A week in review, 2018-W16

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Summoning Salt, 4-2: The History of Super Mario Bros.' Most Infamous Level, YouTube, 2018-01-29.

Added to /links

#st-louis-blogs: St Louis Patina - Historical Urban Exploration

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Image, or results

There's this exchange in "How to Love Criticism" in WorkLife with Adam Grant, where he's talking with Ray Dalio—intellectually I love the idea, but in real life... I don't know.

[10:38 AG] A challenge network can only help you if you're ready to listen.
[10:42 RD] It's particularly important for me to be showing anybody what I'm doing, including my failures, my successes. Yes. Why would you not do that?
[10:52 AG] Well, because you're afraid of the answer.
[10:54 RD] What are you afraid of?
[10:55 AG] Of the emperor being discovered to have no clothes.
[11:00 RD] If your objective is to be as good as you can possibly be, then you're going to want that.
[11:07 AG] I think a lot of people would rather maintain at least the illusion of a decent image than to actually improve.
[11:13 RD] But then they care more about their image than they care about results.
[11:18 AG] And you're not willing to tolerate that.
[11:21 RD] You know, life's much better with good results.

I think, when I'm pretending to be objective, that this is what I want at work. (By the way, if you don't know who Ray Dalio is, or haven't seen any of the marketing for his book Principles, there's going to be a lot of missing context here.) Be a Straight Shooter. No Bull. &c. On the other hand, what has 37 years of being alive confirmed but that my lizard brain really wouldn't be that interested in radical honesty anywhere.

But it's that part at the end that still resonates: how could you expect to get the best results if you can't see yourself as you are, not as your ego wishes you to see how you are in order to avoid the pain of coming up short?

A week in review, 2018-W15

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Jerry Seinfeld, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee

Added to /links

#food-and-drink: La Cosecha Coffee Roasters, Maplewood

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Now reading: WTF?: What's the Future and Why It's Up to Us

Tim O'Reilly, WTF?: What's the Future and Why It's Up to Us (2017)


(Posting notes here.)

I feel like everyone that knows how to make something with a computer ought to know who Tim O'Reilly is because of the wealth of computer books his company has published over the years. Honestly that's about the extent of what I know about him, although what I know was augmented recently by listening to a podcast that interviewed him. (Danny Fortson, Tim O'Reilly: "It's our brains that are being hacked", Danny in the Valley, 2018-01-25.) He struck me as a kind of Silicon Valley Kurt Vonnegut: optimistic in the possibility of humans to do the right thing, but a bit skeptical of the probability of it. Since much of the ground covered there was related to this book—and because they had a copy of it at the nearest STL County Library—I went for it.


From the podcast interview (notes):

[38:32] Just imagining the things that you can imagine, you will always miss things that, in retrospect, seem quite obvious. There'll be some breakthrough, and then all of a sudden a set of people will go, "Holy shit, this is what we can do with that." There's so much that's happening around us. The future happens, as I like to say, gradually and then suddenly.

Finished reading: When

I just finished reading When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel Pink. It was pretty good—a popular science book that doesn't get too heavy, that covers a lot of ground and digests it for you. However, he does put citations to the various scientific journal papers that he derived the content from in the back—notes here, if you'd like to see the bibliography. (Fairly certain I'm the only one who's interested in that sort of thing. Party Animal.)

There were two ideas from the book that stuck with me.

One was the idea of chronotypes: the idea that some people are naturally late risers and late peakers, or early risers and early peakers, or more likely something in the big middle of that distribution. That's fairly obvious, sure—but it does give some basis for not hassling people who are late starters for being lazy. It might just be how they're tuned. And never mind other people—I've been using this insight for letting go of some kinds of heavy work during the middle of the day when gross unproductivity sets in instead of fighting it. If it's going to happen, it's going to happen. Best to recognize it and plan for drudge work that needs to be done anyway.


