Sunday, January 11, 2015

Review: 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works


10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works
10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works by Dan Harris

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



I've never heard of Dan Harris and I wasn't one of the 5 million who watched his panic attack on a televised news program. When I did watch it on YouTube I guess I was, well, expecting a real meltdown. I am going to agree with Mr. Harris when, in the book, he suggested that the title for this missive on his life's journey through meditation, spirituality, and the well, quite interesting broadcast news journalism, had somewhere in the title, "..Asshole..". I think he should have stuck with that. Not that I think he's an asshole; just that he self describes so accurately and be the first to tell you of his over privileged attitude and sometimes you see a glimmer of ... let's be honest, Danny grows up. Some of the things he describes really do make you nod your head and say, "Aw, yer all grown up Danny boy." In December of 2014 he and his wife welcomed a son into the world (who is as cute as any news anchor I've ever seen) and I have a feeling that this book may even be better if he does some re-writes after realizing that the world isn't just catering to his self described over privileged attitude. Putting that aside, and even putting meditation aside, which I'm wont to implement, how would I know that the insight into the broadcast journalism life would be so interesting. Hell, I was even a Peter Jennings fan at one time. Dan describes the makeup of that personality (que "Cult of Personality") and of the people around him and every nuance of work life that we all go through--which is a sideline to the main idea. What I enjoyed most about this book was that it is a cynic...or a realist that comes to grips with that itch of self awareness and soul searching that pushes them to exhaust every plausibility before recognizing that while spirituality can be (and in some cases must be) set aside; science comes in and makes the case.



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Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates, Rome's Deadliest Enemy Book Review


The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates, Rome's Deadliest EnemyThe Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates, Rome's Deadliest Enemy by Adrienne Mayor
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It is often difficult to understand contemporary world conflicts and how easily humans flock to warfare. This volume brings home the reality that ultimately we haven't changed much and the violent ways in which men, and even women, fought face first in some of the ugliest battles that ever occurred, reminds me of it. Mithradates lived a long, colorful, and very fruitful life even though he murdered some of his own family - or had them murdered. He was calculated and practically undefeatable as he moved from one conquest to another to finally succumbing to the reality that no nation gets to be king of the mountain forever. My imagination was completely captivated by the historical meat that was offered even though I did have to repeat some material and it is, as I said, a huge volume. The cast of characters that surrounded Mithradates added to the incalculable layers of stories that seemed to flow from all the posturing, kingdom expanding, espionage, and brutal war mongering. With countless dramatizations of Rome's history this counter balance gives the reader the oft forgotten side of other world players in the history of mankind. While Mithradates, in defeat, eventually made his way through the caucasus mountain range - no small feat by any means - with his lover/wife/warrior Hypsicratea, he certainly never allowed his avowed enemy any pleasure. The wounds he would receive in battles, the many poisons he ingested to build up tolerances, the familicide...all roads lead to an ugly ending. Even in death Mithradates seemed larger than life as no one account can fully answer some of the questions surrounding the facts of it. Since Mithradates life was 120-63 BCE, it is somewhat of a anthropological examination of some political and cultural events leading to the eventual birth of Jesus in, or around, 2 BCE. It allows a Biblical scholar some modern non-fiction accounts that help fill in some sociological ideas. It's not hard to see how varied the many religions that flourished then and it adds a perspective that although we may think in terms of a handful of singular religions; the truth is that any kingdom that could conquer a nation and force assimilation meant survival--and what's more amazing is how modern that idea still rings truth. It's also of great interest that women fought alongside of their male counterparts in these very hands-on battles. Many contemporary anthropological finds are now challenging some of the burial sites in that any time weapons were found the assumption was male. Mostly Scythian, women have been found buried with their armor, weapons, and even horses. Ultimately, the goal of procuring such a volume as this is to expand one's mind and educate the reality of humanity by learning about its history. This book, most assuredly, has done that.

