Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Dangerous, Unsavory Addiction

I saw this drawing/comic/cartoon I Have A Problem and gave a self-conscious LOL.  A consequence of a preference for paper and ink books that they tend to pile up - both the ones you read and the ones you have yet to read.  Is it bad to like having a shelf full of titles?  It sure looks better than... well... just holding your Kindle in your hand.

My "to read" shelf has the following (in no particular order):

  1. The Heartless Stone: A Journey Through the World of Diamonds, Deceit, and Desire by Tom Zoellner
  2. The Kennedy Detail: JFK's Secret Service Agents Break Their Silence by Gerald Blaine and Lisa McCubbin
  3. Quantum: Einstein, Bohr, and the Great Debate about the Nature of Reality by Manjit Kumar
  4. Web Analytics 2.0: The Art of Online Accountability and Science of Customer Centricity by Avinash Kaushik
  5. Cold Choices by Larry Bond
  6. Failure Is Not an Option: Mission Control From Mercury to Apollo 13 and Beyond by Gene Kranz
  7. A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr. (I'm really looking forward to this one.)
  8. The Design of Design: Essays from a Computer Scientist by Frederick P. Brooks
  9. The Apostle: A Thriller by Brad Thor
  10. Vernon Fisher (M. Georgia Hegarty Dunkerley Contemporary Art Series)
On top of that I just got a new audiobook from the library, The Book of Lies by Brad Meltzer.  So many words.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

PC World's 100 Best Products of 2010

PC World's December issue includes their list of the 100 best products of 2010.  Reading it made me aware of how far behind the tech curve I am.  Most blatantly, I do not have a smart phone.  My phone is so old it doesn't even have a camera.  So without a smart phone, many of the top 100 products aren't relevant to me.  I also don't own any Apple products, unless you count the old iPod Touch my 16 year old son gave me when he upgraded to an iTouch 4.  The most usage I've gotten out of the iTouch is playing Words [with Friends] Free,  a Scrabble-like game.  So there's a whole other category of tech I can't use.  Finally, we don't have an HDTV, DVR, home theatre, or even Netflix.  And I prefer the dead tree version of books relative to their e-book counterparts so e-book readers don't pertain either.

FWIW, here are my intersections with PC World's list.

#2 is the Apple iPad.  My wife has one of these and it appears to be a cool device.  She uses it primarily as an e-book reader and plays the occasional game (more on that later).  Several folks at the office use iPads kinda like a big PDA.  Because I take a lot of handwritten notes, I don't know if the iPad or any other PDA will work for me.  I do like my Dell Mini 10V netbook even though I have to wait for it to boot and it doesn't have a touch screen but I only use it for personal stuff, not business.

#10 is Microsoft Security Essentials.  After years of fiddling with Norton, McAfee, AVG, Spybot, AdAware, Super Anti Spyware, MalwareBytes, Bazooka, HijackThis, and several others I have found that Security Essentials does a good job in a very non-obtrusive way.  Right now, I'm using it on all my Windows machines.

#14 is Google Chrome.  I had been using Chrome as my main browser on my netbook for a year and had no problems with it.  However, when RockMelt (based on Chrome) was released, I switched because after all, Facebook, Twitter and browsing were the main uses for my netbook so why not get them all in one package.  (For the record, I use Firefox as my primary browser on my work laptop.)

#19 is Microsoft Office 2010 about which PC World cites its online features.  If that's all there is, I'll stick with 2007.  I just about live in Office all day and all I want to do is read mail, write docs, make a spreadsheet, and prepare a presentation.  I don't need any online stuff.  Just make the basics work better.

#37 is Norton AntiVirus 2011.  Back when I used Norton AV (see above) it was almost as intrusive as a virus itself and a resource hog on top of that.  In fact, when I tried to replace it with McAfee I found that McAfee wouldn't run if I fully uninstalled Norton.

#41 is Google Gmail.  It's a great, free email service.  Everyone can benefit from a Gmail account or two.  Students should create one with a professional user name (e.g. first.last) for job hunting.  Gmail lets me keep my personal email out of my business email inbox.  For the record, Google Talk is great too.

#54 is Rovio Angry Birds.  I only mention this because since my wife downloaded Angry Birds two days ago for her iPad it seems the only words out of her mouth are "I must kill more pigs."  Then she gives me and the boys creepy looks.

#64 is Facebook.  Privacy gaffes aside, Facebook is a fine tool for connecting and sharing with friends and family online.

#100 is Ubuntu Linux.  My son uses Ubuntu on his netbook and another computer in his apartment and seems quite happy with it.

Like I said, a pretty sparse subset of the top 100.  How about you?  Do you agree or disagree with any of PC World's choices?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Don't bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors.

