Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Road Trip Brainstorming


I've had some very productive and memorable discussions during long road trips. Today's drive gave me an good idea for corporate planning sessions. Get the team in a car or van and hit the highway with an agenda of topics to be tackled. The road trip format seems to foster informal and open discussion. Someone - preferably not the driver - should be designated as scribe to capture all ideas during the trip.


Read the rest at Cultural Offering. Great idea.

Culinary Advance: Deep-Fried Beer

The beer is placed inside a pocket of salty, pretzel-like dough and then dunked in oil at 375 degrees for about 20 seconds, a short enough time for the confection to remain alcoholic.

When diners take a bite the hot beer mixes with the dough in what is claimed to be a delicious taste sensation.

More here.

100 Killer Thrillers

NPR lists the top 100 killer thrillers.

I've read a mere 25 of them. Some of the ones that are included (Shogun) don't seem to fit the category and, wait a minute...no books by Ed McBain or Elmore Leonard?

But Does It Have a Basement?

Dwell looks at a floating house at Lake Huron.

"An Unappreciated Gem"

Congratulations to Jim Stroup on this praise-filled review of his book, Managing Leadership.

I've been enjoying Jim's blog for a long time and am ashamed to say that I have not read the book. That will soon be remedied.

Business Publications

I confess to an addiction to The Wall Street Journal. It is, quite simply, an excellent newspaper and if other newspapers were half as good then the news biz would be healthy indeed.

I read other business-related publications, of course, and find much to appreciate in Forbes, Business Week, Fortune, Fast Company and, well the list goes on. [Each of those magazines has fans whose ardor resembles that of a Cubs fan at the start of baseball season.]

So here's a question: If you could only read one business newspaper or magazine, which one would it be?

Danteblogging

The Cranky Professor is Danteblogging. An excerpt:

Esolen's note reminds us that Virgil addressed Calliope and that Ovid told us the story (Metamorphoses 6.294-340, 662-78). Some foolish humans engaged in a singing match with the muse. She won, of course, and to remind them of their presumption turned them into magpies. No one ever came out ahead in those challenges to the Olympian gods - Arachne, Marsyas, these girls - and no mercy was shown, no chance of forgiveness. Dante is subtle here, reminding us that however much he loved those old poets, he did not love their gods.

Music Break

Cultural Offering has the Little River Band with "Cool Change."

[I haven't heard that song in years. Fast forward several decades: Will anyone be posting old rap tunes?]

Learning the Craft

If the work of some teachers could be transformed into its equivalent in carpentry, the result would fill an assembly hall with distressed furniture: Uneven bookshelves, stools with wobbly legs; marred coffee tables, and desks that collapse at the slightest touch of an elbow. Nails would protrude, surfaces would be rough, and the use of a level would reveal that a level had never been used.

Think back on your own education and tabulate how many history teachers made the topic boring beyond belief, how many math teachers turned their classrooms into a reign of terror, and how many science teachers could not stir the imagination if you held a gun on them. We won't even go near the foreign language department.

At some point, those individuals either forgot their craft or decided it wasn't worth learning or improving. They became classroom monitors and not teachers.

Consider how similar transformations occur in other professions. Someone gives up on the primary job and starts to do a secondary one, and on the day that happens, the shelves begin to slant and the legs begin to wobble.

Quote of the Day

I am sometimes a fox and sometimes a lion. The whole secret of government lies in knowing when to be the one or the other.

- Napoleon Bonaparte

Monday, August 30, 2010

A Dry Run?

The US Transport and Security Administration is likely to face questions about why he was allowed to board even though his luggage was allegedly found to contain a mobile phone taped to a Pepto-Bismol bottle, three other mobile phones taped together and several watches taped together.

Sources told ABC that because no explosives were discovered, he was cleared for the flight to Chicago.

Let me see now. You can't joke about bombs but if a suspicious device is found in your luggage, you are cleared for the flight. Go figure. Read the rest of The Telegraph article here.

Odd Aspects of the Workplace



We don't have time to do it right, but we'll find time to do it over.

The more delicate and potentially dangerous the decision, the more we want to rush through it.

The office that is most likely to take race, sex, and national origin into account when making selection decisions is the office that has the specific responsibility of preventing discrimination on the basis of race, sex, and national origin.

The formal organization chart may not be on the wall, but any savvy employee can sketch the real organization chart.

Management is one of the few skills believed to be acquired through osmosis.

A great deal of behavior that is described as bold leadership would be regarded as reckless or insubordinate if practiced by an employee.

Stage Right: Enter Steve Jobs

Writing in Fortune, Philip Elmer-DeWitt on what might be next from Apple.

Will it be something with iPad or iPod?

Crisis Management: Zombie Attack

Daniel W. Drezner with your weekly world zombie report, including a link to scientific reasons why a zombie attack would fail.

You can't be too prepared.

A Good Watch

Wristwatches are now avoided by many who are physically attached to smartphones, but I doubt if I'll go that route.

