Saturday, February 10, 2018

The Puzzler

For as long as I can remember, puzzles have intrigued me. While the images in this post are of a classic cardboard puzzle, it is certainly not the only kind that occupies my time. When I was about 6 years old, my sister had a small mechanical alarm clock that was very common in those days and it fascinated me.  I remember wondering what made the hands go around and noticed the ticking sound corresponding to the hand movement.  Before sundown, I had dismantled the entire clock and was well on my way down the road to understanding clockwork mechanics. Until she went looking for her clock of course.  Oops.

I managed to get it all back together and in working order, which is likely one of the reasons I am still alive to write this post.  I did not realize it then, but that process introduced me to 3D complex problem solving and mentally modeling solutions to puzzles.  Over the next few years, I remember seeking out 3D Chinese puzzles and building box kites from scratch.  Much to the dismay of my mother, there was not a single mechanical object in our home I had not dismantled and reassembled.

By the time I was 11, I had moved on to model rockets and Skill-5 Airplane models.  My bedroom ceiling had an entire WWII air battle hanging from it in skill-5 Revell models, but for me, the fun part was the actual assembly.  I would often just open the box and throw out the instructions to make it more challenging.  Figuring out how the pieces went together based on their shape, and the logic of the mechanics, was exhilarating.  Seeing it come together into a final solution was extremely rewarding.

This past Christmas, my wife received a 500 piece monochrome puzzle from a friend.  I also received a 1000 piece full-colour one to put together, but from the photos here, you can guess at which one hit the table first.  I agreed to "just help a bit" and not do it all myself even though the sight of it had me jonesing for a fix. All those disconnected little pieces of black and white chaos... Hold my beer.



Puzzles of any description all have similar things in common.  There are defined edges or boundaries.  There are micro-patterns that intertwine.  There are pieces that will deceive you into thinking they belong where they don't.  It does not matter if you are assembling a 100 piece junior jigsaw or knitting together a business negotiation team, puzzles are all the same at the core.  Plastic, cardboard, people, economics, science, and weather are all just different mediums for complex puzzles to solve.

I think that is one of the reasons I love my job.  Every day is a new puzzle to solve.  In my case, it is typically the problem of how to integrate several different pieces of software into one cohesive solution.  In almost all cases, it is not just about the software but how humans and automation systems interact with it.  There is almost always a business component as well.  How much it costs, how long it will take, and the value of the resulting solution to the business, are all part of the puzzle that needs to be assembled into a solution.

Often you need to assemble smaller parts first into clusters of partial solutions.  Sometimes those end up being separate assemblies that need to be lifted in and added to the larger puzzle as a micro-solution.  In some cases, you need to improvise and make your own tools just for that task. The pancake flipper moving this assembly of jigsaw pieces is a fine example of that.  I found a number of parts that fell together into something that made sense, but was fragile and was on the wrong side of the table.  I had to solve a puzzle to solve a puzzle. How Meta.

As you solve smaller assemblies and connect their intertwining edges, a larger solution emerges.  You need to bring in "glue" or interconnecting parts from outside the boundary to knit them all together. This has analogies to airplane model building, software solutions, and business solutions. In all cases, the final result is a patchwork of smaller micro-puzzles that are blended to provide a full solution.

Like the mechanical alarm clock with its gears and springs and cogs, modern software solutions are often knitted together patchwork puzzles of integrated application interfaces.  The API revolution - connecting many software services with Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) - is the current software equivalent to throwing away the instructions when you open a skill-5 Revell model and just evaluating the components logically.

When you have all the smaller bits of the puzzle together and they start to coalesce into a larger, cohesive solution, momentum builds.  For me, the excitement of completing the project, then standing back to view the result, is priceless. In the last hour of this jigsaw, we were literally fighting for parts to put into the last dozen open spaces. As she put the last piece into place, there was a tangible pause, then we both sighed audible relief.  Like a phoenix from the ashes, beauty emerged from chaos.

