Monthly Archives: September 2010

There’s a Stat for That

“In college, Danny was an animal in the weight room, just like Tulo and Longoria. He’s really strong. He had the ability to drive the ball to the opposite field, but he didn’t do it.”

“Yes, I did,” retorted the switch-hitting Espinosa.

“No, he didn’t,’ said Weathers, aware that Espinosa has hit three of his six homers this month to the opposite field.

I love baseball. The home team plays its last home game tomorrow; the season ends Sunday.  The Won-Loss record isn’t great.  But I don’t care.  I still love baseball. Continue reading

Why Some Ties Are Better Than Others (and I’m Not Talking About Neckwear)

Malcolm Gladwell has a fascinating article in the current New Yorker. “Small Change: Why the revolution won’t be tweeted” discusses, among other things, ways the personal ties we have dictate the relative success of a revolution (or if it is even possible).

Gladwell uses as a benchmark the Woolworth lunch-counter sit-in in 1960. His thesis begins when he points out that the four college students who staged the sit-in were friends, dorm-mates at North Carolina A&T, a black college in Greensboro. Because they were friends who had had long discussions about race matters, Gladwell cited their “strong ties.”

Gladwell also posits that when change involves high risk (as the Greensboro sit-in and further sit-ins did), the key is for people (activists) to have strong ties. He discusses at length the role of strong ties in the years-long civil rights movement.

He contrasted these strong ties with the “weak ties” of today’s social media, in particular Twitter and Facebook. One of the episodes he notes is the use of social media to find a bone marrow donor for a Silicon Valley entrepreneur. The effort resulted in 25,000 people being added to the bone marrow database. There was participation (adding your name to a database), but was there real involvement? Indeed, Gladwell says of this and other calls to donate (e.g., to various Darfur funds):

“…Facebook activism succeeds not by motivating people to make a real sacrifice but by motivating them to do the things that people do when they are not motivated enough to make a real sacrifice. We are a long way from the lunch counters of Greensboro.”

Gladwell’s treatment of the phenomena of “strong ties” and “weak ties” and their role in the caliber of change (or revolution) is thought provoking. It made me think about what kind of “revolution” I would rather be involved in:

  • a revolution that is high-risk, undertaken with people with whom I have strong ties, and that results ultimately in Large Change; or
  • one that is low risk, undertaken with uncountable people with whom I have weak ties, and that results in Small Change.

Something tells me that the former is much more satisfying than the latter.

Welcome to the Machine

Monday, June 21, 1993, a day that will live in infamy.  At least for me.  That was the day that I first experienced the Internet. Picture this:  I walked into my new office (I had recently changed jobs) and one of my new co-workers began talking about something called the “Internet” and asked me if I’d like to see it.

I really can’t remember what all we looked at that day (and please remember this was before the graphical web), but I liked it.  So much so that by day’s end I had applied for my own account.


Date: Mon, 21 Jun 1993 18:56:49 -0400
From: Express Access Business Office ce@access.digex.net>
To: xxxx@access.digex.net, sysadmin@access.digex.net
Subject: Welcome to Express Access!

Welcome to Express Access Online Communications Service, 
We are happy to have you as a customer.  If at any
time you have any questions about our service, please
feel free to call us at our offices and we will do
our best to help.
               [[snip]]       
We hope that you enjoy using our service, and if there is   
anything that we can do to make things better for you,
please let us know.  Welcome to the machine.

Welcome to the machine, indeed.

As of today, I’ve been on the Internet 17 years, 2 months, and 26 days (but who’s counting).  The Web was just getting started, but we didn’t have the Mosaic client loaded on our “stand-alone” machine (maybe we couldn’t even get it through the dial-up service we were on at the time). It was command-line all the way at the time:  telnet, gopher, newsgroups, Listservs, and Pine email.  I learned more UNIX commands those early years than I ever thought I would.

An event that stands out was ordering a book online soon after I got my account.  I telnetted to “books.com” and looked at their offerings (as I recall, it was a file list that I saw).  I ordered, gave credit card information, and, voila! the book arrived in about 2 days!  Amazing! (I just now went to books.com & it resolved to barnesandnoble.com.  I wonder if books.com was really B&N way back then.)

