29 May 2008

Dog Man

Dog Man: An Uncommon Life on a Faraway Mountain by Martha Sherrill is, in its essence, a love story. The love story isn't simple. Mr. Sawataishi is in love with an ideal; the ideal of a perfect Akita dog embodying the point final of its breed and also spirit, the latter which has not been in his opinion well maintained by breeders in their rush to reconstitute the pure Akita form after the dilution of the war years. Ms. Sawataishi's love encompasses her children, and their father after a fashion.

The Akita is shown to good effect in the book as an intensely loyal and well-loved breed of dog. Similarly, Akita enthusiasts are also portrayed as heroic if a bit partisan; heroic in their efforts to bring back the dog to a good sized population from the low numbers they fell to in the 40's and partisan in favoring dogs of the Odate variety or of the Ginzo variety with unbridled exuberance.

Ms. Sawataishi's story is told tangentially. Her efforts to care for one town's children when their families faced hardship and her growth as a hostess and huntress made for the most interesting part of the book. Her husband is the dog man; but she is his helpmeet, nursing injured dogs and naming them and humanizing his otherwise dour and canine-centric life.

In the category of books about champion animals, this one would not meet the standard set by Seabiscut, which is my favorite animal champion book. But it was an engaging read, and informative about the nature of Akitas. For a dog lover, this is an enjoyable read. It even generates good discussion - check out Diane Rehm's interview with the author.

So - how many books are available about champion animals, anyway?

21 May 2008

200 quick and easy steps to passing the PMP Exam

Step 1: answer the first question correctly.
Step 2: answer the second question correctly.
Step 3: answer the third question correctly.

Today, I passed the PMP exam. Hurrah for me! I've worked as a project manager for 10+ years, and from time to time I've thought about getting my certification as a project manager. Since I work on IS projects, it seems that there's always a few folks certified in something or another in any project. Project management certification through the Project Management Institute is the generally recognized standard for Project Manager certification in the U.S. (in Europe, check out the Prince2 certification), so I set out to get my certification during a break I have between projects.

I've heard from a number of project managers who don't feel they need the PMP to be successful in their projects. I agree; I'd be a fool not to, as I worked for many years managing projects without it. However, it still seems worth getting. First off, it is always good to learn new tools and techniques and ways of doing things (aka 'processes') that can be used on a project, and the PMBOK is chock-full of those. Second, if a project manager does decide not to use the standard methodology, that PM can do so from an informed perspective rather than from ignorance. Of course not every project needs to use every single tool in the PM's toobox; as an example, it would have been a time-waster for me to have performed benefit-cost Analysis for a mandatory tariff change project when I worked at the phone company. The fact was that the tariff had to be implemented to keep the company on the right side of the law and assure that we could continue billing for that product and others. Third, there are some certified PMPs who are a bit snobby about their status; when dealing with them, having your own PMP certification takes the air right out of a windbag who is relying on their certification status overmuch, and brings the project discussion back to the nuts and bolts of getting it done.

I used O'Reilly's Head First PMP by Andrew Stellman and Jennifer Greene. I liked their approach as it included many interactive elements that got my brain working - I didn't want to use a traditional textbook style approach as I had the PMBOK for that. The exercises are informative and work at a deep enough level to engage my grey matter on the underlying concepts.

Reviewing the Project Management Body of Knowledge is also essential in preparing for the PMP Exam - but it would hardly be sufficient. The PMBOK is a reference guide, and using it alone for one's studies would be like trying to learn chemistry by memorizing Mendeleev's table. As an example, the PMBOK references the importance of understanding standard management theories, but declines to provide much detail on any of them. The exam will test your knowledge on one or more of the standard management theories, such as McClelland's Acheivement Motivation Theory or Herzberg's Motivation-Hygiene Theory.

As a supplement, I also completed Oliver Lehmann's 75 free PMP Exam practice questions and his 175 Question pdf download. I found these to be overall much harder than what I encountered on the exam. I listened to True Solutions Ultimate PMP Exam Prep CDs in the car - the narrator's voice was really annoying, but the 2nd exposure to the material was probably helpful. Note that their site also offers TSI's PMI® PMP® Exam Prep Lunchtime Lecture Series. I also worked through the exam in Achieve PMP Exam Success and I'd recommend to others looking to pass that they find and do as many practice exams as they can. Only do practice exams which will explain the answer choice and what subject area of the PMBOK is involved so that you can follow up with study if necessary. Merely taking a practice test to get a score isn't enough.

