Saturday, January 28, 2012

Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson

I know what you're thinking. Robopocalypse? Really? I know. It sounds cheesy. I thought the same thing when I picked it out. But it was late and the library had already made their "last call" announcement and it looked new so I took it.

Author Daniel H. Wilson has a Ph.D. in robotics from Carnegie Mellon and an academic pedigree that allows him to write intelligently about his subject matter. Imagine a near future when all our computerized gadgets are turned against us by a computer that is not just super intelligent - it has become sentient. This, of course, is one of the commonly cited doomsday scenarios that will end human life on Earth. Wilson is able to turn this concept into a plot that doesn't sound too farfetched.

The novel follows the exploits of several widely dispersed (Oklahoma, Afghanistan, England, Japan) people or groups of people as they fight their own battles versus the machines. Wilson crafts several interesting scenarios as the robots begin to evolve into forms more well suited to killing humans than the simple household robots and automated cars that started the war.

But the scenarios are part of the problem. They're too widely dispersed in space and time (the war spans over 2 years) to maintain pacing and interest. It also leaves very little time for introspection and rich character development. Lots of characters die. I really didn't care. Several potentially interesting subplots are virtually untouched. What exactly makes a robot self-aware and alive? What is Archos, the leader of the robots, thinking? What's the rationale for the actions he takes? What's he gonna do when all the people are dead?

Where Wilson falls short is the dialog. I often thought to myself "No one talks like that." He also takes certain liberties to keep the novel moving that involve characters being able to figure out what's happening way too quickly. Like on the first day of the uprising when all the robotic things start attacking their former human masters, too many characters are able to surmise within 24 hours that this is a global coordinated event instead of just some local, and perhaps accidental, disaster.

One reviewer compared Wilson's Robopocalypse to Michael Crichton's Andromeda Strain. Even accounting for my personal fondness for Andromeda, that's a bit of a stretch. Andromeda Strain is a great novel and a great movie (the original). Robopocalypse isn't quite there yet. On the other hand, Crichton's later work like Prey may be a more apt comparison because he doesn't write novels as much as he cranks out screenplays on an 8th grade level. Sorry - didn't mean for this to devolve into Crichton bashing.

Wilson's Robopocalypse was an enjoyable, albeit light, sci-fi experience.

If you judge a fish by its ability to fly...

Here's a great 1-minute video animation that visualizes classical music as a roller-coaster.

Ellsworth Kelly, Red, Dark Blue, Dark Green, 1986. Is it painting, sculpture or installation? Perhaps it's better to think of it as Line, Shape, Color.
Beer mavens: the sky is falling! Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) endangers micro brewer. (You know, the natural gas isn't just gonna jump out of the ground.)

See if you can tell whether the painting is by artist or ape. I fear taking tests like this but got them all right (this time).
Do you lie awake at night wondering why eπi = -1? Science to the rescue.

Lest you think science is all about flashy mathematical proofs, it's good to know that in these days of obsessive multi-tasking and short attention spans science is also taking a very long view of some fundamental issues. Just like the owl who determined that it takes 3 licks to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop (young children - you should just Google that), an 80+ year experiment shows that it takes pitch (a tar-like substance) that long to produce 9 drops. The pitch drop experiment at the University of Queensland set out to demonstrate that things that act like solids in some circumstances act like liquids in others. This behavior is less esoteric than you think. Ever notice how Silly Putty will slowly drip like chewing gum but if you jerk on it with both hands it will snap? That's an example of strain rate behavior - when the strain is low the material acts like a liquid. When the strain is high it acts like a solid.

In addition to leering men, what exactly are the dangers of wearing high heels? Science to the rescue!
You've probably never seen Newton's laws of motion as delightfully animated as in this video.

This may be as close to a Monty Python reunion as we can expect. Terry Jones will direct Absolutely Anything, a "sci-fi farce," with former Python members voicing the characters.

B-17G Flying Fortress - just because

Are there fundamental laws of cooking? Yes, the first of which is that I shouldn't do it. The second law says that good food pairings share the same underlying molecular components. For example, shrimp and Parmesan cheese share 1-penten-3-ol.
While doing my regular reading at Allure's Daily Beauty Reporter blog, I came across this doozy: should perfume be banned in public? Of course, the answer is "no." But if this law survives New Hampshire's legislature I'm gonna lobby for a ban on saggy pants, tongue piercings, comb-overs, and coffee breath.

