Knowledge 21 – A Look Back

Hard to believe it’s been two years since Knowledge 19, and it’s been even longer since I’ve written a synopsis of Knowledge. This year though, having just upgraded to Quebec which is the most transformational release I can think of in recent memory, we made a solid point of getting as much as we could out of Knowledge 21.

General Observations

I would’ve liked to have seen access to more labs or IL sessions, but breaking out windows of time across multiple time zones proved to be a bit too challenging this time around.  If there are more virtual conferences on the horizon, I’ll have to press early to maximize the potential value of attending even if it’s not in person.

Although doing this online felt a bit flat, I’m glad to have the opportunity to sit down and look at what other people are doing with ServiceNow and I’m definitely looking forward to next year and (hopefully) being back in person.   Last year’s K20 sprawling over the course of 6 weeks followed by lengthy availability was nice, but it led to a lack of focus and immersion not to mention collaboration.

Now, on to the content…..

Keynote – Knowledge Opening Keynote: Workflow your world – Bill McDermott

I’m used to these being about 90 minutes and being crammed into darkened concert halls with peers through presentations and skits.  Of course, it’s a necessary tradeoff with both K20 and K21 being virtual. All things considered, I’m not going to complain about the tradeoffs when social distancing is a priority and I can watch these sessions from my home office.

Right from the get go the presenters jump right to the COVID elephant in the room and the necessary changes to work processes, tools and habits proceeding from it.  In the last 18 months, the platform features have seen a major focus on emergency response apps and workplace management.  These rapid pivots were instrumental in communicating vaccination information and data to drive outcomes.  When you’re in the middle of a global crisis, being able to rapidly deliver solutions in the medical and global public health spaces cannot be understated.   Managing any kind of workspace in the midst of a global pandemic was a singular challenge and even establishing routine continuity for businesses and organizations has it’s own risks without that kind of a complication.  

Bonus points to the Jellyfish Skit and workflow comparisons within. While it was a bit corny, there was a very nice diving save with the Wonka promo.  Now I’m going to have THAT SONG stuck in my head for the rest of the day.  Points deducted for a missed opportunity for even a tiny (Apache) Jelly joke.

Catalog Builder – Quebec – Jace Benson & Aashish Atrey

Catalog Builder offers an interface for enabling delegate or citizen creators to build catalog items quickly. I got the impression during the section on Catalog Item Templates that the expectation was that these changes might be viewed as configuration data changes being made directly in Production?

This will be something to experiment with in the coming months and I could see how this would allow teams to manage batches of commonly configured items that change on a fairly frequent basis. Given the theme of a lot of these sessions, this might very well be the Year of the Citizen Developer

Speaking of….

Citizen developer program – ‘They CAN have their cake and eat it too’ – Paige Duffey

A case study of lessons learned during implementation of their own Citizen Developer Programs. Quite a bit of these sound familiar as well as sharing a wealth of new ideas in order to be successful.

Considering the vision of ServiceNow as a Low-Code/No-Code solution, I’m sure every implementation has it’s own version of citizen or otherwise delegated development. Establishing firm justifications are recommended such as reducing ‘shadow IT’ (which I despise) and a vision of delegation of work to people closer to the problem being solved.  With proper guidance and empowerment, proficient personnel can solve the problem independently in the time it takes it to explain it to an admin or developer.

Potential pitfalls cited are establishing proper demarcation and governance over production solutions. When something breaks or otherwise needs attention, who is responsible?  Do you have proper communication and governance to know enough about what’s being deployed? More cooks in the kitchen can mean a substantial amount of critical solutions are tightly coupled to individuals. 

Keys to success can include required training, consistent dev peer reviews and (of course) documentation. Who is enforcing this? Who are your process owners and do you have steering committees or process owners for the various modules and features on the platform? Other great takeaways are office hours to manage inputs as well as scheduled frequent clone downs.

Enhance self service with Virtual Agent and IntegrationHub – Alikutty Abdulrazak

One of my earlier experiments with ChatBots in ServiceNow was pre Virtual Agent and the platform has since implemented it’s own solution. This presentation was a case study focused on password resets and showed some interesting captures of user interactions with the chat interface.

Some key takeaways are remembering that users should always have the option to exit and connect with Live Chat support, otherwise your chat solution just becomes another version of ‘voice mail hell’. This means staffing your queues with agents during expected business hours in case the virtual agent isn’t able to guide the user to the proper form or automation. Analysis of outcomes of chat interactions and continuous improvement of your chat library is vital as well

Debugging your apps- Shuvjit Mishra

This presentation covered Script Tracer, a tool that’s new in Quebec. Intended as a replacement or improvement over manually logging inline, this can be used for debugging or general troubleshooting. I would’ve liked a deeper dive rather than an overview, but I’ll have to see if there’s at least documentation or an actual lab/learning session for this.

