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Considering some Pi

My birthday is coming up in a few weeks and I’ve been toying with the idea of picking up a Raspberry Pi to play with. It’s been awhile since I’ve had a piece of pure hardware that you have to mold and shape into something. I’m actually coming late to the party on this, as the Pi is already on it’s third generation, and I know many people who have been using one for many years.

I got the idea to pick one up when I was walking through a store the other day and saw kits for sale. I started thinking to myself that maybe this would be something fun to do, and that I could make something useful with it. That’s where my dilemma comes in, as I’m not 100% sure what idea I want to go with. Here’s a couple of the thoughts I had:

  • Media server to serve up content that isn’t on a digital subscription platform
  • Retro gaming console, maybe with some controller integration through EmulationStation
  • Home automation server to start automating some of the appliance items around the house (similar to my old x10 days)

That’s where I want to ask my readers to chime in. If you were to pick up a Pi what project would you do? It doesn’t have to be one of the three above, I’m genuinely interested in any ideas that people might have. Toss me a comment or message with your thoughts, and maybe in a few weeks I’ll have something to show for it all!

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Digging into code

Nope, not computer code… city code. I’m working on a side project for a friend of mine, who is planning a business venture in the future. Since I’m a bit of a government geek, I offered to put together a report of the various municipality codes that could affect where he places his business. Last night I spent a few hours going through a bunch of them, and there it was fascinating to see what makes it into many city codes.

One of the more interesting aspects was seeing remnants of bygone days still enshrined in law. In particular I found many different city codes relating to bowling alleys, which had their heyday many decades ago. There were special codes to allow them on-sale liquor, and special exemptions given for open hours and admittance of minors. These were provisions that were put into existing code to address a specific business need that was growing at the time.

Today we don’t think much about the significance of something like a bowling alley, but when they were in their heyday it must have been quite a scene for cities to realize that they had to come up with special codes and ordinances to manage a new type of business. The business that my friend is developing is also a somewhat new type of business, and based on his goals it might mean re-writing a few city codes to accommodate his needs as well.

Not sure why I find this all interesting, but the way that cities lay out their laws is fascinating. I’ve been having fun digging into it and occasionally seeing bits of history and culture show up in official code. Who knows, maybe I should have become a lawyer!

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Rainy day flowers

I had Monday off for President’s Day, and my wife was working part of the day so I decided to bum around town a bit. My original plan had been to go for a nice long walk (since I’m still dealing with some breathing issues and can’t run), however, the day decided to turn cloudy and rainy. I decided to head down to the Como Conservatory and wander around in the warmth, and the crowds of kids who were off of school. I neglected to bring my good camera, so I was relegated to taking pics with my phone. For the most part they turned out pretty nice, so I present today’s blog entry of some flowers on a rainy day.

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Practical Enterprise Architecture, pt. 1

For a part of my career I’ve been an Enterprise Architect. Many times when I mention that job title to people, they have no idea what it’s really about. Therefore, I’m going to start a multipart series on this blog to talk about what Enterprise Architecture is, and present a simplified, and practical, methodology that I adhere to from my years in the industry. Even though I’m currently a direct manager, I still try to infuse Enterprise Architectural practices into my work, and as I’ll talk about towards the end of this series, Enterprise Architecture can actually be used as a model for talking about life planning and management as well.

To begin, the discipline of Enterprise Architecture is simply defined as a series of processes, practices, and guidelines that help guide decision making, and manage a portfolio of things. This can work in all businesses, not just technology ones, and helps give guidance and structure to leadership decisions to make improvements and continue growth. There are many methodologies out there including TOGAF, FEAF, and Zachmann.

However, what I’m going to present in this series is my personal simplified and practical version of EA. This methodology is based upon frameworks like TOGAF and FEAF, but I don’t adhere to all of the strictest processes that are defined by those standards. I find that this simplified method helps to introduce the topic and framework, which can then be built upon in the way that best suits the organization or person trying to do the implementation.

The graphic attached to this blog highlights a visual representation of what we’ll be talking about, and so for today’s entry I want to focus on the foundation that makes up the house of EA. Every house needs to have a solid foundation, and the house of EA is based on three basic concepts; Vision, Strategy and Knowledge. These three ideals are the basis upon which all of the pillars stand. They might sound like simple concepts, but let’s unpack them a bit so we’re all on the same page.

enterprise-architecture-drawingWhen we talk about Vision, what we’re referring to is the goal of where an organization wants to go. Vision is that driver that informs all other decisions. If you want to move your business forward you need to know and understand what the destination is that you’re shooting for. If you stumble blindly forward, you’ll end up making decisions that might seem right at the time, but have long term impacts that can actually set you back. Vision is linked to what Simon Sinek describes as “Starting with Why” (I encourage everyone to watch his video). Vision is directly linked with why you’re doing what you do. Vision isn’t concerned with how you get there, or what you do every day, but with the picture of the future that you’re trying to bring to fruition.

Without vision an organization will stumble forward and every plan will only meet limited success. There might be initiatives and projects that are rousing successes, but if they’re not tied to a vision of where the organization is heading they’re fleeting moments. They accomplish short term goals, but they don’t bring the organization to where it really wants to be. That is why Enterprise Architecture starts with Vision. If you don’t have a vision for your organization, then everything else will never fall into place.

A vision doesn’t need to be overwhelming though, it just needs to be attainable, and something you believe in. Let’s take an example of a neighborhood cafe to see what this might look like. You decide to start a cafe in your neighborhood because you want to create a place that everyone in the neighborhood goes to hang out and join in community with one another. Your vision is for a (profitable) place of community that helps bring a neighborhood together. You know when you’re successful if you’re making a living, and you’re seeing your neighbors in the cafe frequently, talking with other neighbors and building up the community. You’d see your vision achieved in a real and practical way directly by the people around you.

