Saturday, July 31, 2010

Music Break: Julie London

Back by popular demand: Sheer perfection as Julie London sings "Cry Me a River."

Miscellaneous and Fast

The Hammies and Gangsta Culture?

Fast Company's Laurel Sutton surfaces the possibility that Kia, after its eye-catching hamster commercials, may rename the Soul. An excerpt:

Which gets me back to the hammies. With the Kia Soul, the company found a perfect match of brand and brand image as exemplified in the TV ads. You couldn't have done the same commercials with a car named Morning (another Kia model). The whole joke is that the Soul has so much soul that it's the car of choice for people who aren't part of the bland, boring, middle-aged go-nowhere American culture. I don't know if Kia is specifically targeting African Americans, but they certainly are capitalizing on the marketability of gangsta culture to a young buying population, no matter their ethnicity.

[Execupundit note: I'll ignore the "bland, boring, middle-aged go-nowhere" jab. I've wondered about the implication that the Soul is super-small; i.e., small enough for a hamster.]

When Campaigns Irritate

I took a class once on campaign management. Several of the instructors had managed major political campaigns and they told fascinating tales of campaigning pitfalls.

Over the past few weeks, I have been reminded of one of their rules: Don't use a tactic that irritates voters. The primary in my district has 10 candidates for Congress. Several of them are using automated phone banks. As a result, it is not unusual to get four or five calls in an evening. Several of the campaigns have called more than once.

We have also been swamped with mailing pieces, although those are less of a bother than a phone call. Run across the room, bump your knee against the end table, and then get to hear a recorded political pitch and you'll understand where I'm coming from.

I also noticed an interesting twist in one candidate's campaign brochure. She is claiming to be the only candidate with "real" private sector experience. Since one of her opponents has worked as a management consultant, I assume that doesn't meet her description of "real" private sector experience. Not a wise move. As a management consultant, I'd advise her to drop that line.

One of the memorable stories from the campaign management class was that phone banks should never be used in a place like Las Vegas. Why? Because the many residents who work at night are sleeping during the day. Waking them up is not an endearing act.

We might want to expand that advice to areas outside of Las Vegas.

Survivor's Skills in the Workplace

I just reviewed some survival training material from the Navy. It sparked several thoughts on what we might put on a small card if we wanted to give new employees survival tips for the workplace. A few nominees:

  1. Know when to keep your mouth shut.

  2. Maintain basic competence.

  3. Show up on time.

  4. Don't fight with your co-workers.

  5. Be reliable.

  6. Take initiative.

  7. Give a damn about the job.

  8. Be nice.

  9. Don't embarrass anyone.

  10. Help others.

Learning From Stories

I just finished Michael Crichton's novel, "Prey." While considering the story's discussions of swarm behavior and nanotechnology, it struck me how much we lost when Crichton died. Although some of his books are pure entertainment, many - "Jurassic Park" is a grand example - contain glimpses into fascinating aspects of science that cause you to wonder, "What if?"

Other writers - Charles Dickens, Anthony Trollope and Saul Bellow come to mind - are more indirect in their benefits (I can already hear literary critics snorting at mixing them in with Crichton) and yet their insights into the human condition are very real. For example, Trollope's "The Warden" is a tale of a good man caught up in a scandal and beset by forces that never seem to leave us. I read it several years ago and remain in its spell. I'm thinking of ways to use some of its points in my workshops on ethical decision making.

Still haven't figured out how to put Crichton's information on swarm and predatory behavior to use, but I will.

Marvelous things, novels.

Zen and Not Zen

First, there was Guy Kawasaki's Zen post.

Quote of the Day

The key is to figure out what you want out of life, not what you want out of your career.

- Goldie Hawn

Friday, July 30, 2010

Ike's Luck

Read the post on Tom McMahon's site about how Eisenhower made his own luck when it came to scheduling the Normandy invasion.

Humor Break: Great Moments in A.I.

From The Onion: New Robot Capable of Unhealthily Repressing Emotions. An excerpt:

This is the holy grail of artificial intelligence," said project director Kate Tillman, explaining that the robot instantly performs millions of computations to ensure feelings of unresolved anger and simmering resentment remain deeply buried within its complex circuitry.

Accelerate! Stop!

My post on how some ambitious people put on the brakes is up at U.S. News & World Report.

Get Low

Robert Duvall and Bill Murray in the same film? Hard to resist.

Here's the trailer for "Get Low."

Socrates on Self-Confidence and Epicurus on Happiness

From a series narrated by Alain de Botton,

Socrates on Self-Confidence:

Epicurus on Happiness:


I've been absorbed with data lately and so this article from The New York Times Magazine was of interest:

Gary Wolf on "The Data-Driven Life." An excerpt:

...Instead of entering his future appointments, he entered his past activities, creating a remarkably complete account of his life. In one sense this was just a normal personal journal, albeit in a digital format and unusually detailed. But the format and detail made all the difference. Lipkowitz eventually transferred the data to his computer, and now, using a few keyboard commands, he can call up his history. He knows how much he has eaten and how much he has spent. He knows what books he has read and what objects he has purchased. And of course, he knows the answer to his original question. “I was thinking I was spending an hour a day cleaning up after this person,” Lipkowitz says. He shrugs. “It turned out it was more like 20 minutes.”

[HT: Productivity Consultant Matthew Cornell]

Quote of the Day

First the doctor told me the good news: I was going to have a disease named after me.