Being a JFK assassination buff, I ordered The Kennedy Detail, a new book from the Secret Service agents on JFK's protective detail that day in Dallas, as soon as I heard about it.  The local Border's was sold out so I'm waiting on my Amazon order to arrive.   This book holds the same appeal to me as Evidence Dismissed, the book by the two detectives from the O.J. Simpson trial, Lange and Vannatter.

The official web site of author Tom Zoellner, author of Uranium and The Heartless Stone.  (Be sure to watch the funny interview with Jon Stewart.)

Of course adding bacon makes super tasty popcorn.  Make a stylish philosophical statement with the infinite bacon t-shirt.

Bacon comes in many convenient forms.  Squeeze it from a bottle.  Or drop effervescent bacon tablets into water.

Eight reasons why engineers should spend their free time in a machine shop.  (#3 You can draw a lot of things in Pro/E and SolidWorks that you can't make in the real world.)  (I stay out of machine shops for the same reason I stay out of kitchens - 'nuff said.)
Never lose an online debate again.  Vanquish your foes with the power of your reasoning.  Make the interwebs kneel before Zod.  Apply informal logic to online argumentation.

Save the words like rogalian and drollic.

Without you and me to use them, words like rogalian (of or pertaining to a great fire), drollic (pertaining to puppet shows), and obarmate (to arm against) risk being lost forever.  Save The Words provides a home for lost words and gives you a chance to adopt them to ensure they remain part of our language.  (I wish they tweeted the word of the day.)

Curious about who your first Twitter follower was?  Use FirstFollower.com.   (My first follower was an animation art gallery.)  Although I've never purchased anything on eBay, this is something that has long concerned me: most Disney drawings on eBay are forgeries.  It's so bad there's even a blog, Disney Fakes.

Why isn't Flush Tracker available in the U.S?!?!?!?   It's a Google maps application that shows you the path of your doodie after a flush.  At one time or another we've all wondered about toilet paper from the late 1800s.  Here are some wonderful examples including award-winning Bromo Paper with its disinfectants and curatives.
See red states and blue states change over time from 1920 to 2008 (and learn what isarithmic means).

I don't know what isarithmic means but these animated U.S. maps showing political party affiliation from 1920 to 2008 are interesting.  Quoting directly from the web site "This animated interpretation accentuates certain phenomena: the breadth and duration of support for Roosevelt, the shift from a Democratic to a Republican South, the move from an ostensibly east-west division to the contemporary coasts-versus-heartland division, and the stability of the latter."  Boston is ranked as the world's top city for innovation.  In the U.S, Austin was #9, Dallas/Fort Worth was #21.

Mesh generation in the physical world (aka meat space):  Tessel is a kinetic art installation consisting of an unstructured surface mesh of triangular shaped mirrors.  It is suspended from the ceiling and several motors change the shape of the surface resulting in cool reflections of both sound and light.  Mesh generation as online art (aka cyber space): on the Triangulation Blog be sure to check out Interactive Triangulation.

Add a mustache to any website with Oh Mo.

Where do aircraft go do die?  Check out this photo collection of abandoned airplanes.

When is a penny worth $1.7 million?  When it's a one-of-a-kind 1943-D bronze cent (mistakenly minted on bronze during WWII rather than zinc-coated steel).

I usually ignore infographics but this one caught my attention: an inside look at the bra.  (The modern bra was invented in 1889 by Herminie Cadolle.)   If you wore 4th amendment underwear (underwear with the 4th amendment printed on it with metal infused ink so that it will appear in the new full-body scans) to the airport, do you think TSA would subject you to additional scrutiny?

Draw your own conclusions: scientists find evidence of time before the Big Bang.  For all you Trekkies, Watch Trek is where you can watch all episodes of all Star Trek series online for free.

"Food, like words and ultimately typography, is an essential part of life."  Enjoy the eatphabet - letters made from food.

They don't have to be mean about it - your landing page sucks and 10 examples of ones that don't.  Here's an article that's sure to appeal to a wide audience: how to set HTTP headers for ZIP file downloads.

Perfect use of teh interwebs #732: a dice collection including a two-sided die (yes, 2).

You are probably familiar with the hilarious mockery of PowerPoint using the Gettysburgh Address.  On the other end of the spectrum is this wonderful, black and white, animated version of the Gettysburgh Address.

 Congratulations to Symscape.  A CFD solution computed in their Caedium CFD software was chosen for the cover of Introduction to Fluid Mechanics by Fox and McDonald.

Who is Paul Neave and how does he make these cool interactive things?

...Try to be better than yourself.  ~William Faulkner

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Uranium by Tom Zoellner

Why am I interested in nuclear tales, both fiction and non-fiction?  I can't claim to have spent my childhood steeped in the "duck and cover" heyday of the Cold War.  There's an interesting quote in Uranium's introduction that I can't personally relate to: "Growing up in the Cold War you could be vaporized with only ten minutes warning.  The brief warning period seemed more terrible than vaporization."  Maybe it's because I may owe my existence to Fat Man and Little Boy - because otherwise my father would have been wading ashore from 400 yards out in Operation Olympic with a likely low probability of survival.

