Sunday, October 18, 2009

Coming soon to a blog near you!

Those of you following my blog will have noticed a dearth of posts recently. Well ... I've decided to refocus this blog and start a couple of others too; a photo blog, a business and technology blog, and this one. Over the next few days some of the posts here will move to the new sites, and this blog will concentrate more on my thoughts, opinions, and approach to actively creating who I want to be. (Read more ...)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Cardinal Damages Digits

Today I'm a guest blogger at Birdchick Blog. Stop by Sharon's excellent site to read my article about banding Northern Cardinals. (Read more ...)

Monday, February 23, 2009

Red-shouldered Hawk Eats Turtle

This may seem obvious, but when I go birding I like to see birds. Going places where the birds are really helps to achieve this goal. It is even better when the birds are somewhat used to having people around. Botanical gardens and parks are great places to bird (used here as a active verb). One of my recent discoveries is Aquarena Springs in San Marcos Texas. It is now known Aquarena Center, an educational facility managed by Texas State University.

I have gotten a number of wonderful images of songbirds, wading birds, and dragonflies here. On my most recent visits I was able to photograph a family of Red-shouldered Hawks.

Today, I heard the hawks calling as I parked, but it sounded like they were some distance away.

Entering the grounds, I walked past the glassbottom boat dock and the area where they used to perform an underwater mermaid show. Looking across the grass I saw a Red-shouldered Hawk eating a kill.

As I took some pictures, a young couple walked down the paved path, and the hawk took flight.

The hungry hawk carried its prey along as it flew over the water, passing within 25 feet of where I was standing.

I walked over where it had been eating. There wasn't any fur or feathers on the ground. This was unusual for a hawk kill, as they remove as much of the feathers and fur as they can. When I got home and checked the images on my computer, I saw that it was a turtle.

Not standard fare for a Red-shouldered Hawk, but plentiful at the springs and evidently easy prey. As long as you can get them open. (Read more ...)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Innovation and The Three Stages of a Business

In the classic view all companies go through three stages. Each stage is determined by who runs the enterprise: the entrepreneur, the accountants, and finally the lawyers. It is my contention that organizations are at their most nimble and innovative during their entrepreneurial stage, a dynamic and exciting time for everyone involved.

The bell curve shows the rise and fall of almost any non-traditional measure of a corporation. It does not generally represent the profitability or stock price, which rarely reflect the values we treasure as individuals and entrepreneurs.

Many entrepreneurs, and seasoned firms, fail to recognize or acknowledge this life-cycle to the detriment of their businesses. Making yourself appear to be a bigger operation can be good, as long as you don't also adopt the negative practices of a larger enterprise. This is doubly important in difficult economic times.

Examine the successful firms and look at what happens to them when the original visionary leaves, or the company grows into a market dominating force. Does anyone remember Netscape, AOL, or Lotus? What is their market presence today? Is Microsoft as nimble and innovative as it used to be?

Compare those companies to Google. It is the market dominant search platform. Its name is even a verb. And they are huge. From the outside looking in it appears to be nimble and innovative. Remember that perception is reality so how do they do it? If you are looking for a b-school dissertation topic this would be a good one. Here are a few things that I have observed:
  • They are always looking for ways to improve
  • When they goof they don't hide it but do learn from it
  • New product offerings and solutions are released regularly
  • Ideas and prototypes are made available publicly, and feedback is nurtured
  • They acquire innovative tech and ideas, both building and buying
These are great cultural philosophies from one of the biggest and best. And, all of them can be integrated into your business.
(Read more ...)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Great Backyard Bird Count

This weekend, Friday through Sunday, was the Great Backyard Bird Count. I counted at my condo that looks out over Shoal Creek in Austin on Friday, and two places in San Antonio on Sunday. We are in the middle of a multi-year drought here and the birds numbers and species counts are down.

