A Trace in the Sand

by Ruth Malan





Architects Architecting Architecture  

August 2013


What's a Trace?

For those who are new here, I used to characterize my Trace like this:

  • This is where I prototype/mock-up my thinking, so stopping by here is like... coming into my garage-shop and seeing what I'm working on in all it's stages of experimentation and incompletion...
  • This is the journal of my exploration, as I scout out interesting features of the architects architecting architecture landscape and territories beyond. I chart these features, but also try to make sense of them, reflecting on what they mean for our field.
  • This is my "platform for change," where I develop (and share) flexible variety / requisite flexibility necessary for designing and enacting complex systems
  • This is an open brain experiment. I'm giving you a preview of what it will be like when we advance beyond the social internet and internet of things to internet-of-directly-connected minds (no voices or hands needed to transport thoughts).Yep, overwhelming much... (talk about "big data")... Yep, messy. With ooey gooey human stuff mixed in with reason and rationality. ;-)
  • Slow satireThis is my personal maker space -- where what I am building through exploration, discovery and experimentation is myself, my point of view on architecture and being an architect.
  • This is something like the Susan Sontag or the Anais Nin journals in terms of their significance and calibre of writing, but, instead of exploring and pushing frontiers in culture and art, it is focused on software design and system architecture and the culture and practice of systems architecture, unfolded live, and expressing a dynamic understanding that dances on the fast folding sands of time. [Anais Nin? Got you interested now, huh? ;-)]
  • This Trace weaves its audience into the narrative -- one where architects star in an unfolding story of our field. So... it must be awesome! [Did she say Anais Nin?]

More recently:

  • It makes for a great tolerance workout for those who've reached the toughest level in anti-fragility training

A maker space. An adventure journal. An open brain experiment. Narrative and conversation. Reason and irrationality. An antifragile regimen. And for the system thinker, a "platform for change" and "requisite variety." Bases. Covered.


I've characterized it as a habit I need to break. That way hopefully I can shame myself into quitting by making it an issue of will power. ;-)


There's always a but. I protest that it was a good and useful habit. A pretty and kind little habit that served the field well, even though the field was almost entirely disinterested. Sigh. An essai on our field. Who'd not be for that?

Perhaps as architecture comes again to be seen as important, some will realize that our approach is more agile than Agile. More adaptable/less fragile. Oh well.

Clients to work with. Code to write.

When I show up here, remind me my self discipline is on display.

Oh yeah right. What self-discipline? Nice try there Ruth. ;-)

Alright then. Let's try another characterization. This time of my audience.

In the information floods of mass publishing, it is hard to find "the great stuff" worth streaming some of our attention to. I make the assumption that anyone who surfs the flood skillfully enough to find their way here (the Mavericks of the software, system and enterprise architecture world?), is smart and needs no intellectual coddling.

And you have wicked sharp sense of humor. Where wicked takes multiple under and overlays, including from the term wicked problems.

And joy is (more than) a functional language to you. Imperfect/I'm perfect

My Trace is for architects who have confidence in their own discernment because it has few advocates (but those it does have are amazing!), so little external reinforcement to convince you of the utility of reading here. It is unusual in format and demanding. And, yes, it is a significant tolerance workout. Which is very much needed in these our times.

But frankly, if within sentences it doesn't occur to you that something very unique -- and good -- happens here, this likely won't much suit your taste and temperament. I grant that though I contend there is a lot that is real beef for architects served here, it is dressed in a distinct sauciness. [Mental notes: i. tolerance for ambiguity exercised here -- check; ii. tolerance for metaphor? -- check; iii. tldr override working -- check; iv. sense of humor engaged? ____ ]

"Nobody's perfect. There was never a perfect person around." -- Days of Heaven (1978)



Just a Minute

Before you revoke my Twitter and Trace privileges, allow me to share this (via Grady Booch):


and Debuggers

Ok. Turing's Curse, and the limitations of machine intelligence. And the limitations and fallibilities of human. Put them together and...

Oh my, did I just persuade you that there's a compelling case to be made for my Trace? Oh good. We'll do that then. ;-)

The present is pregnant with the future, and the past was demonstrably pregnant with today -- new capabilities are, at least in good part, simply new weavings of prior capabilities, some taken apart and recomposed with different capabilities and sub-capabilities. There are creative leaps in the combinations, applying capabilities in new contexts, in novel combinations, creating, not just serving, new ends! Improved on capabilities. Pushing the envelope of understanding/insight and possibility. But with a lineage of connecting dots to other ideas, pretty much. It is combinatorial, variously, so the present is presaged and presages. And the rolling waves of destruction are as much about the changes to adopting systems and the new capabilities they have, as they are about the new (and advanced) combinatorial capabilities of inventive new technologies or underpinning theories. And so it rolls. Presaged. More or less. Foreseeable, in glimpses sometimes, more fully and predictably in others. Incremental. Revolutionary. Just a rising tide. Or a sweeping tsunami of change.

And for those who still stand firm on "we can't predict the future" ground, just think, we can't even predict the past:

Yeah? In hindsight, the likelihood was estimated to be 1? But you wouldn't do that, of course.

So, what to do? Well, there's this from the man who put system antics to us decades before the behavioral economics wave:

Ok. Now. MISS ME. Dammit. I mean, for goodness sake, who else has the umbrage to say things like:

I do hope people aren't doing that tldr thing. In fact, I'm going to declare that story a litmus test for architects, and those that tldr it should hang a "kick me" sign up in the back of their minds, and challenge their inner critics to get to work on themselves!

Just call me marm. ;-)


Imagination progresses too!

As our capabilities advance, so too does our imagination. Among other things, it is easier to combine capabilties in novel ways in our imagination than to gain acceptance and resources to build them.



Playing with Fire Satire

Ok. So I have a strange sense of humor.

I shouldn't joke. This stuff (debunked, so you see how the problem tiers upon nervousness), and flocking self-righteousness on social, gives one pause... If we want tolerance for our own imperfect self, don't we need to extend more to others? Who never leaves the dishes undone? What? I'm shocked! Appalled. Dismayed. Really? Never? Wow. That could be a problem you know. Way too uptight. Huh? Oh, you do, sometimes? Gracious me! Scandalous lack of discipline. And you like lead people? By example? Duplicity I tell you. Horrifying. Dishes. Lies. What next? The floors? Oh. My. We watched Days of Heaven (1978) the other night. Great movie. You see how the line shifts, depending where you stand.

We're imperfect. We might be wrong. About our code or our code of conduct. Complex systems in complex contexts get wickedly messy. Moral compasses are dastardly tricky to master. All kinds of forces interact. Tolerance. Needed.

'I confess that there are several parts of this constitution which I do not at present approve, but I am not sure I shall never approve them: For having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better information, or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise. It is therefore that the older I grow, the more apt I am to doubt my own judgment, and to pay more respect to the judgment of others. Most men indeed as well as most sects in Religion, think themselves in possession of all truth, and that wherever others differ from them it is so far error. Steele a Protestant in a Dedication tells the Pope, that the only difference between our Churches in their opinions of the certainty of their doctrines is, the Church of Rome is infallible and the Church of England is never in the wrong. But though many private persons think almost as highly of their own infallibility as of that of their sect, few express it so naturally as a certain french lady, who in a dispute with her sister, said "I don't know how it happens, Sister but I meet with no body but myself, that's always in the right-Il n'y a que moi qui a toujours raison."'

-- Benjamin Franklin, as quoted in James Madison's notes on the Debates in the Federal Convention, September 17, 1787 (via Dana Bredemeyer)

8/2/13: In case it isn't clear, I think Brian Marick is one of those people who add way positive karma to our field.

8/4/13: My protest is that not only are the formal powers intimidating, but the informal punitive reaction of social shaming and flaming is also causing us to silence ourselves. To moderate or even mute ourselves, to be uniform because it costs too much to draw formal sanction or self-righteous crowd attack.

8/5/13: I suppose this trace could be called "Self-sensoring and self-censuring -- the good, the bad, and the ugly"...

