The two-business-card problem

It started as a small dilemma, but has grown into a bit of an existential crisis. That probably sounds like a bit of hyperbole, and that's fair. But seriously, I ask you: which business card should I give you?

 

I have a really cool, challenging, and engaging position during the day. It even has a cool title that I'm pretty proud of-- Vice President. When its not a club that you invent with our kids, being a Vice President is a nice distinction. And it says it right on this little 2X3 piece of poster board! I'm the VP. 

 

Like a boss.

 

But being a VP at an onshore firm isn't the only thing I do. I'm also really, deeply proud of this novel I've written and that Capscovil published. I've known Dexter Maxwell longer than I've known my own kids, and I'm relieved that other people finally get to meet him and his friends. 

 

Being an author also comes with a card. It says I'm a Writer and Technologist, which is true, and general enough to cover just about any activity I might do. Which is nice. It also has the cover of my book on the back. So its not just my business card, its also an advertisement. I'm not as conflicted about this as I used to be.

 

So, I sit next to you on the plane. We get to talking. You ask me what I do. 

 

What do I say? How can I explain? Which card do I give?

 

There is considerable pressure, from the moment we are children, to define "what we want to be when we grow up." And usually, its one thing. A doctor. OR a lawyer. OR a football player. Or a Laker. 

 

I always answered that question with "I want to be a writer." When I was a kid, this meant writing books, usually with spaceships or dragons in them. But, the first opportunity I had to be a published writer was in the technology field. And that's pretty cool-- I've enjoyed explaining complex things in my Oracle Press books. But there was always that voice in the back of my head, from when I was kid, whispering, "that's all find and good, but there are no spaceships in it. Or dragons."

 

Here's the thing: as I've grown, and life happened, I've come to the realization that I don't want to only be one thing. I like doing lots of things. 

 

I am a VP of Technical Business Solutions. AND I'm the novelist who writes The Last Iteration Series. AND I am the author of Oracle technology books.

 

AND I just wrote a management non-fiction book. AND I'm going on the lecture circuit again.

Not to mention: father, husband, friend. See what I mean when I say "existential crisis?" It's not just about which business card I give you (Which I still can't figure out). 

 

But here's what I do know:

 

Don't let anyone tell you that you only ever can do one thing. 

  

And maybe someday I'll write a book with spaceships AND dragons.

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Scratching the Surface

I wanted to go all-tablet. that's how this started.

I've written about my adventures in Android-land. My on again, off again affair with the cult of Apple. But this itch was... something different.

I have traveled extensively around the world for work, dragging with me, at all times, my trusty laptop. Right now, its a real beaut of a 3 lbs, 15 inch retina display MacBook.

But. But.

You can't put it in the pocket in front of you on a plane.

And I still have to switch to a virtual machine to run a few critical Windows apps for work.

It got me to thinking: could I leave the big laptop, and instead of trying to get everything on a single pane of glass, what if I went to three panes of glass, all tablets?

A seven inch Nexus 7, A 10 inch iPad, and the new Microsoft Surface (10 inches). All combined, it comes in a half-pound less than my laptop.

So, I went to a Microsoft Store. I poked around at the Surface Pro. I installed apps on it.

But, at a cold $1000 with a keyboard, I wasn't ready to make the leap. That is, until I remembered that I work in an IT department. So I got to talking with the guy who approves devices for use. One thing lead to another, and here I am with a corporate issued MS Surface.

I've had it for 10 days now, and I just got it working on the company VPN. this is not Microsoft's fault. But, the complicated manner in which MS Office 2013 is licensed was a pain in the ass to get working.

Anyway, here's my take:

First off, I like Windows 8. Have since it's release. And its way better when you can touch it. I've been using Win8 on my virtual machine within Mac OS X since it came out, and I have grown accustomed to how it works with a touchpad. But now that I can touch it, I realize more and more what Microsoft was trying to accomplish. And you know what? Apple better move in this direction. Fast.

Because Microsoft almost nailed it.

But they didn't. There's just enough places where they didn't go all-in, and I am frustrated by some set of actions I need to take that require me to revert to the little dragpad at the bottom of the connectable keyboard. Places that are just too small on screen to touch without fat-fingering the whole thing.

I like that I can draw in Excel. I like pen-mode with the built in touch-sensitive Wacom pen. (But why-- WHY-- is Visio not programmed to work with the pen? WHY GOD WHY?)

The handwriting translation is damn good. I haven't been able to fool it. Of course, I haven't tried it drunk yet. So give me time.

I like the Metro-style Calendar. It embarrassing how much better it is than Apple's iCal. Too bad the default Windows Mail is only adequate. I still switch into Outlook for email.

The apps in the Windows Store are getting better, but I'm confused by why there aren't totally awesome games there. I mean, PC gaming has defined the industry for years! Why is it that I can only find stupid little bejeweled rip-offs in there? Where's Bioshock? Where's Call of Duty?

But more apps are coming. I'm writing this in Evernote Touch, which I find to be a great implementation of the native Metro UI.

I've read that people don't think the Surface should ever be used in portrait mode. that its long skinny body makes portrait awkward, and you can only connect the keyboard in landscape. While the latter is true, I found holding it in portrait was good for a few things, primarily the guilty joy of junking out on Pinterest.

Not that, um, I've ever done that. I've just heard that continually scrolling down on Pinterest with a long screen is nice.

But. But.

