Monthly Archives: April 2004

One of the few things

One of the few things I’ve done that I am really proud of is writing books. I wrote several in my gay mad youth, and then I just stopped cold. Yes, I started a few businesses and raised a few kids and made a few bucks. But I wasn’t writing. I wasn’t even thinking about writing.

However, last week I published again. The book is called “Foster Mom,” and it’s a memoir of my experience as a foster parent (along with my comments on the foster care system in general). I published it for two reasons: 1)to get it in the hands of every foster care agency and Child Protective Services agency in the United States so they can understand what it’s like to put kids in foster care, and 2)to raise some money for the foster kids I’ve brought up, who certainly deserve to profit from their stories as much as the CEO of Enron or that reporter who plagiarized all his stories and then wrote a book about it that was made into a movie (his name was Jack Glass, I think).

The world of book publishing has certainly changed. Thirty years ago, I published a book called “Creative Rhetoric.” It’s long out of print, although I found a few used copies of it for sale on Amazon last week. I remember the process well. It took about a year, and consisted of endless mailing of proofs back and forth, discussions with editors, and arguments about how the book should be structured. I never won these arguments, because I wasn’t the editor. I was only the author and what would now be called the “content expert.” I wasn’t the publishing professional.

This time, when I published, I just sent my manuscript file by email to an editor at iUniverse, (www.iuniverse.com) with a credit card charge of $499. For this, I received 35 copies of a really cool looking paperback book that is universally available at any Internet bookstore supported by Ingram, the largest book distributor in the world. If you go to http://www.amazon.com, you can see it. It’s actually suggested for young adults, so I bet teenagers will read it as well.

I didn’t have to look for an agent, negotiate a complex contract, or — most important — get rejected several times. I didn’t have to listen to anyone’s advice on how other books have been written and how my book should be like other books. I got to put my own words on paper and see them pretty much as I put them down. I got to tell the story I really intended to tell. For a writer, this is a dream come true.

This is not to say that iUniverse doesn’t have editors, or processes to help writers. It does; it has everything. But it doesn’t make you buy more than you need of the services. And it’s expeditious, to say the least. As fast as you can turn around the proofs is as fast as they can. You can really publish in two weeks if you’re ready.

IUniverse is a logical outgrowth of desktop publishing, and of the Internet. To me it’s wondrous; anyone can be an author. In the past, professional writing was all about rejection, struggle and suffering. Now, it’s about accomplishment and achievement. You can bring your own book to market.

IUniverse even tells you how to hold book signings and organize promotional tours. My book has a limited audience, and word of mouth is going to get it where it needs to go, so I will forgo most of that. But there’s a marketing package you can buy from iUniverse if you choose to.

You know me; I’m always trying something. This time I’m trying to see how effective the Internet is at marketing a book. This blog is my virtual book tour, as “Foster Mom” is my virtual book. If you know anyone who has anything to do with children’s issues in our society, send them to http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0595314317/qid=1083163628/sr=8-1/ref=sr_8_xs_ap_i1_xgl14/102-5170846-0105752?v=glance&s=books&n=507846. You can send your teenage children there as well. It will teach them how the “other half” lives.

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Martha Stewart isn�t the only

Martha Stewart isn�t the only one to get caught in the rush to enforce the year-old Sarbanes-Oxley legislation. Sarbanes-Oxley is a federal mandate for change in the areas of corporate accountability, control, audit, and reporting. And since most of that is done nowadays on the computer, the enterprise systems running most NYSE, NASDAQ, and other publicly traded companies can be either the best means for enforcing Sarbanes-Oxley legislation, or the biggest booby trap.

I have been advised by one of our clients, Visible Systems Corporation, that Sarbanes-Oxley is likely to cause the same kind of panic that Y2K engendered in the months before the turn of the century. However, with Y2K you could go in once, change the dates, and fix things once and for all; Sarbanes -Oxley compliance follows the company into the future, and thus could change the way software is developed and maintained forever.

Most companies have a hodge podge of custom developed and off-the-shelf software. They look, from a software development perspective, like thirty-year-old houses that have had numerous additions and updates tacked on without a building permit. These legacy systems – complex application systems built to satisfy application processing needs of the 1970s and 1980s – are still with us. And many of them are mission-critical: they can�t just be discarded. But as businesses change to address the competitive pressures of today and tomorrow, these systems must also change. The problem is not just the complexity of technologies of yesterday, or of today; the problem is the changing nature of organizations as they re-engineer to compete.

