Friday, April 30, 2010

Not as much fun as scattering them under the car

Cool Tools reviews a simple tool that is indeed cool: A magnetic parts tray.

Proud Sponsors of Irish Rugby

Some ads for Hunky Dorys are the center of controversy in Ireland.

On the other hand, recruitment for high school rugby is expected to be at an all-time high.

Picks of the Hubble

From National Geographic: NASA astronomers pick their favorite Hubble Space Telescope photos.

Things to Learn in the Workplace

My post on what every new employee should learn is up at U.S. News & World Report.

Border People

I have a meeting down in Tucson (a.k.a "The Old Pueblo") today. I promise to have a posting frenzy later.

This will be an interesting time to be in Tucson, a place I'm quite fond of and where I went to college. Partly due to its location in southern Arizona - it is 60 miles from the border - Tucson has a much more Latin feel than does Phoenix and it is proud of that heritage.

I'll also be meeting with a friend whose family has lived in Nogales, Arizona for generations, conducting business and establishing friendships on both sides of the border. [When his father was gravely ill, a former Mexican presidential candidate and family friend visited their home, just to see how "el viejo" was doing and because everyone knew the old man's time was short.] These are people whose lives and close family relationships have blurred the border. When Sonora sneezes, southern Arizona catches cold and certainly when Arizona is not well, Sonora suffers. That applies to people as well as economies.

I'll write some more on this later. Thoughts are percolating. Let me just say for now that I think the media coverage of the immigration law has been grossly irresponsible. The idea that Arizona favors some Gestapo state or is anti-Mexican is absurd. Much of the analysis that I've seen in otherwise respected publications has the depth of a comic book.

That is truly disappointing but we'll get through this just fine. More later.

Meeting Index

Number of people in meeting: 30

Those who wish they didn't have to attend the meeting: 30

Those whose attention drifts into fantasies during meeting: 30

Those who take notes or doodle to avoid falling asleep: 22

Those who would not have selected a donut if they had known the meeting was going to be about "Wellness": 21

Those who feel smug and superior because they chose fruit: 9

Quote of the Day

A team is like a baby tiger given to you at Christmas. It does a wonderful job of keeping the mice away for about 12 months and then it starts to eat your kids.

- Anonymous

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Big Alienation

The establishments of the American political parties, and the media, are full of people who think concern about illegal immigration is a mark of racism. If you were Freud you might say, "How odd that's where their minds so quickly go, how strange they're so eager to point an accusing finger. Could they be projecting onto others their own, heavily defended-against inner emotions?" But let's not do Freud, he's too interesting. Maybe they're just smug and sanctimonious.

The American president has the power to control America's borders if he wants to, but George W. Bush and Barack Obama did not and do not want to, and for the same reason, and we all know what it is. The fastest-growing demographic in America is the Hispanic vote, and if either party cracks down on illegal immigration, it risks losing that vote for generations.

Read the rest of
Peggy Noonan's column here.

Humor in the Workplace

Employment attorney John Phillips looks at extreme humor in the workplace and raises the question of just where the line should be drawn.

A few thoughts:
  • Cruelty is out, especially if directed at a specific person.
  • Anything racial is out.
  • Ethnic or religious humor is another land mine. [A good test is whether the comment or joke could be told in front of an audience of that ethnic group without causing cold sweats or a protest march.]
  • Sexual joking is unprofessional, particularly if it is crude.

That said, most of us have uttered something we later - seconds later in some cases - realize was inappropriate or just flat-out dumb. If your workplace has a climate of trust and we aren't repeat offenders, people should be willing to cut us some slack.

It will be a sad day when humor is banned from the workplace and there are times when the "gotcha" is worse than the initial offense.

An Immigrant's Tale

He was born in Cananea, Sonora, Mexico and moved to Arizona in 1926. He graduated from Arizona State Teachers College [later known as Northern Arizona University] in 1939. He worked for the State Department as a foreign service clerk, then attended the University of Arizona College of Law. He earned his law degree and was admitted to the bar in 1949.

[Hey, didn't this guy realize that there was no way that a Mexican-American would stand a chance in Arizona? It's too bad he didn't have today's sage commentators to warn him that the state is a racist swamp.]

After a few years of practicing law, he went to work for the Pima County Attorney's Office. [How did he get that job?] In 1954, he was elected Pima County Attorney. [Oh, wait. That doesn't fit the script.]

He became a Pima County Superior Court Judge in 1958. [Hmm. Well, Pima County is the more liberal part of the state. Maricopa County is much more populous and that's where those evil conservatives dwell. He'd never get a state-wide post.]

He was appointed Ambassador to El Salvador in 1964 and Ambassador to Bolivia in 1968. [That figures. He finally decided to get out of the state because there was no opportunity.]

And Raul Castro was elected Governor of Arizona in 1974. [What?]

He later served as Ambassador to Argentina before moving back to Arizona. [He obviously didn't know what a terrible place it is.]

Circling the Subject: Once More

Preparing a class. Reviewing the workbook. Pretending that I'm a skeptical student who asks, "Why should I be here?" and "Why should I care about that?" Revising the workbook yet again and cutting out the parts that I think are interesting but which no one else will. Moving the third section to the start. Watching the pacing and order and packing in just enough case examples and just enough narrative so they won't sit and read and so there is the right combination of generalization and example. Running it by one of my business partners so he can tell me if I'm crazy and so he can catch the confusing spots. Revising it again. Brainstorming again. Staring into space and sipping coffee in a restaurant. Jotting down ways to make the learning flow so everything is in the proper place. Striving to make each part of the puzzle fit so at the end it is no longer a puzzle and they can leave with a healthy confidence that the subject is now their own.

The theme is tightening. The details are jumping into line. A lot of thought can go into making something clear.

Quote of the Day

I told the doctor I was overtired, anxiety-ridden, compulsively active, constantly depressed, with recurring fits of paranoia. Turns out I'm normal.

- Jules Feiffer

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Writing Exercise

Ann Althouse gives an assignment from an NYU class on "speed fiction."