For the demo itself, it looks like Script Tracer is a modern pop-out (this works like the business rule debugger). Some things to consider with any debugging overhead is if it’s safe or potentially impactful to use in Prod. Still, having access to more tools in the kit is always a plus whether during primary development or Run & Maintain.

Documentation on the actual feature can be found here – Link

What’s new in Creator Workflows: App Engine and IntegrationHub – Tom Freeman

I’m always there for the ‘What’s New?’ sessions. Here’s a summary of topics covered..

Creator Workflows – Intended for low code (Citizen Developers) – A non-trivial amount of my time is spent helping both coders and non-coders create value on the platform. With increased demand for toolsets like these, it’s a worthwhile investment to fully understand it to help others be successful.

App Engine Studio – This is intended for named app development – Low code developers and individuals with an advantage in understanding the business problem.

  • This is an environment to build features for rapid implementation
  • Tiles and ‘snap together’ templates for common tasks and cases
  • Incorporates Flow Designer – The idea is for it to be self contained during primary development
  • Then it’s submitted to ‘the IT team’ – likely the ‘Pro Coders/Admins’ on the platform to review and offer feedback ahead of deployment

Integration Hub –

  • Noticing a tooonnn of new spokes
  • REST API Trigger – Trigger Actions with advanced scripting – This is intended to displace the current REST Message and Scripted REST API frameworks
    • This displaces the various options around Scripted REST Messages + associated libraries and puts everything inside of Integration Hub/Flow Designer
  • Okta SSO Integration for password resets

UI Builder –

  • WSYIWYG tool which replaces native form modification tools such as Form Designer/Layout but the more I watch it makes it seem like an improvement/abstraction over Dashboards.  Variants looks like a replacement for Views. 
  • Content seems to map closely to the HTML markup.  It was important enough to mention, so now I’m curious as to what the link is between CSS and the outcomes being demonstrated
  • Also offers branding and theming (There’s the CSS)

What’s new in Now Platform and Upgrades – Tom Freeman – Victoria Del Mundo Dainas –

Another ‘What’s New?’ session. Here’s a quick rundown..

AI Search

  • Enhancement for native global search, incorporates automatic spellcheck and’Genius Results’ – Can search for people, request submission forms. The demo took place almost entirely on mobile. Relevance of search results is tuned by usage and improves/changes over time.  There’s probably value in analyzing this data under the hood.

Virtual Agent (ChatBot) Enhancements

  • Guided Setup including Topic recommendations

Developer Enhancements

  • Source control for support.  Still tightly coupled to Scoped/Named App development. Another mention of Script Tracer. 

Sessions that I’ve saved for future review!

Accelerate application development with Automated Test Framework

Get started with the Natural Language Understanding (NLU) Workbench


While rewarding, this was a more muted experience for me since it wasn’t in person.  I’ll be taking advantage of the extended availability of content over the next few months as we dive further into Quebec and beyond.  Looking forward to seeing you all in meatspace for K22!

I’d love to hear any feedback on this post, especially if you attended Knowledge 21 and would like to discuss your own experiences.  As always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to add them here or address them to

Reading Summary – 2020

It’s that time of year again.

I did manage to get quite a bit more titles in this year AND I have managed to write each summary immediately after finishing the book. Let’s see if I can do better in 2021.

On with the list..

Death –  Dream’s sister has enough content to merit her own book.  I had never read The Time of Your Life or the High Cost of Living and they’re both worth the price of admission.  The icing on the cake was a safer sex PSA brought to you by Death herself assisted by a reluctant John Constantine

How to Think Like a Roman Emperor –  A case study of key milestones and events of the life of Marcus Aurelius through the lens of Stoic Philosophy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy techniques

If Hemingway Wrote Javascript – A charming and diverting series of short and familiar coding exercises told in the style of a myriad of classic and contemporary writers.  Lots of fun and technically challenging at the same time.

Masters of Command – A multi threaded case study in leadership focusing on Alexander the Great, Hannibal Barca, and Julius Caesar.  Detail oriented, if a bit repetitive.  For example, I don’t know how many times I need to be reminded that Hannibal had 37 elephants except for the one time he had 80 or that Hephaestion ‘was perhaps’ Alexander’s lover.   Still a great comparison of these epic and larger than life figures that knew what they wanted and how to win it but never how to stop.

The First American – An incredibly dense and detailed biography of Benjamin Franklin.  Covers his entire life as an author and printer followed by budding scientist and Renaissance Man and ultimately the preeminent American statesman and diplomat.  Would highly recommend to any student of early American history or even those just looking for more detail beyond the brief anecdotes attached to a truly legendary figure.

Enchiridion of Epictetus – A condensed and almost bulleted list of Stoic maxims.  While a classic and worth reading for students of the philosophy interesting in going to the source, I find modernized examples of the same ideas such as The Daily Stoic to be more accessible to modern audiences and more suited to repeat reading.

