The 5th Edition PMBOK Guide’s New Knowledge Area

Late last year when I was in the thick of preparing for the PMP exam, I kept hearing that I needed to hurry. The 5th edition of the PMBOK Guide was coming out, and the test would change in the middle of 2013. I took the test in January of this year, and am glad I did, but not because of the new test. As it turns out, the major change in the 5th addition is the addition of a new knowledge area: Project Stakeholder Management. Although this is a big change, I don’t think studying for the new test will be that much more difficult as a result (although be warned…it is a very challenging exam!).

My main question about the new standard is how this new knowledge area, regarding stakeholder management, differs from and overlaps with Project Communication Management. I guess I’ll find out, as I’ve downloaded the new edition in pdf format from the PMI website. This document is for members only and requires a login, so you’ll need to be a PMI member to get it “for free.”

The following video provides a brief intro and overview to the new knowledge area, in case you’re interested.


Kevin Spacey On “The Creatives,” New Media and Multiple Platforms

Just a few days ago Kevin Spacey gave a talk that was, at the very least, on par with anything that’s come out of TED Talks. Except…this was a roughly 45 minute lecture given at the Edinburgh International Television Festival. I first became aware of his talk from a clip shared on This Week in Tech, and gave it a thorough listen on my way home from work yesterday.


Mr. Spacey starts slowly enough, but deftly builds his case and brings it to a rousing crescendo. His overarching subject was “the creatives,” referring to the talented individuals who dream dreams and write stories. Within that, however, he builds in a sharp critique of established media and sends out a warning that the days of single platform delivery are coming to a close.

Of course, there’s been a backlash from representatives of old media. The silliest claim I heard was that new platforms and methods of content delivery still only represent a small niche market. Oh, my friends, that’s how it begins. Small.

As for me, the only fault I found in his lecture was mention of Henry Ford as a car inventor. Ford’s genius wasn’t in cars, but in manufacturing. He saw what people wanted and devised a way to make a lot of them within a price range that was at least conceivable for the masses. Aside from that, I think Kevin Spacey’s talk was right on the mark.

Don’t just take my word for it. Listen for yourself and decide.

See Also:
Kevin Spacey’s Memo to TV Execs: Trust the Talent (Variety)
Kevin Spacey’s MacTaggart lecture prompts defence of traditional TV (The Guardian)
Kevin Spacey Really Wants TV Channels to Give Control To Their Audiences (Geekosystem)
Open films online to fight piracy, says Kevin Spacey (The Telegraph)

GiveDirectly: Giving Money to the Poor, No Strings Attached

The story above about GiveDirectly was featured last week in an abbreviated format on NPR. I heard it on my return commute from work, and I recommend it to anyone interested in international aid work, charity, social justice and/or ministry to the poor. Essentially, this non-profit receives monetary donations and gives them to people who have been identified as “poor,” with no further strings attached. The idea is that those in need know best what their actual needs are and will spend the money better on themselves than someone else would. I have a few thoughts about this approach.

First, I think this is an interesting challenge to the bureaucracy and overhead of charitable organizations. Although it’s understood that every charity has salary, overhead and fund-raising costs, some are less “charitable” than others when it comes to passing along financial donations. Presumably, GiveDirectly cuts quite a bit of this out, as it does not invest in glossy brochures and other promotional material and does not spend a lot of time doing anything other than transmitting funds to recipients. If data prove that this method is more effective in addressing extreme poverty, then the organizations that do not give directly to those in need will have some explaining to do.

Second, I really like the GiveDirectly idea of testing. Rather than simply do something and hope it works out or else depend on anecdotal evidence, they suggest trying one approach in one area and comparing it to other, similar areas that do not receive aid. A comparison could be made as well to populations that receive indirect aid, and over time their general well-being could be evaluated based on certain key indicators. This would provide a means for ascertaining the best way to help, discarding less-effective models.
Third, I can definitely see how this could fail. Sometime back, Nick Kristoff wrote online about how men in developing nations tend to waste money on wine, women and song (so to speak). He and his wife went on to co-author “Half the Sky” and took a lead in advocating that charities work more with women than men. The evidence seems to indicate that mothers tend to do a better job than men in looking out for the well-being of their children, and so will save money and invest it in food and school supplies. Giving money directly to people, whether men or women, seems on the face of it to be a rather risky prospect. 
Still, it would be interesting to see an analysis of the results. Even if there are those who waste the money, how would that compare with the percentage “lost” in additional overhead required for other charitable approaches?

What do you think? So simple it might work, or too naive?

Book Review: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” is not merely one story, but rather several. It’s a biography of the all-too-brief life of Mrs. Lacks, a woman who died of cancer in her early 30s in 1951. It’s also the story of the amazing breakthroughs made because her cancer cells, taken without her knowledge or consent, lived on in laboratories when no other human cells at the time would. Beyond that, it’s a tale of a family surviving great loss and then suffering when they finally learned the truth about their mother and grandmother’s cells. It’s also the story of a woman who wanted to know more about the people behind the HeLa cell line,  someone who did not give up despite initial and ongoing resistance from the family. It’s a multi-faceted narrative set against a backdrop of institutional and implicit racism.

