Monday, March 31, 2014

Miscellaneous and Fast

From Corona beer: The Russian Army ad.
Entrepreneur: What is Cloudera and why is Intel putting money into it?
The WSJ Law Blog: Eminent domain versus "House of Cards."
Sid Caesar and Carl Reiner: "This is Your Story."
National Journal: Worrying about the grid.
The Guardian: NFL cheerleaders should be paid more. [I'd say a lot more.]
Sign of our times: Selfies at a riot
Spiegel Online: German sympathy for Russia.
Fast Company: Handling scary personnel changes.

Baseball Trivia


Attention baseball fans! 

George Will has a quiz for you. Score over 70 percent and you are a wizard. 

My own score puts me in the lizard category.

Profit from a Dead Donkey


Read this business ethics story at The Strategic Learner.

First Paragraph

The steel door grates and squeaks on its hinges as I am led into the cell; I then hear the keys rattling as it is locked behind me. In the dim light, I promptly bump into the steel bunk bed. Some minutes pass before I become aware of my surroundings. A washbasin and toilet stand less than two feet away. There is no window, only a steel sheet with holes in it. Glancing around, I can now see that my cell measures about ten feet by six. I sit on the bunk and continue to survey my new abode. Solitary confinement - perhaps just as well. I do not feel like seeing anyone. I am still carrying under my arm the possessions they have left me with. I have no belt, tie, or shoelaces. They have also kept my money and documents. It seems I no longer need a great many things. I lie down on the steel slats of the bunk bed, feeling the chill of the metal against my body. 

- From Ten Years That Shook the World: The Gorbachev Era as Witnessed by His Chief of Staff by Valery Boldin

Morning



The dog abides.

Doomsday Disneyland


CNN reports on a special facility to train disaster workers:

When we headed over to see its mock subway station, complete with eight cars donated from Washington's Metro system, we were told we had a limited window to view it. The reason -- they were going to be pumping actual toxic gas into the building to simulate a chemical attack.

10 Ways to Kill a Department



  1. Appoint an inept director.
  2. Assign a bundle of responsibilities without appropriate budget increases.
  3. Let those responsibilities be fluffy ones which consume a great deal of time.
  4. Make sure to remove any responsibilities which have real clout.
  5. Let the word of the department's weakness spread throughout the organization.
  6. Turn the key jobs into professional dead-ends. Promote no one from that department.
  7. Encourage high turnover.
  8. Treat its leaders with minimal respect.
  9. Tolerate poor performance across the board.
  10. Repeat as needed.

Hi



The New Republic in 1983: Henry Fairlie on "Why I Love America." An excerpt:

Other memories come to mind. One spring day, shortly after my arrival, I was walking down the long, broad street of a suburb, with its sweeping front lawns (all that space), its tall trees (all that sky), and its clumps of azaleas (all that color). The only other person on the street was a small boy on a tricycle. As I passed him, he said "Hi!"—just like that. No four-year-old boy had ever addressed me without an introduction before. Yet here was this one, with his cheerful "Hi!" Recovering from the culture shock, I tried to look down stonily at his flaxen head, but instead, involuntarily, I found myself saying in return: "Well—hi!" He pedaled off, apparently satisfied. He had begun my Americanization.

Quote of the Day

Leaders are visionaries with a poorly developed sense of fear and no concept of the odds against them. 

- Robert Jarvik

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Comically Vintage

But He’s Not My Type!

"Vintage comics, taken out of context. Hilarity ensues."

[HT: Althouse]

Find Something Beautiful Today


Saturday, March 29, 2014

This is Progress


Eclecticity Light has a cartoon showing the brutal truth.

Health Food Update

TPW_8020

The Pioneer Woman goes stir fry and shows how to make beef with snow peas.

First Paragraph

We all know the standard images - the six-gun-toting sheriff, the gunfight at the corral or watering hole, telegraph relays and passengers arriving in town after a long train or stagecoach ride, fisticuffs in the saloon, and gold seekers trying to get the jump on the claims of others. In this whirl, as we see it in film or read it in popular accounts of the West's history, remarkably little attention is given to the pioneering work of the early settlers, who did so much to establish permanent communities in a wild, inhospitable land. If the settlers appear at all, it is as extras for an attack on a wagon train or a posse for a pursuit. Much of the confusion that has made it difficult to comprehend the achievements of the West's settlers would be dispelled if the history of that primal period were divided into two distinct epochs. The first would encompass the time through the founding of communities by wagon-train families. The second would begin when railroads brought elements of the industrial revolution into the West. 

