mm067.1 Why I love the Internet!

July 14, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

I wasn’t going to post again today, conserving my “bank” of interesting stuff, and responding to the fact that I do have a life outside the ‘sphere.

But, this I could not resist. Found courtesy of Thoof. blogroll2

Imperial History of the Middle East

middleeastmap.jpg

WordPress.com did not let me embed this video; probably due to its size (i.e. it didn’t fit into the column width of the theme I use). Notwithstanding, click the link, please!

The capacity to educate using these pipes is awe inspiring. I don’t know who Maps of War is, or what is their agenda (hoping for the best on this one, I gotta say!), but I’m certainly on the track to discover it, thanks to this example of their work.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE

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mm067: By the way, I do earn a living!

July 14, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

I realize that it has been some time since I broached the topic of my career, and what I do to afford the leisure to pursue this blogging thing. Lot’s of Bloomberg here; just not in this post, sorry!

Faithful reader will remember that what I do is web conferencing, an increasingly useful tool that should be adopted by more and more corporate entities due to its transformative capabilities.

My employer in the Heart of Corporate America (HCA) is a grand old conservative organization, proud of its financial performance measured over generations (a quarterly dividend paid without interruption since before my late father was born!). It seldom moves quickly where infrastructure technology is concerned, rightfully (I admit with admiration and affection that I have come to see it as rightfully) expending whatever fleet instincts it possesses towards the tooth of its tiger, not its tail.

Which is a long explanation for the fact that HCA has only been using web conferencing for a few years, mainly the five-plus years that I have been there. That’s an interesting tale. I found myself “at liberty” after my previous employer, having entered into a “merger of equals” disappeared utterly, as far as most of its human capital is concerned.

I had been part of a vigorous corporate information technology department of 155 people, getting real work done, largely supporting a marketing organization that had just launched a blockbuster product. Our “partners” swept in shortly after the “merger,” and told us there were jobs for each and every one. 1,000 miles away. Five of us took them up on their kind offer; the rest of us took a severance package.

So there I was, with a lengthy résumé, but not much current IT experience, but what was current was useful: Documentum, a complex but growing document management system, and Lotus Notes, the collaboration environment beloved of many large corporations for its rock-solid email system as well as its rapid database development feature.

The Documentum piece got me a 4-month consulting gig at HCA, doomed to frustration as the hiring manager, whose vision had created the opening I filled, cheerfully moved onward and upward (and to another campus) about a week after I reported for duty.

After a two-month interval, I was interviewed for a business analyst position by another team in the same division, and what got me the consulting gig, six months long but renewed several times, was tucked away on page two of the position description: experience with telephone and video conferencing.

I had that experience. Our Documentum team at my previous employer had outposts in several cities in the US and Europe, and, while I didn’t create the bi-weekly telephone conferences (and the occasional video conference) that the head of the corporate team had established, I did a great deal of the heavy lifting there: I published the invitations, agendas, prompt minutes; and led most of the meetings with a relaxed and welcoming style that created esprit de corps among people who had never met. We weathered the Y2K circus with ease, thanks to the cooperation and collaborative successes engendered in those bi-weekly (in 1999, weekly) sessions.

Yes, I could talk the talk about conferencing. And almost immediately after I started, additional to the conventional Lotus Notes business analysis work I had been assigned, I was asked to go see the division’s key contact for a web conferencing pilot then underway, using Lotus’ product called Sametime. The manager in question said, “thanks for coming over. Have a seat at my desk. Here is hard copy of the presentation. We’re about to demonstrate the tool in a web conference. Why don’t you lead it?”

With that sudden immersion, I never looked back. Indeed, I have led countless demonstrations since (with a good deal more assurance than that first, sweaty session). I have taught over 3,000 students the tool, all using the technology to teach the technology, in order to provide tactile, experiential learning, key for adult learners. I have surveys from 130 of the most recent of those classes, going back nearly 18 months, and my composite score is 4+ on a 1-5 scale. I facilitate key meetings, remotely from my desk as well as on location in offices and conference rooms on-site and offsite. And yes, both my corporate email signature, and my business card contain the title, “Mr. Sametime.”

My passion for collaboration created a niche for me in HCA, and by the way, has led to significant cost savings. Using IBM Lotus methodology for an analysis earlier this year, I made a believable case for $5 million in travel avoided last year; a number I think is conservative. HCA has over 60,000 employees in 130 nations around the world. Imagine not having to fly 16 regional managers from Latin America to Miami for training just as effectively delivered and received in one’s office! Just eliminating cross-campus and cross-county travel to meetings large and small in and around Corporate HQ must provide hundreds of hours of productivity savings daily.