Brief Answers to the Big Questions – A memorable gift from Stephen Hawking in what would turn out to be the final year of his life.  A sobering and hopeful summary of outstanding questions brought about by previous questions that he strived to help answer.  Dense and technical yet accessible to the layperson reader, in true Hawking style.

Medium Raw – Anthony Bourdain’s follow up to his seminal work: Kitchen Confidential.  Some clarifications and redirection on previous positions as well as some boosting and doubling down of the same.  Engrossing as ever and steeped in his incisive and often caustic insight and wit.

Extreme Ownership – Jocko Willink and Leif Babin’s memoir about their experience in Iraq during the Battle of Ramadi.  A distillation of lessons learned that is intended to be applied not only to the battlefields abroad but to professional and personal challenges as well.

Moneyball – Billy Beane has had a lasting impact not just on the Oakland A’s, but baseball as a whole.  I’ve watched most of these players live (Hell.. I’ve got Swisher’s jersey hanging in my closet) so this read was very nostalgic for me.  And Michael Lewis’s mostly-documentarial approach to writing about finance, business and sports hits a sweet spot for me (Ben Mezrich is another author I recommend for similar topics)

The Obstacle Is The Way – One of Ryan Holiday’s core works on Stoicism.   Adjacent to works like Antifragile in reminding us that there is no growth without resistance and often what frustrates or hinders you the most is probably exactly the challenge you currently need.

I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell –  The chronicles of Tucker Max, who I’ve never heard of until a friend asked if I’d seen the movie based on this book.  A sweat and booze soaked journey of a motley crew of frat boys at their absolute worst.  I’m not sure I’ve laughed out loud this hard in a while. 

The Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World : From Marathon to Waterloo – A classic summary of the decisive battles of the world from antiquity on forward.  Another interesting bit of trivia is that this book is the basis for a verse from the ‘Modern Major-General’ song from The Pirates of Penzance.  There’s apparently a later edition of the book which adds 5 more battles post 1850 as well as a line of simulation wargames covering each.  I’m looking forward to checking those out.

Iron John – Centered around a Grimm’s Fairy Tale, this book incorporates folktale archetypes and stories that predate classical Greek and ancient Egyptian mythologies to lay out a ‘Man’s Journey’.  It borrows heavily from Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung or at least follows the pattern of The Hero with a Thousand Faces, a book cited often by George Lucas as an influence for the Star Wars universe.

Can’t Hurt Me – David Goggins’ part auto-biography/part motivational work.  This is his personal story of being born into and later escaping from an abusive home into an uncertain future and his transformation of that bad hand into a successful and celebrated military career.  Brutal and raw, the author leaves nothing to hide and everything on the table and dares the reader to do the same.

Dune – THE original classic.  It’s been over 20 years since I’ve read this, but I felt the need for a refresher now that the new movie is coming out.  It was fun to revisit and refresh my memory.  Also interesting how many quotes were copied verbatim to both the Lynch movie and the Sci-Fi channel mini series.

The Score Takes Care Of Itself – A posthumous collection of anecdotes on leadership with a ‘focus on fundamentals’ approach from legendary San Francisco 49ers coach Bill Walsh.  Includes a wealth of personal stories as well as observations and short stories from other sources familiar with the teams journey from a 2-14 object lesson to a 3 time Super Bowl champion (at the time of Walsh’s retirement).  As a Raider fan, this was personal for me in other ways, but was still a fun dose of sports nostalgia.  This book is often cited as a precursor or inspiration for other more modern ‘back to basics’ case studies on leadership and turning around a failing system.

War Is A Racket – An collection of antiwar and isolationist essays written by Gen. Smedley Butler based on his first hand point of view on corporatism and the military-industrial complex.  Short and pulls no punches with some interesting anecdotes about the Bonus Army and the corporatist plot against the FDR administration.  Closes with some cautionary warnings about too much (at the time) American admiration and aping of the fascist systems rising in Italy and Germany.  A worthwhile read.

The Civil War – Caesar’s first hand account of the Roman Civil War beginning with the conflict against the Optimate faction in Rome culminating with the defeat of Pompey in Greece,  his part in the Ptolemaic conflict in Egypt and the final battles against Scipio and Cato in North Africa.  Probably had more footnotes and external references cited than actual pages, but that seems necessary considering the depth available for each event in the timeline that may only get a page or two.  It was also a bit jarring to have the author refer to himself in the third person throughout the account.  Even if this was due to the translation, it shouldn’t surprise me that an icon of vanity and self-promotion like Julius Caesar would default to that.

The First Five – Even though I grew up during the Black Flag/Rollinsband years, my first real introduction to Henry Rollins was his spoken word album Think Tank.  Rollins has a gift for vivid and engaging storytelling that at times qualifies as standup.  Since then, I’ve sought out his other spoken word shows as well as his more recent acting efforts (Check out He Never Died!)  The First Five is a collection of journals, essays and poems from his Black Flag years originally packaged as five separate books.  Angry, vivid and frequently misanthropic, I wouldn’t recommend this for anyone a weak stomach.  To call it emotionally taxing would be an understatement.