Not bad. You've seen the photo she used. Now try the one above. [Too easy.]

Dee Hock: Father of the Chaordic

From 1996: A fascinating Fast Company article on the vision of Dee Hock.

An excerpt from the article on Hock's management principles:

Here is the very heart and soul of the matter. If you look to lead, invest at least 40% of your time managing yourself -- your ethics, character, principles, purpose, motivation, and conduct. Invest at least 30% managing those with authority over you, and 15% managing your peers. Use the remainder to induce those you "work for" to understand and practice the theory. I use the terms "work for" advisedly, for if you don't understand that you should be working for your mislabeled "subordinates," you haven't understood anything. Lead yourself, lead your superiors, lead your peers, and free your people to do the same. All else is trivia.

Alert Ralph Nader

I had no idea that the Corvair had a larger version, much less a Greenbrier Sport Wagon, which looks more like a van and would not, shall we say, come close to passing modern safety standards.

Anyway, Jalopnik has the details on a 1961 relic that is for sale for a mere $8900.

2010 Commencement Speakers

U.S. News & World Report has an on-going list of speakers at this year's commencement ceremonies.

It is always entertaining to complete a count on the ideological breakdown. No big surprises there. Some of the choices are bizarre. Danny Glover?

Anyway, for the universities that are still searching or are planning for next year, here are some suggestions - not in any particular order - that would bring different perspectives:
  1. Paul Johnson
  2. Malcolm Gladwell
  3. David Ulrich
  4. Tom Wolfe
  5. Mark Steyn
  6. Thomas Sowell
  7. Pat Caddell
  8. Dennis Prager
  9. Calvin Trillin
  10. Florence King
  11. Whit Stillman
  12. Lawrence Summers
  13. Meg Whitman
  14. Scott Adams
  15. Victor Davis Hanson
  16. Richard Rodriguez
  17. Steven Pressfield
  18. Hilary Mantel
  19. Nicholas Bate
  20. Seth Godin
  21. Clotaire Rapaille
  22. Stephen R. Covey
  23. Bruce Bawer
  24. Manfred Kets de Vries
  25. Ralph Peters

Dastardly Distractions

Consultant, author, professor, and man-who-never-sleeps Nicholas Bate on the need to detach.

It reminded me of the phrase about being in the world but not of it.

Frustration Index

Number of times employee screwed up during probationary period: 0
Number of times employee has screwed up in six months since then: 22
Number of times supervisor has talked to employee about problem: 1 (indirectly)
Number of times supervisor has complained to friends and spouse about employee: 72
Number of times supervisor has dropped hints to employee: 14
Number of times employee has taken the hint: 0
Odds that employee will miraculously improve: 0
Number of times co-workers have wondered when the supervisor will act: 205

Quote of the Day

I am most entertained by those actions which give me a light into the nature of man.

- Daniel Defoe

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Pollan on Food

Food author/critic Michael Pollan talking about food rules, fast food, and culture.

[But what if your culture includes Twinkies?]

Portrait of a Dentist

Doc Holliday, the fighting ace of the Earp faction and considered by connoisseurs in deadliness the coldest-blooded killer in Tombstone, had accompanied Wyatt Earp from Dodge City. He was a rather tall, extremely slender, ash-blond, gray-eyed fellow, immaculate in attire, fastidious in his habits, tempermental, hot-tempered and cold-blooded, querulous and sometimes a little quarrelsome, a wit as well as a desperado. He might become quite excited if his breakfast eggs were not just so, but no man was cooler when bullets were flying. He was a consumptive, and the malady had left his face emaciated and very white and given it a look of refinement that might have passed for spirituality. One might have been tempted to suspect that this quiet, pale man with the fine gray eyes was a poet or a scholar who pored over erudite volumes under midnight lamps. But except for a few elegies done with finished elegance with his six-shooter, the doctor never displayed any poetic or literary leanings.

- Walter Noble Burns, Tombstone

Hitchcock a la Star Wars

Neatorama gives us a peek at James Hance's Star Wars-themed paintings.

You'll never think of "North By Northwest" quite the same again.

I think I'll be a PowerPoint presentation for Halloween

Seth Godin describes the downsides of torture via bullet-point.

1924 Warning: Hiring the Brilliant

Thought-provoking views from 1924: "Why I Never Hire Brilliant Men."

An excerpt:

But the point I have in mind is this: Business and life are built upon successful mediocrity; and victory comes to companies, not through the employment of brilliant men, but through knowing how to get the most out of ordinary folks.

iPad Woos Curmudgeon

Verging on Pertinence is flirting with iPadia:

Upon crossing the street from the William Penn we entered the Apple emporium filled with a....generous feeling. It was an early Sunday afternoon, the store was not too busy so there was no line to queue up to before getting my sweaty paws on the iPad. I touched the screen for the books therein. An empty light wood bookshelf came up and books appeared, covers out, like temptresses offering their wares. I touched Chuck Klosterman's "Eating the Dinosaur". Two pages came up. Bright white. Searing bright white already burning my corneas. I mumbled something and a Genius came by, noticed by deep squint, ran her finger by a muted bar at the top of the iPad's screen and....the pages were all readable and painless. Why I got the remark from the Delaware Genius that I should "consider RayBan's" when I inquired as to the brightness of the screen was now a mystery. Reading was a pleasure, as much as if not moreso than a Kindle II (ARGGHHH!).

I next picked "Winnie the Pooh" and the book opened in full color, a notion we Kindlites can only dream of.

Surrounded by Papers

I am not merely a messy desk person. Such people dwell in the minor leagues. No, my productivity is supported by a messy office. Books on the floor and sofa. Files hidden on the desk. Notes to myself taped up in various places.

That's my home office. My regular office is more orderly - thank God for project boxes - but still messy. Clients have to tolerate a certain level of eccentricity. Several have expressed approval.

