I’ve written over the years, many of them from my over two decades of service at Rocketdyne, where I was privileged to work on the Space Shuttle Main Engine program. In that time I worked for (without changing desks) Rockwell International, The Boeing Company, and the Pratt & Whitney Division of United Technologies. After I accepted an early retirement package in 2010, I returned as a contractor to work for Aerojet Rocketdyne in 2015, where I worked for a bit over two years.

Recently, I purchased a small, portable Brother scanner and I am slowly scanning old papers I’m finding. Inasmuch as I’m now publishing far more frequently to this blog, I’ve decided to save some of these things so I can throw the paper away and still have a record. It’s been over nine years since I retired and I find I’m forgetting what working in a large organization was like. Reading some of the documents I created helps me to remember what I did, as well as to feel reasonably confident I wasn’t just spinning my wheels.

What follows should be somewhat self-evident. It’s a letter I wrote to my manager in 1994, now over 25 years ago. I think I sound pretty reasonable, and I’m gratified to know I was pushing—pretty hard, I think—for positive change back then. I’m not an IT person; never went to undergrad and, besides, the earliest PCs didn’t come into existence until I was nearing my thirties. However, I did recognize the value such tools brought to managing and operating a business and I have always been a big promoter of technology in the office. At any rate, this is more for me than my readers, but some may find it “amusing.”

PS – I scanned the original “memo” in .jpg format and the accompanying Lotus presentation materials in .pdf, which you’ll have to click on if you’re interested in what Lotus was doing 25 years ago, before its acquisition by IBM.


Reservoir Goodness!

I’ve only been following this chart for a couple of years, but this is the first time all of the reservoirs shown in it have been above their historical average. A lot of them are also fairly close to their maximum capacity. It would be nice if this trend continues for a few years. I’m tired of drought conditions. We still conserve water; I hope everyone in California does. Actually, I hope everyone, everywhere is thoughtful about water usage.


Will Someone Stand Up?

In the 2020 General Election, coming up waaaaay sooner than you think, time being what it is, there are eight (count ’em, eight) Republican Senators who are up for election unopposed. Actually, two of the eight are retiring but, in all cases, whether it’s a replacement or the incumbent, they’re all running unopposed. This is an intolerable situation, IMO.

Allowing any Republican, all (save for Justin Amash) of whom have shown themselves to be hapless sycophants, bowing to the whims of the most destructive and inhumane President in modern history, to run without any Democratic opposition is something we should avoid at all costs.

  • Bill Cassidy, Louisiana (In 2014 he beat three-term incumbent, Democrat Mary Landrieu, 56 percent to 44 percent. Don’t know if there are any Democrats in the running at present.)
  • Mike Enzi, Wyoming (Retiring – This seat is considered safe by most people.)
  • Cindy Hyde-Smith, Mississippi (Hyde-Smith defeated Mike Espy last November in a racially charged campaign.)
  • James Inhofe, Oklahoma (This is the schmuck who brought a snowball into the Senate chambers to make the argument that global warming can’t be possible because it’s still cold somewhere.)
  • Pat Roberts, Kansas (Retiring – Maybe a lost cause, as he ran unopposed last time and Kansas is a deep red state)
  • Mike Rounds, South Dakota (The entire state has approximately a quarter of a million voters. Unknown if there are enough Democrats to matter.)
  • Ben Sasse, Nebraska (In the 2014 election, there were a little over a half million voters; Sasse won every county in the State – 64% to 31%)
  • Dan Sullivan, Alaska (In the 2014 election, Sullivan won by 2.2% with a total of only a little over a quarter million voters. This state could be ripe for a flip.)

After the 2016 General Election, I worked with a group of people who were creating a canvassing tool that was designed to use AI to better prepare people who were out knocking on doors. It would have used demographics and historical voting data to train a machine learning algorithm on the patterns to be found in the data. Unfortunately, our primary investor kept adding requirements and ultimately squeezed the value right out of the app.

Nevertheless, our original concept we had discussed was to use machine learning to help political organizations make the most effective (not merely efficient) use of their various resources, e.g. time, money, people, connections, as well as understanding the political environment based on polls and overall news coverage.

Frankly, nobody I know of has sat down and begun to develop such a decision model, though I would dearly love to see it happen. It’s what we envisioned after Trump “won” and I still think it’s a viable approach. It does look like it’s a somewhat daunting challenge, however, when it comes to how expensive it would be to gather all the data we’d need access to, as well as develop the algorithms that would analyze and correlate the data.

