Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Extreme Ownership

Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, St. Martins Press, 2015.

“So, there I was, knee deep in hand grenade pins…”  The authors claim that this is not a string of self-glorifying war stories, the kind that old men grow in the retelling.  But, in fact, every teaching point is illustrated with a real war story. The authors assure us that the reports are sanitized so as not to violate operational security (OPSEC). Business briefs follow the battle scenes. Again, the details are altered to protect the client. Unfortunately, that reduces these white papers to blank pages. Although the Navy SEALs are realistic, the business people all sound alike. Lacking depth, the executives and managers are cardboard characters. Despite those flaws, the teaching points are valid. 

The thesis of the book is easy to understand. Extreme Ownership means taking full responsibility for your experiential world. If your boss does not understand your circumstances, then the failure is yours: you did not make it clear enough. I was reminded of a scene in Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. Some thuggish architects are complaining to each other about the hero, Howard Roark. Face it, one admits. You are just mad because he doesn’t even notice you. “He’d notice me if I bashed his head with a club.” No he wouldn’t: he would just blame himself for not avoiding the club.

The other lessons are equally unarguable.
No bad teams, only bad leaders.
You must believe in your mission.
Check your ego. (In other words, control it, block it, like checking your luggage at the departure gate.)
Cover and Move means that teams protect each other, leap-frogging forward.
Simple commands are easier to carry out. Complex missions must be simplified to their essentials.
Prioritize and execute.  You cannot do everything all at once. Attempting the wrong task will cause other goals to be missed. Know what is most important and do that.
Decentralize command. It is old advice. Nonetheless, delegating authority can be a matter of life and death in an urban warzone. In every organization, span of control means that each decision-maker ideally has only about five people reporting.  I was reminded of how ships –especially warships – are run: each department depends on all the others, and each expects the others to run their shops effectively. The captain cannot do it all from the bridge. Each section is responsible for its own performance.

Plan.  This shocked me: the US Navy SEALs devote more time – much more time – to creating and presenting PowerPoints than they do fighting in combat.  As I came close to the end of the book, I had a long weekend training drill at Texas State Guard headquarters. I chatted with another ex-pilot about software development. Pilots spend as much time or more planning flights than actually flying. But software developers seem to all just bang out code with no planning. The results are all around us. If code really blew up, or if systems really crashed, programmers would do more planning.

Leading up and down the chain of command is a direct consequence of extreme ownership. It takes some finesse to lead the people above you, but it is no less necessary than leading those under your command. You are responsible for your environment. If your boss does not understand your situation, it can only be because you failed to communicate.

Decisiveness and Uncertainty are easy opposites. Leaders make decisions, usually right ones, if they are good leaders. Leaders who waver, postpone, and procrastinate are not leaders at all, but managers who are in deep water (or worse) over their heads.

The chapter on Decisiveness and Uncertainty introduces the final chapter: Discipline equals Freedom. This chapter actually goes into Aristotle’s “golden mean” without naming it explicitly. The authors run down a list of opposites and counsel moderation in all things: leader and follower; confident but not cocky; humble but not passive; competitive but a gracious loser; and so on.  Through the course of the book, the tension between opposites powers much of the narrative. In Chapter 8, the authors explain that Decentralized Command is possible only when the Commander’s Intent is communicated clearly.  

Books on management and leadership are easy to find. A book that announced radically new truths would be rare. The guidance here is not radical. Shorn of the war stories and business briefs, this might be a 20-page essay.  They are nonetheless 20 very valuable pages.


Monday, June 27, 2016

Sweet Deal: Epic Honey

The Central Texas Bee Rescue was at the Wheatsville Co-op on Sunday, June 19. I sampled the wild honey and the raw honey and chose the latter. 

Wild honey comes from feral bees. When the bees are in danger from construction or are a bother to homeowners, the Central Texas Bee Rescue relocates them. In their new home, the bees continue to do their work, making raw honey. While wild honey has a lot to commend it, I found the raw honey to be full of overtones. We were almost out; so, I bought a jar.
Almost gone (left) and new jar of Raw.
Since 2012, we have provided beekeeping courses to children ranging in age from elementary school to high school. Currently, we have hives at Lanier High School, Austin Achieve Public School, and the Austin Montessori School.”  --

“In the state of Texas, if a homeowner possesses 5 acres or more of property, with at least 6 beehives on the property, the resident can become eligible to have up to 20 acres tax exempt. This exemption can save thousands of dollars per year.” --


Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Whitman’s Coin Collecting Quantum Crossover

Question: What do you get when you cross a Red Book with a Whitman Folder?
Answer: A Search and Save book dedicated to the new collector.

Well known traditional support for collectors. 
Whitman Publishing is the leading producer of products for coin collectors. This year, they released a new entry in the marketplace, their Search and Save booklets.  They will open the doors to numismatics for another generation of numismatists – young and mature alike.  
New products for new generations.
 The median age in coin collecting is about 58, and has been for decades. These numismatists began as kids, often with paper routes.  If you could set aside a nickel worth eight cents you made a 60% profit from your knowledge. When inflation of the 1960s and 70s destroyed circulating coinage, the thrill of collecting from pocket change disappeared along with silver coins… and Buffalo Nickels, and Indianhead Cents.  But the rewards can be found again in two new series from the US Mint celebrating the 50 states (1999-2009) and their “America the Beautiful” national parks (2010-Present).  In addition, two series of dollar coins can be had: Presidents and Native Americans.  

Historical narratives that are richer than
the brief paragraphs in the Red Book
These Whitman products deliver the structure to collecting that can draw the new numismatist.

