My favo(u)rite conference of the year

24464682339_760c914f24_bEach year I get to travel to the UK and attend the Defence (with a “c”) Information conference, DI’18, organized jointly by the Cranfield University Defence Academy and TeamDefence. This conference brings together MoD (Ministry of Defence), Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine civil servants and uniformed IT (ICT in UK parlance) personnel and tech industry thought leaders. The mission of the conference is to look at MoD technology strategy and direction and to see where commercially available solutions can augment MoD efforts.

It is my favorite conference because when a speaker talks about a task being “mission critical” the stakes are clearly different and measured in lives and liberty rather than pounds and pence.

The conference is organized under the Chatham House Rules which enables participants to share what they learned and allows for free discussion of the ideas presented so long as the authors of those ideas are not revealed. This means speakers are free to speak their minds and be transparently clear on their challenges, objectives, and needs.

The MoD is “a much beloved but crusty old uncle.”

Each year I learn something new about the British approach to the “defence of the realm” and I am inspired by the clarity, pragmatism, and determination that gets things done. Like any branch of UK government, the MoD is a centuries-old bureaucracy that has to account for every pound of tax-payer revenue they spend.

As was widely reported in the British press, “last year the MoD spent more on computers than ammunition” and as one speaker noted, “It is clear where the next war is being fought.”

Excellence is collaboration, impact, innovation, potential, and implementation

This year I had the distinct honor to be asked to lead the judging panel for the DI Excellence awards. These awards recognize innovators in the MoD, the uniformed services and, commercial enterprises, who come together to address specific technology needs.

Often these innovations take existing MoD infrastructure and exploit it in new, and more accessible ways, frequently they adapt commercial technologies for the rigors of the battlespace, and always they present solutions that adapt to the complex landscape of MoD regulations and traditions.

This year there were 8 entries from a total of 48 collaborators. The organizations involved included the Royal Engineers, the Royal Navy, some of the largest aerospace contractors to a startup (named after a class of sailing boat because the founder likes to race small yachts).

One team developed an additive manufacturing, or 3D-printing system, to make replacement parts in places where spares cannot be easily delivered like aboard a naval vessel or in an active battlespace.

Another group looked at minimizing the damage caused by a cyber-theft attack by encrypting each data element in a data-store with a different key forcing the bad-guys to have to brute-force decrypt millions of times anything they stole.

Not all ideas took on the offensive and defensive needs of the military. One submission took the tens of binders, thousands of pages and millions of words that describe just one of the business processes used thousands of times a day by civilians and uniformed personnel, ashore and asea, and made it instantly accessible, searchable and useable thus saving endless hours and bringing much-needed standardization and conformity.

And in this complex world of alliances and treaties, controls and licenses, the import, export, and use of classified hardware must be tightly managed. Keeping track of who has what and how they may use it is a massive, and naturally secretive, process, largely done on paper or in spreadsheets. A mistake in this process may result in an inadvertent supply of sensitive technology to potentially hostile groups. Clearly a situation in need of technology to control.

A most interesting nomination found a way to bring brilliant new entrepreneurs and innovators together to tackle impenetrable and intractable MoD challenges. Not only that but incubate those new companies and help them navigate their way through the MoD procurement and investment processes.

Team Defence is really Family Defence

One thing I found to be common amongst all the excellent nominees was a sense of pride and purposefulness. Many of the commercial partners in these teams were former uniformed members of the UK military. Their paycheck now comes from a company but they are still working their original service mission with the resources and commitment to deliver upon it.

It is a credit to the MoD, the armed forces, Cranfield University, TeamDefence and the hundreds of participants in DI’18 that this open exchange of ideas and a free flow of information is possible. It enables extraordinary solutions to unimaginable problems that save lives, ensures liberty, projects influence, and defends the nation.

Thank you. See you next year.

