May 6th, 2014

RoboCEO was a highpoint for me and the Baltimore Robotics Center. The CEO’s had fun, the kids had fun and I finally got some coverage from the Sun Paper

The goal of the event was to connect kids with business people that would be likely to hire such smart technology oriented high school students as Summer interns. A bit of that occurred, but my hope is that we learn more about how to bridge the divide between these technology companies in young people in the area looking for employment.


March 9th, 2014

Many trees were taken down on my farm by the recent ice storms in the mid-Atlantic. Today was one of the first sunny days I could go out and start chain sawing them up. As I was working I got to thinking how nature had not only taken out some old and dead trees, but also some large branches from healthy mature trees. I got to thinking about how many new trees will spring up now there is additional sunlight hitting the ground and how this will change the dynamic of the forest for the good.

As with many things I observe on my farm, this stuck me as a metaphor for I think needs to happen in Software development and IT departments. Often teams develop together and grow as the company grows and there is not much turn over in the staff. Many managers think this is a good thing, and in some ways I agree. But often it leads to sluggishness and lack of creativity. Without new personnel, group think and stagnation of ideas occurs. You also don’t leave much area for growth and development. New ideas become infrequent and a “lifer mentality” sets in.

So what to do? You certainly don’t want to let a decent employee go just for the sake of getting some new ideas. So here’s some thoughts :

1. Send staff out for training and user group meetings. Ask them to report back on what they have learned. Make sure that they don’t just go and keep the information to themselves.
2. Use consultants. Yes, they are expensive and sometime their ideas may seem farfetched, but often they can bring fresh perspective to a stagnant situation.
3. Move staff out to the business units. Having them sit with their customers and experience the business firsthand can be a real eye opener.
4. Hire interns as often as you can. Nobody knows more about “everything” than a 20 year old. And if you listen, they will be happy to tell you. Don’t correct them until you have heard everything. You might learn as much as they do from the experience.

Change is good. New ideas, even if they are not put into practice are good to roll around and consider. Do a little pruning when you can and get rid of dead wood before stagnation spreads.

Spring comes every year on the farm and with it come chicks and ducklings. At work, a new crop of interns and first time job seekers. I look forward to it every Spring.

All the Cool Geeks have Drones …

March 7th, 2014

Are the guys in your IT department or software development pit still playing with Nerf guns? Well Nerf Guns are so last year. The cool geeks have micro drones like the Estes 4606 Proto X Nano R/C Quadcopter. Yeah, it’s the same Estes company that made those model rockets you played with in Cub Scouts when people had “car phones”. And they are only about $40 bucks. So raise morale and buy a few and have races. You can get one on Amazon at Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Are your employees mining on your network?

March 5th, 2014

I hang out with a lot of IT types and CIO’s in particular so I hear a lot of strange things when we get together over a few beers. But even after all this time, sometimes I’m taken aback by something they say. The most recent case was when the head of security audit company mentioned to me that he had recently discovered that several IT managers in his network were “mining Bitcoins” on their networks. This was surprising for several reasons but not the least of which was because this “mining” inherently causes security problems and the culprits were not some guys in R&D but the actual network administrators or their managers. To put it another way, this was the castle guards opening the gates to welcome the vagabonds into the fortress they were supposed to protect. In short they should have known better. For a bit more on the security risks of Bitcoin mining check out . Trend Micros’ article on the subject

And when this practice is done during the business day, system performance could be significantly degraded.

Teaching Kids to Code

December 8th, 2012
Small Basic Turtle

Small Basic Turtle

I have been thinking for a while about teaching kids to code. I have tried a few different methods and used a couple of different books as a basis for spinning up my kids and their friends on the joys of being a code slinger. Nothing was really working exceptional well. I kept feeling like something was missing and it probably was the “fun” part of creating software. Part of the problem is today’s kids use such amazing software on the web and via video games and they don’t find coding a bubble sort in C++ much fun. They want to write the next hit first person shooter or IPad app the first time they compile.

But the other night I saw Steve Michelotti and his son give a presentation on just how to go about teaching kid’s to code using Small Basic’s “Turtle Graphics” functionality. I took be back to the late 80’s when kids learn taught programming on their schools Apple computers using the Logo programming language. You could Steve’s son had a blast making the “Turtle” move about the screen and change color and he had developed a knowledge of programming basics in the process. But MORE importantly he learned why geeks like me love to code. It’s such a creative, fun, absorbing activity and there is something magical about making a piece of hardware do your bidding.

Here’s a link to Steve’s Blog :
And here’s a link to the presentation and the code samples.