I did ask myself, "what can I bring to the pmp exam?" I didn't really see any good list of all the stuff you'll want to have with you for the 4-hour exam ordeal, so here's one for you to modify as a starting point. For exam day, I packed-
  • a light lunch that didn't need heating or fridge
  • caffeinated beverage
  • gum
  • eye drops - I get dry eyes in front of a computer sometimes
  • 2 ids
  • the approval letter from PMI and my test schedule from Prometric
  • a printout of the PMP formulas you must know (of course you can't bring that into the exam room, but I reviewed it immediately beforehand and I did accomplish the formula brain dump pretty easily)
The exam center provided a calculator, pencils, scratch paper and headphones. There's an online calculator available too, but I liked having the separate calculator to give me some task variety, moving between the keyboard and the calculator keypad as I worked. Note that you can't take anything in with you; I asked about taking my eyedrops in - since I'd had lasik surgery, I've had drier eyes than before and sometimes it bothers me - but the proctor was cordially adamant about me leaving everything in the locker. And I was ok; I used the drops on breaks and my eyes were fine.

Don't underestimate the mental endurance required to sit for a long exam. It had been 15 years since I took the GRE, so I was pretty rusty at my exam taking skills. I made a point to take practice exams twice before the exam, of a similar duration of time and pacing as I expected to have on exam day. Even if you aren't using the O'reilly book, check out their free pmp practice exam online, I think that helped to build up my testing stamina. Also I started playing scramble on facebook, which helped me pace myself for the 3 minute drills for each question on the PMP. Or maybe that's just a clumsy justification for my word gaming habit.

Time management is key for the exam. What worked for me was to start with the 15 minute tutorial as recommended in a number of sources; although the instructions were in retrospect obvious, it was a good procedure to get used to the exam set-up which helped reduce test anxiety, got me used to the format and the unfamiliar mouse (I'm accustomed to a track pad) - and most importantly gave me a chance to do a brain dump of all the formulas I'd memorized on to the scratch paper that was provided. Let's talk again about that brain dump - basically, what you want to do is walk into the room, start up the tutorial and then spend some time jotting down your memorized formulas on a sheet of scratch paper provided. Getting them written down before they are strictly necessary is useful in making sure they are transcribed accurately. Many of the problems will have extraneous information in them which can confuse a test-taker; especially one who is simultaneously trying to process the question and recall the formula. Writing down the formulas removes one part of the uncertainty, leaving you to focus on the problem more completely.

After the tutorial, a 4 hour exam period begins. Because I'd done practice tests, I knew I could complete the test and a review in 3 hours. I decided based on that to take a 10 minute break every hour; the exam timer keeps counting down while you break but you can leave the room and relax. When it came time for my second break, I was ahead of pace for the questions and feeling very fatigued; so I took a longer 20 minute break, walked around the building, ate my light lunch, and did some stretching exercises/yoga poses to deal with some back pain from sitting in the generic testing chair. I really feel that pacing myself helped.

If you're preparing for taking the exam, let me know - I'd be interested to see if this info helps. And thanks to those who have shared feedback already! Also - share these tips with a friend on twitter!

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'PMI', 'PMP', 'CAPM', 'Project Management Professional', 'Certified Associate in Project Management', and 'PMBOK' are marks of Project Management Institute, Inc.

11 May 2008

Eddie Izzard - Stripped

I had the opportunity to see Eddie Izzard on May 10th at the Murat Theater in Indianapolis and jumped at the chance - the man is amazing, and to see him perform live was to watch a master craftsman at work. To give you an idea of his slanted perspective on the world, here's a quote from a prior show -

“But with dogs, we do have “bad dog.” Bad dog exists. “Bad dog! Bad dog! Stole a biscuit, bad dog!” The dog is saying, “Who are you to judge me? You human beings who’ve had genocide, war against people of different creeds, colors, religions, and I stole a biscuit?! Is that a crime? People of the world!”

“Well, if you put it that way, I think you’ve got a point. Have another biscuit, sorry.””

Eddie is so creative, he even inspires lego builders to stop the car modeling and recreate the mindscapes he has shared on stage. That's a hell of a lot of creative power, even for an Action Transvestite.

Speaking of action transvestite, one sad note for me was that Eddie Izzard performed in a rather standard outfit, not the fantastical confabulations of heels and leather and satin that he usually sports. I do wonder if he toned down the costume for the midwest audience, in which case I'd be disappointed! Either way, I can't figure out why he's suddenly started wearing such traditional guy look when he's so glamorous - nah, Glorious even - in his usual stage presence as I've seen it on the videos.

