Author Archives: kirk.kittell

We serve good mornings all day

Away, as at home, I have a default greeting: howzitgoin.

Away, as at home, the mental wheels slip a little when the default doesn't match with the situation in reality.

Here in Italy, buon giorno—"good day"—works for just about every hello from good morning until some fuzzy part of the late afternoon. So I get in the habit of buon giorno-ing everyone. Buon giorno. Buon giorno. Ciao. Arrivederci. &c.

In the evening it's a little different: buona sera—"good evening". It's not difficult to hear or say. But in that moment when the taxi driver or the waitress says buona sera there is a little bit of scrambling internally to hear something different than buon giorno and say something different than buon giorno in return. I have been in Italy for eight days of my entire life, so the rut isn't that deep, but the rut is comfortable and easy and takes some energy to leave nonetheless.

Lago Maggiore, morning - from Hotel Ancora

A week in review, 2019-W38

Wrote

None

Read

  1. Salman Rushdie, What Kurt Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse-Five" Tells Us Now, The New Yorker (2019-06-13).
  2. Nellie Bowles, Human Contact Is Now a Luxury Good, The New York Times (2019-03-23).
  3. Aishwarya Kumar, The grandmaster diet: How to lose weight while barely moving, ESPN (2019-09-13).
  4. John Semley, Where to dive into Frank Zappa’s weird, unwieldy discography, The A.V. Club (2012-08-09).
  5. It's the Flame That Matters, Not the Carrier, gapingvoid (2019-09-16).

Listened

  1. Free Will, In Our Time (2019-09-12).
  2. Napoleon's Retreat from Moscow, In Our Time (2019-09-19).
  3. Special CHP Episode: China Tripping - Experiencing the Everyday in the People's Republic, The China History Podcast (2019-09-06).

Watched

The Secret Life of Pets (2016)

Photo

welcome back (waiting)

Upcoming


There might be additional links that didn't make the cut at notes.kirkkittell.com

A week in review, 2019-W37

Wrote

None

Read

  1. David Browne, How Bob Dylan Made a Pre-Rock Masterpiece With ‘Love and Theft’, Rolling Stone (2016-09-11).
  2. Liam Shaw, A sharp crack and a heavy explosion, LRB Blog (2019-09-13).
  3. James Somers, Speed matters: Why working quickly is more important than it seems, the jsomers.net blog (2015-07-26).
  4. Glen Alleman, Project Management + Systems Engineering = Increased Probability of Project Success, Herding Cats (2019-09-13).

Listened

  1. PMP#8: Spider-Man: Far From Home (and Elsewhere), Pretty Much Pop (2019-08-27).
  2. Trade war economics, with Andy Rothman, SupChina (2019-09-05).
  3. 699: What Great Coaching Looks Like, HBR IdeaCast (2019-09-10).

Watched

Ne Zha (哪吒之魔童降世Nézhā zhī Mótóng Jiàngshì;) (2019)


There might be additional links that didn't make the cut at notes.kirkkittell.com

A week in review, 2019-W36

Wrote

None

Read

  1. Ahmed Kabil, What a Prehistoric Monument Reveals about the Value of Maintenance, Blog of the Long Now (2019-09-05).
  2. Tyler Cowen, The New Generational Divide: Screen Size, Bloomberg (2019-09-07).
  3. Dave Winer, The heroes machine, Scripting News (2019-09-08).
  4. Aditya Bhalla, Don't Misuse the Pareto Principle, Six Sigma Forum Magazine (2008-05-01).

Listened

  1. The Life Is Good Company: Bert and John Jacobs, How I Built This (2019-09-02).
  2. Picasso's Guernica, In Our Time (2019-09-05).
  3. Hunting bugs and tech startups with Python, Talk Python to Me (2019-09-04).