There's no need to ban exposed nose hairs now that we have CHOLOLI, an web-based service for anonymously policing those with exposed nostril follicles.

Does this look like multiplication to you? Me neither. But watch this video and prepare to think.
Find out who's using all teh interwebs with this real-time internet traffic monitor from Akamai.

Astronomy pr0n: NASA's latest high resolution satellite image of the earth: Blue Marble
Oral sex may cause more oral cancer in men than smoking. (Seems kinda obvious - oral sex, oral cancer, duh.)

A North Carolina inmate is believe to have smuggled a .38 caliber revolver into jail concealed in his rectum. Silent but deadly? Protection against prison rape? Fell on it after slipping in the shower? Gives new meaning to "stick up?" Explosive diarrhea? will spend the rest of its life believing it's stupid. ~Albert Einstein (paraphrased)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Too Bad Tim Tebow Is White

The hue and cry about Denver quarterback Tim Tebow's overt religiosity is simply due to the fact that he's a big, dorky, white, self-proclaimed virgin. He's also a quarterback with a throwing motion that's a cross between a Bulgarian shot putter and Sandy from accounting, the right fielder on the office's softball team.

Would so many dare criticize him so publicly if he were black? I don't think so. Imagine if Michael Vick had found Jesus while in prison and had become a vocal fan boy. Do you think he'd be mocked so vehemently? I don't. (That's not to say that he wouldn't still be haunted by the dog fighting business. However, it is interesting to me that folks are much less indignant about players' crimes against people. But I digress.)

Perhaps it's because we want our players in the National Felons League (the rapists, wife beaters, drug runners, anger management candidates) to have failed at least once so we fans can graciously grant them our forgiveness before permitting them to succeed on the field. But does anyone want Ben Roethlisberger dating their daughter?

Is Tim's post-TD Tebowing any more ludicrous than Ray Lewis' pregame dance? Hardly. But the prospect of mocking Lewis is much less palatable than mocking Tebow. After all, guys like Tebow have that whole "turn the other cheek" thing working against them so the perceived threat of reprisal is minimized. It's kinda like that scene from Fight Club where the homework is to pick a fight with a random person.  When that person happens to be a priest the results are humorous at best.

It's a bit incongruous that while many want the No Fun League to back off touchdown celebrations involving choreography, Sharpies, popcorn and the like even more scorn a guy for taking a knee. Discount double check anyone? The NFL's war on extended fingers doesn't include those raised toward the heavens saluting a deity or a dearly departed relative.

Brett Favre's performance during the game following his father's passing was as transcendent as anything I'll ever see in football. It was magical, there's no other way to explain it. Being "in the zone" is a vast understatement. He was operating on another plane. But years later Brett was Weinering before Rep. Anthony Weiner gave it a name.

In an editorial, Sally Jenkins quotes theologian Michael J. Murray's position that we're all ill at ease with intrusions of personal faith. They can make us question whether we're backing the wrong team (and I don't mean the Broncos).  If we're not currently a fan they can make us question if perhaps we ought to buy a team jersey. They make us defensive, especially when they appear out of context like during a sporting event. A lot of the needling also misses (perhaps purposefully for comedic purposes) the point. As Jesuit theologian James Martin writes, its not about individual prayers heard and the implication that other prayers are not, it's that with faith all may not go well but in the end everything will be alright.

Frankly, I don't care one way or the other. Preferably, everyone will get mocked equally. I'm not a religious person so I don't care if anyone thanks God for a touchdown. I'm not a fan of Tebow's so I don't care whether he succeeds or fails. But it does seem that Tebowing is fairly benign relative to other behaviors in the NFL.

Maybe Jesus doesn't care either.


Where Have All the Engineers Gone?

Every few years we read about the lack of engineers and how the lack of STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) graduates is a threat to our national economic security.

The article How Science Degrees Stack Up in the February 2012 issue of Scientific American points out that more STEM degrees are being awarded now than in the past 20 years. The workforce issue is a result of these STEM majors choosing to work in non-STEM fields like medicine and finance.

The article then goes on to say that these alternate fields provide the higher earning potential that graduates need to pay off ever increasing student loans.

I submit another explanation. The same companies that decry the lack of STEM graduates are also doing little to make STEM fields attractive to prospective employees and sustaining for current employees. To clarify, I don't see this as a generational issue to be solved by pandering to Gen-X, Gen-Y, Millenials, or whatever tag young people are wearing these days. It's an institutional issue about where employers see engineers fitting into their culture. All too often, in my opinion, engineers get the mushroom treatment. And that's been going on for quite some time.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Don't wait for the last judgement...

