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Current Topic: Miscellaneous

The Tyranny Of Time
Topic: Miscellaneous 7:06 am EDT, Jul 11, 2012

A thought:

Once upon a time, only a wealthy man could afford to carry time in his pocket.

Later, "clocking in" became a symbol of the working class.

Now, synchrony is out of favor.

And Yet. And Yet.

Billy Hoffman:

Your Time is the most valuable thing that you have. There is nothing more important than how you spend your time.

Colin McSwiggen:

If you want to sit healthily, you'll have to take matters into your own hands; the best habit to develop is not to stay seated for more than ten minutes at a time.

Dexter Filkins:

After eleven years, nearly two thousand Americans killed, sixteen thousand Americans wounded, nearly four hundred billion dollars spent, and more than twelve thousand Afghan civilians dead since 2007, the war in Afghanistan has come to this: the United States is leaving, mission not accomplished. Objectives once deemed indispensable, such as nation-building and counterinsurgency, have been abandoned or downgraded, either because they haven't worked or because there's no longer enough time to achieve them.

Nir Rosen:

"You Westerners have your watches," the leader observed. "But we Taliban have time."

Penelope Trunk:

Stop talking about time like you need to save it. You just need to use it better.

Sherry Turkle:

We don't want to intrude on each other, so instead we constantly intrude on each other, but not in 'real time.'

Matt Richtel:

As access to devices has spread, children in poorer families are spending considerably more time than children from more well-off families using their television and gadgets to watch shows and videos, play games and connect on social networking sites, studies show.

This growing time-wasting gap, policy makers and researchers say, is more a reflection of the ability of parents to monitor and limit how children use technology than of access to it.

Steven Kurutz:

What emerges over time, for those who live alone, is an at-home self that is markedly different -- in ways big and small -- from the self they present to the world. We all have private selves, of course, but people who live alone spend a good deal more time exploring them.

How To Make Good On Your Plan To Make Good Use Of Your Time, In Five Minutes Or Less
Topic: Miscellaneous 7:06 am EDT, Jul 11, 2012

David Eagleman:

When we examine the problem closely, we find that "time" is not the unitary phenomenon we may have supposed it to be.

Joel Spolsky:

Backlogs make everyone feel good. The trouble is that 90% of the things in the feature backlog will never get implemented, ever. So every minute you spent writing down, designing, thinking about, or discussing features that are never going to get implemented is just time wasted.

Eric Allman:

There is a saying to the effect that there are three variables in engineering: time, functionality, and resources -- pick two. In fact, there is a fourth variable: debt.

The cost of paying back technical debt comes in the form of the engineering time it takes to rewrite or refactor the code or otherwise fix the problem. If the interest you ultimately accrue is less than the cost of paying back the debt, there is no point in paying it back in the first place. The problem is that it can be difficult to know in advance which debts will ultimately have the highest cost.

Daniel Kahneman:

Human beings cannot comprehend very large or very small numbers. It would be useful for us to acknowledge that fact.

It's Only Natural
Topic: Miscellaneous 5:58 am EDT, Jul 10, 2012

Alison Gopnik:

Wide-ranging, flexible and broad learning, the kind we encourage in high-school and college, may actually be in tension with the ability to develop finely-honed, controlled, focused expertise in a particular skill, the kind of learning that once routinely took place in human societies. For most of our history, children have started their internships when they were seven, not 27.

Aaron Lake Smith:

Youth culture, and the parameters of cultural rebellion, have always been defined by market forces. The lush alternative landscape of the mid and late '90s, fed by the tech boom and Clinton surplus cash, was like a historical indolent child, at liberty to rebel because it had been given everything. The early '90s depicted in Slacker feel closer to our current epoch -- the recession-tainted youth aimlessly wandering the streets, emailing their resumes into the void.

Bryan Formhals:

The open road impulse, along with a resurgence of the lo-fi film aesthetic has spawned endless blogs, Tumblrs and Flickr streams dedicated to documenting the carefree existence of pretty naked young people who are too busy dreaming to care how boring they look.