Regardless, it seems a shame so many Republicans might run without any Democratic opposition. You’d think the least we can do is make them fight for their seats, which would include forcing them to shift resources around as well. It should be part of the overall pattern of the elections, which I’m unconvinced the Democratic Party really understands.


The Strategic Complexity Framework – for Dummies

Based on a post from my friend, John Husband, I came across this great article by Vinay Gupta, which simply and (I think) quite elegantly lays out an understanding of an issue I have long sought to internalize . . . but which I’m loathe to claim I actually understand or can clearly articulate. Part of the reason I’m posting this is so I have access to the two simple explanations of the framework. What follows is a bit of Gupta’s post, with a link at the end to the original.

I recently pestered my friend Noah Raford to summarize his understanding of Cynefin and complexity in a single page document. Noah called it the Strategic Complexity Framework.

I, being still a bit dyslexic, can never keep the “simple, complicated, complex, chaotic” thing from Dave Snowdon‘s Cynefin framework straight in my head. And I think about complexity as having three domains (but that’s another story.)

So I’ve taken advantage of open licensing to produce a version of Noah’s Strategic Complexity Framework, called the Strategic Complexity Framework… for Dummies.

A translation guide:
Simple (= Simple): put stuff in boxes.
Hard (= Complicated): build a rocket ship.
Fickle (= Complex): weather, economy, farming.
Borked (= Chaotic): war zones, collapses, volcanos.

There’s a ton of great work out there on the background to all of these models, but I have conveniently filed knobs off. Simple!

Source: The Strategic Complexity Framework – for Dummies | The Bucky-Gandhi Design Institution


The Fifth Beatle

I’ve been getting more and more comfortable with Photoshop’s many editing tools, chief among them layers, cloning, blending, and various level adjustments.

I find politics, especially the clowns in the Trump administration, wonderful subjects for my efforts. For instance, recently the Attorney General, William Barr, responded to a question about whether or not he was worried about his legacy with the following:

“I am at the end of my career. Everyone dies and I am not, you know, I don’t believe in the Homeric idea that you know, immortality comes by, you know, having odes sung about you over the centuries, you know?”

Aside from his use of the filler “you know” four times in one sentence, I was stuck with the thought, “is he being stoic or nihilistic?” I’m still not sure, but the statement reminded me of a song by George Harrison. I found a pic of the album cover, researched then downloaded the proper font, and tweaked the cover like so:

I think he looks appropriately unconcerned, don’t you?


Angst Was The Right Word!

I’ve started blogging again here at Systems Savvy and needed to do some research on my history doing so. I came across the following blog post on another, now defunct blog site, The Cranky Curmudgeon, which I wrote on October 29, 2008. I entitled it “Talk About Your Angst!” I forgot I wrote it and I’m somewhat amazed that my characterization of the Bush admin sounds quite similar to my characterization of the Trump admin. We’re doing something wrong . . . bigly!

+++++++++++++++++++++++++

Barack Obama Makes a point during debate with John McCain

Well, here we are . . . what is it? . . about six days out from what I’m thinking is the most important election of my lifetime. Any election involving Nixon, Reagan, or either of the Bush gangster family was, of course, important, but this one – whew! After eight years of so thoroughly screwing up everything they touched, I am on pins and needles waiting to see if we get a brand new start at fixing things, or if we get something possibly worse than George Bush.

I think I need to explain something too. Although I take the position George Bush and his administration screwed up everything they touched, I think it’s important to note they did exactly what they had planned to do all along. The failures were not truly failures, as they fit into the general plan. Don’t think for one moment these criminals weren’t working toward the dream so famously articulated by Grover Norquist when he said his goal was to shrink government “down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”

I have no doubt that is exactly what has been going on, especially when government means services for the people, as opposed to handouts for the well-connected. We have witnessed the most massive re-distribution of national wealth, certainly in my lifetime. Now, perhaps, we can see some of that bleeding stanched.

Six more days! I am on pins and needles. We so desperately need to take this nation in another direction; to back away from the arrogant unilateralism and the move toward the so-called “unitary executive”; the use of torture and the spying on our own citizens; and the outright flaunting of the Constitution when it serves the narrow interests of the administration.

