As a student magician, patron of magic and member of the Academy of Magical Arts, I want to know when certain magicians will be performing at the Magic Castle.

What I want is a performer of interest "watch list" to alert me when specific performers will be at the castle.  

As a business and technology professional, I routinely design systems to solve problems for  my clients; however, I no longer do much coding myself; I must rely upon others for the coding of the systems I design.

AMA_Now_Appearing.jpgThe source information are already public knowledge and it appears that the show schedules are updated weekly for several weeks out.

So what remains is to determine how to solve this problem. Let's break this down a bit.

The first step is to define the scope of the problem: The solution must take as input a page URL and a list of keywords (performers) and then check that page on schedule (e.g. 1x every 3 days). If a keyword match is found, send me a notification.

The closest solutions I have found so far are for web site monitoring and the one that appears to be most feature rich is Website Watcher. I'm certain this would work, but I prefer not to leave a task running on my PC.

I also noticed mention of some free and fee based on-line services that will apparently do the same. I know there are also some browser plugins that may be adapted. Ideally, I want a set it and forget it solution.

As a technologist, my mind is spinning with more ideas than necessary about ways to solve this, including many beyond my coding skills. The most elegant I could come up with would be a Raspberry PI inside a custom 3D printed case. This would run some kind of app to monitor the AMA web site for keyword matches and when found, send an alert, flash the LED beneath a glowing AMA logo or owl and perhaps play a magical audio chime to alert me of my favorite performer. The acknowledge the alert, I could waive the magic wand over the logo.  (Overkill is wonderful, isn't it?)

For now, I'm content to find, build or collaborate with someone to come up with a simple solution.

Back from a DIY marriage retreat

Tuesday, January 19th, 2016
Kathy and I recently had our own 3 day marriage retreat in which we worked through "A Biblical Portrait of Marriage" by Dr. Bruce Wilkenson. Last year we celebrated our 50th year in marriage (for the 26th time) and over the years we have encountered our share of delights and challenges, sorrows and joys together. This was a powerful time for us as a couple to review and refresh our thinking and actions with what the Scriptures have to say about marriage. It was also helpful for us as we continue to raise our four daughters and equip them for the future.
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We were introduced to these materials many years ago in a small group study and then again a few years later when we were able to attend a live event. This time, however, we decided to buy the DVD and workbook and go through it at our own pace. This allowed us to skip past the topics we felt comfortable with and take more time on the topics as needed.

There are a few marriage resources that we have found helpful over the years and this one certainly deserves a top spot. We like to alternate between various resources, including the excellent Love & Respect conference series among others.

I cannot recommend highly enough the value of taking a few days away with your spouse to focus on your marriage. And for those who want to know what the Scriptures have to say about this topic, I can unreservedly recommend these materials.

Disclaimer: I have no connection to these materials and receive no compensation for my recommendation. I'm simply happy to recommend what works for me.
Tonight, Kathleen and I will celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary for the 26th time... I love my my princess bride.

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Thank you, Kathy, for being my wife.  I love you with all of my heart!
Recently, a coaching client asked me for some recommendations for paper-based resources that would help him implement "Getting Things Done."

I coach executives and professionals who use a variety of systems and tools. No matter how elaborate your systems, I find it's always helpful to have at least a few physical tools: solid reminders of ideas and tasks can be extremely helpful. Plus, the physical act of writing can help your memory and creative thinking.

In light of this, I recommended that he consider the following for his personal GTD system, all of which I've found helpful:

  • Notetaker Wallet: This lets me quickly and conveniently capture ideas anywhere. It's important to have this capability, whether you use the wallet or something else

Disclaimer: I don't benefit from the sales of these products: these links are provided solely as helpful resources for your consideration.
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Disney recently outsourced an IT department with 250 positions to overseas workers—but first, they required the people who would lose their jobs to train their replacements. Amazing.

For now, I'll leave the ethical and economic discussions to someone else. What I want you to take away from this, Computer Science student, is this question: how are you equipping yourself to create value in the workplace?

Students, this is not meant to discourage you, but to make you aware of the changing landscape in the IT field. Highly motivated people like you, some studying twice as hard as you, many willing to work for much less than you, are looking forward to the opportunity to eat your lunch.

What are you going to do about it?

Any position that can be reduced to a commodity-level responsibility is likely to change dramatically by the time you graduate with your degree. Offshoring used to be limited to labor-intensive jobs, but now (thanks to technology) it's expanding to "thinking" jobs as well. These are the jobs you're preparing for.

So, how should you respond? Learn to create value and solve problems. Be extraordinary. Whenever management makes the decision to keep or let go of personnel, they always consider the value that person brings to the organization. Since people with Computer Science degrees are plentiful, it's going to take more than just a diploma and a high GPA to succeed. It's all about working for your employer, customer, or client to create value that goes beyond your job description.

How will you prepare yourself to think critically, create value, and solve problems?
I was scanning the job board of a client that I serve and found this embedded in the description for an employment position:

Image:So much for starting a job productively (or sanely)

I would expect this in a job listing for a juggler at a circus, not for a desk job. This is a position for a knowledge worker—someone who "thinks" for a living.

Thinking to create value requires concentration. Concentration requires focus. Both require minimizing distraction both from internal sources (e.g. multitasking) and external (interruptions, distractions). That's just how the mind works most effectively.

In my personal knowledge and information management (PKIM) seminars and workshops, I teach that focus is what you shut in and concentration is what you shut out. These are essentials skills and powerful tools for any worker.

So why would you set up a work environment that makes these things more difficult?

I realize that the HR person who wrote (and misspelled) that description was probably only trying to cover themselves, but I see this all too often.  It still makes me wonder: when will leadership and management get the fact that it takes concentration to create value?
Computer grid.jpgTo my Computer Science students: your field is changing rapidly, and you need to be able to adapt. To do that, you need to stop thinking of yourselves as "programmers" or "IT guys" and start thinking of yourselves as problem solvers.

Here's an example of a potentially big change on the horizon: IBM Watson, a cognitive computer that draws conclusions based on semantic context of meaning (rather than rigid logic tables). It's not a solution to every problem, but it's a novel approach: click here to watch the 8-minute breakdown.

If it's not Watson, it will be something else. The tools of computer science never stay the same for long.

What does this mean for you?

Thinking of yourself as a "programmer" is like a carpenter calling himself a "saw-user" or "hammerer." The saw and hammer are only the tools he uses: what he does is solve problems.

It's the same for you: because of your training, programming is one tool in your toolkit that you can use to solve problems. In the same way, Watson's purpose is to augment decision-making (i.e. problem solving) capabilities. It's another tool in the 21st-century toolkit.

I teach a Technology for Business Decision-Making course that covers topics like this. I teach those students how knowledge and method are used in conjunction with technology to solve problems. These three things -- knowledge, method, and technology -- are all crucial in every field. The tools don't make the techie.

My vision for Computer Science majors is that you would all start thinking of yourselves as problem solvers. I would encourage you to keep up with current methods and tools for problem solving in your field. Your field is changing rapidly, and you need to be ready for it -- beyond the diploma.



Image credit:
Image by geralt [CC0 1.0 Public Domain Dedication (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/deed.en)] via Pixabay