I like watches. A few years ago, when my wristwatch was in the shop, I retrieved an old pocket watch that one of my ancestors probably used to time buggy races. There was a certain raw appeal to the old ticker - even having to wind it had an antique charm - and I reluctantly put it back in the drawer when the newer one returned.

Digital watches have never appealed to me. I usually don't need the exact time. I want to be able to glance at the watch and get a rough sense of the neighborhood. Watches that are clear and simple are best and I'd prefer one that costs less than my car.

A few weeks ago - in a quest for a timepiece that could be worn while alligator-wrestling - I bought one that is rugged and large and capable of driving nails. Unfortunately, I soon found the dial to be both busy and mysterious. The designers, too clever by half, put in one gizmo too many. Since realizing that, every glance has become an irritation.

I'm glad I kept that pocket watch.

Intense Superficiality

Eclecticity gives a fast look at a person who is famous for being famous. I'm looking forward to her memoirs.

Quote of the Day

Gardens are not made by sitting in the shade.

- Rudyard Kipling

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Creativity Moments: Some Classic Federal Express Ads

As I recall, this 1982 Federal Express commercial was taken off the air following protests by the U.S. Post Office.

Then, of course, the classic ads include the "Even a vice president can do it" , the stolen idea , the cave man's bad day and the most famous FedEx ad of all.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Working Conditions Update

Seinfeld: "Because the mail never stops."

The War Against Playgrounds

This Salon article explores efforts to make playgrounds so safe that they result in removing much of the play as well as what could be termed "play skills." It will spark many memories.

My own childhood playground in Phoenix included slides, merry-go-rounds, and jungle gyms. The temperature of the slides and jungle gyms became what you would expect metal to get in Phoenix when the weather is hot, hot, hot. We never thought much about it. As for the merry-go-rounds, the entire idea was to have friends who would spin it so those on the twirling disk - or about to jump on - would have a good and fast ride. I suppose it was some personal injury attorney's dream.

But we enjoyed these torture devices and I never heard of anyone complaining or filing a suit. If someone got hurt, there was a visit to the school nurse. It was no big deal.

And, by the way, we were even permitted to run and play tag.

Shocking.

ADA Cases Rising

Employment attorney John Phillips on the predictable result of the ADA Amendments Act.

Indian Bloggers: A List

There are so many blogs based in the dynamic nation of India that this list is barely scratching the surface. I plan on updating the list periodically so if I missed your blog or you know of one that should be on the list, please let me know.


Update: Also check out this excellent list.

Consumer Warning


I see business students, bright-eyed and eager, and wonder if they could use a consumer warning such as "Please don't let all of the case studies, charts, and theories keep you from:
  • Speaking up when you see something that's wrong;

  • Regarding your co-workers as people and not as resources, capital, or some other godawful term;

  • A daily and diligent smugness avoidance regimen;

  • Humility; and

  • Caring."

Quote of the Day

Supposing is good, but finding out is better.

- Mark Twain

Friday, August 27, 2010

Memorable Film Moment: "They stand in the way!"

Peter Falk and Alan Arkin visit the General in "The In-Laws."

Truly one of the funniest movies ever made.

Refraining from Manipulation

My post on how to stop manipulating your employees is up at U.S. News & World Report.

Want to See My Fonts?

Eclecticity has found a new font.

Some of us have reached an age when fonts are matters of intense interest.

Where's a Train When You Need One?

I have to attend a board meeting in Flagstaff today for a community group. The meeting will be a two to three hour session followed by my return to Phoenix. My day will go from desert to pines and back. The meeting will be held in a facility that does not permit teleconferencing.

Where is a train when you need one?

On a train, I could make notes on the meeting, finish reading Seth Godin's Linchpin, wrap up a book draft, and stare out the window. Isn't it odd that at one point many of us began to think of trains as old fashioned? When I look at my schedule today, a train would be a cutting-edge productivity tool.

A Presentations Lesson Reaffirmed

I was speaking on How to Make Presentations to Councils and Boards to a conference in southern Arizona the other day. Each participant was to receive a workbook containing some exercises. I had carefully proof-read the material. The person at the training broker had proofed it. The material was then sent off to a print shop. It was at that point when things became interesting.

Despite the pdf format, quite a few pages had been messed up in the electronic transmission. As a result, I learned a couple of hours before the presentation that the workbooks had flaws.

Many flaws.

At another time in my life, that would have been very frustrating. I won't pretend that I didn't take a deep breath. If one is speaking on how to assemble widgets and there is a workbook problem, it may be less of an embarrassment than when the topic is on making presentations. Such things are supposed to be perfect, right?

But this also was a marvelous exercise in being able to roll with the punches. What do you do when the PowerPoint fails, the flip chart falls apart, the room is not set up or, as happened later in the presentation, the electricity goes out?

