Moon Shot Lens test (Panasonic 45-200 micro 4/3 zoom lens)

I just got a new Zoom lens for my Olympus E-PL1 (micro four thirds format camera). its the Panasonic 45-200 f/4.0-5.6. The first thing I did was take a couple of shots of the moon. The first shot is the maximum magnification for the kit lens that came with the camera (a 14-45 mm lens). The second shot is maximum magnification from the new Panasonic zoom. The third image is the second shot cropped down.

I'm already pleased with this lens. I recommend it for any Micro four thirds camera owners.

The moon taken at the maximum magnification of the 14-42 mm kit lens

Moon taken at maximum magnification of 45-200 mm panasonic zoom lens

The second photo cropped down. Not bad at all.

Very good sentences about College Cost.

Very good Sentences:

Since 1978, cost of living has gone up three-fold. Medical costs, much to the horror of everyone in Congress, has gone up six-fold. And college education has gone up a whopping tenfold. This is beyond the housing bubble, the stock market bubble, any bubble you can think of.

The entire article is worth a read:

Get off your Butt: The Super Flexible Stand Up Desk

It turns out that sitting on your bum all day is bad for your health, and it seems like everyone is writing about stand-up desks. Well Count me in. I was already growing tired all the sitting I was doing so I decided to build my own stand up desk. Fifty bucks later, and here is what I ended up with:

The keyboard tray is from Ikea and everything else from Lowes. The build design is based on the FlexyTable. This design is extremely adjustable, I was able to set the table keyboard and monitors at the exact perfect height with the help of an ergonomics expert that works at my hospital. Here is a close up of where the leg meets the table. 

I've been using it for three months and love it. I recommend it, and if you want one of your own, feel free to steal my design.



Kaizen using Baby Shoes

Mike over at Got Boondoggle posted an example of kaizen using tennis balls on the bottom of chair legs to prevent the floor from getting scuffed up. My favorite ice cream shop uses the same technique, but with baby shoes. Clever.


Everybody wants your meetings to stop sucking.

A few weeks ago I posted my thoughts on improving meetings. Apparently I'm not the only on who has had to suffer through some bad meetings lately. Every blogger I know is writing on the same topic.

Michael Hyatt is taking some of the complexity out of his organization and has this to say:
The number of meetings. We should be very careful about setting up routine meetings. Once they are in place, they are hard to eliminate—they seem to take on a life of their own. Every once in a while (perhaps annually) it is good to re-evaluate every standing meeting and ask five questions:

“What is the intended outcome of this meeting?”
“Are all the people who attend this meeting really necessary to achieve this outcome?
“Can we meet less frequently and still achieve this outcome?”
“Can we meet for a shorter period of time and still achieve this outcome?”
“Is there some way to accomplish this outcome without a regular meeting?”
Seth Godin has 9 great ideas for shaking up your meetings. Here are a couple:
8. Create a public space (either a big piece of poster board or a simple online page) that allows attendees to rate meetings and their organizers on a scale of 1 to 5 in terms of usefulness. Just a simple box where everyone can write a number. Watch what happens.

9. If you're not adding value to a meeting, leave. You can always read the summary later.
Bert Decker lists 10 steps to make your meetings better. My favorites:
1. Cut the meetings you have in half. Cut the time of the meetings that remain in half. Unproductive talk and time will fill the space of long meetings - The Peter Principle in action.

4. Be controversial. Not outlandish, but stimulate robust dialogue. The reason most meetings are boring is because most meetings are boring. As the meeting leader, it's up to you to make it interesting.
All of their advice is a little different, but with a consistent theme: don't have one if you don't need to. And if you do, have an agenda, keep it short and lively, and send out minutes promptly.

Together we can make the world a better place. Or at least meetings.

What are meetings like in your organization?

Photo: kjarrett

You're not the only one that hates brainstorming

Is brainstorming ever not a soul sucking waste of time? Richard Huntington doesn't think so. He says (via Lateral Thinking):
I hate brainstorms.

