Moustache power

One of my nieces, Maggie, works volunteers for her university’s entertainment board.

Not too long ago, an actor from a popular American television show called “Parks and Recreation,” Nick Offerman, performed a comedy act at Maggie’s school.

Nick wanted a student to make fun of, someone easily embarrassed/intimidated.

Maggie’s fellow students volunteered her.

So, during Nick’s act, he asked for a student to step on stage.

“I’m looking for someone on Row 1…” Maggie thought it was neat he picked a row on which many of her entertainment board members sat.

“Seat A!”  Maggie screamed “No!” in her thoughts.  “Not me!  Not in front of 4000 people, especially students I know!  I’ll die!”

Her face as red as Santa’s cheeks after a few hundred million swigs of eggnog, Maggie reluctantly walked on stage, stumbling up the steps.

Nick motioned her to stand in front of him.

He stared at her with his humorously fierce look.

He held the mike in her face and asked her name.


“Well, Maggie, do you go to Appalachian?”


“Uh-huh.  I see.  I want you to stay in school and do good.”

With that, he pushed her off the stage.

For weeks afterward, students came up to her and asked if she was the famous student who had been grilled by Nick Offerman.  She was shocked people recognised her.

However, that’s not all the story.

It’s her job to make sure the entertainer’s green room is set up before the show and then cleaned up after the show is over.

Maggie went to the green room to throw away food and trash.

She heard a sound and turned to see Nick walking back in.

“Oh, I get it.  You think you can just do anything now, huh?  Stalking me, are you?  Rummaging through my stuff and looking for something to steal?”

Maggie stammered.  “No, no!  I’m just throwing away old food.  Really!”

Nick nodded.  “Sure, sure.  Here, take these.”  He reached into the fridge and handed Maggie four Diet Coke cans.  “Just so you know, I stuck this one up my butt so it’s got my DNA if you want to clone me.”

Maggie, her face again red as a rabid beet, looked shocked even if it was Nick’s sense of humour.  He then signed her ticket and gave her an autographed picture.

Later, she was walking down the hall and heard someone whisper loudly, “Maggie…Maggie.”

She turned to see it was Nick. 

He smiled.  “You still following me around, are you?  Seriously, be good.  Seeya!”

Having never seen the TV show, I’m only familiar with the actor via osmosis, knowing him marginally as the Moustache Man.  However, Maggie, more in the demographic for the target audience, knows a lot about him.  In my day, Timothy Leary and G. Gordon Liddy were gods of the university entertainment circuit just as the likes of Andy Griffith and Bob Newhart were the entertainers in my parents’ school days.

From the Singularity Hub…

NASA’s Next Frontier: Growing Plants On The Moon

by Tarun Wadhwa

A small team at NASA’s Ames Research Center has set out to “boldly grow where no man has grown before” – and they’re doing it with the help of thousands of children, a robot, and a few specially customized GoPro cameras.

In 2015, NASA will attempt to make history by growing plants on the Moon. If they are successful, it will be the first time humans have ever brought life to another planetary body. Along the way, they will make groundbreaking contributions to our understanding of biology, agriculture, and life on other worlds. And though they may fail, the way they are going about their mission presents a fascinating case study of an innovative model for public-private collaboration that may very well change space entrepreneurship.

The Lunar Plant Growth Habitat team, a group NASA scientists, contractors, students and volunteers, is finally bringing to life an idea that has been discussed and debated for decades. They will try to grow arabidopsis, basil, sunflowers, and turnips in coffee-can-sized aluminum cylinders that will serve as plant habitats. But these are no ordinary containers – they’re packed to the brim with cameras, sensors, and electronics that will allow the team to receive image broadcasts of the plants as they grow. These habitats will have to be able to successfully regulate their own temperature, water intake, and power supply in order to brave the harsh lunar climate.

However, it won’t just be NASA scientists who are watching the results closely – the success of this experiment will require the assistance of schools and citizen scientists.