- From  Rethinking the History of the Old West by Stewart L. Udall

That's What Books Do


The answer is at The Hammock Papers.

The Other Side Must Be Evil


A lesson for our times at Greg Mankiw's blog in his post about a disagreement with Paul Krugman:

But that is not really the issue. If Paul had said "reasonable economists disagree, here are the arguments, and here is why I tend to favor one side rather than the other" I would not have objected. Instead, in his original column, he wrote as if there were no reasonable arguments for the policy pursued by the Bush administration, and he attributed the most vile motives to those who advanced the policy.

Interior Decorator


I'm redecorating my home office. Daughter has already rolled her eyes. Sign of progress. Will report later on photo of Churchill, Eden, and De Gaulle. Am searching for vintage phone even though the one I already have could fit that definition. 

The saber stays.

Danish Patriots


A travel agency cleverly turns Denmark's falling birthrate into an advertising campaign.

Alert Mark Steyn, who has been warning about falling birthrates for years.

[HT: Instapundit.com]

The Factory


There can be dignity there, in a factory. If there is work that is not dignified I have not seen it. You must bring the dignity with you, as in all things. It will not be supplied to you. It cannot be taken from you if you will keep it.


Read the rest at Sippican Cottage.


By the way, if you like fine writing, get a copy of his The Devil's In The Cows. You'll be glad you did.

Miscellaneous and Fast

Wally Bock: Stories and strategies from real life.
The trailer for "The Unknown Known" - a documentary about Donald Rumsfeld.
Spiegel Online: Organized panhandling in Germany.
From Parks and Recreation: A profile of Ron Swanson.
Eclecticity Light has 10 commandments for teams.
Fast Company: A bike navigation system.
Peter Wehner on a new "unAmerican" allegation.
The trailer for "God's Not Dead."
Cultural Offering recalls a scumbag and a class on great music.

A New Blog in Town


CincyCat, a loyal reader, is in the early days of starting her own blog.

I'm looking forward to reading her thoughts but will leave it to other bloggers to warn her about the big money, adoration, and fame that flow within a few weeks of starting a blog.

Levels of Communication



  1. Example.
  2. Actions.
  3. Achievements.
  4. Face to face conversation.
  5. Tone.
  6. Body language.
  7. Video-conferencing.
  8. Telephonic.
  9. Group meeting.
  10. Personal representative.
  11. Letter.
  12. Staff report.
  13. Memorandum.
  14. E-mail.
  15. Text-message.
  16. Postcard.
  17. Tweet.
  18. Hint.
  19. Rumor.
  20. Bulletin board.
  21. "Reply All."

Quote of the Day

Everything in life is a lesson. Refusing to learn the lesson means that it will be repeated until the lesson is learned. 

- Larry Winget

Friday, March 28, 2014

Hipster Design

Unhappy HipstersUltimately, a rough way to find out if you’re buzzed, tipsy, or drunk.

Not Going Away


TaxProf Blog has day 323 of the IRS scandal.

Entertainment Break

The trailers for:

"All The Way"

"Breaking Bad'" star Bryan Cranston as LBJ.

Scribble Scribble


Part of last night's work involved reviewing the development of the air conditioning business, the building of Carnegie libraries, the philosophy behind the Phoenix Indian School, mining town demographics, transcontinental air flights in the 1930s, and the incentives for a territorial land deal.

This will be made clear later.

Art Break: Sloane



Art Contrarian looks at the work of Eric Sloane.

Miscellaneous and Fast

The Telegraph: Memories of the last British survivor of The Great Escape.
Sippican Cottage has Sugar Ray and the Bluetones.
In concert: John Fogerty with a special guest.
McArthur's Rant has a great observation about working on the "soft" side of business.
Wally Bock on mindfulness.
Wall Street Journal Law Blog: The B-Girl vanishes from Louisiana law.
If you hear of a man rushing the stage at The Lovin' Spoonful concert, here's a suspect.
Historian Victor Davis Hanson on statistics and declining trust in government.
Spiegel Online: UN backtracking on global warming and mass extinctions.
Cultural Offering on the modern evil known as RFPs.
Poor advertising: AT&T's "Let's make the man look dumb" commercial.
Eclecticity Light: Light but still great.
Freeman Hunt advises a male relative on finding a mate.
CoolTools: Wood heating information.
John Anderson: "Swingin'." 
Anderson Layman's Blog goes nude modernism.
Andrew Munro's Blog has glow-in-the-dark trees.

