Saturday, January 30, 2010

Poetry for the Weekend

Stereotypes and Title VII

[Above: Probably not a contender for the desk clerk position.]

Michael P. Maslanka examines a very interesting case:

In Lewis v. Heartland Inns of America, et al., a female hotel desk clerk has, as she characterizes it, "an Ellen DeGeneres kind of look." She wore loose-fitting clothing, including men's button-down shirts and slacks. (Historical footnote from me: The word slacks started in Dallas with the Haggar Co., whose founder wanted to provide men with pants for "slack time.") A manager did not like this look, supposedly saying that the employee lacked the "Midwestern Girl look" and that female desk clerks needed to be "pretty." The clerk got fired and sued.

When a Marlin was a Car

Memories of the AMC Rambler American and, for excitement, the Marlin.

[HT: Instapundit]

Miscellaneous and Fast

Safe Driving Ad

If you want to see an example of tasteful and effective advertising, this safe driving commercial - which has no gore - is a marvelous choice.

British Colonial Novels

Janice Y. K. Lee lists five novels set in the British colonial-East.

I'd add Burmese Days by George Orwell.

Americana and Groundhogs

As I recall, de Tocqueville wrote about the American proclivity to form community groups to address various issues.

This account made my day. An excerpt:

No one yet knows it but the groundhog being escorted around by a local realtor and business leader is the Vice President of the local hospital. Each year a well-known business leader sucks it up and secretly suits it up as the groundhog. He or she walks around, waves, shakes paws and is unveiled at the end of the breakfast. As an observer, you are puzzled now but will notice how pleasant everyone is. Members of the business community, elected officials, community members and anyone else who shows up all mingle and talk as the band, Crash and Burn, sets up to begin playing rock and roll favorites for the crowd.

Quote of the Day

I went to the doctor. I said, "Doctor, it hurts when I do this." The doctor said, "Don't do that."

- Henny Youngman

Friday, January 29, 2010

E-Mails That Anger and How to Respond

My post on how to respond to an e-mail that enrages is up at U.S. News & World Report.

Avatar: Helpful Phrase

Adapting film standards to daily life: "Was that regular stupid or Avatar stupid?"

Business Meals

I love Cultural Offering's theory on business meals:

The value of the business meal varies inversely with the price.

Read the whole post here.

Mixed Message

Peggy Noonan on the State of the Union address:

The central fact of the speech was the contradiction at its heart. It repeatedly asserted that Washington is the answer to everything. At the same time it painted a picture of Washington as a sick and broken place. It was a speech that argued against itself: You need us to heal you. Don't trust us, we think of no one but ourselves.

Quote of the Day

Choose your pleasures for yourself, and do not let them be imposed upon you.

- Lord Chesterfield

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Holden Lives

The Onion: "Bunch of Phonies Mourn J.D. Salinger."

Entertainment Break

The trailer for "Mary, Queen of Scots."

Marvelous film. Great cast. Excellent soundtrack.

Toyota's "Existential Crisis"

Writing in Fortune, Alex Taylor III on Toyota's Tylenol moment. An excerpt:

The twin accelerator and carpet problems have been widely blamed on Toyota's pell-mell expansion over the last several years in its effort to pass General Motors and become the leader in worldwide sales.

But the accelerator problems seem to lie instead with a parallel effort that accompanied expansion: an almost paranoid drive to cut costs by using cheaper materials.

Holocaust Films

Armchair Commentary lists ten films about the Holocaust.

I've never been that fond of "Life is Beautiful."

One film I'd add is the documentary "Shoah." It is very powerful. Film-making at its best.

[HT: Instapundit]

New York Stories

Christopher Caldwell on the fiction of Louis Auchincloss:

The world Auchincloss describes is one in which every prerogative is owed to age--not out of filial piety or a sense of tradition, but because the elderly tend to have a stranglehold on family capital. A favorite Auchincloss theme is the way those whose lives are already behind them reach out to poison all the sexual, intellectual, idealistic, and even ethical promise of youth--to poison anything inconsistent with dynasty-formation, the moral order, or the moneyed person's whims, which grow increasingly hard to distinguish.

Back to the Cave

Chuck criticizes the changes that Ellen has made, not because he believes they are bad but because as her predecessor in the job he regards any of her accomplishments as an indirect slam of his record.

Carol tries to sink any proposals that are not first coordinated with her.

Ted thinks anyone who holds a high position got there by walking over the bodies of others.

And Al? Al is simply a predator who creates confusion, spreads rumors, and damages careers for the joy of it.

We like to think our civilization has evolved beyond such people, but unfortunately they are still out there. It is wise to remember that.


Charles Murray proposes an item that may get bipartisan support.

Quote of the Day

Panic Instruction for Industrial Engineers: When you don't know what to do, walk fast and look worried.

- Paul Dickson

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Being Creative

Steven Pressfield talks to Seth Godin about the creative process. An excerpt:

SP: When it comes to generating ideas, what’s your process? Solitary? Collaborative? Is it fun, is it grueling? How, exactly, do you work?

SG: I’ve come to realize that I’m unusual. For me, it happens all the time. It spills out of me. Most of the ideas are horrible, useless and distracting. When I have a specific problem to solve, I use a more focused process. I’ll often buy a new notebook, different from the ones I’ve used before. Special pens. Then I’ll try to be somewhere with distractions (yes, with distractions) so that out of the corner of my ‘eye’ I can invent.

