<M <Y
Y> M>

(2) : If The Election Debates Were Like High School Debate:

Filed under:


: Happiness At Work: I really like writing technical specifications and recruiting. Today I did both!


: Subjects And Objects In Geek Careers: I love reading Derek Lowe's In The Pipeline to glimpse the shape of the biochem industry: what's inherently hard, what's common, and what's revolutionary. The grammar is familiar if the nouns aren't. This came through quite clearly in his recent post, "Hard Times: A Manifesto".

The more I think about all the research layoffs that have been going on for the last year or two around the industry, the more I think that we really are seeing a change in the way drug discovery is being done....

Everyone knows - including the people in Shanghai and Hyderabad - that the difficult, high-level research is still not being done there. That'll change, as the human and physical infrastructure improves, but the bulk of the outsourced chemistry is methyl-ethyl-butyl-futile stuff. It's "Hey, make me a library based on this scaffold structure" or "Hey, make me fifty grams of this intermediate"....

So improve your skills. Learn new techniques, especially the ones that are just coming out and haven't percolated down to the crank-it-out shops in the low-wage countries. Stay on top of the latest stuff, take on tough assignments. Keeping your head down in times like these will move you into the crowd that looks like it can be safely let go.

The comment thread includes much sniping at US firms that hire immigrants. According to protectionists, there is some static number of jobs available for research chemists, forever, and the only effects of "allowing" a US-based organization to hire a chemist who was not born in the US are to drive down wages and deprive a native-born US citizen of that job. They also hold that long-term benefits to the industry and country from immigrants are a myth, unnecessary, slight, or past.

I find these sorts of attitudes astonishing, not just because they're angry and incoherent, but because in a software developer they would betray a complete lack of initiative. There is no way to simultaneously hold these views and to conduct one's career with the attitude of an entrepreneur. Analyzing opportunities, targeting positions and markets, networking, and generally taking initiative means viewing situations as dynamic, not static. What's growing? What's dying? How can I ride that wave? And if someone is thinking that way, then naturally she recognizes the likelihood that an immigrant's discovery or shoestring startup will create a new and profitable micro-industry, and that US universities gain tremendous value from being world capitals of science research.

I'm interested in constructing a software equivalent of srp's list of biochemistry dogmas ripe for profitable questioning:

1) Rational drug design is the best way to find good treatments. We should try to target precisely one receptor with one molecule.
2) We need to understand the mechanism of action of a drug in order for it to be successful.
3) Drugs that are safe and effective in humans are likely to also be safe and effective in animal models. (We know that the converse is false, which is why we use rigorous human testing.)
4) The incentives of the FDA and patients are very well aligned.
5) The discovery of new therapeutic regimes using combinations of existing off-patent drugs does not deserve to be rewarded.
Filed under:


: Thank You, Eliza Mulcahy: If there is one thing I have learned from Obama Pics Daily it is that the candidates have to eat in public, a lot, and they often look silly while doing so. Barack Obama is capable of immensely enjoying ice cream and milkshakes. I found Obama Pics Daily via the aww-inducing YES WE CAN (HOLD BABIES).

I do not know who curates Obama Pics Daily! whatsgood is the username, to which question I respond: Obama Pics Daily is good.


(1) : Meetup Roundup: The monthly New York Tech Meetup continues to put on a good show. It used to be free to get in but now you have to prepay $10 on the Meetup site to RSVP, since they have to rent spaces that can hold 400 people. It's worth it for the demos and the hobnobbing, although I fear students and shoestring startup types will come less now that there's a price.

This month's demos and talks featured six neat ideas and one fizzler.

  1. I'm In Like With You does social/casual multiplayer games like Hamster Battle. They've created an open API for networked games creation so developers can leverage existing "highscores, matchmaking, user-registration, stats, social features, and multiplayer server management" features. This could be a superlatively useful platform for indie and newbie games creators.

    The site is also open sourcing all their games past, present and future. However, when Fred Benenson asked what license they're using to open source their games, Charles Forman responded that they haven't chosen one. That's just asking for trouble, and I wouldn't hack on anything I cared about under an unspecified license.

  2. rmbrME, or Remember Me, does contact exchange via SMS & a really standards-compliant vCard. This sidesteps all the poxy interchange barriers among PDAs and carriers; every phone can do SMS and every contacts program can read a vCard. Founder Gabe Zichermann points out that paper business cards are like paper checks. rmbrME sounds great for sales folks and mega-networkers.