Finally, I try to keep my passion pure, as it were. Yesterday, I was asked to participate in a bi-weekly telephone conference with a group of field-based high powered advance-degree technical managers, as there were questions about the web conferencing tool they were concerned about. The upshot? I cheerfully directed them to a third-party outside resource. Yes, a more expensive solution than my in-house one. But in their field application, the outside resource is, I believe, the more effective answer. As I told them, just because I have a (most wonderful) hammer, not every client’s problem is a nail.

Finally, I did apply for my soon to retire manager’s position, as I previously reported I would. And, as is their wont, HR never communicated one word to me beyond the automated receipt of the on-line application (don’t you dare call us — we’ll call you).

I’m not management material at HCA, that is obvious, and of course I’m disappointed, but as I said previously, I do love what I do, and where I do it. Some would ask: why on earth would you screw that up by moving into bean-counting-obsessed management?

Why, indeed.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE

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mm383: Blast from the Past! No. 21

May 18, 2008

There’s most read, and then there’s favorite. This is a post which yr (justifiably) humble svt is, regrettably, but not regretfully, not at all humble about.

lhc250x46_thumb2

Blast from the Past!

A post we really, really loved to write, and read, and re-read…

From our early days, originally posted August 29, 2007, one of our series called, over-ambitiously, Web Conferencing Week. The entire group can be found on its own page elsewhere on this site.

WCW006: Quiet before the storm

wcw1

Web Conferencing Week

Late summer doldrums here at the Heart of Corporate America (HCA, not my employer’s real name).

One might hope that the lull in formal activities would provide some time for reflection, and so in fact it has.

As I’ve explained before (here and here and here, for example), as do most people in corporate surroundings, I wear a multitude of hats:

  • member of the IT technical team supporting collaborative tools (email, instant messaging, web conferencing);
  • teacher of our instant messaging and web conferencing tools to our internal business clients (more than 3,500 served in five years, thank you very much!);
  • “manager of the end-user experience” as defined by our vendor’s on-site support manager — while not in the direct flow of help desk activities (at least not yet), the canniest of my 3,500 students, and their underlings and bosses, know me well enough to contact me if they have issues, and since no one on the team, or in the support arena in general has anywhere the amount of experience with our tools as have I (over six hundred classes, all conducted using web conferences, plus countless mission-critical meetings facilitated throughout the enterprise), the answer to my correspondents’ questions is probably at the ready.

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mm350: Blast from the past No. 9

April 17, 2008

MUDGE’s Musings

The MUDGE family is on vacation this week. We don’t know that we’ll be able to restrain ourselves from blogging during the entire span, after all the grandMUDGElets go to bed pretty early, but without access to our files, and WindowsLiveWriter, for this week only, when we feel that irresistible urge to blog, we’ll treat blogging like we do (sigh) exercise: we’ll just lie down until the feeling goes away.

But, the Prime Directive of Blogging reads: Thou Shalt Blog Daily! So shalt we.

There’s most read, and then there’s favorite. This is a post which yr (justifiably) humble svt is, regrettably, but not regretfully, not at all humble about.

lhc250x46_thumb21155

Blast from the Past!

A post we really, really loved to write, and read, and re-read…

From our very earliest days, originally posted July 14, 2007.

mm067: By the way, I do earn a living!

I realize that it has been some time since I broached the topic of my career, and what I do to afford the leisure to pursue this blogging thing. Lot’s of Bloomberg here; just not in this post, sorry!

Faithful reader will remember that what I do is web conferencing, an increasingly useful tool that should be adopted by more and more corporate entities due to its transformative capabilities.

My employer in the Heart of Corporate America (HCA) is a grand old conservative organization, proud of its financial performance measured over generations (a quarterly dividend paid without interruption since before my late father was born!). It seldom moves quickly where infrastructure technology is concerned, rightfully (I admit with admiration and affection that I have come to see it as rightfully) expending whatever fleet instincts it possesses towards the tooth of its tiger, not its tail.

Which is a long explanation for the fact that HCA has only been using web conferencing for a few years, mainly the five-plus years that I have been there. That’s an interesting tale. I found myself “at liberty” after my previous employer, having entered into a “merger of equals” disappeared utterly, as far as most of its human capital is concerned.

Read the rest of this entry »


mm170: Technology and Education — A Debate!