If you’ve got your vision, then what comes next? Vision isn’t enough to create something out of nothing, and that’s where the second element of the house of EA foundation comes in to play. Strategy is concerned with how you get to where you want to go to make a vision a reality. In Strategy all of those projects and ideas take shape and work begins to happen. This is where all the crazy ideas and plans that might be tossed about, get culled down into real, actionable, strategic goals.

Having a strategy means that you know what you’re going to do tomorrow, and the next day, to achieve the vision. You create efforts that have a real impact and put them into place to test them, and ensure they continue to move you on the right path forward. Good strategies are practical to achieve, meaningful to the vision, and just as easy to communicate to those around you as the vision is. One of the key features of Enterprise Architecture is the communication of all of these aspects to everyone involved, to ensure that all players are on board, and understand they why and how of day to day work.

Let’s put some strategy into our neighborhood cafe and see what it looks like. If the vision is a place of neighborhood community, then strategy should work to achieve that end. Finding ways to make the cafe a central point of life in the community would be one very practical avenue of strategies. Hosting political events, community fundraisers, or making space available to churches, mosques and civic groups are all viable strategies that would push towards the vision. People come together at the cafe, and when they’re there they see their neighbors, and community happens.

In a profitable venture it’s also important to make sure that the bottom line balances out, even if it’s over the long term. Therefore, strategies should always take into account the financial needs of the organization, whether that be a non-profit, governmental, or corporate. Each type of organization type will have very different needs and obligations, so it’s imperative to understand the nature of the organization when putting a strategy in place.

That leads directly into the third element of the house of EA foundation, that of knowledge. When I use the term knowledge in Enterprise Architecture, I’m not just talking about having smart people. Knowledge is that understanding of all of the assets, skills, talents, abilities, and resources that are available to an organization. As important as it is to have a vision and a strategy to get there, if you don’t know how to implement the strategy, or understand what your organization is capable of, you won’t get far. Knowledge is the key to making everything else a reality.

Knowledge isn’t just a cataloging of things, but Enterprise Architecture demands that you know what those things do and are capable of. If we move back to our cafe example, some of the pieces of knowledge would be the size of the space that you have to work with, the capabilities of the chefs to cook, the location of the cafe, and the tastes of the local community. Knowing all of these pieces of information allow you to make informed decisions about how to implement strategy to reach the vision.

If your cafe has a large outdoor patio space, then perhaps one strategy would be to make it dog friendly, and encourage people to bring their four-legged friends to the outdoor space (city code permitting) to hang out and meet with their neighbors. The investment of fire pits and other heat sources can make a patio more hospitable in cooler seasons of the year, and continue to give people a place to gather longer. Knowing the tastes of the community would also be key to helping bring people in and spend time together.

All of these pieces of knowledge help contribute to the overall goal of Enterprise Architecture. This is why these three elements are at the foundation of the house of EA. Vision, Strategy, and Knowledge create the key pieces upon which we can build up the rest of the house. Once we have these three elements in place we can start to dig deeper into how the rest of an Enterprise Architecture practice can come together. It’s important to remember that an EA practice is not the owner of the organization, but is the methodology by which the organization moves forward. Enterprise Architecture’s goal is to enable organizations to meet their goals and succeed in their vision.

One of the main criticisms of EA is that it is often seen as very ivory towered, and not practical. That is why I start this house of EA with the three bedrock foundations of Vision, Strategy, and Knowledge. Enterprise Architecture only exists to enable an organization to be the best that it can be, and at no point should EA practices exist for the sole benefit of EA. As we unpack the four mail pillars of EA in later blogs, it will be important to keep this foundation in mind at all times. Nothing that Enterprise Architecture does should negatively impact the vision or strategy of the organization, but it should aways be seeking to serve as a servant leader to the organization. The needs of the organization trump the purity of EA, and EA should always be looking for how to give the best of itself for the betterment of others.

Enterprise Architecture is an exciting young discipline, so I hope you’ll stick with me over the next few weeks as I continue to pull back the curtain and show how EA can be a key component in any organization.

Making real news happen

With the current assault on common sense happening with our president, it’s important that as a citizenry we don’t fall victim to the campaign hysteria that propelled this chaos into power. One of the most troubling aspects of the current administration is it’s desire to de-legitimize journalism. The constant attacks against news agencies that are reporting the truth is, frankly, scary and leads us down a dangerous path. One of the biggest success stories in American history is the free press. From the dawn of our country, the ability of the press to present facts and challenge power has helped our country to avoid devolving into authoritarianism and dictatorship.

Now, our current president has choson to attack legitimate news sources, for the simple fact that they do not agree with his desired beliefs, nor do they promote his agenda. This is downright chilling, and it’s something that every American (liberal or conservative) needs to fight against. When people in power feel that they can spread complete fantasy with impunity (like the notion that something bad happened in Sweden this weekend), they move another step closer to consolidating power and crushing freedom.

Therefore, it’s imperative that free and legitimate press is supported, now more than ever. My wife and I just purchased a subscription to the Washington Post, and we’re sustaining members of our local public radio station. I’m also looking into other opportunities to support professional journalists as they fight against this tide of misinformation, and bring truth to power. It doesn’t matter if you’re liberal or conservative, allowing people in power to twist reality will lead to the destruction of our country.

Journalists are not the enemy. Real news sources, with fact-checked stories and legitimate sources, are the antidote to corrupt politicians. On this President’s Day, join me in supporting the 4th estate; the institution that has kept our Presidents honest for hundreds of years.