Look at Eric’s Shoes!

Sunday, March 28th, 2004
Last week's blog entry: Is the Chicken Cooked? now has wings of its own. Within days, bloggers all over the world were linking to it and several people even wrote me e-mail to share how the story resonated with them.  (Michael Sampson, Dennis Kennedy, Libby Ingrassia Schwarz, Skingery, to name a few)  As a result of your encouragement, I will share another important lesson that I learned early in my career; but first, I would like to share some good news....  

After posting my blog entry about cooking chickens, I looked up Jim Hill and gave him a call; I wanted to personally thank him for the lessons he had taught me so many years ago. To my delight, Jim was home and when his wife told him I was calling to thank him for something, he said "you must be referring to cooked chickens...." We had a great conversation and agreed to get together in person soon.

Now the lesson:  In the early 1980's, at the ripe old age of 20, I began one of my first consulting assignments for The Air Force Flight Test Center, at Edwards Air Force Base, California.  My assignment was to help the communications squadron deploy some of the first microcomputers in the U.S. Military. (see below) Part of this deployment involved an initial presentation in the base theater with 750 people in attendance, along with a live video link to Hill AFB.  General Pete Odgers, who was the commander of the Flight Test Center at the time, talked about how microcomputers would revolutionize work at the Test Center, and then for the next hour and a half, I gave a presentation (using Harvard Graphics - sorry, no PowerPoint in those days) about how the technology worked and how we would be equipping the people to use this new technology

I worked for six months to develop a series of technology seminars for the 2-letter chiefs and their civilian counterparts as well as the base personnel to bring them up to speed on the capabilities of the new microcomputer technology.  One of the seminars that I developed, was a 3-day computer management course for senior managers.  Keep in mind that while I certainly knew my stuff, I was still the "young" computer wiz -- probably about 1/2 the average age of my audience.  I wanted to make a good impression and I worked hard in preparation.

The seminar began at 8:00 AM each day, and I drove up each day from Los Angeles, which was a few hours away. On day two of one of my seminars, the managers began passing around a note while I was speaking; this went on for much of the morning while I presented.  Finally, curiosity got the best of me and I stopped my presentation to ask what was so important.  

A person with a sheepish grin held up the paper for me to see:
Image:Look at Eric’s Shoes!
I looked down at my shoes and this is what I saw...
Image:Look at Eric’s Shoes!
Apparently, before I left Los Angeles at 5:00 AM on that dark morning, I grabbed two similar but different color shoes from the closet and headed off for my presentation a hundred miles away.  It was too late for me to do anything about it so I smiled, quietly took off my shoes, placed them on the floor next to the podium, and gave the rest of my presentation in my socks which were fortunately the same color.  

At the end of my lecture, I was presented with the note that you see above. I have kept it as a reminder for these past 20 years, and as a result, I have never repeated the experience.

Needless to say, it was a very valuable lesson.  Fortunately, it did not hurt my presentation, and I continued to successfully deliver services to the base for another 10 years after that event.

Lesson learned: Whenever I pack for a seminar, I always check the color of my shoes. Twice.


-Eric



For those of you who are still reading, this is the actual computer I used for my work at Edwards.  I keep it on a shelf in my office.  It's a Zenith Z-100: a "powerful" Pre-IBM PC dual-processor 8085 and 8080 2 megahertz design with a whopping 64K RAM!  Sorry, no hard drives in those days.  There wasn't much to fill them up with anyway.  A typical word-processor, WordStar, only needed 32K (that's kilobytes) of RAM, and could be run from a floppy. The was also before the days of the 300+ megabyte MS Office installations. No color either.  A green screen CRT was state of the art at the time.  When Zenith called it a desktop computer, they were not kidding. You needed a desktop to use one. Still, it was better than using punched cards, but that is another story for another day.
Image:Look at Eric’s Shoes!

Is the Chicken Cooked?

Monday, March 22nd, 2004
Lately, I have been thinking about how thankful I am for cooked chickens, which have been a part of my workflow consulting toolkit for many years.  This post is dedicated to a dear Christian businessman, Jim Hill, who introduced me to the concept many years ago.
Mmmm . Looks delicious but make sure it's cooked.
Now that the dust has settled from the unexpected launch of David's blog last week, I realize that the event could have been a total disaster had I not "cooked the chicken" during each of the early steps of preparation.  While I did not plan that the site would become public when it did, all of the systems on which it depended had been precooked. When hundreds of web visitors began to visit the site, the only surprise was that they were visiting so soon.  By now, you may be wondering about this principle; let me explain...

Early in my career, I designed business automation systems for a variety of companies, both large and small.  One of my clients at the time was Quick Food Systems, of California  --  a reseller of food preparation equipment, such as you might observe in a KFC, restaurant, or supermarket deli. One day, I deployed a new server for this client and drove back to my office.  When I arrived at my office, Jim Hill, the president of the company, was already on the phone:  "you forgot to cook chicken, Eric," he said.  "What does that mean?" I asked.   Jim told me to come back to his office and he would show me.  When I returned to Jim's office, I quickly found the problem and resolved it.   "Now that I've fixed your systems, tell me, what does cooked chicken have to do with a computer?" I asked.  

