Author Archives: jimphelps

About jimphelps

Chair, ITANA Enterprise Architect, Sr. IT Architect; UW-Madison

John Peterson – Rememberances

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I learned that John Peterson, our Director of Systems Engineering and Operations, passed away yesterday evening.  I will miss John.  I can still see the sideways, quizzical glance and smile he gave me yesterday afternoon as the vending machine spit out 4 dollars in quarters.  I can still hear his voice as he said to someone else down the hall, “he just hit the jackpot”.

My first memory of John was from my first Management Team Meeting seven years ago.  There was general talk about planning and John popped off, “The mainframe will be going away July 1st.”  Everyone laughed and looked at Jack Duwe, our Deputy CIO and CFO.  I later learned that the mainframe was going away every year since John came to DoIT.  During the seven years we worked together, John replaced the mainframe with a new improved mainframe three times.

John had a great, level-heaed, realistic management style.  He told a story about his days when he was a Flight Deck Commander on an aircraft carrier.  They had a broken catch wire.  The ship’s captain was yelling at John on the flight deck telling him to get the wire fixed.  His guys were doing their job and fixing the wire.  The captain kept yelling to hurry up.  John looked up to the control tower where he could see the captain looking at him, took the battery out of his headset and flicked it over the side of the ship.  He tapped the headset and shrugged.  “Yelling won’t make a problem go away and it rarely makes it any better” he said about the incident.

John was a great story teller and he had a rich life of stories to tell.  I enjoyed when he would recount his days flying fighter jets or as a commander.  He told me once about racing to get to a dentist appointment.  He had a broken tooth and he didn’t want to miss the appointment.  It had taken him weeks to get in and it would be weeks before he could get another appointment.  For you or me, that means driving across town.  For John, that meant jumping in a fighter jet and flying to another city.  He got to the airport and was waiting to take off.  The air traffic controller told him that the approach lanes were all stacked up with flights.  There was no way to get him out of the airport and to his cruising altitude and cruising lane.  John asked, “what if I get to my altitude within the airspace of the airport itself.”  He really didn’t want to miss the appointment.  The controller said, “that would be fine but there was no way to do that.”  John said, “don’t worry, I’ll do it.”  He took off and hit the afterburners and headed straight up to 30,000.  He laughed because he could hear the controller over the radio saying, “Holy crap… Jesus…  look at that…”  “I really didn’t want to miss that appointment,” he said laughing and shaking his head.

I enjoyed running into John when he would take his flotilla of misfit dogs out to run.  He would pull into the parking lot in his SUV and dogs would pile out.  One old deaf cocker would just keep wandering off until John had to run after him.  One lab took off and John looked for hours trying to figure out where the dog had gone.  But John always stayed level headed in the mix of all this.

What did I learn from working with John?  I learned that you stay calm in the midst of adversity.  I learned to listen to the story and laugh with joke but also listen for the wisdom that the story holds.  I learned that there is the path forward that is obvious to you but that you must have patience while it becomes apparent to others.  Mostly, I learned that John was a great man to be around.

Rest In Peace John.  You will be greatly missed and well remembered.

Quantifying Me

 

from Flickr: Yester Prints photostream

from Flickr: Yester Prints photostream

There is a meme that has popped up or, at least, it has suddenly popped into my world – the Quantifiable Self.   The basis of the Quantifiable Self is that you measure things about yourself and then use that data to improve upon yourself.   We all do this to some extent.  We weigh ourselves daily or time how long we run and over what distance.    Some count calories or count steps. 

Some push this to great detail to track influences on complex diseases like migraines.   Alexandra Carmichael tracks 40 things about herself daily. There is (of course) a site dedicated to the Quantifiable Self.   

I already track a great deal about myself but I don’t measure the out-comes, the effects if you will, of all that I track.  The Quantifiable Self people are looking for the little butterfly wing beats that cause the tornados in their lives. To do this, I would need to resolve three issues.

