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Not Only Up Before The Sun, But Up, Up And AWAY Up Before The Sun

Hey son, it’s after 3:00 AM. Wake up.

Yeah, I’m awake. 

Let’s get going. We don’t want to be late.

I heard him start to gather his gear in the darkened tent. Most people picture the wilderness as a place to get away. Solitude. Communing with nature. They don’t think of it as a place where it’s impossible to get a good night’s sleep because of the 24 hour party. 

Welcome to the Timpooneke trail to Mt Timpanogos. We had selected what seemed to be a somewhat out of the way campsite. We were off the main trail about 200 yards. Unfortunately, the thin mountain air, and the surrounding granite walls meant that sound travelled incredibly well. Other campers, some as far as a quarter mile away, were less interested in a good night’s sleep and an early start. 

I woke up at 3:05 without the need of an alarm. Of course, I had also woken up at 12:30, 1:45 and 2:15 thanks to our raucous neighbors. 

I work in a call center. Our agents start their first shift at 5:30 AM. As I struggled into my clothes in the dark of the tent, I thought about the fact that some agents got up at this time every morning. It made me grateful for my job. I can pretty much show up whenever I choose to in the morning. I work in Salt Lake City and live 40 miles south in Pleasant Grove. It’s 90% freeway driving, but 50% of that Freeway is being renovated. I choose to start the 45 minute drive to work around 5:45 most days. It beats the traffic. 

Our hike had similar logistics. Mt Timpanogos is the most climbed peak in Utah. Those members of our group who had done the hike before warned us to expect a lot of people.

Pretty much the trail stays busy all night long. 

Our hike was the night of the epic moon. It was huge in the sky. 

   

As soon as we hit the trail the moon was masked by the trees and canyon walls. Each of us was walking in a tiny glow of our own headlamp. 

  
At times we could look up and see the headlamps of previous hikers marking the trail like a string of Christmas lights in the darkness. 
  
  
After my misadventures of the previous day (How I Got Lost For The First Time) my son opted to hike with me. I’m a slow hiker. My knees are about 20 years older than I am. Even in the best of times they pop and creak. We’d hiked four miles the previous day. Today was 16 miles; seven to get to the top and 9 to get back to the parking lot. Our group leader was worried about me. He wasn’t the only one.

Rodney, how you holding up? 

You go ahead. I’ll make it. But, if I don’t, pick me up on the way down.

Ibuprofen was my friend; breakfast of champions. Eventually, our group got spread out on the trail. My son and I were hiking with another dad and his son. None of us were setting any speed records. My son, I’m sure could have.

When he was 12, we went on a scout hike that involved about 8,000 feet of vertical rise and fall. My son, is short, and his pack was big. The scoutmaster and I hiked at the back with my son right in front of us. It was hours on the trail. My knees protested and we limped along, the scoutmaster refusing to leave us. Eventually, we dragged into the springs were we were having dinner. The scoutmaster pulled me aside.

Rodney, I have to say, I’m impressed with your boy.

Why’s that?

I’ve done this hike every year. There’s always that scout who is slow. But, normally about half way to the springs they want to give up. Your son kept going and never once asked us to carry his gear. 

Yeah, he’s kind of like that. He spent this last summer building trails in the LaSal mountains of southern Utah. When we went to pick him up his crew chief commented that he was one of the hardest workers on the crew. . .and the fastest up the trail.

He certainly didn’t have to slow his pace to hike with me. I have to admit, I was glad he did. The milies crawled by. As we climbed we eventually caught sight of the cities in the valley below. 

  
The trail became more agressive and our rests became more frequent. The other boy in our group was really laboring. His father was trying the find various ways to encourage him and keep him going. The clock was not our friend. The three AM start time was designed to get us to the peak just before sunrise. We had been well off the pace from the beginning. Finally, the other dad made a decision.

You guys go on ahead. We’re not going to make the summit, but we don’t want to slow you down.

If the kid was hiking slower than me, he was really doing poorly. The ibeprofen had kicked in and my knees were not complaining at the moment. My son and I pushed on. Or rather, I pushed, he pulled me. Not physcially, but he set a pace just fast enough to pull me along. 