  3. Change.org has specialized blogs by paid writers to post about important issues and point people to ways they can donate/help out with causes (e.g. criminal justice issues). They had a wide-open period to find out what causes people cared about, but then culled the dozen most popular causes and chose to focus on them. Note that there is an editorial process; it's not all bottom-up.

  4. Family Builder helps you look for living relatives using social network sites -- they've built versions for Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, Hi5, etc. that can all talk to each other. My LDS friends will be interested to know that you can import your existing genealogical data from other services, such as Ancestry.com, using a standard format. Family Builder is also selling kits to do DNA testing. Since you're just using this DNA to track down ancestors, and not finding out whether you're at risk for Parkinson's, your state health department will probably be fine with it.

  5. TheLadders, a premium jobs site, decided to make an iPhone app basically for fun. An internal competition ensued and several teams formed to write apps. The winning app leveraged preinstalled components on iPhones (Safari and SQLite; I bet the latter is there for Mail), stored data in SQLite, and then used jQuery & AJAX to make the app quick & responsive.

  6. Speaking of iPhone apps, the developer of Aqua Hoops (a casual iPhone game costing 99 cents) gave a humorous presentation on his inspiration, lessons learned, and profits. E.J. Mablekos advises that, if you're thinking of selling an iPhone app, you should get the 1-week seller approval process over with right away so it doesn't slow you down when you're ready to release. As funny NYTM talks go, Mablekos wasn't in the same league as Will Carlough's February 2006 Double Feature Finder demo, but it's hard to top that (video).

  7. CollabFinder is a social network where awesome designers can find awesome software developers, and vice versa, to collaborate on noncommercial personal projects, and that's it. Sahadeva Hammari, the presenter, has made strong design choices and has a great name that reminds me of home. He also likes to say "awesome." These things remind me of Ryan North and Project Wonderful and make me happy.

  8. The makers of Adarky (an ad-replacer that lets you choose what ads to see) could learn something from Project Wonderful. Anyone who goes to the effort to install the Adarky plugin is a perfect candidate to simply install an adblocker, which is less work. The hand-wavy boil-the-ocean strategy for getting ads and making money off the whole thing got the worst reception of the night.

    Urbis, a prior project by the same folks, seems much more interesting. It's akin to the fan fiction sites, except that it's meant for commercially publishable fiction. I hope all the opportunities are legit; Making Light has taught me to be cautious of agents who seek out new writers.

TheLadders sponsored a cocktail hour, I exchanged business cards for resumes, IAC let us watch the second Presidential debate on their huge screens, and those who drank every time McCain said "My friends" got in over their heads. A good meetup.


(3) : Notable: If there's one iota of wisdom I remember from Reader's Digest's "Quotable Quotes," it's that good stories feature ordinary people doing extraordinary things or extraordinary people doing ordinary things. This model explains to me why superhero comics get so boring -- if everything's extraordinary, then nothing is -- and yet another reason why plotless character studies written after Jackson/Hemingway/Fitzgerald get on my nerves (more complaining here).

Fortunately, real life comes chock full of the ordinary/extraordinary reversals. And there's never been a better time to capture them. We mundanes document ourselves with blogs and cameras, strip-mining our lives for something memorable. And paparazzi hunt down the ordinary moments of celebrated characters so we can watch them get the paper or carry a garment bag from a car to a hotel.

By the way, I saw those Obama photos and remembered Leonard of five years ago:

My doomed attempt at a photo op to create a surge of populism for my gubernatorial campaign.

If Obama Pics Daily is any measure, Leonard just needed a better photographer (viz., someone other than me). (For more recontextualization foto fun, compare Kris's silly alterations to their sources. Or just make a macro of scary finger-wiggling Obama.)

The reason that Quotable Quote's been in my mind is because of John's hilarious account of his trip to a megarich client on a private jet, and our conversation about it last night. He said it was surreal and completely outside the realm of any experience he'd ever had before; he found himself asking, "Is this really happening?" And indeed, whenever I've heard truly joyous or terrible news, or undergone a remarkable experience, the biggest surprise is that it's taking place in the same context as the rest of my boring life. No soundtrack, no paparazzi, no preface, just time ticking by at one second per second the same as anywhere and anywhen else.

