mm022: Unblocked

June 15, 2007

MUDGE’s Musings

I guess it’s the sophomore slump.

It’s been more than a week since I last posted to this blog, vs. my strong beginning last month. See I read somewhere that you have to get into a habit of daily blogging, exercise like any other (and if you saw what I look like, you’d note immediately that blogging is not the only exercise I’m failing to perform daily!).

So the new has worn off, and no one seems to be reading this anyway, so what’s the point?

How about, I like to write! How about, I’d like to be read, and I certainly won’t be if I don’t write! Simple, right? On the other hand, jillions are blogging; who is taking the time to read them? I’m sure that, aside from the professionals and the few hugely talented amateurs, most blogs go unread except for family and close friends. Even then, how many people have good and/or close enough friends that they would have patience enough to read the most interesting blog on a daily basis? Based on WordPress statistics, I apparently do not!

And the pros have one on me, since they can get away with blogging on the job — perhaps their job is in part or wholly the production of a regular column — lucky them! Working as I do in the Heart of Corporate America, I have the nagging impression that blogging on the job (no sir, not me!) — even blogging offsite explicitly about the job — would be a terminating offence. So, the few times I have written about what I do I have forced myself to be most indirect, uncomfortably so, since I’m proud of the work I do, and absolutely proud of the company I work for and the work it does in its often under-appreciated industry. My employer and its industry, and the business conducted by our country, and its capitalist system, is certainly not above criticism, but the good outweighs the not so by orders of magnitude.

And although I’ve been told I’m diplomatic, my usual impulse is to be very, eloquently, shockingly, direct — and it’s sometimes painful to dial that back. But, I love my job, and I’d hate to risk it over a few words. See last month’s rant about my retirement plans — I don’t have any, so this is one boat I choose not to rock. So I’ll continue to try to find interesting things to say about what I do, which I am passionate about (even my bosses say so), constrained by not speaking too distinctly about where I do it.

So, it’s been a little slow there for me the past week or so, and isn’t it just so true that busy people get lots more done than those who aren’t so. I’ve been content to accumulate a few more links for a future clipjoint or two, which I hope is not the total copout it feels like! But, tonight, we’ll write a little more.

And, I’ve been working on a project at home, that due to its multimedia content has been quite time consuming. My older son’s wedding is coming up, and I’ve been working on a slide show for the rehearsal dinner. It’s been fun, but frankly something of a chore (a hobby with a deadline is a job, folks!), scanning in quite a number of photographs (let’s face it, snapshots!) from years long past, and wrestling with the software purchased for the purpose of combining the photos and a music track into a DVD playable at that event, now just three weeks away. My PC, seeming so powerful just three short years ago, seems often driven to its knees by the demands placed on it for such a project. Like any complex software, Roxio Easy Media Creator Suite 9 has a steep learning curve, but it has repaid my persistence with what I will modestly term a very nice result.

So far, the slide show has consumed the long Memorial Day weekend, this past weekend and still another couple of hours during evenings this week as I fiddle with the audio software, having beaten into submission (or at least as far as my patience has allowed) the visuals. I’m really happy with the results — but like any creative effort, viewed often enough it has become difficult to stay objective. Not the worst of its genre (amateur slide shows must be almost as numerous as blogs!), hardly the best. Ken Burns’ job is safe. But, I think my precious son and his darling bride to be, and our families, will appreciate it, or at least will be polite about it!

It’s it for now (whew! I wrote something at last!).

Thanks,
–MUDGE

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mm021: Clipjoint 2

June 7, 2007

MUDGE’s Musings

More random clips that I find of continuing interest:

Business Week finds an interesting observation about the changing nature of blogs:

There are dozens of Weblogs that seemingly anyone who is anybody in the technology industry reads regularly. Lisa Hsu’s blog isn’t one of them. A doctoral student in computer science and engineering at the University of Michigan, Hsu occasionally pens a post about topics like “secure shell protocols,” a software standard for protecting data on a computer network. More often than not, however, she’s just musing about mundane things that only her friends would care about: details of a trip to the dentist, random Web discoveries, or maybe a new movie.

Hsu guesses that only five people tune in regularly, while occasional readers may number 25. But she’s far from disappointed about not having the mass following of the blog TechCrunch. “I don’t hope that I meet new people. In fact, a lot of times, if I have a random person comment, I get scared,” says Hsu. “All I really want is for my friends to see it.”

