Tag Archives: Boeing

All Hail The Beneficent, Ubiquitous Keyboard

There’s a little sort of game going on in Facebook lately. Someone is challenged to list three things they’re thankful for for seven days, at the same time tagging a friend each day (or something like that) to do the same. I haven’t been asked to do it, and I have no plans of doing it either, as it just seems too spread out and broad to do justice to the recognition of those things we might be thankful for. Nevertheless, it does give me pause and I have been thinking about what I would say should I choose one or two specific things for which I’m thankful. There is one seemingly mundane thing that keeps popping into my head. My ability to type.

I can’t imagine how different my world would be if I had to use what an old girlfriend of mine called the “search and destroy” method of typing. Most people use the more pastoral term “hunt and peck”, but she spent several tours with the USO in Vietnam and her life was colored by her exposure to that war, the military, and her involvement in the movement to end it. If I were hampered by that inability, my social presence and my ability to communicate would be virtually non-existent.

I was fortunate. In Junior High School I took a typing class; instead of what I haven’t the faintest, but I recall it seeming to be the most useful option at the time. As a result, I learned to touch type. Later on, when I was in Law School, I secured a position as a legal secretary for a sole practitioner who did a lot of contract and property damage work for several of the largest car rental agencies in the country. We were very busy and my workload was challenging enough that my speed increased. I’ve never been as prolific as the best, but I was up to a little over 80 wpm, with few if any errors. That’s not quite as fast as the average person can speak, but it’s a respectable clip.

IBM Memory Typewriter

The IBM Memory Typewriter

The job turned out to be a major turning point in my life, as I was introduced to the early stages of office computing and word processing. We ended up getting an IBM Memory Typewriter, the one built on the correcting Selectric, but with a dial providing memory for 50 separate pages. We moved up shortly to an Artec Display 2000, which used two 8″ floppies and had a scrolling display of approximately 30 characters. I don’t remember if it was LED or LCD, but the characters were red. We used it for pleadings, and wills and trusts.

Back to typing speed and how critical it is to communication in today’s world. I don’t really have to imagine what it would be like, because I had an experience with a colleague that pointed it out rather clearly, though it took months for me to recognize what was happening. I was working with the Director of our newly formed Program Management Office at what was then the Rocketdyne Power & Propulsion business unit of The Boeing Company. We were at almost opposite ends of the main office building in Canoga Park and I was upstairs in what was called The Annex. The distance between his office and my cubesickle was around 400 yards; not a huge distance, but it took time to walk back and forth. Plus it meant passing through the Executive Office area and there were always distractions.

I can’t recall the exact dates, but it was very early in our use of Instant Messenger; so early that I had to point out its value, as most of the older staff (which meant all of the Executives) perceived it as only a toy their kids used to communicate with each other. I kept sending IMs to this Director, but he never answered them, nor did he respond in anything resembling a timely manner to emails, so I was forced to walk to his office repeatedly during the day.

It wasn’t until a couple of months had passed that I happened to be sitting with him in his office and he was answering an email. Watching him type . . . ever so slowly and painfully . . . made it clear why he never responded to me. He had to hunt anew for each letter and, with his two index fingers, peck them out in a long, excruciatingly difficult session. He clearly hated it. I know I was cringing as I watched. I never sent him an IM after that day.

I’m thinking the ability to type is one of those essential tools we seldom think about — perhaps take for granted — without which our world would be far less rich and fulfilling. I can type this post, tweet, post to Facebook, engage in lengthy, spirited debates with dozens of widely dispersed people, and participate in a plethora of other forms of communication or collaboration relatively easily, all because of my ability to type quickly and accurately. I imagine this is true for almost all, if not all, of my friends and acquaintances.

For this I am deeply thankful.


Who Needs Progress Reports?

Brain in light bulb

Working Out Loud – What a Bright Idea!

I recently posted a little bit about a presentation I gave entitled “The Crowd, The Cloud, and Working Out Loud”. One of the examples I’ve always given when explaining the value of working out loud (sometimes referred to as “Observable Work”) is that of eliminating monthly progress reports. Most anyone who’s had to do these knows how time-consuming they can be and how much of the information meant to be conveyed by them is lost or distorted as it moves up the corporate power structure.

The whole idea of working out loud is to make the things we’re doing more (and more immediately) visible to those who need or can use such information. In this way, less fidelity is lost in translation and useful  information and knowledge are available quicker than with conventional methods, which generally take more than a month before they get filtered, rehashed, and finally communicated.

At any rate, I am currently working on a short introductory paper on the usefulness of an Earned Value Management System (EVMS) and, in doing so, I was searching through some of my old papers, etc. I came across a status report I sent to my managers at what was then called Boeing North American, Inc. – Rocketdyne Division (part of the Boeing Defense & Space Group) on October 1, 1999. Interesting, the subject is “August 1999 Status Report”, so it looks like information lagged even further behind than I have been thinking.

The sections of the report are Accomplishments, Issues, and Performance Improvements. In each of the first two sections there’s some serious stuff being addressed regarding our effort at the time to complete 10 High Pressure Fuel Turbopumps for the Space Shuttle Main Engine. I find it somewhat fascinating to read this stuff after almost 15 years have passed.

However, what really stood out for me is the final entry under Performance Improvements. As I have indicated, I’m not a big fan of status reports . . . and here’s what I had to say in that section:

Probably lots of little things. Nothing significant I can remember. Oh! I’ve started using a 7-Iron again to chip around the greens. I chipped in for a birdie on number 10 at Simi the other day. That was an improvement.

Although I have no specific recollection of writing that bit of important information, I am not surprised. Clearly, I did not take the authoring of status reports any more seriously back then than I do now. Neither should you.

