Wednesday, December 31, 2014

To Your Health!

If you are still looking for a New Year’s Resolution, I have one to suggest -- be diligent about monitoring and managing your health.

Early this year I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. My urologist was actually shocked at my biopsy results.  I had some of the early indicators, which I had been tracking for about 7 years, and everything pointed to a continued “watchful waiting,” a process where you wait until the signs indicate that cancer is likely.  This process reminds me of a jack-in-the-box toy -- you know jack is going to pop out, you just don’t know when, but when he does, you are startled.

Jack popped out when my biopsy results came in, and I was startled.

A range of treatments were discussed, and I opted for the suggested  Being fortunate enough to live close to Baltimore, I decided to seek a second opinion from the urology department at Johns Hopkins and called to make an appointment.  Apparently my timing was spot-on, as I was assigned to the world-renowned director of urology at Hopkins, Dr. Partin.  In typical fashion, when I went to my appointment, I took a chart that I had developed to track my Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) over the last 7 years, and proudly presented it to Dr. Partin. He looked at it, and then at me, paused. and finally said,you're an engineer right?” He continued and said, “Nice chart, but you did it should have plotted PSA on a semi-log scale, and you would see a linear relationship.”  This immediately made me think of two things:
  • Dang it! I should have known this! and;
  • I really like this doctor, he was straight to the point.

My PSA moved into the watchful waiting region about 2 years ago, but when it continued to trend upward, a biopsy was ordered.  As I mentioned, my urologist was convinced that only low level cancer would be detected, and watchful waiting could continue, but I guess all the other normal signs were misleading.

I chose a robotic surgical approach since it is supposed to be more accurate, and, it is just really cool. The robotic surgeon was Dr. Allaf (aka Mo, as he was referred to by Dr. Partin when we were introduced the morning of surgery, July 3rd). Dr. Partin assisted.

Upon closer examination of my dearly departed prostate, the pathologist concluded that the cancer was a wee-bit more severe than had first been thought (an in situ biopsy only samples a tiny part of the prostate).  The cancer was concentrated on the outside region, which made it more likely to spread. Fortunately, there were no signs of it spreading, and my follow up blood tests 3 months after surgery showed no sign of cancer (PSA was not measurable).  Nonetheless, given the pathology results, I got slotted into radiation treatment, which is still underway.  By the way, I am totally amazed at the spatial accuracy of radiation these days (less than 3mm diameter).

So, as you ponder your New Year’s Resolutions, I suggest that you resolve to make sure that all your health tests are up to date, that you probe to fully understand what all of your indicators mean, and that you manage your health accordingly.  I think my engineer tendencies to measure and track everything helped me stay on top of my situation.  You only have one life, so take care of it.

My last radiation treatment is in just a few days, the day before my 61st birthday.  It has been one heck of year, and I welcome 2015!

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

So Long NARA

Life is uncertain.  Eat dessert first.

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The world is an uncertain place these days, whether you move or whether you stay put. But several things help guide my way, and I know I have shared this thinking with some of you. The first is confidence. Confidence, but not arrogance. Confidence in one’s capabilities, in one’s adaptability, and in one’s values. The values part is important, because ultimately it will be the filter through which others see you.

I think a curiosity and a willingness to venture out of one’s comfort zone is important as well.
Getting out of the comfort zone forces one to learn new things, to take on challenges, and to expand one’s thinking. I give this advice to everyone I mentor or advise, and I follow it myself.  I believe we all need to keep learning.

As many of you know, my passion is engineering - applying technology to deliver business value is something that really drives me.  Throughout my career, I have come to realize that good products typically are not the best the first time they are introduced, and many times aren’t used the way they were originally intended.  Experience has taught me that one needs to do it wrong to get it right.  An unending curiosity is a critical need today, striving to learn and understand new things and to seek better, more efficient solutions.  Provided one learns from mistakes, these really aren’t failures.  A secret to success is not in knowing everything. Rather, it lies in knowing what you don't know, and finding those who do. I’ve been successful because I don’t give up on a goal, seeking out constructive criticism, asking others to tell me that my baby’s ugly, provided it truly is, and then asking them to tell me why.
 140326 Heck of a System.jpg
My career can be characterized as a string of implausible challenges, and my next chapter is similar -- one that will be an outlet for creativity, and one where I can make a difference.  And perhaps most important, this role will let me be me. After all, the time we have to do such things is limited, so I want to make every moment count.

It has been my privilege to work with many wonderful people at NARA.  Thank you.

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Never settle.  Keep moving forward.

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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Quiet People

Throughout my career, people have said that I am quiet -- sometimes too quiet.  I tend to agree, but it is one of those things that isn't easily fixed.

Over time, most people realize that I need to think about things and after I do that, I will express my views and suggestions.  This post summarizes this really well...

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Wisdom of Steve Jobs

This is a re-post. It contains exerts from a commencement speech that Steve Jobs gave several years ago and captures my feelings very well.

.....[being] fired from Apple was awful-tasting medicine but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life's going to hit you in the head with a brick. Don't lose faith. I'm convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You've got to find what you love, and that is as true for work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work, and the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking, and don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it, and like any great relationship it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking. Don't settle.

Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice, heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

Stewart [Brand] and his team put out several issues of the The Whole Earth Catalogue, and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-Seventies and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath were the words, "Stay hungry, stay foolish." It was their farewell message as they signed off. "Stay hungry, stay foolish." And I have always wished that for myself, and now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you. Stay hungry, stay foolish.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Value of Records

I admit it, earlier in my life I had very little appreciation for history. But over time I realized that an understanding of history provides valuable insight into why things are the way they are, and can help provide suggestions for addressing issues today.

When I joined the National Archives, I used work that I had been doing to trace my family history to help me better understand the processes that were in place for archivists and researchers to find records. I used a few facts that I had about my dad’s military experience to launch into some amateur research at the Archives.

I had a picture from one of his albums that showed that he was in the Navy in WWII, and based on the annotations on the picture I assumed he was on the Memphis.

As it turns out, he wasn’t on the Memphis, which was a WWII ship. Instead he was in Memphis for training.

Without being terribly deterred by this misstep, my quest for information continued. I completed an SF-180 to gain access to his military records, and was fortunate enough to travel to the Archive’s St. Louis facility earlier this month to see the Archive’s National Personnel Records Center, which is where most of our military records are housed. I was able to catch up with my request for access to dad’s records and his Navy file was located for me to review.

The record was awesome. I had expected to see the typical record entries – his enrollment date, discharge date, etc. What I found were these things, plus some very surprising items that helped me resolve some of the mysteries in my dad’s past.

Dad joined the Navy in the height of WWII and was discharged at the end of 1945. One of the unexpected treasures in the record file was a film negative containing the image taken of dad the day he joined the Navy.

The big surprise came when I found a letter from my grandmother, written to the Navy, requesting an early discharge for my dad. The request accompanied other documents that supported her request which was based on her inability to maintain the household given my grandfather’s failing health. Dad was needed back home to support his family.

Through a number of letters supporting the request, dad was honorably discharged from the Navy on December 29th, 1945 and returned home to re-assume his position as head of the household. He was 24 years old.

I now understand more of the background of my dad’s life. His role as the head of his household was never discussed, nor was the situation leading to his departure from the Navy. The history did help me understand what drew him to an eventual career in the aircraft industry. After his dad passed away, he left the Virginia area and moved to Cincinnati, Ohio to be a part of the growing jet engine industry. His Navy training in aircraft maintenance certainly must have been the seed that inspired him to seek a job working on jet engines. He worked for the General Electric Aircraft Engine group for 32 years, retiring as a field quality engineer, after starting as a production worker.

Records provide invaluable insight into our past. Making these records permanently and easily accessible is incredibly important, not only to researchers, but everyone. Someday, everyone will want to explore the past to finds some clues that will undoubtedly reveals things that will be a surprise.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Authentication is a user-centric activity

My view of what it takes to authenticate something requires attention to two key attributes:
1. Verification that you are getting the item that you intend to authenticate from a reputable source that can represent that the item is authentic, and
2. verification that the item has integrity, i.e., that it hasn’t changed since it was presented by the reputable source.

If you think about it, if you want to be assured you can access authentic government data, where do you go – in the paper world, you go to a depository library (verification #1). You then get access to a copy of a document that may contain the data you are looking for, probably with the help of a document librarian. The document you get access to appears in a form (bound and denoted to be authentic, etc.) that you can trust to be authentic. Given these two validations, you, the user of government data, can conclude that the document is authentic.

There are some key points affecting the electronic world.
1. Replicas are provided, originals are not sent.
2. Replicas are always modified from the original. The digital world has accomplished this almost seamlessly – documents are rendered to adapt to your browser and environment, print-ready documents are RIPed to deliver a similar look-and-feel to the original. The term RIP is probably very telling when you look inside one of these sausage machines.
3. The challenge that we face is one of determining whether the user or receiver of the replica has sufficient information to confidently determine whether the replica is authentic.

Authentication is a user-centric activity.

The tools that the U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO) has adopted to support authentication are targeted to address validation #2 – integrity. Fortunately, GPO qualifies for validation #1, as long as we maintain our reputation for being a trusted repository of official and authentic government documents. But, this is why we have invested in FDsys and need to continue to maintain this repository to sustain the level of trust we have earned.

Friday, November 27, 2009


I run across quotations at times that really resonate with me. This is a good place to create a registry of these.

"Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt." Abraham Lincoln

"It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat."  Theodore Roosevelt 

“A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which
knowledge gives." James Madison, 1822

"Whatever you are, be a good one." Abraham Lincoln

"Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn." Benjamin Franklin

"Science is about what is, and engineering is about what can be. The entire existence of engineers is dedicated to doings things better and more efficiently." Neil Armstrong, 2000

"Our unity as a nation is sustained by free communication of thought and by easy transportation of people and goods. The ceaseless flow of information throughout the Republic is matched by individual and commercial movement over a vast system of interconnected highways crisscrossing the country and joining at our national borders with friendly neighbors to the north and south." “Together, the united forces of our communication and transportation systems are dynamic elements in the very name we bear — United States. Without them, we would be a mere alliance of many separate parts.” President Dwight D. Eisenhower February 22,1955 [I think is is really interesting that President Eisenhower included communication in these statements supporting the Interstate Highway Program.]