It was relatively easy to decide not to use the workbooks. Had I done so, the multiple glitches would have been a pebble in the shoe for both me and the audience. I briefly fessed up to the situation at the start of the presentation and noted that in place of the workbooks, the participants would be sent a copy of the book. The key point then was to make the presentation as compelling as possible.

At the back of my mind was a truth: The audience wants the speaker to succeed. We all like the underdog. Watching someone overcome an obstacle adds a bit of drama provided it is done with confidence. As the presentation proceeded, it became apparent that the workbook was far less important than the presentation itself. In some parts of the program, not having the workbook may have even been an improvement.

A major lesson was reaffirmed: Don't drive with a flat tire. Fix or scrap the problem area entirely rather than trying to work around it. You'll have a fresh start and the audience will appreciate it.

Miscellaneous and Fast

Quote of the Day

The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.

- Walt Disney

Thursday, August 26, 2010

10 Best-Paid Authors

Who are the ten best-paid authors in the world?

Here's the list and I bet you guessed wrong on Number One.

[HT: Rebecca's Pocket]

Entertainment Break

Impeccable: Enya singing "Marble Halls."

Chrysler's CEO: Sergio Marchionne

Initial impressions can be misleading. No bohemian, Marchionne, 58, collects fine Swiss watches and owns several Ferraris. And while his heart may be in academia, his head is ruled by business. Marchionne combines the charm of a salesman with the analytical skills of an actuary and isn't shy about demonstrating an unshakable confidence in his own abilities. Over a three-course dinner (anchovies in olive oil with capers, seafood risotto, mixed fruit) in his private dining room at Fiat's corporate headquarters in Turin, Italy, Marchionne makes no apologies for Chrysler's liabilities (weak technology, poor quality) because he knows exactly how he's going to fix them. Bringing his Fiat management style to Chrysler, Marchionne (mar-key-OWN-ee) believes his competitive advantage is speed. By wiping out layers of management and making decisions more quickly, he'll get closer to the market and bring out new models faster than his slower-moving rivals.


Read the rest of the Fortune article here.

The New Democracy

Writing in The New Criterion, Kenneth Minogue on the servile mind. An excerpt:

My concern with democracy is highly specific. It begins in observing the remarkable fact that, while democracy means a government accountable to the electorate, our rulers now make us accountable to them. Most Western governments hate me smoking, or eating the wrong kind of food, or hunting foxes, or drinking too much, and these are merely the surface disapprovals, the ones that provoke legislation or public campaigns. We also borrow too much money for our personal pleasures, and many of us are very bad parents. Ministers of state have been known to instruct us in elementary matters, such as the importance of reading stories to our children. Again, many of us have unsound views about people of other races, cultures, or religions, and the distribution of our friends does not always correspond, as governments think that it ought, to the cultural diversity of our society. We must face up to the grim fact that the rulers we elect are losing patience with us.

Being Alert to the Obvious


Given our tendency to overlook it, few things are more difficult in life than noticing the obvious.

We rush through our days, often searching for the arcane and hoping to discover The Big Idea, when one of the biggest ideas of all is that the basics matter. Distraction piles upon distraction as forms of Entertainment - that old seducer of schedules and thief of time - multiply.

Consequently, we have to make a serious effort to notice what is before us, always right before us, seeking our attention and crying for our time lest we nod and look over its shoulder.

Quote of the Day

Nothing is more responsible for the good old days than a bad memory.

- Franklin P. Adams

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Entertainment Break

A clip from the great film Topsy-Turvy:

Sir Arthur Sullivan conducts the orchestra rehearsal for The Mikado.

Coffee Shop/Office Hybrid


Fast Company looks at a Buenos Aires version of what could be the workplace of the future:

So how does Urban Station make money? It rents desks. We don’t know the exact pricetag but they tell us it’s “less than a promotional breakfast in any Palermo bar.” The conventional wisdom is that charging for anything in a cafe is a bad idea; that people won’t even pay for wireless, let alone a seat. Urban Station’s trick is to throw in a raft of perks: WiFi channels; food and drink included in the cost of the hour; printers; fax machines; scanners; lockers; and even a couple of bikes you can bang around on when you need a break.

Detecting Deception

Attorney Michael P. Maslanka has an intriguing post on how to spot a lie. Here's an excerpt but be sure to read the entire post:

I am very interested in cognitive theory and so really enjoyed reading “Liespotting: Proven Techniques to Detect Deception" from Pamela Meyer. She tells us that a deceiver may do the following, often in close proximity: 1. Use a qualifying statement:" As far as I know" or "To tell you the truth." 2. Repeat back your question verbatim. 3. Dodge the question: "I already told that to HR." 4. Resort to religious references such as "I swear on the Bible." 5. Object to irrelevant to specifics: "No; I had the chicken, not the steak."

The Seen and the Unseen

The reasons for the failure, and for the literally depressing pessimism that the failure seems to herald, were first described 160 years ago by Frederic Bastiat in his essay “The Seen and the Unseen.” Bastiat was describing the effects of economic actions, including public spending. That spending leads to results that are “seen,” meaning, in the case of the current stimulus, the jobs of medical residents, teachers, road builders, and the like—jobs created or preserved by stimulus dollars. Then there is the matter of what is “unseen”—meaning all the money government used for those projects that has been diverted, through taxes or borrowing, from other uses.

