Allergies are Terrifying

As some of you may know, I’ve had issues with gluten for a while. About 8 years ago, I had to cut it out of my diet. I had expected that to be the end of things that I’d have to cut from my diet. I’m still not entirely over that loss. It’s hard to constantly fear what should be a nurturing substance. At restaurants, I’d always second guess what I was put into my body. I’d generally adapted to it, but there would be times when it’d get the best of me. Like when I’d be at a conference and all the food, including the salad, would have wheat in it. I’d get frustrated and in some cases my blood sugar would drop, because I’m also hypoglycemic.

Sadly, that wasn’t even the first thing I had to cut. I figured out I was lactose intolerant 14 years ago. I’d have horrible reactions to it. I also figured out that cheese wasn’t the best for me, but I still kept eating it because of how good it tastes and how it’s on just about everything.

More recently, I’ve found out why I should be avoiding cheese. I’m allergic to basically the entire world. I’m allergic to beef, dairy (no butter for cooking either!), lamb, flowers (like chamomile, hibiscus, elderflower), all environmental allergens, almonds, hazelnuts, ginger, juniper (no gin, boo), kiwis, citric acid, and probably more. I learned all this in the past two-three months. Now, going out to eat is even riskier.

To address this, I’ve started immunotherapy. This is the process of introducing you, gradually, to an increasing amount of the allergens. The goal is to desensitize you to the allergens. The process is a series of increasing dosage and/or molarity of the allergen in a shot. I started that about 2 weeks ago. However, since the third round of these shots I’ve been on the edge of serious allergic reactions. The slightest thing has made my throat tighten, sent my heart racing, and increased my blood pressure.

On Friday, I reacted badly to ginger. I ended up in the ER because of it. I was treated an released after a couple hours with additional care instructions. Since then, I’ve been dealing with reactions whenever I’m outside walking the dogs.

If you know anyone with food allergies, please make sure you take them seriously. If you see them taking something while eating, check on them. If they look flushed while eating check on them. If they seem slow to respond while eating and seem loopy, check on them. Then take them to the hospital.

To help with my reactions, I’m making business cards to give to servers at restaurants. This will help ensure that I tell them all the allergies I have and they don’t have to remember them. They can give the list to the chef and hopefully, will be able to find me food that I can eat.

I don’t really think all the loss of the foods has sunk in on me yet either. I think that’s mostly because I’ve been just responding to my body. Not really dwelling on this. Given the seriousness of my reactions, I suspect this will be easy at first to deal with. Hopefully, it won’t be permanent and I can resume immunotherapy.

On staying in your lane

I was listening to Pandora this morning and Buffalo Springfield’s For What It’s Worth (The there’s something happenin’ here song) came on. This got me thinking about the protests that I saw this morning (10/19/19) in London, the People’s Vote March. I think it’s fair to say that musicians – and artists in general – represent the emotional conscience of the community they’ve come out of. I think it’s also fair to include a lot of professional athletes and some of in their management structure, some NBA coaches more than anyone else there

Since, I grew up in the 80’s in a very white and conservative part of the country, I don’t think I really understood the general bias, in my community, against using music and award ceremony speeches as a valid platform of protest. I’m sad to say this generally stuck with me throughout my life. I don’t think I’m the only one that grew up in a community like mine who has this bias.

I think this “stay in your lane” approach to the arts in general and some professional athletes (I say some because white male athletes have more often been celebrated for speaking up than people of color or white women). Now, I know this isn’t anything ground breaking. If you look on #BlackTwitter and follow POC in general, you’ll see that this community has been well aware of this phenomenon. In fact, I would say I’m agreeing with their sentiment here. I believe this was a deliberate action to discredit these protests and minimize what these artists and athletes are saying. I think with the advent of television, specifically ramping up after the Vietnam war.

In one of the #1619Project’s stories there were clear cases where white slave owners intentionally prevented slaves from creating music and art. Because, those white slave owners knew the power of the arts. They knew that it’s easier to share information in song and get people’s emotionally invested by using music. This is why political campaigns do it now and why in movies music plays such an integral role in driving emotional response to scenes.

I think I first came aware of this during the Dixie Chick’s protest of George W. Bush’s wars. At the time, I was pretty firmly in the camp of staying in your lane, but I struggled with how to respond, because I agreed with them. I wasn’t a fan of their music and I knew it put them at huge professional risk. Especially, given that most of their audience supported the wars (country music y’all).