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Friday, January 2, 2015

Review: Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War


Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War
Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War by Karen Abbott

My rating: 5 of 5 stars



I loved Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy. It's not often you pick up a non-fiction history book about the Civil War and find yourself laughing, crying, and even caught up in the espionage/secrecy that all women were caught up in--on BOTH sides of the war. This accurate story, told in a way of dramatic adventure, thankfully lacks the in-credulousness of most fiction characters which are often over developed in their portrayal. Luckily this was my first introduction to Rose Greenhow and I could see her inside of the diary entries and letters as she worked the espionage circles. The typical characters of the Civil War such as Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, General George McClellan, Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson and Varina Davis, and Robert E. Lee grew even more realistic and added different facets coming from these ladies stories. It's amazing to think that much like the Amazon women who fought along side war mongers during the Mithridatic wars that there were women in the Civil War as we work towards women's equality in the services today. Eighty-five female Marines made it through infantry training recently and even now simulated combat training is taking place to see if women will be allowed back on the front lines. Imagine -- history has proved that those women who wanted to be in combat found a way to get there, driven by their own internal force but once "good sense" sent them into Rosie the Riveter mode it was no longer an option. It was interesting to watch the progression of Belle Boyd as it seemed as everything she did was with extreme passion and gusto and some of her reactions and views of the world were quite entertaining. If Belle Boyd and Stonewall Jackson were alive today she would totally be stalking him on facebook and tweeting out his every single move! The espionage those women committed mind, body, and soul to made the difference between winning and losing. My favorite character was Emma Edmonds, who not only risked her life but but her heart, had to run far away from whatever torment she suffered at the hands of her father to support a country that she hadn't even been a citizen of. In her career she tended to the sick and wounded and pulled wounded men from the battlefield while the musket balls were still flying. Her daring and brave acts saved men and the thought of love lost by not being able to reveal herself to her friend in arms was especially emotive.

This book is highly recommended, as it gives another facet to a war that happened in our own country and how divided we once stood- that lately, seems very familiar.



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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Amazon Changes Everything (About Shopping)

My name is Connie and I'm an Amazon Addict.  It's been 2 hours since my last amazon.com visit.

Recently we were shopping and I've found that lately I don't skip checking prices on Amazon because they've made it entirely too easy for me.  On my Motorola Turbo Android phone I can now scan the barcode of anything and instantly check.  No, I didn't get Amazon's Fire phone because although I'm an early adopter, I am locked in another contract.  But you don't need the Fire phone to do comparative shopping while out and about.

I tend to look for odd bits; like odd cat treats, did you know that cats and even dogs love fish flakes?  Literal dried flakes of tuna or salmon.  I bought a jar of it at a local Alabama pet store, scanned the barcode and Amazon couldn't find any.  After I ran out I went back to the pet store and they were completely out.  Ultimately I checked 2 more pet stores to no avail.  I just assumed that my cat (and dog) wouldn't be snacking on fish flakes any longer.  In Nashville this past weekend I went to a Pet Supermarket and they had the flakes, just a different brand name and it was tuna versus salmon.  One scan of the barcode showed that Amazon did in fact carry it; but it was slightly more expensive.  Obviously Prime has to pay for free (quick) shipping somehow!  I quickly tweeted the comparison - not because I want Amazon to know that I'm disappointed, but to show local retailers that consumers are going to soon be comparison shopping right in their store.  So you wonder why retailers should give free WiFi to shoppers?  Now you know.  TYVM.

A step inside TJ Maxx can turn into a Sams Club or Costco "OMG, did I really need ALL OF THIS?" trip.  I handled it pretty well but while shopping I found this awesome bag that I need for my Lenovo Yogo 2 Pro.  It was the perfect bag!  Just not the perfect price...quick check with the scan showed that Amazon had a retailer selling but it was much more expensive than TJ Maxx.  A quick tweet and now TJ Maxx knows a shopper is comparing prices.  Then I found the brown leather one and scanned that too.  I didn't leave with a bag but now I have it in my wish list and when the Amazon retailer lowers the price I can nab it.

