In Memoriam Katherine Johnson


The phrase “in memoriam” is a Latin phrase meaning “in memory of.”   It is a phrase that used to be used on epitaphs, the words carved on gravestones.  However, in the case of Katherine Johnson, instead of being reminded by an epitaph of the significance of her life, all you have to do to remember is legacy is go out when there is a full moon and look up.   If there were to be an appropriate epitaph for Katherine Johnson, it would be “they asked her for the moon, and she gave it to them.”

Katherine Johnson was a mathematician who played a crucial role in the American space program:   she was one of black women hired to do computing in the guidance and navigation department at Langley’s Research Center in Virginia, which later became apart of NASA.   At this time, computing was done by hand, and the mathematicians like Katherine Johnson were known as “computers” before IBM developed computing machines that came to be used at NASA.

And yet at a critical juncture in the space program, when NASA went from suborbital flights to orbital flights, the orbital trajectory that the IBM machine calculated showed a difference between the one calculated previously.   Was this due to a change in the data, or was there a mistake in the calculations?   John Glenn, the first astronaut to go on an orbital flight, was concerned and specifically requested that Katherine Johnson recheck the calculations.   She showed that they checked out, and that gave John Glenn the confidence to go ahead with the mission as planned.

For those of you who want to know more about the life of Katherine Johnson, I recommend the book Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly, and of course the film of the same name starring Taraji P. Henson as Katherine Johnson.   The film also portrays other African-American women pioneers of the space program:  Dorothy Vaughan (played by Octavia Spencer), and Mary Jackson (played by Janelle Monáe).

Dorothy Vaughn saw the coming of the computing machines, and became the first black woman who became a supervisor at the Langley Research Center.  The the black women mathematicians on her team were in danger of losing their jobs to the computing machines which could outperform them in terms of speed.   But she got in front of the technological curve and learned how to program those machines, thus ensuring that her team would still be employed by NASA, but now in the capacity as computer programmers.

Mary Jackson was the first black female engineer employed at the Langley Research Center, and she was hired by the aerodynamics group.  Since Langley was in Virginia, which was still segregated in terms of education at that time, she had to petition the court to be able to take night classes at the college that normally only took white students.

In personal terms, the book and the movie were a revelation to me, and I found myself with conflicting emotions:   joy at watching the accomplishments of this woman, but also angry in a way that I had never about the story of her life before.   I had a special fascination for the character of Katherine Johnson, because mathematics was the love of my life as a child.   Although nowhere near the level that Katherine Johnson was at in terms of understanding mathematics, I was nonetheless fascinated with the subject until I was in college studying engineering physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.    But I took a turn after graduating towards the study of languages, and ended up getting my master’s degree in Asian Studies at the same university.   I graduated with a double major in Chinese and Japanese, and ended up moving to Japan after graduation.   I am back here in the United States, and became a project manager because I like figure out how systems fit together, systems of people and of machines.

Mathematics was like an old childhood friend to me that I had never seen again after graduating, but then I read the book and saw the film, and I fell in love with mathematics once more.   I signed up at brilliant.org, a site dedicated to teaching students at all levels about mathematics, physics, and computer science.   Working on math problems, and the “aha” moment that comes when you get the right answer, was a rediscovered joy for me, and I owe it to the memory of Katherine Johnson for re-sparking my interest in mathematics.   As Plutarch once said, “the mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.”

I hope that some young people today who watch Hidden Figures go out and night, look up at the moon, and wonder:  maybe we should go back.  So, in keeping with her connection to the space program, I conclude with the words that that Mission Control often used when astronauts were launching into space:   Godspeed, Katherine Johnson!

Chicago’s Rollout–Change a Habit (5)


In the last post, we went into detail regarding the first five steps involved in the project of changing a habit.

1.  Choose a habit you want to change

2.  Choose a timeframe for the project

3.  Become aware of the CUE for the habit.

4.  Figure out what the REWARD is.

5.  Figure out what the replacement ROUTINE will be.

The first step is the initiating phase of the project, where we set the goal of what habit we are trying to break.   The second through fifth step above are what is referred to as the planning phase of the project.    Here’s where we set the time frame, figure out the CUE, ROUTINE, and REWARD parts are of the habit loop, and come up with a replacement ROUTINE.   Once all that is done, we go on to the executing phase, which is represented by the next three steps.

6.  Start the project:  use CUE awareness to become more aware of the CUE, and when it occurs, use the replacement ROUTINE.

This is where we use the information gained in Charles Duhigg’s book The Power of Habit to increase the chances of our success in the project.   There is something called Simplified Habit Reversal Therapy (or SHRT for short–just think of your shirt to remember this acronym).    All you need is an index card or pocket notebook and a pen or pencil.   Divide the index card into columns representing the days of the week.

