Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Using Ruby 1.8.7 for fun and, uh, fun

I am enjoying Ruby and trying to widen its use in places I work. My hope is that providing useful code that works well and is easy to get into will encourage others to use Ruby. However, because I work on servers I have to use the installed Ruby version, 1.8.7.

When you post a question on the Ruby IRC channel or the "Ruby-Talk" e-mail list it is helpful to list the version of Ruby you are using. With Ruby 1.8.7 people often tell me to upgrade. Once I tell them the cost of upgrade isn't worth the benefit they often give reasons to upgrade. "Unsupported", "insecure", etc. After explaining this half a dozen times I wanted to share the issue clearly. Maybe I'm wrong. Here are the reasons to upgrade from Ruby 1.8.7 ("It") and the reasons I don't find the upgrade worth the effort.

It is unsupported. 
  True. However, It is the default Ruby on RHEL 6. The RHEL 5 and 7 installs do not have versions supported by the Ruby community either. Since most of the North American Enterprise Linux installs are RHEL, the Ruby Community loses a large and paying market by not supporting It.

It is insecure.
  Maybe true. However, almost all software has bugs and insecurities. It is up to me to write solid code, but when businesses use Java (tm) and Microsoft Windows (tm) they are accepting a greater level of risk than what little code I produce.

I won't encourage the use of an EOL Ruby version.
  Your call. I've talked with the authors of two Ruby books and both of them were very gracious, helpful, and encouraging. There are nice people in the Ruby community who will help those of us using It.

You lose new features.
  True. However, I'm new to Ruby and OOP, I'm still learning the old features. Time spent installing a new Ruby means I have less time to learn Ruby.

You should still upgrade.
  I work in large businesses with hundreds, or thousands, of servers. Please provide a cost-benefit analysis that proves your case. Even better, please sign a five year contract to do the upgrades gratis so I can focus on what the businesses ask for.

If I missed a good reason to upgrade, please share it with me.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The way to learn Martial Arts

If I want to waltz I practice the steps and then dance. If my goal is to speak a foreign language fluently I learn some words and then go talk to a native speaker. There is no greater motivator and evaluator than actually performing the skill. If I want to learn martial arts then I spar.

Sparring makes you face reality. If I practice footwork and technique by myself I can build a body-awareness of "good". "Good" means I am replicating what I have been taught, to the limits of my understanding.

"Good" does not equate to effective. If I think my defense is "good" but my partner keeps making contact then I really need to go back to class for critical commentary. As a student my understanding of the art is limited. My partner just helped me realize that I need more training.

"Good" does not mean unified. Most arts teach a combination of body control, offense, and defense. I practice in personal speed. That is, I practice at a pace where I can perform and will recover when one of the elements is off. When sparring I have to adapt to another person’s speed and seldom have the opportunity to recover before working my defense, offense, and footwork. My partner pushes me outside my comfort zone and I either learn to defend better or take the hit.

“Good” does not mean sustainable. There is a tremendous amount of energy expended in a fight. Dealing with a moving opponent takes more effort than punching air. Your senses are heightened as you strain for awareness of your partner’s energy. Blood pumps through your veins because your body think this is “real”. Your body pours out chemicals and signals to minimize the effects of trauma while your brain tries to control fear and emotions. This is one of the greatest learning opportunities in martial arts! You have to steady your mind to grow your skills. You must stay in control when the fight gets real. Sparring is the only way to build that control.

“Good” seldom leads to growth. In the book “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience” the author points out that our maximum growth comes when we are challenged just past our current skill level. He further explains how much our minds benefit from that sort of growth and how that can lead to greater success in our everyday lives. If the air isn’t punching back, are you really tested past your skill level?

“Good” seldom means you are following on the founder’s path. Ancient martial arts like Kenjutsu, Shaolin Boxing, and Fencing, were fostered in battle. Modern arts like Kyokushinkaikan and Krav Maga were founded by people who actually fought. If the passion that brought your art to life was born of struggle can you actually connect with that passion without struggle?

How do you get past “good”? Practice, perform, and evaluate.