I’m sorry, I have more ambitions than this! But, my ambitions are so far unmatched by requisite deep thoughts. I want the world, and I have you, whomever you happen to be. But, I’m cool…

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Same issue of BW has its quarterly special focus on its latest theme: innovation. The lead story is a bracing look at a company that was once respected everywhere for its successes in innovation: 3M. Look what’s happened lately:

McNerney was the first outsider to lead the insular St. Paul (Minn.) company in its 100-year history. He had barely stepped off the plane before he announced he would change the DNA of the place. His playbook was vintage GE. McNerney axed 8,000 workers (about 11% of the workforce), intensified the performance-review process, and tightened the purse strings at a company that had become a profligate spender. He also imported GE’s vaunted Six Sigma program—a series of management techniques designed to decrease production defects and increase efficiency. Thousands of staffers became trained as Six Sigma “black belts.” The plan appeared to work: McNerney jolted 3M’s moribund stock back to life and won accolades for bringing discipline to an organization that had become unwieldy, erratic, and sluggish.

Then, four and a half years after arriving, McNerney abruptly left for a bigger opportunity, the top job at Boeing (BA ). Now his successors face a challenging question: whether the relentless emphasis on efficiency had made 3M a less creative company. That’s a vitally important issue for a company whose very identity is built on innovation. After all, 3M is the birthplace of masking tape, Thinsulate, and the Post-it note. It is the invention machine whose methods were consecrated in the influential 1994 best-seller Built to Last by Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras. But those old hits have become distant memories. It has been a long time since the debut of 3M’s last game-changing technology: the multilayered optical films that coat liquid-crystal display screens. At the company that has always prided itself on drawing at least one-third of sales from products released in the past five years, today that fraction has slipped to only one-quarter….

Indeed, the very factors that make Six Sigma effective in one context can make it ineffective in another. Traditionally, it uses rigorous statistical analysis to produce unambiguous data that help produce better quality, lower costs, and more efficiency. That all sounds great when you know what outcomes you’d like to control. But what about when there are few facts to go on—or you don’t even know the nature of the problem you’re trying to define? “New things look very bad on this scale,” says MITSloan School of Management professor Eric von Hippel, who has worked with 3M on innovation projects that he says “took a backseat” once Six Sigma settled in. “The more you hardwire a company on total quality management, [the more] it is going to hurt breakthrough innovation,” adds Vijay Govindarajan, a management professor at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business. “The mindset that is needed, the capabilities that are needed, the metrics that are needed, the whole culture that is needed for discontinuous innovation, are fundamentally different.”

There’s a lot of Six Sigma activity at the Heart of Corporate America where I toil, and it’s a good thing when applied to the manufacturing side of the business. I get concerned though that, as our top management seems to want to become middle America’s version of GE in every significant management way, that the same spirit crushing impulse to SixSigmatize the entire operation may lead to the type of angst that 3M has experienced.

Home Depot and now 3M have now been shown to be the victims of GE alumni — what is the attraction, people?

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Back to the subject of blogging. Tim O’Reilly has recently published a proposed Code of Conduct for bloggers. Here’s an excerpt of the story, and the code:

When I wrote my Call for a Blogging Code of Conduct last week, I suggested some ideas of what such a code might contain, but didn’t actually put forth a draft that people could subscribe to. We’re not quite there yet, but we have a plan.

We’ve drafted a code of conduct that will eventually be posted on bloggingcode.org, and created a badge that sites can display if they want to link to that code of conduct.

Here’s the first draft:

We celebrate the blogosphere because it embraces frank and open conversation. But frankness does not have to mean lack of civility. We present this Blogger Code of Conduct in hopes that it helps create a culture that encourages both personal expression and constructive conversation.

1. We take responsibility for our own words and for the comments we allow on our blog.

We are committed to the “Civility Enforced” standard: we will not post unacceptable content, and we’ll delete comments that contain it.

We define unacceptable content as anything included or linked to that:
– is being used to abuse, harass, stalk, or threaten others
– is libelous, knowingly false, ad-hominem, or misrepresents another person,
– infringes upon a copyright or trademark
– violates an obligation of confidentiality
– violates the privacy of others

We define and determine what is “unacceptable content” on a case-by-case basis, and our definitions are not limited to this list. If we delete a comment or link, we will say so and explain why. [We reserve the right to change these standards at any time with no notice.]