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12 Seasons

 

Flickr: Jorge-11's photostream.  The Prague Orloj

Flickr: Jorge-11's photostream. The Prague Orloj

Scott Fullerton once worked as a choker-setter in Northern California.  He pointed out to me that we really have 12 seasons and that 4 seasons don’t really capture the nuances of the slow changes in nature.   Since I’ve been bike commuting I have come to recognize those 12 different seasons.

 

Winter starts with Dark and Bleary Winter.  This micro-season, if I may coin that term, starts about mid-December and it runs to mid-January.  The Sun sets at 4PM and rises about 9AM it seems.   Once it does rise, it scoots along the Southern horizon so low that Noon sunshine ducks under the eaves and in our front bay window, scuttles across our living room and settles on the floor half-way across our dinning room.  The Sun, during the brief period it is up, has as much warmth as a nightlight.  We all start running low on vitamin D and cheer.

Dark and Bleary Winter is followed by Bright and Chilly Winter.  This is the season we are in now.  Bright and Chilly Winter runs from mid-January to mid-February approximately.  The Sun is higher and actually caries some warmth.  Daylight is returning.  Today, we will have 10 hours of daylight.  There is light in the western sky at 5PM when you leave work.   We still get thrust into the deep freeze by the “Polar Express” – cold winds that come down from the Arctic Circle, unfazed by the expanses of Canada, to land in our back yards.    But there is Sun and deep cold is more tolerable when the Sun is more courageous.

B&C Winter is followed by Sloppy Winter.  Sloppy Winter is full of melting snow that refreezes and heavy wet snow that falls and gets instantly packed into ice.   There are brief periods of brown and gray followed glop then cold once more.   Sloppy Winter is the Winter of our discontent.  It is the Winter when you start thinking, surely Winter will go away soon only to have another 6 inches or 16 inches of snow fall and the temperatures plummet again.  

Sloppy Winter lingers until mid-March when it gives way to Brown and Muddy Spring.  You can see the plants are starting to wake in Brown and Muddy Spring.  You see the fine light-green haze of buds that are just waiting for the nights to warm a bit more and Sun to gain a bit more courage.  

There is one day, early in Brown and Muddy Spring, when you are out and you smell the warm rich smell of damp earth.  The ground has thawed and a warm wind is coming from the Southwest up from the Gulf of Mexico.  You smell damp earth and you realize that winter seasons have passed and you also realize how much you have missed the air smelling like some warm and liquid.

The very earliest of plants start poking their tendrils out.  The early Spring Crocus decide to make their move along with Snowdrops and a few of the most courageous tulips.  The song birds start to return.  This is a time of migration – warblers and sparrows start flying through bring bright songs to the hedgerows.  

It is also time of migration for the last of the snow and mud.  Snow begins its retreat leaving a muddy tide behind.  All of the sand and grit and car parts that have been bound up through all the Winter seasons are left behind on streets and parking lots and lawns in miniature glacial moraines.  Dog toys, not seen since December, reappear in a sodden and forlorn heap.  Brown and Muddy Spring is the first promise that the Winter seasons have actually gone.  There is one more snow storm, wet and heavy, that will bend over daffodils and flatten the crocus but it will melt in a day or two.  The Sun has now girded its loins and it is ready to face another year.

Then comes Kablooie Spring about mid-April and through mid-May.   All that pent up energy that has been stored up in frozen soil suddenly explodes out through every branch and twig, bulb and root.  Lilacs, Forsythia, Magnolia, you-name-it, it is now game-on for the Spring blooming plants.  Mid-April to Mid-May the air is sweet with spring flowers.  The birds are singing their heart’s devotion to each other.  The spring peepers and letting the world know they survived the Winter and water is fine.  

This is Spring.  When one thinks of Spring they think of Kabloooie Spring.  The bunnies are out and frisky.  You see your neighbors our in their yards and you stop to chat and recount the events of the various winter seasons.  When you are in the midst of Sloppy Winter and you think, “Enough of this muck!  I can’t wait for it to be Spring”, you are really wishing for Kablooie Spring.