W. David Marx:

As with all post-industrial societies, young people were not interested in following their parents' footsteps in the hard work of high-quality manufacturing. Thus, most small artisanal factories have closed, with the remaining few headed in that very direction.

Ironically, Japan's young brands all understand the value of locally hand-sewn clothing, but due to the nation's youth's refusal to take up artisanal crafts, these workspaces will be closed within a decade.

Jessica Grose:

People seem to like the fact that a female bear can kill someone while protecting her cubs and be acquitted of the crime. They want grizzlies to have the benefit of the doubt.

The zero-tolerance policy for man-eating bears invites an obvious question, though. Once a bear kills someone, whether it's out of some wild-animal psychopathy or a natural inclination to defend her young, why wouldn't she eat the corpse? Everyone agrees that it's natural for grizzlies to eat carrion -- they're scavengers, after all.

Brian Vastag:

There are too many laboratory scientists for too few jobs.

Obama has made science education a priority, launching a White House science fair to get young people interested in the field.

But it's questionable whether those youths will be able to find work when they get a PhD. Although jobs in some high-tech areas, especially computer and petroleum engineering, seem to be booming, the market is much tighter for lab-bound scientists -- those seeking new discoveries in biology, chemistry and medicine.

Marge Simpson:

Bart, don't make fun of grad students! They just made a terrible life choice.

Not Clean, But Clean In Principle
Topic: Miscellaneous 5:58 am EDT, Jul 10, 2012

David Cay Johnston:

National income gained overall in 2010, but all of the gains were among the top 10%. Even within those 15.6 million households, the gains were extraordinarily concentrated among the super-rich, the top 1% of the top 1%.

Just 15,600 super-rich households pocketed an astonishing 37% of the entire national gain.


In theory, LIBOR is supposed to be a pretty honest number because it is assumed, for a start, that banks play by the rules and give truthful estimates. The market is also sufficiently small that most banks are presumed to know what the others are doing. In reality, the system is rotten.

"I would sort of express us maybe as not clean, but clean in principle," one Barclays manager apparently said ...

Bill Clinton:

I don't think we ought to get into the position where we say "This is bad work. This is good work."

Robin Nagle:

You can understand the entire cosmos of a culture by looking at its definitions of dirty and clean, and acceptable versus unacceptable, the profane and the sacred. You can start with something as humble as dirt and read it out to an entire worldview.


You want to begin in a place that's clean and you make it grow.

Malcolm Gladwell:

The visionary starts with a clean sheet of paper, and re-imagines the world. The tweaker inherits things as they are, and has to push and pull them toward some more nearly perfect solution.

Venkatesh Rao:

Unless you are a professional investor (and probably even then), places to store surplus capital today where it will even be safe and/or not depreciate too fast (let alone generate a return) are getting incredibly hard to find.

But there is one safe haven, if you know how to invest in it: software developers.

Mark Cuban:

The only certainty in the software world is that there is no such thing as bug-free software. When software programs are trying to outsmart other software programs and hack the world's trading platforms, that is a recipe for disaster.


Don't stop us now -- we're just getting started!

Michael Lopp:

When an engineer becomes a lead or a manager, they create a professional satisfaction gap. They've observed this gap long before they became a lead with the question: "What does my boss do all day? I see him running around like something is on fire, but ... what does he actually do?" The question gets personal when the now freshly minted manager begins to understand that life as a lead is an endless list of little things that collectively keep you busy, but, in aggregate, don't feel much like progress.

... There You Are
Topic: Miscellaneous 7:53 am EDT, Jul  9, 2012

Steven Weinberg:

The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless.


The bigger the lie, the more they believe.


No matter who you are, you have the potential to be so very much less.

David Albert:

Is there some point at which the possibility of asking any further such questions somehow definitively comes to an end? How would that work? What would that be like?

Charles Simic:

It took years of indifference and stupidity to make us as ignorant as we are today.

No doubt, the Internet and cable television have allowed various political and corporate interests to spread disinformation on a scale that was not possible before, but to have it believed requires a badly educated population unaccustomed to verifying things they are being told.