Other than the lights snaking up the mountain, it was impossible to see anything. I thought how much harder it is to pursue a goal you can’t see. It was 7 miles from our camp to the peak. How far is seven miles? 36,960 feet. But, in the darkness, it was endless. One foot in front of the other. Stumble over a rock. Recover. Next step. One foot at a time. 

And then, off to our left we noticed a change. It was subtle at first, just a hint of slightly fewer stars. But, eventually, we recognized that dawn was approaching. I still had no idea how far we were from the summit. And I had no idea if my knees, which had started aching again, were up to the miles of trail and hundreds of vertical feet we still had to go. 

Yesterday: How I Got Lost In the Wasatch On My Way to the Summit

Tomorrow: The Make Or Break Point

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

Follow him on
Twitter (@rodneymbliss
Facebook (www.facebook.com/rbliss
LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss)
or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2015 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

How I Got Lost In The Wasatch Mountains On My Way To The Summit

No. I’m not lost. The trail is right there behind me. 

Okay, so how come there is no trail in front of you? 

I’m not lost. I just have to get to the meadow above Scout Falls.

There’s no trail.

That wide spot in the bush looks like it leads to the top.

That’s a wide spot because bushes can’t grow on rock walls.

I can make it up that wall.

It’s a cliff.

It’s a SMALL cliff.

If you fall and injure yourself, no one will EVER find you here.

Shut up, Conscience!

Last weekend I did two things I had never done before. The first was I attempted to climb Mt Timpanogos. It’s the most dominate mountain in the Utah county portion of the Wasatch range. It’s 11, 752 feet tall. Our 14 and 15 year old scouts do this hike every year. I didn’t have time to go. I’ve got a ton of stuff that I should have done. 

My 15 year old son decided he wanted to go. 

My schedule suddenly cleared up. It actually didn’t, but I went through one of those, “Twenty years from now, what do I want to remember about this weekend?” exercises. Do I want to remember that I spent it studying and working, or do I want to remember that I climbed 2 miles into the sky with my son. 

It was an easy choice. 

I’m a scout leader for our younger scouts (12 and 13 year olds.) When you are the leader, you have to be responsible. You have to plan. You have to keep track of boys. You have to bring extra gear “just in case.” 

When you are not the leader, but instead are just going as a dad, you are just responsible for yourself. In fact, since I wasn’t sure I was going until the last minute, I even took my own food. This was a backpacking trip. We were planning to hike in about 2 miles on Friday, camp Friday night and get up early Saturday morning to try for the summit at sunrise. 

The trip started well enough. I have a very comfortable backback and while my water was a little heavy, overall, my pack was pretty comfortable. It was about 40 lbs. Sixteen pounds of that was water. This is Utah, and it’s a desert, and it’s August. The other leaders were taking water purifiers. But, I wasn’t taking chances. I packed 8 liters of water, about 2 gallons. 

  
As we started from the parking lot, the boys ran on ahead. The adults took a more leisurely pace. I enjoyed my lack of responsibility. I had even forgone my normal practice of taking a map. I wouldn’t need it. I was hiking with a group and they were experienced with the area. 

  
We hiked for the first mile and a half in the wrong direction. 

Is that a road down there?

Yeah, I don’t remember hiking next to a road last year. 

Hang on. Was there a sign on that bridge back there?

The boys in their enthusiasm had picked the wrong trail and we simply followed them. As we turned around (after one leader ran ahead to chase down the boys) I remarked, “Next time, I’m bringing my own map.” 

We retraced our steps all the way to the parking lot before we found the right trail. Funny thing, the right trail had a sign pointing us toward the summit. 

  
Again, the young men set the pace. This time led by the leader who’d done the hike previously. I, as always was part of the last group. I’m a slow hiker. I know it. I don’t even try to keep up with the youth. I could tell I was also holding back the other two adults I was with. Finally, they left me with a “just follow the trail, we’re camping in the meadow above Scout Falls,” and picked up their pace. 

Okay, simple enough. I’ve hiked many canyons in Utah. There are very few turns. (Canyons make that difficult.) I trudged on, my creaky knees already warning me about the pain to come. 

I didn’t expect the fork in the trail. I also didn’t see a rock cairn. A cairn is a pile of rocks that serves as a road maker for those following behind you. I kind of wished I’d brought a map. I looked at the two paths and both looked equally likely. A verse from Robert Frost sprang to mind.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

. . .

