I Am Doing

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Today, a disabled man asked the lifeguard at the pool, “How are you doing?”


The lifeguard couldn’t understand or fully hear the disabled man who had to repeat the question multiple times.


Then, the lifeguard responded, “I am doing well. How are you doing?”


The disabled man with a blank to sad look on his face says, “I am doing.”


His response of just “doing” (not well, good, or fine) was like just going on day-to-day amidst very challenging life circumstances of illness and disability–just in a state of being, but certainly not feeling like he was thriving in his current life. 


It reminded me of my own parents, survivors of the Holocaust. 


After the horror and loss of the Holocaust everything, including coming to this country without a dime or a job was just a cakewalk in comparison. 


For 25-years, my dad would never even go to the doctor. 


He would say, “G-d is my doctor!”


Only later in life, when all his friends were sick or failing, and my mom was so sick with Parkinson’s would my dad respond to people’s questions of how he was, by saying simply, “Surviving!”


And then often adding, “We are part of the survivors’ club.”


When we’re young, healthy, and vibrant, the world seems too small compared to what we think we can do and accomplish.


That’s good–it gives us the thrusters in life to go as far as we can with accomplishments and progress. 


As we age though, the realities of life and health come into vision and we realize that we can’t lift cars with one hand (anymore) or fly lightening speed with just our cape around the globe–we’re mortal. 


This doesn’t mean that we can’t do great things for ourselves and the world at any age and with any (dis)ability, just that it many not be as simple or as easy any longer–we have to fight harder and be part of the survivor’s club. 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Eyes Wide Open

This is an interesting video on Plato’s Allegory of The Cave.

It is long-winded, but if you watch a little I think you will get the point.

In the video prisoners who are kept in the dark, chained, and with no real view of the outside world, have a limited perception of what exists out there.

They see shadows, but what is a shadow compared with the reality of true people, places, and things.

When one prisoner is released outside into the light and the wonders of the world, he sees and experiences the greatness, the complexity, and the beauty of it all.

The world, he sees, is much more than a shadow on a darkened wall.

Watching this video, I think how fortunate I am to be able to have an education (and I am actually in a class this week).

It is wonderful to learn and grow–and have one’s eyes opened to all there is out there.

True, not all the topics that I encounter and learn about are of great interest to me (sometimes, like everyone, I feel like I just want to get some Zzzzzs), but just being exposed to different topics and ways of thinking is a great opportunity in and of itself.

I think sometimes, how lucky I am to live in the 21st century in an age of globalization, opportunities for advanced education, and all the technology to bridge time and space and see more than many who came before us.

I imagine that compared to G-d, we are like the prisoners in the cave who only experience and see a minutia of reality, and G-d is out there over us, omniscient.

Someday, G-d releases us from our mortal bodies and we ascend to heaven to partake of his greatness and then our eyes are truly opened as well. 😉

What A Dummy!

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This guy is a real dummy–no, I am not being mean or rude.

While this guy looks very real, it is actually a statue and is called “Vendor With Walkman” by Duane Hanson.

This guy sits in a windowed room in Ft. Lauderdale Airport, and it seems that almost everyone who passes by stops and does a double-take–he is so real looking–it is amazing!

Looks are deceiving, but this takes it to a whole new level–think hard about what is real and fake; it is not always so obvious. 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Cloud $ Confusion

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It seems like never before has a technology platform brought so much confusion as the Cloud.No, I am not talking about the definition of cloud (which dogged many for quite some time), but the cost-savings or the elusiveness of them related to cloud computing.

On one hand, we have the Federal Cloud Computing Strategy, which estimated that 25% of the Federal IT Budget of $80 billion could move to the cloud and NextGov (Sept 2012) reported that the Federal CIO told a senate panel in May 2011 that with Cloud, the government would save a minimum of $5 billion annually.

Next we have bombastic estimates of cost savings from the likes of the MeriTalk Cloud Computing Exchange that estimates about $5.5 billion in savings so far annually (7% of the Federal IT budget) and that this could grow to $12 billion (or 15% of the IT budget) within 3 years, as quoted in an article in Forbes (April 2012) or as much as $16.6 billion annually as quoted in the NextGov article–more than triple the estimated savings that even OMB put out.

