Monthly Archives: April 2009

Apr 26

Learning From Generation F

By kevin | Current Affairs

Gary Hamel has done a great job summarizing the dynamics of “Generation F” in a piece called “The Facebook Generation vs. the Fortune 500.”  Here are the points.  Read the article.

  1. All ideas compete on an equal footing.
  2. Contribution counts for more than credentials.
  3. Hierarchies are natural, not prescribed.
  4. Leaders serve rather than preside.
  5. Tasks are chosen, not assigned.
  6. Groups are self-defining and -organizing.
  7. Resources get attracted, not allocated.
  8. Power comes from sharing information, not hoarding it.
  9. Opinions compound and decisions are peer-reviewed.
  10. Users can veto most policy decisions.
  11. Intrinsic rewards matter most.
  12. Hackers are heroes.
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Apr 26

Public Officials and Strategic Misrepresenation. They Lie.

By kevin | Decision Making

Seattle Times Columnist Danny Westneat has found the research that validates what the rest of us already know.  Public Officials lie.  In this case, the lying is about the true costs of massive public works projects.

For those not following Seattle public works projects, we have an ugly old viaduct that routes traffic above and over our waterfront.  San Francisco used to have one just like it.  It needs to be replaced due to seismic damage.  There are lots of proposals including digging a tunnel with two fewer lanes (what?).  Can you say “Big Dig”.  Here’s what the Pols have to say.

“We don’t envision any cost overruns on this project.” — Pearse Edwards, spokesman for Gov. Chris Gregoire

“The way I see it, I don’t think we’re going to have overruns.” — State House Transportation Chairwoman Judy Clibborn

“There won’t be any cost overruns.” — State Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond

Hmmmm.  Here’s what Bent Flyvbjerg (pronounced flew-byair) has to say . . .

But a professor at Oxford University in England has done a compelling series of studies trying to get at why big public-works projects such as bridges, tunnels and light-rail systems almost always turn out to be far more costly than estimated.

“It cannot be explained by error,” sums up one of his papers, matter-of-factly. “It is best explained by strategic misrepresentation — that is, lying.”

I’m going to start using that phrase, “Strategic Misrepresentation.”  Here’s the scoop . . .

It started seven years ago, when he published the first large study of cost overruns in 258 mega-transportation projects. He found that nine out of 10 came in over budget, and that the average cost overrun was nearly 30 percent. Rail systems had an average cost escalation of 45 percent.

What’s so controversial about Flyvbjerg’s research is not his documenting cost overruns. It’s his effort to show why public projects are so chronically out of whack.

It’s not technical challenges or complexity or bad luck, he asserts. If that were so, you’d get more variation in how it all turns out. He concludes the backers of these projects suffer from two main maladies.

One is “delusional optimism” — they want it so badly, they can’t see its flaws. I know about this firsthand from when I supported the monorail.

The second is worse: They knowingly are lying to the public.

“Delusion and Deception in Large Infrastructure Projects,” was the title of Flyvbjerg’s most recent paper, published in January. He details through interviews with public officials how the pressure to get a project approved politically and under construction almost invariably leads to deception — a lowballing of costs and an exaggeration of benefits.

You can read the paper here.

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Apr 14

Dexter Filkins on Ahmed Chalabi: We are Gulliver

By kevin | Current Affairs , Random Walk

I’m nearly done with a very finely drawn portrait of our involvement in Iraq called The Forever War by Dexter Filkins.

[amtap book:isbn=0307266397]

Stipulating everything that needs to be about the fog of war, the political rats nest that is Washington, the bumbling and stumbling, and all the rest, this quote about Ahmed Chalabi, one of the primary actors in getting us swept into this war, is telling.  If you’re not interested in reading, it’s basically a tale of our guys getting out maneuvered and blind sided by our own apparent ineptitude and infighting.

I called Robert Baer, a former  operative for the CIA. I’d never met Baer  but people told me he was the man to talk  to. He’d worked with Chalabi in the 1990s in Kurdish-controlled Iraq, when the CIA  was trying to cause trouble for Saddam.  Back then, the CIA loved Chalabi; he  seemed willing to go anywhere, do  anything. He’d cobbled together a band of guerrillas that was harassing the Iraqi  army, just what the CIA wanted. Then things got out of hand; it turned out  Chalabi was serious, even if the CIA was  not. Chalabi wanted to topple Saddam, and  he’d turned his guerrillas loose on one of  Saddam’s divisions. He’d almost started a war. Back in Langley, CIA officials were  furious. They claimed to be stunned. After  that, the CIA pushed Chalabi away. It was  only later, when he was adopted by  neoconservatives in other parts of the  American government, that Chalabi began  to rise again.  Baer was at his home in Colorado.  “Chalabi?”

Baer said on the other end.

