Sunday, November 18, 2007

It's official.... and my musings on Australia

Well, it's official, mates! ... I'm now able to drive on the left side of the road in Australia. It was 5 minutes of sheer terror as I watched the cars approach me... but once I got past that I was able to do it. My wife and I drove approxi
mately 500 Km (yes, it was Australia, and they converted to metric in the 1970's) in a hired car (that's a rental car to you and me in the USA).

We drove from Sydney to a
place called Pokolbin, which is part of the Hunter Valley wine region. It's much less commercialized than Sonoma and Napa, which was nice. There were no fees to taste wines, and there were plenty of good ones.

We brought back a couple of bottles from Peterson's and learned about Verdelho, it's a wonderful white wine variety. We have found a few varieties sold here in Houston. It's always fun to learn something new!

Here are some general thoughts:
  • Yuch! ... there were flies almost everywhere... and they were aggressive. Imagine trying to hit a golf ball with a fly in your ear... not fun :( ... that's the only bad thing...
  • The people in Australia are very friendly and have a low worry quotient... "no worries, mate!"
  • Getting around was easy, although you have to get used to the "left side" being the primary side.
  • Sydney is beautiful, but hard from a transportation/commuting standpoint.
  • Melbourne isn't as beautiful, but is much easier to move about in.
  • The Great Ocean road is unbelievable. It's a must see. If you go, take the helicopter!
  • Overall, Australia is a very livable and vibrant place. There is a lot going on economically as well as in the arts. Prices were a bit high, but the dollar is weak right now. If the dollar were more solid, I would expect that prices would have been fine.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Why Living a Life of Gratitude Can Make You Happy

I'm starting to really enjoy this Zen Habits blog!

Why Living a Life of Gratitude Can Make You Happy

Here's a poem from the article:

Be Thankful

Be thankful that you don’t already have everything you desire,
If you did, what would there be to look forward to?

Be thankful when you don’t know something
For it gives you the opportunity to learn.

Be thankful for the difficult times.
During those times you grow.

Be thankful for your limitations
Because they give you opportunities for improvement.

Be thankful for each new challenge
Because it will build your strength and character.

Be thankful for your mistakes
They will teach you valuable lessons.

Be thankful when you’re tired and weary
Because it means you’ve made a difference.

It is easy to be thankful for the good things.
A life of rich fulfillment comes to those who are
also thankful for the setbacks.

GRATITUDE can turn a negative into a positive.
Find a way to be thankful for your troubles
and they can become your blessings.

~ Author Unknown ~

Habits: Good Tips

Here are two great articles on Habits. They can be applied to any habit you are trying to change:

4 Simple Steps to Start The Exercise Habit

Set Up Habit Changes So It's Hard to Fail


Making an Incremental Transition to Software Product Line Practice

I found a really intriguing article about a transition to a software product line approach. This transition in many ways mirrors the transition that my current employer is going through. Here are the three parts (it's a fairly quick read):

Part I
Part II
Part III

Here are some interesting quotes:

With the sequential approach, after the transition in one area was complete, the need for transition in the next was more clearly illuminated."

"The "people issues" are always the most difficult when imparting change in an organization[7]."

Find Out If Your Computer Is Secretly Connecting to the Web

I found this blog entry on Lifehacker that was both interesting and useful to me. If you are concerned you have malware or some software that is using your computer to connect to the internet, here are a few articles to help you check into it...

Is Your Computer Connecting To Websites Without Your Knowledge

Find Out If Your Computer Is Secretly Connecting to the Web

Lifehacker is an interesting site with tons of productivity tips on various things.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Excellent NYT article on Ayn Rand

I found a great New York Times piece on Ayn Rand. She still beats out Jack Welch!

Here is a quote from the article:

"Last year, bookstores sold 150,000 copies of the book. It continues to hold appeal, even to a younger generation. Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, who was born in 1958, and John P. Mackey, the chief executive of Whole Foods, who was 3 when the book was published, have said they consider Rand crucial to their success."

For those of you who haven't read Atlas Shrugged, you are really missing something great.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Great Vegetarian/Vegan in the Big Apple

This will just be a quick post...