- Steve Martin

Thursday, July 29, 2010

"Old Dad was history."

A classic scene from "Father of the Bride."

Culture Break: "The Promise of Living"

The joy of simple things: Aaron Copland's "The Promise of Living" set to some old film reels.

When "Best Practices" Aren't "Best"

THE SAD TRUTH ABOUT BEST PRACTICES… is that most of the time, they won’t work for you or me. They worked for somebody, some time, in some situation, in the past. Sure, the idea of best practices is attractive. Supposedly you or I can follow along, obediently, and succeed using so-called best practices. Too bad it doesn’t work.

Read the rest of Tim Berry here.

Day Laborer Changes

At the site of employment attorney John Phillips, a new look for day laborers.

The Learning Pool

Bill Brenner, Senior Editor at CSO, sees the need for more communication between security executives and hackers:

It's particularly glaring at security conferences. This week is Black Hat, BSidesLasVegas and DefCon. You'll find plenty of researchers who resemble punk rockers, folks who aren't interested in giving a PowerPoint presentation in suit and tie in front of a boardroom full of top brass. You won't see a lot of people dressed like executives. That would be too out of place.

A friend of mine who spends most of his time around CSO-types gave Black Hat a try a couple years ago. He came back and reported that the crowd was "too freaky" for his tastes. I laughed, imagining how he would have felt roaming the halls of the earlier Black Hats, before it became tamer and more commercialized.

SB1070 Lessons

Writing in City Journal, Heather Mac Donald on what we've learned from SB1070:

The Los Angeles Times’s story on the alleged effects of SB 1070 on Phoenix stores leaves out another critical fact: if illegal aliens are actually leaving Arizona in anticipation of the law’s implementation, a major plank of the open-borders manifesto has been demolished. For years, open-borders advocates argued that immigration enforcement is helpless against illegal entry. Therefore, the illegal-alien lobby concluded, the country should stop wasting resources on futile enforcement efforts. Rather, it should legalize everyone now here illegally and let the determination of who enters the country and joins the polity rest with the billions of people who live outside our borders, not with American voters.

They Did Forget the Platypus

Miss Australia's "national costume": Yea or Nay?

Looks fine to me.

Brilliance versus Experience

Individuals who have had the greatest experience with large organizations and plans tend to hold the greatest skepticism. They don't buy the "We just need to get the brightest people in place" assurances because they've seen very bright people come up with very dumb solutions.

They aren't impressed with complexity because they know how hard it is to get simple tasks done well and how vipers hide between the rocks of complexity. They smile at bold predictions because they know the flim-flam artists who write them.

This does not mean that they disdain optimism and large projects. It simply means that they have a greater respect for experience than for brilliance. As should we all.

Quote of the Day

If you want to gather honey, don't kick over the beehive.

- Dale Carnegie

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Pointless Entertainment Break

National Geographic's photos of a house in Hawaii being consumed by lava.

Irish Driver Goes Dukes of Hazzard

Would you have driven this car?

A Tale of Daring

In New York, an exhibition on the race to the South Pole:

The Norwegians set up camp 70 miles closer to the pole and set out first, on Sept. 8, 1911, with a five-man team on four sleds pulled by four teams of 13 dogs each. By contrast, the British set off on Oct. 24 with 16 men, 12 sledges and two experimental motorized sledges. They had just 22 dogs and 10 ponies. Three ponies had already died of cold and hunger during the winter. Two others fell through the ice and were eaten by killer whales. Scott, in fact, wrote in his diary that he was concerned about the Norwegians' superior dog handling. He was right.

Our Dirty Little Secret: Ambition

When I read Making It, I was living in a rented room in a halfway house in Durham, North Carolina, making $1.75 an hour delivering reconstituted orange juice, Salisbury steaks and frozen Crinkle-Cut French fries to restaurants and school cafeterias. But when I read Mr. P’s confessions (in a 35-cent used paperback picked up at the Goodwill Store), I thought, “That’s me.”

I didn’t dare breathe a word. And certainly nothing altered in my external life. But everything had changed inside me. Norman P. had obliterated denial. He had forced me to own up. I may be a bum, I told myself; I may be a loser, I may still have a long way to fall before I hit bottom. But the truth is I ain’t happy being a bum and a loser and I don’t want to spend the rest of my life at the bottom.

Read the rest of Steven Pressfield's post.

Questions to Ponder: Two Stacks of Fear

If you could divide all of your fears into two stacks - Ones That Were Justified and Ones That Were Not - which stack would be higher?

And which stack has had greater effect on your life?

And a Growing Niche at That

Check out on how Virgin Mobile has found its niche. An excerpt:

In Mother New York's new campaign, "The Crazy Life," Virgin Mobile seems to be staking its claim as the cellular service for the mentally imbalanced. Well, I suppose Droid cornered the market on sci-fi geeks, and Apple has a lock on self-centered hipsters, so there weren't many niches left. The insane need cellphones too, mainly to talk to themselves.

Quote of the Day

Solitary trees, if they grow at all, grow strong.

- Winston Churchill

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Justice Bumble Presiding?*

At Althouse, the soon-to-be infamous Chipotle ADA case.

* The first one to get the Dickens joke wins.

Paul Johnson

Prager University has an interview with historian Paul Johnson.

[One of my all-time favorite books is Johnson's Modern Times.]