A friend of mine recently quipped after I sent her the link to the new Amazon Echo that it would be great if Amazon could start making money.  I stepped back and thought about it.  The mentality of a shareholder.  It doesn't make any sense that Amazon shareholders would continue to put up with the reinvestment of cash into things like voice sensing robots or phones that tried to help plan your shopping meal would make sense.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think

Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You ThinkAbundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think by Peter H. Diamandis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A slightly overdone realist totally captivated by the genius ideas behind the rising billion, social entrepreneurship, exponential change and the tenets of meeting basic needs in order to catapult darkness into light. I was completely captivated by the topics...the technology...the positivism. In a myriad of woe is me and earth shattering expletives of world ending moments of terror, disaster, and the human condition need an uplifting idea. I so wish Audible and Amazon would work out a text deal such that one could capture a paragraph. Listening to this book was quite soothing over the course of 2 six hour drives plus some. I rewind enough such that I could glean some positivism in between fence jumpers, ISIS crisis, execution videos, emotionally wrought high-schoolers with weapons, and drought calamities. I highly recommend this book even for us realists who never argue that the glass is half full or empty. If you love the power of technology and social media ugliness has got you down...read this book.

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Thursday, July 17, 2014

A Huge Price Tag for a De-Centralized Implementation. Twenty Four Billion dollars.

What if you could take a minute to look into a certain spectrum of Department of Defense (DoD) spending on a particular element of Information Technology (IT) just because it interested you?
Okay, maybe it doesn't interest you, but since I've had my eyeballs, sometimes firmly affixed, on the conduits of information ebbs and flows I often like to check in, if you will, and see how things are going.  (That was alot of commas; wasn't it?) The takeaway you can have is, how much money does it take to get the armed forces on one sheet of music with regards to logistic enterprise resource planning?  This is how much (at March 2012) that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports (all public information):
  • Army systems = around $10 Billion
  • NAVY systems = around $4 Billion
  • Air Force systems = around $8.5 Billion
  • USMC systems = around $1.1 Billion 
  • Defense Logisics Agency (DLA) = $209 Million

Twenty.   Four.   Billion.   Dollars.
The GAO report is here:  http://www.gao.gov/assets/590/589796.pdf

Are you at least curious what I'm talking about?  Of course you are, you are still reading.  Or watching a Google advertisement - I insist you do one or the other before you leave.  Check out this video of a 3 minute walk through of what the Army says Global Combat Support System (GCSS) is:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yMgDJNo2_PM Did you gloss over 1:06?  Watch it again and listen to LTG Charles Mahan (Ret) emphatically say that SAP (also known as Systems, Applications, and Products in data processing) was the only company that could accomplish this.  (Soldier for 35 years and a VP for SAP circa '05/'06 via LinkedIn) I'm only mentioning this because in the world of contracting the pool either has 1 ring, 2 rings, or 3 rings.  (I don't want you to think that hard; most kiddie pools stop at 3)

Could they (SAP) not have also accomplished this for the USMC?  In 2020 allow the ability to perform data mining on the same systems too.  Together.  One team.  One mission and purpose.  There is my problem - being logical.  Let's not get carried away--thats too big of a mission and purpose! (like healthcare.gov)  If we build one system structure then it will be undermined by security nuances.  Wait, why is it that there is so much information out there about how GCSS is being built (read: if you know how I built it; you can undermine it)?  I heard someone once say that SAP, Oracle, whatever, they would all be interfaced to one another.  Let's consider:  Does a contracting company who has invested over 10+ years in building this solution - will they build in easy integration?  I'm looking at you sideways, only you can't see me.

What confounds the concept is that the ideas of centralizing the efforts, nay, stopping to take a moment of pause, and recognize that implementation of a SAP (for GCSS) system for the Army and an Oracle based solution for the USMC didn't make good business/data (ha) sense but decentralizing key concepts did.  Consider hacker attacks-they build to target one type of system, for the most part, so the complexity for attacking both SAP and Oracle a little more difficult.  At least that's what we can argue (cough).  It is (dramatic pause), complex.

