A week in review, 2018-W28

There are no tariffs if you sign up for the Captain's Newsletter. Believe me.





The Mayor of a Ghost Town, The Atlantic, 2018-07-06


I needed to clean out some space in the refrigerator, so I helped myself to the two Ball jars of egg nog that I made in June 2017.



Survey results

Adi Boulos, Flight Director

Here's a great bit of news I saw today: NASA Names Six New Flight Directors to Lead Mission Control.

The second one is a guy I know: Adi Boulos. Back in the day, he was a member of the Illinois Space Society and helped us organize SpaceVision2005, the SEDS National Conference, at the University of Illinois. His job was to get the volunteer t-shirts. (Looked it up. Still have the files.) Good kid—none of them are kids anymore but they will always be kids—and I'm really happy he made it. With the upcoming moon missions, the proper post-Shuttle era of human spaceflight, he should have some pretty interesting missions to lead for the years to come.

Special work from home benefit: cop chase

(Theme music while you read—because You're Worth It.)

I decided to work from home in the afternoon. Why not? Nearly the entire team was traveling elsewhere for work. It gets a little unsettling to listen to the wind whistle down the rows of the cubicle farm. And I can work in basketball shorts at home.

So there I was. Doing work and definitely not sleeping. I know this because I saw, out of the window, a police SUV with red and blue lights following another white SUV into the apartment complex parking lot. Busted.

And the guy immediately gets out of the car. Uh oh. Post-July 4th fireworks.

The cop tried to urge him back into the car. Doesn't comply. Cop talks to his shoulder. Driver walks around the car. Cop walks around his own car, getting a safe angle to offer some more advice. Driver walks back around the car. Cop keeps his distance, talks some more to his shoulder. Driver walks down the driveway. Walks. Walks. Trots. Runs. Cop runs after. /Scene

A week in review, 2018-W27

Many people are saying that I drink bourbon and talk more about some of the following interesting things in the Captain's Newsletter.





In Search of Forgotten Colours - Sachio Yoshioka and the Art of Natural Dyeing, Victoria and Albert Museum, 2018-06-06


Lake Roberts, Ingersoll Scout Reservation


Intrinsic motivation vs extrinsic motivation vs get real paid

David Harrison and Eric Morath, In This Economy, Quitters Are Winning, Wall Street Journal, 2018-07-04

You know what? I wasn't going to say anything about this article. I posted it to LinkedIn. Then deleted it. I didn't want to look like a whiner. And I recently connected with my manager on LinkedIn.

Then today another engineer I enjoyed working with said sayonara. Jumped on the outbound train. I'm getting good at making hilarious responses to "goodbye I'm leaving/retiring" emails, if only because there are plenty of opportunities recently to practice.

Regarding the article: good for everyone cashing in. You should. Why not? If wage growth sucks: get paid. If your company thinks you're a commodity: get paid. No party lasts forever: get paid, sock it away, you might need it later.

Everyone knows you can bounce out of one gig and get paid to move to another. Bonus, moving bonus, raise, promotion, etc. But here's the kicker: imagine bouncing out, and then getting recruited to bounce back. Bonus, moving bonus, raise, promotion, etc., take two. Many people are saying that it's happening. Yes. If you decided not to listen to the poachers I mean recruiters, you missed two jumps.

I don't want to get mad about it. Or be jealous about it. But I also want to get real paid. I was thinking of buying a house this summer. Then I didn't—came up just short of the stake we wanted to post. So I have to answer to that while knowing that the solution to that problem was offered to me, but I declined.

Here's a fun article: Roland Bénabou and Jean Tirole, Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation, The Review of Economic Studies, Volume 70, Issue 3, 1 July 2003, Pages 489–520. (a .pdf copy for you to read here)

The short story is: people respond to incentives, except when they feel that what they're doing has some kind of intrinsic meaning, and then it gets fuzzy—fuzzy in that incentives can cause a negative reaction. But if the opposite is true—if the work doesn't have that intrinsic meaning—there better be some kind of obvious payoff, like a child being bribed with some candy to not be a jerk.

