Welcome, I Think March 25, 2010Posted by Chuck Musciano in Random Musings.
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In one of those “timing is everything” moments, this blog has been mentioned in the general media just as I’ve gone on hiatus for a bit. I can only imagine the reaction of those who visit, expecting something new, only to be told that I won’t be writing anything new, at least for a little while.
I appreciate your time and would offer two alternatives:
- In lieu of blogging, I’ve shifted to a different kind of conversation on Twitter, tweeting more and engaging in dialog more often. While I’ve been on Twitter for almost two years, I’m experimenting with how it might be used to reach people in smaller snippets. I’m also tinkering with ways to manage Twitter more effectively, which still seems to elude me (and lots of other people).
- Much of the content on this site is not time-sensitive. In fact, one of the reasons I paused was that I was starting to write the same things over and over. I’ve been heartened to see that traffic to the blog has continued at a sustained level as people discover older but still-relevant posts through Google and many cross-links. In just the past week or so, these topics are still attracting readers:
- The Original Social Media Guru – Dale Carnegie figured out how to reach people, way before Facebook
- Measuring Metrics -The value (or lack thereof) in measuring things
- Three Envelopes -Timeless advice on avoiding disaster
- The Happy Path – Are you testing what you need to be testing?
- Arbitrary Boundaries – the danger of pigeonholing people
and a perennial favorite
- “…I’ll never go hungry again” – Scarlett O’Hara as an indicator of generational disconnect
Until I resume writing, I hope you’ll join me on Twitter and take time to explore the archives on this blog. I trust you’ll find value here, engage in some of the conversations, and stick with me until I pick things back up. Until then, look me up on Twitter!
Shifting Gears March 3, 2010Posted by Chuck Musciano in Random Musings.
Faithful readers may have noticed that their faith has not been rewarded for the past month: there’s been nothing new to read here for quite some time. That was intentional, but it’s now time to explain myself a bit.
I started this blog more than two years ago as a way to understand the technology. After intermittent posts for eight months or so I began writing in earnest, posting articles every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for more than a year. 245 articles and 125,000 words later, it was time to take a breather.
When I started writing, I had many things I wanted to talk about. Typically, I had articles written two weeks in advance. Over time, that lead time began to shrink, so that most recently I was writing the night before my self-imposed deadlines. That resulted in rushed, poor-quality posts, which I won’t have and you don’t deserve.
I also realized that many of my topics are timeless. On more than one occasion, I would write a post only to discover that I had written essentially the same article a year ago. Rehashing the same topic serves no one.
Finally, I began to consider topics that really need more than 500 words, the typical length of an entry on this blog. I prefer “short and sweet” articles; I know that I get turned off by enormous blog postings. Nonetheless, certain topics deserve more scrutiny, and my current format does not serve these topics well.
On February 1, I just stopped posting. I had meant to write this explanatory post soon thereafter, but became intrigued by the traffic behavior on my blog. Instead, I stayed quiet to see what happens when a blog goes silent. I was surprised to see that traffic takes a long time to dwindle. I don’t completely understand why, but it has caused me to rethink the impact of posting frequency and readership patterns.
So now what? I will confess that my initial angst over stopping has been replaced by a sense of relief from not having to post. I’ve been able to consider some more in-depth ideas (many in the area of cloud technologies and shifts in personal computing) that may result in longer, more detailed posts. I’ve also been able to rebuild my supply of “short post” ideas, which I can draw on as the need arises.
It has become clear that every blogger needs an exit strategy, and that mine was ill-formed at best. While I do intend to resume blogging at some point, I need to think about a real long-term strategy that will allow the content to continue to serve as a resource for those who are interested.