Copy Editing at The New Yorker

Ask The Agent discovers what it is like to be a copy editor at The New Yorker. An excerpt from the interview with Mary Norris:

I have been on both sides of the process, as a writer and as a query proofreader. Being edited sometimes felt like having my bones reset on a torture rack. I don’t ever want to do that to a writer, but I probably have from time to time. “What is this, the adverb police?” a writer who shall remain nameless once said in my earshot. “You betcha,” I wanted to say. I don’t remove every word ending in “ly,” but I like economy and concision.

[HT: Arts & Letters Daily]

The JournoListas and Their "Community"

What we had were journalists creating a “community” in which we see expressions of hatred that are both comically adolescent and almost psychopathic.

Read the rest of Peter Wehner on the JournoList scandal.

Fashion Indicators

If he starts wearing this cap backwards, we'll know that civilization is doomed.

Posted Wisdom

View From the Ledge finds some wisdom posted at an estate sale.

I read that post several days ago and it's been with me ever since.

Social Media 101

Business schools are teaching classes on how businesses can use social media. An excerpt from the Business Week article:

"In the realm of technology it's possible for us to teach our students a tool that their bosses don't have, and they can provide that added value from day one," Gallaugher says. "Social media skills are the ones that can set them apart. Those are the skills that employers are looking for."

The 70 - 30 Nation

A short interview with Arthur C. Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute.

An Error Worse Than Error

For a long time as a young teacher, I believed the danger of prostituting their minds by believing falsehoods was the preeminent, or even singular, intellectual danger my students faced. So I challenged them and tried to teach them always to be self-critical, questioning, skeptical. What are your assumptions? How can you defend your position? Where’s your evidence? Why do you believe that?

I thought I was helping my students by training them to think critically. And no doubt I was. However, reading John Henry Newman has helped me see another danger, perhaps a graver one: to be so afraid of being wrong that we fail to believe as true that which is true. He worried about the modern tendency to make a god of critical reason, as if avoiding error, rather than finding truth, were the great goal of life.

Read the rest of R.R. Reno here.

O'Leary Speaks

Here is a gallery of quotations from Ryanair'e CEO Michael O'Leary. A sample:

On refunds: "You're not getting a refund so **** off."

Quote of the Day

If you surveyed a hundred typical middle-aged Americans, I bet you'd find that only two of them could tell you their blood types, but every last one of them would know the theme song from "The Beverly Hillbillies."

- Dave Barry

Monday, July 26, 2010

Music Break

Cultivating an Informed Glance

The wise leader notices who sits where and with whom; who spoke in which order and in support of which points; and what was not said. Caveats and footnotes are quickly spotted as are efforts to gloss over or change certain subjects. The general "feel" is absorbed and possibilities, be they good or bad, are analyzed.

This ability comes with experience and yet it also requires an acute sensitivity. Many experienced leaders lack that sensitivity and miss the subtle points. The best ones know that intangible factors can supercharge or severely diminish tangible ones.

Here's an exercise for your next board or committee meeting: Shortly after the meeting begins, make a mental note of what will happen and who will favor or oppose certain points. Afterwards, check your predictions. If you missed anything, identify what you should have factored into your original analysis. Keep doing this at meetings over the coming year until you become an expert at scripting the action, This may seem strange, but if you are new to this, you'll be amazed at what you'll start to notice.

WikiLeaks: The Missing Stories

What’s rather more difficult, for those aspiring to confer transparency upon abuses of power, is to get hold of the document troves of America’s enemies – a collection of tyrants and terrorists who respond to unwanted leaks not simply by trying to spin, deny, or appease, but by threatening, jailing or murdering anyone discovered disclosing secrets to the world public. That makes it a lot more difficult to pry documents from their archives; but it also means that any success could be of extraordinary value.

Read the rest of Claudia Rosett's wish list for WikiLeaks.

Early Promise

An interview: How Marvin Hamlisch got into Julliard when he was 6 1/2 years old.

The Rule

I had to smile when I saw this post at Cultural Offering regarding his rule about a messy desk. I follow the same rule.

In fact, the other day I found a car that was missing.

A Modest Suggestion for Computer Companies

Dear Computer Manufacturers:

Most of us are virus/malware/email scam savvy. We know not to click on certain things. We know that the email messages from a bank asking us to update our account information aren't really from our bank. We've resisted pleas from Ivory Coast orphans, Nigerian royalty, and London barristers. We know we have not won lotteries we never entered.

But many of your customers are vulnerable. They don't know that whenever they go on the Internet or receive email, they are entering a jungle. I suspect this group comes from an older generation that is especially susceptible to con artists.

So here's a suggestion: Whenever you pack one of your computers, put in a pamphlet telling those customers about the tricks and traps that are out there. Let your lawyers add the usual exculpatory language, but give some clear, easy-to-understand, warnings. In fact, publicize your efforts to spread the word about the predators. [You could even put the advice in the form of an amusing mystery so people will want to read it.]

If you are already distributing these warnings, congratulations! If you are not, consider that a warning campaign combines doing the right thing with a whole lot of business sense.

Show that you care. You'll be pleased with the response.

A New Life in France

Michael Wright moved to the French countryside for the simple life. He wound up with a wife and two children and, it appears, a lot of happiness.

Quote of the Day

The key is not to prioritize what's on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.

