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The Essentially Worthless Project Leader

I spent last week in Lexington Kentucky. Much of the time I was bored. I frequently wondered if I was really essential to my project.

Everyone had a task to do. Darcy was responsible for helping the agents move from one system to the other. Jeram was responsible for making sure the computers were properly set up. Reggie was responsible for making sure that all of the reports got done. There really wasn’t a task for Rodney. And yet, I was the most important person there… Or so they said.

I’ve been working on this project for over a year. It has consumed vacation time, family time, personal time and just about anything else that it could intrude upon. So why was there nothing for me to do now that we were moving the agents to the new system?

Planning.

Preparation.

Those were my responsibility. And had I done them poorly we would have had crises show up during the migration. The fact that there were only minor if any crises meant that we had properly prepared. Our planning has been sufficient. And that’s the irony. By doing my job well over the past 12 months I worked myself out of a job during the actual migration itself.

I was essential to the project. I was also fortunately worthless during the migration. It’s one of the first times I can ever remember being essential and worthless at the same time.

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

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or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2017 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

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Travels With Cousin Shirley (The Photos)

Yesterday, I talked about traipsing around Laurel County, Kentucky with Shirley, my fourth cousin. . .once removed. Here are some of the pictures.

Laurel County is located in South East Kentucky. My family arrived in the area in the early 1800’s.

This is the Campground Cemetery. The graves of William Blair and Jane Blair are in the foreground.

William was born in 1800 in Virginia and passed away 70 years later in Laurel County

His wife Jane, passed away in 1866

Cousin Shirley has lived here her whole life. The fifth generation of our family to live in these hills

The Campground Methodist Church has stood in this spot for more than 150 years

Great-great-great-great-grandfather Reverend James preached here. In fact, our family members were some of the charter Me members

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

Follow him on
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or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2017 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

Travels With Cousin Shirley

I didn’t know her, this older woman whom I’d arranged to meet in a deserted parking lot in South Eastern Kentucky. She pulled her black Toyota Forerunner to a stop behind my white Ford Mustang. She expressed not the least nervousness as she greeted each other.

Climb in. I’ll drive. You don’t know where we’re headed.

Her name was Shirley. I knew that from the emails we’d sent back and forth. We headed off into the rolling hills of Eastern Kentucky. There was very little we had in common that wasn’t more than 150 years old. We were cousins. Both descended from people who had lived in these hills and hollows since the early part of the 19th century. My people had left to travel West in the mid 1800’s. Her people stayed. The person we had in common was William Blair. He was born in 1800 and had moved his family to Kentucky from Virginia. William had a son named James. His son was another William. William’s son Tandy was my great grandfather. Our family were charter members of several churches in the London, Kentucky area.

One is closed and is for sale for $100,000. Others are still active. We drove from to a hill top cemetery. The highest point in Laurel County or so says Cousin Shirley. She’s my grandmother’s age. Or, the age my grandmother would be if she were still alive. Granny made this trip to Laurel county before she died. Cousin Shirley spoke fondly of their conversations and explorations of Blair family history.

We compared notes. These were my mother’s people. And her mother’s before her. It was my great-grandfather’s family. His father’s father was also cousin Shirley’s ancestor. We realized we are 4th cousins. . .once removed. It’s actually pretty easy to find the “cousin” relationship with a relative. In this case, our common ancestor was William Blair, my great-great-great-grandfather. He is Cousin Shirley’s great-great-grandfather. Once you find the common ancestor, just walk down the relationship line to find your cousins. If you have the same common ancestor, you are siblings. If your ancestor was two generations back (your grandparent), you are cousins, or more accurately 1st cousins. If the common ancestor is back three generations, you are 2nd cousins. And so on. Once you find your “cousin-ness” then the “removed” is for situations where one person is closer to the common progenitor than the other. My mother and Cousin Shirley are 4th cousins. Since I’m one generation removed from my mother, we are 4th cousins once removed.

It was a wonderful day in the hills of my ancestors. I learned that an ancestor Christopher Cooper was a Revolutionary War soldier. I learned that when the Civil War ripped the country apart, my people, our people fought for the Union. It doesn’t change who I am here in the 21st Century, of course, but it was nice to know that we were on the right side of history.