A thesis, public information, was written in September of 2010 by Mark Jones.  This paper identified the struggles that GCSS was plagued with, the Government Accountability Office (GAO)'s identification of some issues (in 2010) and clear recommendations to continue. Thesis paper here  I've extracted the meat (grain fed organic!):

This  two  release  strategy  reinforced  the  philosophy  that  designing  and implementing  smaller  increments  of  capability  over  short  periods  of  time  allows capability, even if it is reduced from the original plan, to be fielded earlier to the user (it's like waterfall to software developers).  Know that the "user" is the warfighter.  The men and women we laud on days committed to them and commit our reverence to their very existence.  (Without them; we can't write informational blogs.)  This is a key concept in building systems to support DoD - at the end of the day if your requirements don't fulfill that end means; then fail.  Bean counters sweat bullets.  If you catch my drift.  But, is the end product supporting real users.

The question I pose (oblivious to the one above), why should the DoD spend as much money as they have in six systems when maybe one system could be developed to be used by all four Services with key security components tailored specifically to thwart common hacks.  Again, I'm visited by ghost past: Healthcare.gov
Effort: RICE (customized Oracle) Objects ACTUAL- Severe customization. SHOULD HAVE - Conform to core software functionality and change business processes of each Service (but we'll say USMC because, well yes).
Post Deployment System Support - ACTUAL - SCATTERED to the winds with multiple contracts, configurations, and release mgmt.  SHOULD HAVE - Centralized, single contract, configuration, and release mgmt.
The GCSS-MC program recognized the complexity and technical challenges in customizing the COTS product and moved the RICE objects for the cross domain solution and data synchronization capability into Release 1.2 allowing the GCSS-MC program to field the basic capability of supply and maintenance management sooner to the war fighter and speed up the process of eliminating the legacy supply and maintenance systems.
I couldn't have stated it any better than Mark, "Therefore, the perception of buying a COTS product to minimize development effort is exactly that, a perception. In addition to not supporting the functional and technical requirements, the COTS product does not provide the unique Service Component business processes nor does it provide the unique ...financial requirements. The implementation of the unique DoD requirements translates to a large development effort in terms of customization and configuration."  I'm sorry; I know you are bored...

The intent of the Strategic Plan is to share information across DoD and with mission partners, in summary this includes: the information itself; the Department’s management over the information life cycle; the processes associated with managing information to accomplish the DoD mission and functions; activities related to designing, building, populating, acquiring, managing, operating, protecting and defending the information enterprise; and sharing of related information resources such as personnel, funds, and equipment.
To develop such a system, a Lead Service or external entity could act as the Program Office and manage the entire life cycle support of the system.  ----that right there?  Is just insane.

But I don't think it is.  I have experienced the lack of subject matter expertise in software and system development and I'm almost certain that years of drowning in legacy systems only inebriated value added development.  One vision, multiple missions, and end product that is usable, repeatable, and has outputs that drive decisions.  Magic.  I heard somewhere that magic was expensive.  It certainly is when division comes in play.

Stumbling Across Evidence Based Design (EBD)

The Veterans Administration (VA) has been taking a lot of heat lately.  Dad is a veteran; but his silent health issues never extended into the VA system's quagmire seen here lately.  He's safe and comfortable within the comfort of his own home with his caregiver; Mom.  While we're very lucky to have Mom provide this care, it is now two, not one human life, that is being denied environmental joys each of us take for granted on a daily basis.  A walk in the park could be jarring for an Alzheimer's patient.  But what if it wasn't?  What if even a walk in the park was designed specifically to visually assist someone to start...and finish.

If you aren't personally touched by a life with dementia related disease then you probably don't know about Dementia Friendly Cities (DFC).  "A DFC survey found that many people with dementia feel constrained by the condition and are not confident to get out and engage in their areas. Overwhelmingly, 63% of people with dementia did not want to try new things and the underlying issues of confidence, worry and fear must be overcome in a dementia-friendly community."

http://www.actonalz.org/dementia-friendly
http://www.actonalz.org/sites/default/files/documents/Dementia_friendly_communities_full_report.pdf

This week I was introduced to a community hospital in Virginia.  Naturally I did my homework to get an overall idea of what/where/how.  I don't even have cable television and yet I still see the many social media and news site's reports of VA sins-a-grievous.   Fort Belvoir Community Hospital (FBCH) introduced me to Evidence Based Design (EBD) and it goes well with understanding what environmental comforts people with dementia related issues might find less stressful to navigate.

