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Working on estimates

| geek, ibm, learning

Today I sat down with my manager to sketch my learning plan for 2011. I’ll start off with skills for IT architecture: defining scope and estimating effort for projects, designing and implementing systems, and leading the development. For development, I’ll focus on rich user interfaces, modernization, and integration. Next, I’ll learn more about solution development. In the second half, we’ll see if I can learn more about leading teams.

I spent most of the afternoon working on documents of understanding and estimates for upcoming projects. It’s interesting work, although I don’t trust my numbers quite yet. I’ll get better at estimating the more I do it, and I plan to prototype something quickly to check some of the numbers for the riskier parts. It’s actually quite fun doing this number-crunching. It’s like balancing my books. (Yes, I’m weird.)

It’ll be even more wonderful when I’ve gotten the hang of doing these things. Yay learning on the job!

2011-02-07 Mon 21:52

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Lotusphere 2011 wrap-up

Posted: - Modified: | conference, ibm, lotus

This was my first Lotusphere, and it was a blast. Lotus has such an active, passionate, experienced community around it. Heading to the conference, my goals were:

  • [X] Learn more about Lotus Connections adoption and APIs
  • [X] Learn about IBM’s strategy and innovations
  • [X] Get a sense of the ecosystem around Lotus (partners, clients, etc.)
  • [X] Meet people and make personal connections
  • [X] Brainstorm and share insights
  • [X] Show my appreciation for the cool work people do
  • [X] Learn more about conferences and presentations
  • [X] Fulfill my room monitor responsibilities

Here’s what I took away from the sessions and BoFs I attended:

Clients are interested in collaboration and have lots of adoption insights. We’re starting to see interesting case studies from clients. In addition to reporting excellent returns on their investments, clients shared qualitative feedback, such as stories of pilot groups who couldn’t imagine giving up the tools. Successful clients used executive support, communication plans, mentoring, metrics, incentives, role models, and other techniques to help people make new forms of collaboration part of the way people worked. sketchnotes from the birds-of-a-feather session on adoption

LotusLive is awesome. LotusLive currently includes web conferencing and parts of Lotus Connections. LotusLive Labs includes a technical preview of LotusLive Symphony (collaborative document/spreadsheet editing), Slide Library, and Event Maps. (I wish I’d seen Event Maps when I was planning my Lotusphere attendance!) Granted, Google Docs has been around for longer than LotusLive Symphony, but I’m curious about the ability to assign sections for editing or review.

Activity streams and embedded experiences are going to change the inbox. I don’t know when this is going to go into people’s everyday lives, but the idea of being able to act on items right from the notifications will be pretty cool – whether it’s in an enriched mail client like Lotus Notes or a web-based activity stream that might be filtered by different attention management algorithms. It’ll be interesting to figure out the security implications of this, though. It’s already a bad practice to click on links in e-mail right now, so full embedded transactions might encounter resistance or might open up new phishing holes. Project Vulcan is worth watching.

People are already doing interesting things with the Lotus Connections API. Embedding Lotus Connections content / interactions into other websites, adding more information to Lotus Connections, using different authentication mechanisms… people are rocking the API. The compliance API that’s coming soon will help people do even more with Lotus Connections interactions, too.

The next version of Lotus Connections will be even cooler. I’m particularly excited about the idea blogs and the forum improvements, which seem tailor-made for the kind of collective virtual brainstorming we’ve been doing in Idea Labs. Idea blogs are straightforward – a blog post or question with comments that can be voted up or down – but they’ll go a long way to enabling new use cases. Forums will also have question/answer/best answer support.

Sametime Unified Telephony rocks. I need to find out how to get into that. I like click-to-call ringing everyone’s preferred devices, easy teleconferences, and rules for determining phone forwarding.

Lotus Notes and Domino are getting even more powerful. XPages looks pretty cool. I’ll leave the rest of the commentary on this to other bloggers, as my work doesn’t focus enough on Lotus Notes and Domino for me to be able to give justice to the improvements.

The Lotus ecosystem is doing well. Lots of activity and investment from partners and clients.

Analytics + research = opportunity. Interesting research into attention management, activity streams, social network analysis.

