Israelis to sue NATO over 1999 Air strikes

Now this could be interesting:

B92 – News – Politics – Israelis to sue NATO for 1999 air strikes

TEL AVIV — The Israeli Almagor Terrorist Victims’ Association is about to file a lawsuit against NATO officials who gave the green light for the bombing of Serbia in 1999.

The association elected to take the move in response to the decision by Judge Fernando Andreu of the Spanish Audencia Nacional (National Court) to launch an investigation into Israel’s bombing of Gaza in 2002, when one Hamas leader was killed and 14 people were wounded.

In the suit, Almagor cites the names of a number of high-profile Spaniards, including EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana, who was NATO secretary general from 1995 to 1999, as well as the names of certain officials from other European countries and the United States.

Almagor Director Meir Indor told the media in Israel that the lawsuit would be completed shortly.

He confirmed that the Serbian case might open a Pandora’s Box, which could make certain individuals think twice before deciding to accept any lawsuits that the Palestinians filed against Israel.

“We see this as a case highlighting the double standards of Europeans who are accusing Israel of war crimes, while at the same time, those very same countries, as part of NATO, committed crimes that were a lot worse,“ Indor said.

He stressed that every European NATO member-state would be mentioned and that the suit would be filed in every country that decided to file similar actions against Israel for war crimes recently committed either in the aforesaid case, or, more recently, during the Israeli offensive in Gaza at the turn of the year.

OK, so the Israelis are not acting out of love for Serbia, but it is a great opportunity to highlight the injustice of the bombing and the rank hypocrisy of Europeans when it comes to Israel.

2012 Carrington Event Fear Meme Is Rampant

For the last few months I have been tracking a huge upsurge in interest in the Carrington Event sheduled for 2012.

Even Wired have picked up on it. From The 2012 Apocalypse — And How to Stop It | Wired Science:

For scary speculation about the end of civilization in 2012, people usually turn to followers of cryptic Mayan prophecy, not scientists. But that’s exactly what a group of NASA-assembled researchers described in a chilling report issued earlier this year on the destructive potential of solar storms.

Entitled “Severe Space Weather Events — Understanding Societal and Economic Impacts,” it describes the consequences of solar flares unleashing waves of energy that could disrupt Earth’s magnetic field, overwhelming high-voltage transformers with vast electrical currents and short-circuiting energy grids. Such a catastrophe would cost the United States “$1 trillion to $2 trillion in the first year,” concluded the panel, and “full recovery could take 4 to 10 years.” That would, of course, be just a fraction of global damages.

Good-bye, civilization.

Worse yet, the next period of intense solar activity is expected in 2012, and coincides with the presence of an unusually large hole in Earth’s geomagnetic shield. But the report received relatively little attention, perhaps because of 2012’s supernatural connotations. Mayan astronomers supposedly predicted that 2012 would mark the calamitous “birth of a new era.”

Whether the Mayans were on to something, or this is all just a chilling coincidence, won’t be known for several years. But according to Lawrence Joseph, author of “Apocalypse 2012: A Scientific Investigation into Civilization’s End,” “I’ve been following this topic for almost five years, and it wasn’t until the report came out that this really began to freak me out.”

ABC News has a similar piece..

Are We Ready for a Solar Katrina?
Severe Solar Storms Could Harm Power Grid, Navigational Systems and Spacecraft, Scientists Say

More than a million people without power. The distribution of drinkable water disrupted. Transportation, communication and banking upset. Trillions of dollars in damage.

Solar storms could have devastating consequences on Earth, scientists warn.

Hurricanes, blizzards and other earthly tempests aren’t the only natural forces with the potential to sow catastrophe.

Severe weather in the sun’s outer atmosphere could knock out much of the country’s power grid, incapacitate navigational systems and jeopardize spacecraft, scientists say.

While the odds of a solar disaster are relatively small, scientists warn that we need to ramp up our defenses against solar storms, especially given our increasing dependence on technology that is so susceptible to radiation from the sun.

“It’s one of those events that is of low probability but high consequence,” Dr. Roberta Balstad, a research scientist with Columbia University’s Center for Research on Environmental Decisions. “The consequences could be extreme.”

So is it worth worrying about this? Probably.

I think its worth keeping an eye on what the real scientists are saying about it. There is not much that most of us can do except make preparations in the event the damage and disruption is likely.