- Stephen Covey

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Tiger, Jack, and Human Accomplishment

Charles Murray, author of Human Accomplishment, on why Tiger Woods might not catch and surpass Jack Nicklaus's overall record. An excerpt:

The combination of qualities that enabled Nicklaus to win 18 majors and has enabled Woods to win 14 is freakish. To take just one example, Woods has an astonishing record of sinking difficult putts at critical moments, including on the final hole with victory at stake. That’s not just a matter of reading the greens accurately and having a good putting stroke. It’s a product of a mental state that the rest of us can barely imagine, the product of a Chinese puzzle of psychological strengths—including, one sometimes suspects, telekinesis.

The role of those psychological strengths is why so much of the commentary about Woods’s play since he returned is beside the point. The commentators focus on whether his component skills are returning to their pre-scandal levels. He can return to precisely the same place on the bell curves of the component skills that he occupied before the meltdown in his personal life, but the package will not be the same. Tiger Woods has experienced a sort of concussion to that Chinese puzzle of psychological strengths, and there must be some residual damage that won’t ever go away.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Ad Creativity

A memorable Toyota commercial.

Miscellaneous and Fast

Looks great: An artificial beach in Paris.

Phaedra: The love scene and theme.

Cultural Offering:
Is there anyone who does not like Legos?

How smart is this bird?

Soft Power: Abe Greenwald on its limits.

BP oil rig:
Safety alarm off?

Cool Tools: Need some spark?

Culture Break: Chateau de Guedelon

Sarah's "cover" is that she is a bilingual guide and passionate advocate for the extraordinary spectacle that opens before us: the first medieval castle to be built with entirely medieval methods and materials for 500 years; and the first castle of its kind to be built for nearly 800 years.

The Château de Guédelon is not a film set; it is not a restoration; it is not a hey-nonny-no-medieval theme-park. It is an exercise in archaeology in reverse: discovery by building up, not by digging down. By 2023, it will be a full-sized castle with battlements and a moat and six towers.

Read the rest of The Independent article here.

A Sock Puppet and Business Basics

Remember this sock puppet?

Wally Bock looks at what happened to

Novels Set in Ancient Rome

Some favorites:

  • I, Claudius by Robert Graves

  • Claudius The God by Robert Graves

  • Julian by Gore Vidal

  • Eagle in the Snow by Wallace Breem

  • The First Man in Rome by Colleen McCullough

  • A Pillar of Iron by Taylor Caldwell

  • Imperium by Robert Harris
What have I missed?

Quote of the Day

There is a fine line between genius and insanity. I have erased this line.

- Oscar Levant

Friday, July 23, 2010

Webb on Preferences

As a former EEO officer who consults in the area of EEO and diversity, I keep my eye open for articles of significance. Senator James Webb has written a column on equal opportunity and preferences that deserves a great deal of attention. It reminds me of Michael Novak's book, The Rise of the Unmeltable Ethnics. An excerpt:

Generations of such deficiencies do not disappear overnight, and they affect the momentum of a culture. In 1974, a National Opinion Research Center (NORC) study of white ethnic groups showed that white Baptists nationwide averaged only 10.7 years of education, a level almost identical to blacks' average of 10.6 years, and well below that of most other white groups. A recent NORC Social Survey of white adults born after World War II showed that in the years 1980-2000, only 18.4% of white Baptists and 21.8% of Irish Protestants—the principal ethnic group that settled the South—had obtained college degrees, compared to a national average of 30.1%, a Jewish average of 73.3%, and an average among those of Chinese and Indian descent of 61.9%.

Policy makers ignored such disparities within America's white cultures when, in advancing minority diversity programs, they treated whites as a fungible monolith. Also lost on these policy makers were the differences in economic and educational attainment among nonwhite cultures. Thus nonwhite groups received special consideration in a wide variety of areas including business startups, academic admissions, job promotions and lucrative government contracts.

Build a Tower. Build a Team.

Fascinating. Tom Wujec on the "Marshmallow Challenge."

[HT: Lou Rodarte]

Humor Break: Lager Beer

Back by popular demand: Mitchell & Webb at the corner shop.

Job Hunting: How Not to Connect

Writing in U.S. News & World Report, G.L. Hoffman discusses seven ways not to use your connections to get a job. An excerpt:

Don’t assume personal friendship transfers to a professional relationship. Maybe it does, but just because you play softball with someone does not mean he can find you a job at his company or properly present you and your skills to the right person. Sometimes it is better for us to present our own skills to the HR manager than have someone who really doesn't know us in this way present them.

Called In on the Carpet

Let's bring back the practice of "calling someone in on the carpet."

For those of you who are unfamiliar with that phrase of yore, it refers to the days when the carpet was in the boss's office and an employee was summoned in for a stern lecture. People would say, "Jack was called in on the carpet and told if he ever did that again he'd be fired."

And, in most cases, Jack never did it again.

My nostalgia for such times comes from seeing employers who resort to major discipline for behavior that, in the old days, would only cause someone to be called in on the carpet. Employers often engage in overkill; launching investigations and suspending and even firing people in a rather clinical manner. In the Blondie cartoon series, Mr. Dithers might scream at Dagwood Bumstead, but he wouldn't fire him. Nowadays, Dithers would be backed up by a cadre of HR types and lawyers. His every word would be scripted and Bumstead would be examined like a bug on a pin.

Now don't get me wrong. I fully realize that there are times when such formalism is needed. We don't want the carpet sessions to be slaps on the wrist for major offenses. There is, however, a need for some more informal remedies.

How have we arrived at this state? Two factors come to mind: Lawyers and the fear of confrontation.

