The general category for posts on this blog.

Changing Education Paradigms

I once received an F on a creative writing assignment because my “scary Halloween story” about kids being killed by the ghosts of fallen soldiers as they crossed an ancient battle field after dark “missed the point of the assignment and the spirit of the subject.”  Sometimes I think I would have done better in school if my school had been better for me.

These are the things I think about when I consider having a child…

The animation is cool, but this is only part of the talk.  The full thing is here.

Dealing with your designer

Design in business tends to be a collaborative effort.  Mainly this is because nine times out of ten the person with the idea doesn’t have the ability, and the people with the ability aren’t often focused enough to have the ideas.  Not to offend either set, but creativity and business sense appear to be, in most people, diametrically opposed.  That means the more of one you have the less of the other you have.

So, if you are the idea guy, you take your thoughts to someone else.  You’ve laid out the parameters and explained what you wanted.  The designer has gone off and done what you asked and is showing it to you.

The first thing to remember when entering a design process is that until you’ve actually released, you can change anything.  Even after you release you can probably still change things.  So when your designer brings you the first pass at implementing your idea, the first thing out of your mouth shouldn’t be pointing out how they totally screwed it up.  This is a first draft, this is the collaboration part where the designer is trying to understand what you want, in his medium, and you help him.  Until you learn to literally project your thoughts into someone else’s head, you have to realize that what you dreamed up and what you put on paper as specifications are not remotely identical, and the translation from your brain to paper and then from paper to the designer’s brain is going to cause variation.  That’s why the two of you need to work together.

Don’t put your designer on the defensive and lead with criticism.  Look at the work and begin by talking about what you like.  What elements appear to be going in the right direction.  And then, when you are done, begin being critical, however, remain constructive.  If you don’t like the format of something, don’t just say, “I hate that. It’s ugly.”  Try instead something like, “The words are right like I specified, but I’m not loving the font you chose. Can you show me a few others?”  If you don’t understand something, ask — the designer is likely happy to explain where he started and how he got there, and if he’s off the mark you should correct the error in his path and help him get to where you want.  Of course, that doesn’t mean you sit in the designer’s work space and tell him how to do his job.

Just keep in mind how you would react if someone came along and told you how stupid your idea was versus them telling you it’s a good idea, promising, but there are these one or two details you might want to reconsider before you get in too deep.  In other words, the Golden Rule.

Zombie Me

I’ve been a big fan of No More Kings from the moment I heard Sweep the Leg.  Even bigger once I’d seen them live and listened to the entire first album.  Then bigger still after getting my copy of their second album and listening through that.  Both albums are always on my MP3 player and I love every song.  That’s pretty rare, to love every song by a band.  Even some of the “best bands in the world” like U2 or The Rolling Stones have a few songs I can’t tolerate.  But No More Kings has joined Better Than Ezra and Seven Mary Three in the short list of “can do no wrong” for me.

They don’t have a new album out (though I’m hoping for one), I haven’t seen them live recently, nor do they appear to be coming to town anytime soon.  So why am I talking about them?

Because it’s Zombie Wednesday here at Aim for the Head, I didn’t have any other zombie news to post, and I love this song (not the video so much, it’s not done by the band, but it lets me hear the song, so it has that going for it):

All of their stuff, in my opinion, is worth a listen.  Many of his songs are just awesome as I’ve written about before.  And for just $16 you can get both albums.

Welcome to 2011

I don’t like making predictions, but for fun I’ll make a couple now as I talk about the year to come…

2011 is going to be the best year ever … for someone, and maybe that someone will be you, so get excited at the possibilities!

2011 is going to be the worst year ever … for someone, and on the bright side with the likelihood that the world’s population is going to cross 7 billion at some point in the next twelve months, the odds are totally in your favor that it won’t be you, so get excited at the probabilities!

It’s going to hurt. This year will contain pain, both physical and emotional.  From stubbing your toe yet again in the dark on the coffee table that has been in the same place for as long as you can remember yet you still seem to forget that it is there to the soul crushing defeat of realizing that you will be unable to get out of debt, for yet another year, 2011 will be filled to the brim with pains both big and small.

It’s going to feel good. Outside of all the pain, you’ll have a (fairly) happy birthday, and you’ll give some gifts to that make people happy which will make you happy which makes them happy and we will all spiral off into a happiness whirlwind.  You will sing (probably when you are alone) and you will dance (probably when you are alone) and you will laugh so hard that you will pee, just a little, in your pants (hopefully when you are alone).  2011 will be full of joy and love and family and friends, and despite all your best efforts to sabotage it, it’s going to be a good one.