Now if I had a cadre of handlers who could snatch away this item and file that one and always be nearby to fetch and tote, I might consider the clean desk approach but even that would be a ruse. I also fear the tidiness might inhibit a creative process that is fueled by having a stack of management books intermingled with ones on philosophy, history, and politics and by seeing bunches of papers that serve as constructive reminders or alarm bells.

Of course, there is a limit. It is time to file and organize when papers cannot be readily found or when the mass begins to foster depression. Until that point is reached, however, I can operate very well in a paper forest.

It is reassuring and I like the trees.

Quick Thought

In the course of a work day, we can gain extraordinary benefits from two conflicting commodities: conversation and silence.

Quote of the Day

It is a luxury to be understood.

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Monday, April 26, 2010

Nostalgia Break

Some opening scenes and/or themes from a few classic shows:

The best theme award, of course, has to go to "Peter Gunn."

Acid Pen and Tongue

"Hemingway, remarks are not literature,” said Miss Stein imperiously. In Dorothy Parker’s case, however, the remarks, the snappy comebacks, live on, no matter how inexpert the witnesses (Mrs. Parker included). Even if she never really followed Clare Boothe Luce’s “Age before beauty” with “Pearls before swine” or wrote of the young Katharine Hepburn “She ran the gamut of emotions from A to B,” most of us, suffering from the delayed reaction times that wake us up a day or so later with the perfect rejoinder, envy the expert parry, the swift thrust of a Parker epigram, even a faux one. That she had no Boswell is, well, just as well, for the panache with which time has crowned her off-the-cuffs makes her loom larger in our cultural memory.

Read the rest of R.S. Gwynne on the poetry of Dorothy Parker.

Miscellaneous and Fast

Small Task Moments

I've written before about the need for a Zone of Indifference to which various subjects can be relegated.

A person of complete sensitivity to the issues and problems of the world would quickly go insane. Individuals don't need to have positions on remote or arcane issues and we should be wary of people who are unwilling to leave us alone. Many of them have a totalitarian bent hidden beneath their idealism.

The Zone of Indifference, however, might not be enough to resolve day-to-day problems. It is easy for a non-Bolivian to dispatch the workings of Bolivian politics to the Zone, but what about the minor chores that cannot - and should not - be ignored? Should the Zone have a holding cell for items that can be temporarily set aside or, at the very least, not permitted to drag down morale and productivity? Such items do not merit long-term residence in the Zone and yet they need to be placed outside of the scope of our attention.

The frustration generated by these undone chores - more so than the fact that they are undone - is the problem. In short, it is our reaction, not the substance, that burdens us with guilt.

Designating 10 to 15 minutes intervals as Small Task Moments is far more effective and less intimidating than assuming that a large number of them will be addressed one of these days. It is much easier to tackle portions than a large chunk and we are more likely to do so.

Hot Issue Update

Forget about financial bail-outs, immigration, and Iran.

If you want real controversy, explore the issue of men, women, and separate checks.

Quote of the Day

Coalitions form and dissolve overnight between the strangest of bedfellows. Dire enemies momentarily join forces to battle someone else, then resume their old fight as if nothing had happened. The only way to get a decision to stand is to "shoot the losers" - line up everyone who opposes the decision and shoot them down. Otherwise, they begin to undermine the decision before the ink is dry on the paper. Quite often, the real debate begins only after a major decision has been made. Time and again, I have listened to senior officials express total frustration when issues they thought were settled suddenly reappeared.

- Colonel James Burton describing decision making in the Pentagon

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Culture Break: Saint-Saens Symphony No.3

Well worth the time: From a concert at Notre Dame in Paris.

Too Late!

Cultural Offering provides moments of (late) recognition.

A question that needs to be asked frequently: If this doesn't turn out well, what will we say we should have done?

Some Stuff to Think About

Sensory Dispensary gives us some Frank Zappa .

View From the Ledge has some Sherman Alexie.

The AZ Immigration Law Two-Step

Law professors Glenn Reynolds and Ann Althouse go back and forth on the Arizona immigration law's potential legal challenges.

The GM Loan

Was the government loan to General Motors paid back in full?

Not quite. Forbes columnist Shikha Dalmia has the details:

Uncle Sam gave GM $49.5 billion last summer in aid to finance its bankruptcy. (If it hadn't, the company, which couldn't raise this kind of money from private lenders, would have been forced into liquidation, its assets sold for scrap.) So when Mr. Whitacre publishes a column with the headline, "The GM Bailout: Paid Back in Full," most ordinary mortals unfamiliar with bailout minutia would assume that he is alluding to the entire $49.5 billion. That, however, is far from the case.

Because a loan of such a huge amount would have been politically controversial, the Obama administration handed GM only $6.7 billion as a pure loan. (It asked for only a 7% interest rate--a very sweet deal considering that GM bonds at that time were trading below junk level.) The vast bulk of the bailout money was transferred to GM through the purchase of 60.8% equity stake in the company--arguably an even worse deal for taxpayers than the loan, given that the equity position requires them to bear the risk of the investment without any guaranteed return. (The Canadian government likewise gave GM $1.4 billion as a pure loan, and another $8.1 billion for an 11.7% equity stake. The U.S. and Canadian government together own 72.5% of the company.)

But when Mr. Whitacre says GM has paid back the bailout money in full, he means not the entire $49.5 billion--the loan and the equity. In fact, he avoids all mention of that figure in his column. He means only the $6.7 billion loan amount.

[HT: Instapundit]

Harold Nicolson

I've been ripping through the 1930 - 1939 diaries and letters of British diplomat, author, journalist, and politician Harold Nicolson. The best volume, which covers the war years, awaits but this one has been interesting in its own right.

Nicolson was so well-connected that he casually mentions encounters with Somerset Maugham, Charlies Chaplin, Charles Lindbergh, and Winston Churchill and long meetings with Stanley Baldwin and Lloyd George. He is also honest enough not to hide his flaws. He often comes across as unlikeable, weak, prejudiced, and naive and yet good qualities also emerge.

