Monday, April 30, 2007

Joe Thomas & the NFL draft - Keeping Priorities Straight

I'm not much of a football fan, and had never heard of Joe Thomas until Saturday morning, but I have a new admiration for Thomas who became the third overall pick in the 2007 NFL draft. He was chosen by the Cleveland Browns . I heard about Thomas on my way to an early morning haircut, while listening to "Only a Game" on NPR. Bill Littlefield did a story about Thomas who, declined an invitation by NFL football commissioner Roger Goodell to the nationally broadcast draft ceremonies from New York City, electing instead to stick with his previous plans to spend the day fishing with his dad on Lake Michigan. (The story about Joe is about 7 minutes into the podcast.) It's a great example of keeping life in perspective. Keeping priority on family and not letting success go to your head. Thanks Joe for a breath of fresh air in a world where we need more roles models like you!

If people concentrated on the really important things of life, there'd be a shortage of fishing poles.
This quote is attributed online to Herbert Hoover, Doug Larson & others. I'm not sure who really said it, but I know it's true. I wouldn't be surprised to hear about Joe signing a celebrity endorsement deal for a major fishing tackle company at some point in the future, and good luck to him.

I'm here to serve,

Monday, April 23, 2007

Getting the job done faster by taking your time

I had an experience that demonstrates how it's possible to get the job done faster by taking your time.

My son Nick is at college, about an hour's drive from home. When the weather started getting nice, he asked me to drop off his bicycle which had been stored at home for the winter. I had a busy weekend, but I told him that I would drop it off Saturday. I had also promised to take my daughter, Emily, out to dinner that evening, but I told Nick I would drop off his bike around 5:00 pm figuring that I would be able to get back home a little after 6:00 to take Emily out to dinner. It turned out to be a gorgeous day, and I was working in the yard. I wanted to get a little more done, so I didn't start packing the bike in the car until almost 4:00 pm. It took me longer than I expected to get ready to go. I took the front tire off the bike to fit it in the car, because I wanted to save gas by driving VJ's Honda, rather than my Expedition.

When I went to load the bike in the car, I noticed the tires were flat. Not wanting Nick to have to deal with flat tires, I got out the pump and filled them with air. Then I remembered Nick had his own pump that went with the bike, but it was not to be found in the garage. I called Nick to ask where to look for it. It turned out he had a whole bag of gear that he wanted along with the bike. After a few trips between his room, the garage and the basement, I located all of his bike gear, but was more than half an hour behnd schedule when I loaded the bike, pump, helmet, riding gloves, etc. into the Honda. Off I drove, pushing the speed limit, trying to make up time, but knowing that I was going to late for my dinner with Emily. Fortunately I was able to reach Emily by phone from the car, to warn her I was running late.

I phoned Nick as I pulled into the parking lot at his dorm, "you've got to come down and meet me quickly so you can take the bike and I can be on my way for dinner with Emily." Nick joined me in the parking lot and after a quick greeting I opened the back of the car. I was incredulous as it was immediately obvious, in my rush to depart, I had left the front wheel of the bike at home. After pumping up the tire, I carried it around while looking for his gear, at some point I put the wheel down in the garage and completely forgot about it in my rush to locate his other stuff and get going.

This was an embarrassing moment for a father looking foolish in the eyes of his son, but I had to admit there was no one to blame but myself. I told Nick to leave the bike in the car. I returned home and took Emily out for a very nice Mexican dinner, then after putting the missing wheel in the car I made the return trip to Nick's school. Spending two extra hours behind the wheel gave me time to think about the benefits of taking an extra moment to check that I had all the mission critical components before departing. I arrived home, after my second trip, well after 10:00 pm, tired, but reflective.

Here are my lessons learned from this little mis-adventure.
1. Don't cram overlapping events into the schedule with no allowance for unexpected delays.
2. When you're committed to a tight schedule, don't try to squeeze in another unplanned activity.
3. The time allowed to complete a mission should include preparation as well as execution.
4. Preparation time frequently takes longer than originally estimated.
5. Don't get so wrapped up in the details that a critical success factor for the job is forgotten.
6. When the schedule starts to go south, open communication is the best policy.
7. If you don't take the time to do it right, you may have to take the time to do it over.

For more on the subject of avoiding rushing, I recommend Michael Mah's 2004 column written for the Cutter Consortium I WOULDN'T BE SO LATE IF I WEREN'T IN SUCH A HURRY... and his more recent writing on the same subject in his Optimal Friction Blog part 1 and part 2. Michael wrote:

there’s a rule in cosmos that says “There are times that 'fast' can actually be slow. If you stop to think about it, you can discover a hidden secret: slowing down just a little bit can actually allow you to go fast - without breaking your neck, or putting you on the sidelines from tearing up your shoulder.”
Michael also gave an excellent presentation to the Boston Software Process Improvement Network in the Spring of 2006 on the subject of Excess Friction: How Fast Deadlines Can Slow You Down & Ruin Your Life

So plan time wisely, keep deadlines in perspective, and go fast by taking your time.

I'm here to serve,

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Earthday 2007

Here is a photo of South-Eastern New England taken from the Space Shuttle. This is my corner of the Earth. Cape Cod Bay is visible along the right hand (east) side of the photo. The sand spits about halfway down the right hand side of the photo form the harbor at Plymouth, MA which is where the pilgrims formed their colony when they arrived from England in 1620, and near where I grew up. Martha's Vineyard, the Elizabeth Islands, Buzzards Bay, and the Cape Cod Canal are in the bottom right (south-east) corner of the photo.

