We Are Generation Earth

I stumbled across the BBC documentary mini-series Supersized Earth on Netflix and it’s really quite fascinating. Host Dallas Campbell explores how humans have changed the face of the Earth over the past 100 years by visiting some of the largest engineering projects around the world. They are just mind boggling. In Hong Kong, over 3.5 million people live above the fourteenth floor. That’s like lifting the entire city of Chicago into skyrises. Our open face mines dive even deeper into the earth than our cities rise. We have dammed over 1/3 of the world’s river flow capacity. And our cities don’t flood because we can divert  rivers through underground caverns with pumps that could drain a swimming pool in a second.

The pace of change is increasing too. In 1936 Hoover Dam was the tallest dam in the world. Today it doesn’t even make it in the top 25. The South To North aquifer under construction in China, designed to relieve water shortages in the north, will be one of the longest rivers in the world–longer the the width of the continental US. China is also leading highway construction. In the last 20 years they’ve built more highways than exist in the US.

Another fascinating feat: a boat designed to transport the untransportable. Campbell visits the Blue Marlin which is preparing to transport an oil rig across the Pacific Ocean. Because the oil rig cannot be lifted, the Blue Marlin must sink 10 meters underwater to scoop it up.

Overall the documentary is very well produced, with slick animations woven with satellite images and some very impressive views. Campbell keeps it interesting too, undertaking some challenges at each stop, like downhill bike racing, cleaning windows on the world’s tallest building, and detonating explosives at a mine. It’s since been removed from Netflix, but you can still see parts of it on Youtube.

Episode 1 (can’t find it), Episode 2Episode 3

The Heavy Water War

If you enjoy WWII history, check out The Heavy Water War on Netflix. The Norwegian miniseries tells the true story of the Allied efforts to sabotage a factory which produced a critical ingredient for the Nazi nuclear weapons program–deuterium oxide–heavy water. A small team consisting of English and Norwegian soldiers was tasked with sneaking explosives into the basement of the guarded facility in the height of Scandinavian winter. They endured feats of unbelievable courage and made difficult decisions to carry out their orders.


I started painting with watercolors this fall. Most of these are based on tutorials I found on youtube or copying another painting I found.







^ That one did not turn out well!

The Feynman Algorithm

Excerpted from: http://c2.com/cgi/wiki?FeynmanAlgorithm

1. Write down the problem.

2. Think real hard.

3. Write down the solution.

How to use the Feynman Algorithm

1. Write the problem down in an unambiguous way. Often this is just as hard as the next step. Indeed, really, really understanding the problem is sometimes the only hard bit. Once you really, really understand the problem, the answer may be obvious.

2. Become convinced it’s important. Really important. Think about odd ways to solve it, things you wouldn’t tell other people for fear of being laughed into the next century. Look at simple things. Look at really complicated intricate solutions. Then talk to others. Talking to others will allow you to crystallize some of the ideas you have, and produce more ideas for you to think about. Repeat until you have an answer you can write down. If you do this right, immediately before you come up with the answer people will think you’re almost obsessed with the problem and the answer to it.

Note: If you don’t have people to talk to, write down some intermediate results or something to make them become real.

Some problems don’t have answers, only compromises, or proofs of impossibility. These are also valid answers if you can show that a real answer doesn’t exist.

3. Write the answer.


A Man on the Moon

A Man On The Moon by Andrew Chaikin retells the story of Apollo through his interviews with each of the astronauts and dozens of engineers and support staff. This book put my childhood fascination in historical context and illuminated many of the less visible aspects of the program: the immense amount of planning, the scientific achievements of the later missions, and the years of individual preparation required. It gave me an insight into the daily lives of the astronauts as they helped design and test the spacecraft. It reads pretty quickly although I found myself constantly derailed as I searched out additional source material. I would highly recommend this book to every space junkie.

The book helped me appreciate the scale of surface features on the moon. Craters less than 6 miles across are classified as “small”! The surface itself does not experience erosion like on Earth, but rather is constantly pelted with micrometeorites (<2mm diameter)–there is no atmosphere to burn up these space particles. One side effect is everything is very sharp. Dust on the moon is highly abrasive and quickly damages spacecraft and equipment.

Apollo 15 landed at the base of the Appenine Mountains. Using the lunar rover (photo), the astronauts climbed over 500 ft up the side of a 16,000 ft tall mountain–taller than any mountain in the continental US. Apollo 17 set the record for most distance covered (12.5 miles).


Detail of surface features. (Higher resolution available on Wikipedia.)



Gallup Entrepreneur StrengthsFinder Results

Today I took Gallup’s Entrepreneur StrengthsFinder survey. The ESF is designed to identify your natural talents that will help in starting a successful business. It also highlights weak areas where you should find a partner to help fill out your skill set.

The ESF is part of Gallup’s initiative to identify and coach highly talented entrepreneurs. In the accompanying book, Jim Clifton, Gallup’s Chairman, lays out a vision for an education system that is not only great at identifying intellectual and sports talent, but also entrepreneurial talent. Jim believes that this is the key to reversing the downward trend of new business formation in the United States.

My dominant talents:

  • Knowledge-Seeker
  • Creative Thinker
  • Risk-Taker
  • Delegator

My contributing talents:

  • Independent
  • Business Focus

My supporting talents:

  • Determination
  • Confidence
  • Promoter
  • Relationship-Builder


What was your first reaction to the talents described on page two of your report? Which talents sound most like you?