Lotus geeks are a world of their own. It’s amazing to spend time with people who have immersed themselves deeply in a technology platform for almost two decades. There’s a depth and richness here that I don’t often find at technology conferences. There’s also a lot of tough love – people like IBM, and they’re not afraid to call us out if we’re not clear or if we seem to be making mistakes. =)

Notes from conversations

The hallway track (those informal encounters and chance connections) resulted in great conversations. For me, the highlights were:

  • Being adopted by various groups – so helpful for this Lotusphere newbie! Special thanks to @alex_zzz>, @belgort, @billmachisky, @branderson3, @ericmack, and @notesgoddess for bringing me into fascinating conversations.
  • Andy Schirmer walking me through his task spreadsheet with eight years of task data summarized in some very cool graphs. I want to have data like that.
  • Talking to Hiro about crowdsourcing and sharing the cool things we’ve been doing with Idea Labs.
  • Seeing all these people I met online. Finally getting to meet Tessa Lau, Bruce Elgort, Julian Robichaux, Mitch Cohen, and other folks, too! It’s great to be able to connect with people on a personal level, thanks to blog posts and Twitter. (How do people manage to keep up to date and remember all of this stuff? I felt all warm and fuzzy when people congratulated me on the recent wedding, and I wished I remembered more tidbits about them. Working on that!)
  • Being reminded by David Brooks and other early adopters that I’ve been around from the beginning of Lotus Connections. (Okay, David did that in a BoF.) It seems Lotus Connections has always been around. <laugh>
  • Joining the geek trivia challenge. The questions about television and comics went way over my head, but it was good to spend time with other folks, and I had so much fun. Well worth needing to figure out how to get back to the Port Orleans hotel after the conference shuttle service ended.
  • Talking to Jeanne Murray and Rawn Shah about a personal maturity model for social business. Some ideas: control of recipients, trust, transparency, conflict resolution techniques, asymmetric knowledge of others, persona separation/integration, acceptance of change; overlap with leadership maturity models; context dependency of decisions…
  • Talking to Bonnie John about the politics of writing about process improvement. Interesting thing to untangle. More thinking needed.
  • Swapping tips on Gen Y life with Julie Brown, Alexander Noble (@alex_zzz>), Brandon Anderson (@branderson3), and others

If I get to attend Lotusphere again, I’d love to be able to stay at the conference hotel. It would be much more convenient and I’d be able to go to more of the evening get-togethers. The chances of my being able to attend again probably depend on how much of the Social Business adoption consulting we’ll get to do over the next year, and I hope we do a lot. I’d also make time to check out the showcase. I missed it this year, thanks to all that chatting.

Next actions for me

For work, I’ll probably focus on external Web 2.0 / social media site development while other groups figure out the structure for social business adoption consulting. I’m looking forward to learning from the case studies, insights, and questions that people have shared, though, and I’d love to do more work in this section.

Here’s what I need to do for post-conference wrap-up:

  • [X] Go through my index cards and write additional notes
  • [X] Contact people I met and follow up on conversations
  • [X] Catch up with work mail
  • [X] Catch up with personal mail
  • [X] Write further reflections
    • [X] Time analysis
    • [X] Appearance and bias
    • [X] IBM and women in technology
    • [X] Reflections on careers, loyalty, story, and alternatives
    • [X] Presentation reflections (time for questions, presentation style, rapport, morning sessions?)
  • [X] Plan my next steps

Other Lotusphere 2011 wrap-ups you might like: Chris Connor, David Greenstein, Luis Benitez (Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5), Andy Donaldson, Marc Champoux (… where are the female bloggers’ writeups?)

See also: Lotusphere social aggregator, Planet Lotus, Twitter search for #ls11, Twitter/blog archive

2011-02-04 Fri 16:04

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Draft Lotusphere BoF on working with the Connections API

| conference, ibm, lotus, presentation

My birds-of-a-feather session got voted into Lotusphere 2011, so I’m preparing some conversation starters.

What should we add to this? What should we remove? #ls11

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Cross-posting between Lotus Connections blogs and a personal blog

| blogging, ibm

I confess: I sometimes forget to update my internal blog. I want to reach as wide an audience as possible, and my personal blog is a way of making ideas and thoughts and insights searchable and public. While I update my personal blog every day (and still have plenty of stories I want to share), my IBM blog occasionally languishes. I post when I have something specific to say about IBM, but otherwise, I forget. New resolution: cross-post more – who knows who might find it useful?

Here’s something I want to share which will definitely help me, at least two other people, and possibly others too. =)

Delphine Remy-Boutang and Anna Dreyzin asked me how to cross-post between blogs. I don’t know of an automatic way to do this yet, although I keep being tempted to write a tool that periodically checks my external blog for posts tagged “ibm” and crossposts them to my Lotus Connections blog. There’s a manual way to do it, though. Use a desktop blog editor that makes cross-posting easier.