The best part of blogging has been the feedback and support from many, many people. I appreciate your time when you read, and I really appreciate those who comment and extend the conversations I’ve started. I hope you’ll continue to check back to see what I’m doing, and I hope to continue to provide value to you when my blogging becomes more frequent. Until then, feel free to search for useful stuff I’ve already written, and don’t hesitate to connect through my Twitter presence. This experiment continues, and there’s still a lot to learn…
A GREAT Idea January 20, 2010Posted by Chuck Musciano in Leadership, Random Musings.
As some of you may be aware, a company has recently announced the invention of a new punctuation mark that can be used to indicate sarcasm. The so-called “sarcmark” is intended to clearly denote sarcastic comments, much as question marks and exclamation points confirm that a statement is actually a question or an exhortation.
Like me, your first reaction is probably one of extraordinary relief, with the burden of missed sarcasm forever removed from your written communication. How did we ever get along without a sarcmark before?
My second reaction is to presume that the creators of the sarcmark are simply engaging in a little viral marketing. Although the mainstream media is treating this as a real news story (surprise!), the entire concept is outlandish and impractical. That said, they are selling software that allows your PC to create and display sarcmarks, so there is a bit of entrepreneurialism in there as well.
It goes without saying that the sarcmark is doomed to fail. Not because it is a silly idea (it is) but because it is going up against too much legacy technology to ever succeed. From that perspective, the sarcmark does provide a useful lesson.
Modern punctuation was pretty much settled a few hundred years ago. There isn’t a lot of space (or demand) for innovation in this arena. Nonetheless, if we were all still writing everything by hand, you might be able to create a new punctuation mark and get some people to start using it.
Unfortunately, we produce most of our written content by machine. Those machines use standardized encodings for characters and standardized fonts for presentation. The idea that you could revise a standard like ASCII or Unicode to include a new symbol, let alone update a substantial portion of the thousands of fonts used worldwide, is ludicrous. The combined inertia of these systems overwhelms a tiny effort like the sarcmark.
As agents of change, IT leaders must carefully assess and understand the inertia that threatens every initiative we undertake. Is the inertia overwhelming? Will it crush our efforts? Is there enough value to overcome the challenge? With careful consideration, we can choose our battles wisely.
More importantly, is there a better solution that simply circumvents all that inertia? The best innovation occurs when a completely new path is developed, one that bypasses all the problems at hand. People are far more open to solutions that relieve them of the burden of difficult change and allow them to easily adopt new things.
In the realm of symbols, emoticons have succeeded in creating new symbols by easily combining existing glyphs into new patterns. No one tried to create a new symbol for “smiling;” they created the sequence “:-)” instead. By stepping around the inertia of character sets and keyboards and fonts, people developed a whole family of new “symbols” that expanded the meaning that could be inserted into a message.
As we tackle problems, we need to find more solutions that build on existing successful tools and avoid those that creation unwarranted, expensive disruption. At the very least, we stand a better chance of hearing “Nice job!” without needing a sarcmark.
Got A Marker? January 15, 2010Posted by Chuck Musciano in Random Musings.
I’ve got a small confession to make. I am addicted to whiteboards. Not whiteboard markers, mind you, although the odor can be intoxicating. I mean whiteboards.
In meetings, I can hardly stand to not draw on the board. If something is worth talking about, it certainly warrants a diagram or two. I am a big believer in “boxes and lines” diagrams. If any two entities have a relationship, you can create a boxes-and-lines diagram to help express it better. Charts, trees, lists, timelines, you name it: I’d prefer to draw it out.
I’ve noticed that some people share my compulsion and others seem to have no need to leap up and draw things. My need is so great that it was a running joke among some co-workers as to how long I could hold out before jumping to the board. How could anyone live without a whiteboard handy?
Obviously, some people are wired for visual communication and others are not. Some people can read volumes of information and internalize it without the need for pictures. My brain is not so gifted; I need to explicitly render the relationship to fully understand it. I also like to color-code elements if possible, to further elaborate on important aspects of the diagram.