I have no conclusion to this post. From here, everything devolves. Talking about money is hard—for me, at least. It was never a Prime Motivator. I shifted jobs for Social Reasons (what we'll call, for the time being, blowing up a career for a girl... twice, although the second time can be filed under Good Decisions), not for Money Reasons. Out of those shifts, only once did it resolve in: get paid. So, in the final analysis, there's this uneasy tension between doing what seemed right at the time and counting dollars today. I'm not sure I won on either front, really. Maybe the tension is more like: making decisions on globally important factors that weren't locally important, and then paying for them later.

A week in review, 2018-W26

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From Counterculture to Cyberculture: The Legacy of the Whole Earth Catalog, Stanford University Libraries, 02006-11-09

Added to /links

Things to do: Riverfront Times events calendar


Working from home
Don't forget to move the mouse so IM doesn't show you as "away", Xiaoqi


The worship of the yardstick

I just read this article (the text of a presentation, really): James L. McConaughy, The worship of the yardstick, Educational Review, Vol. 55, No. 3, March 1918, pp. 191-200

(Yes, that is: nineteen eighteen.)

How did I get there? First, I read The Tyranny of Metrics, which cited Education and the Cult of Efficiency, which cited this article. (I like to follow the citations because I'm a Super-Fun Guy.) All three of them, for me, have ineluctable titles—tyranny, cult, worship—that leave little doubt about which direction they're approaching from. Moreover, they're all related to a problem that drives me crazy nearly every day: the unquenchable, unquestioning love for measurement at work.

It's out of balance. On a recent project, metrics (the word that means "measurement" at work) accounted for nearly 50% of our group's time—so much so that it was necessary at the culmination to bring in extra people to actually do the work. Here's a natural question to ask: did the work get done? Of course not. Mission Accomplished.

Here's where I drive people crazy: I push back. But I think I'm misunderstood. Because I'm such a smooth talker when I get worked up. I'm not against metrics or measurement—I use measurements unprompted in my own life—but rather the mindless way in which they're applied. I get upset when the project bureaucrat asks why a document is only 84% done when the plan clearly states that it should be 87% done. It's like someone knocking on the bathroom door, upset that you're only 84% done taking a dump when you've clearly been in there long enough to be 87% done. What? Anyway. It's not a real measurement. There is no such thing as an 84% done document. It's a heuristic. It's not real. But measurements become very real when everyone pretends they're real. And measurements become the standard against which rewards and punishments are meted out. After a while people forget that the numbers aren't real, and they don't think very deeply about what the measurements mean. And they don't have any feeling in their hearts for the product itself, which is just some sort of abstract byproduct of the process.

I will die on this hill.

Here's one other worry that I have about the cult of metrics. Whenever I get saddled with some new measurement, I try to find a way before the end of the day to automate the calculation. I get to do a little bit of thinking while setting up the algorithm, and it costs me less time over the long haul. Win-win. But what becomes of the people who every day, every week, etc., devote non-negligible amounts of their time to manually calculating things that are easy to replace with a program? I guess we'll find out.

A week in review, 2018-W25



Errors of omission

Now for a key fact: accounting systems in the western world only take account of errors of commission, the less important of the two types of error. They take no account of errors of omission. Therefore, in an organization that frowns on mistakes and in which only errors of commission are identified, a manager only has to be concerned about doing something that should not have been done. Because errors of omission are not recorded they often go unacknowledged. If acknowledged, accountability for them is seldom made explicit. In such a situation a manager who wants to invoke as little disapproval as possible must try either to minimize errors of commission or transfer to others responsibility for those he or she makes.

The best way to do this is to do nothing, or as little as one can get away with. This is a major reason that organizations do not make radical changes.

—Russell L. Ackoff. "Why Few Organizations Adopt Systems Thinking". Systems Research and Behavioral Science 23 (December 2006): 705-708.