So this puts me in mind, how do we support these protesters. One, is obvious, add your voice to theirs. Tweet their message. Support politicians that support protesters. Go out and join a demonstration (this last one is the one I struggle with the most and it bothers me).

Second, is to protest organizations that support something you believe should be stopped. This can occur in a few different ways. First is to boycott that organization. So, I’m going to stop playing Blizzard games until they reverse their ban on the Hearthstones players that have protested for Hong Kong. In fact, I literally just uninstalled all the games. Furthermore, I won’t buy another game from the company until they change their protest policies.

Third, you can directly support artists/athletes/esports pros protesting something you believe should be protested. That can be in the form of buying whatever it is they create. You could donate to charities they support and/or are on boards of. You can also directly support them, if they have some sort of fundraising action going on. Although, if you’re going to be doing the last one, it may make more sense to provide that money directly to the people with less of a platform.

Another change, which I think is harder, is to help people understand why it’s important we allow our artists/athletes/esports pros to speak out. They have a platform that can amplify a cause. Some day that cause could be yours. If you hadn’t supported and, in fact, encouraged these people to speak out, then they might not be able to speak out for your cause.

As I said earlier, I’m not saying anything new that other people haven’t said before and probably said more eloquently. I’m simply adding my voice to that and working to unwind the stigma of speaking out against injustice no matter who you are. We need more protests songs, we need more protest art, we need more athletes to speak out against the horrors being committed all around us. Support them.

Book Review: An Indigenous Peoples’ History of The United States

An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States (ReVisioning American History, #3)An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read a portion of the Project 1619 publication in the New York Times Magazine. Which was really eye opening. I hadn’t realized the economy legacy of Slavery (or the cotton price crash related to slavery). I didn’t know about the immediate resurgence of the former slaves during the Reconstruction of the south with the swift and sudden destruction of that community. So, I was talking with my wife about how we needed a similar project for Native Americans. I happened to see a tweet from a writer I follower on Twitter, Eve E. Ewing about differences in coverage of Indigenous Peoples in other countries and the U.S. I tweeted how there needed to be a 1619 Project and she suggested I read this book. I really appreciated that, because I understand it’s not the responsibility of advocates to educate me on these topics. It’s my own.

So, on to the book. This book was a lot to read. It was a slow read for me. It’s not a very long book, coming in at around 250 pages. However, there’s a huge amount of information packed in to this book. As a reader, you get the impression that this is a survey of the histories of Indigenous Peoples. It has to be.

The book starts by setting the record straight on the science and cultures of the Peoples ranging from South America, Central America, and then into North America, before the first contact between Spanish and Portuguese conquerors and the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas. After explaining how the Indigenous Peoples cultivated the land, including farming and creating deer parks (which were managed forests where it was easy to raise deer and hunt deer), Dunbar-Ortiz moves onto migratory patterns of people over the course of centuries and various trade routes. This set the stage that this was a very inhabited place whereupon colonizers usurped the land from the peoples living here.

Dunbar-Ortiz then moves on to the first contact with the Spanish, Portuguese and other Europeans. From then on, it is an unblinking look at the hard truths of the slaughter of Indigenous Americans. As most of you know, historians use lenses to explain specific events. To me, it felt like the lens used here was the interaction between Settlers/Colonizers/US citizens and various native nations. For example, the Sioux were introduced at two points, once to explain their migratory history (which shows migration from South and Central America to North America has been happening for centuries) and when there was land theft and aggression by illegal settlers and/or the US Government.

I think this is the appropriate context for an accurate understanding of the relationship between the US and Indigenous Nations. So much of the US’s history is predicated on exterminating the Indigenous Nations preventing Manifest Destiny. George Washington called for the elimination of Native Americans. Andrew Jackson built his personal brand on the slaughter and flaying of Muskokee (Creek) villagers. If you’re a Game of Thrones fan and you like Ramsay Bolton, Andrew Jackson was your President. He literally flayed villagers and turn their skin into tack for his horse. He was proud of doing this.