Self-sensoring and self-censuring -- the good, the bad, and the ugly


"The first is the courage to say wait, be sure, slow down, get another source. Real people and their reputations, livelihoods and families are at stake. " -- Jeff Bezos, Letter from Donald Graham Jeff Bezos on Post purchase, 8/5/13

Betrayal of public trust (gruesome visualization... shock therapy to dislodge us from complacency...??)Real people. Are at stake. It is very hard to imagine Jeff Bezos worrying about that, given how many livelihoods his Amazonian wave of creative destruction ploughs under as it sweeps through industry after industry. But we need to try to figure out how we keep caring in a world where depth of concern and thinking, and relationship intimacy, is arguably being diluted in the digital tides that wash attention here and there. We have no sense of another's pain, if we carelessly use words they feel mocks them, for example. We are removed from the consequence of hurting, of destroying reputations, of feeling for others we impact negatively -- and, for that matter, positively. And that, I think, brings us to the doorstep of the issue. What we have created, technologists, demands a far more mature humanity than the one we find ourselves in, so we'd better mature up fast. Mature? Poor word, but there is something devil-may-care in what we've been up to. In Dreams Begin Responsibilities. Responsibilities. Oops. We forgot that part.

And. Betrayal of public trust seems to be a thing these days. Bloated greed. Like rain drops that become damaging floods, our individual fear and anger and malice and betrayal, aggregates on digital, compounds and transforms. Becomes something fearsome. Along with the good. Like people reaching people (Etsy, Kickstarter, Kiva, etc.) or figuring out cures.... or exposing betrayals of public trust and raising our awareness of abuses of trust in delegated responsibility to public and private organizations. The Monsantos, the NXAs, the Googles and Amazons. But, if not Amazon, someone else. And I'm certainly an eager beneficiary of Amazon's convenience and range. Still. Tragedy of the commons. Well, we have to turn that around. Become more caring. More kind. More concerned about the future we are creating for all of our children, for our planet. With Amazons. And Etsys. Figuring out how to use the planet's resources more productively and efficiently, but also more fairly. Figuring out what fairly even means. And bringing into our personal and organizational lives a lot more thoughtfulness for others and our impact. Agility, integrity and sustainability.

8/6/13: And then, to keep things interesting/scary (and funded), there's:

See also:


Adulthood on the other hand...

Adulthood, on the other hand, has been entirely free of deceits, fantastical and evil???


“So, never be afraid. Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion, against injustice and lying and greed. If you, not just you in this room tonight, but in all the thousands of other rooms like this one about the world today and tomorrow and next week, will do this, not as a class or classes, but as individuals, men and women, you will change the earth.” – William Faulkner, Address to the Graduating Class of University High School, Oxford, Mississippi, 1951


"Terrorism, after all, is designed to produce overreaction. It is the means by which the weak induce the powerful to inflict damage upon themselves" -- Ted Koppel: America's Chronic Overreaction to Terrorism


8/9/13: Betrayals of trust erode, if not destroy, trust:

Modern life is so utterly complex, we can't function without delegation of responsibility. The deadly embrace that defines brinkmanship? A lossy system we capitulate to? We'll blare and bluster in consternation, for a moment, then forget as our fickle attention moves on? Continue to use the social platforms that flatter and primp our vanities even as our follies are exploited? We've made, we're making, the connections that enable huge Emergent Good. And Emergent Evil. We have to learn to tame the evil, perhaps to accomodate it in small part, so it doesn't mass to a boil that destroys the very tissue that hosts it.

As good goes, see this (frabjously awesome!):

And Sara, who is in middle school, goes to high school for math classes with honors students in high school. That flexibility and opportunity in a public school system is awesome. But it gets better. They don't have math lessons at school. They watch online classes for homework, and work problems during class time at school. Isn't that awesome? That is such a great way to use the opportunity that technology has opened up, while ratcheting up the learning time in the peer pool at school. I'm so excited by what technology makes possible when people apply their positive intent and are creative in how they adapt to and with it!

8/23/13: The other day we saw the movie Hannah Arendt. It is a wonderful, thought provoking movie, as is this review, which puts Arendt's conclusions in more context. My sense is that though (or even if) Arendt was fooled by Eichmann (she thought he was a trivial thinker, while he apparently thought of himself not as an imbecile but an idealist), she was being distracted (from Eichmann's great act?) by a deeper truth that flows through humanity -- one that Zimbardo highlighted for us in the Stanford Prison Experiment (namely the transference of responsibility). Anyway, I think all this connects with observations I made in The Needs of War as well as the body of work in decision biases and our pervasive cognitive (dis)abilities... This is not just about "evil" that masses into wars and large scale atrocities. This is about the creeping, massing, forces that become something huge, like climate change or massive reshaping of the fertility of the planet through the likes of a Monsanto and our complicity -- all the ways that our imperceptibly small, insignificant choices mass and become a damaging flood of change. It means, I think, that ethics courses are very important and necessary -- if they deal with such a rich topic set as emergence, the tragedy of the commons, all the way to the ways that our modern mythology spins our fantasies in ways that unbalance. Sometimes more for good. Sometimes more in the direction of evil -- at least, in the sense of destruction and pain on large scales, impacting people and (other) animals who are innocent of malicious intent, just trying to be in this one short life.

Important for architects? You bet! I don't just mean on Wall Street. One of the things we do in organizations is divvy up responsibility, so there is erosion of ownership, accountability, visibility and so forth into the integrity and sustainability of the systems we design-build-evolve. Integrity in a structural sense, but also in a larger sense of design integrity and the impact on the system-of-systems our system will be coupled into, and the broader ecosystems which it will impact by "quantum entanglement" so to speak. We can't be all knowing about the past, let alone the present. So hopeless to try to be proactive and think in terms of the future? What kind of ethics would allow such thinking?

This is what makes architectural thinking and its outcome in designs and design evolution different from local algorithmic design and the creation of "chunks" of the system. Different. And important! It is about purpose, devised and uncovered. About anticipated and unanticipated emergence from interactions. About intended and unintended consequences. About side-effects. There is an ongoing dynamic dance between the evolutionary and emergent nature of the system and its various interacting encompassing (and encompassed) systems. Sure, this makes, for example, the field of resilience engineering central within the compass of software and systems architecture. But it also brings the social and interpersonal and individual cognitive and perceptual and relationship domains within the compass, because the systems are, critically, socio-technical. And as we push more sophisticated responsibilities into digital/automation, we increase the demands on the humans who fill in the gaps, supplying the requisite flexibility and requisite imagination and flexibility of response, etc., between them.

“If you are irritated by every rub, how will your mirror be polished?” ― Rumi


Since We're Being Tracked Anyway

Me: I had this thought

Dana: <trumpet sound>

Me: <meaningful silence>

Dana: Was that good for you?

Me: <[mock-]ominous silence>

Dana: Sara, Mom had this thought.

Sara: What?

Me: See, girls know what question to ask.

Dana: What?

Me: That wasn't authentic.

Dana: Sara, help me.

Sara: Whaaaaat?

Me: I've spent my whole life becoming me, and I don't feel like being someone else.

Dana made grilled cheese sandwiches. He called it "hazards for lunch." I wonder why.... Ooooh. You thought... No, no. The cheese was waaaay stringy.

Ryan? Oh, he's at sailing camp this week -- he's soloing the Hunter (with the blue and white sail). We went kayaking, so just happened by the sailing action. On the return, Dana's mirage drive snapped, so he had to paddle and I beat him back! Woohoo. That's a first. Go mirage drives. :-) They're ungainly, but a great workout. :-)

Real life. Is so great. Especially when Dana is home! :-)

Dana says I need a new keyboard. The letters are worn off. I wonder why...