Obama has created one of the flattest campaign organizations ever, thanks in large part to his team’s understanding and use of information technology. Let’s see if they can translate this knowledge into a new politics of engagement and involvement . . . and – dare I say – democracy.


Hey! Long Time, No See.

QuantelliaLogoPaleI know it’s been quite a while since last I posted here. I’ve been continuously active on Facebook and have begun tweeting quite a bit as well, but that’s not why I haven’t posted to this blog in the past nearly three months. As of March 1 I began a new career, probably not the kind of thing you hear about 70-year-olds doing all that often. Since then I have been working as the Business Manager for Quantellia, LLC. You may recall I’ve done work for and with Quantellia on and off for the past six years.

Quantellia is a small AI/ML software development house and, until now, one of the co-founders has been running the business. Inasmuch as she is also the organization’s Chief Scientist, and a well-known pioneer in Machine Learning, this was not exactly the optimal thing for her to be doing. I had been touching on the subject and, since she was having such a hard time getting someone competent to run the business, I pressed my offer to do so. She finally relented and things have been going swimmingly, although there have been times I was swimming against the current. I’m definitely climbing a steep learning curve, which sometimes has me questioning if I’m losing my edge.

Actually, at times I can’t quite tell if my intellect is slipping a little bit, or if I just don’t care as much as I used to and I’m not quite as arrogantly sure of myself. My memory seems to be intact, along with my ability to learn and adapt. I’m going to go with the “I just don’t care as much about things as I used to; I’m more sanguine about life, work, and the need to control everything.

At any rate, I’m having a lot of fun. I was once partnered with two CPAs, doing royalty accounting for some big acts: Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell, The Cars, Dollie Parton, Ronnie Milsap, The Commodores, even Jimi Hendrix’s estate. I learned a fair amount about accounting back then, and now I’m getting the opportunity to revisit what I learned, applying it in different circumstances. I’m also learning about artificial intelligence and machine learning, and hope to convey some of what’s going on in these fields. Although not a data scientist, I am quite capable of seeing where AI can be applied in business to assist with all kinds of issues. I’m sure you can as well.


They’re Finally Catching Up To Me

The last few years I was employed at Rocketdyne, my job – which I essentially created – was to research social media for the purpose of bringing it inside the firewall for internal communication and collaboration.

As a result, I became both well educated in the use of numerous apps and platforms, and excited about the possibilities they represented. When the Space Shuttle program was nearing it’s end, everyone over sixty was offered an early severance package.

After some research I decided to accept the offer, which I characterized as a “gold-leafed handshake.” I was pretty excited about going out on my own and offering social media marketing services to local small businesses. Unfortunately, very few people knew what I was talking about and most businesses remained content to spend $200/month on a Yellow Pages ad that likely got thrown in a recycle bin the moment it arrived.

I’m not entirely certain, but it does seem like things have changed and many more businesses understand the value in promoting via Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. As a result in finding it easier to get clients to help and supplement my retirement income.

This year promises to be very interesting.


What (Who) Is An Expert?

Sometimes Expertise is Clear

Sometimes Expertise is Clear

I originally wrote the following in January of 2012, less than two years after my departure from Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne. For some reason it got a bit out of control for me and I never posted it. I’m either breaking it into two separate posts, or removing some notes from the end and posting it as a standalone. Actually, I’m doing the latter for now – maybe working the removed notes into a second post at a later date.


 

How Do We Know?

Are you an “Expert” in anything? How do you know? If you say you are, how do we know it’s true? Furthermore, what is the difference between being an expert and having some – or lots of – expertise in a particular subject or field of knowledge? I was reminded of this problem a while back while talking to a friend and former colleague about the situation at my old company and, especially, how the tool I was the project manager for and had introduced back in 2002 was doing. I got the impression the issue of expertise was still a hot one and the situation hadn’t changed much since we first tackled it.

Some background

In 2001 I was a member of the Knowledge Management team for my former employer. One of the big problems we were grappling with was how to create an online directory or “Yellow Pages” of employees, including a way to search by expertise. The IT department had gone through at least two, possibly three, iterations using HTML as the basis for creating and presenting the information. Unfortunately, people moved around too frequently and the job of keeping it up-to-date was daunting; actually pretty much impossible. We were looking into other ways to achieve the results we thought were necessary to improve our ability to find the right people at the right time.