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This is going to be a short, blunt post. Toilets are for pooping and peeing and not for Facebooking and emailing. The (bizarre) custom in the USA of having lavatory doors that have a 1/4″ gap all around means that one can easily see if a stall is occupied. It also means one can see the occupant thumbing away on their device (do not get me started on those that mix their business with doing their business and make throne-calls – I flush regularly when I hear them next to me). In the building where I work there are two cubicles for a male population of about 50. Often both are busy and I have found myself waiting several minutes to be finally seated. I am no expert on pooping but a couple of minutes usually gets my job done. Now sitters spend more time swiping their likes than wiping their butts. If we are going to make laws about who goes in which bathroom I’d vote for those who are not pee-mailing or poop-posting. #StopPeeMailing

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To err is human …


… but to really screw things up, bring in the consultants.

Intense, tight deadline projects often mean bringing in an army of consultants. Now we have extra labor to carry out tasks, with their ready-made playbook for a project like ours the promise is to get the job done quickly without disrupting productivity of our existing team.

Has that ever been the reality?

And exactly who are these consultants?

One or two will be seasoned veterans on their nth assignment like this and they already know the answer. They are efficient and concise and you should trust them to get their stuff done. They can do your job so let them and you can lead the changes that will make the new stuff successful.

Several will be on their third or fourth assignment but this will be their first time at something like this. These are competent but need to be steered by you to the data and processes but after that, you can bet they will get there. But remember, you’re paying them to get trained so they can do a better job for next the assignment. Work them hard, treat them like your own people, demand a lot from them and hold them to account.

Then there are the scores of newly hatched MBAs who have completed the 16-week induction class in Des Moines, who can quote the playbook and have it, in PDF format on their phones, who will follow the process to the letter, to the template, to the schedule and who struggle when reality is the very opposite of the blind case study in the Iowan classroom they left a week ago. They seem harmless: but they drain one’s life force with their Business School BS, their checklists, and matrices, and their incessant restating of what one just said that is almost exactly perpendicular to what is meant. Don’t accept them: insist on experienced consultants no matter how inexpensive they seem.

Your own people know what is needed. Trust them to make decisions in the best interest of the business. Make sure they understand the need to deliver the business-as-usual priorities and to get the new project done too. Most leaders and many teams thrive on this kind of pressure and they’ll respect you more when you trust them to get the job done. Supplement the team with competent consultants but make sure they work for you because, if you don’t, pretty soon you’ll work for them.

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201 days of unsubscribing


I meant to give this update three weeks ago at the halfway point but things got busy.

On January 1st this year I decided to unsubscribe from every email that was unsolicited or that I no longer needed to care about.  Here are the results through yesterday:

Spam emails received year-to-date
Plus emails I no longer wish to get that I previously subscribed to
Un-subscribes via links in the email sent to me
Un-subscribes by replying with “Remove” – I have an Outlook Quick-Action set up for this
Un-subscribes that failed
Spam free days
2,280 246 2,021 505 87 11

My first spam-free day was March 17th and I have had two back to back spam-free days since (June 20/21 and this week July 18/19).

My average daily spam-load is down to less than 10 unsolicited emails from a first month average of over 40. Microsoft Clutter is helping in the task too but it does have about a 1% false-positive rate.

A disturbing trend I have noticed is that I am now getting an increase in spam on my new business email. Recently the company I work for was acquired and I now have an email address with their domain to RECEIVE email (I still use the old domain for outgoing email). I have not used it for anything except the receipt of business-email and yet the spammers are on to it.

I have noticed that there are many common unsubscribe services that vendors use that offer “unsubscribe from all emails” but they only offer this for the particular sender one is responding to. They should offer an “unsubscribe from all senders” option too.

Most unsubscribe services automatically unsubscribe you and then ask for a reason why. I have not provided the reason ever.

Some unsubscribe services require one to enter one’s email address as confirmation. This is annoying. Some send a confirmation email that one has been unsubscribed: this too is annoying as it defeats the purpose of unsubscribing.

There is an increasing habit for spammers to make the unsubscribe link in the smallest possible font and the latest trend to offer the link in a font color one degree different from the background color of the email making the link hard to find. A few put the link text in a graphic which requires the images to be downloaded before unsubscribing: clever but also annoying.

