Monday, July 25, 2016

Bombing American Suspects

A US military hand grenade has a
15' kill radius and 50' injury radius.
The Dallas Police Department set a new law enforcement precedence, earlier this month, when they bombed the alleged sniper who shot 12 police officers, killing five. (The media uses terms such as alleged and suspected because a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty. They are suspected until convicted. This is an important concept that literally makes America great.) The pound of C4 (Composition C) explosive used in the Dallas bombing counter-attack is more than twice as much explosive found in a typical hand grenade (Composition B, with steel fragments).

I have no doubt, had I been a member of the Dallas Police Department, that I would have supported the bombing. It's very "Dirty Harry-ish." It's very "Charles Bronson-ish." Quick and decisive justice. But the anger at the sniper, Micah Xavier Johnson, doesn't necessarily make this tactic right in a moral sense. Keep in mind that what works on TV, even reality TV, doesn't necessarily work in the real world. (Even though reality TV shows aren't scripted, they're still produced and directed.)

Police have the authority to use lethal force for defensive purposes, but this isn't a license to kill or summarily execute. So, the question hanging in the air is, "Is it wrong for the police to bomb suspects?"  The short answer is, "It depends." It depends on police departments codifying their procedures, openly, in a manner that doesn't conflict with any American's civil rights. Discussing and debating these laws openly is key, otherwise it will end up in a shady area like law enforcement's controversial use of the StingRay phone tracker.

Is it wrong to use atomic or nuclear weapons in war? For my entire lifetime, and then some, the answer has been a resounding, "Yes, it is very wrong." Yet, America is the only country to use atomic weapons. By doing so, America set a contrarian precedence that no one, including us, should detonate these weapons of war. So far, it's worked. It's worked primarily because of national treaties, MAD, and, more importantly, due to the fact that the effort required to create an atomic weapon is on the scale of putting a person into orbit. No organization has done either other than a national government. But that will change.

Where do I stand on the Dallas bombing tactic? While I wish the police didn't need to use military tactics on American's, here's the pragmatic reality of a tactical commander in the field... no one should second guess them. Police have rules of engagement (ROE) to follow. There were no ROE forbidding the use of atomic weapons in WW II because there was no precedence. But, once a precedence has been set, it becomes time to address it.

In the short term, the concern at hand is, if cops overreact and shoot blacks, and then blacks overreact and shoot cops, and then cops overreact and shoot blacks... well then, how does that end?

Saturday, July 23, 2016

The World is More Dangerous?

The world is more dangerous, today, than in the past? Really? When was the last World War? A lot of people died in those wars.

Scores of millions.

Perhaps, we’re more aware of violence, nowadays, due to social and mass media?

Of course we can always do better, but let's keep things in perspective.

Friday, July 22, 2016


H/T to Dave Reece for sharing this image.
Open-mindedness doesn't mean gullible, indecisive, or impressionable, rather it's the receptiveness to new ideas. Closed-mindedness, on the other hand, is the unwillingness to consider new ideas.

Considering a new idea doesn't mean you have to buy into it hook, line, and sinker. It simply means that you're willing to listen to the idea and evaluate it on its logical merits. A big part of that is getting your facts right, before stating your opinions. That's the art of persuasion. A healthy way to look at open-mindedness is to learn all you can about a subject while removing or minimizing the emotional aspect.

Keep an open mind and a level head.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Politics is About Access, Usually

I once served on the board of a non-profit with nearly 30 voting directors. When I joined the board, one of the directors told me, "The board always votes with the chair."

By no means was my fellow trustee telling me that I needed to vote with the chair; rather, he was telling me that enough of the board backed the chair that his will was the de facto outcome. Turns out he was right. It wasn't a conspiracy, it's simply the way of the world.

If I know you and you run for a highly visible political office then I'll probably vote for you. Because I know you, that gives me access to you. This is why G.W. Bush won the Republican nomination over McCain in 2000. G.W. Bush shows up with access to his father's political connections thereby making it easier to push forward the Republican's agenda.