Narragansett bay occupies the center of the image. The city of Newport, RI is where Atlantic Ocean meets the bay. I live in Barrington, RI about 14 miles up Narragansett bay, along it's eastern shore. Block Island, RI and Montauk Point, NY are in the bottom left (southwest) corner of the image. The space image reminds me that I'm a steward of a beautiful corner of the Earth, and I should do more to protect it and reduce my impact on our environment.

Today is a gorgeous spring day- sunny with the temperature in the mid- 60's. I added the lilac bud photo Sunday morning 4/22. The temperature hit 80 degrees F Saturday afternoon, and all many buds on the lilacs and forsythias popped during the day.

Although I'm avid about re-use and recycling, and am conscious of energy consumption, I haven't done anywhere near as much as I could. I'll try to do better. I'm looking for suggestions about what I should do about the gas hog vehicle I've been driving since 2000.

It has 100,000+ miles on it, but with two kids in college, I'm not really in the market for another car just yet. When it needs to be replaced, I will definitely get a smaller vehicle with better mileage. One of the reasons I keep it is because I have a boat trailer to pull around. With my current commute of 11 miles to work, I'm using a lot less fuel than I used to, when I commuted 30 miles each way. Should I consider getting a scooter to reduce my fuel consumption in nice weather? My only issue with a scooter is safety since I commute through very busy traffic in Providence every day.

Happy Earth Day!

Space Photo ISS006-E-45447 courtesy of the Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, NASA Johnson Space Center. For more images, visit Image Science and Analysis Laboratory, NASA-Johnson Space Center. "The Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth."

Monday, April 16, 2007

Bill Nye the Science Guy says "You can change the world."

I saw Bill Nye last week when he spoke on April 10th at Bridgewater State College's distinguished speaker series. The mission of this lecture series is to present a variety of leaders and luminaries to challenge the minds and thinking of students and the community. Their mission was accomplished in this lecture. Bill is a former mechanical engineer (like me) with a degree from Cornell, who worked for many years a Boeing, where he desingned a hydralic resonance suppressor that still flies on 747 airliners. Bill gave up his engineering career, becoming a stand-up comic and eventually becoming a passionate public educator.

Bill described his contribution of the concept and design for a sun dial installed on each of the the Mars Rovers which evolved from the need to generate a shadow on mars for the purpose of calibrating on-board cameras. The sun dial idea was inspired by Bill's dad, Ned, who became interested in sun dials to pass time while he was a POW in China where Ned spent 44 months after being captured on Wake Island in the Pacific during WWII. Ned evenutally started a business selling sundials and at one time proposed converting the Washington Monument into a sundial.

Bill observed that the cost of the Mars mission was a bargain when you consider the value of the resulting discoveries. He remarked, there are two Rovers that cost of $435 million each just sitting there on Mars, and they aren't even locked!

Bill both praised and derided Pluto's recent de-classification from planet status. The understanding and insight that lead to the re-classification of Pluto opens the door to a whole relm of intricacies and nuances in the characteristices of celestial bodies that were not even possible to consider 30 to 50 years ago. According to the International Astronomical Union, "Pluto is not a planet, it's a dwarf planet. " But Bill chided, if you say Pluto is not a planet, you shouldn't use the word "panet", even with a "dwarf" modifier to define what it is.

After discussing space exploration, Bill switched to the topic of carbon emmissions and global warming. He showed a graph of planetary tempuratures spanning back 1,000 years based on seven independent studies, which each show the same trend of significantly rising temperature over the last 100 years. I approach this data with healthy skepticism, because we have to acknowledge that global climate change is well known to go back to the ice age, about 20,000 years ago, long before humans had any significant influence carbon emmissions. Although I'm not convinced that reducing carbon emmisions will reverse the global warming trend - if there is a statistically significant warming trend, it's hard to argue that we shouldn't do as much as possible conserve energy and focus on renewable resources. My impetus to conserve energy is not to reduce carbon dioxide emmisions, but becasue its the only way we can eliminate our dependence on imported energy and hope to control the fate of our economy.

Bill wrapped up saying he wanted his audience to change the world and enjoy success of ¥€$ [yes] Yaun, Euro, Dollars. If you can design a better battery you can get rich in all three currencies. He encourages all to cut carbon emmisions 80% by 2050 by using high efficiency light bulbs and driving cars with high milage and riding our bicycles the HKEV, Highest Known Efficiency Vehicle. Bill drives a Toyota Prius Hybrid which gets about 46 MPG,
The lecture was enjoyable, entertaining, educational, and inspiring.
I'm here to serve,

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Celebrating Tax day, April 15

I have two more days to file because of the local Patriot's Day holiday, but I'm celebrating because I just finished the annual tax ritual. VJ found this poem online, which I pass along for your enjoyment.

I think that I shall never see
A tax form plain enough for me.
A form that I can understand
without a lawyer near at hand
to guide this poor benighted me
so I won't own a pen-al-ty.
A form that I will not detest
or take as more than awful jest.
A form with pages I can read
and fill out ea-si-ly with speed
Such forms weren't made for fools like me
Nor ever God who made a tree.
(San Francisco Examiner, 1989)

My dad, a retired accountant, always tells me, "I hope you have to pay a lot of taxes. " Not because he wants to see my assets transferred to the government, but because if you are paying taxes, it means that you must be making money.

Here is my rant for the year: The federal 2006 standard mileage rate used to calculate the deductible costs of operating an automobile for business is 44.5 cents per mile, but the deduction permitted when driving for a charitable organization is 14 cents per mile. Of course, we are permitted to deduct actual expenses for gas and oil if we keep detailed records. Who does that? I don't know who wrote the tax code, but do they figure I get three times the mileage when driving for charity because my vehicle is carried on the wings of angels when I'm doing volunteer work?

I hope you are done too, and I hope you pay a lot of taxes this year and even more next year!
I'm here to serve,