David Dobbs, The Science of Success, The Atlantic (2009-12-01). The coup also showed something more straightforward: that a genetic trait tremendously maladaptive in one situation can prove highly adaptive in another. We needn’t look far to see this in human behavior. To survive and evolve, every society needs some individuals who are more aggressive, restless, stubborn, submissive, social, hyperactive, flexible, solitary, anxious, introspective, vigilant—and even more morose, irritable, or outright violent—than the norm.
Jill Lepore, What the Gospel of Innovation Gets Wrong, The New Yorker (2014-06-16). Disruptive innovation is a theory about why businesses fail. It’s not more than that. It doesn’t explain change. It’s not a law of nature. It’s an artifact of history, an idea, forged in time; it’s the manufacture of a moment of upsetting and edgy uncertainty. Transfixed by change, it’s blind to continuity. It makes a very poor prophet.
Now reading: Wisdom at Work (2019-05-03). The reason for picking up this book is mostly tactical. I want to convince a certain target audience to pick up the mantle as an elder—an experienced person with something to give rather than something to prove.
Finite (2019-05-01). What if the things I'm doing now—today—aren't as bad as I think? And so what if the things we played were bad? Like when we played the Violent Femmes' "Blister in the Sun" at The Embassy, but the pace got out of control? So what? No humans were harmed in the making of these memories.
Andrew Chaikin, Who Took the Legendary Earthrise Photo From Apollo 8?, Smithsonian Magazine (2018-01-01). When I got to the tape of the Earthrise, I had absolutely no trouble recognizing the voices. I could clearly hear that it was Anders who first saw the Earth coming up, not Borman. It was Borman who said, "Don't take that, it's not scheduled," and I realized he was teasing Anders about his strict adherence to the photo plan (because, as the tapes also revealed, when Borman wanted to take a "tourist photo" of a crater hours earlier, Anders told him not to). I listened as Anders urgently asked Lovell for a roll of color film. Then Lovell was at his own window and the two men argued about who had the better view. Lovell demanded Anders hand over the camera; Anders told Lovell to calm down. Finally, Anders snapped two color pictures. Hearing this historic moment unfold I felt like a stowaway aboard Apollo 8.
Charles Bramesco, Is Apocalypse Now: Final Cut the best version we'll ever see?, The Guardian (2019-04-29). Last night, whatever opposition this film once faced was a distant memory, as Coppola dispensed wisdom from the right side of posterity. "If you want to make art," he said, "you have to be comfortable with risk, and taking a chance that you know best." Soderbergh put it even more succinctly: "I don't know what to say, other than that you gambled and you won." Coppola beamed at the instant round of applause, surrounded by irrefutable evidence that he had made the right decisions, even if they seemed crazy at the time. They say textbooks are written by the victors, and because he just so happened to be a genius with talent too great to be denied, Coppola now gets the privilege of setting his own legacy.
Bridey Heing, Midwesterners Have Seen Themselves As Being in the Center of Everything.'', Longreads (2019-04-23). One thing that really blew me away was that some migrant farm workers who were coming from Mexico to the rural Midwest had ancestors from the rural Midwest who were forced out in the early 20th century. So in that sense, people who are sometimes denounced in political discourse as alien others who should be walled out of the United States are actually struggling for a right of return.
Andrew Russell and Lee Vinsel, Opinion: The Joy of Standards, The New York Times (2019-02-16). Standards have always struggled with an image problem. Critics worry that a standardized world is dull and mediocre, a nightmare of conformity and Kafkaesque bureaucracy. Yet the champions of standardization insist that standards create the foundations for a better world. Albert Whitney, who was the standards committee's chairman from 1922 to 1924, argued that many accomplishments of civilization involved "the fixation of advances." The committee's motto in the 1920s declared: "Standardization is dynamic, not static; it means not to stand still, but to move forward together.""