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads divereged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by, 
And that has made all the difference.
– The Road Not Taken- 

I turned left. I later learned my group had turned right.

Earlier I mentioned I did two things I’d never done before. The first was to attempt to climb Timp. The second? I got lost. Right there with Robert Frost whispering in my ear, I became lost. I didn’t know I was lost for a long time. If I had know, I might have turned back sooner. Okay, I never actually turned back. But, I might have if I’d know.

My trail looked just as appealing 

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

As I walked I could hear water. Ah ha! Scout Falls. I was headed in the right direction. My wrong path didn’t immediately look bad. The first indication that I might be on the wrong path was the rock slide. It was very stable, very rocky and very tall. About 300 feet at a fairly steep angle. Would you assume it was the wrong way? We were climbing a mountain! This seemed perfectly normal. 

The scramble up the rock slide was also the first time I seriously thought about what a pecarious position I was in. I was off the main trail, I was alone, and serveral times I nearly lost my balance and toppled over backward. Remember that 40 lbs backpack? Yeah, it kept throwing off my balance. 

After a sweat-soaked scramble up the rocks, I was rewarded by the falls themselves. And best of all, there was a clearly defined trail. Unfortunately, it went left and right. The falls were not the end point. 

Now what? Left or right? Robert Frost was really not helping. I gazed left as far as possible and then looked right. The trail to the left seems slightly more worn. (Had I gone right, I would have hit the main trail in 100 ft.) So, off I went to the left. And it was at this point I started having conversations with my conscience. The trail curve toward the rock wall. The angle got steeper. I secured my walking stick to my pack so I could have both hands free to climb. The tail got narrower and narrower, and then I hit the wall.

  
Literally, there was a wall. It appeared to be the last obstacle keeping me from the top of the falls. Remember, the boys and we were camping in the meadow above the falls. I only had another 15 feet, and once I got clear from the underbrush, I’d be there, although by an unconventional route. 

A tree grew along the top of the wall, It’s trunk twisted over time by the harsh Alpine winters. Taking my maple walking stick I wedged it between two sections of the trunk. keeping a firm grip on it, I clawed for toeholds, my heavy leather boots slipping on the granite wall. A toehold here, a knee brace there, my free hand clutching at tree limbs, all the while my backpack and its protruding tent and sleeping pad pulling me backwards, I finally scrambled over the top. I literally fell against the branches blocking my path to force them to give way. 

But, I made it. I was above the falls. Now to get out of this thicket and find the meadow. 

I made it out of the thicket. I found the meadow. But, there were no boys. There were no camping spots. There was no trail. There was a 70 ft granite wall that stretched from one side of the canyon to the other, a distance of about a mile or more.  

  
For the first time, I seriously considered that I might not be getting out of here tonight. The sun was headed for the horizon. Night comes quickly to the canyons. I figured I had about two hours of daylight left. 

  

I wasn’t scared. I was annoyed. I admit I was lost. And I kicked myself for not bringing my own map. But, I had a full stocked backpack. I had food for two days. I had eight liters of water, plenty for two days. I had a lighter and a good knife. There was plenty of dry wood if I needed a fire. I was carrying the tent that my son and I were plannig to use. 

But, I was still lost. I finally decided that I was willing to ask for help. 

HELLO!!

My voice echoed off the wall on the far side of the canyon. But, other than my own voice, and my annoying conscience, there was no answering call. I made my way across the meadow to the base of the granite cliff. There was no chance I was scaling this cliff. It now became obvious that the trail was to the right, not the left.I found a thin game trail along the base of the cliff. I turned right and continued on. 

Was I lost? Mostly. I knew that if I walked far enough to the right, which was North, I would either cross the trail or I would reach the granite wall that I could see a mile ahead running perpendicular to the wall I was hugging. 

I decided I was going to stay at the base of the cliff as long as possible. It would keep me from walking in circles, and it was also a highly visible location, no vegitation to block the search and rescue planes. (Yes, I was seriously thinking what I would say to the S&R teams when they were called out to find me.)

The trail eventually turned away from the cliff and headed down into a swamp. I stood and stared for a long time at that swamp. I wanted no part of it. A couple hundred feet below me a bull moose stared out at me from under a group of trees. I could tell he was saying, “You’re lost, buddy.” 