I hate running them, I hate contributing to them and I hate using them to solve problems.

They waste huge amounts of time and talent and they are no f***ing good at delivering decent ideas.

Okay then. It turns out there is research to back this up. Most of the research shows that groups individuals working alone will generate more ideas that those working together. But as Bob Sutton points out this research is flawed.

The academic research on brainstorming -- the laboratory studies that are described as showing it doesn't work -- are rigorous but irrelevant. They compare how many ideas individuals working alone versus versus working in groups can utter into a microphone in the same stretch of time. This is irrelevant and silly, as the practical norm that people take turns talking seems to explain why people are more productive alone -- so this research rules out LISTENING TO OTHERS as productive behavior. Also, the way those studies are done makes it impossible for people to build on each others' ideas -- because building on the ideas of others is impossible when you work alone.
So is Brainstorming worth it? I can be if it's done right. Companies Like Pixar and IDEO have created some of the most imaginative films and products using brainstorming as a part of their process. According to Tom Kelly the General Manager of IDEO:
Brainstorming is practically a religion at IDEO, one we practice nearly every day. Though brainstorms themselves are often playful, brainstorming as a tool - as a skill - is taken quite seriously. And in a company without many rules, we have a very firm idea about what constitutes a brainstorm and how it should be organised.
So what makes a good brainstorming session? Honestly I still struggle with it. But here are seven secrets to good brainstorming and six sure fire ways to kill a brainstorm.

How do you brainstorm?

photo by: Khilwat

What to put in your slides. (Part 2)

In part 1 I talked about some things commonly found on PowerPoint slides that need to come off. Among those are logos and standard templates. Here are a few tips to keep your presentations looking professional and related to you brand without resorting to logos and the standard templates.

Create a custom color palette
. You may not have your logo on the slides, but you can still incorporate your brand into your presentation material.
Create a color palette based on your logo or on a photo representative of your industry. My favorite tool for this is Kuler. Just upload an image and let Kuler do its thing. You can tell it whether you want bold, colorful, or subdued colors.

Write down the RGB values for each color. You can enter those values into PowerPoint's color picker when selecting color for text, shapes, or lines. These will then show up as choices the next time you need to change a color. I create a color palette slide at the end of the deck to use as reference while creating the presentation. An example of this is below.

Once you have a palette use it
in a consistent way for text, shapes, charts, etc.

Use Grids to create a flexible, yet consistent layout. In Slide:ology, Nancy Duarte recommends using grids to maintain consistency in the placing of elements from one slide to the next. Check out Adam's example of a 4 x 4 grid system. Try a 5 x 5 grid or 4 x 5 grid. A 3 x 3 grid is great for using to the rule of thirds. Here is an example of a Fibonacci grid with the color swatches for a corporate color palette.

From Jeromy Timmer
For their work with Adobe, Duarte used a 5 x 5 grid on a white background with a corporate branded color palette. Check it out here.

Use photographs. People remember pictures better than words. This is called the picture superiority effect. In addition, people remember concepts better when they hear about it and see it (but reading does not count as seeing). Since this is a live presentation, you have the hearing part covered. Use pictures and images to reinforce the

The clip art built into MS Office is overused and cliched. Avoid it. Instead, use professional looking photographs from stock image sites such as or Flickr. You can find very creative and striking images from the stock photo sites. But if you need shots of people exhibiting genuine emotion you'll have better luck with Flickr Creative Commons photos.

Use fewer words. As a rule: If you are going to say it, then it does not to be on the slide. This will keep you from reading the slide, which bores the audience to death and reduces comprehension. Use keywords and headlines for the audience to key in on. But avoid complete sentences (other than the headline, or pertinent quotes).

Those tips will get you started toward better looking presentations. for more advice on Presentation design read the following.

Presentation Zen

Speaking about Presenting

Slide:ology Blog

Extreme Presentation

What to take off your slides. (Part 1)

Why is there so much junk on PowerPoint slides?