Continue Reading "Is the Chicken Cooked?" »

The Adventure Continues...

Friday, March 19th, 2004
Wow!  An interesting day for blogging.  After last night's adventures with David's site, I took some time to review some of the referrers in my weblog. My WeatherCam remains quite active as usual; thanks to referrals from David and others, including Ed Brill and John Porcaro, my site has attracted quite a bit of attention.  So much for keeping a low profile.   I had actually planned to stay under the radar  until I was ready to launch my eProductivity.NET site, where I will blog about technology to enhance the productive edge.  I guess I shouldn't turn down the free publicity.  What  do they say in Hollywood? Any publicity is good publicity?  Seems to be the true for the blogspace.

Since eProductivity.NET isn't live yet, I'll blog about another favorite site: Michael Sampson's Shared-Spaces.  Michael writes an excellent blog on cross-enterprise collaboration architecture.  It is a useful site to stay on top of the latest developments in collaboration.  I first met Michael 8 years ago, as part of our work in the Electronic Messaging Association (Now, OpenGroup).  At the time, Michael and I co-presented on the subject of Unified Messaging.  Companies are beginning to used the technology Michael and I talked about all those years ago.  Through that experience, Michael and I maintained a close friendship, despite the fact that Michael is in New Zealand and I'm in California.  Like us, Michael and his wife, Katrina, educate their large family (all boys -- I stopped counting at 5, but there have been more since, and more are on the way) at home.  Hmmm Michael, you have all the boys, and we have all the girls. Let's talk in 15 years.  

Looks like I'll be travelling to Chicago in April, to speak at a corporate conference on the subject of eProductivity with Lotus Notes.  I'm looking forward to it.

GTD on PDA, easy as 123

Thursday, March 18th, 2004
Two weeks ago, I wrote about how I read blogs on my Palm when I'm away from the office.  It's a convenient way for me to stay on top of my favorite blogs from anywhere.  I've just subscribed to David Allen's personal weblog so that I can keep up with David's musings from anywhere.
Image:GTD on PDA, easy as 123

Ready for Anything?

Thursday, March 18th, 2004
I just finished helping my friend and associate, David Allen, bring his weblog on-line tonight -- though not in a way that we had ever discussed.  

In the book David gave me, he talks about being prepared for the unknown: "Something is coming," David writes, " -- probably within a few days -- that's going to change your world. You don't see it yet. You don't know what it's about. But it's there, rolling inexorably forward, destined to throw you a curve that you do not expect..."  (Hold that thought.)

Yesterday, David called me to discuss my weblog and how he really wanted to get one going.  (For a several days now, Buzz Bruggeman and Robert Scoble have been publicly encouraging  David to start a blog.)  Since David and I both use Lotus Notes extensively in our organizations, we discussed the possibly of using Notes/Domino as the platform for David's new weblog and for his company's group blog reading.  I offered to set up a proof-of-concept prototype so that he could create content on the airplane and then replicate it from the airport or from his hotel.  I quickly created a prototype site using DominoBlog, which I had used for my own weblog. Working with Tanny O'Haley, a talented developer and friend, we quickly created a functional weblog in a matter of hours.

Since this was to be just a prototype, much of the content was my own, or material that I had copied from David's past newsletters, along with a few sample posts that David had sent me.  I sent David a link to the first prototype, mentioned that I would follow up on Thursday, and went to bed. This was Tuesday Night.

"it's there, rolling inexorably forward..."

Today was my day off.  This afternoon I was at the library, doing some research, and I decided to check the server log remotely to see if David had looked at the site. Nothing.

"destined to throw you a curve that you do not expect..."  

An hour later, I checked again, and there was a flurry of activity, but not from any addresses I recognized.  Then I realized what had happened. While testing the key links on the sample site, entries were recorded in the referrer log of Buzz' site.  From there, things took off like a rocket, or more accurately, a virus.

I had no phone with me and none was to be found, so from a kiosk, I immediately pinged Tanny, and sent an urgent alert to David.  A few minutes later, as the referrer logs started growing, Tanny was on-line with me.  A short while later, David joined me on-line from his hotel room. We quickly discussed the options and David decided it was time to roll.  We quickly posted "Off and Running," and began to make the site ready for company, while everyone watched.

Working together, the three of us quickly deleted the some of the original (test) content and replaced it with new content, which David wrote on the spot.  We made the finishing touches to the site, and tested it. It was really quite amazing to watch -- I had two SameTime IM sessions, one Notes Session, and two Internet Explorer sessions going as I juggled keystrokes between David and Tanny to get things done. (good book title?)   For those of you who may have been reading the site during this time, it must have been interesting to watch posts appear, only to disappear, and then reappear.

I belive this is called "Shifting gears as required." (See page 4, Ready for Anything)

The site is now live, the logs are growing, and I'm going to bed. I've had enough excitement for one day. :-)

Here's David's version of tonight's events.

