February 2014

The Fundamental Rule About How Organizations Work

Jay Oyster's picture

You know how modern organizations function? It's really simple. They spend huge amounts of time, usually wasted in meetings, and money, usually wasted on tools that nobody bothers to learn how to operate, setting up hugely complicated policies, processes, procedures, forms, methodologies, requirements, and guidelines.

And then everyone in the organization spends what little time they don't spend in meetings making sure that their people and their projects don't have to follow the rules.

Why Six Sigma? Why PMP?

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I've worked in and around various IT and technology related and technology using industries for many years. I've seen them all slowly go more and more formal in how they want to handle product creation, operations, HR,  . . . pretty much everything.  Since in many cases, the formal method works much less well than a less informal method, especially for small companies and places that want to encourage creativity, I often wonder WHY they've all decided to go this route.

I've finally come to the conclusion that for most people, they don't know why. They're just following the flow.  But the flow; where has that come from?

Business Analysis - I'm 'In It' now

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I haven't posted much lately about my secular life. That's because my job as a Business Analyst (BA) at WellStar Health Systems has been getting more and more intensive.

This prompts me to start trying to capture my thoughts about what it means to be a business analyst nowadays. This is not an old profession. It's sort of a result of the move by IT and other organizations to go formal and certifications-based on how they do 'projects'.  Various organizations have attempted to set up Project Management Offices (PMOs) and to hire Project Managers (PMs) with formal training (usually (Project Management Professional (PMP) certification from the PMI institute).)  But they've realized that there are gaps in the machine. The business analyst role was created largely to attempt to fill one of the big gaps. And as you might be getting an understanding from this intro text, much of the work of BAs seems to involve understanding an endless array of TLA's (Three Letter Acronyms.)  TLAs are the words of the priesthood. In any profession, these acronyms are the way that the high practitioners obscure and confuse everyone else about what it is that they are really doing. And BAs are supposed to step in and interpret the words of the high priests to everyone else. Well, that's part of it.

International Institute of Business AnalysisI'm going to comment on the BA profession from an 'outside the walled garden' perspective. I have not yet sought nor achieved a business analyst certification, although I've had some training in the theories, and have little doubt I can pass the test if I need to. In the BA world, the certification is mostly one of the certs offered by the IIBA (International Institute of Business Analysis), such as the CBAP (Certified Business Analyst Professional).   See what I mean about TLA's?  I am a member of the IIBA. I joined last year when my employer offered to pay the annual $150 membership fee. I've even gone to a couple of meetings. It was nice to meet other weirdo's like me.

Certification for a BA has been fairly straight-forward up until now, which is why the PMI decided to step in recently and create their *own* cert for BA's. Why keep things simple? It doesn't serve their purposes.  I'm going to try to write up my thoughts about this move by the PMI in a later blog entry. It's a big topic.

So I don't have a CBAP. I'll probably go get one in the next couple months, just because it's getting harder and harder to say you are a BA without having it. Not impossible, just harder. But, given that state, it means I'm working as professional BA but without all of the indoctrinational bullshit of the certification organization overlaid. So I want to try to capture my current perspective on what this job entails before it gets all mucked up by theory.  I have considered myself a business analyst for about three years now. In that time, I've worked for four different organizations, in a fairly broad spectrum of industries, each with a varying level of project management immaturity. And more importantly, I've gone through three separate job hunts as a BA in two different states. It's a rapidly evolving profession, and even most of the people who do it don't have a good grasp on what, exactly, it is. In the next few posts, I'm going to try to capture my thoughts on that topic.

Attached Timer to the Track

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I had to get the Arduino timer mounted on the track so Liam can run some tests for his science expo before this weekend.  Wednesday, I drilled holes in the sides of the track at 25cm from the top and 30cm from the bottom to mount the 'light beam' LEDs on the right side and the photoresistor sensors on the left side (as you look from the top of the track to the bottom.) Used hot glue to position the LEDs in the holes. Then I powered the LEDs so I could see exactly where the beam of light hit the opposite rail. That's when I drilled the holes for the sensors. Then I hot glued the sensors in place.

Since I need to get Liam to do his measurements soon, I just wired the LEDs into the breadboard to feed the Arduino inputs using jury rigged wires for now. It's not pretty, but it works. I ran his pinewood derby car down the track and took the first measurement at about midnight last night! Yay!  :-) 

I'm getting approximately 1.036 seconds for it to run with no extra weight, plus or minus about 0.006 seconds. I repeated the run about 15 times and got readings from around 1.029 to 1.042 seconds. Not too shabby.