This affection is so bad that when I do not have a whiteboard handy, I am almost at a loss for words. Almost. In a pinch, I’ll sketch on a sheet of paper or a napkin, but it’s not quite the same as a full whiteboard. As much as I love words, they seem incomplete without a diagram.
Don’t get the idea that I’m any sort of artist. When I say “boxes and lines,” I mean boxes and lines and not much more. I once even took a course on how to doodle, learning how to create little people and other elements of quick sketches. It helped a bit, but you won’t find any of my work hanging anywhere anytime soon.
This deep desire leads to one of my fondest dreams: a world where everything is made of whiteboard material. Imagine being able to draw on the walls and doors and tables! A quick sketch on the dashboard of your car (while safely parked, of course) would be a wonderful thing. Jotting a note or two in an elevator or on a credenza might be just the thing to get your idea across in a pinch.
Sadly, as you move up the management ladder, the whiteboards diminish. Cubicle farms and team meeting rooms seem to be covered with whiteboards; management offices tend to have fewer, smaller whiteboards, often hidden behind a wooden panel or a projection screen. People at every level need to draw; why can’t we have whiteboards everywhere?
Losing Words January 13, 2010Posted by Chuck Musciano in Random Musings, Technology.
In their 1972 hit Sylvia’s Mother, pop group Dr. Hook tells the story of a jilted lover trying to reach his ex-girlfriend, only to be stopped by her mother. As he pleads his case on the phone, the memorable hook of the song tells how the operator kept breaking in, demanding “forty cents more, for the next three minutes.”
As I listened to this song recently, it occurred to me that a younger audience might be puzzled by these unusual lyrics. What is an “operator?” Why would they be demanding money? Forty cents for three minutes? How would you pay them? Technology has marched on, leaving language (and old pop hits) behind.
The operator, of course, was a human who helped complete calls. Before cell phones, people used pay phones to make calls away from home, ponying up spare change to stay on the line. While the first three minutes might run you a dime (and later, a quarter), subsequent blocks of three minutes could cost a lot more. To stay on the line, you fed change into the phone.
To the modern ear, this sounds no different from instructions on how to tan your own leather or fashion a thatch roof. The concepts are so foreign that the words barely make sense. Yet this song describes things that were commonplace just thirty years ago!
Much of our language is derived from current technology, forming a common cultural base. As the rate of technological change increases, language cannot keep up, stranding all sorts of shared phrases. While amusing, I think it also creates an ever-wider disconnect between generations, making communication more difficult.
Even in the past ten years, many ideas have simply disappeared. Back last century, people needed to rewind things. Now, no modern device requires rewinding. We’re at the point where nothing spins to make music; how would a 50s DJ describe his world if unable to “spin stacks of wax?” People will soon wonder why we “dial” phones. I suspect that the number of US citizens that have actually operated a dial telephone is rapidly declining.
In a similar fashion, acronyms continue to shrink, encoding more information in shorter sounds. During World War II, acronyms started out as concatenated syllables from related words, pronounced as a single word. “CINCPAC” is the Commander-In-Chief of the Pacific, “CONUS” is the Continental US, and so forth.
By the 1960s, acronyms became individual letters strung together to make words (NASA, ASCII, etc). This happy state has existed for a while, and no product or process worth its salt is without a clever acronym that forms a related word.
Now we’ve started pronouncing the acronyms for shorthand abbreviations, creating new words. I’ve actually heard people say “lol” and “brb” in running conversation, without a hint of sarcasm. This is different from traditional acronyms, which typically represent nouns. Now we are collapsing and pronouncing verb phrases and even whole short sentences. This cannot be good for general communication.
What to do? Not much, I’m afraid. In between more-frequent trips to Urban Dictionary, I’ll go back to listening to Dr. Hook. They had another hit song that involved getting their picture on the cover of a magazine. As I understand it, a “magazine” is like an entire web site, printed and bound as a sequence of “pages.” The “cover” is the first page, and often had a photo on it. Imagine!