All federal money is legal tender.  A Jefferson nickel from 1938 is just as spendable as one from 2008. And you can find those 1938 5-cent coins in circulation if you look at your change. The new collector will eventually go to a coin store to find a silver 5-cent coin from 1942 to 1945.  But that decision can be made later.  In the mean time, five different Jefferson Nickels are easy to find in circulation, as are eight different Lincoln cents (four others will be inexpensive at a coin store).

How to hold (and not hold) a coin.
This illustration is in all Search and Save boo
Literature is the key to value. Collectors who think that they are smart will chase this coin or that, but their greed begs a question: How did they know that the coin was worth pursuing?  The fact is that they were told (often second-hand) by researchers who published articles in numismatic magazines.  A scant few aficiandos read those.  Then the facts made their way into books.  Some few more touts and buffs found out about the rarities and values. They hit on dealers to see who had what in stock. Eventually word got out.  We find it unusual today, but in the 1930s, a US $3 Gold sold for a margin over bullion spot: they were not regarded as rare. A hundred years ago, no one cared about mint marks.  In our lifetime, repunched dates and repunched mint marks have joined doubled dies as the rewards for searching your pocket change.

The 50 State Quarter book only has 11 spaces to fill,
one from each year of issue. Pick your favorite coin.
Now, these Whitman products combine the tree-top view of literature with an attainable goal for novice collectors.  You can find 50 State Quarter coins in change. You can fill this book with eleven of them: you do not need all 150 (50 states, 3 mints). Keep your eyes open because nice lightly circulated examples are still out there.  The same applies to Jefferson Nickels and Lincoln Cents.  

These tools support "type collecting." Rather than one coin from each Mint from each year of issue, you only need to find one of each type, regardless of year or Mint.

Former ANA President and former Krause Corporation president Clifford Mishler had a stump speech that he delivered at conventions.  Collectors are a type of person, he said.  He called it “a gene you do not inherit.” The children of collectors may not be collectors: it is a small tragedy that we know. The grandchildren just want the money from the coins: they do not care about the coins. But we do. And some of our grandchildren and great-grandchildren may well, also.  These Whitman products can open the doors to coin collecting, the most popular hobby in the world.


Sunday, June 12, 2016

Hurricane Tejas

The State of Texas ran an exercise to simulate a Category 4 hurricane strike at the Rio Grande Valley.  The main events ran Wednesday and Thursday, June 8 and 9, according to the news media. However, the execution depended on deep planning running back to January of this year. For myself, as a headquarters support staffer, I arrived at 9:00 AM on Sunday, June 5. I made my last call (from home) at 6:30 PM on Friday. My job was to run the WebEOC emergency operation center computer. Despite the short days on Sunday and Friday (8 hours each), I put in 74 hours in five days. So did a couple hundred other people.

  • Department of Public Safety Trooper Robbie Barrera says the drill began Wednesday and runs through Thursday.  (CBS news Dallas-Fort Worth here.)
Loading up on Monday morning for the trip
down to the Rio Grande Valley. This team
gathered evacuees and shepherded them to safety.

  •  AUSTIN – The Texas Department of Public Safety’s (DPS) Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM), in coordination with local, state, federal and private sector partners, is conducting a full-scale air evacuation exercise in response to a hypothetical hurricane scenario in which the Rio Grande Valley (RGV) is evacuated. This exercise provides the emergency management community an opportunity to practice and evaluate local, state and federal emergency plans by evacuating a sample group of approximately 300 “general and medical evacuees” (exercise volunteers) from the lower Rio Grande Valley to the sheltering jurisdictions of San Antonio, Austin, Fort Worth and Irving. The exercise began on June 2 and concludes Thursday, with air evacuations and sheltering taking place today and Thursday.  (K-Star Radio/KVST 99.7 FM, Huntsville, Texas, here.)

The Texas Maritime Regiment (TMAR) practiced
search and recovery.
Of those 300, the Texas State Guard provided 226. Among those were evacuation responders who transported people out of danger, sheltered them and returned them to their homes.  We also had search and recovery rescuers. 
Our joint operations liaison officer
(Texas air component lieutenant colonel, left)
confers with our Battle Group non-commissioned officer in charge
(Texas army component) while a sergeant (Texas army component)
in the background configures
emergency evacuation handheld computers.
In addition, we worked with state agencies such as Public Safety and Emergency Management, of course, but also with the Department of State Health Services, the local city Community Emergency Response Teams (CERTs), and many private responders, including the American Red Cross and the Amateur Radio Relay League. 
There were 156 unique stations participating. Of these, 89% reported an ARES affiliation, 17% reported a MARS affiliation and 30% reported a RACES affiliation. 48% reported being Winlink capable. 44% reported having backup battery power, 43% reported having a generator and 6% had solar recharging capability. …“I received a total of 108 ICS-213 forms during the exercise.” (ARRL South Texas here)
ICS Form 213 is a general message for any Incident Command Structure.  The ICS is the standardized FEMA methodology for managing events and incidents.  (An event is planned: baseball game; birthday party. Incidents include hurricanes, wildfires, floods, tornados, and traffic accidents with toxic waste spills.) The ARRL report to members cited here is an indication of the volume of traffic that these volunteers handle when they launch and boot up communications networks to remediate for the infrastructure that is lost during a disaster.
Texas maritime seaman reports
the completion of her assignment
 for a Texas army component sergeant
at the Tactical Emergency Operations Center.
If you have a Facebook account you can see more on the TXSG official pages here.