Put the index card and pencil in your pocket and take them along with you during the day.

7.  Mark on an index card a check mark every time you catch yourself experiencing the CUE for the ROUTINE.

Let’s take the nail biting habit as an example.   Every time you feel the CUE or TRIGGER for nail-biting, which is the sensation of boredom or anxiety, take out your index card or notebook and make a check mark.

8.  Mark on an index card a hash mark (#) every time you successfully carry out the replacement ROUTINE.

Let’s say you catch yourself experiencing the CUE, but before you do your regular ROUTINE or habit, you do the REPLACEMENT routine you set up for yourself back in the planning stage in step #5.   Reward yourself by putting a hash mark (#) or other symbol (like a smiley face) on that same index card.

Keep doing this–you should notice as time goes on that your index card fills up with more check marks per day as you catch yourself experiencing the CUE, and hopefully you will also get more hash marks on your card as you successfully replace your old ROUTINE with a new REPLACEMENT routine.

It’s important in a project to do the next phase of monitoring and controlling your progress.

9.  Review your progress after one week.

The monitoring part is just looking at the results of your project on a periodic basis.  In this case, you just look at your index card to see if the number of check marks and hash marks is increasing.

The controlling part is making a mid-course correction if you see that you are not making progress.   Let’s say that you are trying to stop eating cookies in the afternoon.  If you identify the reward as simply the calories in the cookie, and your replacement routine is, let’s say, eating an apple or piece of fruit instead, you may notice that your craving isn’t going down, and you’re still experiencing the CUE or TRIGGER.   In this case, you may have to look again at what the CUE and REWARD are, because you may have gotten them wrong.   That’s okay!   You’re like a scientist who doesn’t worry when a mistake is made, because that means that he or she is gaining valuable knowledge, in this case knowledge of what doesn’t work.   In the case of the cookie, it could be that your reward isn’t the calories, or the sweetness of the cookie, but maybe the fact that you go to the company cafeteria to eat it.   In that case, the reward may be the fact that you use the opportunity of going to the company cafeteria to gossip with some of your fellow workers.   If that’s the reward, then you just need to come up with a different replacement routine.   For example, go to the cafeteria but have a cup of coffee rather than a cookie.   You’ll still get the reward (gossiping with co-workers), but without the calories!

10.  Review your progress at the end of the second week when your project stops.

At the end of two weeks, you should end your project, look at your index card and see how it goes.   If you are successful, then you may want to follow up and try to further reduce a negative habit, further increase a positive one, or move on to another habit!  This is the closing phase, and it is time to celebrate (but not with a cookie, of course, in the case of the example of the last paragraph).   If you have a partial success or even a total failure, use it to write down the lessons learned so that the next time you do the project, you’ll have a greater chance of success!

Tomorrow (Friday), I will not be on the radio program because Bert Howard has a special guest whom he will interview for the entire hour!   I will still bring you information related to the show in this blog, however, so stay tuned!

Chicago’s Rollout–Change a Habit (4)


Let’s start by reviewing from last post.   Here’s a breakdown of the steps involved in the project of changing a habit.

1.  Choose a habit you want to change

2.  Choose a timeframe for the project

3.  Become aware of the CUE for the habit.

4.  Figure out what the REWARD is.

5.  Figure out what the replacement ROUTINE will be.

6.  Start the project:  use CUE awareness to become more aware of the CUE, and when it occurs, use the replacement ROUTINE.

7.  Mark on an index card a check mark every time you catch yourself doing the CUE for the ROUTINE.

8.  Mark on an index card a hash mark (#) every time you successfully carry out the replacement ROUTINE.

9.  Review your progress after one week.

10.  Review your progress at the end of the second week when your project stops.

Now let’s go into detail about how you can best carry out each step.

1. Choose a habit you want to change

This is where you initialize the project, meaning that you decide what the project’s overall goal will be.   In this case, you should decide on whether you want to change a negative habit (like nail biting, or eating at fast food restaurants) or create a positive habit (like exercising).   To increase the chance of success for your project, you should try for small wins.   For example, if you are trying to stop eating at fast food restaurants, rather than trying to go cold turkey and stop immediately, you may want to try to at least REDUCE the number of times you go per week.

For an example with a positive habit, let’s think of establishing exercise.   If your eventual goal is to be able to run a 5K marathon, you may want to in the first two weeks try to take a walk three times a week.   Start small, and when you get a win, build on that!

2. Choose a timeframe for the project

Once you have a concrete goal that you set in step #1, now is the time to set a timeframe for the project, in other words, how long you should do the project before you decide to end it.   Most experts talk about doing a habit from two weeks to a month before you can consider it established (or changed, if is a negative habit).   Let’s go with that as our timeframe for the project.

