Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Retro Me This...

As forward thinking as I tend to be most times, I definitely have a nostalgic side. I make my kid listen to Bad 70's Music. If I decide I'm really comfortable in the clothes I wear one day, I might just wear them again the next day. Especially if I think you haven't already seen me in them. Today, I'm wearing my now-vintage Attachmate Hardware team vest, complete with the old heart logo. I realize that old logo caused plenty of confusion - and I'll miss it anyway.

I recently spotted an AmazonFresh truck here in Bellevue, and it brought on such a wave of nostalgia, I nearly swooned. Okay, so not really, but it was a way cooler sighting than most people would probably think it to be. So, does anyone know - are these the old HomeGrocer trucks repainted? It sure looked like it to me.

Despite the ease with which some people ridicule HomeGrocer as a failed dot-bomb, I am proud to wear the hat with the peach and I am glad to see the return of the trucks. I'm not a former employee, as plenty of other parents at soccer games have guessed. Just a former customer who was quite loyal to to the service.

Back in the days when Small Person was a young toddler and Tall Person and I were both working full-time in the corporate world, getting groceries delivered was about the only way food was going to enter our household unless you count doggie bags.

HomeGrocer understood their market very well and did an excellent job bringing treats and fresh fruit samples to keep me thinking of things I might add to my next order. Although I haven't tried out AmazonFresh yet, there are some hallmarks of the earlier service that sound very familiar and I'm guessing it's the same business getting a new life under a different name.

Don't expect to catch me at a casino to see some favorite act from my youth anytime soon, but I do enjoy a good comeback. You can bet I'll be looking for a reason to order groceries online pretty soon... and chances are pretty good I'll be wearing that vest when I do. For the second (or even third) day in a row.

Send your experiences with AmazonFresh to - especially if you're a former HomeGrocer customer, and let's compare notes. I'm curious if the market has shifted enough to make this venture a go or if they'll have learned enough from the first failure to make this effort a success.

What's worth keeping or bringing back in your life?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


If others are like me, people are waking up to the memory that this was the day. This was the day we started calling September 11 or 9/11. And while we might wish we could take it all back and trade it in for another day, this is the one we've got.

For most of us, it was a flashbulb memory-creating event. My tech support manager role six years ago meant that unlike most west-coasters, I was wide awake and walking in the door at work about the time the first plane hit the first World Trade Center tower. And then of course, a lot followed after that, both professionally and personally.

Last year, I figured enough time had passed that I could delve into the memories etched into my mind by the events of that day, see what lasted and what was worth remembering. The result was Memories of the September 11 World Trade Center Attacks - 5 Years After - a piece I wrote for Associated Content that focused on the impact that day had on me as a tech support manager and a mother while colleagues and family were dealing more directly with the attacks and their aftermath.

Like the memories themselves, frozen in time, that piece is but a snapshot. Others have their own September 11 experiences and memories to share. We were all affected - in profound ways and in small ways too. While we can't rewind time and send it all back, we can choose how it shapes us and how we choose to remember.

In so many respects, September 11 changed so much. In others, 9/11 and its aftermath maybe didn't change enough, in my opinion. But that's a different piece.

Today is about honoring the fallen, the memory, and the lasting shifts in our lives. Find what's good about it and hold on and let go of the rest. That much we can do.

You're probably thinking things today that are different from normal. Let's share stories - send thoughts and memories to me at and we'll sift through the sands of time and memory together, looking for what's good and worthwhile.

Which memories are the most important to hold onto?

Monday, September 10, 2007

All Clear

After exploring the connection between nomenclature and expertise, I thought it might be fun to delve into terms that are so self-explanatory as to make such a connection meaningless.

I'm talking about words and phrases that are so descriptive all by themselves that very little explanation is required, even if you've had no direct experience with the referenced matter and have never heard the term before.

Even people who have never carried a drink or food tray in their lives would have a pretty good idea of what it means to be in the weeds. And you don't have to be a restaurant worker to appreciate the view from the weeds. On the upside, those having been there will find that time in the weeds may be advantageous later on. I like to think so.