Hermit Thrush, 2/2007, by Eric Brierley

Friday, 2/13/2009, Austin, TX

Turkey Vulture - 2
Killdeer - 1
Rock Pigeon - 6
White-winged Dove - 2
Blue Jay - 2
Carolina Chickadee - 2
Carolina Wren - 1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet - 1
Yellow-rumped Warbler - 1
Northern Cardinal - 2
Great-tailed Grackle - 3

Sunday, 2/15/2009, San Antonio, TX

White-winged Dove - 2
Carolina Wren - 1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet - 1
Northern Mockingbird - 1
Yellow-rumped Warbler - 1
Northern Cardinal - 2
Great-tailed Grackle - 5
House Finch - 1
House Sparrow - 4

Sunday, 2/15/2009, Comanche Lookout Park, San Antonio, TX

Black Vulture - 2
Turkey Vulture - 9
Red-shouldered Hawk - 1
Rock Pigeon - 5
White-eyed Vireo - 1
Blue Jay - 3
Carolina Chickadee - 2
Black-crested Titmouse - 1
Carolina Wren - 2
Ruby-crowned Kinglet - 1
Hermit Thrush - 1
Northern Mockingbird - 1
Northern Cardinal - 3
Great-tailed Grackle - 2
(Read more ...)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Measuring is Better Than Not Measuring

Simply stated, Gilb's Law says:
"Anything you need to quantify can be measured in some way that is superior to not measuring it at all."

This applies to building a house, learning to improve estimates, improving performance, and even monitoring the visitor and page statistics of your blog.

The old saw says "measure twice, cut once". I've found this to be an elemental truth. Imagine framing a house and cutting lumber to length based on what looks good, not measuring. Apply this same concept to your blog. It would be like making a decision about what to write and not knowing if similar articles get a good response or are visitor bounces.

This should not be the only factor you consider. Is your blog about business and building a market presence, or about your personal interests? Each has its place and you should feel free to write about your passions.

Collecting statistics about the visitors to your blog is easy. Choose one of the statistics sites listed, and follow the simple instructions to add the tracking tag to your blog. All of these have free offerings, a few have premium paid services, some are only hit counters or just statistics, and some offer both. As a matter of principle, you should know that I use Google Analytics. It took about 10 minutes to create an account and update my template.

Future posts will look at site statistics, what they tell you, and how to use them.
(Read more ...)

Friday, February 13, 2009

The First Law of Computer Programming

Recently I overheard someone complaining about their computer software. Oh wait, that was me. Why do we have so much poorly designed and implemented software?

At its most fundamental a computer, or the computer software, is nothing more than a very obedient machine. It always does exactly what it was told to do. The First Law of Computer Programming states:
A computer is only as smart as its programmer.
What many don't realize it that the First Corollary of the First Law is:
There are a lot of stupid computers.
Think about it. The basic "intelligence" of a computer is based on the skill and knowledge of the programmer. It is my contention that many programmers just don't know any better. Combine that with schedule and market pressures and it a formula for failure.

Let me give you an example. Several years ago I was coaching a team of programmers at a client site. One of the developers had been there for about 6 months. He was having problems with a troublesome piece of conditional logic. I suggested that he build a "truth table" to list out all of the permutations and expected results. "What's that?" he asked. This intelligent and articulate guy had an IT degree from a local university. He disclosed that in his entire time at college he had only had to write a total of 3 programs. Just three! None of them were in programming languages with wide commercial use.

Just what did they learn? Syntax, basic logic structures, history of computers, UML, and ... well you get the idea. Students could make a killer flowchart and entity relationship diagram, but could not decompose a problem into logical steps, or layout a usable and intuitive interface.

Years ago I was interviewing a candidate for a developer position. On his resume he listed "Familiar with the use of meaningful indentation" as one of his skills. He looked confused when I asked him about this so I requested that he tell me what that phrase meant to him. He replied, "I know how to hit the TAB key." Um, "Next!"

So what to do? I encourage all software developers to do three things:
  1. Watch people use your programs. It is amazing what you will learn about yourself and your code.
  2. Spend time working the help desk supporting code that you wrote. It will forever change how you write code.
  3. Sharpen your skills. You can never know it all and there will always be someone who knows more than you. Be humble. Learn from them. Read.
Enough said. At least for now.
(Read more ...)