Dana also says I need to illustrate this with an image of me falling off the Trace-quit wagon, again. ;-)



Yeah. So. Writing audaciously has its anxiety crises. They mostly come right after a post that strays... But, but. My pretty little trace. You couldn't possibly think it out of place... Rationalizing, emo-style (don't knock it; pathos, you know, a leg of the triad of rhetoric):

"expressing myself to you is an investment in us" -- Jessica Esch


Sucked into the Vortex of Ambiguity and Uncertainty. Again

True genius


Of course, ambiguity needs to be resolved, right? It depends? Yeah. If you promised to pay someone some amount biweekly, their expectation that you meant twice weekly could be rather awkward if you meant every two weeks. Then again, could we possibly resolve all ambiguity? Is this question rhetorical? We make certain key decisions early, to "put ground under our feet." Huh? Ground? Metaphorically speaking, but to be able to move forward, we have to start to shape the space, gain traction. More metaphors. We have to decide what we are going to do (next, and at all, and if we want to be proactive and/or align minds to achieve concerted action, where we are headed), and how. We may make ad hoc decisions implicitly on the fly without considered reflection, but some of our decisions (whether implicit or explicit, considered, reasoned and probed, or made on the fly on guesses or without even knowing there were other choices we could have made), are going to cleave the design space, ruling some opportunities out. We're using Python. Ill-considered given where we want to end up? Well, it's expedient and fun and it's the language used by practitioners in many fields beyond computer science, so quite a diverse community of people who might think that functional programming was in contrast to dysfunctional programming. [That's a mischievous wink, in case you forgot where you were reading. ;-) ]

8/5/13: We need to get better at this software thing (and a lot else, besides):

"I don't know," "I could be wrong" and "I'm sorry" are among the phrases our overconfident and harsh work worlds seem to quash... With the result that it mounts and becomes too big to hide.

Judgment is something we need to work at, develop, and exhibit -- at different levels. It doesn't work to say workable system judgment will just be emergent from judgment at the individual level, for example. Behaviors and properties emerge out of collaborations and side-effects. We need to understand those mechanisms and how to achieve more the outcomes we want at the system level. I don't mean to slight or undermine or undervalue self-organization, autonomy, empowerment and emergence. But it is also foolish to think that self-interest and small group interest will automagically serve better overall outcomes for all concerned. Fractal and emergent. Proactive and intentional -- and responsive and adaptive. Not one. Or the other. Not favoring what we learn at the individual immediate local perspective level at the expense of and ignoring what we learn at the system level. In other words, architecture factors.

8/13/12: I love Gene's use of the story of Napoleon's Waterloo -- I'll be using that when I talk about decisions in the context of uncertainty and getting "ground under the feet" in the future. In classic Maria Popova terms, "pair that with" Decisions, Decisions" and more collected in Architecture Decisions.

9/3/13: Internal Model Validation - the "desire for certainty", Allan Christian, May 17, 2013


On Logic

"It's not a lack of logic. It's simply a broader spectrum of willingness to consider things logical. Call it innovative logic, if you will." -- Sara B.

Now you know. Just... Use caution when you try that out on any women near you.

Ok, hope that will sate everyone's appetite for traces for... oh... at least... uh... a day? All of August? You're so very kind.



Caught In the Act

What's this? Tracing?

Because. A pointer to this: This. Lol. \o/

Wait. Wait.


Stereotypes aside. We have a hand in this:

"Clever guys with techie minds sold the idea that these things would work, and they now administratively run all the professions."

Cause for pause, if, for example, this:

BW: What are the effects of the left brain taking over?

IM: One of the interesting elements that comes out in research into the “personalities” or the “takes” of the two hemispheres is that the left hemisphere thinks it knows it all, and as a result is extremely optimistic. It overvalues its own ability. It takes us away from the presence of things in all their rich complexity to a useful representation—that representation is always much simpler. And an awful lot is lost in it. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes you need to simplify.

-- Iain McGilchrist (via Peter Bakker)

Why? We architects of the digital world ought to be as concerned about what we're doing as Christopher Alexander is imploring building architects be about the built world.

  • The Battle for the Life and Beauty of the Earth: A Struggle Between Two World-Systems, Christopher Alexander, 2012
  • The New Kingmakers, Stephen O'Grady, 2013 (via monkchips -- "view of how software is eating the world, putting developers in the ascendant")


Requisite Flexibility

"Ideally, we lose ourselves in what we read, only to return to ourselves, transformed and part of a more expansive world — in short, we become more critical and more capacious in our thinking and our acting.
You will need all of those skills to move forward, affirming this earth, our ethical obligations to live among those who are invariably different from ourselves, to demand recognition for our histories and our struggles at the same time that we lend that to others, to live our passions without causing harm to others, and to know the difference between raw prejudice and distortion, and sound critical judgment."

-- Judith Butler, commencement address (via Maria Popova)


On Kindness

This, this, this:

"Since, according to me, your life is going to be a gradual process of becoming kinder and more loving: Hurry up. Speed it along. Start right now. There’s a confusion in each of us, a sickness, really: selfishness. But there’s also a cure. So be a good and proactive and even somewhat desperate patient on your own behalf – seek out the most efficacious anti-selfishness medicines, energetically, for the rest of your life.

Do all the other things, the ambitious things – travel, get rich, get famous, innovate, lead, fall in love, make and lose fortunes, swim naked in wild jungle rivers (after first having it tested for monkey poop) – but as you do, to the extent that you can, err in the direction of kindness."

-- George Sanders, quoted in George Saunders’s Advice to Graduates, Joel Lovell, 7/31/13

Watched Tree of Life. Awesome movie. So many things. Including... we're too messed up to talk about ourselves. Really, I don't know why I do. I had this dream last night, where I was cycling and cycling and it got suddenly very dark before I got where I was going.

That is all.

Uh. Hopefully. ;-)

Except, well you see, it is my great friend Peter Bakker's birthday tomorrow (today/August 3, for those of you who have flipped the calendar already), so I will need to say how much his kindness has meant to me.

9/2/13: We watched The Elephant Man a few weeks ago, and it is a great exploration of kindness.



Happy Birthday Peter!

Peter Bakker is one of the most significant people in my life. His twitter stream (which Peter reshapes, as his focus shifts) is a breadcrumb trail of his research into various topics -- some I already related to architects and architecting, others I followed up on because I have come to much admire Peter and where he leads. In either case, what Peter's pointed out, has added to my understanding. His work on subway maps likewise took me in some surprising directions -- I'd seen subway maps used kind of as infographics, but Peter was using them as an exploring/thinking/understanding tool, not just as a presentation device. I sure do hope that Peter returns to his book -- I can see it expanding into a book along the lines of the Buzans' Mind Map book, presenting the various applications of storyline-subway maps. The gestation time for good-right ideas is not conveniently predictable. This one will take form, as Peter shapes and reshapes it, until it is ready for the world. Anyway, Peter is a treasured intellectual guide -- in key ways, Peter thinks very differently than I do, which I value. But there is also a mutual respect and shared concern for our field (architecture directly, but also technology and its impact on persons, organizations, and the planet, etc.), which I value. We share lots of common ground, but Peter makes me see things I wasn't seeing. And because he does, when I don't at first see his point, I shift my perspective so I can understand his position better and I always learn so much when I do that.


And Another Thing

Emily Dickinson wrote

"If I can stop one heart from breaking, ... If I can ease one life the aching ... I shall not live in vain."

It may not feel like enough, to the person evaluating their life, but to the person whose ache was eased it is immense. Immense I tell you! I write too much about me, and I want to celebrate Peter, but I need to tell you just how much Peter stands above everyone else in this field in my experience. Over the years a number of people have, in private asides, said very positive things about my work -- even my Trace! (Go figure.) Still, Peter is the only person who has, on multiple occasions, publicly advocated my work with express enthusiasm. That matters! I don't just mean it matters in terms of building my reputation -- of course it does matter if people treat me as a credible and wonderful resource. But it matters at a deep personal level. If we do something, and we look around and what we do seems to be good, but no-one ever troubles to say so, it is unsettling. Either we don't see accurately, or the world, for some reason, is refusing to give us affirmative feedback. (And though positive feedback in private is nice and important, if there is no public affirmation, the undercurrent of uncertainty about why that is so, reasonably grows stronger.) So to write for years in this Trace, and have it be met with a few personal private kindnesses, but no public affirmation or advocacy comes to be disconcerting. Then came Peter. A few more people have been kindly affirmative since, but Peter not only broke the drought, so to speak, he has stepped up to the plate of encouraging me time and again. Now here's a thing. Even if my Trace is a very mediocre, even disastrously shoddy affair, I am a real, feeling person coursing this river of humanity at this moment in time. And Peter was the one who was at least kind enough to make me feel my life is less an illusion for his inclusive warm shoutouts. That was already kindness way beyond what this field had shown me. But Peter mapped my Trace -- which involved reading it! -- and my papers -- reading them (again) too!. And that degree of taking my work seriously nourished my self-esteem untellably. We don't notice how much we need a mirror now and then, unless we have no mirrors. Mirrors are tricksy things, for they can bolster our vanities and serve us badly. But if we never saw ourselves as others do, we'd have no way to discern what part of "I" is a figment of our own mind and what part is encountered in the world, and how. Now, I know that seems to be about me. But I'm trying to demonstrate both how unique Peter is, and how important. He was curious enough to encounter my work. And bold and generous enough to be positive about it.

