Category Archives: Musings

2015: the books I read

I read a lot. This is both a feature and a bug. At any given time, I’ll usually be reading 3-4 different books, in a mix of electronic and physical formats. Inspired by my mom’s example, about this time in 2014 I decided to keep a book journal. Below you’ll find my list of all the books I finished in 2015, more or less in the order in which I finished them.  I omitted any book that I gave up on before finishing, as well as those that I’m still working on. I didn’t think to jot down a short review for each book as I finished it, and I’m not about to take the time to do so now.  I have embedded a few notes for books that I thought were particularly good. Or not.

That’s it. Time to start working on my 2016 list.


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Thursday trivia #105

Welcome, 2014! So far my year’s off to a great start; I ran a race at midnight New Year’s Eve; I have some idea of what my major 2014 goals are, and I now have a pet again. I hope you’ll join me in welcoming Pancake the cat to the blog. I promise not to be one of those tiresome people who regales unwilling audiences with tales of their pet’s accomplishments and behavior, but I must say the boys and I are excited to have a family pet again.

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  • I bit the bullet and signed up for an accelerated IFR ground school with Aviation Ground Schools. Why them in particular? They had a schedule that fit my needs, they got good reviews, and then they had a one-day sale. Expect a full report once I attend the seminar next month.
  • The hardest thing I ever had to do as a business owner was fire people. Firing people in your personal life can be just as difficult, but sometimes it’s necessary.
  • After nearly six months I am finally feeling settled into the house: everything is unpacked, there are doormats, pictures are hung, and so on. I celebrated New Year’s Day by replacing the fill mechanisms in all 3 toilets. (Cue the “you know you’re a homeowner when…” jokes)
  • I’m excited to start the next round of group training with Roman and Mike Vacanti. Here’s to crazy gainzzzz.

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2014: my major goals

I am a big believer in the SMART system for goals: any time you make a goal, it should be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. The counterpart to that is another “A” that’s missing: accountable. Both academic research and practical experience show that accountability helps make it easier to achieve those goals. I’ve seen this principle in action throughout my professional and personal life so I wanted to set out some of my 2014 goals here as a means of making myself accountable for progressing towards them. So, in no particular order, here are some of the things I plan to accomplish by the end of 2014.

On a professional level, my SMART goals revolve around specific things I need to do at work, including getting my MCSE certification, producing a certain set of internal IP documents, and a few other things that are related to our internal processes. They’re not necessarily things I can discuss in depth here. However, in my professional-but-not-at-Dell role as an MVP and author, I’m planning on doing at least one book in 2014. I have discussions underway with a couple of publishers and my agent about possible topics.

On the skills front, I will complete my instrument and commercial ratings in 2014. I will do this by continuing to train and fly with my instructors, setting a regular schedule to fly so I can maintain proficiency, and learning as much as I can about every aspect of IFR operations. Once I get the ratings, I will fly with them regularly to remain proficient. My target is to fly at least 120 hours of pilot-in-command time in 2014, with more if my schedule and budget allow.

From the health, fitness, and activity department: I want to train for and complete a sprint triathlon (probably this one). I will do this by taking advantage of Fleet Feet’s training programs and continuing my weightlifting and exercise regimen. I’m doing another increment of the Fitocracy group coaching program from January through April, when triathlon training season starts. (I’ve also signed up for several 5K races spread throughout the first quarter of the year.) I also want to continue to maintain a healthy body weight and appearance. I will do this by continuing to lift weights and track what I eat to ensure that I’m getting the right mix of macronutrients to support my activity level and goals. (Obligatory numbers: bench my bodyweight of 185, deadlift 300, and squat 275. I have no idea whether these are reasonable numbers or not since I am not used to setting goal weights, but I’ll stick with them for the time being.)

To help support those goals, I’ll continue to learn to cook new things. This is a squishy, non-SMART goal because I don’t have (or want) specific targets for learning to cook N new dishes.