I’d love to hear any feedback on this list and invite you to share your own reviews or recommendations.  As always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to add them here or address them to

The Bestest of Practices

“It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not a weakness; that is life.” Jean Luc Picard

Hot take incoming – I’m not a fan of best practices.

Let me back up.. I’m not a fan of the overuse of the term ‘best practice.’ Oftentimes, it’s a lazy appeal to authority and short circuits conversations that are intended to result in opportunities for improvement. When abused like this, it’s about as meaningless as claiming something is ‘common sense.’

Rather than referencing a crib sheet of recommendations or release notes without context, I think it’s important to cultivate the conversation and what you’re attempting with a particular approach and consider why you’re doing something in the first place. Did you just copy pasta someone else’s code without really understanding it? Do you know why it works? Do you know what you’re trying to achieve? Did you really need to indulge in yet another refactor or are you just doing tech for tech’s sake or maybe finding excuses to defer deployment? Could you have just ‘used a pencil?’ (More on useful apocrypha later)

I get it. We’re all learning. Having an enabler for our crazy ideas is reassuring. We all second guess ourselves at times and having some rule book or sacred text that affirms our approach as more than ‘just good enough’ is comfortable. What I’m suggesting is that it’s easy to cede your own judgment and pragmatism by just following suit with what everyone else is doing. We owe it to ourselves to frankly engage with our peer groups early and often to ask questions while still retaining ownership and responsibility for what what we build. Without this, today’s best practice can just as easily become tomorrow’s bad habit.

Here are few lessons I’ve learned along the way:

Preoptimization – Know what you’re optimizing and why

This is one of my first experiences around ‘unlearning’ what I was taught. When I was a wee first year dev, I was so excited to embark on my career and build useful things. One of my very first tasks on my very first project was to build out a data model for a new app. I spent a non-trivial amount of time diving into the options around specific data types for various columns and choosing the most efficient option based on the existing requirements.

The feedback I got in this case was that it was ok to just use the default datatypes for now and save the optimization for a later version or if it was identified as necessary for performance. What was more important to focus on at the time was getting the basic foundation in place so that we could start working on features. Sure, optimized datatypes are efficient and important at scale, but just not vital enough at the time to merit too much focus.

Gold plating – Voluntary Scope Creep

Speaking of focus, how many of us have spent time building something that seemed like a good idea at the time but no one really ever asked for or actually wanted? It’s easy to do this when you’re working on a feature and we start making assumptions or predictions about what users want or need. Sometimes we justify this to ourselves by assuming our user community will value a particular feature or approach. Before you know it, you’ve partially or completely reworked your work in progress around something out of scope (and for you freelancers – unpaid.) I still catch myself doing this.

Do you know what your Minimum Viable Product is? How about your Definition of Done? Who on your team needs to sign off on changes to either?

‘The New Shiny’Do you have time to be someone’s beta tester?

Above I used the expression, ‘Doing tech for tech’s sake.’ What this means is not insisting on using the latest and greatest bleeding edge tech at the expense of stability or reverse compatibility. In our modern world of CI/CD, platforms and middleware have new versions and releases almost daily. Compounding this are our myriad of (sometimes) useful libraries and frameworks with their own release cycles and end of life considerations. In this case, insisting on the latest and greatest without cause can be it’s own bad habit.

The scenario I’m reminded of here is when I hear about something cool or new & improved and I’m looking for an excuse to try it out. “New version X just went live, so let’s just embrace it now.” while forgetting that your existing standard is still supported for another few years. By all means, consider end of life and new features in a particular version, but make sure you’re actually being honest about why you’re pushing forward. Sometimes it’s ok to just wait for Service Pack 1, right?

Don’t forget to actually have the conversation

One might look at any of the above and as, ‘Hey John, didn’t you just basically outline a bunch of best practices?’ Maybe. I think what was more important to point out was how things might’ve gone negative if I and the people I worked with didn’t actually take the time to sit down and hash out the rationale for doing things one way v. the other. I like the idea of cultivating a ‘culture of proof‘ and not short circuiting these important learning discussions for the sake of expediency or even consistency.

As always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to add them here or address them to

ServiceNow Orlando – What’s Next?

Now that most of us are firmly ensconced in Madrid and/or New York, we’re just in time to start planning for Orlando. I took some time to look at a recently released overview of upcoming features to see what looks interesting.

Link to overview vid –

Here are some highlights:

Knowledge 20 – The video opens with some reminders to prepare for Knowledge 2020, which I’m unfortunately going to miss this year. Additionally, there’s an invitation to check out the Customer Success Center – A great resource to check how other implementers and customers of the platform may have done what you’re already trying to accomplish. Just a reminder that good developers copy and great developers paste.