Good Ideas about Business Intelligence never go out of style (neither do Dolphins)

December 2nd, 2012

Good Ideas about Business Intelligence never go out of style (neither do Dolphins)

Microsoft Video Case Study at the National Aquarium in Baltimore

A while ago I was involved in a video case study on Business Intelligence at the National Aquarium in Baltimore. I pulled up recently to show some co-workers and I was amazed by how prescient the presentation still was. I think this is because Hans Keller, former CIO of the National Aquarium had such a clear and insightful plan for the project from the beginning and this plan was based on business drivers such as return of investment (ROI) instead of just technology Gee-whiz drivers. The cute dolphins don’t hurt the view ability of the presentation either.

GBTC TechNite “Geek Prom” no more

October 24th, 2012

At a recent event, I asked a young entrepreneur whether he was going to TechNite this year (as I had talked with him at TN, last year), and he responded that he heard it was being held in a “sketchy” neighborhood. At first I thought he was kidding, but he actually was planning to miss the event because of this presumption.

At first this really torqued me, because as a person who has spent my whole life here, I’m proud of my city and take umbrage at the premise that an iconic venue like Lexington Market would be unsafe for such an affair.

Then I got thinking, what if this keeps people away, discourages the timid, roots out the uncommitted? What if the only people who show are the hard core, passionate zealots who are unconcerned with the location of the venue, because they are on a “mission from God” to succeed. Yeah, that’s actual a good thing, because those are the types of people who built this city in the first place – and I’d rather ta
lk to the zealots anyway. They’re more interesting – and they are going places.
GB.TC TechNite

I really don’t know what the GB.TC has in store, but don’t think TechNite is “Geek Prom” anymore. I figure it’s worth $40 to find out.

If you can’t write it down in English, you can’t code it.

October 22nd, 2012


I first saw this quote in the wonderful book “Programming Pearls” and I thought it was a bit obvious, but apparently not to everyone.

As a consultant, I never cease to be amazed at clients that expect programmers to create software based on a loosely defined concept or abstract description. They have no problem understanding that if they let their house builder make all the decisions on how their new kitchen would be constructed, that there might be some difference between the builders concept of dream kitchen and the house owners. However, customers do not understand why when their software project descriptions such as “program to track orders” or “help employees collaborate” might not be enough to guarantee a mutually agreeable outcome to the software development project.

So here’s a few simple steps for getting to a better project outcome using simple flow charting. No need to get too complicated.
Simple Programming Process

3D Printing Will Change the World

October 3rd, 2012

Yes, I think the future is going to be changed by 3D printing in a way that is hard for us to imagine today much like it is hard for someone from the “Carbon Paper” period to imagine printing a color document off of a $40 device in their own office. This technology will make things possible that were until recently only the purview of shows like the “Jetsons”.

Recently, attendees of Betascape in Baltimore were scanned and printed while they were at the event using devices that cost less than $4,000 for a complete solution.

Respect the Tech

September 10th, 2010

It never ceases to amaze me how little respect some business owners give the technology that is the life blood of their company. For example, I remember walking into a $20 million construction company that appeared very well run. Their offices were neat and clean, with inspirational slogans and the corporate mission statement hung on the wall with pride. The owner had run another similar company, taken it to $100 million and then sold out to a national conglomerate. He definitely knew what he was doing from a business perspective. So I was a bit surprised when the server room turned out to literally be a closet with rack in it. The door was propped open and the room was still over 100 degrees. At some companies this would not be surprising, but this construction company dealt mainly in very competitive state and federal government construction projects that require very detailed estimates and responses to request for proposals (RFP’s). This data and documentation was a key component to their success yet they treated their data and systems as an afterthought. I was struck by the irony of how well they cared for and protected their work trucks and tools, but basically abused their computer systems. When I asked a few questions about the details of their support and upgrade plans, their management replied with various versions of “we are not computer guys”. However, most of them spent their day in front of computers either writing proposals or running the accounting or estimating software. When I asked them what would happen if the computer system was stolen, they responded that they would be out of business in a matter of days.

I believe this concept of “not being computer guys” is something that business owners need to get over. It’s like saying “I’m not good with money” or “I’m not much good at making sales”. Saying that technology is not your thing may have gotten you some empathy from your likeminded cronies in the past, however this may make you look just as incompetent as the business owner who says “I’m not good with finances” in the future. Which is not to say you need to become a geek, but you do need to take information technology seriously and either develop or hire coverage in this area. So in some ways it is like augmenting your legal knowledge. As a business owner you probably don’t want to go around saying “I’m not good with laws and contracts” but you probably are not going to take law classes either. You’d mostly take this key component of your business seriously and hire the needed quality resources to create the needed coverage. Oh and by the way, when you looked for this help you probably would look for reputable, experienced resources and it would be unlikely that you would hire your teenage nephew to write those legal contracts for you – Right? You’d never do that?