Turning to the personal: I want to be more generous with my charitable giving of both money and time. I have some ideas about how to do this, and be accountable for it, but I’m still puzzling through what I think will work best. More on that another time, perhaps. The rest of the personal goals I have are, well, personal, and mostly non-SMART, so I’m leaving them out as well.

Expect a progress post each quarter so we can see how I’m doing on the specific things I’ve listed here. That’s the “accountable” part, y’know.

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Thursday trivia #100

Boy, it’s taken me a long time to knock out 100 of these updates.

  • I’ve proposed 3 sessions for MEC 2014 and one for the Lync Conference. Let’s see which ones make it into the goal. Worst case is either 0 or all 4: in one case I have to pay for my own conference attendance, and in the other I’ll be so busy speaking I won’t get to really enjoy the shows.
  • I haven’t been flying much lately, but I aim to remedy that shortly. Every time I have a spell where I don’t have time to fly I am reminded of why people don’t buy their own airplanes. They cost you money whether you have time to fly them or not.
  • Fitness progress continues. I have an upcoming post on that in the queue.
  • This story (which has been mislabeled as “hacking”) is a great example of why optional mobile device management (MDM) isn’t worth a hoot: if you want to manage your organization’s mobile devices, users cannot be allowed to opt out. The LA Unified School District tried to go cheap and not spend money on a “real” MDM solution, and they paid for it.
  • Deb Fallows, wife of the estimable James Fallows and a noted author in her own right, has a great set of articles exploring aviation lingo (not surprising, given that she’s a linguist). Here’s one excellent example.
  • I’ve enjoyed using iTunes Radio, but the current version of iTunes for iOS is super buggy. I hope they fix it soon.
  • Apropos of music: the GDR2 + Amber update for my Nokia Lumia 920 has introduced Bluetooth stuttering and problems displaying song/artist data on my car stereo. GDR1 worked flawlessly. GDR3 claims to introduce a bunch of BT fixes, so I hope these problems disappear too, along with the iTunes 11.1.1 bugs.
  • PhotoReviewer sounds like exactly what I want: a tool to quickly triage large numbers of photos and decide which to keep and which to get rid of. I can’t tell from this review whether it works on existing iPhoto libraries or only on pictures you haven’t imported yet, but I’m going to try it.

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Thursday trivia #99

  • I’ve gotten to know Tim Bauer through the group fitness program we’re both in. What an inspiring guy: sample 1 and sample 2. Check out his blog.
  • Mike Vacanti is one of my coaches. This blog post on feeling insecure about your own fitness compared to others was very thought-provoking for me. It applies much more broadly than just fitness, too.
  • Speaking of fitness: you’d be amazed at all the stuff you can make with protein powder. There are so many flavors and varieties! I like the Optimum Nutrition stuff that Costco sells because Costco, but I’m always interested in trying new kinds. BioTrust is pretty good, but it’s expensive and they spam their customers. GNC’s stuff is edible but not great (at least the vanilla and cookies & cream flavors; haven’t tried any others).
  • Amazon’s new “Mayday” customer-support feature has the potential to be a huge game changer. It will be very interesting to see whether they can scale it and provide good quality service. (If you haven’t seen it, it’s like OnStar, but for your tablet.) 
  • I’m always interested in a good invasive-species story, like the one about the testicle-eating fish spotted in New Jersey. However, of more local interest, the plague of little white bugs we’ve been having here in Huntsville is actually the result of the Asian hackberry woolly aphid, an invasive species that was first spotted in Georgia in 1996 (no one’s sure exactly how it got there, it turns out) and has made its way north– and west, having been spotted in Texas. (It’s also in California but it’s not clear if it was imported from Asia to California or somehow made it from Texas westward).
  • I’ve mentioned the use of precision robotics for filming high-speed stuff before, but this video takes the cake. Projection mapping has huge potential for theatrical applications… and just think of what Disney could do with it if they wanted.
  • Like Bo, I have not had good experience refilling printer cartridges. The first time I tried it, everything went well, but it wasn’t my printer. The second time, it was, and I never could get the printer to recognize that the refilled cartridge was usable. When a refill kit costs $6 and an off-brand cartridge costs $13, you know what? I’ll pay $7 to not have to deal with toner backsplash and fiddling with the stupid flag gear.