Sunday, December 24, 2017


Merry Christmas
Feliz Navidad
Joyeux Noël
ᑯᕕᐊᓇᒃ ᐃᓄᕕᐊ

At this time of year I like to take a step back, breathe, relax and enjoy the festivities around me.  We all spend so much time during the year rushing to do one thing or another and rarely stop to just take in the world around us. 

Throw a snowball, write a Christmas card, stoke the fire one more time.  Pour another cup of hot cocoa and be amazed at the beauty of natural icicles forming off the eaves.. Take a walk through the forest and listen to the trees.  Christmas is a magical time of year.

From our house to yours, we wish you blessings for a very merry Christmas and best wishes for a prosperous 2018.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Dear Calin, I'm leaving you.

Open letter to Calin Rovinescu, CEO of Air Canada

Dear Calin, I'm leaving you.

This is not about you, it's about...  well ok, it is totally about you, and Air Canada's lack of attention to its loyal customers.  There is a lesson buried in here somewhere for one of us.

I was a loyal Air Canada customer for 9 years and most of that time I was either a Platinum or Gold elite traveler. That means I flew between 50,000 and 100,000 miles a year on Air Canada planes or their partner airlines.  Extrapolating the $460 YYC to YYZ fare and the 1660 miles between them, my loyalty meant a typical revenue of $14,000 to $28,000 a year to Air Canada. It may be good to keep that number in mind.

One of the reasons frequent fliers like myself tend to stick with one particular airline is for the rewards.  Those rewards can add up to mean free or discounted flights, upgrades to First or Business class, boarding ahead of others and other perks.  Air Canada was not the only membership I had, but it was the one I chose to focus my travel on because they are Canadian and they originally had a great rewards program.  But then something changed.

Actually, a number of things changed and none of them were good.  A few years ago ownership of the rewards plan shifted and it became even more detached from the airline than it was before.  It became harder to book reward flights and more painful to collect the benefits once you earned them.  Amid the confusion of dual internal reward programs (Altitude and Aeroplan), the new program became so convoluted that it was incomprehensible.  When you finally weeded through all the numbers it became very clear that it was now extremely hard to earn rewards, and once you had them, it was nearly impossible to redeem them.  The program had become worthless to me.

I started looking for an alternative and as it turns out a few of my friends had already blazed a trail for me to follow.  The path I chose was through the Delta Medallion program.  They just happened to have a challenge available that I took up and found that my regular travel schedule would get me to Gold level in only a few weeks.  However, Gold means something different to Delta than I was used to. It means a level of acknowledgment I was not accustomed to and complimentary upgrade options on every flight.  In my first 25 flights with Delta, I was upgraded 23 times to Business class.

Let me share how many times Air Canada gave me complimentary upgrades to First in the nine years I was loyal to that airline.  Zero. Nada. None.

In addition to the nice instant perk of complimentary upgrades, the connected partner programs are more appealing and better connected. My hotel, rental car, limo service, and other travel needs are all connected automatically to their system.

Oh, and they actually say "Thank You" for being a SkyMiles Medallion member.  It may sound like a minor thing to say "Thank You" but it is important. That personal touch is lacking in the Air Canada world and for an understandable reason - the rewards program is completely detached from the actual Airline.

I get it, I really do, and I am not really sure how you motivate the Airline to provide better perks for a rewards program that has no real connection to it.  The most obvious suggestion is that Air Canada needs to take back it's rewarding program and actually own it.  You have lost me for now, but I would come back if the program got better and actually had some relevance to the Airline and the money I put into it. If the airline ever takes back control of their rewards program, let me know and I will consider coming back.  For now, I have a flight to catch - oh look, I've been upgraded.

Sunday, August 6, 2017


Travel is an a large part of my world. Even though I take most of the trips myself on business, I know it affects my family and we work through those things as they happen.  Dinners with friends need to be rescheduled occasionally. Vacations need to be juggled, and "Family Night" sometimes has to be moved. Although some may think travel takes a toll on the traveler, I often think the people around me have to adjust more.

This is most evident with the tiny humans in my life.  The one in particular that I always carve out "Bath and Story time" for, also helps me pack for trips and I usually find a "Stuffie" of some description packed in my bags.  It has now become something of a tradition for us and when I stop to think about it, there is some interesting psychology at work there.