Henrietta Lacks was born in Virginia in 1920 (and with the name Loretta Pleasant, no one knows when or why her given name changed), her mother passed away when Henrietta was just four. Raised by grandparents on a tobacco farm, she married her cousin David when she was still very young. She had five children, and after the fifth was born she was diagnosed with cervical cancer. She was treated at Johns Hopkins, which at the time was the only hospital in the region that would accept black patients. During her treatment a part of her tumor was removed and sent to a lab. There the cells simply didn’t stop dividing. Whereas other human cells, cancerous and normal, would die after a short period of time, nothing seemed to stop Henrietta’s cancer cells. They divided and continued, and Dr. George Gey (pronounced “guy”) grew quantities of the cells and provided them to other researchers throughout the world, free of charge. Unfortunately, Henrietta did not recover, passing away on October 4, 1951, at the age of 31.

The cell line, now called “HeLa,” continued and thrived. The cells were used in developing a polio vaccine, and have been used through the decades in researching cancer, AIDS, gene mapping, the impact of radiation and toxic substances. Researchers have grown over 20 tons of her cells. It was fascinating to read about just how vigorous these cells are. In the 1960s and 70s it was discovered that the cells can even become airborne on dust in labs and “contaminate” other cell cultures. Some researchers have advocated for considering the cells a new species, separate from both humanity in general and Mrs. Lacks in particular, because they have continued on their own and present changes over time due to adaptation. Others say this is not warranted, as genetically the cells are still those of Henrietta.

The family did not know anything at all about the medical advances being made through use of Henrietta’s cells. Life for them was a struggle, and oftentimes they lacked the medical care they needed. This raised a very valid point, in my opinion, raised by Henrietta’s daughter Deborah:

“If our mother [is] so important to science, why can’t we get health insurance?" 

Good question. Why not? Pretty much everyone who has ever received medical care in recent decades has benefited in some way by research derived from the HeLa cell line, and companies that mass-produce the cells for sale to laboratories have made quite a bit of money. There are also over 11,000 patents associated with the HeLa line, and companies are most definitely profiting from the sale of pharmaceuticals created using research from these cells. The Lacks family has not actually demanded financial compensation, but why not provide Henrietta’s descendants with free, unlimited health care into perpetuity? It seems the least the medical establishment/industry and society in general could do. And yet:

”[Henrietta’s son] Sonny had a quintuple bypass in 2003, when he was fifty-six years old—the last thing he remembered before falling unconscious under the anesthesia was a doctor standing over him saying his mother’s cells were one of the most important things that had ever happened to medicine. Sonny woke up more than $125,000 in debt because he didn’t have health insurance to cover the surgery.“ 

The writer of this book is Rebecca Skloot, a white woman who comes from a very different social and economic background from the Lacks family. Yet through persistence, patience, kindness and seemingly genuine goodwill, Rebecca managed to win the family’s trust. Her tolerance for Deborah’s crazy behavior (including irratically being friendly and then calling to say she could never speak to Rebecca again, as well as insisting they drive in separate cars because Deborah couldn’t fully trust Rebecca) went far beyond anything I believe I could manage.

From a religious viewpoint, which did come into the picture from time to time, everyone involved in this story seems a little ill-informed. At one point Gary, one of Deborah’s cousins, explains to Rebecca his beliefs regarding Henrietta’s immortal cells. Among other passages, he has Rebecca read John 11:25-26, presented here in the New International Version:

"Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?’”

Rebecca then makes this observation in her book:

“In that moment, reading those passages, I understood completely how some of the Lackses could believe, without doubt, that Henrietta had been chosen by the Lord to become an immortal being. If you believe the Bible is the literal truth, the immortality of Henrietta’s cells makes perfect sense. Of course they were growing and surviving decades after her death, of course they floated through the air, and of course they’d led to cures for diseases and been launched into space. Angels are like that. The Bible tells us so.”

This, to me, is all complete nonsense. If one accepts the Bible’s testimony about life, death and the future hope, cell lines aren’t involved any more than a disembodied existence adrift in the heavens. The Bible talks about bodily resurrection (including the long dead) and New Heavens/New Earth. It isn’t surprising that this would all be a bit muddled in this book about Henrietta and her cells, as the older generation of Lacks family had a limited education (although the younger generations are college-bound) that diminished in some ways their ability to grapple with fundamental scientific concepts as well as basic Christian theology. This book’s writer, Rebecca, certainly has the educational and professional qualifications to address the issues of science, but by her own admission had never prayed nor read the Bible until she came in contact with the Lacks family.

Finally, this book raises important questions about tissue samples and research. As Rebecca writes, “When I tell people the story of Henrietta Lacks and her cells, their first question is usually Wasn’t it illegal for doctors to take Henrietta’s cells without her knowledge? Don’t doctors have to tell you when they use your cells in research? The answer is no—not in 1951, and not in 2009, when this book went to press.” Until I read this book I’d always assumed that blood samples, biopsies and other tissues removed from patients were eventually discarded. Apparently this is not the case, and in fact it is routine to send samples off for storage and further research, although now they are fully anonymous with a numeric code.