Pinewood Derby Car #1

Do Nothing, the Lazy Version of Fiddling

Jay Oyster's picture

I recently caught this blog from Rob Port at the Say Anything blog where he defends the concept of the Do Nothing Congress. First, let me say, Rob Port is a fucking idiot. They want us to be HAPPY that they're frittering away time doing nothing while problems need to be addressed?! I guess we should be happy that last Fall the Congress almost let the price of milk balloon to over $10 a gallon because they couldn't be bothered to approve a new Agricultural bill, preventing a 1940s law from kicking in and setting the price based on a 70 year old formula.  That's really not defensible. It's just idiotic.

So we're supposed to do nothing because the right wing in this country has created such a reality-altering echo chamber of lies and self-delusion that no consensus is possible . . .so we shouldn't even try to fix our problems?  We can't all agree on anything because, well, you don't believe science, or common sense for that matter. So that's supposed to justify all of us sitting back resignedly while our crops whither and ancient legislation kicks in to screw up the economy? That's fucking brilliant.

But hey, at least it plays us a happy tune while our oceans acidify and rise up to swallow our coastal cities, and our bread basket states alternate between devastating droughts and massive flooding.

Call Out the Fiddlin'!

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Fiddlin Bill Henseley, Mountain Fiddler, Asheville, North Carolina by Ben Shahn, 1937. Public Domain. Credit: Shahn/Library of Congress. Modified by Jay Oyster.I've decided I have to start something. Everywhere I look, I see the heights of 20th century civilization slowly fading; eroding into the sea.  The fading middle class. The rise of oligopolies. The power of corporations over the laws of nation states. The fading of idealism. The gridlock of democratic governments. The fiddling. The endless fiddling while real problems are burning our civilization down to ash.

Things that Go Away

Jay Oyster's picture

Well, in the last couple of days we've seen the departure of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and of the comedian, writer, and director Harold Ramis. As a forty-something man of a certain disposition, I of course often find myself lately ruminating on the way things go away. Loss is part of life. Death and departure is just change and change is the way of the cosmos. But these two doors closing highlight that loss is relative. And when things go away, it isn't always a loss. Not always.

Harold Ramis as Russell in the film "Stripes"Harold Ramis was a wonderful writer and performer, responsible for some of my own moments of purest joy in this life. The laughter I received from him thanks to his writing on Animal House, Groundhog Day, and Caddyshack, and his performances in Stripes and Ghostbusters, is a gift for which I will forever be grateful. I just got his humor. Plus, we basically have the same hair, so I identified with him more than say Bill Murray or Dan Aykroyd. I didn't realize he was in such discomfort during the past couple of years. I'm truly sorry to hear that he suffered so. But I'm still sorry to hear that we've lost him. His loss was a loss for us.

Sochi, and the Olympics in general, is something we are well rid of. The overt commercialization. The local and systemic graft associated. The somehow unhealthy regimented nationalism that is promoted. The modern Olympics have lived way past their healthy usefulness. Originally, they were a tool for building international fellowship and clean, healthy sportsmanship. I remember the idealism of Jim McKay and the olympics of the 60s and 70s. I don't begrudge Russia their time in the spotlight. I just think we need to scale back the whole thing next time. But it is virtually guaranteed that we won't do that. I'm sure the next Olympics will be even bigger, even more obnoxious, even more authoritarian and autocratic than this time, because each time the commercial forces are more in line with the local dictators to do it that way.

So Harold Ramis left us too soon, but at least it was a natural departure, and probably a release. I'm glad he was among us for as long as he could stay and I wish him well in whatever awaits us all in the time after death. The Sochi Olympics, on the other hand, lasted about two weeks longer than they should have, overstaying their welcome from the moment they were born. It's not Sochi so much as the entire Olympic movement I lament. Sochi is gone, and good riddance. Can we now tell the Olympics themselves to go away? We'll honor them for the work they did in the 20th century, but frankly, I don't think we can afford them anymore, either financially or emotionally.

Stripes (1981) --

Recruiter: Now, are either of you homosexuals?
John Winger: [John and Russell look at each other] You mean, like, flaming, or...?
Recruiter: Well, it's a standard question we have to ask. . .
Russell Ziskey: No, we're not homosexual, but we are *willing to learn*.
John Winger: Yeah, would they send us someplace special?