Filed under:


(1) : We Make The Subtext - The Text!*: Last night Hal [happy returns of the day, Hal!] told me a tale of a job-hunting workshop he attended wherein the leader told him, without irony, that he needed to pump more buzzwords into his resume. Yes, she said the word "buzzwords." She specifically recommended "proactive" and "think outside the box."

I cringed, not just because that's horrible, but because I can talk like that without thinking about it. And I'm glad it helps clients and bosses understand me, but I don't want to turn into a duckspeaker. So it's good to examine my shorthand and write it out in longhand once in a while.

One fraught word with several confusing meanings is "political," as in, "There's a lot of politics here" or "this is a very political situation." We hear stories about "political" workplaces where the term is a dis, but these last weeks of the US Presidential election make for a lesson, polished and cut, in why "politics" becomes a dirty word.

People don't use "political" to mean that we have to make decisions to allocate scarce resources. Or rather, if that's true but it's a decision that doesn't get bound up with anyone's allegiance or values, we say it's "strategic." "Political" means "emotional" or "touchy" or "dangerous, not to our goal but to people we'll need to support that goal."

At its worst, "politics" doesn't just mean that people don't like to look bad. It means that people let their obsession with status and chain of command get in the way of getting things done, and will in fact sabotage useful progress (consciously or not). And it limits the discourse to things that won't offend anyone, which -- when the truth is offensive -- means constant lies of omission.

"Politics" means that, instead of discussing disagreements like adults, people either throw tantrums like babies, or whisper and deceive and manipulate and sublimate conflicts like bullying schoolgirls.

"Politics" means that you have to humor and tiptoe around everyone like they're my dad.

"Politics" means that there are important things, things crucial to the success of the nation, that you're not allowed to say.

This means a politician must slow way the hell down every time she sends an email or takes on a task. Because she needs to calibrate herself. How do I phrase this as delicately as possible? Which audience do I select? Since too much information "confuses" some people, how do I minimize the payload of each of my messages? And so on, calibrating, hewing to "appropriate" talking points until they becomes second nature, then first.

I'd like this dance more if I thought it was a cooperative one where everyone got something out of it. As it is I'd prefer frankness. And I think adults in the citizenry, and workplace, generally should prefer that, and they're wusses if they prefer the truckling manipulation that they're calling tact.

Transparency, trust, boldness, and long-term investment and empowerment of non-bosses doesn't sound like politics as usual. In fact, if "politics" equals dysfunction, it doesn't sound like politics at all. But it is. It's politics -- the allocation of scarce resources -- with an entrepreneurial, dynamic mindset, instead of a tired zero-sum blame game.

"Entrepreneur" sounds nice, doesn't it? In a sense, the buzzwords "Business," "businesslike," "enterprise," and "professional" are the opposite of "entrepreneur," and show up in the kinds of arguments that don't acknowledge that they're arguments. The subtext for "businesslike/professional" goes like this:

The business's aim is to make money, so it must maintain profitable, long-term relationships with clients and employees. Ergo, the customers must trust the business to perform its duties competently, so as to continue their patronage and recommend services to others. Customers use certain measures of demeanor and register as proxies for trustworthiness. Thus, the business's employees must meet the customer's expectations, both in demeanor and register.

Which ends up as special "client-facing" codewords, a taboo on salary transparency, and dress codes. Speaking of dress, I'm guessing every feminist has a bone to pick with "feminine" or "modest". By definition anything I do is feminine. "Modest" and "feminine" crossed with "business" (especially "business casual") give me headaches: exactly what fabrics am I allowed to wear, and what about the inch of skin under my collarbone, and are unshaven legs or inch-long buzzcuts going to be a problem? I end up looking like a male engineer from 1950, matching two out of three desired buzzwords.

A larger question: how do you open up the pre-sealed bag of salad greens that is a buzzword and see if anything's rotted? Sometimes, when I make conversation partners stop to unpack our assumptions, we all come away with insights, as in a PSA for the value of diversity. Sometimes I just feel misunderstood or sense that I'm a pain in the ass. My third-rate Socrates impression, otherwise known as passive aggression, runs the risk of annoying friends and lowering my status with every question at work ("I haven't seen any women at that client, so would this outfit count as business casual to them?"). But speaking the subtext gets the frown; of course the reason it's subtext is that it's so tense and possibly unjustifiable. How political.

