Sunday, April 20, 2014

Cool Tools: Kindle

If you don't have a kindle, go buy a kindle paper white right now.  If you own a kindle, skim this post to make sure you know about these features.

Things I love about the Kindle:
  • All my books, all the time -  no shelf space required. 
  • No need for a nightlight - The back light lets me read at night, without the hassle of lights.
  • Indestructible Media - I can stop worrying about spilling coffee on my books.
  • Light weight - doesn't matter if it's a 2 lb mega book, or a few page poem, it's just weight of the kindle.
  • Fungible - All kindles are same, get a new kindle, it downloads all your books, bookmarks and highlights. 
Features I use:
  • Sync between kindles - if you use multiple kindles the kindle sends your latest page location to all kindles.
  • Look up word - Press and hold a word to see the definition. A great way to build your vocabulary.
  • Highlight Passages - Run your finger over a paragraph to highlight. You can see your highlights on other kindles, or export them using the cool tools below. 
  • Re-size fonts - Having a big font is wonderful for low strain reading. 
Cool Tools:
  • Send To Kindle - Send content (like web pages or word documents to the kindle)
  • Bookcision - Export your kindle highlights as text

Soft Skills: Read the best book you can.

When I have time to read, I want to read the best book I can.

When I hear about a book I want to read, I either add it to the list of books I want to read, or I start reading the book immediately.   If I add the book to my  "to read" list, I'm almost certain I'll never read the book.  On the other hand, If I start reading the book right away, I'm almost certain the book is worse than books I've already added to my "to read" list.

So, I'm going to try to build the discipline to only read the best book on my "to read" list, instead of reading the last good book mentioned to me.  

I suspect this technique will be hard,  but reading the best books might be worth it.  If this works, I'll try to apply the same technique to other aspects of my life like movies, toys I want to watch, and people I want to have lunch with.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Soft Skills: Instilling stewardship delegation.

Stewardship delegation is a form of delegation where the responsibility for the delegated task is transferred to the delegatee.  Stewardship delegation requires upfront effort, but the long term effectiveness it creates is second to none, so I recommend learning and applying it.

To establish stewardship delegation you must convey five concepts to your delegatee.  The desired results, the operating parameters, the available resources, the measurement system and the consequences of their stewardship.

 I strongly recommend the delegator spend significant time ensuring the delegatee  understands these five concepts. Most of my failures to delegate are caused by the delegatee not understanding the concepts.  Having the delegatee involved in defining the concepts, especially the accountability model and the consequences helps build their buy in and tests the delegatee's understanding.

The desired results is the outcome the delegator wishes to achieve.  Desired results should be conveyed in terms of what is desired, not in terms of how results should be achieved. By specifying what, not how,  the delegatee has the maximum freedom to achieve the desired results.

The operating parameters are the guard rails within which the desired results should be achieved.  While the delegator should give as few as possible, they tend to have experience and prevent the delegatee from making obvious mistakes.

The resources available are what the delegatee may use to get the desired results accomplished.  Because the delegator tends to have experience they can often suggest useful resources, however the delegatee should have the freedom to ignore the unneeded resources.

The accountably model defines how the delegatee will be measured. This includes the measurement function, the measurement frequency and the way the measurement will be reported.

The rewards and consequences defines how the delegatee will be rewarded for their efforts. This includes the both rewards for success, and consequences for failure.

By using these delegation guidelines you should be able to kick off steward ship delegation. Even though it takes more time upfront, the overall return on investment is excellent.

By the way, I'm trying to leverage the stewardship delegation method with myself, by taking a desire I wish to achieve and going through the five delegation concepts. I expect I'll find this method very effective.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Soft Skills: Effective Delegation

delegate_pivotA key scale out skill is delegation. Effective delegation refers to a small negative impact to the delegator resulting in a large positive impact via the effort of the delegatee.   Maximum delegation efficiency occurs in stewardship delegation. Stewardship delegation empowers the delegatee to be responsible for the delegated task, and takes an initially large investment from the delegator. However, once the stewardship delegation relationship has been established, minimal effort is required by the delegator to maintain the impact of the delegatee.

A delegation relationship can be modelled as a teeter totter with the delegator on the left and the delegatee on the right.   The effectiveness of the delegation can be thought of as the pivot location. To increase the effectiveness of the delegation, the pivot must be moved to the left which allows small effort by the delegator to enable large impact via the delegatee.

The pivot location and its movement is a function of delegation style.   At the extreme of delegation styles is gopher delegation and stewardship delegation. Gopher delegation keeps the responsibility for the task with the delegator and involves telling the delegatee extremely prescriptive tasks e.g.  go for this, go for that.   Stewardship delegation transfers the responsibility for the delegated task  to the delegatee and requires the delegator explaining the end result and the operating principles of the delegated task to the delegatee.

At the start of gopher delegation  the teeter totter pivot starts at the left of center with the delegator's cost less than the gains achieved through the work of the delegatee.  This makes the delegator effective from the start, and seems great.   However, over time as the delegatee does tasks wrong,  as the delegated tasks start having complications, and ultimately as the delegatee gets bored and disengaged, the pivot begins to move the to the right.   After a while, gopher delegation results in a pivot right of center, and the delegation ends up being ineffective.  Eventually, more time is required from the delegator then is gained from the actions of the delegatee and thus gopher delegation is best used for short lived scoped tasks.

At the start of stewardship delegation, the teeter totter pivot starts very far to the right. Significant time needs to be spent to engage the delegatee. The delegatee needs to understand the desired result, the operating parameters, and ultimately needs to be feel empowered and responsible.   Over time, as the delegatee understands her role and its responsibilities the pivot begins to move to the left, but the delegator still requires large investment as she must provide feedback and encouragement.  Eventually the pivot will cross the center, and continue moving left until the delegator is only required to give the briefest task, and know with confidence the delegatee can complete the delegated tasks.