Mobile Improvements – Next up was some discussion around mobile, including reskins and branding enhancements for your mobile app. This will be most relevant for implementations that boast a fully realized installable mobile thick client rather than those whose mobile experience is limited to the device’s browser.

Natural Language Processing and Virtual Agents – The platform continues to promote the ongoing development of its artificial intelligence features including Predictive Intelligence and Natural Language Understanding. Honestly, my historical blocker for experimenting with this is the limited PDI availability for experimentation. Basically, if you don’t work in a shop that has already purchased features like this, you’re not likely to get much exposure or experience on the backend. (I’d love to be wrong about this, so please call me out if I’m missing something.)

Analytics Q&A – Another limited feature cited which promises to look at user keyword search or other query data and provide automated reports. This is expected to help administrators better understand their customer’s behavior on the platform. To be released in Orlando with a limited set of customers with likely a wider release later in Paris.

Developer Portal – Speaking of, not like I think anyone who bothers to read what I write hasn’t, you should take the time to visit the (newly overhauled!) Developer Portal and spin up your Personal Development Instance. and tinker! I’ve always been a big fan of just spinning one up and experimenting. Highly rewarding for those that like to learn hands-on.

What’s most interesting to me and where am I going to be spending some additional time?

VS Code and Developer Experience – I probably haven’t been paying as much attention to this as others, but apparently Jelly and AngularJS are both viewed as legacy or soon to be legacy – Orlando introduces the ‘Now Experience’ for developers allowing them to build custom components using the VS Code editor + Now CLI for web components. There is no additional charge to implement this.

Taking my development career journey back to something involving Microsoft tools brings this full circle for me. So, it’s with no small bit of nostalgia that I’ll be taking a deeper look at the future of web development in ServiceNow.

I’d love to hear you thoughts about Orlando features you’re looking forward to or even any other experimentation you’re doing on the platform. As always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to add them here or address them to

Reading Summary – 2019

It’s that time of year again.

I’ll confess to two things for this year’s list. One – It’s a bit shorter due to not keeping complete track of everything as well as this year having more than one reread from previous years. Two – I haven’t written each summary immediately after finishing the book, which is something I’m correcting going into 2020.

Anyways, on with the list..

Worth Dying For: A Navy SEAL’s Call to a Nation – A candid message about the costs of freedom and a challenge to all to public service. 

Kitchen Confidential – The book that put Anthony Bourdain on the pop culture map.  Great stories although his chapter about the Department of Human Resources reads quite a bit differently now given the circumstances of his death

Not Caring What Other People Think Is A Superpower – Taking a Twitter history and expounding on it to produce a book of daily affirmations is an interesting approach.  Better read in small batches to give the ideas time to breathe

Tiamat’s Wrath – Book 8 of The Expanse – Been waiting for this one for a while. This entry capitalizes on the previous time jumped novel and its aftermath to develop new characters and old favorites. This series continues to tell interesting stories about how humanity and its patterns might settle out after a sudden technological revolution and space faring land grab.

Mistborn (The Final Empire) – Oh wow. What have I gotten myself into? A friend at work ‘recommended’ (i.e. – Shamelessly Pimped the same way I do with The Expanse) this series to me and I was not disappointed. An excellent and engrossing introduction to a world steeped in tyranny and strange magics which serves as one of many gateways to an expansive universe spanning several series of novels.

The Whole Beast – Took a look at this one based on a recommendation from Kitchen Confidential. It’s essentially a cook book that focuses on the often forgotten and discarded parts of the animal. Shanks and organs and other extremeties that were staples of our grandparent’s diet due to sheer necessity but would be considered foreign and exotic by us and our descendents.

The Martian – I’ll admit that I saw the movie first, but the novel was definitely entertaining. An adventure novel steeped in science and humor, I’d recommend this to anyone looking for a page turner on a long flight.

The Passionate Programmer – One of my rereads from the Pragmatic Bookshelf. This one has more of a focus on the artistic aspects of software development by comparing it to musicianship and other artistic pursuits. Don’t forget to find mentors and ‘Make The Hang’

The Developer’s Code – Another Pragmatic Bookshelf entry. A how to on beginning or enhance a career in software development. Does a great job of explaining abstractions of the practices and processes of delivering value, warts and all.

The Dip – Every pursuit feels great when you’re just starting out. Everything is fresh and novel and exiting. Whether or not the journey still has value as you proceed, you’ll inevitably reach a point where things seem too difficult or no longer worthwhile. Knowing the difference between ‘when to quit and when to stick’ is an important skill to develop.

Ego Is The Enemy – As time goes on, Ryan Holiday will probably have his own section of my bookshelf due to the sheer frequency with which I reread his stuff. This one was new to me this year, but I’ve already given it a second run through this year.