Compendia of information about the Internet were showing up all the time back then.  Two that come to mind (and that I could locate online) are Brendan Kehoe’s “Zen and the Art of the Internet” (1992) and the original version of the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s “Big Dummy’s Guide to the Internet” (1993).  You may remember additional ones.  If so, please mention them in the comments.

I can remember being enamored by the depth of information on gopher servers.  It was incredible how many layers of information could be found.  But this was nothing compared to what was (and is) available on the World Wide Web.  (While writing this blog, I discovered an interesting “History of the World Wide Web” from CERN.)

It was freewheeling in those days, and most any question you might have could be answered in one of the Internet Engineering Task Force’s RFC’s.  Anything you wanted to know about the Internet could be found there, sometimes in excruciating detail.  I’m in awe of the volunteers who served on the IETF and all the others that worked to get Internet standards formulated.  Where would we be without them?

It’s been a great 17 years, 2 months, and 26 days.  If you have memories of the early years of the Internet, please leave them in the Comments section.

Date: Mon, 21 Jun 1993 18:56:49 -0400
From: Express Access Business Office <office@access.digex.net>
To: xxxx@access.digex.net, sysadmin@access.digex.net
Subject: Welcome to Express Access!
        Welcome to Express Access Online Communications Service

   We are happy to have you as a customer.  If at any time you have
   any questions about our service, please feel free to call us at
   our offices and we will do our best to help.

               [[snip]] 

      We hope that you enjoy using our service, and if there is
   anything that we can do to make things better for you, please
   let us know.   Welcome to the machine.

Are People Really More Narcissistic Today?

A couple of days ago, Andrew McAfee asked on Twitter if narcissism is on the rise.

McAfee Tweet

I answered that I wasn’t sure if it was rising.  But his question piqued my interest; and I’ve decided that maybe not narcissism, but selfishness and cluelessness are on the rise.

First a few definitions:

Narcissism: Dictionary.com defines narcissism as

  1. An inordinate fascination with oneself; excessive self-love; vanity; or
  2. Psychoanalysis . erotic gratification derived from admiration of one’s own physical or mental attributes, being a normal condition at the infantile level of personality development.

Selfishness: Again, Dictionary.com:

  1. Devoted to or caring only for oneself; concerned primarily with one’s own interests, benefits, welfare, etc., regardless of others; or
  2. Characterized by or manifesting concern or care only for oneself: selfish motives.

Cluelessness: Just to maintain source integrity, I consulted Dictionary.com. As might be suspected, this isn’t a “proper” word; indeed, it’s in the Slang Dictionary portion of Dictionary.com.

  1. Total stupidity. (See also totally clueless.) : I just shake my head in wonder at the cluelessness of my fellow humans.

Have you seen any of these people? And are they examples of narcissism, selfishness, or just plain old cluelessness?

  • Theperson who parks their car at a yellow fire lane in front of a store. They are “just going to be a minute.”
  • The person who, ear buds in head, cuts in front of you in bus queue. Were they willfully cutting in line or did they just not see notice you?
  • The person who monopolizes conversations, meetings, or other interactions. Do they likie to hear themselves talk and think that others do too?
  • The person with the sense of entitlement that every benefit should be theirs and that they deserve it. (I think that last qualifier indicates that this is not cluelessness on the person’s part.

The spectrum of Narcissism, Selfishness, and Cluelessness runs from the somewhat pathological (Narcissism) to the evidently baffling (cluelessness) by way of the sometimes malevolent (Selfishness).

And, you may recall from the definitions above, narcissism is the only one of the three that has a psychological definition.  (It’s also the only one associated with Greek Mythology. See here and here for more on our friend Narcissus.)

So, I guess I would answer Andy’s question a little differently than I did.  I don’t think we’re getting more narcissistic. I think we’re getting more selfish (and perhaps more clueless).   But I stand by the second part of my response:  narcissism is ALWAYS bad, [because] the focus is self, not others.

Closing a House, Changing a Life

As mentioned in my last post, I spent much of the time between mid-August and Labor Day getting my mother moved out of her home and settled into an assisted living facility near her hometown.

At first I approached this as just another project; but soon found that project plans, schedules, requirements, and funding levels really played only a tangential role in this activity.

Funding wasn’t an issue (thank goodness) and I had a very rough project plan based on the requirements as I saw them. But, as the “project” began, it became clear that it wasn’t that simple.