John Givings:

Plenty of people are onto the emptiness, but it takes real guts to see the hopelessness.

Use Your Delusion
Topic: Miscellaneous 7:53 am EDT, Jul  9, 2012

Derek Thompson:

If you can't sell a product, try putting something nearly identical, but twice as expensive, next to it.

Even the most useless junk in the world is appealing if the price feels like a steal.

We're not stupid. Just susceptible.

A 1902 issue of The Sphinx, via Diana Kimball:

The times have bred a race of shop magicians who, having acquired the necessary digital skill to handle a few simple tricks, set themselves up in business and look to magical dealers to keep them supplied with an occasional new trick. Half of the regular outfits are simply professional models of tricks that in cheaper form are sold in the toy shops for the personal entertainment of the youth of our land, and there are hundreds of boys 12 years old who are as well posted on the methods of manipulation as are the magicians themselves.

Daniel Kahneman:

After a crisis we tell ourselves we understand why it happened and maintain the illusion that the world is understandable. In fact, we should accept the world is incomprehensible much of the time.

Investment bankers believe in what they do. They don't want to hear that their decisions are no better than chance. The rest of us pay for their delusions.

Jonathan Lethem:

A lot of us want to be fooled at the same time we get angry that we're fooled.

Martin Wolf:

Banks, as presently constituted and managed, cannot be trusted to perform any publicly important function, against the perceived interests of their staff. Today's banks represent the incarnation of profit-seeking behavior taken to its logical limits, in which the only question asked by senior staff is not what is their duty or their responsibility, but what can they get away with.

A final thought from the bankers:

Revolutionize your heart out. We'll still have this country by the balls.

There's No Such Thing As Too Much Energy
Topic: Miscellaneous 9:52 am EDT, Jul  7, 2012

Andrew Grant:

In a billion years the sun will unleash 10 percent more energy than it does now, inducing an irrefutable case of global warming here on Earth. The oceans will boil away and the atmosphere will dry out as water vapor leaks into space, and temperatures will soar past 700 degrees Fahrenheit, all of which will transform our planet into a Venusian hell-scape choked with thick clouds of sulfur and carbon dioxide. Bacteria might temporarily persist in tiny pockets of liquid water deep beneath the surface, but humanity's run in these parts would be over.

If the human population can successfully colonize planets orbiting Proxima Centauri or another red dwarf, we can enjoy trillions of years of calamity-free living. Says University of California, Santa Cruz, astronomer Greg Laughlin, "The future lies with red dwarfs."

That is, until the red dwarfs die.

Michael Specter:

One cubic mile of oil would fill a pool that was a mile long, a mile wide, and a mile deep. Today, it takes three cubic miles' worth of fossil fuels to power the world for a year. That's a trillion gallons of gas. To replace just one of those cubic miles with a source of energy that will not add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere--nuclear power, for instance--would require the construction of a new atomic plant every week for fifty years; to switch to wind power would mean erecting thousands of windmills each month. It is hard to conceive of a way to replace that much energy with less dramatic alternatives. It is also impossible to talk seriously about climate change without talking about economic development. Climate experts have argued that we ought to stop emitting greenhouse gases within fifty years, but by then the demand for energy could easily be three times what it is today: nine cubic miles of oil.

Brad Plumer on the work of Marc G. Millis, a former NASA expert on breakthrough propulsion:

We probably won't be ready to travel to other stars for at least another two to five centuries. Even if we do invent faster, niftier spaceships, there may not be enough energy available to reach other stars anytime soon.

No matter when we launch the first interstellar probe, it'll take a long time to reach its destination. Which means it's quite plausible that we'll later invent a newer, faster interstellar probe that gets to the star even sooner, with more modern equipment. Which raises the question of why we even bothered to launch that first probe.

Abdul Nasir:

I've worked with the Afghan Army. They get tired making TV commercials!

A Cruel Wonderland of Shiny Shiny Things
Topic: Miscellaneous 9:52 am EDT, Jul  7, 2012

Jack Cheng:

Click me. Like me. Tweet me. Share me. The Fast Web demands that you do things and do them now. The Fast Web is a cruel wonderland of shiny shiny things.