However, most annoying of all award goes to Oracle whose unsubscribe link takes one to their subscription page when one has to log on to unsubscribe. Bad form Larry – you can do better than that.

Watch out for the year end summary, or the first 3-day spam-free run, whichever comes first.


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Contracts by Dickens!

What the Dickens?

Yesterday my principles and my pragmatism came face to face. Actually toe to toe as they eyed each other in my head deciding who was going to throw the first punch. The mental bout went the full 10 rounds and, in the end, in blue corner, Parker “the Principled” Pugalist won the day.

While all these cerebral fisticuffs seemed to last an eternity to me, they were but a hesitation noticed by the nice man from the auto-body repair shop. He was going through the contract that gave him permission to bill my insurance after my wife’s car had been rear-ended on Independence Day. He noted the damage, the estimate, my responsibility to take home personal effects, that he would be responsible for any further damage his workers might do accidentally but …

… and that is where time began to slow down, that simple word that usually precedes something contentious …

… but he would not be responsible for “acts of God.”

I had been reading ahead of him. My head had already filled the ringside seats, the referee had explained the rules, the boxers were glistening and transfixed on one another. And at the word “God” all I heard was “ding, ding, round 1, box!”

Thirty minutes later (in my head) and a breath and a heartbeat or two (in the auto-body shop) later I said (from the blue corner) “There are no ‘Acts of God.'”

He hesitated. He started to say something but no sound came. Then he stood up, we were both leaning over the counter reading the contract, and he said, inspiration flooding to him now, “A sinkhole. What if a sinkhole swallows the workshop?”

I won’t prolong the agony here. The point is, in this day and age, why do we still have anachronistic terms in our contracts? Why do they say things like “male gender terms are used throughout but apply to both male and female”, and why only two genders. Why do we insist on putting Mr before Mrs? I insist it goes the other way as my wife’s name is alphabetically before mine.

Whereas, heretofore and whereby sound like breeds of cattle. The party of the first part must be a weeklong rave. Don’t define the meaning of words other than the meaning they have “some shall mean all and all shall mean some” use the right word.  Oh, and, prohibere usura contactus in Latin, please.

Come on my attorney friends, let’s get with the 21st century and write language that reflects the modern world and do so in modern idiom and do it without resorting to the deities. Yes you’re going to have to work harder but you have spell checkers, grammar checkers, word processors and cut-and-paste. Put down your quills and type.

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When all you have is a hammer …

… everything look like a nail. So goes the old sore. Surprisingly, seeing this happen in the world of IT ought to be rare, but is, alas, just as common as in any other industry.

A colleague forwarded an email to me today where a vendor was promoting their “modernized” tool. As if “modernized” tools were the salvation we are all seeking to solve our modern technology challenges. Did Uber change transportation by modernizing taxis? Did Amazon transform retailing by modernizing the neighborhood shopping mall?

Worse still, this vendor touted their “modernized” tool as the starting point for DevOps transformation. Hoping that the association with the hot industry term would get market traction. Just because my San Francisco Giants’ tee shirt says “Posey 28” on the back it doesn’t make me the world’s best catcher.

Successful software vendors innovate, disrupt, and, most of all, believe in their own vision (especially when it flies in the face of orthodoxy) without wavering. Me-too vendors climb on the backs of these innovators but they can never compete because they neither have the passion nor ownership of the vision.

What the world needs, especially the DevOps world, is one where vendors take a clean sheet and build (and throw away) technologies that automate the best ideas of the moment. And build and throw away again tomorrow. This is a highly dynamic space: we’re refining and improving our methodologies constantly. Velocity, complexity and quality and changing at record rates (and the rate of change itself is changing at unheard of rates), and we need vendors who can adapt at the same speed. Repackaging the old just doesn’t cut it anymore.



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Bizness Travel

My sister-in-law just asked me how I handle all the business travel I do. It’s a good question. Here’s my top-10 tips.