Good morning, friends. Wake up to this bacon sunrise. source
What do you get when you combine Stephen Hawking, Philip Glass, and Errol Morris? A film adaptation of Hawking's book A Brief History of Time. (The video's over an hour long so plan ahead.)

I have no idea how I managed to find this list of strange facts. The longest 1-syllable word in the English language is "screeched." The word "therein" contains 10 other words that can be made without rearranging any of its letters. "Stewardesses" is the longest word that is typed with only the left hand. And more.

People looking at Rothko in 1961. "I got visually drunk."
The simplest employee appraisal method ever: ask yourself whether you'd hire them again. For the ones you would rehire, consider this idea for giving them unlimited vacation time. And for those of you who've actually taken a vacation, please verify for me that it really does take 21 hours and 31 minutes before you start enjoying it. Finally, offering unlimited vacation may get you on the list of the 100 best companies to work for which includes software notables Google (#1), SAS (#3), Intuit (#19), (#27), Adobe (#41), Intel (#46), Autodesk (#52), Microsoft (#76), and Cisco (#90).

Ever wonder where the trees are?
Still trying to understand Cubify. It has aspects of GrabCAD (an online community for sharing 3D CAD models), social and mobile media, and a 3D printing bureau. Design and print your own toys?

The average age of a car in the U.S. is now 11.1 years making my 2001 wheels just about average.

I once won a prize (long since forgotten) at an amusement park by sinking a basketball shot at one of those games where the hoop is an impossibly odd height and distance away. How my son won a four foot tall stuffed Hulk doll remains a mystery. If your manliness is wrapped up in winning your date a prize at one of these state fair games here are some tips on success. Unfortunately, they don't provide advice on picking the correct rubber ducky from the hundreds floating by.

At CES, Qualcomm announced a new X Prize competition to build a Tricorder. You know, that thing that Dr. Bones McCoy on Star Trek used as a diagnostic aid. Build one and maybe win $10 million.

Science once again to the rescue. Small confined space, flammable gas, safety hazard. It's all about farting astronauts.

Would you use the e-Urinal, health monitoring/touch screen liquid waste device, in public? The real question is whether I can get it or any urinal for my home. (I do not recommend the "Look Ma, no hands!" technique as illustrated above. And thank you for the dashed line. I doubt I could've figured that out on my own. "How's my urine?" "On the floor!")
The best on this list of not boring coins is the 1943 steel cent and the fact that its unpopularity led to the 1944 and 1945 cents being made from recycled World War 2 shell casings.

Bacon soda, from the geniuses at Bacon Freak.

Ignore the infographic but use the calculator at the bottom to find your worth in gold. Here's where being portly pays off to the tune of $5,115,777.

Behold the iPoo. I expect the iPoo, like the e-Urinal, comes with a Siri-like health-monitoring assistant called Tipi. "How was that, Tipi?" "Lay off the hot wings, John."
Kaggle, making data science a sport. Companies, governments and organizations provide problems and folks compete to solve them with awards at the end. For example, measure the small distortion in images of galaxies caused by dark matter.

Airplane nerds: check out these airplane wallpapers.

To be in the top 1% your income has to be above around $340,000. Here's a graphic that shows the occupations that earn them so much money. (No big surprises - doctors, lawyers, and "managers.")
If I write "conjunction junction, what's your function?" and you immediately think Schoolhouse Rock you'll love this site with Schoolhouse Rock lyrics.

You might want to print this time travel cheat sheet and keep it in your wallet in case you ever get sent back in time. Otherwise, how will you remember how to pasteurize milk and make penicillin?

Check out Song Map, an imaginary streetmap populated with song titles and embedded streaming links to the music.

The penis fish looks like neither a penis nor a fish. Discuss. happens every day. ~Albert Camus

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Affair by Lee Child

The Affair, the latest of Lee Child's novels to feature Jack Reacher, may be one of my favorites because it tells the circumstances of how Reacher left the U.S. Army after a distinguished career as an MP.

The tale begins with Maj. Reacher being assigned as second string investigator on a civilian murder in a tiny Mississippi town outside an Army base. The first stringer is on the inside, working to ensure that no one from the Army was involved. Reacher's role is on the outside, where's he's to remain undercover and keep tuned to the local sentiment and any progress made by the local sheriff, an ex-Marine and stunning woman.