I’ve found that the next level up is the focused meeting. I’ll bring together energetic, smart people and outline the problem. The act of talking about it, showing off, demonstrating the options… it generates even more energy, which I return and they return and there’s a whiteboard and what-ifs and excited voices and the next thing you know, the problem retreats, head held in shame, defeated.


A sign for our offices.

Music Break: Opera in the Most Unlikely Places

How often does this happen when you are shopping?

[HT: Lou Rodarte]

Captain Kirk or Mr. Spock?

Captain Kirk or Mr. Spock?

The brave but emotional fighter pilot or the ultra-logical but "cold fish" analyst?

After years of favoring Spock, I've concluded that I'm not wild about either one. There is more to life, if I may twist a phrase, than contained in Spock's logic and Kirk's embrace of the emotional can be more than off-putting.

The two extremes are helpful reminders that there is no single leadership style that is best. The most effective leaders use a multitude of approaches depending upon the occasion. Sometimes, it is time to be collegial and other times a more formalistic or even autocratic approach is required. That versatility, however, must be anchored to a solid core of values or else versatility will quickly sink into rank opportunism.

As for fiction, Kirk and Spock are pretty boring compared to Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin.

"The crowd will go wild."

Along with some humor, a Fast Company prediction on the Tablet:

The crowd will go wild. Steve will demonstrate how powerful his latest creation is, and he will summon various experts to aid him in this task, possibly including executives from EA Games, and maybe a famous newspaper. Its powers as a gaming tool, creative machine, navigation aid, shared family data portal, video conferencing device and entertainment center will be quickly revealed--so much of this wonder will unfold in the coming weeks.

Apple's Tablet and Business

Before the Jan. 27 introduction, most speculation and reports on the tablet focused on ways it will be used to showcase books, newspapers, and entertainment. Yet, Apple's new creation may also have an impact in cubicles and boardrooms. "This is going to be huge for business," says Bruce Francis, vice-president for corporate strategy at (CRM), which created an application that makes its software-based tools available on Apple's iPhone. "Apple has blown through the barriers with the iPhone, and the same thing is going to happen with the tablet."

Read the rest of the Business Week article here.

Quote of the Day

Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities have crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Miscellaneous and Fast

When "On Track" is a Trap

Those of us who bear the scars of battles and blunders can often point to various signals that flashed, blared or buzzed and yet were ignored.

And we wonder, "Why did I overlook that? Why didn't I at some point take an hour or two to consider the alternative course of action that now seems so right?"

One reason, I would submit, is that once we made our poor decision, we ruled out any periodic review. We stopped thinking macro and started thinking micro. Rather than stopping at certain points and asking if we were on the right track, we became oh-so-efficient train engineers, shoveling in the coal, watching the rails, and making sure that every station was reached on time. Our only questions dealt with How and not with Whether.

That's why teams - and individuals - need to set aside regular times to question their assumptions and ask, "If we were starting fresh, would we take on our current projects? If not, why not? If not, why shouldn't we change now?"

Music Break: The Weary Kind

A song from the film "Crazy Heart": Ryan Bingham singing "The Weary Kind."

Hand Me the Machete

Our office is going through a major purge of "stuff."

If you don't pay attention for around seven years or so, you find that a lot of stuff has crawled into your filing cabinets and onto your bookshelves. Most of it is useless, at least to you.

Now I know there is the "We might need this someday" response but the repercussions of needing it and not having it are, in most cases, small. The jungle must be chopped back lest a mass of tendrils overrun the camp.

Half-way solutions are hardly worth the effort. This is an all-out campaign of "If in doubt, throw it out."

Report to follow.

Brooks on Populism

. . . Ever since I started covering politics, the Democratic ruling class has been driven by one fantasy: that voters will get so furious at people with M.B.A.’s that they will hand power to people with Ph.D.’s. The Republican ruling class has been driven by the fantasy that voters will get so furious at people with Ph.D.’s that they will hand power to people with M.B.A.’s. Members of the ruling class love populism because they think it will help their section of the elite gain power.

Read the rest of David Brooks on the populist addiction.

[HT: Real Clear Politics]

Quote of the Day

Stress cannot exist in the presence of a pie.

- David Mamet

Monday, January 25, 2010

Breakthrough Principles

I'm following and enjoying Nicholas Bate's breakthrough principles series. An excerpt:

The Principle of Power. Of energy, of focus, of concentration, of stamina. The M of M-E-D-S is meditation or time out. It could be a walk, it could be lying on your back in the park. It could be a classic 'om' meditation. But it does need to be a data input free period. No phone, conversation, texts, newspaper reading nor CNN in the background.Try just 10 minutes a day and notice the profound difference.


I don't have a MacBook or a MacBook Pro, but I think I want one of these.

Get Thee to the Hinterlands

This story about Justice Brandeis and his advice to people in Washington, D.C. struck home.

I worked there for just a short period and yet began to gain a small sense of the creeping attitude that the rest of the country was "out there."