Managers joke about needing to carry a lawyer around in their pocket. Unfortunately, the line isn't far from the truth. Not only is there the fear of potential litigation in itself, there is also the need to get a second opinion in order to protect your back from an upper management team that may be more than eager to withdraw support due to that same fear of litigation. That fear leads quite naturally to a fear of confrontation because handling a matter informally requires a certain amount of guts. In the heat of the moment, something improper might be said. A step might be missed. A rule might be misinterpreted. Confrontation is unpleasant. In the cartoon, Dagwood would slink back to his desk but he never called an employment attorney.

It may be argued that this new, bloodless approach to addressing problems recognizes the progress that has been made with regard to employee protections. I believe that is true. At the same time, it would help to explore a third way between the extreme of unlimited and abusive supervisory power and the bureaucratic escalation that turns minor matters into major ones.

That third way involves courageous and responsible management that is willing to address matters in a proportionate manner and call people in on the carpet.

Prager on High School Priorities

From "A Speech Every High School Principal Should Give" by Dennis Prager:

First, this school will no longer honor race or ethnicity. I could not care less if your racial makeup is black, brown, red, yellow or white. I could not care less if your origins are African, Latin American, Asian or European, or if your ancestors arrived here on the Mayflower or on slave ships.

The only identity I care about, the only one this school will recognize, is your individual identity -- your character, your scholarship, your humanity. And the only national identity this school will care about is American. This is an American public school, and American public schools were created to make better Americans.

Quote of the Day

Your heaviest artillery will be your will to live. Keep that big gun going.

- Norman Cousins

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Giving It Away: Marketing Lessons from Jerry and the Boys

Lee Odden interviews David Meerman Scott, co-author of Marketing Lessons from The Grateful Dead.

Unusual Political Messages

Political campaigns are getting stranger.

There's the ad for the Australian Sex Party - which certainly beats anything I've seen from the Republicans and Democrats - and then there's the candidate in Wisconsin who wanted to have "NOT the 'whiteman's bitch'" under his name on the ballot. For all of its faults, I found the latter item to be admirably revealing. It may aptly sum up the candidate's world view.

The JournoList Scandal

The JournoList scandal confirms what many of us have suspected about press bias. One of the proposed victims of their "brainstorming," Fred Barnes, responds in The Wall Street Journal:

JournoList contributors discussed strategies to aid Mr. Obama by deflecting the controversy. They went public with a letter criticizing an ABC interview of Mr. Obama that dwelled on his association with Mr. [Jeremiah] Wright. Then, Spencer Ackerman of The Washington Independent proposed attacking Mr. Obama's critics as racists. He wrote:

"If the right forces us all to either defend Wright or tear him down, no matter what we choose, we lose the game they've put upon us. Instead, take one of them—Fred Barnes, Karl Rove, who cares—and call them racists. . . . This makes them 'sputter' with rage, which in turn leads to overreaction and self-destruction."

No one on JournoList endorsed the Ackerman plan. But rather than object on ethical grounds, they voiced concern that the strategy would fail or possibly backfire.

Update: Andrew Sullivan isn't buying the view that there wasn't "a line."

Lileks on Mysteries

I'm sorry I missed this earlier: James Lileks looks at 100 mystery films. An excerpt:
The ending of the movie is superb, and brings “Casablanca” to mind as well - but you’re waiting, waiting for Charles Boyer to say the line before the movie ends. Say it! Say it! Because, you see, the part of town where he lives is the Casbah. The line, which summed up mysterious alluring dangerous romance, was, of course, “Come with me to the Casbah."But just as you wait in “Casablanca” for Rick to say “Play it again, Sam,” you wait in vain for Boyer to say the famous phrase. Apparently it was in the trailers only, and that was enough to make it a catch phrase.

Book Update

A shameless update on a couple of my recent books:

All I Said Was... What Every Supervisor, Employee, and Team Should Know to Avoid Insults, Lawsuits, and the Six O'clock News is now an e-book on Kindle. A paperback version will soon be available.

How to Make Presentations to Councils and Boards is also on Kindle. I've gone through one proof of the paperback version and hope to approve the final by next week.

Several other books are also in the pipeline, including The Best of

10 Dangerous Assumptions

  1. The homework was done.

  2. The supporting evidence says what they claim it says.

  3. The person running the project today will be running it next year.

  4. The attorneys were asked the right questions.

  5. Our goals and definitions are the same.

  6. The people who say they want to help do indeed want to help.

  7. Making it easier means making it better.

  8. This is a high priority with those who can quickly overturn it.

  9. The potential for abuse has been adequately contained.

  10. The benefits will not, in the long run, produce highly negative results.

Blogger Personalities

Reka looks at a study on language and personality and concludes: You are what you blog.

Hmm. One of my standard entries is "Miscellaneous and Fast."

Great Moments in Bureaucracy

Ann Althouse on the case of a young cancer patient in Britain who managed to gain some weight during treatment and then got a strange letter. But hey, it's a template.

Quote of the Day

The only reason I made a commercial for American Express was to pay for my American Express bill.

- Peter Ustinov

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Wannabe a Lawyer?

Political Calculations crunches the numbers on whether it pays to go to law school.

Easy Parking

This is very impressive: The parking garage of the future has arrived.

The Sherrod Case

Shirley Sherrod, the former Georgia director of Rural Development, said she received a phone call from the USDA‘s deputy undersecretary Cheryl Cook on Monday while she was in a car. Cook told her that the White House wanted her to call it quits.