Some excerpts:

31st December, 1931: Of all my years this has been the most unfortunate. Everything has gone wrong. I have lost not only my fortune but much of my reputation. I incurred enmities: the enmity of Beaverbrook; the enmity of the B.B.C. and the Athenaeum Club; the enmity of several stuffies. I left the Evening Standard, I failed in my Election, I failed over Action. I have been inexpedient throughout. My connexion with Tom Mosley has done me harm. I am thought trashy and a little mad. I have been reckless and arrogant. I have been silly. I must recapture my reputation. I must be cautious and more serious. I must not try to do so much, and must endeavor to do what I do with greater skill and application. I must avoid the superficial.

In spite of all this - what fun life is!

21th July, 1937: My speech on Monday [in the House of Commons] seems to have gone better than I supposed. Many people have come to congratulate me upon it. It is extraordinary how these things seem to affect temperature. If one makes a good speech, even the policeman at the door seems to salute with greater deference. After a failure, it is as if the very pigeons avoided one's eye.

Summer Film Fare

The Wall Street Journal looks at the summer movies. All in all, not an inspiring bunch.

I keep looking for the old Steve Allen title: "Moses Goes Hawaiian."

Quote of the Day

We must use time as a tool, not as a couch.

- John F. Kennedy

Friday, April 23, 2010

Arizona's New Immigration Law

News stories on the Arizona immigration law:

The Governor signs it.

Some additional background.

With the exception of the bill's authors, I'm not sure if anyone here - including the Governor - is wild about the law although polls indicate that most Arizonans back it. Uncontrolled immigration is a major issue in Arizona, especially down by the border. This is a textbook example of how pressing issues that are not addressed effectively will eventually get a less than effective solution.

Entertainment Break: The Barchester Chronicles

Here's an excerpt from the BBC mini-series of "The Barchester Chronicles."

[As I recall, the series covered two of Anthony Trollope's books: "The Barchester Chronicles" and "The Warden." Alan Rickman plays the role of Obediah Slope, which has to be one of the greatest character names in literature.]

Dumb? Perhaps Not.

My post on the danger of quickly labeling people is up at U.S. News & World Report.

The Flip

Eclecticity features some video on one of the most amazing feats ever performed on a baseball field.

Book Wars

Writing in The New Yorker, Ken Auletta looks at the effect that the Kindle and the iPad have had on the publishing business. An excerpt:

The industry’s great hope was that the iPad would bring electronic books to the masses—and help make them profitable. E-books are booming. Although they account for only an estimated three to five per cent of the market, their sales increased a hundred and seventy-seven per cent in 2009, and it was projected that they would eventually account for between twenty-five and fifty per cent of all books sold. But publishers were concerned that lower prices would decimate their profits. Amazon had been buying many e-books from publishers for about thirteen dollars and selling them for $9.99, taking a loss on each book in order to gain market share and encourage sales of its electronic reading device, the Kindle. By the end of last year, Amazon accounted for an estimated eighty per cent of all electronic-book sales, and $9.99 seemed to be established as the price of an e-book. Publishers were panicked. David Young, the chairman and C.E.O. of Hachette Book Group USA, said, “The big concern—and it’s a massive concern—is the $9.99 pricing point. If it’s allowed to take hold in the consumer’s mind that a book is worth ten bucks, to my mind it’s game over for this business.”

Quote of the Day

Caught in the relaxing interval between one moral code and the next, an unmoored generation surrenders itself to luxury, corruption, and a restless disorder of family and morals, in all but a remnant clinging desperately to old restraints and ways. Few souls feel any longer that "it is beautiful and honorable to die for one's country." A failure of leadership may allow a state to weaken itself with internal strife. At the end of the process a decisive defeat in war may bring a final blow, or barbarian invasion from without may combine with barbarism welling up from within to bring the civilization to a close.

- Will and Ariel Durant, The Lessons of History

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Informant Society

Mark Steyn reviews some examples of out-of-control tolerance zealots. An excerpt:

Six weeks ago, Roy Amor, a medical technician who made prosthetics for a company called Opcare, glanced out of the window at their offices at Withington Community Hospital, and saw some British immigration officials outside. “You better hide,” he said to his black colleague, a close friend of both Mr. Amor and his wife. Not the greatest joke in the world, but the pal wasn’t offended, laughed it off as a bit of office banter, and they both got on with their work. It was another colleague who overheard the jest and filed a formal complaint reporting Mr. Amor for “racism.” He was suspended from his job. Five days later, he received an email from the company notifying him of the disciplinary investigation and inviting him to expand on the initial statement he had made about the incident. Mr. Amor had worked in the prosthetics unit at Withington for 30 years until he made his career-detonating joke. That afternoon he stepped outside his house and shot himself in the head. The black “victim” of his “racism” attended the funeral, as did other friends. It is not known whether the creep who reported the racist incident did, nor whether the management who opened the (presumably still ongoing) investigation troubled themselves to pay their respects to an employee with three decades of service.

[HT: Idea Anaconda]

Guidelines for Bloggers

    I am occasionally asked for advice from would-be bloggers. For whatever these are worth, here are a few guidelines that I've tried to follow:

  1. Recognize that some of your best blog posts will never be published. Why? Because the morning after you draft them you'll find that an elf has turned your brilliance into incoherent mush. Don't rush to post.
  2. Always give credit to other bloggers for their thoughts and be generous in linking to other blogs. There's no particular business reason for this. It's just the right thing to do.
  3. Choose a tone for your blog and stick with it. Readers want a certain level of predictability and you don't want to come across as a multiple personality.
  4. If you have a niche, know your subject. Even when you know your subject, remember that the limited size of a blog post can leave a lot of unanswered questions. Your readers may notice gaps.
  5. Don't feed the trolls is an old rule. It's also a good one. Not every statement deserves a response.
  6. Beware of spammers in your comments section. In fact, be sure to moderate the comments or else you may be surprised to discover that people are attaching weird or offensive comments to posts that you wrote long ago.
  7. If you are ever tempted to drop a blog from your blog roll because of a disagreement with its author, you should immediately do penance by adding three more bloggers who disagree with you. Blogging should expand your perspective, not restrict it.
  8. Post frequently. Make your readers want to come back often. If you are indifferent, they'll be indifferent.
  9. Consider how you picture your blog. Is it a magazine? A kiosk? A telegram? A soap box? A party? A dinner table? A classroom? The picture you have will determine the appropriate content and tone.
  10. Finally, try to add some style and grace to the world. Be kind to your readers and to other bloggers. You have no idea of the burdens many carry and you may, in a few lines, help to lighten their load.

