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Tag Archives: cell phone

Seen a Spaceship Lately?

Have you ever watched the International Space Station pass by in orbit? I don’t know about you, but there’s something majestic, even magical for me just watching it fly overhead. A bright object moving at nearly 5 miles a second appears very fast, even at a distance of hundreds of miles away, and it is awe-inspiring to look up and know there are humans aboard. Several years ago I remember seeing the Station, a Soyuz capsule, and the Space Shuttle all pass overhead as they moved toward a rendezvous and docking. During that mission there were something like a dozen people silently flying by far above my house.

Since my retirement from Rocketdyne, and the cancellation of the Shuttle program, my interest has drifted away some. After all, there’s nothing quite like watching a large, powerful vehicle’s engines roar to life and lift it off the pad into orbit in less than ten minutes. The Station is almost invisible by those standards. It’s already up there and it’s passage is almost mundane. There’s no smoke and fire. It’s swift, but it’s silent.

Recently, I decided to add an app to my phone so I could find out when the Station was flying overhead. Not sure why my interest returned, but it did. The app I chose is called ISS Spotter. It’s free and has everything I need to observe the station. Here are the three views I use the most, though there are settings and a help screen available as well. The first one shows the Stations position and direction of travel (along the thick yellow line) from above and against a map of Earth. It also shows (the blue dot) your location; in this case, near Los Angeles. It has a couple of other bits of functionality, but they’re not relevant to this post.

Orbital map of ISS

Map shows current orbital position in real time

The second view shows upcoming passes over your location (which, btw, it determines automatically using your phone’s GPS, though you can also customize it on the setting page [not shown] if you know your coordinates [and you care]). I use the auto setting and it works just fine. It even adjusts if I’m somewhere else. There are other settings available for time prior to passage for alarms, minimum peak elevations, and others. There’s also a star rating to help you decide how much effort you may want to exert getting outside to view the pass. One star means a pass you might find meh, while three stars indicates even the Magi might be impressed. Note, the next one I’m planning on getting outside for has two stars. As you can see on this page, it will be at a visible altitude (at its highest) of 68° and will shine at a magnitude (visible on the third view, below) of -2.9.

ISS pass notification and alarms

Automatic listing of visible passes in next 7 days with settable alarms

The third view provides everything you need to know to actually find the station, even if you don’t make it out when it first appears. You can also see here that this pass will last a total of six minutes and thirty-eight seconds. Plenty of time to freeze your ass off if you’re anywhere affected by the Polar Vortex, which I’m not.

Compass view of Forecast Screen

Compass view provides direction, maximum elevation, magnitude, and more

I had forgotten, but I got an alarm this morning just in time to go out around 0630 and watch it pass. There were two things that struck me as I stood out in the backyard. When I first spotted it, the Station was well out over the Pacific and, minutes later, it was well over Nevada as I went back inside. In the approximately three minutes I spent observing, that orbiting outpost of humanity and science traveled nearly a thousand miles. The other thing, and it happens every time I observe it silently passing by overhead, was I could swear I was able to make out her warp nacelles.

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By Way of Thanks, This is for you Troy.

Whenever we talk about using social media inside the firewall (Enterprise 2.0) or even talk about people on the Internet using Facebook, making purchases, providing feedback and reviews on products and services, etc., one of the major issues that comes up is that of trust. I think about trust a lot, because it’s absolutely necessary for any virtual team to be able to work together. I’ve discussed this somewhat in other posts regarding the need for face-to-face meetings, etc.

So . . . trust is really important to me because it’s really important to the things I believe need to happen in business for us to move into the next phase shift (paradigm, level, incarnation, whatever you wish to call it). I’m bringing this up because I had the most extraordinary experience over this past weekend that I think is related to trust – at least, it makes me think of trust when I reflect on what happened. Surely, it shouldn’t have been so extraordinary and maybe some of you will disagree that it was out of the ordinary (which, after all, is what extraordinary means, hmmm?). So . . . let me share with you what was an incredible experience for me.

I was in San Francisco for my oldest daughter’s eight annual reunion of the families we traveled to China with to adopt our children. We were staying at the Hilton Union Square; a very nice and very crowded hotel. We were only there for Friday evening through Sunday – a grueling road trip from just North of Los Angeles and Friday night we were attending a dinner at the home of one of the families in our group who live near my old stomping ground of Haight-Ashbury (actually, that was back in 1967 and might be the setting for a few posts in the future).