Although we knew where Mom was going, we didn’t know when.  We’d all been in a holding pattern until an apartment for her was identified at the facility. When that happened, the schedule became quite accelerated.  We accomplished in two weeks what we had planned on accomplishing in a month.  (As an added touch, the long Labor Day holiday weekend capped off the activity, so there was little room for error correction after the fact.)

We’re not yet at the Project Closeout Review milestone, but I thought I’d share some things I learned during the process.

1.  Who are the stakeholders? Identify them and their “WIFM” [what’s in it for me] early and to the best of your ability. There were several stakeholders (including me) in this process.  We all had generally the same objective; but there were subtle differences.  Unless you understand these differences, many actions will have to be re-explained, re-justified, re-thought-out.

2.  Keep your eye on the goal. Remember what is most important. In this case, it was getting Mom from Point A (her home) to Point B (the facility).  When decisions on disposition of possessions seemed intractable, the question became “What do you want to bring with you, Mom?”  To paraphrase Hillel, “Everything else is commentary.”  It rally didn’t matter in the larger scheme of things what items everyone else wanted; what mattered most was identifying what Mom wanted to bring with her, and doing everything to ensure that those items were ready to go.

4.  Possessions vs. things.  Know the difference. Know that people have different perceptions of objects.  My mom was surprisingly unsentimental about her possessions.  Because of space limitations at her new accommodations, she took relatively few of them with her. She said of them (and the house she was leaving): “They have given me pleasure for many years, but I don’t need them anymore.” In the end, they became things that needed to be either distributed or disposed of.  It is much easier to dispose of things rather than possessions when they no longer serve a need or want. I learned a valuable lesson on the hazards of accumulating things: you have to get rid of them sometime.

5.  Get as much information as you can. The mundane parts of moving (e.g., securing a mover and packing) are relatively simple: You make a few calls and do a brief Source Selection.  When the move is small (limited number of items, short distance), the decision is fairly easy.

Further along the scale of difficulty was finding someone to take the items from the house.  A complicating factor was that some went to Person A, others went to Person B.  And Person C? Well the schedule dictated that he pick up the items after a contract on the house was signed. (The house wouldn’t “show” well otherwise.)

The top rung of the ladder of opacity was the process of applying for Veterans Benefits for my mom as a Surviving Spouse.  Advice for anyone whose parent is either a Veteran or a Surviving Spouse of a Wartime Veteran:  Get a copy of Checks for Vets and read it thoroughly, even if you or your parent doesn’t think your parent qualifies for benefits.  If the deceased Spouse was in the Service even one day during wartime, the surviving Spouse qualifies.

6.  Use the tools you have available. Unlike my past project experience, I didn’t have the benefit of Gantt charts, storyboarding, TEM’s, and other accumulata of big-P projects.  I had my mother’s balky laptop, my Smartphone, a telephone, and a spiral notebook.  That notebook became my Bible.  One thing I didn’t have was a bevy of contractors to support me.  I was a singleton managing the project.  My brother assisted with cleaning out the house and with getting my mother settled into her new location.  But, because I was collocated with my mom during the process and he wasn’t, I was responsible for most project activities and decisions.  I WAS the Project Manager.

7.  Don’t be afraid to accept help. I was blessed by having a lot of people available to help me.  The “star” of that show was my loving husband.  I had flown up to my mom’s 2 weeks prior to the move, and he drove up a week later to help the process.  He spent most of his time helping my brother clear the basement.  Bless him!  Family friends, relatives, and neighbors were also helpful and the task couldn’t have been completed without them.

The “project” is almost finished and I’m happy to report that Mom is enjoying her new life.   The date for Project Closeout Review is dependent on the Closing date for the house sale.  After that, all will be done (I think).

Stay tuned.

I’m Baaaaaak Baby!

As I said in this Tweet, I need to get back to posting to Patchwork Jumble.  Sometimes Twitter’s 140-character limit isn’t enough space to tell the full story.

I’ve spent most of the time since my last post helping my Mom move to a retirement community/assisted living facility.  This involved, among other things, clearing out her house (which is now for sale) and administrative matters like change-of-address notifications.

The task was arduous (& is still not completed entirely).  I was way too busy to concentrate on posting to my blog.  I’ll address the complexity of the task (and what I learned from it) in one or more later posts.

But I just wanted to touch base with my readers.  I’ll be writing more, much more, now that the “excitement” has died down.

It’s good to be back!