Uranium tells the tale of the radioactive element itself, from initial discover to mining throughout the world.  The focus appears to be on the human costs of the mining itself - slave labor, poor working conditions, financial ruin.  Third world countries were exploited, totalitarian regimes ran roughshod over the populace, and unscrupulous deals led many to financial ruin.  All to get this rock out of the ground and processed for use in weapons (mostly) and power generation.

Unfortunately, it's not clear exactly what Zoellner's point is. No fingers are pointed.  No suggestions made.  No stance taken.  It's almost as though he wanted me to empathize with the rock itself rather than the miners.

Zoellner does sexualize the ore and its uses over and over again throughout the book.  Overtly.  Strangely.  And uncomfortably given the lack of emotion in the rest of the book.  He makes a penis-vagina analogy for the slamming together of the uranium masses in an atomic bomb.  Subatomic particle physics are described as orgiastic.  Here's a quote: "Man's most carnal tendencies are inflamed by the most modern of elements, uranium." On and on.

He did score a point with me by citing William Faulkner's Nobel prize speech in which he cites fear of being blown up as squelching effect on society in the 1950s.

So, what did I learn from Uranium?  Taking a lead from the author's fixation, I learned that Genghis Kahn was apparently quite the stud.  "DNA tests reveal that one sixteenth of the population of eastern Asia is genetically descended from one person, believed to be Genghis Kahn."  Booyah.

I much preferred Reed and Stillman's The Nuclear Express.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

I intend to live forever...

I suspect you may be tired of hearing about Eno's new album but he also has a companion project, Seven Sessions on a Milk Sea, consisting of weekly releases of short improvisations shot on video in Eno's London Studio.

Still on the fence about a career in science?  Perhaps these Science Cheerleaders can influence your decision.  Seriously.  And once fully engaged in your scientific career, you too can launch a paper airplane from space.  The logic of this is clear: "Somebody launched a bit of cheese out of a balloon, which we thought was a bit stupid."  That'll show 'em.

Another failure of communism: Russia seeks to regain its pre-revolutionary status of having the best lavatories.  If dog poo can power a streetlight, can astro-poo power spacecraft?

 They have a suppository for sufferers of connocting poopie.

Top 20 hard-learned lessons from 20 years of programming.  (#17 No project is ever simple.)  Which of the 6 types of software engineers are you?  (The hot-shot: "Drinks Red Bull and stacks empty cans up in his cube as some sort of offering to the God of Unmaintainable Software.")

With Xmas just around the corner, now's the time to stock up on bacon goodness.  Sweet Meats offers the Shapin' Bacon plush toy and pillow while the kids might prefer My First Bacon talking plush.
  • Intelligent Lights brings FieldView into the cloud. 
  • RealFlow is fluids and dynamics simulation software for creating visual effects for film.
  • David Meerman Scott's latest book, Real-Time Marketing & PR, is on both the NY Times' and USA Today's best sellers lists.
Deelip pulls no punches in describing the Adobe 3D PDF train wreck.  Maybe Adobe should've read this tongue-in-cheek piece about How to Piss Off Customers.  (#12, Without advance warning, drop features from the product that the customer depends on.)

Need data?  Try Infochimps where you'll find everything from a list of over 100,000 Scrabble-suitable words to the first billion digits of pi.  Listen and compare the different regional accents of English at the Speech Accent Archive.  "Please call Stella..."

Roy Lichtenstein's Ohhh... Alright... sold at auction for $42.6 million.

The recent Christie's auction of Post-War and Contemporary Art featured some awesome paintings and set some sales records.  Roy Lichtenstein's Ohhh... Alright... (above) sold for an auction record $42,642,500.  Mark Rothko's No. 18 (Brown and Black on Plum) sold for a relative bargain price of $9.6 million and Jackson Pollock's Eyes in the Heat II brought in $6.2 million.

In other auction news, Edward Tufte is auctioning his collection of rare books on 02 Dec.  You can bid on Galileo's Sidereus Nuncias for about $800,000 (I've seen the book - it's impressive) or a first edition, signed copy of Josef Albers' Interaction of Color for around $4,000.

Watch as a Saab Viggen lands, stops, and takes off again in 60 seconds.  Ogle this 360 degree interactive panorama of an Airbus A380 cockpit.   Not sure Han Solo will like this but the Millenium Falcon blueprints (including secret compartments) are now online.

 Convert any image to a cartoon with Convert to Cartoon.

Convert a YouTube video to an animated GIF using GIFSoup. Convert yourself (or a friend) into an action hero toy with Be A Doll.

