Thursday, March 2nd, 2023
Wednesday, August 31st, 2022
Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business
Entertainingly caustic albeit a tad ad nauseumly, Neil Postman’s famous book regales us with at least one important historical fact and one historical idea.
The fact: that before showbusiness, Americans were by far the world’s most literate, informed, engaged population, whereas today it must be said have a reputation abroad for ignorance.
The idea: that even while powerful technologies are mindless and agnostic, each nonetheless has its own nature that pushes society in particular directions. Postman argues mostly convincingly that print is healthy for society, television not.
Just like the self-help gurus pointing out that it’s better to totally goof off than do busywork because at least leisure doesn’t feel like work and thereby misguide the mind, so Postman prefers straight-up entertainment shows like Hart to Hart to those that pretend to inform like 60 Minutes.
Now, the book was written in 1985 and is about TV; the big question is what Postman would have thought of the Web and social media. He does write that the potential influence of computers is overrated, which reminds us that nobody’s infallible (which does undermine the book’s credibility, so kudos on the publishers of later editions in not cutting out these throwaway few words).
Market Realist wisely marvels at Jeff Bezos’s enthusiastic reminiscences of working at McDonald’s.
Thursday, April 14th, 2022
In an interview on Israel’s national broadcaster Kan, this is a fair-minded well-informed backgrounder on Temple Mount tensions.
Jonathan Haidt is wise enough to note that it is mainly America, not necessary the rest of the world, that has gone particularly mental the past decade. Haidt blames social media. But the word “marriage” does not occur even once in the article, despite the decade having seen same-sex marriage transformed from oxymoronic absurdity to self-evident cudgel. If a human institution so deep — deeper than the nationstate, than monotheism, even than history itself — can be so decidedly upended, then what chance has anything else of standing, the collective subconscious must wonder.
Monday, February 14th, 2022
Marc Andreessen has just tweetstormed a section of an Ayn Rand lecture on the contrast between the tribes of Apollo 11 and of Woodstock. Whilst I commend his pro-Deplorables stand, I do feel that as one of the fathers of the age he could be utilizing his mystique to do more, starting perhaps with banging heads in San Francisco. During a recent podcast interview with I forget whom, he dismissed laughingly the prospect of running for office; perhaps he should reconsider. Also, just for some rounding, he might want to read Mailer’s Of a Fire on the Moon, surely an Apollonian who yearns for the Dionysian.
Thursday, February 3rd, 2022
I’ve been hoping to read a headline like this: “Ministers urge Boris Johnson to rethink net zero plans as cost of living crisis bites” in The Telegraph.
It’s great to be pushing towards renewable energy sources, not because of the climatist calumny but because of the wonderful fact that renewable energy will eventually become a lot cheaper than fossil fuels ever were. As J. Storrs Hall writes in the his transformative Where is My Flying Car, “Counting watts is a better way to measure a people’s standard of living than counting dollars.”
I do understand that sometimes a fire must be lit underneath our collective feet to get things moving, in this case the tarring and feathering of fossil fuels (an unfortunate phrase to be sure). Without this cultural move little might have happened in renewal energy innovation due to the massive interests of energy incumbents.
Meanwhile national leadership’s responsibility is to get this balance right. Deliberately fostering energy poverty is folly, not to mention sadistic — and has real deleterious geopolitical consequences. Nothing is free, especially that seemingly cost-free thing we increasingly swim in, ie, bullshit, rife with opportunity costs. As pleased as people are to wave utopian ideals and do our little bit, we prefer the political party that enables us to heat our homes.
Wednesday, December 8th, 2021
The Man with the Golden Gun
Surely I’ve read The Man with the Golden Gun before, given that this mangy old paperback has been on my bookshelves since 2006? Perhaps, but I remember nothing.
Some scenes that seem somewhat vivid for now:
- The middle: James Bond meets kind-hearted Tiffy, the manageress of a Jamaican cathouse, before finding Scaramanga, who promptly does something totally awful
- The end: As Scaramanga’s temporary assistant, James Bond machinates and maneuvers around the underfunded hotel that the assassin is building
- The beginning: M ruminates over his decision to send Bond after Scaramanga
Right now the best part seems to me M’s internal monologue after a brainwashed James Bond, back in London after imprisonment in Russia, fails to assassinate him at his desk (a glass screen plummeting down from the ceiling to block the poison Bond has fired, foreshadowing the spirit of gadgetry to come in the movies).