October 15, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

Left-Handed Complement didn’t start as an education weblog, although we reserve the right to comment on any subject any time.

In retrospect, no special expectation for education topics was probably unrealistic on my part.

While under-credentialed, MUDGE has done more than his share of instruction in corporate environments over the past bunch of years, and indeed, earns a living doing a lot of training.

Under-credentialed. Highly successful. Go figure.

So it’s probably not an accident that education, especially as enhanced by technology, has been featured multiple times in this space over the past more than five months of its active existence.

For example, an entire brochure could be developed around our posts on the One Laptop Per Child initiative.

mm088: Meet the XO
mm089: Amateur mapmaking…
mm099: A $99 Desktop…
mm149: India’s take…
mm153: By a Laptop, Get one…
mm162: Laptop with a Mission

And the topic of education in general has not been ignored.

mm067.1: Why I love…
mm106: Are we failing.. geniuses?
mm110: Grading mayoral control…
mm160: UC Berkeley first to post..

All this is prelude to the point of this post: The Economist, the best magazine on the planet, is sponsoring a debate this week on their website, www.economist.com/debate:

economist

Technology and Education — This house believes that the introduction of new technologies and new media adds little to the quality of most education.

Now, an Economist debate is not your League of Women Voters or CNN haphazardly posturing beauty contest.

Traditional Oxford-style debate

Oxford-style debate is most famously practised by the Oxford Union, the debating society of Oxford University. The Oxford Union’s invigorating debating chamber has yielded generations of British parliamentarians, lawyers, journalists and other accomplished advocates.

The Oxford style of debate is characterised by its formality and structure. Debates are hosted by a moderator and take place between two teams, the “proposition” and the “opposition”.

It began Monday October 15th (today for MUDGE as this is written, yesterday in the UK) with erudite opening statements from the highly credentialed proponent and his equally qualified opposition. Readers can register to vote (and change their vote as the debate progresses — how cool is that?) during the course of the eight days of the debate.

My instincts are that technology can only help education.

But, I’ve always believed this, where education (and almost any other field of human endeavor) is concerned.

After all, at heart, I am a technologist, fascinated even by the history of technology.

A personal story comes to mind, bubbling up after nearly 30 years.

It’s the late ’70s, and your future correspondent / education expert is, of course, under-credentialed but always creative (at least in his own mind).

His two (at the time) children are just beginning elementary school, and through the Parent Teachers Association, future-MUDGE is invited to a curriculum review session held for interested parents under the auspices of the school district administration.

This was (and is) a community that took (takes) immense pride in its efforts to provide high quality education to its students. How successful the effort is, is a matter of constant controversy, which seems, sorry to say for a community prideful of its integration record, to line up on racial boundaries.

Digression aside, this discussion is arithmetic and mathematics for the early grades. Remember it’s the late ’70s, portable calculators are coming down in price every moment, but still seem exotic, especially in a school environment.

I suggest, “How about issuing every child a calculator? This way, their understanding of higher order math problems won’t get hung up by concern over errors of simple arithmetic.”

The answer: Interesting idea. Of course we have no budget for calculators. It’s all we can do to make sure we have sufficient books for our students.

Here’s the gold-plated (for 1978) suggestion:

Talk to a text book publisher (and this is a town influential with publishers):

Suggest that they bind a calculator (they’re coming down in price every day!) into the arithmetic/mathematics text book.

This way, the district would be purchasing books, satisfying all statutory requirements, and our children could learn math without tripping over rote arithmetic.

Of course the over-credentialed functionaries never took the suggestion seriously. After all, what did future-MUDGE, a mere civilian, know about EDUCATION?

So one wonders what use is actually gotten out of computers in today’s thirty years on elementary school classrooms.

A curmudgeon might guess: not very much.

Read the Proposition in the Economist debate, and the statistics seem to favor that depressing observation.

Oddly, for MUDGE, I remain optimistic about the application of technology to education, and a fervent supporter of One Laptop Per Child.

Just the way the cellular telephone leapfrogged more than 100 years of ferociously expensive and painfully achieved infrastructure development to provide cheap and instant communications to even the remotest developing world village, so in the same paradigm shifting way can OLPC do the same for that village’s schoolhouse, and all this planet’s schoolhouses.

But, follow that debate this week in The Economist (and isn’t this a useful and most timely discussion for them to sponsor?). Go over to www.economist.com/debate and check it out.