  1. Work with a good travel agent. Booking travel online is easy and convenient but a good travel agent will take care of you from booking the travel until you arrive safely at home. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve received a call from my travel agent telling me she’s got me an upgrade, or a better seat, or a more direct routing, or a better hotel because the one I chose is under construction, or got me early check-in after my red-eye, and many other tweaks to my itinerary I couldn’t possibly know about. Thanks Jacquie.
  2. Learn the airline/hotel websites so you get what you want. Even though I use my travel agent I use the airline/hotel websites to get a shortlist of what is going to work for me. This means I can get a flight that gets me where I need to be comfortably and in a timely fashion. I like to stay close to where I am going so I can walk – travel is the enemy of exercise – so I research the locale to work out reasonable walking distances to and from the hotel and office.
  3. Travel days and travel times matter. I never take the last flight of the day because, if it is cancelled, I’m going to be late. I always take the flight before the one that gets me there in time for the same reason. This also means I’m not stressing about being late. If I can, I travel on Mondays and Fridays so as not to eat into family time at the weekend. Travel on Tuesdays and Wednesdays is less crowded and usually cheaper but with travel at all an all time high it’s getting harder to notice the difference.
  4. Comfort matters so pay a little extra. For a short flight of, say, 90-minutes or less, I can put up with a middle seat at the back of the bus. For everything else I choose the extra leg-room seats. For red-eye flights I choose window seats so I can sleep without someone waking me up so they can go to the bathroom. For daytime flights I choose the aisle so I can go when I want to.
  5. Pick an airline group, hotel chain and stick with it. There’s not much to choose between the airline groups, hotel chains and car rental companies – pick the one that serves your home airport the best. I’m a United/Marriott/Hertz guy. Almost 3 million miles and 1,000 nights later I get to board the plane first and have plenty of room for my luggage, get fee upgrades every 2 out of 5 flights, get access to the concierge lounge in the hotel with free food and drinks, get room upgrades every time, get to skip the counter at the car rental station, and dozens of other little perks that make travel easier.
  6. Pack ruthlessly. Everything should fit in your carry-on. Only take what you need. If there is still space in your luggage DO NOT find something to put in the space: you might be bringing stuff back from your trip. Go through you computer bag/purse Thoroughly and leave behind anything that you do not need on your trip. A heavy shoulder bag gets exponentially heavier the longer you are standing waiting to board. Don’t bring your 5lb key ring – just your house and car keys.
  7. Be a technology minimalist. Do you need your lap top? Do you need your tablet? Do you need your e-reader? Leave behind the ones you don’t need and their chargers and cables. You do need your phone. Find a good charging brick that can charge more than one device. Bring only the cables you will use to charge those devices. If you can find a “squid”, a cable with multiple charging options, get one of those. Shorter cables are better than long ones. Fully charge everything you’re taking on you trip before you leave. Charging options are rare on the road. 
  8. Wifi is a right but finding it is hard and expensive. Invest in a personal wifi hotspot (Karma is a great choice domestically or Skyroam internationally) so you always have access to the ‘net. Your phone may offer this but it might be very expensive abroad.
  9. Jet lag is going to get you. Usually it hits me the worst on the second day. When I board the plane I set my watch to the new time zone so every time I look at it I convince myself it should be that time not body time. Melatonin works – buy some here in the USA as it is not available in some countries locally – and take it at bedtime in the time zone you’re going to. If you can, sleep when your body tells you to. Sleep is like a checking account, the more you get overdrawn the worse you feel. Pay some credits into your account whenever you can.
  10. And most importantly if all – enjoy yourself. Travel is a gift to our generation with its universal availability and relative inexpensiveness. Whether you’re traveling for business, pleasure or both, get out there and enjoy the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and cultures. Try the local foods, use the local public transport, wander off the beaten path (be cautious and think about safety at all times). Set aside time for yourself and make sure the one thing everyone tells you you must do, you do. Take photographs, leave footprints and cherish the memories.
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