# (1) 01 Sep 2007, 01:16PM: Comedy This Midmorning/Early Afternoon:
I just watched A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum for the first time, so now I finally get the backstory for Michael Dorn's "Stand aside; I take large steps" Star Trek: The Next Generation outtake from that one episode of Reading Rainbow.
# (1) 02 Sep 2007, 04:29AM: Miscellaneous:
Blazing Saddles is a very strange movie. Somehow every time I'd heard of it, I heard about the race and racism jokes but not the insane fourth-wall-breaking. And Gene Wilder's affect reminds me of Zack Brown.
I saw Zack and a bunch of other FL/OSS folks at a tremendous party on Friday night, an occasion that capped a week of heavy socialization. Columbia friends, beering before classes start on the fourth! Adam, cousin C, Leonard's coauthor Peter C. Norton, Moss and Julia, Biella and her friends, Fureigh... sorry, this is one of those entries that's more diary than chin-stroking essay thoughtfulness, but those links are interesting at least.
A parting thought: when did "crappy" become an acceptable word for use in news/analysis pieces in The Atlantic? (June 2007, p. 60)
# (1) 06 Sep 2007, 12:03AM: First Day:
Today I had my first day of classes, and I tried out the fitness center and tried out for a play. Time to stretch a bit.
# 10 Sep 2007, 02:28PM: Reviews:
Surprisingly unappealing: The Good Husband of Zebra Drive. Sort of predictable.
Surprisingly rewarding: Psych, Harvard Business Essentials: Strategy.
# 12 Sep 2007, 02:19PM: Tentative Podcast:
When my sister and I were kids, sometimes we would record tapes of ourselves talking, like how some kids put on little skits for and with neighborhood playmates. We'd pretend to be news announcers, plotting witches, famous singer/actresses, what have you. I still have some of those tapes and it's unbearable and fun to listen to the young Sumanandini team (one of the zillion names for the Sumana + Nandini combo).
In the same spirit, back in March I started cajoling Leonard into doing "podcasts" with me in GarageBand on my Mac. These were just ordinary conversations, ten to thirty minutes long, that we recorded, sometimes augmented with the built-in GarageBand sound effects when I felt a little crazy. The conversations I have with Leonard are a continuing comfort and delight, one of the best parts of my life, and I felt the urge to take some aural snapshots, to lay down some memories into a Pensieve.
But once in a while it would be nice to share our "podcasts" with y'all. So here's one that we limited to five minutes, where we talk about Cyc, Star Trek, and the Duluth Trading Company catalog.
# (1) 13 Sep 2007, 11:54AM: No Mention of Ag, Management, or "Catch Fish For Profit":
- Go to Career Cruising, www.careercruising.com
- Put in Username: nycareers and Password: landmark.
- Take their "Career Matchmaker" questions.
- Post the top twenty results
- Put the careers you have seriously considered in bold.
Printing Press Operator
Public Policy Analyst
Manufacturing Machine Operator
Resources Drilling Technician
# (2) 15 Sep 2007, 01:42AM: "How can I provide for this right thing to be always done?":
I've had some recent success in using spam as a source for recommendations, but more useful by far were Crooked Timber and Ask Metafilter. Speaking of CT, title ideas for your blog posts and a game theory question of sorts.
Thanks to "foobario"'s Ask Metafilter recommendation, I'm currently reading the Project Gutenberg text of Florence Nightingale's On Nursing and it's tremendous. This post's title comes from it. I thought it would be like Martha Ballard's diary, but instead it has a lot in common with Spolsky or my business-ish textbooks. Nightingale focuses on executive energy, attention, and putting the proper processes into place such that patients (employees) have the resources and quiet they need to get better (do their work). Once you get to a certain administrative level, instead of solving problems ad hoc you have to think strategically.
But it's still fun to solve a good puzzle, or to hear a good problem-solution story.
On New Year's Day, 2002, I was working on Douglas Hofstadter's Gödel, Escher, Bach -- Adam P., that's the exercise I mentioned at lunch the other day. I met Zack Weinberg on January 2nd, when we were both living in Berkeley.
