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September 4, 2009

San Francisco Bay Bridge Cut-Over this weekend

OK, it's only an opportunity to show a few photos I took of the temporary section a while back, but they are closing the Bay Bridge to reroute traffic onto a new temporary section so that the rest of the construction of the new East Span can proceed.

The temporary section is supported by some of the slenderest concrete bridge columns I've seen

No, not the steel pipe columns, but the concrete ones. They are still quite slender but are packed with some beefy rebar cages. You could walk through the center of this one:


The canteliever section shown on the right in the photo below will be lifted out and traffic will run to the South on the temporary section.


This makes room for the new cable-stayed section (sorry no pictures until they build it) to connect between the convential concrete span on the East (shown below) and Treasure Island.


It is certain to be an exciting weekend for everyone involved. Operators will definitely be standing by.


Search Frustration? Maybe you are doing it wrong

I just read this blog post about being frustrated by search because it does not solve a user's problem. John Battelle writes:

But the next step is the harder one. I am not “smart” about how to buy a classic car. I don’t know enough to buy one with confidence. I don’t know what to ask about. I don’t know if it’s good or bad that an engine, electrical system, or transmission is original or rebuilt. I don’t know how one model does versus another in resale value, or insurance cost or…well, you get the picture. There’s a lot to consider, and I don’t know how to value everything. The world of classic cars is complex, like most major decisions. In short, there’s no easy way to decide in this case

In this case his problem is he is not "smart". But can a simple search make you smarter? Or move you any closer to your goal? I'm reminded of the old joke where a man rubbing a lamp finds a genie and commands "Make me a Martini". The next panel would show the man to be composed of gin, vermouth and an olive. A single simple request is just too ambiguous to respond to. And to be honest, anyone who has searched for any length of time has learned that you MUST put in enough information to have the search engine help you.

My point here is that to solve any complex problem, and looking up something on Wikipedia is not a complex problem, the problem must be explored and defined sufficiently before it can be solved. As a consultant I find this to be what I spend much of my time on. The client request may be simple: "We want to do X". But to get to a solution of that problem involves understanding the current situation (in John's car example - what level of expertise does the user already possess), understanding the end result (what does doing "X" do for you), understanding the tolerances around the solution (would "W' or "Y" be good enough?), and understanding what effort the client wants to expend on achieving that result (In John's classic car example, is he actually going to read all this stuff and track down the right kind of hose clamps? or is he just having fun imagining how nice it would be to own a classic car). The typical search box on a search engine does not allow this sort of input which is essential to giving an appropriate response. And knowing your search history, which may help to some extent, is still never going to understand your intent.

I don't know why using a search engine should lead to frustration any more than one would be frustrated by the responses from the magic 8 ball. Becoming a professional tennis player requires more than a trip to the library, Becoming a classic car expert requires more than a couple visits to Bing or Google. Imagining that it would be otherwise is apparently a recipe for frustration.

That said, perhaps the way search engines can help is by training people to search better. Give them search strategies which work. But I doubt that will help much. Like owning a classic car, most of the fun is in figuring it out yourself.

There is another issue embedded in the same post, that of making decisions, valuations and tradeoffs. It is probably a discussion for another time, but it all hinges on the quality of the information. In a world where information quality is uneven and can be gamed, I think this may be another windmill being tilted at.

Shiny Spots on the Map

Shiny spots on the map
I was at the De Young Museum viewing the King Tut exhibit and went up to the viewing tower which offers great views of San Francisco in every direction - assuming the weather is cooperating - and in September it is very cooperative. One of the features of this level is a giant aerial photo of the city mounted on the wall. You can see it in the picture above. The De Young is located on the map just above the left shoulder of the guy wearing the checked shirt.

When viewed from the side, the map reveals an interesting thing. Because the map can be touched, certain areas have been worn and are shiny. The shiniest spot on the map is the De Young museum itself. The other shiny spots reveal other areas of interest, and they are not really all what I'd expect. The other shiny spots are Van Ness Avenue, The Palace of the Legion of Honor and St. Mary's Cathedral.

I'd expect that some other more prominent landmarks would have been rubbed the same amount, but it doesn't appear to be the case. I guess my point is that you never can tell what people are interested in, given a choice. In this case, everything on the map has equal prominence, unlike those sorts of maps which highlight the attractions. The ones rubbed smooth here are not the typical tourist attractions, though they must serve as landmarks or familiar places to the museum visitors.