But we are in Bright and Chilly Winter now.  B&C Winter brings days when we never get above zero degrees (F) but they are tolerable and even enjoyable because the Sun is high and shining.  It also brings days like yesterday.  

Yesterday was sunny and a warm 40F.  Yesterday was a day that you think about opening windows or sitting outside on the porch in the glider and reading.  Yesterday was day that can make you think that Kablooie Spring is just around the corner.  But, it is wise to remember that there are two more seasons before we get to celebrate the arrival of Kablooie Spring.

The Pattern of Change

 

Stepping

Stepping

 

 

I just watched a Merlin Mann’s presentation from MacWorld – “Toward Patterns for Creativity”  This is not his best talk but it is interesting and amusing in that Merlin Mann way.  You can tell that he is in the “there is something good here but I haven’t quite got my head around it yet” state.  This is a state that I stumble through often in my work.  I learn about a new technique or start to see a new pattern and I can tell that there will be a richness eventually but I haven’t quite grasped the fullness of the idea.  All of this is beside the point.

The point that struck me from his talk was towards the end.  It came near this slide:

 

From Merlin Mann's talk on Patterns in Creativity

From Merlin Mann's talk on Patterns in Creativity

 

Merlin made a comment that if you want to get better at your creative endeavor, “you have to work at it and that means less time on Twitter or playing X-Box”.    This is a way of restating the cliche that defines craziness as doing the same over and expecting different results.   If you want to change something in your life, then you need to change what you are doing now.

This is something that I should make more explicit in my life.  I have several personal goals that I’m working.  To achieve them, I need to realign my activities and energies.  Doing what I’ve always done won’t cause the change that I want to occur.

Painting:  

Over Christmas / New Years break I set up my watercolors again.  I’ve really enjoyed painting and creating art again.  I want to improve my skills and my creative vision and push to find my own style.  I cannot do that if I continue with painting the way I have for the past decade which is to occasionally set up and paint a picture or two then put everything away for a year.  I need to set some goals then stop doing something else to make time and space and energy for painting.  

My goal is pretty straightforward – create at least one painting a month this year.   Not very difficult in these Winter months.  This will be much more difficult come Summer and hours when I want to spend my time my road-bike cycling around Southwest Wisconsin and on trips or to take Lola swimming.

The realignment:  less mindless TV in the evening during the week getting my sketches done,  more quality time at the easel on Saturday  or Sunday morning.  

Interesting outcome:  less TV means less desire to buy a new 52″ LCD TV and more listening to music while I draw and paint.  I’m saving money and rediscovering my CD collection and new music.

Weight Loss:

When I lived in California, I gained a lot of weight.  I have gradually lost about 25 pounds of that weight.  I’ve manage to, so far, not regain the weight I lost last Summer when I was cycling.  Okay, this is mostly true.  I dropped 10 pounds last Summer and I’ve gained back 2 or 3 so far this Winter.  I’m fine with that trade:  loose 10 over the Summer gain back 3 over the Winter.  At that rate, I’ll be at my target weight in 18 months.

My goal is to get to 175 which would put me at a good body fat percentage.  

The realignment:  Personal Training twice a week.  Weight lifting at home once a week.  And, lot’s of time on my bike when the weather changes.    This means less time working on the yard or house, playing with Lola and watching mindless TV.  This will be in direct conflict with Painting.  I’m not sure how I will reconcile the conflict with Painting.  I feel badly about less time playing with Lola.

The realignment also includes changes in what I eat.  I love breads and cookies.  I adore cookies.  I also enjoy cooking a wide variety of foods.   I am explicitly changing to a more vegetarian diet.  I’m not becoming a vegetarian – I enjoy being an omnivore.  I’m eating fruits and vegetables that are local when possible from our incredible Farmers Market.  I’m following Mark Bittman’s advice and reducing the size of my meat servings and their frequency in my diet.  I have greatly reduce the refined carbohydrates in my diet.