I’d love to hear any feedback on this list and invite you to share your own reviews or recommendations.  As always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to add them here or address them to

Happy New Year – Happy New Decade

Here’s to a new year!  And not just that, but to an entirely new decade!  If you want to feel a bit surreal and/or old, check out this interesting article of factoids over at Wait But Why

To start off, I’ve been seeing these Decade In Review listicles floating around.  Seemed like a fun little exercise, so here’s mine:

  • 2010 – Welcomed our daughter into the world and went back to college to finish my degree
  • 2011 – Started smoking meat and making homemade spices as a hobby.  Earned my first 4.0 GPA.  Drove cross country from Philadelphia to Wichita.
  • 2012 – Graduated from Fort Hays State – Bachelors in Information Systems
  • 2013 – Broke out of my comfort zone and started coaching youth sports and college recruiting.  Celebrated 10 years of marriage with our own private road trip around Kansas
  • 2014 – Despite having lived in California for several years, finally took Karla and the kiddos on a cable car and hiking through the SF streets
  • 2015 – Rediscovered writing by starting a blog
  • 2016 – Took a family road trip through the Midwest.  Rekindled my tabletop and pen & paper gaming hobbies, making many new friends along the way.
  • 2017 – Embraced my career specialization and spoke for the first time at a global conference
  • 2018 – Traveled to Hawaii, our first time off the mainland.  Sold our home in Kansas, packed up our lives and relocated to Arizona
  • 2019 – Doubled down on my career specialization and earned a promotion.  Said goodbye to our first ‘baby’, Maureen as well as to one of the most influential people in my life.

It’s amazing how time flies and how so many of these memories seem so recent.  My life today doesn’t resemble the life I started in 2010.  I’m sure many of us will have a similar experience in 2030.

Speaking of, what’s next?  In keeping with my guidelines around starting less, I’m looking at improving or finishing what I’ve already started rather than taking on new challenges.

Choose health – As much as I belabor this point and punish myself for failing, I still keep missing the mark.  That’s no reason to give up, just to try it again and try it different.

Learn more – My reading habits have fallen off a bit this year as well as my self study habits.  I’ll be setting aside dedicated time for this in my professional as well as personal studies

Build more – As with my reading habits, my writing habits aren’t doing much better.  Starting off on the right foot, I’ve been setting aside dedicated time for writing and have already submitted a candidate session for Knowledge 20!

Not an ambitious list in the context of beginning a new decade, but I’m thinking embracing a principle of ‘Doing Less to Accomplish More’ will be prudent.

As always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to add them here or address them to

Happy New Decade, everyone!

Dementia, Dickens & Donna Summer

“If he had died, it would be easier. But, he didn’t. They took him from us a piece at a time.” – Guinan on letting go

This weekend, we all lost my grandmother. The family and friends of Ada ‘Geri’ Digiorno will be spending many moments over the coming years sharing stories about her and celebrating her life. We were all tragically fortunate to have time to pregame and process ahead of time as we witnessed her ruthless decline. Dementia can get fucked right alongside cancer and people who talk in movie theaters.

Nana’s influence on me can never be understated. My earliest memories of her came on the heels of my parent’s divorce and many weekends and summers spent with her and her husband Tony (Papa). They were both still working full time so I’d often spend some idle time at the Playhouse bar, doing odd jobs like sweeping or cleaning up to earn change to sink into the bar’s jukebox. Frequent choices were The Gambler and Devo’s ‘Whip It’, but my top favorite was Donna Summer’s ‘Hot Stuff’. They bought me my own copy of the LP to go with my first record player.

“Family need not be defined merely as those with whom we share blood, but as those for whom we would give our blood.” – Charles Dickens, Nicolas Nickleby

Fast forward a few years, add in the passing of her husband, and the paths that we predict for ourselves start to become a lot less predictable. After enough of these, it can be tempting to withdraw or not become too invested because you’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop.

One of my favorite novels growing up was David Copperfield and the parallels around searching for safety and belonging at this stage in my life weren’t lost on me. As clunky and formal as Dicken’s prose can be, the theme of found family is timeless and vital to those whose lives didn’t quite go as expected. The place I could always count on being safe though was at Nana’s house. No expectations or demands. Just being present was sufficient.

We found ways to bond over the most unusual things. Star Trek for her suddenly became watchable after Whoopi Goldberg joined the cast. And Beavis & Butthead made the rotation just so she’d have some context as to what Letterman was going on about during his monologue. And no one I know laughed harder at South Park’s jabs at Mormons. Slaughtering sacred cows was our favorite pastime.

“Face it – If you weren’t related to these people, would you EVER see them again?” – Rick Reynolds

One thing she never hesitated with was to take others down a peg or help them get over themselves. As I grew older, I learned I wasn’t exempt to this either. A young 20-something high on his own ego runs his mouth often enough. When she’d had enough, she had some interesting and humorous ways to bring me down to earth. Let’s just say I’d never thought an eyeroll and an ‘Ok, Jason’ (as in Medea) would sting that much.

