No, this is not the new mantra of Steve Ballmer, rather, on the birthday of Henry David Thoreau it is from one of his more memorable writings:
“Simplicity simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb nail. In the midst of this chopping sea of civilized life, such are the clouds and storms and quick-sands and thousandand-one items to be allowed for, that a man has to live, if he would not founder and go to the bottom and not make his port at all, by dead reckoning, and he must be a great calculator indeed who succeeds. Simplify, simplify. Instead of three meals a day, if it be necessary eat but one; instead of a hundred dishes, five; and reduce other things in proportion.”
I'm on a bit of a simplicity kick right now. So far it is working, but it is easy to slip backwards into chaos.
Occasionally I get an urge to build up my language skills. This was brought home when I saw this guy's translation of "Botchan" and started to think that I'd like to better my reading skills. This led to an investigation of electronic dictionaries vs. printed ones and I ended up pulling the "New Crown Japanese-English Dictionary" off my shelf and opening it up. It opened to the "p" section and I was amazed at the amount of onomatopoeia. So many of the entries are things like paripari and panpan.
For your enjoyment here are some of them and their English equivalents:
Bye-bye for now.
Just finished reading "The Island of Dr. Moreau" by H.G. Wells and "Holes" by Louis Sachar. They are not really related at all except in the literary trick of isolating the characters in inaccessible locations - an equatorial island in the first and a dry lake bed in the second. The Island of Dr. Moreau was notable for a couple of reasons. It is quite a seminal story and one can see echoes of it in more recent works. The following passage seems to be referenced by both Orwell and Devo:
"Not to go on all-Fours; that's the law. Are we not Men?"
"Not to suck up Drink; that's the law. Are we not Men?"
"Not to chase other Men; that's the law. Are we not Men?"
Holes holds a different sort of interest. It is almost like a bit of magical realism for young people and Sachar does a great job of lacing all the elements of the story together. Also a quick read and should be available in any local library.
I previously stated that Theodore Sturgeon stated that "80% of everything is crap". I was wrong in both directions. The correct statement (with some context surrounding it) is:
"It is in this vein that I repeat Sturgeon's Revelation, which was wrung out of me after twenty years of wearying defense of science fiction against the attacks of people who used the worst examples of the field for ammunition, and whose conclusion was that ninety percent of SF is crud. The Revelation: Ninety percent of everything is crud."*
(* source: http://www.jessesword.com/sf/view/328)
I've written before that project management types like aphorisms and numbered lists. It continues to be true. Part of the appeal is that aphorisms come with an assumption that they are universally true. As W. H. Auden stated:
"The aphorist does not argue or explain, he asserts; and implicit in his assertion is a conviction that he is wiser or more intelligent than his readers"
Thus, implicit in the form (and in the repetition and citing of others) is a false confidence that what is stated in aphoristic form is true. Being concise and compact, aphorisms leave few openings for attack. Politicians have perfected this in the modern "soundbite". As an aside, I'm somewhat annoyed that project management aphorisms are rather boring. We don't see things like:
"Man is an exception, whatever else he is. If it is not true that a divine being fell, then we can only say that one of the animals went entirely off its head" - Gilbert Chesterton
Of course not everyone is entirely pleased with sort of overstatement and oversimplification. There are a few out there who like to skewer some of the claims. For example, here Glen Alleman burns down Ron Jeffries strawman of "waterfall" planning wherein he draws a fuzzy drawing and complains it is fuzzy
As much as I agree with Ron about the benefits of agile planning, a fuzzy drawing is very nearly an attempt at a visual aphorism but is missing the the foundation. He draws the effect but does not draw the cause, leaving us to leap to the assumption that waterfall planning is the universal and sole cause for such miserable and demoralizing execution. Likewise, David Anderson claims he is "doing science" but is missing nearly half of what real science is. Here is what he says::
"What does it mean - "Management science for software engineering"? Why do I say that on this site? I'm not making it up. What are we saying when we say we are doing science? Science is the idea that we can predict the outcome of events given our understanding of how things work. Our understanding is typically expressed using a model. Sometimes those models are expressed as mathematical equations but often times they are simple models or sets of rules or abstractions that appear to be true for a given problem domain."
Of course this is not particularly true. What I'd pose as the "classical" definition of "doing science" is the coupling of experimental observation WITH Rene Descartes' "Systematic Doubt" wherein everything is presumed false until proven true. What is missing from David's "science" is the controlled experiment. The attempt to prove his idea false. Until then it is still built on a foundation of straw and until there is the attempt to disprove he won't have the feelings that Descartes did when he wrote:
"Doubt is thus carried to its extreme form. But notwithstanding this fact, doubt causes to rise in me the most luminous and indisputable certainty"
Science is hard. Science can be expensive. Wrapping yourself in the flag of science is cheap and easy but it does not result in the same sublime reward as doing it the hard way.
I hardly have enough time to read many things I've been wanting to read so I checked out a couple of audio books from the library. To put it briefly, they are excruciating. Sure, you may be stuck in your car and there isn't a whole lot else to do, but if the two I've suffered through are any example I have to say that they are not a pleasure.