Too soon the day was over and it was time for me to head back to my hotel in Louisville. I took pictures back with me, but more importantly, I took stories. Stories that I can tell my children and grandchildren. So, if someone asks, “Where are we from?” One of the answers will proudly be “We’re from Laurel County, Kentucky.”

Just a bunch of hillbillies, really.

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

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or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2017 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

The Fallacy Of Metrics

What gets measured, improves

It’s the mantra of every Six Sigma acolyte. Every PMP project manager. Everyone who’s ever read a performance improvement book of any kind. If you want to get better numbers, measure it. And it’s true. Of course, it’s true. (I have a PMP certification, after all.) But, it’s not always true.

I drove to Louisville, Kentucky to London, Kentucky on Sunday. It was a wonderful day. The drive was pleasant. I was driving a beautiful 2018 Ford Mustang. The weather was too cool to put the top down, but that didn’t change the enjoyment of driving through the Kentucky countryside.

The 2018 Mustang has lots of bells and whistles. It has some pretty sophisticated tools for calculating miles per gallon. It also has some settings that let you pretty much trade gas for thrills. The more you use those settings the worse the gas milage gets. On the trip from the airport to the hotel, I was averaging about 24 MPG. Not bad for a big V8 muscle car. I have to admit that over the ensuing week, I used the throttle more than the brake. My gas milage dropped to 14 MPG.

It was fun.

As I started on the 2 hour drive to London, I decided to switch gears. . .literally. I opted for gas milage over speed. I drove conservatively, and the onboard computer calculating the miles per gallon rewarded me with ever increasing milage numbers. The longer I drove the higher the numbers climbed.

It was a game to help pass the miles. Eighteen, nineteen, twenty. The miles stretched away. The time between each increase gradulally became longer and longer. The nature of averages means that I would never get it back to that mythical 24 MPG. And all of that recklessness meant ever more miles to even get to 20 MPG.

I thought about numbers. They are funny things, numbers. My company bases a lot of its compensation on numbers. Suppose that I decided to measure MPG as a metric for how well I was driving. After all, the better you drive, the higher the MPG, right? So, if it was a contest and the winner is whoever has the best MPG rating, what kind of behavior would that reinforce? You might think I’d be tempted to drive like an old woman on her way back and forth to church. Gradual acceleration. Gradual stops.

But, I’m in a car that screams to be let loose. So, I drove it like I stole it for four days and now I have to start worrying about the miles per gallon. What do I do? As the day of reckoning gets closer, I decide that I’m ready to start working on my MPG rating. How do I get the number higher? I drive more.

And that’s the crazy part. MPG measures how conservatively you drive. Higher gas milage means saving money on fuel. And the way to boost that the rating that measures fuel economy is to use more fuel. If I simply measured one metric, I’m going to encourage the very behavior I’m trying to avoid. Namely using more fuel.

Sometimes trying too hard to force a particular behavior can fail if you measure the wrong thing.

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

Follow him on
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or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2017 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

Mad, Bad and Dangerous To Know

That’s how Lady Caroline Lamb described Lord Byron.

I have met some men in my time who were mad. Not the angry kind, althought many of those, but the crazy type. I have family that could be considered mad. And they would find the label apt and laugh at it.

I’ve known a few bad men. Not as many as think they were bad, but a few. Some were bad as in dangerous. Some were bad as in mean. Some were just untrustworthy.

Yesterday, I met a man dangerous to know. I don’t know if he’s mad. I kind of hope he is. It would make the stories he told more palatible somehow. He was certainly a bad man, at least in his youth. And not, gang related bad. More like “overthrowing countries” bad.

It was a fascinating and terrifying conversation. He is an old man now. He let drop comments in casual conversation that seemed. . .telling. He’s the first person I’ve ever met who used the word “the company” to refer to the CIA. And it was not a brag, it was part of a description. Slipped into a conversation as casually, as he might say, “The postman,” or “The baker.” He knows guns. Able to talk at length and in detail about the various aspects of sniper rifles, ballistics and aiming systems.

His hearing is going, “Too many years firing weapons systems,” so mostly he talked and I listened. He spoke knowingly about revolutions in Asia, in South America. “The ones we put in were no better than the ones we took out, but they were ours.” He spoke of being a “frogman.” That was the WWII group that became the Navy Seals.

