The Anne Karenina Principle and the Case for Project Management

All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

– Leo Tolstoy in Anna Karenina (1877)

Thus begins Tolstoy‘s novel Anne Karenina. I learned about it when I was introduced to the Anna Karenina principle in Jared Diamond‘s book “Guns, Germs and Steel“. The book explores why in the history of humanity some societies have come to dominate others and one the factors involved is the access to domesticated animals. Ever wondered why you can’t ride a zebra like a horse? When you count it becomes clear that very few of the planet’s large animals can be domesticated, a fact that it explained by considering the factors that must all be fulfilled for an animal to be domesticated successfully. If just one of these factors is missing, then domestication is not feasible. In other words, while domesticated animals are all essentially alike, each is undomesticated animal is undomesticated in its own way.

Project managers talk a lot about unhappy projects and often seem quite unhappy about it. However, I believe that the unhappy nature of projects is not necessarily a bad thing and that a certain unhappiness is part of being a good project manager.

First, what is a happy project? If a project is a “…temporary organization that is created for the purpose of delivering one or more business products according to an agreed Business Case” [cf. PRINCE2.wiki], then a happy one must be one that has no problems delivering its products at the expected cost, value and time, and where all other status indicators are good and green. I suppose these projects exists. At least I will not say on record that they don’t – maybe like black swans they live and roam free in a country far away and in zoos, where they are executed perfectly and run smoothly, always delivering on time, budget and quality.

However, in my experience, all projects are unhappy, and they are each unhappy in their own way. And yes, I just admitted that the projects I manage are rarely in an all green status, and when that happens, then it is time to review the project and look for risks and issues that might have been overlooked. Or, keeping the project management triangle in mind, if project is in the middle for an extended period, then either the budget is higher than it needs to be, the scope unambitious or not innovative, or the timeline too lax. It reminds me of the anecdote about Henry Ford that he would have workmen check Ford cars in junkyards to see which parts could be manufactured cheaper. Seriously, though, part of good project management is to deliver what is agreed at the right time and in the agreed quality and at no more than the agreed cost, and to do this work the project manager should always look for opportunities for optimizing delivery. This principle is weaved into common Agile frameworks as part of retrospectives and continuous improvement and in PRINCE2 as part of the Managing a Stage Boundary process.

In other words. to deliver the most value, the project manager should not be afraid of challenging herself, the delivery organization, or the client. Having said that, there are also projects that are severely challenged and possibly beyond redemption (or may not have actual delivery as the main purpose). Transparency and upright communication go a long way for this.

Doing this not only provide the client the best bang for the buck, but it is also good for the project managers, even though they expose themselves to unhappiness. Consider the alternative – a project where everything is green always and the project manager tasks is reduced blindly approving stuff. First the project manager might follow the example of Homer Simpson in “King-Size Homer” who got someone to cover for him, but eventually the project manager would be replaced by someone more junior (or a dipping bird). No Challenge -> No Job.

Someone to cover for King-Size Homer (or an under-challenged project manager). (from The Simpsons, episode S07E07 – thanks Frinkiac.com)

Therefore, project management is about working perpetually unhappy projects and whenever one source of unhappiness is removed move on to the next. It is a Sisyphean, almost depressing task, always focusing on the things that are missing, the things that are going wrong and being suspicions of ever there is an all green status report. All glasses are half-empty or out to get you.

Just thinking of a recent experience: At one point all looked green and I really considered calling a meeting to brainstorm risks and determine what we might be missing. We found out soon enough though and could go back to work. External interfaces, uncertain backlog and uncertain funding kept times interesting thereafter.

Another project I was involved was hardly a project at all – missing both a clear goal and timeline (no budget either : ), but it was a tricky (and very innovative) job and someone had to do it. That sort of thing calls for project manager skills, so it was called a project anyway.

All said, I can happily return to work and keep pushing, pulling, nudging, and kicking my projects forward. Not only are all projects unhappy, but they are also unhappy in each their own way, providing a never-ending source of challenges and opportunities for the experienced project manager to learn, excel and add value.

Playing Roles – My Brief History #5

The years from 2003 to 2012 are a distinct period where I focused mostly on Role Play Games. As far as interests go it is a natural development from my earlier interests, it is only because of new hardware that I see it as a different period in my gamer career. The end, on the other hand, is definitely marked by the birth of my first child. Playing computer games too k a backseat for a long time after that.