In wake of this domestic excitement, as M calls it, he decides to send Bond after Scaramanga, who has killed some British agents, figuring the Double-O will either succeed in killing the fellow and thereby redeem himself, or conveniently die trying.
Chief of Staff Bill Tanner thinks this cold-hearted, as Scaramanga is so dangerous. M takes a solitary lunch at his club Blades, troubled presumably over both the event and his subsequent decision, but we are only privy to his thoughts once on the ride back to the office, when he reassures himself that his decision really was wise — indeed he almost can’t believe that his instant instinctual choice stands up so well to scrutiny. This is our glimpse at leadership. The rest of the novel — and the entire series — is our exploration of manliness.
In the movie we lose this brief inner turmoil from M, but we gain a more impressive (though not sufficiently so) Scaramanga in Christopher Lee, who is as suave as Fleming’s assassin is lunky; and we get fabulous Thailand instead of, yet again, Fleming’s Jamaica. To make a long story very short, we’re rather missing Nick Nack.
Thursday, November 18th, 2021
At Starter Story, Ed Baldoni, founder of Concrete Countertop Solutions, tells the story of how his business has reached $1.1m in monthly revenue.
I was a developer/ home builder for over 40 years. As a builder, I was always looking to stay ahead of the curve and offer new ideas to my clients … Our Z Counterform System for countertops and Z Poolform System for concrete pool coping are the go-to solutions for cast-in-place concrete forms. With a small but dedicated team, we grew this business from an idea to over $12M in revenue in 10 years.
Exciting story, exciting product.
Tuesday, November 2nd, 2021
The proper dosage of hierarchy is just barely enough to vitalize a very large collective.
Kevin Kelly, The Inevitable
Monday, July 19th, 2021
Via Hacker News, “The Eleven Laws of Showrunning” by Javier Grillo-Marxuach is so beautifully written and serves as a primer for management of anything
As special and wonderful as creativity and process may be, they are assets that can be channeled, managed, made to work on call, and sent to bed at a decent hour.
Since I’m currently watching Disney Gallery / Star Wars: The Mandalorian, showrunners Jon Favreau and David Filoni appear to exemplify the virtues.
Wednesday, July 7th, 2021
The Guardian posts an excerpt from Gillian Tett’s Anthro-Vision. Regarding working from home, a senior trader at JP Morgan observed:
The really big problem was incidental information exchange. “The bit that’s very hard to replicate is the information you didn’t know you needed,” observed Charles Bristow, a senior trader at JP Morgan. “[It’s] where you hear some noise from a desk a corridor away, or you hear a word that triggers a thought. If you’re working from home, you don’t know that you need that information.” Working from home also made it hard to teach younger bankers how to think and behave; physical experiences were crucial for conveying the habits of finance or being an apprentice.
Monday, June 14th, 2021
Mary Catherine Bateson, conversations at Edge [via Hacker News, again].
Friday, June 11th, 2021
Via Hacker News, and in the grand spirit of Charlie Munger’s edict to “Invert, always invert,” this is Julio Merino on “Always be Quitting”.
So what does it mean to always be quitting? It means “making yourself replaceable”; “deprecating yourself”; “automating yourself out of your job” … The key lies in NOT being indispensable … Paradoxically, by being disposable, you free yourself. You make it easier for yourself to grow into a higher-level role and you make it easier for yourself to change the projects you work on.
Thursday, May 6th, 2021
Top 20 racing cheats by Preston Lerner at Hagerty, a reminder that rules are made to be… stretched.
Saturday, March 6th, 2021
Cal Newport takes on GTD in the run-up to his new book against email as the world’s abysmal task management system.
The piece does start like a Tad Friend-esque hatchet job on Merlin Mann but that’s just a way to appeal to your squalid New Yorker reader.