But, access isn't always enough. If it were, then Hillary Clinton would have won the 2008 Democratic nomination over a freshman senator. Even a woman, with more experience in federal politics, was no match for a man in the eyes of the the American public. (Don't forget that black men won the right to vote decades before white women, in America.)

Similar to Schwarzenegger, the key thing that makes Trump stand out is his celebrity. As a New Yorker, I've heard about Trump since the mid-1980s; and the rest of America has known him for at least a decade. He's been a common sight in our living room since the turn of the century; far more often than Clinton – and as much as people blame the rich, we all want to be rich.

So, using this logic, it would seem that Trump will be the next president of the United States.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

White Thoughts on Black Issues

After writing my most recent post on race relations in America, I discovered that I have a lot to say on this topic. More than I imagined. So, I've started a new blog,, with the following intent:

The purpose of 'White Thoughts on Black Issues' is for me, a white man, to express my thoughts on black issues. I'm doing my best to see these issues through the lens of African Americans. I've seen the injustices facing blacks in the past and I didn't say anything; now, I am changing that. At the very least, I'll learn more about the issues.

It starts the with the fundamental human rights granted to us in the Constitution, reinforced by my former oath of office:
To support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

Any person or organization usurping those rights from an American citizen is a threat to the U.S. Constitution.

I have a lot on my mind.
I have a lot to say.
It might not all be perfect, but I'm listening.
I'm learning.
If you disagree then make me understand. 

Friday, July 8, 2016

Don't Fan the Flames

A fire was started and now gasoline has been thrown on it. Why did I not say anything about the original fire? That is a question I'm afraid to answer because I might not like what I find out about myself.

How do we make this better? For starters, by not making matters worse. Be cautious about inadvertently fanning the flames. Fear, hate, and blame spread like wildfire. It's one thing to be disgusted, it's another thing to take positive, constructive action to better the situation for all involved. Hashtags help very little compared to critical thinking and peaceful action. We should be saddened and angry about the past, but we can't change it. (Easier said than done, but I’d rather live in a state of peace than unending war.)

I recall a lesson from General Colin Powell, when he was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as he addressed us at the Naval Academy, "Get pissed, then get over it." Now make a better future. You have more power, control, and influence than you realize; use it wisely.

Don't stop at anger. Don't stop at hate. Do stop at peace.

Update: After an healthy discussion with a black Academy classmate, he pointed out that "Get pissed, then get over it," is a bit too flippant when dealing with death. His suggestion makes more sense, "Get angry and do something about it," explicitly pointing out that the something should be non-violent.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Libraries of Anxiety

Books and beauty
When I was in high school, I worked as a page at my local library in Huntington, NY. I was in charge of 770 – 799, which covered sports, music, photography, and videography. I remember trying to get through a book in my section, Hemingway's Death in the Afternoon, without any luck. Last year, I tried reading it again and failed – I simply didn't have enough interest in bullfighting to get through it. Although the library has moved to a beautiful new location, it still holds my childhood memories.

This morning, I paid a visit to the new library that opened a number of years ago. I saw a children's librarian listening to a book report for a youngster which reminded me of my summers at the library during elementary school. As a kid, I would have to read ten books before the end of the summer. After reading each book, I'd get a sticker to place on my report card. After the fifth and tenth book I'd summarize one, of my choice, to the children's librarian, who'd always smile in a welcoming way while I retold the tale. As I recalled this memory, I saw a kid summing up his latest book to a children's librarian. While looking on, I took photos of the quiet architecture and landscaping. Although I'm extremely discrete about my iphoneography, I wasn't clandestine enough.

