A site of endless curiosity

The Aspirational Snobbery of Youth

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It’s the humility with which you accept your lot in life that makes you a gentleman

For some people, for all their life, they were told that an ordinary life was for average people – and they certainly are not average.

With the easy availability of GoPRO cameras these days there a a few bikers doing, what I would call, high-speed video blogs.  Basically, guys on their motorcycles with a GoPRO camera strapped to their helmet with a remote mike riding to work or pleasure riding doing a blog.

One such blogger is YouTube channel Delboy’s Garage.  In addition to showing you all sorts of things related to motorcycles he does a few opinion blogs.

So, here’s an interesting blog in praise of ordinary people with ordinary jobs.

Enjoy the countryside in the UK as you listen to his opinions on the “Aspirational Snobbery of Youth.

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Check out a related post

Alain de Botton: A kinder, gentler philosophy of success


Written by frrl

May 27, 2013 at 2:41 am

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Senator McCain, CEO Tim Cook, Apple, Fashion, and God

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Yesterday I caught some of the Senate hearings on Apple avoiding paying taxes.  The issue of taxes aside, something that Senator McCain said gives great insight into his personality and perhaps a generation.

Senator McCain to the Apple CEO, Tim Cook:

Sir, there’s only one thing I really wanted to ask you today. Why do I keep on having to update all the apps on my iPhone? Can’t you guys fix that already?

Can’t you fix it?
Once and for all…
So I don’t have to get these updates…

Tim Cook replied that  McCain’s iPhone got updates because Apple is making things better all the time.

The Static, Finished Universe

John McCain, like many, thinks in terms of a “static universe”.  Things  should work in a certain way and then stay that way forever.  Change is bad; I am satisfied what with I have; why change it?

Perhaps such an idea is generational.  McCain is of the generation who have one career, work at one place their entire life, and defend the status quo at all costs no matter what.  I meet these people all the time in just about every organization.

Pre-rational belief systems

Henry Ford once said, “If you think you can or think you can’t – you’re right”

The idea is that your attitude has a direct effect on outcomes.  If you think the World is static then it is; if you think it’s not then it’s not.  These sorts of decisions are pre-rational.  The outcome will be what your pre-conceived ideas make it.  You make your own Reality.

God’s perfection

Perhaps we have been influenced too much by the traditional Christian theological position of the perfection of God.  The idea that God, in his/her perfection is “changeless”.  This is pure metaphysics.  Why should “changelessness” be perfection?  In the 13th century St Thomas Aquinas brought Aristotle’s metaphysics into the Catholic tradition.  That’s the long and short of it.

A different idea

If you saw the movie The Social Network about Mark Zuckerberg and the creation of Facebook then perhaps you remember this scene in the movie.  Someone asks Zuckerberg this question, “When will Facebook be finished?”

Zuckerberg replies, “Facebook is like fashion, it will never be finished.”

It’s matter of perspective – and it makes all the difference in the world.

Like fashion, nothing should be finished.  No idea, no concept, no product, no innovation, no organization,, and even your career – should never be finished.  There is no life when one is finished.

The Take

McCain is probably not alone.  Fix this software and be done with it.  To change something implies that it’s broken.

Fashion is not  broken.  Innovation is only broken when it stops changing.

Traditional Theology got a shock in the 20th century by Process Theology.  That movement in theology in the 1950’s “outted” traditional theological debt to Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas in the notion that “changless” is some sort of perfection.

Shocking as it might seem, the Process Theologians held that “God’s future is open”.  God is not static and not finished.

As the McCain and Cook short exchange demonstrates, just about every organization, every government, and every social context is a collision between those who want to stop the world and those who want to change the world.  Exchanges like McCain-Cook demonstrate how people differentiate themselves in thier pre-rational belief systems about change and what it implies.

There are insights every day about how people think, if you know where to look. Hopefully, McCain and Cook learned something interesting about themselves and their view of the world in this exchange.  And now you know it too.