“Smarter than the collective IQ of everyone in Washington. So fast. And he reads. And  he figures out relationships. He read me  like an open book.”

How did things get so out of control out  there, way back then? I asked.

“It was a paper-flow problem,” Baer  said of Chalabi’s mini-invasion. In other words, Baer said, Chalabi made his plans  clear to his handlers in the CIA, but for  bureaucratic reasons, people in the upper  reaches of the American government had  not been informed.  “Let me just say, everything Chalabi  said he was going to do, he did,” Baer told  me. “This was not some rogue Chalabi coup. They knew about it back in Langley.  I understand that the division chief at the CIA never thought Chalabi would do it. I  still have the cables.”

I asked why the CIA came to loathe  Chalabi.

“Chalabi was as true to me as the day is  long,” Baer said. “The thing with Chalabi  is, he is Levantine. In order to get  anywhere with him, you’ve got to conspire  with him, enter his world. Manipulate  people. Do people in. Like when he tried to introduce me to Iranian intelligence in  Salah al-Din.”

Iranian intelligence? I said.

“Yeah,” Baer said. “Chalabi said to me, Look, I need these guys. I need to make  sure the Iranians are not going to cause trouble for me. Would you like to meet  them?”

Baer explained how, as an American, even as an American spy, he was prohibited from meeting representatives of  the Iranian government. At the time, the  Iranians were sitting at the other end of  the hotel lobby from Baer. They were  wearing turbans.

“This is where the gray area comes in,”  Baer said. “The whole time we were there,  Chalabi was traveling in and out of  northern Iraq and in and out of Tehran. If you asked Chalabi, he would say, I have to  deal with the Iranians. In our terms, in American terms, that would make him an  Iranian asset. All of his CIA  connections — he wouldn’t get away with  that sort of thing with the Iranians unless  he had proved his worth to them. He’s  basically beholden to the Iranians to stay  viable. If he got out of hand, they would  kill him.

“He’s not our guy,” Baer said.

What’s striking is how easily small groups of motivated players, with relatively modest resources, can so easily occupy the attention, forces, and wealth of a much larger player.  Truly we are Gulliver.

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Apr 14

On Technology Tar Pits

By kevin | Business

A colleague referred me to Neal Ford’s elegant blog on technology.  Here’s a brilliant quote from a series he’s written on the trials and travails of SOA (Service Oriented Architecture) . Don’t worry if you don’t know what that is.

What I’m concerned about in this post is the overall landscape, which is another way of asking “How did you get where you are now?” You got here because of 2 reasons: first, you took the path of least resistance when you were a company (before you became an Enterprise) because, if you had taken the time to build a comprehensive strategy, you’d have never survived as a company. Second, and more important, what is strategic to the business is always tactical to IT. Business people can go into a conference room and change the entire direction of the company in 2 hours. Or, the business may decide to merge with another company that has truly dysfunctional IT, but other business concerns override that. IT can never move as fast as the business, with means that IT always has to respond tactically to the decisions and initiatives brought forth from the business. No matter how much effort you put into a comprehensive, beautiful, well-designed enterprise architecture, it’ll be blown out of the water the first time the business makes a decision unlike the ones that came before. The myth of SOA sold by the big vendors is that you can create this massively strategic cathedral of enterprise architecture, but it always falls down in the real world because the COO (and CEO) can override the CIO (and his sidekick, the CTO). If you can convince your organization to allow IT to set the strategy for what capabilities the business will have long-term, you should. However, your more agile competitors are going to eat your lunch while you build your cathedral.

Any enterprise strategy you implement must realize that you will always be in tactical mode in IT because the business strategy doesn’t require physical labor. Any enterprise architecture you develop must allow the business to evolve according to it’s wants (and needs). This is what my colleague Jim Webber calls “Guerrilla SOA” and what I call “Evolutionary SOA”. More about the details ofp evolutionary SOA in upcoming installments.

What I’m concerned about in this post is the overall landscape, which is another way of asking “How did you get where you are now?” You got here because of 2 reasons: first, you took the path of least resistance when you were a company (before you became an Enterprise) because, if you had taken the time to build a comprehensive strategy, you’d have never survived as a company. Second, and more important, what is strategic to the business is always tactical to IT. Business people can go into a conference room and change the entire direction of the company in 2 hours. Or, the business may decide to merge with another company that has truly dysfunctional IT, but other business concerns override that. IT can never move as fast as the business, with means that IT always has to respond tactically to the decisions and initiatives brought forth from the business. No matter how much effort you put into a comprehensive, beautiful, well-designed enterprise architecture, it’ll be blown out of the water the first time the business makes a decision unlike the ones that came before. The myth of SOA sold by the big vendors is that you can create this massively strategic cathedral of enterprise architecture, but it always falls down in the real world because the COO (and CEO) can override the CIO (and his sidekick, the CTO). If you can convince your organization to allow IT to set the strategy for what capabilities the business will have long-term, you should. However, your more agile competitors are going to eat your lunch while you build your cathedral.

