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April 29, 2003

Influences Essay

Yet another FEMBA application essay. How have people, events, and / or situations in my life influenced who I am today? Continue reading for my response.

Build success upon success: one foot after the other, one day after the next. This idea of continuous growth, of a lifelong journey built up from step after step, has been reinforced by people and situations throughout my life.

Parents usually give their children the first examples on how to approach the world. I was extremely fortunate to have excellent role models from the start. My father was home every day at 5:30, after a long day of working to provide for his family. It may seem like a trivial point, but it was valuable lesson, learned via the regularity of its occurrence: Every day, work hard. Every day, be there for your loved ones. Good results will follow.

During my preschool years, my mother was always at home. That was another form of regularity that was comforting to a child. Several years before I was to graduate from high school, as I was beginning to show some academic promise, my mother took a job at the University of Notre Dame. One of the explicit reasons for taking that particular job was to qualify for tuition benefit, so that we would be able to afford that excellent institution. This was another example: Plan for the future, and work toward it.

I first ran a marathon while in graduate school, at the University of Texas, in 1998. The training began early: Nearly six months before the race, the group organized and set goals. Every week we added mileage to the long runs, and soon we were running 13 to 16 miles on Saturday mornings. There were times that I was so physically exhausted, after the runs, that I could not do anything the rest of the day. However, my body and mind were changing. I could tolerate running for three hours without stopping. My legs could handle the continuous pounding, and my mental reserves were building up to handle the fears and doubts encountered along the road. Success upon success: The long runs grew longer, my confidence rose, and I felt like I was ready to handle the marathon.

The world interposed problems, as it does occasionally. My apartment had a power outage the night before the race, and my alarm clock ceased to function. The starting gun fired, and I woke over a half hour later. But I had planned and practiced too long, and I would not let it go to waste. I threw on the running clothes, flew down the freeway, and managed to get to the starting line about an hour late. Workers were beginning to take down the stands and clean up the remnants of the starting celebration, and they pointed me in the correct direction. At the start of the 26 mile journey, I did not have my running partners, good mental equilibrium, or even police protection at intersections. But the successes of my training had prepared me, and I knew that I could finish well. In the end, due to the months of effort, I finished the race, with a time of just over four hours.

Whether it was through the example of my parents, or via my own experiences while running marathons, I have learned the value of always growing and always preparing for the next step. Day by day, the little successes add up, and I believe that they lead to a fine character and a well-lived life.

April 28, 2003

Distinctions and Awards

One of the sections in the UCLA FEMBA application asked for a list of "distinctions, honors, awards, and other recognitions of achievement", with the basis of the selection for each. The response had to fit within 21 lines of text.

Read on for my response.

Honeywell Key Contributor, special stock option award. This corporate-wide award was made in 2001, to individuals identified by leadership as a significant contributor to Honeywell's past success. It was a particularly high honor for an engineer (with three year tenure) to receive.

Reward and Recognition for technical leadership on the completion of Phase I of the NexSys project. This project delivered significant productivity gains for the computer-aided engineering groups. The design phase of the program finished in 1999.

Reward and Recognition for the design and development of a mode transition sequencer for the Honeywell Joint Strike Fighter subsystem, in 1999. This sequencer was regarded as an essential tool by the Lockheed-Martin JSF Controls product team.

National Science Foundation Fellowship, honorable mention. Awarded in 1997 by NSF, based on engineering research proposals.

Thrust 2000 Fellowship. Awarded, in 1996, by the University of Texas, to attract graduate students with the most potential for significant research.

Notre Dame Band citizenship award. Awarded, in 1996, to a senior band member for contributions to the organization throughout one's undergraduate years.

April 24, 2003

Why MBA Essay

Another essay for the UCLA FEMBA program: Why have you decided to enter the Executive or the Fully-Employed MBA Program? Why is this the appropriate time for you to begin?

Continue reading for my response.

I enjoy my work. Over the last several years, my role within the Honeywell organization has been to guide the development of productivity-enhancing software for engineering. I believe that I have done well, and that success has opened opportunities that may require improved business-related skills. In particular, I hope to improve my skills in tracking trends in my industry and others, judging the business impact of our technologies, and managing teams to achieve successful results.