SuperBowl: From Aints to Saints

E-mail from a die-hard New Orleans fan:

We got us a Black & Geauxld Super Beauxl!!!! I'm headed over to N.O. on Thursday, and I'm sure the joint will be jumpin!!! Natalie just called me a few minutes ago and held her phone out the window and it sounded like a war!!!!...Only with a hundred bands playing all at once...cannons (real ones), fireworks, gunfire everywere. Sounded like a wild scene!

How My Computer Resembles a Poor Employee

How does my computer resemble a poor employee?
  1. Loses files.
  2. Gives cryptic explanations.
  3. When asked for "Help," never helps.
  4. Brings a lot of worthless stuff to my attention.
  5. Surprises me with sudden crises.
  6. Occasionally makes subtle threats.
  7. Requires expensive upgrades even if there is no change in performance.
  8. Introduces viruses into the workplace.
  9. Needs frequent screening by security.
  10. Is impressive at first but then becomes slower and slower.

Late Night TV: Who's Daladier? Who's Mussolini?

Joe Queenan goes back to Hitler, Chamberlain, and Munich in an analysis of the Jay Leno - Conan O'Brien feud.

My own humble advice is that NBC should turn the task of choosing a late night host into a version of American Idol. Film auditions by Americans from throughout the nation and let the public vote. That process couldn't help but improve on the selections made since Carson retired.

My vote is for Mark Steyn.

Now Appearing: Bill Gates and The Gates Notes

Bill Gates has his own website.

Er, what do you think of its look?

Appearance Matters

Quote of the Day

Evidence is fact that discriminates between one theory and another. Facts do not "speak for themselves." They speak for or against competing theories. Facts divorced from theory or visions are mere isolated curiosities.

- Thomas Sowell

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Weekend Poem

Dogs curled at your feet, and a stack of good books nearby.

A poem for the weekend.

Wasted or Invested?

It can be difficult to distinguish between time that is wasted and that which is invested.

You get lost and spend 40 minutes meandering through a strange neighborhood where you notice a restaurant or shop that you'll want to visit in the future. Time wasted or invested?

You spend an hour sipping coffee with a manager from another department who may, at some point down the road, have considerable influence over one of your projects. Time wasted or invested?

You talk to a student group about lessons you've learned in the course of your career. Time wasted or invested?

Your flight is delayed and, rather than getting stressed out, you divert yourself with a mystery novel. Time wasted or invested?

Many of our actions require an additional passage of time in order for us to determine whether that currency has been squandered or converted into something beneficial. If we are alert to possibilities and our surroundings, we are more likely to make that conversion.

Painful and Riveting

Back by popular demand: Parks sings McCartney.

Game Change's Game

Andrew Ferguson on Game Change and its sources:

Who are these people, these sources? They’re the kind of people who could take paychecks from Hillary Clinton and then tell reporters their version of her most intimate yearnings. They’re the kind of people who could work for Elizabeth Edwards and her husband—one strike against them right there—and then recount for public consumption the following anecdote about a domestic squabble.

Elizabeth was sobbing, out of control, incoherent. As their aides tried to look away she tore off her blouse, exposing herself. “Look at me!” she wailed at John and then staggered, nearly falling to the ground.

Who are these people, these sources? Why, they’re highly paid, well-regarded political professionals, who have risen to the top of their trade.

2010 Bloggies

Voting is on for the 2010 Bloggies.

I'm surprised at the nominees, not because my own obscure blog is missing, but because some that very good blogs that I thought would be serious contenders are not even in the running. Such is the story of elections.


Fortune lists the 25 top-paying companies.

Very interesting.

Political Clarity and Trucks

America is becoming a bilingual society, divided between those who think a pickup is a rugged vehicle useful for transporting heavy-duty items from A to B and those who think a pickup is coded racism.

- Mark Steyn

Read all of his article here.

Novels on Families

Pete Dexter lists his favorite novels about families.

It can be difficult to say that a novel is about a family when in most cases there is so much more packed into the story. Using a very loose standard, I'd add:

The Edge of Sadness by Edwin O'Connor
Tobacco Road by Erskine Caldwell
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope

Any others?

Quote of the Day

No longer talk at all about the kind of man that a good man ought to be, but be such.

- Marcus Aurelius

Friday, January 22, 2010

Miscellaneous and Fast

What's More Expensive Than Hurricanes?

At the American Meteorological Society's annual meeting this week, the NOAA's Aviation Weather Center announced that, from 2000 to 2008, hurricane damage cost the United States an estimated $131 billion. To put that in perspective, a recent study by Congress suggested that domestic air traffic delays in 2007 alone cost the United States as much as $41 billion. Most analysts believe that Congress's number is an overestimate, and that the actual suck on the American economy is much lower. Still, you'd have to chop an awful lot off of $41 billion to make up the difference.

Read the rest of the Jalopnik article here.

[Of course, air traffic delays do not normally involve death.]

Spirited and Colorful

The Telegraph provides a slide show of Australian Open tennis fans.

The Dysfunctional Defender Problem

My post on dysfunctional defenders in the workplace is up at U.S. News & World Report.

Music Break

Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong: They Can't Take That Away from Me.

Gaiman's Goals

I wanted to be an author as far back as I can remember, mixed with occasional bouts of wanting to be a werewolf when I grew up. But mostly, when I daydreamed, it was about being an author.

Read the entire interview with Neil Gaiman at The New Yorker.

