John Klossner's Ink Tank

Klossner: Could Obama unilaterally vote contestants off “American Idol”?

Recent reactions to a proposed Senate bill on cybersecuity have left some fearful of whether President Obama (and future presidents) are being given too much power. To get a flavor of that, check out the reaction to FCW’s original Web story (be sure to click “View all comments").

In looking through the fine print for humor purposes, I was able to discover additional administrative powers. It turns out the president will also be able to:

* Pick Facebook friends without them being able to refuse him.
* Vote contestants off of American Idol.
* Declare call-waiting part of the axis of evil.
* Turn off the presidential spell check.
* Designate the entire Stevie Wonder catalogue on iTunes the "free song of the day."
* Use more than 140 characters in his tweets.
* Stop the sale of all cereals with chocolate/peanut butter combinations.
* Drive through EZ Pass toll booth lanes without slowing down.
* Declare every basket he makes to be three-pointers.
* Get the all-time high score on Wii Golf.

Klossner cybersecurity

Posted by John Klossner on Sep 30, 2009 at 12:18 PM1 comments

Klossner: How to recognize the mentors in your life

It's Rising Star time, the 1105 Government Information Group’s annual recognition of people who will someday be our bosses. This year's class (being honored Oct. 22 at the GCN Gala) was asked about their mentors -- people who helped them along the way. Since these are Rising Stars, I expect them to do the right thing: Name someone who can be the most useful to them in the future or someone who can help them move up in the agency, or make a profitable connection.

I used to have a basketball coach who was a throwback from an old movie, especially in his ability to spout sport cliches. One of his sayings was, "It takes two people to throw a pass; one to throw and one to catch." I would alter this for the purposes of mentoring: It takes two people to mentor; one to mentor, and one to be mentored. (Picture me spitting into the ground after saying this. Hopefully, I'm outside.) While I respect the Rising Stars' ability to recognize and thank someone for helping them, I find it as equally impressive when a talented person recognizes their need to learn and so listens to someone's experience. (I remember -- and cringe at the memory of -- the ego of my 20s.)

Personally, I would like the off-the-record version of the Rising Star discussions. This would cover the people who were helpful to us in ways that aren't so clearly recognizable. Besides, one person can't be an all-purpose mentor. There are many things we learn along the way, and many people who have influenced us in the process. Some of my favorite mentoring experiences are the unintentional ones -- the person I encounter every day in non-work environments that may teach me something without either of us having intended it. I hope that I have been the mentor in such a situation -- you never know that until after the fact.

(As a parent I run into unintentional mentors all over the place, people who set examples on how to deal with parenting situations or give me appropriate language for speaking with children of all ages.)

There are so many skills that won't be acknowledged in the Rising Star coverage. (Some of my listings feel like lightning strikes -- a one time event that may have changed your life, as opposed to mentoring that took place over a longer period of time.) That said, here's my list of questions that can help identify the unacknowledged mentors in our lives.

* Who told you about that "easy" course in college that you took because you needed to fill a space on your schedule but which has now become your career?
* Who gave us the proper -- okay, exact -- wording to put on our federal job application?
* Who showed us that we could lead useful, productive lives without first logging onto Facebook?
* Who told us the best lunch special near work?
* Who told us which of the office elevators was the faster one?
* Who told us that Cobol wasn't a race from another planet in Star Trek?
* Who told us about that obscure British sitcom, The IT Crowd?
* Who told us where to find cheap -- oops, inexpensive -- work clothing?
* Who taught us how to make guacamole? And how to eat it?
* Who took us to our first Jackie Chan movie?
* Who gave us Orioles or Nationals tickets while assuring us that professional baseball would return to the region someday?

Klossner FCW mentoring

Posted by John Klossner on Sep 25, 2009 at 12:18 PM0 comments

Klossner: The secret of success in federal IT cartooning

 Klossner NHIN 4

This has been a good year to do cartoons for Federal Computer Week.

In the 13-plus years I have been drawing cartoons for this publication, I have often needed a high learning curve on cartoon topics. I don't have to tell you, but FCW covers subject matter that is a) of interest to a specialized community, and b) often ahead of the mainstream curve. (For example, I noted that FCW's encounter with the birthers occurred several weeks before the mainstream media's.)

When creating humor, or making editorial comments, this is a challenge. It helps in these situations to have the readers, listeners, viewers, etc. know as much as possible about the subject matter that you are commenting on. Think of a bunch of people sitting in a room, commenting on someone in the room's clothing. Comments and jokes can cover more specifics — "Do you dress in the dark to conserve energy, Dave?" — because everyone knows the reference points. But when someone makes a reference to an outfit that same person wore last month, members of the community who weren't there are lost.

As I said, this has been a good year, topic-wise. Many of the issues of importance to the federal IT world have also been prominent in the public eye issues — including Web 2.0, virtual training, stimulus spending and tracking, cybersecurity, e-mail, contractor relations. These issues and their specifics are familiar to a larger audience, allowing me to comment on a wider variety of specifics, hopefully making for sharper commentary or humor. (I can't make a joke about "tweeting" to someone who is hearing about Twitter for the first time. Come to think about it, it isn't that easy to make a joke about 'tweeting" even if someone knows what I'm talking about.)

I point all this out in light of the recent cartoon on a topic I had no familiarity with: the National Health Initiative Network. While aware of its existence, I wasn't aware of the specifics of their role, or any recent controversies. I had to revert back to older techniques: a) ask the editors a lot of questions; b) talk to the reporter covering this story; c) go to the FCW blogs and columns; or d) Google it.

It turned out this story was pretty new, and hadn't been widely reported yet, eliminating options c) and d). The editor was helpful in explaining the story to me, noting in particular that there are concerns about NHIN's technical architecture. Not all agree with these claims. There is debate about whether they should fix the flaws or should they proceed, slowing down the progress of the program.

In discussing this, the editor used a term that helped me immensely: Would going ahead with the network as it is be "paving the cow paths?" Although I hate to give away trade secrets, this is often all a cartoonist needs to go on — a strong visual image. In this case, however, it was a complicated image, and I don't have the rendering skills necessary to convey a cow path being re-paved in a 6-inch box.

So what other images did I consider? From my sketchbook, I offer the following ideas.

Klossner NHIN 1

PROS: Easily understood, "flop, flop" looks funny. CONS: Car imagery is a cartoon cliché.

Klossner NHIN 2

PROS: Unique image, funny implications. CONS: Doesn't convey the issue clearly or accurately.

Klossner NHIN 3

PROS: Funny image if understood. CONS: Not so easily understood. Horse imagery is almost as big a cliché as cars.

The image I went with, below, isn't necessarily much better than the ones I rejected. But I felt it was unique — in looking at it again, I think it might be necessary to have the label "architecture" in there. Or at least a "flop, flop."


Klossner cartoon NHIN

Posted by John Klossner on Sep 16, 2009 at 12:18 PM0 comments