Plenty of people use the term, behind the power curve, without having any experience flying airplanes. Yet the basic meaning of the expression is so clear that even non-pilots essentially use it correctly to convey a point that readily resonates with other non-pilots.

The notion of a blowout diaper is equally descriptive. Even if you've never been near one, you know you don't ever want to be! Of course, blowout diapers are just one out of a wide variety that new parents are so fortunate to get to face. Just don't go investigating what you don't want to know!

Then there's the onesheet. I can't tell you how it is I've missed running across this term over the years but somehow it's true. And so when I asked for a summary describing the concept behind Startup Weekend that I could give to people who wanted to know more about it, I was anticipating something like an FAQ. What I got was even better - and I immediately understood both the term and what it described.

And for those of you who are interested in knowing more about this project that we're planning to bring to Seattle... I encourage you to check out the Startup Weekend onesheet.

After you've done that, give me a shout and let's talk about how you might like to get involved. It needn't be anything obscure or fancy. Whatever is self-evident to you might just be that obvious because it's a talent unique to you, something the rest of us don't have in as great a measure.

So make a comment or send a message to with your ideas. We're looking for space, talent, sponsors/backers/underwriters, ideas, you name it. If the Startup Weekend concept sounds at all intriguing to you, clearly we can find a way to get you involved.

What things are obvious to me that are not so clear to others?


If you've been paying much attention to the news this past week, you know that Nevada is not just for gamblers and skiers. It's also a place popular with some aviation enthusiasts - and a place where some of them go missing, the latest of whom is apparently Steve Fossett.

I like to keep an eye on Slashdot. I don't read everything, but I do keep a lookout for things that interest me that I wouldn't find out about otherwise. Over the weekend I learned from a Slashdot article that the search for Steve Fossett has gone high-tech, using Amazon Mechanical Turk.

With experience flying (with even quite a few hours in a Bellanca Citabria 7GCBC) and an interest in technology as a meaningful solution, I decided this was an excellent opportunity to actually do some good and not just settle for slacktivism.

I know what an experienced pilot is likely to do in a variety of situations. I know what kinds of perils exist in the air. And I have a rough idea of what a crash site is likely to look like. So, I started reviewing HIT (Human Interface Tasks) photos myself.

At 10-20 seconds for a decent look at most and up to a minute or so for the more complex photos where I feel a need to cross-reference with Google Earth views of the data, I've been able to process more than a hundred already in just a couple short-ish sittings.

Of course, that's just a drop in the bucket compared to the more than 65,000 photos that showed up on the list when I first looked. With so many people working on it though, that number is coming down rapidly. Currently, it looks like it's dropped to just over 52,000. Wow, that's a lot of hands making light work!

The work helps keep some of the normal speculation at bay. There's only so much hangar flying that's useful in these situations. I've found that it helps deal with the ambiguity - if it could happen to someone good like that, it could happen to me - by finding reasons why it could have been pilot error. We all secretly hope to determine it was an error that we can learn how to avoid once we've inspected every last aspect of the scenario and decided how we would have handled it differently. Beyond that, it's just talk.

General public with little or no experience in aviation likes to jump to conclusions for entirely different reasons. "Aviators are risk-takers to be avoided" seems to be the theme I run across most frequently. These are the people most likely to blame an accident on the lack of a flight plan, which is ludicrous.

No matter how short a flight I intend, however, I always file a flight plan because while lack of one may not cause an accident, it sure makes it a heckuva lot easier to find you should you need to be found. Not filing a flight plan is a meaningless gamble that you'll arrive at your destination safely without need of outside intervention.

Given that it's way easy to file a flight plan, it seems worth the extra time to just let someone know where you're headed - and then also let them know if your plans change. Place your bet on the possibility that you could need the help rather than the probability that you won't. Gamblers do generally prefer long odds as the better payoff anyway, right?

So go ahead, satisfy your curiosity and help out with a few Fossett-seeking HIT photos. Then, if you still feel a need for some more hangar flying, feel free to comment or send your discussion-starters to me at and we'll hash out amongst ourselves what could have happened, what should have been done differently, or what we should be doing next. I'll be processing a few more HIT photos myself in the meantime.

