Archive for January, 2012

Jury Duty Reflections on Martin Luther King Day 2012

Monday, January 16th, 2012

Today continues the unseasonably moderate weather of this winter. Curious how the calm of this temperate moment both betrays and complements the collective confidence of the time. Shouldn’t it be worse? Is the worst over? Can we really return to reliable and recent more pleasant times? Of course, I’m describing how we feel about ‘the economy’, whatever this is and the feeling for which, like the weather, actually depends upon where you’re standing.

In Dr. King’s speech from 23 August 1963, which I listen to annually and only once per year, I noted three phrases: “Deeply Rooted in the American Dream”;”Let Us Not Wallow in the Valley of Despair”; and “Content of Their Character”. On the whole, have we made progress or enough progress or simply fooled and confused ourselves when we survey what we have done for and to ourselves over these past 49 years?! We don’t have segregated schools any longer; we merely, at least in my sons’s schools, separate the achieving and usually white students from their underperforming and usually African-American classmates by an organization of courses where effective segregation is classified as AP classes (Advanced Placement).

Our fears for the prevailing and tenuous economic climate are compounded by the unsettling political forecast in the year of another Presidential election, although it’s felt like this season never ends. As usual, we’re left to dress ourselves making the most of what we have and that which we have to do. Surveying this broad matter, I feel that although our various levels of government are certainly not the ‘enemy’ as often portrayed in these campaign cycles and usually by people who make their careers of working for these same entities of government, there is not much more that these entities should try to do as we have traveled far, far down the path of damage done through good intentions.

I served in the Durham jury pool this past week. This was my second time being called by Durham County and the fifth time for jury service including bank robbery and murder trials. Twice have I felt that serving on a jury ranked among the more memorable experiences of my adult life. In Maine, where one serves for two weeks in every five years, I was the foreman of a civil case where Sears was sued for failure to re-insure a young engineer and former military pilot from the consequences of his fault in a traffic accident where a medical doctor lost use of a leg. Clearly, the young man neglected to renew his insurance policy from All State, then a division of Sears. His fault was obvious but only to me and a sound engineer from the local television station who joined the other ten jurors in our deliberations. Our jury’s determination of guilty, meaning Sears should pay for the consequences of the engineer’s misfortune, was decided less upon the evidence and circumstances of the courtroom proceedings and more on the individual juror’s sense of how he or she would wish to be judged should the roles be reversed with the plaintiff. As one senior citizen and one single parent described their conclusions, “Sears can afford it” and “you just can’t trust computers, anyway.” When released from this civic duty, I evaluated and increased every single insurance policy that I possessed.

The bank robbery trial was a stupendous case of circumstantial evidence. Having ushered three cruelly frightend women into the vault of a soon to be closed and, therefore, empty branch bank, the disguised criminal sped from the parking lot in full view of the breakfast audience at the fast food restaurant across the street. Except for the exploded and smoking dye packet in the bag of stolen cash, they could have readily identified him. Instead, many could attest only to the model of the car, the certainty of a sole occupant and the color of the smoke which shielded certain determination of the driver. We had to rely on the evidence offered by the counter clerk at a convenience store and a manager at a grocery store where the wife and the girlfriend of the robber each attempted to convert red-stained one hundred dollar bills into other forms of cash. One would make small purchases, gum, and the other would buy ten thousand dollar money orders. The initial attempts at local laundering did not get them caught. It was the third trip to buy a bag of chips with a $100 bill and the second visit to the food store to cash the $10,000 money order purchased yesterday that caused management to note the behavior and to contact the police. The law got its man after all and it’s a generous process for reliably doing so.

I arrived at 8:30 am at the Durham Country Court House, in-line for the security scanner with sixty-four other selected voters and tax-payers curious about the jury process. I accepted and even hoped that I might be called to serve; I joined the others in superficially wishing that I would not. Our pool comprised mostly African-Americans, mainly women, several with Duke University affiliations and nearly all it turned-out with an opinion about domestic abuse. Before selecting a jury of twelve plus an alternate acceptable to both the prosecuting and defense attorneys, we learned a lot about each other and our admitted biases, experiences and resultant firm opinions. The case centered on an accusation of domestic abuse with two atypical circumstances: the first was that the accused was a woman and the second was that the accuser was a man with a prison record.