Usually, the public is too dazzled by the seen to take account of the unseen. So politicians often get away with saying they have “created” this or that many jobs by spending taxpayers’ money. Few follow the trail back to where the money came from or project it forward to divine the consequences. That was not the case this time. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Read the rest of
James K. Glassman's Commentary article here.

A Distinguishing Factor

I was listening to a panel analyze the results of a local, hotly contested, primary for a congressional seat. Due to the crowded field, it was the sort of race in which the winner was almost guaranteed to have fewer votes than the opposition's total.

As it turned out, the winner had less experience than many of the others. There was no magical oratory nor was there a magnetic personality. His positions on the issues were identical to his opponents. His campaign had a lot of mailings, but so did the others. And then one of the analysts said, in an offhanded manner, "Well, he did host a lot of barbeques around the district where people got the chance to meet him. No one else did that."

I don't know the reason for his win but in a race that was very tight, several BBQs could have made the difference. The personal connection can overcome a lot of glossy brochures.

Quote of the Day

Be in the moment. Wherever you are: be there. Otherwise when we are at work we look forward to being at home. And when at home, we worry about work.

- Nicholas Bate

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Desert Storm

There was a hellish storm in Tucson. I finished my class and quickly toted the computer and briefcase to the car, all the while recalling Tucson's reputation as one of the major areas for lightning strikes.

I went to school down there and grew to enjoy the lightning storms. You'd see the big suckers rolling up from Mexico. Glorious to watch. Of course, the water overwhelmed many of the city's intersections so the best place to be was on a porch with a view.

A sample of Tucson's lightning activity can be seen here and here.

Small But Meaningful

I'm turning into a slug.

One glance at my hotel room and the thought arose: Wouldn't it be nice if someone else would pack all of this junk and put it in the car?

I've long asked for 24-hour dry cleaners and garages. Which services for small tasks would you like to see?

An Innovative Vacation Policy

Daniel H. Pink looks at a non-policy that seems to work:

At Netflix, the vacation policy is audaciously simple and simply audacious. Salaried employees can take as much time off as they'd like, whenever they want to take it. Nobody – not employees themselves, not managers – tracks vacation days.

In other words, Netflix's holiday policy is to have no policy at all.

Quote of the Day

Underlying most arguments against the free market is a lack of belief in freedom itself.

- Milton Friedman

Monday, August 23, 2010

What's Really Wrong with Urgency Addiction?


I read this post by Tim Berry and then bookmarked it.

There is much to think about there. More on that later.

Bukovsky on Changes in Europe

From "The Power of Memory and Acknowledgement" by Vladimir Bukovsky:

Of course, the authorities have already explained to us, in a very quiet manner, that those who might object to the immigration policy of the European Union can be accused of racism. And those who oppose the further integration of Europe can be charged with xenophobia. We can see now where the European Gulagis going to appear.

What Really Matters




When Bed Bugs are Alleged

Recently, I checked on the rates of a hotel in a city where I'm going to be conducting a workshop.

The customer review section had several recent messages of praise and one scathing message alleging that the reviewer had to check out of his room because it was infested with bed bugs. Since bed bugs are getting a lot of attention in the news, I wondered if the report had any merit. Naturally, I looked for the response by management.

Management did write a response. I confess that I didn't read the part "below the fold," so to speak, but only the first paragraph which is probably all that most readers perused. The company rep noted that management had tried and failed to reach the writer to discuss the situation.

That was not a good first paragraph.

I don't care if they tried to reach the unhappy reviewer 300 times a minute. As soon as I read the allegations, I was interested in one thing and one thing only.

A good first paragraph would have started with "Our hotel does not have bed bugs." It could have continued to note how often their room are treated and how professional a job is done. It could also declare that the hotel has a diligent bed bug prevention program and that the staff wouldn't hesitate to recommend the rooms to friends and family members.

Lesson: Don't let a bureaucratic response get in the way of an effective answer.

Checklist for a Memorable Job Interview

Let's see if all of the bases are covered.
  • Have no knowledge of what the firm does. Rely solely on rumors.
  • Wear the wrinkled jacket that is still a little ripe from last summer.
  • Don't waste any time shining your shoes.
  • Put all of your fears and secrets on FaceBook along with those embarrassing photos from Spring Break.
  • Show up late. You don't want to appear too eager.
  • Tell the receptionist the joke you heard on the Howard Stern Show.
  • Give the interview panel your "dead fish" handshake. Wipe your hand afterwards.
  • Use colorful nicknames, such as Howie The Horse, to describe your former associates.
  • Tell them they won't have to spend much on training because you are a wizard on most subjects.
  • Ask if the receptionist is dating anyone.
  • Leave your cell phone on and answer all calls with "Can't talk now because I'm about to be offered a job."
  • Mention that you know a place in Peru where they could have gotten their office furniture a whole lot cheaper.
  • Offer one of the panel members a breath mint.
  • On the way out, tell them that you understand their coyness because you've often encountered the old "Hard to Get" ploy.
Oh yes, call the receptionist a couple of hours later and ask if you got the job.