3. Become aware of the CUE for the habit

Here are the six possible CUES or TRIGGERS for the habit routine with an example of each one.

a. Location–you always turn on the television set when you enter the living room.

b. Time–you always have a cookie at break time at work

c. Emotional state–you always bite your nails when you get too tense (or too bored)

d. Other people–you always have a drink when you see your friends at the bar

e. Senses–you always drink a sugary drink when you are thirsty

f. Immediately Preceding Action–you always have a cigarette after finishing dinner

The CUE will most likely be one of the above.   If you don’t know which of the categories your CUE is under, then you may have to experiment.   For example, let’s say you have a cookie in the middle of the afternoon.   It could be that the cue is hunger (senses).   Do you have a cookie in the same place every afternoon, such as in the cafeteria at work?   Then it may be the cue is the location.   Keep experimenting until you find out what the real CUE is!

4. Figure out what the REWARD is

This may be more difficult than figuring out the cue, because some items may offer multiple rewards.   Let’s take the cookie example.    If the reward is that you get energy from the cookie in the middle of the afternoon, then a possible substitute for eating a cookie might be eating a piece of fruit instead.   If the reward is the sensation of sweetness, try eating a cookie that is made with an artificial sweetener.   If the reward is that you use the occasion of eating a cookie in the cafeteria to meet with your friends and gossip, then have a cup of coffee instead and join your friends to gossip anyway.

5.  Figure out what the replacement ROUTINE is

Read over the last paragraph:   a lot of times knowing what the reward is will suggest to a way to get a similar reward, but one that is less harmful (or fattening, in this case).

Once you have the three elements of the CUE, the ROUTINE, and the REWARD, plus the substitute ROUTINE, then you get start on the actual work of the project itself.

I will cover this and the remaining steps of the project in the next post!

 

 

Chicago’s Rollout–Change a Habit (3)


In a project, there are five phases:  initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, and closing.

With the project of changing a habit, let’s take the first phase of initiating.   This is where you come up with a definition of your project’s goal.   In this case, it’s where you want to change a habit.   So let’s call this step 1.

1.  Choose a habit you want to change

Now let’s talk about planning the project.   You’re going to want to figure out how long you are going to give yourself to complete the project.

2.  Choose a timeframe for the project

Many experts talk about a new habit being established or an old one being changed in about two weeks.

In order to change the habit, we need to analyze the habit loop and figure out what the CUE or TRIGGER, ROUTINE, and REWARD are.

3.  Become aware of the CUE for the habit.

We’ll assume you already know what the ROUTINE is you are trying to break.   But you also need to figure out the REWARD.

4.  Figure out what the REWARD is.

Once you know the reward, you can then figure out how to insert a different ROUTINE after the CUE so that you get a similar REWARD.

5.  Figure out what the replacement ROUTINE will be.

Once you have figured out what the replacement ROUTINE should be, you are now ready to execute the project.

6.  Start the project:  use CUE awareness to become more aware of the CUE, and when it occurs, use the replacement ROUTINE.

You should start recording your progress, so you can review it at the end of the first week, and then at the end of the project in two weeks.

7.  Mark on an index card a check mark every time you catch yourself doing the CUE for the ROUTINE.

8.  Mark on an index card a hash mark (#) every time you successfully carry out the replacement ROUTINE.

9.  Review your progress after one week.

10.  Review your progress at the end of the second week when your project stops.

The last step is the closing progress, because you decided how long the project would last back in Step #2.

So this shows you how to write the steps of a project in a way that divides them into the five phases mentioned above:

Initiating–step #1

Planning–steps #2-#5

Executing–steps #6-#8

Monitoring and controlling–steps #7-#9

Closing–step #10.

Now that is the outline of a project.   Let’s go to the next post for more details about how to practically get this done in your daily life, starting with CUE awareness.

 

Chicago’s Rollout–Change a Habit (2)


In the last post, I talked about the elements of a habit loop, the CUE or TRIGGER, the ROUTINE, and the REWARD.

In the case I discussed in the last post, that of biting one’s nails, the ROUTINE is obvious, that is, it’s when you bite your nails.   The CUE or TRIGGER is when you are bored or anxious and therefore tense.   What does the ROUTINE of biting your nails do for you?   It creates an irritation or momentary pain which reduces tension.

So how do we go about changing this habit loop so we don’t bite our nails?   What scientists who have studied this habit recommend is that, every time you feel the CUE or TRIGGER happening, you should replace the ROUTINE of biting your nails with the following new routine.   You should take your nails and scratch them against the inside of your wrist.   Not hard enough to draw blood, or anything like that, but vigorously so that you can feel the nails rubbing against the sensitive skin on the inside of your wrist.