A few effective skills performed repeatedly with intent makes a much better martial artist. Many of us have heard the phrase “practice makes perfect”. Sorry. It doesn’t. If you practice sloppy offense without intent then you will do a perfectly lousy offense in a fight. Want to do 1,000 punches a day for a month? Don’t. Do 10 punches with absolutely perfect form and a mind fully engaged. Take a break. If your mind is still fully engaged then do 10 more. When you lose form or intent, move on to something else.

Now take those skills into a match with a partner. Contend only with yourself. Your partner provides opportunities to learn. Get pushed past your practice. Force yourself to unify body position, offense, and defense faster than you ever have before. Recover from mistakes and press on. Do not judge the match won or lost, just keep going.

When the match is done, get feedback on how you performed. What did you do better than you’ve ever done before? Where can you improve? You will know some of this and your partner and instructor will also provide key insights.

Businesses call this the “Plan-Do-Check-Act” cycle. The military calls it the “Observe, Orient, Decide, Act” loop. Businesses risk billions of dollars and the military puts lives at stake based on this process. Why not use it for your own training?

If you want to be a ballroom great, dance. If you dream of being a polyglot, speak. If you want to be a martial artist, spar.

Friday, June 15, 2012

10 Vital Tips for the Job Seeker

When I job search I take my own advice. I'm currently trying to change jobs, careers, and locations. Oddly enough, I was accused of calling someone a "Welfare b****" when I gave this advice. The individual seemed to think her age and experience was beyond these recommendations. That I am older and have more experience didn't seem to change her mind.

Also know that I learn from books much better than webinars, seminars, or any talking head I've ever met. There are some really good speakers and videos available but for me they are introductions until I can find the book.

That said, here is the advice I am currently following.

1. Integrate "The 7 Habits for Highly Effective People" by Stephen Covey. You must begin with the end in mind.

2. Some recent version of "What color is your parachute" by Richard Bolles. Look at transferable skills vice being stuck in a rut.

3. Prayer and Introspection. God does talk when I shut up and listen.

4. Find supporting, positive, people. I have a list of friends and former co-workers I can turn to for encouragement when the job search wears me out.

5. Recommend people on LinkedIn, and don't be too shy about asking for recommendations. Sometimes I get really down and reread what folks have said about the positive difference I have made.

6. Have a life. Some hobby or other distraction. Skim the book "Flow" at the bookstore. It's a pretty good book but the short version is that we are most joyful when we are doing something fun that stretches us just a bit. Buy the book if you have the spare $$.

7. Guerrilla Marketing for Job Hunters web site. I'm not totally sold on it but they do have some good ideas. Free CD download too. The book version is "Guerrilla Marketing for Job Hunters" and I have that too.

8. Help others out. This is one idea from GM4JH. Skip the networking party and write a tutorial or some code that solves a problem. Share said tutorial or code

9. Once you have your web presence/portfolio/resume on line, go read blogs on topics you are passionate about. Add constructive comments. "Way cool!" does not count. Something like "This works well with the Aqueduct Project. Thanks So and So for your thoughts. Have you tried this with XYZ?" Make sure your web self is positive, professional, and helpful.

10. If you're a geek, read "The Personal MBA" by Josh Kauffman. He really makes business make sense and explains the concepts needed to get your geek ideas accepted as good business practice. Buy this book since Josh has had some personal setbacks due to wildfires out west.

Bonus Tip: Avoid processed sugar. Depression often accompanies job searches and processed sugar makes the depression worse.

Double Bonus Tip: Accept being loved. Job searches can really make you doubt your value and beat the heck out of your self-image. A supportive spouse and a faithful dog (or two) can keep your heart healthy physically and euphemistically.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Hard truth

Patrick Lencioni, author of nine best-selling books and capstone speaker at today's powerful Chick-fil-a Leadercast, forced me to face a hard truth. Pat talked about Organizational Health and I have some good notes to share with my co-workers next week. But tonight I have to deal with a question I would rather not have to face.

During his talk Pat asked which was more important, work or family. He then half jokingly added that he'd send a book to anyone who raised their hand for "work". When you hear that question you know the answer; of course family is more important. When you are young your parents and the elders who raised you deserve attention. Then you move forward in life and start a family of your own and they become the reason you go to work and the reason you stay sane.