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Thursday trivia #98

  • I took part of a day this week to open a business bank account, get Alabama license plates, and get my concealed carry pistol permit. Surprisingly, the trip to the credit union took the most time by far. The DMV and sheriff’s office were both quick and the people there could not have been more pleasant. Now it’s a race to see whether my driver’s license or my license plate arrive first.
  • In possibly-related news, I am excited that Last Resort Guns is about to open their new range… at the end of my street. (Well, across a 4-lane road, but still!) I bought a membership, so a couple of days a week I’ll probably eat a sandwich as I walk to the range, get some practice in, and then walk home again. Sounds like a great lunch hour.
  • Got my complex endorsement and checkout in the Piper Arrow this past week. Sadly, of the club’s two Arrows, one is grounded and the other has a broken autopilot, so I’ll probably stick with the 182 for my long trips until that’s fixed… or until I get checked out in the 182RG, which is next on my list.
  • I also shot my first practice ILS approach under the hood. Wow. Lots to learn. I blew right through the glideslope because I was busy managing power and tracking my heading. Can’t do that.
  • Monday marked the start of my fifth week of my coached fitness program, and brought with it a completely new set of workout routines. Ouch. However, over the past month I have gotten much stronger; my bench, deadlift, and squats have all improved and I am starting to see some actual hypertrophy in my upper body, so that’s all good.
  • Heading to Perrysburg again this weekend to run the Rotary River Run 5K. Since I haven’t run a race since Memorial Day, and haven’t been running much, I am not looking for great results.
  • I just noticed that Exchange 2013 Unleashed (which I haven’t read, and which I hope is better than the 2010 version) is available from Amazon as a rental book. Ouch.

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Thursday trivia #97

  • Bo has introduced me to several great local restaurants– yesterday we’d planned on lunching at My Old San Juan, a local Puerto Rican place, but they’re in between owners again, so we went to Saigon instead. Dee-licious and great company.
  • One of our lunchtime topics was the fact that some people perceive general aviation as super risky. I thought this article by Mac McClellan on that very topic was interesting. Pilots, by definition, accept the risk in exactly the way Mac states, but how do we reduce that risk? He makes a good point about motorcycles that I won’t repeat here; go read the article.
  • A really interesting story about Fed pressure on Microsoft to implement a backdoor in BitLocker.
  • “Not every tech problem is an IT problem. Some of them are HR problems.” So sayeth my friend (and fellow MVP) Ben Schorr, and boy, is that ever true.
  • Being more careful about what I eat has led me to discover some pretty great new recipes. For example, this fantastic flat iron steak was dinner Monday night. Next up: Alton Brown frittatas.
  • I am really encouraged as I watch the new Last Resort Guns facility take shape on County Line Road. I just applied (i.e. bought) a one-year family membership to the range; since it is literally right at the end of my street I expect to get plenty of use out of it.
  • I’m not even remotely interested in the new iPhones. Maybe that will change after I get iOS 7 on my existing iOS devices.
  • Here’s a fascinating question: is Silicon Valley a non-state actor? I agree with Tom Ricks on this: I think it is.
  • Aviate, navigate, communicate: not just for aviation any more; it’s now a business metaphor.
  • I am super glad that it’s football season! Last weekend’s Saints and LSU games were great, and this week I also get to look forward to Alabama crushing Johnny Football. Life is good.