Photo


There might be additional links that didn't make the cut at notes.kirkkittell.com

A week in review, 2019-W35

Wrote

None

Read

  1. Stanisław Aronson, I survived the Warsaw ghetto. Here are the lessons I'd like to pass on., The Guardian (2018-09-05).
  2. Mary Delach Leonard, 20 Years Ago, Route 66 State Park Rose from the Ashes of Times Beach, St. Louis Public Radio (2019-08-26).
  3. Lily Hay Newman, How Facebook Catches Bugs in Its 100 Million Lines of Code, Wired (2019-08-15).
  4. Danielle Applestone, Struggling to hire at your rural plant? Read this., LinkedIn (2019-08-29).

Listened

  1. Augustine's Confessions, In Our Time (2019-08-29).
  2. 697: How African-Americans Advance at Work — And What Organizations Can Do To Help, HBR IdeaCast (2019-08-27).
  3. The Memory Palace, Radiolab (2019-08-28).

Watched

American Factory (2019)

Photo

minor construction (subtitle: unsquare constraints lead to scrap wood)

Upcoming


There might be additional links that didn't make the cut at notes.kirkkittell.com

Hysterical and useless

This song popped up on a random play of my entire music library today, and it surfaced some memories with it: Radiohead, "Let Down", OK Computer (1997).

Mostly I remember it because I would sing the lead part during the bridge, and Sunil would sing the harmonies—although I only specifically remember playing it at The Embassy in Urbana in 2003, we might have played it elsewhere.

I also remember it because of a few recurring lines that have always stuck with me, for whatever reason:

One day
I am gonna grow wings
A chemical reaction
Hysterical and useless
Hysterical and useless

I don't know what Thom Yorke intended with that. I don't always know what I take from it. "Hysterical and useless" sounds bad, in isolation—but isn't that how you could describe all of our flights from who we are and what we are? To some extent, don't you really have to reach beyond your grasp to become something new, something different?

A week in review, 2019-W26

Wrote

  1. Control (2019-06-25).

Read

  1. Luke Halliwell, The Agile Disease, Luke Halliwell's Weblog (2008-11-16).
  2. John Herrman, Slack Wants to Replace Email. Is That What We Want?, The New York Times (2019-06-19). For employees raised online, Slack looks and feels like a place to socialize. I grew up chatting with friends online and still do, sometimes in scattered Slack rooms. I have also spent the last 10 years at companies where work chat was the norm and observed the arrival of Slack with both relief and suspicion. Finally, a better work chat app. Then: Oh god, this is really how people are going to work, now?
  3. Zachary Crockett, The restaurant owner who asked for 1-star Yelp reviews, The Hustle (2019-06-09).
  4. Konstantin Kakaes, What Neil Armstrong Got Wrong, MIT Technology Review (2019-06-26). The Apollo program failed to make such a leap. Its success was in taking the technology of the time as far as it could go, just as the pharaohs built the absolute biggest pyramids they could. It was a monument to ingenuity and to determination. But monuments are, by design and by definition, ends and not beginnings.
  5. Derrick Goold, A scout, a backup catcher, Pujols & the trade that would have changed Cardinals history, St. Louis Post-Dispatch (2019-06-22).

Listened

  1. A Mathematician Translating Pushkin?, Math Mutation (2019-06-23).
  2. Umbrella Revolution 2.0 – or something else? Antony Dapiran on the Hong Kong demonstrations, Sinica Podcast (2019-06-27).
  3. 644: Random Acts of History, This American Life (2019-06-23).

Photo

Nxt@4240

Upcoming


There might be additional links that didn't make the cut at notes.kirkkittell.com