Before long that was just how we related to each other. The safe space of people who knew we could eviscerate each other verbally with no love lost and our relationship all the stronger for it. We would still talk current events and politics up until she really couldn’t carry on a conversation. It was always fun and she’d still even remember a lot of the in-jokes and mental models around movies and pop culture we’d built over the years.

“You gonna put me down too, John?” – Nana being Nana

Geri touched countless lives and truly is an example of a life well and fully lived. We’re going to miss you and celebrate you while we do. Love you lots. Say hi to Papa for us.

Reading Summary – 2018

It’s that time of year again.

It’s hard to believe it’s been three years since my original reading list. I’m pretty sure I’m reading as much as I dare at a time (quality over quantity). One thing I’d like to track this year is how many books I buy/receive v. how many I’ve actually read. For those of us who tend to buy books whimsically and/or recklessly, it might be a good idea to cut down on that pile of shame. (Confession: I’m already -1 on that count)

Anyways, on with the list..

Ghost in the Shell Deluxe Edition Volume 1 – A watershed work of cyberpunk.  I’ve been a fan of the anime since the original release in the 90s.  The original manga does not disappoint.

The Subtle Art of not Giving a F*ck – Kind of an anti self-help book.  Some interesting premises and ideas around the futility of avoiding discomfort and making systemic changes with that in mind.

Babylons Ashes –  Book 6 of The Expanse.  Continues the arc of the previous book neatly while still taking us on a few tangents to flesh out the after effects of recent events.

The Churn – An Expanse novella.  There’s a set of these, one for each of the lead characters.  This one gives us the backstory of Amos Burton, the Rocinante’s mechanic.

Zeus Grants Stupid Wishes – A collection of (very) funny interpretations of world mythologies and religions.  Think of it as if Cracked wrote a course on comparative religion

Persepolis Rising – Book 7 of The Expanse – This entry takes us forward about a generation past the events of Babylon’s Ashes while still keeping us up to date on familiar characters and introducing some new ones.  Probably one of the weaker offerings of the series but I’m still hungry for more.

The Butcher of Anderson Station – An Expanse Short Story.  Much shorter than The Churn, but still a good read.  Little bit of insight as to how Colonel Fred Johnson got his infamous moniker.

Old Man’s War – This is my first introduction to John Scalzi and I was not disappointed. This book (series) is surely inspired by Heinlien’s Starship Troopers, but without all the bloviating. I’ll be continuing with the series.

Antifragile – IIRC, I read this book as part of a Strenuous Life challenge. An in-depth study of building better systems by microfractures and the idea that there is no strength or growth without resistance.

Blood Meridian – A vivid and nightmarish stream of consciousness using historical events as a backdrop. This was a bit dense and requires some concentration to truly appreciate. It was a nice reminder that just because something is critically acclaimed and makes a lot of Top 10s, that doesn’t mean it’s for everyone.

The Accidental Billionaires – The story of the founding of Facebook. Interesting and familiar but that’s mainly because I already knew the story. Still, if it’s a Ben Mezrich book, I want to read it.

The Ten Day MBA – Very interesting crash course in business.  Brushed up on existing knowledge and learned a few new things

12 Rules to Life – Excellent restatement of common sense principles by controversial personality Jordan Peterson. Accessible and interesting, if a bit long winded. 

 The Professor In The Cage – In the spirit of George Plimpton’s ‘Paper Lion’, this is solid behind the scenes storytelling of the world of fighters.

Skin In The Game – Another one by Nassim NicholasTaleb.  A discussion of evaluating advice based on the risk profile of the advisor.

A Fighter’s Heart – An interesting examination of commonalities across multiple fighting styles from both the fighters and spectators.

No More Mister Nice Guy – Watershed work on breaking unhealthy conditioning and making your needs a priority.  Intended for men but might be valuable to anyone.

Meditations – Marcus Aurelius intended for these musings to be for his own personal reflection.  It’s since become regarded as one of the iconic works of Stoic philosophy.  Suitable for reading beginning to end or for spot reading as desired.

Letters from a Stoic : Volume 1 – Another watershed work of Stoicism.  Written as advice to friends which means the names might require some googling.  Also, the content is a bit repetitive and comes off as a bit flowery and preachy.  I prefer Meditations

This Will Never Happen Again – A collection of essays from David Cain’s website.  Good reads for grounding and motivation

I’d love to hear any feedback on this list and invite you to share your own reviews or recommendations.  As always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to add them here or address them to

Betting On Yourself

New years are appropriate times for new beginnings. As is my preferred approach, there’s no better time for a big change or a big bet than the moment you’re ready. The end result for me recently has resulted in a new role and an entirely new city, with my family in tow. To say that this is scary and uncertain is an understatement.