We had just finished getting something from our car, which was parked on the 8th floor of one of the towers, and I was waiting for my wife with our children in the elevator vestibule. I knew she would be a moment and I had just sat down. My youngest was pretty wired and she started spinning around when she lost her balance, hitting her face right on the edge of the table between the two chairs my oldest and I were sitting in. She started crying immediately. I pulled her up from the floor and saw lots of blood on her teeth, gums, and lips. Just then my wife arrived and I left her holding our daughter while I went downstairs to see if there was a Doctor available in-house. I found a security guard, who came upstairs with us and immediately offered to give us a ride in the hotel limo to the ER at St. Francis Memorial.

When we arrived at the hospital and were almost immediately show into a room where both a Doctor and Nurse attended to my daughter, I suddenly realized I had left my iPad somewhere other than in the waiting room. As it turned out I had left it on the floor in that vestibule. In my haste to get my daughter to the ER, I set down the iPad and never thought about it until she was receiving the medical attention she needed. Now I had to fight the urge to panic, as I had become very attached to that device. As well, I hadn’t really done what I should have to secure my data and private information and all the possible ramifications were swimming through my head. Nevertheless, I concentrated on making sure my girl was OK, though I managed a phone call to hotel security to ensure it wasn’t in the limo or the vestibule where we had been.

Now . . . having said all that, this really isn’t what the story is about; at least it has little to do with the point I wish to make here (other than to set the stage). Another thing I had done was decide to leave my BlackBerry in our hotel room, thinking I really wouldn’t want – or need – to talk to anyone on the phone. After all, I had my iPad and could essentially communicate via email, twitter, facebook, and sms to just about anyone I knew or cared about.

One more thing. As it turned out, our daughter had split her lips a bit and scratched her upper gums, but she didn’t need stitches and her teeth were fine. All we needed was an ice pack and, of course, the assurance of the Doctor that she was not in need of any surgery or other procedures to ameliorate any permanent damage <whew!>

So . . . now we had a ride back to the hotel (generously provided by Hilton Security), but we didn’t have the address to the house we were going to and, at that point, nobody seemed to be answering their phone. My wife had her cell, but she doesn’t have email on it and my BlackBerry had the address in one of the emails I could access with it. I was forced to go up to the room and, when I arrived, I found there was both an email and a voicemail from the person who had found my iPad and was anxious to return it to me. I was floored! Both my wife and I were certain I’d never see it again.

To make a long story longer (just kidding), I was able to hook up with this person and the following morning we met in the lobby and I got my iPad back. This blog post is, ultimately, my way of thanking him in the only way he would allow me. I offered him a reward, but he wouldn’t even let me take my hand out of my pocket. He did let me give him a hug when we parted and I hope we will stay in touch. I hope I’m wrong, but it seems to me there aren’t enough people like him around these days.

Now I need to tell you who he is. His name is Troy Maragos. He is the Director of Compassion Ministry and Local Outreach at the Harvest Bible Chapel Niles. I need to thank him publicly and, even more, because I am not a religious person, I need everyone to know how much I value (and trust) the kind of person this man is. When I was in my first year of law school, one of my professors said something that has stuck with me over the years (decades, actually; over three of them). He said “If I had to choose between a person who had the right politics but no humanity, and a person with the wrong politics but who had humanity, I’d pick the latter every time.”

This experience points out a somewhat analogous situation, I think. Here is a man who’s religion is not only different than the one I was born to (I was raised as a Jew and I am bar mitzvah), but who has religion as his occupation; surely something anathema to my own non-religious life. Nevertheless, he demonstrated the humanity I always seek in people. He was not merely selfless, but relentless in seeing the right thing was done.

I have a huge amount of respect for that and I am deeply thankful our lives crossed at the time they did. I want to wish him the best and hope he finds success in all he does. The world needs more people like him, in my opinion.


Love (I mean LOVE) my iPad, but . . .

My new BFFIn the over two decades I worked at Rocketdyne I never had anything near “state-of-the-art” technology available to me. This isn’t surprising. After all, most – if not all – large companies have security issues they must deal with, and by the time they’ve fully tested any hardware or software they’re going to roll out to the enterprise and then support, quite a bit of time necessarily has passed. In a world that changes as rapidly as tech, that pretty much ensures nobody will be using the latest thing.

So, thanks to one of those occasional confluences of events we sometimes refer to as serendipity, after leaving Rocketdyne and as I was getting ready to travel to the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Boston, MA, I decided to give myself a 63rd birthday present and purchase an iPad. I resolved to take it with me to the conference instead of a laptop, convinced the experience would be worth whatever inconvenience it created. More about that in a moment.

