Cover me!

For many of us, “Cover me!!” means we’re about to do something that may not turn out well…not so much a military “Hold My Beer!” as this needs doing and I’m going to need to some help… Covering fire is a little more personal than the good old ‘Fire mission, Regiment’ and other such methods of registering one’s unhappiness with a given individual, object or grid square…

But there’s other ways of providing cover…

Be honest, you all had a snigger when you saw this one, like, der, man…

It would be nice to think that it would be possible to deter ANZ New Zealand with a massive show (or application – I was, after all, the Force Application lead for most of my four years in the Air Force) of force/might/power. Even it such force/might/power was available, poor old ANZ New Zealand is like a mega-dinosaur controlled by a myriad of different brains that don’t talk to each other that well, if at all…any effect registered by one is unlikely to affect the others…

With ANZ New Zealand, the only brain that counts is its ego, the bit that gets worried when it might look bad; the one whose worst nightmare is a world where all its bribes of super-low interest rates (coincidentally announced just after the release of the FMA/RBNZ report on banks’ conduct in New Zealand)  or the millions of look-good dollars that it invests into sports… Like the cool kids at school, looking bad is what ANZ New Zealand fears the most…it cancelled the auction of my home to prevent 1 News running the story on it…

The path to ANZ New Zealand’s main ego brain is indirect…for any direct approach to work the brain would have to care and the simple truth is that ANZ New Zealand doesn’t care what you say to it, because ‘the people’ are beneath it, beneath the executive team, beneath the board, beneath the CEO who ‘earns more in an hour’ than most Kiwis take home in a week…instead the path to ANZ New Zealand’s care factor is external and three-fold:

The Banking Ombudsman Nicola Sladden and the Chair of the Banking Ombudsman Board Miriam Dean

The political realm, especially those elected representatives who have been supportive to date. They have been looking at the changes necessary to close off all the remaining loopholes relating to banks’ lending. 

The media who play a canny game of what to release when…

to be continued…(nothing worse that a looooong post….)

It’s actually not about covering me…it’s about covering each other…

Identity | The Daily Post

Find inspiration in one of the popular topics on Discover. For this week’s Discover Challenge, focus on identity. You may use it simply as a one-word prompt, or tell us what the word means to you. Or you might publish a sketch that represents who you are or how you feel today, a poem about identity in our digital age, or a personal essay about who you once were.

Source: Identity | The Daily Post

I began drafting this post around the time of one of the recent active shooter incidents in the US. It says so much that such incidents are now so frequent that I cannot remember which it was, possibly Orlando…

The aftermath of each of these incidents is marked by bitter ‘weapon’ versus ‘ideology’ outbursts and exchanges. I do not thing that either side really gets the issues: each tragedy is little more than an excuse for each camp to dust off (not dust-off which is a far more noble act) respective meme collections.

It is America’s right to have whatever laws, rights and responsibilities that it wants to inflict on itself. I have no more problem with the Second Amendment than I do with the Fifth although I would offer that the rights of the Second should be read and applied in the context of their context i.e. as the people’s contribution to a well-regulated militia…the key phrase being well-regulated.

The ‘right’ to espouse an ideology probably falls under the First Amendment…the one that protects free speech…but again that comes with responsibilities. We have probably all heard of, if not actually read or heard the actual words, Oliver Wendell Holmes “crying fire in a theatre” quote. For the record, this is what he actually said to give context to those words:

The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic. It does not even protect a man from an injunction against uttering words that may have all the effect of force. The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent. It is a question of proximity and degree.

Those legally bent or who just like to read some exceptionable well-written English can read Justice Holmes’ full opinion in the Cornell University Law School Legal Information Institute Web site.

Contrary to the good Justice’s opinion – the key work in his theatre analogy is ‘falsely’ – in the information domain, the random and rabid shotgunning of the information militia (plural) is as destructive regardless of whether it has elements of truth or fact or not.

Every time those ideological memes fly, their sole function, intended or not, is to fan the flames of ideological conflict. As much as I thought it needed work (thought #1, thought #2), what we are seeing is the phenomenon that David Kilcullen theorised in The Accidental Guerrilla: the more something is ‘fixed’, the worse it gets. This is the irony of irregular warfare.

With regard to the active shooter incidents in America, there is another factor in play that may not be present or which is certainly less present in incidents. A large element of American psyche identifies with the ‘main in the white hat’, ‘one riot, one ranger’, the rugged individual standing against all odds, etc. This ethic is quite commendable and certainly not unique to the US. What sets it about in the US though is the accompanying mindset that a gun is what you use to resolve an issue.

We’re not on any sort of moral high ground here or in Australia where the national equivalent is a punch in the head, or the desire to deliver such but that ‘message’ has to be delivered up close and personal, it cannot be delivered from across the street or even across the room; and it is far easier to neutralise. In the UK, or parts thereof, the local equivalent maybe a cloth cap or the good old ‘Liverpool kiss‘…again, attacks with limited projection or lethality from afar…

It is this overwhelming cultural drive that guns solve problems that is America’s challenge. It’s not how many guns you have or what sort they may be. It’s not what you believe or who you disagree with. It’s not how accessible guns or unsocial ideologies may be. Those may all be separate concerns  but, weapon or ideology, it’s the drive to resolve what angsts you with a gun that is the problem…

Jump to 1:02 The Lone Rider

I love those rugged individuals roles immortalised by Clint Eastwood, John Wayne, Jan Michael Vincent, etc etc but I don’t build my life around them. When I have a beef with the local council or my employer or the grit truck driver or the mailman, I don’t feel I have to to take a gun to resolve the issue or make myself feel better.

It is one thing when the line between reality and fiction becomes blurred. It is quite another when those worlds begin to overlap…where the ‘final option’ becomes the only option…

Having said that, we can hum ‘Imagine‘ all we like…COIN 101 reminds us that cultural shift happens over generations but being honest about the problem is the first step towards a solution…

Daily Prompt: Don’t You Forget About Me | The Daily Post

I used to have a jumper like that...