On the other hand, we have a raft of recent articles questioning the ability to get to these savings, federal managers and the private sector’s belief in them, and even the ability to accurately calculate and report on them.

Federal Computer Week (1 Feb 2012)–“Federal managers doubt cloud computing’s cost-savings claims” and that “most respondents were also not sold on the promises of cloud computing as a long-term money saver.”

Federal Times (8 October 2012)–“Is the cloud overhyped? predicted savings hard to verify” and a table included show projected cloud-saving goals of only about $16 million per year across 9 Federal agencies.

CIO Magazine (15 March 2012)–“Despite Predictions to the Contrary, Exchange Holds Off Gmail in D.C.” cites how with a pilot of 300 users, they found Gmail didn’t even pass the “as good or better” test.

ComputerWorld (7 September 2012)–“GM to hire 10,000 IT pros as it ‘insources’ work” so majority of work is done by GM employees and enables the business.

Aside from the cost-savings and mission satisfaction with cloud services, there is still the issue of security, where according to the article in Forbes from this year, still “A majority of IT managers, 85%, say they are worried about the security implications of moving to their operations to the cloud,” with most applications being moved being things like collaboration and conferencing tools, email, and administrative applications–this is not primarily the high value mission-driven systems of the organization.

Evidently, there continues to be a huge disconnect being the hype and the reality of cloud computing.

One thing is for sure–it’s time to stop making up cost-saving numbers to score points inside one’s agency or outside.

One way to promote more accurate reporting is to require documentation substantiating the cost-savings by showing the before and after costs, and oh yeah including the migration costs too and all the planning that goes into it.

Another more drastic way is to take the claimed savings back to the Treasury and the taxpayer.Only with accurate reporting and transparency can we make good business decisions about what the real cost-benefits are of moving to the cloud and therefore, what actually should be moved there.While there is an intuitiveness that we will reduce costs and achieve efficiencies by using shared services, leveraging service providers with core IT expertise, and by paying for only what we use, we still need to know the accurate numbers and risks to gauge the true net benefits of cloud.It’s either know what you are actually getting or just go with what sounds good and try to pull out a cookie–how would you proceed?(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

			

G-d Doesn’t Have a Blackberry

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I saw this lovely and clever poem on Facebook posted by Yona Lunger, I assume a relative of the 11 year old girl who wrote this.

“Hashem” is the Jewish name for G-d.

And he is truly the center of our real and virtual worlds.

None of it would exist without him.

G-d keeps us all moving forward technologically–he is the greatest innovator of them all.

Thank you G-d!

(Source Poem–Chana Pessy Lunger)

Question Without Losing Faith

This is a disturbing 2-hour documentary called Zeitgeist (2007) by filmmaker Peter Joseph.

The first few minutes are a little weird so give it a chance or skip forward to the harsh crux of the movie that starts at around 8:45.

This films makes you question your assumptions on religion, politics, and economics.

According to the New York Times, Mr. Joseph has since “moved away from” his outlandish conspiratorial allegations that 9/11 was an “inside job.”

But if even a tiny percentage of this movie has any merit, it gives us pause to reflect on what is real, perceived, and just some very good marketing perhaps.

Putting aside their wild conspiracy claims, The Zeitgeist Movement, according to The Huffington Post, advocates for a society that is moneyless and stateless, and with apparently disarmament not far behind.

Instead, their group sees the world run by a great global computer that monitors resources for preservation, sustainability and I would assume allocation, and maximizes efficiencies through “labor automation.”

It seems as if their ideology is modeled not only on “social values” but on socialism.

The most important things that I think I took away from the movie can be summarized in the following:

1) G-d is unquestionable and that’s what faith is all about.

2) Critical thinking is incredibly important–don’t just take everything, or maybe anything, for granted.

3) Power must be a means to an end and not an end itself and like American Singer-Songwriter, Jimi Hendrix said: “When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.”

>The Editable Society

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If you’re using a book reader like the Kindle or iPad and are downloading books to read, they are just like real paper books, except that the written word is now dynamic and the text can be changed out.

Wired Magazine, May 2010, has an article by Steven Levy called “Every Day They Rewrite the Book.”

“When you are connected to an e-reading device, the seller does have the capability to mess with the content on your device, whether you ask it to or not.”

