Small innovations

The big innovations of the world are more interesting than the small ones. There's your last truism for the day—bigger is bigger. But the bigger things tend to take longer because bigger is more. The small things, though—you can make small innovations all day long out of the things right in front of you.

Using my Scoutcraft skills from twenty years ago, I made an enormous tomato cage out of the nuisance bamboo at the edge of the yard. (This is a week ago, it's an even bigger jungle now.) There are also some big tripods in the back for bitter melon and luffa. It's not a huge innovation, or a great one, but it's something out of nothing, and it's big.

But here's the bamboo innovation I'm really proud of. No rope necessary. The leaves and branches are also a nuisance. They're not structural like the main part of the bamboo, so I typically pack it into the yard waste and send it away. Then I wanted to get some mulch to put around vegetable plants whose soil was drying out in the sun... but I didn't really want to go out anywhere. I looked at the trashy bamboo twigs and leaves waiting to get disposed and thought—that looks like mulch.

Yeah. It is mulch.

Insanely proud of this simple idea. This was a week ago, and after a week of getting to keep moist soil all day, the chilies are much more mature looking now.

Not necessarily related, but the latest episode of Talk Python To Me is about something in the same pattern of small innovations: Episode 327, Little Automation Tools in Python.

All good strings

All good strings must come to an end.

I'm at the stage where the few trail or road race shirts that I have are coming to the end of their own race. Today, the venerable yellow shirt from the 2010 Escarpment Trail Run gave up more thread from the seams than I thought a shirt could have. I don't know how that arm is staying on, but it's only one of several injuries that the shirt has sustained over time—this is merely the first one that had structural implications. The long scuff mark from washing the shirt in Mumbai is there, as are some scratches on the shoulder from eating some rocks on a trail near Malibu.

And so on. A history of a shirt isn't interesting. A shirt is a rag, and a history should have some consequence, else it's just an anecdote.

These running shirts, though, as they fray into rags, are apt metaphors for the capacity and training that were there when they were first acquired. The ETR is possibly the hardest race I ever ran, though it was only a 30 km run—up down up down up down up down viciously through the Catskills. You could bury me halfway up Windham High Peak if I tried it today. I would fray harder than any shirt ever could.

Shirts are things. Things break. Experiences don't break. In fact, experiences become larger over time as we embellish them, inflating the good and forgetting the bad, where possible. It's only Right. Ask me what I remember about that race. Not so much, eleven years later. I remember part of the walk up—run, ha, sometimes the uphills are insidious and some require all hands and feet—and I remember some of the lookouts up high, and I remember coming down from Stoppel Point and needing to slow down and walk part of the downhill because I was so tired that I couldn't process the trail fast enough to run it anymore. It must have been a tough race that year because not even Ben Nephew broke 3 hours when he won.

A shirt is just a shirt. I know its color and size and the mountain image on the front. I don't remember the conversations there at the tent at the end of the race, nor the specific people I met, or any detail that doesn't vanish when the mind's eye scans over the fuzzy image called up from deep storage. And there is a fuzzy image there—something that has the shapes and the colors and the sun and the humidity and the picnic tables and the food. And there is the drive across the long width of Massachusetts, a place of small mill towns locked in amber. And there is, as ever, the ready crowd ready to start the race.

A shirt is just something that is cast into oblivion at the end. Our memories are the same, I suppose, and the threads come out of them and the fabric gets thin, and eventually it also gets cast into oblivion with all its fuzzy images and its meaningless/meaningful anecdotes.


It occurred to me, while continuing to read through Managing with Power: Politics and Influence in Organizations, that I hadn't really done a good job collecting information and references from these two years of taking MBA night classes. I've got a lot of it in Evernote in individual pages for each class, but only some of it, and it's not organized in any way. It's there, but tossed somewhere into a corner, biding its time until it's fully forgotten.

I read a book, or read a paper, or look up a reference, and... I put some of the information in my head, sure, but the reference itself fades away somewhere. The memory does as well, and eventually the memory that there was a memory there to remember fades.

Does it matter? Everyone dies in the end, so maybe it doesn't, but I'm not sure that's the case to optimize for. Does it matter in a month? A year? Ten years? It's not clear. Maybe. Maybe not.

