Archive for December, 2008


Wednesday, December 31st, 2008

I’m in Texas this week. I’m here helping to take care of my father who is recovering from surgery. I probably make it to Texas on business about once a year. Sometimes twice. And I really like Texas. But it is different. Much different from New England. In fact its almost like a different country in some ways.

Take flags. One sees Texas flags everywhere. It’s in logos of businesses and organizations. It’s flying from flag poles and painted on signs. Every classroom in the state has both a US and a Texas flag hanging in the room. Occasionally the Texas flag is larger than the US flag. Intentionally so? Probably not but who knows?

Besides flags there are outlines of the state map in a lot of places. And address signs are always clear that the city, town, county or what ever is in Texas. It’s pretty hard not to know you are in Texas if you can see and pay any attention at all.

Food is different as well. There is steak of course. Though Chicago and St Louis may actually have more and (dare I say it) better steak places. But there are lots of good steak places here. And there is barbeque. I love barbeque and there are other centers of fine barbeque but it is different. The Carolinas and Tennessee have great barbeque but it is different from what you find it Texas. It’s all good and I like it all. But I still take advantage of it when I am in Texas.

Of course there is Tex-Mex. This is one of my favorite foods and Texas is where it is done best. Sometimes it is hard to enjoy Tex-Mex or Mexican food other places until the effects of a visit to Texas have faded a bit. Refried bean are almost inedible in New Hampshire but I love it in Texas. You’d hardly believe its called the same thing in both places. It has so much more taste in Texas.

People are a little different as well. I don’t just mean the accents either. People do wear cowboy boots. You do see cowboy hats and big belt buckles as well. You also see a lot more women showing a lot more cleavage than you do in the north. Lots of heavy makeup and seriously done up hair is more common as well. It looks good on a lot more than you’d expect as well. Although the word “cheap” does come to mind in some cases. But you learn to expect different styles and standards after a while. Either way Texas does seem to have more than their share of attractive women.

Texans are friendly – very friendly. Even you a Yankee like myself. I really enjoy the people in Texas. Helpful, friendly, polite, outgoing, and fun loving. People and food are two reasons I enjoy my Texas visits. I’ll be back in February and am looking forward to it.

In Search Of Common Sense

Saturday, December 20th, 2008

In just about a month from now the US will have a new President. He will bring change both foreign and domestic. Will he bring in common sense as well? We al hope so. Common sense has long been lacking in American policies. The last President with any serious  foreign common sense was  Nixon. Both men had other flaws of course but at least in this area I was impressed with them. Carter and Reagan? Not as bad as the last two Presidents but and they seemed focused on small parts of the world. They didn’t pay that much attention to south America or Africa. Not enough anyway. And forget India because most of our recent Presidents seem to have while in office. And in my mind the only President who really understood China was Nixon.

China and India are two of the main focuses of Fareed Zakaria‘s book The Post-American World. It’s loaded with common sense as well. I think there are two types of people who absolutely must read this book. People who are interested in politics/foreign affairs and people who are interested in business. Matt, if you haven’t read this book yet what’s wrong with you. 🙂 This book lays out not the decline of America but the rise of other parts of the world. It brings a lot of history into it as well.

I’m a strong believer that to understand the present one has to understand history as well.  This book taught me a lot of history of both China and India that I didn’t know before. Of course US schools are notoriously bad for covering history other than of the west which is probably why we screw up so badly in the middle east, the far east and Africa and South/Central America. We just have too few clues about what is going on and how things got the way they are. Common sense requires knowledge.

So what are my key take aways from this book? Close to home we really need to do two things. Get our energy house in order and get our schools in better shape. Some greater level of energy independence would greatly increase our future development options. China and India are going to require a lot more oil and if we keep our current level of dependence on it prices are going to get higher. Education is the key to innovation and we are going to need that. Really our education system is not as bad as a lot of the media would have us think – at least in the top students – but clearly we need to do better to stay competitive. We do a better job of teaching creative and critical thinking than the rest of the world but that edge is shrinking and we cannot afford that. And by golly we have to turn out more people who have a clue about the world outside our boarders.

Globally the growth of China and India can be a huge opportunity for us if we just grasp it correctly. And as long as we keep our innovation lead. I tell you if every America needed a program like FIRST its now.

But I fear that too much of America, including its politicians and business leaders, are focused on short term fixes, ignoring history and a quick buck over long term growth and stability. How else to explain the current financial melt down? And our failures in the middle east with regards to terror and stability. Of course we are not alone in this. In my opinion both sides in the Arab/Israeli conflict are lacking in common sense. The situation in Saudi Arabia is of dubious stability. And could Africa possibly in a bigger mess? Darfur in the Sudan, Mugabe in Zimbabwe and piracy off the coast of Somalia, just to name a few!  But we can’t count on the rest of the world to screw up worse than we do. Clearly it is time to really get smart about some things.

I should be playing Gears of War II

Thursday, December 11th, 2008

I have a tough job. Long hours, lots of travel, struggling to keep up with the latest products, etc. Recently I was in a local office and someone handed me a copy of Gears of War II which I am told is quite the game. I haven’t played it yet though. I guess I really should.

I have an Xbox. Actually there are two in the house. Mrs. T got one for Christmas the other year and the company sent me one to use for demos. So I don’t really have an excuse for not playing. And clearly I am going to be at an event (or several) in the coming months where Gears of War II will be played. People tend to expect MSFT employees to know how to play. I get something of a pass because of course I am “old.” But still…

I keep wasting time on meetings, phone calls, email, writing for my blog, researching for a project I am doing and other more traditional work things. I may just have to re-think my priorities.

