I began this blog about six and a half years ago as a vehicle to build experience and a personal understanding in support of a new chapter in my career. In my first post, I wondered aloud at what would motivate a person to share their thoughts, opinions and experiences with the world at large on a frequent basis. My initial outlook was that it must be a very narcissistic activity. Along the way, I found myself drawn in and motivated to write for a number of reasons. Sometimes it was simply to practice writing or an exercise to test out techniques and tactics. Other times, I had experienced something I want to share either because I thought it had value for others, or simply because I thought it was interesting to me and I was projecting a bit about my view of what it is to be me.
The last two years have passed and I’ve managed a scant single post each year in January, my motivations for doing so derived either from the shame of wordpress’ annual report on your blog activity, or some addendum to my New Year’s list of resolutions. So what happened? I spend much of my workday interacting with people online or working on aspects of the technology and business reasons for doing so and at the end of the day or on weekends, I feel a sense to do something tangible. At the same time, I’ve observed so many people becoming increasingly immersed in social networks, chronicling their lives nearly to the minute and this may be causing me to step back. Seemingly, every business, every media outlet advertises and implores the audience to “follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook”. A colleague uploaded pictures of herself at a running event, and I was amused to see that her runner number also included her Twitter handle. “Social” is almost ubiquitous.
I’m helping replace the engine in a certain red Toyota pick up truck. This will be the fourth engine in the truck – the first replacement put in several years ago was a basic “reman” engine that just didn’t hold together, the next engine was a high performance custom build, and while the engine builder had a lot of knowledge, it just wound up being plagued with valve train troubles that ultimately led to a catastrophic failure.
As Jim and I swapped out the very broken engine, transferring many of the external parts to the new one, I couldn’t resist tearing into the old engine to see exactly what had failed. When we pulled the valve cover, careful inspection noted one valve was stuck down – a “dropped” valve that typically results in serious piston damage. As I began pulling the valve train and cylinder head, Jim remarked that perhaps I should have been a coroner as I was performing an autopsy of sorts.
Looking at the cylinder head with number 1 cylinder at the top, we can see extensive damage to the number 2 and number 3.
Seeing a close up, the intake (the larger valve on the left side) was the one which dropped, and the multiple impacts from the piston broke the stem, and much of the seat and pounded the valve back into the seat sideways. Certainly we can see why the #2 cylinder was toast, but looking at #3 we can see the intake valve is slightly bent and there is a lot of scoring and chipping of the combustion chamber around the valves?
So, what caused all the damage in number 3?
Taking a look at the block and the pistons. Number 2 has a hole smashed in the top of the piston – obviously damage caused by the collisions with the valve. But, look at the damage in number 3, and these odd pieces that were found inside. These 3 pieces are the valve stem and pieces of the seat from number 2 cylinder.
How did they get into the number 3 piston? My theory is that after the valve in number 2 dropped and was broken by the piston and driven sideways back into the intake port, the intake opening was now permanently open and the compression stroke pushed the broken pieces back up the intake runner. This force, coupled with the vacuum of the intake of the other three cylinders, drew the pieces up into the intake plenum and by luck and adjacency, they were then ingested by the number 3 cylinder on a subsequent intake stroke.
I remain amazed that the valve stem could have passed through the open valve. Perhaps even more amazing was the fact that the engine still ran, limping along on 2 of the 4 cylinders – enough to make it back home.
After the last several months of travel, holidays, work, and family obligations, I found some time to get back to some projects that make use of my wrench collection. New year’s day, Jim and I tackled the brakes and rear axles on the wife’s 2002 Porsche Boxster S. Although now ten years old, the car has less than 50K miles on it and still had the factory brakes. Like many modern cars, the brake pads are now equipped with electronic sensors which indicate when the pads need to be changed – a big improvement over the mechanical “squealers” that were attached to the pads of cars in the past.
While we had the car on the lift, we noted that the rubber boots at both ends of each rear axle had split all the way through and were leaking grease. Torn boots not only allow the axle grease to escape, but dirt and water to enter and attack the CV joints. Left un-repaired, these would eventually start to wear and make clunking or popping noises while cornering, and would eventually fail. Best to replace them now.
We removed the wheels, brake pads, and then the calipers and rotors all the way around the car and hung the calipers from the struts using elastic cord. You could substitute wire, or some old coat hangers – anything that will support them and avoid damaging the brake hoses.
We then removed the brake rotors which were retained with two screws. We marked left and right rotors with soap stone and prepared them for resurfacing.