Jia Tolentino, Stepping Into the Uncanny, Unsettling World of Shen Yun, The New Yorker (2019-03-19). Part of the seeming strangeness of Shen Yun could be attributed to a latent Orientalism on the part of Western viewers—including those of us who are of Asian descent. But the real root of Shen Yun's meme-friendly eeriness is that the ads brightly and aggressively broadcast nothing at all; this is why it's so easy to imagine them popping up in Ebbing, Missouri, or in the extended Blade Runner universe, or on Mars. The ads have to be both ubiquitous and devoid of content so that they can convince more than a million people to pay good money to watch what is, essentially, religious-political propaganda—or, more generously, an extremely elaborate commercial for Falun Dafa's spiritual teachings and its plight vis-à-vis the Chinese Communist regime.
Shane Parrish, The Distrust of Intellectual Authority, Farnam Street (2019-02-18). Don't get me wrong. Reasoned skepticism and disagreement are essential to progress and democracy. The problem is that most of what's happening isn't reasoned skepticism. It's the adult equivalent of a two-year-old throwing a tantrum.
Sometimes experts are wrong and the common citizen is right, but those occasions are few and far between. What's growing is our inability to distinguish between experts being wrong occasionally and experts being wrong consistently. Participants in public debate search for loopholes and exceptions—anything that provides an excuse to disregard opinions they don't like.
This sets up binaries and polarities, demanding that things be either true or false. This eliminates nuance. The reality is that most expert opinions are true at least in part, and the real value in disagreement is not dismissing the thing entirely, but taking the time to argue the weak points to make the overall better.
Harsimran Gill, Mary Beard interview: 'Being a popular writer helps you say the unpopular', Scroll.in (2019-02-17). You certainly see it in Britain, in Brexit. Quite a lot of my friends voted for Brexit. I would never have done that, to me it is almost inconceivable but people were just as surprised that I have friends who voted for Brexit. And that's even sadder, I think. I do think the keyboard age – and I am both a beneficiary and a user of it – makes it easy to sit in your comfortable sitting room and have very strong views about the world, without ever having to think about difficulty and ambivalence. It's easy to be morally virtuous in your own sitting room.
Nancy Armour, Opinion: Auburn's Bruce Pearl symbolizes the rot in college athletics, USA Today (2019-03-29). The power brokers in college athletics – athletic directors, school presidents, powerful alums – love to claim the moral high ground. In their minds, they are molding the lives and characters of young men and women. The billions that come with it are simply a lucky happenstance.
No doubt Pearl has touched lives and helped many young men along the way. But at what cost? Bottom line, he has survived scandal because he wins. There's something to be said for that but, as we're reminded constantly by guys like him, the game is supposed to be about more than just winning and losing.
Unless that's all a fraud, too.
The Right Way to Get Your First 1,000 Customers, HBR IdeaCast (2019-04-02). So, this comes back to this – do things that don't necessarily scale. Scale is a problem of when you're growing fast. If you're small and you don't get to that phase, there's no point in trying to do things at scale if you're going to die beforehand.
Kashmir Hill, Life Without the Tech Giants, Gizmodo (2019-01-22). Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Apple collectively make products that we love, products that we hate (but can’t stop using), and products that dictate how we communicate and how we are seen. Their devices and services make our lives easier than they’ve ever been before, yet more complicated in unforeseen ways. They are so ubiquitous and fundamental to our lives that their offerings have replaced core functions of our brains. We’re now realizing it’s as possible to get addicted to these buttons, clicks, screens, and scrolls as it is to get hooked on nicotine or heroin.
David Kilcullen, Counterinsurgency (2010). (notes) [p. 76] As in any other endeavor in counterinsurgency, the challenge for commanders and assessment staffs is to remain agile, seeking not to template previously useful metrics but to constantly develop and apply new indicators, based on a shared diagnosis of the nature of the conflict and what is driving it. These indicators must track developments in the four basic elements of the campaign: the local population, the host-nation government, the security forces, and the insurgents themselves. And they must be carefully interpreted, applying judgment and qualitative reasoning, rather than simply counted.