I realized that in a case of murder or a civil suit with a multi-million dollar claim that the average citizen has nearly no related experience, so selecting an impartial jury for such trial is an uncomplicated process. Assault is, however, an incident where many of us have either first or second-hand experience so are suspect in the opinions of attorneys hoping to benefit their clients. Thirty of our sixty-five were dismissed from contention. Profiles of the dismissed ranged from unemployed (young African American); admitted prejudice (against convicts by older white male); two young, employed African-American women without exposure to assault (who might not side with the accused?); a couple of men who just did not want to be on a jury and stated that they could not be fair; and others whom one attorney or the other did not wish to seat as is their procedural prerogative. Passing their discernment were women and men who had been personally assaulted; women and men whose siblings had been recently assaulted; a woman whose organization cares for victims of homicidal assault; and a woman whose daughter and child are currently under court supervision as the victims of assault.

In the end, this jury of thirteen comprised ten whites and three African Americans. Several of us considered if this was actually a jury of one’s peers given that the case was between two African-Americans. After nearly twelve hours together over two days, the judge released us and we quickly queued for the elevator to resume our usual lives. Justice was served, I’m sure, and I have no idea nor interest in the outcome of the case.

Even though we did not speak with one another in the course of waiting and wondering and sharing glances as yet another potential juror was dismissed which increased our own odds for being called, we accomplished something together. We demonstrated that amidst the imperfect process of justice in our broadly stratified community, both intellectually and economically, that a random selection of loosely qualified citizens could defer to common purpose in an unrehearsed effort to make a difference or at least a contribution to the strengthening of the ties that bind us.

I wanted to take the pool of these peers to lunch or coffee so as not to let the moment pass unacknowledged. I was emboldened by the stoic acceptance of their duty. Call it the commitment to the American dream. Without comment, we respected the selection process which resulted in a jury predominated by better educated whites sitting in judgment of lesser educated African-Americans. Call it not wallowing in preconceived prejudice. We perpetuated a remarkable and unpretentious outcome – a new jury is called nearly every day of the working week – without fanfare or hardly even a goodbye exchanged with one another. Call it content of collective character.

In the line for the 5th floor elevator, I felt as though I was the only one to see the shooting star in the sky. “Did you see that?!”, I wanted to ask those around me. “Isn’t amazing what just happened?!”, I wanted to tell somebody. But they had things to do and lives to lead and just wanted to get outside to enjoy the nice weather.

Year of The Rabbit as we welcome the Year of The Dragon

Sunday, January 1st, 2012

2011 was the best or one of the better years of my life. Maybe because it had to be for what choice do we have?! It passed quickly as I feel as though I had just taken last year’s Christmas tree to back of the yard when we brought home the tree for this season. I well remember the minutes that passed for days, especially on the mid-watch at sea, so I have to be fair in admitting that the fleeting passage of time indicates times that are.. fun? interesting? fulfilling?

I notice more of the heroes of my youth and the fixtures of those days pass on. The vanishing of Steve Jobs affected me most as he represented the rest of us who now have the power to make a difference by Thinking Different thanks to him. Uplifting was the new borns welcomed by my Navy friends, Chris, Noah, Josh and Garth.

The satisfying surprise of the year was my son’s acceptance into Naval Flight School. There are rumors of Defense Department budget cuts with reductions in officer rolls. For now, he’s slated for training in Pensacola after May graduation. I remind myself by telling others that uncertain times create certain opportunities; of course, I was surprised when this happened to him / us. My other son’s interest in lacrosse (interested in the way that birds are interested in flying) and a chance discussion at one of his games, propelled me to qualify as a high school lacrosse referee. After 40 plus assignments, I can confidently describe myself as having advanced from an Awful ref to a Bad ref. This game grows nearly recklessly with support from ESPN and Nike. I hope and plan to ref over the next 10 years to see how far and fast it goes.

The year began with the best meal of the year, lunch at Auberge du Soleil in Napa Valley which even impressed the Belgium clients. In spring, I returned to Apple in Cupertino and in the fall, I visited Stockholm for the first time. Silicon Valley is, indeed, an inspiring wonder of creative density; Stockholm, despite the brevity of its beautiful weather, is a wonder of civility, physical and crafted beauty. Funny to me is that it reminds me of San Francisco because of its definition by water, love of food, unpredictable weather and appreciation of all things off-beat (at least to others). Thankfully, everyone recommended the Vasa Museum.