There was really no other choice but to try to make my way through the mass of broken branches, devil’s club, thistles and five foot high grasses that are the parodoxical high-mountain-desert-swamp. The cliff was still to my left and I could see I was less than a quarter mile from the connecting cliff. If I didn’t stumble across the trail soon, it would mean that I was REALLY lost and the trail was actually on the other side of the cliff facing me. 

The swamp was as bad as I had feared. I stumpled over logs, and pushed through branches. Thorns scratched at my legs through my thin hiking pants. (I was really happy I don’t wear shorts.) 

DAD!

The voice of my son caught me off guard. Glancing up at the cliff to my left, I saw him standing and waving his arms.

DAD, ARE YOU ON THE TRAIL?

Not exactly.

I found out that the other leader had left a note scratched in the dirt at the fork in the trail. Either someone walked over it, or I simply didn’t see it. Amazingly, I was only about 15 minutes behind the rest of the group arriving at the second meadow above the falls.. They didn’t even realize I had been missing. 

An inauspicious begining. My knees hurt. My back hurt. And we hadn’t even started the challenging part of the hike. 

Tomorrow: Waking up at 3:00 AM for a climb in the dark. 

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

Follow him on
Twitter (@rodneymbliss
Facebook (www.facebook.com/rbliss
LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss)
or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2015 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

Baseball Players Who Can’t Play Baseball

He was the greatest Designated Hitter in the history of the game of baseball. Everyone agreed. So, why wasn’t he in the Hall of Fame? Because, the voters decided he couldn’t play well enough to be in Cooperstown. 

A major league baseball team has 25 players during the regular season. In September, during the last month of the season, the rosters are expanded to 45 as teams call up players from their AAA teams to see who will get an invite to spring training. But, for the majority of the year, there are 25 players. 

And while they all play baseball, they don’t all play it the same way. Most teams will divide up their team this way. 

  • 5 starting pitchers
  • 5-6 relief pitchers
  • 1 Closer
  • 2 catchers
  • 4 starting infielders
  • 2-3 backup infielders
  • 3 starting outfielders
  • 2 backup outfielders
  • 1 Designated Hitter (American League only) 

You’ve probably played baseball, or at least softball. True, the pitcher had to have some specialized skill. The rest of the positions on your softball team may have been interchangable. Maybe you put the big slow guy at 1st base. You put the worst player in right field, because softball doesn’t really have left-handed batters who pull. But, you probably just put people in a position without thinking about it much.

On a professional baseball team, there is very little overlap between roles. Take the relief pitchers, for example. The five or six pitchers are going to have very specialized roles. You’ll typically have a mix of left and right handed throwers. You need a long reliever, who can eat up a lot of innings if your starter gets in trouble. You have a setup man. The guy who comes in the eighth inning to get three outs and turn it over to the closer. The closer is expected to pitch the 9th inning. 

If you’ve ever seen a game where the closer blew the save and let the game get tied in the ninth, the manager doesn’t leave him in there long. Why? How is it that a starting pitcher can go 120 pitches, but a closer will get pulled after 30? 

Because while the roles look similar to you and me, they are very different. 

A project team has very specific roles. And just as a baseball team can’t mix and match their players, you shouldn’t do that on your project team. Here are some of the roles needed on a project team.

  • Engineers
  • Testers
  • Writers
  • Product Managers
  • Trainers
  • And of course, the Project Manager

Every project is squeezed for resources. It might be tempting to skimp a little on the roles. We must have the engineers, but can’t an engineer also test code? Shouldn’t the guy who wrote it be able to teach it? Can we combine writer/trainer? Product and Project managers sound sort of the same. Can’t we combine them? 

The answer to all of these questions is no. Well, I guess you could, but it would hamstring your project. When engineers test their own code, they tend to miss things because “it’s obvious.” Writers are introverts. Trainers are extroverts. Asking one to be the other is a fruitless. And Product Managers are concerned with selling your project to the customers or stakeholders. The Project Manager is the guy who owns the schedule. He’s the one that has to make hard choices when it’s time to cut features. He’s also the one that gets to tell management that the project is going to be late. That’s not a job the Product Manager wants. 

The point is that as a project manager you need to identify the resources you need on your team, and then build to that design. Sometimes you are forced to build a team out of the resources you are given, rather than the ones you choose. Okay, that’s most times. But, you can still identify the roles you need. 