Here's a few of my favorite quotes from the Stripped show - I hope the DVD is out soon! Any lack of cleverness in the transcription is, sadly, my fault and cannot be blamed on any other. Be brave and share the blame with me - post a comment with quotes you remember, if you can!
Eddie IzzardImage by Nick J Webb via Flickr
  • "The Europeans gave the Native Americans alcohol when they got to this continent. The Native Americans would have done the same thing if they had come to Europe first. You would have seen Europeans sitting on top of a mountain eating cake going 'bleagh' and stuffing their faces with it. The Native American conquerors would say 'don't worry, we have bakeries back home working 24 hours a day to provide this."
  • "Before wikipedia, nobody knew how to make anything. Do you know how to make jam? Stavros, do you know how to make jam" [checks iphone, assuming wikipedia] "Jam... here's the recipe!"
  • "Stavros is a perfectly legitimate Romanian name."
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07 May 2008

New foster pup: Bowie II

We got a new foster pup recently from the Indianapolis Humane Society and he's such a quiet lad compared to the beagles; admittedly that is setting the bar a bit low.

We're thinking that he's some kind of border collie/chow/lab mix. He's definitely got a chow-ish head, but he's also been trying to herd the beagles, which is pretty amusing to watch. Updates on his behavior and socialization are coming up regularly on 'his' posts at indypaws.com. The lad does not like the Roomba, but loves getting baths.

Any ideas as to what kind of dog this might be? Comment if you know.

05 May 2008

Leftwards leaning lightly

I read David Wollman's A Left-hand Turn Around the World looking for some insights into my artistic, emotional, brilliant Southpaw son that will help me figure out how to approach his stubbornness without ruining his talent for persistence.

Obviously, this isn't a parenting advice manual. You look for your parenting advice wherever you want it, and I'll look for mine where I feel like it. (Clearly, my son comes by his stubbornness naturally.)

Unexpectedly, I found a wonderful gem of a hypothesis ensconced comfortably in Wollman's ambles from research lab to research lab. The hypothesis is: people are not right or left handers, but are instead mixed-handed or have a single hand they prefer. Wollman spends with a variety of researchers exploring this idea by examining spinning cilia under a microscope, observing primates, and zapping brains with electricity. Unfortunately, he also consults graphologists, palmists, and a satanist, to no great benefit - they come off as posturing charlatans in this account.

I also read about the Edinburg Handedness Survey, and experimented with my family with the following results:

Here's a quiz for you to take as well, from UCLA: Handedness Questionnaire. One piece of advice from Wollman - even handedness researchers sometimes misidentify their hand preference from memory. I tried observing the handedness to make the table above, surprising my husband by catching him throwing a ball left-handed, for example. I used the exercise to teach the kids a bit about the scientific method and they seemed to enjoy being part of an 'experiment'. I tried to find more info about the Edinburgh Handedness Inventory on wikipedia, but they didn't have any... then.

Lo! But now they do. Contribute at will.

04 May 2008

3.70% at 3:00 am

Thank you Exibris for your recent post about the 1% well read challenge based on the book 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. This challenge is really keen; I've wondered more than once what would serve as a literature canon and this seems like a decent shot at it. I question a few of the left off book - e.g., who is Joyce's Ulysses included but not Homer's? But overall, with the exception of Shikasta, the books I've read from this list have been really wonderful.

I'm hiding from challenges for the nonce (heck, if I finished the titles listed below that I'd already tagged for other challenges, I'd be another 1% along), but thought it was interesting to evaluate my reading against the list using a handy spreadsheet from Arukiyoma My score: 3.70% based on having read the following list. So, I have 96.30% of my reading life yet ahead of me.

    The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
    Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
    The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
    Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
    Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
    Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams
    The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
    Neuromancer by William Gibson
    The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
    Shikasta by Doris Lessing
    The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
    Interview With the Vampire by Anne Rice
    Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
    The Once and Future King by T.H. White
    The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
    The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
    Foundation by Isaac Asimov
    I, Robot by Isaac Asimov
    Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
    Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
    The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
    Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
    All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
    Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
    The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle
    The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
    The Time Machine by H.G. Wells
    The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
    A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
    The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
    Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
    The Pit and the Pendulum by Edgar Allan Poe
    Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
    Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
    Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
    Gargantua and Pantagruel by Françoise Rabelais
    Aesop’s Fables by Aesopus

I'm updating my Shelfari page with this info too.