Quote of the Day

If you shoot at mimes, should you use a silencer?

- Steven Wright

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Observation


Late Sunday afternoon with the background burble of a baseball game on the radio.

One of the most soothing sounds on Earth.

Treats for Sunday


Some Mozart is playing at Cultural Offering and this is a good day to take a peek at In A Cardboard Belt!, a collection of essays by Joseph Epstein. Here's the first paragraph of the introduction, "Kid Turns Seventy, Nobody Cheers":

Seventy. Odd thing to happen to a five-year-old boy who only the other day sang "Any Bonds for Sale," whose mother's friends said he would be a heartbreaker for sure (he wasn't), who was popular but otherwise undistinguished in high school, who went on to the University of Chicago but has long ago forgotten the dates of the rule of the Thirty Tyrants in Athens and the eight reasons for the Renaissance, who has married twice and written books nineteen times, who somewhere along the way became the grandfather of three, life is but a dream, sha-boom sha-boom, seventy, me, go on, whaddya, kiddin' me?

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Entertainment Break

The film trailers for:

Discretion 101: All I Said Was...



Now out in paperback. A book that I wrote to keep people from inadvertently wandering into trouble by opening their mouths. Not that we ever hear of such cases, of course.

Draw Me

Cool Tools notes that there is a simple drawing program hidden inside of Google Docs.

Visions of Earth 2010

Prepare to say "Wow!"

Check out this gallery of photographs from National Geographic photographers. Don't miss the one from the top of the world's tallest building in Dubai.


Unleashing Potential

Nicholas Bate speaks to audiences around the world on management and career issues. He is the author of many books and a nudger extraordinaire. There is a reason why he has gained a sizable following.

It would be wise to print off this advice and read it frequently.

Despair Fashion


Check out the latest in DespairWear.

Quote of the Day

The thing to remember is that the future comes one day at a time.

- Dean Acheson

Friday, August 20, 2010

Miscellaneous and Fast

Humor/Music Break

Memorize the lyrics so you can sing this at parties:

Groucho Marx with "Hello, I Must Be Going."

Two Camps

My post on the Preventives and the Remedials is up at U.S. News & World Report.

Hocus Pocus: What Social Science Doesn't Know

Writing in City Journal, Jim Manzi reminds us that the social sciences aren't real sciences. An excerpt:

But the situation was even worse: it was clear that we wouldn’t know which economists were right even after the fact. Suppose that on February 1, 2009, Famous Economist X had predicted: “In two years, unemployment will be about 8 percent if we pass the stimulus bill, but about 10 percent if we don’t.” What do you think would happen when 2011 rolled around and unemployment was still at 10 percent, despite the passage of the bill? It’s a safe bet that Professor X would say something like: “Yes, but other conditions deteriorated faster than anticipated, so if we hadn’t passed the stimulus bill, unemployment would have been more like 12 percent. So I was right: the bill reduced unemployment by about 2 percent.”

Another way of putting the problem is that we have no reliable way to measure counterfactuals—that is, to know what would have happened had we not executed some policy—because so many other factors influence the outcome. This seemingly narrow problem is central to our continuing inability to transform social sciences into actual sciences. Unlike physics or biology, the social sciences have not demonstrated the capacity to produce a substantial body of useful, nonobvious, and reliable predictive rules about what they study—that is, human social behavior, including the impact of proposed government programs.

The Disney Look versus Religious Accommodation

A Muslim employee at Disneyland has filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. She alleges that the company did not accommodate her religious beliefs when they would not permit her to wear a headscarf while in a customer service position. Disney apparently argues that the headscarf is inconsistent with the "Disney look." An excerpt from The Telegraph article:

A Disney spokesman said Miss Boudlal has never been denied the opportunity to work.

“She’s been allowed to work,” said Disneyland spokesman Suzi Brown. “We’ve given her the opportunity to work in a backstage role the last several shifts that she’s come in.”

Quote of the Day

You can't help someone else get up a hill without getting closer to the top yourself.

- General Norman Schwarzkopf

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Once Seen, Never Forgotten

A reasonable question: Is Apple's 1984 Macintosh ad the greatest television commercial ever?

It has drama, a classic story as a backdrop, a clever jab at the competition, and a beautiful protagonist. And if it is not the greatest commercial, which one is better?

The Hiding Place


A wise manager or supervisor learns early on that a hiding place is invaluable. It may be a coffee shop, library, museum or some other place of escape where uninterrupted thinking time is available.

Trying to think in some workplaces resembles an attempt to take a nap in the lane of a NASCAR race. All of the signs, body language signals, and requests in the world won't stop those who are determined to grab "just a minute" (and it's never just a minute) of your time. Absence is key.

