Category Archives: Knowledge

Revisiting – When Storytelling rescued me from Death by Powerpoint …

I’d long  backed up my original Posterous blog to Blogger, and then Posterous died … so I’m slowly revisiting my old stories  and saving them over on WordPress. I did try to migrate them from both Posterous and Blogger to WordPress in one go – but the tech just didn’t behave for me. Oh well, maybe just move them one at a time, do a bit of reflection too, with reminders of those old lessons learned – and experiences shared. This post is from one of my favourites – one of those experiences where you wish the floor could just swallow you up … but somehow you get through …

I confess to being one of those hated by Ralph Souleon – using lots of powerpoint slides in conference presentations – comes with the territory in an engineering field. Content. Content. Content.

Several years ago I was asked to email in my presentation for an engineering conference – so I pdf’d it to get the size down for emailing. It was interesting that the conference was  to be held at Sydney’s Royal Randwick Racecourse.  I‘m actually related to the Barden  Horse Racing family, who were around Randwick from the early 20th Century years. But I’m not much into horses after a Shetland pony tried to bite me when I was a child. So usually you don’t see me get too close to horses …

I'm not much into horses - this is as close as I usually get to a horse..

I’m not much into horses – this is as close as I usually get to a horse.. my daughter in the Sunshine Coast hinterland…

But the Conference was held at the time when the Equine Influenza epidemic had shut down horse racing in Sydney – only a lone horse seen out on the track. And that was how I felt at the podium, when my pdf’d powerpoint developed compatibility issues with the venue’s hardware.

Innumerable black rectangles where my witty & informative text box captions were supposed to be. Slides and slides of them. At least the photo’s & images looked good. The session moderator couldn’t help. Gulp.

Time for a deep breath and “wing it”.

At least the subject was a field which I was confident and passionate about. I had to use the images as my prompts as I told their stories.

In fact the moderator commented later that because the text boxes were missing – my audience had to engage with me more. He kindly observed that it had enhanced my presentation overall. I hoped he was right.

The conference was one where participants rated all the speakers – not often done – but in fact a good idea. As a speaker you can appreciate the bouquets and learn from the other comments.

So I was relieved to find that some had rated me as best presentation – which was humbling as there were some very good presentations at the conference.

So I try to make my Forensic Engineering Failure Analysis conference presentations more visual – but content can’t be avoided altogether in an engineering presentation. And never leave home without a memory stick backup – even if the presentation has been already emailed. 

And it all came together for me a year or two later, when David Snowden observed at ACTKM 08 that voluminous stats, facts & numbers don’t convince – but stories do.


Serendipity – Storytelling of Wine and War – Le Maitre de Maison de Sa Cave a Sa Table

It was @Reemski who triggered it – not the Wine and War – that finally got me underway to start listing my family’s library collections on LibraryThing.

And inevitably revealed, the books that I always meant to read, continually bobbing up and down in the overladen bookcases around our home.

Thus in the early weeks of 2010, and 70 years after the Axis invasion of France, I finally began to read “Wine & War” (E-Reader excerpt) an alternate view of WWII through the eyes of winelovers, Don & Petie Kladstrup. As described by The Wine Doctor, their book is a series of stories of survival under Occupation as told by many of the wine making families of France. It is these stories that predominate over the often awful military details described elsewhere. And also because of these unusual circumstances one man was able to gather the stories of wine and food of regional France.

The story starts in Berchtesgaden in the Bavarian Alps and just across the river from Salzburg, where I had first heard of its Eagles Nest during a trip to Austria in late 1981. We had peered up at it – barely visible so high was it – as our Guide told us of its history as Hitler’s fortress. Really …  just an interesting aside from our skiing holiday in the area near St Johann’s am Pillersee in the Austrian Alps. WWII seemed so long ago to us back then, in our twenties, and yet in1981 these events at Berchtesgaden had occurred less than 40 years earlier.

The Kladstrups tell of the vast quantities of French Champagne and wine plundered & railed to Berchtesgaden, despite the efforts of many French to secret as much as possible away behind fake walls in their cellars.

In the opening page the Kladstrups describe the uncovering of half a million bottles of Chateau Lafite Rothschild, Chateau Mouton Rothschild & many other vintages recovered from Berchtesgaden in 1944 by SergeantBernard de Nonancourt & others in the French Army. And there were many, many other items stashed there – thus in reading “Wine & War”, I began to appreciate Berchtesgaden’s significance.