This brings up another interesting conflict.  Eating carbs is good for working out.  Not eating carbs is good for weight loss.  Eating fiber and protein and fat is good for feeling full and staying satiated though-out the day.  Eating fiber, protein and fat before a workout can make you want to puke.  Trust me on that one.

Interesting Outcome:  increased strength, endurance and flexibility make me feel more vigorous.  I sleep soundly at night and I have more energy during the day to work on my other goals.  I find that sitting and watching mindless TV makes me twitchy so I want to do something rather than just watch something.

Cycling:

Last Spring I bought a real road-bike.  This is first real road-bike I’ve owned since I rode the canyons of the Wasatch range in college.  I own and ride my commuter bike a lot but a road bike is a different animal altogether.  I loved my Summer of cycling in 2008.   This year I want to continue with my cycling and take it up a notch.  Last Fall, we rode the Door County Century – a 100 mile ride.  This Fall, I would like to ride a double metric century – a 200Km ride or a 124 mile ride.   I would also like to move my average moving speed up at least 1 MPH. 

The realignment:  I spent a lot of time in the saddle last Summer.  Towards the end of the season, I was riding 12 to 14 hours a week.  I don’t think I can get more time on my bike so I will have to train more intentionally.  There is risk in taking on a more serious attitude towards training.  You can loose the fun of riding.  I had great fun exploring the hills and valleys that surround Madison by bike.  I have to tread cautiously here.  I have turned cycling into a evaluation of numbers and made great rides bad because I wasn’t hitting speed goals.  So I caution myself to not turn the joy of biking into serious work that full of disappointments of milestones not met.

Interesting Outcome:  Improving my fitness and technique would increase my average speed.  Longer rides would take less time.  I would, in effect, free up time to do other things like play with Lola or paint or work in the yard.

Being explicit in the changes in my routing is what Merlin made me think about.  Truly focusing on “that is what I used to do.  This is what I should do now if I want to reach my goal” will be my challenge.

Blue Sky to Ground part 1

 

 

Soaring

Soaring

I’ve been working with our CIO on the I.T. strategic planning initiative.  At the same time, I’ve been working with the Technical Directors and Operational Directors on planning at the technology level.  They have been creating a map of what technologies are used to support our services.  I’ve had my head in the blue sky of the strategic planning process while I’ve also had my hands in the dirt of the technology mapping.   I keep coming up against the issue of how to connect the blue-sky of the strategic plan with the down-in-the-dirt technology planning.

Finding a process and methodology to connect the sky to the ground has taken up a lot of my mental cycles recently.   The following is my take on a method to connect the strategic planning to the technology planning. 

1.  Strategy to Capabilities

The first step is to take the general directives of a strategic plan and have them expressed in terms of capabilities.   I see this work being done by leadership as part of a collective planning exercise.   As an example, a strategic initiative might be: Classrooms and learning spaces will be equipped with a base set of instructional technologies.   This strategic direction then needs to be interpreted into a set of defined and measurable capabilities.    A leadership team would be charged with determining the capabilities that would meet this strategic direction.  The capabilities should be measurable.

For example, the capabilities might be:  Multimedia Projection, Student Response Measurement and Lecture Capture

We could survey all rooms and learning spaces and get measures of current state (for example: 65% of rooms meet the projector capability, 15% meet the student response and 10% meet the lecture capture capability).   We could then decide priority – which is more important lecture capture or student response – act on those priorities and measure improvement.

2. Capabilities to Services

The next part of this to map our services to the strategic capabilities.  Some services support multiple capabilities (Hosting Services, Identity Management Services for example).  Some capabilities may not have a supporting enterprise service.  A capability that does not have a set of supporting services might indicate a gap in the enterprise.  For example, there may not be a matching Lecture Capture Service that provides the Lecture Capture capability.  This might be done in an ad hoc fashion or it might be missing completely.  This gap in the enterprise service would be worth evaluating to see if the capability is being delivered effectively in the current structure.  If not, then we might want to look at developing an enterprise-wide Lecture Capture Service that supports all of the classrooms.  