The Murph

By the time I finished reading this post by Rick Knowles, I was ready to collapse. An excerpt:

Crossfit has several workouts named after military heroes, such as Lt. Michael Murphy (KIA in Afghanistan, June 28th, 2005). His WOD (workout of the day) is described as:

"1 mile
100 pullups
200 pushups
300 squats
1 mile

For time. Partition the pull-ups, push-ups, and squats as needed. Start and finish with a mile run. If you've got a twenty pound vest or body armor, wear it."

New or Newly Found?

Victor Davis Hanson on the new civility:

It will be considered childish to caricature a stressed president for mangling his words, whether “nucular” or “corpseman.” If, from time to time, the commander-in-chief flubs up and says something stupid like Bush’s “Is our children learning?” or Obama’s “Cinco de Quatro,” we have learned to accept that such slips are hardly reflective of a lack of knowledge. The old “gotcha” game is puerile and, thankfully, is now a thing of the past.

Improv Break: Winters

Jonathan Winters with a pen and pencil set and, back by popular demand, his extraordinary routine with a stick.

The New Greens

Peter W. Huber on the rise of an ecopragmatist:

Consider Stewart Brand’s meaty, well-informed, and mostly sensible new book, Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto. The man who used to be so California Hip that in 1968 he made a cameo appearance in Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test now presents himself as a “hacker (lazy engineer) at heart,” ready to promote realistic responses to the great eco-existential crisis of our time—climate change. How can Greens fulfill their new mission, which is to save not only birds and trees but all humanity? The man who founded and then edited the Whole Earth Catalog for 16 years—a magazine guided by “biological understanding” and enamored with the planet-saving power of organic farming, solar, wind, insulation, bicycles, and handmade houses—now concludes: “Cities are Green. Nuclear energy is Green. Genetic engineering is Green.”

Quote of the Day

One should attend to his warriors as he would to his own thirst.

- Samurai Takeda Nobushige

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Miscellaneous and Fast

The Class

A bunch of bright people with good questions. The room was comfortable. No microphone was needed. I pandered to them shamelessly by giving short breaks each hour so they could slip out for a few minutes and enjoy the sunny day. There was only a flip chart available, but that is just right for this topic. We covered a lot of case examples and sorted out key points. I also had an espresso to sip.

Everything clicked.

And that doesn't happen by accident.

The Search for the Magic Bullet

There is an understandable desire for a magic bullet; an approach that will work well and rapidly under all circumstances and in all organizations.

It doesn't exist.

Management can be quite simple in theory and extremely complicated in practice. A strategy that worked out marvelously for Company A will spark an uprising at Company B. The collegial method that was so well received in one division will be regarded as slippery in another. Sometimes, the cure is worse than the disease.

This message is not happily received in some quarters. When a management consultant says that a situation is complicated, that may be regarded as a ploy to embark on an expensive study. "Oh sure, you'd say that" is the reaction hidden behind a more polite response. There exists, however, a parallel to moments when physicians try various treatments and drugs in order to see how a particular patient responds. There is a tacit acknowledgement of the unknown.

The impatience for a quick fix may be linked to a certain amount of laziness. Being a good manager or supervisor is hard work. It requires brain power, study, patience, and a willingness to learn. Short-cuts, to borrow from an old expression, are usually mined.

Understanding that is an important part of leadership. As one leader put it, "We must move slowly because we are in a hurry." There are times when that makes enormous sense.

Wisdom involves knowing those times.

Quote of the Day

You can't have everything. Where would you put it?

- Steven Wright

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Bourdain, Harrison, Good Food, and Good Writing

Cultural Offering points us to an encounter between Anthony Bourdain and Jim Harrison.

That's interesting in itself, but then he raises the question of the greatest living American author.

Some other nominees:

Well, there's. No, he's dead. And then there is. . . nope. Dead again.

Tom Wolfe? Edward P. Jones? Elmore Leonard? Larry McMurtry? Cormac McCarthy?

Humility and Self-Promotion

Can your humility keep you from getting ahead?

Tim Berry has some thoughts . . . and not a glib answer. Excellent post.

Just Drumming Up Business

BusinessPundit points to an ad that crosses the line.

Sommers on Equal Pay Day

Christina Hoff Sommers challenges the assumptions of Equal Pay Day. An excerpt:

In their defense, feminist groups deny that women’s choices explain the wage gap. “In fact,” says the National Women’s Law Center, “authoritative studies show that even when all relevant career and family attributes are taken into account, there is still a significant, unexplained gap in men’s and women’s earnings.” Not quite. Studies summarized in the CONSAD report show that when the proper controls are in place, the unexplained wage gap is somewhere between 4.8 and 7.1 cents—and no one can say how much of it is discrimination and how much is owed to subtle differences between the sexes that are hard to measure. For the time being, Equal Pay Day should be moved back from April to January.

When Foolish is Wise

Creativity consultant Roger von Oech on the wisdom of thinking like a fool. An excerpt:

It's the fool's job to extol the trivial, trifle with the exalted, and parody the common perception of a situation. In doing so, the fool makes us conscious of the habits we take for granted and rarely question. A good fool needs to be part actor and part poet, part philosopher and part psychologist. It's the fool's job to extol the trivial, trifle with the exalted, and parody the common perception of a situation. In doing so, the fool makes us conscious of the habits we take for granted and rarely question. A good fool needs to be part actor and part poet, part philosopher and part psychologist.

Beach People

When exotic cultures meet: Photo of the Day.

Quick Thought: Packing

Once the essentials, such as medicine and key business documents, have been accounted for, it is wise to err on the side of underpacking.