Computer-aided engineering has revolutionized the aerospace industry. My company recognizes that potential, and has invested in it. Over the last several years, we have been integrating disparate systems, in order to reduce maintenance costs, improve productivity, and gain some of the benefits of the modern computing platform. But, I have only been exposed to the aerospace industry. By learning about other industries, and trends that are shaping the economy, I believe that I will be able to make better decisions for my organization.

Business decisions should be made based upon ample data and correct analysis. I have an excellent understanding of technology, and routinely advise management about technological advances and implementation costs. However, the technology is only one aspect of a business solution. The skills gained within an MBA would enable me to understand the financial (and sometimes, political) aspects of the decision.

I have been leading a small team of software developers for the last several years. "People management" a completely different problem than the sort I was trained to handle. We have done well, and met our implementation goals. But, as the teams grow in size and importance, I believe that I could benefit from formal training.

The skills that I hope to develop, and the experiences that I hope to share, provide ample justification to invest in my MBA.

April 22, 2003

Professional Accomplishments Essay

One of the essays for the UCLA Fully-Employed MBA application asked: What do you consider to be your most important personal and professional accomplishments to date?

Read on for my response.

As I reflect upon my personal and professional life, there are many proud accomplishments. I can point to the cultivation of an ethical character, the evolution of relationships with friends and family, the purchase of my home, the running of marathons, and the development of interesting concepts within the scientific realm. But I am particularly proud of my work at Honeywell Aerospace on the NexSys project: A software tool designed to enhance the productivity of engineers.

As a world-class engineering firm, we had over sixty years of analysis tools, for applications from commercial airliners to space stations to army tanks. But most of those software programs were written in old and difficult to maintain languages, and none had graphical user interfaces. Due to the cycles of the aerospace industry, many experienced engineers were close to retirement, leaving recently-graduated workers without the benefits of prior lessons.

The problem was easy to identify but difficult to solve. Along with several other engineers, I put together a proposal to our management: We would develop a modern framework (called NexSys) which would allow disparate computer-aided-engineering tools to communicate, and, within that framework, set up user interfaces appropriate for a generation trained on Microsoft Windows. We could rate our progress by observing productivity gains, acceptance within the organization, and quality of results.

We knew at the outset that it would take a time. Our organization did not have many programmers familiar with modern languages and methodologies. My role at the beginning was to learn and use the new programming techniques, and tailor them for Honeywell's problems. We also sought to increase our knowledge by engaging professional consultants and Computer Science students from local colleges. There was some resistance to incorporation of the standard framework, as it meant that familiar user-interfaces had to change. All in all, the development and roll-out of NexSys has taken even longer than we had anticipated.

But, after about three years of development, we have been able to show measurable success. Our tools are particularly useful during the early proposal stages of engineering, when time is critical. One project showed a time savings of over 50% (about 100 man-hours of analysis time rather than 200 man-hours on a similar project), and other projects showed similar results. This translated into increased responsiveness to our customers, and reductions in cost.

Another indication of the success of the program has been its adoption by organizations outside the development team. Within the last year, NexSys has been utilized by engineering groups in England, with similar productivity results. It has also improved communication between the geographically-dispersed groups, and allowed best-practices to be shared. My role as the team leader has been to educate, manage feature sets, and provide connections to experts on both sides of the ocean.

Beyond the benefits to Honeywell, this project has furthered my development. From the project beginning, I have learned much about modern software development practices. As I have transitioned into the leadership role, I have also learned the principles of project management and how to cultivate a skillful team.

The success of the NexSys project has been a source of pride. Over the course of three years, I have found clever solutions to intractable problems and developed useful skills for the future. It is my hope that many similar accomplishments await.

April 20, 2003

Sandstone Peak

The highest point in the Santa Monica Mountains is Sandstone Peak (known as Mt. Allen to the Boy Scouts). Jim Leigh and I went hiking there last Friday, to enjoy the day off of work and to sample the pleasures of springtime hiking in Los Angeles. A number of pictures are available on the following page.