The rest of The Affair features Reacher at his best - keen instincts, attention to the tiniest detail, and his own personal brand of justice, right and wrong. Reacher needs them all because the sheriff has a history of her own and the Army has an agenda of its own. And in the end, it's Reacher who ends up a civilian.

There are a couple of things that don't work in The Affair. There are two romantic interludes that are a little over the top. Maybe I think that because listening to Dick Hill's precise baritone reading those passages during my commute home was a little unsettling. And there was a subplot involving Reacher's confrontations with the local toughs that never played out and I felt could easily have been dropped without influencing an iota of the story.

I can't emphasize enough that the main reason I'm hooked on Jack Reacher is because of Dick Hill's superb voice acting.

Through the fence...

My nookie days are over,
my pilot light is out.
What used to be my sex appeal
is now my water spout.
Time was when, on its own,
from my trousers it would spring,
but now its just a full time job
to find the fucking thing!
It used to be embarrassing
the way it would behave
for every single morning
it would stand and watch me shave.
Now as old age approaches
it sure gives me the blues
to see it hang its little head
and watch me tie my shoes.

What the hell. Give a listen to La Roux 'In For the Kill' by Skrillex.

Damien Hirst, Phe-Tyr, 2004-2011. The Complete Spot Paintings is on display at the Gagosian Gallery.
You should thrive in your job, not just be content. Or so says this article in HBR. Thriving employees have more satisfaction, less burnout, and perform better. So what makes for a thriving employee? Vitality, by knowing what you do makes a difference. And learning, developing skills, continued professional growth.

I infer from this article that a good way to get software developers to document their code is to have it done as part of the preparation for a code review. Program or be programmed makes the case that Americans need to learn reading, writing, and programming. Start learning now with these 30 free programming books, from Assembly to Ruby. Or shell scripting with Bash.

Time waster of the week. Gravitas is a deceptively simple game. Just rotate the black shapes until the red square falls out.
Both Sides of the Table is a blog I recently started following. It's written by a guy who was an entrepreneur (apparently a successful one) who's now a venture capitalist. He shares a post from yet another VC blog with 10 hypotheses for technology investing. (I think that really means 10 guesses I make when deciding where to spend my money.) Here they are cuz they're kinda interesting once you get past the VC-speak.
  1. "Next" Web Architecture = Hypernet + Hyperweb (no idea)
  2. Enterprises Adopting Consumer Technology (I think this means companies buying iPads and stuff like that instead of customized enterprise solutions.)
  3. Index Search is Peaking (no idea)
  4. Apple's App Model Has Undermined Economics of HTML4 Web (I think he's saying that mobile is dominant, that purchases are small, that the cloud is important.)
  5. HTML5 is a Game Changer for Publishers (This means that the web can be richer and more interactive.)
  6. Tablets are Hugely Disruptive (This is about the 3rd or 4th time this has come up the last week or so. Tablets have/will become the computing device of choice for a good portion of the population. The economics of who needs a laptop/desktop versus a tablet and how many more people can use a tablet than a laptop will change pricing and access models and force changes to the mobile infrastructure.)
  7. First Wave of Social Web is Over. (Look out Facebook and Twitter.)
  8. Smart Phone in U.S. = Apple + 7 Dwarfs (While I get their point, the first thing that popped into my head was the role of the apple in Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs. Have we been put to sleep by a poisoned apple?)
  9. Wireless Infrastructure is a Competitive Threat to the U.S. (See #6)
  10. Integration of TV and Internet Could be Disruptive (But it also could be like 3D TV.)

Certainly by now you've all read the news stories about the K-MAX unmanned cargo helicopter from Lockheed Martin and Kaman Aerospace.
A pub in the U.K. has a canine-friendly menu including a beer for dogs. (All my beer friends can insert their standard Bud/Miller jokes here.) Or I'll do it for them: Coors Light is the second highest selling beer in the U.S. behind Bud Light. From the same story, 4 of the top 5 U.S. beers are "light" (Bud, Coors, Miller, Natural) combining two American obsessions: alcoholism and weight loss.

Also for the drinkers, this list of 20 unique drinks to sample on your world travels includes Hirezake (crisped Fugu fin in hot sake). I know someone who had Hirezake in Tokyo and lived to tell the tale.

Authorities in Madison, Wisconsin earlier this month arrested Beezow Doo-Doo Zopittybop-Bop-Bop for having an incredibly stupid name. (Or for carrying a loaded handgun while on probation. Either way, it was deserved.)