2. We won’t say anything online that we wouldn’t say in person.

3. We connect privately before we respond publicly.

When we encounter conflicts and misrepresentation in the blogosphere, we make every effort to talk privately and directly to the person(s) involved–or find an intermediary who can do so–before we publish any posts or comments about the issue.

4. When we believe someone is unfairly attacking another, we take action.

When someone who is publishing comments or blog postings that are offensive, we’ll tell them so (privately, if possible–see above) and ask them to publicly make amends.
If those published comments could be construed as a threat, and the perpetrator doesn’t withdraw them and apologize, we will cooperate with law enforcement to protect the target of the threat.

5. We do not allow anonymous comments.

We require commenters to supply a valid email address before they can post, though we allow commenters to identify themselves with an alias, rather than their real name.

6. We ignore the trolls.

We prefer not to respond to nasty comments about us or our blog, as long as they don’t veer into abuse or libel. We believe that feeding the trolls only encourages them–“Never wrestle with a pig. You both get dirty, but the pig likes it.” Ignoring public attacks is often the best way to contain them.

We also decided we needed an “anything goes” badge for sites that want to warn possible commenters that they are entering a free-for-all zone. The text to accompany that badge might go something like this:

This is an open, uncensored forum. We are not responsible for the comments of any poster, and when discussions get heated, crude language, insults and other “off color” comments may be encountered. Participate in this site at your own risk.

Works for me! But, read the full story, together with its responses, and think it out for yourself.

___________________________

Well, enough clips for a couple of days, at least!

It’s it for now.

Thanks,
–MUDGE

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mm020: Clipjoint 1

June 6, 2007

MUDGE’s Musings

Once again, my always busy professional life has been coupled with a surprisingly busy social calendar, and it’s been way too long since our last visit.

What I offer is another clip job. These are stories that have intrigued me over the past several days. How about you?

_______________________

I guess my secret is out — I sporadically read, and always enjoy when I do, Daily Kos. A story about Fred Thompson last Saturday caught my eye:

Mitt Romney has already out-raised his opponents by fulfilling the one true requirement of a Republican candidate — looking presidential. But Romney is going to have to surrender his prom king crown to the guy who has been literally acting the part for decades.

Fred Thompson has been a general in the Army, an admiral in the Navy, senator, White House chief of staff, head of the FBI, and president three times (hey, doesn’t that make him ineligible?). And before all those, he played another role: attorney. Yes, Thompson really is both a lawyer and a Hollywood movie star — the two things Republicans always claim to hate, until they start drooling over any example of either willing to tack an “R” after their name. But though he’s made a career of playing a character whose name might as well be “Tough Butfair,” there’s one part of Thompson’s act that’s never quite held up to scrutiny.

Thompson launched his political career as a “pro-choice moderate” in a contest against a conservative Democrat (a Democrat who found out that it was hard to achieve statewide name recognition when running against a guy who was on TV 24/7). Thompson was able to pass himself off as a down-home boy, driving around the state in a pickup truck, while every television station in the state did his work for him. But once elected, though he continued to use the “moderate” script on the air, Thompson’s voting record in the Senate showed a very different tone to his performance. He scored a lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union of 86 percent — one point shy of little Ricky Santorum. Only a handful of Senators (Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms among them) proved to be more more dedicated to pushing the hard right agenda.

It’s disappointing how often such superficial attributes as an acting career is sufficient to propel otherwise undistinguished people to what seems to be serious consideration by his party.

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Digg introduced me to The Sushi FAQ, everything I’ve ever wanted to know about sushi. I have a personal sushi story that I may share sometime, but not today. Meanwhile, take a look at the site.

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Monday, another of my regular (I try, anyway) reads, Slate, introduced their take on the Microsoft Surface:

At the Wall Street Journal’s D: All Things Digital conference last week, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer formally introduced the table, now dubbed Microsoft Surface. Ballmer described the table as “a totally new way of interacting with and experiencing technology.” He’s right, although that’s no guarantee it will catch on. Today’s most-advanced personal computers still use the old-school mouse (invented by Douglas Engelbart in the 1960s) and QWERTY keyboard (a layout invented by Christopher Sholes in the mid-1800s). Pretty much every attempt to supplant or supplement these venerable devices has gone absolutely nowhere. Still, I’m convinced that the surface-computing interface is a keeper.