The player I mentioned at the beginning? Edgar Martinez. 

  
(Photo credit: Seattle Mariners) 

In a 14 year career, all with the Seattle Mariners, he compiled a .312 batting average with an impressive 514 doubles. He is on the Hall of Fame ballot, but hasn’t earned near the 75% of ballots needed to get into the Hall. Edgar had a big strike against him. He spent most of his career as a designated hitter. He rarely played the field in his later years. HoF voters seem to feel that he needed to be more balanced. Never mind the fact that American League pitchers don’t bat at all, and they get elected to the Hall. 

The point is that roles are important; in basebal and in business. 

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

Follow him on
Twitter (@rodneymbliss
Facebook (www.facebook.com/rbliss
LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss)
or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2015 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

Misdirection vs Deception. . .It’s Important To Know The Difference

There are two ways to throw a curveball for a strike. First, you can start the pitch outside the strikezone and let it break through the strikezone after the batter has given up on it. Any ball that passes over a portion of home plate that is also between the batters shoulders and knees, is a strike. Home plate is 17″ wide. A curveball can break 15″ from when it leaves the pitcher’s hand to when it reaches the catcher’s mitt. A changeup that is clearly WELL out of the strike zone, suddenly cuts in and catches a corner of the plate. The batter often simply stands there with the bat on his shoulder looking slightly foolish. 

To look truly foolish, the batter needs to face the second type of curveball for a strike. That’s when the pitcher throws the curveball for what looks like a strike and then at the last minute it breaks sharply away and the batter swings hard enough to screw himself into the ground. However, if the ball doesn’t break; if the pitcher got the mechanics slightly wrong, you are left with what’s called a hanging curveball. The batter is going to hit that ball a long, long way. 

A friend and I were discussing baseball movies. I told him that I hate when a baseball movie gets the baseball part wrong. I’m not a jerk about it. I’m willing to overlook Dennis Quaid using a radar sign designed for cars to test his fastball. I’ll even forgive Field of Dreams for turning Joe Jackson into a right handed hitter and including the catcher as a member of the Black Sox. 

But, when a movie gets it too wrong, it spoils it for me. Many years ago Disney did a movie called “Rookie Of The Year.” A kid breaks his arm and can now throw 120 mph fastballs. Okay, that’s a fun premise, but they go on to destroy it. Why? Because the ONLY pitch he can throw is a 120 mph fastball. No changeup, which looks like a fastball, but is much slower. No breaking pitches. Certainly not a curveball. 

Why is that so bad? Becuase in a baseball game, the pitcher (and the catcher) are playing a game of “guess what I’m thinking” with the opposing batter and manager. If a batter knows the pitch he’s going to get, he’s going to hit it most times. The reason a fastball works is that a changeup looks like the same pitch. So, the batter will spend the entire at bat trying to figure out what the catcher is going to call and the pitcher going to pitch. 

Like the curveball, deceptively breaking in for a strike after looking like it’s way outside, fastballs and changups rely on deception. It’s probably more accurate to describe misdirection. The batter thinks fastball and swings way to early. He’s thinking changeup and swings too late. He’s thinking way outside and the pitch breaks. 

I’m sure plenty of you are now saying, “Enough with the baseball pitches! What’s this got to do with business?” 

In business, deception is bad. Misdirection less so. In fact, like a well thrown curveball, misdirection can be a used to your advantage without compromising your integrity. I can hear you now, 

You’re just justifying lying to your customers!

And at first glance it looks like that. But, let’s face it; no one is totally honest. Or, I should say BRUTALLY honest. All software has bugs. Everyone knows that. But, software companies don’t lead with that piece of information. You don’t see a Microsoft advertisment saying,

Download Windows 10 for free! (BTW, it has bugs in it that we haven’t fixed yet.) 

We were launching a new Line of Businesses. It required a very specialized backup solution. We’d never used one before. My engineers weren’t even sure it would work. It cost over $20,000. We needed two of them to record everything. I decided we would buy one and install it for the launch and then if everything went smoothly we’d get the second one. 

There was just one problem. My client wanted us to have both when we launched. What he doesn’t know won’t hurt him right? Contractually, we didn’t have to have two. But, the client wanted it. 