(Um. For those cringing skeptically at this back-slap fest: sure, Peter gets some affirmation in return -- though not enough! Mutualism is not some beastly bad to be brushed under the rug. It is how we grow strong together, not at the expense of one another. We could certainly stand to practice and celebrate mutualism more, not undermine such a very good quality-of-(work)life enhancing thing!)

(If Gene and Stuart would tell me their birthdays, I would likewise embarrass them with gratitude. ;-)


I tend to think I am self-defining, but I am also a social construct, my self-sense drawn and hacked by others' projections onto and of me.


A/B Testing

(Market) Experiments and A/B testing is giving extra spin to concurrent engineering. How's that? Bringing ops and marketing together. Architects, really. It is beyond time to break out of the code structure box. But but? Get Past ‘But’ and work across. Across the system. Yeah, fundamentally. Across the system boundaries. Indeed. Across the lifecycle. All of it -- across generations too. Across functions (or disciplines).

Etsy's approach to A/B testing is worth learning about: see David McKinley's blog.

Perhaps the term legacy will become defunct, once we become far more conscious that our legacy isn't something we leave behind us but is instead a living evolving thing that thrives with us, or we begin to falter and become cemented to assumptions that were functional giving our past realities, but become dysfunctional as the ecosystem changes around us. Perhaps. Much depends on the leadership architects step up to, for it will take leadership to change the mindset from the white rabbit's "I'm late, I'm late" where what we become late for is a tea party stuck at an eternal 6pm... Or something Mad like that. ;-)

"In my opinion feedback still gets far too little attention. Stafford Beer, way back in the 1970’s, recommended looking at biological systems for inspiration. Now we know how truly visionary he was. We should have listened to him." -- John Gall

There's no real knowing. No guarantees. The only how is try.


Coming Up Short on Words

We watched The Thin Red Line -- we're doing something of a private Terence Malick film festival. Tough, disturbing but excellent movie. Humanity. It is bad enough to have to cope with being mortal.

Be beautiful.



That's My Girl

Sara's Facebook post:


She also records it when her youtube follower count is a Fibonacci number. Kids today.


Software is Changing the World (Guy, Guys. That's Taking It Too Literally)


Ryan: Really? Mom. Really?

Me: I read it on the internet.

Ryan: And everything you read on the internet is credible.

Dana: Who told you to question internet credibility -- the internet?

Ryan: That is a paradox.

Dana: quack quack

Ryan: That is a pair of ducks. The Marx Brothers already did that.

Ryan would know. I still have a little boy Ryan singing "Whatever it is, I'm against it" as my (don't) leave a message message on my iPhone. Nostalgia meets wicked sense of humor. Who leaves phone messages when there's text and email. And twitter. And... vine. Huh?

Went for some awesome rides with my guys this past weekend. If you've seen Breaking Away, think Hilly 100 (scroll down to see the elevations). That's the lay of the land around here. Well, frankly, I still can't make our 20+ degree inclines all the way but... I think I can I think I can I ... I will, right?

Ryan is happy cyclng with me? Sure. He just does multiple repeats on the hills. Show off. :-)

Public schools here start back up this week. I'll miss having the house filled with live music all day!


Ok. If you don't like wading through that to get to the actionable grist, you probably won't like reading Commitment: A Novel About Managing Project Risk.


Wa-frabjously-hoo -- artists are following my poet alter-ego! Well, two. They followed back. But still. That is so cool like!

"I know exactly why I write poetry and it is not for an audience. I write it because for me it is one of the sanctions of life." -- Wallace Stevens

I wonder if Wallace Stevens would have said that if he didn't have an audience? Still, I do not seek one (for my nascent alter ego), knowing how much it warps one's perspective to want a tangible receipt once in a while... even once in a long while. I follow people who interest me. And some who don't, but that is my problem and I ought to fix it! ;-) (Meaning, I follow them to try to understand their point of view better.)

This from John Allspaw:

Less code

But. I have code to write. Projects to move forward.

So. Anyway. This world is too messed up to worry about me. Work to do. Let's get on with changing this world for the better, okay?


I'm as good an agent of Serendipity as any... though perhaps I do make more words dance in the process of conducting Serendipity's business. Uh... without doubt more words!


8/7/13: Update: Xerox to update scan software after switched number outcry By Leo Kelion, 8/7/13




"I like the raw thoughts in journals; they show writers at their most vulnerable and most ridiculous. There’s sometimes more truth to fragmented scribbles than there is to a finished essay or story or novel or poem." -- Michele Filgate, Will social media kill writers’ diaries?, August 4, 2013


Vulnerability and Trust

Vulnerability and trust are in close relationship. I can be vulnerable, like be willing to be wrong, foolish, tentatively exploratory, if I can trust you not to mock and intimidate me. That sort of thing. Important in any relationship. Where there is trust, there is vulnerability. If only in terms of vulnerability to exploit and abuse of trust. And if there is no vulnerability, no mutual consequence, no bidirectional investment, trust is hard. Perhaps not impossible if there is suspension of disbelief. But fragile. Vulnerable.


Great Post, Overlooked?

I reread my blog post Att-e-en-tion! To System Design from May. It was tweeted by Arnon Rotem-Gal-Oz. No retweets. And Gene Hughson -- with kind words. But. No retweets.

Full stop.

Thank you to both Arnon and Gene for standing out from the masses. It is a good post, important, and contains a huge amount that our field needs to learn, highly compressed into just a few paragraphs, as Gene pointed out. But not dry for all its distillation; on the contrary, it is colorfully written and even has its moments of impish humor.

I should blog more?



8/7/13: It isn't just that information is too abundant for our scarce attention, insights also overflow. Oh sure. We see lots of people suffering from lack of the insights we've wrestled hard to gain, but they aren't reading our work because their attention is overloaded. For example, our approach (Visual Architecting or VAP) is built on the following insight:

We're all making the same points to each other...

Not independent. Hear that? Not independent. And we can and should explore and shape the strategy and solution with this in mind. That is at the heart of VAP.



Writers as Architects

"Each student brings to class a novel, a short story or an essay whose inner workings he or she knows intimately. We start with the plot, the subject or simply a feeling that the student has about the text. We break the piece of writing down into its most basic elements and analyze the relationship of each part to the overall structure, making sure to avoid any literal translations of the text — for example, a specific building or setting.

The exercise is a process of reduction. In architecture, once you remove the skin — the “language” of walls, ceilings and slabs — all that remains is sheer space. In writing, once you discard language itself, the actual words, what’s left? Thus we also work toward the questions that architects, knowingly or unknowingly, must always address: how does one design and build using emptiness as a construction material? How do we perceive space? And how does it affect us?"

-- Matteo Pericoli, Writers as Architects

Like SNL, Just On Tap

Makes it all worth it:

Wait, wait. Discourse. That's what Twitter is for. Dis-course.


Graphic Recording and Sketchnoting

Pah, I sketchnote my own talks live ;-)

Pah. I sketchnote my own talks live. ;-) And tell the same jokes. ;-)

When we were at HP, Dana and I both took visual facilitation workshops with The Grove and Dana took David Sibbet's Strategic Visioning workshop. For those in the know, who're going wait, wait, The Grove/David Sibbet is all about graphic facilitation and that's not graphic recording or sketchnoting. Sure. But The Grove also taught sketchnoting (by whatever name) and practicing visual metaphors and expression using their "graphic keyboard" way before sketchnoting was "a thing." We're talking way back. Mid-90's sort of timeframe for me, but further back for David Sibbet. David really is a father of the graphic recording and visual facilitation field.