Throughout history classes that were taught at my conservative high school, we glossed over much of the interaction between the US Government and Indigenous Nations. Things like the Trail of Tears (perpetrated by Jackson) were sad things that happened, but weren’t the norm, according to my 10th grade history class. However, reading this book, it’s clear to me, that was the norm not the exception.

Even in cases where the forced migration wasn’t as obvious as that, there was forced migration to avoid war with illegal settlers or the US Army. Going back to the Sioux, that Nation was forced away from it’s holy land, The Black Hills. You might know that as where Mt. Rushmore resides. I cannot imagine what it would be like for something so foundational to me as a people being destroyed with the faces of your oppressors.

You might say, “But Lincoln is on there! He was a good guy!” Well guess what, DURING the Civil War the US Army was attacking the Navajo in New Mexico and Arizona. Every person on that monument is someone that made it their goal to destroy native peoples while they were President.

This book was brutal to read. I’m sitting here drinking my tea enjoying the legacy of these atrocities. While reading this book, I would oscillate between disgust and a desire to help the Indigenous Peoples of the various Nations in North America. Fortunately, the author gave some recommendations at the end of the book.

First and foremost, encourage the US Government to honor the treaties (that are still in effect) they made with the Indigenous Nations. That includes repatriating portions of land back to those Nations. Treat them as true Sovereign Nations with all the rights that gives.

For US Voters, that also means supporting candidates that don’t pretend they are Native Americans of any kind, unless they are literally recognized by that Nation as a citizen.

This book should be required reading for all seniors in high school. It’s important that we have honest discussions about where the US came from. Because, as the last chapter explains, all our wars with other foreign nations use the same Total War tactics as we did against the Indigenous Nations of America.

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Is There a Disconnect Between Knowledge Workers and Business Leaders?

The past two weeks I’ve read a number of articles about the End of Agile and subsequent rebuttals. Yesterday I read an excellent article asking “Whatever Happened to Six Sigma?” Both of these articles are fascinating. The rebuttals to the first are incredibly enlightening. I don’t think these are the last of these sorts of articles. I expect to read “The End of Lean” down the road as well.

I think there are a few reasons, one of them is common between Six Sigma and Agile. Snake Oil Salespeople. Basically, what has happened with all methodologies (except for PMI’s Waterfall approach – which I’ll get to) there reaches a point in time where it becomes impossible to determine the quality of credentials for a given certification. At that point, the certification is valueless even if the training, like you dear reader received, was actually the top of the top. Because there’s no actual way to determine if the quality is any good or not.

I experienced this first hand while I was teaching Lean Six Sigma at AMD. I had some fantastic mentors when I was working there, that lived and breathed Six Sigma for their entire careers. They knew this stuff inside and out. Which made me gain a much deeper appreciation for the methodology. However, there was another small company in Austin that also taught Six Sigma to their employees, Dell. Whenever we hired people from Dell with a certification in Six Sigma, a Green Belt or even a Black Belt, we essentially had to retrain them. Many of them, did not truly internalize what they were taught, or the material was less rigorous. This was likely a trade off the Six Sigma training team had to make to ensure their team remained relevant to Dell.

However, whenever you cannot trust the training from an organization like Dell, it makes it a lot more difficult to trust training for any other organization. You just don’t know the standards. Agile’s currently experiencing the exact same issue. There’s been a huge influx of organizations giving certifications. Not all of them have the same level of quality.

I think as a reaction to this, the software development industry has created DevOps and DevSecOps. Which doesn’t have a certification process, but a general set of ideas, such as Trunk development, rigorous testing, continuous integration, and on the extreme continuous deployment.

I think all this goes back to a basic premise though. Knowledge workers, like engineers and software developers look at problems very differently than business leaders. I first experienced this while I was in college. I was studying Industrial Engineering (which pulls in elements from Six Sigma, Lean, Network Theory, Simulation, Human Factors, etc…) while a good friend was studying Business. We had a few conversations about how businesses should be run and it was very obvious to me, that we were talking about two completely different views of how a firm should be run.

I was arguing against (in 2003) off-shoring, because it decreased the efficiency of engineering and collaboration between manufacturing and engineering. Both Agile and Lean argue against off-shoring due to these reasons. Given the change in the approach, the salary savings, overall, didn’t make the effort worth it, because of the reasons I listed. My friend thought lowering cost was the right thing to do.