Life and Death in America’s Global Corporations: The curse of competency

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I caught this recent posting by Seth Godin

Competence vs. possibility

As we get more experienced, we get better, more competent, more able to do our thing.

And it’s easy to fall in love with that competence, to appreciate it and protect it. The pitfall? We close ourselves off from possibility.

Possibility, innovation, art–these are endeavors that not only bring the whiff of failure, they also require us to do something we’re not proven to be good at. After all, if we were so good at it that the outcome was assured, there’d be no sense of possibility.

We often stop surprising ourselves (and the market) not because we’re no good anymore, but because we are good. So good that we avoid opportunities that bring possibility.

Anyone who has spent time in many of America’s largest corporations can observe the curse of competency.

The largest corporations are your biggest opportunity and your biggest liability.

The Competency of Cogs

The largest corporations take their toll on those who are obsessed with competency and, at the same time, are suffering from personal insecurity.  Obsessed with competency and the actual achievement of competency – especially in a functional/operational area – closes one off to taking risks.  Taking risks and learning something new is not for the insecure nor for the non-curious.

The largest corporations have a warm place for the super-competent, super-insecure, super-nonCurious.  You become a nameless cog is a giant machine.  You may be tossed aside without ceremony with the slightest organizations change or change in technology that operates the giant mechanism of the company.

Opportunity in exchange for non-competency

On the other hand, America’s largest corporations are the best asset for competent risk takers and the super-curious.  This environment provides unlimited possibility – if you know how to work it.

America’s largest corporations are both poison and cure; limitations and opportunity; life and death for your career.

It is always interesting to listen to the “super-competent” brag with arrogance about greatness self-assured in their domain of knowledge. Yet, when you look at where they are in the giant corporation you might find that, after 20 or 30 years, they are still without any strategic or direction setting role in that organization.  Essentially, a “senior” position no different from where they started out after graduating from high school or college.

In a sense, you need to embrace failure (or at least the possibility of it) in order to become competent.  Competent people with high levels of insecurity can’t achieve this.

The irony is that to become a strategic decision maker in America’s largest corporations in the context of an ever uncertain future you must travel a road of nearly continuous incompetency and have the intellectual fortitude, resilience, adaptability, and appetite for failure that each new challenge presents.

So, the confident, super-competent, non risk takers, need not apply.

Everyone finds their place.  And everyone knows who and what  you are

Your choice in America’s largest corporations.  Cog or executive?

Eventually, everyone finds their place in the organizational hierarchy of America’s largest corporations.  Your position and final destination in the hierarchy says much about how you deal with risk, uncertainty, ambition, resilience… and oh yes, how much your particular competency has limited your career possibilities.

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Only the Paranoid Survive

Doing more; Doing more of the same; Doing just a little different

Written by frrl

April 27, 2013 at 4:24 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

White House Easter Egg Roll: Thinking deeply, or not

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135 Years of Fun

On Monday April 1, 2013, the First Family will host the 135th annual White House Easter Egg Roll. This year, more than 35,000 people from all 50 states will be joining us on the South Lawn for games, stories, and, of course, the traditional egg roll.

In addition to all the fun and games, the day’s activities — which will include sports courts and cooking demonstrations — will help educate families on smart ways to incorporate healthy eating and exercise choices into their daily routines, which are key pillars of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative.

Every year since 1878 the White House has held an Easter egg roll.

People don’t think too much about it.  That is, they don’t think too deeply about it.

Of course the White House can’t associate a Christian significance to the Easter Holiday… separation of church and State and all that.

So, there will be no (Christian) crosses or talk about death and resurrection.

But, there will be eggs and perhaps an Easter Bunny or two.

No cross but eggs.

If we know that the cross, death, and resurrection is out the picture then why are eggs and bunnies in the picture?

Does anyone ask what the significance of eggs are?  In a sense, the egg is as much religiously charged as is the cross.

The Take

Here are a several observations.