It's happening though, what with the awesomeness that is RSA Animate, along with the likes of Sunni Brown and Dave Grey, and Mike Rohde. There are even books:

  • The Sketchnote Handbook, Mike Rohde

But I highly recommend the source:

  • Visual Leaders: New Tools for Visioning, Management, and Organization Change by David Sibbet (Dec 26, 2012)
  • Visual Meetings: How Graphics, Sticky Notes and Idea Mapping Can Transform Group Productivity by David Sibbet (Aug 9, 2010)
  • Visual Teams: Graphic Tools for Commitment, Innovation, and High Performance by David Sibbet (Oct 11, 2011)
  • Principles of Facilitation: The Purpose and Potential of Leading Group Process by David Sibbet (Feb 1, 2002)
  • Fundamentals of graphic language: Practice book by David Sibbet (1991)

Of course, no-one, no-one, comes close to ViHart when it comes to sketchnoting her own talks. ;-)



Factory Farming Personalities and The Hubris Club

Remind me to let this trace show me what I mean by that! (I write to see what I think. When an idea flits by, it is just a tantalizing ghosting, and it has to take form through my fingers.)


8/10/13: Well, since you didn't remind me... ;-)



YAGNI? (Oh Spain, I'm so sorry!)

First, there was this:

Now this:




Journal as Personal Space and Twitter as Canvas

This, about brains, is interesting:

'One research team, though, reported a correspondence between the brains of those who seem to be especially creative thinkers. Certain people, they found, have fewer of one kind of dopamine receptor in the thalamus of the brain. These people also performed well on tests of “divergent thinking,” in which people are asked to concoct more and more elaborate uses for ordinary objects, for instance. The reduction in receptors might actually increase information flow to various parts of the brain, essentially allowing them to think up new and interesting solutions. “Thinking outside the box might be facilitated by having a somewhat less intact box,” the researchers wrote.'

The Art of Looking: What 11 Experts Teach Us about Seeing Our Familiar City Block with New Eyes by Maria Popova

The phrase "Keep an open mind, but not so open all your brains fall out" (variously attributed) wafted through my mind, followed by "put a keyboard to my fingers, and all my thoughts fall out."

But, reading Popova's post "The Art of Looking", I was wondering if my Trace, written in the personal frame of reference of a journal (albeit one with a lens that tries to filter more for architecture than art or life), is something like an invasion of "personal space":

'Still, we all have a sense of the “appropriate” personal space around us— a kind of zone of privacy that we wear, even on the social sidewalk. Indeed, we have many coencentric circles of personal spaces, plural. The Swiss zoologist Heini Hediger, elaborating from studies of animal behavior, proposed that the personal zones around us fall into a few categories. Those with whom we do not mind “inescapable involvement” — as our loved ones — can broach the closest zone and get nearer than eighteen inches to us. At that proximity, we can smell them, feel the heat of their bodies, their breath, hear the small sounds they mutter or emit. We can whisper together. Most social interactions take place in a comfortable zone about one and a half to four feet away — closer in some cultures (Latin American) than others (North American). Friends can waltz through; acquaintances can hover on the edge. We have a social distance up to twelve feet from our bodies for more formal transactions, or for those we don’t know well. Beyond that is a kind of public distance in which we use our “outdoor” voice. All of these zones are artificial, varying with differing relationships, based on context and the physical setting — but we have a bodily sense of the reality of these spaces. Violate them, and we may feel stressed and anxious.'

The Art of Looking: What 11 Experts Teach Us about Seeing Our Familiar City Block with New Eyes by Maria Popova

Oh, it's not just my Trace. In our field, for the most part people use Twitter as a me-gaphone to promote their work directly, and by means of reciprocity circuits. Or they may present themselves as news editors, curating -- sifting for and drawing attention to -- business and technology news. With personality, wit, insight, aestheticism, it is way, way more than a billboard on the i-way flashing announcements. Yet still, being purposed for business, it is too often a rather flat presentation with glimpses of the warm, lively, sparkle-bright minds behind the business suit projection. Every now and then, someone shows up as person. As a full and vibrant person -- an artist, if you like. Often, the canvas they are painting is a self-portait that is vivid and rich with allusion. What is passed by reference into the portrait is vast and multi-faceted... But the canvas may take a different voice and subject than the personal. Stories. Comedy. Philosophy. More. Within our field, relatively few have developed a highly distinctive, remarkably compelling twitter voice! It takes work, for one thing. And a focus on Twitter as a medium of expression. But look beyond our field, and the creativity takes exciting and varied forms. It is like all the species of birds, with their different songs, out there in the garden, just doing their thing, but sometimes you hear one that bursts into your attention space and you hone in on its song, and its form, and it is glorious!

Anyway, it seems like we have these notions of zones of "space" -- of degree of being held off or drawn towards a person and we apply it also to what we read and how we write. And it is uncomfortable to wander into "business writing" and find the person standing, as it were, in our personal space, using a personal voice. Mentioning her children, for crying out loud. ;-)

Erm. Who let that keyboard get too close to my fingers again?

Rats! Rats, I tell you!

I try to keep my Twitter persona more dressed for business than my Trace. I spawned another voice to experiment with using the medium more as a creative surface than a business projection. It's fun, and she steals from my Trace, and my Trace steals from her, but she is more free to explore a wider range, mine more of my imagination and experience, than even my Trace and I like that about her. But I suppose she can feel even more like a disconcerting step too close to a person, so I try not to let her cross too indiscriminately into my work relationship pool. While she is just (an attempt at) art, she's beyond arm's distance. If anyone confuses her for me, she might seem to get too much into personal space for comfort. (Ohhhh, the Magna Carter does it for you too? My alter ego and yours were made for each other. ;-)

I know, I know. But the more I (at least, the Trace version of I) give up on ever having an audience in software and architecture, the more freely I write with a voice that would cement that fate. Still, after more than 7 years being ignored (with just a few "out of the box" exceptions), it is time to free myself from the notion of audience! Oh. Well. In that case. Hey, my art/+aphorism persona is... uh... shy. Well, there's that.

Speaking of art. But visual art. There is a twitter community around #drawingAugust and it is so amazingly warm and supportive. It really makes me see what a sickly pale version of humanity we send to our software and business worlds. You know, the version that has no positive words in it. Unless it is men, slapping men on each other's backs but even then the positives are rare. Just exactly where is it written that men can't compliment women's work? Use words like incredible to describe it? Um. Just who hijacked my fingers there? I wouldn't write such an awful thing, now would I? People don't say incredible about my work because it isn't. Right? That's the message I should get? F#@k no. I won't! Tantrum! ;-) See? Catch-22. Who could possibly say anything positive, if I let that be written here? How could I not write that here, given 7+ years of blackout on the enthusiasm front? Oh I know. I get my share of kindness. A handful of people are nice to me. And they sometimes even use an outright positive word in relation to my work. Thank you, few people. You are remarkable in many ways, and you write outside the lines, I gather, when you do that. So extra thank you!

I tease. Too much. But I am concerned that we are creating a paradox. Technology lets us hang our thoughts out there on the digital lines, and now there's such a mess of them. Yet thoughts are rather intimate things -- born, as they are, right out of our minds. We send them out, and listen for bat pings back from the darkness. When there are none, we can feel like we looked in a mirror and there's no-one there. The ultimate nightmare, where we died and know it because we look in the mirror, and there is no reflection.

Speaking of nightmares, I dreamt I wet myself and my family came in the room, and didn't say anything so I wasn't sure if they noticed... I woke up. Remembered the dream where I cycled and cycled and it got suddenly very dark before I got where I was going. I thought well, either my body knows something (one of the signs of heart attacks is wetting oneself) or its about my Trace. Laugh. Dammit. And see, I'm doing it again -- "wetting myself" and wondering if anyone noticed. Wink. Better stop tracing so I can get where I was going before it gets dark.

Dana says wonderful things about my Trace (when it is clear no-one out there is going to step up to the plate yet again), and he says it is hard. Difficult. I take no prisoners in the way I write, to be sure. And I go after challenging topics. Well, there's this:

"Love for language, hunger for life, openness and a quest for truth: Those are the qualities of my English major in the ideal form. But of course now we’re talking about more than a mere academic major. We’re talking about a way of life. We’re talking about a way of living that places inquiry into how to live in the world—what to be, how to act, how to move through time—at its center. What we’re talking about is a path to becoming a human being, or at least a better sort of human being than one was at the start. An English major? To me an English major is someone who has decided, against all kinds of pious, prudent advice and all kinds of fears and resistances, to major, quite simply, in becoming a person."

meditation on the ideal English major by Mark Edmundson, via Maria Popova

I think that the architect has to become (ever more) a person. A full rich reflective person who takes technology's impact seriously. Who designs for people with sustainability (in its broader senses) in mind. Difficult is order of business for us! This is not just about generalist versus specialist. This is about capacity for being creative and adaptive, and caring not just about structural integrity but integrity more broadly of our work -- about the impact, the ethics and the aesthetics, of our work.