Upside, Downside

Traveling between San Diego and Huntington gives me an opportunity to observe some stark differences in attitudes. While San Diego's known for its laid back attitude, New York is known for its uptightness. Throughout this past week, in Huntington, I continually noticed a contagious anxiety coupled with a low level of situational awareness. Yesterday, I discussed this with my former sixth grade teacher who's keenly aware of the issue. We agreed that it's due to a lack of worldly experience. (In her mid-seventies, she's a highly independent traveler who makes her way up and down the East Coast and the South to attend events and visit friends.) I have noticed the impatient agitation over the past week when driving while waiting second in line at a red light. On most occasions, I've watched the car in front of me continually creep forward, anticipating the green light, to the point that the car's rear axel was forward of the limit line while the traffic light was still red. This morning, I came face to face with this attitude when snapping a few photos at the library. A librarian confronted me, wanting to know why I was taking photos. The attitude's similar to that of being confronted by a police officer probing for a possible crime or violation. I gave the librarian a warm smile, to defuse her anxiety, and told her that I used to work at the library in high school. No, there are no policies about taking photos in the public library (especially in a discrete way); it was simply a lack of understanding of why someone would take photos of unseen beauty. Throughout this area there is a large fear of "different," followed by questions that are not so much intended for understanding, rather the questions are asked with a tone of a lack of acceptance.

I think a lot of fear comes from an imagined lack of control, understanding, experience and initiative people have in their environment which leads to a personal isolationism, both mentally and physically. I've observed the exact opposite when I've giving group tours of Apple's Infinite Loop campus. The Apple campus is not open to the public, but the public does have physical access to Apple's parking lots and sidewalks on the private Infinite Loop street. I suspect that many other, less outwardly focused companies, would confront other individuals and groups, on their grounds, and ask them to leave.

Focus outward and seek to understand, tolerate, and accept before rejecting and ridiculing. Different doesn't necessarily mean wrong. 

Anxious Excitement Kills The Sale

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Startup Fundraising Idea

I heard an interesting startup fundraising idea from a well know VC. He made the point that he always takes at least 20% of a company. This has led to long discussions with entrepreneurs who, at times, had fought hard for the difference between 19% and 21%. He highlighted that most CEOs, looking to raise funds frequently show up at his door with two other cofounders, each with 33% of the company. His point: You've already given away two-thirds of your company and now you're fighting me over a 2% difference. Instead, consider keeping 100% and then give 10% to the first few people you hire for key positions. They might not technically be cofounders, but they're getting an excellent deal.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Puppy Leadership: Advice to USNA Class of '16

Those hats fly high at graduation.
Today, the US Naval Academy Class of 2016 graduated. A year ago, I gave my tidbit of advice to the Class of 2015. In keeping with that tradition, I am offering a piece of advice to the Class of 2016 on leadership that comes from experience. This advice touches on a pet peeve of mine I call Puppy Leadership.

Puppy Leadership is where we all start when we first have direct reports in our charge. When we were new people managers we were overly excited like a young puppy. The key is to learn quickly from your leadership mistakes. Since leaving the military, I've taken for granted the experiences I had. Unfortunately, in Corporate America, I'm too frequently reminded that not everyone has had the same opportunities I had in my 20s to lead many dozens of direct reports. Specifically, I'm referring to being a calm, thoughtful, and, most importantly, an outwardly focused leader.

Several times, I have been a manager's first direct report. This has been especially painful for me when my new manager has spent more than a decade as a career individual contributor. Individual contributors are the people in the trenches. They're the ones doing the real work such as software engineers, copywriters, graphic artists, sales account managers, etc. Individual contributors are knowledge workers who need quiet working conditions to create and get things done. Individual contributors need to focus inward, on their work, which is great for what they do. However, in my experience, it becomes a problem when a long time individual contributor moves up into people management without proper training. Proper training starts with the dos and don'ts of good leadership practices. Leaders set the example, more so by their actions than their words. My list of dos and don'ts focuses more on the don'ts, as in don't do this or don't do that. Over the years, I've complied this list of bad leadership practices I've experienced and I've made some of these mistakes, myself. There are many more traits of a bad leader that you can add to this list, in the comments section. In the mean time, read and learn quickly, young grasshopper. Do not make the same mistake twice.

A poor leader will frequently...

0. Not supervise, which is the most important leadership step.

1. Tell a direct report to do something urgent, and then interrupt with either other tasks or asking for unnecessary status updates that impede progress.

2. Micromange, meaning they will tell a direct report how to do their job. Save the how for training sessions and don't confuse supervision with micromanagement.

3. Not inspect subordinate's work before passing it along and then blame the subordinate when their work is rejected. A leader must inspect what they expect.