Microsoft Wants to Give You Stuff

Windows 7 is coming out soon (October 22) and Microsoft wants you to celebrate and have a party. To encourage you they are giving out all sorts of stuff if you host a party:

All hosts will receive:

One limited Signature Edition Windows 7® Ultimate
One Deck of Playing Cards with Windows 7® Desktop Design
One Puzzle with Windows 7® Desktop Design
One Poster with Windows 7® Desktop Design
Ten Tote Bags with Windows 7® Desktop Design for hosts and guests
Also included in USA party packs:

One package of streamers for decoration
One package of balloons for decoration
One table top centerpiece for decoration
One package of Windows 7® napkins

Now, I need Windows 7® napkins just as much as the next guy, but as a general rule I don't party about software so I won't be signing up. This leaves more chances for YOU to win!
64 of the hosts will also win a mini-notebook.

Sign up here:
Good Luck!

September 2, 2009

Travel can make you weary...

Click image to see at larger size

American Desert

A dry riverbed
hazy through summer skies
tracing a path to a white lake.

A circle of green
laid out by a length of pipe
awaiting the mower.

Through a smudgy window, landscape flies by
mocking months of walking in minutes flat.
oh Houston! calling me into darkness.

A line etched across the land
a light at the end of it
but nothing for miles.

East by Southeast, night accelerated
the grace of twilight punctuated by the beverage cart
the last of the light flees westward.

Oh Houston, damn your darkness
thief of evening, kidnapper
time to slide the shade and close my eyes.

August 29, 2009

Upgrading my old Macbook

Last night I replaced the screen (old one was cracked) with a new one from etech parts. It may just be because it is clean, but it looks a lot clearer and brighter than the old one. Since it is lit with a fluorescent, the new screen likely IS brighter. Unfortunately, the power connector for the backlight is hidden deep within the hinge so I had to remove the whole top cover and then put everything back together again - with no leftover screws.

With that done and Apple's new Snow Leopard OS X 10.6 just out, I installed upgraded it too. Went flawlessly, except that I needed to re-enter my wireless network key. I haven't checked all my apps yet, but I did hook up Mail to the corporate Exchange server - just a couple of clicks and it seems to work. Best $29 I ever spent on an OS.

The final thing is to get a new battery. It is showing "replace soon" as the status and it runs low very quickly. Still, it has been about three years so I can't complain too much.

August 13, 2009

Virtual Machines and Project 2010

It should come as no surprise that the hardware requirements of the Office 2010 suite continue to expand. The relationship between ever-increasing hardware capabilities and software which takes advantage of those capabilities is as inseparable as that between the chicken and the egg,

One way to attack the problem is pretty simple, make a thin client and put all the computing burden on the server. This is the approach that netbooks take. They have enough power to do basic tasks and rely on web-based applications for the rest of what you might want to do. The whole concept of cloud computing follows on this approach. It offloads the heavy database and computing loads (and the responsibility for building, maintaining and scaling them) to somewhere else than your PC.

But not everything can be done over a network. One area where control of and access to the servers is required is in giving demonstrations. You can't always count on being able to have access to a network or a port through a company's firewall so you HAVE to have a stand alone system. The tool of choice for this is the use of Virtual Machines. They can easily be copied and customized for a specific demo. Then the state can be frozen so it is always right back where you wanted it.

With Office 2010, a number of the compelling features make use of components which require a server (Sharepoint, Excel Services, SQL Server etc.) This makes them a heavy load for a virtual machine. Rumor is that at least 8GB of RAM is recommended to run one of these virtual machines. This requires a 64bit operating system in order to effectively use all that memory. It also requires a long time to load the virtual machine.

Some computer companies are already addressing the need with laptops capable of holding 16GB of ram and having space for 2 internal disk drives. The drive makers too are addressing it through the use of Solid State Drives (SSD's) which eliminate the rotating platters in typical drives with an array of semiconductor memory. This is similar to moving from a record player (some of you may not have seen one...) to an iPod. They offer nearly instant access to memory as there are no moving parts to worry about.

Prices are coming down on these and you can get a replacement drive of reasonable size for a couple hundred dollars:

One good source for information about how these perform is Christophe Fiessinger's Blog. Here is his benchmarking of how SSD's helped with his demo images:

July 29, 2009

Two Landscapes


Flying is a different way to look at the world. For much of it (passing through security, waiting at the gate, boarding etc.) I wish I could close my eyes and make it go away, but the view through the window sometimes redeems the whole flight.