Considering we still poke around with keyboards and mice as if it were 1984 the future can’t get here soon enough!

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The NY Times was especially entertaining today:

BENSON, Minn. — For anyone curious about what thousands of tons of turkey litter looks like, piled high into an indoor olfactory-assaulting mountain of manure, this old railroad stop on the extreme edge of alternative energy production is the place to be.

Thanks to the abundance of local droppings, Benson is home to a new $200 million power plant that burns turkey litter to produce electricity. For the last few weeks now, since before generating operations began in mid-May, turkey waste has poured in from nearby farms by the truckload, filling a fuel hall several stories high.

The power plant is a novelty on the prairie, the first in the country to burn animal litter (manure mixed with farm-animal bedding like wood chips). And it sits at the intersection of two national obsessions: an appetite for lean meat and a demand for alternative fuels.

But it has also put Benson, a town of 3,376 some three hours west of Minneapolis, on the map in another way: as a target of environmental advocates who question the earth-friendliness of the operation.

I suppose it’s better to burn turkey shit to create electricity than throw it into a landfill, but turkey droppings are not going to solve anyone’s energy needs, anywhere.

_______________________

I find that I still have several fascinating stories left to share. Let’s try for tomorrow, shall we?

It’s it for now.

Thanks,
–MUDGE

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mm019: Short attention span blogging

June 2, 2007

MUDGE’s Musings

So, I’m not a Digg virgin any longer. This story, encountered at Salon.com today, hit me right, so I Dugg it. Surprise! I was the first. So, I submitted it. Google Street View seemed cool at the time I first read about it this week, but thanks to Machinist, I’m rearranging my attitude. Before, I was disappointed that Google’s Argus hadn’t yet hit my corner of the planet; now, just as well.

Spotted Lumosity at TechCrunch this week. Tried it out. Failed utterly. Not a videogamer, not at all. I’d like to think that I have a reasonably supple brain, but now I must reevaluate that position too. So I guess I’ll need to take more than a cursory glance at this site, and see if there are ways to measure and increase my mental acuity that don’t require the reaction time and coordination of a gamer. Hope so. I joke (on the square?) that it’s more concrete than sponge up there these days — but I’ve always hoped that it wasn’t really true. Sigh.

But, I go back to the videogame thing. Just never really got the hang of it. 10th percentile hand-eye coordination, reaction time, etc. Guess I’m the reflective type. Wonder if there are videogames for tortoises? Role-playing games — never got them either. I kill a lot of time on my computer; I kill a lot of time watching the tube; I kill much time doing both simultaneously, but what I need to learn (about myself?) is apparently not to be found in the silicon and code of Madden NFL 2008 or Grand Theft Auto. And the entire phenomenon of MMRPG has escaped me. Not just a curmudgeon, but an elderly one, apparently. Sigh.

Recently my son reminded me that one summer he and I were immersed in an “adventure” game called Wishbringer. As I recall from 22 years ago(!), this was a typical for the time cave/maze exercise, and it was perhaps one of the first games we bought for our shiny new IBM PC (640K RAM, 2 floppies what’s a hard drive — aren’t they those washing-machine size monstrosities attached to room-filling computers?). In fact, during our family vacation that summer, I had a rented Compaq “portable” (a small suitcase weighing, in retrospect, at least 40-lbs. — the old style luggage handle allowed them to call it portable. Makes me happy that my laptop I lug home daily only weighs about 7-lbs.) on which I was fine tuning a business plan, but my recollection is that my 11-year-old and I spent much time Wishbringing and I spent all too little time business planning. Typical behavior, then and now. Wishes and planning — looks like a topic for another day. Anyway, we solved the game, basically by saving it after every successful move (not a speedy process on a 5½-inch floppy disk!), and restoring back to that point after any ensuing poorly chosen path. And as Wikipedia has just reminded me, this was one of the more easy games.

So, even in my salad days, I was not much of a computer game player. But, fortunately, there’s more to computers than games.

It’s it for now.

Thanks,
–MUDGE

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