The amount of stuff that is carted from one destination to another and back while being used for nothing other than burning fuel, taking space, and creating guilt feelings on the part of the bearer can be sizable. It is huge when multiplied by the total number of travelers.

If brutally honest with ourselves, we would designate an extra bag solely for the things we won't need but somehow feel compelled to take. If wise, we'll "forget" to take that one.

Quote of the Day

A technique is something that can be used in place of a brain.

- Henry Mintzberg

Monday, April 19, 2010

Pink: Books About Work

Daniel H. Pink reveals his six favorite books about work. It's an interesting and eclectic list.

A few quick additions, all of which are novels:

Company by Max Barry. A very funny novel about a young man who discovers that no one quite knows what his employer does.

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. The great novel about an eccentric, his lute, his love, and a hot dog stand. And, of course, it is in New Orleans.

Bartleby The Scrivener by Herman Melville. Bartleby chooses not to work and what are the repercussions? [Moby Dick also contains insights into the workplace. Isn't Captain Ahab the ultimate nutty boss?]

Miscellaneous and Fast

One Thing Good and One Thing Less

Do something good today and do something less.

Accomplish at least one significant task that will bring pride - however small - when you reflect upon it in the evening, but also subtract one item from your list of potential achievements. Move it to another time.

Adding even a dash more at this moment will only spoil the flavor of your dish.

Quote of the Day

Life is a series of collisions with the future; it is not a sum of what we have been but of what we yearn to be.

- Jose Ortega y Gasset

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Real Life: Cuter Than Cute

Thanks to Cultural Offering for showing us these two photos of celebration and determination.

Any parent/sibling will immediately recall the dynamics.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Music Break

Miscellaneous and Fast

The E-mail Trap

During the course of the last year or so, I have detected a trend in corporate life that bears momentary scrutiny, then universal action by anybody who wants to remain standing in the years to come. It’s this: your corporation has the right to look at your e-mail. Mostly, they will not do this, because they know that once they do, you’re probably cooked. So they do it with increasing regularity, but only to people against whom they want to build a case. And once they do, there’s a 99% shot that case is made.

Read the rest of Stanley Bing's essay here.

The Important Freedom of Stupid

Writing in The Wall Street Journal, comedian Penn Jillette sees something ominous in the passing of the Hummer. An excerpt:

Yeah, Adrien Brody and Carrot Top wasted gallons of gas driving their stupid cars. I can feel smug about my Mini Cooper's sexy 37/28/32 MPG measurements. But I don't think we should be too quick to feel happy about the stupid Hummers going away. We're all making bad choices all the time, and most of mine are way stupider than driving a Hummer. I love my freedom of stupid. I bumped into Adrien one time and had a great talk with him, we got along great. I know Carrot Top well enough to call him "Scott." I know that they're both a lot thinner than me. They're both in a lot better shape. They eat better than me, and they can do a lot more push-ups and sit-ups. They can run farther and faster than me. So, in the near future, with us all being involved in each other's health care, Adrien and Scott might make up for their wasted gas mileage paying for my high-blood-pressure meds. If we're all getting together to stop the stupidity of driving a Hummer, will we have to stop the stupidity of eating Krispy Kreme doughnuts and pie? Freedom is freedom to be stupid.

They came first for the Hummers.

Then they came for the pie.

Quote of the Day

American management in the past has been singularly blind to the needs of human beings. Management wants to eliminate the human equation from business. . . . That puts businessmen at a disadvantage overseas because so many businesses are based on human relations and friendship. They say, "How the hell could you do business by making a friend? What's that got to do with the bottom line?" As it turns out, it has everything to do with it. . . . We're impatient. But all over the world, if you have friends, you can do anything. That's how the system works.

- Edward T. Hall

Friday, April 16, 2010

Living Up to Your Prius

As morally superior citizens of planet Earth, we Prius owners consider it our duty to keep finding new ways to enlighten those eco-heathens who are still floundering in the eco-darkness, even as our cars sometimes fail to decelerate when the brake pedal is depressed, a violation of Newton’s third law of motion, caused by global warming. Herewith, some suggestions from the “Things to Do with Your Prius” message board.

Read the rest of Bruce McCall's article in The New Yorker.

Work Excuses

In the year 1710: "The gray horse has gone lame."

In the year 2010: "The laptop is acting weird."

[Hmm: Perhaps I should shoot the laptop.]

Music Break: O'Connor and Banjo

Gerry O'Connor plays some Irish banjo music.

Beng Unhappy at Work

My post on 12 ways to be unhappy at work is up at U.S. News & World Report.

Saying No

Many years ago, I read a management article by some perky scholar who recommended saying "Yes!" whenever a supervisor or peer asks you to take on a new project. Think of the knowledge and the enhanced reputation you'll gain, the writer noted, when people regard you as the "Go To Person" on such matters.

That advice, of course, is idiotic. Always saying yes is as dumb as always saying no and there are plenty of people out there who will load you up with useless, career-killing projects. A few of them may even be your friends.

Some of the most pleasant memories that warm me on cold winter evenings are of the times when I fended off projects that were quagmires in the making. In many cases, people said I was crazy to reject the opportunity but it was usually not difficult to hear the slight tone indicating they didn't believe what they were saying. They were, as the expression goes, trying to sell me a bill of goods.

You have limited time and resources. Even if a project gives you more authority and staff, it may either distract your focus or walk you into troublesome territory. There is a reason why such properties are on the market and it helps to thump the walls and look for termites.

The "Go To Person?" I still smile at that one.

Quote of the Day

Most things will improve in the future, but some things won't, because the designers who make those things prefer to keep them in their current sadistic form.

- Scott Adams

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Paul Graham: Organic Start-Up Ideas

The best way to come up with startup ideas is to ask yourself the question: what do you wish someone would make for you?

