The ritual of the notes

At work I'm fairly methodical about planning ahead for the next day, week, month--almost as methodical about planning as I am about disregarding the plan when the time comes. It involves OneNote and I should explain it sometime--it's a useful system.

One key part of it is making a new note page for every (pertinent) meeting in my calendar. It serves two purposes: (1) to line up the day's or week's events; (2) to catch notes from the meeting. The first part I'm good at; the second part I'm not.

I think that a slight frame of reference shift would improve the actual keeping of notes. I tell myself: it's about the information. It's about keeping receipts. It's like an old school engineering lab notebook. (A fine ritual itself.) But I don't think that's the most useful thing. The notes themselves aren't as important as the ritual of the notes. Why don't I write meeting notes as frequently as I think I should? Can't keep notes when you're not paying attention. Can't keep notes when you're talking too much (or doing that thing where you're just waiting for an opening to talk). Being present in that moment is the real value.

I am good at keeping notes when I am or feel responsible for keeping notes for the group in a meeting. Perhaps tapping into that is another method to self-motivate.

A week in review, 2019-W48

Wrote

  1. 100 (2019-11-25).
  2. Metrics and their discontents (2019-11-26).

Read

  1. Kenneth Cukier, The Dictatorship of Data, MIT Technology Review (2013-05-31).
  2. Michael Schrage, Don't Let Metrics Critics Undermine Your Business, MIT Sloan Management Review (2019-10-23).
  3. Stephen Kosslyn, Are You Developing Skills That Won’t Be Automated?, Harvard Business Review (2019-09-25).
  4. Marnie Shure, The podcasts that defined the 2010s, The A.V. Club (2019-11-25).
  5. Chris Moffitt, Tips for Selecting Columns in a DataFrame, Practical Business Python (2019-11-26).

Listened

  1. #955: Pirate Videos, Planet Money (2019-11-29).
  2. 509 - Be Big Enough to Change Your Circumstances: Eric Adams Shares How He Went From "Bad Kid" to Brooklyn Borough President, The James Altucher Show (2019-11-26).
  3. Square Roots' Kimbal Musk: “Working in tech was like chewing sawdust”, Danny in the Valley (2019-11-29).

Watched

My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002)

Photo

Upcoming


There might be additional links that didn't make the cut at notes.kirkkittell.com

Metrics and their discontents

A fair amount of my job involves figuring out how to collect some data about work processes and... well, just packaging it in a table or chart so that managers can, presumably, use it to make decisions. Sometimes it's interesting because you have to get down into the esoteric nuances of the definitions involved in the data, debugging things along the way to get the data right and the right data. Most of the times it's just work.

But sometimes there's a little itch in the back of my mind that seems to indicate: maybe we don't need to do this. Or: maybe we're not measuring this right and someone who isn't us, whose work we're overseeing, is going to pay for it. Or: aren't we just expressing the same measurement in three different ways that say the same thing. And so on.

Measuring work is somewhat enjoyable, in the sense that you and your team can get better at what you do, but the time spent doing the measure sometimes also unironically eats the time you would spent doing what you do, which drives an unironic feedback loop of more measurement, less doing. It's frustrating.

There's an art involved in selecting what to measure, how to transform it, how to show it, who to show it to, how to use it, etc. I'm not an expert. But I think the most important question is: how am I going to use this? If the measurement doesn't have a specific use, throw it out. Go lean. Collecting for the sake of collecting is a disorder--hoarding. Side effects include: what's measured gets managed, even the data you collected that doesn't have a specific useful purpose. Don't believe it? Hand your boss a chart with a downward-pointing graph. Exchange your dignity for a few action items.

Fuzzy ideas, fuzzy ideas... I can't quite put my finger on what I think the problem is. In the meantime, a reference that for me has turned into a source of references, and a comfort when I think I'm the only person wondering why I'm carrying this bag of numbers around everywhere: Jerry Muller, The Tyranny of Metrics (2018) (notes).

100

It's just as well that I haven't read David Foster Wallace's A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, because this presentation I gave last week on lessons learned from the excesses of running 100 miles in a past life would have been besotted with footnotes.