Now we're living on opposite coasts. I go to Columbia, where Zack did his undergrad. He lives in/near San Diego, where my sister did hers. OK, maybe that's too forced.
Zack criticized The Atlantic, at least the 2003-era Atlantic Monthly. I've been subscribing for at least a year since I find it good for long trips, so Zack, I'd be very interested in hearing what it was you found unimpressive. I try not to pay too much attention to Hitchens or Flanagan, but Fallows and Bowden seem solid. Am I wrong?
And it's light enough for good not-class reading, a.k.a. cardio-machine reading. Elliptical, stationary bike -- the machines in the Columbia gym have little perches just big enough for paperbacks or magazines, but there's really no way I can take notes during the experience. Some people have beach novels; I have Colson Whitehead's fun and moving John Henry Days and Atlantics from the past ten months. And once I've finished the mag, I can leave it in the mag-swap slots on the wall under the clock, next to the Columbia Spectators and Entertainment Weekly that people bring in. ("So that's what Chuck's about!")
Speaking of Fallows -- James Fallows, former Microsoft employee, current China correspondent -- he had an interesting article in the July/August issue: "China Makes, the World Takes." I can't glibly agree with the cover headline, "Why China's Rise Is Good For Us." Fallows does what the business folks would call a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) for the economic relationship between China and the US.
Right now, it's the half-automated processes, like snapping a part onto an electric toothbrush, where Chinese manufacturing excels. At the beginning (design, branding) and end (retail and service) of a product cycle, IP-heavy firms based in first-world countries do great. Manufacturing is a cost center; design and retail are revenue centers. It's classic division of labor to offshore the parts of your business where you have no competitive advantage, can't add value for the customer, and can't make profit for yourself.
That's how US businesses are thinking strategically. And Chinese manufacturers, optimized for cheap prototyping and quick turnaround (hmmm), can do quite well partnering with such firms. But the Chinese government is thinking strategically at a higher level of abstraction. How can China become a revenue center? How can China add value? By building or enticing the institutions that grow intelligent, cosmopolitan executives and entrepreneurs. So the government, being in charge, provides that these things will be done. Schools, Microsoft design labs, whatever you could imagine the frickin' communist dictatorship of the PRC coercing or encouraging. China's not content with being China; China wants to be India too.
# 15 Sep 2007, 11:10AM: Balancing (It's All An Act):
Mel Chua is closer to her extended family than I ever have been to mine. Way more of her nearish relatives live in the US than mine do, if I understand correctly. And now she's bearing the weight of traditional family expectations in a way I haven't for a while.
I got a Real Job (even if I did leave it) and married a good guy who can take care of me emotionally and financially (even if he is white), and I'm in grad school (even if it isn't law, med, or business). It wouldn't be entirely accurate to say that I am fulfilling, subverting, or ignoring my parents' expectations. I hope Mel finds her own way of being a good daughter, independent of the Good Asian Girl straitjacket.
# 15 Sep 2007, 03:07PM: Froggy Went A-Suing:
Leonard and I recorded our suggestions for updates to the "Mmm-hmm" motif in "Froggy Went A-Courtin'".
# (1) 15 Sep 2007, 04:18PM: Also, Music Videos:
As long as I'm linking to Mac-enabled creative intramarital collaborations: the music videos I've done for "Relativity" and "The Whiskey Rebellion Activity Zone". The one for "Relativity" uses a song that Leonard wrote and recorded as well as footage that he shot, mostly accidentally, while visiting Foo Camp, a tidepool, and Susan McCarthy. The WRAZ video uses snapshots, postcards, and the like from our families' travel in the US, England, India, and Japan. It features Brendan, Atticus, most of Alyson, Rachel R., Riana, Manoj, Adam P., Andy S., and us.
The Mac makes these collage-style pieces quite easy. And they whet my appetite for more substantive endeavors. Next step: deliberately taking pictures or footage for use in decorating Leonard's music?
