When I am king, part 1: engineers will make coffee


The engineers of the world will be lined up in stocks.

And we will run the almost-empty coffee pot from the common kitchen under their nose. We will let them breathe from the sticky black coffee/tar that lines the bottom of the pot.

And we will ask them: did you make a new pot of coffee today?

We already know that the answer is no. Unicorns, the perpetual motion machine, Santa Claus, and engineers who make coffee when the pot is empty—none of them exist.

We will get to the bottom of this.

We will give them The Fear.

When I am king.

Hygiene factors in action

I finished reading Work and the Nature of Man by Frederick Herzberg two weeks ago. Since then, the universe has decided to give some lessons in how it works in order to bring the point home.

In short, Herzberg’s two points are: (a) hygiene factors are the baseline things at work that can cause dissatisfaction if missing, but not increase satisfaction much if they are present (job security, salary, work conditions, etc.); (b) motivation factors are the things that cause satisfaction, but not increase dissatisfaction much if they are missing (responsibility, meaningful work, etc.). The idea is that you can’t look at work from a single angle to understand job satisfaction. Rough idea.

So at work, they eliminated the numbered parking spaces (unless you’re an executive). I haven’t been at the company long enough to get one. The minimum service time for that is at least ten years, maybe fifteen, and the people that have been working there thirty years have a decent spot closer to the door.

Had a spot.

Maybe there’s a good reason for it. The mass email we got explained things like safety and cost and some other reasons I don’t remember. Widely derided. Especially by the people who lost their spots, who think that the hand in the middle of their back is pushing them just a little harder now to leave so that the company doesn’t have to pay their higher salaries anymore. It was a nice benefit, even if I didn’t get it, even though I get to park closer now. Right or wrong—it’s the feeling that lingers.

Here are some notes I pulled from the book:

How comfortable it is to be able to earn a living today on yesterday’s knowledge, but how often this leads to obsolescence. [Chapter 5: Psychological Growth]

It is in the exposure to the unfamiliar that we look for evidence of psychological growth. Is it not legitimate to ask, after a job assignment, whether an employee has learned anything–has he in this case added to what he knows? For success does not necessarily accompany psychological growth, while very often failure gives rise to considerable growth. To be sure, all tasks do not provide much in the way of the unfamiliar, particularly because jobs today are so very much overstructured. [Chapter 5: Psychological Growth]

Of course, attention to hygiene needs is important, for without it any organization will reap the consequences of unhappy personnel. The error lies in assuming that prevention will unleash positive feelings the the returns of increased creativity, productivity, lowered absenteeism and turnover, and all the other indices of manpower efficiency. [Chapter 9: What Do We Do?]

But, in addition to the compounding of the problems of industry that result from an inadequate definition of employee needs, there is the additional damage of sloughing off too much of man’s creativity. Initially this reduction in creativity is looked upon as the controlled used of man’s Abraham nature, because management fears that the need to be creative would run roughshod over the rational administration of the company. Typically, the creative man has been restricted and channeled to serve narrow and specific purposes of the company. This restriction and channeling may then lead to bureaucratic goals that are not designed to provide for the most efficient use of creativity but rather are actuated by fear of it. No institution can long remain dominant or successful if it overdetermines the control of man’s creativity and his achievement nature. I can quote, perhaps, no better authority than a man who certainly should have learned this lesson well. He is András Hegedüs, the former Prime Minister of Hungary during the Stalin era. In a recent study entitled Optimization and Humanization on the Modernization of Management Systems, Hegedüs concludes that “if optimization comes into the foreground, humanistic motives will be pushed into the background and, as a result, bureaucracy will become preponderant and finally the interests of optimization itself will be damaged.”[Chapter 9: What Do We Do?]

(Ref: http://www.szociologia.hu/dynamic/RewSoc_2009_1_93_111_HegedusA.pdf)

Pride in work, in successful accomplishment, in maximizing one’s talent, is becoming gauche or, tragically, it is becoming a victim of progress. We cry for the nurturing of human talent and find that we have no place for most of it; human talent on the job has become as much a surplus commodity as wheat. And where are our personnel managers? Their problem is hygiene, not the creative function of maximizing human resources.

The Protestant ethic is being replaced by an avoidance ethic in our world of work, and those in charge of personnel utilization have almost totally directed their efforts to maintenance procedures. This is seen at the very outset of employment, in the practice of college recruitment on the campus: each company sets up its own enticing tent, and selection is transformed into public relations, the luring of candidates, and what has become in fact the incredible situation in which the candidate interviews the interviewer.