In an interview with Joseph Gelmis in 1969, Stanley Kubrick talks openly about the meaning of 2001: A Space Oddyssey. "2001, on the other hand, is basically a visual, nonverbal experience. It avoids intellectual verbalization and reaches the viewer's subconscious in a way that is essentially poetic and philosophic. The film thus becomes a subjective experience which hits the viewer at an inner level of consciousness, just as music does, or painting."   The interview is quite long and quite worth the time to read.

Guitarist Adrian Belew shared insights into his music at a class conducted at the Enjoy Jazz Festival earlier this month in Germany.  Timekeeping and mathematics are at the core of his playing on tunes such as King Crimson's Frame by Frame where he and Robert Fripp start out in unision on a 14 note phrase but Fripp drops the last note so that the two phrases only synch up every 14th cycle.  This technique gets even more exciting in other tunes where the phrasing is not only rhythmically offset but played in a different key.

Back in '42 the outcome of WWII wasn't certain by any stretch of the imagination.  Perhaps that's why Life magazine's publication of maps of potential invasions of the continental U.S. are so intriguing.  If you prefer something more current, here are several nuclear war scenarios.

Fresh Balls is either one of the most elaborate faux-products on the internet or a must-have holiday stocking stuffer.

...or die trying.  ~Groucho Marx

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Eno's Small Craft on a Milk Sea vs. Gunn's Modulator

Small Craft on a Milk Sea is the latest album from Brian Eno.  Together with Jon Hopkins and Leo Abrahams, the 15 tracks on Small Craft are the latest sonic landscapes from the man who virtually created the ambient genre.

It's tempting to try to call this work an evolution but that would imply some sort of predictable maturation of Eno's music and that's not the case here.  Small Craft doesn't sound like an extension of what came before.  It's edgier, a little darker, and more rhythmic than its ambient predecessors.   Just take the album's cover and title as an example.  The "milk sea" provokes an aura of serenity and smoothness but simultaneously the "small craft" imposes sensations of isolation and foreboding portent.  That's reflected in the music - beautiful keyboard work contrasted with wiry guitars.  Emerald and Stone, cited by some reviewers as being inferior to all the other tracks, is one of my favorites.  It's a brief airy piano piece with a simple melody that contrasts nicely with Flint March, a percussive up-tempo track with an African feel.

Another trap of Eno's work is to somehow explain it through some psuedo-intellectual and overly serious bullshit.  So let's cut to the chase.  What Eno, Hopkins, and Abrahams have created here are some wonderfully lush and intricately detailed pieces of music that are great fun to listen to and mentally explore.  If you have the time, I highly recommend the hilarious mock interview with Eno about Small Craft.  Although it's done with quite a bit a humor, Eno does get his points across and the ideas he expressed did influence my approach to the album.

Trey Gunn's Modulator, on the other hand, is a completely different piece of work.  Whereas Eno's Small Craft is the result of collaboration and improvisation, Gunn's work results from the juxtaposition of two distinct performances widely separated in time and space.

In 2006, drummer Marco Minnemann recorded an hour-long drum solo.  Then from 2008 to 2010 Gunn recorded guitar tracks over Minnemann's solo.  The result is something that requires active listening, and I mean that in the nicest way possible.  While you drift musically over Eno's Milk Sea, Gunn's guitar, bass, and other performances are like a game of musical Tetris you play to discover how the two tracks fit together.

Flood is a track where Gunn's excellent guitar melodies dominate a rather conventional beat played out by Minnemann.  When Minnemann goes off the beaten path as on Switch, it's Gunn whose playing becomes almost rhythmic in an attempt to keep pace.  Modulator is a tempest interplay of rhythm and time signatures.  On his blog at treygunn.com, Gunn writes "with great restrictions come great creative leaps."

What's interesting about these two works is how they both build off of the loss of control as a means of engaging the listener.  Eno's musical oeuvre repeatedly delves into painting (77 Million Paintings) and movies (Music for Films).  These works force the user to be an active participant through the omission of the essential tangible elements (the canvas, the film), allowing the listener to fill in the blanks.  Sound has been liberated from structure.  Look again at Small Craft's cover.  The milk sea, the sonic landscape, is there.  The small craft is not - that vessel is what we listeners bring to the work.  Gunn gave up control at the onset when he as artist framed his playing within Minneman's drum work.  Gunn leaves it to us to rediscover the structure that Eno surrendered.

After silence, that which comes nearest...

Last week I linked to something about Google's engineering organization.  Now here's insight into Facebook's engineering management.  With respect to hiring: "The quality of coworkers is the single greatest determinant of workplace happiness."  Rand shares what he wishes he knew before he started his company, SEOmoz.  (#4 Quality trumps quantity.)

 The Large Hadron Collider is cooking up a quark-gluon soup.