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Thursday trivia #96

  • Apparently people with lots of self-control are happier. Makes perfect sense to me.
  • Butterscotch pudding popsicles? Yes please.
  • Or maybe key lime pie popsicles would be better.
  • I need to do a longer post on my progress so far with the coached fitness program I started a couple of weeks ago. So far, however, I am noticeably stronger (my best deadlift is now 245!), with better muscle definition. Despite eating like a horse on workout days, I’ve lost about 8 pounds so far.
  • Apropos of fitness: I loooove Fitocracy. What a great community. On the other hand, my local gym (1Fit) is almost always deserted; this is good for lifting, but not so good for community purposes.
  • I am starting transition training to the 182RG, meanwhile looking around for a weekend prep course for my instrument written. I’ve also decided to write a book (a short one, I hope) about the process of getting an instrument rating. It’s going to be self-published through Amazon. Stay tuned.

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Why I love working for Dell, Tuesday edition

I’m just shy of my three-month anniversary with Dell. So far I love it because, among other reasons…

…They match charitable donations dollar for dollar. I just dropped some cash to the Captain Jason Dahl scholarship fund, and if you are so inclined I encourage you to do the same. If you don’t want any of the prizes, I’ll be happy to take them off your hands.

…I have an actual LAPTOP DOCK again. You know, one of those handy things that lets you simply snap your laptop into it to attach it to external devices. This dock drives two monitors, and it has a ton of USB ports. I sorely missed real docking stations with my MacBook Pro.

…No one finds anything remarkable about sentences such as “Well, we can provision support out of either Guadalajara or Morocco” or “That shouldn’t be more than another dozen servers” or “For 63,000 mailboxes, we would need…”

…My teammates are highly distributed. On one project, I’m working with two Australians (one in Austin, one in Pleasanton), a West Virginian, two Texans, and a bunch of other people whose location I don’t know because it doesn’t matter where they are.



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Thursday trivia #95

Wow, it’s been one day shy of three months since my last Thursday trivia! Time flies indeed. I should be able to post these more regularly now that my summertime madness has died down a bit.

  • The book is content complete, and now I am working my way through technical edits and adding new material where needed. Expect another post on that shortly.
  • My oldest son just started his freshman year… of college. Boy howdy, that makes me feel old.
  • This week’s project: build a building-block Exchange design suitable for use at a customer with operations in some countries (notably Israel, Russia, Taiwan, and Turkey) where they are not legally allowed to use HA or DR services that migrate data from the home country to outside. For example, if you have mailboxes in Israel, you can’t have a stretched DAG to the UK, as that would violate local law. Fun times, and certainly educational.
  • I have started a group strength training and fitness program coached by John Romaniello. So far it’s been awesome; I love the workouts and the adjustment to my eating habits has been manageable so far. If you’re on Fitocracy, follow me here. I still have to measure my current body fat percentage, but don’t expect any before/after until I get much further into the program.
  • From the TMI department: resting pulse rate 52, total cholesterol 136, blood glucose 92. Looks like I am good to go for another year.
  • I just booked my flights for IT/Dev Connections! Now I need to finish building my slide decks and demos. 
  • One of the fun things about being back in Huntsville is discovering new restaurants and rediscovering old ones. Bo has given me some very valuable tips, but I am going to have to cut back to make sure I stay on my nutrition plan.
  • Speaking of Bo: if you’re not reading his series on marriage, and you are, or want to be, married, you should probably read it. It’s been very thought-provoking so far.

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Advice on communication

From a recent post to The Listserve (which you should join if you haven’t already), sent by someone who makes a living teaching rhetoric and communications:

…don’t get hung up on assuming the intent of the person communicating with you. What I mean is, it is impossible to know for sure what a person intended to mean when they say something to us. When I think of the missteps I make in everyday communication it is often because I assume why someone said something to me, I take offense at them for the purpose behind what they said. In reality, I can never know the intent behind their statement unless they tell me. Try and avoid making assumptions about the meaning of, and purpose behind, someone’s statement and see how it changes the flow of your communication.