There are serious ethical and legal questions that remain. If people are allowed to give full or partial consent for their tissues to be used in research, how will that be tracked? Someone could allow their tissues to be used, for example, in cancer research but not in AIDS testing. That could be difficult to keep up with.

As for the Lacks family, they have reached an agreement with the National Institutes of Health that will allow them, via two family members who are part of a panel, to review research to be done with HeLa cells and how results will be published. They will still receive no financial benefit from products made from these cells, but at least they will now have a say in how their matriarch’s biological heritage is used.

“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” is a grim but hopeful account of Henrietta Lacks and her cells, and it’s a story that needs to be known by everyone.

See Also:
Eternal Life (New York Times)
Henrietta Lacks family, National Institutes of Health come to privacy agreement (The Christian Science Monitor)
The Henrietta Lacks Foundation 
Rebecca Skloot’s page
The Lacks Family page

Stopping Online Ads and Auto Refresh

Ads fund the Internet. Well, at least quite a few of the more important services. Google is really an ad-serving company. Search and their other services are just the bait to get us to see the ads. For the most part I’ve never minded. I only pay for my Internet connection and the domain registration fees on my blog, and it seems more than fair that I see a few ads in exchange for email, video hosting/viewing, search and the other online services I use on a regular basis. Lately, though, I feel like it’s gotten out of hand.

Some sites are overloaded with ads. Page load takes too long as a result, and sometimes I find the ads offensive. Recently there’s even been talk of Facebook rolling out video ads that will autoplay before the user can view anything on the site.

Some sites are not content with the ad views they are getting already. So, they make the page auto-refresh after a few minutes, reloading the ads. This is very common on Brazilian news sites, and it’s terribly annoying if I’m halfway through a long article and the page suddenly goes white and refreshes.

Enough is enough. There are a couple of Chrome extensions you can install to abolish ads and stop auto page refresh. Just install Adblock Plus and Stop AutoRefresh and your problems are solved. At least, your website ad-related problems will be resolved. If you use Firefox, do a simple search for these as add-ons and you can install them for that browser as well. If you use Internet Explorer, I refuse to help you. 🙂

Calling Brazil on the Cheap

For years my family has been buying prepaid cards to call relatives in Brazil. For $5 we were getting maybe 4 or 5 hours of talk time, assuming we called to landlines. I thought that was pretty good, so when I got my TMobile line a few months ago and the salesman offered me international calling, I didn’t even give him time to finish his sentence. I told him I didn’t need it, that I had something already. My impatience cost me at least $40, the amount I spent on phone cards until I discovered, in late June, that TMobile really has a better option.

For just $10 extra per month I can call Brazil (and many other countries, if I had anyone there to call) without limits, as long as I’m calling landlines. It sounds crazy, given how much I’ve spent over the years on phone cards, but it’s real. I also have unlimited texting to Brazil with this same feature, although that isn’t terribly useful since it’s so expensive for people there to text me back.

If you call overseas frequently and are looking for another carrier or are already on TMobile, check out their international offering. It’s worth it.

Note: Yes, this looks like an ad. No, it isn’t. I have received no remuneration or other perks from TMobile or anyone else to write this post. I just think it’s cool to be able to call internationally with no limit. What an age we live in.

My Mobile Experience in Brazil This Year

Last year (July 2012) I went on my first trip to Brazil in nearly 9 years. This year I went again in July. My experience with mobile service was far smoother the second time around.

First, TIM was available. Last year, Brazil’s telecom regulatory agency had prohibited TIM and a couple of other mobile companies from activating new lines in some states until they presented a plan to improve their services. Without TIM available, I went with Vivo. The complication there is that Vivo has specific data plans for certain smartphones, so it took several calls to get the unlocked Blackberry I’d taken with me to work properly. TIM, on the other hand, simply treats data as data, charging a flat 50 centavos per day for unlimited data on prepaid lines. That is so much simpler. With TIM available this year, all I had to do was activate a sim card and pop it in the phone.

Second, last year I had a terrible time getting a sim card activated because I do not have a Brazilian CPF number. This is a sort of social security card, and only Brazilians and legal permanent residents are supposed to have them. That being the case, I borrowed my mother-in-law’s number and activated the line in her name, for my use. This year when I called in to activate a sim card I was asked if I wanted Portuguese or English. Opting for English, the automated system told me I would need to provide a passport number to activate the line. No problem!

Brazil’s government is working to get the country ready for a lot of international guests in 2014 (World Cup) and 2016 (Olympics). That explains the change to accept passport numbers to activate lines. Now what the country could really use are mobile kiosks in the international airports. It would be nice if I could leave the airport with a line already activated, making connecting with family and friends in-country easy from as soon as I arrive.

It’s progress, and I’ll take it.

See Also:
Buying & Unlocking a Blackberry to Use Overseas
My Experience With a Blackberry in Brazil