12 tips for using Twitter for business from companies who've tweeted their way to success.  How so?  Dell uses Twitter for special offers leading to $3 million in sales directly sourced from Twitter.  You can use TweetReach to gauge the range and influence of your tweets.   Saying that CAD vendors should ignore social media is like saying they should stop answering their phones.  Like any medium, embrace it where it makes sense.
  • FLOW-3D's fall 2010 newsletter is out including a cool tip for generating an STL file of the mold from the part and system runner without having to build a CAD model.
  • In Desktop Engineering's (and NAFEMS') article Improving Product Development with CAE the author says that close integration of CFD and FEA is (for simulating the noise caused by fluid sloshing in your gas tank when you slam on the brakes) is a key to future success in CAE.
  • ADINA now has a direct FEMAP interface.
  • Symscape's flexible licensing let's you avoid tooling-up costs for CFD.
  • How CFD and Tecplot can minimize sonic booms.
  • Rocketdyne has been awarded a $1.35 million contract to develop a new CFD code for rocket engines, ALREST-HFM.
  • Symscape's November 2010 newsletter is out with a tip on animating particle paths.
We all know the internet is mostly full of garbage (case in point: this blog).  So before you add your content to the cyber landfill, you might first develop a content strategy.  (This is a long article with lots of supporting references and citations so I've set it aside for a more detailed read-through later.)

Today's aircraft pr0n: Lockheed Martin's F-22 Raptor Flickr photoset.

There's no telling what happened at the now-abandoned airbase on Johnson Atoll.   Tom Clancy's new novel, Dead or Alive, is due out on December 7th.  On a related note, Clancy's The Hunt for Red October is number 9 on NPR's top 100 "killer thrillers." (#1 The Silence of the Lambs, #2 The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (really?), #3 Kiss the Girls, #4 The Bourne Identity (Hooray!))

We are as guilty as writing poor error messages as anyone else.  Here are tips we should follow to better communicate errors.

In their NVIDIA Graphics Card Shootout, Kubotek's tests reveal that the $800 pro card outperformed its $150 consumer card little brother on 9 of 15 OpenGL tests.  But the author still recommends that you might be better off buying the cheap card and spending the difference on CPU and RAM.

Mr. Magoo came from UPA and this series of blog posts tells the story of their decline (a clash of business and art).  Disney, of course, suffered no such demise.  Maybe that was due to Walt's ideas on how to train an animator including the qualities they must possess (you have to read the entire 8 page memo).
  • good draftsmanship
  • understanding of caricature features and action
  • appreciation of acting
  • ability to create gags
  • story construction
  • knowledge of the mechanics of the work
Forms are the bane of a web designer's existence.  Here are some web form tips and tricks that should help you get the info you want with as little effort from the user as possible.   And if your forms use a Captcha (that squiggly text that you have to retype) you might consider switching to simple logic question captchas.  You can also go directly to Forms that Work, the companion web site to the same-named book.  Since this has turned into the web design paragraph, I'll link to this rather interesting article on styling breadcrumbs, how Google's recommended practice of using » is wrong, and how there are few other good alternatives.

 Get a logo that's guaranteed to suck for only $5 from Horrible Logos.

Are you interested in CAD and user interface design?  Then this long comparison of SolidWorks and Solid Edge is for you.  One conclusion: "Solid Edge as a product shows much more attention to detail in the interface."
Deelip talks to a lot of CAD people.
  • From his conversation with SolidWorks CEO Jeff Ray: "Let's kill SolidWorks the way SolidWorks has killed some other companies."
  • He was at the Dassault Systemes Customer Conference (DSCC) where he heard CEO Bernard Charles say "The heart of [CATIA] V6 is social innovation."
  • Then later he spoke with Bernard Charles including how Charles spent "320 million dollars for a 9 million dollar company losing money" 
  • And now with DraftSight director Aaron Kelly including why the software may never have 3D capabilities.
Someone's gone to quite a bit of effort to visualize the cycle of Aunt Flo's visits.  Yummy, delicious Koopa.  Art meets science: see how Scan&Solve computes an FEA solution on a sculpture. If you think the world needs another browser, perhaps RockMelt is for you.

 NASA's Epoxi mission had a close encounter with comet Hartley 2.

Whatcolor is a cool site where the URL you specify shows you how your color selections will look online.  For example, if you want to see what hex color #abcdef looks like, go to http://whatcolor.heroku.com/abcdef. For something a bit more interactive, choose colors with Piknik simply by moving the mouse around the screen.  If you use InDesign, here's your ultimate InDesign toolbox.

This link is for precisely one person and he knows who he is: the right hand rule.

...to expressing the inexpressible is music.  ~Aldous Huxley

    Sunday, November 7, 2010

    The Unwritten Laws of Engineering - Part 2

    Relating Chiefly to Engineering Managers

    Mechanical Engineering magazine continues its 3-part series on The Unwritten Laws of Engineering in their November 2010 issue.  This series of articles, based the articles and book by W.J. King and James G. Skakoon,  continues with Part 2 subtitled Relating Chiefly to Engineering Managers.  So whereas part 1 was for the newbies at work this one is for their bosses.