When the member of our KM team who was working on it decided to retire in the Fall of that year I volunteered to take over the effort. I soon came to the conclusion we were never going to be successful doing it the way we had been. Due to policies I had no control over, there was no way to connect what we wanted to create with HR’s database, which would have simplified the effort somewhat. Even more important, I realized what we needed was far more than just a directory. We needed a way for people to truly communicate with each other; a way to ask questions, receive answers, and conduct discussions on the appropriateness and efficacy of proposed solutions. This wasn’t what a mere directory of names and titles would give us. I set off to discover something better.

In my quest I came across a few tools that began to address the problem. The two that stood out back then were Tacit’s KnowledgeMail® and AskMe Enterprise. In fact, I ultimately conducted a trade study of both, as well as a home-grown (we were part of the Boeing Company back then) system that was designed to help Airplane Mechanics share what they knew and learned about the airplanes they worked on and their various intricacies. I quickly eliminated the latter of the three and concentrated on the two others. In the end I presented my findings to our Chief Engineer. Based on the criteria I used, AskMe was the winner as it addressed our security concerns in a manner far more to our (and our Lawyers’) liking.

What does “Expert” mean?

The Experts Are InHaving decided on a platform we then had several important issues to deal with before we could feel comfortable rolling it out to the entire organization. The first of them, which is related to this post, was:

Do we Control The Assignment of Individuals as Knowledge Providers &, if so, How do we Qualify And Present Them Within AskMe?

We developed a set of responses for each of these issues, the first of them being the most important and the one that was at the root of our disagreements, e.g. we decided to let everyone register and self-select as “having expertise” or knowledge in any field we provided a category for.

The biggest bone of contention was that some of our senior technical staff were worried people would overreach and end up providing bad information which might be acted upon. When you design and manufacture products that can easily kill a half dozen people and cost tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars of loss, you tend to be a little cautious. This was understandable. However, many of us felt the likelihood was next to nil, as we expected the internal equivalent of crowd-sourcing would likely take care of it. In fact, in the over nine years I led the project there was only one instance in which I was asked – by a panic-stricken Manager – to remove something from the system. I was able to do so immediately, though I took pains to copy and retain the information in case of a dispute.

We decided to take a few more steps to help users decide for themselves who were the most authoritative people in the organization, among them the labeling of members of the Technical Fellowship, Process Leads, and others in recognized positions of authority.

Recently, I had lunch with my former Manager, the Director of the Program Management Office where I last worked, and where this all happened, and he offered me some valuable insight I’d like to include in this post. Here’s what he suggested:

“I think that our biggest issue wasn’t the overstatement of expertise that was much discussed and worried about; it was the problem that people were reluctant to claim expertise and document it in a profile.  Whether this is an engineering cultural thing, mass humility, fear of ridicule from others or insecurity, I’m not sure, but it’s something that must be considered in making a breakthrough in this area.”

So . . . how do we determine what constitutes expertise? Here’s the problem we had with AskMe. Do we only allow recognized “Experts”, formally organizing our expertise, or do we allow it to become more organic and emergent? In a culture that actively encourages hoarding knowledge through its exalting of patents and intellectual property rights in general, it’s hard to get people to share. Yet feedback to the sharing of knowledge connects people and their behavior to the world around them. It gives everyone the chance to realize how their behavior influences the success of their organization. Effective feedback will reinforce positive behavior and correct negative behavior. The ability to give and receive feedback is a must for leaders who wish to have honest and direct relationships with employees.

Ultimately, it became obvious that the real power in what we were doing was not the listing of “experts,” but rather the facilitation of conversation and discussion. It also became apparent to me that what we had was not so much an expertise location tool in AskMe, but a powerful social media platform that allowed us to securely share information and knowledge about our products and processes. It was an excellent system, a precursor to the types of platforms most enterprise size organizations are currently using, and collapsed within a few years of my departure. To say it was disappointing to see nearly a decade of work be allowed to just fade away and disappear was deeply disturbing, and disappointing. Now, as Aerojet Rocketdyne it’s been several years they’ve had a project to create a front-end that will allow the remaining database (not experts) to be queried, but it’s still on the back burner as far as I can tell. Maybe if I live another 50 years (not likely, since I’m 70) I’ll hit the jackpot with an organization that truly understands the value of these kinds of platforms/utilities. Nah!


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