Leading Effectively in Chaos and Uncertainty

A little boy sits and holds the hand of U.S. Army Sgt. Resolve Savage, from Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 158th Infantry Regiment, Arizona National Guard, while he pulls security outside of a hospital during a medical capabilities program and humanitarian assistance supply hand out in the Nuristan province of Afghanistan June 28, 2007. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Isaac A. Graham)

Very good advice from the military on “Leading Effectively in Chaos and Uncertainty“:

  1. Default to responsibility. If you have a job worth doing, then it needs to be done without regard for readily available resources or relevant training. If you are the leader entrusted with the job, then you must immediately take ownership and prepare yourself to accept both the challenge at hand and the consequences for failure. It becomes much easier to lead once you make the mental decision to assume full responsibility — with no excuses for the outcome — for the task at hand.
  2. Have a bias for action. In fluid situations, postponing your decision in order to wait for additional information or for a perfect plan is a recipe for failure. Too often, hesitating in the face of uncertainty allows your competition or your circumstances to make the decision for you, and leadership characterized by indecisiveness is one of the surest ways to undermine your credibility with your team.
  3. Serve your people, day in and day out. When lives are on the line, servant-leadership is the only leadership model that truly inspires a team, because servant-leadership demonstrates that you, as the leader, put your people’s welfare ahead of your own. To do this, you must stay consistent in the small things as well as the large ones — all your selfless actions in combat can be for naught if your men realize that you are calling home more often than they. And when all is said and done, other styles of leadership depend ultimately upon some level of coercion, and coercion doesn’t stand up well against the rigors of combat.
  4. Always keep your cool. One slip of the tongue, one unwarranted cutting comment, or one unnecessary temper outbreak can mar your reputation forever. No matter how chaotic or dire the circumstances, your team can function if they know that you are consistent, and they can keep their heads if they can watch you keeping yours.

How Jobs saved Apple

I was recently reminded of a great summary from the ZA Tech Show of how Steve Jobs saved Apple inc.

When Jobs took over the mid-90s the Apple’s product development was out of control. They were not scoping products properly and had dozens of unwanted products in multiple versions and  models.

Job’s killed off duff projects (.i.e. those not brining in the money) and implemented insane quality controls.

The result was runaway success of massively reduced but extremel high quality core product line they have today.

The lessons pilots can teach surgeons…

..and the lesson surgeons and soldiers teach us: Use checklists and have regular briefings/debriefings (After Action Reviews).

From the BBC:

Before take-off, every pilot needs to brief their crew about what to expect.

At the end of each flight, they talk briefly about what went right, what went wrong and what could be done better.

Pilots say this brief and debrief system has reduced errors and made flying safer, and a growing number of NHS medics think this system should be adapted – to make surgery safer.

A report by researchers at the University of York claims that accidents, errors and mishaps in hospital affect as many as one in 10 in-patients – but that up to half of these were preventable.

One doctor who has trialled the brief and debrief system in two units at his hospital says incidents were reduced by between 30-50% over the period they used it. [BBC News]

This, of course, is also a military staple. Before every mission there is extensive briefing and after every mission there is a debriefing, and if there was combat, an in-depth After Action Review.

Good project managers also know the power of post project analysis, the what they call the project review or postmortem1.

Meanwhile briefings and debriefings are not the only aviation practice now being widely adopted by doctors.

In a brilliant Must Read article in the New Yorker, Atul Gawande explains how using checklists completely transformed aviation and is now transforming hospital intensive care units, having a massive impact on patient survival rates. He begins by explaining how the aviation checklist came into being:

A small crowd of Army brass and manufacturing executives watched as the Model 299 test plane taxied onto the runway. It was sleek and impressive, with a hundred-and-three-foot wingspan and four engines jutting out from the wings, rather than the usual two. The plane roared down the tarmac, lifted off smoothly, and climbed sharply to three hundred feet. Then it stalled, turned on one wing, and crashed in a fiery explosion. Two of the five crew members died, including the pilot, Major Ployer P. Hill.

An investigation revealed that nothing mechanical had gone wrong. The crash had been due to “pilot error,” the report said. Substantially more complex than previous aircraft, the new plane required the pilot to attend to the four engines, a retractable landing gear, new wing flaps, electric trim tabs that needed adjustment to maintain control at different airspeeds, and constant-speed propellers whose pitch had to be regulated with hydraulic controls, among other features. While doing all this, Hill had forgotten to release a new locking mechanism on the elevator and rudder controls. The Boeing model was deemed, as a newspaper put it, “too much airplane for one man to fly.” The Army Air Corps declared Douglas’s smaller design the winner. Boeing nearly went bankrupt.

Still, the Army purchased a few aircraft from Boeing as test planes, and some insiders remained convinced that the aircraft was flyable. So a group of test pilots got together and considered what to do.