But even that is not for certain. The clouds may present a featureless prarie or snowfield hiding the world below. Flying out of San Francisco this is often the case as cool fog covers everything. Other times a dull haze washes everything out. Some days though the landscape above and the landscape below each present themselves and make that window seat worthwhile.

Click on image to go and see a bigger version

Iterating through Microsoft Project Subprojects

Master Projects in Microsoft Project don't always behave the way you expect, especially if you are trying to iterate through all the tasks in them. The reason is that the file doesn't really contain the subprojects, it merely acts as a shell to display them. So if you are writing some code which has to work on a master project you need to take this into account.

The simplest explanation is an example. The code below will start with a master project, then find the list of subprojects, open each one in turn and display a message box with the project name. You can of course do whatever you want with the subproject as soon as you have it open.

Sub openMySubProjects()
Dim sProj As Project
Dim mProj As Project
Set mProj = ActiveProject
For Each Subproject In mProj.Subprojects
FileOpen (Subproject.Path)
Set sProj = ActiveProject
MsgBox sProj.Name
'for each task in sProj...
'do things to the tasks in your subproject
'next task
Next Subproject
End Sub

A couple of things to note here. First, I'm using the mProj and sProj variables to reference the different projects I have open. We want to return to the master project at the end so I set mProj equal to the ActiveProject when we start and then return to it by calling mProj Activate at the end.

The second thing is that the subproject object only has a few properties. It is a reference to a project and not a project itself. We use the Path of the subproject to open the file that it is referring to and then use sProj to refer to that file once it is open. Just to be sure you get the point, subprojects point to the file, we are using a project variable to refer to that file when it is opened. You can't get typical project properties (not even Name) from subprojects. You only use the subproject object to get to the project.

It goes without saying that this is a trivial example. You should probably close it once you are done with it, and maybe even validate that it exists before you do anything with it, but I just wanted to make this as simple to follow as I possibly can.

July 28, 2009

In Houston

Landed in Houston today and took a walk around after dinner. The weather is a bit steamy for my taste. I believe that this used to be the Enron building but is now occupied by Chevron.

July 17, 2009

Project 2010 is coming...

Or at least the build-up is beginning. The latest post by Keshav Puttaswamy on the Microsoft Project Team blog gives out a few details. I'll repost them here and give my attempt at translation.
What is Project 2010?

Project 2010 builds on the Project 2007 foundation to provide an end-to-end work management platform. The key investment areas are targeted at letting you choose the right tools that can evolve with you:

Enhance user experience and appeal

  • Fluent user interface
  • User controlled scheduling
  • Powerful new views
  • Web-based project editing
Improve execution with effective collaboration
  • Integration with SharePoint Server 2010
  • Richer workgroup collaboration
  • Enhanced time/status tracking
Unify project and portfolio management
  • Common user experience through full PPM lifecycle
  • Improved demand management
  • Better reporting and BI
Simplify deployment and extend interoperability
  • Microsoft Exchange integration
  • 64-bit compatibility of client and server
  • No ActiveX dependency

So what does this mean? First "Fluent UI" is the Microsoft term for the "Ribbon" interface found on Office 2007 applications like Excel and Word. I've previously expressed my thoughts that of all the Office applications Project is the most modal and most likely to benefit from the Ribbon. I do not like the ribbon in other applications because it works against the muscle/mouse memory that I've built up over the years, but in Project I think this will be a good thing.

Next on the User Interface list is "User Controlled Scheduling". What does this mean? Well... I can't tell you. But I will assure you that people control freaks who use Project as a tool for Critical Path Method scheduling will immediately ask how it can be turned off. The rest of the project user community will adopt it immediately. I'm torn between the two, but am sure that I'll be spending a lot of time figuring out what it actually does and helping people with it.

"Powerful new views" are a good thing. The Gantt views in Project have been nearly unchanged for a decade. or more.

"Web-based project editing" sounds good. I'm still not entirely sure how fully featured this will be, but users have been requesting this for almost as long as there has been a server version of Project

The "Collaboration" features are probably less noteworthy for desktop users, but for enterprise users they offer a great amount of functionality. I've argued over beers that Sharepoint is a better project management tool than Project. For the price of a beer you can have my opinion on this as well. Time tracking fixes are WAY overdue. As someone who often has to tell people "just say no" to Project 2007 timesheets, I fervently hope that they get it right this time.

Unification of Project and Portfolio management has been talked about before. The expectation here is that Portfolio Server and Project get along better - the UMT look and feel and architecture will fade and it will be assimilated. Good news. Microsoft bought the technology for a reason - to fill the holes in managing projects over the lifecycle. Working across the two version 2007 tools is not easy, the two don't really share a common object model or database, so anything here will help.