I used to have a jumper like that…

Daily Prompt: Don’t You Forget About Me | The Daily Post.

Just for a change, this post isn’t about me…well, maybe it is…

In Love Letters in the Attic, Caron mentions the destruction of what are now considered priceless items of cultural heritage…

“…I’ve been thinking about the idea that things must be saved for posterity since I was reminded recently of how much TV footage the BBC taped over or destroyed, including most of the British coverage of Apollo 11’s moon landing in 1969, which was the first time it had broadcast all night, for a start.

Today, it seems incomprehensible that the BBC also destroyed 97 early episodes of Dr Who in the 1960s and 1970s to save space…”

At the time, I intended (and still do) to base a post on the broader themes in her post, but these lines about the loss of early Doctor Who episodes has stuck with me in the month or so since Caron posted Love Letters in the Attic. There has been a lot of coverage of this issue since the recent recovery of some of the lost episodes from a vault in  Africa and this has highlighted the factors contributing to the loss of this material…

Ultimately, it seems that this was simply a case of the bureaucratic mindset the grows in monolithic organisations – not necessarily solely government-run agencies but they can provide lots of good case studies – when in the absence of a rule saying something is to occur, it simply doesn’t regardless of the short- or longer-term potential consequences. While at first glance, it may be considered that the commercial potential of older black and white material might have been minimal once colour television became common and affordable in the early 1970s, one only has to look across the Atlantic at the sheer quantity of American television that was archived in the same period and which is now still be both re-released AND watched, to wonder what exactly was being put into the water in the UK in the 60s and 70s…

While, in fairness, video tape in the early days of television, probably into the early 80s was a valuable AND reusable commodity, one would really thank that there might have been a plan to archive material onto film – and, that there would be a controlled environment storage vault for such archived material. In 1976, my school had a big fund-raiser activity to purchase its first video-based audio-visual system…I remember trudging door to door many afternoons after school selling chocolate bars for this. It wasn’t an unwanted task as I was highly incentivised by the prizes offered to the top sellers – I think I made the top ten – and what else was I going to do after school excerpt watch stuff like The Tomorrow People before Mum kicked us outside for fresh air and energy burning. The next year, one of our 3rd Form art projects was to make our own Doctor Who movie – I think, the class was split into groups of 5-6 for this and each ‘movie’ had to be around ten minutes long…move over, Sundance!!

I don’t remember much about our group’s version other than we filmed alot of it in the squash courts, a plotted struggle got out of hand and it featured the flaming demise of one of these…

RevellBoeingSSTPanAm BOX ART

…which I lamented for many years and. like many such Revell releases, it became a collector’s item until re-released a few years back (and, yes, there is one sitting safely in the garage stash!). Sadly, in true Beeb Doctor Who tradition, these creations were all erased at the end of the year so that the expensive video tape could be reused. I think that perhaps some photographs may have been taken of the screens as I have a vague memory still-shots of some of the scenes appearing perhaps in a school magazine around that period…

What prompted this post was the first screening of the rebooted The Tomorrow People series here last night. Having been a fan of the original series, I was dubious of how well it might survive translation into 21st Century television values i.e. ratings and profit, profit and ratings. While my jury is still out after the first episode, on doing a little research to jog my memory on the original this morning (I was looking for the same of the teleportation belts from the original series which have now been written out – jaunting belts, is what they were) I was surprised just how much of the original concepts have carried over. Even the inability of homo superior to kill (which I had rolled my eyes at last night as 21C ‘niceism’) was actually part of the original concept.

In reading the wiki on the original series, I came across mention of Timeslip which is a series that I have been trying to track down for a long time – another memory of 1970s black and white science fiction (although in our home in the 70s, ALL TV was B&W regardless of its source format!). I had been searching – not very hard admittedly – for variations on The Time Tunnel (which is, of course, the Irwin Allen series from the same stable as Lost in Space and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea). In reading the wiki piece about the almost total loss of the original colour videotape of the series, I though immediately again of Caron’s comment above…as it turns out, the wiki piece does not quite tell the whole story – how surprising – seeking a title image for this post, I discovered that the full 26 episode series is available via Amazon, albeit only in B&W but that’s not a biggie for me as that is how I remember it…

So…coming back on topic, I think that it is important that we do today preserve as much as we can as, just like the Beeb drones of the 60s and 70s, we don’t really have any idea of what value may be seen in today’s apparent dross in decades to come…

Who really knows what their legacy to the future may be…?

Defending an Open, Global, Secure, and Resilient Internet – Council on Foreign Relations

via Defending an Open, Global, Secure, and Resilient Internet – Council on Foreign Relations.

Sorry, but I’m not entirely concerned that an “…open, global, secure and resilient internet…” is altogether a good thing…The focus of the statement “…to encourage a global cyberspace that reflects shared values of free expression and free markets…” clearly is focussed on the very quantifiable value of free markets that is, and apologies to ABBA “, money, money, it’s a rich man’s world“…

My concern is for the other ‘value’, that of free expression. Noting the eye-level parity with free markets, I think that it is safe to assume that this really means freedom to express opinions that we agree with and opposed to anything remotely resembling true freedom of expression – and that may not be a particularly bad thing. While the internet may be the best thing since canned oysters and sliced bread for communications, sharing information and, of course, commerce aka making money, it also promotes the facilitation of immoral and criminal activities, often without much in the way of check, balances or accountability. Its ‘everyone has a voice‘ philosophy also contributes to the general dumbing down of all of us because ‘if it was on the internet, it must be true‘….

Let’s just be careful what we really wish for…

Bad boys, bad boys…

…whatcha gonna do, whatcha gonna do when they come for you…? 

Ready or not, here we come...

Ready or not, here we come…

Dear Unit 61398

How do you hack the guidance on a ‘dumb’ Mk.84 low drag bomb once it (and its friends) are spiralling down towards you?


The Hacked (Off)

In this era of informal conflict i.e. one in which one or more or even all of the actors are the regular formed units or formations that we remember from the good old days of the Fulda Gap, this becomes a valid question.

