Journeying to the Emerald City

I was one of my employer's thirty-four "leaders" who got to participate in two days of "Accountability Training."

We were taught by Tom Smith, one of the founders of Partners in Leadership, and co-author of Journey to the Emerald City: Implement The Oz Principle to Achieve a Competitive Edge Through a Culture of Accountability.

Our meetings were held off-site at This Is The Place State Park. To be honest, going in I was somewhat skeptical (cynical?) as to what the benefits would be, having lived through several rounds of "the next big thing" before, and having read a number of business books.

I can truthfully say, however, that my expectations were completely exceeded. Tom is an excellent teacher. We've been in need of a change in culture for several years now, and I think we're on the right track. It is rejuvinating, frankly, and one immediate effect is an increase in transparency as certain metrics—previously known only to the executive team—will now be communicated throughout the organization.

For the first time (at least in my six year tenure), everyone will know what we're all working towards, know how to tell where we are at, and have a common language to talk about the attitudes, beliefs, and values we need to get there. With an emphasis on what I can do (each of us, that is), and with as simple as the process control mechanisms are, I think there is a high probability of lasting success.

Check back here in a couple of months, I guess, to know for sure.

— Michael A. Cleverly

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Danger—Quicksand—Have A Nice Day

David St. Lawrence's blog Ripples has become a part of my daily life. David's taken his posts and compiled them into a sort of how-to handbook for surviving corporate life entitled "Danger—Quicksand—Have A Nice Day."

David's made the prepress version of the book available freely on his website as a PDF download. Download, read, & share it!

— Michael A. Cleverly

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Plates and Palates

Becca finally got around to visiting Shauna's nephews' new restaurant, Plates and Palates. And she liked it, as I was sure she would.

If you're ever in Bountiful near lunch time, head over to Plates & Palates on the southeast corner of 4th North and 5th West.

— Michael A. Cleverly

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Suggestions for a good first book on Prolog?

If anyone reading has experience programming in Prolog, I'd appreciate a recommendation on a good first book to purchase. Prolog's been on my list of languages to learn about for some time, and it seems like it would be a very natural fit for brute-force solving this ancestry puzzle.

— Michael A. Cleverly

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Letterboxing on Antelope Island

Becca and I took the kids to Antelope Island this morning. Becca had taken an interest in letterboxing recently, and there is a letterbox hidden on the island. (Letterboxing is the analog equivalent of geocaching.)

Our first attempt at letterboxing had a hitch or two. Becca's camera had dead batteries. We forgot to bring a compass (and had to take our bearings off the position of the sun). We managed to find where the letterbox was hidden eventually though.

We were the first to record a visit in 2005. Of those who'd signed (& stamped) the book the farthest visitors had come from upstate New York last summer. We signed & stamped the book ourselves and rehid it in the same location for the next letterboxers to find.

There are quite a few other letterboxes hidden in Utah that we can go looking for sometime. Probably won't see buffalo at many others, though...

UPDATE: Becca wrote about our Antelope Island adventure from her perspective.

— Michael A. Cleverly

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Two hours of family television

Saturday night is the only evening during the week that our family watches television. Beginning at 8pm on one of our two local PBS stations we can enjoy reruns of Andy Griffith, I Love Lucy, My Three Sons, and Perry Mason.

Meghan had me take this Perry Mason quiz, but I didn't do so well—only 4 out of 10 correct.

— Michael A. Cleverly

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Winning by sucking less?

I've been reading Paul Graham's book Hackers & Painters this weekend. This book really resonates with me—I'll write more when I've finished, but here is a taste:

Big companies want to decrease the standard deviation of design outcomes because they want to avoid disasters. But when you damp oscillations, you lose the high points as well as the low. This is not a problem for big companies, because they don't win by making great products. Big companies win by sucking less than other big companies.

That's on page twenty-three, by the way.

— Michael A. Cleverly

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The gorgeous Microtype package

Jack Lyon (an editor at work) emailed me this morning:

By the way, I told you the wrong name of the package. The one you want is the Microtype package:

http://tug.ctan.org/tex-archive/macros/latex/contrib/microtype/

To invoke it, all you have to do is put this in your preamble:

\usepackage{microtype}

Gorgeous.

I have to agree—the results are gorgeous! Hanging punctuation adds even more polish that makes the final typeset output look truly beautiful.

— Michael A. Cleverly

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Planned Unparenthood: Because Choice Doesn't End at Birth

Planned Unparenthood is more great satire from Jeff Lindsay (who brought us Off the Top, Inc.—Cutting Costs by Offshoring Top Executives).