The rotors on the S model are cross drilled for heat dissipation and are pretty robust pieces and were not particularly stressed during my wife’s commute to work, and occasional road trips. If the car were driven hard, or used in autocross or tracked, the rotors would likely have needed replacement at this point – from wear or potentially due to warping or cracking from excessive heat.
I inspected the surface of each rotor carefully and found no micro cracks. Checking the rotors on the brake lathe, I found about 10 thousands wear on either surface, and was able to true them up removing and additional 8-10 thousandths on each face. Resurfacing, trues the face of the rotor so that it is even and square and will mate properly to the new pads. After the final cut on the lathe, I finished each rotor with a fine cross hatch pattern to eliminate any spiraling from the lathe. This helps ensure quiet brake operation as the new pads are bedded in.
With the brakes apart, it was a good time to tackle the rear axles. Use of an impact wrench speeds removal of the 6 Allen head bolts that retain each axle to the transmission. I tried the first side by hand, and wound up a bit arm weary – if you have air tools, it really helps. Next, we disconnected the sway bar end link, the strut rod at the rear of the spindle, and the lower ball joint. Getting the lower ball joint to release was a chore, but once free the spindle and strut could be swung out and up, allowing the axle to slide inward and be released. (After removing the axle nut and tapping the end of the axle with a brass hammer).
Here, the new axle is installed, the spindle back in place, the strut rod and sway bar reconnected, and the caliper and rotor back in place.
I’ve just started to use Lenovo’s new K1 tablet – and have had it for about a week or so. Since I work there, my decision to go with this device was partly in consideration for investing in my future and not somebody else’s, but also to better understand the experiences of the customers that I talk to in our community every day.
Over the weekend, there was an update released which addressed a few minor bugs that inherently occur in any hardware / software product. Customers were sharing feedback about a few bumps they encountered during the install and I observed that when I told them that A) I had one of these too, B) Was by no means an “expert” on the product, and C) experienced a few of the same bumps they did and promised to share that with those involved in the release, the tone of the conversation changed.
I was suddenly human, not just an employee. I had just walked in their shoes. This was a moment where I could clearly see the difference in talking to someone vs talking with them.
So far, I really like the product and know I have a lot to learn about Apps and that whole ecosystem. My phone is woefully in need of an update – it can text, and could connect to the web under certain circumstances but hardly resembles anything we would now call “smart”. Once I’m savvy on this tablet, I’ll look into the expense of a phone and think that having one that can act as a portable wifi hotspot will be a key feature on my shopping list.
I’m not a golfer and I absolutely can’t stand to watch golf on TV. My dad golfs, my brother golfs, my wife used to golf, and my best friend took up golf several years ago… and still golf eludes my interest. I never expected to find myself spectating at an event, and yet a couple weeks back, my wife and I had an opportunity to attend the Rex Hospital open for a day.
I started the day with nothing more than the expectation of a warm summer day out of the office and anything beyond that would be a plus. Disembarking the shuttle bus, I was immediately impressed by the scale of the event- the branding, featured event partners, and co-ordination of an army of volunteers busy shuttling players and staff about in extended golf carts.
The VIP Viewboxes provided excellent vantage points. I’ll admit, I was quite impressed as the players dropped shots on the greens from hundreds of yards out. Quickly, I could see how important the short game was. Getting to the green – covering those vast distances without losing the ball into the woods, the rough, or any of the water hazards seemed like it should be the hard part, and yet the great seemed to separate themselves from the merely good once on the green.
I reflected on this a bit as I watched and considered how the short game in life – all the details in how well we do the things that we do, make a difference in the outcome – where we find ourselves on the leaderboard of our own profession. As the day wound down, I was surprised to find that I had really enjoyed my time and came away with a new appreciation for the game.
Level Up, the theme of Lithium‘s fourth annual customer conference was a nod to the underlying game theory within community and a challenge to attendees to take their personal and professional game to the next level this year. The “4″ on the lower right corner of my conference badge this year denotes the 4 years I have attended, and what a change it has been year to year. I think progression of the size and quality of the event badges fairly mirrors the progression in scale and sophistication of the events themselves.
The first year felt big at the time, and now only seems slightly humbled by the scale of these last two years with hundreds of attendees and ballrooms packed to capacity.
Over the years, the client brand list is getting bigger, the sophistication of the client stories is growing richer – from Barnes and Noble’s online book club, to HP’s massive adoption of community across divisions, to Home Depot rolling out a comprehensive community backed by real in the aisles, orange apron wearing employees who engage customers to ensure their projects are successful.