    The odd thing is that while these laws of engineering seem like common sense, they can be as equally hard to implement for a manager as the other rules are for novice engineers.

    Individual Behavior and Technique

    Do not try to do it all by yourself. Simply stated by the authors, "You must delegate responsibility even if you could cover all the ground yourself."  Delegation is simply a matter of opportunity cost - even if you could do it all yourself, what other things, more valuable things, aren't you doing?  I was fortunate enough to work for one boss early in my career who not only delegated work but would support you and your work if challenged.  Speaking as a control freak, delegation isn't easy.

    Every manager must know what goes on in his or her domain.  Even though Part 1 advised beginners to keep their bosses informed of everything significant, at the end of the day it's still your job as boss to cultivate your own awareness.  In my early years my employer collected a weekly progress report (i.e. 1 or 2 sentences) from each member of the group and cobbled those together into a report for the entire group (i.e. worthless).  Keep in mind that this was back when the report was typed by a secretary on a typewriter.  Some of us more anal-retentive types will have regular meetings and maintain extensive documentation in some software tool while still others may practice "management by walking around."  Find what works best for you and apply it.

    Cultivate the habit of "boiling matters down" to their simplest terms.  The authors state it best: "The mental discipline to instinctively impel one to the heart of the matter is one of the most valuable qualities of a good executive."  We all know people who get mired in all the details.  Certainly engineering is complex and involves tradeoffs among many factors, technical and otherwise.  But for management, the so-called view from 50,000 feet is the only way to make decisions that propel progress.   I know an engineer who tackles a problem by starting with the most complicated example of the problem he can think of.  By contrast (back when I got to do a lot of engineering) I'd start by solving a basic version of the problem and then add complexity layer by layer.  I don't know what that has to do with getting to the heart of the matter but it's a good story.

    Cultivate the habit of making brisk, clean-cut decisions.  This is a hard skill to develop.  You'd like to think that you earned your managerial position based on skill and accumulated wisdom and decisions would be relatively easy.   But studies have shown that fear of making a mistake can delay decisions and can, over time, cripple one's ability to lead.  And forget about trying to please everyone - Mom was right - you can't.  My experience is that decisions generally don't get easier with time and delays often introduce problems you wouldn't have had otherwise.  Often what plagues engineer managers is the lack of data upon which to base a decision.  You have to balance that lack of data with your experience.

    Managing Design and Development Projects

    Learn project management skills and techniques, then apply them to the activities that you manage.  As a project manager you'll be executing your organization's standard processes and procedures for defining a project's objectives, monitoring progress toward those objectives, and adjusting the plan along the way as bottlenecks occur (and they will).  It's a matter of ensuring that all participants have the same set of expectations.  A musical analogy is the symphony conductor - not necessarily an expert on every instrument but essential for keeping the musicians on tempo and on beat.

    On Organizational Structures

    Make sure that everyone, managers and subordinates, has been assigned definnite positions and responsibilities within the organization.  Just like you don't send nine guys on the field to play baseball without assigning them positions, you need to make sure all your people have well defined roles and responsibilities.  It's easy to understand that if your people don't know what to do the team's efficiency will suffer.  But more importantly, you have to realize that finding out indirectly that your job has changed or finding out that you're doing the same thing as someone else is sure to kill morale.

    Make sure that all activities and all individuals are supervised by someone competent in the subject matter involved.  This isn't the quandary it seems.  You only have to be competent, not superior, to your subordinates.  After all, they deserve to have their performance judged by someone knowledgeable in the field.  Perhaps your organization isn't setup this way.  Not to worry - this is where a mentor from outside the chain of command can help.

    What All Managers Owe Their Employees

    Never misrepresent a subordinate's performance during performance appraisals.  This seems like something you shouldn't have to say.  It's a simple matter of honesty and integrity.

    Make it unquestionably clear what is expected of employees.  In order to evaluate everyone's performance it seems only fair that you set explicit goals and expectations in order to provide a quantitative basis for evaluation.  The article introduces the idea of SMART goals: goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based.  As engineers, we should all be comfortable with this idea of making things measurable.  But too often we approach supervision of personnel as something soft and squishy.  Or we project our own thoughts onto the other person thinking "of course it's pretty obvious what to do."

    You owe it to your subordinates to keep them properly informed.   These rules were originally written back in the 1940s otherwise they would've said "Don't treat your subordinates like mushrooms - don't keep them in the dark and feed them shit."  Notice that information sharing is a two-way street.  They are to keep you informed (but it's still your job to actively remain in-the-know).  But you need to let them know what's expected of them, inform them when they aren't meeting expectations, ensure they know how their job fits into the overall organization, and keep them up to date on relevant industry trends.