There are two types of startup ideas: those that grow organically out of your own life, and those that you decide, from afar, are going to be necessary to some class of users other than you. Apple was the first type. Apple happened because Steve Wozniak wanted a computer. Unlike most people who wanted computers, he could design one, so he did. And since lots of other people wanted the same thing, Apple was able to sell enough of them to get the company rolling. They still rely on this principle today, incidentally. The iPhone is the phone Steve Jobs wants. [1]

Our own startup, Viaweb, was of the second type. We made software for building online stores. We didn't need this software ourselves. We weren't direct marketers. We didn't even know when we started that our users were called "direct marketers." But we were comparatively old when we started the company (I was 30 and Robert Morris was 29), so we'd seen enough to know users would need this type of software. [2]

Read the rest of Paul Graham's essay here.

Quote of the Day

A government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul.

- George Bernard Shaw

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Gabriel Goes Tech

Business Week has the latest on Peter Gabriel and Inside The Filter, a recommendation engine for online movies and music.

The Ghosts of Katyn

Michael Weiss on current affairs and impact of the Katyn Forest massacre. An excerpt:

In studying Katyn one learns a great deal about the pathological mind of Stalin and the Soviet art of transforming guilt into political victory. The plan to commit mass murder was hatched, according to Russian investigations made the early 1990's, in the winter of 1940 at conference between the Gestapo and NKVD held in Zakopane in what was then German-occupied Poland. The joint Soviet-Nazi objective was to defeat resurgent Polish nationalism as a threat to either power's carve-up of Eastern Europe. So ebulliently was the massacre plotted that photos from the conference, released, too, in the last days of Communism, show Gestapo and NKVD agents sledding together in the snow in between sessions.

School for Scandal: The Apology

Jury and communications consultant Beth Foley on how to make a public apology. An excerpt:

Mr. Spitzer violated two important markers of an effective apology: First, an effective apology is not about the person who gives it, is about the person or people he hurt. By having his wife stand next to him and share in his public shame, he victimized her again. Although he did say "I apologize" to my family and the public, he spent equal time talking about his own political views and how he disappointed himself.

His second shortcoming is that he gave only a vague acknowledgement of what he did wrong. It is impossible to effectively apologize for the damage his actions caused without acknowledging the actions themselves. Perhaps he left out the details because it would emphasize his hypocrisy. After all, as Attorney General of the State of New York he aggressively prosecuted two prostitution rings. He gives no real evidence that he understands his own hypocrisy and how that violates the audience. Not only did this fail to trigger reciprocity and concessions, it angered his audience.

[HT: 13th Floor]

What Business Books Won't Tell You

To be read and remembered: Wally Bock on the things the business books forgot.

True West: The Story of a Magazine

This is a rather compelling story of how a small business owner was able to turn an unlikely opportunity into a winner.

It's a heroic tale. Many of the chilling moments will be recognized by small business owners everywhere.

[And yes, I'm going to subscribe.]

Quote of the Day

Fish never discover water.

- Louis Agassiz

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Music Instruction

Get out your guitar. Here's a rough guide to playing Dave Van Ronk's "Come Back Baby."

Baseball, Balance, and Life

Cultural Offering reminds us of the wisdom to be found on a baseball diamond:

The secret? It is all about balance. Want to hit well? Plant your feet shoulder-width apart. Bring the bat up, be balanced, focus and explode through the ball. You will do well. I promise. Pitching? Balance. If you don't reach a point of balance, your pitches will be all over the place. Achieve balance right before you release that pitch and you will be amazed at how quickly you get better. Fielding? Balance. Throwing? Balance. You get the point. Kids who throw off-balance end up throwing in the dirt or over another kid's head. Kids who field off-balance, miss the ball or fall down and miss the play.

The Curmudgeon and The iPad

Verging on Pertinence wanders down to the Apple store and checks out the iPad:

Flicked to a photo gallery loaded on the iPad. Again, no complaints about the picture quality. When I turned the iPad from a portrait to a landscape handhold, however, the picture did not turn. The Apple Bee hmmmed, but couldn't fix the issue.Brought up one of the books downloaded. Easy to turn pages, as expected from experiencing the same with the iPhone application. After readng about 3-5 minutes, however, my eyes were killing me. The screen was too bright, the words seared my eyeballs. Again, a Bee buzzed by and said that the brightness was due to the high value on color. O.K....but my eyes were tired fairly qucikly from reading. He suggested, without a hint of a grin, Ray-Bans.

Thoughts on News and Papers

View From the Ledge has some thoughts on news and papers that should be read in every news room in the world. An excerpt:

I gather my news from blogs or online sites and occasionally hit the news button on Google. The delivery is immediate, a service that newspapers just can’t supply simply because the type of delivery they use just can’t move that quickly. Where the web can deliver changes within minutes, it takes newspapers half a day – if they have two editions – or a full day to report.

In this case, old news is definitely not good news.

So I don’t look for my news to be delivered in ink. What I do look for is opinion, analysis, feature articles, and personal essays. In essence, newspapers have become magazines where I look for entertainment and perspective.


Jill Harness at Neatorama has some interesting items about the amazing success of McDonald's. An excerpt:

Throughout the Middle East, McDonald’s offers a “McArabia” sandwich, which is a piece of flat bread with chicken or beef patties. They also serve a special wrap called the Paneer Salsa wrap, which takes fried, seasoned cottage cheese and wraps it in flat bread with veggies.

Most Indian menus are largely different than those in America, as pig and cow products are not served outside of Southern India. The chicken and fish are also prepared in separate areas because or strict religious laws regarding the preparation of food for vegetarians. One of the area’s specialties is the Maharaja Mac, which was originally made with lamb meat but now is made with chicken. They also serve a dish called the McCurry pan, which consists of a bowl made from flakey dough filled with chicken in a tomato-curry sauce. Of all the international McDonald’s menu items, I think this is the one I’d want to try the most.

Leadership 12

The incomparable Nicholas Bate gives a "leadership dozen," a list to keep close at hand.

Quote of the Day

The future begins today, not tomorrow.

- Old Vaquero Saying

Monday, April 12, 2010

Donuts with Kids: Priceless

Eclecticity points to style, as in "Win the Masters and then take the kids to Krispy Kreme style" . . . and note the jacket.