"Deployment and Interoperability" - Not much to say here. Note the 64bit part. It has been announced elsewhere that Project Server will be 64bit only along with sharepoint 2010, so start lining up new servers now. Oh, and that goodbye wave to ActiveX will feel good.

The announcement is also interesting for what it doesn't say. I'll leave speculation about what is not included to others. WIth Project and the rest of the Office Suite, Microsoft is looking more transparent about things than they have been in the past. This is a welcome change.

June 30, 2009

5:00 PM and just getting started

This is one of those days. I thought it would be a good idea to travel to the client a day early just to make sure things were ready for what I'm doing tomorrow. I booked an early flight because last week I waited 4 hours in the airport so that the plane I was going to ride on could come in from Chicago, so I figured the first flight out would be safe. But it wasn't. It was cancelled.

After hassles at check-in on the airline that United finally booked me on because they had nothing until 6:00 PM (?!!?!!), and a detour through Vegas I landed and had to wait for a couple of rental car shuttle busses to pass by (full-up) and then waited in a slow moving line until I was offered upgrades and fueling options and insurance and etc... until I hopped into the car and at last made it to the client where the infrastructure that needed to be set up was stalled and not progressing. So we started over from scratch. And all is fine ... now...

June 17, 2009

Taking and Passing the PMP Exam - Part 15 - PMBOK version 4

Long time readers may recall how I despise adore PMP certification, but I'm still going through the process. And there is a new twist, PMBOK Version 4 has been released. If you have not taken the PMP exam by now, chances are you will be tested on the latest version. So a discussion of what has changed is in order.

The place to start with anything is understanding what was the intent. This can conveniently be found in the project charter. And the PMBOK v4 tells us what they were after:

  • Remove conflicts with other PMI standards
  • Clarify writing style
  • Research use of life cycles based on current usage
  • Clarify Process Groups and Processes through deletion, combination, or addition
  • Update Knowledge Areas.

It sounds like a modest set of things to achieve. And, because the work is performed by volunteers, this is to be expected. In fact, I predict that the current structure and concept of the PMBOK is going to be calcified for at least a couple more versions until it becomes obvious that it is broken, or at least no longer describes the Project Management Body of Knowledge. This is not a bad thing, it is just the way things go.

With those goals in mind, what are the actual changes? The Preface tells us that the major changes are:

  • Process name syntax now all verb-noun (consistency being a hobgoblin...)
  • A standard approach to discussing enterprise environmental factors and organizational process assets was employed. (I'm not sure what this means. We will have to read it to find out)
  • Same thing but for requested changes, preventative and corrective actions and defect repairs. (um... I get everything after the standard approach to discussing part...)
  • Some changes in processes (No comment. Just remember that today's processes may suffer the same fate)
  • Plan vs. Documents differentiated. (Good luck!)

So, some modest goals and modest changes. This is good news for people trying to pass the PMP exam. No major changes and none of them appear to be substantial. Next episode will dig in and see what these changes really are and whether they need addressing.

See the whole series on passing the PMP exam here

May 19, 2009

Seeing Other Scheduling Software

Project, this is hard to say because, you know, we've been together for so long. I mean, I was there when you graduated from High School back in '98 and started getting "fully featured" with some of the stuff that other tools had. With your interoperability and automation you won me away from them. And baby, your looks haven't changed at all since then. You should have no problem attracting other customers, especially with that surgery on your menus that is planned for next year.

But this summer, I know you are going to be up in Redmond and I'm down here so it is difficult to keep in touch. I thought maybe we could, you know, explore a little. I'd just try out a few of those free schedule tools - nothing serious, just summer fun. And when September comes and we are together at the Project Conference I'll be refreshed and ready with all of those behind me.

But this isn't just about me. I know you have other Partners participating in the TAP program. So it is not exclusive on your part either. And I know you are working something up with Portfolio Server and Sharepoint too. You know I like your friends (Sharepoint is a cutie, Portfolio Server seems a bit stuck up, and her menus -GAH!) and I want you all to get closer, so take some time to do it right and I'll see you in September.

Well, with that introduction, I thought I'd begin an occasional series on the state of the Project, Program and Portfolio software world. If you have a favorite tool you would like to read about or some other thoughts on the world of scheduling technology, drop me a comment.

May 12, 2009

Mossbrae Falls


After that last post things were looking a bit dry around here. So this shot of Mossbrae Falls near Mount Shasta which I took in April should do the trick.

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