But it must remain secret. If the word gets out, you'll find yourself being tracked down in a McDonald's or cornered in a library. Your hideaway must never be known.

There may be a business opportunity here. Some entrepreneur may decide to rent out one or two hours of hideaway space on a monthly subscription basis. Call it The Monastery, impose a vow of silence, and business may boom.

Hmm.

Anyone Who Has Gone Near Piano Lessons Will Recognize This

Time for a Haydn break.

50 Must Reads



Here's a list that I'll probably argue with myself on several weeks from today. I won't say that these are the 50 best novels, but they are 50 that you should read. A few are novellas. Many great writers are not on the list. [I prefer the short stories of Hemingway and Faulkner to their novels.] The books are not ranked, but the first one deserves to be first.

  1. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

  2. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

  3. Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope

  4. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

  5. Bleak House by Charles Dickens

  6. Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

  7. The Edge of Sadness by Edwin O'Connor

  8. Corelli's Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres

  9. The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

  10. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

  11. 1984 by George Orwell

  12. I, Claudius by Robert Graves

  13. Burmese Days by George Orwell

  14. The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope

  15. The Road by Cormac McCarthy

  16. The Warden by Anthony Trollope

  17. The Last Hurrah by Edwin O'Connor

  18. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

  19. The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe

  20. A Man in Full by Tom Wolfe

  21. The Aubrey-Maturin series by Patrick O'Brian

  22. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

  23. The Known World by Edward P. Jones

  24. The Time of the Assassins by Godfrey Blunden

  25. The Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood

  26. A River Town by Thomas Keneally

  27. Provinces of Night by William Gay

  28. Mendelssohn Is On The Roof by Jiri Weil

  29. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

  30. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

  31. East of Eden by John Steinbeck

  32. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

  33. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

  34. Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin

  35. Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter by Mario Vargas Llosa

  36. Benito Cereno by Herman Melville

  37. Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

  38. A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

  39. Tom Jones by Henry Fielding

  40. The Odyssey by Homer

  41. Moby Dick by Herman Melville

  42. Treblinka by Jean-Francois Steiner

  43. Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry

  44. Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman

  45. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn

  46. Flashman by George MacDonald Fraser

  47. Fong and the Indians by Paul Theroux

  48. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

  49. A Good Man Is Hard to Find by Flannery O'Connor

  50. City Primeval by Elmore Leonard

Quick Thought: Try a Portion


Take the option that appears to be too large, too expensive, or too time-consuming and ask yourself what benefits would accrue if you instead just did a portion.

It may be that reducing your scope will sharpen the focus and enhance the quality. As has often been said, less can be more. A portion may suffice.

Quote of the Day

Seize the moment. Remember all those women on the Titanic who waved off the dessert cart.

- Erma Bombeck

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Lost Classics

“Greek! Latin!” she spat. “What good it will do you, Greek and Latin? They are dead, the Greeks, the Romans–all dead, for a thousand years they are dead! A thousand years! I have been to Greece, been to Athens! And I can tell you–they are dead! What good did it do them, their literature, their art?! Plato? What good will he do for you? I have been to the grave of Plato, and I can tell you: he has been dead for a thousand years! Trust me, find something else to study, you’ll make a living at least, you’ll be happier!”

Read the rest of Daniel Mendelsohn's address here.

What a Feeling

Back by popular demand: The Carlton Draught "Flashdance" commercial.

Pressfield and the Massive Brick of Fear

Steven Pressfield is posting a journal as he completes the last 10 - 12 pages of his latest novel. An excerpt:

Okay. Here’s what’s going on inside me right now re finishing this book:

Resistance is monumental; I feel it like a massive brick of fear. But I have three things, at least, working in my favor.

1) I know from experience that Resistance always puts on a full-court press when the finish line heaves into view. So I’m ready for it. I’m not surprised. I know that those voices in my head that say, “What if you screw this up … what if you can’t pull off this climax, etc.” are pure Resistance. They are not thoughts, they are “thoughts.”

Writing Against the Lines

Have you ever wondered if some of your study is too undisciplined?

Anderson Layman's Blog has a letter you should read.

Finding Elvis

Elvis Week is a pilgrimage by fans of Presley's music and his life as America's most charismatic and fatalistic phenomenon. But those who return annually seem to be on a secondary mission: To better understand why Presley is so captivating. The question is unanswerable, of course, but that doesn't stop them from trying.

"Elvis is infinitely mysterious," said June Balish, 49, a medical editor from Brooklyn, N.Y. who has attended Elvis Week for 14 years with her husband Rob. "He's the only star who touches your mind, heart and sexuality all at once—and you never really fully figure out why."

Read the rest of The Wall Street Journal article here.

Cultural Reminder


The Cranky Professor gives a reminder that the Otto Dix exhibition will close at the end of this month.