Friday, December 11th, 2020
I’ve been surprised and disappointed by just how many people are hesitant to take up the COVID-19 vaccines now coming online. In this concerned Nautilus article “How to Build Trust in Covid-19 Vaccines”, the authors take on the issue with sober good sense, eg:
Mandatory vaccination policies should be avoided because they could backfire. More acceptable would be tying vaccination status to travel or access to public places.
Sunday, November 15th, 2020
“How to Get Your First Customers So Your Company Doesn’t Die” by Matt Munson, a startup founder coach and investor. Some nice nuggets here, such as hiring salespeople in pairs so that you can compare them and be sure any issues are with individuals rather than the system.
Thursday, July 30th, 2020
It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work
Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson
It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work may be a business book but, like Peter Drucker’s best, I found it profound. We can forget that business itself is profound, the intended happy medium of most modern collective endeavor. For authors Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, founders of the Basecamp organizational management software-as-a-service, business is the expression of philosophy. They counsel practicing it humanely, moderately and deliberately.
They establish authority with a first shock, an obvious idea you’ve almost certainly not thought of yourself: that a company should be considered a product, its employees the users. In fact this is a framing analogy for the entire book; like Nietzsche’s preface to Beyond Good and Evil positing that we suppose Truth be a woman, it throws wide open our thinking on our subject.
Another shock: they advise eschewing goals: “You don’t need something fake to do something real.” How shatteringly refreshing is that! Especially since my previous book was John Doerr’s Measure What Matters, which is all about goals. I had been excited for the Doerr book, but couldn’t finish it due to the sterile-speak of the case studies, which — unwarrantedly perhaps — undercut my faith in the concept. In contrast, Fried and DHH have the clear bracing style of successful coding entrepreneurs. This helps overcome the natural worry that going goal-less means a descent into hedonic anarchy, instead what they seek is appropriateness and authenticity. That said, I wonder whether this is the idea they’re most likely to step back from in future.
A third novelty seems downright crazy: they advocate not selling licenses by the seat, but by the organization. “It doesn’t matter if you have 5 employees, 50, 500, or 5,000 — it’s still just $99/month total. You can’t pay us more than that.” They leave this money on the table as part of deliberately designing the culture of their company (see the first idea); they don’t want to be dependent on a few large customers, nor create an internal cultural schism between serving small business and enterprise.
Similarly, they decided to stop accepting checks for payment just because it was a hassle, which did lose them some customers. This however is a less controversial notion, akin to Apple removing older technologies from new products despite their still being in widespread use and absorbing the hue and cry.
The authors also believe that the American-inspired work ethic of long hours is counterproductive and inhumane. Having worked at an Israeli software services giant I’m in agreement here too; at Amdocs if you went home after a mere 9 hours in the office you were perceived to be not pulling your weight (and, in my case, eventually laid off). And when I was temporarily attached to teams for international business trips, it seemed that all the team leaders were either divorced or in the process of becoming so.
Some of the authors’ values only apply to their particular industry. They make a claim for good enough rather than perfectionism — this is fine when your product is web-based software where one can churn out a fix at little cost, but not for many other high-value products such as cars.
In my small own small way I already practice much of what the authors preach. My only qualm is that while I love their philosophy, I’ve never much liked Basecamp itself.
Sunday, July 26th, 2020
Monday, July 13th, 2020
Measure What Matters: OKRs: The Simple Idea that Drives 10x Growth
I stopped reading John Doerr’s Measure What Matters some halfway through because I couldn’t take any more of the stilted archaic business-speak in the case studies. And because the ideas presented — barring the occasional mild insight — seemed too obvious.
The two insights of value to me: that sub-goals, what Doerr terms the Key Objectives (I think — I still have to keep referring back — nope, it’s Key Results), should be an artful balance between quality and quantity. And that despite the importance of results tying in to objectives and thereby be set top-down, some lassitude should be allowed for results to be set bottom-up.
The book could have benefited from having its ideas framed in terms of the Tao, since everything here is in complementary pairs — even the duality of overarching goal and its constellation of objectives. Instead we have an acronym OKR that still didn’t help me remember the two simple constituent terms.