I have always loved playing computer Role Play Games (=cRPG or just RPGs). I wonder why – probably a mix of the pacing (slow, player controlled), the scope (10s of hours per play through), the storytelling and the degree of complexity (not  simple and not overly complex, just right). fairly high, but not the purpose). I was hooked on Wasteland and never really stopped since, although 1993 – 1998 were dry, until Baldur’s Gate and Fallout revitalized the genre.

(By the way, I also love playing pen & paper RPGs, but that’s for another post)

My brief history of gaming #5 – Playing in the 2000s

Writing about my hardware in the 2000s it strikes me that whereas upgrades in the 1990s were primarily driven by adding CPU power, in the next decade it was more about additional features like USB connectivity and affordable portability (i.e., laptops).

My first PC (from 1993) lasted until 2002. Then it couldn’t escape obsolescence any longer. hit it. There were no more compatible upgrades available. Motherboards no longer came with the AT/Din5 keyboard connector that my PC case required and after 9 years the cabinet was worn and scratched. It was also too small for multiple hard disks and optical drives and had no easily available  place for USB connections (eventually provided by a PCI card on the back of the case – a must-do if I wanted a mouse, since PS/2 connectors were not possible either)

PC gray was out of fashion now and I went for black instead. I do not remember all specs well but it was based on an AMD Athlon XP 2000+ CPU and I remember adding 2x 80 GB harddisks for the multi-boot setup – initially it ran Windows 98, Windows 2000 and Linux (probably CentOS) – but it wasn’t long before the older Windows were replaced by Windows XP. Initially it had a modem for dual up networking. It wasn’t intended for gaming, and the most exciting feature apart from the two USB ports on the font was the monitor I bought with it – a 14” flat-screen, which was just becoming affordable at the time (that would be at 4000 DKK at the time (about 540€) – it is strange to think back what a huge difference it made to get rid of the big CRT monitor and swtich to flat screen, also at a a time when 1024×768 resolution was still OK.

The 2002 PC didn’t get a lot of upgrades (a faster CPU and new graphics card is all I remember), but then I also started working on laptops more and more. The older PC sometimes acting as a terminal for remote desktop connected laptops, so it wasn’t until 2009 that it was replaced with new hardware – a system bade on a Core 2 Duo. Not a bad rig (it is still running after upgrade with SSD and Windows 10), but while I had it, it had some stability issues (both in Win XP and In 7, but gone in Win 10) and it didn’t support SATA3 and USB 3, so in 2011-12 it was gradually replaced by the 2500K system that I am still running (which has done well with some good upgrades, but is showing its age now).

Memorable games

This is a funny list – very focused on Bioware and Bethesda products, with appearances from Obsidian and Troika (which are all related now). Just proves the point made in the beginning of this post.