Large scale effective delegation requires stewardship delegation.  Because stewardship delegation requires passing the responsibility for the delegated task from the delegator to the delegatee it requires a large upfront investment. However over time, as the delegatee is empowered, minimal delegator effort will result in large impact from the delegatee.

A future posts will discuss how to establish stewardship delegation.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Soft Skills: Scaling out vs scaling up

Scaling UP vs Scaling OUT Scaling up refers to becoming a more effective person by increasing your personal efficiency. Scaling out refers to being a more effective person by engaging others to help solve your problems.    While scaling out is initially more difficult than scaling up, it has the potential for significantly more effectiveness than scaling up, so you should spend time investing in both types of scaling.

To understand the entomology of these terms lets look at the computer domain.  In the domain of computers there are two common ways to achieve more computing power or scale. Scaling up and scaling out.

Scaling up refers to getting more computing hardware for a single machine.  For example,  getting more RAM, faster CPUs or even bigger disks for the same computer.     On the other hand, scaling out refers to getting more computers. Instead of making your single computer faster you break up the problem so it can be processed by multiple computers and use the multiple computers to get the job done.

Scaling out requires changing the way the problem is solved, forcing co-ordination and making the problem more complex. As a result scaling up sounds like the way to scale.

At first, scaling up is  the easy way to scale. You throw some new hardware in the computer, and without much work you have more computing power.   As you upgrade your computer you start getting diminishing returns. Consecutive upgrades get more and more expensive, until eventually you can no longer upgrade your computer as it will be at its maximum power.  At this point you have no choice but to scale out.

Scaling out is hard. It requires you to think about how the problem can be broken up, how the computers can be coordinated and  how to keep the computers synchronized.  However, once you've made your problem solvable through scale-out solutions you can often add lots of computers. By scaling out, you can have significantly more computing power then you could ever have via a scale up solution.

As with computers and computing power, people often require more effectiveness to solve their problems. They have two ways to solve their problems, either they scale up, by becoming more efficient, or they scale out by engaging others to help solve their problems.

Humans scaling up reach diminishing returns - an easy to understand limit is the hours in a day.  Regardless of how efficient you are, you still only get 24 hours in a day.

As an alternative to scaling up, humans can scale out.  Scaling out requires figuring out how to break up problems so more than one person can work on them, and figuring out how the people will co-ordinate.

While scaling out is initially more difficult than scaling up, it has the potential for significantly more effectiveness than scaling up, so you should spend time investing in both types of scaling.

If you've read the 7 habits of highly effective people, you may notice that scaling up refers to the 3 habits of independence, while scaling out refers to 3 habits of interdependence.  I'll spend many more posts discussing these two types of scaling.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Soft Skills: Concise, or is it?

I love being concise -  the efficiency warms my heart.  Russian, with its single  verb question, and matching single verb response gives me a visceral pleasure. Two Russians, Sergey and Slava, wanting to grab lunch could have the  following exchange:

Sergey: Eat?
Slava: Eat!

My love of conciseness often  has me sending short emails.  Frequently, my mails are so concise that my reader has no idea what I'm talking about. This confusion means  I need to send another mail explaining the meaning of my initial concise mail.

As I write the lengthy explanation of my concise mail, I hear the words of my wise friend -  a message isn't concise if the reader can't understand it.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Forget your weak passwords

Like everyone else on the internet, I hate passwords. I wish everyone would let me login with my existing accounts like this:
identity provider login
But they don’t, so I have two passwords. My strong password which I use for my email and banking, and my weak password which I use on the rest of internet sites. Today I realized I don’t need to use a weak password. Most sites have a password reset feature that sends you a mail, and if you click the mail you can change your password whenever you want so: Use a random password for sites that do their own authentication and forget th password!
  • Whenever you want to login, request a password reset.
  • Click on the link on your email, which will take you to a reset screen.
  • Make a random password and copy it to your clipboard
  • Use the password on your clipboard to set a new site password and login.
Because of password reset feature, access to your email account is really access to all of your accounts so: Guard your email password
  • Make your email password is random and complex.
  • Use two factor authentication (sms/authentication app)
  • Never re-use your email password.
Enjoy forgetting your weak passwords!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Scaling up knowledge workers

Every year I try to spend a month doing things I’m proud of such as developing new ideas, sharpening the saw, and moving pet projects forward. Scaling up knowledge workers is one of those ideas

I’m a knowledge worker, and I want to get the most out of myself that is possible. I call this scaling up, and it’s something I’m passionate about. The tooling for scaling up is in its infancy, so I’m helping to develop it.

Personal Analytics

One of the first area’s I’m developing is personal analytics. Personal analytics answers questions about you, and the first branch of personal analytics I’m exploring is screen time analytics. In this domain I’ve written either sensors, sensor downloaders and/or dashboards:
Analytics Type Sensor/Data Extractor Visualizer
Outlook E-mail psOutlook Email Analytics
Screen Time Rescue Time Analytics Screen Time Analytics
Time Usage Time Usage Reporter TBD

Onenote Automation

I do alot of my writing (and writing is thinking) in onenote, and so I need a onenote scripting capability. To that end, I’ve implemented a oneonote interface assembly, OnenoteObjectModel, and some useful functionality:
  • Clean up empty pages (easily created by accidental key strokes in onenote)
  • Daily Template Insertion

Frequently asked question forum

Developers find most of their answers on stack overflow, but what about questions that apply to a person? For that, I’ve setup a stackoverflow clone called OSQA (Open Source Question & Answer), and I run it at IgQA. So far no users and few questions, but hopefully it will evolve.
IgQA Screen Shot