Most of all, though, 2011 is going to be a year. Three hundred and sixty-five days of being.  I guarantee that at least one of those days will make you lose all hope and at least one of those days will make you feel warm and happy from the tips of your toenails to the hair on your head (or just to your scalp if you don’t happen to have hair on your head).  No matter how good it gets, it can’t last forever so don’t forget to plan for rainy days, and no matter how bad it gets, it can’t last forever either so keep an eye out for rays of light.

For myself, in the new year I really don’t have much in the way of goals.  I plan simply to keep on keeping on.  I exercise a little each day, I eat (mostly) better than I used to, and I write.  My only real plan is to just do more of the same.  Looking back at last year’s first post:

  • I went the whole year without gaining back weight, but I didn’t lose any more.  While an accomplishment of note, I do need to keep losing, so as I said more of the same.  The plan is good, I just need to step it up a notch.
  • I did get a netbook, and I did write more.  I won the NaNoWriMo (though was disappointed in the win).  I do watch less TV shows, but it hasn’t really turned into more writing.  I need to work on that last bit.
  • I didn’t finish any of my coding projects, but I made progress.  Mostly, my business efforts in the last year resulting in redoing the website, fixing the forums and theme, and putting out the first draft of our first service that I’ve given absolutely no publicity to (I didn’t even blog about it).  I was very nervous about that, hence the no publicity, but simply having it out there makes me feel better.
  • And I did clean up the yard.  In fact, we plowed up a huge chunk of it and planted new grass, which has come in quite nicely.  I’m no longer ashamed of my backyard.  Also, we cut down one tree, and my next door neighbor is having a crew take down some others between our houses.  It is inspiring enough that this year I might actually finish clearing the back yard.

As you can see, I really mean it.  For the next year I just want to stay level or do more of what I’m already doing.  No need to break new ground or start new ventures.  No need to radically change my life.  So I don’t have much in the way of resolutions this year except to make a concerted effort not to backslide.

Finally, as this first morning of the year approaches noon and moves on into late day and onward into the rest of the year, I leave you with this one piece of advice, the single best paraphrasing of the Golden Rule ever conceived:  Be excellent to each other.

Happy New Year!

Kevin Brooks: Dec. 31st 1969 – Dec. 25th 2010

There was a point in my life when something was missing.  I had no idea it wasn’t there.  But one night sitting at the bar at Rio Bravo on Holcomb Bridge, I met Kevin and knew almost immediately that I’d been missing a best friend, and he was it.  I met my future wife Jodi there too around the same time.  The Rio Bravo bar, as it seems, had a fairly significant impact on my life.  Then for nearly a decade, Kevin, Jodi and I would continue hanging out at bars, talking about movies, books, computer games, history, politics, everything… anything.  The three of us might have been referred to as inseparable.  It wasn’t quite like that, but we did do a lot of things together.

Years ago, somewhere in the middle of our friendship, I announced to Kevin over a couple of beers at North River Tavern that I had no regrets in my life.  He was perplexed by this, I think in part because he, like many people, had several, perhaps many, regrets.  As we discussed the subject I explained to him that a person, for better or worse, is a sum of their experiences.  That who you are today is a result of everything you have done and everything that has happened to you, and by that reasoning, if you were happy with where and who you are in life, you cannot regret anything.  By regretting some mistake you made in high school, you were invalidating everything that had happened to you since because that mistake had ripple effects throughout your life.  The best you could do, I told him, was to realize you wanted it to have gone differently and learn from it, so that it doesn’t happen again.  You don’t dwell on it, you don’t while away the hours thinking about what could have been.  Instead, you take control of it and use it to make your future the one that you want.  His position, if I recall correctly, was that I was full of shit, and we spent hours going back and forth trying to find something in my life I truly regretted.

Most of our talks would be like this.  While on rare occasions we would discuss things in agreement, Kevin liked to take up the opposing side just to make things interesting.  The thing about Kevin is that, at his core, he was an asshole.  He was, what a Texan might call, an ornery son of a bitch.  And I mean in that in the best possible way.  It was actually probably one of his finer qualities.  You could be discussing something with him and even if he was out of his depth and completely wrong in every possible way, he never just took your word for it, you had to prove it to him.  He made you work for it.  It was annoying… it was frustrating… but when you’d made your point, when you’d proven it, it also felt so much better than when someone just acquiesced to your side.