Old Professors, Unlike Old Soldiers, Don't Fade Away

Paul L. Caron at TaxProf Blog on the issues of tenure and old professors who won't retire.

The question of tenure generates surprising reactions. I know of one conservative commentator who believes that abolishing tenure would result in the firing of conservative professors in predominently left-wing departments.

My idealistic take: No mandatory retirement. No tenure. Strive for intellectual diversity. Get rid of incompetent professors regardless of their age.

HT: Althouse]

Coordinate, Consult or Defer?


A failure to coordinate is often cited as a cause of conflict in the workplace. One party forges ahead and does not bring another person, team, department or organization into the loop, thus triggering animosity and distrust.

Even zealous coordinators, however, may blunder by coordinating when they should defer. Some subjects are clearly within the jurisdiction of another unit. No matter how much one may creatively craft a connection, there is none in substance and the best thing to do is back off.

This can extend to offering advice as well as taking actions. Even gently telling another department head how to handle a particular action within his or her department may be regarded as an intrusion. Although the advice giver may regard the matter as small, the advice receiver may reason that if the giver thinks it is appropriate to advise on minor items, then larger ones might not be immune from such meddling.

That's why the old triage of what's yours, what's ours, and what's mine is so important to determine if positive working relationships are to be fostered.

Leadership Blogs

Online MBA has released its list of the Top 40 Business Blogs in the category of Leadership.

Check it out. It contains some very good blogs.

Quote of the Day

Most ball games are lost, not won.

- Casey Stengel

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Rude Air Travelers

The two men from Houston whisked by me as I waited for the TSA agent to use her highlighter and give me entrance to the innards of the Atlanta airport. They had the attitude of those who travel sockless in expensive loafers. Indeed, they had their expensive loafers on, sans socks. The TSA agent was struggling because I had a boarding card, an increasing rarity these days. I lacked the ubiquitous one-sheet print-out from the home or hotel computer. Our TSA agent did not know where to swipe her orange highlighter to indicate that I had a proper travel document. Somehow, in their minds, my sockless friends were fine trotting ahead because, well, TSA was too slow and it was my tough luck. Their world would pass me by. The crackerjack agent that holds her thumb in the dike of terrorism waved them through without so much as a look-see at the papers they flashed. Note to self: Carry a generic print-out of a boarding pass to whisk past not even mildly curious creatures of security habit.


Read the rest of Marianne M. Jennings here.

California Sinking


Writing in City Journal, Joel Kotkin looks at what happened to California. An excerpt:

What went so wrong? The answer lies in a change in the nature of progressive politics in California. During the second half of the twentieth century, the state shifted from an older progressivism, which emphasized infrastructure investment and business growth, to a newer version, which views the private sector much the way the Huns viewed a city—as something to be sacked and plundered. The result is two separate California realities: a lucrative one for the wealthy and for government workers, who are largely insulated from economic decline; and a grim one for the private-sector middle and working classes, who are fleeing the state.

Americana/Soul Food Update

Click and scroll down to see the menu for Lo-Lo's Chicken and Waffles.


Tell me you're not tempted by that red velvet cake.

Entertainment Break

From "The Commitments": At the Dark End of the Street.

Much Appreciated

Cultural Offering has posted a very nice review of How to Make Presentations to Councils and Boards.

It made my day.

When Can I Move In?

Eclecticity (whose motto should be "Where Does He Find This Stuff?") has found the perfect place for a blogger.

Said to be Smart: The Stages

  • Stage One: "I keep hearing that he's really smart."
  • Stage Two: "He's really smart."
  • Stage Three: "Well, they said he's really smart."
  • Stage Four: "Where is the evidence that he's smart?"
  • Stage Five: "He's an idiot."

Leading and Hard Truths

Part of the leader's job is to remind us of hard truths. It is to wave away the spells cast by wishful thinking and to state what we know in our hearts but are reluctant to acknowledge.

When leaders fulfill this responsibility, they must avoid any cheap tricks, such as straw man arguments, and instead put forward what may seem to be an unpopular position. The leader who is in tune with the followers, however, will know that what is voiced is what is commonly thought and that the others have been waiting for those words.

Watch the reaction around the room. Once the leader has stated the previously unspoken thought, you will sense the relief. The truth has been spoken and nothing will ever again be quite the same.

Quote of the Day

To play it safe is not to play.

- Robert Altman

Monday, August 16, 2010

Blogger's Screening for Spam and More!

Blogger has a new spam screening system. I blissfully ignored it until tonight when, out of curiosity, I checked the spam tank to see what was screened and found some legitimate - and thoughtful - comments in the batch!

I apologize for comments that have been experienced a delay in posting. I'll do a better job of checking in the future.

Bear with me.

Subjects That Should Be Required in School

I've written before on certain subjects that should be required in elementary school. Since then, the list has expanded. Operating strictly from memory and with some additions, the list is:
  1. Logic
  2. Etiquette
  3. Leadership (and then make them lead)
  4. Economics
  5. Industrial Arts
  6. Cooking
  7. Map Reading
  8. First Aid
  9. Self-Defense
  10. Decision Making.