This isn’t just an anecdotal thing though. If you read books about Agile, Theory of Constraints, or Innovation, they all make the same arguments. The ideas taught in business school are causing business leaders to make bad ideas. Theory of Constraints was popularized in the book The Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt and came out in 1984. The ideas he espoused in that book were considered counter intuitive. If you read the Phoenix Project by Gene Kim which came out in 2013, which is written to model The Goal, you’ll find the characters running into, literally, the exact same type of thinking by managers and other team members. To me, this means there are other cultural organizations that are pushing back against the approaches technical leaders find work best and what our business leaders find work best for their goals.

The two most obvious cases for this are Accounting (which The Goal sets up as something of an antagonist) and Executives. Accounting has the weight of Law on its side, which is problematic, because Accounting organizations has their own reason for maintaining a status quo. They have their own certification process to become a CPA. From the executives standpoint, in many cases these folks are presented as having an MBA and excellent business training.

Despite that, they are still making poor business decisions for the technical team, poor decisions about how to structure their organization, and poor decisions about how to run projects. Most projects are run using a Waterfall approach, because that is the defacto approach we’re all taught throughout school. We manage to dates and push to get things done. The Project Management Institute has managed to corner the market on this approach, because most people can “do waterfall” without needing a certification. You learn through osmosis, by doing. The certification certainly elevates some PMs in some organizations. However, I don’t really think that having a PMP matters to most hiring managers.

So, where does this leave us? It leaves us with Knowledge Workers using ideas like Six Sigma, Lean, DevOps, Agile, and more to dress up their structured problem solving approaches to add structure and credibility. They need structure to compete with the Date Managed Waterfall approach. They need credibility of a methodology to put their approach on the same level as a PMP certification. In the case of Six Sigma, I’d argue its biggest success was internalizing the cost saving analysis. This helped translated the output in terms of money, which executives understand.

Every other approach tries to create an alternative measure. Elimination of Waste or “Working Software is the Measure of Progress” are nice alternatives to reducing costs or meeting due dates.

However, most share holders don’t care about that. They only care about what’s going to make them more money. Ethics and approach be damned. Until that is resolved. We’ll continue to have more fads or business fashions, as Knowledge Workers push back against Business Leaders.

Book Review: Wanderers by Chuck Wendig

WanderersWanderers by Chuck Wendig
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Every day I went into the office for work or hung out with friends instead of reading this book, I was very torn. I was riveted by this book. The concept of sleepwalkers making their way across the US is a fascinating idea and I can see why Mr. Wendig decided this idea was worth fleshing out into a full book.

This book does an amazing job of combining real risks, such as pandemics and white supremacy with the fantastic, AI that can talk across time using Quantum entanglement, Nanobots that can put people into a stasis mode (while making them walk around) for almost 6 years. While telling a compelling believable story. Even the fantastical parts of the story, could very literally be fact in a number of years. We have no idea how AI might work with Quantum computing in a few years.

The truth is, Wendig pulled back the veil on how close we are as a society to a catastrophic pandemic. How easy it would be for a plague to spread if the right person was infected. He does a fantastic job of show how fragile the entire US system is, because of people like Alex Jones. Because Alex Jones doesn’t believe what he’s spewing, but there are a lot of people that do believe it. That weaponize it. Wendig is clearly taking the Trumpian politics of 2019 and imposing them on a catastrophe.

That’s just the backdrop though. The characters he writes about are living breathing people. Many of them, I feel like I grew up with or that I have known in my life. The aging RockGod feels like an authentic person. Someone that probably exists and is lost and lonely. There are people who have lived and lost and they are only teenagers, barely having started their lives and they’re already so far behind. Then they lose more because a family member becomes a sleepwalker.

The human element in this book is beautifully tragic and so very human. I loved this book.

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Book Review: Rebel Talent by Francesca Gino

Rebel Talent: Why It Pays to Break the Rules at Work and in LifeRebel Talent: Why It Pays to Break the Rules at Work and in Life by Francesca Gino
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was requested to review this book, because the author found my review of Creativity, Inc. After reading this book, I understood why.

The Author, Francesca Gino, provides some very actionable recommendations on how to be more authentic in the workplace and how that can positively impact your career. She calls this being a rebel, because it’s not allowing the status quo to continue when it forces people to be inauthentic and dramatically decreases the engagement of employees at companies.