  • Battlefield 1942 – yes, I did play a non-RPG during this period!
  • Sid Meyer’s Pirates: An enjoyable remake of the C64 games I used to play
  • Icewind Dale 2: The last of the infinity engine games and fun to play, even if the game style was getting old. I am glad I played it then. There is little chance of seeing a Beamdog ‘Enhanced Edition’ remake since the source code is lost, but there should be mods available to make it run on modern systems and resolutions.
  • Morrowind: My first experience with a Bethesda Elder Scrolls game and one of the better ones, even if interface and game-play is a bit heavy-handed by modern standards. Also, playing the leveling system optimally is tedious and much bookkeeping. Still, the sense of exploring a vast world at my own pace is what I remember the most.
  • Knights of the Old Republic (KotOR): This game brought me back to PC gaming after some hiatus. I liked it a lot and played it through at least 4 times (including one game on Android phone)
  • Knights of the Old Republic 2: More playing jedi and generally enjoyable. I recognize the quality issues that plagued the game, but the game was fine and the ambition paid off.
  • Planescape Torment: When I finally played this in 2005 it was 5+ years old but still a great experience and a classic that I, as RPG enthusiast, would not want to be without
  • Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines: Another RPG that is well.known for quality issues. I played a patched version and had fun.
  • Jade Empire: A new universe from Bioware, but the game felt a lot like KotOR in a new, eastern setting.
  • Fallout 3: The first Fallout game after Bethesda acquired the IP from Interplay. As expected and feared by some, it felt much like a post-nuclear Elder Scrolls game and that works fine for me. 
  • Oblivion: The fourth Elder Scrolls game, following Morrowind. I think I played almost the complete game, except finishing the Shivering Isles DLC. Generally enjoyable, but while it kept the bookkeeping gameplay of its predecessor, it felt less like an open world, due to its focus on the Oblivion threat from early on.
  • Mass Effect: Another new IP from Bioware, this time set in a SciFi universe. Another fine game which I played twice and enjoyed both times. I should still play at least the first sequel (I tried once at it felt to fast paced though)
  • Dragon Age: Origins: I finally finished this game last year, but I played it first in 2011 but never finished.Thinking back I blame the dwarven part of the game and one more boss-fight than needed.
  • Skyrim: Great, immersive and beautiful. Didn’t feel quite as open-worldy as I remember Morrowind being, but Bethesda got rid of the old leveling system.
  • Neverwinter Nights 2: Another game that I tried completing several times, but never did. The last attempt was just before my daughter was born and all that remained was the last boss fight. Thinking back I should just have changed the difficulty settings and completed the game that way, but it is too late to do anything about that now. I may give it another go at some point, either playing from install DVD or pick up a fully digital version from GOG.

It was also during this period that I played Eve Online. A whole lot of it, actually. I will write on that in the next post in this series.

Feature image

Evening sky with just after sunset – with something rare these days: Contrails. It is strange how you don’t see those at the moment – a symbol of a new age.

Related posts

Thoughts of Games – My Brief History #1

Becoming a Gamer – My Brief History #2

IBM Compatible Gaming – My Brief History #3

What about Consoles? – My Brief History #4

What about Consoles? – My Brief History #4

When I started writing this series of posts about my life as gamer I didn’t expect to do a post on console gaming. Why not? Because so far it has been a significant part of my gamer experience. I expected to give it honorable mention in a wrap comment, along with mobile gaming. Yet here we are and I am writing this. What happened? The short answer is that I got myself an Xbox One for Christmas, so one way of the other, a console will be part of my life for a while coming, and before that happens it makes sense to take a status on my console experience so far.

The longer answer to the ‘why get a console now?’ involves retrogaming, media centers and surveillance cameras and the Raspberry Pi. Here is how: As mentioned in a previous post I am the generally happy owner of 3 Pis. Two are media centers, the third is used for various experiments.

Now, we have a spot in the house that we want to be able to check occasionally when we are away from the house. A quick solution for the budget aware person is to grab a Raspberry Pi, connect a camera and DIY. That’s what I am gonna do and that’s gonna set me back one Pi.

Then, regarding media centers: I have two Rasperry Pis running Kodi (one per TV) and that is a fine solution, except that one of the pies is not performing well and I want at the very least to have a backup. That could be another Pi, but trying out heavier hardware could be interesting.

Finally, as my first post in this series indicates, my heart still beats for old arcade and early computer games. Fortunately emulators are available that provide the opportunity to reply these games, either on a PC or *something* else. Again, the quick solution for the budget aware person involves a Raspberry Pi and, for example, an installation of RetroPie – a Linux package specifically build to run RetroArch on a Raspberry Pi. A great idea in principle, but I never was happy with the result, with the main gripe being controller setup. I just can’t get a stable setup with a wireless BlueTooth controller. So next step for me is to try building on hardware with native wireless controller support. I was already starting to look into options for building a NUC-based solution for this, when it occurred to me to check current costs of a gaming console. Turns out that both the PS4 and the Xbox One are now reasonably priced. Then, while I am not a fan of the Black Friday concept, I still checked if an Xbox could be bought at a reasonable price. Turns out it could. Directly from Microsoft even. No doubt to lock people into their games eco system before they get a Stadia or switch to Play Station 5 instead of getting the Xbox Series X when it arrives in 2020. And apparently also to keep people from buying more Raspberry Pis. In any case, soon I will unwrap my new Xbox and grow much wiser in the way of consoles. Time will tell if I succeed with my projects and whether gaming catches on – at least for the kids.