Beyond the Nuts and the Creeps

Peggy Noonan on the Massachusetts election:

Speaking broadly: In the 2006 and 2008 elections, and at some point during the past decade, the ancestral war between Democrats and the Republicans began to take on a new look. If you were a normal human sitting at home having a beer and watching national politics peripherally, as normal people do until they focus on an election, chances are pretty good you came to see the two major parties not as the Dems versus the Reps, or the blue versus the bed, but as the Nuts versus the Creeps. The Nuts were for high spending and taxing and the expansion of government no matter what. The Creeps were hypocrites who talked one thing and did another, who went along on the spending spree while lecturing on fiscal solvency.

Quote of the Day

Remember that it is far better to follow well than to lead indifferently.

- Solon

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Classic Training Question and Response

What if we train our people and they leave?

What if you don't train them and they stay?

The War Against Suburbia

Whenever possible, the Clintons expressed empathy with suburban and small-town voters. In contrast, the Obama administration seems almost willfully city-centric. Few top appointees have come from either red states or suburbs; the top echelons of the administration draw almost completely on big city urbanites—most notably from Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. They sometimes don’t even seem to understand why people move to suburbs.

Joel Kotkin analyzes the Massachusetts election results in the context of a war against suburbia. Read the entire article here.

Ten Worst Passwords

The Checklist Manifesto

Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Philip K. Howard reviews a new book by Atul Gawande on the power of checklists. An excerpt:

The utility of formal protocols, according to organizational experts, varies with the nature of the activity—some activities are highly systemized, like engineering, and others dependent on the judgment and personality of the individual. Spontaneity and imagination are important in many jobs, including teaching and management of all kinds. Dr. Gawande seems to assume that formal checklists will be an unalloyed benefit. But most people can think of only one thing at once: If they're thinking about a checklist, they may not be focusing on solving the problem at hand. Many tasks require trial and error—not checklists designed to avoid error. "Hell, there ain't no rules around here," Thomas Edison famously said. "We're trying to accomplish something."

Quote of the Day

. . . As it's happening, incremental decline is extremely seductive. Great powers aren't Chad or Rwanda, where you're sliding from the Dump category to the Even Crummier Dump category. Take a city like Vienna. Once upon a time it was an imperial capital. The empire busted up, but the capital still had magnificent architecture, handsome palaces, treasure houses of great art, a world-class orchestra, fabulous restaurants . . . who wouldn't enjoy such "decline"? You benefit from all the accumulated capital of the past without being troubled by any of the tedious responsibilities. Have another coffee and a piece of strudel and watch the world go by.

- Mark Steyn

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Charting the Beatles

Neatorama: The Beatles's working schedule 1963 - 1966.

Freedom of Speech: The Wilders Trial

Bruce Bawer examines the trial of Geert Wilders in the Netherlands:

Today—January 20, 2010—the Dutch establishment’s most serious effort yet against Wilders gets under way, as he is forced to go to criminal court to defend his right to speak his mind. Wilders is, of course, not the first European to face legal action for criticizing Islam; such luminaries as Oriana Fallaci and Brigitte Bardot also appear on that honor roll. But Wilders’s case nonetheless feels unprecedented. To read the official summons addressed to him—a sitting member of the Dutch Parliament and the head of a major Dutch political party—is all but surreal. It is to feel as if one has been hurled back into a distant, pre-Enlightenment era; it is to feel that in one fell swoop, the illusion of freedom in Europe has been extinguished. (An English translation is available here.)

Music Break: Shu Cheen Yu

A touch of civilization with soprano Shu Cheen Yu.

New Book: The Worst Car in History?

After overcoming any number of hurdles with production, distribution, and design, all explained rather rivetingly by Vuic, the Yugo finally made it to America, where it went from "Yugomania" media sensation to late-night joke staple almost overnight. (Leno: "Yugo has come out with a very clever anti-theft device: They made their name bigger.") But it sold. As Vuic writes, the Yugo was the "fastest-selling first-year European import in history." For some, it was a perfect third car; for others, it was a rare chance to own a new car. The ad campaign bore a cheeky, pragmatic message of thrift ("the Road Back to Sanity"). But as the new-car smell began to fade, Yugo's reputation began to catch up with it. Consumer Reports panned it, saving the deadliest line for last: "If $4,400 is the most you can spend on a car, we think you'd get better value from a good used car than a new Yugo."

Read the rest of the Slate article here.

Gone and Irreplaceable

He pulled up to a log-cabin style tavern in the village of St. Saveur, killed the engine, and cajoled me into the place for a meal and beer on him. He didn't mention that there would be some impromptu music and even some sashaying by the tavern's guests that night. There was an upright piano in the place, a bit worn at the edges and covered with dried salt on the side facing the entrance door. A long-haired woman was sitting at the piano, fooling around with the keys with a young girl. A pony-tailed guy was close by, plucking and tuning his guitar. A tall bearded young fellow with a fiddle comfortably tucked under his arm was talking to a younger woman by the far side of the piano. I remember her laugh, so comfortable and private in such a public place.

Read the rest here.

Meeting Spots: Classy or Not

In his instant business classic, Claw Your Way to the Top: How to Become the Head of a Major Corporation in Roughly a Week, humorist Dave Barry addressed the importance of luncheon meetings and gave a helpful list of restaurant names.