My little helper is always very selective of the stuffed buddy she packs for me.  It is typically different every trip but is always the same general size (about 6-8") and is important in her world.  Since she cannot come with me, she sends her proxy.

It did not take long to figure out what was happening and once I did, I started taking photos of them when I was traveling. Strapped into a plane seat, or sitting on the luggage waiting for a cab, or lounging on the windowsill while I was in a meeting. I can share these with her and it is like she is there with me on the trip. The giggles at the photos are worth the time, but listening to her collect her proxy from my luggage and review the trip is priceless.

I look forward to the whole process.  The packing, the travel, the return home.  All of those are a little more enjoyable knowing a tiny human is counting on me keeping her proxy safe along the way.

Be Awesome.  Change the world.



Monday, July 24, 2017


As a global manager, my week is full of meetings.  Many are one-off customer meetings or presentations, but my calendar also includes nine hours through the week that are for standing weekly internal meetings. A few months ago, these were spread out and broke up my days so that I could rarely get a two-hour block of time for any productive work.

Some time ago I made an effort to reschedule all those standing meetings to what I used to call "Tuesday".  I was able to juggle all but 2 of them into a single day that is now a very full back-to-back meeting day, but it leaves large open spaces for the rest of my week.  MeetingDay (AKA "Tuesday") is now pretty intense, but there is huge value in freeing up time on the other days so it is very much worth the effort.

So why did I do this?  Why force myself to endure a full day of back-to-back meetings?  It's all about trade-offs. If I cram all my meetings into a single (intense grueling) day, I free up the rest of my week to block off large chunks of time for uninterrupted research, development, and potentially - golf.

There has been a great deal of research done on the effects of work-interruption on productivity. Similar studies have been done on the effects of task switching. Meetings, both planned and unplanned, are the most common workplace interruptions. The average person today is task-switching every 10 to 12 minutes and meetings that break up the day make that worse.  In order to get anything productive accomplished, you need to be able to block off 2 hour to 4 hours blocks of uninterrupted work.  You cannot do that if you need to be interrupted halfway though it for a budget meeting or regional status update.

It took some work to wrestle them all into a single day, and it is not complete, but this is a much cleaner schedule than I had before. I have the ability now to block off 4 hours on a Thursday for development work where I can turn off my phone, shut down Slack and just focus, knowing that any important meetings have been taken care of on MeetingDay.

You may be shocked and amazed to know this is not an original idea. I actually stole this from a customer, who stole this from someone else, but it is efficient, and it works and hopefully, the idea can help you too.

Be awesome, Change the world.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Lessons From "The World"

This is a tale of two very different vacations that happened all in the space of 12 days. One return flight, Mickey Mouse, a hurricane, ferries, and monorails were all in the mix. In all that, there were some lessons learned. If you have read my blog for a while you know I periodically rant about Disney awesomeness, and this is yet another in that series, but with a twist.

People who read my blog know I am a Disney fanatic and write about the Disney experience relatively often. So it may come as a surprise that I had never been to "The World" before October last year. Disneyland (AKA "The Land") in California is our family's go-to happy place and my own fandom centers around the Disney philosophy and business methodology, so making the long trek from Alberta to Florida was not a big priority. This past October however, we had a coincidental opportunity to be in Orlando, so we turned it into a vacation. What follows is the story of lessons learned when visiting "The World" and the unexpected contrast with "The Land".

Disney World part 1 (off-property) - In addition to being a Disney fan, I am also a Marriott fan so when we started planning this trip we researched Disney hotels and Marriott hotels in the park area. The Disney hotels offer some surprisingly good prices, but the "good neighbor" hotels are better, and when you look at a map, they appear to be just across the street from each other, so it made sense to book that way.


Hindsight is 20:20, but that is a topic for the next section. Heading into the vacation, we had to plan based on maps and reviews, hotel descriptions and some experience. Going on our Anaheim experience, we thought we could trust the fact that a "Good Neighbour" hotel was Disney-trained and endorsed with access to the park transit system as well as park pass sales. What we discovered was far from that.