My brief history of gaming #4 – The Consoles in my Life

I am pretty sure that my earliest gaming experience was on a neighbor’s Atari 2600, some sort of tennis game and since then console gaming has always on the edge of my gaming universe, with a few trips inside. We shall see what my Xbox will do about that, but That may be a out to change, but I’ll start at the beginning.now I start at the beginning.

After the Atari next experience was the small handhelds with LCD screen. Nintendo’sGame & Watch: Octopus and Trojan Horse and Towering Rescue from Gakken. Very simple games by today’s standard, but quite exciting for a kid in the early 1980s and more than enough to make you want more.

I then took the Commodore path of 64 and the Amiga path and didn’t pay much attention to the console alternatives. I suspect that many consoles weren’t marketed very well in Denmark either – probably the market is too small.

What finally brought me to consoles was SSX Tricky and Dancing Stage Megamix, (played on floor pads) on the PlayStation 2. To me the biggest thing on PS2 was Final Fantasy X, my first experience with a JRPG and that way of telling stories, I also tried out Final Fantasy X-2 and Final Fantasy XII. However, I only went fully into FFX, possibly because of an unfavorable relation between the sofa-tv distance and the screen size, or perhaps the risk of tripping over the controller cable or the noisiness of the console. in any case, my PS2 experience topped with FFX and I haven’t played console game since. So on the eve of unpacking my Xbox One, this is the time to make status.

Memorable Games (that I played)

  • Half-Life – this is the only time I have played this classic game. Something missing in my education, I know.
  • SSX Tricky
  • Dancing Stage Megamix
  • Final Fantasy X

Memorable Games (that I would have liked to play but didn’t for various reasons that won’t fit in this headline)

Looking back, it would have been great to play some Mario games and meet Sonic the Hedgehog.

Also, I might have played more of the Final Fantasy games as they came out. I have tried the ports of Final Fantasy VI and VII (not the upcoming 2020 remake)

Little Big Planet also looks fun – maybe next time.

I also missed the Nintendo Wii – it looked fun as a party game, but I was never convinced how it worked in other situations – perhaps I should take a look at the Switch. but first things first, I’ll go unpack my Xbox One.

Featured Image

The featured image shows the fruit bodies of a annosus root rot fungus colony I found during recent walk in a nearby forest. It was a great trip and I really enjoyed the fall forest with my kids. They helped my find lots of different fungi – the best of which are shared in my Instagram feed.

Related posts

Thoughts of Games – My Brief History #1

Becoming a Gamer – My Brief History #2

IBM Compatible Gaming – My Brief History #3

IBM Compatible Gaming – My Brief History #3

This post links to quite a few computer game store pages where the game in question is sold. Please be aware that I am in no way affiliated with the stores, the publishers or the developers, and I receive no commission from any sales. Should anyone reading this post go on to buy any of these classic, old games, then I am just happy that the people who enjoyable gaming moments back then get extra recognition.

On my list of must-play-games I recently made it to The Witcher 3, which I found very enjoyable after playing the tutorial a couple of times (I tested out playing via Steam Link, but didn’t quite like the experience, so my PC after a couple of attempts). In fact I enjoyed it enough to consider playing the first two games in the series first – also in order to understand who is who. And read the books. I’ll probably watch the Netflix series too : )

My brief history of gaming #3 – Playing the PC

I got my first PC in the summer of 1993. Like most of the PCs at the time it was a beige box and built around a 386 CPU, and it was intended for schoolwork as I had just finished high-school and would enroll in university soon after.

It was not a fancy machine in any way. At the time the only thing that distinguished PCs were the CPUs, which at the time ranged from i386 running up to 40MHz, and i486 at 25, 50 and 66MHz. I know I started at the less ambitious end of the scale, but I generally believe that if you don’t know why you need the more expensive model, you shouldn’t get it (I know that to some people just having the most expensive is reason enough, but I am not like that).

I soon found good reason to buy more powerful equipment though. Not just games, but also more serious stuff like exploring the world of fractals  during my early mathematics studies and then programming too, including simulation of chaotic driven/damped double-pendulums. I picked up an i387 mathematical co-processor quite early, which did wonders for my fractals, but other than that upgrades were mostly about increasing raw CPU power. The videocard rush had not taken off yet and to confirm that state of PC gaming it should be noted that sound card were not yet standard equipment yet (this was long before sound cards became integrated on motherboards).