3.  Services To Technical Roadmaps

This is where we use the brick diagram in our planning.  The brick diagram captures the technologies that support a given service.  The brick captures what is current state (those technologies currently in use), what is tactical (what will be used for the next 0-2 years), what is strategic (on the plans to use 2-5 years out), what is in containment (no new development), what is in retirement (being stopped) and what is emerging (interesting trends that may move into the tactical or strategic realms in the future).  

These brick diagrams are created and maintained by the service owner – that is the group that manages the service being provided.  The bricks let the service owners and the service teams grab a snapshot of their current state and their strategic plan for the next few years – what they will leverage, what they will stop, what they are watching and what they want to move to – in a simple format.

 

Core Planning Stack from Tech to Strategy

Core Planning Stack from Tech to Strategy

This set of relationships is managed by a set of governance process that define and prioritize the layer below.  

At the lowest level, the service manager or service team usually defines and prioritizes the technology they use to deliver that service.   This is the layer that is captured in a brick diagram.  They should also describe the capabilities that are delivered by their service and which strategic directions they support.  

At the top level, senior leadership should work to refine the strategic directions as measurable capabilities that want to see delivered.  

The mid-level governance is a gap in our institution.  It is probably filled by project prioritization processes and budget processes.  I’ll talk about that in part 2 of this post.

Uncommon Thinking…

From the Flickr stream of Bre_Pettis

From the Flickr stream of Bre_Pettis

 

I was chatting with a colleague about the new EDUCAUSE slogan, “Uncommon Thinking for the Common Good” when I realized that the saying encapsulates one way to think of my work as an I.T. Architect.  “Uncommon Thinking for the Common Good” is what I try to foster in the teams that I work with.  I’ll explain this in two parts “Uncommon Thinking” and “for the Common Good”.

Uncommon Thinking:

I try to break people out of their daily routine and their comfort zone.  For instance, I have sat in meetings where a team is supposed to develop a new user interface (UI) for a new application.  I’ve watched as team redraw the UI for the old application, that they use day-in and day-out, as the solution for the new system.  I’ve also seen teams “re-think” how a business process could be done.  The end result was an automated version of the current process.  The new implementation of the old solution substituted emails for people running around with paper.  They are following the same steps, replicating the same authorizations and sending the same forms often without asking “why this form” or “why this person” or even “is this necessary at all”.   My job is to get them to question their old ways of doing things.

People like what they know.  They understand what they use daily.  But advancement comes when we change and disrupt routines, not when we replicate them into a new technology.  You have a telephone book at home with White Pages for people and Yellow Pages for businesses.  Changing that into two Word files you can print doesn’t bring great advancement.  It might be easier to carry only the pages you need but that doesn’t really improve the process.  Search capabilities are a big improvement.  Rethinking how you use the information, such as mapping businesses onto maps so you can find restaurants near your hotel, that brings advancement.  The routine of grabbing a book and looking something up is thrown out.  The new routine is to grab a laptop, look for wireless and Search.

I often introduce myself to new teams saying that my job will make them uncomfortable because I will ask them to throw out what they know and what they are comfortable with.  I tell them I will challenge their assumptions.  I say this not because their assumptions are wrong but to make sure their assumptions are correct and we accept them for the right reasons.

I love the fact that the Web 2.0 explosion is going on.  There are so many examples of “other ways to do things”.  I bring these examples and ask, “why can’t we do this instead?”  I show them Netvibes and ask, “can we make our pages this flexible?”  I show them Etsy’s Find By Color page and ask, “can we make creative ways to search like this?”  I show them The Northface catalog and ask, “should we have filters to help people search like these?”

 

Etsy Color Browser

Etsy Color Browser

 

 

It’s not that I think we should have a UI that looks like any of these sites but I want to break the team’s mindset and get them to start thinking about all of the rich possibilities.  I want them to work with a blank canvas and a rich palette of colors.  I want them to really get imaginative in their solutions to the problems.