4. Send an e-mail on a non-pressing issue and then immediately followup with an interruptive text or phone call asking, "Did you receive my e-mail?" Equally annoying is sending multiple messages as a stream of consciousness instead of taking a minute or two to think things through.

5. Fail to keep track of both their own tasks and of the tasks they've delegated. Since they're not tracking delegated tasks, they can't effectively supervise to ensure that tasks are completed.

6. Dump tasks on subordinates, instead of delegating. The poor leader will task subordinates when items pop into their head, regardless if it's in the hallway, lunch room, or at the bar over a beer. Set your subordinates up for success by delegating to them when they're best poised to receive and write down your tasks.

7. Fail to clearly define and prioritize tasks they've delegated with deadlines. It's best to get confirmation from a subordinate that a deadline is reasonable.

8. Make busy work when stressed and mistaken activity for progress.

9. Go first when leading a staff meeting. When a leader runs a staff meeting, they should hear from all of their subordinates before delegating tasks since the work of a staff member may already address an issue.

10. Show up first to eat free food at a corporate event and do very little to contribute to the event.

11. Think a subordinate's on-call, day and night, to be tasked at any moment, regardless of a task's urgency. A poor leader does this because they're afraid of forgetting the task and they want to get it off their plate.

12. Explain the same thing repeatedly, over and over again, frequently, time and time again; both in e-mail and when speaking. It's redundant and wastes people's time, needlessly. (Yes, there is an intentional redundant pun in this item.)

13. Make a plan. Tell it to you. Then change the plan for a non-obvious, trivia reason and not relay the changes.

14. Interrupts productivity by calling for meetings at the last minute, with little notice and no agenda.

15. Delegate tasks while borrowing a senior manager’s authority (Damn XO), then they fail to see why their own tasks aren’t carried out by direct reports.

16. Speak negatively about others, behind their back, rather than addressing the problem with a real solution.

17. Increase assignments without adjusting timelines. Something's "gotta give," either the deadline or the work quality. You can have it good, fast, or cheap. Pick only two.

18. Be overly concerned with using their subordinates to make themselves look good, especially by taking credit for their subordinate's accomplishments while dodging responsibility for their shortcomings.

The bottom line for all leaders is: Do you inspire people to go out of their way for you? If you don't then adjust your leadership style before assuming it's due to poor subordinate performance. You're the leader, so lead. At the end of the day, you're responsible for everything your team does and fails to do. Don't be that overly excited puppy, bouncing off the walls and yelping at everyone.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Apple Car

Apple CEO, Tim Cook and Didi President, Jean Liu in China
When Apple invested $1B in Didi Chuxing, the "Uber" of ride sharing in China, it got me thinking...

What do wrist watches and cars have in common? They've both been around for a hundred years and, in my life time, there hasn't been significant innovation prior to the last decade. Until recently, cars have used internal combustion engines to transport people and wrist watches simply told time.

Over the last dozen years, we've seen automobiles transition from internal combustion engines to hybrid and pure electric cars. While it's still a nascent technology, with single digit market share, it's growing. The same is true for wrist watches which have been simple digital or analog devices with limited functionality beyond telling time. Once a technology has matured, it frequently becomes a fashion item such as clothes, cars, condos, and color choices, to name a few. A $10,000 watch doesn't necessarily tell better time than a $10 watch; and a $110,000 car doesn't get you to your destination faster than a $10,000 car. The inside of a $299 Apple Watch is the same as a $17,000 Apple Watch.

Before the Apple Watch, Apple could choose the form factor for their products. Simply look at the Apple II, Mac, iMac, iPod, etc to see how Apple dictated the industrial design. That changed with the Apple Watch where Apple had to fit the technology into a predefined form factor while making it fashionable. Wearable high tech is hard to make fashionable, as we saw with Google Glass. The key to rapid adoption is packing innovative technology into a familiar form factor.

For years, there's been a long standing rumor that Apple is developing a car. The details are secret and many Apple R&D products never see the light of day. But it seems clear that Apple's working on something automotive related, whether it's an entire electric car or merely software for a car.

Perhaps, Apple can bring to market a self-driving electric car, which is the holy grail of personal transportation. Now, imagine if you produced a self-driving car and you owned a transportation network company?