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November 30th, 2015
05:14 am


Company mission statements-- nonsense or actually damaging?
Lucy Kellaway did one of those nasty little exiperiments-- she asked 20 managers to identify their company's mission statement. Only 5 managed it.

She then goes into why mission statements are potentially embarrassing guff-- VW listed sustainability as one of its values.

Here's the punchline:
Seventeen of Britain’s 100 biggest companies are sensible enough to have no values at all — or at least none they care to disclose on their websites. And how do they get along without them? Maitland suggests that these companies are laggards and that they should get in line. Values, the report says portentously, are the “next frontier”.

Absolute nonsense, and I have facts to prove it. I asked a man in our statistics department to crunch some numbers for me and compare an index made up of the 17 values refuseniks with one made of 83 who are toeing the line. He went off for a bit and has come back with a graph so conclusive that I hope it will stop all windy talk of value statements forever.

Over the past 10 years the 17 valueless companies have outperformed the others in the FTSE 100 Index by about 70 per cent.

If this is a consistent pattern, it's huge. It's very hard to find such a strong guide to investment.

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November 18th, 2015
10:38 am


Only a coincidence
The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster has been in the news lately..
Smiling woman with collander on her head

I'd been thinking about people being made of spaghetti code, which suggests that there was some accidental truth in the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and then today's xkcd appeared.

Since the hover text may not show up in Chrome (another example of spaghetti code?), here it is in rot13 Erfrnepuref whfg sbhaq gur trar erfcbafvoyr sbe zvfgnxrayl guvaxvat jr'ir sbhaq gur trar sbe fcrpvsvp guvatf. Vg'f gur ertvba orgjrra gur fgneg naq gur raq bs rirel puebzbfbzr, cyhf n srj frtzragf va bhe zvgbpubaqevn.

A brief search suggests that no one is selling dna-shaped pasta. While there's plenty of twisted pasta and plenty of pasta with holes, perhaps combining the two is more difficult than it seems.

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November 17th, 2015
10:04 am


Bad Design at Apple
It fell apart after Steve Jobs.

I'd wondered whether people who care about good design (a combination of of beauty and usability) were that rare. The answer is yes. The link is the sorry story of a company which was built on good design, which had codified simple principles of good design.... and then forgot it all. Apple is making a partial effort to make its devices easy to use again, but it doesn't seem to have a solid grasp of the idea.

I'm seeing this as a failure of empathy, and not specifically a problem at Apple. It's apparently really hard to think about whether a product is easy to use, and to do the checking to find out whether real people are a good match for your idea of what will work.

This being said, how could anyone have thought it was a good idea to take away the undo button, and then substitute shaking the device to undo? You can't tell what sort of shaking is needed, and it isn't available for all applications. Aside from the unreliability of shaking, it seems to me that shaking would interrupt your train of thought.

I'm bewildered by the folks who believe you can get people to do what you want by applying the right incentives, both positive and negative. The truth is, people can be distracted by incentives so that they don't think as well. They may decide to resist your incentives. And people's capacities vary, so you, you all-dominant incentive supplier, might be trying to make them do something they can't do.

I think modern corporations and possibly some theories of economics are built on the premise that people respond in a simple and reliable way to incentives. This isn't just the belief in everyone being "rational", it's also a belief in people being interchangeable. It's wrong.

The Lottery of Fascinations-- aside from innate capacities, what people are interested in matters.

Link thanks to supergee.

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November 16th, 2015
10:22 am


Links and thoughts about Islamist terrorism
Daesh is a many-splendored insult. Since the essay is long and somewhat rambly, have a summary. The English language press has been inexcusably sloppy, saying it's a mysterious Arab thing or getting the details wrong.

Daesh is an acronym of what ISIS calls itself. In English, acronyms are a neutral matter of convenience, and I think anyone who insisted on using a full name rather than a common acronym would seem excessively fussy. In Arabic, acronyms are not common usage, and using one is a slight. I'm a little surprised that members of Daesh work so hard to be hated and yet can have their feelings easily hurt, but that's humans for you.