I’m surprised “independent” isn’t in the dominant talents list. I’m introverted and tend to work alone very well. I suppose answering questions that asked if I bounce ideas off others reduced the dominance of this talent in the survey. Knowledge-Seeker is definitely my strong talent. Risk-Taker was the surprise result here.

With whom could you share your results?

I’ll share this report with my coworkers. I’ll also run the results by the local administrator of AIM who put on the IT Leadership Academy.

Which talent would you like to work on?

I need to work on confidence. When I’m working with people I know very well, I have no problem speaking up and arguing my viewpoint. In groups of strangers I’m much more reserved. This is probably my biggest hurdle for making new connections with customers. I need to ask more questions. I always prefer to take time to reflect after gathering the facts/requirements before proposing a solution. Some people interpret this as lack of enthusiasm or simply lack of ideas. In reality, I probably have too many ideas to share all at once and need time to determine what the best course of action is. I think the best way to improve this is through more practice and broadening my network to get in front of my people.

Defining my job responsibilities

During the last two sessions at the AIM IT Leadership Academy I realized that my job is quite loosely defined which has hampered my ability to clearly set priorities. This week I will be sitting down with my boss, our CEO, to clarify what my responsibilities right now. On paper my job title is Chief Technology Officer, although as a small business employee I carry out many more responsibilities.

Our company is structured with the owner acting as CEO/President. The owner’s wife is our CFO. Myself and the COO report directly to the CEO. Also in our management group is the Business/HR manager. While our CEO has final say on everything, he typically oversees our product development team while our COO and myself oversee contract development.

In an exercise on High Payoff Activities yesterday, I listed what I do at work.

  1. Writing code for customers. I spend roughly 40-50% of my time writing code for customer projects.
  2. Acting as a project manager. I directly act as project manager on a few projects. This includes meeting with customers, compiling project requirements, assigning work, and reviewing completed work. As part of the management team I also keep an eye on whether other projects are hitting their goals. This takes up about 20% of my time.
  3. Provide architectural direction. As the technical lead, I give architectural input to most, but not all, of our projects. Of everyone at work I have probably have the widest exposure to different programming techniques.
  4. Mentoring junior developers. For a few hours a week, I typically pair with an intern or junior developer in order to teach them new frameworks or general programming practices.
  5. Set expectations and review them with employees. Although we have an HR manager, this responsibility has been split between all members of the management team without a clear owner. This is something I will be bringing up since I think it is causing confusion for some of our employees.
  6. Cold contacting prospective clients and networking. This is a relatively new addition to my responsibilities. We have outgrown our word of mouth based leads and are starting to expand our network. Nobody has a clear leadership role in this effort yet, although I am currently sharing it with our COO. As a team we need to set goals and someone should be following up on them.
  7. Research new technology. Mostly outside of work hours, I follow people who know things on twitter and RSS to keep up to date on the latest tools and methodologies. I evaluate these on my own before bringing them back to the company for input.
  8. Strategic planning. With our COO, I give feedback to our CEO on company initiatives and goals.
  9. Interview job candidates. I lead our technical interview process.

We have been trying not to be too “corporate”, but one area I’m going to recommend making changes in is assigning clear ownership over the currently shared responsibilities. We meet several times a week and the amount of time spent keeping everyone on the same page is starting to feel wasted. My preference would be for one person to own some/each of our initiatives (prospecting, mentoring, setting expectations, etc) and then report back to the others when necessary.

Review: Girl Model

The documentary Girl Model peers into the dark side of the modeling world through two sets of eyes: Ashley, a 30-something former model turned talent scout and Nadya, a 13-year-old Siberian girl hoping to escape poverty by becoming a model.

When Nadya is recruited by Ashley to spend two months in Japan, she is promised $8,000 and two paid shoots. When she arrives, however, she encounters a language barrier, a maze of casting sessions, and an agency that can change her contract on a daily basis.

Along the way we meet some of Ashley’s shocking coworkers including a guy named Messiah who claims he is saving girls like Noah saved animals, and another scout who takes his recruits to the morgue to show them what happens if they don’t listen to him. Ashley admits she is addicted to traveling and doesn’t want to act as a mother to the girls she recruits.

As Nadya runs out of money and promises of work, she wants nothing but to return home. It is revealed though diary tapes that Ashley went through a similar experience while a model. She explains that she knows many girls she recruits will end up in prostitution. The point is driven home in a scene where Nadya is looking for her photo in a magazine and browses through a section of adult magazines.

We also learn that Ashley is suffering from a tumor. When the unusually large mass is removed it has blonde hair. You’re left to wonder if this is an appropriate metaphor for Ashley’s role in the modelling industry.

At the end of the film, Nadya returns home $2,000 in debt and Ashley returns to her million dollar glass house (how appropriate).

Overall I thought this film was very eye-opening into how the modelling industry preys on desperation though it left many unanswered questions. It felt as if Ashley wanted to reveal some dark truth at many points but stopped herself short. Considering that the documentary was Ashley’s idea, perhaps it was a call for help.

You can watch the full documentary on Netflix.

Tip: Getting a good price on Amazon

Thanks to Prime, I love to shop on Amazon, but how do I know I’m getting a good price? For the last year I’ve using a free Chrome extension called Amazon Price Tracker from keepa.com to view the price history of every product I order. Several times this has prevented me from impulse buying something because I noticed a recent spike in the price. The plugin allows you to set a target price and receive a notification, either by email, tweet, facebook post, or desktop notification when the product reaches your target price.

Right now I’m waiting for some laptop RAM to drop in price.