Was he boasting? Maybe a little. Despite being on supplemental oxygen, his voice was firm, but not loud. He also seemed always just about to say something else. But, rarely did. But, I don’t think it was a boast. He seemed wracked with guilt. “I’m not proud of much of what I did.” He seemed surprised to be an old man. “When I turned 35, I had achieved the life expectancy for someone in my position. When I turned 70, well, I had doubled it.”

He also seemed anxious to share, to teach, to warn. “When I was working with people, I said, ‘listen up,’ I’m only this old because I am good at figuring out how to stay alive. I literally wrote the book on dirty tricks.” I believed him.

I’m sure you are reading this waiting for the payoff. Waiting for some bit of juicy detail or anecdote that would validate his statements. I don’t have any. Honestly, after a half hour, I didn’t want to know any names, dates or people. And after an hour, I wondered if he was armed, sitting in his rocker with his oxygen tubes sticking in his nose. And after 90 minutes, I didn’t really want to ask any more questions.

He dropped a few consiracy theory phrases that made me a little suspiecious. He’s a ballistics expert and claims the information about the assassination of Kennedy in the Warren Report is false, because it’s impossible. Oswald was killed to keep him from talking. He said that JFK was the only Kennedy that he respected. He named names of those whose actions led to the decision to kill Kennedy. Jokingly, I asked, “But, we went to the moon, right?” I think I disappointed him. He paused a moment and said rather quitely, “Yes, we went to the moon.” And then, he said the most insightful comment I’ve ever heard about conspiracy theories. He almost chuckeled as he said, “Just remember, conspiracy theories are created by professionals. . .on purpose.”

Where do old spies go to retire? I never really considered it. I won’t tell you where I was, or give any informaiton about who he was. He didn’t tell me that I had to keep it quiet, but it seems like a wise idea. I’m sorry I can’t tell you who he was or where we met. Probably nothing would happen. Probably no one would care. Probably.

As I said, he’s an old man now. I would estimate he is 85 or so. Based on his story, I think he was born in the 1930s. As we said our goodbyes I reached out to shake his hand. His grip was a vice, like granite. “Come back anytime. You’re always welcome.”

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

Follow him on
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or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2017 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

Old Man Rodney’s Travel Advice

Travel as much as possible

I read as a young man starting out in business. I realized yesterday, as if I needed any reminder, that I am no longer a young man. I’m still in Lexington, Kentucky. My big 18 month, high-profile project roles on. For this trip we added an additional desktop engineer to our travelling team. We decided that we needed the extra help in Lexington. Calvin has done an awesome jobo.

Last night we went to dinner at Mark’s Feed Store. Calvin, James, our report specialist, and me. We were technically peers, but it was clear that I was the senior person present. I’ve worked with Calvin and James for years. In fact, they started in our operations team. They have worked their way up from agents to mission control analysts and now they are in roles with slightly more responsibility. However, if I were asked, they were men that I would choose for my team.

Men. . .yes, technically, but it was obvious that when I was their age, they were not. As in “not yet born.” Normally, I don’t feel old. “Age is just a number.” “You’re as young as you feel.” All that stuff. Nope. Not feeling it. Definitely feeling my years.

The conversation ranged all over. One of the most mild comment was

Mother Teresa is kind of like Hitler.

As, they delivered the free slices of buttermilk pie (free to first time diners if you ask) the conversation turned to travel. I’ve been travelling for business since my WordPerfect Days back in the early 1990’s. This was Calvin’s first trip and James had started travelling when he got added to the project team. And while they were both doing a great job, They were not making some of the stupid mistakes I made over the years. But, I realized that maybe I had some knowledge to share.

Okay, you guys are doing great on the trip, so don’t take this the wrong way. There are a few travel rules you might find useful.

RULE 1: Don’t Wear A T-shirt To Texas

Okay, it didn’t say this exactly, but that’s how i remember it. It was my first trip for Microsoft. The Redmond based company had a typical dress code. You had to wear clothes. I was fairly conservative: I wore pants. On my first trip I took basic jeans and t-shirt. Unfortunately, the trip was with my boss. He noticed. I don’t even bring jeans anymore. But, I do make sure to wear pants. . and no t-shirt.