Tuesday, June 30th, 2020
Amalgamated from a dialog in the comments at a Marginal Revolution post “How to Live in a World Gone Mad?”:
The mob is saying silence is violence. Funnily enough, the mob also says speech is violence. They also say violence is not violence.
Fun, fun, fun!
Thursday, May 14th, 2020
The comfort of having an organization is largely illusory; it still comes down to one programmer in the end.
Jordan Mechner, The Making of Prince of Persia
Sunday, April 19th, 2020
The eleven days in question are 12th–23rd March. Eleven days in which the [UK] government decided to give up with contact tracing and do, well, nothing. Mass gatherings were still allowed (because “science”). Concerts and racing and Champions’ League football. Pubs. Public transport. Everything. The over-70s, it must be conceded, were advised to avoid cruises.
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.
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.
Friday, February 28th, 2020
Culture eats strategy for breakfast.
Wednesday, November 27th, 2019
Quite the overview: “The Real Class War” by Julius Krein, editor of American Affairs.
The real class war is between the 0.1 percent and (at most) the 10 percent—or, more precisely, between elites primarily dependent on capital gains and those primarily dependent on profes sional labor.
Thursday, September 26th, 2019
Starting from WeWork, Matt Stoller coins “counterfeit capitalism” as the Amazon model: “take inputs, combine them into products worth less than their cost, and plug up the deficit through the capital markets in hopes of acquiring market power later or of just self-dealing so the losses are placed onto someone else.” It is, he argues, terrible for society as a whole.
Monday, August 5th, 2019
Saturday, April 6th, 2019
Venkatesh is a treasure, what with his “Jonathan Livingstone Corporation” on solving not for money but aliveness.
Saturday, September 8th, 2018
Friday, August 24th, 2018
“Modelling Process Intensive Scenarios for the Smart City” [PDF]. In this paper by professors at the computer science department at the University of Camerino in Italy, the authors discuss BPMN (and bpFM, which I’d never heard of before) in the context of municipal services, specifically bike-sharing.
Another perspective on bike-sharing, this time re usability, by mobile-first thought leader Luke Wroblewski.
“Service Design 101”, a primer by the Nielsen Norman Group.
Saturday, April 7th, 2018
From 2014: The Economist introduces us to Sebastian de Grazia’s 1962 Of Time, Work and Leisure. Increasingly, leisure is not for the rich but for the poor.
Friday, March 23rd, 2018
If you’re worried about Facebook, just take a look at WeWork.
Wednesday, January 10th, 2018
Jony Ive: The Genius Behind Apple’s Greatest Products
In what seems a common pattern, Jony Ive started early, eschewing the liberal education of say Oxbridge, instead selecting the most renowned college in the field in which he was already winning prizes: industrial design. And this great achiever of our times grew up under the happy and mighty influence of his father, an educator who rose to prominence due to character and a drive to bring design literacy to British education.
The bulk of this book about Ive constitutes one of the stronger, more detailed histories we have of Apple itself, told mainly from the perspective of the IDg, the internal design group he leads. We learn for instance that in order to meet Steve Jobs’ deadline for creating the iMac — the first product upon Jobs’ return and which revived the company — they needed to streamline the product process by making the files of the design software interoperable with those of the manufacturing software.
Someone says Ive is even less replaceable at Apple than Jobs. This isn’t quite fair because Jobs worked to make himself replaceable. Let’s hope Ive does as well.
Saturday, December 30th, 2017
Engagingly written albeit disappointingly somewhat thin, the useful angle here is how Apple differs from conventional wisdom.
Secrecy, even internally, is paramount; it helps alleviate internal politics and keep people focused. There is little internal promotion, taking seriously the Peter Principle. Unlike the rest of Silicon Valley, perks are minimal; working at Apple is the perk.
A product of its time (2012) and of the author’s lack of access, the book is marred at the end by pessimistic obsession with Apple’s viability post-Jobs, but is nonetheless ultimately worth reading because it does convey an impression of what Apple is like.