Many of you already know that I am almost a vegan (vegetarian + nothing from a cow, see D'Adamo's book if you want more info on this). My wife and I were in NYC last month and had a chance to have a few meals with a few pseudo-vegetarian friends of ours.

I have two restaurants I want to recommend:

First, is Candle 79. The food was excellent although pricey. It was nice to be able to eat anything on the menu! There was a wide variety of different choices... all the way through desert, including Soy Ice Cream (yum!). My wife isn't a vegetarian, but she enjoyed the meal as well.

Second, is Teany. This is a tiny little restaurant, but the food was great. They have a kitchen the size of a postage stamp, but they are still able to turn out all kinds of vegetarian meals, coffees and teas. This is a good lunch spot.

If you are in Manhattan sometime, check them out!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Book Report: Managing Humans: Biting and Humorous Tales of a Software Engineering Manager

Hmmm, I always seem to do a lot of reading while traveling. The latest trip (to the Agile 2007 conference) gave me time to read a few other books. This post is about Managing Humans: Biting and Humorous Tales of a Software Engineering Manager. This book is definitely in my recommended list for anyone interested in or currently employed as a development manager in a software development company.

First, the author has been publishing his blog for several years under the nom de plume "Rands". His blog is called Rands in Repose, and I have been following it for a while. It's not for the faint of heart. He is direct and uses a lot of colorful language. His management philosophy is very interesting, as well. He has managed through several companies (big ones, like Borland) and knows the engineering personality very well.

The book is a collection of his blog articles along with filler. The order in which the articles is arranged is discontinuous, at times, but all of the articles are interesting and have value for people in software engineering organizations. There are even sections written towards engineers on topics that include understanding your manager and how to get noticed through your resume.

Lopp doesn't get into too much development process. He is an organic manager, who seems a lot less focused on process and more on people and how they work together. I enjoyed this aspect of the book, as I feel that not too many people write about it. I found the book to be very practical and full of useful information on a variety of topics.

One last comment: I enjoyed the stories in the book. They seemed real and effective at communicating the topics.

I hope you enjoy the book as much as I do. If you want a sample of his writing, take a look at Taking Time to Think. I think you will see why I enjoyed it.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Book Report: Up the Organization: How to Stop the Corporation from Stifling People and Strangling Profits

While traveling recently, I also had the chance to read Up the Organization: How to Stop the Corporation from Stifling People and Strangling Profits by Robert Townsend.

Here is a review I found about the book.
Here is a second review I found.
Here is a brief biography of the author.


This book was originally published in 1970. It's sad to see that most of this wisdom is still not being followed in corporations. I wonder what he would say about Enron? This book is an excellent set of wisdom. It is a collection of pieces about various topics, in alphabetical order. You can read only parts of it, or use it as a reference on a particular topic.

The book was very inspiring to me and was an easy read. I was able to read it in 4 hours. However, I am going to read it multiple times to get the information to soak in as best as possible. The pearls in the book are timeless.

Robert's philosophy on people management matches very well with the philosophy from the Agile software development community (self-organizing teams). He boils it down to two theories:

Theory X:
  1. People hate work
  2. They have to be driven and threatened with punishment to get them to work toward organizational objectives.
  3. They like security, aren't ambitious, want to be told what to do, dislike responsibility.
Theory Y:
  1. People don't hate work. It's as natural as rest or play.
  2. They don't have to be forced or threatened. If they commit themselves to mutual objectives, they'll drive themselves more effectively than you can drive them.
  3. But they'll commit themselves only to the extent they can see ways of satisying their ego and development needs.
If you can manage people as Theory Y, you will see a much bigger return on your investment.

Here is another great pearl of wisdom:

Promises: The world is divided into two classes of people: the few people who make good on their promises (even if they don't promise as much), and the many who don't. Get in column A and stay there. You'll be very valuable wherever you are.

This book is full of wisdom of this type. As I said, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and feel that RCT was a man ahead of his time. This book should be required reading for all executives, managers, and employees in general.

I highly recommend everyone who works at or owns a company to read this book and live by it.

Here is a link to some good RCT quotes.