It’s OK, Beth. We’ll Carry On From Here

Beth Thompson

Farewell, Beth. You touched a lot of lives and will be sorely missed

I posted the following on Facebook two days ago and I want to share it here as a tribute to my friend and former colleague:

I am beside myself with grief. A couple hours ago I received a message from a friend who wanted to confirm what he had heard – that our former colleague and good friend, Beth Thompson, had passed away. I started frantically contacting as many people as I could think of, all the while hoping it was just some stupid Internet screwup. It was not to be. Apparently, while preparing to leave for work this morning, Beth suffered a heart attack and passed.

Beth was one of my first friends when I joined the Program Office on the Space Shuttle Main Engine program at Rocketdyne. Her good humor and iconoclastic attitude helped me ease into the corporate world, a world I didn’t join until I was 40 years old, and was ill-suited for. Along with many others I’m proud and happy to still call good friends, Beth was family. I still have the card she picked out for me and had everyone sign when I left for what turned out to be a short stint back in my family’s business. That was about 17 or 18 years ago.

She moved up to the Seattle area with her husband, Paul, and their three children, where she continued to work for Boeing, one of several major players that passed Rocketdyne around like a financial hot potato. This is tough to digest. My kids have seen me cry for the first time in their memory. People who are younger than you aren’t supposed to die before you do. It’s just not right.

We hardly saw each other in the past few years, but we liked and commented on each other’s FB posts now and again. At least I knew she was there and I got to see a little bit of her life and happiness. That is now gone and my world is poorer for it. Goodbye, Beth. I love you and will always remember how you brightened my world and the world of so many others.

Why Are Some Large Enterprises So Darn Stupid?


Can you believe they blocked this?

Watch out for that fly

I worked for over two decades at a very large (and exceedingly ponderous) corporation. Actually, I worked at three of them without every leaving the location I originally hired in at. Although I worked at a company called Rocketdyne, it was a division of Rockwell International when I hired in. It was later sold to The Boeing Company and, in 2005 was purchased by United Technologies and became a part of its Pratt & Whitney family.

Each one of these organizations were not only capable of, but repeatedly dabbled in a level of bureaucratic numbskullery that I still find hard to fathom. I have yet to have it explained to me – at least in a way I can understand – why large for-profit organizations engage in activities that are guaranteed to hinder their ability to perform well or that cost far more than is reasonable. Frankly, I’m not sure anyone who’s directly involved in them can explain why it’s so, because I’ve never known anyone who said it was their job to slow down or squash anything . . . yet that’s exactly what happens in many instances.

The other day I watched a video shared with me and others by Euan Semple. I would link to the video, but it’s been removed by the user. I guess it was meant to just make the point for Euan mostly. Anyway, shortly after looking at it I came across a three-year-old email I had sent to a colleague. The video Euan shared was made by a student. It’s quite simple and shows how many of the social sites this college student wished to go to during the course of a day were blocked by the school’s policies. Maybe you’re thinking that isn’t such a bad thing, but I’m of the belief that people should be trusted first, as most are trustworthy. Should they betray that trust, then there might be consequences based on their situation. Spending 15 minutes on Facebook catching up with friends and family is not the same as spending an hour or two trading stocks online or visiting pornography sites. Wholesale domain blocking does not exhibit any level of trust at all and tends to alienate the majority of people who want access when they need it, but will not normally abuse the privilege.

Now to the rediscovered email. I’ll let it speak for itself. The episode which sparked it is not terribly important in my opinion, though it was important enough for me to memorialize and share it with a colleague whose mission was (and is) to steer the organization from simple-minded, one-size-fits-all policies and procedures. This is, I think, what it evidences. I hope you don’t think it too petty of me to point it out. I think this approach still dominates the thinking of the corporate world, as well as academia, as evidenced by the video Euan shared. What follows is my email.

I don’t know what to make of this. Well . . . actually, I kinda do. It’s kind of funny, yet somehow a bit infuriating. Allow me to explain. As you may or may not recall, the men’s room near my cubicle was recently finished and re-opened. One of the features they installed is those waterless urinals. I’ve only seen them once before, and each time I go in I make note of the name of the company – thinking to find them on the Internet so I can read something about the science behind them. Also, each of the urinals has a bee painted on them and I wanted to see if I could find something quickly about why (though I suspected I already knew). At any rate, I finally remembered to investigate both (after several weeks of forgetting as soon as I got back to my computer) and found what I wanted and decided to just click on Google images as well. The first picture was of a urinal with a fly – not a bee – painted in the sweet spot.

I decided to take a close look and clicked on the picture. Although I was able to see the picture, even open the full-size image, the website it was on (which appears in a lower frame in Google images) was blocked by Websense. What I find remarkable, ironic, asinine, stupid, foolish, and probably a dozen more useful adjectives is the category they chose to block it under – “Tasteless”. Tasteless!!!! Is there some sort of absolute scale on which that quality can be measured? It was probably the name, but what if the website was about caring for infants or puppies or god knows what? This I find not a little insulting. What children they think we are! Let’s not forget the further irony that I could, for all their blocking, see the image. Perhaps I should sue for negligent infliction of emotional distress. Here they made an attempt to insulate me from something as tasteless as this, and I was nevertheless forced to look at a painted fly in a vitreous porcelain urinal due to the incompetence of Information Technology and UTC Policy. I hope I recover. I hope I can sleep tonight.

There! I got it off my chest. Please realize this email was sent approximately 3 years ago, so some things (like Google’s positioning of images and their associated sites) have changed. If Euan’s friend’s example is any indication, however, other things haven’t changed at all. I don’t think this bodes well for any organization seeking to do its best work. My experience says it hinders creativity and innovation, as it blocks people from following leads and decreases whatever chances might exist for serendipity and loose ties to open up new avenues and approaches to solving problems.

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