  1. Our holidays are being wrenched free of any historical context or significance – Christian, Pagan, or otherwise.  Too dangerous.  Easter means what Easter means in this moment – this year, today.  What Easter will mean next year will wait until what is needed is discovered.  Easter is a “movable” feast in time and meaning.
  2. People don’t ask what these holidays/rituals/celebrations mean in historical context.  Should they know?  Or, is ignorance bliss?
  3. People, seemingly, aren’t equipped to ask questions.  It does not occur to them to ask questions.  Good or bad?  Short term or long-term?  Locally or in the context of America’s global competitiveness?  Perhaps thinking critically and framing the right questions is more valuable than having the correct answers to the wrong questions.

So, this year, “Easter” will be pressed into service of promoting Obama’s agenda of healthy eating and exercise.  The menu will also include a side order of Yoga free from any fatty and unhealthy references to Hindu Philosophy.

If someone wants to manipulate a society, culture, or group the inability of the target to think deeply and ask questions is the manipulators best advantage.

It comes down to an issue of education and society.  How educated do you want your society to be?  Sometimes, the less the better.

How about adding “education’ to the list of White House Easter activities and including some sessions on the historical origins of Easter?  Probably not  a popular idea – with the White House.  They would need to talk about fertility rites, goddesses, myths, and all that stuff.  Oh, and the Christian significance as well.  Part of that session would also have to include the derivative  insight that every political generation over millennium  has used such holidays to re/interpret according to their needs.  Messy business to bring all this up on Easter.

No, its more fun to search for wooden eggs… just do it… don’t ask too many questions.  Be Happy.  And, “Lets Move!” this Easter.

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When Nudge comes to push and shove

Written by frrl

March 31, 2013 at 5:48 pm

“Friend Me”: What would Aristotle say?

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For without friends no one would choose to live, though he had all other goods; even rich men and those in possession of office and of dominating power are thought to need friends most of all; for what is the use of such prosperity without the opportunity of beneficence, which is exercised chiefly and in its most laudable form towards friends?      —   Aristotle Nicomachean Ethics – 384-322 BCE

One might wonder, after a period of 2,000+ years, has there been any (what is called) “progress”.

Surely we can distinguish between “progress” in the area of technology and progress in other areas such as culture and society.

Aristotle (384-322 BC) lived more than 2000 years ago .  Surely, if Aristotle were transported from ancient Greece to the modern world he would find the progress in science and technology absolutely astounding.  But, if he were to look at our social relationships 2000 years distant from his own time what would he discover?  Would Aristotle say that, after two millennium, we have made any progress in human relationships?

Perhaps he would say we have taken several steps back from the “golden age” of Greek culture.

Aristotle on Friendship

Aristotle wrote about friendship in Nicomachean Ethics.  He divided friendship into three categories.

Pleasure Friendship

Friendship of young people seems to aim at pleasure; for they live under the guidance of emotion, and pursue above all what is pleasant to themselves and what is immediately before them.

Utility Friendship

Those who pursue utility . . . sometimes . . . do not even find each other pleasant; therefore they do not need such companionship unless they are useful to each other; for they are pleasant to each other only in so far as they rouse in each other hopes of something good to come.

What’s in it for me?

According to Aristotle, Pleasure and Utility friendship is partly motivated by a  “what’s in it for me” attititude.  The friendship exists only insofar as there is some benefit – pleasure or utility – that can be derived from the relationship.  When the benefit erodes, so does the friendship

Therefore those who love for the sake of utility love for the sake of what is good for themselves, and those who love for the sake of pleasure do so for the sake of what is pleasant to themselves, and not in so far as the other is the person loved but in so far as he is useful or pleasant.

And thus these friendships are only incidental; for it is not as being the man he is that the loved person is loved, but as providing some good or pleasure. Such friendships, then, are easily dissolved, if the parties do not remain like themselves; for if the one party is no longer pleasant or useful the other ceases to love him.