How could you not love someone who said the following:

"If you don't do it excellently, don't do it at all. Because if it's not excellent, it won't be profitable or fun, and if you're not in business for fun or profit, what the hell are you doing there?"

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Book Report: Silos, Politics and Turf Wars

While I was on the plane to Zurich, I had the chance to read Silos, Politics and Turf Wars: A Leadership Fable About Destroying the Barriers That Turn Colleagues Into Competitors by Patrick Lencioni.

Here is an online review I found about the book.
Here is an interview with the author that I found interesting.

My Report

I found the book to be generally easy to read and enjoyable. The author's premise is very simple:

People forget their titles and work together when there is a crisis. Why can't they operate like that everyday?

Speaking about the Emergency Room at the hospital: "... noone with a heart and brain would even think of bitching about departmental stuff while someone is lying there bleeding right in front of them. Emergencies tend to do that to people."

Many companies (and our government) face the problem where internal groups work against each other. These groups get into "US" and "THEM" types of attitudes. The author discusses different groups in a fictional hotel (front desk vs. cleaning crew), hospital (doctors vs. nurses) as well as several other examples.

How do you fix it? That is what the book is about. The author dissects why it takes an emergency situation for people to work together. He then presents an approach to changing behavior without needing an emergency.

The approach is summarized as follows:

1. Create a thematic goal.

The author recommends getting the heads of the different "silos" together to have a discussion. Ask the question "What is the single most important accomplishment that this team needs to make in the next six or nine months?" People need to take off their functional hats and think of themselves as generic leaders.

The author's definition of a Thematic Goal is: a single, qualitative focus (or rallying cry) that is shared by the entire leadership team - and ultimately, by the entire organization - and that applies for only a specific time period.

Note that I bolded a few words of importance.

2. Create a set of defining objectives.

Get the heads to come up with a handful of things that need to happen to succeed at the goal. These objectives must again be qualitative and shared across the team. All leaders must assume accountability for all objectives. For example, if your team isn't directly responsible for customer service, and the front desk needs help, you should help them to improve it.

Note that when the thematic goal changes, so do the defining objectives.

3. Monitor the standard operating objectives.

These objective don't change from time to time. They are the standard metrics that the company monitors, such as revenue, profit, customer satisfaction and quality. Note that the SOO's shouldn't be the thematic goal nor the defining objectives.

4. Metrics should be established and monitored, based on steps 1-3. It is up to the leadership to ensure that the goals, objectives and metrics are visible in their staff meetings. The groups should each take ownership to ensure they are met.

A few other notes:
  • It took me only 3-4 hours to read the book. It is an easy read, with only 200 very light pages. The chapters are only 2-3 pages long. The book is written as a fable, to add some plot and meaning to the author's suggestions.
  • The book's message is very significant. Anyone in a position of leadership in any organization should read it. The value return versus the time spent is very high.

I hope you enjoy it.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Post-trip musings after visiting Switzerland for a week

I just got back from a week lo
ng trip to Switzerland (Montreux, 4 days; Zurich 3 days). It was a great trip and I really enjoyed it.

The main reason we were there was for the Montreux Jazz Festival. We saw Seal, The Pet Shop Boys and the B-52's.

Here are some thoughts:
  • It was expensive. Switzerland was already expensive, but with the recent decline in the US dollar, it was really rough.
  • The Swiss are well-organized. They think of the little things. For instance, we went to several concerts (Seal, Pet Shop Boys, B-52's, etc..). They provided ear plugs for everyone to help with the loudness. Also, they had a quiet room where you could go and recuperate.
  • The train system rocks! On-time and clean!
  • Smoking is still considered a normal, public activity. There were non-smoking areas in restaurants, but you could still smell it.
  • Service at restaurants was spotty. In many cases, wait staff treated you as if they were doing you a favor by waiting on you. There were exceptions, such as Haus Hiltl where the service was impeccable and the food was unbelievable. Make a booking if you want to go there. They serve all kinds of vegetarian food... unbelievable.
  • The best meal we had was dinner with our friends at their apartment.

Welcome to John's blog

Not much to say to get started... let's just see where this thing goes. I am going to write down things I observe... I will use this as a personal journal....