The second idea that stuck is the U-shaped performance curve that you see from the beginning to the end of a task. You see it in running also: the fast start, the lag in the middle, the kick at the end. Again: pretty obvious. But: with citations that explain the extent and some of the psychological mechanisms behind it. This was my secret weapon in running. In high school, in the 800m run, you know that other runners tend to slow down from 400m to 600m. Since I wasn't all that fast at 800m, I could still do well by pushing that segment of the race, knowing intuitively that many other competitors weren't. Similarly, in endurance racing, the middle third or the third quarter was a lag for most people after a strong start—my secret weapon there was to start near the back, let the others burn off their adrenaline at a too-fast pace at the beginning, and eat them up over the second half of the race. So I didn't know about the U-curve, but I knew about it.


Six books suggestion by Dan Pink as further reading:

A week in review, 2018-W14

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Added to /links

Added several podcasts I listen to: /links#podcasts

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Blues vs. Blackhawks, 4 April 2018

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Trajectory

[45:08] Guy Raz: If you could go back to Nolan Bushnell in the late 70s or early 80s and say, "hey, you know, I wanna give you some advice", what would you tell yourself?

[45:19] Nolan Bushnell: Boy, that's a real hard one because, you know I... Some of the bad decisions I've made, I'm not sure if I'd like my life to not have had them. And I'm not sure that if I were to give myself advice and change that trajectory, I would end up where I am right now. And I like where I am.

—"Atari & Chuck E. Cheese's: Nolan Bushnell", How I Built This, 2018-03-25.


That makes a good tonic for this. I don't really have to be convinced that it's a good thought. When in the right mood—or at least not in the wrong one—I think the same way. But on the other hand I'm also a serial optimizer. Just tweak one more variable and get it right. One more. One more. That's what made the endurance running so attractive: so many variables and so much available to work on them.

And the past is also like that, right? And the model is so much more developed because you can see—at least from one perspective—how things turned out, so you can kind of work the result backwards and try to reverse engineer how it turned out that way. Apply that kind of model to Future You and maybe there's something there worth thinking about. Unless the voices in your head have more discipline than the ones in mine, that's not how it works. In mine, it's just picking and picking and picking at suboptimal performances.

But what the hell? Remembered line from a long-forgotten poem: Buy the ticket, take the ride.

Purpose first, technology second

You don't need a digital strategy. You need a better strategy, enabled by digital.

—George Westerman, "Your Company Doesn't Need a Digital Strategy", MIT Sloan Management Review, Spring 2018


This is line with what I think. Some people will get a new technology and it becomes the center about which an organization must revolve. "Hey, we bought this thing, now use it so we can justify the expense." It's right up there with making your organization revolve around process. "Organization" is intentionally abstract—it's work, it's a professional society, it's a club, it's home (guilty as charged).

Technology doesn't provide value to a business. [...] Instead, technology's value comes from doing business differently because technology makes it possible.

There's a line I put in my LinkedIn profile: "Serve the Purpose, not the Process". I mean it. It's the same in this case: serve the purpose, not the technology. If you don't remember that, you will drift from your own vision of what you want to create in the world and instead start focusing on feeding and watering some thing that you bought. Let's steal a line from Chuck Palahniuk: "The things you used to own, now they own you."

INCOSE is awful about this. They invested hundreds of thousands of dollars to create a website for members and local chapters. And when I say "create for" I also mean that we're required to use it; no buts. It's taken them almost a decade and two attempts and it's still lousy. They selected the technology without, it seems, much input from the users or beneficiaries of it. In the end, it's hard to use to the point of not wanting to use it—which brings up a question of whether or not to renew that subscription. What is the recourse? Nothing. It becomes embedded in the process of the organization, and in an inflexible organization that process drives your organization instead of being driven by it.

Give me a garage solution that works over a professional solution that doesn't any day. (That's garage as in something you make yourself in the garage, not a typo; garbage is garbage, whether you make it in the garage or the lab.) Some of the solutions that come from the bottom have been designed organically to meet a need, and the solution mimics the design of the organization. Fit the technology to needs and it will become a part of the organization instead of the opposite. It won't be as stylish, but was that the point?


There are some areas where it makes sense. At Mason we invested quite a lot of money in some new test equipment. We needed it. From that point on, the system testing we did on our flight control products had to be tested, and to some extent designed, with this test equipment in mind. (I guess this isn't exactly the same—we did, after all, design the test equipment to fill a need.)

A week in review, 2018-W13

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Grant Heslov, Men Who Stare at Goats, 2009.

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