Our first stay was booked for the full duration at a Marriott Fairfield hotel that was listed as a "good neighbor" hotel with "free transit to all Disney parks". Apparently, that means something completely different in Florida than it does in California. When checking in, we were asked to pick one of 3 departure times for the bus to the TTC (Travel and Ticket Center) and the options were 90 minutes apart. That was the only option available, which was a huge departure from our California experience of being able to hop on an ART (Anaheim Rapid Transit) bus at almost any time and be in the actual park within 20 minutes from just about anywhere on the route.

It gets worse.

The provided bus was run by a tour contractor who was clearly not Disney-trained, provided limited space (a 20 seat bus for a 200 room hotel? Seriously?) and refused to take any stroller larger than a compact umbrella style. Again, seriously? At Disney World? Fine. We booked the time and waited where the bus was supposed to be... only for it to be 20 minutes late... then fought with the bus driver over the size of the stroller... then it took nearly an hour to get to the TTC because contractors are apparently not allowed to use the same roads that authorized Disney transit staff can use. Keep that in mind for later. The net result was an epic journey that took us nearly 3 hours to get from the hotel room to the Magic Kingdom - something that would have taken us 15 minutes in Anaheim.

Deep Breath.

OK, so that was painful, but the park experience made all of that go away for several hours, until we had to go through it all in reverse... and then repeat it the next day. By the evening of day two, we were so frustrated with the experience, we had considered checking out and just catching an early flight home. I was convinced the vacation was completely ruined. The only reason we did not just pack up and head for the airport was the great experience we had while actually in the park. Disney saved the day and they don't even know it. We decided to try another option.

Look across the road.

Yup. 200 yards away was the edge of the actual Disney park. I could literally see official Disney hotels across the highway from the top floor of our Fairfield hotel. It was a 15-minute walk to sanctuary and a chance to salvage this nightmare vacation.

Disney World part 2 (on-property) - A quick Google search for "Disney property hotels" and a phone call later, we were booked into the Best Western that was literally 0.9 miles away and across the highway, but was actually located on Disney park property. This is also a "good neighbor" hotel, but from the minute you step onto the property it is obvious they are Disney-trained and proud of it. The difference in service and experience was tangible and it was available for a grand total of $3 per night more. This is where the revelation really kicks in and where I mentioned the hindsight above. Being on park property also means it is serviced by official Disney transit which runs directly between the park hotels and the individual parks about every 30 minutes ALL DAY LONG.

It gets better.

Since transportation is provided by Disney transit, they can use the Disney service roads that can get you from the hotel to the park in 15 to 20 minutes as opposed to an hour. The difference was black and white, night and day. This vacation was saved. Disney buses can take you directly from a Disney property hotel to any of the parks, but busses that travel from NON-property hotels MUST take you to the TTC only and you have to make your way to the actual parks via bus transfers, ferries or monorails. Also, many of the park property hotels are within walking distance to Disney Springs - That is "Down Town Disney" for fans of "The Land".

Then it got wet.

You may have heard about hurricane Mathew. Yeah, that was us up on the 14th floor watching the hurricane come in off the coast. Did we panic? Heck no. By this time we were in full Disney mode and nothing could touch us. This was one more proof point that staying in a Disney park property hotel was worth it. The management took the crisis and cranked up the Disney effect, opening up the restaurant and bar to full-time access, setting up a makeshift theater in one of the conference rooms to show Disney films for the kids. They generally went out of their way to make storm-enforced quarantine almost unnoticeable.

Just do it.

If you are planning a trip to "The World", don't even think about booking a hotel off-property. A Disney hotel is better and actually worth the money, but if you cannot get into one, at least get a hotel that is on park property. You will not be disappointed.

The Park(s) - This place is freaking HUGE. The Anaheim property is all on one plot of land where you can literally walk to every single attraction in a single day as long as you don't stand in any lines. I know because I have done it. This was core to Walt's original idea of a family park for all to enjoy; A place to take your kids for an afternoon for some inclusive family entertainment. Orlando is not that at all.

