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March 20, 2006

Spring has sprung a leak

Rain is dashing all thoughts of a lunchtime walk. This is compared to the fine weather this weekend which found the local Japanese Maples in full bloom...
What? They bloom? Yes, but the flowers are small and inconspicuous compared to most flowering trees. Here is a closer look.
Acer Palmatum in bloom
The flowers are only a few millimeters across. You can click on the picture for a larger size view.

March 16, 2006

A question of Tolerance

Tolerance is usually defined as being an allowed variance from a set standard. Just about every profession has some tolerance or ranges of tolerance. For example, buildings are designed to standards which allow certain deflections of floors (Deflection of l/360 is one common tolerance for beam design). The floor can bend by that amount before it is considered a problem.

Projects also have certain tolerances. How firmly fixed is the end date of your project? Is there any leeway one way or the other? If there isn't, there probably should be. The real question is how to determine the appropriate tolerance and to convey it to someone who is less informed about the project than you are. There are people who you give a date to and that date becomes the single acceptable value. They implicitly turn your "plus or minus" into "minus" and allow no plus. What this means is that you have to adjust your target so that even if you reach the limit of your tolerance, you are within the tolerances set by others.

There are a few ways to do this. Theory of Constraints does this with a project buffer. A number of vendors have determined rules of thumb for sizing of these buffers. The problem with them is that they are just rules of thumb. It probably takes a few projects to find out what the real size should be for your project and your team.

Another approach is probabilistic scheduling and simulation. In this approach you build a schedule model and instead of a fixed duration for each task you enter a probability distribution. Then the schedule is calculated based on a large number of random samples. The result is a probability distribution for the completion of your project. If you are successful at this, it gives you a tool which you can use to set a tolerance which you have a high probability of meeting or exceeding. I have a brief article about the basics of this method and a Microsoft Project macro which can introduce you to this approach. You can download it here: Free Download Microsoft Project Monte Carlo Simulation

March 15, 2006

More Japanese Maples - Acer Palmatum "Sango Kaku"

This red-barked Japanese maple has very bright colors in the spring, even before the light green leaves start to show.
This picture was taken under a full moon in a break between the rain. Those white dots are stars.
momiji red bark Japanese maple

March 10, 2006

Project 2007 - No UI in sight

But we can see some of the changes in the Office 2007 User Interface here:Jensen Harris: An Office User Interface Blog : Picture This: A New Look For Office It would be nice to see Project get a big makeover like this, but I'm afraid it isn't going to happen for 2007. Good to see the changes they made to Excel though.

March 9, 2006

Springtime is when young mens fancies turn to ... Project Management Blogs?


Nope, they don't. Brian is talking cowbell, the Microsoft Project blogs are so dead they don't show up in my bloglines feed along with countless other favorites, Glen seems to be taking a rest after a spurt of post-review entries last week. David A. is happy to be showing off his badge and taking in concerts. Clark Ching is awaiting TV shows and laughing about books.

Summer seems unlikely to be any better. Sound like we need to wait until cold fall weather drives people back into their caves before there is anything going on in this space. We now return you to our regular program of spring foliage.

March 8, 2006

Japanese Maple just getting started

Japanese Maples (Acer Palmatum) are well known for brilliant colored foliage. The Japanese name "momiji" is believed to be a derivation of the archaic word "momizu" which means to change color. Usually we associate the changing of color to be something which occurs in the fall, but even when the trees are just starting to leaf out we can see some intense colors - unfaded by sun or dust.

For a closer look you can click

March 5, 2006

The rain has pretty much done away with...

the plum blossoms.

Prunus cerasifera spring plum blossom.jpg

Prunus cerasifera is one of the earliest to bloom around here usually in early or mid february. Right now though, the rains are knocking most of the flower petals off. In a sense, they are even more transitory than the well known cherry blossom.

March 2, 2006

Giants of the deep


OK, so 9 inches is not that giant, but the California Abalone - Haliotis Rufescens is substantially bigger than Abalone in other places around the world. A recent article suggests that this is due to sea otters.

"We realized with this study that most abalones are small, averaging 2 inches across, and live on coral reefs in the tropical Indopacific," Lindberg said. "So why does the world's largest abalone live in the same place as this major predator, the sea otter? We think the abundance of kelp, the ability of abalones to stay hidden in crevices, and the predation of otters set up an ideal system to ratchet up the size of abalones."

I'm not sure I completely agree with their speculation, but the history of the interaction between kelp, sea otters, abalone and sharks is interesting reading.

My picture above shows the relative size of abalone with the shell of the abalone from the Northern California coast completely enveloping some abalone (awabi) shells picked up on the beach at Hayama on the East Coast of Japan. The larger shell is about 9 inches across and was harvested near Fort Ross. The little ones are one and a half to two inches. They are much more delicate as well. Of course if you only care about eating I direct you to this recent blog entry by one of the better food bloggers

Free Monte Carlo Simulator For Microsoft Project - Want to help out?