I was stuck. I didn’t want to order equipment that was going to have to be scrapped if it didn’t work. I also didn’t want to delay my launch. We needed the second system in case there was a problem with the first. If everything went smooth, we’d be fine.

It didn’t go smooth. 

Our fancy backup system broke. That shoudln’t have been a problem. . .if we had actually had two systems. My client wasn’t pleased.

So, when were you going to tell me that you only had one backup? 

When it became necessary. It just became necessary.

Did I lie? I certainly didn’t tell all I knew. The client understandably felt betrayed. I was trying for misdirection. 

Here’s the reason why. The client wouldn’t have let us launch with a single backup. But, contractually we didn’t have to. We didn’t even have to tell the client. Had the launch gone smoothly no one would have known. 

When a batter swings and misses at a curveball, he looks foolish. And even though he has no real reason to, he feels foolish. That’s what happened with our client. They felt foolish. I wasn’t feeling good either. I felt foolish. However, eventually the client realized that we could still launch within 24 hours. The launch was slightly delayed, but we quickly recovered. It took longer to rebuild my relationship with the client.

It is wrong to lie to your customers. That’s true. But, that doesn’t mean you have to announce your next pitch.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

Follow him on
Twitter (@rodneymbliss
Facebook (www.facebook.com/rbliss
LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss)
or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2015 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

How The Curveball Won Three NBA Championships

He certainly had the body of an athlete. He was 6’6″ 205 lbs and in great shape. The problem was he wasn’t a particularly skilled baseball player. And he was old. Thirty one in a league where the average age was nearly 10 years younger. In the AA league he was in, the leaders might have a batting average in the mid to high .300 range, he was barely batting .200. In fact, he was batting slightly below his weight and dangerously close to the Mendoza line (players batting below .200.) 
His biggest problem was the curveball. He couldn’t hit it. Ironically, he was the most popular player on the Birmingham Barons, the White Sox AA affiliate. It wasn’t an exaggeration to say he was the most popular player in the entire league. 
But, he just couldn’t catch up to the deceptive curveball. 
The meme writers will tell you

“If you head can conceive it, and your heart can believe it, you can achieve it.”

Internet memes are not a great source of career advice. They certainly didn’t help that poor guy struggling through the AA Southern League. They are probably not a great source for you or me, either. 
I once had a job that I liked, but I wasn’t particular great at it. In fact, I was downright poor. It was a program manager job at Microsoft. I had kind of fallen into the PM role without any real training. I was working hard. I was working my tail off, but it wasn’t bringing the results I wanted. 
I wasn’t experienced enough to even be able to build a plan for success. I kept showing up everyday, spinning my wheels and going home frustrated. Looking back, I can think of a lot of things I would have done differently. I’m actually qualified to be a PM. But, if I weren’t, my plan would have been to go find a different job. I wasn’t very good at that one. At the time, I wasn’t that mature. I ended up having the decision made for me. It was much worse to be asked to leave than it would have been to make the call on my own. 
I once had a system administrator who worked for me who wasn’t great at his job. We needed him to install software, and backup our server. He could do the first, he never managed to accomplish the second. I tried working with him. I tried giving him access to resources that would help him backup the server. I tried everything I could think of. He was always working on it, and he was working hard, but it was simply beyond his abilities. It was his curveball. We had to let him go. 
Not everyone is cut out to be a professional baseball player. Not everyone makes a great PM. Not everyone can be a system administrator. The nirvana of employement is to find a job that you enjoy and that you are good at. But, don’t assume that every person can do every job. We each have strengths and weaknesses. Take advantage of those with your teams. If you have a valuable team member, but they are in the wrong role, change them, or let them go.
That’s eventually what happened with the inept baseball player. It became obvious to everyone, including him, that he was never going to be able to play baseball at the highest levels. He hung up his cleats and went back to his day job. He was pretty good at that job. In fact, he was better than pretty good. He was the best in the world at what he did. He may have been the best of all time. 

The failed baseball player who couldn’t hit above his weight was Michael Jordan. He went back to the Chicago Bulls where he let his team to three additional championships, brining his total to six. Despite being a world class athlete. Despite having won multiple championships. Despite having the heart and mind of a fierce competitor, Jordan simply wasn’t good enough to play baseball. There are guys you’ve never heard of where better than he was. 

