Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Web Fads

On a recent podcast of TWiT (This Week in Tech), one of the guys commented that blogging has polluted the net with redundant information. Several members of the panel echoed the idea that a Google search on any topic can yield an enormous amout of results, many irrelevant in part due to the rants and raves of so many people on these silly blogs discussing the same or similar subject. They complained that so many people just copy and paste content from other's sites that it becomes more and more difficult to trace to the source.

So with all that in mind, I'm going to link to a very interesting commentary I recently read regarding web fads that have come and gone. When I think of a "fad," I think of the 1970's. I think of bell bottoms, pet rocks, "un-" somethings, disco, etc. (I was born in 1972, so I can't say I actually remember any of these fads, I just heard about them in the 80's). Or maybe the 1980's with the shirt collars turned up (I'm happy to say I never did that--wasn't nearly cool enough), parachute pants, and of course, electronic drums in top 40 music (not that I ever listened to any of that).

"Fad" and "internet" are two words that don't seem to belong together to me. It doesn't seem like the internet has been around long enough to have earned the word "fad." But everything in computers and the internet moves much faster than real life, and actually in some ways makes "real life" seem faster.

I think the first time I actually used the internet (Old man voice: "when I was a kid...") was in 1992 or 1993 at Cedarville College (now Cedarville University). It involved a walk to the "computer lab" where we could send e-mail to one of the two or three people we knew that had an e-mail address. I think the first person I ever e-mailed was my buddy Brian Yates. (You still out there, Yates?) Ohio to New Jersey. How cool was that? I don't remember having the "web." I only remember connecting to a less user-friendly "gopher" system. That system didn't let you go from place to place very fluidly. You had to keep back tracking up the menu. All I remember looking up on that system was the weather.

The web has changed so much in the last ten years since it's explosion into every day life, and has evolved so quickly that I have forgotten about so many of these things listed in this article. Things such as page counters and award banners have fallen by the wayside, (thankfully) but I've hardly noticed until he pointed it out.

Happy reading.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

A Storm in Flanders

As I mentioned in my previous post, context interests me. I like to see how we arrived at where we are now, and I'm fascinated with the cyclical nature of history. Sometimes it seems like we are encountering the very worst of times, or the most interesting view on life and culture, only to find that it's just new to us-- that really, people have experienced similar things in centuries gone by, just in different, well, contexts. Sure we have technology and all these other "advances" that puts us in a unique time, but really, we're just more sophisticated (or so we think) in how we experience similar life events.

This book is about World War One. It was written by Winston Groom whom you may know better as the author of Forest Gump. Groom writes this book for Americans who know little about the first World War. As he says, most people's reference point to war (and indeed how the world has been shaped as a result for decades after) starts from World War Two.

Part of what I enjoyed about this book is how Groom gives us some pre-history. Setting the stage briefly in Europe from about the 1880's forward, and all the political, social, and economic factors that made Europe "ripe" for an eruption.

The main part of the book, however, is about the Belgian battlegrounds, commonly referred to as the "Western Front." (The name is understood from a German perspective since they were also fighting the Russians on the Eastern Front). The area of Flanders is a below sea level region that was a far less-than-ideal place for a battle ground. It rained there a lot, and the water table was so high that battles were more often than not fought in mud than on dry ground. Dogs, horses, mules and men died from being drowned in the water or stuck in the mud.

World War One represents a collision of old style war-fare and modern war fare. The use of the machine gun was new in this war. Airplanes were first used in this war; first for surveillance, then for firepower. Tanks were first used in this war, and in the end played an important role. Yet at the beginning of the war, American civil war style troop deployment and fighting was the default. This quickly changed as men were mowed down by machine guns and heavy artillery. It was in this environment that trench warfare was born.

If you have a moderate interest in history, or wonder how WW I relates to WW II, this is a great read and I highly recommend it!

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Strength #4: Context

It shouldn't be a surprise that this post appears before I write the next post about a book I just finished. I feel like I need to explain myself.

A while ago I wrote about a test I took online related to a book I read that helps reveal a person's strengths. I listed my strengths as revealed by this test and explained a bit about the strength that appeared first, which was learner.

This other strength, as determined by this test, is context. It is defined this way:

You look back. You look back because that is where the answers lie. You look back to understand the present. From your vantage point the present is unstable, a confusing clamor of competing voices. It is only by casting your mind back to an earlier time, a time when the plans were being drawn up, that the present regains its stability. The earlier time was a simpler time. It was a time of blueprints. As you look back, you begin to see these blueprints emerge. You realize what the initial intentions were. These blueprints or intentions have since become so embellished that they are almost unrecognizable, but now this Context theme reveals them again. This understanding brings you confidence. No longer disoriented, you make better decisions because you sense the underlying structure. You become a better partner because you
understand how your colleagues came to be who they are. And counterintuitively you become wiser about the future because you saw its seeds being sown in the past. Faced with new people and new situations, it will take you a little time to orient yourself, but you must give yourself this time. You must discipline yourself to ask the questions and allow the blueprints to emerge because no matter what the situation, if you haven't seen the blueprints, you will have less confidence in your decisions.

So now that I've explained that, stay tuned for a book summary that I until now knew very little about: World War One.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Managing By Values

Thanks to Doug Clark for loaning me this book. (I guess I really oughta return it now). This book was written by Ken Blanchard and Michael O'Connor. I feel bad for O'Connor because I can never remember his name when I tell people about this book. I always end up saying something like "It's by Ken Blanchard and some other guy...poor guy!"

The book, like several other of Blanchard's book is told in a story format. He uses an interview format to help teach unfolding principals and also to set up a scenario that most people would find believable. Similar to his One Minute Manager and Who Moved My Cheese, we follow the story of a character who is frustrated by the progress his company is making and how he thinks he has little respect among his team. But after a fortuitous intersection with someone who gives a speech about the "Fortunate 500" companies, his curiosity piqued.

The book reveals some interesting insights related to organizational dynamics from a leadership/managerial standpoint (an area in which I spend very little time), and shows where a lot of companies can falter because not everyone shares an agreed upon set of values.

The bottom line is, the values become the "boss" of everyone. Every decision made can be held up against the values agreed upon by everyone in the company, and even the process for conflict resolution can be achieved through the values filter. Anyone who leads people should read this book. Especially if you are in the "higher up" portion of your company from a hierarchical standpoint. A summary of the book and the principles therein can be found in an article written by Ken Blanchard himself.

One more observation. It is so interesting to me how all these guys who study leadership and people "management" keep coming back to biblical principles. If you read John Maxwell or Jim Collins, or Ken Blanchard, they all come back to the same kinds of things over and over: esteem others as better than yourself, treat people fairly, the best leaders aren't in it for themselves, etc, etc.