You could even tell them MUDGE sent you (not that they’d ask, or care!).

And remember, as the giving season looms (the pumpkins are out, after all!), why not add OLPC’s “Give 1, Get 1” to your planning (orders to be taken Nov. 12–26); and as MUDGE recommends, just make that slight adjustment and you can call it “Give 1 (there), Give 1 (here).”

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


WcW006: Quiet before the storm

August 29, 2007

wcw1_thumb1

Web Conferencing Week

Late summer doldrums here at the Heart of Corporate America (HCA, not my employer’s real name).

One might hope that the lull in formal activities would provide some time for reflection, and so in fact it has.

As I’ve explained before (here and here and here, for example), as do most people in corporate surroundings, I wear a multitude of hats:

  • member of the IT technical team supporting collaborative tools (email, instant messaging, web conferencing);
  • teacher of our instant messaging and web conferencing tools to our internal business clients (more than 3,500 served in five years, thank you very much!);
  • “manager of the end-user experience” as defined by our vendor’s on-site support manager — while not in the direct flow of help desk activities (at least not yet), the canniest of my 3,500 students, and their underlings and bosses, know me well enough to contact me if they have issues, and since no one on the team, or in the support arena in general has anywhere the amount of experience with our tools as have I (over six hundred classes, all conducted using web conferences, plus countless mission-critical meetings facilitated throughout the enterprise), the answer to my correspondents’ questions is probably at the ready.

As teacher, I’m always running 8-10 classes per month, although during the summer average attendance is way down.

As end-user experience manager (an honorific provided by a suck-up vendor: remember, grunt that MUDGE is, he’s manager of no one) the phone just isn’t ringing very often, as people wrap up their summers before Labor Day provides the symbolic halt to all things sunscreen.

As member of the technical team, decisions are pending and work is progressing.

HCA uses for its instant messaging and web conferencing requirements IBM Lotus Sametime.

HCA has long been a Lotus shop: Its Lotus Notes product has long been handling enterprise email and its rapid application environment supports thousands of database applications and has done so here for more than 15 years. So the choice of Sametime was not a surprise in that light.

And, indeed, Sametime is a common choice for collaboration among large corporations, seeking the rock-solid enterprise grade solution similar and related to the rock-solid technology that so well supports the earlier applications: email and databases.

The best web conferencing and instant messaging choice today?

An excellent question that is not yet on the table.

Like many issues in corporate technology, the problems faced are multi-dimensional: hardware, software, the quantity of personnel applied to the task (fortunately, personnel quality is not an issue, among the talented administrators and architects that I am fortunate to work among).

Instant messaging and web conferencing at HCA exists not as the result of an organized deployment campaign, but rather more like viral marketing. It grew out of a pilot (when I joined the company, about 5½ years ago in a related but not directly connected IT position, there were nominally 800 accounts).

And the pilot became an “extended pilot” which gradually became a production system, without ever really becoming a true, bullet proof enterprise-grade product, at least as implemented here at HCA.

Insufficient servers (both in capability and in numbers), and insufficient personnel (as above, just the numbers are insufficient — the people are champions [and they won’t read this, so trust me, I’m not sucking up!]) to keep order in an operation that has grown to more than 26,000 accounts.

This number represents less than half of the available client base, because no one knows how to handle the establishment of the necessary 30,000 new accounts efficiently, much less want to confront the reality of insufficient hardware and personnel to handle the existing organically grown client base.

And, finally, the software. HCA upgraded (quite tardily) to Sametime version 6.5 about 21 months ago, and our team has been working on upgrading to the current standard version 7.5 for nearly that long (remember the tardy part).

HCA never never never never wants to be the early adopter of anyone’s hardware or software. The 100th adopter, maybe, so we delay, by time-honored policy, both IT and fiscal, until (hopefully most of) the bugs are out.

But we really need to move on this upgrade (the 2005 upgrade from long-used version 3.1 to version 6.5 was a marketing nomenclature upgrade — to the end users it looks and acts as if it’s version 3.2!), and the delay has not been HCA’s sole doing. And version 7.5 has many new and attractive and desirable features; it would be a true upgrade.

But we’re not there yet.

And therein lies an interesting story.

But this long story will need to be continued next time, because…

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


Web Conferencing Week

July 23, 2007

wcw13.jpg

WcW001: Web Conferencing Week

Web Conferencing Week

Trying something different here at Left-Handed Complement — back to my roots, or at least my original intentions for this space, to regularly explore my professional existence. I have previously written about what I do, and my very recent, quite futile aspirations toward management, but it’s been sporadic at best. Not my intention when I started.