M. John Fayhee, Why I Still Carry an External-Frame Pack, Backpacker (2018-10-19). I hope that, once the gram consciousness that now almost theocratically defines the backcountry loosens up a bit, more people will realize that external-frame packs are worth their weight in reading material and vodka. And perhaps more companies will start making them again, and maybe you’ll see one in a future edition of this magazine’s Gear Guide. In the meantime, I will proudly carry my new Tioga with me, despite (or because of) all the stunned glances I get on the trail.
Gerard Manley Hopkins, In Our Time (2019-03-21). [28:33] And what sprung rhythm in many ways does is bring in some of the creative vitality that Hopkins sees in ordinary speech rhythms into poetry. It's in a way a reaction against the over-regularization of poetic meters, injecting greater variability, whilst not losing the sense of the basic rhythm underneath.
Ken Favaro and Manish Jhunjhunwala, Why Teams Should Record Individual Expectations, MIT Sloan Management Review (2018-11-30). However, when individual expectations are recorded along with the key assumptions behind them, important differences become visible. One person might see 2+2 as the problem to solve, another might see 1+3, and another might think it’s 5-1. Even if you all arrive at the same answer, recording and then discussing the variety of paths that different stakeholders expect forces everyone to think in new ways. And often the team ends up concluding that 1+5 is the right starting place—and thus arriving at a different, unanticipated, and better decision altogether.
Richard Brody, The Great American Novel Buried in Norman Mailer’s Letters, The New Yorker (2014-12-10). In effect, Mailer’s letters attest not as much to his experience as to his experience of experience—his very notion of experience as something simultaneously centrifugal and centripetal, an adventuresome excursion into a world outside one’s familiar circle as well as a plunge within, toward the impenetrable core of the soul. It’s the ordinary that strikes him as inert and infertile. Even while a student at Harvard (he studied engineering but was already an ambitious and successful student writer), his notion of literary experience was that it wasn’t the hand one was dealt or the way one played it, it was the game that one set out to learn.
Andy Staples, Fletcher Magee's Perfectly Imperfect Shot Refuses to Stop Falling for Wofford, Sports Illustrated (2019-03-22). For most of his basketball-playing life, Magee—who wears No. 3 not because of his favorite shot but because he loves Allen Iverson—has sought to perfect an unblockable jumper. He concocts scenarios inside and outside of practice to force himself to shoot from awkward angles and positions. Quarterbacks would call it "off-platform." When teammates first see his fanatical devotion to ripping shots from every possible body contortion, they scratch their heads. But when they see him making those shots in practices and games, they understand.
Mark Maier, System and Software Architecture Reconciliation, Systems Engineering (2006-03-30). (notes) Why is there this distinction between traditional systems engineering practice with its emphasis on detailed and complete requirements specification and software architecture that does not need it? The difference is a matter of base assumption. The classical assumption in systems engineering (and often true) is that rectifying requirements mistakes late in the process (for example after a system is fielded) are orders of magnitude more expensive than avoiding the mistake very early in the process. In contrast, incremental software development is predicated on the assumption that it is impossible to know all the user requirements early, that many of the most important ones can be discovered only after a software system is shipped, and that making fielded changes to software is low cost.
Petty Tyrant, This American Life (2010-11-12). What's striking about these tapes is that Steve sees himself on the side of good. He only does bad things to bullies, he says. He hates bullies. And anyway, most of what he does—like planting a bomb at the house of Laura Balogh, the one who broke up with his local union president—are on behalf of friends, against people he doesn't even know. He'll do anything for a friend, he says. He's loyal that way.