In the good old days (GOD for short), if someone actively and physically attacked or took some form of physical action against a nation’s physical infrastructure or commercial structures, there would be options under the DIME construct (more D, M or E than I perhaps) through which one might register one’s national concerns about such activities and encourage the perpetrators to cease and desist.

In the case of Unit 61398, despite its mundane designation (F-117 sounded mundane until 17 January 1991), we have an identified military unit conducting, with guns more smoking than Saddam’s WMDs, offensive actions against national and commercial infrastructure around the world but especially targeting the US. If Unit 61398 was an active service unit, regular or irregular, operating within the borders of any western, and most if not all other, nations, it could reasonably be expected to be hunted down and neutralised physically. Similarly, if  it was as openly offensive as Saddam’s SAMs during the decade of no fly zones, or Iran’s Boghammers during the Tanker War, something loud and bad would probably happen to them.

But (yes,yes, I know, never start a sentence with ‘but’) in the convolutions of informality the smoking gun justifications are not as clear regardless of provocation. Just as US- and UK-based UAS operators blithely commute between domestic homes and respective UAS remote operating bases with a strong sense of security and little of risk of threat (in the UK, the IRA must be rolling in its unmarked grave after the security awareness it forced upon the UK military in its heyday of terror), members of Unit 61398 probably cycle home with a similar sense of blithe innocence…

So will it be that one day,maybe one day soon, and in true Dale Brown style, the stars at 65,000 feet will ripple as payback soars over Shanghai and releases some unhackable cease and desist notices (Lucasfilm lawyers eat your hearts out!!)…?

Note: Lucasfilms/LucasArts are the people who not only brought you the three worst science fiction movies of all time (certainly when viewed sequentially) but who also have a rep for being the Galactic Empire of the known legal cease and desist notice universe…

An Ear To The Ground

Like many people, I opted not to comment on the 911 anniversary yesterday (it’s already six hours into September 12 here), although as one adversary pointed out, the date remains significant anyway as it marks the airing of the last ever Get Smart episode in 1970. The same pundit also reminded me that there are other such anniversaries that we do not remember so much…

It started to snow last night – finally, the first snow of the season and it’s spring already – and I got up early to check on things, well, really to see how heavy it was to determine if I could have a longer sleep-in this morning because the roads are closed…not such luck and it looks as thought the bulk of it missed us…

Anyway, now being awake, I couldn’t get back to sleep and so logged in to check emails etc before heading away for the day. Sitting there was an email from Ben Ianotta with whom I had done some work while he was editor of C4ISR Journal promoting a new venture, Deep Diver Intelligence. Always keen to check out new ventures and ideas, I had a look and hit the article on the renewal (or not) of the US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) first…[access is free til 17 September, then I’m not sure so will post a PDF of the article if it drops offline] It’s a good article and worth reading and thing about…

It’s an interesting issue and I think that the key point that may be overlooked in all the Big Brother paranoia is that this type of data collection is happening already in the commercial/corporate arena. Google now quite openly ‘reads’ our emails in order to customise the advertisements that it subjects us – under its ‘do no harm’ philosophy, would/should Google withhold potentially useful information of a national security nature if it stumbles across it?

The genie is already out of the bottle and we need to look at how we deal with it not cry into our milk about how we can’t put it back in. At least the FISA discussions encourage that discussion. We live in an information age now and we need to accept that things will change in respect to our ‘rights’. This is nothing new and simply a fact of civilization’s evolution: the rights that we have now are nothing like those of two centuries ago when our nations were settled and explored…things change, we need to get used to that idea.

Unless we all totally give up access to electronic information and opt to live in a cave in the hills somewhere, the simple fact is that information is being collected on us all the time. When you really get down to it, a lot of that information has been collected for a long long time: what has changed is that we now have technologies that allow us to merge much of the information. It’s still largely aspirational that this merging will enable us to join the dots a la Person of Interest – in fact, that is one reason I don’t like this series: because it does present  such an omnipotent perspective that the story just becomes boring – much like the old Star Trek ‘get out of jail free’ cards of time travel or fiddling the transporter cache – but my point is that this data collection is really nothing new.

“You are being watched. The government has a secret system: a machine that spies on you every hour of every day. I know because I built it. I designed the machine to detect acts of terror, but it sees everything. Violent crimes involving ordinary people, people like you. Crimes the government considered irrelevant. They wouldn’t act, so I decided I would. But I needed a partner, someone with the skills to intervene. Hunted by the authorities, we work in secret. You’ll never find us, but victim or perpetrator, if your number’s up…we’ll find you.” ~ Person of Interest voiceover.

A theme through the article, reflective of more the attitudes of intelligence agencies than the author, in my opinion, is that FISA has failed because it has not been able to directly identify and interdict a major adversary action. A couple of thoughts on this…

First up, we seem to be thinking/hoping that major adversary actions will be in a forms that we recognise i.e. think the Arizona, the Twin Towers, or the invasion of Kuwait. One might ask who really manipulated who in the Arab Spring which resulted in the demise of a number of stability-promoting regional strong men; or why we expect the worst of ISAF forces in Afghanistan but so desperately seek the faintest glimmer of anything remotely redeemable in our adversaries there; or whether last year’s Notting Hill rampage was really just a spontaneous boil-over?