Job-attitude data suggests that after the glow of the first year on the job, job satisfaction plummets to its lowest level in the work life of individuals. From a lifetime of diverse learning, successive accomplishments through the various academic stages and periodic reinforcement of efforts, the entrant to our modern companies finds a situation in which work does not provide an expanding psychological existence but, in fact, the opposite occurs, and successive amputations of his self-conceptions, aspirations, learning and talent are the consequences of earning a living. As the needs and values of our industrial enterprises have become the template for so many aspects of our lives, the universities are preparing many young people by performing the amputations early. The university graduates enter already primed for work only as a means of hygienic improvement, or, for those who are still capable of enjoying the exercise of their human talents, as a means of affording satisfaction off the job. If the number of management-development programs designed to re-educate managers is a valid sign, the educational system has done its job only too well.[Chapter 9: What Do We Do?]

Another teaching objective of the division of motivation would be to alter the basis of loyalty to the company from that embedded, in a sense, in hygiene to that of a more mature loyalty based on self-fulfillment. The quotation from professors Yadov and Zdravomyslov is most pertinent here. They felt that the Soviet workers who found little challenge in their jobs could not be motivated by appeals to their loyalty to the social value of their work. If the Russians can admit to such a conclusion, perhaps the leaders of our free-enterprise organizations can glimpse this truth once they honestly view their industrial relations.[Chapter 9: What Do We Do?]

(Ref: “A case study of attitude to labor”, Problems of Philosophy)

A discredited direction to job enlargement has been the addition of meaningless snippets of various activities to a job. This approach serves more to aggravate the condition than to ameliorate it. Two are three meaningless activities do not add up to a meaningful one.[Chapter 9: What Do We Do?]

I might add that many of the barriers to the fuller utilization of manpower that are “justified” by economic reasons are, in reality, devices of fearful and inadequate managers who are not prepared to meet the challenge of managing adults. [Chapter 9: What Do We Do?]

This is the entire appendix, which explains the factors

Appendix: First-Level Factors

As has been indicated, we define a first-level factor as an objective element of the situation in which the respondent finds a source for his good or bad feelings about the job, In this section we attempt to describe the criteria for each of our categories, so that the reader can understand what we mean when we refer to them in the discussion of our findings. These factors are listed not in the order of their importance but of their appearance in our coding scheme.

1. Recognition. The major criterion for this category was some act of recognition of the person speaking to us. The source could be almost anyone: a supervisor, another individual in management, management as an impersonal force, a client, a peer, a professional colleague or the general public. Some act of notice, praise or blame was involved. We felt that this category should include what we call “negative recognition,” that is, acts of criticism or blame. In our subcategories we differentiated be- tween situations in which rewards were given along with the acts of recognition and those in which there were no concrete re- wards. Note that we had many sequences in which the central event was a certain act, such as a promotion or a wage increase, which was not itself accompanied by verbal recognition but which was perceived by the respondent as a source of feelings of recognition. These sequences were coded under “recognition second level.”

One might ask, since we had a separate category for inter- personal relations, where we coded recognition and where we coded interpersonal relations. The defining characteristic was the emphasis on the act of recognition or on the characteristics of interaction. When the story included statements characterizing the nature of the interaction between the respondent and the supervisor, peer or subordinate, we coded the sequence as a story involving interpersonal relations. When the emphasis was merely on the act of recognition, this was not done.

2. Achievement. Our definition of achievement included also its opposite, failure, and the absence of achievement. Stories involving a specifically mentioned success were put into this category, and these included the following: successful completion of a job, solutions to problems, vindication and seeing the results of one’s work.

3. Possibility of growth. The inclusion of a possibility as an objective factor in the situation may sound paradoxical, but there were some sequences in which the respondent told us of changes in his situation involving objective evidences that the possibilities for his growth were increased or decreased. An illustration of this is a change in status that officially included a likelihood that the respondent would be able to rise in a company, or the converse. For example, if a man moves from a craftsman’s position to that of a draftsman, the new status opens up a previously closed door; he may eventually rise to the position of design engineer or perhaps even of project engineer. When the respondent told us that this had been clearly presented to him as part of his change, then possibility of growth was certainly considered as a first-level factor. Similarly, when an individual was told that his lack of formal education made it impossible for him ever to advance in the company, “negative” possibility for growth was coded.