“They called me twice,” Sherrod told the Associated Press. “The last time they asked me to pull over the side of the road and submit my resignation on my Blackberry, and that’s what I did.”

Some links on the Shirley Sherrod story:
The video and the link with the above quote.

[From what I've read so far, it sounds like she should get her job back.]

Convenient Injustices

Whenever observing the workings of organizations, one of my favorite areas to scrutinize and, I should note, perhaps the most difficult to change, is the convenient injustice.

A convenient injustice is a practice which is unfair but is nonetheless permitted to continue because those who could - and should - correct it believe that it would be inconvenient to do so. Some of these individuals will come up with creative, but ultimately unpersuasive, arguments to defend the practice while most will concede its flaws and will note that it really should be changed. You will then hear how hard it would be to change the practice, how they have to pick their battles, and that they will leave it to others to make the change. Some day, at any rate. In the meantime, they won't utter a public word against it.

Their view that the practice would be difficult to change is often inaccurate but any corrective action would involve some inconvenience on their part. And that is where our old friend Inertia enters the room. Inertia feeds on convenience and loves a good cover story. As Joan Didion noted, "We tell ourselves stories in order to live." Rather than admitting that they benefit from the injustice or, at the very least, are willing to sit by and permit it to continue, these passive accomplices conjure a scene in which the injustice is a force of nature, as uncontrollable as thunderstorms, and something to be accepted and not challenged.

With rare exception, I find them to be very nice people.

Which makes it all the worse.

Morning People Rule the World

"When it comes to business success, morning people hold the important cards," Randler told the Harvard Business Review of his research, some of which originally appeared in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology. "[T]hey tend to get better grades in school, which gets them into better colleges, which then leads to better job opportunities. Morning people also anticipate problems and try to minimize them. They're proactive." (Not that evening people are life's losers: They're smarter and more creative, and have a better sense of humor, other studies have shown.)

This Inc. article confirms what we knew all along, right?

[HT: Nicholas Bate]

Luxury Showers

Gene Goforth sells showerheads—big ones, like the Raindance Imperial 600 AIR. Selling for as much as $5,457, it has a 24-inch spray face, 358 no-clog channels and a triple-massage option. "You can just stand under it, and it helps your psyche," says Mr. Goforth, who has one in his home.

Read the rest of The Wall Street Journal article here.

Quote of the Day

Always listen to experts. They'll tell you what can't be done and why. Then do it.

- Robert A. Heinlein

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

California 1962

What was there to do in southern California in 1962?

James Lileks knows and he has the guide. [Click along at the bottom and see another world.]

[HT: Instapundit]

King's Picks for Summer

Stephen King recommends some summer reading.

[I've only read one of them - the William Boyd book - and, although a Boyd fan, I was rather disappointed.]

Cell Phone for What?

Neatorama has the usual story:

Teenage boy has an old cell phone. Goes on Craigslist and trades it for an iPod Touch. Makes some other trades.

Winds up with a Porsche.

Saving Grandpa: Solving a Problem of Time Travel

Laura Sanders examines how some physicists may solve a major problem associated with time travel. An excerpt:

Any theory of time travel has to confront the devastating “grandfather paradox,” in which a traveler jumps back in time and kills his grandfather, which prevents his own existence, which then prevents the murder in the first place, and so on.

One model, put forth in the early 1990s by Oxford physicist David Deutsch, can allow inconsistencies between the past a traveler remembers and the past he experiences. So a person could remember killing his grandfather without ever having done it. “It has some weird features that don’t square with what we thought time travel might work out as,” Lloyd says.

In contrast, Lloyd prefers a model of time travel that explicitly forbids these inconsistencies. This version, posted at, is called a post-selected model. By going back and outlawing any events that would later prove paradoxical in the future, this theory gets rid of the uncomfortable idea that a time traveler could prevent his own existence. “In our version of time travel, paradoxical situations are censored,” Lloyd says.

Rules and Their Modifications

Upper management and the Human Resources Department may make the rules, but the people in the field make the modifications.

A great deal can happen to a rule during its travels to the field. Once it arrives there, it will undergo various changes produced by resistance and practicality. After a while, the once-pristine rule may resemble an old car that has gone through a chop shop. Observers will scratch their heads while trying to guess the original design.

A "report" becomes one or two sentences or perhaps an off-hand remark over the last cup of coffee in a break room. A "review" refers to that time the boss drove through the parking lot near the outfit to be reviewed. "Will" becomes "if convenient." "Never" means "in most cases."

These changes are not always bad. They are the organization's way of operating in spite of the rules. The fact that so much modification was deemed necessary should cause the rule-drafters to consider if they took sufficient notice of reality.

A good exercise for any supervisor is to learn which rules are taken seriously, which ones are worked around, and which ones are ignored entirely. That information can tell you a great deal about an organization.

The Small Moments of Happiness

Dennis Prager wrote a book on happiness years ago and still speaks about the subject on his nationally syndicated radio program. One of his thoughts recently came to mind:

In general, it is not the really big things that tend to make us happy. It is the small things.

I got up early this morning after having completed a lot of work last night. I could see a beautiful sunrise. There is a slight threat of rain so the paper deliverer had carefully double-wrapped my newspapers; an act which in itself pleased me. A series of small items that brought additional pleasure could be listed but the key part is noticing them. The expression "being in the moment" advises us that looking back or too far ahead can rob us of the pleasure of now, even if that pleasure consists of being able to take a deep breath, stretch, sip some coffee, and plan our day.