Second, we seem to have forgotten that, in the contemporary environment as opposed to the Fulda Gap, it may be impossible to winnow out from all the noise, the key information that points to an impending action. This is what I call ‘intelitis’: the overpowering desire of many intel analysts to be able to jab a finger at the map, preferably in front of their boss’ boss, and state that Third Shock or Eight Guards Army will do X at X time on X day. Uh-huh…whatever…where were you guys for the end of the Cold War, Fiji Coups 1-57 or the Falklands War…? Huh? More likely, in the contemporary environment, that accumulated data may serve as a foundation for a rapid and precise response (do people get the distinction between ‘response’ and ‘reaction’?) in much the same way as CRIMINT rarely predicts which dairy/bank/service station is going to get knocked over next but is able to quickly narrow down the likely candidates…

A bigger concern than FISA might be the continuance of the post-Cold War trend for private industry to be leaps and bounds ahead of public technology and to be now quite happily exploiting this data for its own commercial ends. In other words, repealing FISA and like legislation is much like opting to fly everywhere to counter an IED threat – all you are really doing is ceding a whole chunk of your operating environment to someone else. Just because contemporary adversaries don’t want to play by the rules we like, doesn’t mean that they are not going to invite us to their next conflict: the information environment is now as much an operating environment as air, land, sea or space – the key difference is that it is the one environment where we are being walked all over.

So, anyway, take the time if you have an intel bent to have a look at Deep Dive…interested in your thoughts…

The media look after their own

Oh, woe is me…the combination of Kiwi, stick and snake apparently works for leftos as well

There is a story in the Herald on Sunday on the Sumner Burstyn issue. Unfortunately it’s not a very good one and really only serves as a platform for Ms Burstyn to plead ‘oh, woe is me…why are people angry with me?” We wondered last night if the media lack of response to the issues were a case of them looking after their own and based on THIS article that would seem to be the case…

The author, Joanne Carroll, does not appear to have made any attempt to interview or seek comment from the creators of the page and seems happy enough to simply regurgitate what she has been told by Summy Bear, coupled with some lightweight comment from the defence Force which does not seem to have any opinion on whether it is OK or not for people to slag off fallen soldiers before their final journey is complete. And that is the real issue here, folks, NOT the hows or whyfores of New Zealand’s involvement in Afghanistan…

There is an email link at the end of the article and I would suggest that anyone with concerns about the standard of NZ media reporting on this and other issues, use it. Pick your 1200 characters carefully and, as always, keep it seemly and remember that soldiers are discplined but mobs and rabbles are not…

Dear Joanne

Thank you for making the effort to cover the erupting Summer Burstyn issue however I don’t believe that you have provided a balanced perspective at all and have simply latched onto the issue for some cheap ratings. You have made no effort to portray fairly the feelings of those who have expressed their outrage at her comments on Facebook and elsewhere online but have just focussed on the minority whose comments are aggressive. Is not the fact (if the Herald still deals in such?) that over 20,000 people have joined the FB page in less than two days an indicator of where public feeling lies on this issue? The NZ media was very quick to climb aboard when similar outrage was expressed occurred over the Kahui twins.

There was a belief expressed yesterday that the NZ media’s lack of response to this issue was a case of the media covering up for its own. Your article has done nothing the assuage that belief and merely provides a forum for more of Burstyn’s self-righteous self-pity.

I hope that the Herald and the rest of the NZ media community will get it together and offer a balanced view of what the issues are.

Here’s a view from the FB page that I think presents the balance absent from the article:

Sumner Burstyn: post an antiwar comment and get 120 death threats – funny how that works.

Barbara, the thing is, your comments were not antiwar comments (I greatly respect anyone’s right to make those). Instead they were a personal attack on a young dead female soldier just after her body was returned to New Zealand for burial.
While I am sorry that the responses from 20,000 of her closest friends and collegues became personal and in some instances threatening, surely you can see that they mirrored the language and feeling of YOUR original post.

While I respect your opinion, your target, tone and timing were highly inappropriate in any civilised society. Despite your apology we continue to see similar messages from you, including personal attacks on dead service personnel in your earlier posts. As a NZ Herald columnist I would have expected a more considered approach to posting such views. I guess that’s now a matter for your employer and tomorrow’s talk back radio callers to consider.

More words from activist filmaker Sumner Burstyn

More words from activist filmaker Sumner Burstyn.

This makes great reading. It derives from a comment made about  Lance-Corporal Jacinda Baker, one of the three Kiwi soldiers killed by an IED in Afghanistan last weekend:

After the first pushback from the community the comment was removed however as the exchange with a soldier on the link above shows, that wasn’t through any sense of remorse. It is really interesting to note, when reading this transcript that the socalled journalist very quickly descends into abuse while the infantry soldier continues to put his case in clear and articulate terms…

The issue is not whether or not we should or should not be in Afghanistan, or the whys or why nots of having a defence force; the issue is simply that someone has stooped to a vicious personal attack on a young woman who is no longer able to speak for herself – but there are, at the time of typing this, 13752 people prepared to speak on Jacinda Baker’s behalf.

While the freedom of the internet allows someone like Sumner Burstyn to publish her slander, it also allows for that slander to be challenged and not be allowed to become the new ‘truth’ and here a community has come together again to see that wrong righted.    I say ‘again’ because this is a very special community, one that spans across the world and across decades – there are names appearing here that I have not seen for years and years and that bring back such memories. We might not meet regularly or even often but we can carry on a conversation that started in a hole full of mud and bugs in South East Asia, or while shivering in the tussock of Waiouru as if that were only yesterday. And certainly we can come together again to speak on behalf of those who can no longer…

There is a lot of anger on the community page and there probably would be at any time but in this month, where we have lost five of our own, a lot of folks are venting. It isn’t an unreasonable expectation that the mollycoddled left leaning loony community couldn’t give it a rest at least til the funerals and grieving are done…

A sad day for New Zealand as Corporal Luke Tamatea, Lance Corporal Jacinda Baker and Private Richard Harris arrive back home. (c) NZDF 2012

Jim Hopkins of the NZ Herald ends an article yesterday:

Yet, somehow, we still get soldiers. Who don’t hide in other people’s houses or make self-serving speeches or expect everyone else to “do the right thing”. They do it themselves, whatever the cost. On the Stuff website, beneath its report on the death of SAS Corporal Doug Grant last year, readers have posted their comments. One says this: – “Rest in Peace – We shall remember them. If you can read this, thank a teacher. If you can read it in English, thank a soldier.”

That’s the essence of the debt every generation owes its troops – a debt unpaid by those who hide in embassies.