Perfect (or True) Friendship

Finally, Aristotle defines Perfect Friendship:

Perfect friendship is the friendship… [of those] …who are good, and alike in virtue; for these wish well alike to each other qua good, and they are good themselves. Now those who wish well to their friends for their sake are most truly friends; for they do this by reason of own nature and not incidentally; therefore their friendship lasts as long as they are good-and goodness is an enduring thing. And each is good without qualification and to his friend, for the good are both good without qualification and useful to each other.

Here is how Philosophy Professor Dean A. Kowaalski sums it up:

So, for Aristotle, the highest form of friendship occurs between persons of equally good moral character (virtue), which is enhanced due to their interactions. Such friendships are admittedly rare; when they do obtain, it is because the friends spend a great deal of time together, developing a secure mutual trust. Their relationship is fostered by participating in joint ventures and engaging in activities that exercise their own virtues for the betterment of the other and the friendship. All of this is done primarily for the sake of the other person (and not for selfish purposes), even though their interests have grown so close together that it is difficult to separate them. Consequently, complete friendship results in a sort of second self, a true partner.

The Take

There may be a Myth of Progress.  In some contexts, progress seems obvious perhaps because of the selection or limitation of what one considers.  Surely, “progress” is an in-your-face fact when one looks only at technology and our understanding of how the world works – science in general and physics in particular.

But has there been any progress in social relationships?  Or perhaps there been a degradation brought about by the progress in technology.  Perhaps the more technology we have the greater distance we can put between ourselves and other people and still call them “friends”… to the point that they are no friends at all… merely markers or counts on a Facebook page or the number of  Twitter followers.

Technology is “enabling”.  Enabling to make True Friends as Aristotle would define it?  Technology may simply enable those who have a “what’s in it for me” motive of  finding merely pleasure or utility in others.  “Friends for pleasure” is now easy to find on the Internet.  Friends to scam and friends for transactional relationships are easy to find as well.  Have your “friended” or “liked” Starbucks or other organization or business?  Why are they your friends?

So, if Aristotle were to step into the 21’st century world of technology there would not be much he would understand.  We have made fantastic progress.  And, I think he would agree based on his writings of Universal Physics, Human Physics, Animal Physics, and Metaphysics of this time.  But Politics and (Nicomachean) Ethics where the above quotes on friendship came from?  Any progress here in two millennium?

What Aristotle wrote 2,000+ years ago about friendships being only for utility and only for pleasure and easily dissolved is as relevant for today as it was in ancient Greece.

It might be a revelation to you if you examine your friendships within Aristotle’s framework – friends of pleasure; friends of utility; and perfect friends.

How many perfect friendships do you really have?  Has technology been a benefit or a liability?  And have we made any progress in two millennium  in answering Aristotle’s basic question, “how should men best live”?

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Read about Dunbar’s number – If You’ve Got More Than 150 Facebook Friends, They’re No Friends at All

Alone Together.  Why we expect more from technology and less from each other

Written by frrl

March 25, 2013 at 1:40 am

Carbonite Review: What’s your digital life worth?

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I’ve been doing local backups of my desktop operating system and personal files for years.  I just use windows image backup and windows file backup.  It works good enough and it’s built into Windows.  Of course the backup goes to a second drive.

The second drive is generally another internal drive to the desktop or an external drive.  Best bang for the buck is a Fantom external drive that has both a USB and eSATA interface.  The eSATA interface lets you connect the Fantom external drive to an existing SATA connector on the motherboard.  This happens via a passive SATA connector that can be routed to the back of the desktop.  Some laptops have a eSATA connector.

So the problem is all these backups are in your house.

My really important stuff goes on a DVD and in a safe deposit box.

Well, there has to be a better way.

Keeping your data safe from local natural and un/natural disasters

I finally got a cloud-based backup solution – Carbonite

Here are a few observations on Carbonite for those considering a cloud-based backup solution.