What small and seemingly unnecessary steps could I take now to mitigate risks later?

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Whattaya Call It

Sometimes a person's knowledge of terminology is indicative of their level of expertise. Sometimes it's not. I once advocated against hiring a person partly because his level of understanding of token ring functionality amounted to the belief that the system would "ring like a telephone" for the intended device. Umm, not quite. The notion of passing the token around to each device in turn was completely beyond him and he didn't have the other skills we were looking for to be able to make up for that lack.

Then there was the owner of Key Largo Airport Marina back in the 80's - where I believe the Port Largo / Marina del Mar / Ocean Cay complex is today. This guy had extensive flying experience and, if I recall correctly, had run a MAC airbase somewhere in the northeast. He knew aviation and therefore understood both charts and airfoils. Everything he knew about sailing, he explained once, came from understanding that sails are just vertical airfoils and from keeping in mind that nautical charts are very similar to aeronautical charts.

That's not to say that sailing with the guy was particularly easy or comfortable. He had almost zero knowledge of nautical terms, so it was pretty common to hear instructions such as, "grab that thing-y and pull it over and tighten it" - which led to a fair amount of confusion at times when the desired results weren't entirely obvious.

On top of that, his knowledge of knots was limited to the two or three most commonly used in flying - a number far short of the half-dozen or more that are most useful in sailing. Still, his knots usually held well enough to do what they really had to do. A bowline is a decent enough all-purpose knot. And he was always able to make the boat do what he wanted it to. In that, I grew to have a great deal of confidence though it helped too that I understood sailing pretty well myself. Overall, his was a case where ignorance does not necessarily translate to incompetence.

When I'm hiring, I have to be careful to take the time to make that distinction. Once or twice (at least - and one of these was even this year) I've been on the other side of that equation and I've noticed that not everyone knows how to assess competence separately from use of the local jargon. When you can't always hire for experience in every single skill you really want for a position, it's imperative to be able to assess the level of competence an individual can bring to the role anyway.

The corollary to this situation is that at least some hiring managers are probably fooled into believing a candidate is competent simply because they seem to know the nomenclature and I'm sure that is not always a valid assumption. Personally, I don't much like to see people get where they do simply through their ability to regurgitate buzz words or mimic language meant to describe underlying principles that they don't really understand. All hat and no cattle, as they say.

Here's what knowledge of the language is good for - when the terminology is tightly defined and broadly agreed upon, it speeds communication and makes the process more accurate as well more efficient. This is, of course, the trouble with buzzwords. More people believe they know what these words mean or are intended to mean than really do. Effective communication is undermined, not enhanced, in such cases.

"Drop the jib" and "Ready about" mean very specific actions that are readily comprehended by anyone in the know. Just as important, these are the kinds of terms a person must know to be of any real help on board a sailboat - though clearly knowing the terms is not a pre-requisite for knowing what you want or how to get it. It just makes it easier to be understood.

On the other hand, "What tools do you use in project management" could refer to software applications and other actual 'tools' used to support the work of managing projects or it also could refer to the cognitive approach or methodology used in the work itself. Actually talking about what it is that you want is an important step in establishing the context and even then, the context isn't the whole story.

Many competent individuals can be reasonably expected to use, or at least readily understand, many of the variously identified project management methodologies without necessarily knowing the specific nomenclature arbitrarily assigned to them. While I'm all for identifying good skills (project management and otherwise), I also like to be able to differentiate between that and marketing hype.

This is just a bias I have and I realize it's not shared by everyone. Feel free to disagree. Either make a comment or send a message to - you wouldn't be the first and I happen to believe it leads to better understanding all the way around.

How do I show my expertise and capabilities?

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Take Me Out to the... Meeting

What should have been a simple, get on SR-520 from the last entrance and scoot across the bridge, commute for an 11am appointment turned out to be considerably longer than 15 minutes it usually takes me in the middle of the day.

So I turn on the radio to find out what odd accident is responsible and discover that - hey - there's a Microsoft Annual Meeting scheduled to start at... wait for it... 11am! I feel sorry for all the folks that must've been late. Good thing I wasn't heading to the SoDo district myself.