Six Bad Meeting Habits and How to Change Them

Through LinkedIn I am subscribed to a bunch of forums and other groups, one of which is the Best Practice Transfer Group. Normally a digest pops up in my inbox, I have a quick scan and if nothing really really grabs me it goes straight in the bin…this morning, as the work intranet is a little slow, I took a bit more time and those that this item for Connor Jordan’s Competitive Solutions was pretty apt and relates to something that bugs us all…meetings…there are some good idea here that might, just might, make life a little easier whether its for the PTA, darts club or megacorp conspiring the take over the world (don’t both – I have the insider running on world takeovers and Doc Karma is going to do it Tuesday the week after next)…

1) Poor Attendance / Late Arrivals – Nothing screams “waste of time” more than the actions of your supposed participants.  When people habitually arrive late (or not at all) then you should take this as a sign that your meeting isn’t of much value to those who should be attending.  A person’s actions (not their excuses) show their priorities.  If you often have empty seats, this indicates misalignment of priorities between you and your co-workers.   Talk with the prospective participants about the importance (or lack thereof) to determine if the meeting is even necessary.

Another way of looking at this is that if people are avoiding your meeting or playing down its importance or relevance, then you are possibly on to something…nothing shirks meetings more than the status quo’s urge for survival.

2) Straying from the Point – It’s easy to get into a lengthy discussion about a topic that somehow just “pops up” during the meeting.  If that topic is unrelated to the meeting’s purpose, then table it and have that topic discussed outside the meeting.  Two tools can help you keep your meetings on track.  First, never ever hold a meeting without a predefined agenda outlining the expected outcomes.  Second, use a parking lot list.  Any off-topic discussion can be halted, placed on the parking lot list and then dealt with once the scheduled meeting concludes.

An agenda is a must as is a clearly stated expectation that everyone will come to the meeting not just having read the agenda (and not just in the lift on the way up) but also having actually prepared for the items listed on it – silly, I know! The parking lot list is a good idea and you might want to take it another step further and see what items regularly get parked 0 are they ongoing red herrings or actually things you might want to be having a look at? We shouldn’t forget though that we need to be flexible in such things and occasionally, that off-topic issue will actually be a key issue that you need to bring to the fore and address.

3) Allowing Annoying Distractions – Candy, chewing gum, snacks and drinks are bad enough.  You should also eliminate productivity-busting interruptions.  Make, and enforce, rules about using laptops, cell phones, and blackberries.  If the temptation is too great for some participants, then place a 5-gallon bucket in the corner of the room.  Toss all such annoyances in it and close the lid.  Assign a technology gatekeeper to handle and screen any interruptions.  If there’s a real emergency, then the technology gatekeeper can attend the call and involve the appropriate person, instead of interrupting the entire team.

Anyone who really really needs to be contactable should be on to it enough to always have a back up contact plan…it’s interesting watching the dynamics hosting meetings in locations where cells etc are not allowed at all, especially over a period of time, when you see the dawning realisation that the sky actually won’t fall in if someone is offline for a while. Normally those that stress the most are simply micromanagers that never learned to trust and delegate.

4) Back-to-Back-to-Back Meetings – Ever get caught on a Meetings Treadmill?  Get off it!  Don’t accept or participate in multiple, back-to-back meetings.  You have to give yourself break in between meetings and schedule time for yourself to get your own work accomplished.

Yeah….maybe…equally, a day dedicated to (well-structured and -conducted) meetings is a great way of getting a bunch of work down (one assumes that you’re not going to meeting that aren’t actually anything to do with your job?) by allowing one ‘disrupted’ day as an enabler for more days of ‘undisrupted’ application.

5) Conversation Domination – Everyone has a different style when it comes to conversation and interaction in a group setting.  Most teams have at least one person who gets on a roll and takes over the conversation.  Be sure to include every participant in each agenda item discussion.  Make an effort to keep the meeting flowing, but allow your soft-spoken coworkers an opportunity to contribute as well.

Legal in most countries, dart guns are useful meeting tools….

6) Status Quo – So, your weekly meeting is terrible. However, you’ve begrudgingly resigned yourself into believing that “that’s the way it is.”  Nonsense!  Invite an Outside Facilitator to audit and adjust how you hold your meetings.  There’s no excuse for accepting failure in your meetings.  It’s too costly and time consuming not to take action and make some changes.

…and ask yourself if you are a meeting inflictor – do you call meetings because it makes you feel good about yourself or to drag everyone else’s productivity down to your level while looking like an achiever yourself…yes, everybody else probably does hate you but mindless meetings aren’t going to help that…

…and two more from me…

7) Take minutes. Useful minutes that will mean something to someone else when  you get moved on, minutes that actually record not just the fact of decisions and actions but the ‘why’ of them as well. If you don’t make any effort to enshrine the ‘why’ you can not cry or bleat when nothing ever seems to change and you feel like Bill Murray’s shorts in Groundhog Day….

8) Think outside the square. Consider whether an anomaly in the space-time continuum is affecting the conduct of your meetings…let me now handover to Dean from TWShiloh to discuss this point further in (drum roll) Homeland Disfunction – The true and astounding adventures of Peter Wesley part 2…enjoy…I did!

Edit: I think I am already committed 25 July (there are those that think I should be committed on a more permanent basis) but the webinar on scorecards might be interesting…I’m not a big scorecard fan as they alwasy seem to devolve into some arcane spreadsheet hell but am always interested in other people’s takes on how they might be done better…

The Jet That Ate the Pentagon

When I read this article from Foreign Policy, I am so very much reminded of this Arthur C. Clarke short story, Superiority which I found online here….Patton may have been righter than he realised when he said that it was all about being ‘first with the mostest’ as opposed to lastest with the bestest….

Superiority – by Arthur C. Clarke

IN MAKING THIS STATEMENT – which I do of my own free will – I wish first to make it perfectly clear that I am not in any way trying to gain sympathy, nor do I expect any mitigation of whatever sentence the Court may pronounce. I am writing this in an attempt to refute some of the lying reports broadcast over the prison radio and published in the papers I have been allowed to see. These have given an entirely false picture of the true cause of our defeat, and as the leader of my race’s armed forces at the cessation of hostilities I feel it my duty to protest against such libels upon those who served under me.