About twenty-five years ago, a man named John Zachman began observing how the architecture and construction industries, and the engineering and manufacturing industries, evolved over hundreds of years to be able to handle the construction of complex products �the launch of the space shuttle, the making of a Ford Taurus. Zachman applied these concepts to the construction of other complex products: the design and change of enterprises and the computer systems that support them.
The Zachman Framework is an innovative result of these observations: it enables senior business managers and IT professionals to understand the implications of key business and IT strategies. As a consequence, John Zachman has become a cult figure to business and the IT industry in the USA, Europe and Australia.
The kind of organizational modelling that Zachman developed becomes increasingly necessary under Sarbanes-Oxley, which requires organizations to define their essences and processes graphically. This goes far beyond an org chart.

Visible Systems takes the Zachman Framework and makes it into a toolset that can model both the enterprise and its computer systems. The Zachman Enterprise Workbench can contain all 50 of Zachman�s universal meta-models in addition to the design models specific to a single organization. Using it, the essential architecture of an entire business entity can be graphically designed, manipulated, and stored with complete simplicity, complying with the Sarbanes-Oxley mandate to define enterprise processes.

It is said that Zachman�s framework could have managed the building of the pyramids, just as it can be used to figure out the process chains in a modern corporation.

By focusing on process chains within a company, the Zachman Workbench can ferret out its inherent core competencies and value-added activities. And for corporations that do not (yet) have their process chains defined in models, the Zachman Workbench can reverse-engineer them. To put it bluntly, Visible�s product allows executives a window through which to see the enterprise for which they are responsible.

The Zachman technology is applicable to legacy applications, new development, and planned future systems. Clearly, one of the big challenges for large companies is what to do with their outstanding �islands of automation.� Any company that has been doing business since the dawn of technology probably has a large patchwork quilt of disparate legacy applications. With Zachman technology and another Visible product LCSIS, these islands can be bridged with greater clarity and integration.

For corporations developing software now, this approach saves enormous time with planning, documentation, and infrastructure.

Because of Sarbanes-Oxley, corporations must think of better ways to design systems to help architects who must facilitate past, present, and future applications, ideally on one application back-plane. A logically integrated suite of products is the only way to do this reliably.

In addition to the IT parts of Sarbanes-Oxley, there�s the famous section 404 of the Act. This section, entitled �Internal Control Reporting Requirements�, highlights a rigorous set of guidelines for information content, flow, accountability, audit, control, and decision-making. By making the applications that control these processes visible, Visible Systems Corporation helps its customers define integrity in the world of software systems.

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In this week�s issue of

In this week�s issue of Business Week, the futurist Faith Popcorn predicts that the office of the future will connect employees to sensors that will monitor even their bodily functions. Employers will be able to do this in the guise of collecting information about each person�s productivity. There has been a big flap lately about the problems of �presenteeism�: — the condition in which burned out, depressed, sick, or worried employees don�t stay home from the job, but don�t get anything accomplished in the office either. They may be distracted by personal problems, lacking in sleep, or just not there mentally. In a factory, they would be a Workmen�s Comp case waiting to happen. In the knowledge economy, they�re more difficult to spot.

Employers trying to keep costs down to be competitive are tired of paying for non-performance, especially with rising health care costs. The first changes will be ergonomic: perhaps your office will remember where you sit and adjust the chair or the light accordingly. Then, your chair will have a built-in sensor that will measure your level of fatigue or inattention. Within the next five years, if your cholesterol becomes too high, you may well be issued prescription menus in the employee cafeteria, along with the usual advice about diet and exercise. And don�t think you will be safe if you work from home; those same productivity sensors will be issued to you like a laptop and a broadband Internet connection.

Indeed, the distinction between home and office will blur in the future; the home will be the office, and the office will be your home during a 24-hour productivity cycle. It�s a future in which everyone is wired to everyone else, and everyone is monitored somehow.

And it�s a future that isn�t really in the future. In today�s New York Times, there�s an article about how our soldiers in Iraq come equipped with their own popular culture technologies, changing the way the military has to communicate with them. Not only do they have body armor and GPRS, they have some tools that came with them from home.

Soldiers have bootlegged movies, MP3 files, CDs and laptops connected wirelessly to the Internet via satellite. They were able to watch the Academy Awards in real time from Tikrit. At the end of the day, according to the article, they tune in to the same American life they left behind � sending email to their families and downloading media files.

This is a major change from when a soldier got his entertainment from Bob Hope�s appearances at the USO, or even from when you had to leave the Viet Nam jungle for a tour of R&R to call your folks.

One ought not to overlook the changes these technologies have wrought in our global situation. Only a decade ago, the Chinese government, and before it the Soviet Union, could control the flow of information to its citizens. Now, that�s virtually impossible.