Examples of Classy Restaurant Names:

La Pleuve en Voiture
Ye Really Olde Countrie Manour Downes Inne

Examples of Non-Classy Restaurant Names:

The Chew 'n' Swallow
Commander Taco

It is well known that Warren Buffett likes to hold business lunches at Dairy Queen. Are there any chain restaurants or coffee shops that you use for business meetings? [I've confessed in a previous post to a bias for Starbucks.]

Miscellaneous and Fast

The Greatest Business Story Ever Told?

Writing in Reason, Greg Beato on how Bible publishers went forth and multiplied:

It wasn’t always this way. In the 16th century, when William Tyndale translated the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into English, thereby unlocking the Word of God to the common man, he was rewarded for his efforts by being burned at the stake. So were most of the copies of his translation. In colonial times, it was illegal to print Bibles in North America; only certain printers in England and Scotland were authorized to publish the holy book. During the Revolution those imports stopped, creating, according to The Centennial History of the American Bible Society, a “famine of Bibles.” So in 1782 the Philadelphia printer Roger Aitken printed 10,000 copies of America’s first complete English Bible. The book came with a congressional endorsement, but when the war ended, cheap imports resumed, domestic competition exploded, and thousands of copies of the Aitken Bible failed to sell. In 1791, he wrote a letter to Pennsylvania’s tax man stating that he’d lost $4,000 on the venture. Today America is characterized by Biblical obesity, not Biblical famine. A 2003 survey conducted by Zondervan, one of the nation’s largest Christian book publishers, found that the average U.S. household contains 3.9 Bibles, and U.S. consumers purchase approximately 20 million new Bibles annually. “Business analysts describe Bible publishing as a mature industry with little prospect for strong growth,” The Boston Globe reported in 1986, but year in and year out, the Bible remains the best-selling book in America.

It's the Substance

Lanny Davis, former special counsel to President Clinton, on the Massachusetts outcome.

[HT: Real Clear Politics]

Quote of the Day

Effective police officers think like criminals; effective criminals think like police officers.

- Russell L. Ackoff and Sheldon Rovin, Beating the System

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Respecting Boundaries

Thinking outside of the box. Writing outside of the lines. Pushing the envelope. These grandly rebellious expressions are celebrated. Those who stay within boundaries are often regarded as not quite bright; sluggish gray beings who disdain creative thought.

In most cases, however, the borders are there for a reason and when they are transgressed a punishment ensues. I've met a lot of people who have spent their lives writing outside of the lines. Some of them were wearing prison garb. Others had mistaken being unconventional with being creative. They thought any unusual approach was self-recommending.

Not so. The boundaries can encourage creativity, not restrict it. Watch films from times when a director couldn't employ masses of profanity, special effects, and nudity. Odds are you will notice better dialogue as well as serious character development. You will see style.

A key skill in life is knowing when the boundaries are a boost or a barrier. In most cases, they make us better.

The Quick Label

When someone doesn't behave the way we'd like, it is very tempting to attach a quick label to the individual. He's afraid of change. She's a status-seeker. Snake. Coward. Bureaucrat. Manipulator. Has a grudge. Is retaliating.

There are times, of course, when the label is dead-on. As Henry Kissinger famously remarked, even paranoiacs have enemies. But the use of labels can be a lazy person's way to avoid further thought. The other person's conduct may be generated by a belief or event that is far from our radar screen.

By fashioning a quick and dirty explanation for the person's conduct, we indirectly excuse our own conduct and justify our ineffectiveness in dealing with the person. After all, how can a rational person reason with someone who has bad motives, is illogical or is only out for some narrow self-interest?

We may need to think again and adopt another strategy if we want that person to change.

Actions, Not Thoughts

Dennis Prager on why actions, not thoughts, matter.

Quote of the Day

A list is great but a passion is better.

- Nicholas Bate

Monday, January 18, 2010

Entertainment Break

The brilliance of Buster Keaton as seen in these scenes from Sherlock Jr.

Martin Luther King Day

Slate provides some classic photographs of Dr. King and his times.

Psych Out

Business Pundit provides 12 practical business lessons from social psychology.

Challenging Your Stereotypes

We can learn a great deal by watching for gaps in our stereotypes. So many people who appear to fit a mode don't really do so and their difference can be a valuable distinction. It may be the product of a conscious choice of another way, one that they've found via reason.

Bravo for them.

But there are occasions when we should take away the compliment. By conforming to the stereotype in superficial ways, are they not reinforcing a system that is in need of change? Sometimes the old line of "Quietly changing the system from the inside" is more accurately translated as "Afraid to speak up."

We've heard of Groupthink. It is also helpful to be on the alert for the related problem of Group Superficial Conformity. I've seen groups vote in favor of an action that most of the members secretly opposed and yet each person voted for it because of the perception that the others favored it. Jerry B. Harvey called this The Abilene Paradox. The stereotype fashioned the expected position and there was the strong, but probably false, belief that dissent would have invited punishment.

One solution: Beware of rapid agreement and get to know the people in the room. They are far more complicated than they appear.

Totally, Totally Global Worldwide

Nicholas Bate had better turn this into a novel.

"Make Things Happen"

Seth Godin looks at Tim Burton's many unrealized projects:

. . . Here's the guy who's responsible for some of the most breathtaking movies of his generation, and the real surprise is this: almost every year over the last thirty, he worked on one or more exciting projects that were never green lighted and produced. Every year, he spent an enormous amount of time on failed projects.