Another of his better qualities was that Kevin was fiercely loyal.  He’d take a bullet for you, even if you weren’t in danger of being shot.  Even when you asked him not to.  His heart always was in the right place even if his actions weren’t.  Sometimes I think he just liked the fight.

Kevin was my best friend right up until these two great qualities of his collided.  My wife, who was at the time still just my fiancée but recently upgraded from girlfriend, had become unemployed and had remained unemployed for longer than she probably should have.  Kevin took it upon himself to hate her for it because he knew I wouldn’t.  He fought with her, and she fought back, and sometimes it got so bad that I had to walk out of the room.  I asked them both to stop, and she tried, but Kevin persisted.  And in the end it was Kevin’s doggedness, his ornery nature, in this matter that drove the wedge between us.

At some point after that, at one of the few times we did get together, Kevin told me he understood what had happened, and, calling back on that conversation we’d had years ago, he said to me, “It’s hard not to have regrets when you are at the bottom, and while I have less regrets every day, I think I’m going to hold on to that one for a while.”  And all I can think right now is, “Me too.”  I regret that I allowed our friendship to fall apart without much of a fight.  And some day I might be far enough from all this to learn something from it, but right now I think I’m going to hold on to this one for a while.

One topic that came up often for discussion between us and a number of our other friends was religion.  I think Kevin loved the topic so much because of its incredible complexity, the tightness to which people hold to their beliefs, the conflicts between differing beliefs, and the fact that so little of it can be proven which leads to everyone, despite how wide spread their views, being equally as right as everyone else.  It appealed to his love of discourse.  In my life, I have varied in my level of participation and belief in religion and God.  I’ve gone to church and I have abstained from going.  I’ve believed in one God, in many gods, in ancient mythic gods, and even entertained the idea of no god at all.  But right now, I sincerely hope that there is a God and there is a Heaven, and that Kevin is there, and that from time to time he’ll get a beer with God, and with a wry smile argue to His face about how He doesn’t exist.

Tell Your Customers

We (don't) Care!
Don't let this be your motto!

Currently, I deal with two companies on a regular basis to whom which we pay a lot of money.  One of them, a co-location facility, is fantastic at communication.  Every time they have scheduled maintenance or even unplanned issues, I get an email.  In fact, I get several.  For a scheduled issue I get an announcement, a reminder, a notification of start, a progress update if the issue is long enough, more if the issue keeps going, a notification of resolution and an after action report.  For unscheduled issues it’s the same only without the lead time.  I even get these emails when the issue isn’t going to affect us, just so I know what is going on and on the off chance that is does end up affecting us.

The other, to whom we pay much more money and they handle out internet and phones, we get nothing.  Even when we have outages, getting an explanation from them is like pulling teeth.  Our internet access, which is needed for our customers to use our products, goes down for twenty minutes, or bounces up and down for several hours (down for 30 seconds, up for 3 minutes, down for 20 second, up for a minute, down for a minute, up for 5, etc..) and the best I get from them is “we’ll look into it”.

Having worked in the telecom industry, and from dealing with various companies over the years, I know that all this equipment is monitored and logged.  Someone, somewhere had to have gotten notification of the problem, so why didn’t they toss out an email that said, “Hey, we are seeing issues in XXX area and some of our customers may be affected. We are working on it!” and later a nice “We found the problem and it was resolved!”  I mean, shit, the co-location facility provides an after action report with more detail than I know what to do with…

The failure was in the 3rd card of the router in room 3E1 that caused packet loss to the network that exceeded the threshold and switched the room to its backup route at the same time room 3E2 was being fault tested which overloaded the network and crashed it.  Our customers in 3E2 were immediately switched to their primary route experiencing only a few seconds of outage but room 3E1 was offline for 63 seconds while the backup route was restarted.  The 3rd card of the router in 3E1 was replaced and the room was placed back on its primary route within one hour.  We have scheduled a replacement of parts of the backup route for tomorrow to ensure it doesn’t crash again when it is needed.  Next week we will begin a full equipment test of all routes that should take two weeks to complete to ensure this same issue doesn’t happen to the other rooms not affected at all by this issue.

All of this comes without me ever once having to call anyone.  Meanwhile, our telecom tells us:

We think there was an outage in XXX, which shouldn’t affect you but might have, and since your service is up now I’m going to close the ticket.