In my experience, Prager's point about the really big things is correct. That rush of happiness can go far more quickly than one would have anticipated when the moment and its pleasures were contemplated from a distance. Too often, many of us add "What's next?" and mentally start in on a new project instead of taking the time to appreciate the achievement of the old.

When it comes to happiness, a good cup of coffee - if given appropriate notice - may provide far more pleasure than a major achievement that is hurriedly set aside. We certainly have the opportunity for much more happiness by appreciating the small things. If only large achievements and events bring happiness, we are in trouble for most of life is in the periods in-between.

Happy Birthday to The Rigg

Happy Birthday to Diana Rigg, star of The Avengers and performer of many roles of stage and film.

"Mrs. Peel, we're needed."

Quote of the Day

A best-seller was a book which sold well because somehow it was selling well.

- Daniel J. Boorstin

Monday, July 19, 2010

La Bella Luna

Examining The Financial Crisis

In January 2007, four small-time fund managers with few Wall Street connections invited themselves to a Las Vegas conference of players in the mortgage-bond business. The interlopers’ mission: to see if they were wrong in betting against subprime mortgage securities. They found a money manager who couldn’t care less if his clients lost everything on mortgage-related collateralized debt obligations (CDOs): he made money on quantity, not quality. They found a Bear Stearns CDO salesman more interested in playing cowboy at a shooting range than in discussing the housing market. They found ratings analysts utterly indifferent to their crucial jobs—assessing the risk of trillions of dollars’ worth of mortgage-related securities. And they learned about some of the average people who had taken out so many mortgages, including a stripper who was juggling five home-equity loans, all dependent on ever-rising home prices.

Read the rest of the City Journal article in which Nicole Gelinas looks at some of the top books on the crisis.

Unconventional Business Card Series

Scheduling Bursts

We set appointments to meet with people, but tend to drift into working on projects. We coast about and then, suddenly, have a burst of intense activity followed by more coasting and perhaps a meeting or two before our next burst.

I doubt if it is possible to schedule a burst for, say, nine or ten o'clock and expect that the experience will be like 0 to 70 mph in 10 seconds. Some pre-burst time may be necessary; i.e., we schedule a work period from nine to twelve, knowing that the first 10 to 15 minutes may involve accelerating to high speed.

Even with the acceleration time, however, we may be able to gain the benefits of the burst of highly productive activity. With that comes the knowledge that all bursts are followed by slow-down periods; time well-suited for routine meetings, study, and goofing-off.

So have you scheduled your burst times today?

50 to Remember

There is not a better way to start out a Monday: Read Nicholas Bate on The Forgotten Fifty. An excerpt:

39. We live in good times. We got complacent. We lost our frontier-land mentality. Bring it back and all will be OK.

40. Distractions, well distract. Reduce them by 75%.

41. Forget time. Notice where you place your attention. Ensure it is appropriate.

42. Write, paint, make music, bake bread, chop wood, carry water, plant flowers... to stay sane in a world of over-brimming briefcases full of electrons.

Cheap Cigars

Cultural Offering takea a nostalgic look at the glories of cheap cigars. [He mentions a few that sound a little upscale compared to the Ozark Crooks and Swisher Sweets I've encountered.]

Is the Music Playing You?

I want to thank the incomparable Nicholas Bate for directing us to Utpla Writes.

Fat Jack, R.I.P.

One of my brothers mentioned Fat Jack the other day.

It had been a few years since I'd thought of him. He was a Falstaffian figure - a man of size and many appetites - who was no stranger to beer and pizza and who drove an old pink Cadillac convertible that he dubbed "The Pink Sink." He was very kind, funnier than hell, talked a mile a minute, played the guitar, and had an upholstery business where all of his employees called him Fat Jack.

He was also impossible to dislike. My guess is he easily made the Most Extraordinary Character list of everyone who ever knew him.

Quote of the Day

Keep on going and the chances are you will stumble on something, perhaps when you are least expecting it. I have never heard of anyone stumbling on something sitting down.

- Charles F. Kettering

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Miscellaneous and Fast

Coming Soon to Your Local Claustrophobia Clinic

The trailer for M. Night Shyamalan's upcoming film, "Devil."

The Issue of Unnecessary Medical Tests

From Common Good, a reference to an interesting survey:

The survey asked two questions: "Do physicians order more tests and procedures than patients need to protect themselves from malpractice suits?" And, "Are protections against unwarranted malpractice lawsuits needed to decrease the unnecessary use of diagnostic tests?"

Overall, 91 percent of doctors surveyed agreed with both statements.

Connecting the Boxes

School teaches us how to put things in boxes.

We study Government over here and Psychology over there, and History, Economics, Business, Drama, English, Sociology, Education, Theology, Math, Biology, French, and other subjects in their respective boxes.

And each class mysteriously lasts a semester long.

Matters are not as neatly arranged when we get into life. The subjects become blurred and we discover that the best advisors are those who know enough about related boxes that they are able to connect them. If we are truly fortunate, we begin to see the connections ourselves and even challenge connections that we and others have assumed.

I say "fortunate" and yet the more links one sees, the greater the appreciation of our enormous ignorance. Which practices do we now confidently adopt that in future centuries will be given the same derision that we now accord to the physicians of old who placed a dead pigeon at the head of a patient in order to draw out illness?