But it's not hard to record some of that reference info for future recall, whether it gets used or not. I miss Evernote's old context feature that showed notes that were related to the open note—sometimes I would find information about topics that I forgot I looked up five or eight years ago because Evernote helpfully showed me the old page as I was making a new version, having forgotten the original. Storing the reference info somewhere is basically just setting the stage for serendipity, since most anything can be found via web search anyway.

Anyway, for this particular case, I'm going to jam references that I collect and have collected while studying here: /ref/business. I'm not sure if accounting and economics and network analysis all deserve to be crushed into one page, but it's better than vaporizing them to zero pages.

Mule time, 2

Previous: Mule time

You got to get behind the mule
In the morning and plow

Sometimes you just have to get up and work. There's no art to it. No shortcut. Just grinding down diamonds.

It's not a permanent mode. It ends. You can get back to your business. Or you can make a break for the fenceline, one hand on the top rail and vault over without breaking stride, and never look back. Or look back. What the hell. We're all made out of salt anyway.

in your ear to the wisdom post
Pin your eye to the line
Never let the weeds get higher than the garden
Always keep a sapphire in your mind
Always keep a diamond in your mind

Failures to build successful coalitions

It is easy to see the building of a network of support, either through the appointment and promotion process or through personal favors, as activities that are somehow illegitimate or inappropriate. Such a view would be incomplete at best. The development and exercise of power in organizations is about getting things accomplished. The very nature of organizations—interdependent, complex systems with many actors and many points of view—means that taking action is often problematic. Failures in implementation are almost invariably failures to build successful coalitions. Although networks of allies can obviously be misused, they are nevertheless essential in order to get things done. And, allies must be put in place through whatever practical means are at hand.

—Jeffrey Pfeffer. "Resources, Allies, and the New Golden Rule". Managing with Power (1992).

Race issues, 4

Previous: Race issues, 3

On the other hand, counter to the other three posts, maybe some things should go a little faster. For example, this below:

I think I dug the first hole for this retaining wall project in November, then something something, and then the yard was mostly done but for a pile of dirt in the corner, waiting to see where it would go. It was the remnants of some top soil that I had delivered earlier in the summer because everything else in this backyard is clay, and is horrible. The question was: where did I need to move the dirt? Did it need to fill in some spots behind the wall for planting? Some did. Did it need to move and fill in some holes or low spots on the slopes? Not really. Was it ready to be pushed over and flattened out?

The answer to that last question was: yes. The final purpose of the dirt was always to make the yard flat. But I waited. And waited. And waited. And found other things to do (that tomato jungle in the background didn't build itself). And waited. And deferred with a thousand what-ifs.

It wasn't a sensible delay. It wasn't helpful. The dirt sat there, except when it washed away. Some of the weeds had taken on an aggressive and downright surly aspect. And where I thought I might move some of the dirt, just slightly out of view to the left—actually, I moved dirt (clay) from there to the dirt pile.

The microwaiting was the strangest aspect of delaying. Once I finally committed to flattening out the dirt today, there were still the moments that I'd just... stare at the pile. Or walk back and forth between the pile and some other small project. Or just generally not finish the thing.

Waiting was just waiting. Waiting was a refusal to finish. When you know what the final approach looks like from here to there, and you've got the time and energy—do it. Ship it. It's flat now (flattish, needs some detail work) and ready to go.

Race issues, 3

Previous: Race issues, 2

There are moments when running or exercising or practicing something where I think to myself: I wish this would end soon. Something hurts. Something is boring. Something is uncomfortable. Please make it stop. Please make time go faster so it's over. Watch the clock until it ends. Count the number of repetitions down until zero.

And so on. It's natural. That's the brain trying to protect the body and itself. But that's where the good stuff is—in those same moments that I wish would go faster—so why rush?

I try—though let's be honest, not that often—to remind myself: this is where the good stuff is. Legs are tired while running? Perfect. That's the point of training. That's resistance and destruction in the service of some goal, some purpose. Maybe the point is that end state, really, but you have to remain calm in those intermediate states, maybe even learn to enjoy them. At the very least, there's no need to race through those uncomfortable states, but rather seek them out and get to know them well.