Any enterprise strategy you implement must realize that you will always be in tactical mode in IT because the business strategy doesn’t require physical labor. Any enterprise architecture you develop must allow the business to evolve according to it’s wants (and needs). This is what my colleague Jim Webber calls “Guerrilla SOA” and what I call “Evolutionary SOA”. More about the details ofp evolutionary SOA in upcoming installments.

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Apr 14

Chuck Norris is My Hero

By kevin | Random Walk

I haven’t thought about Chuck Norris, well, ever.  I found these absolutely fabulous fun facts following a link from Neal Ford’s wonderfully smart blog. Each is like a mental truffle you just have to roll around in your mind before you go to the next.

If you have five dollars and Chuck Norris has five dollars, Chuck Norris has more money than you.
  There is no ‘ctrl’ button on Chuck Norris’s computer. Chuck Norris is always in control.
  Apple pays Chuck Norris 99 cents every time he listens to a song.
  Chuck Norris can sneeze with his eyes open.
  Chuck Norris can eat just one Lay’s potato chip.
  Chuck Norris is suing Myspace for taking the name of what he calls everything around you.
  Chuck Norris destroyed the periodic table, because he only recognizes the element of surprise.
  Chuck Norris can kill two stones with one bird.

And these . . .

The best part is you can click on one and make a custom T-Shirt from it. 

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Apr 14

Handwringing, Bedwetting, Piracy, and the Tragedy of the Commons

By kevin | Current Affairs

The excitement at sea this past week is shaping up to be a regular case study in decision making.  For those reading this in 2053 or from outer space, I’m referring to the wildly popular, at least in the US, rescue of Captain Phillips by various elements of the US Navy, including Navy SEAL sharpshooters.

The players in the drama shape up like this.

The Pirates: This started out as a bunch of fisherman turned vigilante.  Half the world’s fishing fleets have been vacuuming up the catch from within site of the coastline of the tribal fiefdoms formerly known as Somalia.  The locals got pissed off and began rousting the small fry.  It turned out to be a surprisingly easy game.  It didn’t take long before it turned into a regular enterprise with an $80 million annual gross, board meetings, spokesperson, hangers on, plunder, bribes, and everything else that goes with what for Somalia is their first multi-national business.  Key decision criteria:  It’s all about the money.

The War Lords.  It’s all about the money.  Next.

The Shipping Companies.  I only know what I read, but the party line is that:

  • It’s easier and cheaper to pay the ransom.
  • They don’t want to incur the “liability” costs of arming their crews.  Instead, they apparently do pay for “rapid response” units to come to the rescue.
  • They don’t want to interrupt global commerce, which I gather is code for not wanting to hang around waiting to convoy up with other ships under the protection of a war ship.

Keep in mind that figuring out what really goes on with shipping, shipping companies, flags of convenience, and all the rest is nearly impossible and has been since it became possible to push a boat out of site of land.  I figure everything they say is a ruse to hide something else.

Key decision criteria:  It’s all about the money.

The Real Bad Guys.  There isn’t any evidence that Al Queda is in on the fun. but given all the visibility this has gotten, that seems like a foregone conclusion.  Key decision criteria:  It’s all about the attention.

The French.  They’ve been beating the crap out of the Pirates at least since mid last year.  We hear about some of it, but I’m betting there’s more going on than we hear.  [This just in, the French have just attacked one of the Pirate “mother ships” and grabbed 11 of their guys. ] Key decision criteria:  The French get pissed off about the oddest things.

The Obamas.  They’re dealing with a bad hand to begin with.  They’re watching Pakistan come apart because a couple of thousand people, tops, have exposed the government as weak, corrupt, and ineffective.  The piracy game has moved out of the pre season and into the big time.  We’ve seen this movie before.  Key decision criteria:  Changing the rules of the game while it is still possible.

We The People.  Let’s face it, the Piracy beat is fresh meat for a populace worn out by Wall Street and the miserable state of the economy.  It’s a great diversion to read about Pirates, Navy SEALs, and heroism at sea.  Key decision criteria: A good story.

Which brings us to The Bed Wetters. The chattering class is in full throat about the dangers of escalation, how the root causes of this go back to Adam and Eve, how there isn’t a purely military solution to this, why Obama was wrong not to get a Rescue Dog, and all the rest.  Key decision criteria.  Something to talk about.

I have already tipped my hand on where I am with this.

The shipping companies have played out a text book case study of the tragedy of the commons.  By optimising for their own perceived self interests, they have collectively contributed to the creation of a rogue navy, however shabby and poorly equipped, that is now doing the thing nobody wants, which is to endanger shipping in the most crtical shipping lane in the world (a significant part of our fleet and Navy budget is allocated to keeping very big ships right there).  Worse, it hass become a fist class advertisement for the next great terrorist playground.  What did they think was going to happen?