Although I went to the Apple store with the intention of purchasing the 16 gig, wi-fi model, I discovered they didn’t have any. While I was talking to the guy from whom I had purchased our two iMacs, he went to the back of the store to check on availability and discovered someone had canceled their purchase of the 64 gig, 3G model. Well . . . it was my birthday after all and, with very little hesitation, I decided to pull the trigger and spend the extra few hundred dollars. I’m glad I did, especially for the 3G model. I also just got in under the wire for AT&T’s $29.99 per month unlimited plan. Unless they’ve changed (and I’ve not seen it either way) that plan is no longer available for new users.

My plan for the conference was to take my iPad and my Bluetooth keyboard with me. I had already tested and confirmed it worked fine (though I didn’t have a stand for the iPad yet). I was hoping to be able to both live tweet from the sessions, and to blog here as I took some time to reflect. Unfortunately, halfway to the airport I realized I had left the keyboard at home. Now I was constrained to use the built-in, virtual, touchscreen keyboard. The challenges were increasing dramatically. So . . . here’s what I learned so far.

From my perspective, although manageable, the keyboard kind of sucks. It is very sensitive which, for many purposes, is just fine. However, for typing it is what I can only describe as unforgiving. If I don’t hold my hands somewhat rigidly over the keyboard, I am very likely to barely touch a key that isn’t the one I want to touch. For a touch typist this is very annoying. After all, it’s the ability to touch a keyboard that makes it possible to type without looking. Interestingly (and not a little ironically), the graphical representation of the keyboard shows the little nipples on the F and J keys! What’s that all about? They serve no purpose I can discern. Not only can’t you feel them, you can’t touch those keys without invoking them . . . so what’s the point?

The keyboard is also (if I’ve measured and calculated correctly – no guarantee here) approximately 20% smaller than my iMac’s keyboard, measuring from left to right on one set of keys. I’m not even bothering to measure other portions of the several keyboards available, depending on what you’re doing, as the scale is fairly consistent throughout. Let me just say the keyboards need some work, in my opinion. For instance, to get to the hashtag (all important when tweeting from something like a conference and, yes, I know many apps provide the ability to insert hashtags, but you still have to initiate their use) requires two keystrokes just for it to appear, then another to actually use it. This is but one of the combinations I find somewhat cumbersome. I find this unacceptable and I’m hopeful Apple will be able to provide a more useful set of keyboards once they realize how this works. Then again, maybe my experience is not mainstream enough and they just won’t care.

OK, enough of the difficulties. Overall, I had a great experience with my iPad. I used it everywhere; that’s where the 3G capability proved invaluable, even if it is AT&T. (For the record, my wireless experience – which spans well over ten years – is entirely with Verizon, dating back to when it was AirTouch here in California. Although my experience with AT&T is less than a month old, I can read!)

Two examples: On the first day of the conference I was pretty unclear on the best way to get there from my hotel, which was about six miles away in Chelsea. I was able to take the hotel shuttle to the airport, but from there I had to take the Silver Line bus to within walking distance of the Westin Boston Waterfront, my final destination. I got off at the wrong station and was unsure of the best way to get to the hotel. I invoked the maps and charted a pedestrian course to the hotel, holding the iPad flat in front of me and just following the directions it gave me. Worked like a charm.

The TV of my childhood

Small, tall, and Black & White

The second example is more fun and, since the hotel wi-fi wasn’t available, the 3G capability was invaluable. I needed to participate in a telecon and GoToMeeting with two colleagues in Philadelphia and a potential client in Austin.  I went in to M. J. O’Connor’s (an Irish pub in Boston – imagine that!) where the hostesses were kind enough to allow me to sit in a closed area that was reasonably quiet. I called into the telecon and, because I have a Bluetooth earpiece, I was able to lay my BlackBerry down and use it to provide a bit of an angle for the iPad, on which I had logged into the meeting space. As I was sitting there, for a moment I thought back to my childhood of dial telephones, party lines, and tiny black and white television screens in gigantic consoles. I was living the future I once visited in my imagination! I could have done virtually the same with a laptop, but the angle of the iPad made me feel as though I was peering through a kind of wormhole into this amazingly clear and colorful, collaborative space. It was magical.

That’s some of my experience over the last few days. Next up, some of my thoughts about Enterprise 2.0 and the conference, as well as some personal experiences and impressions.


We Lost Another of the Absolutely Best Minds in Management This Week

There are two Management thinkers who have influenced my life, and the lives of  many of my colleagues – even as we struggle to have their ideas embraced where I work (a titanic, long-standing struggle indeed). One of them, W. Edwards Deming,  has been gone for some time now, but the other – Russell Ackoff – just died this past Thursday.  Russ was a giant in the field of Systems Thinking. Russ proposed what I’ve seen referred to as the spectrum of learning. He believed the content of our minds could be classified into five basic catergories: Data; Information; Knowledge; Understanding, and; Wisdom.