# 16 Sep 2007, 10:02AM: Gifts For Friends:
I came up with some ideas for gifts to give my sister for her recent birthday. Then I asked her and it turned out she didn't want any of them. But I thought they were good ideas to share anyway.
- Hummingbird feeder
- Flask (monogrammed if possible)
- Travel iron
- Flexoline clothesline
- Foot massager
- Immersion blender
- Feist CD (The Reminder is all the rage, right?)
- Molton Brown bath & body products
# (2) 16 Sep 2007, 04:37PM: Your Passion, Their Power:
Back on June 9th or so, way before Fog Creek and I parted ways, I read a blog entry on how to hire people for startups and posted a comment that doesn't show up there anymore. Marc Andreessen took down comments on his blog because it would take too much time to moderate them (definitely a better alternative than letting them run amok). So I'm reposting it here, slightly edited:
One of the good things about our industry is that there are frequently lots of new jobs being created and so you're almost never pushing someone out onto the street...
And, the implication runs, anyone driven enough can get another job anyway (in their city, with health insurance that starts instantly, even during recessions, etc.).
The drive/curiosity criteria do exclude some smart people. For example, the candidate who's just coming back into the job market from full-time parenting is only now getting up-to-speed on Sarbox, Vista, what have you. And this person might even make his family a priority (taking allotted vacation time and weekends)!
Startups don't like people like that. The drive and curiosity Marc seeks require sacrifice. What gets sacrificed? A job secure enough to support a spouse, or get health care for the kids. The time to volunteer for a charity, or take care of elderly relatives. Ongoing cultural literacy and engagement.
These tips sound like a great way to find Janissaries who will build your company as they build their careers. They've sharpened their ambitions, honing them to a point, shaving away concerns that regular humans might think important. You won't get "well-rounded," but you didn't ask for that. You want workers who will live and breathe the company with you. And you don't actually want people who care more about something else - family, church, dance -- than about their careers.
Marc basically says as much when he says that it doesn't matter to him why people feel driven - guilt, Type A personalities, what have you. What did happy, contented people ever do for corporate America?
In my del.icio.us-ing I said, "Marc Andreessen and Paul Graham believe that startups shouldn't bother hiring people who care about anything but career." Or, perhaps, once you're hiring people who aren't willing to sleep overnight at the office, you're no longer a Real True Startup.
That article on Chinese manufacturing included a telling quote:
A factory work shift is typically 12 hours, usually with two breaks for meals (subsidized or free), six or seven days per week. Whenever the action lets up--if the assembly line is down for some reason, if a worker has spare time at a meal break--many people place their heads down on the table in front of them and appear to fall asleep instantly. Chinese law says that the standard workweek is 40 hours, so this means a lot of overtime, which is included in the pay rates above. Since their home village may be several days' travel by train and bus, workers from the hinterland usually go back only once a year. They all go at the same time--during the "Spring Festival," or Chinese New Year, when ports and factories effectively close for a week or so and the nation's transport system is choked. "The people here work hard," an American manager in a U.S.-owned plant told me. "They're young. They're quick. There's none of this 'I have to go pick up the kids' nonsense you get in the States."
It gives me pause to know that this person from my country, a manager to whom probably hundreds of workers report, considers obligations to one's family "nonsense."
If you consider your job a means to an end, you can make the appropriate trade-offs. But if you get passionate about your work, especially at a workplace you don't control, then it has power over you, like a lover or a government. "Work hard" is a code phrase that bosses will use, sometimes knowingly, to make your life worse.
# (1) 17 Sep 2007, 01:57PM: To Write: Business Lessons From The Mahabharata:
- "How to depreciate an elephant"
- "Me or my weapons? Domain experience and the people-focused enterprise"
- "Draupadi and Just-In-Time Inventory" (food or sex? you decide!)