This is an attempt to apply some discipline — maybe most work weeks haven’t recently seemed very interesting to me (although the one just completed was altogether not routine), but I believe that what I do is quite unusual in any corporation, small or large, so I’ll explore those unusualities (have I just coined a MUDGE-ism?) in this space, I hope every week or more often.

And, for you completists out there, clicking the “Web Conferencing” tag cloud on the sidebar will catch you up.

The tent-poles for many weeks are the large scale conferences (or even small, but critical ones) for which I provide consultative, or substantive services. This week was busier in that respect than many lately.

For one thing, I assisted a high level HR manager as he ran a focus group with a group of administrative assistants for one of HCA’s (remember, Heart of Corporate America, not it’s real name) most hidebound and traditional divisions, its corporate attorneys. In the year 2007, I must admit it was jarring to hear more than one of these women (and they were all women) refer to themselves as secretaries. Is it any wonder they had a lot to complain about?

My role: to make the HR manager’s slides available to the several administrative assistants connecting from outside the navel of the known universe (the heart of the Heart, as it were), including one humorous (or perhaps I simply mean good humored) person in Europe for whom the meeting started after 5pmCET (Central European Time, did you know?), and for her didn’t finish until about 7pm.

This meeting was both easier, and more complex for me than usual. Easier because there were few enough remote participants, and the slide content was simple enough, that the PowerPoint slide deck could simply be “Screen Shared,” so that those in the meeting room and those connecting remotely watched exactly the same presentation at the same time.

Complex, because I had arrived at the conference center first (always my goal) and found the room dark, furnished correctly but otherwise unprepared electrically and electronically. The electronic podium had been pushed out of the way to accommodate a meeting that I had worked a day and a half earlier, never replaced in position and thus was totally inert.

I dug up an A/V tech, who found a bunch of thick cables in the floor, and (I hoped) matching ones curled up in the podium that needed to be connected, a job that took this stranger (and I thought by this time I knew most of the guys) about 20 minutes. There had to be 30 colored wires with metal connectors for each end among the cabled groups; glad he wasn’t color blind!

I offered the manager the opportunity to sit at a table closer to his group, so as a result I stood by the podium to advance the presentation slides at his command, which I must admit got a little old after 90 minutes (actually, between arriving early, and the meeting starting about 25 minutes late due to the above mentioned technical snafu I was standing for well over two hours, not my favorite way to spend a late morning, especially a late morning under-snacked and under-hydrated). Such is show business.

But the wonderful news, as I related the high points to my manager later that day, was that the technical issues were A/V ones, not web conferencing ones. Whew! Our system has been behaving itself of late, and I don’t take that for granted, working as I do out there among my customers.

My colleagues on the team are, by training and by inclination, telephone support types. Let’s face it, most IT professionals take up the career because they are introverts who are more comfortable relating to hardware and software than the people who consume their work product.

The thought of encountering a real live client having trouble with our technology makes them sick to their stomach, and I’m not really exaggerating — they’ve told me so countless times. So the fact that I go out there so frequently putting my own ego, as well as my team’s reputation on the line, in person, confounds them.

It’s what I do.

But as always, it was fascinating to pay attention to the content of the meeting. This little job of mine provides a very unusual opportunity to be a fly on the wall for some most interesting sessions, and as touched on above this was one of those.

I guess HCA’s corporate law department is stuck in some 1950’s time warp, as distinct from “public” law firms which I have to feel are somewhat more up to date (one person recently arrived from one reported that for the work she and most her colleagues do at HCA, a public firm would describe and compensate them as paralegals, not secretaries).

The attorneys like it this way, I’m sure (more than one of the women described their bosses (male and female) as “needy,” for example working in longhand [on legal pads, I’m sure] and claiming not to know even the basics of their computers), but I don’t understand how the assistants can stand it.

By the way, the IT building I work in must have close to 600 employees; maybe eight of them are administrative assistants, and I’m sure that the bean counters think that this number is twice as large as necessary. We are hardly needy — we do for ourselves.

What I wanted to say to this group of put-upon legal division employees (and of course I didn’t since flies on the wall don’t say a word, ever) was, be thankful you work for whom you do; any other department and there would be half or fewer of you!

And that’s just one of the several meetings and or events this week, and I find that reflecting on it has spent my Friday evening energy, but we’ll renew this effort later this weekend, I promise.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE

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