While I might have shot too low in my initial purchase I got plenty of opportunity to upgrade and I had these:

I had that box until 2002. In the same period RAM went from 4 MB to 256 MB and disk storage from 160 MB to 12 GB. My primary OS was from Microsoft (DOS, Windows 3.1, Windows 95 and 98), but I also tried out OS/2 Warp and started running dual-boot setups with Linux. By 2002 though, much of the box had become obsolete and I moved on to a full replacement.

Gaming-wise, I was happily surprised. The first game I played on that machine was Prince of Persia (the original one). I was soon introduced to Wolfenstein 3D and X-Wing had launched in spring 1993 and I realized I might have aimed too low on the specs. Other early games from the period were Warlords 2 and The Lost Vikings. Then Doom came out in December 1993 and changed everything, but I also got to play Star Control 2 early on – a game with such unique dialogue and humor, which still gets headlines in the gaming news.

Memorable Games

In my early PC years I got to play a bunch of games that are still considered classics and which all demonstrated how the more powerful hardware allowed a wider range of games and ideas. Also, over the 9 years I build on that box, the games industry moved very far.

Many of these games from the time have become available again on GOG and Steam at very reasonable prices and packaged with DOSBox so that they can run on modern OS and hardware. No need to dig out the old installation discs.

I also played Diablo which is considered a classic with its own franchise, but even though I have completed it twice, I somehow never felt compelled to explore the franchise further. Maybe I should : )

Featured image

This image is a detail from the Mandelbrot set, generated on my first PC in 1993 using Fractint.

Related posts

Thoughts of Games – My Brief History #1

Becoming a Gamer – My Brief History #2

 

 

How to Install Plex Media Server on a Raspberry Pi 2019

Here is how

  1. Setup Raspberry Pi with OS of choice, e.g. install Raspbian using NOOBS
  2. Download Plex Media Server package for Debian/ARMv7 -> here and install as pi user
  3. Setup server etc. (extra attention needed for NAS media)

Done.

This maybe a shorter instruction than elsewhere on the net and on usual tech sites. However, if you follow those guides, you will be be stuck at the

wget -O - https://dev2day.de/pms/dev2day-pms.gpg.key | apt-key add -

step, failing with the message

gpg: no valid OpenPGP data found.

That is all the older guides meeting obsolescence and no longer being maintained. Supposedly Plex changed their build and dev2day is not offering the key anymore. Which is fine, as long as the documentation is updated as well. So while waiting for the major techs sites to catch up, I hope the above is useful.

Now speaking of Plex, Raspberry Pi and the combination of the two… Is it useful? Well, keep reading.

What is Plex?

Plex is a media server platform that will stream all sorts of media to all sorts of devices, both at home and elsewhere. It is derived from the Xbox media center (like KODI) but has evolved far since then. It supports many types of media and integrates with Tidal. To run all this at home you need a server – a computer that can connect to all data sources and provide the content to other devices. Depending on the content, a fairly powerful device is needed – especially when video must be transcoded between formats and resolutions.

What is Rasberry Pi?

The Raspberry Pi is a small single-board computer which is designed to be affordable (and it is). It can in principle be used as a desktop computer, but has also found uses in many DIY projects where some computer power is required, but smallness and affordability is preferred.

I personally got three Raspberries in the house.  Two are running KODI media center for our TVs an the third is used for various projects – like retrogaming and this Plex experiment.

Can the Plex Media Server run on a Raspberry Pi?

Well, “Yes” and “No”, it depends on the media you want it to serve. So technically it definitely can be launched and the UI be accessed and the server configured to server media to connected clients.

  • Music works – it taskes a while for the Pi-based server to load and update the library, but once done it works. The experience on the client is not the fastest, but music is played.
  • SD video works, sort of – it depends on the movie and how complex the images is. The lower end with cartoons and older animated movies works fine, but watching live action movies are underwhelming
  • HD video doesn’t work.

I suppose one could scale down videos to an even lower resolution and make it work though.

Featured image

This image shows our climbing hydrangea in fall colors.