  1. It’s inexpensive and worth the price.  I opted for the Home Plus subscription for $89/year.  For this price you get unlimited space, the ability to backup an external drive, and drive mirroring.  This is really more than a home user really needs.  The Home plan at $59 should be sufficient for most people.
  2. It knows what to backup.  Carbonite is for backing up your personal files.  If you let it choose, it generally picks the right things to backup.  Carbonite clearly marks folders that it is going to backup.  You have the choice to add or remove folders for backup through an extension to the right-click context menu in windows file explorer. So, by default, it backs up my downloads folder.  For me, this is just a temporary location.  So I removed it as a Carbonite backup target.
  3. It will backup new users as they are created.  I have a number of user accounts on my PC – some which I created after installing Carbonite.  Carbonite backs up new users without any intervention on your part.  (Suggestion for those who want to stay virus-free.  Create a non-privileged, non-administrator account on your PC and use that as your normal account.  Never login with Admin privileges.  Windows will not make system level changes unless you provide specific permission and supply the Admin password while logged in as a non-privileged user.)
  4. Carbonite  works in real-time in the background.  “Set it and forget it”
  5. Detailed information on backup progress.  The Carbonite Info Center desktop application clearly shows what is awaiting backup down to the file level and location.
  6. Use it in conjunction with Windows Image Backup.  Carbonite does not backup your OS.  This is best done with the standard Windows Image Backup that is included with most versions of windows.

Some finer points.

Carbonite does not maintain point-in-time backups.  On my Mac I use the built-in Time Machine backup which is included with Apple OSX.  Time Machine allows you to view your Mac at any point in the past.  So, if you deleted a file a month ago, that you created 3 months ago, that file is still available on Time Machine  (as long as you have enough space on your Time Machine drive).

Carbonite does not work like this.  If you delete a file on your PC and don’t grab it back from Carbonite’s servers in 30 days, it’s gone forever.

The idea is that you need to keep every file you want to save available on your PC in a place that Carbonite expects to backup.

So, the difference can be summed up by saying that Carbonite is not an archive facility.  And sometimes, this is what you want.  For example, you may have some music, documents, videos, photographs, books, etc that you really don’t need right now, so you “archive” them on DVD and put those in a safe place.  Placing these seldom used items on a DVD and removing them from your PC frees up space on your PC.

External Drives.  What was said above applies in an extreme way to an external drive.  Carbonite applies the same rules to external drives.  So, if you have Carbonite backup your external drive you need to keep that drive attached and running.  If you detach the drive for more than 30 days Carbonite will think you have deleted all those files. And, since Carbonite does not keep point-in-time backups, all your files on the external drive will be deleted on Carbonite’s servers.  Again, Carbonite is not for archiving files.

Security and file encryption.  Carbonite says that it encrypts files on your local machine before sending them over the Internet to Carbonite’s servers.  Carbonite says files are stored as encrypted on their servers. Carbonite does all the key management for you.  But, as the iPad app will demonstrate, that key is flying around so that files are viewable in many locations.  Don’t forget that human beings work in data centers and they have access to everything – despite corporate policy, controls, and audits.  There is an option in Carbonite to manage your own keys, but I would not recommend that.  A better option is to encrypt super-secret files yourself using something like AxCrypt and then let Carbonite back up the already encrypted file.

The really good stuff

There are few downsides as long as you clearly understand how Carbonite works.  There are some really nice features.

  1. Access to your files on the web.  Pretty straightforward.  Login to Carbonite on the web and you can access all your files
  2. Access to your files on iPad.  Install the free Carbonite app on your iPad and you can not only see the file names that are backed up but also view them.  The Carbonite iPad app has built-in viewers.  So, if you have some backed up EXCEL worksheets, no problem.  The Carbonite app can display them in all their workbook glory.  (See note above on file security and encryption)
  3. Free backup of your iPad videos and images.  How much better can it get?  The free Carbonite app for iPad will backup your videos and images on your iPad.  No limit.
  4. It all just works silently behind your back and in real-time.  If you have a really important file that you just created you can instruct Carbonite to back it up as soon as possible.  A series of colored dots always tells you the backup status of each file.

The Take

At the time of this writing a 1TB external drive costs about $89.  That money is better spent on a subscription to Carbonite.  Not only do you not have to deal with physical hardware you don’t have to worry about keeping that drive safe against natural (or unnatural) disasters.