(Pause to read: David Foster Wallace, "Shipping Out: On the (nearly lethal) comforts of a luxury cruise", Harper's Magazine, Jan. 1996.)

For our MGT 5315 Leadership Communications I class, we were instructed to give a 4-minute "TED" talk to the class about... actually I didn't read the assignment, so I'm not 100% sure what the framework was. But: 4 minutes. Essentially nothing. The question for me was: should I recycle the Apollo 11 presentation I gave over the summer at Venture Cafe? Or go for something different.

Let's talk about a supposedly fun thing I'll never do again: running the Western States 100.

Honestly: 4 minutes isn't enough to say anything about anything, so I just pulled together a few lessons learned from the race, then threw some away, pared it down some more, then let 'er rip.

It's no good posting my slideshows here (eh, pdf, here you go) because I do what I think any humane person ought to do: rip out the content like old wallpaper. It's an experience. You've got to be there. It requires gaging the audience like a barometer, then—somehow—adjusting the talk as it goes. Each audience environment comes with its own terrain, and if you can feel the contours of that terrain you can find different approaches to where you want to go—you can even find different places to go. I don't understand it. It's some alchemical process that transforms anxiety into rocket fuel.

I very much enjoyed telling a story that I never get to tell. (#2: F*** gear.) Somewhere around mile 15 or 20 or so, someone who I was passing, one of the multitude who confuses the things you run with and the run itself, asked about my shirt:
"Is that a cotton shirt?"
"Yes."
[long pause]
"Is that OK?"

The best part is the deke at the end. Start off with some high quality TED-cult content (#6: Don't quit)—which is all very well, good advice, etc.—and then waiting until the audience leans that way and edging it back for the score (#7: Quit). Which, by the way, is better advice. How many people in the world give you the "never give up" speech without any context whatsoever? These people don't have your best interests at heart. I only dropped out of one race, the 2012 Ozark Trail 100, at mile 50, though if ego hadn't gotten in the way I would have dropped out when I should have at mile 37, saving myself weeks of recovery on a bum leg. Never quit. No. Never never quit. Quit in context. Live to fight another day.

A week in review, 2019-W47

Wrote

None

Read

  1. Vann R. Newkirk II, The Great Land Robbery, The Atlantic (2019-08-12).
  2. Linda Holmes, Exploring, Not Explaining, the Mind of Robin Williams, KQED (2018-07-16).
  3. Jeffrey Lewis, "Night of Murder": On the Brink of Nuclear War in South Asia, NTI (2019-11-06).

Listened

  1. Fuchsia Dunlop On ‘The Food Of Sichuan’, Sinica Podcast (2019-11-14).
  2. Episode 1072 - Nathan Lane, WTF with Marc Maron (2019-11-18).
  3. Chocolate and Sustainability, Business Wars (2019-11-18).

Photo

Upcoming


There might be additional links that didn't make the cut at notes.kirkkittell.com

A week in review, 2019-W46

Wrote

None

Read

  1. Michael Pollan, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation (2013-04-23). (notes)
  2. Steve Vockrodt, To promote Kansas City, business group turns to a familiar T-shirt design, Kansas City Star (2019-11-08).
  3. Penelope Trunk, Steal this business idea, Penelope Trunk Careers (2019-10-30).
  4. Andy Mannix, I posted a video that became right-wing disinformation. Here’s how I fought back., Columbia Journalism Review (2019-11-14).
  5. Matt Taibbi, Wells Fargo's Master Spin Job, Rolling Stone (2015-10-02).

Listened

  1. Three Speeches in October, China in the World (2019-11-15).
  2. Ep. 12 | Apollo 12's Really Close Call, Sidedoor: A Podcast from the Smithsonian (2019-11-13).
  3. Pagan Fundraisers, Blue Haired Boy, Autism and Oscar, The Moth (2016-05-31).