In a brilliant mix of creativity and frugality, NASA will send schools their own set of habitats so they can grow the same plants that are being sent to the Moon. The reasons for this are two fold. First, every experiment needs a control, and instead of spending the money to duplicate the experiment multiple times, they can crowdsource it. By collecting the data from thousands of experiments, they can gain valuable insights in an entirely new way. Second, it allows children to be part of the moment – to not just watch from afar, but to gain experience and knowledge by actively participating.

It is quite unusual to hear of a significant NASA project that is so simple, small-scale, and low-cost. Thanks to the rapid advances in consumer electronics over the last few years, parts that would have once cost millions of dollars now cost just hundreds. But what really made this project feasible was an unexpected opportunity: the Google Lunar X Prize , the search giant’s twenty-million-dollar incentive prize for a private company to launch a robotic spacecraft that lands on the moon, travels across the surface, and transmits back two “Mooncasts” by December 31, 2015. Multiple teams are competing – and whoever ends up winning will likely fly with this special payload on board.

With this model NASA doesn’t have to spend tens of millions of dollars or wait years for the next mission to the Moon. According to Dr. Chris McKay, a well-renowned planetary scientist, this project would have cost $300 million two decades ago – now, NASA can build and launch it for under $2 million. It serves as a win for both NASA and private space industry. Dr. McKay compared it to the early days of airplanes and airmail, “Just like we buy tickets on commercial airlines, why shouldn’t we buy space on commercial flights?” Without this opportunity, it’s uncertain this project would have ever gotten off the ground – and that would have meant a major missed opportunity not only for future astronauts, but also for people here on Earth as well.

Individuals pictured include Lunar Plant Growth Habitat team members and NASA’s Ames Research Center top management: Dr. Harry Partridge, Emmett Quigley, Dr. Chris Mckay, Dr. Jacob Cohen, Hemil Modi, Dr. Robert Bowman, Dr. Pete Worden, Arwen Dave, Falguni Suthar, Nargis Adham, Sangeeta Sankar ( Photo credit: Hemil Modi) To Dr. McKay, this is “step one in the quest to develop biological based life support systems on other worlds;” or, to put it another way, “this is the Neil Armstrong of the plant world.” The conditions of the moon are more characteristic of deep space than anywhere else we can access and quite different than growing plants on a space shuttle or space station. This experiment will test whether plants can survive radiation, flourish in partial gravity, and thrive in a small, controlled environment – the same obstacles that we will need to overcome in order to build a greenhouse on the Moon, or create life on Mars.

We may also learn a great deal about how to grow food in inhospitable climates here on our own planet. Dr. Robert Bowman, the team’s chief biologist, described how plants constantly have to cope with harsh environments and threats: “Simply knowing how plants deal with stress on the moon can really tell us a lot about how they deal with stress right here on Earth.” We know how plants are affected by conditions like drought – by exposing them to entirely new factors, we can advance our understanding of how they function.

Even if the seeds fail to germinate on the Moon, the fact that NASA is taking targeted risks without incurring significant costs could change business-as-usual for the once-legendary institution. Like most bureaucracies NASA has become quite risk averse and sensitive to perceptions of failure. But with commercial partnerships, they can experience a flop without necessarily having it make national headlines – they don’t have to put their entire reputation on the line every single time.

It may not be too long before space exploration missions are conducted more like technology startups and less like government programs. Dr. McKay sees a world of possibilities emerging from this democratization: “I see much better, more innovative experiments. When your experiment costs 300 million dollars, and you do one a decade, you can’t take any risks. You’ve got to be very conservative in what you do. But if your experiment is a million dollars and being done by grad students, you can do crazy and brilliant things.”

Whenever we do spread life beyond our own planet, it will fundamentally change our cultural perception of what is possible. As Dr. Pete Worden, Director of NASA’s Ames Research Center, explained excitedly, “The first picture of a plant growing on another world – that picture will live forever. It will be as iconic as the first footprint on the moon.” Just like the Apollo missions drove an entire generation to embrace technology and science, making the final frontier more accessible will inspire us to strive for even greater accomplishments. You can reach Tarun directly at  or follow him on twitter at

Singularity Hub, LLC (2013-11-27). Singularity Hub, LLC. Kindle Edition.