In my job as an Internet Strategist, I gravitate towards larger financial firms, mostly banks, who, although believing that there is something to the social media habits and hobbies of younger folks, they’re just not quite sure how to get involved in a programmatic or profitable way. Despite the opportunity-wasting bickering amongst our political druids and the furor of ‘Let’s solve the Greek problem so we can worry about the Spanish problem so we can get to the Italian problem,’ not all banks operate equally and many, especially middle-sized ones, were interesting and challenging to meet this year. Banking executives readily acknowledge that their own customer relationships have to become characterized by sharing and learning more than blind transactions, yet are stymied by the weight of their recent past. I advocate that the underpinning of what all of our organizations are suffering is that knowledge is no longer power because everybody knows. How does one readily change a culture, be it political, religious, financial or even the athletic department when the entity fortified itself with the belief that they either know something or can withhold something from somebody else. Brings to mind those extravagant suits of armor that required a hoist to seat the lord on his horse only to have him taken-down in battle by a longbow from afar.

In parallel with my clients in the Fortune 100 are the clients of Blue Pane Studio who encourage their unsure department heads to explore the potential of smart phones and apps. It’s a shame that neither the HP nor the RIM tablets made favorable impressions in the market. I had high hopes for Amazon’s Android-based Fire tablet and this, too, seems rushed to market. Despite its success, I feel that the iPad and the application potential of tablets in general would benefit from a credible Android alternative to the iOS. Meanwhile, with a portfolio of 40+ apps for iPhone and Android smartphones, Blue Pane has a handful of iPad clients lined-up for 2011. We’re grateful to the National Cancer Institute, Dartmouth College, The National Institute of Health, the WIC program at USDA and The Research Triangle Park as bringing an app to life with a partner from afar requires an honest and faithful relationship. Curious is that the four web sites that we bid for never came to pass. I don’t mean that we didn’t get the work; I mean that they never got built or overhauled. The process of web site overhaul is too expensive and requires to much organizational time and resources. Apps deliver what clients, the fabled users, truly care about. I’m eager for tablets to help change how training and education, both scholastic and organizational, is created and delivered. And I guess that the video capabilities of these devices will be vital to the new processes of sharing learning.

In mid year, I retired or turned-over the helm as President of the RTP Chapter of the US Naval Academy Alumni Association. Now this is the way that we should go out: not with a box of personal effects or a strained conversation about a ‘new direction for the team’, but on schedule having helped one’s successor into the seat. Plus, I received a framed gift of thanks. Leading the Board of Directors introduced me to a broad range of military personnel: veterans, female officers, retirees, ROTC midshipmen, business school students, sea cadets, Marines, Rangers and parents of midshipmen. The privilege of helping them in small ways, the benefit of laughing with those whom I could trust implicitly even though we may have just met, the honor of sharing experiences with those who contributed so much more than I have, all enriched my life and caused me to realize how shallow can be the context of everyday jobs where sincerity and self-sacrifice are often little valued despite the sloganeering and mission statements.

The representative event of 2011 was the Fuji bicycle that I bought from Owen the Australian who lives across the street. In a generous act of friendship, he offered one of his bikes – he is an expert rider – when I asked how to upgrade my 15 year old Raleigh that I bought after the handy-man broke into our garage and stole my bike and Alexander’s. We didn’t know that he would be that handy! As with fine tailoring, properly aged wines and nearly everything else that costs alot and is worth it, once you ride a well balanced, correctly tuned and lightweight bicycle (mine is a cross-over model), it’s stunning how clunky and inefficient becomes previously well-revered ride. It seems that every bit of energy that I delivered to the new bike via its rubber-studded peddles, shot me down the road as I had never experienced. Former hills and distances seem to change even though I recognized that I was different and the difference. So began 2011.