It’s a cliche/oxymoron/koan that the only constant in life is change. But it’s a truth in our ever changing and ever accelerating world that you can either embrace change or embrace irrelevance. In no trade is this point of view more appropriate than working in tech. Tastes change. Tools and frameworks change. And the people around us constantly change. If we are to live intentionally, we need to do so with our eyes wide open and to persistently choose our path. Often, this will mean taking on risk and disrupting your current routine.

From my inaugural reading list, I’m reminded of Choose Yourself. The entire premise of the book is reminding yourself to roll with the punches and that, ultimately, you can handle this. And when you work in a trade with constant changes and ‘just-in-time’ learning, this faith in yourself is justified.

Of course, I’m not saying to be reckless or constantly in motion. But there’s something to be said for managing risk rather than avoiding it. Without challenge and resistance, there can be no growth. And proceeding under a little uncertainty is healthy and crucial to breaking through ‘analysis paralysis’.

I’m interested in hearing about your big moves, whether they’re past or present. And as always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to add them here or address them to

Happy New Year!

TsunamiCon 2018 – A Look Back

“And now for something completely different…”

I know it’s completely unprecedented in my profession, but I’m a big fan of gaming.  When I’m not looking down my nose at console gamers, I can be found with zero or more people, huddled around a tabletop game.   And as I’ve done for the past three years, I had the pleasure of attending TsunamiCon 2018.

TsunamiCon bills itself as “Wichita’s premiere tabletop gaming convention,” and I’m inclined to agree.  Over the past few years, it’s grown to attract a new following with more attendees every year.  My experience this year was intended to be mostly as a guest, but I just couldn’t resist the call to run some tables myself.  And this year, my son even stepped up to share some games he enjoys with other gamers.  Here’s a quick run-down of our sessions:


Shadowrun Missions : Welcome to the Sixth World – Shadowrun is a dystopian near future science fantasy setting.   Basically, if you took Gibson’s Sprawl setting and added magic and fantasy races like elves and orcs.  That’s Shadowrun.   Shadowrun Missions is the organized play version intended for individual players to show up for a one-off adventure.  Our host walked us through a (challenging) character creation before throwing us into the streets of Seattle.  Can’t wait to try the setting again.

Liberty or Death : The American Insurrection – I grew up on Avalon Hill wargames, meaning lots of cardboard counters and poring over dense rulebooks with ubiquitous reference numbers.  GMT’s CounterInsurgency (COIN) series definitely scratches that itch for me.  Liberty or Death allows players to choose a faction within the conflict to wrest the American colonies from British rule.  Rather than simplify the conflict to being an isolated series of battles between Redcoats and Colonials, this game expands on the historical place of the American Revolution as just another theater in the global conflict between great powers like Britain and France.

Eschaton –  This was an interesting deck builder with area control elements.  Players take control of a cultist faction struggling for control over minions and against each other with an eye toward ultimate dominance.  Great way to end the day.


Embarassing my son

Pixel Tactics –  A good friend of ours hosted a tournament for this game last year, which I’m proud to say my son won all on his own.   This game merited another tournament this year with promises of even greater glory and prizes, some supplied by the game publisher themselves!  Players have a single leader that guides various ranks of heroes in battle against their rivals.  Simple stats are buffed by intricate and seemingly limitless combos based on their position on the field and their proximity to the leader or other heroes.

Arthur, Queen of the Britons!

Mounting Pitons to Hold the Grill – ‘Tim the Enchanter’ is a regular fixture at TsunamiCon.  This time, we ran into him while my daughter was exploring the con and noticed several distinctive props for an upcoming LARP game, based not-so-loosely on Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  After Tim regaled her with promises of high adventure and treacherous challenges, Queen Arthur took up the quest for the Holy Grail, leading her Knights of the Round Table to ultimate antics and silly success!

Ethnos – In Ethnos, players call upon the support of giants, merfolk, halflings, minotaurs, and other fantasy tribes to help them gain control of the land.  This is another one that doesn’t make it to the table at home very often and we were delighted to have a full table.  The game seems like there should be much to it as it largely consists of card draws and playing sets.  The fun and intrigue crops its head up when players time their plays in attempts to gain the upper hand before the end of the round.  Lots of stare downs and trash talk at this one.

Pathfinder Society : Trial By Machine –  Pathfinder Society is the organized play version of the Pathfinder fantasy setting.  This was a chance for players of any skill level to try out the game and meet other players in a one off adventure, and let me test my GM skills on a new set of victims in the process.


Free Play –  Even for the most fanatical of gaming enthusiasts, cons invariably take a toll.  My family and I had hit the wall by Sunday morning but we braved the floor again for some pick up card games and to say goodbye to old and new friends.  As exhausting as it was, it won’t take long before each of us is brimming with ideas and counting the days until next time.

See you all next year!

As always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to add them here or address them to