I raised my hand for work. Not because work should be the most important thing, but if you look at my behavior it gives a more honest answer than any words.  If I had a middle name it would probably be "guy who makes dumb choices way too often". Pat talked about Organizational Health and Core Values and I try to lead at work and yet fail to prioritize the most important team.

Some leaders are hired because of their long track record of success, some for their demonstrated wisdom in moments of crisis. I am the leader at work because everyone senior to me left. If there is a leadership track at work I did not make the cut; my studying and time come from my pocket and from my vacation days. Work life is doing the best I can to take care of my team and encourage my co-workers.

Pat said "Great leaders are humble and willing to do what it takes." I can not speak for great leaders but those of us who are brokenly desperate and in need of wisdom will set ego aside and ask for help. I reached out to Amy Hiett, General Manager at The Table Group, and told her what Patrick had said and my response. In less than an hour she had asked for my address.

I do not know what Pat's book will say to me but I know that his team speaks with the same encouraging voice that he shared on today's stage. I do not know what I need to know but there is hope because people like Amy and Pat walk their talk and encourage people like me to face hard truths and change our lives.

Whatever struggles you face in life I encourage you to reach out. There are good people who will help you grow. I met two of them today.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Josh Nankivel

Josh Nankivel is a Project Manager who produces the training at He writes great blog articles and serves as a leader in the Project Management community. He sets a high standard for a Mind on a Mission and I hope you enjoy hearing his story as much as I did.

Please welcome Josh to the blog podium. (insert large crowd cheering)

What is your proper title at work? Senior Project Manager, Director of the Project Management Office, Guy Everyone Cusses At?

Probably the last one, "Guy Everyone Cusses At" at least unofficially :-)  My official title is Senior Systems Engineer / Project Manager for the Ingest, Subsetter, Inventory, and MDS ground systems of the Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM), a joint project between NASA and the USGS.

When did you start to become a Project Manager and what did you have to sacrifice for that goal?

I first started managing projects around 1998. I was 20 years old and in my first management role in the training department of a major computer manufacturer. I just called it 'getting things done' back then when we created a new system or product.

It wasn't until 2004 when I discovered this thing called "Project Management" and that there were organizations and standards out there. It was a real paradigm shift for me. The more I researched about what project management was, the more I said "out of everything I love about the roles I've had, this 'project management' thing is the part I love and am best at."

Probably the biggest sacrifice was when I went back to school to get a degree in Project Management. I was very passionate about learning everything I could, which is probably the only thing that got me through it. I worked a full-time job during the day, and trudged to class every night. It was a full-time class load and I took every class offered during the summers. I finished the 4-year BSc in Project Management degree in a little over 3 years. It was an exhausting stretch.

Aside from my degree, there have been several times in my career where I've taken a "step down" in order to get my foot into the right company or department for long-term advancement in project management. Moving down in pay and responsibility level is a hard pill to swallow, but if it's a strategic move it can and probably should be done. I've given up management roles to take individual contributor roles like "project coordinator" for instance, which is how I moved into my current project with remote sensing satellites. It took me a year to learn the ropes and lingo for how the systems work in aerospace and satellite ground systems before I was ready to even think about managing project teams in this domain.

Who has helped you become the success you are today?

Thousands of people too numerous to mention. I credit the authors of all the books I've read, the great people I've worked with and for who have taught me lessons along the way, and the fantastic people I've had the privilege to interact with online through my blog and elsewhere. I learn new things with every conversation.

The constant drive to learn and listen to other people's experiences and opinions are exactly what makes people better and better. There was a time when I was a young "hotshot" who had a pretty big ego. I was afraid to admit when I didn't know something, and always thought my way was the best way. Only after I matured a bit more did I realize that if I'm not listening to other people, I'm not learning jack squat. There is a huge difference in my professional growth rate and I can't recommend LISTENING as a primary mode of communicating with peers and advisers enough.

You do a lot of things for the Project Management Community; run the PM Student Website, a lead contributor for the "Career in Project Management" LinkedIn Group, teach project management on-line, work as a project manager, and now you are coming out with a free course for new project managers. How do you stay fresh and rejuvenated with all that going on?

There's really only one "secret": Do what you love, and it will never feel like work.

I love that quote. It has been guiding me for two decades.

I've been writing and training about project management since 2006 and I simply love teaching people about project management and trying to make sure everyone (including me) is doing the best work we possibly can.