Even if you don't take the time to read the essay, at least view the animated .gif ad.

— Michael A. Cleverly

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Comments are now enabled

While I explained my reasoning a week or so ago for not having comments enabled on this blog, I've since been persuaded (largely by David St Lawrence) that by effectively having just a monologue, I'm missing out on reader feedback which is one of the major benefits of blogging.

So, beginning today, comments are now enabled. To leave a comment click on the "comments" link below the signature & date on this post (or any other).

— Michael A. Cleverly

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Jacob's missing descendant

Another interesting genealogical logic puzzle was posted to the rec.puzzles newsgroup. This one is found in the Bible, specifically Genesis chapter 46, and was identified by John Pratt.

Here is the puzzle:

Jacob's extended family at the time he moved to Egypt is listed in the Bible, but some information about one descendant may have been purposely hidden. If there is no mistake in the following summary and interpretation of the Biblical account, what can you logically deduce about the identity of Jacob's missing descendant?

  1. All seventy living souls of the house of Jacob, including all of his living male and female descendants, were in Egypt when he arrived there with those who accompanied him. (Gen. 46:6, 27).
  2. Sixty-six of Jacob's descendants came to Egypt with him. This count includes only Jacob's literal offspring; none of his sons' wives is included (Gen. 46:26).
  3. Except for Joseph and his two sons, who already resided in Egypt (Gen. 46:27), Jacob took with him all of his son(s), his sons' son(s), his daughter(s), his sons' daughter(s) (Gen. 46:7), and all of his great-grandchildren ("little ones," Gen. 46:5).
  4. These are the names of Jacob's descendants when they had all arrived in Egypt, along with subtotals for each of his four wives (Leah, Zilpah, Rachel, and Bilhah):

Source: Hidden Treasures in the Scriptures

The answer to the puzzle is revealed in Pratt's article entitled "Jacob's Seventieth Descendant," which also discusses historical reasons the author of Genesis may have had for obscuring this information.

— Michael A. Cleverly

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Rainy Mesa, AZ

I'm in Mesa, AZ today and instead of being sunny it's raining & drizzling pretty much non-stop.

I flew down last night to help setup the register system for the LDS Family Festival and Time Out for Couples.

Thanks to Southwest I was able to get a flight that left Salt Lake late enough that I was still able to attend the Daddy-Daughter date last night with Meghan at church. She was thrilled I'd been able to arrange that.

— Michael A. Cleverly

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William Joseph: Amazing piano talent!

I'm back from my quick trip to Arizona.

William Joseph performed last night at Time Out for Couples in Mesa. I'm really at a loss of words to describe how amazing his performance was. Go to his website and listen to his music to hear for yourself...

William is originally from Phoenix and began taking piano lessons at the age of four or five. He has one solo album under his belt, produced by the legendary David Foster, and last year he opened for Josh Groban on tour.

He was very approachable, and autographed a number of peoples CDs. I had him sign my copy and dedicate it to my son Caleb (who is six and absolutely in love with piano lessons himself).

By my calculations one in five couples who came to the event purchased his CD that night. I imagine the number would have been higher if there had been an intermission. He's poised to really breakthrough, I think.

UPDATE: Becca really liked the CD when she heard it. (I say that because she used eleven exclamation points in her post—a new record for her, I suspect.)

— Michael A. Cleverly

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A 2nd-graders advice on choosing secure passwords

As we were driving home from visiting Grandma & Grandpa this evening, Meghan told me that she needed to change her password on the family iMac. Her password (which she chose when she was in Kindergarten) was nahgemnahgem—her first name spelled backwards, twice.

Since OS X doesn't have any listening network services enabeld by default, we've let the kids pick their own passwords. Meghan's first password wasn't too bad when the likely threats were only four and two years-old.

Along the way, though, her password has been compromised by her younger brothers—which is fair, since Meghan social-engineered them both out of their passwords just by (innocently) asking them the very first day they got their "logins."

Since it was just the two of us in the car, I asked her what kind of new password she would choose, and what she'd do to keep it secret. Her criteria amused me in a proud parental sort of way:

  1. "Make it kind of long"
  2. "Use words that first-graders wouldn't be able to read [or spell] yet"
  3. "Don't write it down on a paper and don't tell anybody!"

Meghan practices what she preaches. She combined two words that (she thinks) her brothers wouldn't be able to spell—which words, exactly, I'm not sure since she didn't say...