Art In Person

Wednesday, December 10th, 2008

Speaking of art, I think some art has to be seen to be fully appreciated. Sometimes the reality is not accurately portrayed by pictures or prints. That subtle something different comes across in reality but not in static images. Is it the lighting, being able to see from different angles, or something else? Perhaps a real appreciation of scale of the work that is missing in photographs? Perhaps several things.

The “primitive” paintings of Grandma Moses for example. The paint drip works of Jackson Pollock are another example. They are different somehow from what people think they could create themselves as I talked about in my last post.

But in both those cases I think you have to see their works in real life to fully appreciate them. I know I never really understood what people saw in Pollock’s works until I saw a could of them in person. That’s also true of some work that can be somewhat appreciated from photographs but which are much more impactful in person.

Two works that come to mind are Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte and Michelangelo’s Moses. I was impressed with both from pictures in books but when I first saw them in person I was amazed. First off both of them are huge pieces of work.

The couple in the foreground of La Grande Jatte are pretty much life sized. The work takes up the whole wall of the room where it is displayed. (Art Institute of Chicago which is a must visit in Chicago for me.)

Michelangelo’s Moses is more than life size. And the figure is carved with powerful looking muscles. It looks as if it could come to life and toss people around the room. (Its in the church of St.Mary Major in Rome and well worth a visit.) The Pieta gets more attention but to me this is the piece worth seeing.

Besides you can’t get as close to the Pieta as you used to. I’ve seen both close up and still prefer the Moses. Though I will tell you that the Pieta is a lot more impressive close up than it is from a distance and viewed through the Plexiglas wall it is behind now. Like so many other things getting close is to get a much better appreciation of the work.

And that my friends is why art museums will probably never go out of business and why collectors pay serious money for the real thing.

Art or Doodles?

Wednesday, December 10th, 2008

Over time I have become a big fan of Hugh MacLeod. His work and indeed who he is are both sort of difficult to classify. Part public relations or marketing person, part cartoonist, part blogger, part artist, well, that’s a start. He’s particularly well known in tech circles for drawing cartoons on the back of business cards. He also designed the “Blue Monster” cartoon that a lot of people at Microsoft have adopted as an unofficial social object. Currently he lives in West Texas where he works on his art and consults. He also travels quite a bit. Following him on Twitter is interesting.

So here is the thing. At first glance his drawings, be they larger works or cartoons on the back of a business card, look like doodles. Perhaps something someone would draw while bored. But for many people, including me, there is something more, something artistic, about what he draws. It’s that sort of thing you first think anyone can draw until you realize that isn’t quite true. There is a style, a character, a special hard to put your finger on difference there.

I think that is what makes an artist. There is something about them or their style that communicates something subtle or perhaps larger than life but that is somehow different from the way others show things. I’m not so sure that can be taught.

Showing Up

Wednesday, December 10th, 2008

In an episode of “West Wing” the writers had the President say “Decisions are made by those who show up.” Woody Allen has been reported as saying that “Eighty Percent of Success Is Showing Up.” Others have said it is closer to ninety percent. Anyway you look at it showing up is important.

It is important during an election, for meetings at work, for just about anything were decisions are made or there are people to be influenced. People who sit on the sidelines and leave the decision making to others are at the mercy of those who do show up.

It is always important with ones job. Companies value people who can be depended on to show up. And not just on regular hours. When something extra ordinary happens and they need people to show up for it that is particularly valuable. Showing up for optional events is respected. Going the extra mile to “be there” is a powerful action.

I was at a lunch with a number of people after a conference one time. I was talking casually with the people there (most of whom were involved in planning and running the conference) and the issue of other companies in my industry came up. One of the other people said (roughly) “But you are here and they are not. We notice things like that.” Now I had done a little more than just show up – I was on a panel and had set up a booth with information – but the thing that made the biggest impression was that I was there and talking to people. That struck me at the time (and more so as time when on) as important.

I was at an event that Microsoft helped sponsor in Denver last month. Everyone was happy for the money but the really impressive thing to people was that we showed up in person and helped out. I went to a school play last week at the school where Mrs. T teaches. The kids and their parents were most pleased and impressed with the teachers who took the time to show up. It made a difference!

Many organizations I have been involved with have said that they value donations of money and material. Christian organizations always say they value prayer (and they do.) But they all make a point to say that they value people’s time – that they show up. I’m on a number of advisory boards and time and again I hear from them how glad they are that I show up for meetings.

While it might be cool to have influential names on a roster of an advisory board the real value is provided when people show up to help make decisions and recommendations.

So when thinking about showing up or not for something think hard. Think very hard. You just may want to show up after all.

Coding For Fun – The Book

Tuesday, December 9th, 2008

This just out in time for Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah etc gifts for the programming geeks you know and love – Coding4Fun: 10 .NET Programming Projects for Wiimote, YouTube, World of Warcraft, and More. Yeah it is all .NET but what do you expect from a bunch of Microsoft people? Some of them are friends of mine.

Oh and check out the Coding 4 Fun holiday gift guide while you are at it. A couple of things there I need. The USB MSN Missile Launcher with built in web cam for example. And maybe the USB Endoscope camera as well.

Civics Quiz

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008

I found this interesting civics quiz on the Internet today. So far this month the average score is 75% but over a longer time it is apparently much lower. Perhaps more people who think they know stuff are self selecting to take it.

I missed one question (out of 33) and am somewhat embarrassed about that. I blame the question in part. 🙂 But in all honesty I am somewhat of a history/politics/social studies geek. I read a lot about this stuff. So I can see a lot of people missing some of the questions.

For example the main item in the Lincoln/Douglas debates. But not being able to name the three branches of government? Yeah I don’t get that one.

Take a look and let me know what you think. You don’t have to report your scores.