If college is a scam, what about social inequality of college-educated, married parents on their kids?

Two data points to ponder on the day of days to give thanks:


In other words, why call an extinct phone booth a Tardis?

Customer Service — the KISS principle in practice

More quotes from Frederiek Toney, Ford corporate VP, at the Distinguished Speaker Event on 21st November 2013:

Henry Ford built his company upon one belief: “Open the highways to all mankind.”

So, how to run a company like Ford on Earth today?  Changing the approach to management methods: regional vs. multinational vs. global — the old fiefdoms vs. today’s centralised decisionmaking implemented in 2006 at headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan, USA, realising at the same time that business is no longer U.S.-centric…

  • profits consolidated,
  • high economies of scale (leverage procurement, lower total cost),
  • better operating efficiency (avoid duplication, seek simplification),
  • reduced complexity (design/build once).

Trust and transparency supported by the business environment, changes of leadership — new CEO in 2006, Alan Mulally from Boeing, who chose to maximise the most from the existing executive team at Ford rather than replacing all of them.

Unchanging principles:

  • One Ford Better Plan — One Team, One Plan, One Goal

Improve the balance sheet — took $34B loan before economy collapsed, didn’t depend on government bailout — in 3Q ’13, 17th consecutive quarter of profitability, 14th consecutive quarter of positive cash flow

“Competing to leading…” — Four Pillars of Global Product Strategy: Quality, Green, Safe, Smart

Changed Ford’s organisational structure from silo-based fiefdoms to a matrix-based system, business units intersecting skill teams.

Recipe for Global Success

  • Cultures — respect and work across cultures
  • Time zones — open for global business 24/7
  • Weekly reviews — “data will set you free”; facts, not emotions
  • Global special attention reviews — “cannot manage a secret”
  • Sharing best practices — compensation based on global results
  • Team spirit — crossregional/functional cooperation
  • Respect
  • Trust
  • Hard and rewarding work

Two models — mass market (Ford) and luxury (Lincoln)

Consumer Experience Movement — customer taken care of by dealer who is taken care of by Ford

Lessons learned

  • “Must be present to win”
  • Good ideas come from anywhere
  • Consistent and constant communication
  • Global team members help each other when objects are aligned

Formula for success

  • Geographical region shift + consumer preference shift + One Ford = profitable growth

What is the secret to effective leadership? Being a great delegator, knowing all the employees in your organisation are aligned to the same principles on which you base your delegation decisions, with diversity in thinking.

What makes Ford a great place to stay? Incumbent on company to attract, train and retain employees; in other words, if you see someone mistreated, you think it will be you next, too.

What happened to Ford’s famously bad relationship with suppliers/vendors?  Went from worst to first in supplier trust/respect, rebooting the supply chain expectations and delivering upon them.

How do you increase Ford owner’s use of the Ford service department? Paying attention to the total value chain.  New slogan: Bring your Ford “back home!.  The old adage still applies: “Good service sells.”


When Irish eyes are hypermiling

There was a time, afore his nuclear stress test, not knowin’ what his heart was a’sayin’ that Lee took eternity as a given.

He danced like there was no tomorrow.

He flirted like the beautiful dame in front of him, friend or foe, male or female (fuh-MAHL-eh), was the only game in town.

He cherished the moments when Bai drove her elbow into him, sending him into a new bliss, an unexplored territory, an endorphin rush of pain that took him into un/subconsciousness, forgetting the seconds on the clock, losing himself in the foreverness of forgetfulness, her derriere pressed against his left cheek, her body pushing a knot in his muscles, not a skin ailment, into oblivion.