* to the tune of "Shave and a Haircut"

Filed under:


: Quote Of The Day: "The American story is one of redemption and hope. That's my story and I'm sticking to it."


(2) : California Voters: Californians: today's your last day to register to vote for this year's election. And you can vote early to avoid lines and broken machines, and free up your election day for volunteering and get-out-the-vote work.

I wish I could vote against California's Proposition 8.


(2) : We Are The That Ones We Have Been Waiting For: Barack Obama's campaign's momentum (or Omentum if you will) causes me as a manager to marvel at the fusion of inspiration and discipline his organization manifests. Hmm, whodathunk a community organizer would know how to organize self-sustaining political communities?! I've touched on this topic briefly, earlier this month, but it deserves close attention.

Remember, people used to think the Clinton machine was the best there was. But with the right tools, investment in time, and leadership, a networked/egalitarian group will beat a linear, top-down group. Interestingly, when Hillary Clinton wrote her senior thesis on Alinsky, she recognized the limits of his top-down model:

Another [criticism] she laid charitably to an Alinsky character trait: "One of the primary problems of the Alinsky model is that the removal of Alinsky dramatically alters its composition," she wrote. "Alinsky is a born organizer who is not easily duplicated, but, in addition to his skill, he is a man of exceptional charm."
By the way, here is where she and Obama turn onto different roads:

Her options after graduation were attending law school at Harvard or Yale, traveling to India on a Fulbright scholarship, or taking the job with Alinsky's new training institute...
Imagine if she'd gone to India! She might have turned into Sonia Gandhi!

Obama built on Howard Dean's "50-state strategy," a long-term investment that is paying off right now in national, state, and local races. But more than that, inside the Obama campaign they recursively build leadership. They recruit and train leaders to recruit and train leaders to recruit and train leaders. The revolutionary technology includes software and three-ring binders telling you how to go recursive. It would be a pyramid scheme if the leaders were just going to reap profit and scurry away when the workers weren't looking, which has happened in previous attempts at this model. But if the organization can devise compelling new goals, as compelling as replacing Bush with Obama, then it will be a force to watch even after November 4th. Can it?

Speaking of technology, I'd be interested to see a comprehensive roundup of all campaigns' use of tech in this election cycle. MoveOn.org created a tool to let you customize the text in a video on their server, Sean Tevis used xkcd to springboard his run, and Obama '08 released an iPhone app that tells you to call swing state residents in your address book. And of course there are zillions of YouTube videos. Those are cool examples, but what were the breakthroughs and what's the new baseline for American political tech?

The Zack Exley report from inside the campaign details the risks of Obama's infrastructure investment, and what dividends it's paying. "Rather than say we have X leadership roles to fill, we're creating leadership roles for as many leaders as we have. So we have people in charge of whatever they ARE," says Patrick Frank, volunteer-turned-field organizer. (This is the Punch Bowl Czar done right!) I am amused to learn that the rules from the top include "no drama". Does empowering volunteers and staffers help them let off steam, staving off frustration, low morale, and drama in general?

A few months ago, after Obama won the primaries and caucuses he needed to become the nominee, Leonard and I watched a speech he gave to his headquarters staff [partial transcript]. (Leonard, who poured his heart into the Wesley Clark campaign last go-round, said, "So that's the speech you get if you win.") Commenters on the video say, "I wish that was my boss." But Obama doesn't just want to be that kind of leader -- he wants to make you that kind of leader.

Three years ago, the headlines made me want to "become a manager, a good one." I looked at Katrina and said, "For God's sake, we have to do better than that. And I could do better!" I wanted, and still want, to reduce the net amount of mismanagement in the world. We owe ourselves competence. But Obama's campaign has a higher aspiration yet. How will it change its people, and our expectations?

neighborhood team leader Jennifer Robinson, speaking as her seven-year-old daughter sits beside her

The last image from Exley's report is a photo of neighborhood team leader Jennifer Robinson, speaking as her seven-year-old daughter sits beside her. She stands as though swearing the oath of office. We dedicate ourselves to each other.

Filed under:



[Main]

You can hire me through Changeset Consulting.

Creative Commons License
This work by Sumana Harihareswara is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available by emailing the author at sh@changeset.nyc.