    Never miss a chance to commend or reward subordinates for a job well done.  This is another aspect of management that's harder than it sounds.  When people do well it's too easy to claim they're just doing their job.  It take discipline on your part to remember to recognize their efforts and to do so publicly.  To provide a counter example, I'd recommend not doing what one of my bosses once did.  After describing what we'd been working on he replied "pretty easy stuff" and walked away.  (For the record, we had been doing a good job.)

    Always accept full responsibility for your group and the individuals in it.  At the end of the day, the buck stops with you.  Being a manager means having the authority but being a professional means assuming the responsibility.  When they succeed, it's all due to them.  When they fail, it's your problem.

    Read my thoughts on Part 1, What the Beginner Needs to Learn at Once.

    Saturday, November 6, 2010

    Technique is what you fall back on...

     Excellent video.  You must watch The Kandinsky Effect.  That's why I put it first.

    More stuff about PTC's launch of Creo.
    • When PTC's Heppelman says "You're coming with us on this incredible journey.  We're leaving no one behind." Dezignstuff asks "Is that an invitation or a forced march?"
    • Desktop Engineering posted photos from the Creo launch to their Facebook page and more photos on their DE Exchange site.
    • CAD Insider weighs in with this: "Not in my wildest dreams would I have thought PTC would scuttle their product line as they have done."
    • The Beyond PLM blog questions "It will be interesting to see how to sell this strategy [applications and app stores] to engineering software folks." 
    • The CADCAM blog provides a simple overview of the announcement, including background on the product name.   Creo is the Latin root of the word create.
    • upFront.eZine gives a more detailed overview. (I have a hard time imagining a worse name for a publication.)
    • And WorldCAD Access has their say.
    OnStartups offers 11 harsh realities of being an entrepreneur.   (#3 You will make less than normal wages for a while.)   The one I find most interesting is "#7 Customers will frustrate you."  Years ago we purchased a bunch of demotivational signs from Dallas-based Despair, Inc.  One of them was titled "Customer Service" and the caption read something like "This job would be great if it weren't for all the customers."  Like all good humor, there's a kernel of truth here.  But often the reason why customers are frustrated is poor communication on your part.  You try and try and try but often you're just not properly setting everyone's expectations.  On the other hand, there are customers who are jerks.  But keep in mind that jerkiness is a relative, not an absolute, quality.  They appear like jerks to you but may be great people in the eyes of others.  That works for you (and me) too.  (OK, there are people who are absolute jerks.)

    So, how do you measure customer happiness?  One way is to invest in the customer experience, rather than narrowly focusing on the product and think critically about every interaction they have with your company and optimize that for what the customer is trying to accomplish.  Remember that bit I wrote above about expectations?  Know what your customers are expecting and do your best to match that.

    China has a lot of the world's minerals, including 91% of the antimony.
    Which country has the world's most valuable materials?  (85% of the world's beryllium comes from the U.S.)  While the large graphic in the magazine was better, this article on Fast Company's web site does a fair job of illustrating who has what.

    Here's an interesting idea for a new employee's first day at work - don't show them where the bathrooms are until they check in some code.  Now THAT's motivation.  The color of your toilet is a clue to your home's history.  (Avocado = 1970s)

    Those wacky people at Jones Soda have done it now: Bacon Soda.

    Winsor McCay, the animator credited with producing the first animated film in 1914 with Gertie the Dinosaur, was also a political cartoonist.  Here's the web site of Fleischer Studios and their animated creations including Betty Boop.

    Your web site, Powerpoint, and other graphic design will probably improve if you read these 10 lessons for better coloring from a cartoonist. (I found the lesson on color theory most interesting.)

    Alexei Kapterev offers tips on how to avoid Death by PowerPoint.  You should present to "make meaning" which you can only do with passion.   Significance creates passion, passion attracts attention, attention leads to action.

    Terrible Choices is a bizarre web site that presents you with two activities, each of which is pretty bad, and asks "which one would you choose?"  (Example: Give a public speech in front of 500,000 people versus A mean 15 year old bully kicks you in the shin for 30 minutes.)

    Be sure to watch the video of Boeing's Heliplane.

    A chapter closes in the aerospace world: Burt Rutan is retiring.  Just flip the Fly switch and off you go in this version of the flying car.  (Caveat: it's a paramotor, a powered paraglider.)  Even cooler is Boeing's retractable-blade Heliplane.

    I'm afraid I'm conditioning you to avoid bulleted lists.
     I've never seen the movie, but now I can make the Inception sound.

    This brief slideshow documents how to avoid Google's mistakes when it comes to managing engineers.  (#1 Managers/Team Leaders needed to recognize that they were now in service of their team, not individual contributors.)  What really got my attention was a quote, apparently from an unhappy Google engineer, about incentives: "I got $100 for doing this huge thing.  I can poop $100." I'll let you Google for Joel Spolky's blog post about "incentive pay considered harmful."