Possibility of growth, however, has another connotation. It includes not only the likelihood that the individual would be able to move onward and upward within his organization but also a situation in which he is able to advance in his own skills and in his profession. Thus, included in this category were stories in which a new element in the situation made it possible for the respondent to learn new skills or to acquire a new professional outlook.

4. Advancement. This category was used only when there was an actual change in the person’s status or position in the company. In situations in which an individual transferred from one part of the company to another, with no change in status but with increased opportunities for responsible work, the change was considered an increased responsibility (for which we have a category) but not formally an advancement.

5. Salary. This category included all sequences of events in which compensation plays a role. Surprisingly enough, virtually all of these sequences involve wage or salary increases, or the unfulfilled expectation of salary increases.

6—8. Interpersonal relations. One might expect that interpersonal relations would pervade almost all of the sequences. They do play a role, necessarily, in situations involving recognition or changes in status within the company or company and management policies; however, we restricted our coding of interpersonal relations to those stories in which there was actual verbalization about the characteristics of the interaction between the person speaking and another individual. We set this up in terms of three major categories:

Interpersonal relations—superior

Interpersonal relations—subordinate

Interpersonal relations—peers.

Within each of these categories we used a series of subcategories, to describe various kinds of situations involving interaction between the person speaking and others. These subcategories would have enabled us to differentiate between the characteristics of interpersonal relationships that are purely social and those that are “sociotechnical,” as defined by J. A. C. Brown. A sociotechnical story involves interpersonal relationships that arise when people interact in the performance of their jobs. A purely social story might relate interactions that take place during working hours and on the premises of work but are independent of the activities of the job. A coffee-break friendship or a water- cooler feud are examples. As it turned out, we had virtually no stories of the purely social kind. Whether this result was due in some way to the set produced by our interviewing instructions, whether this is a characteristic of the level of people to whom we spoke, or whether in fact the nature of extra-job interpersonal relationships in the plant does not play so great a role as has been assumed, it is not at present possible to determine.

9. Supervision-technical. Although it is difficult to divorce the characteristics of interpersonal relationships with one’s super- visor from one’s behavior in carrying out his job, it seemed to us that it was not an impossible task. We were able, with a high degree of reliability among independent coders, to identify those sequences of events that revolved around the characteristics of interpersonal relationships and those, classified under the cate- gory of supervision-technical, in which the competence or incompetence, the fairness or unfairness, of the supervisor were the critical characteristics. Statements about the supervisor’s willingness or unwillingness to delegate responsibility, or his willingness or unwillingness to teach, would be classified under this category. A supervisor who is perpetually nagging or critical and a super- visor who keeps things running smoothly and efficiently might both be reported as factors in a sequence of events that led to exceptional feelings about the job.

10. Responsibility. Factors relating to responsibility and authority are covered in this category, which includes those sequences of events in which the person speaking reported that he derived satisfaction from being given responsibility for his own work or for the work of others or from being given new responsibility. It also includes stories in which there was a loss of satisfaction or a negative attitude toward the job stemming from a lack of responsibility. However, in cases in which the story revolved around a wide gap between a person’s authority and the authority he needed to carry out his job responsibilities, the factor identified was “company policy and administration.” The rationale for this was that such a discrepancy between authority and job responsibilities would be considered evidence of poor management.

11. Company policy and administration. This category describes those components of a sequence of events in which some over-all aspect of the company was a factor. We identified two kinds of over-all company policy and administration characteristics. One involved the adequacy or inadequacy of company organization and management. Thus, a situation can exist in which a man has lines of communication crossing in such a way that he does not really know for whom he is working, in which he has inadequate authority for satisfactory completion of his task or in which a company policy is not carried out because of inadequate organization of the work. The second kind of over-all characteristic of the company involved not inadequacy but the harmfulness or the beneficial effects of the company’s policies. These are primarily personnel policies. When viewed negatively, these policies are not described as ineffective, but rather as “malevolent.”

12. Working conditions. This category was used for stories in which the physical conditions of work, the amount of work or the facilities available for doing the work were mentioned in the sequence of events. Adequacy or inadequacy of ventilation, lighting, tools, space and other such environmental characteristics would be included.

13. Work itself. This category was used when the respondent mentioned the actual doing of the job or the tasks of the job as a source of good or bad feelings about it. Thus, jobs can be routine or varied, creative or stultifying, overly easy or overly difficult. The duties of a position can include an opportunity to carry through an entire operation or they can be restricted to one minute aspect of it.