From Wikipedia: The property covers 27,258 acres (43 sq mi; 110 km2), housing twenty-seven themed resort hotels, nine non–Disney hotels, four theme parks, two water parks, several golf courses, a camping resort, and other entertainment venues, including the new Disney Springs. 

There is a great post from here from Parker Monroe that clearly shows the Disney World property lines both now and from the original "Project X" days. To make it more clear, I have superimposed the Disneyland property (the black blob) over the area occupied by The Magic Kingdom circled in red in the image here.  While the seem roughly the same size, Disneyland has much more greenspace, where Disney World packs in more attractions (and walking, and lines).

That image above was from an eye level of 1.32Km (4300 ft). You have to fly out to nearly 15Km (49000 ft) in order to see the entire Disney World property as shown circled in red in the image left. That small red dot represents the area of Disneyland as an overlay on the Magic Kingdom.

The point here is that if you are used to the Disneyland park in Anaheim being highly accessible and compact, you are in for a surprise when you visit Orlando.

The important lesson from vacation experience #1 is that if you stay outside park property represented by the red circle, your stay will probably be miserable. 

Now for the specific park differences. Being used to the tight arrangement in Anaheim, I was really quite amazed at the expanse of the Orlando property. My observations about the parks are below.

-- Magic Kingdom -- 

When you first arrive, it makes sense to go here first because this is where the Ticket and
Transportation Center (TTC) is and is where you will likely need to buy or convert your park passes. From here you can get to any of the parks, resorts, and administration areas. The magic Kingdom is just across Bay Lake from here, a quick ferry or monorail ride away.

Getting through the main gate and entering Main Street through the train station arches is very similar to Disneyland, but bigger - everything here is just "bigger". The walk down Main Street and up to the castle was magical, you can really feel Walt's touch here. It is clear that this is what his original vision was all about and for Disney fans, this is a real treat. Unfortunately, when you leave Main Street, it is pretty clear that Roy's vision took over and the most of the rest of the Magic Kingdoms seems to have been designed by accountants, with a few notable exceptions.  Prices are higher, there is less green space, and there are more lines.  Most notable is the active funneling of traffic into purchasing areas.  For instance, every ride seems to exit into a gift store that aggressively targets the smallest of your children with expensive toys and there are no alternative routes out.  This is in sharp contrast to our experience at "The Land".

The prices were really a shock.   A spaghetti dinner that would have cost $13 in Anaheim was $26 in Orlando.  A T-shirt we bought a few months earlier for $14 in Anaheim was $28 in Orlando (for a children's size 4!!!) We will be more prepared for that on the next visit.

The bad stuff:

 - Small World had been jammed into a closet and looks like some fan's backyard homage. Seriously. I was shocked at how hacked up and half-assed this recreation was. If you are from the East Cost and have never seen the *real* Small World at Disneyland, PLEASE take a trip to California just to experience the attraction the way it was originally designed. If you are a Disneyland regular making your first trip to "The World", prepare to be sadly disappointed.
The *Real* Small World in Disneyland
WDW Small World - A miniature recreation

 - Pirates of the Caribbean is another example of a really poor reproduction. No Bayou lagoon, creepy banjo player, lightning bugs or crickets. No scary drop into Davey Jones locker, and no ride back up to the land of the living. Just a ride. So sad. If you have never experienced the original Disneyland version of this attraction, then you have no idea what you are missing. For all the Disneyland fans I know, this ride is a virtual religious experience and many people will start and end their days on "Pirates". I walked away from the Florida version wondering what I had just experienced.

 - The Tiki Room is the last of the real disappointments in the Magic Kingdom. Again, if you have not experienced the awesomeness of the Disneyland original version, then you don't know what you are missing. I, however, was very aware that there were no singing Polynesian gods entertaining me while I waited for the show, but rather had a couple of comedic parrots talking by a waterfall effect - boring.

The good stuff:

The Little Mermaid was pretty cool. They have done a really nice job of storytelling in the long line before the ride. I know that sounds like a given for Disney, but it is not necessarily true at the Orlando park. Likewise with Seven Dwarfs Mine Ride, Big Thunder Mountain, and The Haunted Mansion. These all have similar versions in Disneyland, but like much of this park, it is kinda the same, but very different too.