I don't think I've mentioned it here, but if you are interested in Monte Carlo Simulation for MS Project (and who isn't?!) then you can download my quick and dirty simulator here: Microsoft Project Monte Carlo Simulator
Since it is just a VBA macro, the source is there for all to see and modify. Have at it! And if you make any improvements, please consider sharing them with me and others. Any updates will be posted with acknowledgement to the contributor. I've had this version up for a couple of years now and will keep it up until this function comes built into Project.

What if you are not sure?

About anything? The color of your horse, how a computer works, what the new features of project are, who gives god a haircut? Apparently the answers are in short supply as I noticed someone ended up here last night after google suggested that this is a good place to answer that question,are+not+sure+%3F&spell=1

Is the internet the place to find certainty? Isn't it just another fortune telling stand?


Can you trust anything you find here?

How can you ever know?

Historical note on the fortune telling stand - Mikuji: The silver cans have thin sticks in them. You shake out one of the sticks and then look at the label which tells you which drawer to pull your fortune from. After drawing a fortune, if you don't like it, you simply tie the paper onto a stand like this.


You keep the good ones

March 1, 2006

Project 2007 vs. Excel 2007

This post about multi-colored data bars
Microsoft Excel 12 : Conditional Formatting Trick 1 – Multi-Coloured Data Bars in the upcoming Excel 2007 is making it look even better for the small time scheduler or as a credible reporting/analysis engine for project data. I can envision a number of macros which might benefit from this feature.

Why I'm saying nothing about Project 2007 today

My smoke alarm decided it should remind me that its battery is low. Unfortunately due to regulations I have more than one. Another unfortunate thing is that to alert you it emits an extremely brief periodic chirp. The time between chirps is several minutes - coupled with multiple smoke detectors this means you are either lucky or you wait (there is actually a third choice - the one I took). The first chirp or two are useless in locating which smoke detector is chirping because you are asleep. Another unfortunate thing is that batteries when they get cold lose some power, thus the time when the warning occurs is going to be the coldest time - in my house that is usually around 3AM since the thermostat is programmed to reduce heat at night. Finally, smoke detectors are mounted on the ceiling, out of reach. It would be fair and balanced to say that they are the spawn of the devil.

The end result of this is that now NONE of my smoke detectors have batteries in them. It shouldn't have to be this way. Yes, it is great that they warn you. But the warning should have some persistance so that you can find the right one easily and quickly.

Any of you LEAN folks out there have a suggestion?

February 28, 2006

How to buy a telescope

After looking at the high resolution versions of the 200 megapixel view of the Pinwheel Galaxy taken by the Hubble Space Telescope


and seeing the effects of light pollution on urban skies - as an example compare these two images taken during and after the 2003 Eastern North America Blackout:

I have concluded that for looking at the stars the best view can be obtained not with any telescope which you can buy in a store, but simply by buying a computer and getting a fast internet connection.

Trying to see the details of constellations and other cosmic wonders through a backyard telescope is rather like producing an international news broadcast by walking around with your video camera. Doing so might be fun, but the results are not comparable to what you can find simply by googling for a few minutes.

Thanks to the "Bad Astronomer", Phil Plait for pointing me to the image of the Pinwheel Galaxy.

February 24, 2006

Software is Different or New is the New New

Ah, it continues. A long standing discussion equivalent to the following code:

Do While x<>y
x = 1
y = 0

Glen and David are both smart guys. Why can't they just get along?

I think it comes down to a sort of pride. David is quite proud of what he has done in promoting an "Agile Software Development" point of view. It is a pride both based on effectiveness and on novelty, that is it is the "creation" of something new. As such, there is a reluctance to acknowlege that it is similar or based on any past model. This is not unusual. Indeed it is quite common. "New" is the new "new". Humans are drawn to the new thing and there is excitement about adopting it. This is the ideal situation for selling something whether it is ideas, books or software development tools.

On the other hand Glen is proud too. He has pride in doing his job well and being part of a tradition of people who have done so. When someone slights that tradition (one which is actually rich with the adoption of the new) then it requires correction, and thus is born controversy.

I'd be remiss if I didn't take sides on this. After many years of architectural education it becomes obvious that "New" just doesn't matter all that much in the long haul. A lot of what is new is reworking of the old. And what matters is how effective you are at creating something that is needed or desired.


Just as an ancient statue of Medusa becomes just another block in the drinking water system for Istanbul, the ideas of the past are just building material for the ideas of the future. Failure to look at them and understand how they can be useful is wasteful. Failure to acknowlege that you have build upon the head of the Medusa is vain.

Note: When Justinian constructed the Basilica Cistern in 532 AD, bits of more ancient monuments were put to use. The current use is as a tourist attraction. Visiting the cistern is a cool and refreshing activity on a warm Turkish afternoon

Using Wikipedia to Promote Office 2007 and Project 2007

I guess it should be there, but it just seems odd that such a thing is in an online "encyclopedia"
Microsoft Office 2007 - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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