Watched

3 Idiots (2009)

Photo

Snowconeman

Upcoming


There might be additional links that didn't make the cut at notes.kirkkittell.com

A week in review, 2019-W45

Wrote

None

Read

  1. David Browne, In the Room at Nirvana’s ‘MTV Unplugged in New York’, Rolling Stone (2019-11-01).
  2. R. Du Toit Strauss, Voyager 2 enters interstellar space, Nature Astronomy (2019-11-04).
  3. Mary Cain, I Was the Fastest Girl in America, Until I Joined Nike, The New York Times (2019-11-07).
  4. David Ferguson, Find The Thing You're Most Passionate About, Then Do It On Nights And Weekends For The Rest Of Your Life, The Onion (2013-03-20).
  5. Ernie Smith, The Car Cassette Adapter Was an Unsung Hero at the Dawn of the Digital Age, Motherboard (2019-11-06).

Listened

  1. Live Episode! Luke's Lobster: Luke Holden and Ben Conniff, How I Built This (2019-11-07).
  2. Atari's Nolan Bushnell: "I started tinkering in third grade and never stopped, Danny in the Valley (2019-11-02).
  3. Philanthropy in China, with Scott Kennedy of CSIS, Sinica Podcast (2019-11-07).

Photo

Upcoming


There might be additional links that didn't make the cut at notes.kirkkittell.com

A week in review, 2019-W44

Wrote

  1. We serve good mornings all day (2019-10-28).
  2. Three views of Lago Maggiore (2019-10-30).
  3. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the flight (2019-11-02).

Read

  1. Dan Piepenbring, The Book of Prince, The New Yorker (2019-09-09). He paused for a moment. "We need to find a word for what funk is,"" he said. Funk music, which fused impulse to structure, was the living contradiction he embodied: his mother and his father in one.
  2. Grayson Haver Currin, Bob Dylan: Time Out of Mind, Pitchfork (2018-05-13). During the '90s, he issued two solo acoustic albums of earnest, sometimes poignant renditions of American standards, delighting those who had pined for the lost days of the folk kid from Greenwich Village. But coffeehouse covers hadn't made Dylan a spark of resistance in the '60s or a source of bittersweet reckonings with reality in the '70s. He had become a legacy act, accruing lifetime achievement laurels and touring his hits for Boomers in khakis. Possibly for the first time in his career, Dylan was beginning to blend into the scenery.
  3. Charles Duhigg, What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team, The New York Times (2016-02-28). (notes) Project Aristotle is a reminder that when companies try to optimize everything, it's sometimes easy to forget that success is often built on experiences — like emotional interactions and complicated conversations and discussions of who we want to be and how our teammates make us feel — that can't really be optimized.
  4. Dan Catchpole, Boeing's CEO Says Its Culture Will Fix Its Problems. Experts Say It May Be to Blame, Forbes (2019-10-31).
  5. Andrew Gill, How to get started in homebrewing, from the pros who mastered it, The Takeout (2019-06-25). However your beer comes out, Randy Mosher says you'll be a practitioner in a most intimate form of art. "You're making something that other people are putting in their bodies and the sensations of aroma and taste and flavor go into some of the more emotional and primitive parts of our brains. So you have this ability to really reach out and affect people in really deep ways with flavor. For me, that's the magic of beer: being able to kind of get inside there and mess with people's heads a bit."

Listened

None

Watched

None

Photo

Le France renaissante

Upcoming


There might be additional links that didn't make the cut at notes.kirkkittell.com

Sit back, relax, and enjoy the flight

Flying is de rigeur now. Has been. I don't notice so much the outside of the plane--the environment through and over which we're hurtling. No more counting grain elevators until they're flat with the perspective. No more noticing the creeks and rovers like fire as they briefly reflect the sun. No more naming the features down below. Looking out the window, when it happens, is just to watch the flight surfaces trim slowly back and forth. (Until it's speed brake time.)

It's all still there if you want it. The magic or wonder of those first (many) flights isn't really replaced by anything. Flying is now just the simple subtraction of distance. Step in a tube on one side in St. Louis, step out the other side in Shanghai--an ellipsis in between. It's still about sitting back back, maybe a little more relaxing, but a little less enjoying the flight.