Quote of the Day

Popular culture tells you that schools and parents don't know what's going on, the police are dogs, politicians are all liars and scum, and any crime that's not committed by the Mafia is done by the CIA.

- Stanley Crouch

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Sowell on the Intellectuals

Peter Robinson interviews economist Thomas Sowell about Sowell's new book on intellectuals and society:

Crime Fiction: Nordic Noir

Scandinavian sleuths may be eminently relatable and fallible but—and here's the important part—they still get their man. It's just that rather than relying on the brilliant feats of deduction exhibited by Sherlock Holmes or the formidable fists and cocky wisecracks of Robert Parker's Spenser, these ordinary schlubs have no flashier alternative than to knuckle down and gut it out. Occasionally their efforts do turn out to be pointless; Nordic noir abounds in red herrings and wild goose chases. And lest you assume that life as a public servant is what has relegated these detectives to a life of ego-grinding routine, they're surrounded by other characters in much the same boat. Take Wallander's father: he's an "artist" whose entire career has consisted of painting the same woodland scene over and over again in nearly identical copies (some pictures have a grouse in them, and some don't).

Read the rest of Laura Miller on the appeal of Scandinavian crime fiction.

Why We Micromanage

Until we are assured that there will be an appropriate mix of:
  • Urgency,
  • Taste,
  • Analysis,
  • Follow-Up,
  • Perception,
  • Judgment,
  • Resources, and
  • Initiative . . .

we will be inclined to micromanage.

"Able-Bodied and Dirt-Cheap" Notebook?

Wired reviews the Lenovo ThinkPad Edge notebook:

You won't find many 13-inch screens as bright as the ThinkPad Edge's (1366 x 768 pixels), and spec-wise the computer is solid as well: 1.3-GHz Core 2 Duo, 4 GB of RAM, and a 320-GB hard drive. That's on par with machines like the Dell Adamo — but the Edge comes in at 40 percent the price, a mere $900 as configured here. The Edge is lighter, too, at 3.9 pounds — and its compact design makes it feel even smaller than that.

Quote of the Day

Too many people do not care what happens as long as it does not happen to them.

- William Howard Taft

Friday, January 15, 2010

Music Break: Stardust

Nat King Cole singing the Hoagy Carmichael classic. [Is anyone writing songs that good these days?]

Presentations: A Very Quick Guide

My post on how to handle surprise presentations is up at U.S. News & World Report.

Hack Attacks

"We have never ever, outside of the defense industry, seen commercial industrial companies come under that level of sophisticated attack,” says Dmitri Alperovitch, vice president of threat research for McAfee. “It’s totally changing the threat model.”

Wired reports ultra-sophisticated hack attacks on Google and Adobe.

Just One Thing

To be read daily: Nicholas Bate on "Just for the Heck of It."

Death of the Slush Pile

In 1991, a book editor at Random House pulled from the heaps of unsolicited manuscripts a novel about a murder that roils a Baltimore suburb. Written by a first-time author and mother-to-be named Mary Cahill, "Carpool" was published to fanfare. Ms. Cahill was interviewed on the "Today" show. "Carpool" was a best seller.

That was the last time Random House, the largest publisher in the U.S., remembers publishing anything found in a slush pile. Today, Random House and most of its major counterparts refuse to accept unsolicited material.

Read the rest of The Wall Street Journal article.

Quote of the Day

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.

- C. S. Lewis

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Giving Back

Zero in on an extrepreneur who has built a large business that has provided jobs for hundreds or even thousands of people and has also produced products or services that have benefited equally large numbers.

You can count on some journalist asking, "Do you feel it is time for you to give back to the community?"

Hmm. Hasn't that person already given quite a bit to the community? Doesn't the tone of the question imply that building a business is an inherently selfish activity? Wasn't there a sizable amount of sacrifice and risk along the way?

This is not to decry charitable giving by businesses or gazillionaires. My criticism is directed at the anti-business bias behind the question.

Are wealthy actors or artists subjected to those queries? I doubt it.

Haiti: Earthquake FAQs

Christopher Beam answers common questions about the earthquake in Haiti:

Are Haitian buildings designed to resist earthquakes? No, for the most part. Haiti has no national building codes. Some construction companies (especially those working with relatively generous budgets) do voluntarily follow codes like the French or Canadian standards or the International Building Code.

Blog Starts

Kurt Harden at Cultural Offering gives a collection of starting blog posts.

[I don't quote Robert Morley as much as I once did, possibly because I'm starting to look like Robert Morley.]

Turf Wars

Jack really does not care if he has a corner office but he sees himself as Mary's equal and if she is going to get a corner office then by God Jack is going to fight for his because if he doesn't his department will say he got duped or he's a wimp or the CEO doesn't value him and so Jack, who was prepared to be reasonable and all that is on the verge of turning into a Tasmanian Devil in front of the management intern who was given the job of negotiating who gets which size offices and is wondering why Jack seems to be acting like such a jerk when Mary was such a good sport but then, of course, Mary knew she had the corner office and Jack suspects she schmoozed the intern into giving her first choice and the cards are stacked which makes him just all the madder as he watches the intern draw boundaries on a floor plan and ask, "Will this work?"