Pulitzer Prize Winners

The 2010 Pulitzer Prize winners.

I see a few that will be on my reading list but I've missed them so far.

[HT: Instapundit]

Entertainment Break

The trailer for "A Good Man in Africa." A so-so film that has its moments.

The book by William Boyd is much better.

The Excitement Factor

There is probably an exception out there, but I've never met a firefighter who didn't love the job. As one assistant fire chief told me, "There's nothing else that quite matches the excitement that comes over you when that alarm bell sounds."

Other jobs may not be in the territory of those that involve alarm bells and sirens and yet there are certain aspects to many that might be the rough equivalent. What is in your job? What is it in the jobs of your co-workers?

And if that sense of urgency and importance is not present, how can it be summoned?

Earliest Political Memory

This Ann Althouse post pushes a lot of buttons.

What is your earliest political memory?

[Mine is watching President Eisenhower on television. Subsequent early memories include gavel-to-gavel coverage of the party conventions, the Nixon-Kennedy debates, and people storing food during the Cuban missile crisis. Growing up in Arizona, I followed the rising career of Barry Goldwater who went from being a Phoenix city councilman to an upset Senate race victory over Senate Majority Leader Ernest McFarland.]

"Can't We Just Get Along?"

That Rodney King line often comes to mind in the workplace.

Managers groan when faced with otherwise competent employees who seem to search for conflicts. Conversely, an employee who gets along with others and quietly gets the job done week after week is a jewel that should never be undervalued.

I believe that two items should be added to every performance evaluation:

What you do when you are performing at your best:

What you do when you are a pain to have around:

Of course, the same items could be used to evaluate the boss.

Master Thief

From a Wired article about a brilliant thief:

Blanchard wasn’t listening. He was noting the motion sensors in the corner, the type of screws on the case, the large windows nearby. To hear Blanchard tell it, he has a savantlike ability to assess security flaws, like a criminal Rain Man who involuntarily sees risk probabilities at every turn. And the numbers came up good for the star. Blanchard knew he couldn’t fence the piece, which he did hear the guide say was worth $2 million. Still, he found the thing mesmerizing and the challenge irresistible.

He began to work immediately, videotaping every detail of the star’s chamber. (He even coyly shot the “No Cameras” sign near the jewel case.) He surreptitiously used a key to loosen the screws when the staff moved on to the next room, unlocked the windows, and determined that the motion sensors would allow him to move — albeit very slowly — inside the castle. He stopped at the souvenir shop and bought a replica of the Sisi Star to get a feel for its size. He also noted the armed guards stationed at every entrance and patrolling the halls.

Quote of the Day

That man's silence is wonderful to listen to.

- Thomas Hardy

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Still Relevant: Plutarch and Company

Wealth is nice, but an enemy's center of gravity is his soul, character, mind, and faith, not his arms or his cities. As Xenophon wrote, "It is not numbers or strength that bring victories in war. No, it is when one side goes against the enemy with the gods' gift of a stronger morale that their adversaries, as a rule, cannot withstand them." On another occasion, the Persians ate on tables of gold and still had a hard time defeating 300 Spartans who ate porridge. Persia's large reservoirs of money and manpower could not bend the Greeks' disdain for the Medes and love of independence. The Greeks never surrendered.

Read the rest of the article by Jakub Grygiel here.

Get Thee to a Library, However Small

Off-Beat Earth has commentary and pictures on what may be the smallest library on earth.

Marvelous. I like the line.

[HT: Rebecca's Pocket]

Music Break: Space Captain

Joe Cocker on the Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour with "Space Captain."

Who Pays and Its Meaning

Two different takes on the news about who's paying taxes:

Mark Steyn: And yet, for an increasing number of Americans, tax season is like baseball season: It's a spectator sport. According to the Tax Policy Center, for the year 2009 47 percent of U.S. households will pay no federal income tax. Obviously, many of them pay other kinds of taxes – state tax, property tax, cigarette tax. But at a time of massive increases in federal spending, half the country is effectively making no contribution to it, whether it's national defense or vital stimulus funding to pump monkeys in North Carolina full of cocaine (true, seriously, but don't ask me why). Half a decade back, it was just under 40 percent who paid no federal income tax; now it's just under 50 percent. By 2012, America could be holding the first federal election in which a majority of the population will be able to vote themselves more government lollipops paid for by the ever-shrinking minority of the population still dumb enough to be net contributors to the federal treasury. In less than a quarter-millennium, the American Revolution will have evolved from "No taxation without representation" to representation without taxation. We have bigger government, bigger bureaucracy, bigger spending, bigger deficits, bigger debt, and yet an ever smaller proportion of citizens paying for it.

John Cassidy: If the poor and lower middle classes aren’t paying income tax, who is? Everybody else, of course, particularly the rich, who get a break on payroll taxes, which aren’t levied on incomes above $106,800. According to the A.P., in 2006 the richest ten per cent of households—those earning an average of $366,400—paid about three quarters of all the income taxes that the federal government collected.

How should we react to these figures? As somebody who believes that wealth is ultimately socially created and that the marginal utility of income declines rapidly with income—a finding confirmed by countless surveys—I believe they are almost wholly positive. By redirecting money to families further down the income distribution, a progressive tax system increases overall welfare—a point A. C. Pigou, another utilitarian egalitarian, made a century ago. But the figures do raise interesting questions of political economy. When almost half the population isn’t paying income tax, what is the politics of higher or lower government spending?

Chicken Man

What are people thinking about during your business meetings?

Stanley Bing is thinking about chickens:

So this guy I’m having breakfast with says, “There are cultural issues that have to be addressed if we’re going to make one plus one equal three.” And I reply, “How many chickens do you think are eaten in this country every day?” And he looks at me kind of blankly, and says, “I don’t know. A lot?” And I can tell he thinks I’m out of my mind, and not attending to business. But so what. Some questions hang in the air and after a while you kind of feel they have to be answered.