In addition, Daesh sounds like a fantasy creature like a genii from the pre-Islamic dark ages. I wouldn't mind having some more detail about this.

Better yet, Daesh is just one letter off from a word that means trample. One of the things the English press has been getting wrong is to claim it's a conjugation.

People have been saying for a while that terrorism is a result of poverty, and I've been saying for a while that it isn't-- we should all be as poor as bin Laden, and there are all those engineers who become terrorists. Some of them have jobs and families. I'd been thinking people whose lives are in fairly good shape become terrorists because they have some sort of meaning deficiency. Here's an essay on the subject.

On the other hand, some terrorists are desperately poor, and money from Daesh is the only way they can support their families.

Part of the problem is economies which were destroyed by the US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. It turns out that Chalabi was running the debaathification program, and he was using it for revenge.

Anyone know of any science fiction about aliens wrecking human societies by supporting destructive factions?

I don't think everything is the US's fault. Bin Laden had much more freedom of action than most people. He had wealth, and he wasn't answerable to stockholders or voters. He could have spent his life on whatever rich Saudis do (build big fancy houses? work in the family business?), but he didn't.

I knew about the attacks on Beirut because they were on Google News, which is not exactly an obscure source. On the other hand, it was reported more as Daesh vs Hezbollah rather than something everyone should mourn.

I think part of the difference in press reporting is that a big attack in Europe is surprising while there have been a lot of attacks in the Middle East. It's probably a good thing to have more emotional parity.

For what it's worth, NPR had an interview this morning with a man from Beirut who was more emotionally affected by what happened in Paris than what happened in his own city. I take this to mean that people are very apt to be influenced by what they're told to feel.

More generally, I think we don't know what to do about Daesh, so what we're doing is telling each other what to do and what to feel. What's more, we really don't know what policies would work, so we're got room to get really angry at those irresponsible fools who aren't doing the completely obvious thing.

It might help to stop supporting Gulf states if they insist on supporting terrorists.

Have an essay about who it's easiest to hate. Reserve some time, it's long and interesting.

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10:21 am


Weird dream, interpretations welcome
I usually don't remember my dreams.

I dreamed about a big fish tank which had frogs and shrimp in it (possibly
other creatures as well). Now that I think about it, the shrimp resembled
cooked shrimp more than live shrimp, but I think it's just that cooked
shrimp is my default image of shrimp.

In any case, the frogs were lying there, stretched out and with its eyes
closed, and after watching this for a while, I decided the frogs needed
saltier water. I somehow got the idea that the frog needed about half a
cup of salt.

I walked into the room with the tank and dropped the salt in through an
access hole in the top of the tank.

The frog opened its eyes a time or two, but then closes them again.

Later, I heard on the news that someone had irresponsibly added salt to
the tank. There was a mention that the frogs were six feet long, which
makes the scale of things make more sense. I decided I hadn't left
fingerprints and wasn't going to confess, and also thought that I'd added
salt to the tank because I felt like I had to do something and I usually
don't do anything.

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November 11th, 2015
08:29 am


It's legal to crowdfund businesses and get stock
This could be really important.

I'm not sure whether the restrictions are too severe-- a million dollars a year from small investors isn't very much as businesses go, and less than some kickstarters have raised. Still, getting that million might be a useful signal for attracting larger investors.

One thing I'm hoping to see out of this is improvements in clothes for women. Large-sized clothing is still not very available, though there have been slow improvements over the decades. Maybe someone will come up with a sensible sizing system. There's hope that clothes will be for sale during the season when you wear them.

Mostly, I'm expecting cool new businesses which I haven't imagined.

Oddly enough, by coincidence I just listened to an interview with Chris Sacca, a venture capitalist who said that being a venture capitalist was a bit of a scam-- it's investing with other people's money, with very little risk for the venture capitalist.

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November 1st, 2015
02:58 pm


Something for next Halloween

This is a wild tango which was composed without regard for the singer's vocal health and which should be used for a big dance number in a movie.

Link thanks to kalimac.