I have read and listened to a lot of “experts” on the subject, and the firest and easiest thing to do is to make the ships harder to board and take. Apparently our Navy has been hectoring the shipping companies for some time on this subject.  It doesn’t sound like they have had much success in that area thus far.

Assume for a second that Al Queda or the like isn’t behind this, its objective has already been accomplished: Drawing the US into yet another assymetrical conflict.  While the nation held its breath over the fate of Captain Phillips, the US Navy spent a serious chunk of change to bring him home alive.  The cost to the other side?  This will sound callous, but the death of three men who wouldn’t have lived another five years as it was.

Candidly I don’t see that the US has a choice but to be involved at this point (as we have been, we just don’t read about it).  Another example of private actors running for protection to the public arms, the same public that they have avoided paying taxes to and following regulations of. The obvious question is how. As the French are demonstrating right now, attacking the Pirates at sea is a big game changer.

Students of history, and there are a few left out there, recall how this played out last time.  If there was something worth blowing up, it would have taken several seconds for the Navy to oblidge.  My guess is that the Obamas are going to try some other moves for now, and yes, the men who do their best work at night will be part of the mix.

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Apr 12

1200 Miles In on my K1200GT

By kevin | Bikes


This is almost embarrassing to write.  I’ve owned my 2007 K1200GT since Thanksgiving, so that’s nearly five months, and I’ve managed to log a grand total of about 1200 miles on the mighty mile muncher from Munich (ouch).  I’ll plead crappy weather and leave it at that.  It is a pitiful, desultory performance.  The good news is that I have a longish ride coming up in a couple of weeks with riding pal Ron which should add 3000 or so miles to the clocks.

Not that it really matters, but I’ve come by those miles . . .

  • Toddling around town.
  • Running up along the Hood canal
  • Two different rides along what I call the Skagit loop (Seattle to Arlington, Up Hwy 9 to Sedro Woolley, and from there along the Skagit and Sauk and back to Arlington via Darrington). It’s DH-56 for Destination Highway fans.
  • Wandering around the countryside, mostly west of Olympia, WA.
[amtap book:isbn=0968432816]

The most recent (January) Skagit run was instructive as the best part of it, the part where there is nearly no traffic and good twisties, runs between trees and a mountains and is in the shade nearly the entire day.  For the record, riding a $20,000 600 lb bike on black ice is less than fun.

While it’s still too soon to have definitive impressions, here’s what I think so far.  Keep in mind that my most recent relevant point of reference is my old and loved FJR.

Power:  There are measurable differences in power and performance between the K, the FJR, and the Concours.  None of this matters.  They are all capable of hyper speeds and can out accelerate anything you need to.  The power delivery is different bike to bike, but again, who cares?  You get used to what you have under your throttle and ride accordingly.  And yes, the K delivers in buckets.

Handling:  Moto-scribes famously winge about the so-called lack of feeling in the BMW front end.  I guess I don’t have the first clue what the problem is.  If the issue is that they’re used to front fork dive, then yes, it’s not there (and I agree front fork dive can be put to good use by riders who know how to work with changing rake and trail on the fly).  I would describe myself as a better than average street rider, and I don’t find myself leaned over wondering if the front end has decided to step out for coffee or chat with a close friend.  Quite the contrary, I find the bike hugely stable and composed at all angles.  And importantly for the average rider, it won’t stand up if you decide to grab for some brakes in mid turn.  In that same way, trailing the brakes to the apex is a breeze.

Controls:  Another favorite peeve of the scribbling-set.  Whatever.  You get used to anything and I quite like the two-handed turn-toggles.  And I wouldn’t necessarily miss them if they weren’t there. 

Saddle:  I’m still undecided on this one.  It’s a different shape than the FJR, and much different than the custom job I had.  Ask me again in 3000 miles.

The Little Things: None of these things matter in the great arc or “real men kick start their bikes” sort of thing, but the K-bike majors in details.  I still reach for the throttle lock that isn’t there (was on my FJR), but the cruise control that is, is aces.  Having a fully sorted place to put the GPS is nice indeed.  Heated grips are well integrated and well done.  Heated seat is silly, but whatever.  Love the Xenon light.  The fit and finish all around is stunning.

ESA:  A great idea, but hopeless in execution.  I can’t discern a useful difference in any of the damping settings.  Comfort is too harsh.  The balance between front and rear rebound damping was worked out by an iquana.  I had Hyperpro on my FJR and it was leagues better.  I will get Ohlins at some point.

So yes, a great ride.  I’m telling myself I won’t buy another bike for a hundred years.  Or course that’s not true, but right now, it seems a really flash ride.

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