Hmmm... I'm thinking that with that many people traveling from Redmond and Bellevue to Safeco Field, they ought to be publicizing these events way in advance, just like baseball games. I'm just sayin'.

Dunno how they'd do it so's I'd notice but it'd be helpful if someone could figure that out.

Fun commute stories or interesting info about the meeting? Send them to me at - I like surprises. I like the fun ones that don't make me late the best.

How do you handle surprises?

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Leggo My Lego!

So much interesting is going on right now that it's almost too much. Now that I'm back in town again, I've been joining the other folks in putting out some feelers for space for Startup Weekend Seattle (know of anyplace that'd work? we'd love to hear about it!) and it looks like I may be helping to re-write the curriculum and co-teach a unit on customer support for a UW certification program. We're making headway on those plans anyway and I'm excited about the prospects.

That's just for starters. There are plenty more irons in the fire too and on top of all that, there were so many articles of interest in the business section of the Seattle PI on Monday that I hardly know what to do with them all. The highlight for me was probably the article on Lego Serious Play. I've been interested in LSP since November, when I got to try it out for myself at the ICF Conference in St. Louis last fall.

In fact, I forwarded the article to Robert Rasmussen, figuring he'd appreciate knowing it made print here in Seattle. I'm glad I did; we've been talking about how to get me into one of the certification sessions and he mentioned that there's likely to be one in Vancouver, BC sometime this winter. I'm so there. I just have to make sure it doesn't conflict with Startup Weekend!

All I can say is with everything popping up at once, it's both scary and exciting - kind of like those thunderstorms Monday night which were way cool to watch by the way; it's just too bad that we had an obscured view - even our treehouse wouldn't have helped much in that regard. I'm just glad that Small Person is back to school so that he doesn't have to feel neglected as I start getting into all the cool new stuff happening.

Whether you're interested in Lego as a business performance tool or have ideas about space for Startup Weekend, I'm interested in what you have to say. You can send messages to me at and we'll build on that. It'll be fun, too - so long as you leave at least a few of the cool Lego pieces for me to use too.

How can I tap into fun and excitement to help get things done?

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Is THIS Too Far?

Back when I was pregnant with Small Person, Tall Person and I had an experience that taught us a helpful lesson about parenting - it's also turned out to be somewhat useful for managing too. We were out walking at Bellevue Downtown Park and were treated to an amusing interaction between what appeared to be an older uncle or perhaps grandfather, and his two-year-old charge, Alex. We know that this particular small person was named Alex because as he started sprinting for the hinterlands, we could hear his caretaker call out, "Now, don't go too far, Alex! Don't go too far!"

Tall Person and I burst out laughing at the same time, watching the older gentleman try to chase down speedracer Alex, who clearly had no intention of stopping anytime soon. Our best guess at what was going through little Alex's mind? "And just how far is too far grandpa? Is this too far? Is this? How about now?"

We took that incident to heart and when our own small person started testing out his legs, our instruction to him was, "Stay where you can see me!" Our theory has been that, like with rear view mirrors, if you can see me, I can probably still see you.

Whether I'm parenting or managing, I try real hard to think about how to deliver instructions that make sense from the perspective of the person receiving them. It's not always easy but I get better results that way.

It seems I don't always take my own advice though. Today I was alerted to a problem on the the Survival Strategies for Techies blog that shows up when using Firefox. I'd probably have run across the unresponsive script errors myself if I'd been using Firefox more often but I get lazy sometimes and the truth is that as much as I like Firefox, I hadn't gotten around to loading it on my computer.

I've loaded it now though, and as best as I can tell, it seems I may have been skirting around the edge of too far with respect to all the cool toys and gadgets I've been loading onto the blog. The good news is that there seems to be a pretty simple fix (or workaround, depending on your perspective), just by modifying a Firefox setting. Whew, glad that's settled! Now, if I can only figure out what happened to the MadKast icons on the more recent posts. Maybe something else strayed too far somehow along the way.

If you've got better troubleshooting suggestions or recommendations, send them to me at so I can find the best fix possible. I like hearing stories about what's too far too.

How will I know when I've gone 'too far'?