A week in review, 2019-W25

Wrote

  1. Systems engineering and agile (2019-06-18).

Read

  1. Steve Demming, Understanding Fake Agile, Forbes (2019-05-23). Judging from the examples, it appears that "Agile lite" means the adoption of tools and practices of Agile without necessarily deploying them with an Agile mindset. Without an Agile mindset, Agile remains an inert, lifeless set of ceremonies.
  2. Keith Collins, The code that took America to the moon was just published to GitHub, and it's like a 1960s time capsule, Quartz (2016-07-09).
  3. James Pollard, Found in a High School Restroom: Cache of 1940s Wallets and Their Contents, Riverfront Times (2019-06-21).
  4. Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi, Makaliʻi: Sustaining A Voyage Solely On Locally-Sourced Food, Hawaii Public Radio (2019-06-13).
  5. Neil Thomas, The Politics of History: Why Anniversaries Matter in China, MacroPolo (2019-06-18). Placing symbolic weight on historical anniversaries is a double-edged sword, however. In non-democratic polities where the government dominates public discourse, political activists often appropriate official commemorations to express dissent or mobilize protest, as such events provide a sanctioned veneer that can restrain or delay government responses. Historical anniversaries also serve as "focal points" for collective action because they help protestors overcome the coordination problem posed by state gags on unapproved information.

Listened

  1. Bit Flip, Radiolab (2019-05-08).
  2. CHP-223-The History of Tang Poetry Part 6, The China History Podcast (2019-06-02).
  3. Podcast #517: What Big-Time Catastrophes Can Teach Us About How to Improve the Systems of Our Lives, The Art of Manliness (2019-06-17).

Watched

Sex Education (2019)

Upcoming


There might be additional links that didn't make the cut at notes.kirkkittell.com

Systems engineering and agile

A few weeks ago, the INCOSE Midwest Gateway Chapter (the local professional society for systems engineers) hosted an event called Agile in Systems Engineering. Basically, I begged one of our directors, Adeel, and one of our best members, Matt, to explain to systems engineers what the hell agile development is. Whether it's a fad or not doesn't matter. If you're going to be exposed to it, you should know more about it. Even if it is a fad, you should steal the good parts mercilessly and incorporate it in your repertoire.

Systems engineering and agile development (agile software development, at least) are fundamentally opposed. We're not supposed to say that out loud, but it's true. Systems engineering is largely a top-down decomposition from what a customer wants to how a system should satisfy that to how subsystems should support the system, and so on. It's about definition and control from the top. Agile is more about bottom-up. Develop the system by developing the system—develop the system (software) by doing it, and respond to changes as they come.

The problem is not that there is one idea or the other but, inevitably, when a top-down organization wants to incorporate agile or a bottom-up organization wants to incorporate systems engineering, there is capital-P Pain.

I am living in capital-P Pain.

The purpose of my life at work right now, as a systems engineer in an organization that wants to pursue agile software development in an environment of top-down control, is to serve as a kind of buffer. On one hand, I'm trying to be a buffer to block the software developers—the people actually doing the work—from the vagaries of the people who own the project schedule. (See also: Shield.) Agile is, in very rough terms, about establishing a backlog of work that needs to be done for a project, and then selecting the most important bits of it that can be done in a sprint (two- or three-weeks). As the people up high want to shift the schedule, they lose patience with the priority of the backlog and the sprint, and they (naturally) want to adjust it. But that's not allowed. Make a plan and stick to it.

On the other hand, I'm trying to be a buffer to block the specific details of what the developers are doing from the managers. If you try to say specifically that today was a slow day and yesterday was a slow day because the work being done is subtly difficult, the top-down managers only see a blinking red neon sign that says LATE. So it takes some finesse to translate the work being done, or the preparation for the work being done if there aren't any discrete accomplishments, to keep the managers from bothering the developers to death.

So a lot of working as a systems engineer in an agile environment—an agile environment in a large organization used to top-down control, at least—is about acting as a translator between two fundamentally opposed paradigms. It's thankless work of questionable utility. It takes a lot of time and effort to translate schedules and still, at the end of the day, some joker will come up and ask you: why aren't your requirements done yet?

So I'm thinking to submit an abstract to the 2019 INCOSE Great Lakes Regional Conference (call for submissions to talk about this. Many people, in my opinion, spend their time in top-down or bottom-up jobs, so maybe it's time for somebody to provide some kind of Rosetta Stone to link the two together. At the very least, it might cause me to crystallize some things I do in my day-to-day work. Stay tuned, etc.