How: I’ve set up Windows Live Writer to publish to both my WordPress blog ( and my Lotus Connections blog ( , accessible only within IBM). After I publish a post, I click on the blog dropdown in the top left corner to select another site, choose new categories, perhaps edit the body of the post, and publish the post again. It takes a few extra clicks and opens up a whole new world of serendipitous conversations.

Now why: Why cross-post between blogs?

I see my personal blog as an archive of things I’ve learned. If something can be publicly shared, I’d like to share it there. If not, I can copy the information into my private notes for ease of reference.

Cross-posting to an internal blog makes it easier for people to come across potentially useful posts through our internal search engine as well as through browsing the recent updates. For example, I really should go back and cross-post my Drupal-related posts.

Cross-posting to an external blog makes it easier to keep those blogs up to date and to engage a different audience.

Kaizen (continuous improvement): I’m this close to either writing a Java tool or hacking org2blog.el to support crossposting. ;) The Java tool will probably be easier to share with other people. I might give it a try.

What do you do to make cross-posting easier?

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Wrapping up projects and preparing for the next one

Posted: - Modified: | career, ibm, work

We’re in the final phases of our two Drupal projects. We’re writing test scripts, fixing bugs, and loading production data. In a week or two, we’ll finalize the source code and save a copy of the database. I’ve really liked working on these projects, and I’m looking forward to working on similar things in the future.

As I wrap up on this project and get ready for future ones, I can’t help but think how working in IBM Global Business Services helps me learn about different parts of consulting. We can help with proposals for new projects. We have an internal marketplace that lists openings and required skills. We can submit our resumes and set up interviews. We need to do a little marketing on our own, and we always have to work on keeping our skills up to date.

Today I attended a call with my resource deployment manager. Her role includes matching people with projects. She shared some tips on how to make the most of our tools, some things we might invest time in if we have some downtime between projects, and upcoming projects we might be interested in.

Here are some things I’m looking forward to doing if I have some time between this and my next project:

  • Help write proposals for Drupal and Web 2.0 projects
    • Compile case studies
    • Estimate Drupal projects
    • Prototype?
  • write up and share my Drupal notes
  • Create and compile assets (Drupal case studies, Web 2.0 overviews, etc.)
  • Learn more about Drupal 7, AJAX, information architecture, mobile development, project management, and other interesting things – discuss priorities with manager
  • Maybe work on a conventional skill set – J2EE?
  • Work on paperwork: project assessments, certification, etc.
  • Improve the Lotus Connections toolkit

Just like independent consultants need to always be building their pipeline, I should see if I can balance my future project work so that I’m always working on the pipeline for the next thing: helping out with bids, learning a new skill, and so on.


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Memories of Mandelbrot

| geek, ibm

Image (c) 2007 fsse8info Creative Commons Attribution Copyleft Licence

Benoit Mandelbrot, father of fractals, passed away from pancreatic cancer on October 14, 2010. He was 85 years old.

Fractals made me fall in love with mathematics. I must’ve come across them in first year high school, training for programming competitions. When we weren’t solving problems, we often wrote demo programs to show off what we could do with mathematics, graphics, music, animation, or brute force. One of my team members showed us the Mandelbrot set – beautiful complexity from simple equations. After that, I looked for fractals elsewhere: applications that let you zoom in, animations in the Encarta encyclopedia, the ferns along the path.

Also in high school: on learning that I was interested in fractals, one of my best friends lent me a thick book all about fractals. Partly to impress him (I had a crush on him then, which led to the requisite drama, from which we have thankfully long recovered) and partly for fun, I wrote a Turbo Pascal program that drew several of the fractals described in the book. In fact, it remains my oldest source code still posted on the web (1997), archived by a Russian demo site. Later on, in the breaks between programming contest training sessions, I wrote Lindenmayer system (L-system) evaluators using QBasic so that I could draw binary trees, Koch snowflakes, and Peano curves. When I encountered fractals in fiction – the dragon fractal that iterated through the chapters of Jurassic Park – it was like understanding an in-joke.

Part of the appeal, perhaps, was the combination of limitations and infinities. For example, the Koch snowflake has an infinite perimeter enclosing a finite area. Like the Foxtrot strip where Jason stretches his mind by imagining negative infinity and positive infinity, fractal dimensions boggled me. I loved the feeling. Simple rules belying complexity. And from there it was a short random walk along the chapters and articles to chaos, Lorenz attractors, and butterflies and storms. I may never understand it all fully – but it was reassuring to know that we may never understand it all either.

High school as well, perhaps: I remember a few minutes spent in a bookstore in Hong Kong, hurriedly reading a book on mathematical equations that model nature or produce interesting graphs, hoping I could remember at least a few of the equations from the book by the time I got to a computer. The book was too expensive for me to ask my parents for it on impulse, so I regretfully tucked it back into the crowded bookshelf.