What's the second most important element in writing after the title? The first sentence. (I guess I blew that this week.)

Bacon - wait for it - Jam.

When is a penny worth more than 1 cent? When it's a 1793 "chain cent" that sells at auction for $1.38 million.
NASA has setup a webb cam (see what they did there?) in the cleanroom where the James Webb Telescope is being assembled.

How many atoms does it take to store 1 bit of information? Currently about a million. But IBM has shown it can be done with as few as 12.

Not only do I like it when I find B. Kliban's cartoons online, but it's nice to also find someone else who thinks "Kliban = GENIUS."

Yawn. The American Dialect Society declares "occupy" as Word of the Year for 2011.

NME's 50 greatest guitar solos includes #49 Kansas, Carry On My Wayward Son, #47 Rage Against the Machine, Bulls on Parade, #10 Pink Floyd, Shine on You Crazy Diamond, and enough other unusual picks that there's something for everyone to hate.

The Restart Page emulates restarting many different operating systems.

You'll never guess how the 4 minute animated video Operation White Widow ends.
The movie Act of Valor (due for release on 24 Feb) is about Navy SEALs and stars real active-duty SEALs.

Gamers: play your vintage games on the Retrode, a retro gaming adapter that plugs into your computer's USB port. 

SciFi geeks: how'd you like to have a 12-foot long detailed model of the Serenity spacecraft?

A Tumblr blog about optical illusions. (According to the one from 11 January, I'm color blind.)

Best of the visualization web for December 2011, Part 1 and Part 2.

Clyfford Still, 1957-D No. 1, 1957. Buffalo News reports on Denver's Still museum. image source. more images.
Try to click on this guy's nose.

...between the curling flower spaces, I could see them hitting. ~William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury, 1929.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

What is the main reason dogs pant?

Here's a nice soundtrack for today: the Miles Davis Quintet Live in Europe 1967. Or you could make your own music on this Flash Guitar.

A frame from the innovative animated film Early Abstractions.
Just a couple days ago I was talking with a friend about how much we both liked the film Blade Runner. Now here's a online version of the rare Blade Runner Sketchbook featuring drawings and designs for many elements of the film, including some drawings by Ridley Scott himself.

Speaking of films, HuffPo gives us this list of the 20 most innovative animated films. It has what you'd expect (Fantasia, Gertie the Dinosaur), a good dose of anime, but other films that may surprise you. Of course, Disney and Chuck Jones get their due. Heavy Metal, which I recall seeing as a teenager for the titillation, also made the list which surprised me. Something new to me but also very good was Harry Smith's Early Abstractions (1946-1957). Works of that period that straddle the post WWII and early Cold War periods interest me. To me it transitioned from bits that were aboriginal to the atomic science and back again.

I have bandages that look like bacon (Thank you, Riane). So these Underpants Bandages would be a nice addition.

This one is for the wife. Someone had fun doing a CFD calculation around Mary Poppins and her umbrella.
With the end of the world coming up later in 2012 I'm not certain it's worth going out of your way to survive disasters, but this checklist from Popular Mechanics may come in handy. (Do you have enough bottled water at home? One gallon per person per day for three days.)

Back in 1923 when the "mechanical Demon" had practically abolished the horse and buggy, people were already trying to come to grips with Einstein's Theory of Relativity. This 20 minute video is one early attempt.

In 2009 author William Deresiewicz addressed the incoming class of students at West Point. His topic was Solitude and Leadership. It is reproduced in print form in The American Scholar and is one of the best essays I've ever read online.

2012 is a leap year meaning that we add February 29th to keep the calendar year and the astronomical year synchronized. What if we didn't have to do that? What if we had a calendar that not only eliminated leap years but also made every year identical in terms of dates and days of the week? Two academics from Johns Hopkins have done exactly that. Introducing the Hanke-Henry Permanent Calendar.

A German designer is publishing Geometry Daily on Tumblr. Every day he'll post a minimalist geometric composition.
Why do we compensate sales people with commissions? Good question. Here's one company's story about why they stopped.

This makes our idea for Breath of the Stars (clear pouches blown up by celebrities) seem almost viable: a restaurant saves and displays the crumbs left behind by public figures, Celebrity Leftovers.