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October 31st, 2015
11:18 am


Music for Halloween
I've been thinking that it would be suitable to have music where the composer and all the performers are dead. This is easy enough to find for a solo performance, but more challenging for groups and definitely harder for orchestras. Suggestions?

Also a pagan collection with no obligation for anyone to be dead.

Good collections of secular music for Halloween?

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September 26th, 2015
07:07 pm


Don't trust anyone over 45
Thoughts on the Charleston church shooting and mental illness from someone who has mental illness, though I think it would be possible to think that way without mental illness.
Think about it this way: lead paint wasn’t banned from gasoline until the 1970’s. The average age of the US congress is 62 years old – meaning your average congressman spent about 15 years of their life – you know, the early part, when their brains were still developing – inhaling lead fumes on a daily basis. Lead paint is known to make people forgetful and violent. In other words, our country is lead by people who all suffered permanent brain damage as children, but learned to dress up in suits, say “please” and “ma’am” and all the secret stuff you gotta know to put on a happy face and pretend you aren’t suffering serious damage from the fucked up things we humans have done to each other – not to mention how we’ve treated the less sociable animals.


If the dog were wearing a suit, and insulted your culture, you might think it deserved to suffer –unless you could hear those sounds as the mechanism by which suffering moves itself through the universe. From the anger in a reality model to the pressure of the finger on a trigger, moved and amplified by the firing pin connecting to the charge, ripping valence electrons off of phosphorous atoms and connecting to the oxygen, pushing that anger out, through the bullets and into the larger world, where we are left to deal with the anger which was compressed and compacted into a hateful, cold sneer. There we go again, i’m letting my crazy out. He has the ‘bad guy property’, that explains everything perfectly with no need for further investigation. That’s what i meant to say.

I am perhaps more sympathetic to the idea of suffering moving itself through the universe because of having seen the animated movie of Gibran's "The Prophet"-- the essays have a theme of moving energy food, work, love, etc.

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September 15th, 2015
02:12 pm


Thinking about Kim Davis
For some reason, I've found the Kim Davis situation more funny than enraging. This is no doubt a result of a flaw in my character, but it's led in some interesting directions.

At first, I was just amused that the Republicans had found a workplace quality of life issue that they could support.

Then, it occurred to me that what Davis was doing was structurally more like a strike than anything else-- not doing her job, and not letting anyone else do it, either. These days, unions have been included in the structures of orderly behavior, but it wasn't always so.

There were also people who were angry that Kim Davis was being seen as a martyr. I think it's possible to be a martyr to a bad cause, and that while possibly losing a plum job isn't a horrible death, it isn't nothing either. While Davis is responsible for her own actions, I also blame the people who contributed to her believing that doing something mean and self-destructive made sense.

Davis presumably wouldn't have started refusing to issue marriage licenses if she didn't have a lot of people supporting her.

I don't have a feeling for how many people are in Davis' position of being able to refuse to do their work while being very hard to fire. Tenured professors? It wouldn't surprise me if there's an interesting back story about why Davis' county clerk job was so well-defended.

I was annoyed at the news coverage of "Kim Davis is spending another day in jail".... there are innocent people spending decades in jail, and that isn't getting day by day coverage.

Which gets to the "she should just do her job or leave" thing. Does "do your job or leave" make sense as an absolute principle?

It's certainly convenient in terms of civilization to have compliant employees, but on the other hand, while it makes sense as a personal choice to endure that sort of cost for the ritual aspects of religion (like not being willing to work on a particular day of the week), what about jobs that require actual evil? I don't think anyone, or at least anyone reading this piece, believes that Schindler should have just done his job or resigned.

Normally, like Schindler, people who object to their jobs to that extent do covert sabotage, and not being public has different effects than taking a stand.

There's a lot of evil in the US justice system. I can hope that there are people dragging their feet about sending ill-founded warrants to the police, but I'm not seeing public support for non-compliant public officials who refuse to enforce victimless crime laws or judges who block outrageous mandatory minimum sentences.

I wasn't expecting to end up here, but I'm wondering if what we need are more people who refuse to do their jobs for good reasons, and more support for those people.

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