Do I make sense, or do you need more context?

Out cycling our backcountry roads with Dana last weekend, this guy called out from his yard "Do yawl got plenty of water?" People, being people. Real caring-for-each-other people. John Green is a nearby (Indy) celeb. Doing good too. When Ryan had his hair cut short for Decycles, he donated it to Children with Hair Loss. People who think about others make a difference in this world where, it seems, we have to pay extra attention or the darkness of digital, where we don't see the real people on the other side, erodes our sense of responsibility. Where "connecting" does not give succor the way that connecting does, but it still takes up time.

"It has been on my conscience for a long time that you once sent me a pot of jam for which I never thanked you" -- George Orwell


Matters of Degree

Um. When battle talk is unquestioned

Hyperbole. Lap lap.

The things we take to be true in this industry. Jumping jabberwocks! I know, Occam's razor is used too much to shave yaks, keeping it tied up when there is real simplification to be done? Or something. But STILL. Goodness gracious, we have large features like streaming tweets that are awesome value, no? Inside large features are potentially smaller features. Some we could potentially do without, and add value by not complifying and complecting. What features we deliver, and in what sequence, should be a matter of design. Of intelligent intentionality. Experience. And experiment. Deliberation. Not too much. Too much is another way we tip our marbles, and go careening off track. In part it's about balance, but in good part it's about where we are going to accept imbalance of a sort. The sort that says more of this. Not all, but more, at the expense of this. Not none of it. But less. Resolving forces, but leaving tensions in place. To hold the whole thing up. With less material cost.

The whole uproar about requirements? About the word? Get over it and reshape the understandings and practices that matter, no matter what words we use. They're just handles. We are our own problems! Our STUCKNESS and our HERO culture. Oh wait. Hey, guys, guys? Can I be a hero yet? I say provocatively hyperbolic stuff too, you know? Like, when I was cycling with Ryan I said the slope was 100 degrees and he gasped and asked if I knew what I was saying. I said, "Do you know the concept of hyperbole? Well this is hyperbolic hyperbole." 100 degree slope. Me falling on my head. This field falling on its head.

Oh, I really liked that article. I thought it was going to be great, absolutely stunningly great, and it was very. very. good. But it missed great. Why?

Pat and slap. Now there's a trace I need to let my fingers dribble some thoughts out on. Remind me!

Now if someone mentions my Trace, I have to kill it! Wink.

(I like that my Trace is a quiet backwaters place. And I rely on it being so, or I could not write so playfully, nor explore the black holes of our field with so little caution. The i-way is a very public place, where all kinds of people express themselves. Sometimes very meanly, with intent to belittle, undermine, hurt.)


I don't do TV, but I am looking forward to Masters of Sex. Women have a lot to teach men about how the whole show works, not just the part they experience. And it's not just the technical details, much as they matter.

That was random?

No. It is all connected. You may not notice the connection. That is why diversity factors.

And factors. Or SHOULD.


When you think you know it all, watch out. Because that is a great big wall. Behind which is a whole Universe of stuff you know nothing about!

Shoot. I've got to go tear me down some walls! Platitudes should be the first to go, no?

8/24/13: Speaking of yak shaving, I took a look at Aaron's slideset from MadRuby, and was reminded of this:

Yak shaving

Even my kids got the joke. Ohhhh. It's a tired joke? Well, huff, it was independently derived, I assure you. ;-) Aaron's talk is about looking below the surface -- it might seem like yak shaving, but one discovers what is beneath the visible threads we were tugging at, isn't really a yak, after all.



Summer session? Hits on my Conceptual Architecture page are back up. :-)



Tolerance for Ambiguity Workout

Oooooo lovely snips of requisite flexibility training for those with ambiguity intolerance:


The Quit Wagon?

Oh. My. Goodsocks. I'm totally s-worded:

Great jumping jabberwocks!

Endorphins!?! My vorpal sword is useless here.

Well. Then again.



So Many Hidden Stories

Read this. More here. No. That's not just then. It's now. Too. Women give so much.

Who needs minions? Those people who say things like "your work is baby-soft-butt shamazing"? I need some of those!


8/31/13: Sara saw that and exclaimed "Because. Maturity." (I think it was a compliment. ;-)



What Ya Think? Should I?

Should I?

Just kidding! Goodness. The things you're willing to think. Get a grip. Oh. Yeah. Right. You read here. Well, I'm not like this, really. ;-) No, really.


Happy Birthday, Mr Feathers

He doesn't read here, but it is his birthday so we should roast him, no?

Then again. What does one say about mfeathers that hasn't already been said? Including this:

This book

He's only got one year before he's on the over side of the hill, so do wish him a Happy Birthday. (That "over" is about the extended warranty on the body being up. But, you know, if you can keep the systems maintained in good working order, you can get several more decades on the clock. Good ones, because shortages tend to make one savor more. Or, so I hear. ;-)

So, Peter, Michael, Dana and Stuart have birthdays in August. That's quite a month you have there.




So hey. New strategy. Guess what? I'm gonna quit quitting. The hell with it, right? It doesn't matter if no-one cares.

What we become, by circumstance, out of necessity, and our nature, following our Bliss...

"A natural storyteller who brings a special Old World sensibility to life in the New World, Skvorecky has become a satirist by circumstance, a dissident out of necessity, and has emerged as one of the most important voices in contemporary world literature. His work is distinguished by its far-reaching historical consciousness and sense of social engagement, an irrepressible wit, and a long-standing concern with human rights."

-- Josef Skvorecky, The Art of Fiction No. 112 Interviewed by John Glusman

In design, architecture illustrates intention; upon construction, architecture illustates the realized design; iterate


Icebergs, Maps and Metamorphosis

Feeling the drought of ruffyan traces this week? No? Ouch! Yes? You're so very kind. Well then. This might help:

Speaking of that ruffyan, my alter ego wished Dana a happy birthday, but this version of me forgot to! Skander!

More? Well, so nice of you to ask. So hey, this is for Peter Bakker, and the rest of us who share an interest in maps:

That led me to:

which is awesome (too)!

Anyway, Peter, I'm gestating an idea with tubemaps/storylines and hope to have something to get your feedback on shortly. If it works as well as it does in my head, I'll be very excited!


A Little Thing Called Can't Try

Speaking of internet treasures (OpenCulture is one!), cyclists among you probably already know of MapMyRide.com, but if you're just being inspired to get out there, you should try it. To see what we have around us, take a look at this route map. They call this area "the Indiana Alps" ;-) So hey, want to know what I did last Monday? I cycled 47 miles! Yeah. Well, I have a new appreciation for what is meant when a person says "I'm awesome!" -- it (can) mean(s) I broke my mental model of what I am capable of (in a good way). With that as context, I'm awesome! :-) Well, if we forget that though I bagged many hills that tried to dominate me, there were some that taught me some lessons in return. Really wonderful ride! Imagine a me at 38.9 mph -- then again. Don't. Ridiculously dangerous stuff, cycling! I have no idea what I was thinking... Well, ... we don't got no sissy hills round these here parts, see, and the roads take them straight on. Coming up suddenly upon one, I yelled an uncharacteristic excrement word in warning and launched forth -- a vertical drop, then a vertical rise. I mean _literally_. In a situation like that, brakes are not optional. You take all gravity will give you, because it takes it back and then some.  (It's like this.)

Some weeks ago, on a series of (up)hills, Dana said in exasperation "you should gear down. No excuses... I have the same gear mechanism as you, ..." I laughed and told him too many cognitive biases were wrapped in that to even count, adding that while they are indeed the same (manufacturer/model/age), they have taken different wear, my front derailleur needs to be adjusted, and if that all weren't enough, I (my physique, riding style and preferences) all provide a different interaction pattern with said same gear system.  He said no more. To wit, I have learned to gear down more early in a ride, to pace myself on long rides, even though I prefer to take these hills that want me for breakfast, at full power.