Carbonite is “set it and forget it” plus file access from anywhere via web or tablet application.

The “unlimited” nature of Carbonite’s offering for less than $100 is generous.  So if you have multiple PC’s in the house then buy a subscription for each.  However, if you are on the frugal side, there is a way you can have Carbonite backup files from other PC’s via a Windows Homegroup or a traditional file share.

Carbonite is not archival storage.  But, it would be a useful additional optional service element for any cloud-based backup solution to add archival storage.  For example, maybe you have 5 years of historical tax returns or other historical financial information.  You need to retain these records for some period of time.  But, you don’t want it spinning around on your hard disk for security reasons.  So, a possible solution for this scenario would be for cloud-based backup solution providers, like Carbonite, to offer tiered storage.  Archival storage would cost less and be accessible within some period of time on request (maybe 24 hrs).  This would keep your historical data safe and not require it to be continually present on your local hard drive as is the requirement now with Carbonite.

Bottom line, archival storage aside, Carbonite is a “buy”.

Written by frrl

March 10, 2013 at 12:48 am

Marissa Mayer no more work from home: misdiagnosing the problem

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Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer spent her first few months on the job making her employees feel better about where they worked. Then, recently, she took a big step backward, rescinding the treasured right to work from home.

Now she’s in damage control mode. So we get an opaquely sourced New York Times story explaining that Mayer had an excellent reason for the morale-killing new policy: boosting morale.

Still following?

People unhappy with the change are being quietly told that there is no change, really — at least not one that applies to them. Instead, it’s aimed at the roughly 200 workers who have arrangements that let them work from home full time.

“Although they collected Yahoo paychecks, some did little work for the company and a few even had begun their own start-ups on the side,” reports the Times

I read a few articles on this new policy by Marissa Mayer at Yahoo.  She is definitely bucking the trend of work from home.

From the limited number of articles I’ve read so far there is no mention of exactly what sort of work these people do.  None of the articles have dug into this deeper question.  Who are these people and how strategic are they to the business?

Who’s minding the store?

To make people who…  “collected Yahoo paychecks, [and] did little work for the company” show up is not going to solve the root cause of the problem.

This is a management problem and executive leadership problem.  By making the “offenders” (so called) show up at work is misdiagnosing the problem.

At the bottom of an organization a good project management disciple would make deliverables clear, identify who is working on what, and when the deliverables are due.  If no task assigned to an employee is longer then 40 hrs then any missed task deliverables will be noticed in about a week.

So, if any employee collected a paycheck and did little work for the company then some things seem obvious

  1. There is a problem of accountability.  This works two ways.  Employee committment to the company to do a good/excellent job.  A committment from the company to hold everyone accountable.
  2. There is a project management problem.  Doesn’t the management know what their employees are supposed to be doing?  Are there no milestones on projects, or schedules, or any way of tracking missed milestones and deadlines?  If employees can get paid and do nothing then Yahoo has little financial management at the project level. 
  3. There is a financial management problem at executive levels.  If there is no scrutiny on financial performance at the project level then this shows there are problems at the executive level as well.
  4. The operating model seems broken.  If projects can squander money then strategic initiatives, operating model, projects, and individual financial incentives and performance measures are not aligned.
  5. You hired (and retained) the wrong people all across the organization.  Employees that get paid and deliver little or no value to the company, Project Managers that don’t manage projects or people, executives that don’t watch financial performance of projects, and an operating model that shows signs of wear certainly suggest that Yahoo has hired and retained the wrong people at all levels.

The Take

If the above five points are near on the mark then Marissa Mayer making people “show up” is not going to solve the problem.  By misdiagnosing the problem she will be on a treadmill of revisiting the problem until the root cause is properly diagnosed and addressed.

She is there for a turnaround, right?  Here’s her chance.  “Show up for work”… I call this one “a clean miss”.

Written by frrl

March 7, 2013 at 6:38 pm

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