# 21 Sep 2007, 12:14PM: Sumana
Performs This Sunday Twiddles Her Thumb:
This weekend I'm doing a monologue workshop called "Performing Your Life". Mike Daisey, a performer I like a lot, is teaching it. On Sunday the 23rd, at 9pm, those of us who want can perform the piece we've been working on. I'm pretty sure I'll be one of them. The show will be at 9pm at The Tank, in the Tribeca neighborhood of Manhattan. Probably my performance will be between five and ten minutes, but it might be fun for you to see anyway.
By the way, in November Daisey is performing his "Great Men of Genius" quartet again, in New York. I never got to see the P.T. Barnum one, and would love to see them all over again.
Update on Sunday the 23rd: Nope, won't be performing. The show got moved to Wednesday, when I have a class. Blargh.
# 23 Sep 2007, 08:46AM: Performing *My* Life:
I'm about to leave for the second day of the "Performing Your Life" two-day intensive workshop. Somehow I hadn't bargained how interesting it would be to hear other people's stories! By the end of today I'll have at least twenty neat new stories to tell you.
I won't be performing publicly tonight due to a scheduling fiasco. Bah.
# 24 Sep 2007, 02:44PM: Details:
Today the leader of Iran speaks at Columbia. Tonight I have class at Columbia. Show ID, use a different gate, hope the rally noise is over by the time class starts. I'd gotten used to the noise at Berkeley, but since there are no gates blocking most entrances to the Berkeley campus, the entry/exit limitations will be new.
# (2) 25 Sep 2007, 09:01PM: Notes From Classes:
One of my classes has me reading The World Is Flat by Thomas "Airmiles" Friedman. I can skim it quickly because Friedman isn't talking to me, he's talking to the average American (specifically a non-techie whose parents were born in the US). Were I taking notes, they would read:
Chapter 1: Crap I already know
Chapter 2: Crap I already know
Chapter 3: Crap I already know
The professor has us reading it for the anecdotes, especially so he can brag/give details about the ones where he was involved. I skim fast enough to get them, but wince at the errors, e.g., p. 95, "BitTorrent is a website..." Leonard noticed one:
"Wow, CollabNet was founded in 2004?!" [p. 112]
"Did you know that for 4 years you worked for a nonexistent company?"
"It felt like it."
Cheap shots give the best ROI! Anyway.
In the storytelling workshop I took this last weekend, Mike Daisey (the teacher) made an interesting point. We tell stories to ourselves and each other all the time, to make sense of things. And when we use stories to work through our issues, to process numinous or terrible memories, certain tactics help. We explain, we repeat, we lick our wounds, we figure out what symbolizes what, we explicitly create morals and lessons. But irreducible mystery, lessons left ambiguous and unsaid, make for better art. The way you tell an artistic story requires that you leave undone things you'd do when telling a therapeutic story.
I can see this. But this means that there are certain tendencies in the artist -- as Elisa DeCarlo put it, you have to keep your guard down internally and externally -- that don't bode well for my concept of mental health. The artist has to stay intimate with disturbing thoughts, and avoid explaining away their power.
Flea and Leonard (in "Mud") are only two of the artists who have lamented that it's hard to create art while content. And this reminds me of other hypotheses floating around my brain, like a similar hypothesis about the cognitive habits that make good programmers and bad friends/coworkers/citizens, or the old chestnut about the incompatibility between ambition and contentment.
So: if you have a choice, what do you choose? And if you don't have a choice in how you've been built, then how do you adjust and learn to live in your own skin?
# 29 Sep 2007, 12:37PM: Upcoming Media Experiences:
Sunday: I see my friend Michael Rehse in the closing performance of EMERGENCY CONTRACEPTION!: THE MUSICAL.
Monday: I exchange short stories with my friend and ex-colleague Michael Gorsuch. I have most of the plot for mine but I have to write it today.
Friday, October 5th: Finishing The Game, from Better Luck Tomorrow directory Justin Lin, opens at the IFC in New York. I saw the trailer just now and instantly knew I must see it ASAP. Come with!
You can hire me through Changeset Consulting.
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