What does that do?   It is an irritation that, like the irritation of biting your nails, reduces tension.   This amounts to the same reward in the brain as before, but now you’re doing something that is not destructive.

This is an example of how to change a habit–you don’t change the cue or the reward, but you try to get a similar reward with a different routine.   And that’s all there is to it!   It’s simple–but it’s not easy.    Experts differ on how long it takes to change a habit, but many say it is about two to three weeks.    So let’s do a project and change a habit.

How do you go about doing this?   It’s a step-by-step process, which I’ll go into in the next post.

 

Chicago’s Rollout–Change a Habit (1)


On Chicago’s Rollout radio program on Friday, February 21st from 6:30 to 7:30 PM CST, I covered what a project is (see last post).

I wanted you to explore for yourself what a project is by doing a project for yourself, namely, to change a negative habit you have or to establish a positive habit that you would like to have.

However, before you start on your project to change a habit, you should understand something about how they work.   If I ask you to identify a bad habit, that shouldn’t take you too long to do.   In my case, I noticed that I was biting my nails during the third broadcast a few weeks ago, and I wanted to try to stop doing that.

So I got the book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg.   In the book, he shows you how to understand your habits by analyzing the habit loop (I’ll describe this below).   I have been working on stopping this bad habit for the past few weeks now, and then I realized it would make a great example project for those of you who are listening to the program.

THE HABIT LOOP
Before you set up your project, let’s understand HOW to change a habit.   To do this, you need to understand the habit loop, which consists of three steps:

  1. CUE or TRIGGER
  2. ROUTINE
  3. REWARD

In the case of biting your nails, researchers studying the brain have shown that the CUE or TRIGGER is either boredom or nervousness, both of which create tension in the brain.

The ROUTINE of biting one’s nails creates a sharp sensation of irritation and even momentary pain.   This is what causes the REWARD of a lessening of tension, because when you have that irritation or momentary pain from biting your nails, it relieves that tension which the brain wants to get rid of.    By tying these three elements together, your brain has now created a habit loop.

So knowing this, how can we use this information to change the habit?   That will be the subject of the next post!

 

Chicago’s Rollout–What is a Project?


Welcome to those who heard the radio broadcast on Friday night (6:30-7:30 CST, February 21st) of Chicago’s Rollout program on truthradio.net!  This was our first show on the subject of project management which was titled “The Projects.”   What I’m going to do in the next few posts before our next show is introduce the definition of a project and then give you a project to work on called “Changing a Habit.”  Feel free to leave a comment or a question below.

 

DEFINITION OF A PROJECT–ordinary and technical definitions

When we talk about a project, the ordinary definition tells us that a project is a “large or major planned undertaking.”   So it’s a lot of work that is somehow organized to get done in a systematic way.

What is the technical definition of a project according to the Project Management Body of Knowledge?   It is a temporary endeavor undertaken to produce a unique product, service or result.

Let’s look at the technical definition more closely.

PROJECT IS TEMPORARY

This means that it has a start and a stop.   Each project has five phases, the first of which is the “start” of a project called the initiating phase.   The fifth or last phase is the “close” of a project and it is called the closing phase.

It is in contrast to the operations of a business, for example, which are example of continuous activities that keep on going indefinitely as long as the business continues to exist.   The regular business operations are covered by Bert Howard in his segment on “Business” during the first week of every month.

PROJECT IS UNIQUE

If you have an idea for some new product, you can create a project to design, manufacture, and distribute that product.    But the Project Management Institute realizes that there can also be a project which improves upon an existing produce, service or result.   The project we will do on changing a habit is exactly this other type of project, because what you will be improving upon is yourself, by getting rid of a bad habit or starting a good one.

PROJECT CAN BE A PRODUCT, SERVICE, OR RESULT

As we see above, a project can be started to create a new product.   But you can also start a project with the aim of creating a new service.  Let’s say that you want to open a transportation service to help those in your neighborhood who may not have access to public transportation to get groceries, go to doctor’s appointments, etc.   Setting up a company to provide that service would also be an example of a project.

Finally, a project can produce a result, such as the creation in a church of a directory of members so that people can get a hold of their fellow church members outside of church.

So the above covers what a project is about.   The next posts will cover Creating a Habit and I will put these posts up between now (starting Sunday) and the time of next week’s program on Friday, February 28th.    Next week’s program will be led by Bert Howard and will cover art, architecture and design.   We’ll see you all on the next … Rollout!

(NOTE:  For those who are regular readers of this blog, the “Chicago’s Rollout” blog posts are geared towards those who have no background in project management.   We are assuming that the listeners want to understand basic concepts of project management in the hopes that they can use the material to improve their everyday lives on a practical level.   Of course, it is always our hope it may spark an interest in studying the subject further.)