And this is after calling to open a ticket, waiting three hours, escalating through four levels of management and threatening to cancel our service and go with another provider.  I wish I could say that my threat was more than empty, but as I said, I used to work in telecom, and this is par for the course.  No matter who we switch to we’d get the same level of information about failures out of them.

Seriously guys… if there was a line out, or an equipment failure, or someone crossed a line or rebooted something they shouldn’t have, just admit it.  Tell me exactly what it is so that I understand that you actually know what happened, because your current level of non-communication only leads me to believe that you have no idea what happened.

This applies to just about every business in the world.  Admit fault, explain failure and detail resolution.  Even if it all goes over your customer’s head, you have at least demonstrated that you know what you are doing.  Hand waving and secrecy just makes your customers have less faith in your abilities.  If your team is competent, you should want to show it off.


I don’t usually talk politics and such on here, but I feel I need to put a few things out there…

First off, lets go ahead and get the bit about people who trade liberty for security deserving neither.  I believe that.  If we have to live in fear, like slaves, to a huge machine of rules and regulations then the terrorists have won.

Second, to all the people who are supporting the TSA and their new scanners and pat downs with the defense of “We need to prevent another 9/11” … you are disgracing the memory of those who died.  Want to prevent another 9/11?  One, make the cockpit door stronger to the point where it cannot be battered down, and any explosive strong enough to open the door will also damage the plane enough that getting inside the cockpit is useless.  Two, a new policy where the pilots enter the plane first, close and lock the door, and they don’t open it unless one of the cockpit crew is in medical distress.  In future plane designs/redesigns, give them their own bathroom and a place to store a meal so that they don’t need to leave nor does anyone need to come in.  Done.  If terrorists cannot get into a functional cockpit, they cannot use the plane as a weapon and you have prevented another 9/11.  No amount of confiscation of nail clippers and water bottles and junk touching pat downs will prevent another 9/11.  Did you know that a properly folded copy of the Sky Mall magazine can be used as a weapon?

It’s all security theater, and if it makes you feel safer then you don’t understand what is going on.  Mostly though, as with many things, this is about money.  By mandating that every airport needs to have these new scanners they guarantee sales of the scanners.  The enhanced pat down exists mainly to make using the scanner feel like the better option, and they released these new regulations during the holiday season because they knew people would put up less of a fight if fighting meant missing a flight home for turkey and pumpkin pie.  And if you want to avoid all this drama and just skip flying… you are much much more likely to be killed in a car accident than you are to be killed by terrorists on a plane even without the new enhanced security.

I guess what I’m saying is… take the train.  I also hear that trans-Atlantic cruises are nice.


One of the things in life I’ve come to be fairly attached to is correctness.  When I’m wrong, I love it when people inform me that I’m wrong, as long as I am actually wrong and they can tell me why I am wrong.  I mean, just yelling “You’re wrong!” over and over without explanation doesn’t help anyone.  But when I post my thoughts here, if I’ve made an error, if I’ve got bad data, I want to know.  I tend to do the same with other people.  Most times when I post a comment on another blog it’s either to say “I agree!” or to point out somewhere that I feel they’ve made an error.  Sometimes, even when I point things out that I think are wrong, it can turn out that I’m wrong.

Tami Baribeau works in the gaming industry, specifically the social gaming arena.  I read her blog because I want more insight to that world and she provides it (she’s not the only one I read, to get all my info from one source would be wrongheaded).  She posted a list of 10 reasons why Facebook Game wall posts are not spam.  Reading her list, I felt that three of her points were in error, based on my experience, and posted a reply.  It turns out that two of my points were addressed with changes in Facebook policy I was unaware of and so were not errors.  In one case, however, I was correct and Tami acknowledged that.  This is the sort of stuff I love.

Of course, on the Internet, this sort of discourse is rare.  Well, rare-ish.  I see it quite often, but only because I stop reading blogs where the authors just want to spew and don’t care about being correct.  But it means I do filter a lot of blogs out.  The main reason, I think, for this is many people still believe that the Internet is separate from “Real Life”.  Even when they are in a forum where their real identities are well known, they act as if their online persona is different from themselves.  It leads to a lot of waving off errors under the belief that “this doesn’t really matter… it’s only the Internet, it’s not Real Life.”  And most often it is that they don’t care about the details.  If you still agree with their main thrust argument, why should the facts and figures matter?