This is valuable advice which I am determined to follow more closely. Now that my job entails working with a diverse set of customers, being a better communicator is increasingly important.

Having said that, remember that what is said is only part of what is communicated; there is also what is left unsaid, as well whether the communication is responsive, or not, to what you say. When you consider the totality of the communication, it may be possible to derive more information about intent– or it may equally be possible to make a wrong assumption. This is especially true of people who are avoidant, or who have personal, business, or political motives that lead them to conceal, evade, or avoid communicating clearly.

I’m reminded of RF test equipment such as signal generators. You use these devices to generate a particular waveform, which you then feed in to your transmitter or receiver so you can measure the output for distortion, clipping, and so on. You can measure how closely what you put in conforms to what you get out. Sadly we don’t have anything like that for human communication, apart from adaptive listening, which is a fascinating topic in itself but requires both parties to be actively engaged in the communication.

Always something new to learn…

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Transitions (or, “Dell, you’re getting a dude!”)

Nearly four years ago, I wrote a post here titled simply “We’re moving to California.” Now I’m writing this post because… I’m moving back to Alabama.

I’m also switching jobs; effective June 3, I will be joining Michael Przytula‘s Global Communications and Collaboration team at Dell as a global principal consultant. My first project will be assisting a large automotive supply company with their migration from Lotus Notes to Office 365, so I’m jumping back into the Exchange world with both feet.

The reasons for these changes can be summed up simply: in order to be an effective father to my sons, I need to be where they are. For two years, I have been commuting faithfully at my own expense to see them every other weekend, plus one week per month during which Acuitus allowed me to work remotely. This has been a great experience in itself in many ways, but it has also been emotionally exhausting, physically tiring, and extremely expensive. The constant back-and-forth has made me at times feel like a visitor, not a father, and I’ve had to miss a great many milestone events because they happened at times when I wasn’t, couldn’t be, there.

Moving back was simultaneously a no-brainer (of course I need to be where the boys are!) and a very difficult decision to actually execute on. I believe that ultimately it is the right thing to do for my sons, so that’s what I’m doing.

As much as I believe that what Acuitus is doing is important and worthwhile, and as much as I’ve enjoyed the experience of living and working in California, and as hard a transition as it will likely be, it’s time for me to move on by moving back. I am optimistic and energized about working with Dell, and I am delighted by the prospect of being able to spend more, and better, time with the boys. Against that I have to weigh the upheaval, expense, and hassle of moving, the sadness of leaving valued friends and coworkers behind, and the feeling of unfinished business that comes from leaving Acuitus in the midst of our VA school project.

On balance, though, I am more optimistic than not… as I said back in 2009, it takes work. I still believe that’s true, and I’m going to put in the work that’s required. We’ll see what happens…


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Thursday trivia #92

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Drone strikes on criminals

For my first Flying Fridays post, I want to return to a favorite topic: drones. My first-ever published work was an article for the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) on some research work done there on unmanned aerial vehicles. I sure wish I’d kept a copy (their archives were no help, sadly). Ever since then I’ve had an abiding interest in the mechanics, ethics, and practical use of unmanned aircraft.

Anyway, here’s a little snippet from the New York Times this week:

China considered using a drone strike in a mountainous region of Southeast Asia to kill a Myanmar drug lord wanted in the killings of 13 Chinese sailors, but decided instead to capture him alive, according to an influential state-run newspaper.

Sound familiar? To put this in context: the publicly-disclosed criteria for droning a US citizen are that it must be infeasible for US or allied forces to capture or kill the target; the target must be a “senior member” of Al-Qaeda, and the target must pose an imminent threat of violent attack against the US. Non-citizens are subject to a different set of rules, detailed in this handy flowchart. In either case, the US government explicitly reserves the right to use unmanned aircraft to kill people who have acted against US interests.. and now the Chinese are copying us.