Along with the free flow of information comes the end of privacy. At the same time we are spending millions to update medical practices on the new HIPAA regulations we are also implanting sensors in patients that directly communicate with the doctor�s office, or with a call center. Unfortunately, we can�t have privacy and freely flowing information at the same time, and as the early Internet users boasted �information wants to be free.�

According to Popcorn, privacy will soon have vanished entirely. And people won�t even care: �privacy is an issue of the past — there is no privacy. Already, when you order a book on Amazon.com (AMZN ), you give up some of your privacy: Based on your choices, they provide you with other books that you might like to read. They follow your reading pattern. On eBay (EBAY ), they compile lists of what you collect. So I think that privacy is a nice idea, but many people see it as something they’ve already lost.

Plus, I think people will get over such concerns when they see the tremendous convenience such technologies and services can offer.�

I gave up worrying about privacy long ago, about the time my first toddling child wandered into the potty with me and later began banging on the shower door. I�ll be ready when the future comes.

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From the two days I

From the two days I spent in China, I�m convinced the entire country is going in one direction only — world economic dominance. It had been nearly twenty years since I last was in Hong Kong, and in that time the city had gone from being a British colony to being a part of China. Last time I was there, I remember the fearful way the newspapers portrayed the coming change in government: the end of the city’s cosmopolitan dominance. But from my perspective, that hasn’t happened. Rather, Hong Kong has had an influence on the mainland.

The Kowloon area of Hong Kong is full of new, large developments catering to an international clientele. There are at least half a dozen new world-class hotels in a three block-area. All around the Ocean Ferry Terminal, in the venerable shopping district known as Tsim Sha Tsui, the new hotels and new underground arcades gather the best shops from around the world and offer a selection unequalled anywhere. It stunned me then and it stuns me now how Hong Kong gets the best clothes, the best perfumes, the best consumer electronics devices before anyone else. I saw 1 megapixel cameraphones, and a JVC ultra-portable that is smaller than my Vaio. I walked through four miles of underground mall, all with marble floors. Hong Kong sells everything; it is the 21st century version of the Asia trading company.

Anything in Hong Kong that is not a hotel or a shopping arcade is a bank or a restaurant. The food reflects the influence of generations of tourists from all over the West, but there are surprisingly few franchises. I did, however, see Starbucks and MacDonalds�s.

Hong Kong, however, is not the biggest surprise. For me that was Shen Zen, an hour away by TurboJet ferry, but a world away politically. Twenty years ago, Shen Zen had open markets, bazaars much like those of India, and unpaved streets. I remember mud huts inside which little kids stamped out plastic soldiers, working on huge metal machines. This was factory life in Shen Zen, even then an “outsource” for the plastics industry.

I remember ducks hanging upside down to drain outside a butcher shop, their carcasses surrounded by flies. And I remember eating in a restaurant where I didn’t recognize the ingredients in the soup.

Everyone who goes to China comments on the pace of change. There are construction cranes all over the place. There are still a few junks in Hong Kong Harbor, but they are fast being replaced by large container ships and barge. So I expected some difference in Shen Zen, but I wasn�t prepared for what I saw.

Now when you get off the Ferry at Shen Zen, you are immediately taken by shuttle to the airport, which has been built in the past twenty years. The city of Shen Zen has skyscrapers, bank buildings, multi-family housing. It’s not on the scale of Hong Kong, with its miles and miles of 60-story buildings, but it is clearly going that way.

On the Ferry I sat next to a guy from Michigan, the tools manager for a plastics firm. He comes to China about once a month, because his tool vendors are there. He has been sourcing tools in China for a year, and is still building relationships with new vendors and suppliers. Just an average Joe, he’s now a world traveller. He may arrive in Hong Kong, but his relationships are on the mainland.

There are still some problems with Chinese cities, however. For example, almost no one at the Shen Zen airport spoke English, and they don’t take American Visa cards in the ATMs. It’s painfully obvious that Shen Zen is a Chinese airport, rather than an international airport, and that it doesn’t see many Western tourists. But the changes over twenty years have been more than dramatic: they’ve been world-shattering.

The only thing keeping China back is the population�s knowledge (or lack of it) of English. Everyone is trying to learn it, however.

The Chinese are energetic and entrepreneurial. They move quickly, work quickly, talk quickly. Chinese society seems to be very intense � the same impression I have gotten from watching Chinese movies. When I got off the Ferry, I had to have a landing Visa. My last experience with Communists was in East Berlin before the wall fell. The bureaucracy moved at a snail�s pace. But I got a landing Visa in Shen Zen in fifteen minutes, from a woman who ran back and forth behind her desk, effortlessly juggling ten applicants at a time. Not the mindset you would expect from a Communist country. China may be politically Communist, but it is economically as capitalist as it gets.

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