"As a result of the Base Realignment and Closure recommendations released May 13, 2005, the decision was made to close DeWitt Army Community Hospital and Walter Reed Army Medical Center" and realign staff and resources from DeWitt and Walter Reed National and to Fort Belvoir.  FBCH began serving patients in 2011.  "FBCH is part of National Capital Region Medical, a Department of Defense joint-service medical command based in Bethesda, Md.   FBCH is a $1.03 billion, 1.3 million-square-foot facility [Wikipedia].  The hospital is part of an integrated health care system under the Joint Task Force National Capital Region Medical (JTF CapMed) providing health care to members of the United States Armed Forces and their families."  Lucky Armed Forces and their families.

FBCH is "the first integrated healthcare facility serving all branches of the U.S. military’s active-duty service members, retired veterans, and their families using evidence-based design (EBD), sustainable design principles, and structured cultural change criteria."  It makes you wonder how on one hand, we have such ugly reports of grievous errors against our patriotic warriors, and yet on the other we talk sustainable design principles and cultural change criteria!

"The original directive for the art program, according to the dictates of biophilic design and current evidence-based standards, called for realistic and representative imagery with subjects that were clearly recognizable."  This is key for someone with Alzheimer's.  Finding a recognizable form with which to grasp is integral to survival.  The shape of my face has meaning.  It does not mean that Dad can say, "Connie".  It means that in his mind the curve of my smile, the crease of my brow...has meaning.  It means comfort of knowing.

"Research shows that meaningful engagement with the arts improves quality of life for those with dementia-Non-pharmacological interventions use a wide range of approaches, characterised as behaviour-, emotion-, stimulation- or cognition-oriented, that aim to improve quality of life and maximise function in the context of existing deficit." http://bjp.rcpsych.org/content/201/5/344.full  Alzheimer's care givers are usually spouses.  The profound sense of loss is rarely shared because an Alzheimer patient finds the outside world very stressful so caregivers maintain the same distance.

"At Fort Belvoir Community Hospital, the art program rests on a solid foundation of nature-based imagery, a central tenant in EBD, based primarily upon the findings from Roger Ulrich’s groundbreaking 1984 study of patients with and without access to views of the outside."  I read these words and quietly hoped that some veteran and their spouse would be able to appreciate such dedication to design.

Alzheimer's patients tend to wander.  "Wandering is often seen as a “symptom” of Alzheimer’s, but it is more realistically seen as a natural tendency to look for something, to explore, but in a setting that has no self-evident layout" "Cues can be photos in the hallway of seascapes and urban streets that remind people of the places they spent their lives".

Like stumbling in a half lit room, sleepily, as you make your way to and from the safety of a bed.  Your hands reach out, grasping for a sure hold, and the shapes in the room become your compasses.  Shapes that are familiar and certain, but sleep-blurred.  Sounds of a fan comfort the space or the slow rhythmic breathing of a pet.  If you squint your eyes sometimes at everyday objects; you might see those shapes that bring some clarity.  The curve of smile and crease of a brow.  Details are for the faint hearted.

Dementia related diseases seem to be growing; and when you are the child of family history you tend to take stock in data related research.  "An estimated 5.2 million Americans of all ages have Alzheimer’s disease in 2013. This includes an estimated 5 million people age 65 and older, and approximately 200,000 individuals under age 65 who have younger-onset Alzheimer’s.  By mid-century, someone in the United States will develop the disease every 33 seconds.  By 2025, the number of people age 65 and older with Alzheimer’s disease is estimated to reach 7.1 million."
http://www.alz.org/downloads/facts_figures_2013.pdf

Ultimately, we all must bear the weight of an aging nation.  I like the idea and implementation of Evidence Based Design and I hope that when I'm stumbling in the dark one day that someone has taken it upon themselves to look into my eyes and know that I recognize the curve of their smile and the crease of their brow.