In fact it was the stories in “Wine & War”, that made understanding life under the Occupation a closer reality. In movies we often see occcupied Paris, but less of the countryside, such as the Great Wine Regions of France. In “Wine & War” the family stories tell of yet another war after so many … of taking the longer term view …  of preserving the family’s wine heritage & economy to be ready in the years after the  conflict ended. And also to comprehend the creation of a “borderless” Europe –  what would be later called the European Union – to avoid such wars in the future.

Memorable  stories for me were those of members of French wine families in POW camps – such as Gaston Huet of the Loire who organized the great wine tasting party on January 24 1943, the feast day of St Vincent – patron saint French winemakers – but in the end had to be spread over several days to accommodate 4000 prisoners.The plan was for 700 bottles of wine to “be obtained to enable each prisoner just one glass of wine. The organising committee was composed of representatives from each of France’s wine regions “- an indication of the geographic spread of the POW population. Many of the prisoners did not come from wine backgrounds, and so Huet generously shared his knowledge of wine regions, wines & their characteristics, so that the rare experience could fully savoured.

Huet recalled years later “I don’t know what we would have done without that party. It gave us something to hold on to. It gave us a reason to get up in the morning to get through each day. Talking about wine and sharing it  made all of us feel closer to home, and more alive.”

In fact it was years later when the Kladstrups went to interview Gaston Huet about his opposition to the French Government bringing the TGV railroad through the vineyards, that the whole story of wine in France during the war began to unfold.

Equally evocative – Roger Ribaud also in a POW camp – ‘Christmas 1940 “On this Noel of 1940, I have begun to write a little book in an effort to dispel some of the sadness that we are living with and share some of the hopes we cling to in our captivity, of returning to our homes and loved ones and the values we hold most dear” … Ribaud began to make a list of French wines, every wine he could think of: some he had tasted, others he hoped to taste. He sorted them by region : Burgundy, Bordeaux, Champagne, Alsace, the Loire. He classified them according to their finesse, body and bouquet. ‘

It would become a book entitled Le Maitre de Maison de Sa Cave a Sa Table – The Head of the Household from His Cellar to His Table  – this is a memoir of great food and wine and how they can brought into perfect harmony” – google it and you will still find reference to this great work -with copies sometimes still available.

Writing on whatever scraps of paper he could scavenge made “long cold lonely days seem shorter“… and Ribaud “asked other POW’s about their favourite wine and food combinations , what grapes grow best in their regions  and how they prepared certain foods  … over time he compiled a huge core of information and knowledge, not only about the famous wines but about small country ones barely known outside their villages…… 

“After the war, his book was published to great acclaim and hailed as one of the first books that paid serious attention to regional wines and food …. Roger Ribaud sent a copy to each of his fellow prisoners of war ‘I hope this will ease the pain of imprisonment and yet be a souvenir of our friendship and the years we shared together’.

Roger Ribaud stressed that one did not have to be an expert to know about these things, that most of this could be learned by reading, tasting and talking to others …”


True knowledge sharing ! And in the most unexpected situations …

Project Management – Learning via Web2.0 in a GFC World

In the 2009 GFC era where external training & conferences are just off the agenda, many of us have to find other ways to learn.

Blogs and their self promoting headline act, Twitter, provide an alternative approach to staying up to date. Even YouTube is getting quite a mention with its burgeoning E-Learning video’s – although the quality is not always Oscar level!


Good Project Management related powerpoints can be found on Slideshare : I really like Craig W Brown’s 11 Week Program  – 123456,7891011. Also see KerrieAnne’s UOW KM & KS in PM lecture slides.

There are a number of PM blogs out there eg PMThink! Leading Virtually, (this blog also lists heaps of others), Herding CatsEffective Software Development,   Journyx Project ManagementFear No Project Project Management Tips. You can subscribe to blogs via RSS feeds and then read in a news reader in Outlook or also applications like GoogleReader.

Project Management Tips is a really good PM related blog. It has a huge number of tips that are actually quite on the mark so far as project management goes. I find entering the PM Tips blog site, a little like the kid in the Chocolate Shop to be honest. So many good things – which to choose ?

One approach is to follow Project Management Tips on Twitter – where the blog’s headlines are “tweeted” by @PMTips, with links back to its PM related blog posts. Other PM Tweeters include @gsanchezs@pmskills@thepmtweet@GanttGuru@ProjectSmart &@meolesen. You can follow Tweeters with good content via RSS feeds and then read in a news reader in Outlook, or also applications like GoogleReader. Makes it a lot easier to get through them quicker.

Project Management Tips also focus on Communication & Learning in Projects and so there is a big focus on Knowledge Management tools.

Some of my favourite posts (admittedly a long list) from this blog include ..

Did we throw out that Fogbank stuff – no probs – we will make some more – oops.