When Business Seeks a Breeze

The sails are set. The crew is ready. The breeze is missing.

We've rowed to various positions in hope of catching the trade winds, but there are days when the air is still.

So we hone our skills, study the maps and the heavens as well as the logs of other captains, and row some more.

Nothing stirs. And then we hear a whisper and the sails begin to fill. Grateful, we cheer, but we don't know for certain just how we caught that breeze.

Or how long it will last.

Quote of the Day

Planes never land with the same people who boarded.

- Jim Harrison

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Haitian Disaster Relief

Here is a list of organizations that are taking contributions for Haiti.

As I listened to the reports of the disaster, two very different things came to mind: this song by Harry Belafonte and Graham Greene's novel "The Comedians" which was later made into a memorable film.

Ideas for Introverts

Mary Jo Asmus interviews the author of The Introverted Leader.

And there are a lot of them out there.

Martian Scenery

Image: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

The Tragedy of Haiti

An already terrible situation made much, much worse:

Edwidge Danticat, an award-winning Haitian-American author was unable to contact relatives in Haiti. She sat with family and friends at her home in Miami, looking for news on the Internet and watching TV news reports.

"You want to go there, but you just have to wait," she said. "Life is already so fragile in Haiti, and to have this on such a massive scale, it's unimaginable how the country will be able to recover from this."

[HT: Drudge Report]

Perk Creeps

In April 2008, The Orange County Register published a bombshell of an investigation about a license plate program for California government workers and their families. Drivers of nearly 1 million cars and light trucks—out of a total 22 million vehicles registered statewide—were protected by a “shield” in the state records system between their license plate numbers and their home addresses. There were, the newspaper found, great practical benefits to this secrecy.

Read the rest of the Reason article by Steven Greenhut .

Tech Games

What happens when you're out of the office?

Employment attorney John Phillips points us to a video.

There's Always Something

Dorothy Parker was known to exclaim, "What fresh hell is this?"

Life is a room that is rarely clean for long. Something soaked and dripping always arrives with mud on its boots. It may make more sense to regard those occasions as the norm and the small, uninterrupted moments of pleasure as the exceptions.

And that should encourage us to enjoy the nice times all the more.

Quote of the Day

In some cases, a system can be beaten by rigorously following its rules and regulations.

- Russell L. Ackoff

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Kindness Class

Via Daniel H. Pink, information on a class that could make a difference. From the Seattle Times article:

If you recently found a shiny gold dollar coin in downtown Bellevue, thank the kindness class. Ditto if you stumbled upon a piece of glass art in Pioneer Square, or a lottery ticket taped to a bus shelter with a note saying, "This may be your lucky day."

Thinking Outside the Intelligence Community

What Would Dad Say is putting together a dream team of creative thinkers to come up with unconventional solutions to terrorism. So far he has Steve Jobs, Fred Wilson, and Scott Adams on the list but he's soliciting additional names. Hmm. Herb Kelleher? Ross Perot? Christopher Hitchens?

Return to Conan

Since he's in the news quite a bit lately, it is time to revisit Conan O'Brien's marvelous speech to the Harvard class of 2000. An excerpt:

So, this was undeniably the it: the truly life-altering break I had always dreamed of. And, I went to work. I gathered all my funny friends and poured all my years of comedy experience into building that show over the summer, gathering the talent and figuring out the sensibility. We debuted on September 13, 1993 and I was happy with our effort. I felt like I had seized the moment and put my very best foot forward. And this is what the most respected and widely read television critic, Tom Shales, wrote in the Washington Post: "O'Brien is a living collage of annoying nervous habits. He giggles and titters, jiggles about and fiddles with his cuffs. He had dark, beady little eyes like a rabbit. He's one of the whitest white men ever. O'Brien is a switch on the guest who won't leave: he's the host who should never have come. Let the Late show with Conan O'Brien become the late, Late Show and may the host return to Conan O'Blivion whence he came." There's more but it gets kind of mean.

Old Lesson

A number of years ago I interviewed an old journalist who'd met every Arizona governor except the first one. (Arizona became a state in 1912 and the first governor was in office a long time so it wasn't impossible.) He'd covered a lot of political campaigns and had colorful and candid opinions about the local politicians.

One day over lunch, he remarked that he'd learned one thing in his career: "Today's S.O.B. is tomorrow's hero."

I often remember that observation and relate it to executives and managers who've had career setbacks. Most people are very forgiving and the avalanche of news rapidly transforms hot headlines into ancient history. Add to that the fact that come-back stories are popular and there is increased potential for a rebound.

Americans, often to their detriment, don't pay that much attention to the past. We tend to focus on the Now and the Future. "What have you done lately?" is the relevant question. Barring something horrendous, it can be relatively easy to become known for your better, and more recent, deeds.

The secret is to give people a reason to forgive and then let time do its work.

Miscellaneous and Fast

Ancient Tech

The discovery of the Antikythera Device; some ancient high tech that shouldn't exist:

The true genius of the mechanism goes beyond even the complex calculations and craftsmanship of a mechanical calendar. For example, the ancients didn't know that the moon has an elliptical orbit, so they didn't know why it sometimes slowed or sped up as it moved through the zodiac. The mechanism's creator used epicyclic gears, also known as planetary gears, with a "pin-and-slot" mechanism that mimicked this apparent shifting in the moon's movement.