Mr. Levy tells how “people were shocked to discover this last summer when Amazon, realizing that it had mistakenly sold some bootlegged copies of George Orwell’s 1984, deleted all of them from customers’ Kindles.”

Since them, Amazon “notifies customers of an update to the book they purchased; if a buyer wants the changes made, the company will replace the old file with the new one. In other words, the edition you buy remains fixed unless you agree otherwise.”

Changes on the fly—with the owner’s consent—is a positive thing when for example, publishing mistakes get corrected and new developments are updated, as Levy points out.

I guess what is amazing to me is that things that we take for granted as always being there…like a book, a song, a document, a video, a photo are not static anymore. As bits and bytes on our computers, e-readers, iPods, smartphones, and so on, they are every bit as dynamic as the first day they were created—just go in and edit it, hit save, and voila!

Documents and books can be edited and replaced. Songs, videos, and photos can be cropped, spliced, touched up and so on. There is no single timeless reality anymore, because all the material things that is being digitized or virtualized are subject to editing—or even deletion.

On the one hand, it is exciting to know that we live in a dynamic high-tech society, where nothing is “written in stone” and we can change and adapt relatively easily, by just logging on and making changes.

On the other hand, living in such a malleable electronic wonderworld means that with some pretty unsophisticated and common tools these days, pictures can be doctored, books can revised, and history can be literally rewritten. For example, just think about how anyone can go on Wikipedia and make changes to entries; if others don’t cry foul and undo the revisions, they stick.

It seems to be that with the technology to quickly and easily make changes electronically, comes the responsibility to protect what is true and historically valuable. No one person should decide what is fact or fiction, a valid change or a distortion of reality—rather it is a mandate on all of us.

I think this is where the importance of democracy and things like crowdsourcing comes into play—where as a society we together direct the changes that affect us all.

It is a frightening world where files can erased or doctored, not just because your own work can be changed, deleted, or destroyed, but because everyone’s work can be—and nothing is long-lasting or stable anymore.

I may be particularly sensitive to this being the child of Holocaust survivors, where the notion of a world where holocaust deniers can just “edit” history and pretend that the holocaust never happened is a scary world indeed.

But also a world, where malevolent people like hackers and cyber terrorists or dangerous devices like e-bombs (electromagetic pulses or EMPs) can damage systems and storage devices, means that electronic files are not secure from change or erasure.

We’ve become a society where everything is temporary—our marriages, our jobs, our stock portfolios, our homes, and so on—everything is disposable, changeable, and editable. We have truly become an editable society.

We need to balance our ability to edit with the necessity to create order and stability, and like Amazon learned, not change out files at random (without notifying and getting permission).

In IT, this is the essence of good governance, where you plan a structure that can breathe and adapt as times change, but that is also stable and secure for the organization to perform its mission.

>Reality Trumps Virtuality

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What a crazy news story (reported through South Korean news media)—and true. This South Korean couple, addicted to a video game, ends up starving their 3-month old child to death.

The video game that the couple was addicted to happened to be about raising a virtual child—of all things.

The couple—a 41 year old father and 25 year old mother were both unemployed—and fed their child only once a day, while they spent 4-6 hours a day playing games at the Internet café.

When the child died, the couple was playing video games all night long.

This is an unbelievably tragic story that defies logic, where troubled parents caught in the web of the virtual world, abrogate their responsibilities to themselves and their child in the real world.

So are these two parents just a bunch of whack jobs…an oddity that we shake our heads at disapproving or is this something more?

While the American Medical Association has so far declined to include Internet Addiction Disorder in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual, pending further study, we know that we as a society have become in a sense obsessed (although maybe not yet clinically) with everything online—getting information, communicating, networking, shopping, and gaming—and for the most part, we love it!

Some programs like Second Life even go so far as to create virtual worlds where people interact with each other through avatars. They meet, socialize, and participate in activities in a world of only composed of 3-D models—where reality is what programmers make of it—in a coding sense.

Social networks, like Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, and numerous specialized online communities—for all sorts of shared interests from books to music, dating to investing, and philanthropy to travel—are available to chose from and are widely popular destinations.

It seems truly that many people have become more comfortable living in the IP address on the World Wide Web than at their street address within their true day-to-day realities. Their chosen avatars, pseudo-names, and online profiles often far more exciting then the persons, occupations, and lifestyle they physically inhabit. The virtual world has become an escape for many, and a place many are all too happy to engross themselves in 2, 4, 6 or more hours a day.