Shifting Gears

Thursday, March 18th, 2004
Up until now, I have used this personal weblog primarily as a private demonstration site for clients and friends while I work to launch eProductivity.NET, which will probably replace my company site.  This site presently has several hidden links to archived video presentations as well as links to live video of my office and digital whiteboard, which I use these to allow me to give real-time presentations to clients.  I've also been posting various topics of interest, but less with the focus of true blogging than to have a place to park my stuff for family and friends.

Tonight that all changed. With the unexpected launch of David Allen's weblog, my site activity has jumped again.

I guess it's time for me to get serious and post something of real interest beyond my WeatherCam.

Not easy being green

Wednesday, March 17th, 2004
Many years ago, Kathy (the former Miss. Mullen) wanted me to wear something green to a St. Patrick's Day party, hosted by our choir.  The local haberdasher did not have any green tuxedoes, so my wife set out in pursuit someone to sew a fine green tuxedo for me, along with a matching dress for her.  I told her if she could find someone to sew it, I would wear it and ...
Image:Not easy being green
I wonder if it still fits...  Now, I feel like watching Darby O'Gill

What’s the desired result?

Tuesday, March 9th, 2004
Often, when I consult with clients about ways that they can use technology to enhance their productivity, I find that the discussion can quickly shift from the problem at hand to the technology that they intend to use to solve the problem.  This usually only makes the original problem worse.  Without a clear definition of the problem, and more specifically, what things would look like if it were solved, it is unlikely that a new tool will help.

I understand that it is much more exciting to talk about a new piece of software or a cool gadget than to focus on a problem, especially in the area of productivity.  I also understand that it is easy, even desirable, to get distracted in the tech solution and forget the problem altogether.  I've experienced this myself -- more than once.  Do not forget, however, that a tool -- no matter how many lights or buttons or features it may have -- is only a tool; it does not become part of the solution until the problem is clearly defined and the outcome can be measured.

I find it helpful to look at productivity issues from three distinct perspectives: Information, Communication, and Action.  Put another way, when defining a problem that is affecting productivity, I ask my clients to answer these simple questions:

   What information is needed?
   Where is it needed, and in what form?
   For whom, and when is it needed?  
   What needs to happen with it or as a result of it?
   How will I know that this problem has been solved?        

With the answers in mind, they are better equipped to define the next actions and to effectively select  tools, methodologies, and solutions to help accomplish them.  More importantly, they now have a benchmark so that they can truly know when they have achieved the desired outcome.

These are simple questions, yet powerful tools to help keep the proper perspective in the transition from information to action.

Wireless Weblog

Sunday, March 7th, 2004
I've just installed a neat utility; it's called Hand/RSS for Palm.  It allows me to quickly pull the latest posts from my favorite weblogs and other sites
of interest.  I can read the summaries of the various blogs I track. I can easily select an article and have the reader launch the original post in my handheld web browser.  I use the wireless connection on my Tungsten C to allow me to quickly download and read news stories on a variety of subjects; I even use it to monitor my own weblogs for new posts.
Image:Wireless Weblog
As more and more sites provide RSS feeds of their content, this will certainly become a more popular tool for keeping up with the web.  It will be interesting to see how long it takes for the mainstream web sites to begin offering RSS feeds of their content.

Plane crashes nearby

Saturday, March 6th, 2004
A small plane crashed into the mountainside across from my home in Pine Mountain Club, CA.
Image:Plane crashes nearby
Early last Saturday morning, February 28, I awoke to the sound of helicopter activity on the mountain directly across from my home.  This continued for several hours. Usually, the only time we ever hear a helicopter up here is when the Med-evac ambulance comes in or when there is a forest fire - either way,  it is usually not good news.  Since it was still snowing and quite foggy, I knew that it was not likely to be a fire.  At the same time, the helipad is to the left of my house down in the valley -- not across from my house where the sound was originating.  I knew something serious was going on.  The fog was so thick that the helicopter was barely visible as it ascended the mountain; yet I could hear it and I could occaisionally see the marker lights as it went up and down the hillside.    

Apparently, the night before, during a snow storm, the pilot of a Cessna 172 single engine aircraft reported troubles with his aircraft to the control tower in Bakersfield.  Shortly after, his plane crashed into the mountainside and exploded into flames.  At the time, it was snowing, and the temperature was about 26 degrees.  Due to the rugged terrain, the heavy snowfall, and the freezing weather, the search and rescue teams were unable to reach the crash site until 12 hours after the impact.  They drove up the mountain on SnowCats and then had to descend on foot to the crash site.  Unfortunately, the pilot died at the scene.

The snow on the mountainside melted this past week, and this morning while sitting on my back deck, I noticed something bright on the mountain. Using a pair of binoculars, I could tell that it was a small aircraft, or at least parts of the frame and wings -- the main fuselage was burned out.   My sympathies go out to the family of the pilot.  I doubt that there are any plans to remove the plane, so this will probably become a permanent marker to this tragic event.