Wednesday, December 27th, 2017
When Google analysed their hiring, they were surprised to find that “among the eight most important qualities of Google’s top employees, STEM expertise comes in dead last.” Instead, “The seven top characteristics of success at Google are all soft skills.” One smart commenter points out that since everyone will have the STEM skills anyway, these other things are the only differentiators.
Tuesday, December 26th, 2017
Value-Driven Business Process Management
Peter Franz & Mathias Kirchmer
Enlarging on their idea that 80–85% of process improvements come from just 15–20% of processes, the authors argue that organizations must institutionalize BPM like other now-standard departments such as accounting and human resources.
They explain the mission of such a department (effective organization-wide process improvement), the goals (to determine which processes to focus on and which techniques to use for each) and the method (a series of rubrics for evaluating).
Important though the book clearly is in the field, for me it was a slog; the prose is not crisp and the examples seem vapid — though it’s likely that for a reader more versed in the practice they would come more alive. The book does get more quotable and unabashedly enthusiastic towards the end.
Monday, December 18th, 2017
Real-Life BPMN: With introductions to CMMN and DMN
Jakob Freund, Bernd Rücker
With their years of experience as business process management consultants—and now vendors—the authors choose “real-life” as their approach, explicating their own methodology for delivering BPM projects. This book serves as invaluable guidance for newer practitioners.
Thursday, July 13th, 2017
Trump: The Art of the Deal
Donald Trump with Tony Schwartz
This chatty, self-serving, very likeable book is arguably necessary reading today, now that the man has climbed to the pinnacle of life.
In buying the Commodore Hotel in midtown Manhattan, his first major success, he had to juggle getting the money from the bankers and permission from the city (though the book’s account glosses over the help he received from his father calling in favors). Each step forward with one party in the deal encouraged progress with another party. This iteration seems to me a fundamental part of the art of the deal: aiming higher than seems reasonable, bringing multiple parties to something they would never have come to otherwise, then inching forward by presenting progress with one party to another party to create confidence, iterating until everyone is aboard.
A must-read coda to the book is the July 2016 New Yorker article with the equally-billed ghostwriter Tony Schwartz wherein Schwartz expresses huge concern about the man he knows well.
Monday, June 19th, 2017
Words of wisdom from Jacques Mattheij: How to Improve a Legacy Codebase (for the computer geeks only).
Wednesday, May 24th, 2017
Anti-fragile: Things that Gain from Disorder
Nassim Nicholas Taleb
I’ve been listening to the Commentary Magazine podcast lately, enjoying John Podhoretz’s knowledgeable and intelligent monologues, even if regularly exasperated by their ideological blinkers. This week their discussion reeked of black swan events but they fumbled around for the logic that applies. It was obvious that none of the three speakers had read any Nassim Nicholas Taleb, otherwise they would have had the framework and could have moved on. That made them seem ignorant. Which makes you realize these books are seminal. Yes there are irritations, but perhaps these will fade from a more distant perspective. There are echoes here of the iconoclastic spirit of Nietzsche — can there be higher praise?
Wednesday, August 3rd, 2016
The illusion that we understand the past fosters overconfidence in our ability to predict the future.
Monday, April 11th, 2016
There’s nothing worse than organized disorder.
Tuesday, December 8th, 2015
Fallout from Apple’s lawsuit against Samsung, this article by Yoni Heisler contains images of abandoned iPhone designs and the lengthy agenda of a 2010 executive team meeting written by Steve Jobs himself.
Thursday, October 15th, 2015
The Practice of Management
Peter F. Drucker
Talk about a dent in the universe! This classy Cold War tome cuts it open to demand space for a new thing: management. The universe complied.
Tuesday, October 13th, 2015
According to Michael Schrage in “Whether You’re Qualified Depends on How You’re Quantified”, being a paid-up participant in the Quantified Self movement will soon be a requirement for getting a decent job. “Best-in-class performers are relentlessly dedicated to measurable self-improvement,” he writes. “Consequently, they relentlessly self-quantify.”
Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013
“On the Festival of Freedom, we are taking an important step toward energy independence,” the Prime Minister’s Office announced, as Israel’s Mediterranean natural gas fields turn online (FT registration required).