RULE 2: Skip the Surf & Turf at Sizzler

Again, I was with my boss. He was taking the team out to eat. I opted for the steak and lobster. It was the most expensive thing on the menu and more than my boss was ordering. Keep your entree choices in the middle of the menu price range. And if possible, don’t buy something that costs more than your boss.

RULE 3: Don’t get Drunk

Even if you have a totally cool boss, don’t over indulge.

While you are travelling, you are always on stage, always being watched. Make sure that you conduct yourself in a way that you wouldn’t mind being discussed at the next senior management meeting.

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

Follow him on
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LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss)
or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2017 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

What The Tech Guy Isn’t Getting For Christmas. . .or Ever

I’m a geek, I admit it. I can add binary numbers. (101+111= 1100.) I’m a huge Star Trek fan (If Kirk fought Picard, Kirk would win easily. Picard would say, “Let’s talk abou this” and then Kirk would kill him.) My first program was recorded on cassette tape.

I watched the PC revolution from the beginning. I have used a brick phone. I was a CompuServe users, but never Prodigy, it was too expensive. I worked for WordPefect, Novell and Microsoft.

My point is that I’m pretty familiar with computers. And there are certain things that are not on my Christmas list. I am not interested in a anything that will automate my home. I’m not interested in Alexa, Siri, Cortana or that weird Google assistant who doesn’t seem to have a name.

I don’t want an automated thermostat, or a doorbell that is wired to the internet. I don’t much care for security cameras or a wireless baby monitor. Sure, I no longer have a baby, or toddler at my house, but even if I did, especially if I did, I don’t want a wireless baby monitor.

It comes down to security. Computer security always comes down to a matter of security vs convenience. A password of “mydogskippy” is more convenient to remember than “Il0O1xy7&1.” But, the second password is more secure.

This Christmas there are going to be tons of convenient electronic assitants. The companies behind the digital butlers are even starting to work closer together. Alexa and Google have become friends and will talk to each other now. It will not be long before all of your digital servants can easily share information. . .about you.

And that’s the problem. Any system is hackable. Virtually every system in the world has suffered breakins. A story last month described a man whose cell phone was hacked and his microphone was turned on and someone, we honestly don’t know who, was listening to everything he said.

That digital device sitting on your living room table has it’s microphone all the time, by design. What a hacker did by stealth, Google, Microsoft and others do on purpose. And how does Alexa know when you want to talk to her? You say the word, “Alexa” and she answers. That’s pretty simple. But, how does Alexa know that you said the word Alexa? She listens for her name. And in the mean time she hears everything that you are saying.

There was a recent case where a man was convicted for murder. Part of the evidence against him was provided by his digital eavesdropper. A common refrain from people who advocate for more digital incursion into our lives is “If you have nothing to hide, you shouldn’t be worried.” That’s a stupid excuse for literally listening in on every heart to heart talk; every fight, every romantic evening. If a person wanted to come over and listen in on everything said in your house, you’d throw him out in the street. If someone wanted to place a tape recorder under your kids bed and come by and collect the tapes every couple of days, you’d be justifiably freaked out.

But, you (or your friends) will go out and buy a spy to place in your home. And I don’t blame you. They are really convenient. Deceptively convenient, in fact. Just be aware that convenience comes at a price. A price that isn’t printed on the box, and won’t show up on your credit card statement.

Some of you are probably thinking I’m paranoid. “Really, Rodney? The big-bad-google is going to spy on me while I’m watching Game of Thrones? And what’s it going to do with that data? Spoil the plot secrets?”

Honestly, I don’t know. Most of the information you say in your house, if it’s like mine is pretty ordinary. I’m not going to commit a murder that law enforcement can pull off of my digital notekeeper. I’m not going to be sharing any big secrets. In fact, my conversations are pretty boring. I might be tempted to say, “Go ahead. Record away. I have nothing to hide.”

But, I won’t. Just because I don’t know how the data might be used doesn’t mean that I want to let others have it. Remember me mentioning the wireless baby monitors? They have also been hacked. In fact, there’s a whole internet subculture devoted to hacking an sharing baby monitor streams, typically video cameras.

Do I have anything to hide? What do I have to protect? Everything.

Not inviting Cortana to stay at my house this holiday season, or putting Google on my Christmas list.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. 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) 2017 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

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