The parking lot and trailhead are available off of Yerba Buena road, about six miles north of Pacific Coast Highway (about a mile past the Circle X park headquarters). The peaks visible are the destination.
The trailhead. There are several options quickly available. The Backbone Trail heads directly to the peak, while the Mishe Mokwa trail loops around to the north. We chose Mishe Mokwa, as it promised more interesting views. We were not disappointed.
Springtime is an excellent time to hike in Los Angeles, because everything is green and growing. This is also wildflower season, which I have somehow missed each of the past four years that I have been in town. These blue flowers (ceanothus?) were abundant on the trail.
A rocky side trail branched off of the east side of the Mishe Mokwa loop.
The side trail led to a small waterfall, slick with black algae.
Since most people must work during the weekdays, we did not have to share the trail with very many other creatures.
Someday this rock is going to fall, so I had better preserve this for the sake of future generations.
Several picnic tables are set up on the north side of the loop, near a strangely split rock. This peacefully gurgling stream guarded the western approach to the picnic area.
Much of the trail was shady and tree-filled. As we approached the western and southern edge of the loop, the trees thinned.
Inspiration Point is near the peak, and offers a good view of the surroundings. Note my boot, for scale. Far below, one can see the Circle X park headquarters and Yerba Buena road. The ocean waits out there, too.
Here I am, on top of the mountain.
The peak offered many excellent vistas. Southwest, the 101 reaches out to Ventura, and the city of Thousand Oaks bustles.
Yerba Buena Road starts very near Leo Carrillo beach. Friday was quite windy, which makes for great kitesurfing weather.
There were some windsurfers out as well.
Another view of a kitesurfer. This looks like a lot of fun.

April 14, 2003


I can either write an entry or work on developing some of the infrastructure of this site. Because my text-processing plug-in hasn't really received much in the way of comments, I will try to post some actual CONTENT (such as it is). As for a topic, it seems reasonable to choose "travel", as it is on my mind.

Imagine, Gentle Reader, that one receives a check for a substantial amount of money in the mail. (Maybe this money was yours to begin with, but the Man grabbed it from your paycheck before you could stop it.) Suppose, then, that some dastardly villain, through some form of treachery, forced one to vacation in some choice spot. Horror of horrors, I know.

  • The desert. Even though I have lived in Los Angeles for five years, I have not spent any real amount of time exploring the nearby deserts. It seems accessible yet private: I imagine being able to take a car out to some back-country place, to see the unblemished stars. Joshua Tree might be a good place to start.
  • London. Remember, this was once the capital of the world. I really enjoyed the history and liveliness of this city when I visited it last year, and would like to explore it in more depth. I would like to spend more time at the British Museum, and perhaps take in more theater.
  • Upstate New York. I traveled through this area on several occasions in the past, enjoying each trip (except a poorly-conceived job interview with a chemical company in a snow-filled Buffalo). It might be worthwhile to take another, closer, look.
  • A south Pacific island. Relax on white beaches, by the warm crystal clear water? Sure! Besides, Gauguin seemed to like it.
  • Japan or Korea. Those places might serve as a good introduction to Asia, as they are modern and dynamic societies. It would be cool to see what new technology we will be getting in the US next year. (I am not speaking about North Korea, of course, which is an embarrassment to humanity.)
  • Australia and New Zealand. Everyone that I know that has visited these these places have been quite pleased. The farthest outpost (geographically) from England? Notice the trend here: I am fascinated by the Pacific Rim, and think that there is a lot of interesting activity happening here.
  • Annapurna. I would like to see the big mountains of Nepal, and hike in the lands closest to the sky. This travelogue has some great pictures. There are organized expeditions available.
  • Chicago and South Bend, Indiana. These places are my homeland, so I think that I will always end up there occasionally. And they hold their own form of attraction, too, from the cold energetic bustle of Chicago to gray familiar streets of Granger, where the house of my family is warm and dry even if the skies are cold and wet.
  • Mars. This is admittedly a bit far-fetched. But why not? Will I ever stand on that foreign shore and seek out a bluish-white light in the sky? If not me, then one of my children. There is no history there, only a blank page, ready to be written on by those clever and bold enough to take up the pen.

April 08, 2003

2003 Books So Far

Considering that I don't have any new programs to talk about, or any new pictures to display: I present the list of books that I have read this year, to date. I may have read the book before, but I must have spent time THIS YEAR on it. There are a number of nonfiction books in the list. The standards are a little easier on those: I need to have acquired the book this year, and have skimmed through a majority of it.

  • Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson. An excellent futuristic story by my current favorite author.
  • OpenGL: A Primer, by Edward Angel. A bare-bones introduction to the 3D graphics API, but any serious work requires more information.
  • MySQL and JSP Web Applications, by James Turner. Interesting introduction to MySQL-backed JSP pages.
  • JSP Weekend Crash Course, by Geremy Kawaller, et. al. Some good JSP info, but a little too thin in content.
  • Year's Best SF, edited by David Hartwell. A series of excellent short stories. I think that my favorite was Robert Silverberg's "Hot Times in Magma City", a story about volcano-fighters in a future Los Angeles.
  • Year's Best SF 4, edited by David Hartwell. More short stories, but a bit weaker than previous years'. My favorites were "Story of Your Life" by Ted Chiang and "Unraveling the Thread" by Jean-Claude Dunyach.
  • Cold Mountain, by Charles Frazier. A striking story set in the South of the Civil War.
  • Darwin's Radio, by Greg Bear. In progress.
  • Best Places: Central California Coast, by Judith Wylie. Good guide to livin' the California dream, and came in handy last weekend.
  • Crytonomicon, by Neal Stephenson. Excellent story about World War 2 codebreakers and present-day entrepreneurs. This may be my current favorite book, by my current favorite author. Very well written.
  • Tactics of Mistake, by Gordon R. Dickson. Military science fiction. Not the best written book, but still interesting.
  • The Mysterious Island, by Jules Verne. Story about castaways on a (nearly) deserted island. This is the first book that I have read by Jules Verne, oddly enough.
  • The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas. One of my all-time favorite stories. Revenge.
  • The Ascent of Man, by J. Bronowski. Nonfiction with lots of beautiful pictures. It tells the best story of them all.
  • Modern C++ Design, by Andrei Alexandrescu. Demonstrates the use of templates to solve common architectural problems in C++. Perhaps the most recent important book in the C++ community. Not for amateurs.

I recognize that this list is pretty weak, but I haven't had a lot of time to read everything that I would like. And I fear that my tastes have become less adventurous because of it.

April 07, 2003

Process Entry Tags Plugin

Several days ago, I tried to put together some macros to format tables of photos in a clean and easy way. It would seem cleanest to implement that functionality as normal Movable Type tags, and use a text processing filter to expand those tags into the proper HTML code. Due to technical problems, I gave up on processing XML. Now, though, thanks to an example from Kalsey Consulting's Process Tags plugin, I was able to get the Movable Type template processor to do the work.

The root of the problem is that template tags are not parsed in MT entries. There is a good reason for this: Entries are intended for normal users, which may not be familiar with or care to bother with XML representations of data. However, there are some power users that might desire this functionality.

In my case, I wanted to simplify the uploading, scaling, and presentation of digital photos within an entry. Many photoblog templates are intended to show each photo within its own entry, but I wanted to associate several photos together, to better tell a particular story. There are some good plugins, such as Brad Choate's EmbedImage that already accomplish some of the functionality. But I couldn't find anything that brings multiple images together in an entry.

There are a number of ways of processing tags within an entry. Brad Choate's MTMacros plugin can be used to define macros at the archive template level, and have them applied within the entry. This is intended to allow more than just MT tags: The blogger can define any kind of text to be macro-expanded. Kalsey Consulting's Process Tags plugin is closer to the functionality that I needed, in that it used the MT builder to process the entry for any tags. But both of those require changes to the templates, which doesn't seem quite right to me. The choice to apply or not apply MT tag should be made on an entry-by-entry basis. A text filter (new to MT 2.6) seems a better place for such code.

So, with a nod to the Kalsey code, I present Process Entry Tags, a text filter plugin. It is surprisingly short, which makes sense, because all it has to do is call up the existing MT builder. It has no external dependencies, other than Movable Type (version 2.6) itself.

The major strength of this approach is that it puts the decision about whether or not to process MT tags into the entry itself. Some authors on a particular site may choose to use it, while others may not. Any legal MT tag can be used, without having to change any templates.

There are some drawbacks, though. I could imagine that some people would like to use other text filter plugins at the same time. For example, I might use my (forthcoming) phototable plugin to put together a nice layout of graphics and text in an entry, but still want to process the text using the TikiText processor to nicely format the text. This cannot be done currently, as only one text filter can be selected.