Now, of course, Amazon lists thousands of books about equations and fractals, but I don’t know which books were those that tweaked my life to the mathematical inclination. It’s okay, I remind myself. It’s not important that I have them, and they may not have the same fascination for others.

One last anecdote about fractals; my only anecdote about Benoit Mandelbrot, actually. We were walking through the halls of the IBM research lab I was visiting. Another researcher walked by, nodding. When he was out of earshot, my guide – the awesome Michael Muller – whispered to me, “That was Benoit Mandelbrot.” I was immediately aflutter. I had dimly recalled that computers helped enable the exploration of fractals, but that Benoit Mandelbrot–a figure I had once thought of with the Olympian distance of long-dead science and math heroes like Einstein or Madame Curie–was alive and active, and not only that, he was at IBM… Wow. I wondered if I should run back and ask for his autograph. I didn’t – I try not to be distracted by celebrity – but I kept that feeling of wonder as my souvenir.

It was so hard to not just turn around and fangirl.

So I’m doing that now, here.

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Tips from remote workers

Posted: - Modified: | ibm, tips, work

I attended a networking event for IBM Other Than Traditional Office employees (OTTO, for short) – people who work from home, client sites, mobility centers, and other places. It was held in Second Life Enterprise to take advantage of the Center for Advanced Learning’s speed-networking tools: a system for assigning conversational groups, sound-isolated tables so that you could talk without interfering with other tables, and a screen for information.

Here’s what I learned from the eight people I got to talk to:

  • It’s not even the new normal, it’s the old normal. Many people have been telecommuting for a long time (like 15 years!). I was talking to someone who’d worked on the Selectric typewriter. He said that when he first went remote, people were initially hesitant about whether he’d be available enough. Now it’s generally accepted, and his manager has even told him that he’s easier to contact than people who work in the office. Another person I talked to told me that she’d been encouraged to work from home after she was getting too many interruptions at work. I told them how people compare virtual conversations with watercooler chats and how my norm isn’t the watercooler, it’s online. We live in a pocket of the future – isn’t that amazing?
  • We’re mobile almost by default. Most people I talked to worked from home because they were working with a global team, although some started as the only remote person for an otherwise co-located team. When your team is all over the world, there’s no need to go in to a particular office.
  • Invest in tools. People told me how their wireless keyboards and mice helped them minimize the tangle of cables on their desk. They told me about having a separate business line, with phones that had good features. I shared how much I liked having a headset for my phone – I use a wired headset with a wireless phone (Panasonic KX TGA740). We talked about having second monitors and big monitors, and I shared how useful I find a second laptop.
  • Invest in practices. Lots of people told me about the need for discipline because working at home makes it easier for work to take over other parts of your life. One person suggested blocking off time for exercise on your calendar, a tip he picked up while shadowing an executive. Another told me about the schedule he keeps: an early start at 7 or 8 to get his main work in before the rest of his team interrupted him through instant messaging, with an early end to the day as well. Other people told me about early and late teleconference calls to accommodate different timezones, and how they made sure to set aside time during the day to take care of personal tasks.
  • Diversity is awesome. One of the people I talked to casually mentioned that this was her second career, which she entered after her kids grew up. I was talking to another person about tools and practices for remote workers (headsets!), and he mentioned he’d gotten a wireless one that works really well, which helps because he’s in a wheelchair. I talked to people who really appreciated the ability to flexibly manage their schedule around taking kids to school. IBM rocks.
  • Thinking about the platform: A minor hack to make it easier to limit chats to an area: use channels to message a bot that repeats the message only to people within the same group? Also, I really like the system they’ve built for assigning people into groups that maximize the number of new people you meet. A straightforward improvement would be to build a teleporting tool that uses that information to send you directly to the table for your group, although it might take a little finagling to figure out which chairs haven’t yet been occupied. You could then embed that script into a “kiosk”-type object in the main area as well as the individual timers in the discussion pods. When moving to a new group, then, people could click on the timer to be moved to the right position. (What if the previous round of people are still sitting in the pods?) Perhaps people can be teleported near the pod. The current system of standing up and walking to the right pod works fine, though, so this is really only if you’ve got a lot of avatars – which is unlikely given the load on each grid segment. So it would be cool to have these tweaks, but it’s not necessary at this scale.

All the questions in the post-networking group chat were about the platform. I’ve been to a number of IBM events in SecondLife, and I think it can be a great way to connect. Looking forward to seeing other groups take advantage of this!

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