This book spoke to me on a number of levels. First was, of course, the relationship with Creativity Inc. Gino interviews the team at Pixar and draws a number of lessons from the organization, which has a long history of success. Some of the best things she calls out actually come from even older organizations, like Bell Labs (long corridors to find the restroom encouraging people bumping into each other) and Xerox where Jobs learned his love of the computing. The other reason I’m a big fan of this section is that Pixar uses a number of Lean tools in their organization, which I believe are highly subversive and drives a lot of the behavior that Gino argues is Rebel talent. In this section she doesn’t specifically call out Lean as a methodology that Pixar uses, which is fine. The result and the tools that the team uses are what matters not the specific methodology.

A key skill Gino argues is the most important for a true rebel leader is connecting with other employees. In the case of hierarchical leaders, as well, like CEOs, this means going to where work is done. In Lean parlance this is Go To Gemba (go to the work). As a leader, you connect best when you are authentic, when you care about the people you are talking with and make changes based on the feedback provided.

Of course, there’s a large section on the Chef of Osteria Francescana, Massimo Bottura. This guys is pretty awesome and connects with his staff on a personal level. If you’ve seen Chef’s Table, then you’ve seen an episode about him. He’s humble, always trying new things, always learning, and always in the trenches with his staff. These make him an outstanding leader.

Gino ties all this together with two summaries, the first one is a section about how Bottura saves an industry and region by being a leader. This does a great job tying things together by showing the scale of impact a single person can have. The second summary really ties all these concepts into something you can use by providing you with a test and informs you with what type of rebel leader you are.

I think this book has a lot of powerful ideas. It is similar to The Originals where it analyzes key people for common traits. Gino pulls in a large amount of research, both her own and others, to really hammer home the idea that we can learn these skills. Which, to me, is a key difference between the two books. The first one talks about how people are raised to BE original, while Rebel Talent explains ways you can BECOME an Original.

The book well written and was a very personal story. I definitely recommend this book for anyone looking for an edge. However, I strongly recommend this book to women. In this book there’s a large section about being a woman leader in the work force and I think the ideas presented in this book will help any woman out there. I think every man should read that section as it will help men understand their biases in the work place and can help address them in a systemic way.

I am a “Climber” type leader.

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Creativity and Depression

I think that creativity and depression feed off of each other. Not in the way that you think. My opinion is that if we do not have an outlet for our creativity it increases our depression. However, in cases where that creativity is a solo act, it can feed our depression. Not because we’re doing something creative, but because we’re further cutting ourselves off from the people around us.

From my personal experience, using creative outlets like a blog or writing a short story, can be very rewarding. It allows you to work through what’s on your mind in a manner that other people can relate to or might be interested in what you’re saying. In many cases it allows you to be someone other than who you are at work. Personally, i do not talk about depression, much at all, with my work colleagues. For one, it makes them uncomfortable when I’m up front about going to therapy and couples therapy. For two, I write about topics, generally, that are completely unrelated to my work and the culture in my office does not really allow for that sort of conversation.

Creative outlets also enable you to take a step away from the constant braying of social media. For a person to be truly creative, you must focus on that task (assuming you want it to be any good), which gives you some space for breath. It gives you time to step back and process things that have been going on around you without constantly shoving more unprocessed information and emotions into your brain. We need down time. We need the ability to sit with ourselves and process who we are and who is around us. Without taking that time for ourselves, we just continue forward as if on auto-pilot. We don’t reflect on what values we have. We don’t reflect on how our actions may have run counter to the values we hold.

Creativity is scary because it forces us to confront the fact that we might produce something no one wants to look at. Something that may be judged. Something we’ll judge (and probably judge too harshly). Something that is uniquely and whole ourselves. Something that, even if imitated, is and always will be ours. On top of that, because we’re alone with ourselves, we have to be alone with ourselves. Which is terrifying.

If you are depressed, try something simple and just doodling for a few minutes. Get a notebook and write something. If you can’t think of something, go to https://old.reddit.com/r/WritingPrompts/ and grab a prompt that seems interesting. Hell if you want to, just write your idea there for other people to vote on. most of the stories I’ve read on there have positive comments on them.

Just do it for a little while. Then go and do something away from a screen for a little bit. I don’t know about you, but I sure as hell feel better when I do.