Let me know if you find it useful.

April 06, 2003

Santa Barbara

DSC00241.JPGThis weekend, my girlfriend and I drove up the coast to Santa Barbara. We stayed at the very comfortable El Encanto Hotel, which had a well-tended garden and a fantastic view of the ocean from the cliffs above the city.

Me and my Acura RSX Type S, at Point Mugu, which is north and west of Los Angeles, along Pacific Coast Highway.
The view from Point Mugu, towards Los Angeles
Arbor near the lily pond, at the El Encanto Hotel, in Santa Barbara. It had just rained, and the arbor dripped.
Garden on the El Encanto grounds.
The gardens were very lush at the hotel. Santa Barbara itself had many horticultural centers.
The lily pond at the hotel. It was sunny when Elizabeth and I explored the grounds, but everything had been pleasantly cleaned by the recent rain.
The lily pond reflected the blue sky.
The view of Santa Barbara and the ocean, beyond the frigid El Encanto pool
Hello, Kitty
A radical Santa Barbara skate park.
View of the Santa Barbara marina, from Stearns Wharf
It was a clear but windy day, when we explored the downtown and beach areas.
Elizabeth and I, together on Stearns Wharf.
The Santa Barbara courthouse was an interesting Spanish-Moorish building. More gardens could be seen inside.
The inscription over the courthouse. A Latin version was also inscribed.
Elizabeth and I, relaxing on the swings at the El Encanto.
Our view, while we relaxed on the swings.
We had an excellent dinner at the hotel restaurant. This was an opportunity to get dressed up and play at high society.

April 03, 2003

Rambling About Current Issues

There are several current topics that I find interesting, and I will try to write about a couple of them.

Of course, the war with Iraq has engendered many interesting issues. Because I work for the military-industrial complex (which I know as the "land of shitty bonuses"), I am curious to see what weapons systems work well in that conflict. Unmanned air vehicles had apparently proven themselves in Afghanistan, and are supposedly in wide use in Iraq. Heavy tanks were used as the spearhead of the force. Will those be favored over light tanks (e.g. the upcoming Future Combat System vehicle)? What kinds of strategies will be used for urban warfare (which may become a significant part of the taking of Baghdad)?

More interestingly, what will we do once we take over the country? Knocking out the Hussein regime is not enough, as power vacuums are usually filled with the hot air of despots. Will we enact the right laws and set up the right structures to enable a stable free society to grow there? The United States should aim for nothing less. Are the people of Iraq independent enough for such a system? What will happen with the rest of the world? Will nations become more or less liberal (in the classical liberal way)? I do not fear terrorism, as it is often has a much smaller than the incursions of the governments.

On a different topic, the growth of online communities and blogging has generated a lot of recent attention. It is easier for people to write something and just put it out there. If others find it interesting, attention will be drawn. This could engender a very erudite civilization, where the interesting people become popular because of their interesting thoughts. What effect will that have on the general populace? The effect of intellectual affairs seems to be subtle, and may take a generation before its full potential is found.

But a well-connected, technically-literate society does not guarantee freedom. Witness the US protest movement, which has some technical abilities. They are certainly not interested in preserving freedom or human rights. (One has to wonder what they are really after.) Technology is wonderful: It enhances our abilities, and brings forth amazing potential. But it doesn't change the quality of thought, and doesn't automatically give better values. Will the technologies that the civilized nations developed help to bring about a better, freer world?

Where is the next big paradigm-shifting breakthrough going to come from? People ask that question all of the time. Will the Information Age become the Biology Age? Or the Sentient Machine Age? If I had to wager, I would say that the biomedical world will be the next revolution. Where can one look to understand that field? And does space exploration play a role somewhere?

April 01, 2003


Traffic on this website has greatly increased in recent days. I think that there are a couple of reasons: Google has finally crawled through most of the blog, and my page shows up under several searches (e.g. a search for Liftport or Montecute, for example). (I am finally the number one page for a search for "Jeff Borlik". W00t!) Some of my colleagues were interested in my Icehouse Canyon hike. Pings are being sent out to several blog sites, and that seems to be attracting some attention. Also, there may be a Yahoo Group out there that has a reference to this page. Hmmm...

Still, I won't quit my day job quite yet.