If a politician were to give a speech and state “We need to bring our troops home from Iraq!” he would probably get a lot of support.  It’s an idea that many people can get behind.  If he were to follow that up with “We need to bring them home because thousands of our boys are dying every day!  And thousands of woman and children are being cut down in the crossfire every day!” … well, both of those things are completely not correct.  Yes, soldiers have died and are dying, and yes, civilians have been injured and killed because of the war there, but those numbers are just way way off.  Thousands are not dying per day.  For me, that politician would lose my support (unless his opponent was a raving loon who was insisting that we needed to leave Iraq now… so we could nuke it into oblivion).  If I really wanted to support that politician, I’d write a letter, or even stand up right then and try to get a correction.  Because worse than someone making an offhand error is someone fully believing that the error is true and correct.  I’d want to know where that politician stood.  Was it an honest mistake? or is it more than that?

Or maybe, just maybe, I’m wrong.  If I am, I want to know.  And I suppose that that is the main thrust of this post… owning mistakes.  If I make one and it is pointed out to me, the very first thing I want to do is acknowledge that, and then either explain why this new information doesn’t change the point I am making or adjust my position based on the new data.  But the acknowledgement is important to me.  And it irks me when people don’t do that, when people just wave it off and don’t admit to having been mistaken.


I had never played paintball.  So, when a deal popped up on Living Social a while back, a few friends and I (who had also not played paintball before) bought in.  It took a long while, but we finally went.

In a word… meh.

I suppose I can see the draw that some people have to it.  Being able to shoot other people isn’t something you get to do very often.  But overall, it was fairly lackluster.  First off, there were four of us and we mixed in with a larger group, and they put two of us on one team and two on the other.  Frankly, I’d have had more fun with my friends being on my team since I had no desire to shoot my friends.  Next, they lead a team to each end of a field which was dotted with forms of cover.  They counted to three and said “Go!”  People ran to cover and then started shooting.

The first round we played, my team won.  I didn’t shoot anybody.  In fact, I spent most of the time trading shots with another guy who eventually got shot by a teammate of mine.  We had spent nearly the whole time swinging out, shooting and then ducking behind cover.  Then, suddenly, we just sorta won.

The second round we played, my team lost.  I got shot… kinda.  I mean, my gun got shot.  I didn’t even see it happen, but a ref told me I had been hit and there was paint on my gun.  Umm… okay.  I watched from the sidelines as a repeat of the previous game happened.  People hiding, swinging out to shoot occasionally, and when one team was down enough players one dude ran out from the side and shot the last two players on the losing team.

The third round, I can’t tell you who won, because I don’t know.  The full seven minutes ran out and they called it off.  Not that it mattered.  I got shot in the first fifteen seconds.  By my own team.  I ran forward to a position (we were on a different field this time, larger, more cover, a spot of trees in the center, and more people too), I was crouched over, and then felt the painful sting of being shot, right in the gap between my shirt and my pants, right on the skin.  If I were so tattooed, I’d have been shot on the tramp stamp.  The girl who shot me (and I know it was a girl because the only people behind me were three girls who refused to leave the original, completely out of range, bunker) was no more than ten feet away.  That freakin’ hurt!  Team kills count, so I was out and I walked off the field and walked off the pain.

Round four, same larger field, other side.  We found good cover and began shooting our foes.  Minutes went by of a pitched battle, and I think I shot someone… I don’t know, because with like thirty people on each side and so many paintballs flying around it gets hard to tell if it was me or some other shooter.  All was going well, and then someone on the other team, who was sitting out of traditional range, switched to mortar fire.  He couldn’t hit us firing straight, so he started arcing his shots.  I’m going to pause here and tell you one of the rules of the field: if someone is hiding behind a low barrier, you are not allowed to come over the top and shoot them from above.  This rule exists for two reasons, 1) shooting down on someone’s head can really hurt them, and 2) them shooting upward at your chin (and by virtue of the equipment, the gap between your face and mask enabling them to possibly hit your mouth and nose) can really get you hurt.  So back to the mortar moron… if he’s arcing, that means that the paintballs are coming from above, you know, as if he was shooting down on us.

Boom! Headshot!
Right on the top of my head.

Yeah.  Some people suck.  That really hurt.

Anyway, despite how much I’ve written here, the day was basically a check mark.  Play paintball?  Check.  No reason to ever do it again.