14. Factors in personal life. As previously indicated, we did not accept sequences in which a factor in the personal life of an individual having nothing to do with his job was responsible for a period of good or bad feelings, even if these feelings affected the job. We did accept situations in which some aspect of the job affected the individual’s personal life in such a way as to make the effect a factor in the respondent’s feelings about his job. For example, if the company demanded that a man move to a new location in a community in which his family was unhappy, this was accepted as a valid sequence of events and was coded under the “personal life” category. Similarly, family needs for salary and Other family problems stemming from the job situation were acceptable.

15. Status. It would have been easy to slip into the trap of inferring status consideration from other factors. For example, it might be considered that any advancement would involve a change in status and ought to be thus coded. This was not done. “Status” was coded only when the respondent actually mentioned some sign or appurtenance of status as a factor in his feelings about the job. Thus, a person who spoke of having a secretary in his new position, of being allowed to drive a company car or of being unable to use a company eating facility gave us a story coded under this category.

16. Job security. Here again we were not dealing with feelings of security, since these were coded as second-level factors, but with objective signs of the presence or absence of job security. Thus, we included such considerations as tenure and company stability or instability, which reflected in some objective way on a person’s job security.

Jud Jud out of the blue

There are songs in your life that exist not just as an audio memory, but a spatial memory. Music so arresting that it’s not just the notes you remember, but the place where you heard it, the people you were with, the layout of the room or car or wherever you were at the time.

There are a few that come to mind immediately. “Waving My Dick in the Wind” by Ween—in an Oldsmobile with Tom and Dayvo, heading east on I-74, en route to Chicago, 1999. “Golden Age” by Beck, heading north out of Mojave, May 2005. “Karate” by Tenacious D after being pulled over for speeding in Yellowstone (but being released because the temporary construction speed limit sign had blown over).

(Side note: damn near everything is a spatial memory for me. I don’t know how it works for you, but so many memories in my brain are geotagged and full of x,y,z orientation. I did not ask for this.)

David Anthony posted this on Vice earlier this week: “The Story of Jud Jud, the World’s Only A Capella, Straight-Edge Hardcore Band“. And the music (“music”) welled up from a neuron that had long been left for dead.








Jud Jud. At Seb and Leia’s. Pre-kid(s?), post-dog. It’s all right there.

And hearing it again seven or eight years later brings back the same reaction: a half minute of curiosity (unique and original, no?), followed by the fifteen-minutes-into-a-shaggy-dog-story feeling of I’ve-just-been-suckered-into-a-joke-now-haven’t-I?, followed by a kind of weird respect for anyone that could take on a project like that earnestly.

You’re going to hate it.

Clams in black bean sauce (豉汁炒蚬)

I picked up the book Every Grain of Rice by Fuchsia Dunlop after hearing her conversation on the Sinica podcast last year: “The delights of cooking Chinese food: A conversation with chef and author Fuchsia Dunlop“. My wife gets to make the calls about which recipes I’ll try from the book. Fine by me—the cooking part is fun, the deciding part is no fun (too many choices… vapor lock in the brain…). It’s better this way.

Here’s the first go: 豉汁炒蚬 (chǐzhīchǎoxiǎn) – clams with black bean sauce


AOL Instant Messenger is Away

I tried to explain AOL Instant Messenger to my wife and she didn’t get it. Surely, she pointed out, I knew there were better messengers today. Well. Yeah. But. 

AIM is going away. I read it Friday morning, and my nostalgia gland swelled up and I’ve been a little lethargic and cranky ever since.


AIM came online when I was in high school and it caught fire while I was in college—right in the sweet spot of meeting and connecting with new people. Right in the sweet spot when the web still felt like it was being run by enthusiastic amateurs, so it didn’t feel embarrassing to not know what you were doing there.

The image of AIM in my mind is the dorm rooms in Allen Hall, mainly sophomore year. The sound of AIM, of course, is the opening and closing of doors. The doodoodee of messages. This is the clearest I’ve seen that place in my mind’s eye since being there.

So much for all that. It’s not software I’m nostalgic for now is it?

It’s like the times I’ve walked around campus at the University of Illinois this year, for the first time in ages. In the summer, between terms, when the place was a ghost town. Which is appropriate. Because it’s not the place I miss, it’s the ghosts that the place conjures. I expected a wanting to be back, in time and space. I didn’t feel that. But the missing limbs throbbed anyway.