Chip Conley: The Modern Elder and the Intergenerational Workplace, Long Now: Seminars About Long-Term Thinking (2019-03-13). [27:14] [...] and the thing that happens with your brain as you get older is, generally speaking, you get all-wheel drive, which basically means you do the left-brain right-brain tango better than a younger person [...]. You actually are able to move from linear to creative much more quickly, more adeptly, which means that--what is the result of that?--it means that you get the gist of things faster. You can think systemically and holistically much better than when you were young, when you were extremely focused. Now in the context of an organization like Airbnb that's growing as fast as it is, and has a lot of things happening all over the world all at once, and has a leadership that's very young, to be the person in the room who can occasionally synthesize and get the gist of something and say, "I see pattern recognition here"--and pattern recognition is another way of saying wisdom--and be able to call that out, is the value of a modern elder in that workplace.
Math Major Counts Cards, Beats Vegas Dealers, Side Hustle School (2019-03-16). [5:33] Colin's advice is that running a business is a lot like counting cards at blackjack. It's about knowing how much value you are currently creating, figuring out how you can add to that, and making the right decision based on your observations. He also suggets you always bet on yourself.
Robinson Meyer, Houseplants Don’t Actually Clean the Air, The Atlantic (2019-03-09). "It's such an alluring and enticing idea," Elliot Gall, a Portland State University professor, told me. "But the scientific literature shows that indoor houseplants—as would be typically implemented in a person's home—do very little to clean the air." "My view is even harsher than that," Michael Waring, an engineering professor at Drexel University, told me. "I do not think that houseplants clean the air."
Charles Duhigg, Dr. Elon & Mr. Musk: Life Inside Tesla's Production Hell, Wired (2018-12-13). There’s a sense of tragedy in such stories because these men seemed, at one point, to rise above the masses and suggest that genius is possible. Silicon Valley in particular reveres these kind of heroes—and the more willful and ornery they are, the better. Technologists are often called upon to do things that seem impossible, and so they celebrate when doubters are proven wrong—when the dismissal of an idea becomes evidence of its visionary reach. The idea of the odd genius is afforded a special status within technology. People lionize inventors who listen to their intuition and ignore naysayers, who hold themselves and everyone else to a standard of perfection, regardless of what it costs those around them. Steve Jobs is gone; now we have Elon Musk.
Nathan Robinson, Meritocracy is a myth invented by the rich, The Guardian (2019-03-14). In reality, there can never be such a thing as a meritocracy, because there’s never going to be fully equal opportunity. The main function of the concept is to assure elites that they deserve their position in life. It eases the "anxiety of affluence", that nagging feeling that they might be the beneficiaries of the arbitrary "birth lottery" rather than the products of their own individual ingenuity and hard work.
Unconditional Love, This American Life (2019-03-08). [35:17] "I don't think he wants to hurt me. I don't worry about that at all." It's a very unsentimental view of her relationship with her child, but that is probably exactly what has made Heidi so successful.
That is, Heidi is an unusually pragmatic person. She's not a flowering earth mother with a wealth of love to give. She is fundamentally realistic, tough minded, and these are precisely the characteristics that are needed in this situation.
If you're the kind of person who actually needs love—really needs love—chances are, you're not the kind of person who's going to have the wherewithal to create it. Creating love is not for the soft and sentimental among us. Love is a tough business.
Episode 211: Sartre on Racism and Authenticity (Part One), The Partially Examined Life (2019-03-11). (notes) [13:00] So one of the things the anti-Semite is doing is they're grounding themselves in the irrational and the concrete and the intuitive, as over and against the universal and the rational. So the manifestation of that, right, is to say, look, I have a certain heritage, I have these societal values, my family's been in this country for hundreds of years, I simply inherit and possess these things and I don't have to do anything for them. I don't have to be smart, I don't have to achieve a lot, because--this is the strategy, according to Sartre, of the middle class--I just have to possess these cultural values, and in that sense I gain a status and a transcendence of everyday class and social hierarchies by way of that. So, without effort, without having to compare my status to others. So, he calls this a kind of mob equalitarianism or mob egalitarianism or, another way that he puts it that I like, is elite mediocrity, an aristocracy of birth where someone who's not at the top of the hierarchy can enjoy high level status through identification with country.