Quote of the Day

We've never tried to be like other airlines. From the very beginning, we told our people, "Question it. Challenge it. Remember, decades of conventional wisdom has sometimes led the airline industry into huge losses."

- Herb Kelleher

Monday, January 11, 2010


Driving out of town, defroster roaring, you barely noted the bank thermometer on the town square: minus 27 degrees at 6:36. The radio weather report warned of a deep mass of arctic air settling over the region. The man who took your money at the Conoco station shook his head at the register and said he wouldn't be going anywhere tonight if he were you. You smiled. A little chill never hurt anybody with enough fleece and a good four-wheel-drive.

From a classic 1997 Outside article by Peter Stark on the process of freezing to death.

When Life Gives You Lemonade Stands

Seth Godin and the lesson from two lemonade stands. It doesn't take long to spot the loser and the psychology.

"They are we."

Cultural Offering with a must read. An excerpt:

They are we. However you provide service, remember this. If you sell cars, work at a counter, answer phones, manage million dollar accounts, "they" didn't make the mistake; "they" won't be reviewing the issue; "they" won't sign off on it - or not sign off on it for that matter; "they" didn't lose the paperwork. And you won't send it over to "them" for review.

Here is a secret: The customer doesn't really care which department missed it. The customer might agree that it isn't "your fault", but their agreement is meaningless. The customer wants a good experience and "we" deliver it.

Odd Thought Break: When Pop Song Lyrics Irritate

I was listening to Frank Sinatra singing "My Way" and when the line of "Regrets, I've had a few" came up, I thought, "Well, I've certainly had more than a few regrets. In fact, I've got several volumes of them."

But old Frank's isn't the only pop song that has a line or two or advice that doesn't mesh with experience or logic or which pushes a hot button. The "Nothing to kill or die for" and "no religion" lines from "Imagine" always drive me up the wall and yet I know many people who regard that song as sort of a personal anthem. [Confession: But for the one line, I like "My Way."]

There are probably loads of tunes we enjoy and yet if we'd listened more closely or gave any weight to the lyrics, the enjoyment might diminish. Gordon Lightfoot even got to the point where he'd apologize to audiences after singing "That's What You Get For Loving Me" and the ramifications of some lines are amusing. For example, isn't Carly Simon's hit "Nobody Does It Better" really saying you're a great lover but there were plenty of comparisons?

Are there any acclaimed songs with lyrics that - logically or not - bug you?

Reward and Comfort

Management scholar Michael LeBoeuf once described the greatest management principle in the world as "That which is rewarded gets done." He then noted that we often inadvertently reward negative behavior. The office politician gets the promotion over the person who is more innovative and productive. The unit that cranks out the most product is ranked highly even if the quality of the work is poor. The department that is fiscally prudent gets hit with a budget cut ("Use it or lose it!"). The chronic complainer gets special privileges while the person who never complains gets zip.

A related element that needs to be examined is the question of comfort. How many poor management practices are adopted because people just don't want the hassle that comes with being a good manager? In my experience, many. Poor management, like water, seeks its own level and being a good manager can require some pretty unpleasant tasks. Wise firms will recognize that and do their best to reduce the discomfort while encouraging the use of good management. That which is comfortable may get done. Being a good manager may never be a comfortable job but we can make it less so.

Adorability Factor?

Business Week reports that the Smart Car is not selling well in the United States:

Even so, BMW is selling almost twice as many Minis and increasing production of the car, a retro version of an iconic compact. The Mini has been popularized in movies including the remake of “The Italian Job,” while the Smart appeared in new “Pink Panther” films with Steve Martin.

“It’s very difficult for Smart to duplicate the success of Mini,” said Rebecca Lindland, director of auto research at IHS Global Insight in Lexington, Massachusetts. “The primary characteristic of Smart is that it’s small. The primary characteristic of Mini is that it’s irresistibly adorable, with performance thrown in.”

The Comments Gremlin

This has happened before and I know not the reason why but it has happened again. Some people submitted some comments for posting, I clicked to post them, and then the comments went off into the cosmos.

Sometimes, the comments eventually show up, but if yours do not, please resubmit them. I only reject comments that are spam, defamatory, or in poor taste. Of those, 99 percent are spam. You'd be amazed at how much spam comes in the form of comments. Although it has tapered off lately, I'd sometimes get 25 or more spam comments completely unrelated to the post. Most sold gold.

I apologize for the inconvenience.

Quote of the Day

The difference between a crisis and an opportunity is when you learn of it.

- Alan M. Webber

Saturday, January 09, 2010

For The Weekend

Great song. Great singer. Judy Collins, playing the piano and singing "Both Sides Now."

Overreaction Update

From the handbook of an elementary school in an eastern state:

"An assault is when a student intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causes physical injury to another. Students who violate this will be immediately suspended, the Police will be contacted (Ages 9 and up), and a Review Board hearing will be conducted."

Let me think back to my elementary school days. My friends and I - the guys - often punched one another in the arm. There were no suspensions and the police were never called. If a teacher saw it, the likely response would have been to tell one of us to "Cut it out." Case closed.

If there were a serious fight, the aggressor would have been hauled off to the principal's office and suspended. The parents, not the police, would have been called.

Do the school administrators and lawyers who craft these provisions know how devoid of common sense they are?