Giff Gaff, a UK wireless teleco startup is growing by leaps and bounds with their game changing approach to completely base their support on community and not a call center. Tech support sans phones.
Hundreds of major brands are ramping up their investments. Social media is no longer a cottage industry, a small pilot experiment, but rather a rapidly scaling mainstream adoption as a channel to do business. In the last several years, we have seen stories of how companies have used social media to market their brand, drive sales, and support customers, but now we are starting to see the integration and adoption of these in a more sophisticated and organized manner.
As companies move toward a more comprehensive and integrated approach, we are seeing the social media technology providers building strategic partnerships and / or making acquisitions to position them to serve these needs. Last year, Lithium acquired Scout Labs, a social monitoring and analysis tool to expand their capabilities beyond community.
Companies have moved to embrace facebook and twitter in significant ways over the last 12-18 months, and the volume of twitter usage has risen from 30 million tweets per day to over 150 million tweets per day during this same interval. Clearly the usage is ramping, but a comprehensive and scalable enterprise social plan needs to effectively marry the viral reach of facebook and twitter with the depth of engagement of blogs, forum discussions, ideas and analytics of community.
Last year, Lithium completed twitter and facebook integrations as a first step in this direction, and announced new products for 2011 called “level up” which build greater depth, the ability to easily build and deploy multiple facebook apps that allow community participation types within the facebook pages and connect into a comprehensive set of metrics.
Equally exciting was the evolution of the engagement center into the new CIC which effectively embeds the scout labs capability within the community and provides a community data stream which can be analyzed against twitter, facebook, blogs, forums, and news for all the search topics which are set up. An engagement / assignment work flow is also evident. These represent the execution of the roadmap visions from LiNC 2010, last year’s conference.
For those clients who have a desire to customize their tools, the concept of Lithium’s developer nation will be welcome news.
But it wasn’t all branding and roadmap. One of the things that is clear about Lithium is the focus on client and client success. The narrative is about their clients, and helping their clients be successful and celebrating that success. This principle was reflected in many fun ways, from featured customer presentations from Home Depot, Sephora, and Giff Gaff, to an SXSW styled cartoon wall that expressed a fun idea about various clients.
Cleo, our English community manager posed with Dr. Michael Wu .
Following in the tradition of last year, there were the Lithy awards…
Our community, along with RIM won the best community anecdote or story category based on the depth of engagement with our super users.
Perhaps a very practical demonstration of this, is that Jane was able to join us this year. Jane, one of our best and most stalwart advocates helped us plan, launch and manage our community with an eye toward meeting customer needs. It has been a win-win proposition and I enjoyed meeting her in person at the conference.
Level up. The conference theme was appropriate and applicable in many ways. The days and months of 2011 ahead of us are going to be challenging as we add depth, sophistication, and polish to our efforts and level up our ability to create a compelling and addicting experience as we serve our customers.
My father in law Garry, would frequently sign off his emails to me with the closing ”Sandburford on the Chowan”, a humorously assuming regal notion of a named estate with exclusivity of location. In truth, the family home is a brick ranch built on a double lot of very sandy soil near the Chowan river. The sand presents a haven for sand burrs and a challenge to anyone who endeavors to transform the patches of wire grass into a lawn. Over the years, Garry bested both the sandburrs and the yard, and as was his nature, found humor and humility in his struggles with both.
Today, I’m sitting on a couch and coming to terms for myself that Garry has signed off from Sandburford for the last time Tuesday, May 10th, 2011. He had been diagnosed with a form of leukemia in 2010 and for many months, despite a decidedly uncertain long term outlook, things had seemed almost normal. Christmas, full of laughter and merriment with family now seems so long ago. A series of infections, that neither antibiotics nor his depleted immune system could shake off, took their toll through March and April. These past few months seemed a roller coaster of small recoveries and declines. In contrast, the last week was an inevitable stair step of transition, and his last days and hours passed peacefully in sleep.
Many things made an impression on me these last days, and perhaps one of the most compelling was the number of people who came forward to pay their respects, lend their support to the family, and share personal stories of memorable times with Garry. Everyone brought food – so much so that the refrigerator, counters tops, and even freezer were overflowing. Fried chicken, baked chicken, rotisserie chicken, chicken casserole. Apparently, chicken is the official bird of bereavement.
Over the years, Garry shared his thoughts and experiences about his faith and his impression of what exists beyond our days here. I know this has brought many of those thoughts to the forefront of my mind, to inspect my beliefs, and to question again what I hold true and whether I am fulfilling my proper course in life. As most, I hope we will all be reunited again one day hence.