If you find you can’t hit the curveball you may want to look for another line of work. 

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

Follow him on
Twitter (@rodneymbliss
Facebook (www.facebook.com/rbliss
LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss)
or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2015 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

It Can’t Do That…But It Does

It is between 9.00 and 9.25 inches in circumference.

It is between 2.86 and 2.94 inches in diameter.

It weighs between 5.00 and 5.25 ounces.

It has 108 stiches. 

  
It’s those red stiches that give baseball one of it’s most amazing characteristics. The curveball. For years, basebal players and fans alike assumed that the curveball was an optical illusion. Because, it’s impossible for a ball to do what the curveball appears to do; change direction in mid-air. 

When a pitcher throws a curveball, he grips it with two fingers on the top of the ball and his thumb below. As he releases the ball, he “flicks” his wrist, spinning the ball. If he throws it right, the ball will fly relatively straight and then at the last moment, “break” sharply down and to the left for a right handed pitcher. Down and to the right for a southpaw. 

The modern baseball was invented in 1872. That’s when they started making them look like they do today with the raised stitching and the “figure eight” leather pattern. The cover was designed by a kid named Ellis Drake. He never patented the design. Prior to that, the ball had a sort of square cover. 

But, who cares, right? I mean what’s the design of a baseball have to do with computers, or curveballs for that matter? 

Unintended consequences: Around the time baseball was agreeing on the design of the ball, pitchers first figured out the curveball. It was either Candy Cummings or Fred Goldsmith. The thing is, it would be over a hundred years later before anyone figured out why a curveball curved, and it had to do with the stitches. 

You’ve probably got one of these devices in your car. 

  
We all know them as USB auto-adapters. Have you ever wondered why they are shaped the way they are? It’s an odd design if you think about it. 

No, Rodney. See, they are designed this way so they will fit into the power receptacle in the cars. 

Yes, that’s true. But, why are the power receptacles shaped that way? It’s because of these things. 

  
This is a cigerette lighter. Chances are your car has a place for the cigerette lighter, but has no ashtray. Back when smoking was cool and people didn’t understand you were literally killing yourself, people liked to smoke in cars. Automobiles had ashtrays and these cigerette lighters. You pushed this in and after a couple of minutes, the coil inside heated up enough to catch tobacco and paper on fire. 

When computers came along, especially laptop computers, someone had the brilliant idea of using the cigerette lighter to provide 12 volt DC power. (Okay, the use predates computers specifically, but go with me here.) The power from these adaptors is actually not particularly great. It can vary from as low as 5-6 volts during starting to as high as 14-15 volts. Computers don’t like this type of dirty power. Most adapters will attempt to “level” the power somewhat. But, it’s still a less than optimal solution. 

But, the cars already had the adapters. I drive a near classic (1996) car. It still has an ashtray and right next to it the cigerette lighter. And virtually every car on the road will have an adapter outlet. The guy who invented the cigerette lighter didn’t know he was inventing a power standard for electronics. 

And the guy who invented the design of a baseball didn’t know he was creating the perfect scenario for a curveball. It’s the stitching that makes it work. Those stitches grab the air as the ball rotates like tiny sails. The ball “pushes” the air in front of the stiches. That makes the air around the ball travel at different speeds. The ball wants to equalize those speeds and if thrown correctly, it does that just as the ball is crossing the plate. A curveball can break as much as 14″ from the pitcher to the catcher. 

If a baseball were perfect round, a curveball would be impossible. So would a slider. And a knuckleball would have a lot less movement. 

Sometimes we think we are building one thing and build something else entirely. And when it comes to baseball, and car adapters, that’s a very good thing. 

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

Follow him on
Twitter (@rodneymbliss
Facebook (www.facebook.com/rbliss
LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss)
or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2015 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

Timing Is Everything…In Baseball And In Life

Imagine a sport that builds in a break 2/3 of the way through the event for the audience to stand up and stretch.

Imagine a sport where two of the most exciting scenarios are first that no one hits the ball, but even better, no one gets on base. In fact, the sport refers to that last scenario as PERFECT.

I don’t mind playing baseball, but I can’t stand watching it.