    So much to read, so little time in which to read it.  I've only read 5 of the 28 resources on 52 Weeks of UX's essential UX reading list.  (Two of my 5 are Edward Tufte's great books.)

    "A poet named Shi lived in a stone house..."   And so begins a Chinese story in which every syllable is pronounced "shi".  I verified this with a real live Chinese person who said the story is difficult to recite even for a native speaker.  It must be their version of a very long tongue twister.

     The 2011 Typographic Wall Calendar is a project to make a calendar for the year 2011 out of keyboard keys.

    What's in your browser?  Capital One apparently doesn't like Firefox users.  Here's a report that they offer different interest rates depending on which browser you use.  (Firefox 3.5%, Opera 3.1%, Safari 2.7%, Chrome 2.3%)  Internet Explorer has apparently stolen quite a few hours from people's lives.  Over 9,000 years to be more accurate.

    The Oatmeal cartoons "the crap we put up with getting on and off an airplane."  (Annoying: removing your shoes, coat, and laptop and putting them into little bins.  More Annoying: The feeling that you have to do this at a thousand miles and hour because of the people behind you.)

     The United States of Movies with each state represented by a film.  Texas is "No Country for Old Men."

    Still use #2 pencils?  Have spare cash?  Then try Artisanal Pencil Sharpening.  MLB offers these GigaPan photos of the crowd at each World Series game.  If you attended, find and tag yourself.

    Because the subconscious mind is energized when it jumps to the beginning of a new line of text, the optimal line length for your website or blog is 60 characters, or at least within a 50-75 character range.  For web design, this leads to the inevitable conclusion that you should use a fixed rather than liquid layout.  Here are 30 CSS selectors you must memorize.

    This is sazipfy: a random word generator.  From Chucky to Clover, evil comes in all sizes. Ever wonder how many kegs of beer equal one human stomach?  Then the Weird Converter is for you.  The museum of burnt food.   Seems my Roomba has a little competition: the Neato XV-11.

    The cousin tree helps you keep track of your family relations.

    Do you know Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov and how he probably prevented a thermonuclear war?  During the Cuban Missile Crisis he alone among the top ranking officers on a Soviet submarine voted "no" to launching a nuclear torpedo at a U.S. Navy warship.  Another guy who did a good thing via restraint is former Secret Service agent Gerald Blaine who almost shot LBJ within hours of the JFK assassination.  This is why I like the alternate history fiction genre - imagine the potential outcomes.

    You either get this joke or you don't.  Aziz Light.  (It literally made me LOL.)

    ...when you run out of inspiration.  ~Rudolf Nureyev

    Wednesday, November 3, 2010

    Midnight Runner by Jack Higgins, read by Patrick Macnee

    When you've been listening to audio books from a limited source (the public library) for a couple of decades you're bound to repeat yourself, sometimes by accident.

    That's the case with Midnight Runner.  It's not necessarily a bad story but Patrick Macnee's voice acting is absolutely horrid.  I had to eject the CD before the first one (of seven) finished.  I figured since I'd heard the story before why should I suffer through Macnee's crap again.

    My revenge on the Avenger?

    Tuesday, November 2, 2010

    Lord of the Flies by William Golding

    Yes, Golding's Lord of the Flies is a classic.  (They don't give away Nobel Prizes in Literature for nothing.)  Yes, I read it in high school.  No, I had actually forgotten the details of the ending.  But after recently finishing Brave New World, this seemed like a good choice for the next book.  (I also considered 1984 but I have read that within the last year or so.)

    I've always said that anyone who believes that humans are inherently good has never seen children play.  A six year old would just as soon give you a hug as poke you in the eye with a sharp stick for a tootsie roll found in a puddle. Golding seems to be coming from the same place.

    There's no sense in rehashing the plot because most everyone is familiar with the story.  What was interesting about this audio book is that it was narrated by the author himself.  What he lacks as a voice actor he made up for with brief prologue and epilogue that shared insight into the novel.

    The idea for the story arc came from two distinct boyhood visions of Golding's.  The first, a wonderfully happy boy in love with the idea of being marooned on a desert island.  The second, a boy weeping for his loss of innocence.  Golding says that the most important message within this arc, is an exchange between Jack, the choir boy turned hunter chieftan, and Piggy, the pudgy voice of reason.  Jack rejects the rules, old and new, to which Ralph, their chief, attempts to hold them. Piggy replies that "they're the only thing we've got."  And that's simply Golding's point - it's this rule of law that we need to prevent a fall into chaos.

    Golding also assures feminists that his choice of boys only was made for very good reasons.  First, he wasn't a girl growing up and therefore had no personal experiences to draw upon.  Second, he wanted to avoid the inevitable issue of sex.  More importantly, he doesn't believe an island full of girls would fracture in the same manner as boys, if at all.

    That's all.  A worthy read.  A classic that's perfect for all young people.

    "Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man’s heart, and the fall through the air of a true, wise friend called Piggy."