Cycling calls the opening chapters of Zen of Motorcycle Maintenance to mind. Taking the countryside in at a pace that covers lots of variety (forests and farms and one store villages), yet is slow enough to see the flowers, and exposed enough to smell the rotting roadkill on the sides of the roads.

Me? These hills? Well, see, it's like this. I figured that the only thing more scary than me being out on these dangerous country roads is having my 15 year old son out there on them on his own. But it is awesome! Why didn't I do this when I was 40? Oh. Yes. Small children. Ah well.

I Can!This human condition is fragile, so fraught with tenuous balances and tensions. All with the grim reaper only ever more on our horizon. May I sneak in a couple more pointers to traces? Here you go:

Those hills kept coming at me like a Jabberwock battalion, but it sure was fun riding them down!

How could any of that have any possible bearing on architecting? Well, there is this little thing called "can't" and it gets in the way a lot in architecting. You know -- the "I can't do that in my organization." When Ryan decided to do the deCycles ride, he didn't just break his own "can't" barriers, but mine too.

There's no real knowing. No guarantees. The only how is try!

Or, with a play on the serving men:

What is the difference. Why indifferent. Who a shadow. When paradoxical. Where or no. No! How is try.



Downright scary for the mom! [My brother's amazing beautiful son died in a motorcross accident when he was 16. It changes everything. Most anything our kids do with a degree of passion quickly gets into threat territory. Ballet. Danger. Cycling. Danger. Writing code. ??? So. It is hard. But we can't cottonball our kids. I won't encourage them to do dangerous things. But aspirations are part of the human condition, aren't they? Unless we dull them out. And who'd want that?]

8/28/13: Well, my boy won't be doing that kind of speed for a while. A big scare, stitches, scrapes and bruises. Because. Helmet. Thankful!

We give our hearts to our kids, and they don't take very good care of them! Mine took a pounding. Phew, I never knew how utterly exhausting "stay calm and carry on" -- aka don't panic -- is. I thought I was being super-mom, staying calm and collected and then when I could at last just relax, my energy took a deep dive.

9/2/13: Wow! Speaking of try::

Her fourth attempt since turning 60, and she made it! Awesome!



I told Dana that, revisiting

  • Humility: the willingness to find myself wrong
  • Confidence: the willingness to act on my judgement

it occurred to me that humility and arrogance are at opposite ends of a spectrum. And Dana suggested that humility is not willingness but openness to finding myself wrong. Well, I find myself wrong. I'll have to restate that:

  • Humility: openness to finding myself wrong
  • Confidence: the willingness to act on my judgement

Anyway, it might seem that humility would undermine confidence, but arrogance should undermine confidence! There are tensions in both, but arrogance is a state of ignoring the world's feedback on where one is "wrong."

The architect has to act with confidence, or who would follow? But the architect needs to stay open to new evidence, to sensing and evaluating risk, and exploring alternatives. Humble. And confident. In dynamic tension.


8/23/13: Of course, as "wrong" goes, that is wrong too -- or at least, wrong, as I used it there, is a compression of fallible, blinkered, biased, ... holding within me just the tiniest and most tenuous speck of knowledge/insight/intuition/sensemaking ability relative to all that could be known even at this point in time, when that too quickly becomes out-of-date and wrong given what will be discovered tomorrow and so forth... not to mention all my perceptual disabilities... and so onnnnnnnn. ;-) Arrogance is holding oneself to be elevated relative to some set of others. Humility is seeing oneself against a far greater relief.

Generosity in seeing others, and valuing their accomplishments, is a great antidote to arrogance, don't you think? A stance that is full of wonder and celebration is not a slathering sycophantic one, but rather one that is curious and open and joyful. The reward is seeing. There are these remarkable people along for this short ride on Spaceship Earth (Bucky Fuller's term), and they are wonderful. When we reflect on what we get from them, we learn something about ourselves, and gain more insight into what they have to teach us.

'To be fearless is to be a fool who mourns not his folly.' -- Sara



Making Room for Change

Greater diversity brings more options to the table for everyone:

"figuring the best way to alter the balance was to give the powers that be the opportunity to change things" -- Annie Gosfield


Enterprise Architecture and Strategy

We keep coming back to the discussion of what EA is and whether it has survival value:

These provide useful perspective, no?

Nick Malik puts things provocatively...

I differ on a number of points... But it'll be more fruitful to focus on how I see strategy.

Business strategy determines where and how we will compete and why that makes sense, and what we will do strategically, in what (larger) timeframes, with what resources, and why we think that will work. That is, business strategy sets strategic intent (where we will compete, on what basis, etc.). And strategy determines and directs strategic gameplays. To set strategy, the various ecosystems of import need to be understood at a strategic level, interventions in the ecosystems (investments and acquisitions, strategic alliances, decisions about what will be brought within the enterprise and under its design and execution umbrella, etc.) are considered, weighed, determined, chartered and led.

The business model canvas a la Osterwald, for example, is -- or at least should be -- an important vehicle for the expression of strategy. There are other valuable expressions. Strategy isn't one decision, along with its reasoning. It is a set of choices that set direction, determining the playing fields and the strategic plays and includes the strategic story for why this strategy makes sense. We can tell that story with many aids, and the strategy canvas is one way to tell the story with a visual map of the relationship between (new or elaborated) target markets and (new or elaborated) value propositions and their delivery mechansims, how that makes money. along with what (new or different) capabilities (activities, technology, skills, facilities, etc.) are needed to create the value, and deliver it, and what other resources are needed. The strategic gameplan will further elaborate, as appropriate (fractally) how the strategic story will unfold, with strategic initiatives to build the capabilities needed, and deliver the value.

Of course, if a company thinks that it takes its playing fields as a given, then... it might find itself playing obsoleted games. Might not see the seismic shifts in the industry, or how to shift with and to markets that are emerging as new technologies wash through ecosystems, fundamentally restructuring the value basis, and related transformations and flows within the ecosystem. And so on. And so on. Strategy is very much about INTENT. And strategy is very much about the intelligence -- competitive intelligence, technology intelligence, market intelligence, operational intelligence -- to adaptatively and proactively shape intent. Oh Gosh. Why don't people read the Fractal and Emergent paper? Strategy, at different levels, is about discovering and shaping opportunity.

I think of stratetgy as including identity -- who we are, what we hold to be important, what kind of difference we want to make in the world because we exist. Mission. Values and Culture. That kind of thing. And strategic vision. Let me also point to:Enterprise Architecture as Strategic Differentiator, 2005, so I don't have to redescribe the strategy model we advocate. Some might expostulate that culture, for example, is not a strategic consideration, but just look at what Marissa Mayer is doing at Yahoo! and what she has achieved. She has shifted the very culture of the behemoth. And made it strategically viable again. So DON'T tell me identity is not strategic, and DON'T tell me it is immutable and given. Well, you can TRY. Wink.

Dana Bredemeyer makes a distinction I find useful. He points out that if the context was stable and well-known. we could simply plan and execute to plan. We need strategy when the context is changing, uncertain, complex,... There are so many forces that make the context uncertain. Technology. Competitors. The economy. More. Strategy assesses these shaping forces, and adjusts strategic intent and strategic initiatives. With limited resources, choices have to be made, investments focused -- no has to be said more than yes. Etc. As the context shifts, the strategy needs to shift, so understandings of key elements and relationships and shaping forces in the context needs to be maintained and current, and proactively, imaginatively explored.

I think that understanding the context -- the ecosystem(s) and the enterprise capabilities, structures and value flows and transformations, the infrastructure, the shaping forces, and so on, and on, -- is important to setting strategy, assessing and adapting the strategy, perceiving emerging opportunities and threats, and so on. And on. Intentionality for a complex organizational organism needs to be thought of as being as dynamic and vital as it is for the individual organisms within it. Some things we set out to do, simply don't stay important. Other things become strategically important -- that is they impact the business integrity, viability, sustainability in shape shifting ways.

To see what I was getting at with the image right, you might also like to take a look at:

I should make a strategic exit and close my Trace for the night, huh?

Did I make myself clear, or did I make myself DEAD???

These jabberwock hills aren't doing me any good, are they?