Quote of the Day

No member of a crew is praised for the rugged individuality of his rowing. 

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Grant Takes Charge


But when he appeared, with his 12-year-old son, in the lobby of Willard’s Hotel, the clerk did not recognize him. The oversight could be forgiven. He was dressed in a worn uniform that was anything but gaudy—no braided epaulets and polished brass, but merely the insignia of a major general, and, God knows, they saw enough of them at Willard’s. In the recollection of someone who had been in the lobby at the time, he seemed a man of “no gait, no station, no manner.” Of “a rather scrubby look withal .  .  . as if he was out of office and on half pay with nothing to do but hang round the entry of Willard’s, cigar in mouth.” And he had “rather the look of a man who did, or once did, take a little too much to drink.”

Read all of Geoffrey Norman's article in The Weekly Standard

Marvelous man. Truly a hero.  

Hobby Lobby Argument



Ann Althouse goes after Jeffrey Toobin's account of the oral arguments in the Hobby Lobby case. An excerpt:

How can you write about the Hobby Lobby case without mentioning the Religious Freedom Restoration Act? It's blatantly, atrociously deceptive. Toobin proclaims that "The issue in the case is straightforward." Yeah, I guess it is when you don't bother to mention the statute the claim is based on. Toobin mentions the other statute, the Affordable Care Act itself, and he asserts that it "requires employers who provide health insurance to their employees to include coverage for contraception." Well, actually, no, it doesn't! Congress did not take the political heat of dealing with contraception (which includes some methods some people think are abortifacients). Congress avoided that static as it pushed through a law by the narrowest possible margin. It left it to HHS to make the regulations that are under consideration.

Selling Shallowness Disguised as Depth


Cultural Offering has the generic advertisement video

Rats, Snakes, and HR Policies



In Victorian times, at the height of the British Empire, the governors of Colonial India were very worried about the number of cobras in Delhi — no self-respecting bureaucrat has a liking of venomous snakes.

Read the rest of James Lawther here. How could a government program go wrong?

Magical Thinking


"It should happen."
"Why?"
"Because we need it to happen."
"That's not a reason for it to happen."
"And we've worked very hard."
"That's not a reason for it to happen."
"And we're so much better than the others."
"That's not a reason for it to happen."
"And we've had a great record in the past."
"That's not a reason for it to happen."
"Because we can make it happen."
"Tell me more."

Quote of the Day

Many organizations have it all wrong. They don't need to motivate their people. They need to stop demotivating them. 

- Roger Dean Duncan

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Remembering Frankl

John E. Smith at The Strategic Learner notes the birthday of the great Viktor Frankl.

Frankl, a survivor of the Nazi death camps, wrote of his Holocaust experience in Man's Search for Meaning. His powerful account reminds each of us of an ultimate power; the power to choose what sort of person we are going to be..

Health Food Update

Waffles

The Pioneer Woman shows how to make Perfect Waffles.

Bureaucracy's Management Tax



Writing in Fortune, Gary Hamel on why bureaucracy must die. An excerpt:

Today, few organizations seem to be able to out-run change for more than a few years at a time. To build organizations that are adaptable at their core, we will need to rework every management process so it enables, rather than frustrates, breakthrough thinking and relentless experimentation. Innovation will need to become instinctual and intrinsic. The notion of the economically dependent, easily biddable "employee" will have to be ditched.

On the Ledge

At Althouse, some video of a dramatic fire rescue in Houston.

Art Break: Ellenshaw



Art Contrarian looks at the work of Peter Ellenshaw.

Secrets of Success


From Nicholas Bate. And if you think they are sooo easy, why aren't you doing them?

Memories in Orange



When he died the orange parka disappeared. Donated or buried in a closet or even pitched by my mother. I didn't think much about it until my father-in-law died a few years ago. We were close to the same size so I was allowed to pick through his wardrobe. I took a couple of suits, some shoes and ties and then spotted an orange L.L.Been fleece zip-up in the back of the closet. When I tried it on it was ugly. Just the right orange to match nothing and go with anything. Not the popsicle orange marketed by L.L. Bean today. Almost a burnt orange, between brown and orange. Just the right ugly. So I put it on the stack and took it home.

Read all of it at Cultural Offering.

Credibility, Bad News, and Morale


Chief Executive Officer A can lower morale while delivering good news.

Chief Executive Officer B can raise morale while delivering bad news.

What's the difference? 

Credibility. 

In A's case, the audience members may not trust the rosy reports or they may believe that while A is fortunate for the time being, he or she lacks the ability to keep bad news at bay.

In B's case, they may regard the description of bad news as evidence of B's candor. If that is combined with trust - and trust is based on integrity and competence - B's clear-eyed view of the situation is a positive, a characteristic of a strong leader.

One of the important skills of leaders is the ability to deliver bad news while maintaining hope. For some grand examples of this skill, read the speeches that Winston Churchill delivered in 1940.

Quote of the Day

Results are obtained by exploiting opportunities, not by solving problems

- Peter Drucker 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Demonstration of Nature

At Kottke, a slow-motion video showing how a large hawk adapts to fly through holes.

FutureLawyer Goes Sony


The Florida-based lawyer/poet buys computers when he's not in the exotic bird market. 

His description of the Sony makes it sound very tempting.

Remembering "The Hot Zone"


The first reports of this story out of Canada probably caused thousands of us to recall Richard Preston's scary account of an Ebola virus outbreak

Although Ebola has now been ruled out in the Canadian case, the book's premise that a deadly and highly contagious virus can be quickly spread due to modern air travel is one to ponder. The reports from Guinea also echo the book. 

A "molecular shark?"

[HT: Drudge Report]

Shopping Expedition



David Kanigan goes shopping with his wife. An excerpt:

I’m gliding.
Pulled along by an ethereal force.
Floating down the Lazy River on an inner tube.
There it is.
In hits my lungs first. Freshly baked bread.
I double-pump the air intakes.
Then comes a dazzling light. No, Dazzling Lights.
I slow to take it in.
Chocolate filled Croissants. Jelly-filled donuts. Banana nut bread. Cookies. Home made cookies.
I circle. I circle. I circle.
I’m home. I’ve found my Zen. I’m light-headed.

An Old Joke and Management


You'll recall the old joke about the person who was found on his hands and knees searching in his living room for a lost ring. Upon questioning, he reveals that although the ring was lost in the bedroom he prefers searching in the living room because "The light's better out here."

I occasionally think of that story when analyzing management situations. Too often, the problem or solution has been dictated by convenience. It's easier to blame this or easier to do that and so convenience quickly trumps logic and effectiveness. In some cases, the answer may have made sense when circumstances were very different and yet no one has updated the solution.

Beware of the allure of the glib explanation or the easy way out. As an old military saying puts it, "The shortest path is usually mined."

Language to Remember and Use

"Mokita." [Kiriwina, New Guinea.] " Truth everybody knows but nobody speaks." Noun.

- From They Have a Word for It by Howard Rheingold

Quote of the Day

Glance is the enemy of vision. 

- Ezra Pound

Monday, March 24, 2014

Good News on the Cancer Front

This report at Cultural Offering is heartening. 

I'll just add that years ago I was in the room when my father got the bad news about his cancer diagnosis. He died around 12 months later. I'm still haunted by the fact that his death could have been prevented.

If you have not had a colonoscopy, get one. Believe me, it's a relatively easy process and you don't want to wait until it's too late. When it's too late, it's too late.

The Power Nap Head Pillow

FutureLawyer has the photo and it is jarring. How would you describe this product?

  1. Too nerdish for words.
  2. Anyone who buys one should be carefully monitored.
  3. It could come in handy during Thanksgiving dinners.
  4. This is proof positive that people will buy anything.
  5. I think it's kind of neat.

Salvaged WWI Photos

The Telegraph: An unusual collection of First World War photographs that were rescued from trash bins.

Better Is Better Than More



And yet the lessons I was given were all about fingerings and songs and techniques. They were about playing higher or lower or longer notes, or playing more complex rhythms. At no point did someone sit me down and say, "wait, none of this matters if you can't play a single note that actually sounds good."