Another thing that sustains me is all the great people out there who genuinely appreciate what I'm doing for them. When I started really listening to people I also realized that to live a fulfilling and happy life, I had to make it primarily about helping other people. I realized that when you give freely, you get back the things that help sustain and fulfill you and make it all worthwhile. If I were just concerned about collecting a paycheck and putting my time in, there's no way I could do this.

Sometimes it is tough to keep going, there are good and bad stretches. But then someone leaves a positive review on my book or sends me an email about how a training course or article helped them. Maybe to land a job, gain a certification, or just understand a new concept they've been struggling with. Those help keep me energized too.

What do you wish someone had told you early on in your career?

I wished there had been some resource that focused on helping new project managers get into the field in the first place and figure out how to do it. That's really why I created the blog in the first place, because I had no resources like that when I started. It was all experienced people talking about advanced topics that went way over my head most of the time. There are hundreds of individual questions I wish someone would have been there to answer for me early on. I try to answer them with my writing and online training.

Who do you turn to for wisdom?

Everywhere available to me. Offline, online. Books, articles, journals, blogs, podcasts. I like to study areas that aren't really just about project management but a somewhat related topic. I like to try and figure out how seemingly unrelated concepts can apply to project management. Most of my current inspiration comes from the Software and Systems Engineering discipline, but in the past I've learned a lot from people who focus more on other areas like process improvement/engineering, people management and leadership, or productivity.

My blog and forum groups are great resources for me to learn too. I've interacted with thousands of people this way, and I learn new things all the time. People who haven't written a book or whatever can still have tremendous wisdom and experience to share with you....if you are only willing to listen. Sometimes in answering someone's question about a topic it becomes clear to me that I've been doing it wrong. I just hadn't been prompted to think deeply about that particular aspect of project management before. These "light bulb moments" are awesome for me.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The meaning of life

When life questions us, what do we say? Much of my past would be better ignored, honestly. I am not a total idiot but you have to go hunting for proof. The idea of life questioning you comes from psychologist Viktor Frankl. He feels we should not ask what the meaning of life is but be ready to answer when questioned by life. Here it is in his own words.

"We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life-daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual."

Many psychologists have said lots of things that sound good but have no practical application. Frankl's words were not lived in the soft chair in his reading room but in the German concentration camps during World War II. His outlook was based on helping others survive through some of the harshest conditions mankind has ever inflicted on itself. If your life seems too difficult, remember that others have endured worse. You can too! It is not about which government agency bails you out or what you can do to beat the system but how you stand up and survive no matter what life puts in your path.

You can read more in "Man's Search for Meaning" by Viktor Frankl. It is an easy read but will challenge you to look at life differently.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Radical Leap

One of my favorite quotes from Steve Farber's  The Radical Leap Re-Energized is "Do what you love in service of people who love what you do".  While the book label says it will change the way you lead, I prefer to change the way I live. Leadership is just one part of my life; why limit a good idea to a small portion of who I am?

Since leadership is part of what I do then why not dissolve the separation from one part of me to another? For example, as the head of the house I lead my family in certain directions. As the team lead at work I lead us in getting things done. You cannot fully and passionately engage yourself or others if you cannot fully and passionately engage yourself in what you do. This is probably going to be a struggle for a lot of us because the current economy makes it difficult to transition to a fully engaging job at a salary we would like.

If you are in that position, there are still steps you can take towards success. Naturally, you can read Steve's book. It is written in a parable format and should be available through inter-library loan. You can also realize that where you are now is not where you have to be the rest of your life. Spend some time creating the ideal way to be engaged in your work life and then evaluate that in relationship to what you want to accomplish. What do you need to do, or not do, to meet those ideals? Do you need to change your standard of living to give you the freedom to do what you really love? What skills can you learn now that will prepare you for your chosen path? What character traits do you need to work on to get where you want to go?

In the past several weeks I have written about mental management and how it related to scuba diving. I am sure you have realized that mental management can be applied to any aspect of your life. You do need to actively choose your path, critically evaluate what you want to get done, and do what it takes. Mental Management is not a sugar coated pill to solve your problems without work but a work based structure to get more out of whatever path is right for you.