Fast Web is about information. Slow Web is about knowledge. Information passes through you; knowledge dissolves into you.

Stephen Wolfram:

I find it quite interesting that Google's search division recently changed its name to "knowledge division."

Tom Simonite:

"This is the first time the world has seen this scale and quality of data about human communication," Cameron Marlow, the tall 35-year-old leader of the Data Science team, says with a characteristically serious gaze before breaking into a smile at the thought of what he can do with the data.

As executives in every industry try to exploit the opportunities in "big data," the intense interest in Facebook's data technology suggests that its ad business may be just an offshoot of something much more valuable.

The Norm Must Be Maintained
Topic: Miscellaneous 9:52 am EDT, Jul  7, 2012

Chris Lee:

A large pile of research on various groups of people, covering various skill sets, indicates that in the face of all evidence, humans are irredeemably optimistic about their own abilities. That is, by itself, not such a bad thing. The ugly side shows up when we also realize that the norm must be maintained. Studies show that we do this by considering that everyone else is much worse. Being clueless about your own abilities is one thing. Misjudging others' abilities is relatively more serious.

Robert Roberts:

Accurate self-assessment is a good thing in its place, but it seems almost the opposite of virtuous to be preoccupied with assessing oneself. The person who is constantly asking, "How am I doing?" "How do I measure up?" "How do I rank?" "What am I worth?" is too centered on his or her own value to count as humble in a virtuous sense. Humility, then, on this model, is a non-preoccupation or unconcern about one's rank and status and worth, but not an ignorance of it.

Kurt Eichenwald:

A management system known as "stack ranking" -- a program that forces every unit to declare a certain percentage of employees as top performers, good performers, average, and poor -- effectively crippled Microsoft's ability to innovate.

Lost In The Stacks
Topic: Miscellaneous 8:07 am EDT, Jul  6, 2012

David Simon:

Nobody knows what anyone's building until it's built.

Kurt Eichenwald:

A management system known as "stack ranking" -- a program that forces every unit to declare a certain percentage of employees as top performers, good performers, average, and poor -- effectively crippled Microsoft's ability to innovate. "Every current and former Microsoft employee I interviewed -- every one -- cited stack ranking as the most destructive process inside of Microsoft, something that drove out untold numbers of employees," Eichenwald writes. "If you were on a team of 10 people, you walked in the first day knowing that, no matter how good everyone was, 2 people were going to get a great review, 7 were going to get mediocre reviews, and 1 was going to get a terrible review," says a former software developer. "It leads to employees focusing on competing with each other rather than competing with other companies."

A.O. Scott:

When hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake, it is never a laughing matter.

Adam Davidson:

There must be an easier way to make money. For the cost of "Men in Black 3," for instance, the studio could have become one of the world's largest venture-capital funds, thereby owning a piece of hundreds of promising start-ups. Instead, it purchased the rights to a piece of intellectual property, paid a fortune for a big star and has no definitive idea why its movie didn't make a huge profit. Why is anyone in the film industry?

Patrick Radden Keefe:

In 2007, Mexican authorities raided the home of Zhenli Ye Gon, a Chinese-Mexican businessman who is believed to have supplied meth-precursor chemicals to the cartel, and discovered $206 million, the largest cash seizure in history. And that was the money Zhenli held onto -- he was an inveterate gambler, who once blew so much cash in Las Vegas that one of the casinos presented him, in consolation, with a Rolls-Royce. "How much money do you have to lose in the casino for them to give you a Rolls-Royce?" Tony Placido, the D.E.A. intelligence official, asked. (The astonishing answer, in Zhenli's case, is $72 million at a single casino in a single year.)

Arlie Russell Hochschild:

The mere existence of a paid wantologist indicates just how far the market has penetrated our intimate lives. Can it be that we are no longer confident to identify even our most ordinary desires without a professional to guide us?

Michael Sacasas:

We buy our books to give shape to our thinking, but it never occurs to us that the manner in which we make our purchases may have a more lasting influence on our character than the contents of the book.

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