What happens to the occupants of our real world, when we choose to retreat to virtual worlds?

Well at the extreme is the fate of the 3-month old baby who died of neglect and hunger. More common are spouses and children, and others—family, friends and associates—who are increasingly physically and emotionally distant.

Our connection to people in real life—around us—are traded in for long-distance, abstract, and virtual relationships with people we often hardly know on the Internet.

We routinely trade emails, instant messages, tweets, and blog comments, with people who we hardly know—often do not even know people’s real names and cannot pronounce their presumed cities of residence.

While the Internet is in many ways miraculous in its ability to bring us together—across time and space, in other ways it can potentially substitute the surreal for the real, the meaningless for the meaningful, and empty chatter with people we barely know and never really will for true giving with people we absolutely care about.

At the extreme, we cannot let real children die because we are hiding in cyberspace feeding our virtual addiction. In more common terms, we must not trade our most important real world relationships and activities for those that are phantom experiences in cyberspace.

It is great to extend our reach with the Internet, but it is not okay to do so at the expense of those that are truly at arms reach. We must find a balance between the two worlds we now live in—real and virtual!

While there is every reason to love the Internet—communication, connection, and convenience—it has also become a retreat from people’s very real world problems.

When Online, people are not hungry, not sick, not unemployed, not lonely, not judged—instead they are in a sense one with everybody else in a common pool of bite and bytes—where no one knows them or their situations. Online, they are anonymous, no ones and at the same time anyone they want to be.

The Internet is a great place to be—to escape to—sort of the like the Holodeck on the Star Trek. Choose your program—and you can be in any time and at any place—interacting with anybody. It is not real, but it feels real when you are there.

I remember when I used to watch Star Trek and be fascinated by the experiences the characters had when they went into the Holodeck’s alternate reality. At the same time (and I think this was the intention of the show), after awhile I found myself wanting the characters to get back to reality and deal with the issues that they truly had to face. Somehow watching them escape “too much” wasn’t very satisfying.

To me, real relationships, even with and maybe because of their inherent challenges and tests, is more satisfying than virtuality, because of the deeper impact of the actions and interactions. Cyberspace is a great augmented reality, but it cannot replace reality.

In the end, being online is a nice place to visit (and there are a lot of benefits to being there), but I wouldn’t want to live there all the time and miss the real fun.

>When Commitment is Just a Crowd-Pleaser

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In the organization, you can’t really do anything without management commitment and a certain degree of consensus. In fact, management commitment is usually at the top of the list when it comes to a project’s critical success factors.

But when is commitment real and when is it just lip service?

Sometimes, when the boss tells you to do something, he means it and gives you the authority and resources to make it happen. Other times, “go do” is superficial and denotes more of a “this isn’t really important”, but we need to make a good show of it for political, compliance, or other reasons. In the latter case, there is usually no real authority implied or resources committed to getting the job done. But at least we gave it our best (not!).

As an employee, you have to be smart enough to know the difference in what you’re being asked to do (and not do), so you don’t end up stepping in the muck—trying to do something that no one really wants anyway or the opposite, not delivering on a project that others are depending on.

Knowing the difference between what’s real and what isn’t can mean the difference between a successful and rewarding career (i.e. “you get it”) or one that is disappointing and frustrating (because you’re sort of clueless).

It was interesting for me to read in the Wall Street Journal, 5 February 2010, about how looks can be deceiving when it comes to support for someone or some cause: apparently, in certain European countries, such as Ukraine, it is common place for rallies to be attended not by genuine supporters, but by people paid to show up. In other countries, you may not be paid to show up, but instead be punished for not doing so.

The Journal reports that “rent-a-crowd entrepreneurs find people fast to cheer or jeer for $4 an hour…[and] if you place an order for a rally, you can have it the next day.”

So what looks like thousands of people turning out to support someone or something is really just a sham. This is similar to leaders who turn out to support a program or project, but really they are just paying lip service with no intention of actually helping the project make an inch of progress. Their superficial support is paid for by goodwill generated by their apparent support or what one of my friends used to call by “brownie points” (for brown-nosing their boss or peers)—but of course, they aren’t really behind the initiative.