— Michael A. Cleverly

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At dinner Caleb coins a domain name that is still available for registration

[Scene: tonight at the dinner table...]

Shauna: Caleb, you need to eat your corn.

Caleb: But I'm not in the mood for corn!—for more information go to "www dot ImNotInTheMoodForCorn dot com"

— Michael A. Cleverly

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Dumb ideas archive

I stumbled across the dumb ideas archive of someone named Gary Turner this evening. Amusing.

— Michael A. Cleverly

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Succeeding at work

Succeeding at work has been on my mind—I'm in the process of changing fulltime jobs. It is a natural time to look back on what I've accomplished at the old job, identify what I wish I'd done differently, and anticipate what I hope to accomplish at the new one.

Here is a trio of blog posts I've come across (all but the first link are blogs I follow fairly regularly) that give good advice on how to succeed at work, which is largely about properly managing expectations:

Looking back I can see that at times I've felt so driven to meet utterly unrealistic deadlines or goals, and often repeatedly pulled the rabbit out of the hat to accomplish them, that such "magic" becomes the expected norm.

The inevitable danger, however, is that when people have expectations of you as a miracle worker, and successful miracles breeds a longer line of people in line beseeching miracles, you reach a limit where you can't keep giving the proverbial 110%. As the Under Promise, Over Deliver essay notes, peak performance cannot (by definition!) be sustained.

So people who learn to expect miracles may wonder "what's wrong with [Michael]?" when overload occurs and there is a drop from 110+% to 100%.

This is an interesting situation: expectations are failed, not because of past-failed expectations, but because of past expectations being consistantly exceeded. Obviously when you regularly exceed expectations you somehow need to actively and conciously manage the resulting "expectation inflation."

— Michael A. Cleverly

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Do you have a Yay Me! file?

Do you have a Yay Me! file? I don't (formally).

A Yay Me! file is a place where you store the documentation behind all of the good things you've done at work, the praise or thanks you receive from others, and notes on how you saved time and/or money for your employer.

I tend to be an email packrat, so I probably have some of the necessary ingredients, but I've never kept them sorted out where they could all be easily reviewed.

— Michael A. Cleverly

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The Hawthorne Effect

My post yesterday on succeeding at work referenced three essays on other blogs. The third of these, "Under Promise, Over Deliver" at Slacker Manager mentions the Hawthorne Effect in a parenthetical side-note.

The Hawthorne Effect is the term for the results discovered during an organizational behavioral research study conducted between 1927 and 1932 by researchers at Harvard.

To me one of the most interesting findings, involved in studying a group or department of nine employees:

They found, that the small group had informally established an acceptable level of output for its members. Employees who overproduced were branded rate busters, and under-producers were labeled chislers. To be accepted by the group workers would have to produce an acceptable level. They also found, as workers approached their acceptable level of output, they began to slack off to avoid over producing.

Source: Wikipedia entry on the Hawthorne Studies

Exceed the productivity norms of the group you work in and you'll rock the boat; don't carry your own weight and you'll definitely make waves.

There are two approaches one could take.

  1. Find a group "beneath" your natural abilities and then do just enough to coast along...
  2. Find the smartest/most productive group of like-minded people you can [fit into], and then put your shoulder to the wheel and get going!

I'll choose the second route, thank you very much.

— Michael A. Cleverly

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Writing plausible fantasy

I enjoy reading—all kinds of books. But I especially enjoy well-written fantasy. J.R.R. Tolkien, David & Leigh Eddings, Guy Gavriel Kay and Sara Douglass are among my all time favorites.

I tend to be somewhat hesitant to pick up an unknown author, however, unless they come personally recommended from someone I know. I'm not this way with other genres—I suspect it has to do with the fact that there is a lot of fantasy that isn't terribly internally consistant. (If you'd like to recommend your favorite author(s), please leave a comment.)

Reading Will's blog tonight I found a link to an essay entitled On Thud and Blunder that talks about how writers should do their homework to make their heroic fantasy plausible. Maybe if this were the norm for all published fantasy I wouldn't be so hesitant to pick up a new author...

If I ever actually get around to participating in NaNoWriMo, and assuming I choose to write fantasy, On Thud and Blunder and the somewhat related 30 Days of World Building will both be well worth re-reading.

Speaking of plot ideas, I think there'd be an incredibly rich story (circa 50 B.C.) packed into just a few verses of scripture:

But behold, Kishkumen, who had murdered Pahoran, did lay wait to destroy Helaman also; and he was upheld by his band, who had entered into a covenant that no one should know his wickedness.

For there was one Gadianton, who was exceedingly expert in many words, and also in his craft, to carry on the secret work of murder and of robbery; therefore he became the leader of the band of Kishkumen. Therefore he did flatter them, and also Kishkumen, that if they would place him in the judgment-seat he would grant unto those who belonged to his band that they should be placed in power and authority among the people; therefore Kishkumen sought to destroy Helaman.

And it came to pass as he went forth towards the judgment-seat to destroy Helaman, behold one of the servants of Helaman, having been out by night, and having obtained, through disguise, a knowledge of those plans which had been laid by this band to destroy Helaman—and it came to pass that he met Kishkumen, and he gave unto him a sign; therefore Kishkumen made known unto him the object of his desire, desiring that he would conduct him to the judgment-seat that he might murder Helaman.

And when the servant of Helaman had known all the heart of Kishkumen, and how that it was his object to murder, and also that it was the object of all those who belonged to his band to murder, and to rob, and to gain power, (and this was their secret plan, and their combination) the servant of Helaman said unto Kishkumen: Let us go forth unto the judgment-seat. Now this did please Kishkumen exceedingly, for he did suppose that he should accomplish his design; but behold, the servant of Helaman, as they were going forth unto the judgment-seat, did stab Kishkumen even to the heart, that he fell dead without a groan. And he ran and told Helaman all the things which he had seen, and heard, and done...

— Michael A. Cleverly

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Playing real life Tron-cycles

GPS::Tron is a "GPS based multiplayer game for mobile phones." It's named after the light-cycle game from the 1982 Disney-classic Tron.

The game requires a supported model of Nokia cell phone. (I have a Nokia phone, but alas, not the right model). And then you also need a bluetooth enabled GPS device to keep track of your position (which I don't have).

Sigh.

— Michael A. Cleverly

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Toogle: Google's image search in ASCII art

Came across a very interesting site this evening: Toogle. Toogle displays the first Google Images result converted to ASCII text.

Since it is the Presidents Day holiday weekend here is Toogle's results for Rushmore:

UPDATE Feb. 22nd: Several readers noted that the inline "text image" didn't render properly in Internet Explorer (despite it being 100% valid XHTML markup!), and in fact, caused the rest of the page to render improperly too. Therefore, I've moved the Rushmore text image to its own page. [Insert grumblings about IE here...]

The original (graphical) image can be found here.

— Michael A. Cleverly

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The Hacker's Diet

What did I do on my day off from work today? I read a diet book of all things. Chris Hardy mentioned that he'd lost ninety pounds by following the plan laid out in The Hacker's Diet.

Written by John Walker (founder of AutoDesk, makers of AutoCAD), it combines engineering and management approaches to come up with a feedback cycle to control weight. I'll boil it down to its essence:

The home page for the book (freely available online in a variety of formats) describes the book thusly:

The Hacker's Diet, notwithstanding its silly subtitle, is a serious book about how to lose weight and permanently maintain whatever weight you desire. It treats dieting and weight control from an engineering and management standpoint, and provides the tools and an understanding of why they work and how to use them that permit the reader to gain control of their own weight.

I plan on giving it a try. Hopefully those of you who know me personally will be able to tell a few months from now...

— Michael A. Cleverly

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On managers

Lisa at Management Craft wrote yesterday in Be a reason to stay with the company!:

The person(s) we work for makes a HUGE difference in how we feel about our jobs. And this is not just about whether he or she is a nice person or willing to cut us some slack when we sleep in every now and then. Our managers influence how we feel about the contribution we make and the importance of our efforts.

Most every manager at every job I've had since college has been well-intentioned. I haven't had a really bad manager. I've been lucky to have some excllent managers. One, in particular who was more of a mentor and father-figure than a manager.

In the last six years that I've been at Deseret Book I passed up multiple (unsolicited) opportunities to leave (both to start-ups and traditional established companies).

Lisa goes on to say, "Be the manager that employees cite as a big reason why they want to STAY with the company." Having had that manager for 4+ years, I did stay, even though the longevity of my position often seemed in doubt. I never seriously considered taking the bait and leaving—my loyalty to my manager was that great. I stayed because of him, even though I could have earned more money by leaving. (Incidentally Shauna and I named our third child, Jacob Clark, after him.)

It's funny that as the orginizational chart & reporting relationships changed with time, and once I got to a position where I didn't feel the slightest bit at risk should there need to be another round of layoffs (or if there were an acquisition, or someone's cousins consulting firm decided to pitch some glamorous proposal to do what I was doing half as effectively at twice the cost) that restlessness would finally strike me.

I'm looking forward to new opportunities to grow and learn at my new job. People say that organizations need fresh blood periodically; I'm leaving Deseret Book because it feels like it is time for me to move on for a transfusion (to keep the blood metaphor going) of new opportunities and increased challenges. I want to be one of the reasons people stay and are excited about work.

(Hat tip to Slacker Manager for the link to Lisa's blog.)

— Michael A. Cleverly

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Drowning in email

While cleaning out my files I was somewhat shocked to find that I had 2.3 gigabytes of saved email. And I've been fairly frugal with what I've bothered to save and retain over the years at work.

Over at Financial Cryptography there is a post today about how email is no longer reliable, citing a legal case where a lawyer's spam blocking software blocked notice from the court. When the laywer didn't show for the hearing his clients case was in danger of being dismissed.

What to do about the email overload? Maybe Donald Knuth had the right idea fifteen years ago...

— Michael A. Cleverly

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Timeframes back to Olaf

I've updated "how I'm related to Olaf" to include the timeframe for when each ancestor lived.

— Michael A. Cleverly

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A year and a day later...

A year and a day ago Deseret Book went "live" on a new Oracle ERP and Retail Point-of-Sale system. This new system replaced a legacy system that had evolved over twenty years (driven in large part by the then-CFO).

The legacy system wasn't built using sexy technology. It was terminal/console based rather than sporting a graphical user interface. It was built on top of a Pick database rather than on a more "mainstream" relational database management system.

Niel Nickolaisen parachuted in, largely at the parent company's request, to act as the first ever CIO to oversee the change. (Previously the position he filled had vacillated between "VP of Information Technology" and "Director of Information Technology"; it's back to the latter now.)

Niel has an impressive resume, and is one of the most networked people I've ever met. Personality wise, he is a nice guy and fairly easy to get along with. Over time I came to realize that networking was his true passion because while Deseret Book may have been Niel's job #1, his job #0 was promoting Niel Inc.

A classic example of this is that though go live was February 26, 2004 he already had gotten an article written up in CIO magazine promoting his strategy and visionary leadership of this system change out by March 15, 2004.

In the article Niel lays out a classification matrix for segmenting and ranking project priorities. The theory isn't all that bad. It's fairly common sense. The big picture looks pretty good. But the devil (execution wise especially) is in the details, and that's where the wheels fell off the bus during his watch.

The article doesn't mention that go live was premature, that it happened because having given the CEO a date he stuck to it rather than lose face, regardless of what the business users (or IT staff) involved said or thought. Or that the "cost savings" of 40% to 70% were bogus because even a year later the project hasn't fully crossed the finish line. Or that the quotes from Sheri Dew were obviously ghost-written, because they're certainly not phrased in her style. (Whether she gave permission to have them attributed to her at the time or not, I don't know. But I do know that by April or May, and beyond, that she certainly wouldn't have, and any quotes she would have given would have been so damning they'd never have been printed in CIO.)

In other words, by many criteria, the change out was not a roaring success but rather typical of the painful IT changes that go over time and budget most everywhere. Even if it eventually pans out to be a net-win it certainly wasn't all roses when the article was written.

But Niel's moved on (getting out of Dodge, a cynic might say, one step ahead of the law). Left behind, the frontline employees across the company (finance, procurement, call center, retail stores) all trudge along trying to make the best of what they rightly preceive as a bad situation. Management lacks solid reports to know for sure how the business is performing.

Additional man power has been brought to bear in many areas. One example being the call center, where pointing and clicking in the 21st century takes three times as long as typing in the 20th did. That's a big deal when the majority of your annual business comes during the Christmas season. IT headcount has grown by more than 25%. That's all part of the price of progress, I guess.

For Niel it was a success. He came in to be a high-paid hero to save the day. He marketed himself extremely well (also earning a 2004 midsize-market CIO of the year award from Gartner) while he was here, and left to go do the next gig when the self-promotion opportunities had started to dry up and the peasants were rounding up their torches and pitchforks. (Though he got published again in CIO datelined October 10, 2004–several weeks after he'd resigned.)

I truly stand in awe of his accomplishments.

— Michael A. Cleverly

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