Any others?

When Slow and Steady are Needed

Business Week reports on the H-P story that won't go away.

There's more, of course, and the heavy use of anonymous sources is disturbing. The only thing certain is that this action will be dissected in years to come by lawyers and consultants.

One lesson about sensitive cases that seems to be emerging: Slow down.

What's Changed? Sleep


Nicholas Bate with an astute observation on how today's lifestyle affects sleep, one of the most under-rated and important pleasures.

[I've been referring to Nicholas, a prolific author and world traveler, as The Man Who Never Sleeps. I might have to revise that.]

Two Versions of "I'm No Saint."


Version One of "I'm no saint" means the person does not claim to be perfect, but strives to do what is right. The expression is an admission, but not a surrender or an excuse.

Version Two means the person has given up trying to do what is right unless doing so is convenient. These people use the expression as an excuse to continue unethical behavior. In extreme cases, they may have no interest whatsoever in doing what is right and may even take pleasure in doing wrong.

The people who follow Version Two can bring down an organization. Given time, they may also bring down a society.

Miscellaneous and Fast

Quote of the Day

Life is a great big canvas. Throw all the paint you can at it.

- Danny Kaye

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Medical Breakthrough

Cultural Offering points to an exciting new product for spineless men.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

And We Wonder Why Fast Food Became Popular


The Nanny State: Saving Us from Movie Posters

Some stories are so dumb that it is difficult to believe that they are true. So it is with this report from San Francisco:

The forthcoming Will Ferrell-Mark Wahlberg flick The Other Guys may yet be riddled with pot shots from film critics. Poor Ferrell and Wahlberg -- on Muni, they can't shoot back. While the official poster for the film features a maniacal Ferrell and the menacing Wahlberg sailing through the air, guns drawn, the version in Muni stations features Ferrell brandishing a vial of pepper spray and Wahlberg relying upon his bare fists. This is not a coincidence.

[HT: Fark]

The Power Problem

Jonah Lehrer, writing in The Wall Street Journal, on how niceness mixes with power. An excerpt:

Psychologists refer to this as the paradox of power. The very traits that helped leaders accumulate control in the first place all but disappear once they rise to power. Instead of being polite, honest and outgoing, they become impulsive, reckless and rude. In some cases, these new habits can help a leader be more decisive and single-minded, or more likely to make choices that will be profitable regardless of their popularity. One recent study found that overconfident CEOs were more likely to pursue innovation and take their companies in new technological directions. Unchecked, however, these instincts can lead to a big fall.

Sweet Attitudes

This was about a week after I was on a flight on another airline where a very starchy flight attendant spread snark across a whole continent down an entire row of terrified passengers. She was wearing a button that said, "I DON'T CARE WHAT YOUR NAME IS, EITHER."

So when I hear about a flight attendant throwing a hissy fit... well, I just don't know. My sympathies naturally gravitate to the guy who's telling management to "take this job and shove it." On the other hand, who wants to be imprisoned at 35,000 feet with a demented, resentful burn-out?

Read the rest of Stanley Bing on the flight attendant case.

Trivia Break: Name That Film

"I've been fascinated by your five-year plan for the last fifteen years."

Who says it in which film?

[Answer: Count D'Algouf (Melvyn Douglas) to Ivanova Yakushova (Greta Garbo) in "Ninotchka."]

Bean Counting Baloney

Thomas Sowell on the flaws in some affirmative action assumptions:

Anyone who has watched football over the years has probably seen at least a hundred black players score touchdowns — and not one black player kick the extra point. Is this because of some twisted racist who doesn’t mind black players scoring touchdowns but hates to see them kicking the extra points?

At our leading engineering schools — M.I.T., CalTech, etc. — whites are underrepresented and Asians overrepresented. Is this anti-white racism or pro-Asian racism? Or are different groups just different?

As for baseball, I have long noticed that there are more blacks playing centerfield than third base. Since the same people hire centerfielders and third-basemen, it is hard to argue that racism explains the difference.

The Tulip Craze

Via Encyclopedia Britannica, a look back to when there was a mania for tulips:

The craze reached its height in Holland during 1633–37. Before 1633 Holland’s tulip trade had been restricted to professional growers and experts, but the steadily rising prices tempted many ordinary middle-class and poor families to speculate in the tulip market. Homes, estates, and industries were mortgaged so that bulbs could be bought for resale at higher prices.

Rewrite!


From the Arizona Voter Education Guide, a description submitted by a candidate for a seat in the state legislature:

"Matt continues to lead the theatrical lifestyle that has won the hearts of women, and gained the admiration of men, but has dedicated himself to his true passion of politics."

Quote of the Day

The first duty of love is to listen.

- Paul Tillich

Friday, August 13, 2010

Soundtrack Break

A clip from John Barry's soundtrack for the worthy but forgotten film, "They Might Be Giants."