Thought experiment: imagine a search-and-replace of “Al-Qaeda” in the above paragraph with some other criminal or terrorist organization. Suppose a nearby country (say, Mexico, or Venezuela) becomes a base for violent, criminal-but-not-terrorist, attacks on US citizens. Internal governance is too weak to allow the local authorities to arrest the bad guys. Do you drone them? In other words, could this policy conceivably extend to pre-emptive strikes on drug lords or other violent criminals?

If so, who’s next? If not, why not, given the current legal framework?

If you think this is an unrealistic scenario,  here’s a question to ponder. Law enforcement agencies can, and have, used manned aircraft carrying snipers to fire on suspects. What practical difference is there between an FBI HRT helicopter carrying a sniper and an armed FBI HRT drone? If it’s OK for US to stage armed counternarcotics missions into, e.g.  Honduras and shoot people, why wouldn’t it be OK to just send a drone instead?

(nb. I am not arguing that it is a good idea for the US to be doing these things, merely positing a logical extension of our current policies.)

Meanwhile, the FAA is still trying to figure out how to integrate drones safely into the National Airspace System. There’s a ton of interesting commentary on this AVweb opinion piece that I commend to your attention; there seems to be an emerging consensus in the aviation world that mixing drones and manned aircraft is a recipe for disaster because current unmanned aerial systems (UAS) don’t implement the see-and-avoid behavior drilled into human pilots from day 1. Large, remotely-operated drones such as those operated by Customs and Border Protection are relatively safe: they are large (and thus somewhat easier to see), have elaborate command-and-control systems, operate in predictable areas, and generally fly at medium to high altitudes. What I’m more worried about are smaller, less-visible, less-well-equipped drones (such as the kind operated by police departments in Houston, Dallas, and various other locales). Small drones offer so much potential utility for surveying, traffic monitoring and control, crop monitoring, aerial application, and burrito delivery that their arrival is inevitable; I just don’t want to have to play dodge-a-drone when I fly.

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Thursday trivia #89

  • I spent Sunday with my extended tribe in Seattle– I had coffee with Tim and Julie, then lunch with my old friend John Peltonen of 3Sharp (who looks just like he did the last time I saw him– no aging at all!), then an afternoon get-together with several Exchange MVPs, including Jeff Guillet, Tony Redmond, Michael van Horenbeeck, Steve Goodman, Paul Cunningham, Sigi Jagott, Brian Desmond, and Clint Boessen. Then Tony and I had a very productive meeting with Karen Szall, our editor at Microsoft Press. (On that note I think there will be some interesting news coming from MS Press in the near future… stay tuned!)
  • I couldn’t stay for the MVP Summit because I needed to be back in California to help kick off the second class of students for the school we’re doing for the Veterans’ Administration. My first week teaching is next week and I’m looking forward to it; I’ve been in bug-fixing mode for a while and look forward to more classroom time.
  • I’m still loving the Surface Pro. I was able to find a Surface 128GB at the Best Buy in Issaquah, and Windows Easy Transfer worked flawlessly to move over all of my settings and accounts. It didn’t transfer purchased apps from the Microsoft Store, but it turns out that swiping down from the top of the screen while in the store app reveals a link that will download all your previous purchases.
  • Fascinating article in the New York Times about the junk food industry and the science and technology used to make junk food addictive. It’s interesting to consider this in light of the LDS Church’s “Word of Wisdom“, which says that the famous Mormon dietary law was given “in consequence ofevils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days.” Purposely making unhealthy foods addictive sure sounds like “evils and designs” to me.
  • I haven’t flown much lately, but this weekend I’ll be doing my rental checkout at the Redstone Arsenal Flying Activity, where my instructor is an honest-to-goodness rocket scientist. It’s also about time for me to start learning how to fly the Cessna 182 (and its retractable-gear sibling, the 182RG). After that, once the book is finished, it’s instrument-rating time!

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