I also hope that this statement may explain the reasons for the application I have twice made to the Court, and will now induce it to grant a favor for which I can see no possible grounds of refusal.

The ultimate cause of our failure was a simple one: despite all statements to the contrary, it was not due to lack of bravery on the part of our men, or to any fault of the Fleet’s. We were defeated by one thing only – by the inferior science of our enemies. I repeat – by the inferior science of our enemies.

When the war opened we had no doubt of our ultimate victory. The combined fleets of our allies greatly exceeded in number and armament those which the enemy could muster against us, and in almost all branches of military science we were their superiors. We were sure that we could maintain this superiority. Our belief proved, alas, to be only too well founded.

At the opening of the war our main weapons were the long-range homing torpedo, dirigible ball-lightning and the various modifications of the Klydon beam. Every unit of the Fleet was equipped with these and though the enemy possessed similar weapons their installations were generally of lesser power. Moreover, we had behind us a far greater military Research Organization, and with this initial advantage we could not possibly lose.

The campaign proceeded according to plan until the Battle of the Five Suns. We won this, of course, but the opposition proved stronger than we had expected. It was realized that victory might be more difficult, and more delayed, than had first been imagined. A conference of supreme commanders was therefore called to discuss our future strategy.

Present for the first time at one of our war conferences was Professor-General Norden, the new Chief of the Research Staff, who had just been appointed to fill the gap left by the death of Malvar, our greatest scientist. Malvar’s leadership had been responsible, more than any other single factor, for the efficiency and power of our weapons. His loss was a very serious blow, but no one doubted the brilliance of his successor – though many of us disputed the wisdom of appointing a theoretical scientist to fill a post of such vital importance. But we had been overruled.

I can well remember the impression Norden made at that conference. The military advisers were worried, and as usual turned to the scientists for help. Would it be possible to improve our existing weapons, they asked, so that our present advantage could be increased still further?

Norden’s reply was quite unexpected. Malvar had often been asked such a question – and he had always done what we requested.

“Frankly, gentlemen,” said Norden, “I doubt it. Our existing weapons have practically reached finality. I don’t wish to criticize my predecessor, or the excellent work done by the Research Staff in the last few generations, but do you realize that there has been no basic change in armaments for over a century? It is, I am afraid, the result of a tradition that has become conservative. For too long, the Research Staff has devoted itself to perfecting old weapons instead of developing new ones. It is fortunate for us that our opponents have been no wiser: we cannot assume that this will always be so.”

Norden’s words left an uncomfortable impression, as he had no doubt intended. He quickly pressed home the attack.

“What we want are new weapons – weapons totally different from any that have been employed before. Such weapons can be made: it will take time, of course, but since assuming charge I have replaced some of the older scientists with young men and have directed research into several unexplored fields which show great promise. I believe, in fact, that a revolution in warfare may soon be upon us.”

We were skeptical. There was a bombastic tone in Norden’s voice that made us suspicious of his claims. We did not know, then, that he never promised anything that he had not already almost perfected in the laboratory. In the laboratory – that was the operative phrase.

Norden proved his case less than a month later, when he demonstrated the Sphere of Annihilation, which produced complete disintegration of matter over a radius of several hundred meters. We were intoxicated by the power of the new weapon, and were quite prepared to overlook one fundamental defect – the fact that it was a sphere and hence destroyed its rather complicated generating equipment at the instant of formation. This meant, of course, that it could not be used on warships but only on guided missiles, and a great program was started to convert all homing torpedoes to carry the new weapon. For the time being all further offensives were suspended.

We realize now that this was our first mistake. I still think that it was a natural one, for it seemed to us then that all our existing weapons had become obsolete overnight, and we already regarded them as almost primitive survivals. What we did not appreciate was the magnitude of the task we were attempting, and the length of time it would take to get the revolutionary super-weapon into battle. Nothing like this had happened for a hundred years and we had no previous experience to guide us.

The conversion problem proved far more difficult than anticipated. A new class of torpedo had to be designed, as the standard model was too small. This meant in turn that only the larger ships could launch the weapon, but we were prepared to accept this penalty. After six months, the heavy units of the Fleet were being equipped with the Sphere. Training maneuvers and tests had shown that it was operating satisfactorily and we were ready to take it into action. Norden was already being hailed as the architect of victory, and had half promised even more spectacular weapons.

Then two things happened. One of our battleships disappeared completely on a training flight, and an investigation showed that under certain conditions the ship’s long-range radar could trigger the Sphere immediately after it had been launched. The modification needed to overcome this defect was trivial, but it caused a delay of another month and was the source of much bad feeling between the naval staff and the scientists. We were ready for action again – when Norden announced that the radius of effectiveness of the Sphere had now been increased by ten, thus multiplying by a thousand the chances of destroying an enemy ship.

So the modifications started all over again, but everyone agreed that the delay would be worth it. Meanwhile, however, the enemy had been emboldened by the absence of further attacks and had made an unexpected onslaught. Our ships were short of torpedoes, since none had been coming from the factories, and were forced to retire. So we lost the systems of Kyrane and Floranus, and the planetary fortress of Rhamsandron.

It was an annoying but not a serious blow, for the recaptured systems had been unfriendly, and difficult to administer. We had no doubt that we could restore the position in the near future, as soon as the new weapon became operational.

These hopes were only partially fulfilled. When we renewed our offensive, we had to do so with fewer of the Spheres of Annihilation than had been planned, and this was one reason for our limited success. The other reason was more serious.

While we had been equipping as many of our ships as we could with the irresistible weapon, the enemy had been building feverishly. His ships were of the old pattern with the old weapons – but they now out-numbered ours. When we went into action, we found that the numbers ranged against us were often 100 percent greater than expected, causing target confusion among the automatic weapons and resulting in higher losses than anticipated. The enemy losses were higher still, for once a Sphere had reached its objective, destruction was certain, but the balance had not swung as far in our favor as we had hoped.