And that’s what the news of AIM closing did. Ghosts steaming out of the past. Wispy, ephemeral. I know there were stories and usernames indelibly linked to the people behind them and the holygrail search for the one true clever away message. But the details are all gone. As they should be. They were never worthy of being kept. But like a horder I have a few damaged urges that drive me to want to collect the details. Record the ghosts in High Definition. Which is not the right format for ghost archival anyway.

What I wanted to do was log back in and just see the contents of my Buddy List. See if I could link the usernames to the people in my mind. One more walk down the hall before the old building is demolished.

I tried to login at aim.com, but no luck—my account must have been deactivated ages ago.

Fine. So be it.

Let the ghosts remain ghosts. Let them well up in peripheral vision, remaining there like a shadow in the corner of your eye even when you turn to look directly at them. Especially when you turn to look directly at them.

Habits – October 2017

I use an app called Way of Life to help develop some good habits. It’s kind of like some things that I had tried before using spreadsheets, but much simpler. Way of Life is all daily yes/no attributes—dishes all cleaned at the end of the day, ✓ check. Yes/no is all you get.

Every month, on the first of the month, I tune my list of habits. Here’s what I’ve got this month:

  1. Planks – general health, good way to start the day. I tune this routine each month as well. Now it’s a six-minute routine: 1:00 plank, 0:30 side plank, 0:30 other side plank, 1:00 bridge, 0:30 side plank, 0:30 other side plank, 1:00 one limb off the ground (rotating limbs, 1 cycle of all four per 0:30), 1:00 plank.
  2. Record 10 ideas – This comes from James Altucher: “How to Have GREAT Ideas“. Way harder than you think. Much easier to do hill running.
  3. Chinese word of the day – this was a side project that I started over the summer and let drop: zhwotd.com. Now it stands in for some of my language study.
  4. Clothes put away – it gets really easy to chuck work clothes and home clothes on the extra bed until it accumulates a fairly decent pile…
  5. Dishes cleaned – yeah, ditto

On the nice surprise of finding out you’re listening to Steve Martin on banjo

So there I was. (All good stories start this way.) Folding laundry, letting my podcasts run in whatever order they run without my interference. On comes NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts. I like this show—it brings me music I wouldn’t find on my own. Pandora likes to bring me things that are related to things I’ve already listened to and Approved.

So anyway. On comes a bluegrass instrumental. Then some banter. Then another song. Pretty good stuff. Ought to look these guys up later. And I pause the next song so I can leave the room without missing anything. That’s when I see that the band is Steve Martin and Steep Canyon Rangers. Huh. I had assumed that Steve Martin’s act was more
of a toy act—just the artistic explorations of a successful comedy performer—but it’s legit. Have a listen.

Porch garden 2017

Growing season is coming to a close on porch garden farm.

The tomatoes were a mixed success. The smaller ones grew fine, but the larger ones must have starved from lack of nutrients in the pot—none of the larger fruits survived. Chilis and fennel grew well—many more than needed. The basil died and came back, died and came back, died and came back. The green onions did nothing—until the day they seemed to arrive, fully formed. And we cut them and ate them, and they stayed low—until the day they seemed to arrive, fully formed.

And now that winter is coming—assuming, in 2017, winter is still a thing that exists—the question is, as operations move indoors: dirt or hydroponics? Which one gives me the best mix of growing something useful and not getting me kicked out of the apartment?

Planting on 24 April

Now reading: Work and the Nature of Man

Frederick Herzberg, Work and the Nature of Man (Goodreads)

I found this one via Seth Godin’s post about hygiene factors—a sort of baseline attribute that doesn’t matter much when it’s there, but is quite negative when it’s gone. Herzberg writes about it in this book.

Also I’m a sucker for picking up 50 year old books from the library. Completely different smell profile than a new book.


From Chapter 5:

How comfortable it is to be able to earn a living today on yesterday’s knowledge, but how often this leads to obsolescence.

It is in the exposure to the unfamiliar that we look for evidence of psychological growth. Is it not legitimate to ask, after a job assignment, whether an employee has learned anything–has he in this case added to what he knows? For success does not necessarily accompany psychological growth, while very often failure gives rise to considerable growth. To be sure, all tasks do not provide much in the way of the unfamiliar, particularly because jobs today are so very much overstructured.