There are a couple of reasons for this. The first is that listening is much slower than reading. The spoken word is more concise than the written word. Because writers are blessed with readers who can read faster than most people can talk, writers can create substantial and convoluted sentences. They can waste words. They can write so you need to read it twice. And of course, as with any blessing it is blasphemy to waste it so they do these things. In the case of the books I've heard so far it I'd estimate that listening to the book is longer than it would take me to read it by at least a factor of two. I read fairly quickly so it is not inconceivable that I could finish these books in 1/5th the time. Shifting to this slow speed is like swimming in molasses. Every stroke is laborious and you just hope it will end soon.
The second is that the writers are not writing their work for it to be read aloud. I think they should. It would make their work more lyrical. Of course writing with some sort of rhythm or lyricism is difficult and maybe out of place in technical topics, but that is no excuse. Nothing highlights an awkward sentence better than having some slow-reading grave-voiced actor mouth it in a near monotone. Nothing is more devoid of rhythm than an enunciated bullet list. Of course some fault may lie with the readers. So far none of them seem to own the words coming out of their mouths.
Two is too small a sample for me to give up so I'll continue listening, and waiting, and hoping that maybe the next one will be better.
I've never seen Kamen Rider. It is a Japanese TV show kind of like a cross between Ultraman and Power Rangers. As with those shows there were several generations. One of which is apparently Kamen Rider ZO. Ever since my registration lapsed for a day I've seen a lot of traffic from people looking for it. I looked up the plot summary and it turned out to be oddly familiar (cue wavy screen and theremin music)...
"RIDER ZO concerns itself with a human being who is transformed into a cyborg hero"Hey, that sounds like me...
"and subsequently challenges a ruthless and powerful menace (frequently an alien organization using a series of bizarre creatures to enforce their will) which rises to threaten the Earth."
Hey, that sounds a bit like PMI...
"Slightly unbalanced scientist Dr. Mochizuki is experimenting on the creation of a mysterious and vaguely threatening organism. Along the way, he pauses to create a human/locust cyborg. Alarmed at his new form, ZO retreats to a nearby forest and hides away. In the meantime, Dr. Mochizuki has finished his work and the organism is set loose on an unprepared world. ZO returns to defend the deranged scientist's young son and the world in a series of battles."
Yep, that's me all right.
Yes, I know, the book "Freakonomics" came out YEARS ago. But I am just reading it for the first time. There are several things I like about it.
It is at its heart an ode to skepticism. In my opinion this is a worthy thing. There are many things which are unexamined in this world and it seems to me that the foundations of many critical issues often go unexamined. Sometimes they are clouded in mystery intentionally. Being able to cut through this and see clearly what the real relationships are is an essential skill, and the first step in learning it is to understand that it is possible. This book gives some examples of where it is possible and reveals some of the value in doing so (catching cheating teachers, placing your attention on real rather than supposed risks ...)
The book also provides some realistic examples of how causation and coorelation are two different things. Breaking the two apart is the first step in removing superstitious behavior and moving beyond just trying things which might have worked before in a different situation. Even with the very light treatment given to the statistical methods used, the book points out that it is something which is possible and something that can be valuable to examine. This sort of critical thinking is the biggest defense against the propaganda which I find is increasingly common in the world.
The biggest failing I see in this book is that it fails to point out the real heart of the "thinking" method that Levitt uses, a critical examination of the model that is being used. Time and time again he talks about analysis and conventional wisdom, but fails to make the connection that conventional wisdom is based on an incomplete or incorrect model of realities. He also fails to point out the possible errors or inevitable omissions in his own models. Analysis is nothing unless your model is constructed correctly. And all models are abstractions to one degree or another. Skillfully building those models and understanding the factors which influence behaviors is a skill which is in short supply and which results in any number of bad decisions. Of course, it is impossible for a single person to question everything and build a model to support all of their thoughts, but it is possible to show people how that models posed by others should be examined for veracity and completeness. Spending a bit of time on the fundamentals would be worthwhile in my opinion, though it might make it much less of a quick read - something the millions of readers of this book certainly appreciate.
OK, I just lied. The biggest failing of the book iin the presence of the insanely effusive paeans to Levitt's big brain which are interspersed with the chapters and are plastered all over the dust jacket. Things like "Levitt is considered a demigod", "The most brilliant young economist in America" and "Steven Levitt has the most interesting mind in America" litter the pages. Why? Shouldn't the work speak for itself?
"The flower in the vase still smiles, but no longer laughs" Malcolm de Chazal
Aphorism week continues through Friday
With a global stock meltdown on the rise, it seems a good time to launch my new occasional series of business poetry. Sorry, no rhymes or limericks today, but send them in and I'll publish it in the next round.
They are cutting the tall old trees
and the creatures in the underbrush
run searching for a home
Calling an All Hands
The leader claims
turning a battleship
in the open sea
requires 10.8 miles
It must suck to be a battleship
And tell me again
about your problem?
Old Procrustes asks.
I think we have
A dry riverbed
hazy through summer skies
tracing a path to a white lake.
A circle of green
laid out by a length of pipe
awaiting the mower.
Through a smudgy window, landscape flies by
mocking months of walking in minutes flat.
oh Houston! calling me into darkness.
A line etched across the land
a light at the end of it
but nothing for miles.
East by Southeast, night accelerated
the grace of twilight punctuated by the beverage cart
the last of the light flees westward.
Oh Houston, damn your darkness
thief of evening, kidnapper
time to slide the shade and close my eyes.