Olivia at Speaking about Presenting asks the question, "what would you like to see in PowerPoint slide design in 2009?" This is aimed at an audience already on the better presentation bandwagon. But I still see a lot of basic mistakes in PowerPoint design. So before talking about what I'd like to see in PowerPoint slide design is a discussion of what needs to come off of PowerPoint slides.

There is a direct correlation between the amount of unnecessary junk on the slides and the boredom of the audience. This isn't cause and effect, they both result from the presenter not really understanding the needs of the audience.

So take some time to figure what the audience needs are and get rid of the following elements from your slides.

Company Logo. The audience does not need a reminder of whom you work for on every slide, especially if you all work for the same company.

Animated Logo. One company I worked for had an animated logo in the top left corner of their standard template. Every 30 seconds the logo would spin around and explode in a fountain of color. I can only imagine what went though the mind of the audience, "I think I might buy . . . whoooaaa look at the pretty colors . . . what was I thinking?"

Page numbers. Page numbers are for books and documents. There is absolutely no reason the audience needs to know that a particular slide is number 42 of 168. Unless you plan on giving the audience a printed version of the presentation as a document . But don't do that either. If you must, print it with the page numbers and present it without.

Document control information. I've seen copyright notices, trademarks, file names and revision numbers (e.g. Company.Training.Pres ver. appear in slide footers more than once. Again, this might be appropriate if you print them (please don't), but take them off your presentation. The audience does not need to see these.

Standard Templates. All of the standard Microsoft PowerPoint templates stink. Horribly. The ones that aren't completely awful are so overused that they've become a cliche. Don't use any of them. It is possible to get a well designed, thoughtful and useful template. But be careful, some designers think putting an animated logo on every slide is a good idea.

Bullet Points. Don't get me started on bullet points.

All of these things have one thing in common: they don't serve the needs of the audience. Once you take all of that junk out of your presentation, you can keep a professional, brand oriented appearance using the tips in part 2.

Photo: Phoenixdailyphoto

Lean: less complicated than you think.

What does it mean to practice Lean? Jon over at Gemba Penta Rei has the most elegant description of Lean I've seen:
  1. Set the rules
  2. Follow the rules
  3. Improve the rules
Jon describes this as being "sensible and simple, to the point of being stunning." And I agree. In fact, I will be incorporating a tweaked version of this in all of my lean training and six sigma training from this point forward. Tweaked, to remove the baggage laden word "rules" and incorporate the lean term "standard." so it becomes:
  1. Set the Standard
  2. Follow the Standard
  3. Improve the standard
All of the other lean tools (5S, Kanba, Visual controls, etc) are simply means to do one of those three things. If you are applying lean to your work area it is important to understand where you need to start.

Set the standard

This means to set the standard work. You can not improve if everybody doing the same job does it differently. Work with the people who actually do the job to develop a current best practice, and make that the standard process everybody follows. This is not just for front line workers, this applies to the CEO as well.

Follow the standard

Many managers assure me they have standard work procedures in place, but when pressed admit that it is only followed half the time. In this case we need to work on following the standard. This does not mean cracking the whip, or yelling at people, or holding other people accountable.

Find out why people are not following the standard and use lean tools to correct the process. Make the process as simple as possible and use signs and visual cues to make the next steps obvious. Build in visual controls to so that deviations from the standard are apparent. Once everyone is following the standard work, you will be able to see what is hard to do or doesn't work well and you can move on to improving the standard.

The best predictor of future success is current success. If you are able to manage a mediocre process, you will be able to manage an improved process. Likewise, if you can't manage an existing process, an improved one will likely revert to chaos before too long.

Improve the standard

As when setting the standard, get your front line people involved in improving the standard work. They know exactly where the current process falls short and they'll probably have good ideas for improving it. Make this a part of the culture instead of something that happens in big projects infrequently. Encourage employees to make suggestions any time, evaluate those suggestions with the group, and follow up with her whether you implement the suggestion or not. Facilitating this improvement cycle should be part of a manager's standard work.