One of the benefits of having this much space if that they can just add-on when they introduce new attractions. There is some argument to be had about the amount of space Disney actually has available to them, but so far they have been able to keep old rides while adding new ones as well. This is a luxury not available to the team in Anaheim. Disneyland had to replace the TTA PeopleMover many years ago to make room for newer rides. The same fate was true for Country Bear Jamboree, Swiss Family Tree House, and The Carousel of Progress, which are all still alive and well at the Orlando park.

Overall, I was a bit disappointed with the Magic Kingdom. It seemed overly commercialized which is a departure from the Disney experience in Anaheim.  I now understand all those people who claim Disney is a tourist trap with overpriced merchandise.  

-- Animal Kingdom --

This is a whole other park in more ways than one. Located about a 30-minute bus ride from the TTC, it is essentially a wildlife preserve and education center. I had originally likened this to visiting the San Diego Zoo, but it is considerably different than that. The Savana Safari, Gorilla Falls, and The Affection Section are only some of the many reasons to visit this park. When we go back again, we will likely make this a separate 3-day vacation and stay in at the Animal Kingdom Lodge right at the park.

-- Hollywood Studios --

This park is very similar to California Adventure Park in Anaheim but is about a 20-minute bus ride from the TTC as opposed to a walk across the maingate area. This is where you can still find Muppets, Ariel, and the Disney Junior kids, but there is also a great compliment of Star Wars and Hollywood movie excitement as well. I am not sure this is worth a vacation in itself, but certainly worth a day or two.

-- EPCOT --

I saved the best for last.  Another 20 Minute bus ride from the TTC will get you to what should have been Walt's city of the future.  Unfortunately, Walt died 16 years before EPCOT opened its gates and it never became the experimental city he envisioned, but the park it became under Roy's direction is still a great place.  Spaceship Earth (the giant golf ball) is impressive both inside and out, as are the Land and Sea pavilions, but the real meat of this park is the World Showcase. Here you can "visit" at least a dozen countries, taste the food, experience the culture, and maybe take a ride or two.  
There is a good blog post here on the EPCOT Story if you want to read more.

What could have ended in a very truncated and miserable vacation, turned out to be pretty awesome, but only because some Disney magic salvaged it. If you are planning your first trip to Disney World, I hope the lessons we learned can help you have a better vacation right from the start.

Sunday, March 12, 2017


A war rages between darkness and the light.  Good and evil, right and wrong, left and right, yin and yang, the story is ageless and has been written in every language, yet persists; evading the erosion of time.

I have friends who wake every morning and thank Gaia for her gifts and others who converse with Vishnu.  Some of my friends are born again, and others think they got it right the first time.  Some friends would like me to believe that the world is only 6000 years old and the dinosaurs were once companions.  There are others who can show me evidence of intelligence more than 10,000 years old and have their beliefs firmly rooted in science.  The common thread in all of these compatriates is a belief that good will always win out over evil.  They all have creators that were inherently good, and those creators had enemies that were inherently evil.  At the core of all faith, we all believe the same thing.

Current world events may seem desperate.  The news seems to be full of earth-shaking historic events, but this has all been written before.  This story had been told again and again with different actors on various stages at various times, but the fight is the same.  The war between good and evil has periodic churn, and we now find ourselves in the thick of it.  In Greek mythology, Eris and Harmonia have been battling since the beginning of time.  Our written historical events can name a dozen antagonists and their counterparts.  In all of those events, what bears true is the truth of the dichotomy of yin and yang.  Good cannot exist without evil.  Life is impossible without death.  You cannot comprehend the "right" without an appreciation for what is "wrong."

In today's instantly connected world,  it is easy to get caught up in the rising tide of one argument against another.  We are swayed by political or religious rhetoric and partial information to force weight to one side or another.  No one seems to have time to do the research to make sure that the argument is valid and true, but ignorance and darkness are bedfellows.  Knowledge and truth are the companions of light.  Understand the darkness to embrace and defend the light.

Don't let the darkness win.