Moreover, while the main fleets had been engaged, the enemy had launched a daring attack on the lightly held systems of Eriston, Duranus, Carmanidora and Pharanidon – recapturing them all. We were thus faced with a threat only fifty light-years from our home planets.

There was much recrimination at the next meeting of the supreme commanders. Most of the complaints were addressed to Norden-Grand Admiral Taxaris in particular maintaining that thanks to our admittedly irresistible weapon we were now considerably worse off than before. We should, he claimed, have continued to build conventional ships, thus preventing the loss of our numerical superiority.

Norden was equally angry and called the naval staff ungrateful bunglers. But I could tell that he was worried – as indeed we all were – by the unexpected turn of events. He hinted that there might be a speedy way of remedying the situation.

We now know that Research had been working on the Battle Analyzer for many years, but at the time it came as a revelation to us and perhaps we were too easily swept off our feet. Norden’s argument, also, was seductively convincing. What did it matter, he said, if the enemy had twice as many ships as we – if the efficiency of ours could be doubled or even trebled? For decades the limiting factor in warfare had been not mechanical but biological – it had become more and more difficult for any single mind, or group of minds, to cope with the rapidly changing complexities of battle in three-dimensional space. Norden’s mathematicians had analyzed some of the classic engagements of the past, and had shown that even when we had been victorious we had often operated our units at much less than half of their theoretical efficiency.

The Battle Analyzer would change all this by replacing the operations staff with electronic calculators. The idea was not new, in theory, but until now it had been no more than a Utopian dream. Many of us found it difficult to believe that it was still anything but a dream: after we had run through several very complex dummy battles, however, we were convinced.

It was decided to install the Analyzer in four of our heaviest ships, so that each of the main fleets could be equipped with one. At this stage, the trouble began – though we did not know it until later.

The Analyzer contained just short of a million vacuum tubes and needed a team of five hundred technicians to maintain and operate it. It was quite impossible to accommodate the extra staff aboard a battleship, so each of the four units had to be accompanied by a converted liner to carry the technicians not on duty. Installation was also a very slow and tedious business, but by gigantic efforts it was completed in six months.

Then, to our dismay, we were confronted by another crisis. Nearly five thousand highly skilled men had been selected to serve the Analyzers and had been given an intensive course at the Technical Training Schools. At the end of seven months, 10 percent of them had had nervous breakdowns and only 40 per cent had qualified.

Once again, everyone started to blame everyone else. Norden, of course, said that the Research Staff could not be held responsible, and so incurred the enmity of the Personnel and Training Commands. It was finally decided that the only thing to do was to use two instead of four Analyzers and to bring the others into action as soon as men could be trained. There was little time to lose, for the enemy was still on the offensive and his morale was rising.

The first Analyzer fleet was ordered to recapture the system of Eriston. On the way, by one of the hazards of war, the liner carrying the technicians was struck by a roving mine. A warship would have survived, but the liner with its irreplaceable cargo was totally destroyed. So the operation had to be abandoned.

The other expedition was, at first, more successful. There was no doubt at all that the Analyzer fulfilled its designers’ claims, and the enemy was heavily defeated in the first engagements. He withdrew, leaving us in possession of Saphran, Leucon and Hexanerax. But his Intelligence Staff must have noted the change in our tactics and the inexplicable presence of a liner in the heart of our battlefleet. It must have noted, also, that our first fleet had been accompanied by a similar ship – and had withdrawn when it had been destroyed.

In the next engagement, the enemy used his superior numbers to launch an overwhelming attack on the Analyzer ship and its unarmed consort. The attack was made without regard to losses – both ships were, of course, very heavily protected – and it succeeded. The result was the virtual decapitation of the Fleet, since an effectual transfer to the old operational methods proved impossible. We disengaged under heavy fire, and so lost all our gains and also the systems of Lormyia, Ismarnus, Beronis, Alphanidon and Sideneus.

At this stage, Grand Admiral Taxaris expressed his disapproval of Norden by committing suicide, and I assumed supreme command.

The situation was now both serious and infuriating. With stubborn conservatism and complete lack of imagination, the enemy continued to advance with his old-fashioned and inefficient but now vastly more numerous ships. It was galling to realize that if we had only continued building, without seeking new weapons, we would have been in a far more advantageous position. There were many acrimonious conferences at which Norden defended the scientists while everyone else blamed them for all that had happened. The difficulty was that Norden had proved every one of his claims: he had a perfect excuse for all the disasters that had occurred. And we could not now turn back – the search for an irresistible weapon must go on. At first it had been a luxury that would shorten the war. Now it was a necessity if we were to end it victoriously.

We were on the defensive, and so was Norden. He was more than ever determined to reestablish his prestige and that of the Research Staff. But we had been twice disappointed, and would not make the same mistake again. No doubt Norden’s twenty thousand scientists would produce many further weapons: we would remain unimpressed.

We were wrong. The final weapon was something so fantastic that even now it seems difficult to believe that it ever existed. Its innocent, noncommittal name – The Exponential Field – gave no hint of its real potentialities. Some of Norden’s mathematicians had discovered it during a piece of entirely theoretical research into the properties of space, and to everyone’s great surprise their results were found to be physically realizable.

It seems very difficult to explain the operation of the Field to the layman. According to the technical description, it “produces an exponential condition of space, so that a finite distance in normal, linear space may become infinite in pseudo-space.” Norden gave an analogy which some of us found useful. It was as if one took a flat disk of rubber – representing a region of normal space – and then pulled its center out to infinity. The circumference of the disk would be unaltered – but its “diameter” would be infinite. That was the sort of thing the generator of the Field did to the space around it.

As an example, suppose that a ship carrying the generator was surrounded by a ring of hostile machines. If it switched on the Field, each of the enemy ships would think that it – and the ships on the far side of the circle – had suddenly receded into nothingness. Yet the circumference of the circle would be the same as before: only the journey to the center would be of infinite duration, for as one proceeded, distances would appear to become greater and greater as the “scale” of space altered.