He danced with Kelly.  He looked at Patrick’s face for permission.  They both agreed he had the room to maneuver, to make his way out of Bai’s chamber of happy pain and into the room of traditional Irish bliss.

Karen held his hand for a brief marital instance, reminding Lee that he had a wife who wanted, not demanded, a West Coast Swing dance on a evening dedicated to the monetary support of military veterans transitioning from government to civilian work conditions.

He thought outside of time, reminding himself that the dance lessons with Bai and Stacy were two-hundred years away from his time with Guin taking care of Martian settlers intent on making a go at building a sense of community on another planet, when the difference between a naturalborn Earthling and a synaesthetic Martian was indistinguishable but recordable.

Lee passed a palm in front of his face.

He remembered Guin.

He remembered Bai.

He remembered Karen.

He remembered Kelly.

He passed through his thoughts his friends and lovers, his dance partners and academic study partners with equal aplomb.

Despite the fermented products that had passed through his system in an evening of whiskey/whisky tasting, he steadied his thoughts.

Gamma rays out of collapsed star systems equated to education systems out of whack with the times.

He separated the Zeitgeist from the poltergeists and geysers.

He dismissed comets from cupids and Donner Passes from blitzkriegs.

He pressed his palms together and calmed himself.

He removed himself from the equation.

It was not about him.

Suddenly, the room filled with light.

He saw Guin in anguished pain, concerned not only about herself but her family.

He was no longer alive.

The universe filled the room, extinguished the concept of self.

A phrase entered, saying, “Transferring from: Rick01. Do not disconnect your smartpen.”

A power setting requested permission to continue.

An Irish band disbanded for the evening.

A Martian settlement waited for the next moment.

Lee briefly reappeared, showing himself to be real, the universe part and parcel to the event.

Guin wanted support to know her place 200 years later was secure, if different.

Lee and Time agreed.

Bai nodded.

Karen slept.

The cats snored.

All was right, if only briefly.

A football team rested, its future in its hands.


Thanks to everyone at Jackson Center; Huntsville-Madison County Public Library; Sonic; Dr. Brooke and Marjorie at Gleneagles Family Medicine; Dr. Staup, Mary, and Amanda at SE Eyecare; Dr. Pugh, Amanda and Linda at Artistic Dentistry; Abi the miracle worker massage therapist/sadomasochist/friend.

Easy to do business with, the endless saga

Yesterday evening, I sat down in the Chan Auditorium on the campus of UAH (the University of Alabama in Huntsville) to listen to Frederiek Toney, Corporate Vice President and President, Global Ford Customer Service Division, alumnus of both UAH and Lee High School in Huntsville, Alabama.

Fred’s talk was interesting and underscored several topics of personal interest to me, which I’ll get to later on.

However, one point stood out more than the others: his emphasis on “you can’t manage a secret,” which he repeated more than once.

I agree wholeheartedly.

Ford, originally started in the United States of America, is a global competitor.

Should I be concerned about Ford’s electronics offering backdoor access to governmental agencies?  Will car owners have to sign EULAs (end user licence agreements) that state something like the following:


  • IMPORTANT NOTICE: As part of Ford’s quality assurance analysis, this vehicle automatically sends anonymous, non-personally identifiable system information to Ford (and/or other entities as volunteered for or required by law) upon first approach, when the vehicle attempts to connect to an electronic network such as the Internet, and periodically thereafter.  It also automatically searches for updates for your vehicle.  Personal information may be gathered, retrieved and sent in accordance with applicable laws in your jurisdiction at any place and any time.  See details in the Ford End User Licence Agreement included with your vehicle.

The software products preinstalled in your vehicle are copyrighted products.  Please carefully read all of the licence agreements furnished with each product because it may send anonymous/personal data not only to the product manufacturer but also to Ford and/or other entities as volunteered for or required by law.

Ford and its affiliates are not responsible for the accuracy and/or use of data stored or collected about your vehicle.  Any and all disputes will be resolved through the mandatory and binding arbitration policy which went into effect the moment you expressed interest in this vehicle.