Jeremy Littau, Media's Fatal Flaw: Ignoring the Mistakes of Newspapers, Wired (2019-01-30). The accidental brilliance of the newspaper business model is it commoditized all those information needs to an audience that, pre-internet, had no other choice. You want a weather report? The newspaper had it. Looking for a job? The newspaper had it. Newspapers owned their readership, which had many needs but few choices. Advertisers showed up in droves to capitalize on this holy grail—a captive audience that could be reliably delivered in a defined space. The internet changed everything. The weather became a website, then an app. TV guides went online and became interactive and customizable. Classifieds became searchable and interconnected across regions, then states, and eventually the nation.
Ivan Maisel, The South Stands at Armageddon': Breaking the Sugar Bowl color barrier, ESPN (2019-02-26). The officials understood that they would be inviting a black player to be a subject of Sugar Bowl hospitality. Grier would dress in the locker room. Grier would shower in the showers. He would play on the Tulane Stadium field, and after the game, he would be invited to the dinner and dance held for the two teams at the Saint Charles Hotel. [...] "If he shows up, I won't block his way," manager Mike O'Leary said of Grier. "But you know he would never come. Traditionally, the St. Charles Hotel does not allow Negroes at dinners or dances."
The adventurous life of first solo kayaker on the Yellow River, CGTN (2019-03-02). "The most dangerous part is where the Yellow River flows from the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau to the Loess Plateau. The altitude abruptly drops from over 3,000 meters to only 1,000 meters. With such an altitude difference, the rapids are thundering." At the moment, he received an anonymous call from someone who had participated in the first Yellow River rafting 30 years ago, warning him to skip the dangerous section because "theoretically, no one could survive that."
Kevin Levin, W.E.B. DuBois on Confederate Monuments, Civil War Memory (2017-05-29). DuBois pushes right back against the myth of the Lost Cause. He refuses to draw a distinction between the Confederate government and the men in the ranks. DuBois clearly understood that as long as white southerners were able to mythologize the war through their monuments, African Americans would remain second class citizens. Confederate monuments did not just occupy the Jim Crow landscape. For Dubois, they helped to make it possible.
Episode #200: Escaping Excel Hell with Python and Pandas, Talk Python to Me (2019-02-21). (notes) [45:33] One of the things I've wanted to do but I haven't really done a whole lot of is, what kind of user groups can you set up in your company so that you have some of these peer resources to help them work through the process. Your podcast about the Apple Python training was really, really interesting and certainly a much larger scale than what I'm talking about, but I think that that would be another option is to try and get four, five, a dozen people, likeminded individuals, together and over the lunch hour start to introduce these concepts and build a community where they can learn and share their learning.
148 - Rule Makers, Rule Breakers, You Are Not So Smart (2019-02-25). (notes) [63:58] I think what is really important to understand is that these rise in populist leaders and mesmerizing personalities is not really that unique. There's nothing unique about this time period, about this particular cultural moment. What we can see in our data is that when people feel threatened, whether it's real or imagined, just like they do in the country level when they're facing diseases or disasters, they want stronger rules and they want more autocratic, independent leaders to help lead the way. It's something that's kind of deeply evolutionary, as I mentioned, and we can see that when you increase threat you tighten norms.
Graham Duncan — Talent Is The Best Asset Class (#362), The Tim Ferriss Show (2019-02-28). (notes) [44:41] What I feel like a really good coach can do is by listening to the way I'm making sense of something can observe, oh, you're actually assuming x, your grip--I think of it as grip--your grip on certain things is really tight. And if a coach can find what you're gripping really tightly, and that you're actually not--you can't articulate the opposite of this belief you have, that might be a sign that you have identity or ego caught up in that thing.