Timer Prototype Finished

Jay Oyster's picture

February 19, 2014 - OK, I first posted on this project a couple of days ago. I've got a short window to get this working. Liam's science expo is on March 7th, and I need to complete the track (with attached timer) in time so Liam and I can run a set of experiments. So late last night, I managed to finish the prototype of the Arduino timer I plan to mount to the side of the test track. It's all breadboarded now, and I'll probably just use the prototype to run the timing for Liam. After we get some results on paper, I'll worry about turning this into a sturdy version permanently attached to the side of the track.

Layout of the prototypeThe hardware work was basically done last week. I just needed to figure out the update to the sketch to figure out how to trigger the timing code using the inputs from the two photo-resistor sensors.  The picture here shows the prototype board, as it's currently working. Click the image to enlarge it.

Timer with LCD and two LED/photoresistor pairs to detect start and stop times, with Sketch#30 running

Sliver Moon Setting over Roswell

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This photo was from a couple weeks back, but I still wanted to post it. This was an evening between our two rare snow storms here in Atlanta. A couple days after the first one that turned the evening commute into a driver stranding nightmare all over the city, we had a brief one day warm up. That evening, I saw this gorgeous sliver of a moon setting in the clear skies over Roswell. My iPhone camera isn't great, but I felt compelled to capture the scene.

When I see a view like this, with the ball of the moon floating in the sky . . .clearly being a ball, it makes one feel very small, but also very connected. We spend so much of our lives living in two dimensions, I love these moments when I remember I'm part of a great big universe, and there's a giant ball floating in the sky above the giant ball of dirt I'm walking around on. With the moon backlit like this, I always think that even the ancients, or the primitive humans, or even the australopithicines, HAD to have looked up at this and realized, even if it was on some instinctive level, what the physical reality was of what they were seeing. We are so lucky to have our moon. And we are so lucky to live on such a gorgeous planet.

Let's try not to fuck it up by ruining the global climate.   M'kay?

Arduino Stopwatch timer for Science expo project

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My son Liam is doing a Science expo project. It's sort of like a science fair, but in second grade they don't do judging. It's just a demonstration, and he'll get a participation ribbon. I don't really care about that, I just want him to start learning the scientific method.

He came up with a great idea. He wanted to put an ice cube in a frying pan and watch it dance around. I tried to work with him on that idea, but I realized two problems:

  1. There wasn't really a hypothesis he wanted to test. It was really just to watch something cool. I certainly don't object to that. Wanting to see something cool is at the heart of science. Plus, a demonstration of a concept is a valid topic for the expo, (not quite sure what the exact concept would be here) . . . BUT
  2. Hot frying pan in an auditorium filled with 7 year olds. Not going to happen.

Liam's first attempt at a Pinewood Derby Car. It's supposed to have a Minecraft theme. (He tends to be fairly abstract in his artwork.)I kind of steared him to do something related to our last project, which was the pinewood derby car he and I built for the Cub Scouts. 

Drawer Construction: Drawer #4 & #5

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February 14-16, 2014 -It just takes a long time to complete a project when you're a perfectionist and you're not that good. :-)

Drawer #5 dry fit in the middle of sizing it to fit the caseThis past weekend, I completed the dovetails on drawers #4 and #5 of the jewelry armoire project. I dry fit them, installed the drawer bottoms, and fit them to the case. That's the state in which I'm leaving each of the drawers for the moment. Working from the top of the case to the bottom, each set of dovetails gets to be a bigger job. Drawer #5 is the first with three tails on each corner.

Quality-wise, Drawer #4 was a disaster. One of the half blind corners was a fairly good job, initially, but then to get the final fit without blowing out the front, I ended up butchering one of the two tails. Driving the tails in when they're just a bit too tight ends up cracking the front of the drawer face, since I've only left about an eighth of an inch in front of these half-blinds; it can be a risky operation. Sanding down the ends of the tails slightly just prior to driving them into the drawer fronts has turned out to be a prudent step.

Drawer #5, on the other hand, turned out pretty good. Four solid corners without any major gaps in the joints. Practice does help.   --- Latest photos

Cabinet with four drawers fitted

Pinewood Derby Car Test Track

Completed Pinewood Derby car test track, no sensors installed yet

Based entirely around a pair of 8' 1 by 3's I had on hand. The track run is hardboard, which is set into a shallow dado on each wall and the two end caps. The end caps are just some 1/2" birch plywood scraps, screwed into the sidewalls. I strengthened the horizontal strength of the track by using more 1/2" ply scraps underneath.

The whole thing is then set on a leg made out of 2x4 BORG lumber that I jointed. I sanded the edges to get rid of the splinter problem. Liam sanded the edges of the track. :-)

The whole thing is glued and screwed together.



Friday, February 7, 2014 to Friday, February 14, 2014

Finished project?: