Monday, December 21st, 2020
High Output Management
Andrew S. Grove
In his careful, cogent and memorable take on effective management, Silicon Valley founding father Andy Grove places a surprising emphasis on meetings; he has the temerity to take issue with — or at least, refine — Peter Drucker’s admonition that they’re a waste of time. Grove’s issue: meetings are the very medium of management; his refinement: that there are actually two major types of meeting, routine and ad hoc, and it’s where there’s a profusion of the latter that something’s amiss.
This erstwhile CEO of Intel notes that while most management books are targeted either at the very top or the very bottom — at the CEO or at those who directly manage frontline workers — the majority of managers manage other managers, and it’s for them he mostly writes, the middle managers.
The book has the authority of someone eager to share lessons from his own extensive experience — indeed he seems to have always worked with one eye towards gaining such knowledge, in no small part because being able to convey what one knows ensures that one actually understands it; that is, managers should also write and teach.
Grove defines the aim of management as increasing the productivity of subordinates, which can be achieved in only two ways: by improving their skills and by improving their motivation. Skills are improved by training, which the manager should undertake himself, considering it not busywork but an opportunity to solidify his own understanding and role-model corporate behavior. Motivation meanwhile is improved best via one-on-one performance reviews. These measures for corporate success are bracingly clear and specific — both the reasoning behind them and how to undertake them.
A refugee from Nazi Europe, Grove may be a legend yet the book is suffused with a democratic humility, a great American sense that success can be approached by all as an engineering problem. A book among books.
PS — A high testament: I actually remembered all these points without reopening High Output Management. I don’t think that’s ever happened before.
Tuesday, December 15th, 2020
Ross Douthat in his typical perfect way essays on American childbearing in the really nice magazine Plough.
Tuesday, November 10th, 2020
There’s a big difference between nothing and almost nothing, when it’s multiplied by the area under the sun.
Paul Graham, General & Surprising
Thursday, August 20th, 2020
The iPhone matters more than anything … it is the foundation of modern life.
Ben Johnson, “Apple, Epic, and the App Store”
Saturday, August 15th, 2020
12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos
Jordan Peterson has huge charisma, period, and his recent travails serve to render him even more human. His efforts to ground our current unmoored times (the chaos referred to in the title) in the fertile garden of our intellectual and spiritual heritage (the curative order) are the work of the angels.
The first of his 12 Rules for Life is Nietzschian, an evolutionary biological backgrounder for the maxim to fake it till you make it. The second is Rousseauian: we must love ourselves with amour de soi rather than amour-propre. But the whole thing — and particularly this second rule — is peppered with discussion of founts fundamental to me — Genesis, Taoism, Jung — so that the book feels like it fell out of my own mind, albeit a more disciplined, erudite, deeper version.
Either because of this over-familiarity or because the book is in fact junk food, I cannot remember anything of it as I revisit a few weeks later to write this. Is Peterson merely an Alain de Botton of the Right, a popularizer / informal codifier of what every self-respecting Westerner already knows? Either I need to pick up the book and start again, or perhaps stop reading everything else and get back to the Bible, Plato and Aristotle.
Wednesday, July 22nd, 2020
We’re humans; fun matters.
Tuesday, July 21st, 2020
In an artificial world, only extremists live naturally.
Paul Graham, “You Weren’t Meant to Have a Boss”
The essence of programming is to build new things.
Paul Graham, “You Weren’t Meant to Have a Boss”
A normal job may be as bad for us intellectually as white flour or sugar is for us physically.
Paul Graham, “You Weren’t Meant to Have a Boss”
Monday, July 20th, 2020
For those who care to be reminded, Edward Feser writes in The American Mind a straight-shooting review of Plato’s political thought.
The first thing to keep in mind in order to understand Plato’s analysis of democracy is that he is not primarily concerned with procedural matters, such as the way in which people are elected or policies decided upon. What he cares about, again, is the character type that predominates in a society.
Thursday, July 16th, 2020
Thank you, The Atlantic, for daring to publish John McWhorter’s eminently sensible review of Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility. My faith is somewhat renewed.
McWhorter holds back more than on the freewheeling The Glenn Show, where he calls it “one of the worst books ever written”.
Saturday, July 11th, 2020
A nice straightforward yet telling piece in Prospect Magazine on ambivalence towards domesticity.
Friday, July 3rd, 2020
Saturday, June 6th, 2020
“The Problem of White Efficacy” by Rebekah Frumkin in Guernica. Totally mental.
Saturday, May 30th, 2020
The editor of Spiked castigates the media for misreporting facts on Dominic Cummings’ lockdown behavior. But Brendan O’Neill’s focus on possibly disingenuous facts misses the larger disheartening truth.
Which is that a senior head needs to roll for the UK Government’s humiliating and deadly botching of its initial response to the pandemic. (That many of the leaders themselves contracted the disease is emblematic of this failure.)
Since elections will not be held for years, the next best thing to the PM’s head is that of his high-profile advisor. And this is fitting: as the great visionary and strategist, Cummings should have been the one who got the PM to take the pandemic seriously in good time.
So the details of Cummings’ hypocritical behaviours under lockdown are merely the pretext for some just humiliation for him and this Government. His firing would be the catharsis that marks entry into the next phase of this pandemic; indeed these are political norms. Instead however we slouch further into uncharted territory — political as well as medical and economic.
Thursday, May 28th, 2020
Sauna: The Finnish Bath
H J Viherjuuri
Even in English translation, this relatively slim definitive work on Finnish sauna is filled with the dignity that seems to come with everything Finland. The author notes that the Finnish way of hot bathing — heating rocks and occasionally pouring water on them to produce steam — is the only one that can be both dry and wet.
Something new to me is that feet can take — and require — more heat than the rest of the body, so that not only should one be mostly prone in the sauna rather than sitting in order to heat the body equally (the hotter parts of a sauna are closer to the ceiling), but the feet can be even higher, so that a ledge or feet stirrups might be good.
Monday, May 25th, 2020
I’m doubt there’s much in Deep Work by Cal Newport that I didn’t already know, but I nonetheless had a hankering to see these ideas conveyed in an organized and impassioned way. My own way of working is already akin to what Newport suggests — for instance I disabled push email on my laptop years ago, and stopped using social media a couple of years ago.
Although he refers quite frequently to David Allen and GTD, one thing he does encourages that is not a GTD emphasis is setting time limits to work sessions with a view to working quicker — like say the Pomodoro Technique but not necessarily stuck on 25-minute periods.
I personally have eschewed this because I feel that with my work, you keep plugging away until the problem is solved. But I do see that there are many benefits to limiting the time on a task, one of them being (though I don’t think Newport mentions this) that it can make the task feel less onerous and intimidating if you know you’re only going to need to work on it for a limited period of time.
One immediate application for me was to start working on a somewhat mindless administrative task that normally takes me one or two full boring days. I realize that if I work on it an hour a day for a week or so, it will be all in all less onerous (and on time).
Sunday, May 24th, 2020
An anonymous employee beneficiary of Twitter’s IPO: “I think a lot of [people in Silicon Valley] care about basic income for everyone, because we’ve lived with it ourselves.”
Sunday, May 17th, 2020
The Making of Prince of Persia
Video game maker Jordan Mechner wrote a rich diary of his life in the mid-1980s. This book covers the creation his second hit game, Prince of Persia, so we gain access of unique immediacy to the heroic tale of producing a universe-dent-making hit.
I wanted this book, which I discovered via Tyler Cowen’s most recent What I’ve been reading, as inspiration during a small lull in morale as I work on a digital product of my own.
Thirty years on there is some poignancy in that this early period of Mencher’s life was the peak: after graduating Yale, already dreamily successful, he shuttles between San Francisco and Hollywood creating video games and pushing screenplays, a digital Orson Welles (in his later game The Last Express, Mechner combines these passions, relying on cinema to produce an impressive commercial failure).
That said, perhaps it is no failure at all that one can point to the creative peak of a life — Mechner’s arguably was working within the memory constraints of the Apple II to create a foe, Shadow Man, based on the hero character. Here I’m reminded of Ken Kocienda’s not dissimilar Eureka moment when up against a constraint, that of using a dictionary to help create the iPhone keyboard.
Perhaps it would have been a better book if he had fleshed out the journal with an italicized retrospective written now, but count me a late-arrival Jordan Mechner fan. And don’t get the Kindle edition lacking the illustrations; I think I’m gonna need to buy the actual book.
Thursday, May 14th, 2020
In the morning I put in the stair-climbing, and in the evening, the sword-sheathing.
Jordan Mechner, The Making of Prince of Persia
Sunday, April 19th, 2020
Friday, April 17th, 2020
Thursday, April 2nd, 2020
Humane, authoritative video by Dr Jeffrey VanWingen, a family physician in Grand Rapids, Michigan on sterilizing groceries.
Tuesday, March 31st, 2020
In times of infectious airborne disease, the burden of proof shouldn’t on wearing a mask, it should be on not wearing one. Scott Alexander at Slate Star Codex reviews the scientific literature on mask-wearing.
Wednesday, March 11th, 2020
Doug Tarr weighs in on learning to code. I didn’t know my old roommate could write so well. Doug, write more.
Monday, March 9th, 2020
Sunday, March 1st, 2020
Venkatesh Rao’s Into the Yakverse is just too disgustingly awesomely good. Think the tone of David Goldman’s visits to Cardinal Richelieu, along with the cynical wit of top Armando Iannucci satire, and the light momentum of an Eliyahu Goldratt business novel.
DesignBoom’s sauna page. This is just great work about great work about great living.
A call to arms for gigworld: Towards Gigwork as a Folkway by Venkatesh Rao.
Becoming Steve Jobs: The Evolution of an Reckless Upstart into a Visionary Leader
Brent Schlener and Rick Tetzell
Although the simple thesis gets repeated interminably, nonetheless it’s a nice one: that Steve Jobs’s greatness stems muchly from his constant becoming, constant learning, constant trying to overcome himself (hence the title, which can be read as descriptive).
It’s great to be in his company, which you feel you are, as one of the authors was himself repeatedly so for decades.
One thing new to me was Pixar’s role in maturing Jobs; we don’t often read about who and what shaped the shaper.
Saturday, February 29th, 2020
Suspending the need for meaningfulness is exhausting!
Venkatesh Rao, The Price of Freedom
Friday, February 28th, 2020
First one to get back to reality is the biggest sociopath in the room.
Venkatesh Rao, The Shtickbox Affair
Friday, February 21st, 2020
From Paul Graham’s essay “Having Kids”, December 2019:
I remember perfectly well what life was like before. Well enough to miss some things a lot, like the ability to take off for some other country at a moment’s notice. That was so great. Why did I never do that?
Wednesday, December 18th, 2019
Matt Layman’s handy Failed SaaS Postmortem — too much tech tinkering; I need to take heed. Plus it’s great he’s getting right back in the saddle.
Friday, December 6th, 2019
Saturday, November 2nd, 2019
Tuesday, October 15th, 2019
Latitudinal psychology? “Like happiness, [individualism and creativity] trend higher as one moves away from the equator.”
Sunday, October 6th, 2019
Healthy in other respects, some adults have profoundly impaired autobiographical re-experiencing.
Saturday, October 5th, 2019
A conversation on Jewish concepts of sin ABA failure with David Bashevkin that could have gone on a lot longer. Very good stuff for those needing to augment their awareness that we are in the Days of Awe.
Tuesday, October 1st, 2019
The sweaters of Succession. By Vulture.
The future is real but the past is all made up.
Logan Roy in Succession, Series 2, Episode 8
Tuesday, September 24th, 2019
It’s good, I’ve had time to contemplate my Indecisiveness.
Sunday, September 22nd, 2019
In National Affairs, Ruth Wisse shows us Irving Kristol, “the common man’s uncommon philosopher”.
Tuesday, September 17th, 2019
“Please just leave me alone when I cross streets.” Richard Stallman’s terms of service for speaking engagements come to light [via The Register] surrounding his forced terminations. A couple of observations: for 66 his skin looks amazingly moist and smooth, like a healthy 25-year-old’s, which perhaps says something about his lifestyle and choices. And his exactingness regarding these terms is both ridiculous and admirable; few things are more important than knowing who we are and what we want and expressing these clearly.
Monday, August 5th, 2019
Saturday, August 3rd, 2019
How the rich differ, according to the currently-popupar Big Five psychological framework. More conscientious, less neurotic, less agreeable, more extravert, and more open to experience.
Thursday, June 13th, 2019
Saturday, June 8th, 2019
Friday, March 15th, 2019