They could have required Model 299 pilots to undergo more training. But it was hard to imagine having more experience and expertise than Major Hill, who had been the U.S. Army Air Corps’ chief of flight testing. Instead, they came up with an ingeniously simple approach: they created a pilot’s checklist, with step-by-step checks for takeoff, flight, landing, and taxiing. Its mere existence indicated how far aeronautics had advanced. In the early years of flight, getting an aircraft into the air might have been nerve-racking, but it was hardly complex. Using a checklist for take-off would no more have occurred to a pilot than to a driver backing a car out of the garage. But this new plane was too complicated to be left to the memory of any pilot, however expert.

With the checklist in hand, the pilots went on to fly the Model 299 a total of 1.8 million miles without one accident. The Army ultimately ordered almost thirteen thousand of the aircraft, which it dubbed the B-17. And, because flying the behemoth was now possible, the Army gained a decisive air advantage in the Second World War which enabled its devastating bombing campaign across Nazi Germany.

Medicine today has entered its B-17 phase. Substantial parts of what hospitals do—most notably, intensive care—are now too complex for clinicians to carry them out reliably from memory alone. I.C.U. life support has become too much medicine for one person to fly.

Later in the article Gawande quotes Peter Pronovost, the medical pioneer who introduced the use of aviation style checklists into John Hopkins Hospital, where they are now recognised as being enormously helpful.

The checklists provided two main benefits, Pronovost observed. First, they helped with memory recall, especially with mundane matters that are easily overlooked in patients undergoing more drastic events. (When you’re worrying about what treatment to give a woman who won’t stop seizing, it’s hard to remember to make sure that the head of her bed is in the right position.) A second effect was to make explicit the minimum, expected steps in complex processes. Pronovost was surprised to discover how often even experienced personnel failed to grasp the importance of certain precautions. In a survey of I.C.U. staff taken before introducing the ventilator checklists, he found that half hadn’t realized that there was evidence strongly supporting giving ventilated patients antacid medication. Checklists established a higher standard of baseline performance.

The parallels with IT operations are striking. Just like pilots and ICU doctors, System Administrators and IT managers also operate in highly complex, dynamic environments2.  In these environments relatively small mistakes can quickly cascade into disasters. In my experience mistakes by qualified and properly trained staff3 are overwhelmingly caused by two common factors – overconfidence and stress –  that give rise to one dangerous practice: rushing.

Over confidence

Mistakes due to overconfidence or over familiarity typically happen when highly skilled and creative people (like system administrators) people are required to carry out a boring multi-step processes.  An example might be provisioning a server or installing some enterprise software.

As the operator becomes more familiar with the process, they pay less less attention to it. It becomes second nature. The greater the familiarity and boredom, the faster the operator rushes through the steps, the more errors are made or steps accidentally skipped. They trade speed for a higher error rate, with the consequences of those errors often emerging much later (and therefore not attributed to their real cause). Merely warning people about this does not help much. As with driving, people tend to overestimate their own competence, skill and attention to detail (Dunning-Kruger and Lake Woebegone effects).

So how do checklists and briefing/debriefing help?

Checklists can be useful here for reminding the operator to carry out all the steps, but perhaps more importantly, they are are vital for quality control testing after the process is completed. I have found that people who are very familiar with a process hate the “paperwork” of following a checklist whilst they do it. If it is forced on them, they tend to tick the checks thoughtlessly, often post facto.

A better idea is to leave the operator to execute the process, but have someone else – preferably a junior – check the process for errors using a checklist. This basic structured quality control allows the process to be done fast, but errors are detected before they are costly (i.e. arise after the system is delivered to the customer or live).  “But the error checking is a process too”, I hear you ask “Is it not in danger of falling victim to over confidence?” The answer of course is, yes. There is a  recursive danger here. The solution is to use less skilled or junior staff to do the quality control check. It will be much harder and less familiar to them, so less likely to trigger over confidence.

The other weapon is briefing/debriefing (After Action Review). Every week my senior technical team members and I review the operational error log (a list of mistakes quality control process discover) , support tickets and other reported failures or errors that we have registered in the Operations Diary. We are “Looking for Ugly“. This team leave kaizan helps us keep our knowledge base fresh, detect problems early, prioritise and shedule our work for the upcoming week and, most importantly, learn from our mistakes.

Because feedback is immediate, public (before peers) and directly linked to individuals;  learning and remedial behaviour are strongly stimulated.  If someone makes a mistake, its on the record. There is no diffusion of responsibility; there is no postponement of consequences; in the next briefing they will need to explain what happened and how we can prevent it happening again. The individual is presumed to be innocent and the system faulty. Our objective is to to apportion blame, but to tweak our systems. If an individual is making too many mistakes, it is a flag for their manager – Are they overworked? Do they need more training? Are they bored? Are they incompetent?