The silver and bronze medal moments of instruction arrived, as does nearly all enlightenment, away from the throne of productivity, i.e. my desk with MacBook. At an late August luncheon with Swedish executives in Palisades, New York, we sat around an outdoor table ‘catching some rays.’ This is what Swedish people do when favored with late summer sun. Our day together centered on how to use the popular technologies of all things with an ‘i’ plus their sister and brothers of social media to help their bank to catch-up, keep-up and to get a bit ahead of the interests of their clients. What is the formula for changing that which works well?! The vacillating fortune of RIM, makers of Blackberry, is vivid proof for executives that being both good and popular is not a guarantee of survival in the marketplace. Our social media conversation led, inevitably, to comments on the expectations of succeeding generations. Parental concerns of employment, marital satisfaction and social adjustment aside -which we all shared- someone remarked, as they always do, that the members of Gen X or Y or Gen Something have little or no sense of organizational loyalty, quoting how may careers, 9 is a common number, that they’ll experience in a working lifetime. I injected my observation that the young developers working at Blue Pane Studio nearly despise the phrase ‘manager’ as they feel technically superior to most of their organizational elders. “They do not want to be managed, but they do seek guidance and instruction.” The Swede to my right nodded in reply, “I’ve been a manager for 25 years; I’ve been a leader for 3.” Silver to Bjorn.

We live in a cultivated forest shared with Duke University. Although not far from state and interstate roads, we enjoy the array of outdoor neighbors including a fox that walks with dogs (in the dark, in the morning), hawks, turkey buzzards, possums, squirrels and birds of many varieties. Their sights and sounds enrich my ‘staring at the screen’ work posture. The deer are on the other side of the highway, thankfully. We never see the raccoons except after a traffic accident and we hope never to meet one of the copperhead snakes that an owl or cat catches at night and deposits near the mailbox about once a year. From time to time, a wren will build a nest in the garage or in the mailbox on the porch. For the first time in ten years, a mourning dove built and occupied a nest on the wood pile next to the front door. When we exited the house, she or he would exit the nest revealing two tiny eggs. Some geo-location info is in order. Our porch is about fifteen feet away from the yard and 6 feet off of the ground. We would leave through the garage door to avoid disturbing the brooding dove and we’d peek from the living room curtains to check on her progress. One day shortly after arrival, the nest was empty, completely empty. No shell bits of any size. I wondered if baby doves eat the shells for their first pre-flight meal. I returned to the nest a couple of times that day for signs of birth and flight. On about my third trip to the front porch, I inspected the wood pile for evidence of the hatching. As I bent over the second level of the stacked wood, I peered into the black eyes of a black snake. Tessa and I used a broom handle to push the interloper into the garden where we re-located it to the edge of the yard. How did the snake know of the location of the nest intrigued me. An easy question for The Google. Snakes are on the lookout for repeated flight patterns of birds and will follow them to their nests. Up the side of a brick house onto a wood pile is but a short intercept for a six foot black snake. Fate takes many forms and one never knows who is watching. Bronze to Elaphe obsoleta.

Education Square as presented on You Tube

Sunday, January 1st, 2012

So much is changing, so much needs to change and much has changed that has yet to recognized. Our social and organizational structures are inadequately prepared, i.e. funded and staffed, to either lead, get-ahead or even to keep-up. And many were designed this way – as maintainers of the flames of process and reliability. How will the Egyptians form a government when every one with a phone and a Twitter account is a broadcaster and potential opinion-shaper? Who would dare to run for office when every foible and blemish is hauled-up for inspection?! It will be interesting to observe how we will capture our once-treasured spirit of collective achievement? And I feel that the controlling barriers must continue to be removed despite the accompanying uncertainty. Everyone knowing is a good starting point.

We enroll our son in public education because we feel that this social environment will better prepare him for the world that he will encounter as an adult. Our decision was encouraged by the $20k per year tuitions of the local private schools, by the way. Happily, he is happy with the broad and disparate milieu of his high school. I share this video made by him and two other high school sophomores because I find it entertaining and well-executed. The quality of this work and the fun that they had producing this piece for class credit reminded me how difficult it has to be for teachers to truly challenge students. The tools at the simple disposal of these three boys exceeds those of their high school or perhaps even my own company. And their work shows it. I feel that schools will evolve from teaching (I/We Know) to environments where learning is shared and sharing is the process of learning. I think that this is guiding principle of the Kahn Academy.