8/26/13; A useful add to the conversation, highlighting how my papers and Trace give you a jump on things (wink*):


* hey, I have to say this stuff, because someone has to... I don't deserve the cold silent treatment, do I?

9/1/13: Strategy and the Uncertainty Excuse by Roger Martin | 11:00 AM January 8, 2013


Balance and Tension

Here's a placeholder for a point I've been wanting to explore:

Tension and balance

Which is to say, a useful image, if only alongside that of scales and balance (or tightropes and balance), would be images of tensegrity. Anyway, the intuition I was wanting to probe is that we may "tip" the balances more in directions that we want to differentiate on. We don't look for the "balanced" solution. Architecture isn't about serving every constituent's needs equally. It is about making changes to what would happen if all just acted with local self-interest or parochial perspective and local turf protection/advancements in mind. So it hurts, in some places, some of the time, compared to not trying to achieve system outcomes. But that is what architecture is for -- to achieve desired system outcomes at a system scope, what we would not achieve through local optimizing behaviors and with local, narrow scoped perspectives, insights, intuitions and goals, etc., in mind. The broader the scope, the more complex the system, the more interactions, the more uncertainty and (unanticipated) emergence has a chance to play its hand. And the more there is to hold in mind, making it less likely that someone who is dealing with tough, intellectually hard local design-build challenges to be keeping all the system implications and desired outcomes in mind. Hence. Architecture.



Technical Debt Reprise

I liked Nat Pryce's points here:

Technical debt -- Nat pryce

Ron Jeffries tweet/pic is here. More in the tweet-scussion here.

There is some duplication across these traces, but you might be interested in the evolution of my positioning/framing of technical debt:

Those traces also point to earlier traces and collections of related links, etc.

Good stuff, no? Welllll?????



I have to guess that my Conceptual Architecture page has been set as reading for at least one class because hits on that page have shot up in the last couple of weeks. Anyone want to tell me what class that is?

Ok, this was more than two months ago....

So kind!

Not to seem ungrateful or anything. But. Helloooooooooooooooooooooo? Anyone ouuuuuuuuuut there?

Advocates are important. So is doing work worth advocating, huh? Well, goodness gracious. This isn't?

... a tree falling in the woods... oh well...

Oh well


8/28/13: In Honor of Martin Luther King

8/31/13: Once in a blue moon something amazing happens, like that Grady Booch tweet. But, greatness such as that which comes in the form of a Grady Booch or Peter Bakker or Stuart Boardman or Gene Hughson is rare. Nameable instances rare!! Anyway, Grady Booch's wonderful Architecture Handbook Blog was what inspired my Trace -- because it was a journal (though it was piped across to IBM Developerworks where it appeared with full blog paraphenalia). The inspiringly outstanding caliber of his writing, the professional content humanized with a vibrant personal touch, and, frankly, the absence of comments, gave me a different notion of a format that would give me the freedom to write my mind out.

Anyway, whatever this Trace is worth, it owes its inception and much of its inspiration and, later, encouragement, to Grady.



With Gratitude

Seamus Heaney died today. If you follow me on Twitter, you probably noticed I was moved by the sad news..

Ok, so to give some perspective, when I came to the US as a grad student with just two suitcases of belongings, I brought with me 4 books that were especially significant to me, representing shaping influences/my core identity. One work of fiction -- J.M. Coetzee's Waiting for the Barbarians. One work of poetry -- Seamus Heaney's Field Work. One selection from computer science -- Mary Loomis' book on database design. And my first Calculus book, because it had turned me on to my other passion and I owed it a kind of awakening to my self. That is the self I spent the next decades developing, but I keep returning to the part of me that Seamus Heaney's powerful poetic voice ignites.

I was working at HP when Seamus Heaney's Nobel Prize in Literature was announced in 1996, and everyone who worked with me had to tolerate my excitement and "told you" pleasure. [And yes, J.M. Coetzee was also awarded a Nobel Prize in Literature -- in 2003. The world just takes a little time to catch up with me. ;-)] 'Told you so" jests aside, if you are familiar with Coetzee and Heaney, you will understand they were particularly meaningful to my political consciousness.



"As a teacher of mine, the poet Robert Farnsworth, used to say, many human problems — if not most — take place in the language, the principal strength and failing of which is precision.

Heaney was a master of picking the right words, of finding, for instance, the sound of a taste, the syllable of a smell, the vowel for what a thing does (a piece of straw stuck into a spinning upturned bicycle wheel "frittered," for instance).

But he also understood, warily, that words tend to want to point to one truth at a time: toward yes or no, right or wrong. He struggled in his poems to find ways of making words take more than one side at once, while he stood at the crossroads of one of history's bitterest ongoing territorial and ideological conflicts."

-- Craig Morgan Teicher, Heaney's Poems — Great, Dangerous, Healing — Live On, August 30 2013



Celebrating Stuart Boardman

My celebration of the anniversary of Stuart's entry into this world is a few days late, but Stuart knows why.

One of the things that stands out for me about Stuart Boardman is his intellectual generosity. So many people pay lip service to sharing credit and being a "servant leader" (I'm using the term as a lever here, to draw in the important and good ideas of service that it carries with it), but Stuart really stands out for being not just his own kind of brilliant and making his own important contributions, but doing so without standing on the shoulders of others in a self-promoting sort of way. He stands with others, cares about others, draws us in, keeps a circle of intellectual vitality and frontier-pushing conversations and relationships going. When you see how little that is done in this field, you realize how distinctive Stuart is.

One thought I need to jot -- I love Stuart's writing. He shapes a compelling case for what he is revealing to us, but not at the loss of beauty in expression and he draws on wonderful quotes that hint at the breadth he has integrated within himself.

In case you need an introduction to Stuart's work:

Anyway, I'll jot more thoughts as I have moments to add them. But I wanted to at least make a start. :-)


Self-Censoring... or the Responsibilities of Audiences

It occurred to me that we need to talk about audience orientation...

Points that need to be made

But of course, the same thing that prevents me from tweeting such a well-meant response, is what needs to be said about audiences... We need less prima donna audiences; rather, we need audiences with open hearts and minds, so that speakers can thrive with what they bring. As a general rule, speakers are there because they have something to share that they are passionate about -- that they have learned, through the bruising process of trial by life, is important. The audience matters. Of course. They're paying (with their time and attention, and in large numbers). But an audience that has positive expectations simply because a speaker is there to bring insights to them, is going to get more from the speaker. Go with your cup empty, not overflowing with hubris, and there will be room for tea. Or beer. Or your just deserts. :-)

When audiences are experienced to be less harshly judgmental, more awesome people will come out to talk.

Bullets that are just words, hit their mark through the co-operation of the sender and the receiver. That makes them very different than the sort that are used to kill. -- The Presentation Conversation, 12/6/13


They So Get It!

Because. Ennui.

Jason Gorman is my new hero! Slammed one right out of the ballpark with that one, didn't he?




I also write at:

- Bredemeyer Resources for  Architects

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Um... and these
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I also write at:


- Strategy, Architecture and Agility: The Art of Change: Fractal and Emergent, 2010 

- Innovation and Agile Architecting: Getting Past ‘But’: Finding Opportunity and Making It Happen, 2008

- EA and Business Strategy: Enterprise Architecture as Strategic Differentiator, 2005

- The Role of the Architect:: What it Takes to be a Great Enterprise Architect, 2004


Ruth Malan has played a pioneering role in the software architecture field, helping to define architectures and the process by which they are created and evolved, and helping to shape the role of the software, systems and enterprise architect. She and Dana Bredemeyer created the Visual Architecting Process which emphasizes: architecting for agility, integrity and sustainability. Creating architectures that are good, right and successful, where good: technically sound; right: meets stakeholders goals and fits context and purpose; and successful: actually delivers strategic outcomes. Translating business strategy into technical strategy and leading the implementation of that strategy. Applying guiding principles like: the extraordinary moment principle; the minimalist architecture principle; and the connect the dots principle. Being agile. Creating options.

Feedback: I welcome input, discussion and feedback on any of the topics in this Trace in The Sand Journal, my blog, and the Resources for Architects website, or, for that matter, anything relevant to architects, architecting and architecture! I can be reached at

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Copyright 2013 by Ruth Malan
Page Created:July 1, 2013
Last Modified: May 29, 2015