Instead, the restaurant makes the menu longer instead of figuring out how to make even one dish worth traveling across town for. We add many slides to our presentation before figuring out how to utter a single sentence that will give the people in the room chills or make them think. We confuse variety and range with quality.


Read the rest of Seth Godin here.

Music Break

Bobbie Gentry with "Ode to Billie Joe."

Patient Effort

The young man in the video grew up, his entire life, with a boot on his face. The Soviet Union was the largest example of the worst state of affairs ever conceived by humans. There are plenty of pikers plying their trade at human misery, retail, in places like basements in Cleveland, and organized and disorganized crime, or in franchises like North Korea and various other gulags with a seat at the United Nations and "Democratic" in their names, but for institutional unkindness, the soviets transformed mom and pop cruelty into an industrial-scaled enterprise. They were the multinational of misery.

Read the rest at Sippican Cottage. Sound thoughts. Beautifully written.

Bock's Picks


The keen-eyed Wally Bock points to leadership reading to start your week.

Art Break: Flagg



Art Contrarian looks at the work of James Montgomery Flagg.

Random Thoughts


For the most part we make better "things" nowadays but I wonder if we are making better people. Few sales slogans can equal "Hot buttered toast."   The sooner the "selfie" becomes a thing of the past, the better we will be. I heard of a man who dedicated his life to the study of beauty, which was a public service since there are other careers which produce little but ugliness. It is a rare speaker who knows how to use a teleprompter. If Orwell were writing today: INCOMPETENCE = COMPETENCE. One of the most important questions for any team is "What are we about?" and that should be asked frequently. There is nothing special about the 21st century except its narcissism. A good watch and a good fountain pen are daily reminders of a civilized life. Unattended "little things" quickly become snares. The alarmists may be right about water being the oil of the future. If you observe and remember, know how rare you are. Management is steering a ship through a storm one hour and gently into a harbor the next. Getting an excellent cup of coffee in the morning will give you more time than it takes. If we don't live in Paris, we must create its equivalent. A good chair, a window, and a legal pad can generate more creativity than a bottle of wine. Try to regain your legible handwriting. Do the birds ever envy us? Do dogs ever wonder what we're thinking? Memorize at least one poem this month. Take at least one hike.

First Paragraph

Boori Ma, sweeper of the stairwell, had not slept in two nights. So the morning before the third night she shook the mites out of her bedding. She shook the quilts once underneath the letter boxes where she lived, then once again at the mouth of the alley, causing the crows who were feeding on vegetable peels to scatter in several directions. 

- From A Real Durwan by Jhumpa Lahiri

Quote of the Day

It is better to have one person working with you than three people working for you. 

- Dwight D. Eisenhower

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Odds Are

...you will see nothing stranger than the Leningrad Cowboys today.

Some more information on the band can be found here.

[HT: Rick Miller]

Job Interview

12th September, 1941

Dylan Thomas comes to see me. He wants a job on the B.B.C. He is a fat little man, puffy and pinkish, dressed in very dirty trousers and a loud check coat. I tell him that if he is to be employed by the B.B.C., he must promise not to get drunk. 

From Volume II of The Diaries & Letter of Harold Nicolson, The War Years 1939-1945

Dressing Well


Cultural Offering provides some time-tested tips

[One simple one which I'd add: If it was popular in the Seventies, steer clear.]

And Speaking of Beauty


I've posted this before and will post it again: The BBC Proms with some incomparable Bach.

[Update. The picture replaces one which had the potential to cause blinking, gout, and ennui.]

Find Something Beautiful Today


Saturday, March 22, 2014

Is There Extra Credit If You Write It at Starbucks?

At View From the Ledge: If Captain Ahab had a poetry workshop.

Speed Lines



Car Style Critic looks at speed lines, then and now.

A Good Year


A thoroughly enjoyable film. We watched it again the other night. I suspect that my wife likes it due to my uncanny resemblance to Russell Crowe.

The Catch


1954 World Series: Willie Mays makes baseball history.

If We Only Had the Secret Service Chatter

At Cultural Offering: The day President Reagan met a promising young lad.