You can't put the Surface on you're lap. there's only one setting for the kickstand on the back, and the angle is too acute for the lap. I can't emphasize how much this is the total deal-breaker. No matter what else is good, I need to type in bed, or on a bus, or the backseat of a car. And you just can't do that with a Surface. It pretty much needs a flat surface at desk height. It's too heavy to hold comfortably in one hand, and you can't set it on your lap. 

And then there's the power cord. The power connector is maddeningly difficult to get into place. I have to wiggle and wiggle and wiggle to get it connected into the strangely located place on the right side.

given these issues, I'd wager that I'd be happier with a touchscreen ultrabook from Lenovo over the surface. At least then I could put it on my lap.

But I'm not buying another laptop. I've already got one of those.

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Editing is Art

I've been working hard to get book 2 of my first fiction series, The Last Iteration, out the door. The novel was roughed in already, but when I returned to it after getting Book 1 out the door, I realized something: 

It was total rubbish.

Okay, that's the harsh internal critic in me. But the truth sunk it: I needed to hack it to pieces. So I did, and I sent it over to my publisher so she can decide if its actually any good.

The whole process got me to thinking about editing.

Books are better with editors. Movies are better after they get edited. Rampant artists rarely can see the forest for the trees. One must step back, and see what is missing, sure, but more importantly: what SHOULD be missing?

This is true of nearly all creative endeavors. My brother who is actually an artist once told me a maxim about his field: find the thing you absolutely love in your work, and remove it. 

I think the same holds true outside of art. Let me hold up the most obvious example: Steve Jobs. By himself, he wasn't exactly coming up with great ideas. But he was a masterful editor. When he came back to Apple, he cut the product line down to four products. Four. Sure, he gained a reputation as a bit of a jerk, but let's be honest: what propelled Apple to the top of the stack was absolutely flawless editing of product, functions, design, and go-to-market strategy.

I was looking over a friend's resume the other day, as well. This guy did really impressive things at the company he worked for, but it was buried in his descriptions of the job title he had, and that jobs description. I recommended he chop it down, compress some of the titles, and focus on the results he achieved for the company. 

Some people call it simplification-- there are always those that espouse simplication. But its really hard, in the end, to simplify. 

My advice? Get an editor. It is an art not all can practice, but benefits everyone.

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Telecommuting versus lazy management: yet another opinion

There's been plenty of coverage around the CEO of Yahoo, Marissa Mayer, banning all telecommuting. Lots of people began speaking out on the subject, including my CEO. Lest you believe I have no opinion on this, fear not! For I do.?

But it's not s a simple "she's making a mistake" opinion. From previous posts here, you will remember that I have worked from home for over a decade. I've been an individual contributor, I've been customer-facing, and I've run huge multi-national software groups. All while telecommuting. But I'm not saying that Marissa is making a big mistake. But it does mean that her management team has no idea what is going on.?

Maybe she really believes that people need to be in the office to be productive. But I doubt it. Chances are, her hand was forced.

A few years ago, I worked for a troubled company, and the leadership team was constantly struggling with this very question: to telecommute or not to telecommute? In fact, certain divisions, such as R&D, strictly forbade it, going so far as to require everyone in a particular country to work from the same building, in the same city.?

The primary reason for this, shrouded under the same 'its good for the culture' language that Mayer uses, was to shed headcoount and real estate costs. Second to that was this realization: the leadership had no idea what anyone did, due to massive amounts of management moves, attrition, and changes in the business.?

One way to get it under control, the perception clearly goes, is to get everyone back in the building so you can see what they do.?

This might work for Yahoo, and I hope it does. I like Meyer. But at my former company, bringing people back into the office couldn't overcome the primary problem: lazy management that refused to grapple with tough questions of productivity and value. Getting everyone back under one roof didn't change that. If you don't know what outcomes you want from your people, and you don't have a clue how to track progress or distinguish 'good' results from 'average' results, having everyone in a building won't help you.?

And of course, here's the corollary: if you do know good results from bad, and you do know what you want from people, and you've given them a mission and a purpose they believe in, then you don't need people in the office to get great results.?

It's lazy management that you have ?to fix, not where people get their work done from. I guarantee Marissa has a smartphone, and she takes emails and calls from the airport and even, gasp, her home. She's not actually banning telecommuting. She's just creating a specific kind of conflict tso she can spot-check the cracks in her business.

I will never refute the fact that you get better serendipity, more accidental innovations, when you have people physically together. It is always important to have actual face time. But to assume that you only get those things from people working in an office, is a stretch. And you miss out on the very flexibility that has made us such productive beasts over the past 30 years.?

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Reviews, Press Releases, and the bare honesty of older sisters

So, news on Last Iteration is beginning to, um, trickle in. First off, check out the press release as seen here at Times Union. I worked with Capscovil Books on the PR, which is sort of like a blurb, only also sort of even more information. If the blurb is a moody teenager who barely tells you anything, then a Press release is when you make that teenager put on a tie and make eye contact with strangers.

Also, reviews! Check out this one from Daniel Calloway, MSIT and network consultant to the?Internet of Things?Council. Thanks Daniel!?

Then, there is this totally awesome review from a best-friend's older sister out on Amazon. I don't even know what to say other than it is priceless in all ways, and I want to print it out and put it on my wall.?

Hit the airwaves if you've read the book! There's a great place to connect over on Facebook, or definitely add to the reviews on Amazon. Still looking for the first review over at Barnes and Noble. And, of course, if you haven't discovered the greatness that is Goodreads.com, get over there and check it out. You can connect with me on GoodReads here.

Thanks for the support people. And, to Angela's request: I won't be quitting my day job just yet, but book 2 is already underway. Stay tuned.

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