The briefing element gives us a chance to publicly agree our strategic priorities, let each other know what we are up to and generally synchronise our watches. One of the most important functions to emphasise for people what is important in the blizzard of communications they receive. So many managers whine that despite mailing important instruction or information, their staff did not act on, understand or retain the information. This is human given, so there is no point in railing against it. Instead, select what is truly important or the current priority, and emphasis it at your briefing. Your people will go back and read your mail (which you should use for reference rather than as the only vector) and hopefully get the message.

These reviews are quick –  10 or 15 minutes a week – but they yield vital knowledge about the state of your operation.They are a vital tool.

Panic and stress

The second factor that contributes disproportionally to mistakes and damage in IT operations is stress or its extremly disabling off-spring, panic.

With a major system down, monitoring alarm klaxons sounding, phones beeping with alert SMS and furious clients or bosses on the phone demanding to know what is going on, it is sometimes hard to remember what to do or even where to start.

Reading long procedures or the 200 page disaster recovery plan document is pointless. What you need and crave is a checklist, the pre-thought out best practice for the situation.

Cognitive narrowing (the inability to think under-pressure) and learned helplessness (giving up under overwhelming stress) are best addressed by doing your thinking before you are stressed, and having the critical steps and actions made explicit in a checklist.  A checklist acts as an external memory module for your overladen cognitive circuitry. They get people focussed on doing rather than fretting and they are efficient; they make sure the essentialls are covered.

As good as checklists are, After Action Reviews are even more important if you have found yourself in a panic or high stress situation.

The secret weapon against unreasonable demands

Something is wrong is clearly wrong of you or your team are under stress or your systems are failing. It is vital to take time out to calm down and colletively analyse what happened or is happening.

Again it  is all about learning and making needed adjustments. Project managers have postmortems to discuss what went right or wrong in their projects to learn from their mistakes so they are avoided in the next project. You need to calmly analyse

  1. How you and your team performed under stress
  2. What caused or is causing that stress
  3. How you can avoid the situation again
  4. If it is unavoidable, how you can handle yourselves better next time.

You will tend to find that mostly IT staff are often stressed by one of two things:

  1. Impossible external demands (e.g. from Sales) and
  2. Fire fighting the consequences of previous poor work, poor planning or neglect  (often because resources are diverted away to deal with external demands).

The key to managing external demands is  to know exactly what your team is doing and why. Armed with clear strategy, clear priorities and knowing what your people are working on, you can negotiate with those making demands on your resources by forcing them to choose between limited options. “If you want D, you have to sacrifice A,B or C, which is it?”

One option you cannot and must not ever compromise on is maintaining the core operation and customer support. But you must know what they cost in terms of time. The rest is theoretically elective.

What happens in most IT operations is the opposite. IT managers cannot account for what their people are doing even though (or maybe becuase) they are extremely busy. The team is firefighting. They are not logging their work or working from a plan. There are no priorities beyond serving the loudest or the most insistent complainers. When an overzealous Sales team or exitable executives demand new products (R&D) or overcommit IT resources on customer projects.  IT cannot defend itself from demands for work becuase they cannot account for where their resources are being deployed. Executives soon tire of being told their projects have to wait becuase IT is “too busy”. Eventually they order IT to deliver on those promises or demands. It scambles to meet the demands,  even though they never agreed to them, usually by rushing or putting in overtime .

This does not have the intended effect of taking the pressure off. Quite the opposite. People now believe that the rushed overtime efforts are the benchmark for “normal”, that IT are too conservative in their estimates and that when pushed or ordered they can deliver in half they time they said they can. The silent evidence of IT having to work nights and weekends is never considered.

Sales, now thinking that IT secretly has extra capacity,  starts to increase their demands for product development or oversells capacities based on the assumtion IT is exaggerating the its  workload and timescale estimates. As work is piled on, a demoralised IT starts failing to cope. It is  blamed for being “late” on everything (even though the schedules were never even approaching reality); they are pressured to divert resources from core operations and maintenance to “catch up” on projects; core service standards start to drop;  project work is rushed and consequently mistake ridden. When the rushed work starts to generate complaints from dissatisfied customers, Sales will not remember the superhuman up-all-night efforts the IT team puts in to satisfy their demands, they will blame them for losing customers. The best staff in the IT department start to leave the company, aggravating the problems. None wants to do thankless work under massive pressure. Eventually a critical mass is reached, and there are catastophic core failures.  IT goes into a tailspin, and in a technology company, that can often means the company folds.