I had a watercolor instructor that I worked with at UC Santa Cruz.  We were painting in the woods one day.  Everything I produced came out flat, boring and uninteresting.  They were awful, actually.  I was having a terrible time.  He came by, had a look and asked how it was going.  I grunted out my disgust.  He said, “Give me three paintings, but you can’t use any browns or greens at all. No earth-tones.”  I’m sitting in a forrest of browns and greens.  I was forced to paint purple and blue trees and red ferns.  At first it was very uncomfortable and I was very hesitant.  The first attempts were also awful.  But then, it became fun and playful and the paintings improved.  I was forced to let go of “how it is” and instead I had to play with “how it could be”.

That is the uncommon thinking of the Architecture practice.  Letting go of the how it is and thinking about how it could be when we start with a blank canvas and rich palette.

For the Common Good:

The other aspect that I deal with on teams is the narrow focus of their solution.  Often, the solutions that are put forth solve the very local needs of the group of people sitting around the table.  My work is to ask, “how does this fit with the broader issues that the people deal with daily?”  “What does this solutions do to actually help people?”  “What impact will this have on them?”  Not all solutions should be broadened and generalized to solve a larger issue but we should consider their larger impact. 

Every application must fit into an already rich application environment.  No application is truly a silo-application anymore.  Someone has to use it.  That someone already has a username and password if not several.  That someone already has a day that is full of tasks and applications.  That someone has things that don’t work so well, things that they are comfortable with and things that they cherish dearly.

The impact assessment of a new solutions should consider all of those people that the solution will effect.  If the new process changes their lives from reading paper documents to reading email, the users might not consider it an improvement.  What if reading the paper documents is what they do on the train in the morning?  Then your solution is a step backwards for them.  What seemed like a good idea to the team, reduce paper and use electronic delivery, actually was negative impact to the user and to overall productivity.  The user did that work before they got to the office as part of their daily routine.

This is part one of the “For the Common Good” part of my job. The solution that is delivered needs to take into consideration all those that will be impacted and it needs to fit into their lives and, ideally, change their lives for the better.

The second part comes into play during information gathering and sharing about the solution.  The new application or solution needs to be described in terms of the business value and the overall positive value of the change.  If you are going to add work to busy departmental staff, then it better be for something more than “your system”.  It better be for something like improving the enrollment process for students.  It better be for some larger good than simply benefitting the group developing the solution. You need to gather the business process improvements that the new solution will provide and then use those improvements to describe why the solution is important.

The final part has to do with scope.  Often, issues in one group are problems in another group too. Finding co-sponsors is a way of expanding the positive gain for the new processes or solution.   I spend time looking for others who I can bring into the discussion.  I look to see if the problem can be solved once for several constituents.  The broader solution will require collaboration and compromise but it can bring greater value and reduce the chaos of one-off solutions.  If the problem is solved once for many groups, then there is only one solution to maintain and there are many people who can provide input and expertise.

For me, “for the common good” means considering the broad impact, looking for the greatest value and delivering a solution for the largest constituency.  

Uncommon Thinking for the Common Good:

Bringing this all together provides one view on what I do as an I.T. Architect.  I get people to think broadly about a solution.  I get them to use a blank canvas and a rich palette of ideas when thinking of how we should solve a problem.  I also get them to think about how that solution fits in the larger environment, who it will help and who it will impact and finally who else should be brought into the discussion so we can deliver a far-reaching solution.

If I do my job well, then we get truly creative and expansive solutions that fit into the organization, improve peoples lives and help the greatest number of users.

 

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Jim’s Turkey Brine Recipe

I’ve had several requests for my turkey brine and herb paste recipes. In a just-in-time fashion, I’ve posted them below. I use an organic, range raised heritage turkey for my Thanksgiving turkey. I also use this brine for pork chops and turkey breasts that I cook on the grill.

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