Russ had been in the habit of visiting us here on the west coast to share his wisdom and wit at the beginning of every year. He would spend an entire day with, usually, a large group of interested people, sharing stories of his experiences over the years. One of those I remember the best is his experience with Bell Labs. He quite accidentally was involved in the design of a lot of today’s telephone system. From that experience he later would go on to develop his concept of idealized design – a method whereby one throws out everything that’s known about a product or system and attempts to design it based on what would be ideal, then work backward to where you currently are.

Another thing I loved to hear Russ say, which he would do frequently was his admonition that it was much harder for a large organization to stop something once it had started than to agree to supporting any activity that was outside their comfort zone. In other words, “It’s better to seek forgiveness than ask for permission”. Russ also pointed out that doing the wrong thing better only made what was being done “wronger”.  Russ was so full of wisdom one could easily spend days listening to his stories and the knowledge he gained from his experiences, which were many and varied. Russ spent a large part of his life helping Anheuser-Busch truly dominate their market . . . and become the “King of Beers.”

For the past two years Russ had decided no longer to travel out here to speak to us. He was having back and hip problems and dealing with the incessant screening and the long lines and waits in the airport had become too much for him. My colleague, Bill Bellows, who had for years organized monthly telecons with some of the best speakers and writers in the field of systems thinking and management, asked me each year to accompany him to Philadelphia to visit with Russ and our friend Johnny Pourdehnad, a professor of Organizational Dynamics at UPenn. I was fortunate enough to spend many hours with both Johnny and Russell. One of my last memories of Russ is spending a lovely evening with him and his wife, Helen when Bill and I took them out to dinner for Russ’s 90th birthday. At the time Russ was suffering greatly from the pain he was experiencing associated with what he called “a shredded hip”. It was late January and there was lots of ice on the ground. We had to walk to the restaurant from  where we parked and Russ was using a walker. I hovered over him like a brooding hen, scared silly he would slip and fall. He didn’t, thankfully (I had caught him once in his home office), and we had a great meal followed by a birthday dessert. I snapped a picture with my BlackBerry and now wish to share it with whoever may find themselves here.

My Last Visit With Russ

Russell Ackoff Celebrates His 90th

There are numerous posts and websites where you can learn more about Russ and his work. You found your way here; you know how to search. However, I would like to give mention to one that has been writing about Russell for some time. Ironically, because of one word in the name of this blog, my company’s web filter blocks access to it from inside our firewall. I am referring to “The Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog“, where I got the title for this post.

Russell will be sorely missed by many people. I am hopeful his ideas, his wisdom, his tremendous intellect, and his enthusiasm for understanding and application of systems thinking will find even greater voice now that he is no longer with us. It seems a sad irony of life that so many people only become truly influential after their deaths. Doesn’t say much for us . . . but that’s the way it’s been. I hope Russ’s life will be instructive to many so that we can slowly evolve away from the mundane things that seem to attract us and pay a little more attention to things that matter.

Rick


The Sky is Falling

For the record, I am neither religious nor superstitious. However, enough things have gone wrong today to make me wonder if I shouldn’t at least be knocking on wood my house is still standing and (obviously) my fingers are still working.

The first thing to go on the fritz was our only service/tool I would consider a social tool where I work. We’ve had our IT folks and support from the vendor look at everything and each one of them, so far (time to put the hammer down), is looking at the machine logs and – seeing nothing untoward – shifting responsibility. The problem, however, remains and needs to be dealt with immediately, if not sooner.

So . . . then Twitter suffers a denial of service attack and is either down or clunky for hours on end. I was going through double withdrawal and it was beginning to make me twitch a little bit. Something had to be done.

Well, not much I can do about Twitter but, as the project manager for our internal social tool, I could raise a ruckus and get people doing something – collectively – to help fix this problem. So we get the vendor rep on the phone and he is always helpful and knowledgeable and we work with him frequently to resolve minor issues and discuss feature upgrades, etc.

The conversation starts out just fine but suddenly his phone starts distorting and cutting out. He tries using his cell phone and, after a couple of minutes, it drops from the call. He calls back and, again after a few minutes, it starts distorting again. As of now, we’ve been on and off the phone for over an hour, the problem still exists internally, Twitter stills seem famischt, but at least the phones kinda worked.

I’m wondering, the Perseid meteor shower is only six days away. Maybe Comet Swift-Tuttle is returning to slam us and we’ve just missed it. Maybe its the end-of-days, maybe the Mayan calendar is right or Nostrildamus hit it “on the nose”. Stay tuned.


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