This is the foundation of any improvement strategy whether it is lean, six sigma, TQM or the Red X. Improvement is impossible without managing those three things.

So what do you need to work on in your area? Setting standards, following standards, or improving the standards?

Photo: William Couch

How to have effective meetings

As I mentioned in my post on standard work for leadership, meetings at most companies are a mess.  There are too many, they don't accomplish enough, and people dread going to them.  And if they are not productive, they are a giant money pit.  Run Payscale's Meeting Miser for a few meetings and ask yourself if you got your money's worth (or if you are really brave, ask the team).

It doesn't have to be that way.  Here are six tips to improve meetings, and thereby improve your life.

1. Don't have a meeting

Meetings should always involve making decisions or doing genuine work that cannot be done individually.  Ask yourself "why am I having this meeting?"  If the answer contains the words "informational" or "get everyone on the same page" chances are you don't need a meeting.  Other forms of communication (email, phone calls, or conversation) will work much better and take less time.

Before you schedule a meeting make sure that you know what decisions need to be made or work needs to get done, and that a meeting is the best venue for doing that.

2. Send a simple agenda

I know.  Everybody says this, but nobody does it.  Most people have opened up MS Word's Agenda Wizard at least once , filled in all of the blanks, picked a template, saved it to their hard drive, and sent it as an attachment to the team, only to find out that most people didn't read it.  I think this is the main reason most people don't write agendas: its too complicated and nobody reads it anyway.

Keep it simple.  Write the agenda in the body of the email so that folks don't have to open up an attachment to read it, and make it short.  Many of the things normally on an agenda (attendees, time, place, etc) are already included in appointments sent with Outlook or Groupwise.  You don't need to repeat those. So just get to the point of the meeting: 
"we are meeting to finalize the 2009 budget.  We need to decide on X, Y, and Z.  Nancy will email the latest TPS report, John is bringing the bagels"  
3. Start on time

If you are missing people at the start time, start anyway.  They'll be on time to the next meeting.  Skip ahead in the agenda if you need to.  

4. Keep the meeting to 50 Minutes or less

I am amazed at the number people who schedule back to back meetings that last sixty minutes. After the first meeting they run late for the rest of the day.  This is nuts.  By high school most people have figured out that you need five to ten minutes to get to the next class.  This rule also applies to meetings.  

For some reason the default meeting length in Outlook is thirty minutes and Groupwise is sixty minutes.  Have your IT department change this to 50 minutes for the whole organization.  If they refuse, at least change it for yourself. Actually this might be difficult in Outlook, but to do it in Groupwise go to Tools > Options > Date & Time > Default appointment length.  If you are using Outlook you may have to just set each appointment to fifty minutes when you make them.  

5. The HIPPO should keep his mouth shut

Bob Sutton has a great article about the leadership problems at GM.  They have a culture where the top guy at any given meeting talks the most.  Instead of the team actually doing their job, they end up echoing the highest paid person's opinion (HIPPO).  Read Bob's article to find out why this is so poisonous.  The HIPPO in the room should spend most of their time listening and moderating the conversation.  If you are the HIPPO and you need to do all the talking, just send a memo.  You don't need a meeting for that.
6. Send out minutes the same day

If your organization requires that you take detailed minutes of everything said at the meeting, make sure you have somebody there that can do that.  But most of the time all you really need is a record of what decisions were made, what activities need to get done, and who is responsible for them.  Spend the last minute of the meeting reviewing these and making sure everyone commits getting there part done (one minute minutes).  Then email these minutes to the team the same day.  If you don't do this somebody will drop the ball, guaranteed.

The good news is that all of this advice makes scheduling and having meetings simpler (and more effective).  If you are in a leadership position make this the standard by which your organization conducts meetings.  If you are not in a leadership position then lead by example.  Plan and run your own meetings well and forward this article to anybody that needs to read it.

Photo: indexed