Miscellaneous and Fast

The trailer for "Amazon Women on the Moon."
Fortune: "The 50 Best World Leaders."
The Strategic Learner: Pause, then ask yourself three questions.
Sippican Cottage: "Why I never hire brilliant men."
Wally Bock: Stories and strategies from real life.
SquawkPoint: How to be an amazing manager.
The trailer for "Secretary."
Up the Thames: From the funeral of Sir Winston Churchill.
Back by popular demand: Billy Joel with "A Matter of Trust."
Tanmay Vora on the foundation of collaborative leadership.
From 2013: Stephen Fry responds to grammar pedants .
The trailer for "Bob le Flambeur."
The Telegraph: Final 54 minutes of communication from Flight MH370.
A rare posting of "Wichita Lineman" on Anderson Layman's Blog.
The trailer for "The Giver."
Entrepreneur with an app for avoiding people.
Shikha Dalmia on Asian American opposition to race and gender preferences.
Memorable scene from "A Night to Remember."

Quote of the Day

You don't get harmony when everybody sings the same note. 

- Doug Floyd

Friday, March 21, 2014

When Certain Names Were in Style

A list of the most popular names for babies 1940-1949.

Turkish Delights

There are reports that the Turkish government has tried to block Twitter access. 

In the past, it has been difficult for people in Turkey to connect to this blog. I figure it was either those controversial  Dave Brubeck "Blue Rondo a la Turk" links or - more likely - some simple Internet glitch.

The blog for Our Man in Istanbul (many of you know his identity) is no longer reachable. 

Hmm.

Health Food Update

Dark Chocolate Brownies

The Pioneer Woman shows how to make Dark Chocolate Brownies.

Unhappy Hipsters

"It's not a garden party until someone asks you to invest in their startup."

Sales Presentations



Cultural Offering, who has been on both sides of the process, gives some great tips on sales presentations. An excerpt:

Speaking Emotions – “We are soooo excited about this opportunity.” “We are extremely excited about this opportunity” “We are psyched about this.” “I am VERY passionate about______.” Increasingly, I struggle with spoken emotions in sales presentations. It should be evident from the interest, preparation and professional enthusiasm that you would like to have me as a client. I once had a perspective vendor finish up a presentation by saying “we would be absolutely delighted to work with you as our customer.” That seemed a perfect expression of interest and much more appropriate than a bunch of talk about enthusiasm.

Long Week

David Kanigan provides the appropriate video for Friday.

Wink

75 delightful photos of primates who reveal their very human-like emotions 
Monkey Portraitsby Jill GreenbergLittle, Brown & Company2007, 128 pages, 8.3 x 10 x 0.4$7 Buy a copy on Amazon
I recently ran across Monkey Portraits at my local used bookstore – The Iliad Bookshop – and couldn’t put it down. Commercial and celebrity photographer Jill Greenberg spent five years photographing monkeys (and some apes) who she met through animal agencies and trainers, ending up with this collection of 75 spectacular primate portraits. The photos are not only technically beautiful but also truly amazing in the way that Greenberg so perfectly captured the expressions and emotions of these creatures. Animal books aren’t usually my thing, but with this book I studied every monkey on every page, laughing especially hard at the ones who reminded me of someone I knew. These photographs are a reminder of how similar primates are to humans, and how similar humans are to primates. – Carla Sinclair
Note: I bought the paperback, which costs $7 via the link above. A hardback also exists at that link, but the cost will jump to $21.

CoolTools has created Wink, which features and reviews "remarkable books that belong on paper."

Art Break: Wiertz



Art Contrarian looks at the poster art of Jupp Wiertz.

What's Missing?


"Let me make sure that I understand what you are telling me. 

"Mary, you are concerned that if we mention that an employee is being referred to counseling for depression, that we will have made ourselves unable to deny later that the person has a disability. As a result, you'd rather handle the matter as vaguely as possible and hope that the employee is able to get help but your primary interest is in providing us with a legal defense rather than in helping the employee. 

"And Ed, you are concerned that if we simplify the employee complaint process, more employees will file complaints. You believe the more complicated process helps to prevent complaints. 

"Now both of you wish to protect the organization, but do you see how your proposals may miss the bigger picture?"

Facilitator or Distraction?


Despite being surrounded by technology that enables and eases a variety of tasks, how many of us are as effective/productive as John Adams or Benjamin Franklin? 

Setting the issue of genius aside, much of our technology is a distraction. Work tools have a habit of becoming toys and we live in an entertainment-saturated society.