The article summarizes it this way: “For now, people see the same old politicians and hear the same old ideas. If someone fresh brings a new idea, people will come out and listen for free.”

Good leaders need to actually say what they mean and mean what they say, so employees are able to focus on the work that’s really important and get the results the organization needs. This contrasts with ineffectively telling employees to “go do”, but no one is standing with or behind them—not even for 4 dollars an hour.

Of course, leaders must get on board with the direction that the overall organization is going. That is just part of being a team player and accepting that first of all, we are not always right as individuals, and second of all that we live in an imperfect world where sometimes our choices are not ideal.

However, when employees are required to rally for causes they truly don’t believe in or leadership feels compelled to pay lip service to initiatives they will not ultimately fund or commit to, the result is a dysfunctional organization. The outward reality does not match the actual feelings or thoughts of its people. (Sort of like having a diversity initiative headed by all white males over the age of 50.)

Let us commit to a spirit of honesty in all our dealings. If a conflict needs to be addressed, let’s address it directly rather than avoiding or glossing over it. One very basic and simple step toward this end is to recognize and reward the people who are brave enough to say when the emperor has no clothes and who are able to provide alternatives that make sense.

And finally—when we do commit to something—let’s see it through.

>A Healthy Dose of Skepticism

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To believe or not to believe that is the question.

Very frequently in life, we are confronted with incomplete information, yet by necessity, we must make a decision and act—one way of the other.

Sure, we can opt to wait for more information to trickle in, but delay in action can mean lost opportunity or more painful consequences.

The turmoil over the last couple of years in the financial markets is one example. Many people I talk with tell me they felt something was going to happen – that the stock market was heading off a cliff. Those who acted on what they perceived, and moved their financial assets to safety (out of the stock market), are certainly glad they did. Those who hesitated and waited for the painstaking days of 500 point drops wish they had acted sooner.

In relationships, sometimes those who fear commitment and don’t make a move to “tie the knot” may end up losing the ones they love to the arms of another. On the other hand, making serious commitments before really knowing another person can end up in painful heartache and divorce.

Similarly, with technology, we often hear about the “first-mover advantage.” Those who recognize the potential of new technology early and learn how to capitalize on it, can gain market share and profitability. Those who jump aboard only once the train in moving may end up just trying to keep up with the Joneses.

These days, not only must we make decisions based on incomplete information, but sometimes we don’t even know if the situations we face are actually real!

Daniel Henninger, writing in last Thursday’s Wall Street Journal (22 October 2009) wrote: “The ‘balloon boy’ floating over Colorado last week got me thinking of…[Air Force One] photo-op airliner flying around lower Manhattan last April at 9/11 altitude…it’s getting harder to know what’s real and unreal in a world that always seems to be slipping slightly out of focus.”

He reminds us of the “sensation” that Orson Welles caused in 1938 when he announced, on a “‘reality’ radio broadcast,” a Martian invasion. The response was widespread panic.

With all the chicanery and half-baked ideas and products and services being marketed and sold—whether to get on reality shows or for salespeople to “hit their numbers”—people have become cynical about everything and everybody. Mistrust is not longer for New Yorkers anymore.

The realization has hit us that most things we confront are not simple fact or fiction, but rather shades of gray, and so we shy away from taking a definitive stand, preferring instead perpetual limbo or “analysis paralysis.”

This cynicism is embodied in a CFO that I used to work for that was mistrustful of everyone—almost habitually, he called people inside and outside the organization, “snake oil salesman.”

In corporate America, we often call the art of shaping people’s perceptions “marketing” or “branding”. In politics, we typically call it “spin”. And a good marketer, or “spinmaster,” can overcome people’s skepticism and actually influence their perception of the truth.

As an IT leader, though, we can deal with incomplete information as well as “spinmasters” effectively. And that is by treading carefully, gathering the facts and testing reality. This is what market and competitive analysis, pilots, and prototypes are all about. Test the waters, before making a full forward commitment.

We can’t be swayed by emotion, but rather must vet and validate—do due diligence, before we either duck out of the fray or leap into action.

Leadership lesson: Act too harried, and you risk making serious mistakes. React too slowly or with too much skepticism, and you will not be leading but following, and your legacy will be truly unimpressive. Listen to what others have to say, but make your own call. That is what true leadership, in an IT context or anywhere, is all about.