I came across this story in Slashdot  the other day …  


I was incredulous and had always assumed  that military types save lots of records … in the last year we had been issued with my father’s World War II Australian Army service records. And thinking back to TV shows like Cold Case and documentaries on the 1919 Influenza Pandemic tends to lull you into a belief that the USA has enormous records repositories with nothing thrown away.

The story was released to Slashdot by Hugh Pickens on March 9 2009 and within a day was  relayed across over 500 web pages globally presumably via RSS feeds and blog following.  The situation is astonishing – and indicates the cost of not maintaining good archives … it was hard to believe – but then more conventional news sites were also running the story, including Fox News on March 9 2009 . Within 3 days the 500 web pages had to grown to over 1500 covering the story. In fact initially the story seemed to be just a beat-up & re-run of a  New Scientist story covered a year earlier in its March 8 2008 issue and the UK’s Guardian also on March 6 2008. However those aspects did not seem to feature in the US Congressional Defense FY 2009 Expenditure Hearings transcripts.

Hugh Pickens  wrote “The US and the UK are trying to refurbish the aging W76 warheads that tip Trident missiles to prolong their life and ensure they are safe and reliable but plans have been put on hold because US scientists have forgotten how to manufacture a mysterious but very hazardous component of the warhead codenamed Fogbank.

 ‘NASA had lost knowledge of how to manufacture the material because it had kept few records of the process when the material was made in the 1980s, and almost all staff with expertise on production had retired or left the agency,’ says the report by a US congressional committee.

Fogbank is thought by some weapons experts to be a foam used between the fission and fusion stages of the thermonuclear bomb on the Trident Missile and US officials say that manufacturing Fogbank requires a solvent cleaning agent which is ‘extremely flammable’ and ‘explosive,’ and that the process involves dealing with ‘toxic materials’ hazardous to workers. ‘

This is like James Bond destroying his instructions as soon as he has read them,’ says John Ainslie, the co-ordinator of the Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, adding that ‘perhaps the plans for making Fogbank were so secret that no copies were kept.’ Thomas D’Agostino, administrator or the US National Nuclear Security Administration, told a congressional committee that the administration was spending ‘a lot of money’ trying to make ‘Fogbank’ at Y-12, but ‘we’re not out of the woods yet.'”

And it might have all seemed like  a conspiracy story by the Anti-Nuclear Fraternity … however in fact it is all officially reported in a March 2009 US GAO (Government Accountability Office) Report  viz

“At the beginning of the W76 life extension program in 2000, NNSA identified key technical challenges that would potentially cause schedule delays or cost overruns. One of the highest risks was manufacturing Fogbank because it is difficult to manufacture. In addition, NNSA had lost knowledge of how to manufacture the material because it had kept few records of the process when the material was made in the 1980s and almost all staff with expertise on production had retired or left the agency. Finally, NNSA had to build a new facility at the Y-12 plant because the facilities that produced Fogbank ceased operation in the 1990s and had since been dismantled, except for a pilot plant used to produce small quantities of Fogbank for test purposes.

 To address these concerns, NASA developed a risk management strategy for Fogbank with three key components:

(1) building a new Fogbank production facility early enough to allow time to re-learn the manufacturing process and resolve any problems before starting full production;

(2) using the existing pilot plant to test the Fogbank manufacturing process while the new facility was under construction; and

(3) developing an alternate material that was easier to produce than Fogbank.

However, NASA failed to effectively implement these three key components. As a result, it had little time to address unexpected technical challenges and no guaranteed source of funding to support risk mitigation activities.”

 Ultimately a new facility was built at the Y-12 National Security Complex near Oak Ridge, Tennessee, to begin production of Fogbank once again, but was delayed by poor planning, cost overruns and a failed effort to find an alternative to Fogbank, and so the project overran by a crucial year costing at least an extra $US69 million  according to the GAO report.

Interestingly, some sort of solution must have been found as one refurbished W76 has just gone back into the stockpile, according National Nuclear Security Administration’s February 23 2009 media release.

It is interesting that there is little widespread coverage of the story at all in the international mainstream media and that the story has been largely passed on by bloggers and sites likeSlashdot. And there seems to have been no coverage from the Australian mainstream media here, at all… only by Australian bloggers. Is it a surprise that more are turning to their favourite blogs/RSS feeds-Readers and web sites to locate the news  they wish to read ?

In fact the March 2009  GAO report of the whole saga provides a good case study for students of Project Management 101 & Knowledge Management 101, on the pitfalls of managing large projects. Plus why  lessons learned need to be not only captured, but deployed and implemented.