I get it. I realize that as an unabashed baseball fan, there are some people who would rather get a root canal with no Novocain than sit through nine innings of the greatest game ever invented. I used to be one of them. But, then a funny thing happened. I actually attended some professional games. I read up on the scoring. Not the number of runs recorded at the end of the game. But, baseball has an entire system of scoring every play.

Ever wonder why a strikeout is called a “K”? It’s because when scoring a baseball game, the letter S was already used. Originally it was (and is) used to record a single. (When a batter gets a hit that puts in at first base. It denotes a Save; the situation where a pitcher is the finishing pitcher in a game won by his team, where is is not also the winning pitcher, he pitches at least 1/3 of an inning and comes into a game with a lead of no more than three runs and pitches for at least one inning, or he enters teh game regardless of the score with the potential tying run either on base, at bat, or on desk, or he pitches for at least three inning.

Baseball scoring is just one of the many archaic rituals that endear the game to fans and make non-fans go “See? THAT’S why I hate it.”

As I developed first an appreciation and later a love for the sport, I also realized it is the pace that sets it apart from many other sports. There’s an ebb and a flow to a baseball game that doesn’t exist in any other sport. First off, there’s the fact that in baseball, unlike football, or hockey, or basketball, or just about any other sport, the defense controls the ball.

Then, there’s the fact that baseball is the only game where there is no clock. Literally, two teams could play forever if they stayed tied. The longest major league baseball game was in 1984 between the Chicago White Sox and the Milwaukee Brewers. It went 25 innings and lasted over eight hours. There was once a minor league game that went 32 innings. The Pawtucket Red Sox and the Rochester Red Wings battled over two days with Pawtucket taking the win in the end.

These are the exceptions. Most professional baseball games go about three hours. But, more than that, the tempo of a baseball game over those three hours is beautiful. In a 9 inning game, each batter will come to bat at least 3 times. The starting pitcher will throw about 100 pitches.

Like a three act play, each third of a game has it’s own purpose. The first time through the batting order, the advantage typically is with the pitcher. He’s fresh and probably throwing his best pitches. Also, if he’s new, the batters have no idea what to expect from him. It’s 60’6″ from home plate to the pitchers mound. A 90 MPH fastball is going to take a fraction of a second to travel that distance. During that fraction, the batter has to decide to swing or not, and then get his hands and arms moving. He often guesses.

During the middle part of the game, the second act, if you will, the advantage is about even. The batters have seen the pitcher and probably seen him throw all his pitches (fastball, change-up, slider, curve, etc.) And they’ve started to get a read on his timing.

During the final third of the game, the advantage can be with the batters, the pitcher is going to be getting tired. Of course, that’s why you bring in relief pitchers. But, the idea is the same. There’s a rhythm to the game that the players and the fans get into.

I’m a project manager. Projects also have rhythms. It’s not as cut and dried as a three act play, but neither is baseball despite my oversimplification above. But, a project has a beginning a middle and an end. Understanding the schedule helps to keep the project on track and the stakeholders engaged. Last week we had a project meeting. The meeting took about 15 minutes. We are past the beginning phases where assignments were made. We are not yet to the phase where engineering work gets done. It’s a bit of dead time as we wait for equipment to arrive. We wait for circuits to be installed.

Just as people can get frustrated if they don’t understand the pace of a baseball game, if you have stakeholders who don’t understand the pace of a project, they may be pestering you for updates when there are none to be had.

It doesn’t mean the project is behind. It doesn’t mean that nothing is happening. It’s just happening at a pace that they may not understand. Last year the big projects were building out new call centers. The call centers kind of took an 80/20 approach for much of the schedule. It seemed like we did 80% of the work in the last 20% of the schedule. As the project hit it’s final phase, we had deadlines occuring one right after another. The schedule was tight enough that a delay of a few hours by one contractor had a cascading effect on three or four other contractors who were lined up behind him. Eighteen hour days were not uncommon.

It’s easy to look at that kind of a schedule and ask, “Why? Why not put some of those projects into the slower “middle” portion of the schedule?” The answer is slightly complicated, but essentially boils down to timing. The timing is such that everything is going to happen right at the end. Like a baseball game, the middle section can get a little slow. That’s why they put the 7th inning stretch in that part.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

Follow him on
Twitter (@rodneymbliss
Facebook (www.facebook.com/rbliss
LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss)
or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2015 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

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