Don’t let that be your company.

By knowing your  team (the individuals, their capabilities, workload)  and exactly what everyone is doing,  you can easily avoid this scenario above.

The easiest way to know your team is to talk together safely and respectfully a group in weekly (or even daily) briefings and to have regular one-on-one chats with all your direct reports.

  1. A future post will address how to conduct these properly so as to get the most benefit from the practice.
  2. One of the reasons IT departments are always demanding standardisation is an attempt to reduce that complexity
  3. I making a distinction here between mistakes due to bad training, sloppy procedures, poor communication or unqualified staff asked to operate beyond their competencies and mistakes made by qualified IT professional who have all the skills, knowledge and information they need to carry out their tasks

The Effort Diet

Seth Godin has great post asking “Is Effort a Myth?

I mean all we hear about is politicians and stars who get fame and fortune thanks to merely looking the part or CEO of bankrupt firms getting 40 million dollar golden parachutes. Why bother, its just luck right?

Well its not, really. As we know from the growing literature on Cognitive Biases (especially survivorship bias) and the work of Nassim Nicholas Taleb, some idiots can appear clever thanks to their (luck based) success, but that should not distract us from the fact that in generally,  success stems from intelligent effort. Seth agrees:

Delete the outliers–the people who are hit by a bus or win the lottery, the people who luck out in a big way, and we’re left with everyone else. And for everyone else, effort is directly related to success. Not all the time, but as much as you would expect. Smarter, harder working, better informed and better liked people do better than other people, most of the time.

He then goes on to describe a “a bootstrapper’s/marketer’s/entrepreneur’s/fast-rising executive’s effort diet”:

1. Delete 120 minutes a day of ‘spare time’ from your life. This can include TV, reading the newspaper, commuting, wasting time in social networks and meetings. Up to you.

2. Spend the 120 minutes doing this instead:

  • Exercise for thirty minutes.
  • Read relevant non-fiction (trade magazines, journals, business books, blogs, etc.)
  • Send three thank you notes.
  • Learn new digital techniques (spreadsheet macros, Firefox shortcuts, productivity tools, graphic design, html coding)
  • Volunteer.
  • Blog for five minutes about something you learned.
  • Give a speech once a month about something you don’t currently know a lot about.

3. Spend at least one weekend day doing absolutely nothing but being with people you love.

4. Only spend money, for one year, on things you absolutely need to get by. Save the rest, relentlessly.

If you somehow pulled this off, then six months from now, you would be the fittest, best rested, most intelligent, best funded and motivated person in your office or your field. You would know how to do things other people don’t, you’d have a wider network and you’d be more focused.

It’s entirely possible that this won’t be sufficient, and you will continue to need better luck. But it’s a lot more likely you’ll get lucky, I bet.

Loose lips can get you arrested or, why you should NEVER talk to the police

Fascinating set of videos and commentary from the Civil Liberties Examiner on why talking to the cops is always a bad idea.

So, the police are investigating a crime, and in the course of their investigation, they come to chat with you about what you know or may have seen. You’ve done nothing wrong, so you have no objections to sitting down with the investigating officers and telling what little you may know. But the questioning becomes more intense, you find yourself stumbling over facts that don’t seem important to you, but have the police pricking up their ears. And suddenly you realize that you’re not just a helpful witness; now you’re a suspect.

What did you do wrong?

The answer, unfortunately, is that you talked yourself into trouble — yes, even innocent people can do that. You’ve probably heard that before from your paranoid brother-in-law, or a lawyer friend, but you didn’t do anything. Who would have believed that your life could be turned upside down by a few words?

Prof. James Duane of the Regent University School of Law is one of the people who does believe that loose lips sink … well, not ships, but reputations and even lives. In an engaging and lively 27-minute lecture (I know, I know — but it’s worth watching), without assuming any malice on the part of the police, he explains just how you can talk yourself into trouble, and why you shouldn’t talk to the police at all when suspicion wanders in your direction.

Part 1

Part 2

Civil Liberties Examiner – Loose lips can get you arrested or, why you shouldn’t talk to the police –

UFO videotaped over Serbia

This is apparently a video  “taken from a commercial jetliner en route to Crete while over Serbia.”

How long before the Radical Party picks this up as “proof” of CIA activity over Serbia or the CIA uses this as “proof” that Serbia has acquired some sort of North Korean flying WMD to use for ethnically cleansing Kosovo?

Looks like a cloud to me.

Phantoms and Monsters: Paranormal, Unusual and Extraterrestrial Events