Clyfford Still, 1956-J No. 1 Untitled, 1956 at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth
I have seen in person precisely one painting by Clyfford Still, 1956-J No. 1 Untitled at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. It's beautiful, arresting, angry, nuanced. More and more I've come to respect his work. (For background on Still, see this 3-part series on Modern Art Notes.) Denver's recently opened Clyfford Still Museum is on my short list of museums to visit (along with Buffalo's Albright-Knox Art Gallery and, of course, New York's Museum of Modern Art.) Still is quoted on his museum's website as saying "These are not paintings in the usual sense. They are life and death merging in a fearful union." So it was with particular interest that I read this week's news that an apparently intoxicated woman punched, scratched and (depending on which account you read) rubbed her bare buttocks on 1957-J No. 2 before falling to the floor and peeing herself. (Here's the museum's official statement.) Perhaps I can make a deal with the museum to take this damaged work off their hands for the cost of repairs (estimated to be $10,000). After all, the painting is valued in excess of $30 million (but that's pre-butt).

Know yer Lockheed Martin F-35B via this interactive rollover-animated schematic of its lift fan propulsion system.

What do you get when you mix pure mathematics and filmmaker David Lynch? You get the exhibit Mathematics: A Beautiful Elsewhere at the Foundation Cartier pour l'art contemporain in Paris. "Mathematicians are bright and shiny" he says in the interview linked to above. (I just wish those damn Europeans would stop calling it "maths." It's just math - singular.)

Dan Flavin's Four Red Horizontals (to Sonja) recently sold at auction for $1.7 million.
I never really thought of Stan Winston as underappreciated. After all, he's the man behind the creatures in Alien, Terminator, Edward Scissorhands, The Thing, the T-Rex in Jurassic Park, and more.

Do you need an online alarm clock?

Science answers the most vexing question of our time: what good is nose hair? (People with less hairy nostrils were found to be three times more likely to develop asthma.)

This photograph, A Splash of Rose, definitely falls into the cool category. It's a composite of 17 shots of colored water poured over a glass rose. Fortunately, the photographer is better at photography than writing which you'll understand if you read the write-up, hahaha.
There are blogs and then there are blogs. Like this one: the same picture of Dave Coulier every day. (Debate amongst yourselves whether Mr. Coulier is the subject of Alanis Morissette's You Oughta Know. While you're at it, discuss whether Carly Simon's You're So Vain is about Warren Beatty.)

They can't talk dirty. ~Paul Lynde

Monday, January 2, 2012

Silos, Politics, and Turf Wars by Patrick Lencioni

Silos, Politics, and Turf Wars must be the sixth management fable of Patrick Lencioni's that I've read. His books are all relatively easy reads, each centered around a fictional tale of a business problem and how it can be solved. In this case he addresses the issue of departments within an organization looking out for their own well-being instead of the health of the organization. These silos, like Sales or Engineering or Legal, focus narrowly on their own vertical function at the expense of the company.

The crux of this Lencioni fable is that teams usually pull together in the face of a crisis - like when the company is on the verge of going out of business. In the book, the protagonist's ah-ha moment comes during a visit to the hospital emergency room and he observed doctors, nurses, orderlies, and administration working well together.

The moral of this fable is that tearing down silos involves four things: a thematic goal, a set of defining objectives, a set of ongoing standard operating objectives, and metrics.

The thematic goal for the organization is a qualitative objective shared by all departments that applies for a specified time period. For example, a thematic goal might be completing a merger within six months, releasing a new product within a year, or rebranding existing products this quarter. The thematic goal is not a vision statement (because that exists outside a particular time frame) nor is it a number (like a sales target).

The defining objectives, while still qualitative, help define exactly what is meant by the goal. For example, if your goal is to complete the merger of two companies you might have objectives like eliminate redundancy, align products and marketing, and retrain employees.

Standard operating objectives are the normal things that departments within a company do in the normal course of business: income goals, product development, cost containment etc. They are included to acknowledge that they must continue to be addressed regardless of the current thematic goal but also to identify that they are not directly tied to achieving the thematic goal like the defining objectives are. Therefore, priority can be maintained on the defining objectives.

Finally, metrics are defined for the objectives (target numbers or dates) as a tool for monitoring progress on achieving the thematic goal. These metrics may also simply be rankings like red-yellow-green status, or a scale of 1-5. This prevents the use of overly detailed metrics.

So rather than wait for a crisis to pull your departments together, why not create one in the form of a time-limited thematic goal? Get your management team to commit to that goal and use it to guide the organization's progress.

Again, Lencioni echoes something advocated by another management guru, Verne Harnish - the setting of quarterly themes. Whereas Harnish presents this as more of a how-to guide, Lencioni's fables are a bit more digestible in one sitting.