A Chat with Tolstoy

White Crow Books presents imaginary conversations with figures from the past but using their actual words.

Rather interesting.

A Note to Passive Committee Members

Why are you here?

Are your reputation and knowledge so undisputed that all you need to do is to give an occasional nod or cast a rare vote? You watch other members create, propose, and work on ways to achieve the committee's goals and what do you do?

You sit.

You are a mystery to many of us. We are waiting for you to get in the game. We have heard that you did well on other projects and assume that certain skills earned your current rank. The more we learn of your achievements elsewhere, the more baffled we are by your practice of sitting, smiling, and doing nothing.

Doing nothing.

Not just a little. Not merely some minor chore. Absolutely nothing aside from voting and that doesn't count since a trained parrot could say "Aye" or "Nay" without stating the reasons.

Those of us who like to get things done cannot comprehend going to meeting after meeting without making a single contribution. We do know that some people who would work would love to be in your place.
Please do us and yourself a favor. Either start making a serious effort or resign.

You'll probably feel better and we'll certainly feel better.

Quote of the Day

Beginning today, treat everyone you meet as if they were going to be dead by midnight. Extend them all the care, kindness and understanding you can muster. Your life will never be the same again.

- Og Mandino

Friday, July 16, 2010


HH: But you upset your comrades, because you asked this director, you know, why can’t we criticize Castro, and you write, “if the most salient figure in this state was immune from critical comment, then all the rest was detail. Ah, never forget how useful the obvious can be.” And so, when I was reading your part about the Palestinians, no one could ever criticize Arafat. The same obvious detail about these societies has always been there.

CH: Sure. The obvious is very handy. I mean, there was a very famous movie director called Santiago Alvarez. He’s internationally well known. He was brought to this sort of seminar camp that we were partly work, partly propaganda, partly Marxist debate. And I asked him well, what’s it like working in the arts in Cuba, and he said you know, we have very untrammeled, it’s not like the Soviet Union, you know, there’s great artistic freedom here. And there was indeed in those days quite a lot of burgeoning of magazines and movies and so on in Cuba, and cultural writing. It was brief, but it was real. But then, and I said well, would this, for example, would this extend so far as to criticism of the leader, Fidel Castro? And he said well no, obviously not. We wouldn’t expect to be able to say anything critical or rude about the supreme leader. And I thought well, that’s not an exception, is it? I mean, it’s not, with the exception of that, everything’s okay? He’s the most important person on the island. So I made this remark, repast, and a terrible coldness descended on the meeting. And I was later told the people would, started to view me as a potential counterrevolutionary, which people really were talking like that. It was as if one had been called a capitalist running dog, or I forget how it goes now, lackey of the bourgeoisie, or hyena or something. But people actually do talk in this way. It was very educational.

Read the rest of Hugh Hewitt's interview with Christopher Hitchens.

A System to Frustrate Job Applicants.

My post on how to design a system to frustrate job applicants is up at U.S. News & World Report.

Big Picture versus Just You

There is much to be said for the person who looks at the greater good instead of a personal preference or even self-interest. There are times, however, when such conduct can mislead us, especially if the opinions expressed are based on what the person thinks others want and that turns out to be untrue.

For example, let's say you are surveying a group of people about which types of management training are needed. It can make a huge difference if the answers are based on what the individual needs versus what the individual thinks might be of interest to other members of the group. In the latter case, it is conceivable that the entire survey group could list "time management" as being a desirable topic when, in reality, not a single person would enroll if the class were offered. Why? Because they are basing their answers on an assumption about the group's need instead of their own.

The opposite, of course, is the person who views what the group wants through his or her own criteria and concludes that "If I don't like it, then it shouldn't be offered."

I mention this because conversations can be quickly derailed if these slants are not identified and taken into account. It is important to know if the person is giving an unvarnished personal reaction or one that has been treated with other considerations. Either way, it can turn Yes into No or No into Yes.

Quote of the Day

Nurture your minds with great thoughts. To believe in the heroic makes heroes.

- Benjamin Disraeli

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Miniature Golf, On the Other Hand...

FutureLawyer has a photograph that shows why so many of us cannot meet the dress code for golf.

The Final Ten Pages

I'm writing the last ten pages of a book. I thought they were already written because the darned thing has gone through many drafts but a gnawing mouse in the back of my mind finally convinced me to follow a basic rule:


So I'm simplifying. And do you know how hard that is? But it is the right thing to do. I'll have it done no later than tomorrow.

Authoritarian Update

Cultural Offering has the chart on types of authoritarians. On some, I didn't know whether or laugh or grimace.


I love briefcases.

I can get excited looking over the selections at Levenger and other shops, even if I'm not ready to move into some of the price brackets.

One reason for my reluctance is my tendency to use briefcases as project boxes. I have one briefcase for one on-going area of my work and several others for similar specialties. The "training briefcase" is especially-designed with nifty compartments for odds-and-ends. It is kept rigidly apart from the others.

Although leather briefcases are hard to beat when the standard is appearance and flair, one of the best cases I have is a Swiss Army black canvas case that has wheels and can carry a laptop computer, a sizable number of files, and three small men. I also have one of those aluminum cases, several leather ones, and a sturdy Land's End canvas one that looks as if it has gone through the wars.

My question: Is there a particular type of briefcase that you'd recommend?