It was a nightmare condition, but a very useful one. Nothing could reach a ship carrying the Field: it might be englobed by an enemy fleet yet would be as inaccessible as if it were at the other side of the Universe. Against this, of course, it could not fight back without switching off the Field, but this still left it at a very great advantage, not only in defense but in offense. For a ship fitted with the Field could approach an enemy fleet undetected and suddenly appear in its midst.

This time there seemed to be no flaws in the new weapon. Needless to say, we looked for all the possible objections before we committed ourselves again. Fortunately the equipment was fairly simple and did not require a large operating staff. After much debate, we decided to rush it into production, for we realized that time was running short and the war was going against us. We had now lost about the whole of our initial gains and enemy forces had made several raids into our own solar system.

We managed to hold off the enemy while the Fleet was reequipped and the new battle techniques were worked out. To use the Field operationally it was necessary to locate an enemy formation, set a course that would intercept it, and then switch on the generator for the calculated period of time. On releasing the Field again – if the calculations had been accurate – one would be in the enemy’s midst and could do great damage during the resulting confusion, retreating by the same route when necessary.

The first trial maneuvers proved satisfactory and the equipment seemed quite reliable. Numerous mock attacks were made and the crews became accustomed to the new technique. I was on one of the test flights and can vividly remember my impressions as the Field was switched on. The ships around us seemed to dwindle as if on the surface of an expanding bubble: in an instant they had vanished completely. So had the stars – but presently we could see that the Galaxy was still visible as a faint band of light around the ship. The virtual radius of our pseudo-space was not really infinite, but some hundred thousand light-years, and so the distance to the farthest stars of our system had not been greatly increased – though the nearest had of course totally disappeared. These training maneuvers, however, had to be canceled before they were completed, owing to a whole flock of minor technical troubles in various pieces of equipment, notably the communications circuits. These were annoying, but not important, though it was thought best to return to Base to clear them up.

At that moment the enemy made what was obviously intended to be a decisive attack against the fortress planet of Iton at the limits of our Solar System. The Fleet had to go into battle before repairs could be made.

The enemy must have believed that we had mastered the secret of invisibility – as in a sense we had. Our ships appeared suddenly out of no-where and inflicted tremendous damage – for a while. And then something quite baffling and inexplicable happened.

I was in command of the flagship Hircania when the trouble started. We had been operating as independent units, each against assigned objectives. Our detectors observed an enemy formation at medium range and the navigating officers measured its distance with great accuracy. We set course and switched on the generator.

The Exponential Field was released at the moment when we should have been passing through the center of the enemy group. To our consternation, we emerged into normal space at a distance of many hundred miles – and when we found the enemy, he had already found us. We retreated, and tried again. This time we were so far away from the enemy that he located us first.

Obviously, something was seriously wrong. We broke communicator silence and tried to contact the other ships of the Fleet to see if they had experienced the same trouble. Once again we failed – and this time the failure was beyond all reason, for the communication equipment appeared to be working perfectly. We could only assume, fantastic though it seemed, that the rest of the Fleet had been destroyed.

I do not wish to describe the scenes when the scattered units of the Fleet struggled back to Base. Our casualties had actually been negligible, but the ships were completely demoralized. Almost all had lost touch with one another and had found that their ranging equipment showed inexplicable errors. It was obvious that the Exponential Field was the cause of the troubles, despite the fact that they were only apparent when it was switched off.

The explanation came too late to do us any good, and Norden’s final discomfiture was small consolation for the virtual loss of the war. As I have explained, the Field generators produced a radial distortion of space, distances appearing greater and greater as one approached the center of the artificial pseudo-space. When the Field was switched off, conditions returned to normal.

But not quite. It was never possible to restore the initial state exactly. Switching the Field on and off was equivalent to an elongation and contraction of the ship carrying the generator, but there was a hysteretic effect, as it were, and the initial condition was never quite reproducible, owing to all the thousands of electrical changes and movements of mass aboard the ship while the Field was on. These asymmetries and distortions were cumulative, and though they seldom amounted to more than a fraction of one per cent, that was quite enough. It meant that the precision ranging equipment and the tuned circuits in the communication apparatus were thrown completely out of adjustment. Any single ship could never detect the change – only when it compared its equipment with that of another vessel, or tried to communicate with it, could it tell what had happened.

It is impossible to describe the resultant chaos. Not a single component of one ship could be expected with certainty to work aboard another. The very nuts and bolts were no longer interchangeable, and the supply position became quite impossible. Given time, we might even have overcome these difficulties, but the enemy ships were already attacking in thousands with weapons which now seemed centuries behind those that we had invented. Our magnificent Fleet, crippled by our own science, fought on as best it could until it was overwhelmed and forced to surrender. The ships fitted with the Field were still invulnerable, but as fighting units they were almost helpless. Every time they switched on their generators to escape from enemy attack, the permanent distortion of their equipment increased. In a month, it was all over.

THIS IS THE true story of our defeat, which I give without prejudice to my defense before this Court. I make it, as I have said, to counteract the libels that have been circulating against the men who fought under me, and to show where the true blame for our misfortunes lay.

Finally, my request, which as the Court will now realize I make in no frivolous manner and which I hope will therefore be granted.

The Court will be aware that the conditions under which we are housed and the constant surveillance to which we are subjected night and day are somewhat distressing. Yet I am not complaining of this: nor do I complain of the fact that shortage of accommodation has made it necessary to house us in pairs.

But I cannot be held responsible for my future actions if I am compelled any longer to share my cell with Professor Norden, late Chief of the Research Staff of my armed forces.

This is probably my all-time favourite Clarke story and I am rapt to be able to share it here…

PS In reference to my previous post about using Press This, it took me no longer and about three LESS steps to assemble this post the old-fashioned way than using the tool henceforth known as Press This – Another Tool For Lazy Writers (and thinkers?)